This document was drafted in the Spring of 2010, and discussed, amended, and approved at the May 2010 National Congress of the WIL. If you agree with these perspectives, or would like to discuss them further, please contact us to learn more about joining the WIL, and consider making a donation to our Fighting Fund to help us bring these ideas more widely into the Labor Movement.
“The vast practical importance of a correct theoretical orientation is most strikingly manifested in a period of acute social conflict of rapid political shifts, of abrupt changes in the situation. In such periods, political conceptions and generalizations are rapidly used up and require either a complete replacement (which is easier) or their concretization, precision or partial rectification (which is harder). It is in just such periods that all sorts of transitional, intermediate situations and combinations arise, as a matter of necessity, which upset the customary patterns and doubly require a sustained theoretical attention. In a word, if in the pacific and ‘organic’ period (before the war) one could still live on the revenue from a few ready made abstractions, in our time each new event forcefully brings home the most important law of the dialectic: The truth is always concrete.”
(Leon Trotsky, Bonapartism and Fascism, July 1934)
“A whole series of offensives followed by retreats, of uprisings followed by defeats; transitions from attack to defence, and throughout: critical self-analysis, self-purification, splits, re-evaluations of leaders and of methods, new splits and new unifications. In this crucible of struggle, and on the anvil of revolutionary experiences never before equalled, a genuine Communist Party is being forged. A contemptuous attitude toward this process as if it were a tussle among ‘leaders’ or a family squabble among opportunists, etc. – such an attitude is proof of extreme nearsightedness, not to say blindness.”
(Leon Trotsky, On the Policy of the KAPD, November 24, 1920)
The elaboration and discussion of our U.S. Perspectives document is an important part of our work and development as an organization. As we have no crystal ball, our perspectives are by their very nature conditional, a set of hypotheses that must be checked against dynamic reality at every stage. However, through a series of successive approximations, adjusting our perspectives as necessary to the changing circumstances, we can continually refine our understanding of the world around us. Our aim is to determine as best we can the political, economic, and social stage we are passing through, in order to intervene in the movement, establish roots in the working class, and build our organization more effectively. This document should be read in conjunction with the IMT’s 2010 World Perspectives.
As we have explained in previous IMT World Perspectives documents, our starting point is the following: We have entered a period of extreme turbulence on a world scale; a period of crisis, wars, revolutions and counter-revolutions. A period in which the economic, social, and political crises all condition one another. A period in which anything the capitalists do to re-establish equilibrium in one area will inevitably lead to instability in another. To re-establish economic equilibrium, the ruling class will have to attack wages and conditions and cut social services, education, etc. This will only lead to further social and political disequilibrium. It is a period in which the tensions between the nations and the classes will be exacerbated, a period in which aggressive diplomacy, proxy wars, and trade wars will intensify. This is the starting point of our analysis. However, this does not exhaust the question. Our general characterization of the epoch must not be transformed into a mechanical and one-sided interpretation of reality and what is to come.
It is not enough to say that someone is pregnant. The first month is very different from the ninth. We must keep our finger on the pulse of the changing consciousness of masses, determine to the best of our ability what stage we are at and where we are most likely headed, and on that basis, determine which slogans, demands, and general methods of work are most appropriate, in order to make the best use of our limited numbers and resources and connect with and recruit the ones and twos.
It is said that perspectives is a science, and that party building is an art. But developing our perspectives is not a precise science. We must pay special attention to the infinitely complex question of the rhythm of events, both in terms of over and underestimating the potential for explosions of the class struggle. Sharp, sudden changes are on the order of the day, and we must not be taken by surprise. Revolutionary events are not as far off as we think, even here in the United States. But neither can we be impatient and miseducate comrades with the idea that “the revolution is right around the corner.” We must patiently explain that this will be a relatively protracted process. We must follow events and the struggles of the working class as they unfold, with all their inherent contradictions.
In such an intensely complex period, we will inevitably make some mistakes. However, we must have a sense of proportion when it comes to understanding and analyzing our mistakes. The only people who make no mistakes are those who do nothing. But if mistakes have been made, we must collectively and openly recognize them, discuss, learn from, and correct them, in order to take the work forward on a higher level.
Crisis and Consciousness
We are confronted with the worst economic crisis in several generations. We are not dealing with the “normal” boom-slump cycle, but with a transition between entire periods of capitalist development. We have entered an epoch in which the overall development of the capitalist system curves downward. In other words, the slumps destroy the productive forces more quickly than the booms can develop them. However, there is no automatic relationship, no neat and tidy “start” and “stop” between one period and another. It is a complex, contradictory, dialectical process. As Trotsky explained in The Capitalist Curve of Development (1923): “Still more, a transition from one epoch of this kind to a different one must naturally produce the greatest convulsions in the relationships between classes and between states.”
These pressures also come to bear on our own organization and members. It is not an accident that it is precisely at this stage that we have seen various disagreements and splits. Differences that seemed minor during the previous period assumed greater prominence on the basis of changing conditions. Small mistakes in methods and tactics, and even symptoms of ultra-leftism or opportunism, which under “normal” circumstances may have been corrected over time on the basis of events and discussion, have developed into more serious problems.
Impatience with the pace of development of events, despite the confirmation of our political and economic perspectives, is affecting an entire layer of activists, and inevitably, some of our own comrades as well. Many of those on our periphery are demoralized and dejected. Many had their sincere hopes in Obama dashed, yet there is no viable political alternative available. Another layer had no illusions in Obama, but expected that once he showed his true colors, there would be a massive reaction and mobilizations on the streets and a rapid revival of the labor movement. In effect, these activists had “illusions in the illusions” in Obama. As they are not armed with a long-term Marxist perspective, they cannot understand why the masses seem to be more or less passively accepting the hammer blows of the capitalists. Some continue to organize small and ineffective actions because “we have to do something, even if it won’t do any good.” Others tend to withdraw from activity or look for someone or something to blame for this situation.
Many blame the masses, and fall into even greater pessimism. Others write off the traditional workers’ organizations – the mass workers’ parties and trade unions – as unsalvageable, and embark on adventurous and doomed efforts to found new parties and multi-issue “movements.” Many blame the ideas of Marxism or even the struggle for socialism itself, and set off on quixotic quests for “new ideas and methods,” in reality, nothing but a rehash of pre-Marxist ideas. Some blame the leadership of our organization. It is a complicated equation, and part of the answer may very well involve mistakes made by the leadership. But above all, it is due to the crisis of the leadership of the working class as a whole, who do everything possible to avoid doing what they are supposed to do: lead. In the case of the U.S., it is compounded by the fact that as yet that there is no genuine mass political alternative for the working class. Added to this is the infinitely complex and contradictory nature of the overall period we are passing through.
It is not enough to make generalizations about the economic cycle and the stage we are at. This alone cannot resolve the challenges we confront in building the organization. However, we must keep in mind that in the final analysis, economics do play a determining role in setting the backdrop for the complex superstructure of domestic and foreign policy. In Engels’ extremely rich letter to Bloch, he explains the following:
“According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure — political forms of the class struggle and its results, to wit: constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc., juridical forms, and even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the participants, political, juristic, philosophical theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas — also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form. There is an interaction of all these elements in which, amid all the endless host of accidents (that is, of things and events whose inner interconnection is so remote or so impossible of proof that we can regard it as non-existent, as negligible), the economic movement finally asserts itself as necessary. Otherwise the application of the theory to any period of history would be easier than the solution of a simple equation of the first degree.”
“We make our history ourselves, but, in the first place, under very definite assumptions and conditions. Among these the economic ones are ultimately decisive. But the political ones, etc., and indeed even the traditions which haunt human minds also play a part, although not the decisive one…
“…In the second place, however, history is made in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between many individual wills, of which each in turn has been made what it is by a host of particular conditions of life. Thus there are innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite series of parallelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant — the historical event. This may again itself be viewed as the product of a power which works as a whole unconsciously and without volition. For what each individual wills is obstructed by everyone else, and what emerges is something that no one willed. Thus history has proceeded hitherto in the manner of a natural process and is essentially subject to the same laws of motion.”
And as Trotsky explained in The Curve of Capitalist Development (1923):
“It is a very difficult task, impossible to solve in its full scope, to determine those subterranean impulses which economics transmits to the politics of today; and yet the explanation of political phenomena cannot be postponed, because the struggle cannot wait. From this flows the necessity of resorting in daily political activity to explanations which are so general that through long usage they become transformed into truisms.
“As long as politics keeps flowing in the same forms, within the same banks, and at about the same speed, i.e. as long as the accumulation of economic quantity has not passed into a change of political quality, this type of clarifying abstraction (“the interests of the bourgeoisie”, “imperialism”, “fascism”) still more or less serves its task: not to interpret a political fact in all its concreteness, but to reduce it to a familiar social type, which is, of course, intrinsically of inestimable importance.
“But when a serious change occurs in the situation, all the more so a sharp turn, such general explanations reveal their complete inadequacy, and become wholly transformed into empty truisms. In such cases it is invariably necessary to probe analytically much more deeply in order to determine the qualitative aspect, and if possible also to measure quantitatively the impulses of economics upon politics. These ‘impulses” represent the dialectical form of the “tasks” that originate in the dynamic foundation and are submitted for solution in the sphere of the superstructure.
“Oscillations of the economic conjuncture (boom-depression-crisis) already signify in and of themselves periodic impulses that give rise now to quantitative, now to qualitative changes, and to new formations in the field of politics. The revenues of possessing classes, the state budget, wages, unemployment, proportions of foreign trade, etc., are intimately bound up with the economic conjuncture, and in their turn exert the most direct influence on politics. This alone is enough to make one understand how important and fruitful it is to follow step by step the history of political parties, state institutions, etc., in relation to the cycles of capitalist development.
