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Vol. 76/No. 29      August 6, 2012

Political space to advance workers
movement in US, worldwide discussed
at Socialist Workers conference
As working people mount resistance to propertied
rulers’ offensive, groups of workers link up, prepare
for coming battles, become interested in world politics
and lessons of working-class struggles
(feature article)

(Continued from last week)

While the capitalists cannot give up the intensifying competition among themselves to conquer markets and maximize profits, the same is not true for the working class, explained Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party.

Competition for jobs is the condition of workers under capitalism, but the working class can counteract that dog-eat-dog rivalry. We can do so through class solidarity, organizing unions, and carrying out independent labor political action.

Barnes presented the opening talk and closing summary at the Socialist Workers Membership Conference held June 21-23 in Oberlin, Ohio.

Today, Barnes said, as the employing class reacts to the capitalist crisis by deepening their assault on our wages, conditions, unions and very dignity, workers are standing up and resisting, regardless of how great the odds may seem.

Example are mounting in the United States: the fights against union-busting lockouts by the bosses, from the one-year struggle by 1,300 workers against American Crystal Sugar in the Upper Midwest, to actions by more than 8,000 workers against Con Edison in New York; and strikes, big and small, from 780 workers taking on Caterpillar in Joliet, Ill., over a wage freeze and pension cuts, to 85 Teamsters in Kent, Wash., resisting Davis Wire’s relentless “productivity” drive.

Regardless of the immediate outcome, workers often come out of these fights more ready to continue the struggle inside the plants, as well as to organize solidarity with embattled working people elsewhere. Many deepen their interest in struggles by workers and farmers the world over, as well.

That’s true, for example, among members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union who fought a 10-month battle against Roquette America’s lockout in Keokuk, Iowa, in 2010-2011; of Steelworkers who for 14 months stood up to Honeywell’s lockout at its uranium plant in Metropolis, Ill.; and of dockworkers in Longview, Wash., who after an eight-month fight against union busting by EGT Development forced the company in February to hire members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Through these battles, Barnes said, small groups of militant workers come together, look for others like them, and seek out discussions of how the working class can prepare more consciously and effectively for future battles. Efforts by socialist workers and use of the Militant are part of this process.

SWP 2012 campaigns

The conference discussed using Socialist Workers Party 2012 election campaigns as a voice presenting a fighting course for workers and our allies to confront the capitalist crisis. The party is running James Harris for president and Maura DeLuca for vice president, along with candidates for state and local offices. (See article on front page.)

The campaign puts forward immediate demands workers can organize around today to strengthen our unity and fighting capacity, such as a massive public works program to combat joblessness. At the same time, the socialist candidates point to the need for working people to chart an independent political course from the bosses, their parties, and their government, along the road toward the revolutionary fight for workers power.

Part and parcel of this effort is getting the Militant and books on working-class politics into the hands of workers in neighborhoods in cities and small towns, on picket lines and at demonstrations, on the job and at factory gates, in prisons and elsewhere. More and more workers today see the Militant as their own paper, Barnes said. This is not only because it’s the only paper that—week in and week out—champions and tells the truth about fights by working people like themselves. It’s also because these workers are more and more interested in learning the political lessons of struggles by working people of today and yesterday that are found in the pages of the Militant.

Communist workers take SWP campaign flyers, the paper and books with us as we join workers’ battles and social struggles, from fights against cop harassment and brutality to defending women’s right to abortion.

Party of industrial workers

The activity of SWP members together with fellow workers includes organized political and trade union work with those we work alongside in factories across the United States. Without that, Barnes said, we’re an organization composed of factory workers, but not a disciplined proletarian party.

Communist workers sell Militant subscriptions and sign up SWP campaign endorsers on the job, and look for opportunities to join with fellow workers in bringing solidarity to union fights and social protests, locally and beyond. We’re part of efforts to strengthen our unions and bring union power to bear against the bosses. When we’re holding down jobs in the growing percentage of workplaces that are unorganized, we act on the recognition that there’s always a union in embryo as workers look for ways to fight to defend each other, Barnes said.

Socialist workers reject any and all prejudices against fellow workers who hold religious views, Barnes said. We’re as likely to get a Militant subscription from a worker who has a crucifix or other religious symbol at their workstation, or on their door or wall at home, as we are from a worker who doesn’t, he said.

That distinguishes socialist workers from middle-class radicals, bourgeois liberals, and bureaucratic-minded union officials, who tend to consider themselves “smarter” and more “enlightened” than workers.

‘Wisconsin’ and ‘Occupy’

Barnes contrasted the SWP’s political course—more broadly into working-class and popular struggles worldwide, as we build the nucleus of a proletarian party able to lead working people toward the fight for power—with the perspectives of various petty-bourgeois organizations and currents in U.S. politics.

Many of these forces, for example, threw themselves into the labor-officialdom-led effort earlier this year to “recall” Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker. In early 2011, Barnes said, SWP members from across the U.S. joined with other workers in the mobilizations in Wisconsin against union busting by the state government targeting public employees. But the aim of the “recall” campaign was to put Democrats into office, at the very time that Democratic administrations from the White House to states and cities across the country are leading assaults not just against public employees but workers and unions of every kind.

Government workers, Barnes said, are being forced to pay the price for the procapitalist labor officialdom’s decades of collaboration with the Democratic Party, dependence on “deals” with government officials, and embracing as supposedly part of labor cops, prison guards, and other police- and court-linked “uniformed services”—whose job is to defend capitalist property and rule by violence and repression. A fighting course to defend the working class and unions, including public employees, requires a break from the bosses’ parties and their government, the SWP leader said, not deepening reliance on them.

