September 22, 2021
From Socialist Revolution

Los Angeles is the second-largest city in the US, home to the busiest port in the Americas, and serves as a critical nerve center for international finance capital. The city also has a militant history of class struggle against exploitation and oppression. The formation of the CIO, the Watts Rebellion of 1965, the student walkouts of 1968, the 1992 uprising after four cops were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King, and the Justice for Janitors campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s are examples of the fighting spirit of the proletariat of this massive city. In the last two years alone, tens of thousands of teachers struck, and hundreds of thousands brought the city to a standstill demanding an end to systemic racism.

Although we are still over a year away from election day, a handful of candidates have already announced their intention to run for mayor of Los Angeles, California. Despite the local nature of the office, the economic might of the city and its position as a Democratic Party stronghold grants the city’s mayor massive sway over the institutions of bourgeois democracy throughout California and the country as a whole. As such, this is an election Marxists should keep an eye on—even if the major candidates are a rogue’s gallery of class enemies.

Outgoing Mayor Eric Garcetti widely discredited himself by cracking down on the Black Lives Matter movement. / Image: Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

The 2022 election caps the end of Eric Garcetti’s second term as mayor. 2020 was a challenging year for Garcetti, who widely discredited himself by cracking down on the Black Lives Matter movement. He then neglected his post to campaign for Joe Biden, only to be repaid with the paltry prize of the ambassadorship to India instead of the Cabinet position for which he pined. Completing his political isolation, Garcetti also provoked a reactionary backlash among conservative business owners for clumsily imposing COVID-19 safety precautions that ever-so-slightly interfered with their daily operations.

In the race to replace Garcetti, Democratic City Councilman Joe Buscaino and City Attorney Mike Feuer are positioned as leading candidates. Feuer launched his campaign on YouTube, claiming to be an underdog lawyer turned Los Angeles City Attorney before running for the city’s top office. A career politician, he is anxious to paint himself as a populist outsider. In reality, however, Feuer is very much a party to the Los Angeles political establishment. The most significant aspect of his tenure as City Attorney has been to carry out mass incarceration in conjunction with local law enforcement agencies. Feuer’s office carries out the so-called War on Drugs by prosecuting non-violent drug offenses, making it blatantly clear that this is a one-sided war on drug users and working-class neighborhoods.

Despite local elections in Los Angeles often having turnouts of lower than 25%, Feuer used the results of a local ballot measure to seize upon closing down over 400 medical marijuana dispensaries in 2014. This loss of legal access led many to turn to the black market—ready prey for the Los Angeles Police Department ’s notorious Gang and Narcotics Division and city prosecutors.

Despite positioning himself as a progressive, Feuer has always had a close relationship with the LAPD. While Buscaino is the most pro-police candidate, the local police union has happily donated to Feuer’s previous campaigns. Feuer’s close relationship with the police has undermined his image in the wake of the BLM uprising. During the George Floyd protests, it was obvious that the entire city government, including Feuer, was unequivocally on the side of police terrorism. However, the whip of reaction only made the protests larger and more militant, leading eventually to the deployment of the National Guard. However, the rank and file soldiers were visibly uninterested in repressing the mass movement, and the increasingly exhausted LAPD eventually backed down from outright violence against the workers and youth in the streets.

As usual with these types, Feuer promised to prosecute only “violent” protesters—but not a word was said about the cops who happily beat kids in the streets with batons, shot rubber bullets at people on their apartment balconies, clouded the air with tear gas, and slammed thousands of unarmed people into crowded jail cells during a pandemic. Feuer has never mentioned that since 2000, 885 people have been gunned down by the LAPD in what county medical examiners deemed to be homicides. Eighty percent of the victims were black or Latin American. Very few LAPD officers have ever been prosecuted for their actions during this decades-long reign of terror.

Feuer promised to prosecute only “violent” protesters, but he said nothing about the brutality of the LAPD during the overwhelmingly peaceful BLM uprising of June 2020. / Image: Lorie Shaull, Flickr

As is well known, last summer’s mass movement was overwhelmingly non-violent and cannot be equated with the human toll caused by decades of redlining, austerity, gentrification, police brutality, rising rents, stagnant wages, structural unemployment, systemic racial oppression, mass incarceration, and capitalist exploitation.