“By this we do not at all mean to say that these cycles explain everything: this is excluded, if only for the reason that cycles themselves are not fundamental but derivative economic phenomena. They unfold on the basis of the development of productive forces through the medium of market relations. But cycles explain a great deal, forming as they do through automatic pulsation an indispensable dialectical spring in the mechanism of capitalist society. The breaking point of the trade-industrial conjuncture bring us into a greater proximity with the critical knots in the web of the development of political tendencies, legislation, and all forms of ideology.”
The above quotes are provided not as an “answer” from a “recipe book,” but as an example of the application of the Marxist method when it comes to analyzing economics, politics and society in general. Marxist theory and political perspectives are not elective, optional supplements to our work. They are the very basis for our practical work in the real world. They are our guide to action. Trotsky pointed out that generalizations that were perfectly adequate in the past, can dialectically turn into their opposite, can become empty truisms with no practical significance, and even be transformed into impediments to our growth and development. This is why we must continually develop and discuss our perspectives, in order to keep one step ahead of the consciousness of those on our periphery, in order to help them draw increasingly advanced political conclusions, and ultimately, politically convince them that they should join the WIL.
U.S. Perspectives 2008
In order to put our perspectives for the coming period into context, we reproduce below a few excerpts from our 2008 U.S. Perspectives document, written before Barack Obama was even nominated as the Democratic candidate:
“The next President of the United States of America will not get to pick and choose his or her agenda. The agenda will be set by the crisis facing the capitalist system both at home and abroad. Bush ran on an “America First” domestic agenda, but was forced by events to become most [the] aggressive imperialist in U.S. history. The next occupant of the White House will inherit an increasingly unstable world and an economic downturn of unknown depth or duration. In an epoch of growing polarization and inequality, the next president will inevitably appeal for national and bi-partisan “unity”. In other words, he or she will call on American workers to subordinate their interests to the interests of the rich, to tighten their belts further in the interest of preserving the system that profits off of their labor. But as the “American Dream” is transformed into an “American Nightmare”, more and more people will begin to question the very system that leads to such instability.
“The large turnout in the primaries for the Democrats in particular reflects a shift to the left within the narrow limits of the current U.S. electoral setup, a healthy rejection of status quo. There are many sincere illusions in the Democrats, and in the idea that a woman or a black man will somehow be better able to reflect the interests of working people. But what matters most is the class interests these politicians represent, and it is clear that they are both firmly on the side of big business. We must be clear: there is no solution to the problems faced by the working class majority within these limits.
“The vast majority of Americans will have to learn this the hard way, through their own bitter experience. If the Democrats succeed in gaining control of both houses of Congress and the White House, there will be no more excuses for not ending the war in Iraq, providing health care, education and housing for all, repealing anti-labor legislation and rebuilding the country’s infrastructure. They will show their true colors as defenders of the status quo. And in an era of economic and social crisis, they will not be able to offer even the tiniest concessions. After a few years in the ‘school’ of the Democratic party, the real questioning and search for a mass alternative that truly represents working people will begin in earnest.
“The potential for such a party is enormous. The power and money of big business and their politicians can be combated and defeated. A mass party of labor based on the unions, with all the organizing and financial power the unions have at their disposal, fighting for a program that truly represents workers’ interests, could rapidly break the stranglehold of the Democrats and Republicans.
“During the economic expansion of the last few years, a smaller share than ever went to workers’ wages, as compared to corporate profits. Long-term unemployment is at record levels and millions are no longer even considered part of the workforce. Already, over one million families have lost or will lose their homes, and it is estimated that millions will lose their jobs in the recession that in many analysts’ view is already upon us. If during the economic expansion workers were left out in the cold, it will be even worse during a recession. This will have a profound effect on the consciousness of American workers, which has already been shaken by the events and experience of the last few years.
“This will be a complex and contradictory process. There will be increasing polarization both to the right and to the left, and racism and xenophobia will be used by the ruling class to divide workers. But the pendulum of history cannot swing in one direction forever. Sooner rather than later, there will be a colossal and perhaps surprisingly rapid shift to the left. We can see the early symptoms of this already in the labor movement, among black and immigrant workers, the anti-war movement and among the youth.”
Broadly speaking, our perspectives have been confirmed. The accumulation of profound changes in workers’ consciousness on the basis of events continues. The Republic Windows and Doors factory occupation in Chicago and the thousands-strong marches against the crisis and cuts around the country are symptomatic examples of what is to come. Obama was eventually nominated and the election was held in the midst of the greatest economic meltdown since the Great Depression. Millions of Americans, many of whom had never voted before, came out against eight years of G.W. Bush and the Republicans and for Barack Obama, energized by his message of hope and change.
His victory marked a turning point in U.S. politics, a clear rejection of Bush’s blatantly anti-worker and imperialist policies, and a rejection by the majority of racism, although institutional racism remains as strong as ever. The streets overflowed with joy and the promise of a new era. Around the U.S. and indeed around the world, cries of “yes we can!” could be heard as a collective sigh of relief swept the planet. But real change was not to be. In just a few months, the “School of the Democrats” has already taught many hard lessons to those with sincere illusions in this capitalist party and the system it defends.
The Economic Situation
The root cause of the crisis is the inability of world capitalism to develop the colossal productive forces unleashed by the creativity and labor of the working class. The narrow constraints of the nation state and the chaos of the market economy, both intrinsic parts of the capitalist system, inevitably lead to periodic crises. For years we were told by the defenders of the system that such crises were a thing of the past, that capitalism had solved its problems. The Marxists explained that crisis was inherent and inevitable and would eventually arrive. However, it was impossible to predict the timing with any sort of precision.
The delay in the unfolding of the crisis has had an effect on the consciousness of the masses, and above all, on that of the workers’ leaders, who have shifted much further to the right than anyone could have foreseen. After all, it seemed for a time that capitalism had indeed solved its problems. The Soviet Union had collapsed, and the “Pax Americana” – although imperfect and still rife with war, poverty, misery and exploitation – was “as good as it gets.” Now those illusions have been shattered. A new generation now knows what it is to live through a period of war, revolution, counter-revolution, crisis and unemployment. This has revolutionary implications for the future. And nonetheless, it is precisely now that the reformists are desperately attempting to sow more illusions in the system than ever.
Although the situation has stabilized somewhat in the last few months, the fact of the matter is that for workers, things are actually worse now than they were under Bush. The American economy lost jobs every month for 24 months in a row, a steeper fall than during the Great Depression. The U.S. unemployment rate has now surpassed 10 percent for the first time since 1983, and will probably hover around that level for some time. In some states in the so-called “rust belt,” for example, Ohio and Michigan, it is substantially higher. One in five American men of working age are unemployed. For immigrants and blacks it is even worse. 34.5 percent of young African American men are unemployed. The youth are also severely affected.
2009 ended with total job losses of 4.2 million and an average unemployment rate of 9.3%, compared to an average of 4.6% in 2007. Some 8 million jobs have evaporated since the recession began in December 2007, three times the number lost during the 1980-82 recession. When the “underemployment rate” is figured in, taking into account those workers hired part-time but wanting full-time work, as well as those who are too discouraged to actively seek work, the rate goes as high as 17.5%. 1,000,000 Americans saw their unemployment benefits run out in January of this year alone.
New York Times columnist Bob Herbert reported that “the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston divided American households into 10 groups based on annual household income. Then it analyzed labor conditions in each of the groups during the fourth quarter of 2009.” The results confirmed that the average unemployment rate hides the true depth of the crisis. The study found that households with incomes of more than $150,000 are unemployed at a rate of 3.2%, with those making between $100,000 at $149,999 slightly higher at 4%. Compare that to those earning $12,500 to $20,000, who suffer from unemployment at a rate of 19.1%. But that’s still nothing when compared to the poorest of the poor; households earning $12,499 or less are out of work at an astonishing rate of 30.8%, five points higher than the overall jobless rate at the peak of the Great Depression. And as for underemployment, the rate for the lowest earners was 20.6%, compared with just 1.6% for the richest. In other words, the pain is not being shared equally by all, no matter how much Obama appeals to “national unity” to ride out the crisis.
At the end of 2009, those unable to find work for six months or longer rose to a new record of 5.6 million, or 35.6%. For workers, a “jobless recovery” is no recovery at all. There are six workers looking for every job available. Over 5.2% of all jobs have been cut since the recession began. Given that the American economy needs to add around 125,000 jobs each month just to keep up with population growth, there is in reality a net deficit of some 10 million jobs. Heidi Shierholz, an economist at Economic Policy Institute in Washington, has said that the U.S. suffers from a “jobs gap” of nearly 10 million. To close that gap and get back to pre-recession levels in two years would require the creation of more than 500,000 new jobs per month, a pace of job creation not seen since 1950-51.
The recent contraction in production was the sharpest in a hundred years. In May, 2009, the rate of capacity utilization for industry in the United States declined to 68.3%, 12.6% below the average for 1972-2008. The national debt has risen to unprecedented and unsustainable levels and the currency has lost much of its value as the capitalists attempt to boost exports by cheapening them in relation to other currencies. As a result, the foundations of a sustained recovery are being further undermined.
And yet, technically speaking, the recession is “over.” After four consecutive quarters of contraction, U.S. GDP grew by 3.5% in the third quarter of 2009, and an estimated 5.9% in the fourth quarter. Nonetheless, the economic picture remains grim and concerns that there could be a “double dip” recession remain. Overall, the U.S. economy declined 2.4%, the largest drop since 1946. A slowdown in growth is projected for the first quarter of 2010, as 60% of the late-year growth in 2009 was the result of companies rebuilding stockpiles depleted by the recession, which has a positive knock-on effect throughout the economy. However, this kind of growth has its limits. With consumer spending projected to remain muted, eventually the rebuilding of inventories will come to an end.
