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Vol. 76/No. 28      July 30, 2012

Socialist Workers conference charts
working-class course as party joins
labor fights, social protests
Strengthening branches of a proletarian party
in response to capitalist crisis and political
openings to present road to workers power
(feature article)
Out of the seeming chaos of today’s world capitalist crisis and false “solutions” offered by bourgeois politicians and middle-class misleaders of workers and the oppressed, there is a clear voice speaking for the interests of the working class in the 2012 U.S. elections, said Jack Barnes in his opening talk to the Socialist Workers Party Membership Conference held June 21-23 in Oberlin, Ohio. Barnes is the party’s national secretary.

That voice, Barnes said, is the Socialist Workers Party campaign, and its ticket of James Harris for president and Maura DeLuca for vice president, as well as candidates for state and local offices across the country.

Coming out of the June conference, Harris and DeLuca began a campaign tour that is taking them across the United States. “Join us, join with us! The working-class, labor, socialist campaign”—that was the banner displayed at the final session of the Ohio gathering, which introduced the 2012 presidential ticket.

The socialist candidates stand shoulder to shoulder with workers in struggle, talking with them about the roots of the capitalist crisis and of Washington’s wars and unleashing of killer drones from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Africa and elsewhere. The candidates and campaign supporters present a course for workers and our unions to strengthen solidarity, to fight for a massive public works program in face of rising long-term joblessness, and to chart an independent working-class road toward the fight for political power.

“Thank you for taking on the task of making sure there is a voice for the millions of workers who aren’t being heard,” said Buddy Howard in a message to the Socialist Workers candidates read to participants at that closing event. Howard was a leader of a fight by some 240 union grain millers locked out for 10 months in 2010-2011 at Roquette America’s corn processing plant in Keokuk, Iowa. (See message in July 16 issue.)

SWP members, young socialists, and other campaign supporters are signing up workers, farmers and young people as endorsers of the 2012 socialist ticket of Harris and DeLuca.

The conference projected building on the more than 2,400 Militant subscriptions sold during the spring international circulation drive to expand the readership of the only weekly newspaper presenting a working-class perspective on world politics. SWP members and young socialists are selling the paper door to door and on street corners in working-class neighborhoods, including communities predominantly of workers who are Black; on the job in factories and other workplaces; on union picket lines; and at actions of social protest.

They are helping get out the truth about struggles, from the demonstration of some 7,000 against New York City cops and their “stop-and-frisk” harassment, which took place the weekend before the socialist conference; to the fight that began the week afterwards by more than 8,000 workers in New York against a lockout by Con Edison; to actions in support of unconditional legalization of immigrant workers and in defense of a woman’s right to choose abortion.

Building a proletarian party

Politically strengthening branches of a proletarian party able to effectively carry out such a course—from Los Angeles to New York, from Seattle to Omaha—was at the heart of the opening conference talk “What We’ve Accomplished, Where We Are Going,” which Barnes presented to some 325 members, supporters and young socialists.

Today’s deteriorating conditions of working people are not the product of breakdowns in banking and financial markets, Barnes said. What today’s generations are experiencing for the first time in our lives is a deep-going crisis of capitalist production, profitability, and contraction of investment to expand plants, equipment and employment.

As workers respond to the consequences of this crisis, SWP members are also finding greater interest than in many years in reading books and pamphlets recording lessons from past working-class battles.

Among the essential tools socialist workers and young socialists are using in their campaigning, including special offers with a Militant subscription, are two titles by Barnes: Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, and The Working Class and the Transformation of Learning: The Fraud of Education Reform Under Capitalism. Coming out of the June 21-23 conference, a special offer is being added for the new book Women in Cuba: The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution by Vilma Espín, Asela de los Santos, and Yolanda Ferrer.

Space for politics worldwide

Both the capitalist crisis and workers’ resistance are global in scope. The space to practice working-class politics is opening from Europe, to growing parts of Asia and the Pacific, and to the Middle East—from the so-called “Arab Spring” and massive protests in Israel over the past year, to the growing circulation in Iran of revolutionary literature.

Stretching the reach of the communist movement to meet these openings was the focus of the other conference talk, “Starting with the World: The Practical Work of the Party,” presented by Mary-Alice Waters, a member of the Socialist Workers Party National Committee. Waters described the opportunities to take the Militant and books published and distributed by Pathfinder Press—and translations of them into more and more languages—to workers, farmers and youth from the Americas to China, Iran, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Five classes given during the conference supplemented the political themes of the talks.

Crisis of capitalist production

Under capitalism, history moves like a drunken beggar on horseback, Barnes said in his opening talk. Tendencies inherent to capitalist production produce and reproduce crises, he said, but there’s nothing predictable about its course.

Today’s crisis of production and capital accumulation will stretch out and deepen in coming years and decades. The owners of capital, their governments and politicians, their universities, think tanks and press commentators are not prepared for what they face, Barnes said. They are in denial.

No matter who is elected president in 2012, the global contraction of production, trade and employment will continue. The social crisis will deepen. No bourgeois policy course or financial manipulations can make it otherwise. The propertied rulers are pressing their attacks on our living and working conditions, our ability to hold a job, our unions, and our basic human dignity.

