This fact was registered at a four-day Active Workers Conference sponsored by the Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialists. It was confirmed by the presentations on the panel discussions, in contributions from the floor of the conference, and in the examples that were pointed to during a meeting of the party's trade union leadership on the final day of the June 14–17 gathering.
At a June 18 meeting of the Socialist Workers Party's National Committee assessing the conference, SWP national secretary Jack Barnes noted that the breadth and openness of this political response has not been seen in decades. Communists are finding an interest not just in the labor or farm coverage in the revolutionary press but in a much broader range of political ideas.
This interest in ideas was reflected at the Active Workers Conference, where the integration of politics with a lively discussion of Marxist program and theory was greater than that seen at such a gathering in a number of years.
Barnes discussed three interconnected ways that are necessary for the Socialist Workers Party today to act on these opportunities. In response to the increased openings among working people for building the communist movement, the party has taken steps to base its local units in workers districts in cities as well as small towns around the country.
The SWP leader noted that each branch of the party must work over the next several months to become a workers district branch, not just in name but in fact. Building a branch in a workers district provides communists with a stable political base, a secure foothold in the working class from which to reach out to developments in politics and the unions in the wider city and region, he said.
This means organizing regular sales tables and weekly Militant Labor Forums, building up a subscription base within the district, and ensuring that the Pathfinder bookstore is well-stocked and open at publicized hours.
Secondly, Barnes said, having effective branches in workers districts will deepen the proletarianization of the party only if its members are simultaneously organizing regular communist political work on the job and through the party's union fractions--the units of communist workers in selected industries and unions.
Thirdly, he added, by acting along these lines, the communist movement can and will recruit to its ranks, if its members deliberately follow up with revolutionary-minded workers, farmers, and youth they meet in the course of sales and other political work. The Socialist Workers Party and the Young Socialists are involved in a joint campaign to double the membership of the YS.
An international gathering
Some 380 people attended the Active Workers Conference. Among them were socialist workers in unions that organize the garment, meatpacking, and coal mining industries around the country, as well as members of the auto workers union in Detroit. Also participating were Young Socialists members, organized supporters of the communist movement, and communist workers from Australia, Canada, France, Iceland, New Zealand, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Twenty-six people were attending their first such gathering, and more than 60 were under the age of 30.
The conference featured major talks by Jack Barnes and SWP National Committee member Mary-Alice Waters, which took up a number of the broad political questions and party-building opportunities facing the communist movement; two panel sessions with a range of speakers, followed by discussion from the floor; and a concluding session featuring summary remarks by Barnes and Waters.
Conference participants had a chance to delve into a range of topics in seven classes. Classes on "Communists and the transformation of nature," "The birth of Bolshevism," and "The Jewish question: The working class and the fight against anti-Semitism" drew lively back-and-forth discussion. A class in both English and Spanish on "The organizational principles of the SWP" attracted a number of young and new participants eager to learn about how the organizational structure of the communist party, and the loyalty and discipline of its members, flow from its proletarian character.
The discussion at the classes on "Twenty-two years of the Iranian revolution: The place of Pathfinder books in the world today," and "The hidden history of the workers and farmers government in Algeria, 1963–65" showed a widespread desire to learn about these revolutions. In their talks, Barnes and Waters both emphasized the need to reconquer the lessons of these and other revolutionary triumphs and defeats of our class.
An integral part of the conference was the showing of three films. The Battle of Algiers dramatizes the revolutionary struggle in Algeria against French colonial rule. Salt of the Earth depicts the 1950s battle to unionize zinc mines in the Southwest, led by Mexican-born workers. A special feature was the documentary Terrorists in Retirement, which tells the story of immigrant Jewish garment workers from Eastern Europe who joined the resistance to the Nazi occupation in France during World War II and were betrayed by the Stalinist Communist Party.
On the final day of the gathering an SWP national trade union leadership meeting took place, along with a meeting organized by the leadership of the Young Socialists, and workshops involving Pathfinder Reprint Project volunteers.
The Reprint Project organizes some 150 supporters of the communist movement in converting to electronic form the 350-plus Pathfinder titles. More than 80 people attended the workshops, which covered different aspects of the project, including proofreading, indexing, formatting, and graphics, as well as online book promotion--a new area of responsibility.
The Young Socialists organized a meeting for its members--including those present from Canada, the United Kingdom, Iceland, and Sweden--and conference participants of YS age, including those not yet members of the communist movement. The meeting, attended by 30 people, discussed the movement-wide campaigns to build participation in two international events--the Cuba-U.S. Youth Exchange in late July, and the World Festival of Youth and Students scheduled for Algeria in August--and to double the membership of the Young Socialists by the end of August.
During the conference, three participants--two from the United States and one from Canada--decided to join the Young Socialists. Another decided to become a candidate member of the SWP. The formation of a new YS chapter in Pittsburgh was also announced.
