That carnage is the product of the global contraction of capitalist production, trade and employment. The percentage of the working class with jobs, as well as their wages and family income, are stagnating or worse, Clark said. Life expectancy is down, health care and pensions devastated and opioid addiction spreading among urban and rural working people.
The cumulative political effects of this social crisis — on workers’ outlooks and the bourgeois parties alike — became clear to the Socialist Workers Party in 2011, after party members joined protests in Madison, Wisconsin, for several weeks against attacks on public workers’ unions in that state. The SWP soon concluded that the weekly marches were going nowhere, since the aim of union officials, liberal activists, and middle-class radicals organizing them was to oust Republican Gov. Scott Walker and replace him with a Democrat.
The SWP, Clark said, knew this goal was not only a will-o’-the-wisp (Walker’s second term ends in November 2018), but more importantly it fostered the self-defeating illusion that workers and our unions have a stake in backing candidates of either of the bosses’ parties.
The SWP leadership decided party members needed to get out of Madison, instead go door to door in working-class neighborhoods in smaller cities and towns across the state. “As we did so, we discovered deep changes in workers’ thinking that presented new political openings for the party,” Clark said.
Wisconsin was one of four states where many workers cast ballots for Donald Trump in 2016 who had voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, Clark said. These workers weren’t motivated by “white racism,” as claimed by many on the liberal or radical left, nor were they “voting Republican.” They’d simply had enough of capitalism’s carnage and wanted a change.
In fact, as a result of the gains of the Black rights movement in the U.S., more workers than ever today oppose racist and anti-immigrant bigotry, discrimination and assaults. That was shown, among other ways, by the broad response against the murder of nine Blacks in Charleston, South Carolina, by ultrarightist Dylann “Storm” Roof in 2015, as well as the outpouring of 40,000 in Boston in August against the racist, anti-Semitic “Tiki Torch” march of some 250 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Campaigning at workers’ doorsteps“Based on the Wisconsin experience,” Clark said, “the SWP concluded that every branch should put campaigning door to door in working-class neighborhoods at the center of its activity. We find many workers interested in talking with us about our working-class program and becoming readers of the Militant and books by party leaders. Some introduce us to family, friends and co-workers, come with us to social protests, take an interest in activities to defend the Cuban Revolution or want us to join fights or activities they’re involved in.”
Deepening the party’s week-by-week propaganda work in the working class is at the heart of this fall’s drive to expand the circulation of the paper and the party’s books.
The refusal of the class-collaborationist union bureaucracy to organize and mobilize the working class to respond to attacks by the bosses — with the officialdom’s slavish orientation to the rulers’ political parties, usually the Democrats — has meant union membership is plummeting, Clark said. In 1973 some 39 percent of manufacturing workers were union members; it’s 8.8 percent today. Overall for workers employed by privately owned companies, the percentage has fallen to 6.4 percent.
“Top union officials and most of the U.S. left — whatever they say, and however they say it — are convinced it’s not possible to organize workers into unions today,” Clark said. “And that’s how the union bureaucrats and middle-class radicals act. None look to workers and our families as the agents of social change, much less the fight for an independent working-class political party and the revolutionary struggle for workers power.”
But the Socialist Workers Party, and its members and supporters employed by giant retailers like Walmart, in manufacturing industries, in transportation, and other jobs know differently. “We find the same kind of political response among co-workers to the party’s program and activity — and interest in the Militant and books on working-class politics,” Clark said, “as we do going door to door in workers’ neighborhoods.”
No one can predict when working-class opposition to assaults on living standards and job conditions, union busting, racist attacks, the pushback against women’s rights, social catastrophes, and wars perpetuated by the capitalists, their government and their political parties will give rise to a sustained social movement to rebuild our unions and to fight for broad working-class social and political demands.
But one thing is for sure, Clark said. “The political discussions party members and supporters have with their co-workers today — on the job, and off — and the books, Militant subscriptions, and party election campaign material we get into workers’ hands, is necessary preparation for those class battles.
“The party’s campaign this fall to sell subscriptions to the Militant and revolutionary books is trade union work,” Clark said, “as is reaching out to actions in solidarity with striking workers or protests against racist police killings, attacks on a woman’s right to choose abortion, or imperialist wars.
