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Vol. 74/No. 26      July 12, 2010

Socialist Workers Party conducts
forty-sixth constitutional convention
Sets course of action to reach out to vanguard workers,
discusses challenges in building proletarian
leadership around world
(feature article)
OBERLIN, Ohio—The Socialist Workers Party held its 46th national convention here June 17-19 as the crisis of capitalism continued to drive down the standard of living of millions of workers through unrelenting layoffs, steady lowering of wages, assaults on pensions, health care, and education, and expanding war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The convention adopted a course of radically reorienting the party to respond to the fact that workers are experiencing deteriorating living and working conditions they have never seen before and a vanguard layer among them is open to a working-class perspective about how to respond.

The gathering here, which was combined with an educational conference, drew 350 people, including party members, organized supporters, and other guests. In addition to the United States, workers and young people came from Australia, Canada, France, Greece, New Zealand, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Leading up to the convention party members in local SWP branches discussed and voted on a platform of four resolutions put forward by the SWP National Committee. At the same time SWP members were taking the initial steps to get jobs in larger factories with substantial numbers of Black workers. It is in those workplaces that they have found the best response to a communist explanation of the ongoing world capitalist crisis and the book Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power.  
Political strands brought together
The first report to delegates—“The Political Strands Keep Being Brought Together: Laying a Foundation to Build the Communist Movement”—was presented by National Committee member Mary-Alice Waters. She had recently returned from the Seventh International Conference of the International Society for the Studies of Chinese Overseas, held in May in Singapore.

It is the SWP’s decades of work to defend the Cuban Revolution, said Waters, which have led the party to new political openings in Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world. Thirty-three copies in English and 14 in Chinese of Pathfinder’s Our History Is Still Being Written: The Story of Three Chinese-Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution were sold to the Singapore conference participants.

The book, edited by Waters, contains interviews with three generals of Chinese-Cuban ancestry in the Cuban armed forces. Since its publication four years ago, there have been more than 90 meetings in eight countries on five continents to discuss it, Waters reported.

Here in this country the struggles of Chinese immigrant labor are deeply intertwined with other strands of the U.S. class struggle, she explained, noting the role of freed Black slaves after the Civil War in opposing discriminatory treatment of Chinese workers.

Waters also pointed to the flourishing translation of Pathfinder books into Farsi, the official language of Iran. Over the last decade, more than 60,000 Pathfinder books translated to Farsi have been sold in Iran and to Farsi speakers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries.

Waters’s report, and the one that followed it by SWP national secretary Jack Barnes, took up the challenges before the revolutionary leadership in Cuba today in face of the worldwide economic depression and the lack of revolutionary developments in any other part of the world.

Cuba is caught between falling prices for its sugar and nickel and rising import costs. Last year’s sugarcane harvest was the lowest since 1905. There is a big shortage of labor on farms, in factories, and on the railroads; at the same time there is an excess of workers in the administrative layers of the state. Solving these problems demands proletarian leadership in the factories and fields, Waters explained.  
Leadership ‘forged in working class’
Cuban president Raúl Castro took up these challenges when he addressed the ninth congress of the Union of Young Communists April 4. “The economic battle is today, more than ever, the principal task," he told the congress, “because the sustainability and preservation of our social system depends on it.” The future leadership in Cuba must be “forged in the working class,” he said. He pointed to the need to firmly combat corruption.

The challenges in Cuba are similar to those Vladimir Lenin confronted in Soviet Russia toward the end of his life, Waters said, and explain the great interest shown in Pathfinder’s book Lenin’s Final Fight at the Havana book fair in February of this year.

Two documents in the platform before delegates that were written by Barnes addressed these leadership questions. As one of them explained, “The proletarian dictatorship … is an instrument whose class character continues to be tested everyday… . Its continuation depends on the methods used by the new government, from the outset, to consolidate and reinforce the proletarian state property relations established by expropriating the exploiting classes and eliminating the domination of capital… . to narrow the sphere of commodity relations, reduce bureaucratic management and the size of administrative layers not involved in production, and combat the tendency to promote competition among workers in separate enterprises.”

In a workers state such as Cuba, the resolution continued, “corruption is the most virulent threat to advances in the building of socialism—to maintaining the rights of the working class—and must be combated with that in mind.”

Barnes noted the challenge in Cuba of bringing forward a younger layer of cadres to take on greater responsibility during a period in which there are fewer opportunities for them to engage in the kind of class combat that produces battle-hardened, tested leaders.

