‘Need to learn to think socially
and act politically’
(Books of the Month column)
Below is an excerpt from The Changing Face of U.S. Politics: Working-Class Politics and the Trade Unions by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party. This Books of the Month excerpt is from “Prospects for Socialism in America,” a resolution adopted by the 27th national convention of the SWP in August 1975. Copyright © 1981 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
In the United States, as elsewhere, the revolutionists constitute a relatively small nucleus grappling with two central problems:
How to help the masses, through their own experiences of struggle, to cross the bridge from general dissatisfaction and demands that stem from their immediate problems, to revolutionary socialist solutions.How, in this process, to gather fresh forces and train the cadres who, in the course of their experiences in the class struggle, can build a mass revolutionary party capable of leading millions of working people to victory. …
Several points must be borne in mind in relation to the method of our program. …
We begin from the objectivecontradictions of the capitalist system and the direction in which these are moving. On that basis we derive our demands, and we formulate them in terms that are, as much as possible, understandable to the masses at their given level of consciousness and readiness for action.
We do not begin by demanding that the masses understand what “the system” is or that they reject any particular aspects of it. Instead we chart a course, raise demands, and propose actions aimed at shifting the burden of all the inequities and breakdowns of capitalism from the shoulders of the working people onto the employers and their government, where it properly belongs.
We champion the progressive demands and support the struggles of all sectors of the oppressed, regardless of the origin and level of these actions.
We recognize the pervasiveness of the deep divisions within the American working class bred by imperialism and class society, and we press for revolutionary unity based on support for the demands of the most oppressed.
We press the working class to give clear and concrete answers to the problems faced by its allies. And we unconditionally reject any concept that the oppressed should “wait” for the labor movement to support them before entering into their own struggles.
We raise demands that challenge the “rights” of capitalist property and prerogatives claimed by the government to control the lives of the working masses and the wealth they create.
We do not stop with the necessary struggle to defend and extend all democratic rights. We carry the fight for democracy into the organization of the economy and the process of making decisions over the standard of living of the working class. This is the dynamic leading to control by the workers over the institutions and policies that determine the character of their work and life, the dynamic of direct democracy through councils or committees of action, and the dynamic leading to a workers government.
Our method is one of class-struggle action leading to deeper and clearer class consciousness. We promote the utilization of proletarian methods of struggle where the workers can make their weight count advantageously in direct mass actions in the streets and in the workplaces. In this perspective united-front-type tactics are central.
Our goal of mass independent political action by the working class precludes any subordination to the needs of bourgeois parties, figures, or institutions. It necessitates the workers building their own political instrument, a mass party of the working class capable of leading their struggles to their revolutionary conclusion, the establishment of a workers government.
Think socially; act politically
To meet this revolutionary perspective the American workers will have to learn to think socially and act politically. They must see the big social and political questions facing all the exploited and oppressed of the United States as issues of direct concern to them. They must stop placing their hopes in “individual solutions” to capitalism’s blows and begin moving toward collective political action independent of the employers and their Democratic and Republican hirelings.
Defensive struggles against the bosses and their government will generate the nuclei for a class-struggle left wing in the unions. Striving to defend themselves against the squeeze on jobs, real income, social welfare, and on-the-job conditions, the workers will come into direct confrontation with the entrenched labor bureaucracy and its class-collaborationist perspective. A class-struggle left wing will begin along these lines—a wing that stands for the transformation of the unions into instruments of revolutionary struggle whose independent power will be used on every level in the interests of the whole working class, organized and unorganized, and its allies.
Labor’s next giant step will be to break the stranglehold of the bourgeois two-party system to which it is tied and through which it vainly tries to find solutions to capitalism’s breakdowns. With a labor party based on the organized power of the unions, all the interrelated social, political, and economic interests of labor and its allies can be encompassed and fought for. This will reinforce the independent mobilizations of all sectors of the oppressed and help aim their force at the common enemy. And the workers can effectively counter the efforts of the rulers to diffuse and co-opt independent struggles of the masses by using their two-party monopoly.
The precise slogans and demands that will be raised, and the order in which they will appear, will depend on the development of the crises faced by American imperialism and the intensity of the pressures generated by the spontaneous struggles of the oppressed and exploited. But it is along this line of march that the politicization of American labor will take place. The role of independent political action will begin to become clear to millions, placing on the agenda the decisive question of which class shall govern—the workers or the employers.