The Third International after Lenin

Friday, March 30, 2012

Weekend; or, The Conjuncture

The weekend of my 46th birthday will be spent finishing - I hope - Kautsky's Foundations of Christianity.  And studying the U.S. SWP's most recent thinking on the conjuncture [see, below the Grimshawe]. 

February 27, 2012

As the world crisis of capitalist production and trade bears down more and more sharply on workers and farmers, the bosses and their government continue their relentless assault. Workers are conducting hard-fought battles against lockouts and other attacks, from American Crystal in the Red River Valley to Cooper Tire in Ohio, reaching out and winning needed solidarity and support.
In every such fight, resistance to the bosses' assaults runs up against the fact that behind them stands their class rule through the capitalist state and ownership of the factories, mines, banks, and means of transport and trade. Solidarity and militancy, the essential starting point of all working-class struggle, cannot by themselves crack this dictatorship of capital.

The contradictions arising out of differing responses to this fact of the class struggle—not only among working people, but various middle class currents that claim to speak for workers' interests—pose alternative political courses....

....Other political forces in the workers movement and various middle class currents counterpose one variant or another of liberalism and class collaboration that accepts capitalist rule. Over the past year, some have been attracted to the so-called Occupy movement, with its depiction of a world divided between "the 1 percent" of the rich and "the 99 percent" of all the rest. But the multi-millioned legions who serve, supervise, and apologize on behalf the employing class—from the government bureaucracy, universities and think tanks, and non-governmental organizations, to cops, the army brass, and "officers of the courts" of every variety—play an integral role in maintaining the capitalist system.

The view of the "Occupiers" leads to political subordination to to the class enemy, toward support for Obama in 2012 and the capitalist two-party system.

Today's massive unemployment on which the functioning of the capitalist system depends, especially in times of crisis, falls hardest on workers who are African American. The fact that Blacks remain an oppressed nationality—disproportionately proletarian relative to other layers of the population—reinforces this superexploitation.

The evidence? Look no farther than the enormous increase in the incarceration of workers, at an appalling multiple for those who are Black, and the 'stop and frisk' and cop brutality tied to it.

That a much larger layer of Blacks than ever before in history are integrated into the rulers' board rooms and political parties—including the White House today—doesn't counter this reality of the working class in the United States.

Today's capitalist crisis and toilers' resistance in face of it are both global in reach. Working people and youth in Greece, Egypt, Syria, Iran, China, and elsewhere are seeking effective ways to resist tyranny and fight the exploiters' economic attacks.

And the lessons of workers' struggles, too, are global. Leading up to and since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, its leadership has advanced the involvement of working people in every aspect of taking their destiny into their own hands. They set an example for workers in the U.S
March 5, 2012

The working-class battles unfolding in the United States, Canada and elsewhere, and the solidarity they generate, represent an inevitable response to the mounting assaults by the bosses and their government on our wages, working conditions, rights and unions.
To one degree or another many are able to mitigate the assault and strengthen working-class unity. But these defensive economic battles eventually run into objective limits and come to an end. This poses the question: How do workers increasingly awakened to their worth and capacities for struggle continue to fight?

....The bosses have been on the offensive against workers and working farmers for decades as their profit rates have declined. Their assaults sharply escalated with the most recent stage of the worldwide crisis of capitalist production and trade that began in 2008. The problem is systemic. The increasingly cutthroat competition of the bosses drives them to increase the rate of exploitation of the working class. This is what is behind their lockouts, their speedup, their union busting.
The capitalist owners also use their state power, their government, to shift responsibility for the young, the elderly, the disabled and the ill, those impoverished by lack of employment, from being a social responsibility to a personal, family matter. Social gains such as Social Security and Medicare represent a piece of the wealth created by workers' labor and wrested in struggle. Now the capitalist class wants it back.

Meanwhile, the crisis is marked by persistently high unemployment and a rise in part-time and "temporary" jobs. This provides leverage in the bosses' drive against the entire working class.

Pauperization, a large reserve army of the working class, smashed trade unions, large-scale incarceration of angry workers, especially African-Americans—all these are necessities for capitalist recovery.

The massive expansion of "stop and frisk" and plea-bargain-driven imprisonment aimed at the Black proletariat is increasingly justified in the eyes of bourgeois-minded middle-class professional layers, including a growing layer who are African-American. In defense of the racist class "justice" meted out in the street and courtrooms, they hold up "diversity"—the increasingly multiracial makeup of this privileged social layer itself. They hold a deeply rooted belief that they deserve their positions in society, and that working people bearing the brunt of the capitalist crisis deserve theirs.

Thousands of workers are standing up to the bosses—from the docks of Longview, Wash., to American Crystal Sugar in the Upper Midwest; from Cooper Tire in Findlay, Ohio, to Rio Tinto in Quebec, Canada. Crucial solidarity has come from far and wide, mobilizing allies, spreading the word and offering economic support to keep on fighting. Solidarity with workers' struggles helps batter down barriers fostered by the employers between Black and Caucasian, U.S. and foreign-born, employed and unemployed.

