BY PAUL MAILHOT
NEWARK, New Jersey - Socialist Workers Party members who lead the party's trade union work met here February 10-11 to discuss what measures communist workers must take to begin stepping up the campaign against capitalism's slow but sure breeding of fascist currents and preparations for war. Young Socialists were among the SWP trade union leaders there, as were members of the YS national steering committee.
The meeting took place just days before presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan - a fascist demagogue who increasingly pretends to speak not only for the interests of the "hard-pressed middle class" but also of the working class - placed a strong second in the Republican Party caucus voting in Iowa.
In response to the deflationary pressures resulting from the declining curve of capitalism and the drive towards fascism and war it breeds, the socialists placed selling Pathfinder books and pamphlets to co-workers on the job, defense and emulation of the socialist revolution in Cuba, and participation in the resistance of working people to capitalist austerity at the center of revolutionary class- struggle work in the unions today. Through these efforts communists look to win more of a new generation of young fighters to socialism, and to build the SWP.
Some two dozen members of the national steering committees responsible for directing the work of Socialist Workers Party members in the industrial unions attended the meeting. These unions include the International Association of Machinists (IAM), Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW), United Auto Workers (UAW), United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE), United Steelworkers of America (USWA) and United Transportation Union (UTU). Also attending were several members of the party's National Committee and a number of trade unionists from several other countries.
This national leadership meeting followed nationwide gatherings of socialist workers active in all the above unions, as well as a series of weekend conferences held in every branch of the Socialist Workers Party. These meetings embraced the campaign to increase sales of revolutionary literature to workers, fighting youth, and others who are beginning to question the prerogatives of the capitalist rulers.
Drive toward fascism and war
As part of this effort, socialists pledged to seek out and participate in the working-class resistance that continues to break through against the capitalist offensive - from the ongoing fight of the Caterpillar workers in Illinois and Pennsylvania, to the fight of IAM workers at Boeing in Seattle for a contract, to the spontaneous demonstrations of New York building maintenance workers for better health care and against two-tier wages for new workers, and union organizing efforts throughout the country.
Drive toward fascism and war
Socialist workers will also continue their efforts to join struggles of youth and to involve workers in activities to defend socialist Cuba, abortion rights protests, struggles against police brutality, and actions for affirmative action.
The political discussion at the meeting was initiated by a report given by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party. "In early December we explained that imperialist war preparations had begun against Yugoslavia.
"Today, the tensions bred by the imperialist economic crisis and competition are fueling war preparations in other parts of the world as well. It doesn't look like the Taiwan Strait may ever again be crossed peacefully in the 20th century," Barnes said, referring to stepped up military maneuvers by Beijing and Taipei off the coast of Taiwan, and a U.S. navy warship passing through the strait.
"Communists always have to accurately assess and explain what is happening when preparation for imperialist war begins accelerating, however imperceptibly at first," Barnes noted, "because the drive toward war is always disguised by the capitalists - they pretend to want peace or to provide humanitarian relief. And they always divide publicly over the wisdom and prudence of `our' preparations, before the shooting begins. So, even though the logic of their course is war, we are dealing with this question indirectly, without an actual shooting war going on.
"The results of what we do during a war drive, before the shooting starts, has great importance for the revolutionary party. It is a reality we must respond to, and out of which we can become strengthened - a more proletarian, more revolutionary, and younger instrument capable of leading the struggle for workers power. Or if we fail to respond to the war drive, the negative results are also multiplied."
The drive toward war of the imperialist powers against Yugoslavia has come to the fore in the recent period. As the capitalist governments in Europe and the United States position their military might there, each will use their economic and military weight to take as much for themselves as possible, Barnes explained. Up to now it has been largely a proxy war, with Washington, Bonn, Paris, and London using surrogates to fight for their interests.
With the accords pushed through by the Clinton administration in Dayton, Ohio, November 21 between the warring forces in Yugoslavia, Washington moved directly into the conflict, and is trying to take control of the situation and assert its military might. The Clinton administration has put some 32,000 U.S. troops in the area, as part of a Western imperialist force of 60,000, trying to take advantage of its superior military strength to gain the upper hand in Yugoslavia and take another step in asserting its military dominance in Europe. As it consolidates its aggressive campaign it will prepare to overthrow the workers state in Yugoslavia.
But Yugoslavia is not the only place in the world where the imperialist tendency toward war is manifesting itself.
The sharpening conflict between China and Taiwan is a growing concern in Washington. Major articles in the capitalist press are sounding an alarm as Beijing continues military exercises off the coast of Taiwan, reaffirming its right to reunite with Taiwan, a right acknowledged by Washington in 1972 following talks by then-President Richard Nixon and Chinese Premier Chou En-lai.
