Editorial for Socialist Appeal 80 – The present leadership of the labor movement accepts capitalism as the only possible system in which to organize human life. However, the capitalist system is in decline here and worldwide. This approach has led labor into the dead end of a decades-long decline. As a result, the US working class has been in a kind of prolonged hibernation. With few exceptions, it has been many years since any mass labor struggles galvanized the country.
Those who can see only the surface of society take this to mean that the working class either no longer exists, or is no longer a revolutionary force for change. The Marxists, however, view the world dialectically, look beneath the surface appearances, and understand that as long as capitalism and classes continue, so too does the class struggle.
A complete break with the approach of the recent past is needed. Only policies that recognize the irreconcilable interests of the workers and the capitalists, and which seek to organize the power of the working class for victory, can show the way forward. Instead of mobilizing, winning struggles, and inspiring workers to fight collectively to improve their lives, the labor leaders propose instead to water down the very essence of what it means to be a union member.
The bottom line is that the labor leadership has no confidence in the working class, and sees class appeasement and backroom deals as the only way to maintain their positions. But we cannot look at the unions, their leadership, or the rank and file as something static. The leaders reflect the past—not the present or the future. Eventually, the unions’ organizational forms, strategy, and tactics will be forced to catch up to reality. In due time, the “heavy battalions” of the working class will join the fray.
In the stormy years to come, existing unions will be renewed from top to bottom, new unions will rise, and old ones will disappear. The old guard of leaders will be pushed to the left or pushed out altogether. The youth will be a key factor in this process, as millions join the many social movements, labor struggles, and unionization drives that will emerge before fusing into a united economic and political struggle to fundamentally change society.
As the capitalists increasingly run out of options to maintain their profits while maintaining relative social peace, they will be forced to lean even more heavily on the labor leadership to keep the workers in check. As we have seen in one country after another, given the crisis of capitalism and the weak position they find themselves in, the bourgeoisie could not continue to rule without help of the labor leaders.
When there is no clear political outlet through which to express themselves, the workers tend to move to action on the industrial front, in the form of economic and trade union struggles. Likewise, when they hit a roadblock in these battles, they tend to look for a political solution. The lack of a mass party of labor in the US introduces a wide range of contradictions and confusions into this general process. For lack of an alternative, many workers have attempted to find a way out by supporting the Democrats or even the Republicans. However, this back and forth between “lesser evils” is reaching its limits. Both parties are thoroughly discredited.
The lack of a lasting, nationwide labor party allowed the bosses to keep profits up and allowed them to roll back the unions, wages, rights, and conditions won by workers in the past. But as the tide of class struggle rises, the new wave of unionization and the rise of a labor party will be far more difficult to control and channel into “safe” channels.
The Marxists have full confidence in the working class. We understand that the workers will move when they are ready to move—not a moment sooner—and not a moment later. There are already important signs of the first reawakening of this mighty and decisive social power. These first stirrings are necessarily of an uneven and unfocused character. But once the class begins to get its bearings and to flex its muscles, no force on earth can stop it from changing society—provided it is armed with the necessary leadership, methods, and perspectives.
The US working class has a great tradition of fighting and winning big battles against the bosses. After all, May Day began here during the struggle for the 8-hour day! The future of American labor will have more in common with the heroic, militant past of our history than with the low tide of the more recent period. Fight for a labor party! Fight for socialism!