Barnes explained in his report the impact on U.S. workers of the grinding capitalist economic crisis. He noted that capitalists in the United Kingdom, where oil giant BP owns many of the insurance policies held by workers, are whipping up a campaign to counter attacks on BP, by telling workers the U.S. government wants to steal their pensions. Washington claims to be outraged by BP’s practices. Vanguard workers should expose both capitalist governments and reject their attempt to pit workers in the two countries against each other.

The next downturn in the economy will begin with unemployment not at 4 percent as it was in 2007 when the first recession started, but at 9 percent to 10 percent, said Barnes. Interest rates will be near zero. The government will be unable to spend its way out of this ongoing crisis. In fact, government stimulus plans will have less and less of an impact.  
Engels on ‘socialists’ vs. ‘communists’
Barnes said the meritocratic social layer in the White House today governs like the “socialists” described by Frederick Engels as those “who wanted to eliminate social abuses through their various universal panaceas and all kinds of patchwork, without hurting capital and profit in the least… . people who stood outside the labor movement and who looked for support rather to the ‘educated classes.’” Engels and Karl Marx, on the other hand, looked to that section of the working class “which demanded a radical reconstruction of society” and “called itself communist.”

Communists are not for proposing better ways to extract surplus value, said Barnes. They’re not fighting to reform the system, but they will always fight against cuts in what workers have won. Workers need to overturn the current bourgeois government and replace it with one that will expropriate the capitalists and establish proletarian property, state property, so that the working class no longer has to rely on “entitlements,” in reality, charity from the wealthy.

Angela Olsson, a fraternal delegate from the Communist League in Sweden, spoke in the discussion on what the “socialist” government has meant for the working class there. The social-democratic politicians who have run the capitalist state for most of the last half century do no more than “restrain the excesses of the bosses,” she said. They treat workers as wards of the state, people to be “taken care of.” And they have a long history of spying on the working class, conducting anti-women programs like forced sterilization, and deporting “illegal” immigrants, she added.

Workers control of safety is the main demand communists advance in cases like that of the BP oil spill in the Gulf, said Barnes. Simply nationalizing BP without workers being in power accomplishes nothing. Most major accidents and their catastrophic results could be avoided if workers controlled all aspects of safety on the job.

Putting forward this perspective, defending workers from the rulers’ assaults and class solidarity, will be an important aspect of the SWP election campaigns this year, said Barnes.

Following the three days of deliberations, the convention concluded with the election of a new National Committee of the SWP.

Alongside the convention was a series of classes. One on “World Capitalist Crisis, Israel, and the Roots of Jew Hatred” took up the need for a multinational, working-class leadership to fight for a democratic, secular Palestine. Communists would fight for Palestine to be a refuge for all Jews facing persecution. Conference participants discussed how the call for a boycott of Israeli products is not a road toward winning self-determination for the Palestinians, but a dangerous concession to anti-Semitism.

A second class took up the book Cosmetics, Fashions, and the Exploitation of Women, which explains how capitalist norms of “beauty” and “fashion” are class questions that cannot be separated from the class struggle. There were also classes on “Korea Is One! The Fight for Reunification: The Unresolved National Division Imposed by Imperialism Following World War II,” “Iran and Its Revolutionary Upheavals Since World War II,” and an introductory class presented in English and Spanish about the SWP.

“I didn’t know about the civil war in South Korea after World War II or the fact that many South Koreans support Korean reunification,” said Zach Liddle, 22, who was attending his first convention.

Keith Blue, 40, an African-American cook in Washington, D.C., said he was in his mid-20s when he first visited the Pathfinder bookstore there, got some books, and attended a Militant Labor Forum. “I was too young to recognize how important classes and the forum were at that time,” he added.

Blue said one of the biggest impacts of the convention on him was its “emphasis on history and the discussion here on how the system controls workers, and different protests for more rights.”

A literature display, with a special table of discounted books so those new to the communist movement can build up their libraries, sold more than $2,300.

Numerous displays in the convention hall illustrated themes under discussion, such as the use by party members of the book Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power in factories, the impact of the capitalist economic crisis on working people, and the forging of a hereditary working class in China.

Other displays highlighted the work of the Print Project, made up of 260 volunteers who keep Pathfinder books in print, the book distribution effort, and the work of supporters to win new monthly contributors to the communist movement.

Brian Williams contributed to this article.
Related articles:
Greetings to Cuban Five
Socialist Workers announce 2010 candidates
SWP candidates in 2010
Socialist Workers Party National Committee: Elected at 46th Convention  
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