How is it that GDP can rebound when there are millions fewer jobs than there were two years ago? The answer is simple: the capitalists are making fewer workers do more work for less pay. According to the Department of Labor, productivity – the amount produced per worker per hour – rose by 9.5% in the 3rd quarter of 2009, after rising 6.9% in the 2nd. And yet wages and benefits were up just 1.5% in 2009, the weakest showing on records that go back to 1982. But less purchasing power means fewer goods can be bought. In an economy 70% reliant on consumer spending, this cannot be sustained indefinitely.
Public borrowing is spiraling out of control. Sooner or later this will lead to higher interest rates and inflation, which will further strangle any recovery. Under these conditions, even when the recession ends, the economies of the USA and other key capitalist countries will remain feeble and unemployment will remain at high levels. The crisis is being used by the capitalists to force the workers in the advanced capitalist countries to accept a new, lower standard of living. This is the new “norm” for U.S. workers, many of whom have long been accustomed to a considerably higher quality of life than most of their class brothers and sisters around the world. On the agenda is a relentless driving down of wages and conditions across the board. This is a finished recipe for tremendous explosions of the class struggle in the years ahead.
The capitalists will find a way out of even the deepest crisis, unless and until the system is overthrown by the conscious action of the working class. Due to the lack of the subjective factor, the revolutionary leadership, they will eventually get out of the crisis on the backs of the workers, on the basis of their blood, sweat, and shattered nerves. But they will not have not solved any of the fundamental contradictions, and will even exacerbate them further, thus laying the basis for even more profound crises in the future.
Workers want to believe that the worst is indeed over, that they have made it through the storm to relative shelter. Many are still willing to “wait and see,” and hope for real change from Obama. But this has its limits; the worst is far from over. The immediate shock of the crisis may have subsided, but now the reality is gradually creeping in: American workers are going to be forced to accept a lower quality of life, and there will be no rapid bounce back of jobs. Millions of the jobs lost are gone forever, to be replaced by fewer jobs offering lower wages, no benefits, and no union protections.
The bottom line is that U.S. workers are paid “too much” by global standards. The capitalists have scoured the planet for cheap labor, forcing down wages and conditions in the U.S. in a relentless “race to the bottom.” Even taking into account its more productive and educated workforce, economists estimate U.S. manufacturing workers would need to take at least another 20% pay cut before coming into some sort of equilibrium with world standards. Now all workers, including the so-called “middle class,” will be compelled to accept even less than before . “Less is more” is the new virtue, after decades of driving workers to unrestrained consumerism and indebtedness. Long gone is the more or less steady increase in quality of life that laid the basis for relative class peace in the post-war period. The increase in wages, benefits and living standards during the post-war period was the material basis for the workers supporting the pro-capitalist labor leaders. This material basis is now being undermined. As Trotsky explained, it is not the absolute levels of poverty, but the sharp swings between periods of stability and periods of instability that most affect consciousness.
The U.S. government has pumped in vast sums of money and this is reflected in some growth of employment in education, health services, and government jobs. However, savage cuts in state and local budgets are now beginning to drag on the economy and cut further into standards of living. The economic relief bill passed by the Democrats in late 2009 had a $24 billion price tag. However, just 10%, or $2.4 million, went to unemployment benefits. The bulk of it went to further bailout businesses for their losses by giving them massive tax refunds. The “bi-partisan” jobs creation bill passed this spring is also an incentive program for private businesses that create jobs. In other words, they get public money but we have no public control over the quality of the jobs created, or even whether jobs are created at all. This is far from the massive federal government program of useful public works and unionized job creation we demand. It is more of Reagan’s “trickle down economics” under a new guise.
Polling figures can rise and fall from week to week, but the overall trend in recent months indicates a lack of confidence in the future. After all, what kind of recovery is it when 16 million people can’t find work? Again, it is the effect of this situation on workers’ consciousness that most interests us. In general, consciousness is conservative and tends to lag behind events. But when it catches up, it can do so with a bang. We must not be caught unawares and unprepared.
The Political Situation
Just one year after the elation that followed his victory, the general consensus is that Barack Obama hasn’t actually done very much, other than continue his predecessor’s policies in one form or another. He has certainly not delivered on the “hope and change” he promised. For many, “hope and change” meant, quite simply, “jobs.” We have seen where things stand on that count; in December 2009, unemployment rose in 43 states. In April, an incredible 2.7 million jobless Americans are set to lose their paltry unemployment benefits, doomed to become part of the “new poor,” a permanent underclass of the long-term unemployed. In fact, what is really surprising is just how little Obama has done. Even his Nobel Peace Prize was based on expectations for the future, not the reality of his policies.
We thought he might do at least a few things, if only cosmetically, to differentiate himself from the Bush years. But the fact is, he has very little room to maneuver and is compelled to defend the interests of U.S. capitalism and imperialism with similar methods. Nonetheless, for lack of a genuine alternative, many illusions remain among a significant layer of the population. But that will not last forever. Already, many of the biggest advocates of a “lesser evil” electoral policy have been forced to recognize that there is no fundamental difference between the Democrats and Republicans.
We must maintain a patient and friendly attitude to those with honest illusions in Obama. But for our purposes, there is no question of waiting around for the honeymoon to end; there are already more than enough people who have broken with the Democrats and Obama himself, who agree with our program, ideas, methods and orientation to the mass organizations, and whom we can recruit if we take the time to discuss with them. This is our target audience at present, not yet the broader masses.
We must keep the big picture in mind, and not get too caught up in the economic figures for any given week, month, or quarter. It is the overall trend of continued unemployment, lack of quality jobs, and lower wages that is having an effect on the workers’ consciousness. As we have explained above, we are not just experiencing a change in the “normal” business cycle, but of the overall character of the booms and slumps. For example, Michael Moore’s Capitalism a Love Story was an important symptom of a growing questioning of the system itself, despite continued illusions that it can somehow be reformed.
The off-year elections in late 2009 were another indication of what is to come. Most incumbents were thrown out and those who remained did so at tremendous financial expense. There can be dramatic swings in public sentiment in the 2010 midterm elections as American voters reject the “status quo” in their own distorted way and look for a way out. This is what happened in January during the special election to fill Edward Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts.
After controlling that Senate seat for 47 years, the Democrats assumed they would be a shoe-in to win it again. In many parts of Massachusetts registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by a margin of three to one. The Democrats have control of the White House and Congress and they control the governor and state legislature in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts congressional delegation was made up entirely of Democrats until this election. However, far from using these positions of power to improve the lives of the majority, it was the Democrats in Boston that were putting forward cuts in education and public services, while raising taxes on working people. After a year of the “School of the Democrats,” many workers and youth were so discouraged they did not even bother to vote. In frustration, some of them even voted Republican to send a message. Hart Research Associates conducted a poll of 810 AFL-CIO voters on election night and found that, although voters without a college degree favored Obama by 21 percentage points in 2008, Democratic candidate Martha Coakley lost that same group by a 20-point margin just one year later.
The frustration can clearly be seen on the question of health care. Many want to see a genuine universal health care system put in place in this country. A poll conducted by Research 2000 on election day in Massachusetts showed that 82% of those who voted for Obama in 2008, but who either abstained or voted Republican, favor “the national government offering everyone the choice of a government administered health insurance plan – something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get – that would compete with private health insurance plans.” However, Obama and the Democrats in Congress proposed a scheme which took any so-called “public option” off the table, specifically excluded undocumented workers, was nowhere near universal even for U.S. citizens, would make insurance companies richer, and would tax many union members’ health plans. This proposed tax on so-called “Cadillac health care plans” – in reality benefits won by union members through past struggles against the bosses – even pushed some union workers to vote Republican.
The corporate media and pundits blamed Obama’s alleged “socialism” and “radicalism” for the defeat in Massachusetts. They claim that this represents a fundamental shift to the right among American workers. Nothing could be further from the truth. According to the Hart Research Associates poll, 47%of voters said they felt the Democrats had not brought about enough change, compared to 32% who thought they had changed too much. Even 50% of voters for Republican Scott Brown were concerned about a lack of change. In the same poll, 79% of voters said that the most important issue was jobs and the economy, followed by controlling soaring health care costs.
At the same time as the right seemed to gain ground in Massachusetts, voters in a special election in Oregon approved a measure taxing corporations and the rich. There are deep contradictions and political confusion in the working class. This is caused in part by the fact the rich own and control all the political, media and educational institutions, which they use to shape public opinion to conform to their needs and interests. It is the duty of the labor movement to fight against the huge capitalist propaganda machine and offer a class based analysis of events instead.
The so-called Tea Party movement must be seen in the above context. This movement arose at least partially out of Ron Paul’s “rebellious libertarian” presidential campaign in 2008. Their emergence, and the 244% increase in “Patriot” militia groups since Obama’s election, is a reflection of the growing polarization in society and a preparation by the ruling class to use racism and xenophobia to divide the class in the open struggles of the future. However, it is extremely unlikely that they would ever allow them to actually come to power, at least not at any time in the immediate future. A recent New York Times/CBS poll found that 18% of respondents said they considered themselves supporters of the Tea Party while 55% said they had heard little or nothing about it. Only 4% have actually attended rallies, donated money, etc. which is hardly the “grass roots rising tide” that has been presented in the media.
