Amid recession, reaction and rebellion
A world to win, a planet to save
Steve Hoffman
volume:  
volume 35
issue 5
October 2014
imagestuff

Life on the planet is a series of challenges, from simply surviving to fighting repression and exploitation. Top: Protesting then-president Morsi in Tahir Square, Egypt, in 2012. Photo by Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters. Bottom left: Protesting “Deporter in Chief” Obama in Phoenix, Ariz. Photo by Cheryl Evans / The Arizona Republic. Bottom right: Providing the household with water in rural Central America, a job falling mainly to women. Photo credit: Steve Winter / National Geographic.

This political resolution, written on behalf of the Freedom Socialist Party National Committee and incorporating changes by the FSP membership, was adopted at the party’s May 2014 convention. It is an inspiring call to arms for ecosocialism as the solution for capitalist injuries to workers and the planet.


Contents

I. Overview

II. Capitalism: a twin-headed monster of economic and ecological crisis

III. The bosses and their middle-caste assistants try to save the system

IV. Resistance and rebellion span the globe

V. An urgent need for revolutionary leadership

VI. The promise of ecosocialism

VII. For an ecosocialist, feminist solution


I. Overview

Capitalist contraction has reshaped the post-World War II world. Since the 1970s, the profit system has been in a recessionary trend, with workers suffering a steady decline in their standards of living. In 2007, however, the global economy took a sharp turn for the worse. This resulted in a qualitative change, as workers and young people rose to their feet to oppose the assaults that are capitalism’s answer to its dilemma. The economic crisis of the bourgeoisie has become a political crisis — both for it and for the working class, which lacks the leadership needed to turn rebellion into revolution.

The ruling elites have taken aggressive measures to save their system. They have cut wages and benefits, stripped away the rights to organize and protest, and gutted education, healthcare, and other crucial social services. Instead of heeding the chaos caused by global warming, they continue to profit from the burning of fossil fuels and other forms of pollution, deepening the environmental crisis day by day.

The oppressed have often come out fighting in response to these frontal attacks. Young people in the Middle East and North Africa defied long-repressive regimes and launched the Arab Spring. Dozens of general strikes in Europe challenged austerity. Occupy Wall Street seized the public square and public consciousness, putting responsibility for the economic breakdown squarely on the banksters and CEOs. Tens of thousands of people repeatedly turned out in demonstrations against the climate changers, while indigenous communities and people of color exposed the racist, disproportionate impact of capitalism’s toxic business model.

Even with such widespread resistance, however, the capitalists have been able to retain the upper hand in the class struggle. The Egyptian military managed to return to power after the revolution ebbed, and workers and their allies have been pushed back in many other countries. The reason is the lack of mass revolutionary parties that can provide an alternative to the ideologies of reformism, which holds workers in check. An additional problem is the growth of anarchism, which mistakenly throws out the very ideas of vanguard parties and replacing the capitalist state with one controlled by workers. But revolutionary parties, joined together internationally, are desperately needed to win people to the goal of workers’ seizure of state power — the only outcome, in this era of capitalist reaction, that can liberate the world from exploitation and oppression.

Assembling a mass vanguard party with a correct program and the cadres and confidence to lead a struggle for power is no easy task. It doesn’t happen in an instant. And people forced to try to create such an organization in the midst of a revolutionary upheaval, like the one in Egypt, are at a distinct disadvantage.

The working class needs a disciplined fighting force that has absorbed the lessons of past struggles, understands the traps set by the bourgeoisie and its intermediaries, and has demonstrated, on the frontlines of working-class struggle, the authority of its leaders and the combativeness of its adherents. Creating such an organization is the Trotskyist strategy for successful revolution and is still the main task of the Freedom Socialist Party.

Without such an organization the awakened resistance we see in the world today will recede under the blows of the repression with which it is being met. This would be a grave setback for the world working class — and a terrible lost opportunity for resolving capitalism’s ongoing crisis in favor of humanity’s majority.

In the coming period, the FSP can implement the strategy of building the party mainly through two tactics. The first is through our international work of revitalization of Trotskyist forces in the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR). The second is by promoting the concept of the united front and by initiating and engaging in labor and social struggles through united fronts, coalitions, and militant union caucuses.

As we do this, we must make special efforts to connect with young people, because — fair or not — it is mainly on their shoulders that the fight for a better future rests. The party’s socialist feminist orientation to the most oppressed is powerfully attractive to youthful workers, especially young women of color, who have been deeply affected by the gains of an older generation’s fight against discrimination. But it does not stop there. This program is capable of drawing people of all ages, skin colors, genders, sexualities, nationalities, and abilities to the party and the cause of revolution.

II. Capitalism: a twin-headed monster of economic and ecological crisis

The long-term deteriorations of the economy and the natural environment are closely related phenomena. Each makes the other worse in a disastrous feedback loop.

These two issues cannot be resolved separately. And certainly they will both get worse under the rule of capital. These are fundamental premises of ecosocialism, an ideology growing in popularity because it offers a sane way to resolve the cataclysmic problems caused by capitalism today.

The profit system’s terminal illness

The recession that started in late 2007 was particularly brutal, but it is symptomatic of the system’s fundamental nature. Capitalism is prone to overproduction crises. This characteristic explains recessions and depressions, as well as the unchecked fall in the standard of living of the working class and the declining health of capitalism. And ailing it is, as shown by the fact that economic growth during the U.S. recovery is more anemic than after any other of the post-1930s recessions.


Wars and environmental troubles make life hard
for farmers like the women in the Democratic Republic
of Congo. Photo credit: Africa Progress Panel

All this is unavoidable under an economic setup in which things are produced not for their value as useful goods and services, but for their economic value in an exchange — things called commodities. The value of commodities, as Karl Marx explained, is determined by how much socially necessary labor time (roughly, average labor time) is invested in them. From the value produced, the employer pays the workers as little as he can get away with to allow them to survive and return to their jobs. The remaining value, surplus value, he keeps for himself as profit.

An owner can increase output of a given commodity by using machinery to increase productivity. Other CEOs in the industry will follow suit to be competitive. But when less labor time is needed to produce the commodity, the value of each becomes less. The only way to keep profits high is to compensate by making and selling many more of the commodity. Soon all the factories are producing it at a furious rate.

At no time do any of the bosses think, “Gee, I should pay my workers more so they can buy all this stuff.” No, they are more likely to say, “Damn, my profits are down! I need to speed up my workers, threaten them with outsourcing, or break their union. I have to get my labor costs down!” This phenomenon plays out in every branch of industry, and soon there is a generalized glut of products without folks who can afford to buy them all. The glut is indigestible, and there is a general economic collapse.

Capitalists are not Marxists and don’t understand this intractable problem with their system. But they (or their economic gurus and advisers) can be smart, and at times they come up with nasty solutions to their dilemma.

After the recessions of the early to mid-1970s, they launched neoliberalism, which aimed to boost economic growth and profits by privatizing public services and resources and removing trade barriers. Corporations scoured the globe in search of markets for their mountains of commodities, as well as sources of cheap labor and raw materials. Overproduction was again the eventual result, only on a wider global scale. And since the point was to get cheap labor, this created an even bigger dearth of consumers who could buy the items they created. Hence the depth and breadth of the Great Recession.

The job of politicians in capitalist countries is to assist the corporate elite. For instance, President Barack Obama turned out to be much more adept at passing free trade agreements with countries like Colombia, the nation with the highest murder rate of unionists in the world, than he was at passing progressive labor law reform, even when he had Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.

Indeed, we have come to the point where the global economic system is what author Fred Goldstein calls “low-wage capitalism.” In his book of the same name, Goldstein describes how technologies like the Internet and more efficient transport and shipping have made it possible for companies to move production anywhere at will. This is a real and potent threat when negotiating with their workforces. He summarizes:

For the first time in the history of capitalism, technology has advanced to the point at which transnational corporations are able to pit workers in the rich, developed imperialist countries in a direct job-for-job wage competition with workers in poor, underdeveloped, low-wage countries on an ever-widening scale around the globe.

The profit system is not going to change direction. As low-wage capitalism becomes even lower-wage capitalism, billions of consumers with cash to buy the overproduced commodities are never going to materialize. The curse is not lifted. Enter the wizards of Wall Street, who incredibly manage to make matters still worse.

The Wall Street hucksters trade in what Marx calls fictitious capital, which has no real value based on material products: stocks, bonds, real estate ventures, and wacky stuff like credit default swaps. All this is based on speculation. When a financial crisis like that of 2008 comes along it evaporates, causing a much bigger crash.

The wizards fancy themselves to be like Midas — everything they touch will turn to gold. But the dialectic of history has marched on, and capitalism has transformed from a progressive economic force into the opposite, a viciously reactionary one. Now everything the wizards touch turns into boondoggles and bailouts, increasing the hardships of working people.

Workers and youth hit hard

The specters of joblessness and poverty haunt workers everywhere, and young people face especially difficult circumstances.

Global unemployment skyrocketed in 2008 and remains high. It is expected to reach 214 million people by 2018. And, around the world, 900 million workers do not earn enough to stay above the cruelly low $2-a-day poverty line.

In many countries, workers are attempting to survive by means of the informal economy — selling things in the street or working as casual labor in other people’s homes or elsewhere. These vulnerable workers have no job security or safety protections, and no access to social welfare benefits like healthcare and childcare. Their number is estimated at 1.5 billion globally.

Migrant workers labor under harsh conditions with few rights. In the Dominican Republic, the high court in 2013 revoked the citizenship of a quarter million Haitian immigrants, affecting families who have lived in the country for four generations and prompting protest by Dominican and Haitian immigrants around the world.

