The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 24      July 4, 2011

Transforming the party as it goes
more broadly to the working class
(front page)
OBERLIN, Ohio—With a giant scoreboard for the spring Militant campaign hanging from the rafters, 350 workers, farmers, and young people opened the Active Workers and Socialist Education Conference here June 9, sponsored by the Socialist Workers Party. In addition to participants from the United States, workers attended from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Greece, France, and Sweden.

The three-day conference registered the beginning of a transformation of the party and world communist movement in response to the openness of millions of workers and farmers to discuss what today’s crisis-ridden dictatorship of capital means for us and what we can and must do in order to end it.

On their way to the conference, workers and youth stopped in Midwest towns and cities to go door to door in working-class neighborhoods, introducing people to the Militant and to books and pamphlets on revolutionary working-class politics.

“We had a great time driving here and once again saw that you can go anywhere today in a working-class community and sell the paper, explain that the problem is the capitalist system, and have a discussion,” said Helen Meyers, a worker from Des Moines, Iowa, in a note read to the opening session. Four cars “pulled off the turnpike in South Bend [Indiana], a town none of us had ever been to, started driving, and said this neighborhood looks good.” In an hour they sold seven subscriptions.

As team members and leaders of party branches shouted out final subscription totals, the results were written on the banner-sized scoreboard. Paul Mailhot, a member of the SWP National Committee, reported to participants that 76 had been sold en route. That brought the total for the six-week circulation effort to 2,191 new readers of the Militant.

Mailhot issued a call for volunteers to participate in sales teams coming out of the gathering to coalfield areas in southwestern Pennsylvania, West Virginia, southern Illinois, and Alabama, as well as to western mining regions in Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado. More than 30 people signed up.  
More broadly into working class
In a report to the conference the first day, SWP national secretary Jack Barnes said the measure of success of the door-to-door sales of Militant subscriptions was not just numbers but, above all, what the effort registers and helps advance in politically leading and transforming the ongoing, weekly activity of party branches.

The party’s members were “transformed by and began transforming others in the conscious layers of the working class,” Barnes said. What was accomplished registered the response by growing numbers of working people to the accumulating consequences of crisis-wracked capitalist rule—from rising joblessness, to brutal imperialist wars in which the sons and daughters of workers and farmers are sent to fight and die.

“Big turning points for the party come when we recognize broad shifts such as this in our class, anticipate what’s coming, and begin to organize and act accordingly—with no guarantees, no IOUs, no due dates,” Barnes said. “It’s an act of imagination about the political changes as workers fight through the horrors capitalism is bringing—horrors that have already begun.

“And the political conclusion is always the same,” Barnes said. “Go more broadly into the working class, with confidence that we have no monopoly on imagination among workers, no monopoly on recognizing our own worth. And with the knowledge that as we fight alongside other working people, the party will begin to shake off the effects of a long political retreat of our class.”

Testing this increased responsiveness to the party’s course, Barnes said, means taking the Militant and books more broadly into the working class than the party has been doing in recent years, including to rural areas and to neighborhoods where there are concentrations of workers who are Caucasian as well as Black, Latino, and immigrant.

It requires overcoming a “union bias,” recognizing that as a result of the procapitalist course of the labor officialdom, a large and still growing majority of workers are unorganized today. It means understanding that resistance to the bosses’ assaults will begin in the working class—among both the unorganized and the organized—and, as that happens, pose the need and opportunities to rebuild and politically transform the unions.

On the second day of the conference, members of a panel reported on their experiences carrying out this political course—in regions extending from Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, Des Moines, and Lincoln, Nebraska, to Auckland in New Zealand and Montreal in Quebec.

At the closing conference rally, Gerald Sanderson from the Communist League in the United Kingdom described the sale of 25 subscriptions to workers in Dagenham, a working-class area of East London, who are contemptuously written-off by middle-class radicals as a hotbed of anti-immigrant sentiment and votes for Conservative, not Labour Party candidates.

Selling the Militant in working-class communities “helped me get a better understanding of the paper” and “breaks down stereotypes,” Sergio Zambrana told the Militant. A 21-year-old student at the University of Maryland in College Park, Zambrana was part of a team that sold 13 papers outside the Emerald Mine in southwestern Pennsylvania.  
Hunger for books
In the course of such discussions, SWP members are finding interest among workers not only in a newsweekly “published in the interests of working people,” but in books and pamphlets too. Top sellers are The Changing Face of U.S. Politics: Working-Class Politics and the Trade Unions and Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, both by Jack Barnes.

“These books, from different angles, are about the same thing,” Barnes said. Both are “about the dictatorship of capital and the road to the dictatorship of the proletariat,” he said, quoting the opening line of Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power. The party’s use of these two books, and the interest in them among workers, are converging.