If the Tea Party were ever to get in power, they would immediately set off a ferocious movement against them as they would seek to slash education, Social Security, Medicare and other public programs, and launch attacks on public sector workers, which, contradictorily, are programs that many older Tea Party supporters benefit from and expect to receive upon retirement. The recent Tea Party convention exposed the fact that while there are many confused rank and file members searching for a solution to the problems faced by the majority in America, it is far from a genuine “grass roots” movement with mass support. In fact, the NYT/CBS poll found that the movement is disproportionately upper middle-class in its composition, which hardly conforms to the “disgruntled working man” image that the movement and te media have tried to portray. It is egged on by media outlets such as Fox News and is heavily funded and sponsored by the same corporations that back both corporate parties, the Republicans in particular. For example, the poll found that a substantial proportion of their members are not only Republican, but strongly so, and therefore will in all likelihood be absorbed directly into that party.
The media hysteria about an alleged “populist backlash” against Obama’s policies is being whipped up to justify even further cuts. But the reality is that the system has run out of steam. Long gone are the days when the capitalists could concede a few concessions to the workers. On the contrary, steep cuts and austerity are on the order of the day. The federal deficit is projected to reach nearly 11% of the country’s entire economic output. This is unprecedented during peace time. According to the White House’s own projections, the deficit will not return to sustainable levels for at least 10 years. Obama has now announced that he will freeze or cut all discretionary spending for the next three years, with the exception of “national security” spending, which continues to skyrocket. His proposal has been enthusiastically endorsed by Republicans like John McCain, proving yet again that the Republicans and Democrats are two sides of the same capitalist political coin. Or as author and political commentator Gore Vidal aptly put it, “We only have one political party in the U.S., and that is the property party, which essentially is corporate America, which has two right wings, one called Republican and one called Democrat.”
In practice, Obama’s budget means an across the board cut in all social services and the public sector. Far from providing for “homeland security,” this budget is a sure recipe for tremendous insecurity when it comes to jobs, health care, housing and education. This is a true “guns before butter” budget. The meaning of this is clear: unless miraculous economic growth can be pulled out of a hat, there is no room for any serious domestic reforms, no matter how modest.
After the Massachusetts election, Obama himself moved in a somewhat populist direction, at least in words, calling on Congress to pass legislation to create jobs and threatening to regulate the big banks and tax their profits. He mentioned “jobs” 29 times in his State of the Union address. But in practice, very little has changed. The jobs bill they eventually passed is a drop in the bucket compared to what has been lost.
As an excuse for not actually doing anything, the Democrats cynically use the “filibuster” provision in the Senate rules. When Bush was in power and the Democrats had a majority in Congress, they rarely, if ever, used the filibuster. Instead, they approved his tax cuts and bailout for the rich and billions upon billions in war spending. According to the U.S. Constitution, the current Democratic majority in the Senate could get rid of the filibuster option with a simple majority vote. But they are deathly afraid to actually use their position to improve the lot of ordinary Americans. As the saying goes, appetite comes with eating, and the last thing they want to do is give a few crumbs that could set in motion a mass movement that could get out of their control. Obama is far too wedded to the corporations that put him in power to actually challenge them in any significant way.
The fact that reality conflicts with the capitalist propaganda will eventually lead to an even more widespread questioning of the system by workers and the youth, but this will take time. It will not happen in a straight line. The frustration can be expressed in contradictory ways. Republicans will likely make some gains against the incumbent Democrats. It is also possible that there could be an increase in votes for left-wing candidates running independently of the two Big Business parties, if the result is compared to the 2006 mid-term elections. Despite “Obamamania” and the intense pressure to vote for the “lesser evil,” left-leaning presidential candidates increased their vote substantially in 2008 as compared to 2004. The Socialist Party claims that their 2009 candidate for governor of New Jersey gained more votes compared with the 2005 gubernatorial election.
Frustration with the gridlock of the two main parties in Washington will eventually find a left expression. Unless and until a decisive sector of the unions breaks with the Democrats and puts forward a mass labor party in some form or another, all kinds of temporary and peculiar formations are possible. It is possible that at a certain stage, a layer of the Democrats, around figures like Ohio’s Dennis Kucinich or Marcy Kaptur, could shift more substantially to the left, or even split off to form a new party. In another important symptomatic development, the U.S. Steel Workers union has announced they will be running an independent steelworker candidate in Western Pennsylvania against the Democratic incumbent for voting against Obama’s health care bill.
We might decide to lend critical support to specific individuals and orient tactically to such campaigns, as we did with the Cynthia McKinney campaign in 2008, in order to put forward our demand for a mass labor party and win the ones and twos to our organization. We will have to take up each case individually. But we must always explain that until a substantial section of the labor movement breaks from the Democrats and puts its resources toward running labor candidates and building a labor party, the results will continue to be extremely modest and fleeting.
The contradictory mood underlying American society is indicated by several recent polls, which give a snapshot of how Americans are feeling at the moment. A poll conducted in March 2010 by Opinion Dynamics Corp found that an incredible 72% of Democrats, 84% of Republicans and 80% of Independents think the economy could collapse. A Research 2000 poll taken after the Massachusetts election found that 57% think Obama has not delivered the change he promised. 53% would be more likely to vote for the Democrats in the midterm elections if they took stronger action against Wall Street and cut the bonuses received by company executives. 47% think the Democrats are more on the side of corporate lobbyists than on the side of ordinary Americans, while just 23% believe the Democrats are on the side of the “little guy.” Self-identified independent voters had nearly the same views as those who identified themselves as Democrats, proving that the so-called “middle” is far more to the left than outlets like Fox News would have us think.
A poll conducted in the spring of 2009 by Rasmussen found that among Americans under 30 years of age, 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided. In other words, more than half of the first generation since the Great Depression to face lower living standards than their parents is in favor of, or at least open to the idea, that socialism may be a better alternative, although they may not understand fully what that even means.
Heading into the midterm elections, both the Democrats and Republicans are repugnant to voters. A February New York Times/CBS News poll found that 75 percent of respondents disapprove of the job Congress is doing; just 8 percent said members of Congress deserved re-election. A majority don’t think Obama has any real plan to create jobs. The passage of his extremely limited health care package may reignite the illusions of some for a time, but barring some spectacular, unexpected development, the overall trend will be a continued grinding down of illusions in Obama and his policies, leading many to question their continued loyalty to Democrats.
This is why our demand for a mass party of labor based on the unions is a key and defining demand. Why do we repeat it so often? Because this demand flows from the objective situation. The working class has no mass political representation. This is one of the most glaring contradictions in the situation in the U.S. No one else is raising this demand in a serious and consistent way. It is a clear point of differentiation between ourselves and the sects.
Those who limit themselves to a critique of capitalism and then advocate either a “lesser evil” vote for the Democrats, or present themselves as the party of revolution, are in practice impotent or worse. We must be clear that only mass forces – not an organization of 60 or even of 6,000 – but of millions of workers, with all the resources and capabilities of organized labor, can offer a serious challenge to the two parties of Capital. This is why this demand, in the tradition of the International’s orientation to the traditional mass organizations and parties, is so important. We even changed the banner of Socialist Appeal to reflect this general orientation – even when such a party does not yet exist.
Of course, the formation of such a party will not be a panacea to the problems of the working class or of our own development. While creating tremendous opportunities for us to coordinate the work on a national scale and discuss our ideas with much wider layers of worker activists, it will also bring additional dangers and pressures. Nonetheless, the demands we raise flow from the objective needs of the situation, and this is a most pressing need. We must make it a key focus of our activity, continually discussing it and orienting our comrades and periphery to this perspective. In preparation, we must discuss the work in the mass organizations in detail, even before we are able to conduct it ourselves, drawing on the rich experience of the International. At some point in the future, we may consider launching a campaign advocating the formation of such a party.
For nearly the entire existence of the WIL, the Republicans were in the White House, and for most of that time, controlled Congress as well. As a result, for an entire period, our political perspectives did not change dramatically from year to year. The pressure of “lesser evil” politics was intense. We patiently and consistently explained that the Republicans are anti-worker and imperialist, but that the Democrats are fundamentally no different, that what we need is a mass party of labor based on the unions. From the standpoint of our general analysis of the political situation, there is no fundamental change now that Obama is in power. We must nonetheless understand that for the masses his election does mark a dramatic change.
It is one thing to have illusions in a future Democratic administration; it is another to live through such an administration. It is one thing to make demands on George W. Bush and have them come to naught; it is another to make these demands on the Democrats in power, only to be let down. The turbulence of the economic crisis is also an important change in the situation. It is impossible to predict as far ahead as 2012 with any accuracy, as any number of events can take place between now and then. It is possible Obama will win again for lack of an alternative; it is also possible that he will be so unpopular that the “greater evil” will get back into power. But we can be sure of one thing: the illusion of the “American Dream” is being violently shaken out of the heads of millions of workers and young people
The Labor Movement
Trotsky explained that there is no automatic, linear relationship between economic crises and the militancy of the working class. A crisis does not automatically mean an increase in the class struggle. Especially in a deep crisis, workers can sometimes be cowed for time. Often, it is on the basis of a recovery that the workers regain their confidence and move on the offensive. But this is not a mechanical process either. Defensive struggles during a downturn can be transformed into offensive struggles, and major strike waves can take place in the middle of an economic boom. We must follow the awakening of the workers to class consciousness through all its contradictory twists and turns.
