U.S. Perspectives and Tasks 2012


This U.S. Perspectives document was passed by the 2012 National Congress of the Workers International League. If you agree with the broad outlines put forward below, contact us for more information on joining the WIL. Let’s work together to bring these ideas to more and more workers and youth and to fight for socialism!


We do not have a crystal ball. We cannot predict the future with pinpoint accuracy. But we can apply the Marxist method to draw out the most likely developments and scenarios. Through a series of successive approximations, we can arrive at an ever-richer, more nuanced understanding of the complex and dynamic world around us. We do this, not as an academic exercise, but in order to better understand the conditions we are working in, the period through which we are passing, and how all of this affects our organization and the consciousness of those we want to win to the WIL.

We have explained in our prior documents that American capitalism is in serious decline. U.S. imperialism was at its zenith following World War II. Now, its manufacturing industry is nothing like it once was and its infrastructure is falling apart. GM, the once proud colossus of American capitalism only survived with subsidies from the state and major give-backs from the workers. It is a telling sign that today, one of America’s richest capitalists is Sheldon Addelson, a casino owner. The once great American steel, automobile, and rubber industries are no longer dominant. It is the more parasitic industries that are successful, with Wall Street, finance and “entertainment” at the top.

Even conservative NY Times columnist David Brooks has noted that American GDP growth in the decades after World War II averaged over 3% per year, while from 2000 to 2009, it was 1.7% per year, and from 2009 to 2011, it was only .6%.  At the same time, U.S. workers’ productivity more than doubled since the early 1970s, yet net family worth is the same as it was 20 years ago. We must understand that the next period will be even bleaker.

The last four years have been truly dramatic. No one can now deny that we are passing through a tumultuous period of crisis, war, revolution, and counterrevolution. The extreme volatility has been accompanied by sharp, sudden changes, both in the U.S. and internationally. And yet, despite the rottenness and instability of the capitalist system, this turbulent situation can continue for years or even decades. The material, objective conditions for the overthrow of capitalism and the building of socialism are present. But one crucial condition is lacking: the subjective factor, the revolutionary leadership of the working class. Without such a leadership, capitalism can and will eventually find a way out of even the deepest crisis.

However, there is only one way out for the system: even deeper cuts, austerity, and an all-out offensive by the capitalists against the working class. So far, we have seen only the tip of the iceberg of what the bosses have in store for the workers. This is not due to malice or ideology, but because the system simply cannot afford the reforms wrenched from it by the workers in the bitter struggles of the past. The question being posed is simple: who will pay for the crisis?

The capitalists and their system caused the crisis, and yet they insist that the workers must pay. The more obtuse among them refuse to make a single concession or pay a single penny in taxes, preferring instead to increase surveillance and repression. But the more far-sighted capitalists understand that if some steam is not let off in the form of modest reforms or higher taxes on the super-rich, the whole thing can explode in their faces. In other words, there are divisions within the ruling class over how to maintain and perpetuate their system. This is one of the classic early indications that a revolutionary situation is brewing beneath the apparently calm surface of society.

The U.S. is increasingly polarized to the right and to the left. Although the media plays up the Tea Party and the right wing, the general trend among the working class will be toward the left. Poll after poll confirms this. The youth in particular are suffering the brunt of the crisis, and they are far more free from the prejudices and inertia of the past. They know nothing but a world of crisis, war, mass unemployment, and discrimination, and are increasingly willing to do something about it. Even more important and powerful than the right-left polarization is the intensifying polarization between the rich and the poor. Wealth disparity has reached unprecedented levels, and there is a burning hatred of the rich by broad swathes of the population.

As Ted Grant always explained, it is events, events, events that most profoundly shape people’s consciousness. Capitalism’s inability to provide even a nominal degree of stability is radically shaking up the worldview of the “ordinary” worker. The Occupy movement, the Verizon strike, the mass protests in Wisconsin, and the struggle in Longview, WA were just the beginning.

As it has in one country after another, the experience of life under capitalism will force the U.S. working class to enter into mass struggle at a certain stage. That much is certain. But will the working class succeed in building the necessary leadership in time to ensure the victory of the socialist revolution? That is up to us. Capitalism itself is doing 99% of the work for us—but the remaining 1% of the work will not do itself. Our task is to build a mass revolutionary party to give the system a final push over the edge into the dustbin of history. Starting with our small cadre organization, we aim to accomplish precisely that.

The international situation

The IMT’s 2012 World Perspectives document outlines the big picture of the international situation and provides some details on key processes and countries. Most importantly, it illustrates the interconnected nature of the world economy and the class struggle. Events around the world now affect the U.S. more than ever. The Egyptian Revolution’s psychological impact on the mass struggle in Wisconsin is just one anecdotal example.

The crisis in Greece and Europe is far from over. While many Americans seem to believe that events there will not affect them, the implosion of the euro would have very real and direct consequences for the U.S. economy. At just $5.8 billion, the U.S. has relatively limited exposure to Greek sovereign debt. But it is not so much Greece itself, as it is the contagion to the rest of Europe that threatens the weak U.S. economic recovery. If Greece is forced out of the eurozone, borrowing costs for countries such as Spain, Italy, Ireland, and Portugal would explode, and their future in the euro would also be in question. The U.S. owns $6.6 billion in Portuguese sovereign debt; $50 billion in Spanish debt; another $50 billion in Irish debt; and $66 billion in Italian debt.

But the full extent of the crisis is even greater. According to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, “Although U.S. banks have limited exposure to peripheral European countries, their exposures to European banks and to the larger, ‘core’ countries of Europe are more material. Moreover, European holdings represented 35% of the assets of prime U.S. money market funds in February, and these funds remain structurally vulnerable.”

In the first quarter of 2012, Europe was a hair’s breadth away from being in a technical recession. A “messy” break up of the euro would shatter the precarious stability of markets in Europe and worldwide. The “credit crunch” that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 could well be put in the shade by the collapse of any European country’s economy—let alone several. In addition to the financial calamity the European crisis poses to the U.S. economy, the break up of the eurozone would inevitably lead to competitive currency devaluations and other protectionist measures. This would immediately lead to a substantial decline in world trade and rising unemployment.

General strikes and massive student movements have already erupted across Europe, including in “sleepy old Britain.” In Canada, wildcat strikes by major unions and the months-long student struggle in Quebec have predictably been met with a virtual media blackout in the U.S. Across North Africa and throughout the Middle East, the entire Arab world is in turmoil and the revolution is far from over. Israel has seen the biggest mass demonstrations in its history. Iran continues to be a powder keg waiting to explode. In Russia, Putin’s iron grip has been shaken by historic mass protests, and Eastern Europe too is being shaken by mass demonstrations against austerity. India and Pakistan are seething with discontent, which will not be long in finding an outlet.

Sub-Saharan Africa is also being dragged into the general conflagration, with the magnificent anti-austerity movement in Nigeria as just one example. And while the Arab Revolution may have jumped ahead of Latin America for the time being, none of the contradictions on that vast continent have been resolved. Sooner or later, they will again erupt to the surface on an even higher level. With events in Mexico and elections Venezuela, we must keep our eye on this important part of the world.

The Chinese capitalist “miracle” has helped keep the world economy afloat for the last period, but even that is now in question. Every country wishes to export its way out of the crisis, but this has very material limits. After Canada and Mexico, the eurozone is the third-largest market for U.S. exports, accounting for $49.2 billion, or 13% of U.S. exports in the first quarter of 2012—more than both China and Japan combined. But as the value of the euro falls in relation to the dollar, U.S. products will become increasingly expensive for Europeans. Reduced purchasing power in Europe also means fewer markets for Chinese exports, which in turn exacerbates the contradictions there.