Since the ebb of the protests, Feuer’s office has overseen prosecutions of many activists fighting against police terror and for civil rights. Two of the most prominent Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles leaders, Melina Abdullah and Gregory Akili, have been illegally prosecuted by Feuer’s office. Rather than cow activists into submission, however, Feuer’s bullying only led to the city becoming embroiled in lawsuits over wrongful arrests.

Feuer and his main competitor, another Democrat, Buscaino, will continue to support the status quo no matter who ends up in City Hall next year. The police union has reportedly donated more than $220,000 to Buscaino’s campaign. In turn, Buscaino argues that the LAPD needs to be funded even more than its present $1.7 billion budget. Buscaino uses Biden-esque phrases such as “build back better” to describe the need to build more houses for Los Angeles’s growing homeless population. Yet Los Angeles contains nearly a hundred thousand empty homes! For his part, in truly Trumpian manner, Feuer promises to appoint a mysterious “key leader” to tackle homelessness. Of course, this is all a farce. The real attitude of the city government toward unhoused Angelenos is pure viciousness.

Buscaino, in particular, seems to be setting himself up as a champion of attacking the homeless. In a speech delivered outside a charter school, he called for homeless encampments to be dismantled should they be within 500 feet of a school. This has nothing to do with securing the safety of school children, who are also frequent targets of police harassment. Rather, Buscaino and the LAPD want to make it easier to incarcerate tens of thousands of Angelenos for the crime of not having a place to live.

This is in the wake of the brutal Echo Park sweeps in March, in which the LAPD arrested hundreds of demonstrators and tore down what little shelter unhoused people had set up for themselves. The homeless have since been effectively incarcerated in “hotels” set up just for them by the LAPD—the same police force that routinely subjects them to degradation and assault.

No matter who ends up in City Hall next year, the LAPD will continue its vicious attacks on working class communities, homeless people, and anyone who fights back against oppression and exploitation. / Image: Chris Yarzab, Wikimedia Commons

These anti-homeless measures are reactionary and oppressive by design. They are not intended to eliminate homelessness but to bolster the prison-industrial complex while dividing the workers and poor—many of whom are just one late rent check away from having no roof over their heads. The main difference between Feuer and Buscaino on this issue is how crudely they would each carry out nearly identical policies.

Buscaino’s more blatantly conservative attitudes have caused alarm among some in the Los Angeles establishment. However, this is not because they genuinely care about the exploited and oppressed, but because the last thing they need is a careless spark to light the piles of flammable social material piled up over decades.

We don’t need liberal hypocrites like Feuer. We need a mass socialist party armed with a revolutionary program to lead the workers to power. / Image: LABenny, Wikimedia Commons

All of this shows the severe limitations of bourgeois-liberal “progressivism” as opposed to class politics. Capitalism long ago ceased to play a historically progressive role in society. Marxists will support any individual, party, movement, or development that objectively or subjectively advances the cause of the working class as a whole. Compared to Buscaino’s public pronouncements, Feuer may seem to be the “lesser evil”—even though they are both in the same party. But in reality, he and other “progressive” Democrats merely provide soft-left cover for that party’s pro-capitalist agenda.

Marxists understand that bourgeois democracy, which represents only the interest of the capitalist class, has survived well beyond its best-by date. But as long as significant layers of workers continue to harbor illusions in the current system, Marxists must engage with electoral politics, patiently explaining the need for class independence. However, instead of supporting the political representatives of our class enemies, we need to start laying the foundations for a party of, by, and for the working class.

Los Angeles has been dominated by the Democrats for decades, and we know exactly what it is like to live under their rule. We don’t need liberal hypocrites like Feuer. We need a mass socialist party armed with a revolutionary socialist program to lead the workers and youth to power and build a democracy worthy of the name. Independent candidates working to build such a party would use election campaigns, not to quixotically try to “change the system from within”—but to illustrate how unreformable the system is.

Bourgeois democracy makes it possible for a few thousand parasites to steal the fruits of our labor. Marxists fight for workers’ democracy—a society in which the working class democratically debates, votes, and plans what we should do with the massive wealth we create through our labor. This kind of democracy can only be established by the workers overthrowing capitalism—not by voting for Mike Feuer, Joe Buscaino, or other Democrats. No one is saying this will be easy, but the working class—and humanity as a whole—have no alternative.