The lack of a clear alternative and bold lead by the workers’ leaders is a major factor in the situation. The role of the labor bureaucracy has become not only a subjective factor, but an objective factor in the blocking of the workers’ struggle. Although no major defeat of the class has taken place in decades, the slow attrition of the unions and the leaders’ inaction or outright betrayal feels like a defeat, without a struggle having even taken place. Obama is the “left” boot of the capitalist class, carrying out attacks on the workers that even Bush couldn’t get away with. In much the same way, Clinton did more to dismantle the “welfare state” and attack workers’ rights and conditions of life, for example, with the passage of NAFTA, than Reagan and Bush Sr. combined. With no clear alternative to the Democrats and Republicans, and big illusions in Obama shattered, this can feel like a defeat as well.
But one thing is crystal clear: the crisis is having a profound effect on workers’ consciousness. How could it not? Former industrial powerhouses with tens of thousands of good union jobs have become virtual ghost towns. In Cleveland, for example, the poverty rate is more than 30% and the population has collapsed from 900,000 to less than 450,000 since 1950. Major work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers hit an all-time low of just 5 in 2009. These strikes involved just 13,000 workers and led to just 124,000 lost workdays, also a record low. Workers have their heads down as they desperately hold on to what little they have, feeling that in the midst of such a generalized crisis, they cannot demand much more than to maintain what they already have. They can plainly see that the exorbitant corporate bonuses and the bonanza on Wall Street continue, while their own conditions worsen or stagnate. Nonetheless, they grudgingly accept the ruling class mantra that “we’re all in this together” and tighten their belts. But this situation cannot last forever.
For nearly 30 years, U.S. workers have suffered a decline in real wages and conditions. To counter this situation, every possible individual solution has been tried: an extra job or two, overtime, a smaller house, a cheaper car, both spouses working, children working to supplement family income, no family vacations, the taking on of colossal amounts of debt, giving up health care coverage, giving up sending the kids to college, etc. In order to save their jobs, they have even granted concessions such as unpaid furlough days, and in some cases, even literally working for free several days a year. But it is not enough to satisfy the appetite of the bosses. As a result, sooner or later, workers will be forced to act collectively through the unions to fight back against these attacks. If a lead is given, the movement could really take off. There are already important symptoms of a stirring in the rank and file in the unions and among the unorganized.
Unionization rates have fallen steadily since at least 1983, when the rate was 20.1%. Despite the crisis and the haemorrhaging of union jobs in the last year, overall unionization rates fell by just 0.1% to 12.3% in 2009, an indication that more workers are joining unions as a way to fight back. Public sector workers are now more heavily unionized than their private sector co-workers, even though there are five times as many workers in the private sector. Local government workers are unionized at the highest rate, 43.3%. Black workers are more likely to be unionized than white, Asian or Hispanic workers, and New York had the highest unionization rate (25.2%), while North Carolina had the lowest (3.1%).
History shows again and again that when the workers are blocked on the industrial front, they will look for a political solution, and vice versa. In a distorted way, American workers have tried to find a solution to their problems through the election of Obama. But Obama represents the capitalists, not the workers, and he has quickly revealed his true colors. Frustration with the lack of a genuine alternative on the political plane will eventually lead to workers expressing themselves through the only traditional mass organizations they have in the U.S. – the unions.
The Republic Windows and Doors factory occupation of December 2008 was of important symptomatic significance. While the first “sit down” strike since the 1930s did not unleash a wave of similar occupations around the country, it did send a clear message that will not be lost on the many labor activists who followed this struggle: militant mass action, despite the efforts of the labor leadership to keep things within safe channels, does work. There were also important mobilizations against the economic crisis in cities around the country, including the St. Louis suburb of Granite City, Illinois, where thousands of workers marched against planned layoffs at a local steel mill. Even on Wall Street, thousands demonstrated and responded favorably to leaflets declaring that “capitalism has failed.”
The recent change in leadership of the AFL-CIO can only be characterized as a shift to the left, no matter how modestly or how reluctantly. At least in words, if not yet in deeds, Richard Trumka’s election is a reflection of the growing pressure from the rank and file, which is tired of cuts and concessions. At the labor federation’s September conference, the new leadership slate pledged to fight for jobs, universal single payer health care, new laws such as the Employee Free Choice Act to open the road to organizing the unorganized, and for an economic recovery plan in the interests of working people. Of course, words are one thing, and action is another. But for the largest labor federation in the U.S., representing over 9 million workers in 57 different national and international labor unions, this is clearly a more proactive and militant face for Labor, compared to the days of George Meany and John Sweeney.
Trumka comes out of the United Mine Workers of America, is a third generation miner, and has long been seen in the labor movement as a “militant” and someone “left-of-center” within the leadership. The UMWA has a militant tradition of strike battles, and Trumka himself led the successful 9-month Pittston coal strike in 1979, and also helped build solidarity between U.S. and South African mine workers in the struggle against Apartheid during the 1980s.
After the Massachusetts election, he called the result a “working class revolt,” and stated that “voters showed they don’t think Democrats have overreached – they think that the Democrats underreached.” He also stated that “It’s time to organize and mobilize as never before to make every elected or aspiring leader prove he or she will create the jobs we need in an economy we need with the health care we need. I know we are the people who can mobilize a massive army to force elected leaders to deliver.”
In a January interview with Bill Moyers on PBS, Trumka responded to a question about whether he was advocating a return to class war by saying: “The class war has been on [the last ten years], but my class has been losing.” Nonetheless, he stubbornly advocated the need to continue supporting the Democrats. He seemed more than a bit uncomfortable when Moyers said, “It makes me sometimes wonder why you hang around with Democrats so much, because it was a Democratic President, Bill Clinton, and a Democratic Vice President, Al Gore, who fought hard for NAFTA. And at the time, I– it seemed to me that the Democrats were destroying their working class base by agreeing to ship industrial and manufacturing jobs abroad.” Trumka in effect replied that they still might deliver.
Later in the interview, Moyers asked him: “You are taking to the streets. I mean, you were arrested a few weeks ago in that demonstration for hotel workers out in San Francisco. Are you calling for more militancy? For more mobilization? More action in the street?” Trumka’s response reflected the pressures he is under; from the rank and file he was elected to defend and who want more militant action, and his role as arbiter between the classes, through the vehicle of keeping Labor tied to the Democrats. “Absolutely. More mobilization. More education. I don’t know whether you call it militancy or not. But it is more education, so our members know who is really doing it to them. Here’s the model that we see. Instead of going after a politician and elected 60 people to the Senate, we create a groundswell of support for an issue that will get more than 60 votes. And those that don’t vote for it do so at their own peril.”
Leo Gerard, president of the United Steel Workers, is another example of a “left of center” labor leader being pushed further, at least in words, on the basis of the crisis. The USW is the largest manufacturing workers’ union in the U.S., and also represents workers in Canada. In a recent article he wrote for Black History Month, he clearly has illusions that America can once again be prosperous within the limits of capitalism, that we can somehow go back to the “good old days” of the 1950s and 60s. He does, however, call for the creation of 2.5 million new manufacturing jobs, and several times in the article he calls on “America’s youth to lead another revolution” to fight for these jobs. As he puts it: “Sisters and brothers of the next generation, it’s time for a revolution. It’s time to stand up and be heard. It’s time to mobilize online and in the streets. Together, let’s tweet, Facebook and text. Let’s rally, vote and, where necessary, sit in. Let’s lead the civil rights movement 2.0.”
These kinds of words have not been heard on major labor leaders’ lips in many years. It is also interesting to note that in Canada, the USW and Gerard himself support the New Democratic Party, Canada’s labor party, while in the U.S. he continues to look to the capitalist Democratic Party for some kind of relief. Eventually that contradiction will have to be addressed. It is around figures like Gerard that some kind of support for a mass party of labor in the U.S. could eventually gain support.
In the run up to the vote on the much watered-down health care package, SEIU president Andy Stern warned that his union would back independent challengers against Democrats that voted against the bill. As he put it: “If health care goes down and there are people who promised our members that they were going to vote for health care reform, they shouldn’t be going back to Washington.” Now that some form of the bill has passed, it is unclear what approach Stern will take in the midterm elections. But one thing is clear. Trumka, Stern, and co. will not be able to resist the pressure from below forever. Sooner or later they will be forced to do more than coordinate call-in campaigns to Congress, make vague threats, or get arrested at the occasional picket line. Eventually they will be forced to use their clout to take political action.
One example is the victory of a pro-reform opposition group in Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 in New York City. This local has more than 30,000 members and represents the workers who operate the subway and bus system in New York City, an important and powerful part of the New York City working class. Historically, the union was founded in the 1930s by militants who were in and around the Communist Party. That the opposition was able to defeat a leadership that controlled a formidable apparatus is certainly an achievement. The new president will be John Samuelson, and he promises to try to unify the union and mobilize the membership “to take on the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority).” TWU Local 100 has the size and position to get the attention of the broader labor movement if it were to make concrete proposals for taking on the bosses across the board.
Also in NYC, two Teamsters Locals, 814 and 804 have elected opposition slates. There is also the example of the California health workers, who have broken with SEIU, and the growing tensions growing within Change to Win generally. There is also the labor unrest in Puerto Rico. A video that surfaced recently on YouTube, showing a meeting of rank and file auto workers in open revolt against the local leadership for accepting concessions, is another sign of things to come. In Pennsylvania, the AFL-CIO mobilized thousands of union members in March 2010 against cuts and bank bailouts.
The South Carolina AFL-CIO, long-time supporters of the more or less defunct Labor Party, have taken Trumka on his word and have called for a labor march on Washington to pressure the government for a serious jobs program. This is an important step forward and should be replicated and put into effect across the country. However, pressuring the Big Business incumbents is not enough.
