2014 WIL Congress: American Marxists Preparing in the “Belly of the Beast”

The United States is a vast country with a sprawling geography and nearly 300 major cities of over 100,000 inhabitants each. But the Marxists are not daunted as we step up to the plate of the historic task of building a strong and well-organized revolutionary tendency within the labor movement on a national scale. We are committed with all of our energy and unshakable confidence in our ideas and in the approaching revolutionary future of the American working class. This was the theme and the attitude that emerged at the National Congress of the Workers International League in Pittsburgh over the weekend of May 24–25 this year.

congress2014twoAfter a decade of working patiently and making small gains around the country, assembling the initial foundation of members—the embryonic backbone of a future mighty revolutionary force—the Workers International League reached a key quantitative turning point this year. In relation to the ultimate colossal task of leading the socialist transformation of society, we are as yet a very modest force; yet the significance of what has been achieved up to today was felt by all the participants at the congress. Every mighty Marxist organization has had to pass through a similar stage in its earliest development, including the Bolsheviks. What guarantees our future success is not starting out with huge numbers or explosive growth from the very beginning. Rather, it is correct ideas and correct methods, along with patient diligence and a sense of proportion which will lead us steadily forward in preparation for the enormous events history has in store.

On Saturday morning, everyone gathered at a large auditorium at the University of Pittsburgh and prepared for the day with breakfast, coffee, and socializing. Everyone was then welcomed to the congress and to the city, and revolutionary greetings to the congress were read out from among various statements of solidarity that had been sent in from IMT sections in Britain, Pakistan, Italy, Denmark, France, Greece, Sweden, Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Belgium, and Brazil. After that, the congress recognized the delegates elected by branches across the country. There was a record attendance this year of comrades from New York City, Dallas, Boston, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Madison, as well as New Jersey, California, Georgia, Vermont, and a delegation of comrades from Canada.

Perspectives for World Revolution

The first day’s agenda was focused on political perspectives, beginning with perspectives for the world revolution and moving into the US perspectives. Comrade Rob Sewell from the International Secretariat of the IMT in London led off the discussion on world perspectives, based on a document which is being discussed by all the sections of the tendency around the world, and which will be voted on at the world congress later this summer.

Rob explained that the rhythm of world history was deeply altered by the outbreak of the 2008 crisis. It has ushered in the most exciting and tumultuous historical epoch humanity has ever witnessed: the epoch of the world socialist revolution. The last remnants of the postwar boom period and the semblance of stability which it had provided have been decisively demolished, and the world has watched revolutions and counterrevolutions unfold in one country after another right before our eyes. 

congress2014fourWith the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years ago, the bourgeoisie celebrated the alleged “end of history”—but they were blindsided by the 2008 crisis. After decades of hounding the ideas of Marx and dancing on his grave, the bourgeoisie are again haunted by the specter of Marxism. Today capitalism finds itself in the deepest crisis of its entire history. Although the exact timing and severity of the crisis could not be foretold, the Marxists had predicted these developments far in advance. As far back as 1960, in Will There Be a Slump?, when everyone on the right and the left was falling under the illusion that capitalism had solved its problems and no longer faced the threat of another Great Depression, Ted Grant, the founder of what would become the IMT, maintained a Marxist analysis, explaining that despite the scale of the postwar boom, 

“the basic laws underlying the development of capitalist economy have, however, remained intact . . . Whatever the exact date, it is absolutely certain that the unprecedented postwar boom must be followed by a period of catastrophic downswing, which cannot but have a profound effect on the political thinking of the enormously strengthened ranks of the labor movement.”

Today the artificial veneer of growth and prosperity has given way to an explosive situation all over the world in which any little incident could set off a revolutionary upheaval. In Brazil the bus fares were raised, and millions of people were suddenly on the streets. In Turkey they planned to clear a city park to make way for a shopping mall, and within 48 hours the people of Istanbul had gone from apparent calm to an insurrectionary movement fighting the water cannons and tear gas of the police. No country on earth is immune from this “critical state.”

A downward spiral in living standards and capitalist crisis throughout Europe has led to mass demonstrations and countless general strikes throughout the continent over the past few years. In Greece there is already an overwhelming mood for revolutionary change. The rest of Europe is not far behind, with many countries still suffering from record unemployment figures, half a decade after the crisis. All that the politicians can offer is more cuts: more austerity, which they call “fiscal responsibility.” Everywhere workers are being forced to pay for the crisis, and this is profoundly impacting social attitudes. 

congress2014threeThe emergence of China onto the world market provided a temporary breathing space for capitalism. Industrial output increased as production lines were moved to China, and other “emerging economies” were stimulated by Chinese demand for raw materials from Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Up until very recently the strategists of capital remained highly optimistic that the growth rates would be maintained, but today all the growth has turned into “excess capacity” or, in Marxist terms—overproduction—the fundamental cause of all crises under capitalism. The previous period of growth had been based on the dismal wages and conditions of Chinese workers, and today there is growing discontent in Chinese society with an increase in the number of strikes, demonstrations, and suicides in the factories. All the energy of the supposed explosive growth of these emerging economies is now being swiftly transferred into an explosion of class struggle in every region.

