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Vol. 81/No. 5      February 6, 2017

(feature article)

Socialist Workers Party convention sets course to build revolutionary party workers need today

NEW YORK — The Socialist Workers Party held its 48th Constitutional Convention here Jan. 14-16, setting a course to advance carrying out propaganda activity in the working class at workers’ doorsteps, on strike picket lines and in other labor fights and social protests. Through this work, the party seeks to broaden its geographical reach, the number of workers and youth the party is working with and to win new members.

In addition to delegations from party branches, convention delegates included members who have moved to Denver, northern New Jersey and the area around Albany, New York, to extend party-building work in those areas. Along with branches of the SWP across the U.S. and of the Communist League in Canada, they will be joining other workers to run candidates backed by the party for mayor and other offices this year. (See list here.)

For years workers have faced slow-burning depression conditions as the capitalists’ profit rates have continued their decadeslong decline, Jack Barnes, SWP national secretary, said in the opening political report. As prospects have shrunk for profitable investment in the expansion of factory buildings, mines, equipment, and jobs, the employers have sat on growing hoards of cash or plowed it into stocks, bonds and other forms of speculative financial paper. At an accelerated pace, this has increased the relative weight of money capital at the expense of manufacturing capital.

In 2008 a deep global financial crisis and contraction of production and trade shook capitalism on a world scale. The employers and their government continue to load the devastating consequences of that crisis — the “carnage” referred to by the newly elected U.S. president at his inauguration a few days after the SWP convention — onto the backs of working people.

This crisis for the working class became the central factor in the 2016 presidential campaign. The SWP said there were two classes and three parties — the capitalists had their Democrats and Republicans, Barnes said, and working people had the Socialist Workers Party.

And the capitalist rulers increasingly displayed fear of the working class, seeing a future of deeper class struggle to come as the carnage continues and spreads.

Hillary Clinton revealed her anti-working-class contempt when she called millions of workers “deplorables” because many of them backed Donald Trump in hopes he would address the worsening economic and social conditions they face — a decline in the size of the working class as jobs disappear, falling real wages, cop brutality, attacks on women’s right to choose abortion, multiple deployments for workers in uniform sent to fight and die in Washington’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and more. While Trump claimed he spoke for working people, he demagogically targeted Mexicans, Muslims, women, unionists and others, aiming to divide and weaken the working class and our unions.

The only way forward for workers and working farmers, Barnes said, is to recognize ourselves as the political vanguard of the “deplorables” — to see the need and capacity of the working class and our allies to put an end to the rule of capital, of the small handful of superrich families that hold state power in the U.S. and control both the Democratic and Republican parties.

That’s the reason to join the Socialist Workers Party. The SWP is the only party armed with a communist course of carrying out regular propaganda activity in the working class and joining in fights by workers and the oppressed, as the party politically prepares for the bigger class battles and revolutionary struggles we know are coming.

For years SWP members have found growing interest as they knock on doors in working-class neighborhoods to discuss the party and its activities. Although there are no sustained labor battles or social movements like the civil rights battle that overthrew Jim Crow segregation, many workers respond when party members explain the need for the working class to chart a course to build our own political party to take power.

Convention delegates discussed and adopted the next decisive steps to sustain, as the axis of party activity, turning that interest among working people into expanded influence and recruitment.

The party leadership has worked with a number of members to move to new areas where the SWP has made contacts, Barnes explained. Together with adjustments in organization and priorities in party branches to enable members to step up political campaigning and use of the Militant and books and magazines on communist politics among workers, these moves can lead to a convergence of political activity in the branches, in new areas — and by new party members.

In addition, Barnes told convention participants, there are new openings today for party members to conduct political activity in the unions. This is particularly true among rail freight workers, where dangerous conditions — from the one-person operating crew on a growing number of freight trains, to long and erratic work schedules, to moving trains in crowded rail yards with remote-control units — have led to widespread discussion and protests. This is part of the fight against the bosses’ speedup, job combinations, and assaults on safety among all workers.

Running candidates for public office is important to party-building today, Barnes said. Most workers continue to see politics through the framework of the elections. Communist campaigns have already been launched across the U.S. and Canada, running for mayor in Calgary, Alberta; Los Angeles; Miami; Minneapolis; Montreal; New York; and Seattle.