The AFL-CIO mobilized tens of thousands of members and spent some $450 million to help elect Obama and have received virtually nothing in return. The rank and file are right to question this policy. To spend another penny is to throw good money after bad. A recent Supreme Court ruling now allows corporations to pour even more money, in an open way, into their favored candidates’ campaigns. The same ruling also allows unions to make unrestricted campaign donations. Apparently, some labor leaders think this will allow them to compete on a more even playing field when it comes to lobbying Congress. This is an absurd idea. The four largest banks in the U.S. would have to devote a mere one-tenth of one percent of their assets to counter a campaign in which the whole of the Labor Movement spent all of its assets. The only way forward is on a class-independent basis, relying only on the Labor Movement’s considerable numbers and resources to fight for policies that improve workers’ lives. Although in the end, steel worker Jack Shea’s campaign in Western Pennsylvania never materialized, this is an example of the way forward and of what we can expect more of in the coming period.
Imagine a labor party that could stand in elections and proclaim that it does not take one penny from the corporations and therefore owes them nothing. Given the anger that exists, if a decisive sector of the Labor movement broke from the two parties of Big Business and set up a labor party that would not bail out the rich, but would instead fight for full employment, higher wages, including a higher minimum wage, affordable housing, and free universal health care and education, it would turn American politics upside down. In the tumult of the period we have entered, after bitter struggles against cuts and concessions, mass campaigns to unionize the unorganized, waves of victorious and defeated strikes, attempts to form political alternatives at the state or regional level, or around specific issues, a decisive sector of the unions will be compelled to break with the Democrats and a mass, national party of Labor will emerge. The workers have no alternative but to fight back against the attacks of the bosses and their government, and on the basis of their own experience, they will reach the conclusion that they need a political party that defends their interests. This is the perspective we must patiently explain.
While it is a step forward to elect new leaders who want to mobilize the members to fight back, as in the case of TWU 100 in New York, it is also important that these leaders have a strategy that can succeed in the face of the tremendous pressures workers will be put under in the coming period. If they do not, they too will inevitably end up arguing that members must accept concessions because “there is no alternative.” What is needed is a strategy that starts from the premise that the interests of the workers and the interests of the employers are incompatible: a class struggle approach to trade unionism. Explaining this necessity must be a prominent aspect of our work in the coming period.
For the AFL-CIO and Change to Win leaderships to really mobilize the rank and file depends on their willingness to break with the Democrats, and the ability of the rank and file to organize and push the leadership to mobilize the movement. They will avoid this like the devil avoids holy water, until they are forced to do so or face an explosion from below which they may not be able to control. We must continue to put positive demands on these leaders, calling on them to do what they were put in place to do: defend the workers’ interests. Their failure to do so will expose them before the membership a thousand times more than denunciations from the sidelines. Our approach is not to denounce the leadership and make unrealistic demands on the masses to magically conjure up a new leadership out of thin air. Our approach is to make positive demands on the leaders, while patiently and painstakingly explaining our ideas and strategy to the rank and file in order to build an alternative leadership.
In addition to the split between the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, which was a division from the top, with no fundamental differences in strategy and policy, there have been other splits in the movement as this or that union or local has come into conflict with the national or international leadership. This is an inevitable part of the process of differentiation in the unions, as some leaders are pushed further to the left by their membership than the union as a whole, and as the union tops seek to let off steam while preserving their own power and privileges. We are in favor of the maximum unity of the Labor Movement, but not at all costs. We are for unity based on democratic elections and accountability of all union officials and the input and participation of the rank and file in all key decisions.
The years ahead will be full of turmoil for the labor movement. From the end of the Second World War to the middle of the 1970s, unions could engage in collective bargaining and win some wage increases, better benefits and working conditions. This allowed some union leaders to become “union leaders for life.” However, since then, the end of U.S. capitalism’s post war boom means the capitalists are in crisis and they intend to make the workers pay for it.
We must go through the experience of the class struggle with our class brothers and sisters, offering our perspectives and raising appropriate transitional demands. In the coming years, as the reality of the new, low-wage “American Nightmare” sinks in, and given the lack of a genuine political alternative, many workers desperate to fight back against the bosses are going to look to get organized into unions. It will most likely be the more aggressive and militant unions that will organize these workers, and we will start to see a change in the dynamic of the labor movement. For example, younger workers, immigrant workers, the tens of thousands of non-union auto workers in the South, call center workers, and others in the service industry will breathe fresh air and militancy into the movement. A new phase is opening up in U.S. politics and the Labor Movement as American workers find their backs against the wall and have no option but to fight back.
Immigrant Workers’ Movement
At the forefront of the workers’ movement in the last few years have been undocumented immigrants, most of them from Latin America. In the Spring of 2006, they poured onto the streets by the millions, as decades of discrimination and exploitation boiled to the surface. The traditional non-profits, labor leaders, and “progressives” in general were unable to control the movement when it first erupted. Lacking confidence in, or an understanding of how the working class moves, they were taken completely by surprise. For a few months, the future of the movement was up in the air, with a militant tone being set by community assemblies, workplace committees and those further on the left. But the lack of a clear program and a bold and coordinated national leadership left the movement atomized and susceptible to being dragged into that graveyard of progressive movements: the Democratic Party and their allies in the world of non-profits.
For the last two years, the movement has been at a low ebb, battered by the economic crisis and terrorized by the state. Raids and deportations are up by 5% under Obama, although two-thirds of those involved had no criminal record. This aggressive harassment and skyrocketing unemployment have knocked the wind out of the movement and sent over a million immigrants packing. But nothing fundamental has changed, and with things worse than ever here and in their countries of origin, there is no alternative but to fight at a certain stage.
Many expected Obama to make immigration reform one of his first-year priorities. But he got bogged down in health care reform and so far, despite a thousands-strong demonstration organized in late March by one of the major immigrant rights non-profits, immigration reform is not on the public radar. But it is quite possible that it will be put squarely on the national agenda in the next year or so. The framework for the debate will likely be a pair of proposals already introduced in Congress. It is a classic example of “lesser evilism” when it comes to legislation coming out of the two Big Business parties. One bill is much more onerous in its terms, while the other seems to be more of a “compromise.” However, none of the proposals come anywhere near meeting the movement’s demand for immediate and unconditional legalization – amnesty – for all.
Statements by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and the legislation introduced by Illinois congressman Luis Gutierrez shows that in all fundamental aspects, the Obama approach is incredibly similar to what G.W. Bush proposed. It is largely an “enforcement first” approach, combined with corporate guest worker programs, fines, and continued raids and deportations. Gutierrez’ proposal calls for increased security on the border and an E-Verify system in the workplace. His proposal for an employment-based visa system is essentially the same old guest worker program under a new name. Like previous bills, there would be a “path to citizenship,” which means fines, fees, long waits, disqualifications, and other hoops to jump through. And of course, nothing would be done to address the economic and social crisis in Latin America which forces immigration in the first place.
However, the Gutierrez bill does include much that will appeal to immigrant workers desperate for any kind of relief. There is at least some form of legalization, albeit with fines and penalties, for millions of immigrants already in the country, and even the work visas are appealing to many at this juncture. Entire regions of Latin America depend on remittances from relatives in the U.S., and with the crisis, any guarantee of work is welcome. We must also keep in mind that while the Democrats and non-profits were taken by surprise the last time around, this time they are expecting and prepared for the mobilizations, and in a much better position to control them.
They may even organize and call for mass mobilizations themselves, as a way of staying at the head of the movement, appearing to give a lead, and to let off accumulated steam. However, while we may understand that this legislation is no real solution, and includes many of the worst aspects of the Republican proposals, for millions of desperate immigrant workers, and in the absence of a strong and coordinated response from the labor movement and those fighting for amnesty, there will be a mood among many to support this “lesser evil.” Already, many activists are calling for an “incrementalist” approach to win this or that immediate demand, leaving the key demand of “amnesty for all” to some undetermined point in the future.
Therefore, we will have to be skillful in how we relate to the legislation being proposed, and above all, to the masses being cynically mobilized in favor of it. Without raising any illusions in the Gutierrez or similar bills, we must welcome the fact that the question of immigration has been put on the agenda, and while pointing out and implacably opposing the negative sides of such proposals, make positive demands for a bill that effectively grants immediate and unconditional legalization for all. In this way, we can get the ear of those who want real change, but who have illusions in the movement’s leadership and are desperate for any kind of reform. Now, more than ever, we need ideological clarity and open, comradely debate, in preparation for the tremendous battles that impend. Concretely, this means defending the need for class independence and orienting to the rank and file of the labor movement.
The Anti War Movement
We have been following the development of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since they began. As we have explained before, both these regions are of too great a geopolitical importance for U.S. imperialism to abandon them completely without first being thrown out. U.S. troops are to remain in Iraq for years to come, although they have done precisely what we predicted, which was to pull back from the day-to-day fighting, thus reducing casualties and media attention, while still projecting their power in the Middle East. Controlling access to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States’ oilfields, and counter balancing Iranian strength in the region and keeping an eye on the revolution as it develops, are key objectives. Obama did not withdraw from Iraq within 16 months as he promised during the primaries, and billions continue to flow into the war, but casualties are down enough and problems at home are focusing attention elsewhere. In many ways, Iraq is off the public radar already.
As for the war in Afghanistan, it is still seen by some as a more or less “just” war, and although a majority oppose it, they are willing to “wait and see” for a while longer. Obama has sent 30,000 more troops on top of the 21,000 or so he sent shortly after he took office. The scope of the war has also been significantly expanded into Pakistan. And although Obama’s new plan proposes the beginning of a “draw down” of troops in 18 months, there is no guarantee of that, let alone a full withdrawal, as it all depends on “conditions on the ground.”
