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Vol. 77/No. 22      June 10, 2013

In coming class battles, ‘keep
eyes on the ranks of labor’
(Books of the Month column)
Below is an excerpt from Capitalism’s World Disorder: Working-Class Politics at the Millennium, one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for June. The book is based on a series of talks by Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party. The opening chapter, “A Sea Change in Working-Class Politics,” excerpted below, was presented in Los Angeles in December 1998. Copyright © 1999 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

From the origins of the modern communist workers movement 150 years ago, we have measured the success of any struggle by working people by whether or not we emerge more united, more confident of our collective strength, and more powerfully organized to advance the interests of our class and its toiling allies. “Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time,” wrote Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in the Communist Manifesto, the founding program of our movement. “The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever-expanding union of the workers. This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry and that place workers of different localities in contact with one another.”

There is a hunger among working people that is greater than in any other section of society, a political hunger among workers and farmers—the fighting coalition that will make up the government that will carry humanity into a new world. It’s a hunger for solidarity, for struggle; it’s a hunger to learn from each other. A refusal to accept that the pattern of struggles today is decided by past defeats. It’s like watching someone weaving something. We can’t yet tell what it’s going to be. We don’t know the details of the pattern; it’s too early. We don’t know what the ups and downs will be. We can’t foresee the specific defeats and victories.

But we know a new pattern is being woven in struggle as working people emerge from a period of retreat, resisting the consequences of the rulers’ final blow-off boom, of “globalization”—their grandiloquent term that displays imperial arrogance while it masks brutal assaults on human dignity the world over. The emerging pattern is taking shape, defined by the actions of a vanguard resisting indignity and isolation, whose ranks increase with every single worker or farmer who reaches out to others with the hand of solidarity and offers to fight together. …

One of the great truths of our epoch will now become increasingly evident. There will be more and more state interference in the trade unions, because the employers and bureaucracy alone can’t always handle well-organized, intelligent militants. The same will be true for organizations of militant farmers, debt slaves.

The state—the government, cops, courts, National Guard, bourgeois parties, including, yes, the Democratic Party—all will come to be seen as the enemies they are, the bitter, brutal enemies of labor organizing to defend itself. Fighting along these lines leads vanguard layers of workers toward a program, a pattern of activity taking broader positions defending the interests of those who are fighting together with them. This leads them to further conflicts, and the necessity to fight to create democratic formations in the unions in order to expand solidarity. Political independence from the state and employers becomes a precondition to exercising simple solidarity.

We must keep our eyes on the ranks of labor while the institutions around us shatter. This is important. Under conditions of class polarization, Bonapartism, and economic catastrophe, the institutions within the working-class movement—like other popular institutions that have evolved in ways allowing them to function under “normal” conditions—will not be stable. They will tend to shatter.

As this happens the employers will be surprised. The labor bureaucracy will be surprised. But we must not be surprised. We must not depend on any of these institutions in their current form. These organizations as they exist today are not what they will inevitably become. Functioning as if this is not the class truth can only lead working people to unnecessary and sometimes devastating defeats. …

When we say existing union structures will shatter, this is not simply a prediction. It is more and more a statement of fact today, and it indicates a course of struggle, a course of action, a line of march. We don’t start with the unions as they exist, but with those who are or should be the members of these unions. The ranks, that’s who our eyes are on. …

The confidence of the bourgeoisie is starting to get shakier. Belief in the eternity of ever-inflating paper assets, of the great stock and bond financial bubbles, is crumbling. I don’t know how fast the changes will come. But I do know the key to the world capitalist economy is in this country right here. The United States of America, led by the most rapacious ruling class in history, was supposed to be able to police the world, to dominate the world, to be the only strategic pole in the world. It was supposed to purchase the goods of the world if necessary, to take over the banks and factories of the world when possible, to straighten out other countries, including other imperialist powers. You can say that no one ever really believed it was going to be like that, but I don’t think that’s decisive. The U.S. rulers did come to act as if they believed it.

When things happened that seemed to cut across their world dominance, the U.S. ruling class read them as contradictions that could be dealt with by changing presidents, or Congresses, or adjusting policies. This was their attitude, their tactical stance. It reflected their confidence. This flexibility gave solidity to their two-party system, to their social contract, to their more and more bipartisan domestic policy. That’s changing. And as the confidence and homogeneity start to disintegrate, we will see the beginning of the breakup of the two-party system.

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Hundreds in Papua province block roads in protest
On the Picket Line  
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