The Young Socialists decided to organize socialist summer schools in all cities where there are YS chapters, in collaboration with SWP branches.
Wider hearing for revolutionary ideas
The major presentations to the conference noted the resistance among workers and farmers to the employers and their government, and the continuing development of a vanguard layer of fighters who are forging links with each other as they go through experiences in struggle. This resistance is "strengthening, toughening, and widening," said Mary-Alice Waters, speaking on "The Cuban Revolution and Building the Revolutionary Communist Movement in the United States." Communist workers are getting to know many of these working-class and farm fighters.
Waters cited the example of one West Virginia miner who bought the Militant from a socialist worker. "He liked the paper, he said, not because it was radical, but because it told the truth," she explained.
Combative workers often tell their friends about the Militant and its Spanish-language sister paper, Perspectiva Mundial. These experiences have a cumulative effect in broadening the reach of the communist movement and strengthening its ties with fellow proletarian fighters.
So far this year, Waters reported, sales of Pathfinder titles have increased 60 percent over the corresponding period in 2000, as the communist movement has begun to tap into the opportunities for sales and promotion of revolutionary literature.
Another step forward is the fact that volunteers in the Pathfinder Reprint Project have taken on new responsibilities for book production and promotion, in conjunction with their drive to digitize all Pathfinder titles. At the same time, the workers in Pathfinder's printshop have taken steps to sharply increase productivity. "We are proletarianizing the production and use of the books," said Waters.
The "Pathfinder army" has produced 60 new reprints and 14 new titles since last summer's Active Workers Conference. Eleven of the new titles have been printed since January, she said.
Communist workers have found real interest in books such as the newest Pathfinder title Cuba and the Coming American Revolution, by Jack Barnes, which not only point to the example of Cuba's socialist revolution but offer the perspective of making a revolution in the United States.
In setting up literature tables on the streets of New York's Garment District and other parts of the city, socialists have discovered the popularity of books and pamphlets containing the speeches of Thomas Sankara, particularly among French-speaking workers from Africa. Sankara was the central leader of the 1983–87 revolutionary government in Burkina Faso, in West Africa.
Pathfinder plans the rapid publication, in French and Spanish, of a couple of pamphlets containing speeches by Sankara, to be available for sale and promotion at the upcoming world youth festival. Work will also begin on a new French-language edition of Thomas Sankara Speaks.
The publisher is also planning editions of several basic pamphlets by V.I. Lenin, the principal leader of the Bolshevik Party and the October 1917 Russian Revolution. The leaders of the Stalinist movement in the United States have largely abandoned any such publishing program as they shed their fraudulent claim to the mantle of Lenin, Marx, and other communist leaders.
Building workers district branches
Waters described the efforts of members of the Brooklyn, Garment District, and Upper Manhattan branches of the SWP in New York to build workers district branches. Communists in each of these three areas have begun to build up a base of subscribers to the socialist press as well as participants in the weekly Militant Labor Forums.
The New York branches' experiences were featured in the panel discussions that were part of the conference, entitled, "Following the Lines of Working-Class Resistance: Expanding Opportunities for Communists Today."
"Tens of thousands of workers come into the Garment District in midtown Manhattan each day," said Dan Fein, a volunteer in the Pathfinder printshop. Regular street table sales as well as selling at plant gates of garment shops are organized within a few blocks of the branch hall and Pathfinder bookstore, located in the heart of the district. "Native-born and immigrant workers and young people have attended the Friday night Militant Labor Forums or visited the bookstore after meeting us at these tables," he said.
Members of the Upper Manhattan branch sold 30 subscriptions in the final week of the circulation drive, said panelist Jacob Perasso, a branch member and the organizer of the Young Socialists National Executive Committee. "A number who subscribed said they had bought copies of the Militant or Perspectiva Mundial at previous tables," he noted, emphasizing the cumulative effects of their political work.
Response to socialist press
Frank Forrestal, a miner and member of the United Mine Workers union in Pittsburgh, and Arrin Hawkins, a worker in a meatpacking plant in Chicago organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW), illustrated the opportunities that exist today to promote the socialist press among co-workers in the course of talking socialism and acting alongside them to strengthen the union.
Over the past year, said Forrestal, 15 co-workers at the mine where he and fellow socialist coal miners work have subscribed to the Militant. The workers are engaged in a constant tug-of-war with the company over safety questions, he said, noting, "The biggest protection for workers is that they look out for each other."
Hawkins gave the audience a detailed account of how she approached co-workers on the last day of the international circulation drive in her workplace. During one break, two workers she spoke to decided to take out subscriptions. Thanks to this political work on the job, the local UFCW fraction made all its goals in the subscription campaign.