He has, however, made it clear that the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan cannot be open ended. This is not due to any qualms about continuing the war and occupation, but because the U.S. economy is already technically insolvent and the enormous costs cannot be maintained indefinitely. Nonetheless, Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama has expanded the overall military budget to an incredible $680 billion – an amount only dreamed of by Reagan and the Bushes. So-called “defense” spending now consumes 35-42% of estimated tax revenues. Add to that the billions handed out without any accountability whatsoever to the already super rich, and it is no surprise there is “not enough” money for job creation, schools or health care.
In short, Bush’s wars continue despite the “changing of the guard.” The reason for this is clear: like Bush, Obama defends the fundamental interests of the capitalists and imperialists. Like Bush before him, his policies flow from this reality. However, Afghanistan is now seen as Obama’s war. This is an important difference. Even the now staunchly “reform the Democrats from below” Michael Moore had his illusions in Obama shaken by his expansion of the war. He is not alone. Even the California State Democratic Party has come out in favor of withdrawal from Afghanistan.
As for the U.S. imperialists’ attitude toward Latin America, the coup in Honduras is a clear example that it is business as usual in “America’s backyard,” albeit with some cosmetic changes and more subtle diplomatic maneuvering. The continued aggressive attitude toward Venezuela and Cuba, the expansion of U.S. bases in Colombia, and the military occupation of Haiti under the guise of “humanitarian aid” are other examples. As we predicted, Obama would attempt a more diplomatic “carrot” approach, after Bush’s excessive use of the “stick” backfired and they began to lose control of the entire hemisphere.
But nothing fundamental has changed, only the form, not the content, and sometimes, not even that. Obama will continue the combined “carrot and stick” approach to the region in the coming period, with Brazil’s Lula and Colombia’s Uribe playing the roles of “good cop, bad cop.” He will try to drive a wedge between the “progressive lefts” and the “revolutionary lefts” in the region. Above all, the imperialists must strangle the Venezuelan Revolution. With the revolution at a crossroads and legislative elections to be held in late 2010, things are sure to heat up. Latin American solidarity work and the Hands Off Venezuela campaign in particular will remain important activities and sources of contacts for us when and where appropriate.
The anti-war movement, due in no small part to the criminal divisions in its leadership over the last few years, is at a low ebb. The core of the movement at present is made up of relatively old, mostly religious activists, or others opposed to the war for their deeply held moral convictions, and the “hard” left. The National Assembly antiwar network remains alive, but given the low tide of the movement, it has a limited scope of action for the time being. Nonetheless, the objective situation itself will combine to inevitably revive the movement in some form at a certain stage. The New England United antiwar conference in February had several hundred people in attendance, evidence that there is still a certain layer who are willing to be active on this question. The modest March 20th demonstrations had many fresh young people involved, an important qualitative change in the situation.
While in the next period we may have other priorities, depending on the situation in our local areas, we cannot fall into routinism and ignore the anti-war movement altogether. Just because it seems moribund at present does not mean it will remain that way. As the saying goes, “the darkest hour is before the dawn.” Afghanistan is now Obama’s war, and with its expansion into Pakistan, as well as increased U.S. imperialist activity in Yemen, Somalia, and Latin America, the movement can begin to revive.
In the short to medium term it is not likely that we will see a revival of the mass mobilizations that preceded Bush’s “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq. However, the character of the movement will be different, even if it is small at first. It is one thing to oppose Bush’s war and have illusions in the Democrats; it is quite another to oppose Obama and the Democrats on this and other questions. In particular, those young people who are drawn to the movement will have far fewer illusions in the Democrats than in the past, and will be more open to our ideas and overall perspectives if we are there to explain them. The annual antiwar mobilizations in the Spring and Fall will remain important opportunities for us to intervene and make new contacts.
The Youth Begin to Move
Mark Zandi, chief economist and co-founder of Moody’s Economy.com recently told MSNBC: “This Great Recession is an inflection point for the economy in many respects. I think the unemployment rate will be permanently higher, or at least higher for the foreseeable future.” This new reality means that the situation confronting young workers, and in particular black and Latino youth, is worse than ever. Even during the best of times, the youth have a hard time finding work, let alone work that isn’t part time, poorly paid, and with few benefits. Most young people are forced to float from job to job, searching desperately for one that might pay fifty cents or a dollar more per hour.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that among those aged 16 to 24, the unemployment rate is an astonishing 53.4%, the highest rate for workers in that age group since records began in 1948. That’s over 20 million young people languishing on the unemployment lines with few if any prospects of finding a job. Never since World War Two has youth unemployment surpassed 50%. In some areas it is even worse. In Illinois, for example, 75% of young black males are unemployed. When it comes to access to health care, the youth are also on the wrong end of the stick. An estimated 13.2 million of uninsured Americans are young adults, the fastest rising section of the population without coverage.
Although the youth are led to believe that a college education is one of the only ways to get ahead in life, access is severely limited to those who can afford it. Grants and scholarships are few and far between. And after taking out massive loans, thus beginning a lifetime chain of debt that keeps young people perpetually tied to the system, there is no work to be found. The situation facing students in California, and their response to the crisis, is a prime example of what will be repeated in one form or another across the country in the coming period.
The capitalist crisis plunged California into its worst budget crisis in history. Billions of dollars have been already slashed from the budget and billions more will be cut in order to“fix” the shortfall of $20.7 billion. Unable to find any other solution on the basis of capitalism, the state’s workers and students will be made to bear the brunt of these crisis.
California has the highest economic output of any other state; it alone accounts for more than 13% of the total GDP of the U.S., and saw tremendous economic growth in the years before the crisis. However, this increase in wealth only benefited a minority. According to the California Franchise Tax Board, from 2001 to 2007, corporate net income skyrocketed by 578.1%. From 1995 to 2006, the income of households in the top 1% increased by 108.7%, while the income of the bottom 60% grew only by 9.6%. And when inflation is taken into account, their income actually fell by 17.1%. With the recession the situation has certainly gotten worse.
With the crisis already taking its toll on hundreds of thousands of jobs in the state, working class and poor Californians were hit even harder when the “bi-partisan” state legislature approved steep cuts to essential services such as Disability and Social Security Insurance payments, unemployment insurance, Children’s Services, Medi-Cal, Caltrans, Calworks, etc. To add insult to injury, thousands of workers were given pink slips, furloughed, or forced to take cuts in pay and work hours. Education suffered severe cuts, even though the buildings in some schools are literally falling apart.
The education system is in dire straits. According to the California Department of Finance, K-12 school district education cuts in the last two fiscal years will amount to more than $9 billion. Cuts in the State Universities and University of California will amount to nearly $2.0 billion, and cuts to the community college system will be at $702 million. The tally of all of the cuts to education statewide will be an incredible $16 billion.This is on top of the already declining quality and infrastructure of the California education system that has been going on for years.
As a result, the “University of California Walkout” took place on many campuses around the state in late September 2009. Beginning with a petition, student activists called on faculty, students and workers to walk out to protest the cuts at the UCs, the proposed 32% fee increase, and in solidarity with striking workers. There were sizable demonstrations on many campuses, with solidarity actions taking place at other universities, but the highlight of this campaign was a 5,000-strong demonstration that took place at UC Berkeley. Perhaps an even more important development is the general assembly that took place after the demonstration, which called for a statewide conference on October 24th to organize the defense of public education. These are the kinds of structures and actions needed to build a mass and democratic student movement that can end the cuts and improve education across the board.
The October 24th conference brought together more than 800 students, faculty and workers from K-12, CSUs, UCs, and Community Colleges, as well as various individuals from labor unions and other organizations. The high attendance of the conference demonstrated the willingness of the participants to fight for what they considered theirs, their right to access education. Many present voiced their concern about how the increased fees and budget cuts would put higher education out of the reach of most working class students. Unfortunately, no clear strategy or program was developed from this conference, however, it was agreed that March 4th would be a day of strikes and other actions at all levels of education across California.
There followed significant demonstrations on the 17th, 18th, 19th of November. During those days, meetings were held in which the CSU system approved further budget cuts and a whopping 40,000 student enrollment cut; the UC Regents approved a 32% fee increase on top of the 10% increase enacted the year before. About 2,000 protesters from all over California descended on the UC Regents meeting at UC Los Angeles on November 18th. Smaller actions were carried out at UC San Diego, UC Davis, UC Irvine, Fresno State, and others. In addition, there were several building occupations in November, such as Kerr Hall at UC Santa Cruz, the Business Administration Building at San Francisco State, Campbell Hall at UCLA, and at UC Berkeley.
A sit-in occupation was staged at Wheeler Hall in UC Berkeley on November 20. Some 40 students placed themselves in the building the night before and had blocked the entrances. Hundreds of supporters had come to show solidarity with the occupation. Eventually riot police and SWAT teams were called in to evict the occupiers. By 5 pm that day, police had broken through the entrances and it was reported that 43 arrests were made. Other occupations fared similarly. 52 were arrested at UC Davis, 16 at the UC Regents meeting at UCLA, 33 at SFSU, and one arrest each at UCSC and UC Irvine. Repercussions from the arrests range from brief periods of detention to more serious charges such as arson.
Then, on January 6th, 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsed a constitutional amendment to cap prison spending at 7% of the general fund, and ensuring higher education spending would receive at least 10%. Schwarzenegger has pledged to stop any further cuts to K-12 and the universities, yet further cuts were not ruled out for California’s community college system, the largest in the nation. Further fee increases are also not off the table. In addition, many other vital social services remain on the chopping block, which will negatively affect the poorest Californians.