Barnes called attention to a recent, widely publicized study by the Federal Reserve bank pointing to a nearly 50 percent drop in what it called median family wealth (or “net worth”) since 2007. But workers have no wealth, he said. If we did, we could support ourselves and our families off dividends and interest, instead of having to sell our labor power to a boss in return for wages—and then there would be no working class!

The illusion that workers possess wealth is one of many ways the capitalist rulers seek to blunt working-class consciousness, Barnes said. They want to persuade us that if we become “home owners,” we too have “an equity stake” in preserving capitalist social relations, just like the employers who hire us, lay us off, and do grow wealthy from the value we produce with our labor. Or they want us to believe the payroll taxes we pay into Social Security, or equivalent wage deductions for a private pension, end up in a lockbox where they sit safely and collect interest for the time later in life when we need those funds.

That’s why when class-conscious workers hear the question, “What are you worth?” dollar signs don’t flash in our minds, Barnes said. To us, he added, “worth” signifies workers’ capacity, by fighting together, to strengthen our discipline and transform ourselves through the battle.

Global in scope and resistance

The U.S. ruling families have made more progress in squeezing profits from the labor of working people than their imperialist rivals in Europe and the Pacific, and even more than capitalists and landlords in parts of the semicolonial world. So much so that some manufacturing jobs overseas have begun “coming back” to the United States—to use the bosses’ fetishistic language, Barnes said—as well as “back North” from so-called “right-to-work” states in the U.S. South.

Today’s economic and social crisis is more truly global than those in the 1920s and 1930s, when the vast majority of toilers in Asia, Africa and Latin America lived on subsistence farming largely outside the world capitalist market. Today working people in China, India and across the colonial world are drawn into capitalist production—in factories, as well as on the land—and are actors in the resistance and class battles beginning to be joined.

What’s more, Barnes said, there is mounting evidence of a sharp slowdown of production and trade in China, which in some bourgeois circles has been looked to as an “engine of growth” they hope can pull the entire world out of crisis. That illusion is starting to shatter. Far from being a way out, the massive migration of peasants into cities and factory jobs in China in recent decades, and the rapid accumulation (and export) of capital—have become a powerful new source of class contradictions and struggles both in China and in the world.

Declining role of Europe

Hopes among the imperialist ruling families across Europe that the European Union could enable them to compete successfully against U.S. finance capital and pose a challenge in world markets to the dominance of the dollar—and to the economic and industrial base, state power and military prowess that stand behind it—are being dashed. Under the pressure of the world capitalist crisis, the EU, a so-called common market with no prospect of a common state, is foundering on the conflicting class interests of the stronger and weaker exploiting classes that comprise it: those of Germany, France and the United Kingdom, versus those in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and elsewhere.

That’s why wealthy individuals and governments the world over are buying up U.S. Treasury bonds despite the historically low interest rates they pay. In an unstable capitalist world, however, there is no safer place for the exploiting classes to park their capital, certainly nowhere in Europe, including Germany.

The interconnectedness of capitalism means tremblors anywhere shake every corner of the earth.

Never in modern history have any of the imperialist powers in Europe been less ready to fight and win wars to defend their class interests, Barnes noted. Not only are the cabinets in England and France making deep cuts in troops and weaponry, but so is the German government, which since its defeat in World War II has never had substantial armed forces. Even during the 2011 mop-up actions to finish off the Gadhafi regime in Libya, supposedly carried out largely by planes and ships from the U.K. and France, operations depended entirely on U.S. air reconnaissance, refueling, armaments, and covert special forces spotters on the ground.

However strong the production and trade of Germany’s imperialist rulers may be relative to all but a handful of their rivals in Europe, devoid of anything even close to commensurate military might, Berlin will never throw strategic weight in world politics, including in Europe.

Increasingly for the imperialist rulers in Washington, Barnes said, the most important military allies today are not in Europe, but in Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In Asia, where the U.S. government is shifting military resources to contain China and hold on to its post-World War II domination of the Pacific, Washington is turning for allies to the capitalist rulers in Australia and smaller countries in the region.

Elections in Greece, France and elsewhere in Europe are less and less important in determining what will happen next, Barnes said. They change nothing, since there is nothing any bourgeois government, party or politician can do to reverse the crisis or will do to stop the heaviest blows being dealt to working people.

The trend for now is toward the bourgeois left in Europe’s parliamentary politics, as reflected in electoral victories for the Socialist Party in France and the emergence in Greece of Syriza—the self-proclaimed Coalition of the Radical Left—as a big league player. After only a few weeks in office, the new SP president of France, François Hollande, was already taking steps to carry out the capitalist rulers’ anti-working-class plans.

Despite alarmist coverage in the bourgeois media, echoed by many middle class radicals in Europe and the U.S., there is no rising fascist threat. Given the class-collaborationist misleadership of the labor movement across Europe, and lack of a serious challenge to bourgeois rule anywhere on the continent, no European ruling class sees reason now to turn toward fascist forces to try to smash workers organizations. In fact, Barnes said, large ultrarightist parties such as the National Front in France are working to clean up earlier fascist-like trappings in order to cultivate broader parliamentary appeal.

The weaker ruling classes in Europe keep being preyed upon by the stronger. The crisis of the euro continues, but it is not easy for the rival rulers to unwind and widening fissures are coming down the road. Whatever governments are in power, and whatever bourgeois policies they pursue, the workers go to the wall, either way.

Continued next week.

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