Teamster Rebellion by Farrell Dobbs needs to be part of the mix, Barnes added. The first in a four-book series, it’s an account by one of the class-struggle leaders of strikes and organizing drives in the 1930s that transformed the Teamsters union across much of the Midwest into a fighting social movement.

“This is not a ‘union book,’” Barnes said. “It’s a book about working-class battles. Farrell’s account doesn’t open at the time of a powerful union movement—although not with unions as weak (and getting weaker) as they’ve become today, either. Farrell shows what workers did, and will find ways to do again, to build a fighting union movement.” Dobbs was a central leader of the SWP for decades.

These and other books vital to the work of the SWP, Barnes said, are kept in print by the efforts of some 250 supporters of the communist movement, organized in the Print Project. The work to produce these books takes on added importance for the party given what’s happening in the working class, he said.  
Capitalist crisis
Barnes described the grinding effects on workers of today’s capitalist crisis, the deepest since before World War II. Private employment today is 2 percent below where it was a decade ago—the first time there has been a loss of jobs over a 10-year period since the 1890s.

The Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing”—fancy words for printing money in massive amounts—won’t stem their crisis, Barnes said, since the capitalists aren’t spending on capacity-expanding plant and equipment to draw labor on a large scale into increased production. And banks and other institutions still hold massive “assets” from the financial meltdown of 2007-2008 that are worth a fraction of what the owners claim.

What’s been the upshot of Washington’s much-hyped “financial reform”? As of late last year, Barnes said, four banks hold some 40 percent of all outstanding loans, and three of the four accounted for 56 percent of all mortgages last year.

In face of the deepening crisis facing workers, the union officialdom collaborates more and more closely with the bosses. They create bigger and bigger obstacles to workers fighting effectively against our class enemy, the capitalist class.

Barnes pointed to the example of United Auto Workers (UAW) officials, who announced June 9 that they will propose to the auto barons in upcoming negotiations wider use of profit-sharing instead of fixed wage increases. This is necessary, UAW president Bob King told the Wall Street Journal, so these companies “remain competitive.”

The foreign and military policy of the Barack Obama administration is increasingly reckless, Barnes said. It seeks to keep “the shooters” in place in Afghanistan while pledging to draw down U.S. troop levels. When the administration’s plans go awry, as in Libya earlier this year, its tendency is to lash out militarily under pressure with dangerous consequences for working people the world over.  
A movement, not a doctrine
In responding to openings to discuss politics with more workers, Barnes said, there is no program the party can “apply” in order to know what to do next. Communism, as Marx and Engels demonstrated, is not a doctrine but a movement. It draws on the political generalization of lessons learned by the vanguard of the working class along the line of march toward workers power.

If class-conscious workers don’t participate in the class struggle with this in mind, Barnes said, they veer off in a reformist or “left socialist” direction. Communist workers join with other working people to fight for all sorts of immediate and democratic demands in the interests of the working class. But concessions we win will be by-products of revolutionary struggle, along the road to power, not of a class-collaborationist course to “reform” capitalist rule.

What’s decisive for the working class, said Barnes, is fought out and settled in the streets, not by the passage of laws in bourgeois legislatures. Whether it’s immigration rights, a woman’s right to choose abortion, or other political questions, what counts are not laws but the relationship of class forces established in struggle. The adoption of reactionary legislation in and of itself doesn’t register anything new in class politics; it shines a spotlight on the cumulative results of obstacles to effective struggle erected by misleaders of working people and the oppressed.

Barnes said workers in the United States today have a living example of men and women who transformed themselves in the course of class battles into the kind of human beings capable of organizing and leading a victorious proletarian revolution. Their stories are recounted, he said, in the series of book-length interviews with Cuban revolutionary leaders published by Pathfinder Press, such as Soldier of the Cuban Revolution: From the Cane Fields of Oriente to General of the Revolutionary Armed Forces by Luis Alfonso Zayas; Marianas in Combat by Teté Puebla; and others.

These points were amplified in a class by Militant editor Steve Clark on “How Workers Can Join Together to Transform Social Relations: Lessons from the Bolshevik-led Soviet State to Che Guevara and Cuba’s Socialist Revolution.” Among the other classes organized during the conference were “The 2011 Arab Uprisings, Israel, and the Road to Workers Power,” “The Working Class and the Transformation of Learning,” and “Abortion Rights: Precondition to Women’s Equality.”  
Defending women’s right to choose
Mary-Alice Waters, an SWP National Committee member and editor of New International magazine, presented a talk the second day of the gathering on “Women and Socialist Revolution.”

As party members and supporters have gone door to door with the Militant, she said, “We’re relearning how to talk with broader layers of our class not simply about things we think they might agree on, or things that sometimes seem more comfortable to discuss. We’re learning not to back off from discussions of social and political questions that are central to advancing the solidarity and fighting capacity of the working class.”

