The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 76/No. 14      April 9, 2012

Socialist Workers set weekly
campaigning with ‘Militant,’
books in working-class neighborhoods
(feature article)
The new charts were hard to miss in the headquarters of the Socialist Workers Party branch in New York City as I walked in one evening a day or so before this issue of the Militant went to press.

One chart keeps track of subscriptions and individual copies of the socialist newspaper, as well as books such as Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, sold each week door to door and on street corners in working-class communities across New York City and its environs.

Another records weekly results from sales in Black working-class neighborhoods in the city, along with additional information about that political campaigning.

A third logs information from trips to sell the socialist press in working-class neighborhoods in small towns and rural areas outside the city, from upstate New York to Connecticut, New Jersey and elsewhere.

These prominent displays provide a way for members of the New York branch to gauge their progress in implementing the course set by the SWP National Committee in mid-March, building on cumulative decisions by SWP leadership conferences since last June. The National Committee discussed and decided on concrete tasks that will lead to more effective participation in the stepped-up response by workers nationwide to mounting employer and government attacks.

Over the past two years socialist workers have joined actions across the U.S. to stop the execution of Troy Davis; protests in Alabama and other states against assaults on immigrant workers; and picket lines and other activities in solidarity with resistance to employer lockouts and union busting by grain millers in Keokuk, Iowa; dockworkers in Longview, Wash.; sugar beet workers in the Red River Valley of North Dakota and Minnesota; nuclear processing workers in Metropolis, Ill.; tire workers in Ohio; state employees in Wisconsin; and many, many more. A substantial number of workers in these battles have become regular readers of the Militant.

Soon after the SWP leadership meetings, protests against the lynching of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African-American, brought thousands into the streets—from an outpouring in Sanford, Fla., where the shooting by an armed vigilante occurred, to actions in cities and towns across the United States.

The nearly full week of political discussions in New York opened with a Saturday, March 10, public meeting of 360 people, featuring talks by SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes and party leader Mary-Alice Waters.

On Sunday a follow-up discussion for participants in the previous day’s event drew workers from Boston, Chicago, the Twin Cities, and Birmingham, as well as students from upstate New York and Montreal. The same day a meeting took place of nearly 150 supporters of the communist movement who are organizing to keep in print and upgrade books and pamphlets used by the party in its work.

That was followed by four days of SWP leadership meetings, with participation from leaders of communist organizations in countries from Europe through the Middle East and the Pacific.

At the Saturday meeting, a number of SWP candidates in the 2012 elections were introduced from the floor. The socialist campaigns, which offer the working-class alternatives to the Democrats, Republicans and other capitalist parties, are reaching out to win support and endorsement from fighting workers attracted to the SWP’s class-struggle course and its revolutionary perspectives.

The National Committee set a party convention for June 21-23 in Ohio. Progress by party branches in carrying out the weekly rhythm of Militant sales in working-class neighborhoods and other political activity and mass work will be the register of the convention’s success.

National question in U.S.

During a reception before the March 10 meeting and the dinner and party afterwards, participants visited a large literature table and browsed books and pamphlets on revolutionary politics. These ranged from the two latest titles released by Pathfinder Press—Women in Cuba: The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution by Vilma Espín, Asela de los Santos and Yolanda Ferrer, edited with an introduction by Mary-Alice Waters; and The Cuban Five: Who They Are, Why They Were Framed, and Why They Should Be Free—to some of the nearly 40 books and pamphlets in the Farsi language produced by publishers in Iran.

Participants went from table to table in the meeting hall looking at the more than 20 panels of political displays. Many people picked up copies in the display area of a recently discovered 1865 letter to a former slave master who had written freedman Jourdon Anderson asking him to return to work on the plantation (see page 2).

One display reproduced a letter by Sam Manuel, an SWP leader now living in Atlanta, to Jack Barnes. Manuel wrote in early 2010 after reading Barnes’ book, Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power. Barnes quoted from the letter in his talk.

Manuel refers to a chapter in the book that reprints the account of a 1939 discussion by SWP members with Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky, then living in forced exile in Mexico. Manuel said he had “often read and reread” that discussion, but returning to it in the new book “was like reading a different discussion. Trotsky’s focus on workers who are Black, his proletarian orientation, comes through sharply.”

