The day before the gathering opened, the unrelenting, monthslong crusade by liberals in the Democratic Party, the middle-class left and the media to invalidate or reverse the outcome of the 2016 election had spawned an attempt to assassinate Republican members of Congress.
James Hodgkinson, a Bernie Sanders supporter, had fired a semi-automatic rifle and handgun into a group of Republican representatives practicing for an annual congressional baseball game. The shooter’s goal was to kill as many Republican congressmen on the ballfield as possible, Barnes said. Only return fire from the security team assigned to House Republican Whip Steve Scalise prevented the bloodshed from being worse than one person seriously wounded — Scalise — and four others injured. Hodgkinson was killed.
Self-proclaimed Democratic Party “progressives,” backed by currents in the Republican Party and even many would-be “revolutionaries,” were deeply shaken by the 2016 election results.
Above all, Barnes said, they fear the workers who voted for Donald Trump, hoping he marked a change both from what they’d faced under George W. Bush and Barack Obama and what they knew they could expect from the gamut of business-as-usual Republican primary candidates.
Many had previously voted for Obama, seeking change, but Democratic Party liberalism had failed them. Barnes pointed to a map of the United States on display in the conference hall illustrating in bright orange the more that 200 counties — most in the Upper Midwest and Northeast — won by Obama in 2008 and 2012 that had Trump majorities last November.
These working people voted for Donald Trump, not for “the Republican Party nominee.” They wanted him to act on his pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington. Growing numbers of workers no longer consider themselves either Democrats or Republicans, posing a crisis for the capitalists’ long-standing two-party system, Barnes said.
Both parties face deepening divisions that are changing how they’ve functioned for decades to maintain capitalist exploitation and political rule. Playing on mounting losses in recent years by Democrats associated with party “regulars” such as the Clintons and Obama, those looking to Bernie Sanders as well as other disgruntled “progressive” Democrats are determined to take over and shape what they misleadingly portray as a “working-class party,” even if the price is further electoral losses for the time being.
Political crises with similar roots, Barnes added, are destabilizing the rulers’ governments and parties in the United Kingdom, France and elsewhere.
Bourgeois liberals and others fear the 2016 U.S. election results portend a coming rise of struggles by working people, whose living and job conditions and basic dignity are being hard hit by the cumulative impact of more than a decade of accelerated capitalist economic and social breakdowns. There’s never been a sharper contrast between what communists present as the road toward a solution, Barnes said, and what growing numbers in the propertied ruling families and their political hangers-on see as the problem — the beginnings of the working class coming toward center stage in politics today.
In fact, many liberals, radicals and conservatives alike among the professional middle classes see workers who voted for Trump, as well as other working people — Caucasian, Black, and Latino — as “ignorant,” “lacking in culture,” and “insensitive.” They see us as the source of today’s crisis.
Workers face capitalist carnage
For millions of working people, Barnes pointed out, life expectancy has started to decline. The size of the active working class is shrinking — while the government and media crow about the country being on the verge of “full employment” — as take-home pay stagnates. Birth rates are falling, as hard-pressed workers start families at a later age and women put off bearing children and face more maternal health problems. Banking and financial capital rakes in an ever greater share of profits, while what the rulers call “economic growth” and investment in capacity-expanding plant, equipment, and employment remain at post-World War II lows.
Barnes called attention to soaring deaths from opioid use in the Ohio county where the socialist conference was taking place, especially in devastated former centers of steel, auto and other industries like Lorain and Elyria, and similar towns and cities across the U.S. In face of such carnage, Barnes said, the SWP finds greater interest among working people in talking with fellow workers campaigning for socialism in their neighborhoods, on the job, and during strikes and other labor skirmishes.
Only a proletarian party with decades of political continuity with the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and Cuban Revolution in 1959 can explain the world capitalist crisis unfolding before workers’ eyes. Only such a workers’ organization can present and carry out a party-building course to organize the working class in a revolutionary political struggle to take state power out of the hands of the employing class, their government and the Democratic, Republican and other bosses’ parties.
“It made an impression on me that so many workers are interested in the SWP’s perspectives,” Jonathan Batres from Los Angeles told the Militant after Barnes’ talk. Batres, who was attending his first socialist conference, described his experience campaigning with the SWP in working-class neighborhoods. He was one of more than a dozen young people who came to the gathering after working with party members and young socialists on a May Day brigade to Cuba, as well as in political activities where they lived and taking the Militant and books by party leaders to workers on their doorsteps.
The young socialists met together daily to discuss the politics of the conference and projections for common work.
