A large number of letters--many supportive, some critical--arrived in response to that editorial and the front-page banner headline in the same issue: "INS assault in Miami strikes blow to the working class." For two weeks in a row, the editor set aside a full page for letters discussing the April 22 SWAT-style assault in Miami, the fight for Elián González's immediate return to Cuba, and unconditional defense of Cuba's sovereignty. An article in last week's issue joined the question on a number of these matters.
When events of this scope pose issues so sharply, debates around them usually register more fundamental questions of political orientation and strategy. Differing assessments of the outcome of the Cold War between U.S. imperialism and the Soviet Union and other workers states; the stability of the U.S. capitalist system; the conditions under which growing numbers of toilers live and work; shifts in the combativity and political attitudes of layers of workers and farmers; confidence in the proletariat's ability, its future, and its very character--all these and more come up for debate.
At such times, it's useful not only for communists but for all class-conscious working people to review our political foundations and take stock of the implications for how we organize effectively and act together. Ultimately these clashes in evaluation and implied course of conduct reflect the sharply conflicting interests of different classes.
Recently an article posted to an Internet "Marxism List" by José G. Pérez was forwarded to the Militant. Raising a number of these questions, Pérez disagrees with the headline and editorial in the May 8 issue and says his aim is to offer "some suggestions as to what's led the [Socialist Workers Party] leadership to this position."
'Reality distortion field'
Pérez's answer, in a nutshell, is that the Socialist Workers Party today has "an orientation to what one might call the 'Buchananite proletariat.'" SWP members "are cocooned within a reality distortion field," he writes, because of the party's view that
the United States is going through a profound economic and social crisis, which is giving rise to rightist bonapartist figures that are trying to develop embryonic fascist movements....
[T]his crisis is due in large part, or has been significantly aggravated by, the defeat of U.S. imperialism in the cold war. The SWP believes the U.S. lost the cold war because of the continuing existence of what most people would call "socialist" regimes in Eastern Europe (including East Germany) and the breakup of the Stalinist bureaucratic castes who misruled those countries and exercised a negative influence over the world workers movement until a decade ago. In the Militant's view, it would take bloody counterrevolutions to re-establish capitalism....
Now, just as under the impact of the crisis of the 20s and 30s, a layer of the masses were driven in despair towards fascist demagogues, so, too, is that happening today in the United States....
To bolster that view, Pérez says, SWP leaders "point to things like Jesse Venturaism and Buchananism as proof." Pérez puts forward a counter view:
The truth is the U.S. government and political institutions are quite stable as things stand. The labor movement is quiescent, as it has been really since the late 1940s, and especially markedly so since the late 70s. The imperialists have been able to maintain a basically stable standard of living for much of the working class, and significantly improve it for the more petty-bourgeoisified layers, thanks to their super-exploitation of the third world and--I believe--to the lucky break of a technological revolution that's led to significant advances in labor productivity, the fruits of which the capitalists have pocketed almost to the last penny.
"There are hints that a new wave of radicalization might be starting to develop," Pérez says, "but if so it is a great distance away still from being a mass phenomenon.
"In the broad, historic scheme of things," he concludes, "the news from the U.S. today is that all is quiet, as it was yesterday, and the day before."
Several useful handbooks
Pérez's summary of the social and economic analysis and political line of the Socialist Workers Party is inaccurate. His views, with this or that minor variant, are ones that most radical opponents of the communist movement hold. He does, however, hit on some important strategic issues that are worth pursuing.
Because if "the news from the U.S. today is that all is quiet...as it has been really since the late 1940s"--and with prospects for change still "a great distance away"--then the implications for the workers and farmers of the world are sobering.
Not least among these implications is that the dangers facing the Cuban revolution are surely mounting apace. Its relative strength vis-ŕ-vis Washington must be declining.
Pérez claims that the Socialist Workers Party looks at the world through apocalyptic eyeglasses. He speaks of the party's "analysis of an extreme economic and political crisis in the United States"; its "perception that the [U.S.] ruling class is on a jack-booted thug rampage" today; and its nonstop projection of "a major working class explosion" ever since the mid-1970s. His political astigmatism distorts any resemblance to the party's true positions.
The world view offered as an alternative to that of the SWP does have one advantage: it doesn't require immersion in the resistance of workers and farmers wherever it leads, the ability to listen and learn, or the effort to absorb and use the strategic lessons of 150 years of communist activity.