Socialist workers took that message and the broader working-class course presented in the Militant not just to demonstrators in Madison (a government and university-centered town, with a disproportionately middle-class composition), Barnes said. We increasingly concentrated our effort on going door to door in cities and small towns across Wisconsin, talking to privately employed workers and government employees, union and nonunion workers, farmers, and others. Just as the party continues to do in states and regions across the U.S.

Similarly, Barnes said, when the “Occupy” actions began in New York and spread to other areas in late 2011, socialist workers and young socialists went to them to bring working-class politics to participants looking for answers. We joined actions called under “Occupy” auspices that were part of broader social protests in the interests of working people.

But virtually all centrist and other petty-bourgeois organizations claiming to be socialists or part of the workers movement, Barnes said, ended up burying themselves in Occupy—”Occupy is our party,” became the watchword. Or else, he said, they looked to Occupy as a substitute for the transformation of the labor movement by the ranks of the working class—organized and unorganized—into instruments of struggle to defend workers’ interests. (For example, Occupy forces on the West Coast organized ultraleft adventures earlier this year during the hard-fought battle by ILWU members against union busting on the docks in Longview, Wash.)

The SWP, to the contrary, acted from the outset on the recognition that this phenomenon wasn’t and couldn’t be a surrogate for a class-struggle union movement, much less for a proletarian party. Its middle-class base and political trajectory precluded either one.

What’s more, socialist workers explained how Occupy’s “We are the 99 percent!” slogan obfuscates true class relations under capitalism and dovetails with the anti-Republican demagogy of the Democratic Party’s campaign strategy.

Using political space

The political space opening for workers and farmers the world over to defend our living and working conditions was at the center of the talks and discussion at the socialist conference.

Everything points to this space remaining open for the foreseeable future, Barnes said, and that fact will be key to strengthening the organization, solidarity and political clarity of vanguard workers in the U.S. and worldwide.

This is not a matter of how “democratic,” or how “secular,” a particular capitalist regime may be. Conditions are often fraught with dangers and sharpening class conflict as political space opens, as, for example, in Syria. As civil war rages there, the old regime that for decades kept a lid on working people engaging in politics is cracking, and the capitalist rulers are deeply divided.

Both in the semicolonial world and a growing number of imperialist countries, Barnes said, divisions within the propertied rulers, often registered in difficulty maintaining stable governments, are exacerbated by the capitalist crisis. These divisions within the enemy class—whether in Greece or elsewhere in Europe, or in parts of the Middle East—provides greater latitude for workers and farmers to organize and defend our class interests.

In Egypt, for instance, the contest for political dominance between the wing of the bourgeoisie tied to the officer corps and those behind the Muslim Brotherhood is good for maintaining the space for workers won in 2011 by the mass mobilizations that toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarak.

And in Israel itself, the grinding consequences of the capitalist crisis on working people, middle layers, and youth, both Jewish and Arab, are fueling mounting social struggles and class conflict.

Political openings in Iran

More than any other country in the region, or in much of the world, the political space in Iran to circulate books and pamphlets recording the lessons of revolutionary struggles for power by workers and farmers the world over remains open, Barnes said.

This is true despite blows working people have taken from the ruling capitalists and religious hierarchy there since the 1979 Iranian Revolution went into retreat soon after the victory. That deep-going social upheaval, in which workers’ strikes and mobilizations proved decisive, overturned the U.S.-backed monarchy and ripped from Washington a strategic ally in defending imperialist interests.

The bourgeois counterrevolution has narrowed the space won by working people in 1979 but never succeeded in closing it. Communist literature is more available in Farsi, the main language of Iran, than any other language today other than English, Barnes pointed out.

Some four dozen books translated from Pathfinder titles are published in Iran, said Mary-Alice Waters in her conference talk, “Starting with the World: The Practical Work of the Party.” She pointed to a review by the Iran Book News Agency of the new Farsi edition of The Revolution Betrayed by Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky, recently issued by the Talaye Porsoo publishing house. (See review in next week’s issue.)

“The capitalist crises at the present time put wind in the sails of left currents, more than before, to beat the drum of capitalism’s future demise,” the reviewer for the government-run news agency wrote. “…. For years Pathfinder Press has been publishing books in the field of left-wing thought. The publisher stood its ground at the height of the domination of capitalism, especially in the U.S., and published books by Trotsky, Lenin, Marx and Engels, as well as thinkers of the contemporary left in the U.S. such as Jack Barnes.”

The review then listed several other Pathfinder titles published in Farsi in Iran, including U.S. Imperialism Has Lost the Cold War and Feminism and the Marxist Movement.

As the capitalist market draws more and more toilers worldwide into the working class and modern communications continue to make the earth a smaller place, Waters told the conference, the world is getting bigger for the communist movement.

Living Marxism has had, and continues to have, only one source—the practical work of proletarian parties such as the Socialist Workers Party involved in working-class politics and drawing the lessons of revolutionary battles by the working class worldwide. And our publishing program, Waters said, provides the only written record of those lessons today.

The communist movement reaches out to anyone, anywhere in the world who demonstrates an interest in the class struggle and the lessons of workers’ battles to take on capitalist rule—from the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, to the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and its ongoing revolutionary course today. Doing that is an integral part of the day-to-day work of proletarian parties whose members, through their branches, carry out political and trade-union activity with fellow workers on the job and off, Waters said.

(Continued next week)

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