In short, the world is awash with “inflammable material,” and there is no end in sight to the crisis. The 2008–09 crisis left Americans in a state of shock. They hoped against hope that it was only an anomaly, that things would soon enough get back to normal. As we have explained, things will indeed get back to normal; but it will be a “new normality.” The capitalist crisis means a driving down of wages, conditions, and benefits. The workers will have no option but to fight back.

The U.S. economy

The economy is the base upon which the superstructure of politics and ideology rest. Shifts in the economic base lead dialectically—not directly and mechanically—to shifts in the superstructure. But in the final analysis, the economy sets the parameters for what is possible in society. A sick and decrepit economic system is expressed in a sick and decrepit society. The manifestations of this sickness are all around us.

We cannot make a fetish out of this or that rise or fall on the market or in unemployment. While we must follow these changes carefully, what most concerns us is the overall trend. And the overall trend is one of continuous instability. Anything the capitalists do to restore economic equilibrium will lead to social and political disequilibrium.

After growing modestly yet steadily throughout 2011, U.S. GDP fell from 3% in the 4th quarter to a meager 1.9% in the first quarter of 2012. GDP expanded at an average of just 1.6% for the whole of 2011, after growth of 3.2% in 2010. It is estimated that between 3.0 and 3.5% is needed just to keep pace with the rising population. The results for any given quarter are not decisive. But the overall trend is clear. The recovery has been anemic at best. What GDP growth there has been has done nothing but further enrich the wealthy, while the majority has been mired in unemployment, home foreclosures, and wage and benefit cuts.

The official unemployment rate peaked at 10% in October 2009, and is currently hovering just above 8%. However, the U6 unemployment figure, which includes underemployment, stands between 14 and 15%. Millions are no longer even counted in these figures as they have given up all hope of finding a job. There have been fewer jobs created than are needed to keep up with the tens of thousands of workers entering the labor market each month, let alone to make up for the 8 million that were lost at the height of the crisis. There is an estimated “jobs gap” of between 10 and 12.5 million. The most optimistic forecast for 2012 is that fewer than 200,000 jobs will be created on average each month. May’s figure of just 69,000 sent markets reeling and could presage even lower averages for the rest of the year.

On what basis, therefore, has the economy achieved its modest growth? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, manufacturing sector productivity rose at an annual rate of 5.9% in the first quarter of 2012, with output growing by 10.8% and hours worked increasing by 4.6%. At the same time, unit labor costs fell at a rate of 4.2%. In other words, the economic growth in the first quarter and throughout the “recovery” has been possible due to an increase in the exploitation of the existing workforce: the intensified extraction of both absolute and relative surplus value. In plain English, fewer workers are working longer and producing more for less pay. This leads to GDP growth and increased profits. But it does not lead to more jobs or a better quality of life for the working majority.

Increased productivity means more commodities are created by fewer people. This means that the workers—those who actually create the wealth of society—are less able than ever to buy all those commodities back. This leads to a piling up of unsaleable goods. This further exacerbates the crisis of overproduction and will inevitably lead again to the seizing up of the productive forces, which are constrained by the need to realize profits on the market. If the commodities already being produced can’t be sold for a profit, the capitalists won’t invest in more workers or increased capacity to produce more. It’s as simple as that. The Economist has explained that although profit margins are at a 50-year high, the capitalists are still not investing. After all, the capitalists are in the business of making profits, not job creation.

Capacity utilization for total industry in May 2012 was at just 79.0%, up from the 2009 low of 63.8%. This means that society could increase industrial production by over 21% with zero additional investment in capacity. But why invest in more factories when you already have more than you can use? Why increase production and hire more workers when you can squeeze more out of those you already have? Cuts in jobs, wages, and social services only add further pressure on this downward spiral.

Over the last 30 years, there has been an unparalleled upward flow of wealth, as the share of wealth created by the working class has increasingly gone to line the pockets of the already extremely wealthy. U.S. GDP has doubled in the last three decades, while wages have stagnated or even fallen in inflation-adjusted terms. This astronomical wealth disparity and the concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands has only been exacerbated under Obama.

Since 2007, the share of total wealth owned by the top 1% has grown from 34.6% to 37.1%. The share owned by the top 20% of Americans has grown from 85% to 87.7%. A record 49.1 million Americans were living in poverty in 2011. Without the food stamps program, another 5 million would be added to that. That same year, the combined Fortune 500 generated an all-time record of $824.5 billion in profits—a 16 percent jump from 2010.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, corporate CEO pay grew by an average of 15% in 2011, on top of a 28% rise in 2010. By contrast, average worker pay in 2011 fell by 2%. Over the last 30 years, CEO pay has grown by an incredible 725%, while worker pay has risen by just 5.7%. And when inflation is taken into account, median wages for male workers are actually less today than they were in 1968! CEOs now make an average of 244 times more than their employees.

In 2010, profits for the Fortune 500 grew by 81%. These 500 companies and their subsidiaries generated nearly $10.8 trillion in total revenues, up 10.5% from 2009. This is out of a total U.S. GDP of $14.7 trillion. These 500 companies alone generated 73.5% of the total economic output of the United States. This represents a colossal concentration of capital and economic power.

The capitalists are sitting on enormous amounts of wealth. Non-financial companies currently have more than $2 trillion in cash on hand—nearly $7,000 per American—with no place to invest it profitably. This money cannot even be invested to earn the rate of inflation. With that amount of cash, the credit card debt ($771.7 billion) and student loans ($1 trillion) of every single American could be wiped out overnight.

During the postwar boom, the upswings were, generally speaking, relatively long, punctuated by relatively short downturns. Things were getting better for the majority, at least in absolute, if not in relative terms. The rich got richer faster than the workers, but at least the workers received a growing share. There was an upward curve of capitalist development, in which the booms created more wealth than the slumps destroyed. These objective conditions led to a dampening of the class struggle. This all ended with the recession of 1973–5. Now it is the opposite. There is a downward curve of development and the disparity of wealth has skyrocketed.

According to an article on Bloomberg: “The loss of manufacturing has also exacerbated capitalism’s natural boom-and-bust cycle. After the first seven post-World War II U.S. recessions, it took an average of only four months for employment levels to return to their pre-recession levels. But after off-shoring became widespread in the 1980s, recovery from recessions started to take much longer. After the 1990–91 recession, it took 19 months to return to normal. After the 2000–01 bust, with even more manufacturing jobs offshore, it took 30 months for employment to reach pre-recession levels. How long will it take to regain the 8 million jobs lost in the latest recession, let alone the 4 million additional ones needed to keep up with population growth? It has been almost 30 months since the trough in June 2009, yet we’ve made almost no progress.”

Consumer spending, which accounts for 70% of economic activity, cannot be expected to save the day as in the past. While it has risen in the first few months of 2012, savings have fallen. This is an unsustainable situation. Millions of people have “underwater” mortgages, which means they owe more on their house than they can sell it for. In relation to consumer credit, The Economist reported that: “At the end of the Second World War in 1945, consumer credit in America totaled just under $5.7 billion; ten years later it had already grown to nearly $43 billion and the party was just getting started. It reached $100 billion in 1966, $500 billion in 1984 and $1 trillion in 1994 …The peak, so far, was almost $2.6 trillion in July 2008. Household debt approached 100% of GDP in 2007, a level seen only once before, rather ominously in 1929.”

Even if Obama wanted to implement a new New Deal in order to stave off social unrest, there are no resources with which to do so. In the 1930s, the U.S. was the world’s largest creditor nation; now it is the world’s largest debtor. Total public debt in May 2012 stood at $15.7 trillion, or 102% of GDP. After draining the treasury with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the bailouts of the banks, even the creditworthiness of the U.S. is in question. Any increased social spending would require either more borrowing or more taxes. Borrowing even more money at higher interest rates would increase the debt and debt servicing payments even further, which would be an even greater drag on the economy. Further taxing the workers would cut demand and contribute to the downward spiral of the economy. Taxing the rich even modestly will be fought tooth and nail, though modest taxes cannot be ruled out.