The streets of the United States are paved with misery as well. Food banks struggle to keep up with a 50 percent increase in demand since 2006. Cuts to food stamps have worsened the situation. In November 2013, the month $5 billion in cuts took effect, 48 percent of food banks in New York City ran out of supplies and were forced to turn people away. The poverty rate is 16 percent, representing 50 million people. However, the rate would be a staggering 31 percent if it were not for publicly funded programs like food stamps and school lunches — many of them threatened.

Youth feel the impact of a sputtering economy and the bosses’ response with particular harshness. Nearly a third of the young people in the Middle East and North Africa — the driving force of the Arab Spring — are unemployed. This is the highest rate for any general region. But in Greece and Spain, two of the most economically beset European Union countries, more than 50 percent of youth are jobless. Governments around the world have tightened the vise by passing austerity budgets that slash spending on welfare, social services, and education just when young people, like their elders, need these kinds of programs more than ever. One grim result of this: 1.2 million U.S. students are homeless.

Students in higher education have been hit by skyrocketing tuition. Student debt in the U.S. now exceeds a trillion dollars. Graduates will face dim job prospects and years of interest to pay on their mega-loans.

To keep their profits high while their system sinks, Wall Street and the corporations have laid an impossible mortgage on the future of many generations to come. And this, the pundits claim, is a recovery.

Instability fosters an impulse toward radical change

It is in the nature of capitalism to experience boom and bust cycles. The last bust was a colossus, and the “recovery” is anything but a boom. Yet even when a relative boom comes, it does not necessarily mean that prospects for revolution will diminish.

In The First Five Years of the Communist International, Leon Trotsky stresses the need to accurately assess both objective conditions and subjective ones, like the readiness of the working class to fight.

Frequently it is assumed that workers are more likely to move during harsh economic times, and less so during times of relative prosperity. In fact, however, as people regain employment and feel a little more secure as the economy picks up, they sometimes gain the confidence to fight to get back what was robbed from them during the last bust. In Volume I of The First Five Years, Trotsky analyzes the prospects for revolution in 1921, after the bourgeoisie had regained its footing a bit after World War I. He explains that the mood of the working class cannot be mechanically determined:

The question … of just what will lead to revolution: impoverishment or prosperity, is completely false when so formulated. … Neither impoverishment nor prosperity as such can lead to revolution. But the alternation of prosperity and impoverishment, the crises, the uncertainty, the absence of stability — these are the motor factors of revolution.
Why has the labor bureaucracy become so conservative? In most cases it consists of weak creatures who live on a moderate scale, whose existence is nowise marked by luxury; but they have grown accustomed to stable living conditions. … This tranquil mode of existence has also exerted its influence upon the psychology of a broad layer of workers who are better off. But today this blessed state, this stability of living conditions, has receded into the past; in place of artificial prosperity has come impoverishment. Prices are steeply rising, wages keep changing in or out of consonance with currency fluctuations. … This lack of stability, the uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring in the personal life of every worker, is the most revolutionary factor of the epoch in which we live.
… This applies equally to the period of crisis as well as the periods of prosperity.

Surely recent economic turbulence has instilled uncertainty in the mindset of many U.S. workers, thereby driving an interest in socialism unseen for many decades. It is crucial to recognize when the instability grows to the point that it impels workers toward bold actions against the system.

The other subjective factor Trotsky discusses at length in The First Five Years is whether a revolutionary party exists that is capable of leading the working class when it is ready to toss out its exploiters. The FSP’s most important task is to bring political direction to workers’ struggles — to be able to say, “This is how we should move forward in this fight,” and why. This not only strengthens the specific campaign, but it also shows by example why workers should join and help to build the revolutionary party.

Corporate greed imperils the planet

Today capitalism has expanded to every corner of the globe. In the process it has changed the planet as we know it, wiping out many species and putting many more at risk — including our own. The burning of fossil fuels goes on unrestrained, even while all scientific evidence shows the need to rapidly reduce carbon emissions to stave off a devastating rise in global temperature. Energy capitalists, with their obscenely profitable investment in fossil fuels, are not about to switch gears.

So efforts to keep profits flowing drive climate change. Climate change, in its turn, drives super-storms, floods, drought, and wildfires — all with huge human and monetary costs. Already the insurance firm Lloyd’s of London is sounding the alarm about how this could leave its industry with insufficient capital to cover losses.

The science is clear. The burning of fossil fuels since industrialization has already raised carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere by more than a third. This greenhouse gas traps heat from the sun that would normally reflect back into space, provoking a rise in global temperature that disrupts the climate in dramatic ways. The situation continues to worsen: nine of the 10 hottest years on record have been in this teenager of a century.

New reports about unexpectedly fast temperature increases, retreating ice sheets and glaciers, and acidification of the oceans portend a bleak set of tomorrows if greenhouse gas emissions are not quickly and sharply reduced. And now there is evidence that thawing of the vast frozen tundra and warming in the Arctic Ocean will release huge amounts of methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. This could cause runaway global warming that would be unstoppable. It would be difficult to overstate the gravity of the ecological crisis caused by a profit system doing what it does best — running amok.

And the consequences are not something that “threatens our grandchildren,” as many politicians are fond of saying. Already, countries close to sea level are making plans to evacuate their entire populations; an estimated 150 million people will be displaced by rising sea levels by 2050. Drought, floods, violent storms, and wildfires are all more common and more extreme. In Australia, one out-of-control wildfire described in the Freedom Socialist grew so huge that it created its own thundercloud caused by burning sap and intense heat. Flames hundreds of feet high roared into towns at 75 miles per hour. By the end of February 7, 2009 — now known as Black Saturday — 173 people had died.

The hapless people fleeing fires and floods are not the ones who caused the problem. A November 2013 analysis from the Climate Accountability Institute points out that over the course of history, just 90 companies are responsible for two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions. And half of those have happened in the last 25 years — after it was widely understood that global warming is a huge threat to the planet.


Banking on military might to stay in charge.
The Air Force chief of staff shows off a
new Lockheed Martin stealth jet.
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

The U.S. military, which uses 340,000 barrels of oil a day, is the world’s single biggest consumer of fossil fuels. And half of that is just for running fighter jets. Dismantling the Pentagon — shutting down the imperialist U.S. war machine — would remove a big boot from the climate change accelerator, as well as from the necks of workers and oppressed people internationally.

Big energy corporations profit handsomely while they foist the environmental costs of their pillage onto working people, including generations to come. And, sickeningly, now that warming stoked by fossil fuels is melting the Arctic ice, oil and gas companies are salivating at the prospect of drilling wells in areas newly made accessible.

Women and the impoverished bear the brunt

Poor folks typically don’t have the resources to easily adapt to the drastic changes caused by capitalism’s reckless exploitation of nature. And, because women make up the majority of the poor and discriminated-against, they are by far the most heavily affected by climate change and environmental devastation.

In developing countries, women produce 45-80 percent of the food, depending on the region. Droughts and floods have a huge impact on agriculture, making it difficult for women to earn a living. Moving to a different area might be a solution, but women often lack mobility because of their typical role as caregivers. Women and girls also are usually responsible in rural societies for gathering water and fuel for cooking and heating, most often wood. Due to deforestation, drought, and retreating glaciers, they now must walk much farther to procure these essentials, which can consume up to 20 hours a week, or even more. This is exhausting work, and it means being shut out of many other activities — which, for girls, can include even basic schooling.

Although women are so seriously impacted, due to patriarchal traditions they frequently lack the ability to influence decisions about how their communities adapt to ecological challenges. This is unfortunate, because often women — especially indigenous women — have a vast store of knowledge about the local ecology. As longtime farmers they understand how food in their region has developed and the symbiotic relationships within the ecosystem. They have the potential to make the best possible decisions about how to adjust agricultural methods to changing conditions.

Drawing from the wisdom of those who retain a close connection with the land would be a far better approach to agriculture than the industrial farming methods employed in developed countries, and now being forced onto developing nations. These big monoculture operations require huge amounts of chemical fertilizers and insecticides to maximize yield and profit. The diversity of crops in an area is minimal and the soil is depleted, leaving crops susceptible to pests and disease and requiring even more pesticides and fertilizer — which are often quite harmful to farmworkers and consumers. The amount of energy to produce and apply these chemicals, and then to ship the food to and from all points of the globe, gives the global agricultural system an unnecessarily large carbon footprint.

Clearly this big-business approach is not sustainable. This does not mean that technology and technological progress should be forsworn in agriculture any more so than in any other sphere. But it does make the fight for a radically different way of interacting with nature for human survival a priority of the highest order for the working class.

III. The bosses and their middle-caste assistants try to save the system

When the financial crash hit with full force in 2008, the profit system was clearly in danger of flat-lining, and the patient was rushed into the emergency room. Nothing was spared to revive it: no amount of frantic effort by the capitalists, and no amount of infusions of cash and sacrifice bled from working people.

Bourgeois governments squeeze the workers … and each other

The first doctors to arrive at the scene were government leaders and heads of central banks. Like a well-oiled machine, they delivered trillions of bucks in bailouts to reckless speculators, while making workers pay to fix the mess through vicious cutbacks and take-backs. Profits have rebounded, but a persistent sickness remains, as evidenced by stubbornly high unemployment and sluggish growth, to name two of the most obvious signs. This creates a political crisis for the capitalists as they calculate how to respond.

For instance, while all the bourgeois governments favor the 1 percent, they don’t always do favors for one another. As the European Union strained under sovereign debt crises, the richer nations — Germany and France — used international institutions to squeeze the poorer, indebted nations of Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain. To force payment of the debts, the European Commission, European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (the “Troika”) imposed heavy austerity on the indebted countries. Greece was even forced to change its constitution so that repaying its debt would take priority over funding social services.

