Transforming the party as it goes more broadly to the working class
The three-day conference registered the beginning of a transformation of the party and world communist movement in response to the openness of millions of workers and farmers to discuss what today’s crisis-ridden dictatorship of capital means for us and what we can and must do in order to end it.
"....you can go anywhere today in a working-class community and sell the paper, explain that the problem is the capitalist system, and have a discussion,”
....the measure of success of the door-to-door sales of Militant subscriptions was not just numbers but, above all, what the effort registers and helps advance in politically leading and transforming the ongoing, weekly activity of party branches.
The party’s members were “transformed by and began transforming others in the conscious layers of the working class,” Barnes said. What was accomplished registered the response by growing numbers of working people to the accumulating consequences of crisis-wracked capitalist rule—from rising joblessness, to brutal imperialist wars in which the sons and daughters of workers and farmers are sent to fight and die.
“Big turning points for the party come when we recognize broad shifts such as this in our class, anticipate what’s coming, and begin to organize and act accordingly—with no guarantees, no IOUs, no due dates,” Barnes said. “It’s an act of imagination about the political changes as workers fight through the horrors capitalism is bringing—horrors that have already begun.
“And the political conclusion is always the same,” Barnes said. “Go more broadly into the working class, with confidence that we have no monopoly on imagination among workers, no monopoly on recognizing our own worth. And with the knowledge that as we fight alongside other working people, the party will begin to shake off the effects of a long political retreat of our class.”
Testing this increased responsiveness to the party’s course, Barnes said, means taking the Militant and books more broadly into the working class than the party has been doing in recent years, including to rural areas and to neighborhoods where there are concentrations of workers who are Caucasian as well as Black, Latino, and immigrant.
It requires overcoming a “union bias,” recognizing that as a result of the procapitalist course of the labor officialdom, a large and still growing majority of workers are unorganized today. It means understanding that resistance to the bosses’ assaults will begin in the working class—among both the unorganized and the organized—and, as that happens, pose the need and opportunities to rebuild and politically transform the unions.
Teamster Rebellion by Farrell Dobbs needs to be part of the mix.... “This is not a ‘union book,’” Barnes said. “It’s a book about working-class battles. Farrell’s account doesn’t open at the time of a powerful union movement—although not with unions as weak (and getting weaker) as they’ve become today, either. Farrell shows what workers did, and will find ways to do again, to build a fighting union movement.” Dobbs was a central leader of the SWP for decades.
Barnes described the grinding effects on workers of today’s capitalist crisis, the deepest since before World War II. Private employment today is 2 percent below where it was a decade ago—the first time there has been a loss of jobs over a 10-year period since the 1890s.
The Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing”—fancy words for printing money in massive amounts—won’t stem their crisis, Barnes said, since the capitalists aren’t spending on capacity-expanding plant and equipment to draw labor on a large scale into increased production. And banks and other institutions still hold massive “assets” from the financial meltdown of 2007-2008 that are worth a fraction of what the owners claim.
What’s been the upshot of Washington’s much-hyped “financial reform”? As of late last year, Barnes said, four banks hold some 40 percent of all outstanding loans, and three of the four accounted for 56 percent of all mortgages last year.
In face of the deepening crisis facing workers, the union officialdom collaborates more and more closely with the bosses. They create bigger and bigger obstacles to workers fighting effectively against our class enemy, the capitalist class.
Barnes pointed to the example of United Auto Workers (UAW) officials, who announced June 9 that they will propose to the auto barons in upcoming negotiations wider use of profit-sharing instead of fixed wage increases. This is necessary, UAW president Bob King told the Wall Street Journal, so these companies “remain competitive.”
The foreign and military policy of the Barack Obama administration is increasingly reckless, Barnes said. It seeks to keep “the shooters” in place in Afghanistan while pledging to draw down U.S. troop levels. When the administration’s plans go awry, as in Libya earlier this year, its tendency is to lash out militarily under pressure with dangerous consequences for working people the world over.
A movement, not a doctrine
In responding to openings to discuss politics with more workers, Barnes said, there is no program the party can “apply” in order to know what to do next. Communism, as Marx and Engels demonstrated, is not a doctrine but a movement. It draws on the political generalization of lessons learned by the vanguard of the working class along the line of march toward workers power.
If class-conscious workers don’t participate in the class struggle with this in mind, Barnes said, they veer off in a reformist or “left socialist” direction. Communist workers join with other working people to fight for all sorts of immediate and democratic demands in the interests of the working class. But concessions we win will be by-products of revolutionary struggle, along the road to power, not of a class-collaborationist course to “reform” capitalist rule.
What’s decisive for the working class, said Barnes, is fought out and settled in the streets, not by the passage of laws in bourgeois legislatures. Whether it’s immigration rights, a woman’s right to choose abortion, or other political questions, what counts are not laws but the relationship of class forces established in struggle. The adoption of reactionary legislation in and of itself doesn’t register anything new in class politics; it shines a spotlight on the cumulative results of obstacles to effective struggle erected by misleaders of working people and the oppressed.