If job creation were so easy, the capitalists would do it. But this is capitalism, not socialism. This is not a rational society based on producing for the common good. This is cold, calculating capitalism, a system based on exploiting the working class in pursuit of maximizing profits. You cannot have a rational, democratically planned economy if you do not control the commanding heights of the means of production; and you cannot control what you do not own. This is why we demand the Fortune 500 be nationalized under democratic workers’ control, and that these companies be incorporated into a rational plan of production, distribution, and exchange.

The material basis of the “American Dream” has been shattered. How can this not have an effect on workers’ consciousness? For example, an ABC/Washington Post poll in late 2011 showed that 75% of Americans support raising taxes on millionaires to reduce the federal deficit. There is widespread opposition to cutting Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other social programs. And for the first time since the 1930s, a majority of Americans are in favor of redistribution of income and wealth. According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, a super-majority of 66 percent of Americans believe the nation’s wealth should be more evenly distributed. A Pew Research Center poll found that 49% of Americans between 18 and 29 favor socialism, versus 43% who favor capitalism. The same poll also found that 55% of African Americans have a favorable view of socialism. In other words, those with the least to lose under capitalism are the most open to a new form of society, a society based on genuine democracy and equality of opportunity for all.

But these transformations in consciousness are not linear and are not always easy to predict. There can be wild swings, to the left and to the right, with periods of tremendous radicalization, followed by dejection and disillusionment—and back again. Moods can shift dramatically over the course of just a few weeks, and even over the course of a single day. We see this in individuals and in organizations. Our task is to maintain a sense of proportion and keep the big picture and perspective in mind at all times.

Needless to say, the Marxists do not want and are not the cause of the suffering and stress that the economic crisis brings with it; we merely point out the reality of the situation. And the situation is grim. A “double dip” into another recession could lead to another round of shock among the workers, as we saw in 2008, which was compounded by Obama’s election. On the other hand, a sustained, albeit weak recovery, if it did occur, would not be a bad thing from the perspective of the class struggle. Certain layers of workers would feel more secure in their position and be emboldened to fight for a bigger share of the pie. We are not catastrophists, always predicting the “next big crisis” of the system. We understand that there is no linear, mechanical relationship between the ups and downs of the economic cycle and the explosions of the class struggle. It is through an accumulation of discontent at the constant instability of capitalism that the workers will eventually say “enough is enough” No matter what, at a certain stage, the workers will have had enough of the constant instability and will move to take things into their own hands. The system itself is preparing the ground for revolutionary upheaval in society, as it cannot offer any lasting solutions.

Even the slightest shock to the economy could tip it back into a technical recession. The capitalists cannot square the circle. They cannot have both austerity and job creation. They cannot have cuts and economic growth. Ultimately, they cannot gut the material basis for class peace and expect class peace to reign. The more serious strategists of capital are worried about this and are preparing themselves for a new epoch of social unrest.

The youth

While the crisis bears down on all workers, it is the youth who are being hammered the hardest: a veritable “lost generation” of millions of young people whose hopes, dreams, and aspirations for a better life are being ground into the dust by this system.
Although every layer of the working class has seen a drop in the employment-to-population ratio, the youth have been absolutely savaged. In July of 2011 (July is typically the peak of youth employment), just 48.8% of all young people between the ages of 14 and 16 were employed—the lowest level since records began in 1948. Out of the total youth labor force of 22.7 million—the number of young people working or looking for work—just 59.5% were employed, also the lowest on record. By comparison, in July 1989, the proportion was 77.5%. Young black youth are hit especially hard, with an unemployment rate nearly double that of whites.

A Pew Research poll recently found that households headed by people age 35 and younger were worth an average of just $3,662 in 2009, 47 times less than the median net worth of households headed by people 65 and older. In 1984, the differential was 10 times. In other words, under capitalism, today’s generation will never attain the quality of life and standard of living of their parents’ generation. This cannot but have a profound effect on young people’s consciousness.

In April of 2012, student debt hit a record $1 trillion—more than the total credit card debt. The average student debt for a recent graduate was $23,300 in 2011, with 10% owing more than $54,000, and 3% owing more than $100,000. With interest, this can add up to decades of monthly payments of $1,000 or more.

Since 1978, education costs have risen by more than 900%, and by 511% over the last 13 years alone. Grants used to cover an average of 70% of tuition; now they cover just 34%. Over the last 20 years, the number of students going into debt to earn a bachelor’s degree has risen from 45% to as high as 94%. Some refer to this as the “debt for diplomas” model of education. Along with extortionate health care costs and the housing bubble, the massive increase in student debt is another component of the unprecedented upward flow of wealth over the last 30 years—the looting of current and future generations to further enrich the already obscenely wealthy.

Adding insult to injury, the 2005 “Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005” includes a provision prohibiting students from declaring bankruptcy as a result of their student debt. As with the housing bubble and sub-prime collapse, this level of debt could well lead to a mass wave of defaults. With parents as co-signers on much of this debt, entire families face decades of hardship or even total ruin as a result. The Education Department reports that payments are being made on just 38% of outstanding federal student loans, down from 46% just 5 years ago. The debt is not being paid because the borrowers are still in school, have postponed payments, or have stopped paying altogether. Nearly 10% of borrowers who started repayments in 2009 have defaulted within 2 years, double the rate in 2005.

A recent study by Rutgers University found that 40% of recent graduates had delayed purchasing a home or car due to student debt. More than 25% had put off continuing their education or had moved in with relatives as they could not possibly pay both the student loans and the rent. Millions of recent graduates end up taking jobs not at all related to their field of study, just to make ends meet. Others are not even able to finish their studies, yet are tens of thousands of dollars in debt without a degree to show for it.

This is an inescapable black hole of debt. It is a decades-long burden weighing on millions of young people just starting to build their lives—chaining them to the banks long before they even consider the additional chain of a mortgage. But at least in the past, there was a relatively high number of decently paid jobs available, and paying the debt was a realistic, if onerous possibility. Today’s graduates are saddled with astronomical debt, and are not even certain to find a job to begin paying that debt once they graduate.

The overall unemployment situation facing young people in the U.S. today is statistically comparable to the situation that existed in the Arab world before the eruption of the Arab Spring, and is similarly pregnant with revolutionary potential. It is not an accident that the youth were the heartbeat behind Occupy Wall Street. The role of students in sparking the mass protests in Wisconsin, the mass student mobilizations in California, and the inspiring examples of the Quebecois and Mexican students are further indications of this potential.

However, the youth are not merely a “sensitive barometer” of society; they are also the future of the American socialist revolution and of the WIL. For every young person we recruit and educate in our ideas and methods today, we will be able to recruit dozens of workers in the years to come. The untrained and untested youth of today will form the backbone of the cadres of the WIL in the future. This is why our initiative to aim to build campus socialist clubs around the country is so important and must be given the attention it deserves. As Lenin aptly put it, “he who has the youth, has the future!”

The Occupy movement

Like the proverbial “bolt from a clear blue sky,” Occupy Wall Street took the U.S.—and the world—by storm. Inspired by events in Egypt, Spain, Greece, and Wisconsin, what started out as a small occupation struck a chord and spread like wildfire around the country and back around the world. For weeks on end, Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, and parks and plazas across the country, were “occupied” by hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life. The movement has dispersed for the moment, but the lessons learned by those who participated will not be wasted by history’s “molecular process of revolution.”

The aims of the protesters were varied and lacked political cohesion, but they were united around this: the status quo is intolerable and must be changed. More importantly, these hundreds of thousands of people, spearheaded by the youth, were willing to actually do something about it. The slanders about the “apathy” of the youth and the idea that “this kind of thing may happen in Venezuela or Greece but it could never happen here” were dramatically swept away.

