Wednesday, November 11, 2009
The growing political crisis & the role of the working class
Published Nov 11, 2009 11:27 AM
Following are excerpts from a document written by Workers World Party secretariat member Larry Holmes in preparation for the Nov. 14-15 WWP national conference in New York City.
Our founders formed Workers World Party in 1959 in order to embrace and defend all the parts of what they called “the global class camp of the working class,” including the socialist camp and the national liberation movements, and to advance the position that the U.S. working class and its advanced organizations could not have a revolutionary policy and program at home or abroad if they cut themselves off from world struggle in order to make life a little easier. The party’s founders decided to name their new party “Workers World Party” as a way of driving home this fundamental principle.
The understanding of what would be required of a revolutionary party in the U.S. can be seen in how Workers World Party neither negated nor feared the national question but, to the contrary, upheld it in theory and practice. It can be further seen in the party’s embrace of the women’s liberation struggle and the liberation struggles of lesbian gay, bi and trans people. It can be seen in WWP’s unflinching defense of all who are under attack by imperialism. The party’s positions are not merely based on gaining some temporary advantage or being caught up in a passing fad. The party’s positions can be traced back to the understanding of a handful of comrades, most of whom started Workers World Party. They saw all the issues and movements that we have supported, not as chaotic fragments without any relationship to each other, but as the moving parts inside of a larger process—that process being the global class struggle.
Workers World Party was born out of the necessity to fight opportunism in the U.S. working-class movement. Opportunism is when a policy or position is taken that subordinates the broader interests of the world working class for the purposes of achieving something that only benefits a narrow section of our class, most often a relatively privileged section.
One of the most damaging recent examples of opportunism is the failure on the part of the trade union movement’s leadership to fully defend and mobilize workers in support of undocumented workers. Had the working-class movement fully embraced the great revolt of immigrant workers in 2006, the entire working class would have taken a leap forward of light years in its development as an independent class, conscious of its class interests from Mexico to Senegal, from the Philippines to Pakistan, to Puerto Rico and on every continent.
With a few exceptions, the trade union movement saw Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath primarily as a natural disaster instead of as a profound manifestation of racism and national oppression perpetrated by the government upon mainly the African-American population. Consequently, the response of labor was limited to material aid. It would have been an enormous political step forward if the trade union movement had fully committed itself to exposing the role of the government and backing the demands for justice—especially of the right to return—in response to Hurricane Katrina genocide and displacement in New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast.
Opportunism is the enemy of class solidarity, of the struggle against imperialism.
Two interlinked processes driving the political crisis
Historically, the enormous concentration of wealth based on global exploitation and imperialist plunder has enabled U.S. imperialism to purchase political stability by arresting the political development of the U.S. working class.
This dynamic has been by far the biggest obstacle to the radicalization of the U.S. working class. Generally, it is the reason why the political movement—be it the anti-war movement or the struggle of oppressed peoples against racism and national oppression—has not been consistently or strongly oriented toward the class struggle.
More than at any time since U.S. imperialism achieved global domination, two interlinked processes have reached a turning point. One of those processes is the domination of U.S. imperialism. This process has turned a corner and is on the way down.
U.S. imperialism will continue for quite some time to be dominant in the imperialist pecking order. However, its historic decline is beyond dispute.
U.S. imperialism’s difficulty in holding its dominion over Latin America, where anti-imperialism is still on the ascendency, or Asia, even after almost a decade of war, is a symptom of its decline.
The other interrelated process that is equally beyond dispute is the pauperization of larger sections of the working class. Today, even with the highest level of unemployment, home foreclosures, etc., since the capitalist Depression of the 1930s, there is a sense of calm. It’s the proverbial calm before the storm.
The banks, the lifeblood of capitalism, have not resumed their normal rate of lending, nor has production returned to what was considered pre-crisis norms. The whole system of finance capitalism remains on a life support system provided by the government.
For well over a year, the capitalist government and establishment have seen its primary responsibility as preventing the collapse of its financial system.
On top of the beating that workers have already taken, more plant closings, more layoffs, more wage slashing and more union busting are coming. Another wave of merciless budget cutting is also coming.