At times politicians differ about how much more can be wrung from the working class. Some fear a backlash, while others want to press ahead at full speed. The divisions can make the political system dysfunctional, as during last year’s government shutdown in the U.S. The people were unimpressed by that circus, and their approval rating for Congress sank to an abysmal 9 percent. Interest in third parties rose sharply.

Capitalist politicians do seem to agree on the need to keep a close eye on any potentially rebellious workers. Edward Snowden’s revelations show that Obama has presided over a massive expansion of the surveillance and national security apparatus. FBI raids on anti-war activists in 2010 hark back to the relentless persecution of the Black Panther Party and American Indian Movement in the 1960s and ’70s. And Obama has used the 1917 Espionage Act to prosecute more whistleblowers than all other U.S. presidents combined.

Around the globe, the U.S. advances its economic interests largely through armed might. More than a thousand U.S. bases exist on foreign shores for a reason.

There isn’t yet a country that challenges Uncle Sam’s military hegemony, but tensions are on the rise. Obama is increasing the Pentagon’s presence in the Pacific to counter the military buildup by China, chief economic competitor of the USA. China-bashing rhetoric by politicians, media, and nationalist labor leaders primes the pump. Bellicose rants by the U.S. and European Union about Russia’s maneuvers in Crimea and Ukraine reveal another rivalry heating up.

And, of course, there is scarcely a scrap of land in the Middle East and North Africa — from Iraq to Gaza to Egypt — that does not bear the scars of U.S. bombs or suffer from the U.S. role as arms broker to the world.

The U.S. economy has been artificially propped up through reliance on the weapons industry for many decades. But, at a certain point, when economic crisis becomes intractable and competition is fierce, capitalism requires actual warfare to survive. It allows the victors to capture raw materials and markets at the expense of the losers. “Excess” productive capacity and people are blown up, and corporations make money by rebuilding from the rubble. So, if the current economic downturn intensifies and other options for recovery seem closed (like squeezing even more from workers through “normal” means), tensions could ultimately erupt in war between major economic powers.

The right wing and the fascist “option”

Another way that CEOs and banksters can save their profits when the economy falters is by using fascism to physically crush all forms of working-class resistance. It was in the wake of a financial crash that the Nazis gained power in Germany.

The skyrocketing joblessness and poverty in Greece has allowed the ultranationalist, rabidly anti-immigrant Golden Dawn to grow. They have gained adherents by blaming the nation’s problems on immigrants, Roma (Gypsies), queers, unions — everyone but the real culprits, capitalists like the ones who fund them. In England, the violent English Defense League, which has attacked mosques and threatened journalists, is estimated to have 30,000 members.

Fascism is a mass movement made up mainly of ruined owners of small businesses (the middle class, or petty bourgeoisie) together with others outside the working class or on its fringes. The fascists also use scapegoating to appeal to bigoted, privileged workers who are more susceptible when they are suffering the effects of an economic crisis and job losses. The bosses mobilize these forces to attack the working class and its organizations, above all unions. A mass counter-movement that offers pro-worker solutions to economic travail is the only thing that can stop fascism once it is truly on the ascendance.

Europeans have offered significant opposition to the right wing. In October 2013, radicals, students, and unionists organized a 50,000-strong march to Golden Dawn headquarters in Athens to protest the murder of a popular anti-racist rapper by a Golden Dawn member. In the U.S., when anti-immigrant Minutemen tried to rally at Leimert Park in Los Angeles in 2010, a multi-racial crowd, led by Black women, came out in force to keep them out of the park. FSP comrades in LA helped with that organizing.

Right-wing office-holders and Tea Party-type political groups abound in the United States. Republican Representative Steve King of Iowa is condemned when he throws out racist stereotypes of immigrants as “drug mules.” But his overt racism is only an upfront expression of a political strategy that dates back to the writing of the U.S. Constitution. At that time Southern politicians adamantly opposed any concentration of power in the hands of the federal government, for fear that it could be used to put an end to slavery. Over the years this drive to constrain federal power has been dressed up as principled commitment to “small government” and “states’ rights.” But it has always been about maintaining white supremacy.

Today conservatives are leery of any federal program that might alleviate the suffering of poor and minority communities and thereby give these groups breathing space to organize against the institution of white privilege. Following the example of Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” Republicans appeal to the racism of Southern whites by using racial code words and fanning resentment about a supposed loss of white privilege. Historical events like the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the civil rights movement are recast to feed a sense of white victimhood. The faithful are rallied to the cause of keeping the feds out of the South’s “business.” Blatant attempts to restrict the voting rights of people of color are part of this strategy. The fact of the first Black president has sent this bigotry into overdrive, with the number of reactionary “Patriot” movement groups increasing exponentially since Obama took office.

At the same time, the struggle against racism has strongly changed consciousness throughout the country, and it might seem remarkable that the Democratic Party does not expose and directly condemn the racism of the GOP, if only to score political points. Why does the party refrain? It’s likely that its politicians fear a backlash among some voters, especially in the South. On a deeper level, however, it is because doing so would undermine white supremacy, one of the main pillars of U.S. capitalism. Not exactly proper behavior for good guardians of the system.

Immigrants and people of color in the U.S. are prime targets of both fascist thugs and right-wing politicians. Because of this, their leadership will be key in stopping the attacks against the whole working class in its many forms. And they will have plenty of company, since the reactionaries also target things like women’s reproductive freedom, union rights, and the right of LGBT people even to exist. The FSP draws on its rich history of building multi-issue united fronts against fascism to help build this resistance.

Reformism: the dangerous illusion that capitalism can be fixed

Most activists today are not revolutionaries; they are fighting for reforms. (In this period, that usually means trying to win back gains of the past that have been stripped away.) Therefore, when party members work in coalitions or the labor movement, our grass-roots partners in these efforts are usually reformists. They want to achieve something for working people or the poor, but they are skeptical that anything more than reform is possible.

This skepticism has a cause. Reformist leaders of many movements and organizations, generally tied to the Democratic Party, do their utmost to keep protest within safe channels, because they believe they have a stake in the current system’s success. As an ideology, reformism sows the utopian illusion that capitalism can be fixed. It is therefore one of capitalism’s most effective tools of self-defense.


AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka stumps for
Democrat rising star Elizabeth Warren.
Photo credit: United Steelworkers

Trotsky called reformists who are committed upholders of the status quo the “middle caste,” a social layer trying to mediate between workers and their exploiters. This is their function, even when they call themselves socialists. Voters in France were tired of austerity in 2012 and elected François Hollande of the Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste) as president. Today the PS is pushing railway privatization and its own brand of austerity, which has provoked mass protests, roadblocks, and strikes. Polls say that Hollande is the most unpopular president in French history.

In Latin America, workers have waged a long struggle against privatization, social service cuts, and other poisonous fruits of neoliberalism. In the late 1990s they began electing a wave of populist/bourgeois nationalist leaders who pledged to resist imperialist domination by the United States. It was to be a new day in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.

When the economy of the region was growing and the price of its exports was high, governments used proceeds from oil, mining, and agricultural industries to provide services (as well as to give generous handouts to business interests). This alleviated the plight of the poor somewhat, but left intact the capitalist structure of the economies. When the financial crisis hit in 2008, the gains for the people quickly proved dispensable. Workers, students, and the poor broke out into strikes and protests, which governments met with repression. In reference to strikers at the Sidor steel mill in October 2013, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro declared, “There will be no weakness in the face of labor criminals, anarcho-syndicalists.”

Another problem was the close ties between the unions and these governments, which hamstrung opposition to the swell of cutbacks and privatization. Some revolutionary socialists also surrendered their political independence. The Brazilian section of the Fourth International (formerly the leading body of world Trotskyism) submerged itself in the populist Workers’ Party. One of its members accepted a post as Minister of Labor within the bourgeois government. Actions like these turn leftists into part of the machinery of austerity, and make them unable to provide radical leadership to the resistance. While the working class needs representation in the electoral arena, at all times revolutionaries must be tribunes of the people and refuse to serve as ministers in bourgeois governments. They must maintain their independence from those who rule, and they must fight for unions to do the same.

Reformist labor leaders throughout the world try to patch up the profit system, hoping to coax a few stray crumbs from the bosses. In Europe many general strikes took place against austerity, but union heads kept them limited to one-day affairs that would not shake the system too vigorously. It was as if they were saying to the powers-that-be, “See how angry the workers are. But we keep them from getting out of control. If we were not here, things would be much worse.”

U.S. labor leaders: AWOL in the face of disaster

Top U.S. union officials seek to occupy a similar niche, except they have not organized anything close to even a one-day general strike, or large protests for that matter. The response of the AFL-CIO tops to the assaults on U.S. workers has been worse than feeble; it has been a betrayal of a century of working-class gains. At a time when the federation should be breaking with the pro-corporate Democrats and leading an all-out fight to defend the working class, it is instead doing all it can to keep a lid on potential resistance by workers.

For their part, individual unions often have been far too willing to sign concessionary contracts. A case in point is the monstrous sellout by national leaders of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union. They pressured Boeing machinists to accept a deal that wiped out the pensions that members had won and kept through many long and bitter strikes. Machinists put up a strong opposition, but the national leadership finally won its position, by the narrowest of votes, through undemocratic maneuvering and scare tactics — in tandem with Washington state politicians and media. Such a huge giveback from a large and powerful union sets the stage for employers to go after workers’ pensions across the country.

A look at the last AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles reveals other problems. Before the convention, AFL-CIO leaders proposed adding liberal organizations like the Sierra Club to the federation, and possibly including them in decision-making. But inserting groups that are not workers’ organizations would dilute the working-class nature of the AFL-CIO. Though proposals about adding new groups were dropped, they indicate desperation on the part of the leadership to stem the decline in union membership and to increase labor’s political clout, which for them means garnering even more support for the Democratic friends of the corporate elite.