Anyone can pick up the same melange of impressions and prejudices from CNN news and talk shows or from Internet chat rooms. The USA won the Cold War. Computers have revolutionized the economy. Workers and farmers are doing pretty well. The radicalization we occasionally see has nothing to do with the lives, jobs, and struggles of working people. Labor is generally quiescent. There is a Buchananite layer of the working class but not of former radicals or feeling liberals. And the communists are not only isolated but half-cracked. Those are hardly remarkable views in bourgeois public opinion today.
But any worker, farmer, or young person interested in a communist outlook on today's world can find out for themselves by picking up and reading SWP resolutions as well as articles and reports by party leaders. This written material, printed in books and magazines that are widely circulated, registers and reflects decades of activity and thought by worker-bosheviks and other dedicated fighters.
A central example is The Changing Face of U.S. Politics: Working-Class Politics and the Trade Unions by SWP national secretary Jack Barnes. It is a collection of reports and resolutions from 1974 through 1991 that recount, as Barnes's 1994 introduction explained, the SWP's efforts over that period "to organize the big majority of its members and leaders to get jobs in industry and to be active members of the industrial unions."
It's also useful to point to the last five issues of the magazine New International, whose contributing editors described it in 1991 as "the best single guide to the programmatic foundations and political trajectory" of the Socialist Workers Party and its sister communist organizations in several countries.
The most recent issue prints two programmatic documents discussed and adopted by the party's 1990 convention: "U.S. Imperialism Has Lost the Cold War" by Jack Barnes, and "The Communist Strategy of Party Building Today" by Mary-Alice Waters.
In addition, the party's views on the place and weight of the Cuban revolution in the line of march of the proletariat worldwide can be found not only in the pages of New International but also in political introductions to 10 Pathfinder books containing writings and speeches of Fidel Castro, Ernesto Che Guevara, and other leaders of the Cuban revolution and Communist Party.
Sea change in proletarian politics
Capitalism's World Disorder: Working-Class Politics at the Millennium by Jack Barnes was published a little more than a year ago. Its opening chapter is based on a talk at the close of a Los Angeles conference jointly sponsored by the SWP and Young Socialists, and later adopted by the party's April 1999 convention in San Francisco. Barnes's closing talk followed extensive combined discussion sessions on two presentations earlier in the conference, one on world politics and the other on the Cuban revolution.
In the Los Angeles summary, Barnes described a sea change in working-class politics in the United States and other imperialist and semicolonial countries. That shift in the mass psychology of working people "had begun by the opening of last year--early 1997, at the latest," he said.
What's new about this situation is not that the United States is on the verge of "a major working-class explosion," as Pérez pretends communists must believe--or that there is an unbroken rise of labor and farmer battles, let alone victories.
What's new is that proletarian resistance is on the increase, and that out of these fights--not only those that win, but also those that lose or draw--there are more workers today who keep reaching out for other working people in struggle. They want to get to know each other and join in each other's battles. And they are open to broader political perspectives, including those that demonstrate the clarity and class conviction of the ideas presented by communist workers and youth.
In early 2000 alone
Just in the opening months of the year 2000 alone in the United States there have been successful strikes and mass demonstrations by janitors and building workers in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, and elsewhere. Dockworkers in South Carolina have pushed back union-busting in the face of police assaults on their pickets. Members of the United Mine Workers, after years of being pushed back, have organized protest meetings in coalfields across the country and are lining up buses for a national May 17 mobilization in Washington, D.C., to defend lifetime health benefits. United Steelworkers members are continuing their strikes against Titan Tire in Iowa and Mississippi; against Ormet Aluminum in Ohio; and are battling lockouts by Kaiser Aluminum in Washington State, Louisiana, and Ohio; by AK Steel in Ohio; and by GS Industries in Minnesota. Teamsters are waging a strike and organizing drive against Overnite Transportation Co.
More than 8,000 unionized engineers and technical workers at Boeing in Washington State struck and beat back a concession contract. Some 1,500 workers, many involved in labor struggles across the state, demonstrated in Frankfort, Kentucky, against cuts in workers compensation benefits and for collective bargaining rights for public employees. Wal-Mart butchers and meat department workers in open-shop Texas are winning national attention for their drive to win union recognition as members of the United Food and Commercial Workers. Construction workers in New York--often carrying a 15-foot-tall, inflatable rubber rat that New York workers love to see--have continued mobilizing throughout the city against nonunion contractors.