Although we cannot predict with precision exactly when and where, we have always explained that such movements will necessarily emerge at a certain stage. This is an inevitable reaction to the crisis of capitalism, of decreasing standards of living, foremost among the youth, who have the worst jobs, conditions, pay, unemployment, and prospects for the future. The realization that this is indeed “as good as it gets,” and that the G.W. Bush years were a kind of “golden age” in comparison is sinking in, and people are not happy about it.

Millions who did not directly participate sympathized with the movement and were inspired by the idea that perhaps something could be done after all. This is an unprecedented phenomenon in recent U.S. history and is loaded with revolutionary implications for the future. The national dialogue was radically transformed overnight, and the idea of “we are the 99%” versus the “1%” entered the mainstream. Just compare this to the “we are all middle class” rhetoric of the past and the flag-waving national unity in the aftermath of 9/11. This is a sea change in the situation.

In some cities, simply waiting and wearing out the movement was the main strategy for containing it. In others, police repression was used, but this often only served to spur the movement on further. In Oakland, CA, police violence led to calls for a city-wide general strike, resulting in mass protests that shut down the city’s giant port facilities.

All kinds of ideas were expressed by the occupiers: naive but sincere reformism, ultraleftism; right-wing libertarianism; continued support for Obama; total rejection of politics; and everything in between. There are ideological and organizational parallels with the Narodnik movement in Russia in the 1870s and 1880s, and with the radicalization of the youth in the U.S. in the 1960s. For many, this was the first time they had ever protested.

There is a healthy distrust of the current political parties and leaders. Many of the occupiers were on the streets precisely because their vote for Obama did not lead to real change. Nonetheless, the Democrats are working hard to co-opt the movement and have enlisted the current union leadership to aid them. However, it will not be a straightforward process. Many are suspicious of the unions and are resistant to being politically co-opted, due to the Democrats’ role in bringing about the crisis in the first place. The lack of a mass party of labor and a bold lead by the union leadership has led to tremendous confusion when it comes to the political perspectives for the movement.

Through a combination of repression, cold weather, infighting, and general tiredness at the lack of perspectives, organization, program, or leadership, the movement has subsided for the time being. Different ideas, programs and approaches were tested in practice. The revival of anarchist ideas, of “horizontalism” and unelected and unaccountable “non-leader” leadership cliques, and the debate between consensus and democracy demoralized many. However, this experience clarified for many how not to do things, and how to do things better the next time around. In some form or another, there will inevitably be a next time.

We must be sensitive in how we raise criticisms of movements such as Occupy. We cannot be seen as part of the opposition; we are a component part of the movement. Our criticisms must always be of a friendly nature with a view to improving the work. But we must bear in mind that movements come and go. We must be clear about our goals and role in movements such as this. Movements have a spiral of development, of ups and downs.

Ultimately, any movement that emerges, no matter how broad and powerful, will reach its limits and ebb if it does not set itself the task of abolishing the root cause of misery and crisis: the capitalist system itself. The feeling among the occupiers was clearly that “if we occupy long enough they will give in to us.” But this tactic eventually hit a dead end, just as the occupation of Tahrir Square was about to run out of steam—until the Egyptian working class began to enter the stage in a decisive and organized way. This is what was lacking in the Occupy movement: the decisive entry of the American working class as a class. The situation was not quite ripe for that development, but in the not-too-distant future, we can be assured of it.

There is always a danger when movements such as Occupy arise that we could fall into mindless activism. Many pressures come to bear on our comrades, who are recognized as being among the best organizers, speakers, writers, and leaders. We must be careful not to liquidate ourselves into the movement in search of short-term, but fleeting gains, or simply to “get on the good side” of the activists we work with. We must always present our ideas and organization openly and clearly, although we will not always convince the majority of our perspectives and methods. But through patient participation in such movements and coalitions, we can successfully build the organization. We must always “keep our eye on the prize” of recruiting the ones and twos to the WIL and training them as cadres. This is the only approach that can assure the long-term success of the struggle for socialism. There are no panaceas or get rich quick schemes.

There is also the danger that we could take a dismissive attitude because “this isn’t yet the revolution.” We must have a sense of balance and proportion. This is why we need a politically strong national and local leadership that is crystal clear as to our tasks and how to achieve them. However, a strong leadership does not emerge overnight. A person does not become a genuine leader merely because he or she has been elected to this or that position, or is thrust into that position because there is no one else. We are forging the leadership of this organization through our hard work, sacrifice, study of theory, and growing experience. We are building a team, leading by example, that can work together efficiently and energetically to achieve the targets that have been democratically determined by the membership.

We must be clear: we were never in a position to lead the Occupy movement, even if we had wanted to. This should be a mild warning to us: having correct ideas and methods is not enough! The masses will not automatically recognize the correctness of our ideas. We need to grow and strengthen our organization in order to take better advantage of these opportunities in the future. There are no shortcuts. Leading the movement was not our aim. Our aim was and is to find the ones and twos and win them to our ideas. We have made many new contacts through this movement, or had previous contacts’ interest reinforced by these events. Now that the movement has ebbed, we must patiently provide our contacts and periphery with a political explanation and perspectives for the future.

Despite all the contradictions, confusions, and chaos of these events, Occupy has been a marvelous school of politics and life for those who participated. Different ideas have clashed, different methods have been tested in practice, and people are reflecting on the experiences. We must be ready to intervene in the movement in whatever form it takes, to raise our ideas with those who will listen, to connect with those we can win to the WIL. In comparison to the past, our ideas seem less “far out there” than before. The idea of a labor party and our approach to the unions has gotten an echo as well and differentiates us from the other groups. Our emphasis on the power of labor to actually shut down Wall Street and business as usual has been well-received.

We must explain that the way to actually shut down Wall Street is for the millions of unionized workers to shut down power, communications, transportation, building maintenance, etc. The organized workers are the only force on the planet that can actually do this. The brightest moments in the Occupy movement were in New York and on the West coast, where Occupy reached out to labor and played a supportive role—and vice versa. It is a complicated relationship, compounded by the conservatism of the union bureaucracy and the question of the Democrats. But this is the only way forward: to unite the workers and youth in struggle on the streets and at the polls. And this means the building of a labor party based on the unions that can fight not only to occupy plazas and shut down the physical running of Wall Street, but to change the laws and the economic structures that favor the 1% at the expense of the working class majority.

The dam of capitalism is leaking. There is a raging river of class discontent pushing to break through. Once it is unleashed, it will not be driven back into the channel easily. The objective reality is that conditions are not going to get significantly better for the majority. In fact, they will likely get far worse.

The labor movement

For over 30 years, American workers have been under assault. For decades, there were very few fight backs, and even fewer successes. Between 1973 and 2007, private sector unionization decreased by over 75 per cent and wealth inequality increased by 40 per cent. Strike levels fell to record lows. Politically, things shifted ever-further to the right as the Democrats and Republicans fell over each other to carry out the wishes of the capitalists. The labor leaders offered nothing but the failed policy of “partnership with the bosses” on the shop floor and at the polls. Despite the heroic traditions of the past, this led many—even on the Left—to believe that Americans “have it too good,” and have somehow become “bourgeoisified” and lack revolutionary potential.

But the “mole of history” has been burrowing underground this entire time. A pay cut here, a home foreclosure there; rising health costs here, a factory shuttered and off-shored there. Little by little, the economic basis for the American Dream has been whittled away, and with it, the illusions that capitalism is the “best of all possible worlds.” With it, the doctrine of “American exceptionalism,” the idea that the U.S. is somehow insulated from the problems of the world will be shattered. The attacks of September 11, the economic crisis, and the ongoing decline of U.S. imperialism are just a few examples of this process, which will be exacerbated in the future.

