The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 78/No. 27      July 28, 2014

Socialist Workers Party holds Convention
Sets course to deepen involvement in struggles
and propaganda activity in working class
(feature article)
OBERLIN, Ohio — The worldwide slowdown of capitalist production and trade over the last half decade has spurred the propertied rulers to intensify their offensive to whittle away at the living standards, job conditions, rights and expectations of working people. This is generating stirrings of labor resistance and a widening and sustained receptivity to communist politics not seen in decades, creating greater openings and responsibilities for proletarian parties.

Delegates to the Socialist Workers Party’s 47th Constitutional Convention here June 22-24 discussed and approved a political course to meet these opportunities, adopting a National Committee platform and reports by SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes and longtime party leader Mary-Alice Waters. Seated as observers were nondelegate party members — including three new recruits — and workers interested in learning more about the communist movement.

Discussion centered on the need and possibility to expand readership of the socialist press in the working class, as communist workers step up involvement in labor fights, social struggles and political activity alongside other militant workers. Delegates charted a course to draw wider milieus of working people into activities to free the Cuban Five and defend Cuba’s socialist revolution; give more leadership attention to organizing party members to work together in industrial workplaces and carry out political work on and off the job with co-workers; and recruit to the SWP.

In the weeks since the conference, socialist workers have joined and brought the Militant to a range of labor battles and other working-class political actions. This includes a number of strike pickets around the country, from Teamsters at the Hinckley Springs plant in Chicago to port truck drivers in Los Angeles; a courthouse protest against a union-busting frame-up of school bus drivers in Boston; actions against brutality and killings by cops from Thomaston, Georgia, to Miami, Florida; demonstrations against deportations in Texas and California; a radio-program discussion with farmworkers fighting for a union in Washington state; a rally outside the Hobby Lobby store in Burbank, California, against the Supreme Court’s attack on workers and women’s rights under cover of protecting bosses’ “religious freedom.”

“Like coming out of a long tunnel, the decades-long political retreat of the working class is more and more behind us,” said Jack Barnes. Convention delegates concluded that building a workers’ party today requires branches of a different kind, which above all are organized and led to respond in a timely way to struggles and political developments in the working class.

“Party branches can’t organize their weekly work based on a list drawn up in advance, Barnes said. “We need to be driven more by what we see and learn from others is happening around us. Our peripheral vision is improving.”

The party’s regular sales of the Militant and books on workers’ doorsteps over the recent period has been, and will continue to be, the bedrock of this perspective. “We have built a large periphery of readers,” said Barnes, “but we have only started to focus on getting to know them,” to have the discussions that will lead us to more workers, more fights and other activity we can join with them.

Branches need the kind of local headquarters that facilitate this outward-turned course, said Barnes. We need professional workers’ halls that we can organize from, proudly bring others to and use as headquarters for socialist election campaigns that bring the SWP’s revolutionary program into the discussions taking place among working people. But meetings and work in these halls must above all serve the purpose of getting out and joining political actions and activity with other working people.

Capitalists ‘new normal’ perspective

The bosses have no solution to the persisting slowdown in capitalist production and trade. The rulers of the U.S. and other imperialist powers responded to the 2007 world financial crisis — which laid bare massive burdens of debt — with monetary and fiscal schemes that staved off a sharper decline in the global banking system and its economic, social and political consequences.

But the debt balloons and their dead hand on capitalist growth haven’t gone away. More and more voices of the U.S. rulers, Barnes said — from former top Clinton and Obama economic officials such as Lawrence Summers, to some of the country’s top bond dealers — are recognizing that the capitalists are in for a long, drawn-out period of economic stagnation, what some of them call “the new normal.” In face of this situation, their aim is to gradually deleverage and retire this debt, eventually laying the basis for a new period of growth. Working people, meanwhile, are expected to accept years and years of downward pressure on our living standards and persistent joblessness that amounts to a relative shrinking of the working class.

Absent from the rulers’ projections, however, is a rise of labor resistance to these grinding conditions, resistance that would disrupt both the economic and political prospects of the bosses and their government. Communist workers, on the other hand, consider such class battles inevitable, with no predictions on timing or scope. What the communist movement does today will determine whether it’s politically prepared as such mass struggles erupt.

“The moral and political contest between the working class and the propertied rulers grows out of tendencies inherent in capitalism that generate economic and social crises,” said Barnes. “The future is in the hands of the working class, not the capitalists, not their banks or their Federal Reserve.”

Under today’s conditions, the U.S. rulers are not looking to launch a far-reaching assault on workers’ rights or preparing for major ground wars like WWI, WWII, Korea or Vietnam, said Barnes. No electable politicians are calling for a frontal assault on Social Security, Medicare, or other social benefits, or even dismantling the Affordable Care Act. And while the bosses’ government is cranking up the pressure on immigrant workers, this anti-working-class course is not part of moves toward mass deportations; instead, the aim of the employing class is to superexploit foreign-born labor in order to push down the wages and job conditions of all workers.