To be effective in this work, Barnes said, requires increasing attention to political education. Class conscious workers need to dig into lessons from the founding of the modern revolutionary workers movement in the mid-1800s; to the Bolshevik revolution under the leadership of V.I. Lenin (this year is its 100th anniversary); of the Cuban Revolution, the living socialist revolution to our south; to experiences of the SWP in trying to build that kind of party here in the U.S. together with communist workers the world over.

Crisis of U.S. two-party system

The victory of Trump in the U.S. presidential election reflects the deepening economic and political crisis of U.S. imperialism — and a resulting historic shake-up in its two long-standing bourgeois political parties.

The Republicans are being remade by Donald Trump, a multibillionaire pretending to speak in the interests of working people while seeking to find policies that further enrich the capitalist class, in a futile attempt to end the inevitable crisis of their system. This has nothing to do with hysteria about “fascism” among liberal and middle-class radicals, Barnes said. In fact, the Trump electoral victory is weakening already marginal ultrarightist currents, who are unable to gain any traction in U.S. politics.

The Democrats are in disarray. Bernie Sanders and bourgeois and petty-bourgeois leftists of every stripe on one side, and machine politicians like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the other, are already maneuvering to take over the party in hopes of making a comeback in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

Similar capitalist-crisis-fueled political breakups are unfolding in the United Kingdom, France and other imperialist countries in Europe and beyond.

Since 1990 the Socialist Workers Party has explained the global reverberations of the fact that U.S. imperialism lost the Cold War.

As a byproduct of the implosion of the Soviet Union and other Stalinist regimes in Eastern and Central Europe by the opening of the 1990s, there was a rapid disintegration of the counterrevolutionary obstacle of governments and parties that falsely called themselves Communist and for decades had politically misled and undercut working-class and popular struggles around the globe. As a result, while the working class worldwide today has no mass independent class leadership, it faces coming class battles unbroken and free of Stalinist disorientation, something that wasn’t true for decades. Washington hadn’t “won” the Cold War.

The U.S. rulers acted on an opposite assumption. They were convinced they had triumphed and had a free hand worldwide. They intervened in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere — with disastrous results for toilers in those regions and seemingly endless military involvement for Washington.

Another side of these developments is now becoming clearer, Barnes said. The U.S.-dominated NATO military alliance has been weakened. The illusion is coming apart that an “ever closer” economic and political European Union could transcend the nation states within it — most of them imperialist powers, but at very different levels of economic might and social conditions — and become a united capitalist Europe.

Sharpening competition among rival ruling classes under the pressure of the international slowdown in capitalist production and trade is undoing what many bourgeois politicians refer to as “globalization,” including so-called trade pacts in Europe, North America, and the Pacific and Asia. These classless terms are cover for the profit-driven efforts of finance capital to compete to exploit workers and farmers and suck the wealth they produce with their labor from every corner of the globe.

Delegates at the SWP convention seated international fraternal delegations, including from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, France and the U.K. They shared experiences that underscored that the party-building openings discussed at the convention are worldwide.

Books to prepare us to fight and win

The Clintons’ Anti-Working-Class Record is one of three books published by Pathfinder Press in 2016 “to help working people address the far-reaching political questions that we and others in the working class need answers to in order to fight more effectively and win,” Steve Clark said in the introduction to the Clintons’ Anti-Working-Class Record. The other titles are: Are They Rich Because They’re Smart? Class, Privilege, and Learning Under Capitalism, also by Jack Barnes, and Is Socialist Revolution in the US Possible? A Necessary Debate Among Working People by SWP leader Mary-Alice Waters.

In addition to English, Spanish and French, these books, and others from Pathfinder Press’ arsenal, “are right now being translated in Iran into the Farsi language,” Clark wrote. “They will be distributed widely in bookshops and libraries there and well beyond Iran’s borders. Their broad circulation demonstrates how the scope and explosiveness of the capitalist crisis, and the response of working people to its consequences, are truly worldwide.”

In a report to the convention, Clark expanded on these points. These books and more than 40 other Farsi-language Pathfinder titles are finding a growing readership across Iran and beyond, including in Afghanistan and the Kurdish region of Iraq.

Workers and farmers in the Middle East face the effects of the world capitalist economic crisis, compounded by the impact of a devastating civil war in Syria, more than a decade of bloody wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the advancing Kurdish struggle for national rights, Clark said. This has sparked interest in books that present the program and history of the Socialist Workers Party, as well as the Russian and Cuban revolutions.