The volcanic force of these processes stands to crack and break the pillars of U.S. imperialism’s domestic political stability. Somewhere in these processes, the loyalty to imperialism of a section of the working class that the U.S. imperialist ruling class has depended on for so long will be shattered.
Ultimately, either the working class will respond to the political crisis by rising up in self-defense against the capitalist crisis, or some camp within the ruling class will find other ways of either diffusing or diverting the political crisis.
The weaknesses of the working-class movement and its organizations tend to make a reactionary development more of a concern.
An African-American president also provides, for those in the ruling class who would play with fire, a scapegoat over which to generate a racist backlash.
It would be foolhardy on our part to belittle the dangers for the working class inherent in the growing political crisis.
However, the diversion of the economic and political crisis into a reactionary mass movement is not inevitable.
Tasks of the working class
The election of the first African-American president is a historic gain but also a potential problem to the degree that Obama, because of his popularity in the working class and with the assistance of the labor leaders allied with him, is able to hold back the class struggle.
The racism and reaction will only be met with more impassioned calls to rally closer to the Democratic Party as the only “realistic” alternative to the reaction. If this scenario plays out, the working class will not only lose out in the struggle against the capitalist crisis and forego an opportunity to organize, mobilize, fight back and develop as a fighting force—more and more independent of the mechanisms of ruling-class restraint—but its inability to enter the struggle in its own interests will only embolden reaction.
However, there is no basis for presuming that the working class will not be able to break free of the restraints.
Our role in establishing the need for the working class to fight back must no longer be reduced to waiting for a spontaneous rebellion that we can support. We should be ready to turn a rebellion—wherever it is, no matter how small the plant—into a national struggle for classwide solidarity.
But the magnitude of the coming political crisis demands more. It demands that we first make the need for the workers and unemployed to rise up a political struggle inside the working-class movement.
The relative passivity of the working class and the conservatism of the trade union leadership for some time have all but extinguished enthusiasm or interest for several generations of political activists and militants in the working class. It’s true that this is finally beginning to change, but that change is but one step on a long journey that must be taken.
Opening up the political struggle
No task in this discussion is more important than reviving a revolutionary Marxist view of trade unions. We understand that trade unions came into being to mitigate the exploitation of workers and to negotiate a legal arrangement with capitalist bosses that leaves unionized workers with a little more of the surplus value that their labor has created. However, from a revolutionary perspective, this necessary but narrow objective on the part of trade unions is only a beginning.
As the class struggle intensifies and the needs of the class struggle against capitalist exploitation and oppression become greater, transcending geographical boundaries as well as the conditions that distinguish the many layers of the global working class, the trade unions, in order to be viable or even to survive, must also evolve.
Trade unions must be compelled by both material conditions and pressure from the working class, both unionized and non-unionized, employed and unemployed, to become revolutionary organizing centers for the entire working class, especially the most oppressed.
The trade union movement must break with its reliance on the Democratic Party and a relationship with a president or legislators as the main way to defend the interests of the working class. No strike should be seen as the concern of one union alone but a battle of the entire working class.
The central government, including the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Bank, and its political window dressing, the U.S. Congress, has unlimited power. In this global crisis, more often than not, the central government must be the target of the workers.
Opening a political struggle inside the working-class movement must not be born out of a sense of panic or desperation. Nor must it be based on hopeful scenarios that are either premature or in which there is not enough evidence to make an educated estimate of its chances for success. To the contrary, the political struggle is viable because its central prerequisite is that it is an essential part of preparation 101 for our class to do what is necessary to defend itself against the onslaught that is coming.
There is an even more critical imperative for opening the political struggle in the working-class movement, regardless of the outcome over a short and uncertain span of time. More than anything else, the political struggle we are considering is a struggle to hold our class together against all the pressures and forces unleashed in a storm that would fracture it.
The political struggle inside the working-class movement is integral to the next step in the struggle for jobs. Moreover, it is in the struggle for the right to a job that the potential for a qualitative and essential leap in the consciousness of workers presents itself. The understanding that one’s existence is threatened by a system, when viscerally and simultaneously shared by millions and millions of workers, is the kind of thing that brings the socialist revolution on to the horizon.
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