Manuel was struck by the Bolshevik leader’s insistence that the SWP’s political activity among workers who are Black is, as Trotsky put it, “a question of the vitality of the party. … [O]f whether the party is to be transformed into a sect or if it is capable of finding its way to the most oppressed part of the working class.”

The book had also given Manuel a “new appreciation of the importance of sales of the Militant and Pathfinder books among Black workers. … Branches need to follow these sales weekly, with accurate records,” he said.

In his talk, Barnes emphasized that the vanguard place of workers who are Black in social and political struggles remains central to the working-class line of march toward power in the United States. The breakdown of the U.S. rulers’ criminal “justice” system, Barnes said, is one powerful indicator of the continuing fact and significance of the African-American national question in the U.S. class struggle.

Over the past three decades, there has been an explosion in the numbers of working people incarcerated in the U.S. and on probation or supervised release. There were some 2.3 million in prison at last count, and nearly 5 million under court supervision. A vastly disproportionate number of them are Black. While Blacks represent some 12 percent of the U.S. population, they make up more than 40 percent of those behind bars.

Equal protection, even under the loaded dice of bourgeois law, has moved farther away from reality than it has been for almost half a century.

Through their state apparatus, the rulers organize how their laws are enforced and against whom. This includes the concentration of “stop and frisk” operations in Black working-class neighborhoods (by New York City cops’ own figures, well over half those stopped in recent years are Black), the “War on Drugs,” longer and longer mandatory sentences—all topped off by “plea bargaining” blackmail of workers by prosecutors, judges, and often “defense” lawyers.

This was confirmed and driven home literally within a few days after the SWP meetings when the U.S. Supreme Court, in two majority decisions, further entrenched the denial to workers of a jury trial, let alone a jury of your peers, as established for centuries in common law. The court did so in the guise of guaranteeing defendants the “right” to a “competent lawyer” during plea negotiations (almost always a harassed and often jaded public defender or court-appointed attorney).

Saying that plea bargains today “account for nearly 95% of all criminal convictions”—that is, almost everyone now sentenced to years behind bars—the high court’s opinion, citing a law journal, ruled that to a large degree “horse trading [between prosecutor and defense counsel] determines who goes to jail and for how long. It is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system; it is the criminal justice system.”

The ruling noted that today’s increasingly onerous “sentences exist on the books largely for bargaining purposes”—that is, to tighten the screws on workers “to cop a plea” in face of more and more risk of long years in prison or sometimes death. (See article on front page.)

‘Equal protection’

No state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” says the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a direct conquest of the greatest revolution so far in American history—the U.S. Civil War and establishment of Radical Reconstruction governments across the South, led in part by freed Black slaves.

The gutting of “equal protection” began in the 1871s with the murderous terror unleashed by racist forces that overthrew the Reconstruction regimes—the biggest counterrevolutionary blow to the working class in U.S. history.

Those bloody defeats were codified by Supreme Court rulings in the late 19th century that provided the legal rationalizations for lynch-mob violence and buttressed Jim Crow segregation in the South for nearly a century. In addition to African-Americans, others who became targets across the former Confederacy and beyond include Catholics, Jews, immigrants, union militants, communists, and anyone—Black, Caucasian, or otherwise—who organized labor or political action, especially if it sought to cut across racial lines.

De facto segregation was pushed back by a new rise of struggles for Black freedom during World War II and powerful proletarian-led battles in the 1950s and 1960s. But the class reality facing the big working-class majority of African-Americans remains racism and brutality. It will take another revolution, one organized and led by the working class, to enforce true equal protection.

The propertied ruling families infect working people with their own bourgeois dog-eat-dog values. Observing that some workers—including workers who are Black—prey on each other, the rulers then rationalize capital’s corrupt and repressive police forces on grounds that morally depraved sections of the populace must be “kept under control.”

That’s why Malcolm X put so much emphasis on the need for workers and young people engaged in the fight for Black liberation to recognize “your own self-worth.” It’s why Farrell Dobbs—the revolutionary workers leader who helped organize and guide the labor battles that built the Teamsters into a fighting union across the Midwest in the 1930s, and who was later SWP national secretary and the party’s four-time presidential candidate—always pointed to workers’ capacity, by fighting together, to change our habits, strengthen our discipline and character, and transform ourselves through the battle.

In short, to turn our backs on the rulers’ view of us, and, above all, on its reflections in ourselves and in our actions toward each other.