In addition to the presentation by Barnes, the conference featured talks by SWP leaders Mary-Alice Waters on “Without Internationalism We Wouldn’t Be Communists: Reaching Out in Africa, Asia and Beyond” and Steve Clark on “New Avenues for Extending the Communist Movement in the Middle East.”
On the final day, Barnes, Waters and Clark presented summary remarks addressing political questions and debates that had come up at several classes or during informal discussions at the conference. SWP leader Norton Sandler reported on meetings of socialist workers carrying out union and political activity in industry and prospects to expand this work, including the distribution of communist literature at plant gates and other workplaces.
Nearly 40 display panels around the gym where talks were held illustrated conference themes with photos, cartoons, charts, book covers and pages from the Militant over the years. A closing rally presented what party members, supporters, and young socialists will be doing over the summer, fall and beyond.
Calling out the political police
The employing class doesn’t see any “quick fix” to their deepening political crisis. But a substantial section of them are determined to undermine the legitimacy of the Donald Trump presidency, in a desperate attempt to re-establish some stability in their government and political parties.
To achieve this, Barnes said, they’ve now turned to the rulers’ political police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They’re seeking to criminalize political conflicts, using methods employed over decades against working-class militants, fighters for Black liberation, and the Socialist Workers Party.
In fact, Barnes said, efforts to bring the Department of Justice and FBI to bear to put Hillary Clinton in the White House go back to the 2016 election itself, involving the Obama administration, then Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Bill Clinton, FBI Director James Comey and others. Failing that, Democrats launched their post-inaugural offensive. After being fired in early May by President Trump, Comey leaked memos he’d written, with the aim — he told Congress — of getting a special prosecutor appointed.
The Justice Department quickly obliged, appointing another former FBI director (and Comey friend), Robert Mueller, as “special counsel.” As federal prosecutors always operate, Barnes said, Mueller is not starting with a crime and looking for an alleged perpetrator. To the contrary, he is starting with a target and working to cobble together whatever he can on Trump or those close to him.
All the while, the liberals and their media are happy to help along this intra-ruling-class vendetta. It is a lesson of class history, Barnes said, that it is the liberals who first lead the charge against political rights when the capitalist rulers need to do so. That’s been true from Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, to John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, to the extraordinary hysteria we’re witnessing right now.
Deeper into the working class
To strengthen efforts by SWP members and young socialists to explain the rulers’ political crisis and the stakes for working people, Barnes said, the party must focus its activity among workers where they live, work and are engaged in struggles. Party branches need to adjust priorities to make more time to campaign among fellow workers — to show “revolutionary energy and zeal in propaganda,” as Karl Marx and Frederick Engels put it the rules they drafted for the world’s first communist workers party in 1847.
SWP members need to involve more political supporters of the party in this activity, as well as workers and young people who like what the party says and want to help expand the reach in the working class of the Militant, books by party leaders, and SWP election campaigns. This is the road to expanding the political influence of the Socialist Workers Party and recruiting new members.
Organizing solidarity with every union fight, small or large, is important today. Barnes pointed to striking silver miners in Idaho and the successful battle by berry pickers in Washington state who just won a union contract. The SWP has helped broaden support for these fights in the labor movement, as well as winning new readers of the party press and books such as The Clintons’ Anti-Working-Class Record: Why Washington Fears Working People.
It is along this working-class course, Barnes said, that the SWP takes part in struggles across the United States against anti-Black racism, police brutality, and assaults on Muslims and Jews, as well as fights for amnesty and against deportations of immigrant workers, in defense of a woman’s right to choose abortion, to end U.S. colonial domination of Puerto Rico, and to support and defend Cuba’s socialist revolution.
Barnes said the U.S. ruling class mistakenly believed they’d won the Cold War when the Soviet Union imploded some quarter century ago. They launched wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East and Central Asia. These wars have dragged on for years and remain unresolved, with untold death and destruction for millions of toilers. Washington’s course has also brought casualties and ruined lives for tens of thousands of U.S. workers and farmers deployed to fight and die for the interests of the capitalist ruling families.
The U.S. rulers pushed to expand NATO across eastern Europe to the borders of Russia, forcing new conflicts in the region and beyond. Class-conscious workers oppose all such imperialist military pacts, Barnes said.
NATO is less “an alliance,” he added, than a lopsided balance of forces among imperialist powers, totally dependent on Washington’s massive military might and capacity to project that dominance worldwide. It’s not “presidential” to say so, however. That’s why there was such a hue and cry in ruling-class circles in the United States and Europe when President Trump publicly pointed out this reality at a recent NATO summit meeting.
