....Ron Poulsen, from Sydney, Australia, explained that communism is not an ideology or a set of ideas dreamed up in an ivory tower, but a line of march for the working class. “It’s based on the generalized lessons of more than a century and a half of the workers’ movement. We need to study these lessons, but Marxism can only be learned as part of the struggles of the working class,” said Poulsen, a member of the Communist League in Australia.
He pointed to the example of Cuba’s socialist revolution, which shows the capacity of workers and farmers to organize a successful fight for state power and begin transforming society, transforming themselves in the process.
A broad range of questions and opinions were talked through in the nearly three hours of discussion, from how to oppose the bosses’ contracting out of jobs to questions about trade pacts and “globalization.” One question was on the challenge of organizing workers in call centers — a rapidly expanding business in the Philippines — where U.S., Australian and other companies take advantage of superexploited labor and an English-speaking workforce.
Baskaran Appu, from Auckland, New Zealand, spoke about the work of building the Communist League there. “As we go door to door in working-class neighborhoods, we are finding an unprecedented openness among workers to discuss a class perspective,” he said.
Several of us explained how in every country the employers push down wages and working conditions in their drive for profits. They try to divide and weaken the working class, introducing contract jobs and using racist demagogy or scapegoating immigrants, women and others. But the unfolding capitalist crisis pushes workers to fight back. And in the process working people grow in confidence and understanding.
Martín Koppel, from New York, described how SWP members have been part of protests against deportations of immigrants. “These actions have won widespread solidarity among native- and foreign-born workers alike,” he said.
In reply to a question about how to respond to capitalist “tax reform” plans that increase the burden on the working class — like one being proposed by the Philippine government today — Linda Harris from the Communist League in Australia pointed to the example of socialist Cuba. At the initiative of the revolutionary leadership there, hundreds of thousands had participated in “workers’ parliaments” in the mid-1990s, discussing and rejecting proposed taxation of workers’ wages.
One youth said many of his fellow students were worried about their future careers if they got involved in broader politics.
Waters replied that education, like all social relations under capitalism, is designed to train students to see themselves as individuals. “You’re taught you should strive to rise out of your class, not fight to rise with your class,” she said. “Ours is a political struggle to raise consciousness that workers need to organize as a class to take political power. Until we do that, no gains are permanent.”
The heart of this political battle, Waters said, was captured well by Malcolm X, “a revolutionary leader of the working class in the United States. When he was asked, ‘Are you trying to wake people to their own exploitation?’ Malcolm said, ‘No, to their humanity, to their own worth.’”
The fight for political space
A couple of students pointed to dangers they face when taking part in protest rallies with the possibility of arrests and becoming targets of police and vigilante squads.
“How to protect yourselves from government repression and murderous attacks by political opponents is not something those of us from outside the Philippines can answer for you,” Waters said. “But we do know from our own experiences and the lessons of history that the answer must flow from a broader strategy to mobilize working people along the road to political power.”
That strategy, she said, means fighting to unify and organize the working class and transform the unions into instruments of revolutionary struggle. It means rejecting the subordination of the interests of working people to electoral and governmental alliances with “progressive” bourgeois forces, the course that is followed by the Communist Party of the Philippines, a Mao-Stalinist organization, and its various split-offs. For the CPP, “protracted rural warfare” is part of this class-collaborationist course, aimed not at taking power but winning concessions from one bourgeois government or another.
Waters pointed to the lessons learned by the Communist Party in the United States, founded in 1919 by workers determined to emulate the example of the Bolshevik-led Russian Revolution. V.I. Lenin and other leaders of the Communist International helped convince the young party to come out from underground and fight for the political space to operate openly.
Following this back-and-forth exchange, and a tour of the campus, the members of SPEAK put on a “boodle fight” — a traditional Philippine meal — for us. Then the students swarmed the literature table to browse the issues of the Militant and books on revolutionary politics we were leaving them, thirsty to learn more about workers’ struggles and a way forward worth fighting for.