We have always had supreme confidence in the U.S. working class. We understood that workers were learning from their experience and would inevitably enter the path of struggle at a certain stage. After all, a pendulum can only swing so far to the right before swinging back to the left. And the further it goes in one direction, the more dramatically it will swing the opposite way once the tide turns. It is still early in the process, and we should not exaggerate, but the colossal potential for the future is clearly present.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2011, 14.8 million wage and salary workers in the U.S. were members of a labor union. This represents 11.8 percent of all workers, down from and 12.3% in 2009, but essentially unchanged from the 11.7% rate in 2010. In 1983, the first year for which comparable data is available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, or 17.7 million union workers.

However, the rate is vastly different in the private and public sectors. After decades of being hammered by layoffs and off-shoring, private sector unionization is at just 6.9 percent, while it is 36.2 percent in the public sector. Workers in education, training, and library occupations are unionized at the highest rate, 36.8%, while sales and related occupations have the lowest rate, at just 3.0%. This explains the relentless drive by the capitalists in going after and demonizing the public sector.
The BLS records show the following average major work stoppages per year for the last few decades:

2001-2010 – 17

1991-2000 – 34

1981-1990 – 69

1971-1980 – 269

According to the BLS, in 2011, there were 19 major strikes or lockouts involving 1,000 or more workers and lasting at least one shift. This is up from 11 in 2010 and the all-time low of just 5 in 2009. In 2011, major strikes and lockouts idled 113,000 workers for 1.02 million lost workdays, compared to 45,000 workers and 302,000 lost workdays in 2010, and just 13,000 workers and 124,000 lost workdays in 2009. The largest work stoppage in 2011 was the Verizon workers’ strike in the Northeast, involving 45,000 workers and 450,000 lost workdays.

This puts us at roughly the low level of 2001-2010, a decade when total work days lost due to major work stoppages declined over 90 percent as compared to the tumultuous decade of 1971-1980. Nonetheless, we can see a growth trend in union struggles over the last 2 years, although the process of the revival of the labor movement will not be linear. We may still be a long way from the levels of the 1970s, but the labor movement—which has been declared dead many times over the last 150 years—is far from buried. Similar conditions lead to similar results. We are entering a period far more like the 1930s or the 1970s than the 2000s, and we can be sure the class will begin to move accordingly. The capitalists have another thing coming if they think the sleeping giant of labor will take these kicks lying down.

These strike figures should be understood in the context that as the ruling class has gone on the offensive, the labor leaders have had a completely inadequate response. The American labor leaders do not see any alternative to capitalism and are therefore stuck in the logic of the system, counseling workers to accept givebacks and wait for “better times.” “Better times” are not to be had when capitalism is in its death agony.

The state of New York has the highest unionization rate, at 24.1 percent, while North Carolina has the lowest, at just 2.9 percent. However, these numbers do not tell the whole story. Over the last few decades, there has been a form of “off-shoring” to the South, as big manufacturers move production to the low-wage, non-union South instead of the East coast, Midwest, or foreign countries. This has produced a volatile mix of conditions; the South is a veritable powder keg of the class struggle, just waiting to explode. We must follow developments in the South, including Texas, with great attention, and must work toward building strong and solid branches in this region of the country.

At a certain stage, there will be waves of strikes, millions more workers joining existing unions or forming new ones, rank-and-file opposition currents forming in the unions, with leaders pushed out or pushed to the left, and eventually even general strikes and splits in the unions. In Wisconsin and then in Oakland, the question of the general strike was placed on the table for the first time in many decades, despite the confused and limited nature of these calls.

Although there are fewer industrial workers in the country than in the past, this means fewer workers have more power in their hands, for the example, the dockworkers. Over 90% of world commerce is now seaborne. Just 40,000 unionized longshore workers control the movement of goods in all major U.S. ports, with the power to shut them down, costing the bosses billions of dollars per day. Similar strength is also concentrated in the hands of other transport and transit workers, communications workers, utilities workers, and so on. We should never lose sight of the fact that although greatly reduced numerically and as a percentage of the workforce, unionized workers have enormous potential power if mobilized. Add to that the millions of workers who would like to be in a union, and you have a powerful force to change society.

The growth of the proletariat of the service industry has come about in the last 40 years as a result of the decline of manufacturing in the USA. However, the working class in this sector does have the power of example: if they go out on strike and shut their company down, this will embolden the more powerful sectors of the working class. It should also be noted that if, for example, Wal-Mart workers went out on strike, this would tear into the profits of one of the biggest corporations around today. The same could be said for Apple.

In the cynical political calculations of the two main parties, organized labor as an electoral bloc is no longer a “must have” constituency. They are seen merely as a source of campaign funding. In the past, in exchange for guaranteeing class peace and getting union voters to the polls, the union bureaucracy carved out a nice niche for itself. But reformism has no base without reforms. The labor leaders will eventually be compelled to do something to at the very least appear to be fighting in the interests of the workers they are supposed to represent. Otherwise, they stand to lose their positions. For, if the unions perish, so too do their perks and privileges. For example, they may demagogically threaten strikes or a labor party to try to gain some leverage from the Democrats. However, this could unleash forces that could snowball out of their control.

In the recent period we have seen some important developments, which are symptomatic of what’s to come. In 2006, millions of undocumented immigrant workers took to the streets to fight for their rights. The struggle was diverted into the Democrats and the broken promise of “comprehensive immigration reform” (in reality, an enforcement-first approach supported by both major parties). None of the contradictions that led to this mass movement have been resolved. As the crisis of capitalism continues to bear down on this super-exploited layer of the class, new explosions of the immigrant workers’ struggle are sure to erupt in the years ahead on an even higher level, with events in Latin America also having an effect. The workers of Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago occupied their factory in December 2008, the first such occupation in the U.S. in decades. Although this tactic did not spread at that time, it shows the way forward. We saw the victory of labor in Ohio, which managed to decisively overturn Governor Kasich’s version of anti-public sector union legislation, with 61% of the voters rejecting the new law after a mass signature-gathering campaign to trigger a referendum on the issue. This is a terrific example of the power of labor if it is mobilized. Just imagine if all of this effort had been combined with getting an independent labor candidate on the ballot to fight both the Republicans and the Democrats?

We have also seen some perhaps unexpected labor disputes, with the lockouts in the NFL and now the NBA. There has been continuing labor and student unrest in Puerto Rico. There was the important strike of the Verizon workers, who used quintessential class struggle methods to disrupt production. This strike could have won if the workers hadn’t been sold short by the union leaders. There is the possibility that the workers may go out on strike again; we must be prepared to intervene if they do. Target workers have tried to organize a union in Long Island and Wal-Mart workers are doing the same at locations around the country. In New York, the Taxi Workers Alliance has now joined the AFL-CIO as its newest affiliate. The locked-out sugar beet workers in the Red River Valley of North Dakota and Minnesota have been fighting a grinding battle of attrition against American Crystal Sugar for over a year.

And in Wisconsin, we saw the inspiring mass movement against the governor’s anti-labor legislation, which was eventually channeled into a failed recall effort. In reality, the battle against Scott Walker was lost last year. If labor had mobilized its full power then, beginning with the public sector and spreading it to the private sector, it could have spread the struggle nationally. Not only did the union tops not set a date and organize a statewide general strike back in February and March of 2011—which could have stopped the legislation in its tracks—they squandered the enormous momentum and pro-union sentiment that roused people across the country to support the cause of Wisconsin’s workers.

The labor leaders could have explained to all workers that if the Wisconsin public sector workers were defeated, they would be next! They could have explained that instead of accepting a “race to the bottom,” if we unite and fight together, we can not only defend union workers’ wages and benefits, but extend them to all workers. “Make the rich pay for the crisis!” is a message that would have resonated strongly with the working class majority, both public sector and private, union and nonunion. It took the Occupy movement to raise the “us vs. them” message of “we are the 99%.”