The shift in working-class politics is being registered in much more than union battles, as well. Some 45,000 people, including students and unionists, rallied in Florida on March 7 to defend affirmative action for Blacks and women. In New York City, several thousand immigrant workers, the majority of them Mexicans, "rescued the first of May"--as the headline in the Spanish-language El Diario/La Prensa put it--demanding amnesty for all undocumented workers; in mid-February the AFL-CIO executive council backed the call for amnesty, reversing the federation's long-standing opposition to granting legal residence to workers without papers.
Three thousand farmers participated in a "Rally for Rural America" in Washington, D.C., to demand relief from record-low prices for their crops and livestock and sharply declining farm income. Hundreds marched more than 120 miles from Charleston to Columbia, South Carolina, the state capital, in early April demanding removal of the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse--following up on an outpouring of 50,000 in Columbia on Martin Luther King Day in January.
In New York City some 10,000 joined a funeral procession to protest the racist police murder of Patrick Dorismond, breaking through metal barricades and sending the cops running. And 85,000 marched in Puerto Rico in late February demanding "U.S. Navy out of Vieques!"--a prelude to the protests across the island and across the United States today condemning the forcible removal of protesters from the bombing range last week and the renewal of Yankee military target practice.
For class-conscious unionists, farmers, and other working people, as well as for revolutionary-minded youth and students attracted to the proletarian spirit and perspectives, the opportunities to extend solidarity and join in united struggles are plentiful and growing. Openings to discuss and exchange a wide range of experiences and ideas are expanding.
But you have to be interested. You have to be hungry for a good fight. You have to work at reading, seriously and thoroughly, about the ideas you are discussing with fellow workers. You have to want discipline to be effective.
U.S. imperialism lost Cold War
At the opening of the 1990s, in the wake of the collapse of regimes that claimed to be Communist across Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union, the Socialist Workers Party made the observation that U.S. imperialism had lost the Cold War. Contrary to the hopes and expectations of Washington and other imperialist powers, the SWP pointed out, the working class in those countries had not been defeated by the collapsing bureaucratic castes.
"The imperialist rulers face an enormous problem in attempting to reestablish the capitalist system in the former Soviet Union and other workers states," Barnes said in an April 1993 talk published in Capitalism's World Disorder. "There is no capitalist class in these states, and it takes a long time for historic classes to be created. It takes a long time for a bourgeoisie to consolidate ownership of banking, industrial, and landed capital, and for bourgeois values, legal systems, and money and credit networks to become dominant, let alone stable."
The working class in those degenerated workers states remains an intractable obstacle to reimposing stable capitalist relations, one that will have to be confronted by the exploiters in class battles--in hot wars. Southeastern Europe has given bloody testimony to the accuracy of this prognosis.
In the early 1990s, when the SWP first presented this position, virtually every other voice--both in the bourgeoisie and among petty-bourgeois currents in the workers movement--held the view it was self-evident that capitalism was being reestablished.
No longer. Take, for example, a typical analysis by finance capital, this one by the Wall Street investment firm Goldman Sachs. In an assessment released to the financial press last August, on the first anniversary of the Russian government's default on international debt payments, the Wall Street analyst wrote: "The scale of the task facing the country has been made universally apparent. The euphoria of Russia rejoining the Western world [i.e., capitalism] is now a distant memory and with it has gone the hope that the rebuilding of this country will be anything but a tough, laborious, and above all long, task--in some quarters even that it will ever be achieved."
International finance capital has voted with its dollars. While roughly $140 billion in capital has poured out of Russia since 1993--and is still doing so at a pace of $1-$2 billion per month--total private foreign direct investment over that same period was only $10 billion and loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund came to $25 billion.
Production has been cut in half in Russia since the beginning of the 1990s. The official poverty rate has shot up from 2 percent to almost 50 percent. Life expectancy for Russian men has fallen from 64 years to 58.
What about East Germany? The imperialist rulers of Germany are still seeking ways to postpone the battle with the working class there, too. But their competition with other imperialist capitals sets the framework and limits of that postponement. The German rulers have poured some $800 billion into the eastern region since the Berlin Wall tumbled a decade ago, with the big bulk going not to capital spending but to pensions, jobless benefits, and make-work schemes to avert social upheaval.
Unemployment in eastern Germany at the turn of the millennium stood at 18 percent by official government figures--and has been creeping upward since then, even as joblessness in Germany as a whole fell below 10 percent in April for the first time in four years.
In the days of deepest world capitalist stagnation in the 1980s, massive capital investment in the workers states was among the most favored nostrums the bourgeoisie hoped could fuel the takeoff of a new historic wave of expansion. With those illusions dashed, many propagandists for the propertied classes began talking in the 1990s of "a new economy" brought about by a "revolution in technology."
