Dobbs: ‘Our task is to chart a revolutionary course’
One of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for February is Teamster Rebellion by Farrell Dobbs. Excerpted below is the concluding portion of a 1966 speech given by Dobbs, which is quoted by Socialist Workers Party National Secretary Jack Barnes in his introduction. Dobbs, a long-time leader of the SWP and central leader of the victorious battles in the 1930s that built the Teamsters union in the Midwest, was speaking to an audience substantially composed of Young Socialists. “Dobbs summed up the world historical view that best describes his lifetime political course; the class characteristics indispensable for any proletarian revolutionist; and what the working class demands of its leaders, above all,” Barnes says. Copyright © 1972 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
BY FARRELL DOBBS
We must be constantly aware of the key role of the United States in the world. United States imperialism is today the powerhouse of world reaction, as the war in Vietnam is abundantly demonstrating.
It is an iron fact that until capitalism is overturned here in the United States of America, the gang of imperialist mad dogs that rule this country are going to remain a mortal threat to all humanity. We must never forget that.
That means the showdown battle for world socialism is going to be fought right here in the United States of America. And when the revolutionary victory is won, outlived, decadent capitalism is going to disappear literally overnight from the face of our planet. Humanity is going to march forward to the building of an enlightened socialist society where people for the first time can really live together on this planet in peace and in security and with freedom. Humanity will finally realize the type of rewarding life that human intelligence is so abundantly capable of making, even at the present level of technological development. Once humanity learns how to conduct itself politically, organizationally, and socially, it can take advantage of these wonders.
That’s what we dedicate our lives to. We of the party, we revolutionaries in the United States — acting as best we can in solidarity with revolutionary fighters across the world — must always keep in mind that in the last analysis the fate of humanity rests on the socialist revolution in the United States. Our task is to build a party capable of leading that revolution, going up against the most heinous of the reactionary, monstrous ruling class regimes that exist on the face of this planet: the imperialist ruling class of the United States.
The road ahead in that struggle is going to be strewn with obstacles, and there are going to be many pitfalls. There’s no roadmap, no way you can find some kind of a detailed handbook that’s going to tell you what to do at each juncture. Our task is to chart a revolutionary course, based on a fundamental understanding of our program — a basic feel of our revolutionary strategy—and to hammer out the tactics in that direction as we go along.
There’s no timetable. Nobody can say how long it’s going to take or when it’s going to happen. I personally feel that those of you sitting in this room today, who have got all your youth going for you, have got at least Damon Runyon’s six-to-five chance of seeing that explosion.
But in saying so I want to add immediately: don’t make that a condition. Don’t adopt the criterion that the revolutionary change must happen in your time. Don’t take as a guide to your active life that narrow, provincial, self-centered notion that if it doesn’t happen during the time of your own subjective existence on this planet, it’s not important.
Always remember that history is magnificently indifferent to the problems of the individual. History doesn’t care whether you die at six or live to be seven hundred, if that were possible, or what happens during your particular lifetime. As the German poet Goethe once said, “History marches like a drunken beggar on horseback.”
A lot can happen during your limited lifespan, or you can live a dull existence. Some people have had the good fortune to live more in a year than others at a different historical juncture could live in their whole lifetime. Or, as Plekhanov once put it, “If it hadn’t been for the French Revolution, Napoleon would probably have ended up as a corporal in the French artillery.”
Don’t make it a condition that the socialist revolution must come in your lifetime. Be not only a citizen of the planet; be a citizen of time. Recognize that what’s fundamental is to be in rapport with the human race from the dawn of history, on to heights we can only vaguely begin to dream of.
And what’s the alternative? The alternative is to make a compromise with this rotten capitalist system. Do you know what people who do that are like? You remember the movie, The Devil and Daniel Webster? Jabez Stone, you know, sold his soul to Scratch, the devil. He did so on the promise that his personal ambitions would thus be served. Later he regretted the action and asked to have his soul returned. Scratch, who was played by Walter Huston, that magnificent actor, finally said all right, he’d give it back.
So Scratch took a small matchbox from his pocket. He opened the box and began poking around in it with his stubby finger trying, and trying, to find the mean little soul of Jabez Stone so he could give it back.
That’s symbolic of what you do to your own soul if you make a compromise with this rotten system.
Our job is to build a movement of men and women who emulate the seasoned fighters of the Continental line in the first American Revolution. Learn to be professional revolutionary fighters. Don’t be summer soldiers. Don’t dabble; don’t vacillate. Put nothing above the considerations of the movement. Maintain your place in the front ranks of the revolutionary fighters, and stand in that place for the duration.
There is no other way in which you can find so rich, so rewarding, so fruitful, and so purposeful a life.