“It’s part of strengthening the nucleus of a working-class cadre in mines, mills, factories, giant retail stores and other workplaces who can and will lead successful union-organizing drives.”
That’s why SWP members who are leading the effort where they work to expand the circulation of the party’s newspaper and books are decisive to leading the campaign by party branches to reach out to working-class neighborhoods and political contacts across the country.
Washington lost the Cold War“It’s increasingly clear the U.S. can’t win the wars they’re waging in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere today,” Clark said. “These brutal wars have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, maimings and the dispossession of millions. The Afghanistan War began 17 years ago, and Washington is now sending in several thousand additional troops again.”
Without conscription, the rulers rely on active duty “volunteers” plus the National Guard, forcing a small section of the U.S. population from working-class or farm families to do the fighting and dying, with multiple, wrenching deployments — sometimes as many as four or five. Only by bringing back the draft do the rulers have a chance at beginning to win wars again, but they face big political obstacles in even probing such a measure right now.
The propertied U.S. ruling families lost the Cold War, despite what they claimed, Clark said. U.S. imperialism continues to grow relatively weaker, although it remains the only power that can and does project massive military might in every part of the world. It’s predominant industrial, trading and banking position is being shaken by the world capitalist crisis and accelerating competition of capitals — not only vis-à-vis its main imperialist rivals but other strengthening capitalist ruling classes. Instead of Russia and China becoming new fields of investment and growth for U.S. capital, they’ve become competitors worldwide.
This sharpening imperialist competition is tearing the European Union apart. This is what’s behind Brexit, a move by a wing of the rulers in the U.K. to defend London’s diminishing place in the imperialist pecking order by breaking free from the “ever greater union” stranglehold of the EU. And the Spanish rulers’ efforts to stop the people of the Catalonia region in northeastern Spain from voting on national independence Oct. 1.
And it opens the door to advances in the Kurds’ fight for their own country. Clark urged forum participants to be ready to join in actions in defense of the Kurdish people’s fight for independence.
U.S. political crisis unwindsThe capitalist rulers face a deepening political crisis here at home as well, Clark said. Their parties — the Democrats and Republicans — are coming apart and will never be the same.
The liberals and left haven’t given up on their “Resistance” drive to get President Trump impeached or indicted.
“The ‘no-knock’ raid on the home of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort highlights the dangers to the working class of the witch hunt against the Trump presidency,” Clark said. The FBI’s July unannounced break-in and seizure of Manafort’s documents was part of Special Counsel and former FBI chief Robert Mueller’s open drive to find a handle to go after Trump.
To obtain a warrant for the break-in, Mueller went to a secret FISA court, saying Manafort was likely to destroy the “evidence” he was after — which the liberal media jumped on as innuendo “that where there’s smoke there’s fire.” Raids like this — and the FISA court itself — are police frame-up methods and tools the working-class vanguard has long and bitter experience with.
Clark explained that some in the Democratic Party and sections of the Republicans seeking to drive Trump from the presidency have growing doubts about their ability to do so, and whether it would really solve the problem they see. “What these privileged, meritocratic layers fear in the United States today is not Trump, but the millions of workers who voted for him, seeking to ‘drain the swamp’ and find a way to end the carnage,” Clark said.
They think they need to find a way to disenfranchise working people, who they don’t deem smart enough to vote “the right way.” Or they have illusions they can get rid of us with robots, replacing what they view as an increasingly “unskilled” and useless bunch of “losers” who aren’t dying fast enough from opioid overdose or who are cutting into the capitalists’ riches by drawing disability or jobless benefits. “That’s their anti-working-class take on the shrinking labor force,” Clark said.
As communist workers campaign door to door among fellow workers, Clark said, we can help explain and answer these rationalizations for exploitation and oppression by introducing working people to books such as Are They Rich Because They’re Smart? Class, Privilege, and Learning Under Capitalism by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the SWP, and Is Socialist Revolution in the US Possible? by party leader Mary-Alice Waters.
Clark called attention to Barnes’ introduction to one of the books the party is campaigning with: Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power. The necessary road forward, Barnes says there, is building a proletarian party capable of leading “the revolutionary conquest of power by a politically class-conscious and organized vanguard of the working class — millions strong.”