Barnes addressed this argument in the New Year's 1995 talk printed in Capitalism's World Disorder. A substantial percentage of what the big business press trumpets as an investment boom in the 1990s is accounted for by computerization that goes to replace more and more rapidly obsolete hardware and software, he pointed out.
"The money that is going into new equipment goes largely into ways to make us work faster to produce more with fewer coworkers," Barnes said. "That does not expand productive capacity, however. It intensifies speedup and extends the workweek"--ask any miner, meat cutter, or other industrial worker to confirm that statement five years later! "But that alone does not create the basis for the rising profit rates and capital accumulation that marked the post-World War II capitalist boom until it began running out of steam by the early 1970s."
Instead, Barnes pointed out, "the world's propertied families have been fighting among themselves more and more to use credit to corner a bigger cut of the surplus value they collectively squeeze from working people. They have been blowing up great balloons of debt." Over the past decade, however, "first one balloon, then another, and then yet another begins to deflate. And they have no way of knowing which balloon will go next until they start hearing the 'whoosh,' and by then it is often too late."
Or, as U.S. imperialism's top banker, Alan Greenspan, put it last October: "History tells us that sharp reversals in confidence occur abruptly, most often with little advance notice."
The now nearly 110-month capitalist upturn has been marked by economic growth rates that are among the slowest for an expansion in the 20th century. The share of fixed capital investment in national income has fallen below the average of all previous upturns in the history of modern U.S. capitalism. Employment growth has been the most sluggish since the early 1960s.
Meanwhile, the total value of transactions in various forms of paper values has jumped from around 5 times the U.S. gross domestic product in the mid-1960s to around 80 times today.
What about the supposedly "significant advances in labor productivity"? First, productivity over the past decade compares unfavorably with the previous 30 years. And a June 1999 study by Robert Gordon of the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that, "There has been no productivity growth acceleration in the 99 percent of the economy located outside the sector which manufactures computer hardware." Instead, "when computers are stripped out of the durable manufacturing sector, there has been a further productivity slowdown in durable manufacturing in 1995-99 as compared to 1972-95, and no acceleration at all in nondurable manufacturing." And the 1972-95 period itself marked a historic productivity slowdown.
Conditions, hours, wages
This slow pace of capitalist growth, and the bosses' brutal (and only marginally successful) drive to reverse their sagging profit rates, has had devastating consequences for the hours, wages, and job conditions of working people. But those outside the working class are less and less even conscious of these assaults.
Dangers to life and limb are mounting in virtually every plant, mine, and mill across the United States, as the bosses ratchet up the intensification of labor. The workday and workweek are being stretched out
In fact, far from maintaining "a basically stable standard of living for much of the working class," the U.S. employing class has driven down real wages by between 15-20 percent since 1973. Even the modest increase in 1997-98 has been reversed, as real earnings fell again from March 1999 to March 2000. Since 1980, the usurious credit card and other personal debts of hard-pressed workers and layers of the middle class have increased from 68 percent of disposable income to nearly 100 percent today. To the extent household income has barely kept its head above water, the explanation is the increase in multi-wage families and the historic increase in the numbers of women in the labor force.
As for the worst-off layers of working people, the Clinton years have been even more calamitous. The official federal poverty rate has not once dropped below 12 percent after 1982, as it had in every previous upturn in the business cycle in the United States.
Clinton's August 1996 bill to "end welfare as we know it" eliminated the federally financed Aid to Families with Dependent Children adopted as part of the Social Security Act in the 1930s, affecting millions previously covered by the program. Although accurate figures are hard to come by, welfare rights groups estimate that between 30 and 40 percent of those being forced off the rolls have no other source of income--even the paltry workfare or other subminimum wage jobs many others have no choice but to accept.
What's more, the Clinton welfare act cuts recipients off altogether after five years--a deadline now looming fewer than 15 months away. Even if U.S. capitalism has not fallen into recession by that time--something Las Vegas bookmakers are not likely to give odds on--the consequences will underline why Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan has referred to that provision of the Clinton Act as walking off the "five-year cliff."