Some activists have denounced actions such as protests and walkouts as futile, but the statement from the governor proves the validity of such actions if they are well coordinated and have broad support. Susan Kennedy, the governor’s chief of staff, was quoted in the New York Times as saying: “Those protests on the UC campuses were the tipping point.” This clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of the education protests, despite their limited scope, and shows that the way forward is to build even larger and better organized demonstrations. If we were able to get the state to partially back down through limited walkouts and protests, imagine what we could win with an all-out and well prepared strike?
School occupations are a tactic, not a principle. Every action taken must be weighed carefully and must form part of an overall strategy. We must make careful considerations before engaging in such actions. Isolated groups on the fringes carrying out occupations with out any clear demands, program or goals can only lead to further repression, not only against the occupiers but against the movement in general. Occupations must be well organized with mass support and the participation of students, teachers, other university workers and the broader community. They should be agreed upon democratically, not initiated at the whim of small groups. Occupations just for the sake of it can actually be counter-productive and can serve to alienate the movement from the rest of the students.
California’s students have shown that they are ready to fight. Other students around the country will follow suit. To meet their objectives, we must patiently explain the need to replace individual, dispersed actions with a collective unified force, united by one program for all students in the state, ending the isolation of these struggles. The aim must be to build a broad, democratic, participatory, dynamic and permanent organization of the student movement in each state, linked up nationally through directly elected and recallable representatives. An organization that brings together students in K-12 and the state university systems, and has strong and direct links to the working class and its trade unions. Such an organization must be independent politically, economically and ideologically from the state, capitalist parties, and the educational authorities.
More than ever, the overwhelming majority of today’s students come from a working class background and this is reflected in their consciousness. The fact that many students have to work while going to school in order to pay for tuition also shapes their consciousness in this direction. We often say that the students are a sensitive barometer of society. For a variety of reasons, they are often the first sector to go into action in search of a solution to society’s problems. They often have greater flexibility and time to get involved in politics and related struggles. They have no direct experience of defeat, and of course, they have the energy, optimism, and vitality of youth. At times this can lead to volatile and sporadic waves of struggle without a clear direction.
Due to the lack of a clear program and coordinated leadership, and the system’s need to cut services to the bone, no matter what the social cost, it is likely that most student movements in the next period will be defeated or achieve only partial victories. This can lead to moods of frustration at the pace of events, and a failure to recognize when to advance and when to retreat. There is the danger of adventurism, ultra-leftism, and even individual terrorism inherent in the situation. We must patiently but firmly combat these moods and argue for democratically coordinated mass action in the form of a mass, democratically-structured and coordinated student organization, as explained above.
In the final analysis, the crisis facing young people is the lack of good jobs and of access to free, quality education. The unions must take the lead in fighting for jobs and ensuring that the workers of tomorrow are well educated. Leo Gerard’s call for a “youth revolution” to fight for manufacturing jobs is a good start, but must be made a reality by investing the Labor Movement’s resources into actively building such a campaign. In addition, the unions must greatly expand apprenticeship programs. With large-scale apprenticeship programs, a new layer of skilled trade union workers could be created. However, to ensure that quality jobs are available for all, the unions must mobilize the rank and file and the unemployed for a massive program of publicly-funded union jobs. In order to expedite the unemployed into job openings, the unions must open hiring halls in communities most affected by unemployment, with union control over hiring and firing.
Young people are being made to bear the brunt of the crisis. Under capitalism, millions will never have a quality job or get to put their degrees to use. Long gone are the days of slowly but surely rising through the ranks of the workforce, with an ever-increasing quality of life all but guaranteed at every stage. This will continue to have a profound effect on our young co-workers and classmates, who will be increasingly open to our ideas. In addition, public education services and workers at all levels are under attack, with layoffs, furloughs, hiring freezes and outright wage and benefit cuts. While in most cases in the immediate future these cuts will be accepted without a fight, this situation will not last forever either. Where we have comrades or connections in the high schools, universities and colleges, we must raise our ideas, participate in the struggles that emerge, and win the ones and twos to the WIL.
The crisis we are passing through is an historical crisis of U.S. capitalism. The “American Dream” had a material basis, which is why it had such a profound effect on workers’ consciousness. For a period of decades, conditions of life did improve for a significant layer of the working class. But that is now finished.
It is said that “history wastes nothing.” The constant instability of capitalism is having a profound and cumulative effect on workers’ consciousness, even if it has not yet exploded to the surface in a generalized manner. As Ted Grant said, “events, events, events” will transform the masses’ consciousness and lead to mass action to change society. But it is not a straightforward, mechanical process. Especially in a country such as the United States, it will be a protracted and contradictory process. Nonetheless, beneath the surface we can see what Trotsky called the “molecular process of revolution,” in which small accumulations will eventually lead to a qualitative change in the situation. The Republic occupation and wave of genuine enthusiasm and hope after Obama was elected were but a small hint of what is to come. We have entered a new epoch on a world scale, an epoch in which the socialist revolution will be on the agenda in one country after another.
There are no direct historical parallels, and comparisons between epochs must of necessity take into account the many changes and differences that have taken place in the intervening decades. Nonetheless, it is useful, to keep in mind that between the Crash of 1929 and the first mass stirrings of the working class in the mid-1930s, some five years or more elapsed. In the meantime, even the large, well-established left-wing parties such as the Socialist Party and Communist Party did not experience an immediate surge in growth. The CP had the entire might of the USSR, thousands of members, and multiple daily papers, and still, it not only did not grow, but fell to a quarter of its pre-1929 membership. Of course, the Comintern’s ultra-left “Third Period” policies didn’t help, but regardless, the objective situation played an important role. Today, as then, mass consciousness has not yet caught up with objective reality. But it will catch up, and with a bang. It would be a grave error to mistake today’s apparent passivity in the face of such an unprecedented crisis for “the end of the class struggle.” Quite the opposite; the decisive epoch of the class struggle of humanity is only just beginning.
For those of us who can see the correctness of our perspectives confirmed and the potential for the socialist transformation of society all around us, it can be frustrating to watch the molasses-like development of events in the U.S. The movement at present could be compared to a low tide; there are many strange and bizarre creatures visible in the tide pools, and the tide gets even lower before a tsunami. But it would be a grave mistake not to recognize and prepare for what is to come. All the bizarre elements gaining prominence in the movement, the revival of pre- and anti-Marxist ideas and methods, will be swept aside when the tide of the working class roars in.
We therefore cannot allow ourselves to succumb to moods of impatience or spend time searching for panaceas or shortcuts: there are none. Patience, hard work, discussion, theoretical clarity and dedication are the only way forward. History is on our side. We must have confidence in the working class, in the ideas of revolutionary Marxism as a guide to action, and in our perspectives for a socialist future.
There is no alternative for the ruling class except to impose austerity, using the crisis as an excuse to cut already depleted social services to the bone. Sharp and sudden changes are on the agenda, both economically and politically, and this will have profound social effects as well. We are passing through a very different period than we are used to. There will be increased polarization accompanied by wild swings to the left and to the right. We must not fall into routinism or adopt a superficial approach when it comes to our analysis or the way we intervene in the movement. Now, more than ever, we must regularly discuss and adjust our perspectives and work as events unfold. The clarity we achieve through discussion on the basis of practical experience will more than make up for our errors, as long as we recognize, learn from, and correct them them.
We must keep in mind that there is an important difference between how we work as a small nucleus fighting against the stream, which has been the case in the U.S. since we founded the WIL, and how we work once the tide begins to turn. As the situation changes and develops, the old formulas and methods of work will not suffice. Habits can form and comrades can get comfortable with the “normal” routine, and opportunities can be missed or mistakes made. We must be prepared to be tactically flexible while remaining firm in our fundamentals.
Our organizational tasks flow from our political conclusions. The economy may stabilize temporarily, but nothing fundamental will have been resolved. The masses will wait and see – but not forever. In the meantime, we must build on solid foundations; it always takes longer to lay down the foundations than to construct the building itself. It is sometimes hard to envision the finished building when you are still in the basement pouring the concrete. But if we skip that stage, we will be building on sand. Our task at present is not to build the mass movement, be it the anti-war, immigrant rights, anti-home foreclosure, etc., or to build new unions or a mass party of labor ourselves. Yes, we must energetically intervene and connect our ideas and proposals with as wide a layer as possible, and in some cases may even have some real influence, but our main task is to build our own organization, in order to be able to actually lead these movements in the future. We must maintain a sense of proportion; we cannot run if we cannot walk.
Our task remains the building of a cadre organization, of recruiting the ones and twos, of educating them patiently over a period of time in the ideas and methods of the IMT, the ideas and methods of revolutionary Bolshevism. It is no use recruiting someone if we don’t take the time to educate them. No one is a born Marxist, and every comrade has their strengths and weaknesses. We must help each comrade develop their strengths and shore up their weaknesses. We must set bold but achievable targets and follow up on them regularly.
The period through which we are passing creates new difficulties and contradictions. But we can clearly not simply blame the “nature of the epoch” for the challenges we are confronted with. It is not a matter of going home and waiting for “better times.” Far from it. If anything, for our purposes, the current situation is more favorable than it has been since we founded the organization.
Our task is to understand and patiently explain the stage we are at, always keeping the big picture and longer-term perspectives in mind. While developing our political perspectives as a guide to action is a crucial part of our work, we should not get too caught up in this or that detail or symptom. The mood in society is already beginning to change. We can be confident in our ideas and perspectives and in the future of our organization. More than enough people have already broken with Obama and are moving to the left, searching for a solution that can only be found in the ideas of revolutionary Marxism. We must therefore find these “ones and twos” and win them to the WIL.
If you agree with these perspectives, or would like to discuss them further, please contact us to learn more about joining the WIL, and consider making a donation to our Fighting Fund to help us bring these ideas more widely into the Labor Movement.