NEW YORK — “The SWP candidates in 2021 are going to use our campaigns to get out the story and build support for whatever working-class struggles are taking place, no matter how big or small.” That’s what John Studer, Socialist Workers Party national campaign director and editor of the Militant, told a lively Militant Labor Forum here Feb. 20.
Studer pointed to the example set by Farrell Dobbs, the party’s presidential candidate in 1956, who urged unionists across the country to organize donations of station wagons to the Black community in Montgomery, Alabama. They were fighting to desegregate city buses there, a watershed battle in the growing movement to overthrow Jim Crow segregation.
The party used Dobbs’ campaign — and the Militant — to join in this historic battle. Studer held up the front page of the April 2, 1956, Militant with a banner headline, “Montgomery Freedom Fighters Appeal for Station Wagons to Build Car Pool,” with Dobbs’ on-the-scene reporting from Montgomery. Dobbs himself drove one of the first cars down there.
While there are no working-class battles today on the scale of the Montgomery bus boycott, Studer said, the party’s 2021 national slate of candidates will act on the example Dobbs set.
Working people don’t need “critiques” of the squabbles between the bosses’ parties, the Democrats and Republicans, Studer said. They need a clear presentation of how to advance the line of march of the working class and its allies.
“Politics is explaining and defending the interests of working people, the vast majority, against the attacks of the capitalist rulers and their system of exploitation and oppression,” he said. “What workers need is a clear picture of how the working class can move forward.”
Studer pointed to the Militant’s coverage of the trip by Rebecca Williamson, SWP candidate for Seattle City Council, to bring messages of support from the union of fruit packing workers in Yakima Valley, Washington, and from her co-workers at Walmart to locked-out Marathon Petroleum workers in Minneapolis last week. She joined a solidarity car caravan for the refinery workers initiated by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1189, the local Williamson was a member of when she was part of union battles at Dakota Premium Beef over a decade earlier.
Labor solidarity like this “can make a difference and it’s what SWP candidates seek to organize everywhere,” Studer said.
Forum leaflet misleading
“There is a problem with the leaflet for this meeting,” Studer said, pointing to the headline, “Constitutional Rights: What’s at stake for working people?”
“But the Constitution isn’t our document, and ‘constitutional rights’ mean different things to different classes,” he said.
The U.S. Constitution was a product of historical development, codifying the new governmental alliance of the rising merchant capitalist class and the slaveholders that overthrew British colonial tyranny. Protection of their property rights was uppermost in their minds. That constitution sanctified slavery, barred women and working people without property from voting, and mandated selection of senators not by popular election but by decision of state legislatures.
Battles by farmers and artisans led to the inclusion of the Bill of Rights — a list of protections from government interference with speech and assembly, the right to worship, the press and other matters, Studer said. These protections were later expanded through the Second American Revolution — the Civil War — Radical Reconstruction and the fight to pass the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, which abolished slavery and guaranteed voting rights and equal protection under the law. And by working-class struggles up to today, like the Montgomery bus boycott.
“The SWP’s goal,” Studer said, “is to mobilize millions of working people to bring an end to capitalist rule and establish a workers and farmers government. To do so workers and farmers need to jealously guard political space.”
Today the Democrats are moving to constrict free speech and to expand the operations of the political police, the FBI. “They are attempting to use events at the Capitol Jan. 6 to advance new thought-control laws against so-called domestic terrorism,” he said.
Their immediate target is former President Donald Trump and their bourgeois rivals in the Republican Party. They are determined to crush Trump, his family and his allies and to hold onto their control of the Senate and House in 2022.
Ultimately they are concerned about how to shut up the “deplorable” working people, who the Democrats hold responsible for Trump’s election, Studer said.
“The protections against the power of the state to limit freedom of speech, press, worship, assembly and other rights in the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution are important for working people,” SWP leader Mary-Alice Waters said during the discussion. “We must defend them.
“These protections are under attack by the liberal left today. Their defense has been handed over to forces on the right wing of bourgeois politics, who are now posturing as the protectors of our rights as they pursue their own anti-working-class course.”
‘All questions are class questions’
Lessons learned in the course of previous working-class battles are vital for working people to advance our interests today. But there is a far-reaching effort by “woke” liberals “to eradicate any notion that the class struggle is the motor force of history,” Studer said. They argue the inborn racism of Caucasians and other workers is the defining “fact” of U.S. history, obliterating the massive struggles that brought down the oppression of the British crown, ended chattel slavery, toppled Jim Crow, built the union movement in the 1930s and changed attitudes among working people toward each other forever.
Studer described how a New York public school principal recently sent hundreds of parents a “survey” asking them to select which of eight “white identities” describes them and to rank their own degree of “white privilege.” Race overrides everything for these middle-class forces, Studer said.
Similar ideas are shared by President Joe Biden’s nominee for attorney general, Merrick Garland, Studer pointed out. Garland says his priorities will be rooting out “violent extremism” and “ensuring racial equity.” The banner of equity, Studer noted, is the opposite of the demand for equal rights that was at the center of the Black-led mass movement that overturned Jim Crow, and that opens the door for the working class to unite against capitalist rule.
Proponents of “equity say the state must make up for centuries of oppression by handing out money, especially to the ‘experts’ leading the ‘woke’ crusade,” Studer said.
Liberals like Garland champion ever-more government regulation and interference in the lives of working people who they consider dangerous. Many commentators describe the proliferation of such rules as a growing “administrative state,” Studer said.
But when the Militant used that expression in a recent article, he said, that was misleading. “There is only one kind of state under capitalism, a bourgeois state, dedicated to preserving the rule of the capitalists. It will take different forms. But until workers and farmers take power into our own hands, its class character remains the same,” he said.
In the imperialist epoch, the capitalist state tends to expand its bureaucracy and size, but that doesn’t change its class reality, Studer said. The liberals in particular like to use regulations to “nudge” and “control” working people.
The lively forum discussion included comments on the unfolding disaster facing working people in Texas — a product of the workings of the capitalist system — and a report by Róger Calero on a solidarity action earlier that day with the struggle against military rule in Myanmar. Calero, SWP candidate for mayor of New York, spoke at that action.
What is the road forward? one participant asked.
“We need two things,” Studer said. “An expansion of the class struggle — something the conditions inflicted on working people over time by the working of capitalism will ensure.
“And, out of our struggles, we need to forge a leadership like working people did in Cuba — one that led millions to overturn capitalist rule and make a socialist revolution. There are no shortcuts to accomplishing this, but it can be done. That is what the SWP candidates urge those we meet to join us in fighting for.”