The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 76/No. 30      August 13, 2012

Preparing politically to join workers
struggles in US and abroad focus of
Socialist Workers conference
Communist workers bring hard-won political lessons
from century and a half of working-class battles to
those they fight alongside in today’s struggles
(feature article)
As members of the Socialist Workers Party join in the spreading resistance by fellow workers against relentless attacks from the bosses and their government, our involvement is grounded in understanding what the communist movement is, said Jack Barnes, the party’s national secretary, to participants in the June 21-23 Socialist Workers Membership Conference in Oberlin, Ohio.

Communism is not an idea, he said; it’s a movement of the working class, an international movement, one that proceeds on the basis of the existing class struggle, on the basis of facts, not preconceived doctrines or principles.

Recognizing who we are, and acting accordingly, is the foundation of all our activity, Barnes said, whether we’re fighting alongside and organizing solidarity for locked-out sugar beet workers in the Upper Midwest; or longshore workers on the West Coast; or those fighting cop brutality, supporting a woman’s right to abortion, and demanding legalization of immigrant workers; or workers and farmers combating exploitation and oppression anywhere in the world. We’re part of a vanguard of the working class that’s gaining experience in the course of struggles.

We’re meeting groups of workers and getting to know them, Barnes said. Through use of the Militant and in other ways, we’re helping bring them together with embattled workers elsewhere. We’re just like them, and they’re like us. We want to strengthen the working-class movement, so we can fight better.

Communist workers bring to those we’re fighting alongside political lessons from working-class battles for more than a century and a half—lessons that are hard-fought, often earned in blood, and written down for use by succeeding generations. Above all, these are generalized lessons from struggles on the road to the revolutionary conquest of political power by the working class. This isn’t a course that’s “discovered”, but one that’s built and renewed by vanguard workers over many decades.

These extend from the conclusions reached by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels as leaders of the communist workers movement in the revolutions of 1848-49 in Europe and during the Paris Commune of 1871, where for the first time the working class, for nearly three months, held political power; to lessons from forging the Bolshevik leadership of the 1917 Russian Revolution, led by V.I. Lenin, and efforts to build proletarian parties in other countries able to extend workers power worldwide; to today’s living, fighting revolution in Cuba, brought to victory in 1959 by workers and farmers under the leadership of the Rebel Army led by Fidel Castro.

One of the five classes at the conference focused on the place of the Cuban Revolution in this continuity—a discussion of the new book Women in Cuba: The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution by Vilma Espín, Asela de los Santos and Yolanda Ferrer. The class was led by Martín Koppel and Lynn Hudson. Each class was aimed at supplementing political themes of the main talks, presented by Barnes and by Mary-Alice Waters, a member of the SWP National Committee.

Through firsthand accounts by Espín and de los Santos—combatants in the revolutionary struggle and founders of the Federation of Cuban Women—the new title explains how Rebel Army combatants and exploited farmers and agricultural workers fought alongside each other to become a stronger, more politically conscious revolutionary force; how they transformed themselves in the process; and how growing numbers of women were drawn into revolutionary activity and productive work.

Revolutionary centralism

In order to build a workers vanguard in face of the capitalist crisis and growing resistance, Barnes said, communist workers need to remain loyal to disciplined habits and organizational norms conquered over decades through the struggle for a proletarian party.

That means rejecting the bourgeois illusion of “individual freedom” promoted by the capitalist rulers to pit us against each other, Barnes said. Class-conscious workers take responsibility for each other in struggle and learn to organize in a disciplined way. That’s what makes it possible for workers to pay attention to planning, timing and detail, which are essential to fight and win against the bosses and their government.

These questions were at the center of another conference class, “Proletarian Revolutionary Centralism: From the Communist League (1847-48) to Today,” led by Louis Martin and Sam Manuel.

The revolutionary centralism of a proletarian party isn’t a set of rules, Barnes said. It’s how revolutionary-minded workers function together—voluntarily in harness, as part of a common organization—in order to defend ourselves against the employing class and their cops, thugs and armed forces. It begins on the picket line or wherever workers engage in class combat. It’s the bedrock of a revolutionary party fighting to win workers power from the ruling capitalist families who own the land, factories, and other means of production and who use the state to maintain their property and their political rule.

A proletarian party cannot be built in the U.S. without involvement in the fight for Black liberation and recruitment of growing numbers of workers who are Black. This extends from participating in actions against cop brutality and “stop and frisk” harassment of youth, to labor battles alongside fellow workers who are Black, to social and political struggles of all kinds. It involves regular sales of the Militant in neighborhoods with large numbers of workers who are Black.

Socialist workers act on a recognition of the disproportionate weight, both in numbers and combat record, of workers who are African-American in the vanguard of working-class-led social and political battles since the Civil War and Radical Reconstruction—the second American Revolution.

Barnes pointed to the place of outstanding proletarian leaders who are Black in battles that overthrew Jim Crow segregation in the 1950s and ’60s, opening the road to broader fights for Black freedom—from E.D. Nixon in the 1955-56 bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala.; to Fred Shuttlesworth in the 1963 “Battle of Birmingham”; to Malcolm X. The SWP joined these struggles and reached out to working people involved in them.

These themes were addressed in a third conference class, “The Struggle for a Proletarian Party and the Fight for Black Liberation in the United States,” led by Steve Clark and Gerald Symington. It was based on the book Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power by Jack Barnes.

The book includes discussions from the 1930s by members of the SWP and its predecessors with Leon Trotsky, a leader of the Bolshevik Revolution and world communist movement. Trotsky urged the party leadership to turn toward broader involvement in the fight for Black freedom along the road to power in the U.S. “It is a question of 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,” Trotsky said.