Instead, not only did the labor leaders allow the movement to be demobilized into the recall, but they accepted concessions. While opposing the “extreme” measures of Walker’s effective abolishment of public sector union rights, they accepted and even bent over backwards to offer givebacks. The message this approach sent was the following: “take back our hard-fought wages and benefits if you must, but let us keep our unions and our dues base.” How can the union leaders expect to inspire the broader working class to support their struggle if they give up the wages and benefits of their own workers without even putting up a fight?

Walker’s victory will be used as a battering ram against organized labor—as “proof” that Americans are shifting to the right, that “greedy” workers are indeed the cause of the crisis, and that the “majority” recognizes this “pragmatic” reality. More governors will be emboldened to attempt to ram through “Right to Work” legislation. The workers will be told that there is no alternative to austerity and concessions, and furthermore, that there is no point in expending so much energy protesting and collecting signatures, as nothing changes anyway.

Nothing could be further from the truth. By organizing and fighting back, labor can win! But fighting back is not enough: labor needs a winning strategy as well.  Unfortunately, the labor leaders’ approach made this outcome not only possible, but probable.

Instead of making excuses, labor must learn from this experience and avoid the same mistakes in the future. Richard Trumka and the rest of the leaders of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win can turn this situation around. The potential for independent labor politics and a labor party is enormous. Fully 50% of those polled in Wisconsin have said they have a negative view of both major parties. The lesson of Wisconsin is that labor can rely only on its own forces and resources to fight against the attacks of big business.

However, the most significant labor struggle of the last period was the battle of ILWU Local 21 in Longview, WA in their struggle with the grain shipping conglomerate EGT. This was an important struggle and victory with lessons for the entire labor movement and Occupy. The methods used by longshore workers in the struggle at Longview included: stopping the movement of goods; fighting back despite government repression; and mobilizing support from working people not in the unions.

Summed up, what we can learn from this struggle is this: we can fight back and win only on the basis of a class struggle approach to trade unionism. This means recognizing that the workers’ interests are diametrically opposed to the interests of the bosses and their state. This means standing up to the police and even the military, ignoring anti-worker laws and court orders, and above all, mobilizing the power of the entire working class to stop all work at the point of production.

In September 2011, ILWU members, supporters, and family members from across Washington state converged on Longview. They did not limit themselves to an informational picket, with numbers of picketers kept low and off company property to remain “within the law.” Instead, members physically blocked trains attempting to enter the terminal, climbed and tore down fences, and went into the terminal, where they confronted company security guards and scab workers. They also removed the “plugs” on several grain cars, dumping many tons of grain onto the tracks. The number of ILWU members who participated in the September disruption was high enough that the ports of Tacoma and Seattle were shut down for one day.

Even before the grain dumping incident, Democratic Washington state Governor Christine Gregoire had sent state police to Longview, to bolster the local police who were already present to “serve and protect” EGT’s property. The police presence increased after the Occupy movement on the West Coast mobilized for a “general strike” to shut down ports on November 2, which was sparked in part by the ILWU’s struggle at Longview. The support from the Occupy activists across the country emboldened the longshore workers to continue their struggle to defeat EGT’s union busting. Another round of partial port disruptions, again largely spurred by Occupy, this time explicitly in solidarity with Local 21, took place on December 12.

The “straw that broke the camel’s back’” came when the ILWU and Occupy began planning a land and water blockade to prevent the grain ship MV Full Sources from docking at Longview in early February. National Guard troops were sent to Longview, and President Obama authorized a group of armed Coast Guard ships to escort the ship into the terminal. This would have been the first use of the U.S. military as strike breakers since the PATCO strike in 1981. The ILWU and Occupy had already shown that they would not be intimidated by security guards, prison sentences, or police. EGT then agreed to resume talks with Local 21 and a contract was eventually agreed to, recognizing the ILWU’s jurisdiction over the new grain terminal.

The working class as a whole—and especially those organized in unions—has the ability to bring the gears of the economy to a halt. But this ability is only potential unless the working class is aware of this power, and has a leadership that is willing to mobilize the class to use it to defend and improve our wages, conditions, and right to a union. The Longview struggle showed what shutting down the flow of goods and profits at the point of production can accomplish—even if that requires breaking the law.

Anti-labor laws such as the Taft-Hartley Act, enacted during the Truman administration, make broad, concerted action extremely difficult if the letter of the law is followed. Among other anti-union provisions, Taft-Hartley outlaws solidarity strikes and strikes that threaten “national security.” The rank-and-file at Longview showed a truly inspiring tenacity and willingness to fight, despite the ILWU’s International leadership, which at several points tried to keep the struggle within “safe” and “legal” confines. But as the eventual victory showed, if we want to fight and win, workers must go beyond the narrow confines of “legality.” The methods used were a return to the best traditions of American labor’s militant history.

If striking workers build support within the rest of the labor movement, including workers and youth outside the unions (such as Occupy activists), they can fight back en masse and disregard the laws written in the favor of the bosses. If workers have the support of other unions, up to and including solidarity strikes and general strikes, then injunctions, criminal charges, and the victimization of union activists by the bosses after a strike ends can become a dead letter. Every law on the books is simply a reflection of the balance of forces between the classes at the time it was written. The living balance of those same forces will determine whether the bosses and their state can enforce those laws.

Despite the heroism of the Longview workers, so far there has been no major fightback that has captivated the popular imagination on a national scale like the 1997 UPS Teamsters strike. Nonetheless, the tide is turning. Many workers are no longer willing to just “wait and see” what happens. It is only the beginning of the beginning of the capitalist crisis, and by extension, of labor’s revival.  The class war is not an abstract concept. It is the reality of every day of our lives, both inside and outside of work. Every job lost, every factory or school shut down, every health care premium or productivity quota raised, is a salvo by the bosses against the workers in this war. A renewed explosion of the class struggle is therefore firmly on the agenda. While this will not be a linear process, we can be confident that a revival is coming. In the storm and stress of the historical period we have entered, the American workers will move to change their destinies. The unions will be shaken from top to bottom. By uniting union and non-union workers, the employed and the unemployed, and armed with class struggle methods, workers can not only fight, but win.

As Alan Woods explains in Bolshevism: the Road to Revolution: “From the Marxist point of view, the importance of a strike goes far beyond the fight for immediate demands over hours, wages and conditions. The real significance of strikes, even when lost, is that the workers learn. In the course of a strike the mass of workers and their families inevitably become aware of their role as a class. They cease to think and act like slaves, and begin to raise themselves up to the stature of real human beings with a mind and will of their own. Through their experience of life and of struggle—particularly of great events—the masses begin to transform themselves. Beginning with the most active and conscious layer, the workers become profoundly discontented with their lot, and keenly feel their own limitations. Defeats, still more than victories, force upon the worker-activist the burning need for a clear understanding of the workings of society, of the mysteries of economics and politics.”

However, class struggle methods at the workplace and mobilizations in the streets are not enough. The American working class must now resolve the greatest contradiction it faces: the lack of a mass political party of its own. The U.S. is the only advanced capitalist country that lacks a traditional mass party of labor. Without such a party, we are fighting the bosses with one hand tied behind our backs.

Election 2012 and the need for a labor party

This document was drafted before the elections. Therefore, this section focuses on the broader question of our approach to electoral politics and to the 2012 elections in particular, and the need for a labor party. For the WIL’s analysis of the election results, please see our article on the elections.

We must not have an indifferent attitude to bourgeois elections, even though we understand that nothing fundamental will be resolved by them. With no other outlet through which to express their frustrations, millions of ordinary workers and youth turn to electoral politics, especially during a presidential election year. This will not be a smooth, straightforward process. We will see wild swings in the opinion polls, and moods that can shift dramatically all the way up to election day itself and beyond. This is an inevitable reflection of the general instability and polarization of society. We are no longer in a period of “normal” elections. Normal elections are simply not possible in abnormal times.