Among the most important of such questions—along with organization of immigrant workers as part of the working class and its unions—is defending a woman’s right to decide whether or not to bear a child.

“There will be no victorious socialist revolution in the United States or anywhere else without the organization and mobilization of women as part of the fighting ranks and leadership of that historic battle,” Waters said. “That means organizing women and men as part of an uncompromising struggle to eliminate the second class status of women, which is impossible so long as the capitalist rulers hold state power.

“And the right of a woman to control her own body—of a woman alone, not a woman and her husband, a woman and her parents, a woman and her doctor—is a fundamental precondition of equal participation in economic, social, and political life. That’s why defense of a woman’s right to choose is such a decisive question for a revolutionary workers party. It is a class question,” Waters said.

The big change in social attitudes toward abortion rights in the United States, she said, can be found in the accelerated incorporation of women into the labor force, especially during and after World War II. Scientific advances over those years made possible, for the first time, safe and effective contraception, while decreasing dangers of medical procedures, including abortions.

These changes, coupled with the impact of the mass proletarian-based struggle for Black rights in the United States, deeply affected the consciousness of both women and men on the fight for women’s equality. By 1973, partly in response to rising support for a woman’s right to choose, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws criminalizing abortions.

Since that time, Waters said, moves by sections of the capitalist rulers to push back this right have had the biggest impact on women from the working class and rural areas. Today some 87 percent of U.S. counties have no clinics or hospitals performing this medical procedure, placing substantial burdens on women who can’t afford the costs of transportation and lodging involved in traveling to find a safe abortion provider.

Luther Allen, a 34-year-old laid-off supermarket worker, came to the conference from Providence, Rhode Island. He went to Waters’s talk and to a class on the right to choose. He said he was taught at an early age that abortion was wrong. It was when doctors and others providing this procedure began getting killed by rightists in the 1990s that he began to reassess that view. “People were risking their lives to provide abortions to women,” he said. “I had to look at the question in a whole new light.”

The example of the Cuban Revolution and its communist leadership in the fight for women’s rights on every front of social and political life—not only since the 1959 victory, but during the revolutionary struggle itself—is “one of the clearest measures of the profoundly proletarian character of that revolution,” Waters said. Waters announced that she is editing a new Pathfinder book to be published later this year containing interviews with Vilma Espín and Acela de los Santos, leaders of the revolutionary struggle in Cuba since the 1950s and central leaders of the Federation of Cuban Women after the triumph. Espín died in 2007.  
Windup event
A windup rally the last evening was chaired by party leaders Alyson Kennedy and Róger Calero. Militant editor Steve Clark was the final speaker.

At the rally, several participants spoke about their experiences selling Militant subscriptions to working people this year. These included Randy Jasper, a farmer and leader of the Family Farm Defenders in Wisconsin; Zach Liddle, formerly a college student in the San Francisco Bay Area, now working an industrial job, who recently joined the Socialist Workers Party; Fredy Huinil, a grocery store worker from Atlanta who also recently became an SWP member; and leaders of Communist Leagues in Australia and the United Kingdom.

Also speaking was Holly Harkness, a party supporter who organizes the distribution center for Pathfinder books in Atlanta, and Jeff Powers, a leader of the Print Project, whose volunteers keep more than 300 Pathfinder titles in print. This spring, these supporters of the SWP and world communist movement organized to get the Arabic translation of Capitalism’s Long Hot Winter Has Begun by Jack Barnes printed and shipped in one week in order to be sold at the Tahrir Square Book Fair in Cairo at the end of March.

The supporters held a day of meetings and workshops on the Sunday after the conference, where they discussed bold new steps to accelerate the breadth of leadership in the project and increase the number of volunteers taking on responsibilities.

Powers announced that the Supporters Monthly Appeal, which organizes monthly donations to the SWP by supporters and others, was collecting $692,000 a year, well on the way to surpass $700,000 annually in July. These contributions make a decisive difference to the SWP’s week-in, week-out activity in the class struggle.

Conference participants also received daily reports on the SWP Capital Fund, which receives contributions of $1,000 or more, as well as blood-money “bonuses” paid by bosses as bribes to try to get workers to accept dangers on the job, speedup, and wage cuts instead of fighting for our class interests. The Capital Fund makes possible long-term projects of the party. Twenty-two people made new donations during the conference, for a total of $297,200.

A special one-time Socialist Workers Party 2011 Summer Appeal at the closing rally raised more than $25,000 in donations and pledges to help support the party’s work.
Related articles:
‘Need to fight for workers power is inescapable’
Message to framed-up Cuban Five revolutionaries held 12 years in U.S. prisons  
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