But the propertied rulers keep coming at us, determined and relentless, and their resources—political and financial—are large.

Capitalist rulers more than 1 percent

Many workers know they need a political perspective to take this on, but see no road outside of bourgeois politics, usually its liberal wing. Some look to Occupy groups and their railing against greedy banks and hedge funds—the 1 percent against all the rest of society.

The 1 percent/99 percent is an arbitrary division that serves to obfuscate real social classes, which are based on irreconcilable interests. It dovetails perfectly with the demagogy that permeates the 2012 Democratic election campaign, part of the bosses' two-party sham.

The propertied rulers and their allies represent much more than 1 percent of the population. The capitalist class, in many gradations of size, includes the owners of all the factories, mines, mills, real estate, transportation and shipping, retail and commercial distribution, banking and finance, media, legal and illegal drug manufacture and distribution, etc, etc.

They include owners and co-owners of the 1.3 million firms that employ 10 or more workers, more than 2 million top corporate executives and the board members of some 6,500 banks.

Maintaining "order" on the shop floor for the capitalist owners are millions of supervisors, foremen and other management personnel.

The bosses are backed by the armed power of their state: over 800,000 federal, state and local cops; some 518,000 prison guards and jailers; and another 100,000 parole and probation officers; a military officer corps of 200,000; 58,000 agents and support personnel in the FBI, Secret Service and Defense Intelligence Agency; tens of thousands more in the CIA and National Security Agency, whose exact numbers the rulers keep "top secret"; 41,000 immigration and border patrol personnel; 10,000 in the Drug Enforcement Agency; 5,000 Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents; and more.

Add to this the millions who comprise a substantial section of middle-class "professional" layers not directly associated with production, but whose primary function is connected in one way or another to maintaining the social relations of capitalist production. These include lawyers, professors, think tank and non-governmental organization functionaries, etc—the self-styled "enlightened meritocracy."

Rather than a "greedy" 1 percent, we confront the capitalist class and its allies representing far more than 10 times that—all of whom utterly depend on maintaining the exploitation of our labor, the source of all wealth. We are then confronted with the real class relations under capitalism, as well as the necessity and possibility of proletarian revolution to bring it to an end.

Revolutionary road forward

As individual struggles wind down, some workers become demoralized and embittered, making them susceptible to rightist conspiracy theories and sectarian anti-union "anti-bureaucratic" demagogy. They can become the feeding ground for rightist and fascist-minded groups, fostered by a wing of the bosses for future use when workers rise to challenge their rule.
Others seek to remain true to the struggle they fought but cannot see beyond a vicious cycle of defensive battles and temporary lulls, waiting to fight again another day.

Militant workers don't need to wait for another day. The road forward is political. It is the building of a proletarian party, which draws on the continuity of more than 150 years of working-class struggle, and charts a course toward political power.

At the same time, such a revolutionary road forward is not easy to see today; it requires political imagination and a sense of history. The recent period is unusual. For some two decades there have been no revolutionary forces leading workers' battles to end capitalist exploitation and replace it with workers power anywhere in the world. Nothing in the labor movement today is even moving beyond economic solidarity to begin fighting around burning social questions.

In 1917 the Russian Revolution was a beacon to workers around the world. In 1959, when Fidel Castro led a triumphant Cuban people to power in Havana, overlapping with the proletarian Black rights movement that smashed Jim Crow segregation in the U.S., a new generation was won to revolutionary politics.

In 1979, workers and farmers in Nicaragua, Grenada and Iran overthrew tyrannies beholden to imperialism, inspiring tens of thousands. Into the '80s one of the most profound revolutions in African history conquered in Burkina Faso, drawing attention across the continent and others worldwide.

In the 1980s and into the '90s, new generations of Cuban revolutionaries gained experience and confidence through mobilization in Angola, where they were decisive in defeating the South African apartheid army and hastening the fall of that racist regime, and in volunteer brigades in Cuba that strengthened the revolution.

As the Socialist Workers Party, a proletarian party of industrial workers, engages with others in the unfolding class struggles it looks to recruit and win allies to advance the interests of the working class. The party acts on the assumption that the opportunities and challenges that confront our class will be similar for the next several years, as the bosses keep pushing and workers are forced to respond.

The SWP must become more deeply integrated into the fights unfolding today, using its propaganda arsenal—the Militant newspaper and Pathfinder books on the lessons of previous revolutionary working-class struggles—to advance the discussion about the need to construct a revolutionary party to help mobilize the fight for workers' power. The party seeks to expand this propaganda systematically among working people in rural areas outside the city limits where party branches are located and among workers who are Black.

The party will announce candidates around the country and nationally, presenting an independent working-class course of struggle....
March 26, 2012

....propertied rulers are responding to the unfolding world capitalist crisis and the resistance by an expanding vanguard of workers. This resistance, they noted, provides new opportunities for communist workers to work with fellow fighters toward an understanding that the capitalist class has no solution but to brutally intensify the rate of exploitation of our class—and that they need to be part of a workers party that charts a road toward a revolutionary struggle for power.