Historic capitalist crisis

Today’s historic crisis of capital accumulation worldwide, Barnes pointed out at the Saturday meeting, is like nothing virtually any working person has experienced in their adult lives. The crisis is rooted not in money, banking, and leveraged financial speculation. That’s where it initially exploded in 2008. But its foundations lie in the long-term tendency of the capitalists’ profit rates to fall—a crisis of production and intensifying competition for markets.

The capitalist rulers react to their crisis pragmatically. They pile up highly leveraged debt instruments of all kinds—from unheard-of levels of consumer and business loans, to derivatives and “swaps,” packaged mortgage-backed securities, and sovereign (government) debt—in an effort to postpone the day of reckoning and push off stepped-up struggles by working people.

Among the major imperialist powers, the United States was the hardest hit by initial symptoms of the crisis. But now capitalist “Europe” is being torn apart at the seams. The consequences of the crisis for working people the world over were addressed by participants in the SWP leadership meetings from Canada, the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Iran, Australia, and New Zealand.

What SWP members explain to fellow workers is that the only way the bosses can solve their crisis is by attacking our living standards, our job conditions and hours of work, our unions, and our basic human dignity. And that’s what they have been doing.

The workings of capitalism are increasing the ranks of the long-term jobless. A prominent display at the March 10 event showed that record numbers are dropping out of the labor force, pushing it below 64 percent of those of working age. Nearly 10 percent of the jobless have been out of work a year or more, the highest in half a century.

The exploiters use an expanding reserve army of unemployed workers to drive down not just real wages but the value of workers’ labor power—the living standards that have been fought for and won by workers and are seen as “normal” historically—in the United States and other imperialist countries.

The heightened competition over jobs and wages results not only from the growing ranks of the unemployed but above all from the massive increase in immigrant labor in recent decades and U.S. employers’ expanding exploitation of workers in China, India and other semicolonial countries.

This is a reminder of the pressing need for workers to organize to defend and advance the interests of our class as a whole, on a world scale, in order to stand up to the assaults by capital. And the default in facing this challenge and acting on it is testimony to the continuing historic betrayal of the membership by the official misleaders of labor.

Capitalist disaster in Japan

The SWP National Committee meeting opened the day after the first anniversary of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami in Japan. More than 20,000 people were killed along Japan’s coastline—the equivalent of over 50,000 in a country with the population of the United States.

But not one of those people had to die, Barnes said. They were killed because Japan’s capitalist rulers (like propertied ruling families the world over) condemn tens of millions of workers, farmers, fishermen and small shop owners to live in low-lying coastal or river-basin areas most vulnerable to flooding and other damage.

Working people are relegated to shoddy housing that—unlike the homes and other buildings where the rulers and privileged middle classes live and work—aren’t constructed to withstand powerful tremors. What’s more, the capitalist rulers reject cutting into their profits to build adequate roads and evacuation routes, warning systems, and levees and sea walls.

Above all, under capital’s exploitative social relations, it’s impossible for toilers—through organizations and a working-class government of our own—to mobilize, in action, the class solidarity and mutual trust that minimize deaths and injuries in face of natural calamities.

Energy policy of proletariat

Barnes noted that the actual scope of the capitalist-caused social catastrophe in Japan has been overshadowed by sensationalized media accounts of the “nuclear disaster” at the Fukushima power plant, damaged by the tsunami. Yet one year later, not a single person has died from radiation poisoning from the plant, nor has serious illness been reported.

In fact, the anti-nuclear hype added to capital’s human toll. According to recent press reports, tsunami survivors who were old, sick, or trapped in rubble starved to death after Tokyo ordered rescuers to evacuate the area near the reactor and blocked even family members from returning to their homes to seek out missing kin.

Class-conscious workers must not bend to such hysteria, Barnes said. It flies in the face of expanding electrification and industrialization to the semicolonial nations of Asia, Africa, the Mideast, and the Americas in order to close the enormous gap—measured in access to electricity and in other social conditions—between workers and farmers there and those in the imperialist world.

An energy policy of the proletariat aims to bring the earth’s toilers together in common worldwide struggle to bring about a convergence in access to electrification—a struggle against the exploiting classes that lays the foundations for an international revolutionary movement of working people.