Israel not exempt from class struggle

Since the state of Israel was established some 65 years ago on the dispossession of the Palestinian people, Barnes said, the reactionary and failed “solution” put forward by all Arab regimes and misleaderships of Palestinian organizations has been military conquest to “drive the Israelis into the sea.”

But the road forward in Israel and Palestine, as elsewhere, is through the class struggle. It is through common revolutionary struggle by Jewish, Arab and other working people that state power can be won and national oppression and capitalist exploitation can be ended, Barnes said.

A class on “Israel Is Not Exempt from the Class Struggle and Social Contradictions, at Home or Abroad,” led by Norton Sandler and Lea Sherman, explained how bosses there aim to make Jewish, Arab and other workers pay for capitalism’s crisis. There are growing numbers of immigrant workers, including Africans. The working class is more and more a part of the region and the world.

Lifetime of learning, working

The revolutionary workers movement, Barnes said, fights for the transformation of learning, so it becomes a universal human activity—a lifetime of working, producing and creating together.

That’s the opposite of the class-divided character of education under capitalism, where schools for the ruling families and better-off middle layers prepare them to maintain their privileges. But for the big working-class majority, Barnes said, our lives are a cycle divided into being a child, the time we “learn” (above all to be obedient to a boss); then a worker, when we produce profits for the employing class; then a used-up “pensioneer.”

Presenting a course toward a lifetime of learning and a lifetime of working is part of preparing the working class to cast off the self-image the rulers impose on us, so we recognize our revolutionary capacity to conquer workers power, end capitalism’s dog-eat-dog relations, and reorganize on new social foundations of working, studying and producing together. In that world, Barnes said, nobody will even know what the word “retiree” used to mean.

The final class, led by Dave Prince and Laura Garza, focused on Barnes’ pamphlet The Working Class and the Transformation of Learning: The Fraud of Education Reform under Capitalism. Socialist workers at the conference decided to step up campaigning to get that pamphlet— along with the Militant, Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power, and Women in Cuba: The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution—into the hands of workers and others battling employer and government attacks.

New openings in the world

The conference talk by Mary-Alice Waters, “Starting with the World: The Practical Work of the Party,” focused on expanding political opportunities for the communist movement the world over.

Waters pointed to the response by the Socialist Workers Party and its sister Communist Leagues in Australia and New Zealand to the publication in the Indonesian language last year of two Marxist works: Woman’s Evolution by Evelyn Reed, an SWP leader until her death in 1979; and The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State by Frederick Engels. The books, published in English by Pathfinder, were issued in Indonesia by Kalyanamitra, a women’s rights organization.

Earlier this year Waters completed a successful speaking tour in Australia and New Zealand with two Kalyanamitra leaders, Rena Herdiyani and Hegel Terome. The tour was aimed at learning more about the fight for women’s rights and other struggles in Indonesia, and promoting the two new books.

In a talk as part of the closing conference panel June 23, Jane Ridge from New Zealand said the tour was a way for leaders of communist organizations there and in Australia and the U.S. “to work with two Kalyanamitra leaders, and for us to learn more about each other.”

What’s more, Ridge said, most of those involved in the tour “were people we hadn’t worked with politically before.” That helped us “learn what is open to us politically, when we reach out confidently, without fear or favor,” as members of proletarian parties joining together with fellow workers and others.

Waters reported on opportunities to deepen the communist movement’s international work, including a Militant reporting trip to Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country. Worker correspondents will report on the class struggle there, from protests by working people against fuel price hikes to the fight for women’s right to abortion.

In October delegations from the Socialist Workers Party and Communist Leagues in Australia and New Zealand will participate in the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference of Solidarity with Cuba in Colombo, Sri Lanka, co-sponsored by organizations and individuals in Sri Lanka and by the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP).

The gathering will set plans for defense of the Cuban Revolution and Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, René González, Fernando González, and Antonio Guerrero, Cuban revolutionaries known the world over as the Cuban Five. Arrested in 1998, they were framed up on various conspiracy charges and imprisoned by Washington. All but René González remain in prison.

The SWP’s defense of the five Cuban revolutionaries is part of all political work by party members and young socialists, Waters said—first and foremost in the U.S., as well as abroad. So far more than 3,000 copies of The Cuban Five: Who They Are, Why They Were Framed, Why They Should Be Free, edited by Waters and Martín Koppel, have been sold around the world as a contribution to this fight.

Producing Pathfinder books

“Pathfinder books are used as part of the daily practice of building proletarian parties,” Pat Nixon, a member of the Organization Committee of the Print Project, said at the panel that closed the conference. The project organizes supporters of the SWP and communist organizations in other countries to help with proofreading, formatting, design, indexing and other aspects of producing these books and pamphlets.

“The Print Project’s work is tied to the perspectives presented and discussed at the conference, and to the place and importance of Pathfinder books” in the work of communist parties, Nixon said. The next day, Print Project volunteers met to discuss how to continue expanding the numbers of them taking on regular tasks and leadership responsibilities in this work.

They also registered progress in the Supporters Monthly Appeal, which by July 1 was collecting more than $755,000 a year to help support the SWP’s activity in the class struggle. Supporters are organizing to break through a goal of $790,000 by year’s end.

Participating in the resistance

The closing conference session presented the 2012 SWP ticket of James Harris for U.S. president and Maura DeLuca for vice president—the working class, labor, socialist campaign.

Politically strengthened by the gathering, party members are deepening participation in growing resistance by working people, using the SWP campaign, the Militant and Pathfinder books, expanding collaboration with groups of workers across the U.S., and reaching to growing opportunities around the world.  
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