The main reason for the weakness of labor is that the leadership is operating as a middle-caste bureaucracy and not actually representing union members. The real solution would be for labor’s rank and file to take firm control of their unions and the union movement. Then we would see some real fights with the bosses breaking out.

One hope for such a labor revitalization lies in the fact that many union members are now women, people of color, immigrants, and LGBT people who have always organized on the job and fought on multiple fronts in their communities. These fresh forces have the potential to push the labor movement to move beyond representing only a privileged layer of well-paid workers. Due to their influence, issues like the racist prison system were discussed for the first time at the Los Angeles convention. Also, resolutions did pass that called for the AFL-CIO to be more inclusive, fight for a broader working-class agenda, and collaborate with environmental and other social movements.

Although positive, resolutions like these are not what will change the conservative, get-along-with-big-business orientation of the AFL-CIO. If history is a guide, they will likely turn out to be little more than words on paper. Typically, union campaigns that purport to reach out to the community are staff-driven operations that do not even try to enlist their own union members. And they do not result in democratic coalitions that work with community folks as equals. The organizing campaigns targeting fast food workers and Walmart employees, initiated by two national unions, are run in this top-down fashion.

But the words are on paper now, and they can be used to build support within AFL-CIO unions to challenge reluctant leaders to do the right thing. FSP comrades in the organized labor movement can do that by forming caucuses that demand democratic unions — the only kind that will ever be able to seriously take on the capitalists. A push for union democracy is a cause that co-workers will join, and comrades’ local unions can become fighting organizations that connect to other social movements in a real way. The Seattle-area Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS), initiated by FSP, is a model for doing this work across union lines. And OWLS does another thing to be emulated — it exposes the tragic consequences of labor’s reliance on the Democratic Party, which is just as intent as its Republican counterpart on making the working class pay for the economic crisis.

Being part of independent organizing with co-workers is one of the best ways to win people to the party. It also works as a method to attract groups of people, which is the only way that the party will grow as it needs to. FSP experienced this firsthand in 1973, when comrades became deeply involved in a strike by low-paid female and minority workers at the University of Washington. The strike was held over the objections of the main staff union on campus. But strikers held fast, and afterward formed United Workers Union-Independent. Of the people involved in that battle who joined FSP as a result, seven are leading comrades in the party to this day.

The number of major strikes each year in the U.S. has been declining for decades; in 2013, there were only 15, most of them by public sector unions, especially in California. Public workers are under such attack that some have begun to fight back, in defiance of the warnings of their union leaderships. Many FSP comrades are unionized public workers, so the party can have a big impact on struggles to stop privatization and to defend public employees and the services they provide. The party should hold a national conference to bring these comrades together to develop a clear strategy for the crucial battles ahead.

Whatever hell FSP raises, it is well to remember that the critical force of the 1930s labor upsurge was widespread left leadership. The labor movement as a whole will only revive today with that same kind of leadership. In FSP, we must do all that we can to initiate collaboration with other socialists to build radical caucuses in unions. A wing of the labor movement that explicitly identifies the profit system as the enemy is what the U.S. working class needs to fully engage in the class struggle alongside labor’s allies.

“Middle class” delusions

Often union heads pontificate that the fight is all about bolstering the middle class. But, in the sense that “middle class” is mistakenly used to describe decently paid workers, this term should be driven from the lexicon of labor.

Marx used “middle class” in a scientific way to describe small proprietors who stand between the two main classes, and who can follow the political leadership of either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat, depending on circumstances. Labor officials who go on and on about the middle class are avoiding the term “working class” — and skirting their responsibility to organize workers to exercise their power as a class.

Moreover, emphasizing the “middle class” — actually, higher-paid workers or professionals with good benefits — implies that it is OK if there is a lower class, and it is not so important to end poverty and joblessness in order to bring all of the working class to a decent standard of living. That would require confronting the profit system that relies on a huge stratum of super-exploited workers based on characteristics like gender and race. And this the AFL-CIO and other influential labor bodies refuse to do. Sample quote: “The AFL-CIO is ready to work with anyone — business, government, investors — who wants to create good jobs and help restore America’s middle class.”

The labor leadership frequently pines for the good old days when “pro-labor” imperialists like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy were in charge. Were those days so great for those who suffered under segregation or rigid sex roles? Back then the U.S. masters of the universe could afford to dispense crumbs from their imperialist table to a layer of privileged workers. Many union leaders seek to bring this vanishing “aristocracy of labor” back into existence as the base for their own existence — a base that can afford to pay significant dues and isn’t likely to stir up uncomfortable turmoil.

But this is not only dishonorable, it’s a pipe dream. U.S. workers now are mired in low-wage capitalism, pitted directly against workers everywhere. There is no going back. The labor movement must transcend divisions and bring the whole working class together to take on the race to the bottom. Rhetoric about the “middle class” sows delusions and undermines that mission.

Reformists everywhere strive to maintain their stabilizing role. But, given that the capitalists have declared class war, stability is not to be had. This gives radicals a chance to win over workers and provide a revolutionary direction. And this must happen. For if the reformists are able to keep the working class in check, the right wing will get a chance to impose a “solution” to the economic crisis that is even uglier than what we are going through now.

IV. Resistance and rebellion span the globe

Even in the face of state repression and a steady stream of sellouts by middle-caste leaders, many fed-up workers and youth are fighting like hell to improve their lot.

Workers hit back

In Greece, austerity measures include mass layoffs of public workers, gutting of pensions, and cuts in education, healthcare, and other social services. Thirty general strikes have answered these attacks in the last four years. Workers and students throughout Europe have followed suit with mass demonstrations and strikes in their countries. A common slogan has been, “We are all Greeks!”

The poor have fought hardest. Garment workers in Bangladesh are the lowest-paid in the world in this industry powered mainly by women. They have organized huge protests and strikes for safe conditions and to raise the minimum wage, especially after factory fires incinerated hundreds. South African platinum miners concluded a bitter five-month strike in late June 2014 that won significant gains for the lowest-paid workers.

Wildcat strikes and job actions have been endemic in China for years, to the tune of tens of thousands a year. In 2008 the government implemented new labor laws that supposedly gave more rights to workers, but employers found ways around them. Workers soon found that strikes worked much better than these laws, and they forced a 47 percent increase in their wages from 2010 to 2011.

In the U.S., low-paid employees for companies like Walmart and Burger King, many of them immigrants, have been waging strikes (without union protection) for higher wages and the right to organize. Many of them are now part of a national movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

All appearances indicate that workers’ conditions are not going to substantially improve in the foreseeable future, but rather the reverse. This means that resistance will continue, spread, and sharpen, and the stability of the profit system will be shaken even further. The capitalists will respond by increasing police-state measures. This intensified repression is certainly nothing to be desired. However, it is likely to make it easier for people in rebellion to recognize the need for the discipline, militancy, and sense of direction a revolutionary party can bring to the struggle.

Youth battle for the future of the planet

Worldwide there are an unprecedented 1.3 billion people between the ages of 15 and 24, and 85 percent of them live in developing countries. As described before, their circumstances are tough. But young people are coming to realize that the only way to secure a decent future is by taking matters into their own hands.

And they have begun to do just that. In 2012, university students waged strikes in Quebec that brought out hundreds of thousands to rally against increases in tuition, which had risen sevenfold since 1990. In December 2013 in Buenos Aires, high school students occupied their buildings for three weeks to demand repairs to the deteriorating facilities. Teachers staged a 48-hour strike in solidarity with them. Similar strikes and protests have swept through Europe, Latin America, North Africa, and India.

In the U.S., young immigrants and their supporters have taken to the streets with bold acts of civil disobedience, including sit-ins at politicians’ offices and blockades of detention facilities and buses. Many of these protesters are undocumented and are acting at great personal risk. They are furious about ongoing deportations, while immigration reform proposals friendly to big business offer further militarization of the border and a boulder-strewn “path to citizenship” that could take decades to traverse.

Young students and community activists are also pushing back against the school-to-prison pipeline. The pipeline refers to school practices that push “at risk” students out of the classroom and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems through overly harsh discipline. Of course when racism is embedded in a country’s historical DNA, one is much more at risk if one is Black or Latino. These students are 70 percent of those arrested in schools — and note that arrests tend to happen frequently when there are more cops in the hallways than counselors for students to talk to. Long suspensions are meted out for mildly disruptive behavior or innocuous actions like bringing a pair of nail clippers to class.

Against this background, it was only logical that young people were the ones who blew up the national political dialogue through the Occupy Wall Street movement. They cut to the chase and placed the blame for economic woes where it belonged — on the egregious inequality of wealth compounded by the bailout of Wall Street crooks.

Youth are the most open to bold and radical solutions, because they are not invested in the existing economic system and are not yet under the sway of middle-caste apologists for that system. And today, because of the influence of liberation movements, they are less prejudiced than previous generations.

So it is no wonder that polls show that young people view socialism more positively than they do capitalism. Their interest in socialism flows from their deep anger over the bleak horizon that is all the profit system has created for them to see.

Indigenous resistance


First Nations people and other British Columbians
march against the Northern Gateway oil pipeline project.
Photo credit: Kim Murphy / Los Angeles Times / MCT

Indigenous peoples around the world are defending themselves and nature against the corporate plunderers. In Brazil, the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples (APIB) has fought constitutional changes that would clear the way for industrial farming, dam-building, mining, road-building, and construction of settlements on indigenous lands. At an October 2013 rally, APIB coordinator Sonia Guajajara declared, “We’re not going to stand by and watch our territories being stolen, our houses being invaded and our rivers being destroyed. Rather than calling Congress the house of the people it should be called the house of agribusiness.”