When we hear about the stable or improving living standards of "much of the working class," a view typical among better-off professional layers (and much of the trade union officialdom as well), that is a clue that the phrase "Buchananite proletariat" encompasses quite a broad spectrum. "Them!" Pérez takes as proof of the SWP's orientation to such a layer--whatever it may be--the statement in the May 8 Militant editorial that "if the only voice working people and worse-off layers of the middle classes hear speaking out against such indignities [as brutal federal police assaults, farm foreclosures, and regressive taxation with complex codes to benefit the rich] are those of reaction, if no angry and determined working-class voice is heard pointing a class-struggle way forward, then the radical siren song of fascist demagogues will gain an ever more receptive ear."
Like so many of his class, Pérez cavalierly dismisses this judgment. So be it. As they say at Starbucks, it's a free country.
But the unions, farmers movements, and organizations of the oppressed in the United States would place themselves in deadly peril were they to follow that lead, instead of the class-struggle line of march of the communist movement.
One need not go back to the 1920s and 1930s in Europe to confirm what the consequences would be. The more recent example of Chile in the early 1970s is closer to home for many of us. The political default of the social democratic, Stalinist, and centrist parties handed over leadership of growing layers of the middle classes, as well as sections of the working class, to the fascist-minded forces led by Pinochet's officer corps. The women's "march of the empty pots" spelled the impending doom of the Allende regime and the coming horror for the toilers.
Rightist 'culture war'
Shortly after the April 22 Miami assault organized by Clinton and Reno, Buchanan's "Internet Brigade" (which we're supposed to ignore, while referring to layers of working people as "Buchananite") opened its home page with a reactionary cartoon. The cartoon depicted a mock movie poster with a sexist caricature of Janet Reno as Rambo, letting loose with a clip, and the words: "Fighting for Marxism: No man, no law, no court ruling can stop her" (see elsewhere on this page).
On one level, the cartoon bore testimony to the statement by Barnes in a November 1992 talk in Capitalism's World Disorder that "the assaults on the rights and basic humanity of women" by Buchanan and other ultrarightists "are so strident and vulgar that they sometimes seem irrational. But they are not." To the contrary, as part of their "culture war," these voices of capitalist reaction are going after "the economic, social, and political gains women have won in the last half century."
And the "Fighting for Marxism" reference should serve as a reminder that, as the class struggle heats up, fascist groups will shift their bead from Establishment figures in the bourgeoisie to the fighting vanguard of the working-class movement.
But the key caption--"Coming Soon, to a Neighborhood Near You"--was aimed at a much broader audience than the woman-hating and anticommunist cadre of the ultraright. It targeted the tens of millions of working people and sections of the middle class--men and women; urban and rural; native-born and immigrant; Black, white, and otherwise--who know from the murderous record of federal, state, and local cop agencies that the prognosis is accurate, and will become more so.
What the leadership of the fascist cadres don't say is that as class polarization accelerates, government commandos will be joined--and at a late stage increasingly pushed aside--by the extralegal deputies and fighting units of reaction.
Barnes's New Year's 1995 talk in Los Angeles was in part a celebration of the recent publication of New International no. 10, which featured the twin articles "Imperialism's March toward Fascism and War" and "Defending Cuba, Defending Cuba's Socialist Revolution."
"Fascism and war is the logic of the march of finance capital," Barnes explained to participants in the Los Angeles gathering. "That is what imperialism has inflicted on humanity twice before in this century, and that is where capitalism is heading once again."
Barnes then called attention to the article on the Cuban revolution in NI no. 10. "Because as Cuban working people have shown," he said, "what is far from inevitable is that the outcome of the workings of capitalism will be triumphant fascism and a third world war. Along the road to such an unthinkable catastrophe, the ruling capitalist families all over the world must try to fight their way through hundreds of millions of working people like us and like those in Cuba."
The U.S. proletariat in its vast majority will not become "Buchananite." But its capacity to triumph in the streets over those who do will be determined by what those in the working-class vanguard do now, in the course of day-to-day activity, to develop and strengthen habits of discipline, proletarian functioning, and communist political clarity.
This method of "argument" has a name in the history of the modern revolutionary workers movement--the politics of amalgam. And it has consequences too--the justification of unconscionable slander and goon violence against those "objectively in the camp" of whoever it may be, whether the Nazis a half century ago or the "gusano mafia" today.
That's another reason why the May 8 Militant editorial was correct in emphasizing that the stakes in opposing the INS assault in Miami "is a working-class line of march in defense of democratic rights and political space won by working people in the United States through two revolutions and numberless bloody battles in the streets."
What's more, as the editorial states, "It is along that road that the Cuban Revolution, the first dictatorship of the proletariat in our hemisphere, will be effectively defended as well."
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