Windmills, solar panels, Chevy Volts, and other “green energy” can’t come close to meeting the energy needs of billions around the globe. That’s why nuclear power reactors are coming on line at an accelerated pace from China and India to Brazil, Argentina, and elsewhere—and will continue to do so.

Whatever the forms of electrical generation and industry, under capitalism the bosses’ goal is to maximize profits—and the health and safety of working people and stewardship of the soil, waters, air and atmosphere be damned. As Marx wrote, capital in its ceaseless drive for accumulation “lays waste and ruins” both workers and the natural world we transform with our labor to create all wealth.

Far from a justification for unscientific and anti-working-class antagonism to massively expanding energy production, however, these facts are a powerful indictment of the dictatorship of capital. They’re an argument to strengthen our unions and use union power to enforce the health and safety of workers and the public.

Above all they’re another reason capitalist rule must be overturned in revolutionary struggle and replaced by the state power of the working class.

Halt war threats on Iran!

It’s a mistake for opponents of imperialist war threats against Iran to assume that Tel Aviv can’t launch a massive air assault without Washington’s go-ahead, Barnes said. The Israeli rulers will never allow their defense to be dependent on another power, including U.S. imperialism.

The Israeli regime would prefer the bloody job in Iran get done by Washington’s substantially greater military power, but if not, they’re ready to initiate the effort themselves.

The best thing that could happen for working people in Iran and the Mideast, Barnes said, would be for Tehran to make a convincing case to world opinion that it has no intention of developing nuclear weapons—not the wink-of-the-eye denials the bourgeois rulers make today.

If not reversed, Tehran’s game of bourgeois bluff becomes a death trap for the Iranian people. It is an obstacle to working people in Israel mobilizing to take power from the bourgeoisie and put an end to the nuclear weapons stockpile there once and for all.

The revolutionary government of Cuba unconditionally opposes military assaults on Iran and defends its right to develop nuclear and other energy sources. At the same time, Cuba rejects Washington’s provocative lie that it is helping Iran develop nuclear arms.

As for Cuba itself, “We have never considered producing nuclear weapons because we don’t need them,” Fidel Castro told an audience at the University of Havana in 2005. He continued, “We possess a weapon as powerful as nuclear ones and it is the magnitude of the justice we are fighting for.” Cuba’s communist leadership relies on the revolutionary political consciousness and military readiness of workers and farmers there.

Revolutionary continuity

The March 10 event and SWP leadership meetings emphasized the political continuity of the party’s course with lessons of the revolutionary working-class struggle for power over the past 165 years.

That record, both Barnes and Waters emphasized, opens with political conclusions drawn by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels from battles in the 19th century—from the revolutions of 1848-49 in Europe, to the 1870 Paris Commune. Marx and Engels drew those lessons as participants and central leaders of the communist workers movement of the day.

That continuity extends through lessons from the history of forging the Bolshevik leadership of the October 1917 Russian Revolution, guided by V.I. Lenin, as well as organized efforts by revolutionary-minded workers to extend that conquest of working-class power to other countries the world over.

The most recent experience, the proletarian revolution that lives and fights today, is the Cuban Revolution and the leadership that began to be built by Fidel Castro and others in the Rebel Army in the 1950s. Decisive chapters of that effort are detailed in the new book, The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution (see coverage of its launching at the recent Havana International Book Fair in the March 5 issue of the Militant).

The decades-long struggle to build a proletarian party in the United States draws its strength and political clarity from this unbroken revolutionary legacy.

Join the campaigning!

The SWP’s weekly efforts to systematically sell the socialist press and books on revolutionary politics in working-class neighborhoods—and the readership the Militant newspaper is winning among fighters in labor struggles and the battle for Black freedom—are essential to building a political vanguard of working people in the United States.

No other organization even claiming to be a workers party today any longer produces a weekly newspaper its members use to reach out to militants from the streets of Sanford, Fla., to the docks in Longview, Wash. None sell their press at mines, factories, and other workplaces. At no place other than meetings of the Militant Labor Forum in cities across the U.S. can working people come, week in and week out, for debate, discussion and clarification of pressing political questions facing our class.

And between now and the November elections, Socialist Workers Party candidates and their supporters will be campaigning with the Militant, with Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, and with other literature to present their fighting working-class course in opposition to the assaults on workers and farmers in the U.S. and abroad by the Democrats, Republicans and other capitalist parties.

We urge workers and youth who follow the Militant to join us in these campaigning efforts.
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