....for the next few years working people can count on a continuation of the bosses' attacks and working class resistance—and most importantly, of the responsiveness among many workers to the Militant and to serious consideration of a revolutionary working-class political outlook.

....impoverishment of broader layers of working people today, a large permanent layer of unemployed workers and the disproportionately large pauperization and imprisonment of African-American workers, are all tendencies inherent in the lawful workings of capitalism.

Driving down the basic living standards of our class won in combat over decades—what Marx called the "historical and moral elements" of the value of labor power—is the only way for the capitalists to restore their competitiveness on world markets and reverse their declining rate of profit, Barnes said.


February 13, 2012

Below is an excerpt from Revolutionary Continuity: Birth of the Communist Movement, 1918-1922 by Farrell Dobbs. Dobbs was a leader of the 1934 Minneapolis Teamster strikes, central organizer of the campaign to organize over-the-road truck drivers, and national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party from 1953 to 1972. The excerpt describes the 1921 debate in the Communist International—the organization of proletarian parties that rallied around the Russian Revolution and organized to extend that historic victory—over how to organize work in the trade unions and other mass struggles. Copyright © 1983 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

The reports and resolutions at the third Comintern congress analyzed the current stage of the class struggle in Europe along the following broad lines. When capitalism entered its imperialist phase during the last years of the nineteenth century, a deepgoing social crisis had been precipitated that could not be resolved under the existing system. Therefore, new revolutionary explosions could be expected to occur. It would be wrong to base day-to-day communist tactics solely on this correct general perspective, however, just as it was wrong to think that the need for anticapitalist propaganda had now been bypassed by revolutionary mass action.

"The world revolution does not develop along a straight line," the third congress theses on tactics stressed.

As matters stood in the first half of 1921, communist tactics had to focus on a steady and systematic effort to win the majority of the working class to a revolutionary perspective. As a means to that end, communists had to be part and parcel of the workers' resistance to the employers' offensive, pointing to the working-class road out of the worldwide capitalist economic crisis that had begun toward the end of 1920.

Throughout Europe the bosses were attempting to force workers to produce more for less pay and to give up social gains won in the past. Workers were not willing to make those sacrifices without a struggle, however. In fact, they wanted to improve their living standards, an aspiration that stood in direct contradiction to measures being taken by the employers to restore capitalist economic profitability and impose a new class equilibrium. Proletarian struggles would continue to erupt.

Not all layers of the working class would move into action at the same time and in the same ways, however. There would be ebbs and flows, advances and retreats. Whenever struggles did break out, communists should fight shoulder to shoulder with rebellious workers, shaping tactics to fit these defensive battles. In this way, communist workers would best be able to influence militants deceived by class-collaborationist misleaders and win recognition in the labor movement as leaders who knew how to take on the capitalists and who had an alternative program to that of the sell-out officials.

Only along this line of march could the workers be led to advance, step by step, toward revolutionary objectives. As defensive struggles extended in scope and were coordinated in action, the new experience gained by the masses would shatter old illusions that held sway among them. Such changes in political consciousness, together with the insecurity of their livelihood under capitalism, would push workers toward becoming a powerful combat force. As that was accomplished, the working class could shift from the defensive onto the offensive and take the leadership of other exploited toilers in a struggle that would eventuate in a bid for political power.

If these aims were to be realized, the Russian leaders emphasized, the shortcomings shown in practice by the European Communist parties had to be corrected. These parties didn't yet fully understand the kind of program and strategy needed by the working class, and flowing from that the kind of vanguard party the workers had to construct. Nor did most European communists comprehend how such a party must be tested and tempered in the fires of the class struggle.

Some in the young Communist parties sought to bypass the task of preparing the majority of the proletariat and its allies for united action against the propertied classes. Revolutionary impatience often predominated at the expense of tactical flexibility. Many communists had yet to learn how to maneuver according to a given class-struggle situation, and how to take into account different levels of political consciousness among various layers of the working class. Lacking in class-struggle experience, they had yet to grasp how to conduct an offensive at an opportune time, and how to organize a temporary retreat when the odds turned against the workers.

These misconceptions were most pronounced in the political line of various "leftist" tendencies in the European Communist parties. They contended that militant action by a minority of workers could galvanize the masses into a revolutionary fighting force. They put forward the concept of an uninterrupted proletarian offensive as the only correct communist strategy. Actually, this rigid, adventurist course would alienate rather than mobilize the masses, who would suffer its consequences.

The Bolshevik leaders believed that this ultraleft political line had to be repudiated by the Comintern in order to prevent communists from being sidelined into sectarian isolation. As a signal that they intended to lead a fight against "leftism," Russian CP leaders such as Lenin and Trotsky proclaimed themselves to be on the "right wing" of the world movement.

A political confrontation with the ultralefts occurred at the third Comintern congress, where many delegates took issue with the Russian Communists on the questions of revolutionary strategy and tactics and party organization. Following a sharp debate, the majority of delegates adopted the reports and resolutions advocated by the leaders of the world's first workers' state.

These documents set forth the measures needed by communists to guide the working class and its allies to a revolutionary victory. The overriding immediate task was captured in what became the central slogan of the congress—"To the masses!"


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