The new edition of Is Socialist Revolution in the US Possible? A Necessary Debate Among Working People is timely, published as the 2016 U.S. election was coming to a close. Donald Trump won the presidency, startling liberal pundits and the left and deepening the propertied rulers’ fear of the working class. Hillary Clinton spoke for them when she denounced the workers who backed Trump as “deplorable” and “irredeemable.”
Clinton tried to tell workers the capitalist economy had “come back from the abyss,” and if workers didn’t see it, that was their problem. But “working people know in our bones that for us it’s a lie, a lie borne out by the facts we live with,” Norton Sandler, a member of the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party, writes in the preface.
Behind the election results are the millions Clinton wrote off, who face the daily consequences of the ongoing, slow-burning economic contraction and financial crisis of capitalism and the drive of the bosses and their government to place the burden of that social calamity on our backs. The rulers sense that down the road they face a deepening class struggle.
The book is alive with questions critical for working people facing politics today, even though it is based on a debate that took place almost a decade ago. “Only the first tremors of the coming housing-fueled ‘debt crisis’ and subsequent near-collapse of the credit and banking system had been felt” at that time, Sandler says.
Organizers of a five-day forum that was at the center of the 2007 Venezuela International Book Fair — “The United States: A Possible Revolution” — invited Mary-Alice Waters, a leader of the Socialist Workers Party and president of Pathfinder Press, to open the panel discussion with international participation.
Her answer was an unequivocal “Yes!” Socialist revolution in the U.S. is possible. Most of the other panelists disagreed.
Waters addressed “those who believe, or fear, that US imperialism is too powerful, and that revolution has become at best a utopian dream.”
“To reach that conclusion you would have to believe that there won’t again be economic, financial, and social crises, or devastating world wars, on the order of those that marked the first half of the twentieth century,” Waters said. “That the ruling families of the imperialist world and their economic wizards have found a way to ‘manage’ capitalism so as to preclude shattering financial crises and breakdowns of production and trade that could lead to something akin to the Great Depression.”
“The evidence is overwhelming,” she said, “that the future we face is the opposite.”
The book also records the debate over the place of the Cuban Revolution as an example for those seeking to overthrow capitalism’s dog-eat-dog brutality today.
“The Cuban Revolution will again be increasingly sought after as new generations of vanguard fighters seek historical experiences from which they can learn not only how to fight but how to fight to win,” Waters said. The lessons of the Russian Revolution and the Communist International under Lenin too will once again be studied.”
Many questions came up in the wide-ranging debate:
Is socialist revolution necessary, or is there a way to make capitalism serve the interests of the working class?
Has the Cuban Revolution been superseded by a “third road” between socialist revolution and capitalist rule as a model for today?
Have there been victorious revolutions in the past history of the U.S. class struggle that show the power and capacity of working people? Was the American war for independence a revolution or a land grab? What about the bloody war to end slavery and the subsequent Radical Reconstruction governments?
What is the significance of the recent historic wave of immigration to the U.S.? Has “white privilege” doomed every movement for social change?
Waters answers those who say revolution can never start in the U.S. because workers here are corrupted by the wealth and consumerism of capitalist society, “idiotized” by the bourgeois media.
Also relevant is how Waters and Sandler, who also participated in the five-day rolling debate, confronted destructive anti-working-class agent-baiting and Jew-hatred that a few times marred the otherwise civil discussion.
The five-day dialogue “was unique in its depth and clarity,” Sandler notes. “Certainly no similar exchange among the different political currents they [the panelists] represented has taken place in living memory.”
This is a book for every worker looking for a way to confront the economic and social nightmare the propertied rulers are imposing on us as their system spawns catastrophe for our class.
As members of the Socialist Workers Party take its books and the Militant to working people, building the party, they find Is Socialist Revolution in the US Possible? an invaluable weapon. They use it alongside Are They Rich Because They’re Smart? Class, Privilege, and Learning Under Capitalism and The Clintons’ Anti-Working-Class Record: Why Washington Fears Working People, both by SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes.