Millions of working people are looking to the example set by labor battles waged by teachers and other school workers for wages, conditions and dignity. As the bosses continue to press workers to pay for the crisis of their capitalist system, many more will be drawn into sharper class battles in the years ahead. And the capitalist rulers will increasingly turn to rightist gangs to unleash violent assaults on workers in an effort to break our strikes and unions. This is the lesson of the history of capitalist rule.
Political preparation for what is coming has a decisive bearing on how working people should respond to the stepped-up calls by liberals today for restrictions on our rights, including the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
A steady stream of articles lauding the “children’s crusade for gun control” has filled the pages of the liberal media and the papers of the left since March 24, when hundreds of thousands joined demonstrations across the country. They were demanding a new range of tests and restrictions on gun ownership, following the brutal killing of students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
Many of these commentators praise the young age of those at the actions. “Students Lead Nationwide Crusade for Gun Control,” wrote the online People’s World, which reflects the views of the Communist Party. That young people would want to take to the streets in the midst of teachers’ protests across the country and protests against the cop killings of Stephon Clark and Saheed Vassell should be of no surprise.
But whether an action advances working-class interests has nothing to do with the age of the participants. That depends on whether it strengthens the unity and self-confidence of working people and points a road forward for independent political action. Protests demanding more restrictions and regulations on our hard-won rights head in the opposite direction.
Liberals have made such calls for years and it is the political outlook of these capitalist politicians that shaped the March 24 protests.
They increasingly see workers as “deplorables,” as Hillary Clinton said in the 2016 campaign. She doubled-down on this last month in India, where she said President Donald Trump won support from workers in smaller towns in the middle of the country who were “looking backwards.” She claimed working women turned against her under pressure from their husbands and bosses.
In 2008 former President Barack Obama connected gun ownership with his broader scorn for working people. He described workers who had lost their jobs in small towns in Pennsylvania and the Midwest, saying, “It’s not surprising … they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment.”
After the killings in Florida, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens called for repeal of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, saying it’s outdated.
He took aim at a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court ruling written by Justice Antonin Scalia that confirmed that the Second Amendment says people have the right to bear arms to defend themselves. At the same time, he also said states have the power to establish some restrictions on weapons in places like schools.
What’s important for workers today is not that individuals can get guns to fight the cops and company agents. That would be an adventure and lead to nothing but defeats for the working class.
Lessons from past working-class battles
In the 1930s the explosive growth of the labor movement led to sizable and sharp clashes with the employers and their government — in Germany, elsewhere in Europe and in the U.S. Fearing their rule was threatened, the capitalist rulers turned to rightist thugs and fascist gangs to try to attack working-class struggles and bust up the unions. This isn’t happening today.
“The sharpening of the proletariat’s struggle means the sharpening of the methods of counterattack on the part of capital,” Leon Trotsky, a leader of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, wrote in 1938. “The bourgeoisie is nowhere satisfied with the official police and army.” As the capitalist rulers turned to armed thugs to attack the workers, Trotsky said, “only armed workers’ detachments, who feel the support of tens of millions of toilers behind them, can successfully prevail against the fascist bands.”
The course outlined by Trotsky is contained in the “Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution,” which was adopted by the Socialist Workers Party.
The leadership of the Teamsters union in Minneapolis responded decisively in 1938 to an organizing drive in the city by the fascist outfit called the Silver Shirts. The goons’ leader, Roy Zachary, called for an armed raid on the union’s headquarters. The union organized a workers defense guard.
“Members of the guard were not armed by the union, since in the given circumstances that would have made them vulnerable to police frame-ups,” explained Farrell Dobbs, a leader of the union and the Socialist Workers Party, in his book Teamster Politics. “But many of them had guns of their own at home, which were used to hunt game; and those could quickly have been picked up if needed to fight off an armed attack by Silver Shirt thugs.”
The emergency mobilization of several hundred determined and disciplined members of the guard convinced the Silver Shirts to back off and leave town.
The workers defense guard grew out of intensified union and social struggles. Union leaders sought to draw into its ranks the widest layer of workers. It relied on battle-tested, disciplined cadre and leaders capable of avoiding provocation.
Today the rulers prepare for bigger struggles to come by seeking to restrict our rights to organize and defend ourselves, including limiting workers access to guns. That’s why workers today need to oppose government measures that restrict workers’ rights, like their right to bear arms.