"Taiwan's miscalculations, China's emotional reactions and the United States' inattention have created tensions that could escalate into combat soon," writes Charles Freeman, a former assistant secretary of defense, in an editorial column in the February 15 New York Times. The piece, which simply assumes Washington will be deeply involved in hostilities there, warns of the disastrous consequences for U.S. capitalism of a war between China and Taiwan. Freeman notes Taiwan is "an island fortress with a well-trained army and cutting edge weaponry." This registers not "inattention" but calculated probes that are not wholly under Washington's control!
Recently, military forces from Greece and Turkey have also nearly come to blows after an accidental wreck of a Turkish ship on a small island just off the coast of Turkey. Warships, airplanes, and commandos from both countries positioned themselves for battle over territorial claims. Direct intervention by the U.S. State Department has slowed down that military confrontation for now.
Washington's unilateral actions in dampening the crisis highlighted the competition between U.S. imperialism and the European powers, who found themselves hampered by divisions among themselves in trying to protect their own national interests.
Many of the socialist unionists participating in the meeting were veterans of the working-class campaign to oppose Washington's war against Iraq in 1990 and 1991. They drew on their experiences in the factories, plants, and mines to point out how the campaign against the imperialist war drive - directing communists' energies to the working class - strengthened the party.
When the capitalist class called upon the whole country to come together "behind our boys under fire" and tie on yellow ribbons in "support of the troops," communists and other vanguard workers stood up to that pressure, which was a pressure to stop thinking in class terms - in the factory and in the world. They continued to advance a working-class position against the carnage that workers were being drawn toward. Several meeting participants noted that carrying out this campaign increased the size, strength, and moral fiber of the party. Barnes emphasized that imperialist war is the byproduct of the capitalist system. "The greatest text on war, by far, is Lenin's Imperialism. But it is not a book directly about war, it is about the inevitable tendencies of capitalism in a concrete stage of its history - its final stage.
"The impetus behind the war drive is the normal workings of the law of value and the capitalist class, when its interests are threatened, relying on the nation state system to bring force to bear against competing capitals. In fighting the war drive, we can't start with the war. We have to start by explaining its root cause and ruling class policies, plans they are not fully in control of once they're kicked off."
Goals of the working-class campaign
The socialist unionists at the meeting decided that the most important way to organize the fight against Washington's war preparations is to advance an international proletarian approach to politics. It begins with fighting for solidarity with workers around the world, building the unity of workers in struggle, and charting a political course toward workers acting independently of the capitalist class and in their own interests.
Goals of the working-class campaign
Ambitious goals were adopted at the meeting to concretize this effort. The trade unionists decided to organize a national effort to sell 500 copies of the Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War by Che Guevara to co-workers on the job by April 1. This important new book published by Pathfinder describes the organization of the revolutionary vanguard that drew the masses of Cuban workers, peasants, and youth into the struggle to overthrow the hated Batista dictatorship. Workers in the United States reading this book will get an appreciation how average working men and women can transform themselves in struggle and are capable of deeds they never thought possible - fighting for the revolutionary social transformation of society.
The Episodes book campaign will aid putting involvement in coalitions and activities in defense of Cuba at the forefront of what communist workers do in the unions. The socialist trade unionists reaffirmed that Cuba remains at the center of world politics and defense of the vanguard of a living dictatorship of the proletariat must be at the heart of building a communist movement in the United States.
The Episodes book campaign is the lead item of a perspective adopted at the meeting for socialist workers to begin selling at least 400 books and pamphlets published by Pathfinder every month on the job. Socialist workers would give special emphasis to issues nos. 7 and 10 of New International, which contain the articles "The Opening Guns of World War III," and "Imperialism's March toward Fascism and War."
Another important book that will be prominent in this campaign is the Changing Face of U.S. Politics: Working-Class Politics and the Trade Unions by Jack Barnes, which is a handbook for the generation of workers coming into the factories today who are increasingly searching for ways to struggle against the horrors of the capitalist crisis. The book opens with the lessons of the fight against the Iraq war and the effects of the prolonged squeeze on working people. It describes how a revolutionary party centers its work in the most powerful sectors of the working class in order to most effectively fight for victory of the proletariat over its oppressors.
"A great value in selling the Changing Face book along with other titles to co-workers is that it transparently explains who we are," commented Barnes at the meeting. "A worker who reads it knows exactly what socialists stand for and why we center our work among industrial workers and their unions. The Changing Face book puts to rest the greatest charge against socialists - that somehow what we say and what we do are different. It even gets co-workers to help - sometimes they alert us when there is a divergence between our actions and `what the book says.' "
Changing jobs when necessary
In addition to deciding on a goal of selling Pathfinder books on the job, the socialist workers at the leadership meeting decided that in situations where it was not possible to sell at least two books or pamphlets on the job every month, members of the party should look to change jobs. Socialist workers, like all workers, hold down a job in order to live, but in addition where they work is an important arena for their political activity. This proposal was introduced after a full day of discussion as the best way to concretize what revolutionary workers should be doing in the factories.