This spirit of defiance thrives throughout the hemisphere. In Canada, fierce resistance is building to the Enbridge Northern Gateway twin pipelines project that would transport Alberta tar sands oil to shipping terminals in British Columbia while importing toxic natural gas condensate, which is used in oil refining. All along the route of the proposed pipelines, First Nations communities are mobilizing to stop the destruction of the pristine environments that they rely upon for survival. Opposition has included rallies, preparation for civil disobedience, and coalitions built among First Nations people, environmentalists, and labor activists.

In all these struggles, women’s leadership is key. One example is the organizing by political prisoner Nestora Salgado on behalf of her hometown of Olinalá, Guerrero, in Mexico.

Salgado, a Washington state resident and naturalized U.S. citizen, had been making visits to Olinalá to deliver aid. Then, over time, she began to feel compelled to do something to stop the criminal gangs there that murdered, raped, and spread drug addiction and prostitution with impunity — often in league with local officials. In October 2012, she helped to form a community police force, which is a right guaranteed to indigenous communities under the Mexican constitution and Guerrero state law. Under her coordination of the community force, crime dropped by 90 percent. Also, as a feminist, she worked to give women the tools to overcome domestic violence.

When the community police arrested a corrupt local sheriff, however, the federal government retaliated. As part of a sweep of arrests in August 2013, Salgado was detained, charged with kidnapping, and imprisoned hundreds of miles away from Olinalá and her comrades there.

FSP worked with her family in the Seattle area to launch organizing on her behalf, which included the forming of a defense committee and December 2013 pickets demanding her release in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon. Members of the Committee for a Revolutionary International Regroupment/ Comité por la Reagrupación Internacional Revolucionaria (more to follow) took up her cause, and protests have also taken place in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, and farther afield. In Australia, FSP raised her case at a Human Rights Day speak-out in Melbourne. Through the campaign to free Salgado, FSP is playing a leadership role in international organizing to defend the right of indigenous peoples to armed self-determination.

Also at issue for the community self-defense forces is the government’s systematic drive to move indigenous people off their land in order to open it up for foreign mining companies to exploit. Salgado and others have been standing up to the mining operations. This is a potent reason for the government to attempt to get rid of them — either through repression, disarmament, or cooptation. Nevertheless, the number of community police forces and autodefensas is growing, and they are now active in 13 of the 31 Mexican states.

The Arab revolution and world rebellion

Witnesses heard Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi ask this of the arrogant police who were once again harassing him and taking his goods: “Why are you doing this to me? I’m a simple person, and I just want to work.” Bouazizi would go on to set himself on fire in a graphic protest, and die a few weeks later.

The sparks from those tragic flames in 2010 would land on dry tinder in Tunisia and other Arab countries. The Arab Spring had begun. Within a month the dictatorial president of Tunisia would be swept from power. Egypt’s heavy-handed Hosni Mubarak was booted out soon enough, and revolt spread to Yemen, Libya, and Syria.

Decades of neoliberalism had spread poverty throughout the region. Contrary to media emphasis on religious sectarianism, the Arab Spring is an epic battle between the haves and the have-nots. Youth in particular have bleak prospects; in Syria their jobless rate is 55 percent. The rage in the streets therefore has a youthful voice.

Women too have filled the public squares and supplied ample courage. Their reasons are many. Women often toil in the informal economy to feed their families, and they face cruel repression by Islamic fundamentalists who seek to impose some of the harshest patriarchal laws and customs in the world. At times women have led the men into the fight. They have protested even in hyper-repressive Saudi Arabia. In Egypt, where labor was key to toppling the regime, strikes by female-dominated textile unions paved the way.

Politicians in the U.S. talk a great deal about how they support a transition to democracy in the region. But the top imperialist — along with countries like China, Russia, and France — is out to control the vast oil resources in North Africa and the Middle East. Cutthroat as the competition can get, these ruthless exploiters have a common fear. They would all do anything to prevent insurrections leading to power in the hands of the long dispossessed. Propaganda, peace conferences, and diplomatic maneuvers notwithstanding, stopping revolution is the name of the game.

Events in the Arab uprising illustrate Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. The revolts will neither be able to end poverty nor achieve democratic reforms like women’s rights until they topple capitalism and move ahead toward socialism. The missing link is revolutionary parties that can overcome sectarian divisions and organize male and female workers and students on the basis of a radical program and a common strategy. This is a development that cannot happen overnight. But it is one whose logic will become more and more apparent to fighters in the Arab Spring as they gain experience — including through resistance to the counterrevolutionary machinations of imperialists and homegrown militaries, fundamentalists, and bourgeois elites.

Oppressed folks around the world have watched as Arab workers, youth, and women have simply lost their fear of one regime after another. Their tenacity serves as an inspiration to rebels everywhere.

V. An urgent need for revolutionary leadership

Permanent revolution does not apply only to the most tumultuous regions like the Middle East. To avoid being defeated and pushed back, rebellious toilers everywhere — including in the U.S. — need a party that provides the leadership necessary to jump over reformist obstacles and land on sturdy socialist ground. Small groups cannot build such an organization in isolation, so left regroupment is a crucial priority.

The U.S. Left: signs of life, but still a house divided

When it comes to the state of the U.S. Left, there’s bad news and good news.

The bad news has to do with the small size of socialist organizations and the fracturing of their numbers among many different groups. Some of the splintering has to do with significant political differences. But much of it is due to sectarianism bred of isolation. All of this is not “news,” of course. It’s been the case for many decades, with roots in four main causes.

The first was the consolidation of Stalinism’s hold over the world movement, which made many working people skeptical of socialism. The second was the rise of McCarthyism, which made many positively frightened of it. Third was the boom period that U.S. imperialism enjoyed after World War II, which made many think fundamental change was unnecessary; this was especially true for higher-paid white male workers who shared unequally in the temporary crumbs from the corporate table. And fourth was the failure of most Left groups — especially before the 1970s — to realize that to thrive, they had to fight sexism, racism, and homophobia, the bosses’ basic tools of divide-and-conquer, and recognize the leadership of the most oppressed.

Today there is a big difference. The economy is in a protracted crisis, with the resulting pain inflicted on workers. Consequently, there is rising interest in socialism; that’s the good news.

The November 2013 victory of Socialist Alternative’s Kshama Sawant for Seattle City Council over a Democratic Party incumbent of 16 years’ standing vividly demonstrated the growing enthusiasm for socialism. And, combined with the elections of progressive-sounding Bill de Blasio for mayor of New York and 24 “independent labor” candidates for city council seats in Ohio, it created quite a stir on the Left. It inspired many radicals and reformers to hope for great things in the electoral sphere, and prompted some to begin pushing for left cooperation in this arena.

To be sure, any pressure on socialist groups to break out of their sectarianism is a good thing. In a welcome development, a small number of socialist groups supported each other’s candidates in 2013 and 2014, after years of abstention from even the most limited socialist cooperation.

But the electoral stage is a tricky place, where it is all too easy for class lines to become blurred. Socialist Alternative, for example, called for a national electoral effort in 2014 in which coalitions and unions would run “independent working-class candidates.” However, SA counts the pro-capitalist, “Go USA” Justice Party among its possible electoral partners, and in both 2000 and 2004 it supported Ralph Nader (whose 2009 novel imagines corporate billionaires saving the rest of us). It’s clear that “independent” and “working-class” are terms being used without honest meaning.

Other big developments on the Left during the last few years have to do with what socialists used to call the Woman Question. The Socialist Workers Party in Britain tore itself apart because of the leadership’s failure to deal properly with charges of serious sexual abuse. Meanwhile, as interest grows in socialist feminism, its former sister party, the International Socialist Organization in the U.S., seems to be trying to junk its entrenched position that feminism is inherently bourgeois.

It’s the rare U.S. left party of any significance that doesn’t call itself feminist these days. Still, there can be less to this label of “feminism” than meets the eye. Programmatically, it’s often skin deep, particularly when it comes to women’s leadership. The U.S. may well have a female president before it has a woman at the head of a revolutionary party other than the FSP.


Los Angeles: protesting the acquittal of George
Zimmerman for killing Black teen Trayvon Martin.
Photo credit: Jonathan Alcorn / Reuters

In evaluating other groups and prospects for joint work, it’s critical that FSP be as objective as possible. Even given significant political differences, the importance of cooperation among left organizations, and ultimately revolutionary left regroupment, remains undiminished. This is true for all socialists, but especially Trotskyists, who have a strong common foundation.

The goal of left regroupment must be to build a vanguard party. Such a party is about drawing the lessons of history, engaging in democratic debate about program and tactics, and assembling and training the best working-class fighters to lead a revolution to a successful socialist conclusion. Workers begin their rebellions with courage to spare, but history has shown that they need this kind of revolutionary leadership to win. Many liberals and anarchists use distortions of history to smear any vanguard party as inherently undemocratic. But, to play off a popular street chant, is defeat what democracy looks like? The vanguard party enables the working class to liberate itself. What could be more concretely democratic?

Prospects for regroupment in the U.S. may not be bright now, but at some point the time will be right. It’s important for FSP to remain a strong voice for principled left cooperation, as the party has been since its founding, and to continue initiating this collaboration when opportunities arise.

CRIR: a hopeful step toward resolving the crisis of world Trotskyism

World developments like the Arab Spring make painfully clear not only the need for revolutionary parties in individual countries, but also the need for the revival of a Trotskyist international. And finally, after decades of calling for Trotskyist regroupment, FSP has achieved some success in that direction, as a co-founder last year of the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment/Comité por la Reagrupación Internacional Revolucionaria (CRIR). Launched by FSP, the Partido Obrero Socialista (POS) of Mexico, and the Núcleo por un Partido Revolucionario Internacionalista (NUPORI) of the Dominican Republic, CRIR now also includes the Partido Revolucionario de las Trabajadoras y los Trabajadores (PRT) of Costa Rica, and has stirred the interest of other groups in Latin America.