Convention delegates also discussed the importance of the fight against Jew-hatred. History shows that assaults on Jews increase in times of capitalist crisis, as the rulers seek scapegoats to divert the middle classes and layers of toilers from recognizing the true source of their worsening conditions, the profit system. Clark reviewed the decadeslong continuity of the SWP on this question, and that of Fidel Castro and the leadership of Cuba’s socialist revolution, from the impact of the rise of Nazism, the horror of the Holocaust during the second imperialist world war, to growing attacks on Jews and Muslims today as capitalism’s devastation extends to more and more of the world.

Revolutionaries must push for recognition of the right of Israel to exist, Clark said, including the right of return for Jews looking for refuge from persecution, as well as for recognition of a state for the dispossessed Palestinian people. This is the only way to open the space for working people who are Arab and Jewish to build solidarity and fight together against capitalist exploitation and imperialist oppression throughout the region.

‘Two great socialist revolutions’

Convention delegates also discussed a Nov. 27 letter from SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes to Raúl Castro, first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, marking the political legacy of Fidel Castro, on the occasion of his death Nov. 25 (see Dec. 12, 2016, Militant). The message highlighted the two great socialist revolutions of the 20th century, in Russia and Cuba, and the indispensable leadership of them by V.I. Lenin and Fidel Castro.

Barnes wrote that the SWP will continue to “publish and spread the truth about the Cuban Revolution and Fidel’s leadership, to make it known to working people in the United States and throughout the world. With unshakable confidence in the working class and its allies, we will continue to organize and act on the course Fidel uncompromisingly presented to the world in 1961, a month before the victorious battle of Playa Girón: ‘There will be a victorious revolution in the United States before a victorious counterrevolution in Cuba.’”

Mary-Alice Waters spoke to this in her convention report on “Party-Building and the Cuban Revolution.” The working-class mobilizations in tribute to Fidel Castro across Cuba following his death, and Raúl Castro’s speeches in Havana and Santiago, demonstrates once again that the socialist revolution in Cuba lives and fights to this day. The Socialist Workers Party defends that revolution and champions the fight to end the U.S. embargo, to get Washington out of Guantánamo and return it to Cuban sovereignty, and to end Washington’s “regime-change” policies.

One of the party’s priorities in the coming months, Waters said, will be working to build a brigade of workers to visit Cuba for the May Day celebration in Havana, to learn firsthand about the gains working people made through their socialist revolution. This includes a chance for some to also participate in a May 4-6 conference and related activities in Guantánamo, near the base occupied by Washington for over a century.

The party and the Young Socialists are also building the World Festival of Youth and Students taking place in Sochi, Russia, Oct. 14-22. This presents another opportunity to work with youth around the world looking for ways to fight against imperialist domination and capitalist exploitation.

Waters noted increasing interest in books published by Pathfinder. There are new openings to get these books into workers hands internationally. She pointed to growing interest across Africa, including in South Africa, in Namibia — a former colony of South Africa whose independence was won as a result of revolutionary Cuba’s internationalist mission in Angola aiding those fighting the apartheid army — in Tanzania, and in West Africa. Bookstore orders for Pathfinder’s books containing speeches of Thomas Sankara, leader of the 1983-87 popular revolution in Burkina Faso, are growing there.

This is deeply connected to the work of the SWP and Communist Leagues, she said, as growing numbers of toilers from Africa who have come to the imperialist centers in North America and Europe to work and study look to learn more about politics.

Among those invited to attend the convention, in addition to members of the SWP and Communist Leagues, were a number of people from across North America who are members of committees that lead work by party supporters to keep Pathfinder books in print for use in the party’s political activity, and raise funds for the SWP’s work.

Convention delegates adopted the three reports and summaries, the introduction to the Clintons’ Anti-Working-Class Record, Jack Barnes’ letter to Raúl Castro, and other motions on the party’s political course. They elected a National Committee to lead the implementation of convention decisions.

The Socialist Workers Party is organizing an Active Workers Conference in Ohio June 15-17, to bring together workers campaigning for the SWP, helping circulate the party’s books and the Militant, joining in labor struggles and social protests, and other common activity to discuss world political developments and to register progress in building the party.
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