The common feature of each of these revolutionary developments around the world has been the near complete lack of a revolutionary Marxist leadership with sufficient strength and roots in the working class and its organizations. At the very moment when capitalism has proven itself beyond a shadow of a doubt to be historically bankrupt, the present leadership of the mass organizations of the working class cling to it as the only possible system and refuse to express even a fraction of the frustration and discontent of the masses. This is the fundamental contradiction of our time.

A year ago the earth shook under the force of 17 million Egyptians taking to the streets in the second major wave of the Egyptian Revolution, this time overthrowing president Morsi. Power was in the hands of the Egyptian masses; not only could they easily have swept away Mubarak, Morsi, and all the corrupt rulers of the old regime, they could have swiftly overthrown capitalism altogether! All that was needed was a farsighted leadership that could lead the masses to expropriate the key levers of the economy and to bring them under democratic workers’ control. In the absence of such a program there was a vacuum of power and the military was allowed to take the reins—a valuable lesson for revolutionary movements everywhere. However, the last word has not been said by the Egyptian masses. The new Al Sisi government cannot resolve the insoluble contradictions of capitalism; he too will eventually meet a similar fate as Mubarak and Morsi at the hands of the mighty Egyptian working class.

US Perspectives

Flowing from the discussion on world perspectives, John Peterson, National Secretary of the WIL, highlighted various historical processes that have unfolded in American society in the recent period which are overwhelming indicators of an approaching storm in this society as in every country around the world. Despite the apparent calm in the US since the rise and fall of the Occupy movement in 2011, the “mole of history” has been undermining the stability of once seemingly overwhelmingly mighty US imperialism over a long period. Today, a seething undercurrent of discontent can be sensed at all levels in society: a foreboding fact for the international strategists of capital, whose hopes are placed in the American consumer to increase spending in order to pull the rest of the world market out of recession.

“The world economy is perilously dependent upon the USA . . . Consumption accounts for roughly 70 percent of US gross domestic product and about 16 per cent of global demand. Exporters everywhere are thus hoping the US consumer will come to the rescue.”

What are the prospects for this strategy of the bourgeois?

congress2014oneThe economy is in its sixth year of the weakest “recovery” from a slump in history, driven once more by the massive accumulation of public and household debt. The Fed is desperately trying to prop up the system with over a billion dollars a day, through their policy ofquantitative easing. But the market has defied all attempts at stabilization. The jobs thathavebeen created are primarily low-wage, part-time positions in the service sector. Over the past five years, 95% of new income generated has gone to the top 1% of earners while 20 million workers are underemployed or out of a job altogether. 

The decline of American capitalism is an unmistakable fact that is felt by millions today. Obama’s charisma and his message of “change” in 2008 had sown illusions similar to those many hold in JFK and FDR. But the entire historical situation has changed, and Obama is unable to deliver on even the kinds of minor promises that these presidents before him could make on the basis of the threat of a strengthened labor movement and the position of US imperialism. During the height of the postwar boom, the US was able to go to the moon, but now US imperialism is in an entirely different position. With the USSR gone, the US was the unchallenged, supreme economic power in the world, but twenty years later, history is taking its revenge. The only thing Obama can deliver is more austerity, to the bitter disillusionment of millions of hopeful youth and workers. NASA, once the jewel of the country, now faces cuts year after year and is all but shut down. The fastest growing industries are fast food and discount retail. All while the bourgeoisie become fat from speculation, while sitting on trillions of dollars of potentially productive wealth, which they refuse to invest due to the irrational overproduction which takes place under this system.

Slowly but surely, the American working class is beginning to awaken to the realities of class struggle. Despite the lack of a mass political party even minimally expressing the interests of the working class, important struggles across the country have captured the attention of millions. The mass movement in Wisconsin, the Occupy movement, movements among fast food and Wal-Mart workers, and various movements for raising the minimum wage, are all clear signs of a growing mood of discontent and militancy. Important political conclusions are also being drawn. There is an overwhelming rejection of the Democrats and Republicans among the youth, and 60% of Americans in general say they favor a mass third party. The potential is greater than ever for the emergence of a mass party of labor in the US. The current cynicism and class collaboration of the labor leaders will sooner or later be replaced with an unstoppable wave of working class militancy. The tide has already begun to turn, and with time, the intensification of the class struggle will prepare the American working class to support a socialist program whole-heartedly—provided there is an organized tendency putting such an alternative forward in a systematic way. This is the work that the WIL and the comrades of the IMT are engaged in, working with determination every day to build the forces of Marxism around the world. The US Perspectives document was approved by the congress and can be read in full here. If you agree with these perspectives and want to get involved with or support the WIL, please be sure to contact us.


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