CRIR is a modest effort so far, but it is a tremendous step forward for FSP. It is a credit to the party’s persistence and political maturity. More than that, it reflects a sharpened sense of urgency among organizations internationally for merging revolutionary socialist forces. The recognition is growing that the global capitalist offensive demands an international response. Trotskyists must come together to meet the current crisis — one that presents opportunities that, if lost, may not recur for a long time.

Of course, the political ground is littered with unprincipled “lash-ups” of various groups dedicated to refounding, reforging, reunifying, reconstructing, or variously refurbishing the Trotskyist Fourth International. (Meanwhile, the Fourth International itself continues its opportunist disappearing act, stripping away its Trotskyist identity while immersing itself in popular movements.)

But the CRIR is far from a lash-up. The four groups involved have established a history of discussion, debate, and collaboration that allows us to stand on a common platform. Within CRIR, we do not agree on everything and we should not expect to. But the CRIR platform expresses an unbroken continuity with the best of socialist tradition over the past two centuries, especially its internationalism. On the 150th anniversary of the founding of the International Workingmen’s Association, or First International, by Marx, Engels, and others, there is power in that continuity.

The other side of CRIR’s strength is the way in which the program speaks profoundly to the way the world is now, especially through its feminism. CRIR “recognizes the need to stand on the front lines in defense of the most oppressed” and understands that the fight for socialism cannot succeed without a parallel fight for “true and real equality between men and women and women’s decisive participation in the struggle for human liberation.”

CRIR’s programmatic core will undoubtedly be expanded as time goes on. But the foundation is sturdy — including on the question of the relationship of feminism to socialism. This is a question on which many international left groups have foundered, as mentioned above, leaving so-called “feminism” to the likes of the United Nations, NGOs, Hillary Clinton, and the U.S. State Department.

Concretely, the formation of CRIR has already produced results through the joint efforts of its member groups to liberate political prisoners Nestora Salgado in Mexico and Lynne Stewart in the U.S. Although Salgado and the hundreds of other political prisoners in Mexico are not yet free, none of us could have accomplished alone what we accomplished together, especially in drawing attention to the injustice against Salgado and her compañeras y compañeros. For FSP, it is revitalizing to be able to work in harness with co-thinkers in this hemisphere on issues like immigration, privatization, and the rights of women and indigenous people.

More real-life organizing across borders is what will build CRIR. POS has been deeply involved in organizing by thousands of teachers in Oaxaca to stop anti-union “education reform.” FSP has organized with teachers in the U.S. against similar schemes. CRIR could be a vehicle for connecting the two struggles.

The groups that make up CRIR have created a solid political basis for moving forward. Some of the next major steps will have to be in the area of organization. FSP needs to work with the other member groups to find personnel for a coordinating committee and develop it. We also need to strategize together about ways and means to support CRIR materially.

All four of the CRIR groups are large in ambition but small in size. The beauty of principled combination is that it proves the truth of the old saying, “The sum of the whole is greater than its parts.” FSP’s international work has entered a new day and a new stage.

VI. The promise of ecosocialism

While the people of the Philippines reeled from the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan, possibly the most powerful storm ever recorded, the leader of their delegation to United Nations climate talks, Naderev Saño, gave an impassioned speech. Said Saño: “What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness, the climate crisis is madness.”

The capitalist madness that grips the planet devastates the lives of working people in so many ways — ecological disasters and displacement; relentless discrimination based on skin color, gender, sexuality, and more; increasing deprivation for billions of toilers; endless wars. The question before us is how to radicalize and unite the multi-afflicted into a movement that can put an end to this systemic insanity once and for all. And given the global scope of both the ecological and economic crises, this movement must be thoroughly internationalist in its perspective and tactics.

Ecosocialism defined

Ecosocialism offers the clearest path out of deepening poverty for workers and impending climate Armageddon for the planet. It targets the profit motive as the common cause behind both threats, and dispels any illusions that capitalism can be tuned up and turned into a system that runs to meet the needs of humans and the natural world we are part of.

Imagine a world where decisions about energy production and transportation are not governed by the imperative to maximize profits, but rather by what science tells us is best for reducing greenhouse gases and reviving our troubled Earth. Imagine an international planned economy without the jobs-versus-healthy-planet dilemma, one that puts the employees of shuttered oil refineries and abandoned coal mines to work developing alternative energy systems or restoring forests and salmon habitat. Imagine a system that rests on democratic decision-making by the world’s working majority to resolve the key social and environmental challenges, like humanely relocating the climate refugees whose homes will be underwater in another decade or two.

Only ecosocialism offers such a sensible vision. And it aims to achieve it through the leadership of the working class — the only force capable of shutting down the machinery of capital and dislodging the profit-crazed lunatics who currently run the world.

Contrary to barbs from its critics, Marxism is grounded in an ecosocialist perspective. Marxism gets a bum rap in large part because Stalinist bureaucracies, especially in the former Soviet Union, have pursued industrialization without regard to environmental consequences. In an attempt to catch up economically with capitalist enemies who sought to bury the workers’ states, the ruling castes of these states promoted local party officials based on increased production, no matter how much the populace suffered from the resulting pollution.

In fact, however, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were far ahead of their time with their thinking and writing about environmental issues. They pointed out that along with labor, nature is the source of all wealth. But capitalism was the first economic system to separate, and therefore alienate, human beings from the product of their labor. It imposed a similar separation between humans and nature. Nature was no longer seen as a power unto itself, but rather as an object to be exploited for profit.

Marx and Engels went on to decry the adverse effects of this treatment of nature. They wrote of the depletion of the soil by capitalist agriculture, the floods caused by deforestation in Europe, etc. In The Dialectics of Nature Engels gives a seemingly 21st-century admonition:

Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human conquest over nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on us. Each of them, it is true, has in the first place the consequences on which we counted, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first. … Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature — but that we, with flesh, blood, and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst.

Feminism is also a natural fit with ecosocialism. As described above, women suffer the most from the impacts of climate change, industrial farming, and mining operations. For many, their very survival depends on stopping the capitalist degradation of the environment.

Women have not been waiting to be saved. Like Nestora Salgado, many have been leading struggles to protect their communities and defend their ecosystems. These warriors in the countryside have a common oppression with women who fight discrimination, injustice, and toxic conditions in the cities. An alliance between the two is crucial to building a unified movement for economic justice and environmental sanity. To carry the day, ecosocialists must embrace feminism and battle all patriarchal attitudes, both within and outside the movement.

Some environmental activists avoid a class analysis, instead focusing on individual solutions. If you only drive the right car, “buy green,” or diligently recycle, things will be OK. Or perhaps that is all you believe you can do. But individual actions alone let the system of production for profit off the hook and cannot effect the change that’s needed. For instance, only 2.5 percent of all waste is domestic, some of which we can helpfully toss in the recycle bin. All the rest is industrial or agricultural waste.

Tinkering around the edges will not solve the problem. However, if the critics of the individual approach can get their message across, many of those sincerely concerned for the environment could come to see ecosocialism as a real solution.

Ecosocialism asserts that we are dialectically connected to nature, despite capitalist efforts to separate us. For instance, people of native and other cultures often feel a connection to orca whales, which are also called blackfish by indigenous Salish peoples. We admire these creatures for their beauty and grace, and also for their cooperative and matriarchal social structure (like that of humans for much of our time on earth). And our fate is tied to theirs. Rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere cause droughts that threaten water supplies and crops that humans depend upon. A third of that carbon dioxide is absorbed by the oceans, forming carbonic acid. Ocean acidity is rising, and could double by the end of the century at current rates of fossil fuel use. That will devastate much of the ocean food chain that the whales rely on.

Therefore, just as our solidarity must cross all borders, should it not also swim alongside the blackfish?

Environmental racism and communities of color

Often environmental issues are thought of in a narrow way: climate, wilderness, protection of animal species, etc. But “the environment” is the totality of the physical conditions of the world we live and work in, including in cities.

And, given the central dependence of capitalism on racism, it is no surprise that urban environmental devastation severely and disproportionately impacts communities of color. For instance, the predominantly Black neighborhood of Bayview-Hunters Point, an impoverished area of San Francisco, contains four times as many toxins as any other U.S. city neighborhood.


Chrisangel Nieto, 3, at play near Houston’s Valero oil refinery,
which emits over 114,000 pounds of airborne toxins annually.
Photo credit: Eric Kayne / Earthjustice

A 1987 report called “Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States” revealed that race is the single most important factor in determining where poisonous waste facilities were sited. To this day, toxic and pollution-producing facilities like bus depots, incinerators, sewage treatment plants, and nuclear waste dumps are typically located in poor communities of color and on Native American lands. And, again, women and their children suffer special harms, because many toxins are teratogenic: that is, they cause fetal birth defects and deaths.

There is a rich history of resistance to environmental racism. Black writers going back at least to Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois took up environmental themes. Beginning in the early 1960s, the farm workers’ movement fought against toxic pesticide use in California fields, which brought attention to the on-the-job environmental hazards that workers of color and immigrant workers also experience unequally. In 1967, Black students took to the streets of Houston to protest a city garbage dump that claimed the lives of two children. Since the 1980s, residents of mainly Black communities along “Cancer Alley,” an 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, have been fighting the deadly conditions wrought by the more than 150 industrial plants concentrated there.

Those are just a few examples of an ongoing movement. Today there are many environmental justice organizations that continue to organize for safe communities and expose the racism behind how environmental decisions are made.

