The third edition of Is Socialist Revolution in the US Possible? A Necessary Debate Among Working People by Mary-Alice Waters, a leader of the Socialist Workers Party, has just been published by Pathfinder Press. What lies ahead of working people “are struggles that transform us as we fight to transform the twisted social relations of the dog-eat-dog world of capitalism — relations that corrode human solidarity and coarsen us all,” Waters says in the book.
Here we reprint the preface to the new edition.
The debate over the question posed in the title of the book is critical for working people today. What is the road forward in a world marked by a growing crisis for our class caused by the deepening exhaustion of capitalism? Is the working class capable of transforming itself in struggle and overthrowing capitalist rule and running the world ourselves?
This book — and Pathfinder’s other new title Are They Rich Because They’re Smart? Class, Privilege, and Learning Under Capitalism — are on special for $7 each, and for $10 with an introductory 12-week subscription to the Militant.
The preface is copyright © 2016 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
That is, however, only the first of the important questions addressed during what became the deepgoing international debate recorded in these pages. Even if a socialist revolution is possible, is it “necessary”? Why can’t capitalism be “regulated” and made to serve the interests of the overwhelming majority of humanity? What does the oft-abused term “revolution” mean? And are there any living examples we can learn from?
This 2016 edition of Is Socialist Revolution in the US Possible? appears some eight years after the near meltdown of the world capitalist banking system in the closing months of 2008. That financial and stock market panic soon exposed a far deeper underlying crisis: the long downward trend of capitalist profit rates in the United States and internationally, and the resulting contraction of investment in production, trade, and hiring. A slow-burning worldwide depression had begun.
Despite assurances by high-ranking public officials, including President Barack Obama, that the US economy has now “recovered” from the worst financial crisis since the 1930s and is doing “pretty darn well,” working people know in our bones that for us it’s a lie. A lie borne out by the facts we live with.
Median household income is today more than $4,000 lower than it was in 1999, seventeen years ago, and that is often the cumulative income from multiple jobs worked by everyone in the family who can become a wage earner. The labor force participation rate (the size of the “working class” as measured by the capitalist government) is lower than any time since 1978, largely because more and more workers haven’t been able to find a job and aren’t currently looking.
Inflation, they tell us, is basically flat, but just since the turn of the century rents have more than doubled on average, as have school fees and childcare, while medical costs and the hit at the grocery store have gone up nearly 100 percent. In the last year alone, health insurance jumped on average by 7 percent, school lunches by nearly 6 percent, and transit fares by more than 5 percent.
Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya — Washington’s wars and their grisly consequences at home and around the world keep metastasizing. Tens of millions are homeless and displaced.
The presumption of stability and a new era of peace and prosperity born of an “ever closer” European Union has shattered. The economic social and political crises in Latin America, Africa, and Asia are deepening.
Told they have to choose between two of the most broadly distrusted presidential candidates in US history, is it any surprise so many answer, “I won’t happily vote for either one!”
This 2016 edition of Is Socialist Revolution in the US Possible? is addressed to working people — in city, town, and countryside — across the US and around the world, who are searching for proletarian solidarity and a way forward in this world of deepening capitalist conflict. It is addressed to the women and men of every skin color, religion, national origin, and age who are every day more determined to understand the roots of what is happening to their families and themselves, more open to joining together with others to fight for a future only we can create.
The five-day rolling political debate on which this book is based took place in November 2007 at the Venezuela International Book Fair, a popular cultural festival held yearly in Caracas. The book centers around the talk given by Mary-Alice Waters, a leader of the Socialist Workers Party in the US and president of Pathfinder Press, who opened the panel discussion on “The United States: A Possible Revolution,” the book fair’s theme. The narrative is driven forward by the responses and reactions to the issues posed by Waters, as well as her answers.
The wide-ranging debate that unfolded was unique in its depth and clarity. Although virtually all twenty-two panelists were from the US, certainly no similar exchange among the different political currents they represented has taken place in living memory.
Is the integration of millions of toilers from Latin America and around the world into the US working class a potential strength or fatal source of weakness and division? Are US workers so corrupted by the wealth of US capitalist society that they are incapable of revolutionary struggle? Were the American War of Independence from the British crown and the US Civil War the First and Second American Revolutions, or has there never been a revolutionary struggle of any kind in US history? Has “white skin privilege” destroyed every progressive social struggle in US history? Do Jews control the banks and capitalist media conglomerates of the world? Was 9/11 an Israeli conspiracy? Does Cuba remain the only “free territory of the Americas,” or is Venezuela showing the toilers of the world a new road to socialism?
These were among the sharply counterposed perspectives on fundamental questions of revolutionary strategy and perspectives presented and debated with only a few breaches of civility.
Waters’s presentation appears here along with an introduction summarizing the issues that were joined. An article by staff writer Olympia Newton from the pages of the Militant newspaper reports on the political exchange, which involved several hundred audience participants in addition to the panelists.
When the November 2007 debate took place, only the first tremors of the coming housing-fueled “debt crisis” and subsequent near-collapse of the credit and banking system had been felt.
One year later, the dam had burst, and the consequences were beginning to be felt by working people the world over. At the November 2008 Caracas book fair — on the first anniversary of the exchange — Monte Ávila, one of Venezuela’s leading publishers, presented an edition of Is Socialist Revolution in the US Possible? for sale in bookstores throughout that country. They also distributed a thousand copies of a special printing without charge to young readers at the fair.
Speaking at the Caracas launching of the Monte Ávila edition, Waters described what had transpired the previous twelve months. She looked back at the debate that had taken place a year earlier in light of the economic and social crisis, which was rapidly escalating and expanding geographically, including across Latin America.
This 2016 edition of Is Socialist Revolution in the US Possible?, like the second edition published in 2009, includes both talks by Waters.
Readers will judge for themselves how well the perspectives laid out almost a decade ago have stood the test of time.