Some co-workers have also expressed interest in joining Hawkins on the Cuba-U.S. Youth Exchange trip to Havana in late July. Their interest grew after attending a meeting at the local UFCW union hall, where union member and socialist Joel Britton and dairy farmer Randy Jasper both spoke about their recent trip to Cuba to participate in meetings organized by leaders of Cuba's small farmers organization.
Jerry Gardner, a member of the Reprint Project Steering Committee in the San Francisco Bay Area, described to the Active Workers Conference participants the response by project volunteeers to the growing demand among vanguard workers and farmers for revolutionary literature. The flow of newly digitized titles available for reprinting is speeding up, he said. Having achieved their goal of digitizing 50 percent of Pathfinder's 364 titles by May 1, the volunteers are aiming to hit the 75 percent mark by July 1--a rate of seven per month.
A handsome eight-panel display on the work of the project attracted the attention of conference participants. Additional displays at the back of the conference hall showed the activity of Young Socialists members and chapters, sales of the books and newspapers, and--under the title of "Increasing Productivity"--the printshop volunteers at work. A special display featured the Maritime Fund, a project established to document the activity of communist seafarers in the 1940s and '50s. An appeal to win new contributors to the fund was featured at the conference, and 16 new people made pledges.
The displays were mounted around book sales tables, which advertised a number of special offers, including discounts on titles related to the classes, which sold well. Cuba and the Coming American Revolution, in three languages, and Too Many Babies? a pamphlet by Joseph Hansen debunking the myth of overpopulation from a scientific, Marxist standpoint--part of the reading list for the class on "Communists and the transformation of nature"--were the most popular titles among the 400 books sold during the conference.
To help the local Pathfinder bookstores expand their stock, a special post-conference sale offered them and other distributors the wide range of remaining books and pamphlets at a 75 percent discount. Conference participants purchased some 1,700 items for their local bookstores through this special sale.
On one of the panels, party supporter Sarah Gates of Seattle reported the growth in supporters' contributions to the national finances of the SWP. In the year to May, she said, some $265,000 was contributed, almost $16,000 more than the goal set at last year's Active Workers Conference.
Socialist coal miners also reported on efforts to raise their individual weekly contributions to the party to more than $100.
Expanding working-class vanguard
A number of speakers described picket lines, protests, and political meetings they had taken part in. Omari Musa from Pittsburgh recounted joining other socialist workers and youth in a June 9 action called by the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) in Columbia, South Carolina, in which 5,000 people rallied to defend five framed-up dockworkers in Charleston.
Musa said that garment workers, Teamsters, Steelworkers, and other unionists converged on Columbia, met each other, and exchanged experiences. Socialists, who are already known by many of these vanguard workers from their own struggles, were able to naturally join in these discussions, promoting revolutionary literature and introducing fighting unionists to one another.
Garment workers in Frackville, Pennsylvania, who were recently on strike against Hollander Home Fashions, joined strikers from the Up-To-Date Laundry in Baltimore on the speakers' panel of a Militant Labor Forum organized recently in Philadelphia, reported John Studer, a member of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE). The workers described their struggles and exchanged views on broader political questions. The forum "combined the work of communists in the party's organizing committee in Allentown, Pennsylvania, who built solidarity with the Hollander strike, with the institutions of our branch," he concluded.
Martha Bonilla, one of the UNITE workers who struck Hollander in Los Angeles in March, spoke at the conference and described the unionists' solidarity and determination in face of police harassment of their picket line and the company's use of scabs and security guards. The workers emerged stronger from their 10-week struggle, she said.
Rachele Fruit, a union meat packer and member of the SWP Organizing Committee in Tampa, described how individuals involved in fights against police killings have been forging links with each other, from Florida to Minnesota to Georgia, and the role of socialists in facilitating those links and helping broaden the horizons of the fighters involved.
Police racism also helped to spark a rebellion in late May in the English city of Oldham, near Manchester, reported Communist League (CL) members from the United Kingdom attending the conference. These cops have cracked down on Asian youth who have mobilized to defend their community against rightist thugs. The strong showing in the recent elections of the ultrarightist British National Party in Oldham illustrates how political polarization has deepened there.
Polarization marked the election results in Northern Ireland too, explained CL members from London. It was seen in the strong gains by Sinn Fein, which is leading the fight to end British rule in the north, and in the continuing fragmentation of the right-wing pro-British parties.
Changes in the working class
In his talk, titled "In Defense of Bolshevism," SWP national secretary Barnes referred to a December 1998 report he had given to a joint YS and party conference in Los Angeles--a speech that is published as "A Sea Change in Working-Class Politics," the first chapter of the Pathfinder title Capitalism's World Disorder. That 1998 report noted the end of a years-long political retreat and tangible signs of a rise in resistance by workers and small farmers. A vanguard layer was developing, and the communist movement in the United States had to take steps to become part of it.