As we have explained above, the capitalists are in the business of making profits, not of creating jobs. Therefore, the only “solution” to the crisis they have is to squeeze the workers even further. But this has its limits. No matter which party wins the presidency, they cannot solve the fundamental problems confronting the working class. Through bitter experience, the capitalist “school of hard knocks” will burn the illusions in the two party system and in capitalism itself out of the minds of millions. This is already beginning.

The 2010 midterm elections were a first indication that the steam had gone out of the “Change We Can Believe In” energy of Obama’s 2008 campaign. Due to a lack of alternatives, the Republicans made a big comeback by default. However, it won’t necessarily be so straightforward in 2012. Mitt Romney is an open enemy of the working class and many workers and young people understandably do not want to see him in power. Many will hold their noses and vote for Obama as the “lesser evil.” We must consistently point out that the flip side of “lesser evil” politics is that eventually, the “greater evil” gets back in if we do not build a viable alternative. Either that, or we are stuck with the “lesser evil,” which is after all, still “evil.”

The off-year elections in 2011 offered another snapshot of the mood of the electorate a year before the presidential election. On specific issues that affect workers more broadly, there were some important victories. In “backwards” Mississippi, voters rejected an open assault on a woman’s right to choose or even to use birth control. In “racist” Arizona, the author of SB1070, the draconian anti-immigrant bill, was booted out of office by voters. And in “apathetic” Ohio, millions of workers flooded the polls to reject SB5, the governor’s vicious anti-union legislation. These were all the result of massive grassroots organizing campaigns on these issues. None of these results are decisive in and of themselves, but as a whole, they paint a picture of an electorate that is increasingly unwilling to “leave it to the professional politicians.”

The Democrats have left millions of former supporters cold. There is measurably less enthusiasm now than there was in 2008. A recent Gallup poll found that just one-third of voters under 29 are registered to vote and say they will definitely vote in November. The Democrats are working furiously behind the scenes and leaning on the union leadership in an effort to co-opt the Occupy movement. They even use the same language, calling on a vote for the Democrats as a way to “occupy Congress for the 99%.”

Despite everything, many people still have honest illusions in Obama, and we must have a patient, friendly approach to them. When discussing with these well-intentioned supporters, we can explain Obama’s real record: no Employee Free Choice Act; no universal health care or even a public option; tens of thousands of troops remain in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the war has expanded into Pakistan; Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo has not been closed; he has not “put on his comfortable shoes” and walked a single picket line in solidarity with striking workers; he has not ended the tax breaks for companies that offshore jobs. There has been no moratorium on home foreclosures, no progressive tax on the ultra wealthy; no repeal of the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act, the minimum wage remains lower in real terms than in 1968, and on and on.

Here are a few things he has done: given massive bailouts to the banks and big insurance companies; approved free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia (the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists); reversed decades of environmental protections by ending the EPA’s clean-air regulation powers; authorized the use of armed Coast Guard ships against the Longview, WA longshoremen in their struggle against scab labor. To top it all off, the Democrats are holding their national convention in a non-union hotel in North Carolina, a “Right to Work” state with the lowest unionization rate in the country.

We are still far from having an actual labor party or even serious campaigns by independent labor candidates backed by their unions, but it is clear the pressure in that direction is building. Since we launched the Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor (CMPL) nearly two years ago, we have seen important changes in the labor movement on this question. Our experience at the AFL-CIO youth summit and the Labor Notes conference confirms that there is widespread discontent with the Democrats and broad sympathy for the labor party idea among the union rank-and-file. But without a lead from the leadership, or at least from a few unions or locals, it remains too abstract for most people to sink their teeth into. This is the dead-end the labor leaders’ policy of class collaboration has led us to.

Nonetheless, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the labor leaders to get the rank-and-file to the polls. After calling Obama’s support for the Colombia free trade agreement “deeply disappointing and troubling,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka hinted at the pressure he is under: “The more these things happen, where workers’ interests are subjugated to other interests, it has a cumulative effect, making it harder for us to energize our members and get them out in the numbers necessary in the fall.”

Under this pressure, in the run up to the presidential primaries and caucuses, first the Firefighters, and then Richard Trumka declared their “independence” from blindly making contributions to the Democrats and Republicans. The AFL-CIO announced that it would instead form a super PAC in order to help elect “pro-worker” candidates. In practice, this was just a backdoor way to support the Democrats. But the fact that they had to find a backdoor, and could no longer directly and uncritically support them is significant.

Now, the AFL-CIO has officially endorsed Obama, much to the dismay of many of its members and even some leaders, who are not at all satisfied with this approach. The super PAC, “Workers’ Voice,” raised $3.7 million by the end of 2011. Millions more are sure to follow. We can use this as an opportunity to explain how these resources could be used instead to run independent labor candidates and to lay the foundations for a labor party based on the unions.

It seems that the union leaders’ only remaining excuse not to launch such a party is, “look at the other candidate!” They hope against hope that the “real” Obama will “do the right thing” if he is reelected. However, we have already seen the “real” Obama. The Democrats had a super-majority in Congress from 2008 to 2010. There were tremendous expectations that they would implement policies that would benefit the working class. Precisely the opposite took place. In 2010, the top 1% of American society received as much as 93 percent of total income growth. This is a direct result of Obama’s policies. He has clearly shown which class’s interests he defends.

From the standpoint of the ruling class, no matter who wins in 2012, they win and the working class majority loses. Obama has bent over backward to accommodate the rich, and they are even richer now than they were under Bush. As the “good cop” of the bosses’ parties, Obama has given a certain “left cover” to the Republican and Democrats’ anti-worker policies. Given that he is expected to raise a record $1 billion toward his reelection campaign, it is clear that a wing of the capitalists would be satisfied if he wins another term.

At this stage, it is impossible to predict with any reasonable precision who will win. An overly drawn-out analysis of all the possible outcomes will not help clarify our overall approach. Much can change between now and November, and there are sure to be many unexpected twists and turns to the campaign. Much will depend on international events and on the economy. We will continue to update our analysis as the campaign season continues. Our main task is to keep our finger on the pulse of the workers and youth, connect our ideas with the advanced layers, and win them to the ideas of revolutionary socialism and of a labor party.

Broadly speaking, however, how would Obama’s reelection affect our work? While there may be a renewed “honeymoon” period, the workers would not be as disoriented as they were in 2008, when the crisis rained down on them and expectations in Obama were high. It would mean four more years of “the school of the Democrats,” especially if the Democrats manage to regain control of Congress. Four more years of Obama carrying out austerity measures in the face of the deepening capitalist crisis would strengthen the mood for a labor party among the rank-and-file of the unions. It would provide us with many more opportunities to raise this idea and to build the Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor in the unions.

The “lesser evil” arguments would inevitably continue, but with Obama in power, the labor leaders would have much less wiggle room to support the Democrats in the 2014 and 2016 elections. As with the October 2, 2010 march on Washington, the labor leaders would be under pressure to mobilize against the cuts and austerity, even with the Democrats in power. This would further drive a wedge between the union leadership and the rank-and-file, and between the labor movement as a whole and the Democrats. If the mass wave of strikes that is sure to emerge at a certain stage breaks out on the Democrats’ watch, then the contradictions will pile up even faster.

And what if Romney and the Republicans win? How would this affect our work? A Romney victory would signal an open declaration of war on the unions and the broader working class. There would be an ideological offensive in the media presenting his victory as a shift to the right. A layer of activists would be temporarily demoralized. However, given the overconfidence of the ruling class, his policies could set off a wave of mass mobilizations along the lines of the struggle in Wisconsin.