Openings in ‘shrinking world’

Among the most striking features of the current period is the wide-open political space for working people to discuss, organize and act in their class interests. And this is true not just in North America, but across much of the world — from Ukraine to Turkey; from Egypt to Iran; across Latin America and throughout Asia.

“We live in a shrinking world,” said Barnes. “Wherever we go, we find workers face similar questions and similar tasks to defend and advance their class interests and those of their oppressed and exploited allies.”

Working people wherever we go are interested in the revolutionary working-class politics presented week in and week out in the Militant, as well as in books we sell to workers in the U.S., like Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power by Jack Barnes; the four-volume series by Farrell Dobbs on the Teamster struggles of the 1930s in the Midwest; The Changing Face of U.S. Politics: Working-Class Politics and the Trade Unions by Barnes; Lenin’s Final Fight and others.

Coming right out of the conference, a team of worker-correspondents for the Militant left for a reporting trip to Turkey to talk with miners about their struggles following the profit-driven disaster that killed more than 300 coal miners at the mine in Soma in May, and to learn more about the conditions and fights of other workers and rural toilers. The coming months will bring socialist workers to Panama for a conference on the place of people of Chinese origin in political and class battles around the world; to Bangladesh for an international “Free the Cuban Five” conference; a third reporting trip to Ukraine; and elsewhere.

“We’ll be going to more and more places, taking on whatever this entails, as we respond to greater openings to build the world communist movement,” said Barnes.

Defense of Cuban Five

Over the last year, the majority of party branches across the country have worked with others in their area to organize and build political events to expand knowledge about and support for the fight to free the Cuban Five among workers and young people. Above all, we’ve made use of showings of prison paintings by Antonio Guerrero, one of the Five, Mary-Alice Waters pointed out in her report, “Communist Work in Defense of the Cuban Revolution and the Cuban Five.” Showings of Guerrero’s paintings have been displayed with descriptions of each by Guerrero and his imprisoned comrades together with other information on the Five in a variety of venues, including art galleries, community centers, libraries and churches.

But, Waters said, still ahead of us is organizing the kind of events that really tap into the opportunities to win support for this campaign among working people — to take this fight deeper into the working class where a “jury of millions” can be built. That’s where we find those who are attracted to the Five as revolutionary fighters, not suffering victims. That’s where we can point to the Five as examples to be emulated, as the kind of men and women it takes to make a socialist revolution. And learning about the Cuban Five and why they “represent the honor of several generations of Cubans born during the revolution” — as Cuban Interests Section Chief José Ramón Cabañas put it during the “5 Days for the Cuban 5” in Washington, D.C., last month — is the best way today for workers to learn about and come to support the Cuban Revolution.

The convention took place on the heels of a three-day Active Workers Conference and built on the political themes discussed there. Sponsored by the SWP, the conference drew together 320 workers and young people active or interested in the communist movement. (See “Active Workers Conference Discusses Opportunities to Build Proletarian Parties Today” in the July 14 issue of the Militant.)

Forward to ‘100th anniversary’

“The conference was a good start to the next five years of political work leading to the 100th anniversary of the founding of the communist movement in the United States,” said Barnes in his opening remarks to the convention. He was referring to the 1919 founding of the Communist Party in the U.S., a watershed in the organization of the vanguard of the working class that stood on the shoulders of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia — the first time workers and farmers conquered and held political power.

The year 1919 marks the birth of the struggle for a proletarian party with a nose for power in the United States from which the Socialist Workers Party traces its unbroken political continuity — a rich 95-year history in the class struggle fighting to build a workers’ party whose political course and revolutionary-centralist methods of organization are modeled on the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of V.I. Lenin.

In face of the conservatizing pressures leading up to World War II in 1939-40, for example, the leadership of the SWP and world communist movement organized a political fight against the rise of a petty-bourgeois opposition that abandoned defense of the Soviet Union against imperialist threat, rejected revolutionary centralist organizational principles and sought to rationalize this bending to Washington’s war drive by revising the programmatic foundations of Marxism. The lessons of this political battle are recorded in The Struggle for a Proletarian Party by James P. Cannon and In Defense of Marxism by Leon Trotsky.

In response to a new wave of labor resistance and working-class combativity in the U.S. following the 1974-75 world capitalist downturn, the SWP National Committee led a political campaign in the latter 1970s to again bring the class composition, milieu, norms and axis of work of the party into closer accord with its proletarian program and strategy. The party organized a “turn to the industrial unions,” getting the overwhelming majority of its members and leadership working together in jobs in basic industry. This proletarian turn rooted the party’s political outlook and activity in the experiences, discussions and struggles of workers in the factories, mines and mills — who are not only the central target of the bosses’ assaults, but also the most powerful battalions of the working class when organized and mobilized into action. The political conclusions and decisions from those experiences are described in the book The Changing Face of U.S. Politics, and remain the heart of the party’s revolutionary, working-class course today.

“In the course of the convention, the layers of the party cadre who’ve led that turn took command of the tone and character of convention discussion and put their stamp on its outcome,” said Barnes. With considerable weight toward the worker-Bolsheviks who continue to lead this proletarian course, delegates from 14 party branches elected a new National Committee.  

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