Changing jobs when necessary
In motivating this proposal one speaker at the meeting recalled a speech given by Socialist Workers Party founder James P. Cannon who explained, "We are a small party and we can't go colonizing all over the lot. We must colonize in those places which offer the best opportunity at the time, and when this opportunity which we seize at one occasion proves later on to be not so fruitful, we have got to shift our people."
The socialist trade union leaders also projected signing up 400 co-workers as members of the international Pathfinder Readers Club by May 1 in order to continue expanding the number of workers who are regularly buying Pathfinder books. For a $10 yearly fee members of the readers club enjoy at least a 15 percent discount on all Pathfinder books, and other special discounts.
In order to advance the campaign against the imperialist war drive the participants at the meeting also decided to work with members of the local branch units of the Socialist Workers Party to sell revolutionary propaganda - the Militant, Perspectiva Mundial, New International magazine, and Pathfinder books - in front of every factory where two or more members of the Socialist Workers Party are working.
These motions were forward in a report by Paul Mailhot on behalf of the Political Committee, entitled "Organizing the Working-Class Campaign Against the War Drive and Fraction Goals." The meeting was given the powers of the National Committee in the matters relating to trade union work. The motions were discussed and debated during a special commission meeting of the trade union steering committee members. After two sessions, lasting some five hours, final proposals - amended and strengthened - were brought into the larger meeting.
"We are going to be viewed differently than in the past if we carry out what we are proposing here," said James Harris, a meatpacker from Atlanta. "Our co-workers like the fact that we sell books. It shows that we value them and we think they are capable of changing the world."
At the General Motors plant in Tarrytown, New York, where five copies of the Episodes book have already been sold, Abby Tilsner reported that union members are interested in signing up for the Pathfinder Readers Club. One co-worker, after only a little bit of discussion approached her recently and said, "I want to join your club."
Answer to Buchanan campaign
Many of the trade unionists at the meeting spoke about the importance of selling Pathfinder books on the job as discussion heats up about the Buchanan campaign. Communist workers report that some co-workers are initially being taken in by this rightist demagogue.
Answer to Buchanan campaign
Dennis Richter, a member of the UTU in Morgantown, West Virginia, explained that some co-workers with rightist ideas are bolstered by the victories scored by Buchanan. "One guy was aggressively promoting his reactionary views after Buchanan won the Louisiana primary," Richter said. "It made me go back and read Fascism and Big Business [by Daniel Guerin, published by Pathfinder]. You have to be able to get in the middle of the discussion and explain the whole picture of the crisis of the capitalist system and how forces like Buchanan are a product of it."
"As imperialism marches toward war it's important to remember that it marches toward fascism also. That is a precondition to breaking down skepticism in the working class and among youth about supporting `national' aggression," said Barnes in his report. Central to the march toward fascism is putting "foreigners and outsiders in their place," and war is an extension of that policy. Barnes pointed to Buchanan's proposal to erect a fence across the Mexican border to keep immigrants out as an example of how such a policy can become a trampoline for aggression.
"What is increasing today are the breakdowns, confrontations, and polarizations which bring with them the search for radical solutions to a capitalist democracy that offers you nothing more than corruption and inability to deliver anything meaningful worth living for," Barnes said.
"The first phenomenon we face under war preparations is not the immediate effects of a war, it's the more accelerated march to national socialism - that is fascism. That is what is concretely counterposed to our answer to the crisis, which is proletarian internationalism and a fight by the working class to take power.
"The more openly fascist content of the Buchanan tendency today - the anti-capitalist demagogy that creeps in - becomes clearer by the week," Barnes said. "He makes his appeal to `middle class and working class Americans' as he attacks the corporate elite. The attraction is growing among some liberal commentators and even among a number of individuals in and around the union officialdom. Phil Gramm attacks Buchanan for denouncing the `financial foundations of capitalism.' But Buchanan drove Gramm out of the race."
Buchanan is the "Republican Presidential candidate most eager to disparage Big Business," writes Francis Clines in the February 15 New York Times after covering a rally for the right-wing candidate in New Hampshire.
"Look what's going on in our country," Buchanan was quoted as saying to his audience. "When AT&T lops off 40,000 jobs, the executioner that does it, he's a big hero on the cover of one of these magazines, and AT&T stock soars." This radical rhetoric on the evils of capitalism is coupled with attacks on the rights of immigrant workers, the rights of women to abortion, and the rights of Blacks to affirmative action.
"In Louisiana many commentators said Buchanan had received the `kiss of death' when David Duke of the Ku Klux Klan endorsed his campaign," Barnes pointed out. "Furthermore they said the fact that Buchanan did not unequivocally denounce that endorsement meant he would surely lose overwhelmingly. But that proved not to be the case, to the contrary.