The conference showed the results of beginning to act along that political course, said Barnes. How the communist party tests the expanding political opportunities explained three years ago is becoming less algebraic and more concrete today.
While a working-class radicalization is not what is involved today, he said, we see the continuing development of a vanguard proletarian layer, a social phenomenon powerful enough to show the way to young people and others who want to act against the brutality and injustices of capitalism.
Working people who have immigrated from Latin America and elsewhere have had a substantial impact on this vanguard, Barnes noted, helping to transform and strengthen the "American" working class--and not just the American working class. "The very workings of capitalism itself," he said, "have brought into one imperialist country after another a cross-section of the world."
A class, world approach to all questions
The communist movement must present a clear class perspective and internationalist standpoint on all the pressing political questions of the day, the SWP leader said.
The energy crisis in California--a consequence of the price-gouging tactics of the power companies--is a good example. This question must be approached not within an American framework but from the interests of working people internationally. The energy crisis, in fact, has highlighted the vast inequalities in industrialization and electrification across the planet, he said. A third of humanity has no access to modern sources of energy.
Barnes quoted V.I. Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik-led revolution, who had said in 1920, "Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country," In the early years of the Russian Revolution, the soviets were the councils of workers, peasants, and soldiers forming the organs of political power of working people. Electrification of the countryside was crucial to maintaining the alliance between workers and farmers, Lenin insisted.
The fight to close the gap in the economic and social conditions of the toilers worldwide is a necessary step toward functioning as political equals, said Barnes. Such a fight will provide the basis to forge a proletarian-led international movement to act as a vanguard in advancing the world socialist revolution. He added that in equalizing access to power and other development, workers and farmers will need to utilize all available scientific advances. "We are champions of science," he stated.
Communists start from the "we" of the toiling humanity of all countries, and reject any identification with the "we" of the U.S. ruling families, said Barnes. This kind of class clarity is essential today, as the employers turn up the nationalist rhetoric of their aggressive foreign policy.
The unfolding conflicts between the U.S. billionaires and their rivals in Europe are central to world capitalist politics, he said. The recent description of the United States as a "hyper-power" by spokespeople for French imperialism is an accurate observation of Washington and its course, as U.S. president George Bush pushes ahead with the development of a so-called National Missile Defense system aimed ultimately to give the Pentagon a first-strike nuclear advantage, and treats the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and Kyoto treaty on global warming as the dead letters they are.
Issues like the death penalty, said Barnes, must be approached as class questions. In the United States and other capitalist countries, communists call for the abolition of this instrument of ruling-class terror.
However, he said, communists support the right of the revolutionary government of Cuba to use the death penalty as a necessary class weapon to defend the rule of workers and peasants in face of U.S. imperialism.
The current debate around "free trade" calls for a similar method, he said. Class-conscious workers are for an end to trade barriers by the U.S. and other imperialist governments, which are used by the capitalists in those countries to shore up their prices and profits. But in semicolonial nations, which are oppressed by imperialism, we do not rule out the need for protectionist measures to defend the living conditions of workers and farmers.
Barnes explained that communists oppose U.S.-led trade pacts such as the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) and the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Washington tries to use to assert its domination over the Americas and to counter its European and Japanese rivals. Cuban president Fidel Castro's call for a plebiscite on the FTAA to be held in Latin American countries is an effort to educate and mobilize working people in the region in opposition to imperialist domination, and to highlight how workers and farmers should have the power to vote on fundamental economic decisions that affect the lives of millions.
Building the Young Socialists
A number of speakers at the conference pointed to the opportunities to build the communist movement. The campaign by the SWP and the YS to double the membership of the Young Socialists by the end of August provides a framework to advance this goal.
Coming out of the Active Workers Conference, communist workers and Young Socialists returned to their areas prepared to turn toward helping to build the biggest and broadest delegations possible to the July 22–30 Cuba-U.S. Youth Exchange and to the August 8–16 World Festival of Youth and Students.
In working to maximize the participation of youth in these two events, Waters noted in her summary remarks, communists will meet many who will be interested in Pathfinder literature, the socialist press, and in joining the Young Socialists.
Jack Willey, who has been part of the YS delegation to international meetings to prepare the world youth festival--and who had arrived at the conference directly from a visit to Western Sahara by members of the International Organizing Committee (IOC) for the youth festival--illustrated this point. At a recent preparatory meeting of the IOC held in Algiers, a youth leader from South Africa, who bought a number of titles, urged him to "bring a lot of books to the festival," Willey reported.
The conference ended with an enthusiastic rally that raised an additional $10,000 to the $103,000 already collected for the international Pathfinder Fund (see article on page 8).
Meeting marks progress for Capital Fund
Pathfinder Fund rises to $113,000
'We need a revolution in the United States'
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