As in the other movements, these groups are often dominated by NGO-type leadership. However, some are genuinely grass-roots, offering a place for the people affected to make decisions and participate directly in fighting for their future. Environmental groups tend to be multi-issue, combining struggles for economic justice with the fight against polluters. And, although they may work with liberals, they also tend to adamantly disagree with “solutions” like cap and trade schemes that just move pollution to a different region or country where other people of color will suffer the consequences. It is a certainty that the folks under the gun of environmental racism will provide crucial leadership in the struggle for ecological sanity.

As FSP participates in environmental activism, we must continue to keep the fight against racism in the forefront. That fight is all of a piece with ending the reign of fossil fuels and saving the whales. One of our main contributions to the environmental movement can be to do our best to make sure that issues of race, class and gender are not seen as separate, downplayed, or ignored.

For an alliance of labor, environmentalists, and native peoples

Besides the anti-racist environmental justice wing of the movement, environmentalism in the U.S. generally encompasses these tendencies: liberal/pro-capitalist; direct action but not anti-capitalist; anarchist/anti-capitalist; and ecosocialist. To briefly address them in order:

The Sierra Club is an example of a liberal group that receives corporate funding and supports pro-business strategies like cap and trade. It focuses on lobbying and relies heavily on the Democrats.

Probably the biggest activist organization is 350.org, which emphasizes large direct actions without nailing capitalism as the generator of environmental degradation. Started by author Bill McKibben, this group mobilizes big protests against the Keystone XL pipeline, and does a great deal to raise public consciousness about global warming. It organizes in a loose and decentralized fashion, but has core principles that include nonviolence (to the point of opposing property destruction). Willing to work with other groups, 350.org itself focuses primarily on reducing carbon dioxide levels.

Rising Tide is an example of an anarchist environmental group. It has an explicitly anti-capitalist program and focuses exclusively on direct action. It is militant, with a sense of urgency about the climate crisis. Rising Tide has recently worked with the Nez Perce and Umatilla tribes to block shipments of large mining equipment to the Alberta tar sands. It claims that the only solutions that will work are local efforts that will somehow grow to have a global impact.

Anarchists don’t see the need for the working class to take state power in order for rational environmental decisions to be made. They seem to put their hopes in the increasingly large and intense protests happening internationally. For instance, in Ningbo in China, thousands of city residents joined farmers and students protesting in 2012 against construction of a petrochemical plant nearby. The riots that ensued forced the Chinese government to cancel plans to build the facility.

The anarchist idea is that as the effects of the ecological crisis become more pronounced, protests will become a series of insurrections adding up to a “green revolution.” Governments will be forced to make major changes to energy policy, or face being replaced. And all this will take place without parties or leaders to provide political direction to the insurgency.

But we have seen how this scenario actually plays out. The Occupy Wall Street movement attracted enormous public support and changed the public discussion about the economic meltdown. But the occupiers refused to develop a political program that would draw the majority of working people into the struggle. Without clear goals, the encampments fell victim to cold weather and the police baton.

Yet it is important to acknowledge that anarchist activists, many of whom are young people, are often the most militant and determined environmentalists — the ones ready to put their bodies on the line to defend a livable planet for coming generations. We should make every effort to win them to ecosocialism.

Ecosocialists have the clearest analysis of the causes of the environmental crisis and the best anti-capitalist solutions. Various leftists around the world have taken up this cause, but it is probably the smallest part of the movement.

In addition to these explicitly environmental political tendencies, indigenous people are on the frontlines against transnational mining and energy companies and their government servants, as described previously. Many Pacific Northwest tribes, determined to stop degradation of salmon habitat and other natural resources they depend upon, play a leadership role in opposing fossil fuel exports.

Currently all these groups and tendencies in the labor, environmental, and indigenous movements are generally averse to coordinating their actions. With so many different perspectives, at first glance it looks as though it would be difficult at best to bring them all into a coalition effort or united front. There are reasons that tribes and environmentalists might be suspicious of what they see as job-obsessed unions, while unions might be leery of single-issue environmental groups that have not been sympathetic to labor in the past.

But the scope of the ecological disaster bearing down on us all can forge a measure of common purpose. The key is to respect, but not gloss over, differences. When there is mutual respect, patient and democratic discussion can bring folks to enough agreement that they can take effective common action. The party should work where it can to forge such cooperation.

There’s a lesson to be learned by observing a band of crows as they drive away an invading hawk. The crows swoop in from above and below, and from all sides. They are brave, yet each knows that they cannot take on a bird of prey alone. They understand the value of a coordinated attack.

In thinking about the prospects for mounting coordinated action on behalf of the planet, it’s worth noting that there is far more support in the U.S. labor movement for sane environmental policies than many people think. It is true that in the construction trades, unions want the jobs generated by building oil pipelines and coal export terminals, and they have often convinced larger labor bodies to support these ecologically destructive projects. Yet there are environmental caucuses in many unions, and some national unions have taken progressive stands on environmental issues.

The National Domestic Workers Alliance has taken a strong position against the Keystone XL pipeline, pointing out that many of its members are immigrants from countries that have already been severely harmed by the climate change that the pipeline would exacerbate. And in 2011 two unions representing over 300,000 transport workers, the Amalgamated Transit Union and the Transport Workers Union, took a strong stand against Keystone XL. They emphasized that jobs should instead be created by developing much more public transportation, increasing energy efficiency, and building an infrastructure based on alternative energy.

In fact, far more jobs would result from economic restructuring geared to sustainability than they would from oil, coal, and natural gas projects. But conservative unions like the Laborers’ International Union of North America support fossil fuel projects because their orientation is “business unionism,” meaning that they tie their fate to that of the corporations and not to working-class struggles to change the status quo. The debate about climate change is raging in labor, and comrades should engage in it with gusto at union and labor council conventions, conferences, and other venues.

Another promising development is the phenomenal growth of the environmental movement. Teens and young adults are the most environmentally aware generation in history. And surveys show that 88 percent of U.S. residents believe that action must be taken to combat global warming, even if it has economic costs. Mass climate change protests are growing. In August 2011, a sit-in at the White House against the Keystone XL pipeline was the biggest civil disobedience action in 30 years.

Nationalize the energy industry under workers’ control

A key method for winning eco-activists to a socialist viewpoint is to put forth bold demands that challenge the profit system — the root of the problem — and that will actually have an impact. FSP advocates for greatly expanding mass transit. But the party adds that mass transit should be free, funded by taxing corporations and dismantling the war machine. And FSP’s longstanding call to open the borders has a new relevance in the era of climate refugees.

Of all the possible transitional demands, one that should remain central for the party is to make the energy industry a nonprofit, public sector directly managed by working people. Certainly leaving power production and distribution in private hands is a recipe for creating hell on Earth. Bill McKibben of 350.org estimates that energy corporations now control proven reserves that are five times the amount of fossil fuels that, if burned, would cause global warming to spiral out of control.

Energy corporations, some of the most profitable on the planet, have invested heavily in extractive equipment and in purchasing rights to drill for oil and natural gas and to mine coal. They are determined to reap the mega-profits from these investments, and they will never willingly change over to renewable energy that would displace fossil fuels (even if they dally with their versions of “green” energy as a sideline). These cash-rich corporations control a resource vital to the economy. They therefore have the political power to make sure that capitalist governments do not require them to shift to renewables until the last oil well is dry and the last piece of shale is fracked.

You can see their influence in Barack Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy, which includes plenty of fossil fuels and nuclear power. Nuclear power does not send carbon dioxide out of a smoke stack. But it’s extremely dangerous to use and definitely harmful to the environment in its first and final stages, uranium mining and waste disposal. And it’s highly expensive. Attempting to reboot nuclear energy in the U.S. would drain resources away from less costly alternatives like solar and wind power.

The only way to end the reign of the power profiteers is to nationalize the whole sector. Then it could be run in accordance with a coordinated plan that would end reliance on fossil fuels. And it is not as though public ownership is unknown in the industry. More than 80 percent of the world’s oil is nationalized. And there are over 2,000 public electric utilities in the U.S., including in large cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, San Antonio, and Orlando, Florida.

But the problem is that those public enterprises are managed by bureaucrats who are part of what one might call the corporate-political complex — Democrat and Republican politicians working for the betterment of the 1 percent. So when the industry is nationalized, it must be organized so that workers and the public have real decision-making power. In other words, “under workers’ control,” a phrase traditionally used by socialists to describe this. And there is no need to talk of indemnifying the current owners. They have already made too much money from their noxious exploitation. The industry’s accumulated assets must be put to work to rapidly move the energy infrastructure away from fossil fuels.


Renewable energy sources like wind and solar power
are alternatives to climate-altering fossil fuels — but
need to be part of a nationalized energy industry managed
by workers. Photo credit: Lance Cheung / U.S. Air Force

Every new form of energy production on a large scale has downsides and the unintended consequences that Engels referred to in the previous quote, and this includes solar and wind power. All the more reason that difficult decisions about how to manufacture the energy that sustains human life and propels human endeavor must be in the hands of people who actually give a damn about the fate of the planet.

FSP’s transitional demands must be based on a working knowledge of environmental problems and proposed solutions. This means ongoing research, study, and debate by members — not with the goal of becoming a party of climate experts, but in order to educate ourselves and others and to intervene effectively in the movements.

There is a strong scientific consensus about many environmental issues. Others, however, are hotly contested, or inadequately explored. The questions that science does not yet have answers to can be answered, and the resources to rationally confront the most profound environmental problems can be marshaled. But to think that this can happen under capitalism is to kid oneself. Climate change requires system change. We need to use this truth as high-octane motivation in the fight for socialism, for ourselves and those we reach out to.

We can show that an ecosocialist system would rapidly develop the resources and expertise needed to begin reversing ecological destruction, or to humanely compensate for what cannot be reversed. It would launch an effort similar — in its intensity — to how the Manhattan Project focused on developing the atomic bomb during World War II.