Such a scenario would offer many possibilities for us to connect with people angry with the failure of the system and the lack of real alternatives. The union leaders would have no option but to put themselves at the head of such a movement, as the unions are the source of their positions and power. They would seek to control the movement, to keep it within “safe” limits, with the aim of guiding it back into the Democrats at a certain stage. The “lesser evil” arguments would continue, but with the recent disappointment in Obama fresh in people’s memory, and with his policies to blame for letting the Republicans back in, at least the advanced layers would be more open to our ideas and the CMPL.

And what about developments outside the two main parties? Despite the Obama hype and the anti-Bush “lesser evil” backlash, candidates to the left of the Democrats received a higher total and percentage of votes in 2008 than they did in 2004. Life teaches, and it is likely that many people will either abstain in 2012 or will cast a “protest vote” for a third party. With the advent of Occupy, one would expect the mood for a third-party alternative to be high. However, no particular “left-of-the-Democrats” candidate has captured the imagination or generated serious interest among workers and the Occupy movement. The Greens, the Socialist Party, Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party, and the various small sects fielding candidates all lack a serious base and resources. This is why we emphasize that only the unions, with their millions of members and tremendous resources, can mount a serious challenge to the bosses’ parties.

In 2000, we gave critical support to Ralph Nader’s campaign, as the Labor Party did not run candidates, and as there were several “Labor for Nader” formations we hoped to connect with. In 2004, we endorsed no candidate in particular, and instead focused our energy and resources on explaining the need for a labor party. In 2008, given the widespread illusions in Obama and the need to provide something more concrete under those conditions, we gave critical support to Cynthia McKinney’s campaign. While fomenting no illusions in her campaign, we emphasized the need for a labor party as the only real solution. We explained that from our perspective, a vote for McKinney was a protest vote against the major capitalist parties; a vote in favor of a labor party; for universal health care and education; and against the wars.

This year there is a different dynamic. The Democrats are in power, and there is tremendous disillusionment with Obama, but there is also a vicious Republican wolf knocking at the door. The existence of the CMPL also changes our approach. We now have very clear guidelines as to what kind of candidate we would support, and this should make it easier for us to explain our position to our comrades and contacts and also to determine who to support—or not—and why.

Generally speaking, we would only support candidates who make the need for a labor party a central plank of their campaign. Or who, at the very least, are running independently of, and against the Democrats; preferably a union member or leader with real union resources and support. In other words: not just pro-labor independent candidates; not just anti-cuts independent candidates; not just socialist independent candidates; but independent candidates with real ties to labor, offering us an opportunity to concretely and clearly raise the need for a labor party. For example, if someone like Dan Coffman, the leader of ILWU Local 21’s struggle at Longview, had run for president with his union’s backing, on a program of repealing Taft-Hartley, creating millions of jobs, defending Social Security, for universal free healthcare, etc., this would have presented us with a different dynamic. As always, we will discuss concretely and decide whether or not to support any given candidate on a case-by-case basis.

We encourage comrades and our periphery to register and exercise their right to vote. We propose that comrades write-in “labor party” for president, as a way of emphasizing the need for labor candidates and a labor party. When discussing with our contacts and periphery, we can explain that in the absence of a labor party or independent labor candidates, there are many independent left and socialist candidates that people can choose from if they want to cast a “protest” vote for other offices. While we have no illusions these people can win, a vote for them would send a message that we want a labor party, and are in favor of jobs, universal health care, and education. We must explain that ultimately, these protest votes will not truly challenge the corporate parties and their stranglehold on politics and the economy. Only the power of organized labor can do this.

We must also combat the pressures of lesser-evilism. We need to explain that, as Eugene Debs put it, it is better to vote for something you want and not get it, than vote for something you do not want, and get it. Eventually, the Democrats will be fully exposed for what they are—a strike-breaking party of the bosses—and with this, the movement for a labor party will grow dramatically. In the meantime, we must explain how a labor party could actually offer a real choice, and that we do not want a 3rd party—we want a 1st party!

Some on our periphery will not be satisfied with this approach. They will insist we endorse this or that candidate. But the ones and twos we are looking to win to the WIL and the CMPL will understand and appreciate this sober analysis, which offers genuine possibilities for the future, not a “get rich quick scheme.” We must not relent to the pressure to endorse this or that candidate simply because the rest of the left is doing so. We are charting our own path. The “left” is not what matters; what matters is the working class as a whole, and at this stage, its advanced layers.

We must therefore maintain a sense of proportion and remember that whether or not we endorse candidates this electoral cycle, our small forces cannot have a real impact on the elections. Our aim is to build a bridge between people’s heightened political consciousness during an election year, and the need for a labor party and for socialism. As in any other field of work, we must identify, prioritize, and maximize opportunities to strengthen and build our own organization. This is the only way we will be in a position to actually have an influence on events in the future.

Build the WIL!

To those who view the world as something static and unchanging, things certainly look grim: the economy is in a shambles, the unions are under attack, and we do not yet have a mass labor party. However, if we approach the situation from a Marxist perspective, the processes we have examined in this document should fill us with tremendous optimism for the future. Our task as Marxists is to look beyond the surface of society and events, to draw out the broader trends, contradictions, and underlying processes. We must not miss the forest for the trees! We are above all concerned with the effect events have on the consciousness of the workers and the youth. How can the crisis of capitalism and the failure of the current labor leaders to provide a way out not deeply shake up people’s outlook?

Collectively working out the long-, medium-, and short-term perspectives is an important part of our work as an organization. As Trotsky expressed it, our theory and perspectives give us the benefit of foresight over astonishment. Instead of reacting to, and being taken by surprise by events, we can anticipate them in order to intervene in them more effectively.

Our political perspectives are not a blueprint set in stone for all time. They must be updated regularly on the basis of changing events and conditions. They represent a working hypothesis that help orient our comrades in the work that needs to be done in the period immediately ahead, while ensuring we also keep the big picture in mind at all times. It is not about being 100% right about this or that detail for the sake of being right. The only people who do not make mistakes are those that do nothing.

As we explained in our 2010 perspectives document: “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 not be swayed by the temporary and volatile moods of those around us, of our co-workers, family members, contacts, and periphery. There are more than a few people who consider themselves on the left who one day proclaim that the revolution is right around the corner, and the next day deny the possibility of revolution altogether. This is what happens when you are not trained in the Marxist method, and do not have long-term perspectives to help guide you through the chaos of life under capitalism. This is what happens when you do not have a burning confidence in the power of the working class to change society. But through patient explanation, we can bring clarity to the issues that arise and win many more people to our ideas.

Capitalism is in a long-term crisis and there is no immediate way for it to recover. It can only recover by further driving down the living conditions of the workers. There is no end in sight for the budget deficits. There is no end in sight for the austerity. This is a finished recipe for a revival of the class struggle on a scale we have not seen in decades. We must prepare politically, organizationally, and psychologically for this. The next 10 years of building our organization will be nothing like the first 10 years. We must be prepared for what is to come.

On the eve of World War II, in the early days of the Fourth International, Leon Trotsky wrote the following: “[The Fourth International] exists and it fights. It is weak? Yes, its ranks are not numerous because it is still young. They are as yet chiefly cadres. But these cadres are pledges for the future. Outside these cadres there does not exist a single revolutionary current on this planet really meriting the name. If our international be still weak in numbers, it is strong in doctrine, program, tradition, in the incomparable tempering of its cadres. Who does not perceive this today, let him in the meantime stand aside. Tomorrow it will become more evident.”

These words are even more relevant to the Workers International League at the present time. The revolutionary party is above all its program, perspectives, ideas, methods, and traditions. Over the last ten years, we have painstakingly established the initial foundations of the WIL. We now stand on the eve of momentous, world-historic events. It is truly only the beginning of the beginning. The objective conditions provide immeasurable potential for us to take the organization to the next level. As Hegel would say, we must now make the potential, actual. Forward to building the WIL!

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