Party-building activity worldwide
The Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialists, Barnes said, have growing opportunities to join in conferences, book fairs and political events around the world, to meet revolutionary-minded workers and youth, and to expand collaboration in building support for Cuba’s socialist revolution. That living revolution is an example for working people the world over of how we are transformed in revolutionary struggle, becoming capable of overthrowing capitalist rule, taking control of our own destiny, and offering solidarity to workers and farmers fighting in other lands.
Just in the coming few months, Barnes said, socialist workers and youth will participate in the World Festival of Youth and Students in Sochi, Russia, in October; a brigade in Cuba marking the 50th anniversary of the death in combat of Che Guevara earlier that month; book fairs in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, the Philippines, and Cuba; and other gatherings from Nicaragua to Japan.
Perspectives for such activity from Turkey, Palestine and Israel, to Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan were the focus of a talk on “New Avenues for Extending the Communist Movement in the Middle East” by SWP leader Steve Clark. This includes new openings to reach working people and youth throughout this politically tumultuous region with books — in English, as well as translations into Kurdish, Arabic, and Farsi (spoken and read in Iran and Afghanistan) — by Jack Barnes, Mary-Alice Waters, James P. Cannon, Farrell Dobbs, Evelyn Reed and other SWP leaders, by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, and by other communist and revolutionary leaders from Malcolm X and Thomas Sankara, to Marx, Engels, V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky.
Clark pointed out that the Trump administration has broken with the course of the Obama White House, which had looked to the capitalist regime in Tehran rather than those in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states to maintain stability in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the interests of U.S. imperialism. At the same time, President Trump hasn’t acted on his demagogic campaign pledge to “tear up” the 2015 nuclear pact with Iran, and is unlikely to do so.
Clark also discussed the accelerating fight for independence in the Kurdistan region of Iraq; prospects to build proletarian leadership of the Kurdish, Arab, Jewish, Iranian and other working people in the region; and a communist course to advance the fight for national liberation and workers power in Israel and Palestine.
Internationalism and communism
“The Cuban Revolution could not have survived without proletarian internationalism,” SWP leader Mary-Alice Waters said in her talk. She had recently returned from the Fifth Continental Conference on Solidarity with Cuba hosted by the Namibian government in Windhoek, its capital city, June 5-7. Participation in events like this, in Africa and the world over, is an indispensable part of building a proletarian party in the United States, she said.
Prior to her talk, Waters introduced a video of remarks by Fernando González, president of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples, given during the Namibia event. González was one of the five Cuban revolutionaries who spent up to 16 years in U.S. prisons for their work here defending Cuba’s socialist revolution.
González described the deep impact of fighting as an internationalist volunteer in Angola alongside other Cubans, Namibians and Angolans to repel apartheid South Africa’s invasion of Angola and secure Namibia’s independence from the white supremacist regime. “No matter how many books I had read about colonialism,” he said, “that was the real experience — seeing the effects of colonialism in that continent, but seeing also the peoples fighting the consequences of colonialism and fighting to overcome it.”
Along with the substantial Cuban delegation to the conference, the three SWP delegates were the only participants from outside Africa. Internationalism is blood and bone of the Socialist Workers Party, Waters said. It is impossible to build a communist party in the United States without common work with revolutionary-minded workers and youth the world over.
A conference display recorded the trips in recent years by members of the SWP, Young Socialists and sister Communist Leagues in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom to take part in political activity and to report on and bring solidarity to working people in struggle the world over.
A rally at the close of the socialist gathering presented a course of action for the rest of 2017 and beyond. It featured efforts by the SWP and young socialists coming right out of the June conference to help the new party branch in Albany campaign for Socialist Workers Party mayoral candidate Margaret Trowe, including gathering signatures to put her on the ballot there.
Speakers also described plans by SWP and Communist League members, party supporters and young socialists to take communist politics more deeply into the working class, as well as to join in political events worldwide. More than $37,000 was raised for the work of the Socialist Workers Party.
Preparing party’s 100th anniversary
In his talk and summary presentation, Jack Barnes noted that in 2019 the Socialist Workers Party will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the communist party in the United States. That party was founded to emulate the Bolshevik Party, which in 1917 had led workers and peasants to take power from the capitalists and landlords in czarist Russia.
The SWP’s unbroken continuity since then, incorporating the lessons of the 1959 Cuban Revolution and its communist leadership, is an irreplaceable source of strength, as the party responds to the rulers’ political crisis today, prepares for the working-class combat that’s coming and builds the party workers need to lead the fight to overturn the dictatorship of capital in the world’s wealthiest and most militarily powerful imperialist country.
On Sunday following the conference, a meeting of organized supporters of the communist movement discussed ongoing work to help design, prepare, print, and promote and sell books on communist politics. The meeting also discussed how to advance efforts to raise monthly financial contributions to help the party expand its political work at home and abroad.