Fascism can be popular
"Long before Buchanan even launched his 1992 campaign for president we explained that he was attempting to build a fascist movement by reaching out from a right-wing conservative milieu. Conservatism can never be a popular movement, but fascism can be," Barnes said. Buchanan often refers to his campaign as a cause or a movement.
Fascism can be popular
"It's the march toward fascism, the march toward the radical popular solution to the growing crisis that dominates the preparation for war. This is what is accelerating today," he said.
As the breakdown deepens - not only in this country but around the world - the message of a Buchanan gets broader resonance, Barnes noted. When headlines in Iowa highlight events in Germany where unemployment rate is suddenly one of the highest since before the recovery from World War II, and as other - and unexpected - developments take place, these turn into bigger votes for Buchanan. It may also turn into a few dozen people who want to do some street fighting for him a little later on, such as a more aggressive "plantgate" team like the one his cadres deployed in Iowa.
"Under these conditions and with the rise of the fascist movement, the vanguard of the proletariat has to have the tone that it is ready to move into action in defense of the working class. It has to have a cadre that is prepared. This can only be accomplished by prior work and conquering working- class norms and values that become habits, and establishes its cohesion and ability to move together as a combat party under these conditions," explained Barnes.
Meeting participants adopted a number of motions on the final day of the meeting aimed at reinforcing the collective work of communist workers in industry. In order to maintain politically viable and functioning fractions in industry (where 2 or more members of the party are working together in plants), the trade union leadership meeting decided that wherever members of the party are working for an extended period of time by themselves, they should join with others who are organizing to get in where another member of the party is working, or to get into a new plant together.
In response to a debate that took place regarding sleeping on the job at the meeting of socialist workers in the United Steelworkers union earlier in January, the national trade union leadership meeting decided to urge party members to move to another job if they find themselves in a job situation where workers are spending a good amount of their time sleeping while at work.
Meeting participants thought this unusual motion helped reinforce the collective decision of the party to put communist political work on the job at the center of trade union work. If the majority of one's co-workers are sleeping during breaks and other times it is difficult to sell communist books and build the activities of the party.
The meeting also decided that the trade union fraction leaderships, which were recently elected at meetings in January and February, should schedule at least one face-to- face meeting this spring to make sure that the campaigns decided upon are progressing and that political questions coming up in the unions are being discussed and decided on.
Over the past nine months very few such meetings took place and trade union steering committee budgets built up considerable surpluses. The meeting participants in Newark decided to forward these surpluses to be used for the national work of the party, and start with a clean slate for the trade union work in the spring.
Cuba's place in the world
Meeting participants also discussed the increasing openings that exist among working-class fighters today to expand the knowledge of and support for the Cuban revolution and work together with others to defend Cuba. This begins with sales of the Episodes book and other Pathfinder titles on the Cuban revolution, which show that it is possible for the working class to take power. And unlike any other country in the world, there continue to be millions of workers and youth on the island who would like nothing better than the extension of the socialist revolution, and are eager to discuss with others around the world who would also like to make that happen.
Cuba's place in the world
A rich package of activities in defense of Cuba was pointed to at the meeting. These include the possibility for U.S. workers to participate in the national convention of the Central Organization of Cuban Workers in Havana, April 25-30; the upcoming tour of Cuban youth leaders in the United States being sponsored by the Faculty-Student Cuban Youth Lectures Committee in Boston; and the youth exchange to Cuba July 24 to August 5, hosted by the Union of Young Communists.
The youth exchange has recently been adopted as a national campaign of the National Network on Cuba, which will be coordinating the effort to get hundreds of young people from throughout the United States to visit Cuba. A special conference in solidarity with Cuba is also being held in Montreal March 15-16, sponsored by some of the main trade union organizations in Canada.
One of the central activities for all socialist workers this spring will be efforts to build the upcoming national gathering of the Young Socialists in Minneapolis, Minnesota, April 6-7. The national trade union leadership of the Socialist Workers Party pledged that every member of the party in the trade unions would strive to bring a young co- worker or other youth to the convention. The meeting voted that doing this should be any older worker's registration requirement.
This perspective flowed from the discussions of the two day leadership meeting, which aimed to build the type of fighting organization that will win the best of the young generation to revolutionary politics.
It reaffirmed the perspective of the founding document of the communist movement in the United States when it took the name Socialist Workers Party. Adopted in 1938 as the war drive and depression dominated politics it states that the communist movement "pays particular attention to the young generation of the proletariat. All of its policies strive to inspire the youth with belief in its own strength and in the future. Only the fresh enthusiasm and aggressive spirit of the youth can guarantee the preliminary successes in the struggle; only these successes can return the best elements of the older generation to the road of revolution. Thus it was, thus it will be."
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