The scientific director of the Manhattan Project, J. Robert Oppenheimer, later described his thoughts upon seeing the destructive power of the bomb. Quoting from Hindu scripture, he said, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” But with our ecosocialist project, we will instead become the rejuvenator of worlds.

VII. For an ecosocialist, feminist solution

Convincing a majority of our class that ecosocialism and feminism are the paths to a better world will not be accomplished by printing catchy slogans on T-shirts (although that has its place). Rather it will require a conscious, in-it-for-the-long-haul approach that orients to the most oppressed and connects to workers’ life experience and conditions.

The united front is crucial

The U.S. corporate elite is sharpening its knives to continue slashing pensions, Medicare, food stamps, unemployment insurance, and the general standard of living of all workers. Obama has even put big cuts to Social Security on the table for a “grand bargain” with Congress to reduce the deficit. As mentioned before, the unions are not mounting a credible fight or planning general strikes. This is unacceptable — the working class simply must defend itself!

When under attack, workers instinctively strive for unity against the bosses and their henchmen in government or the right wing. They have no patience for sectarian competition or bickering among leaders of workers’ organizations. Quite rightly, they want collaboration and action. The best way to achieve that is the united front.

The united front is effective because it brings together different political tendencies for joint action. It may have petty bourgeois folks in it, but it must have working-class leadership — no handing over control to people who would subvert militancy and keep the effort confined within the Democratic Party or other reformist channels. And it must be democratic, with participants showing each other respect despite their differences. If the united front begins with honest debate about the political basis for unity, it will find the strongest common ground and become a fighting force.

Historically, united fronts have consisted of workers’ organizations. In the United States such organizations are less prevalent because the level of unionization is low, and there has never been a mass workers’ party. So what tend to form are coalitions, which unite around an issue but are broader in class composition (as described in Gloria Martin’s Socialist Feminism: The First Decade, 1966-76). Still, the goal of radicals in coalitions is to make them as much like a united front as possible by insuring that they have a program and leadership that serves the interest of the working class.

And party members often do apply united front methods in the battles we are engaged in. When the Bay Area FSP branch set out to defend City College of San Francisco from an accreditation commission intent on privatization, they tried to build a united front of students, faculty, and staff. An actual united front was not the result. But by pushing those they worked with to squarely confront the commission and the Democrats, comrades did move the faculty union and liberals much further to the left than they would have otherwise gone, with positive results for defense of the college.

A united front should strive to be inclusive. It should welcome unionized and unorganized workers while reaching out to youth, women, immigrants, people of color, and LGBT communities. When the front orients toward the issues of the most discriminated-against, it rallies the best fighters to its cause. And when the oppressed push up from the bottom rungs of the ladder, they bring everyone up.

The importance of this approach can be seen in the party’s own history. In the Pacific Northwest, FSP and Radical Women members organized the United Front for Survival in the 1970s to defend anti-poverty programs from elimination; in the 1980s, the party led in forming the United Front Against Fascism to stop the growth of racist groups like the Aryan Nations. These efforts were endorsed and actively supported not only by AFL-CIO locals and some union leaders, but also by organizations in the Black, Latino, and gay communities, as well as by student and feminist groups.

Of course workers need to go beyond defensive battles. To stop ever-worsening poverty and ecological catastrophe, they must go on the offensive — as in a revolutionary offensive. To do that we radicals must win the majority of the working class to the revolution. We must convince workers that revolution is necessary to end their intolerable exploitation, and that it is possible to win the revolution.

The main means to accomplish this persuasion is to be in the class struggle. The united front puts revolutionaries in close contact with workers in motion. For this reason the party should propose the formation of united fronts to leaders of labor organizations and other movement groups. In the course of united front work we have an opportunity to prove ourselves as strong organizers, resolute fighters, and political thinkers with the strongest grounding and program. In this way we can expose the bankruptcy of reformism and win people to a revolutionary perspective.

There are many possible united fronts that could be proposed. Perhaps a united front for jobs and freedom, picking up on the 1963 March on Washington theme. Joblessness is an urgent issue, especially for youth and people of color. And “freedom” encompasses a range of issues affecting our diverse class. An even broader effort could be a united front for jobs, freedom, and a healthy planet.

The FSP’s multi-issue orientation will shine during united front organizing, since workers face a multitude of hardships that need to be addressed. Reinstating affirmative action would be one of the most effective ways to take on widespread discrimination in hiring and promotions. Economically squeezed parents face a Herculean task in raising their kids — for starters they need parental leave, good public schools, and free 24-hour childcare. Youth of color need elected civilian review boards over the police to keep trigger-happy cops from wreaking havoc and murdering with impunity.

In whatever efforts the party can set in motion, it is important to put forward transitional demands that point toward workers’ power. Demands like nationalizing the energy industry under workers’ control to rapidly reduce greenhouse gases; nationalizing the banks and declaring a moratorium on home foreclosures; dismantling the war machine to fund a massive jobs program.

The united front is a necessary tactic for defending workers’ rights and lives in the here and now and for building the revolutionary movement. Other leftists have the same radical direction in mind for workers’ emancipation, so FSP should collaborate with them as much as possible in calling for and organizing united fronts, and this should be a priority for our work.

Leadership of the most oppressed

Last hired and first fired. You have to be twice as good to be judged the same. “I go to the movie, and I go downtown. Somebody keep telling me don’t hang around,” lamented Sam Cooke in his moving song “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Myriad are the everyday ways that capitalism inflicts oppression upon those it has chosen to super-exploit for maximum profits.


Those suffering the most under capitalism
will be its undoing. Shown above: Bangladeshi garment workers
demand wage increases in Dhaka in 2013.
Photo credit: Munir Uz Zaman / AFP / Getty Images

The most oppressed — women, people of color, immigrants, LGBT folks, people with disabilities — are far more likely to live in poverty. Their wages are lower, and their unemployment rates higher. Black transgender workers are jobless at a rate four times the national average. All this intensifies as the economic crisis continues.

Through such bitter exploitation the bosses have created an army of workers who know how to fight back, since they have had to do it all their lives. And this army constitutes a sturdy majority of the working class.

The concept of permanent revolution recognizes the crucial role of the most oppressed. In a founding document for the Fourth International, published in The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution, Trotsky urged all sections of the new world body to seek support among the most exploited layers of the working class, especially women and young people. Among women, he said, the international would “find inexhaustible stores of devotion, selflessness, and readiness to sacrifice.”

Permanent revolution is understood as a process that continues after workers take power. The continual progress toward the classless society requires vanquishing prejudices inherited from the old order. But the seizure of power by the working class on an international level has been delayed far longer than expected. And those who have been long abused and ignored have not waited to fight for an end to oppression.

The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s broke the back of McCarthyism and inspired would-be rebels the world over with the slogan “Freedom now!” It shone as a North Star for other oppressed groups to follow, and the liberation movements for women, other people of color, people with disabilities, and LGBT people came in its wake. These struggles against oppression became a power unto themselves and an addition to the power of the working class to fight exploitation.

It was the genius of the FSP founders that they recognized, long before the rest of the Left, that this growing power was the tip of the working-class spear. One of the main theories the new FSP based itself upon was revolutionary integration, an in-depth Marxist analysis of African American liberation. The theory explains the perspective that Blacks are an oppressed race rather than a nation, asserts that racism is a fundamental feature of U.S. capitalism, and describes concretely why the Black struggle is key to the U.S. revolution. Revolutionary integration was and is a bold declaration that the movement to toss out capitalism must recognize the leadership of its most oppressed warriors.

Today these warriors confront every sort of obstacle to win a measure of justice. Immigrant berry pickers in Washington state, who don’t even have a union, strike for fair wages and respect. Women of color union organizers win long-denied labor rights for domestic workers in New York and California; in Chicago, meanwhile, they unite striking teachers with their students of color by expanding strike issues to include taking on the apartheid nature of the city’s public school system. Transpeople, who are often marginalized even in the LGBT and feminist movements, rally their community and other New Yorkers to demand justice for a murdered trans woman of color, Islan Nettles.

Clearly the most oppressed are tenacious fighters. Marx and Engels pointed out that when capitalism brought massive numbers of workers together in socialized production, it created its own grave-diggers. When these gravediggers belong to super-exploited groups, their shovels are super-sized; those who the profit system treats the worst will be its undoing.

Weaving a tapestry of survival

During the time it takes to read this document, it’s likely that several farmers in India have committed suicide. At the rate of one every half hour, they succumb to despair; perhaps the overpriced seed and fertilizer forced on them by the agribusiness conglomerate Monsanto has made their small-scale farming untenable, or perhaps they were wiped out by drought caused by global warming. This is one of the realities of our time that lends urgency to the task of persuading the working class to take the road of revolution.

This endeavor looks daunting in the face of bourgeois control of the state, mass media, and other instruments of rule. But, as revolutionaries, FSP comrades are certainly not alone in the world. And radicals do get help from the bosses, who go to the ends of the Earth to ever more thoroughly exploit workers and the environment. Their vicious insanity provides a common cause, a connection, for workers and their allies the world over.

Native Haida artist Robert Davidson invoked connection recently when he talked to a reporter about a photograph in his studio. The photo showed a 1969 ceremony to raise a totem pole that Davidson had carved for his home village in British Columbia. It was the first pole to be raised in 70 years, but village elders sang Haida songs handed down through generations. Davidson described his insights about that day:

Each one of us is connected to the ancient ways by a thin thread. And when we come together, we form a thick rope. Each person in that photograph, we were all connected by a thin thread, and that day, we formed a thick rope.

As part of working-class movements and socialist tradition, FSP members are part of a network of threads as well. Threads that connect fights for rights on the job in the U.S. to the struggle of Bangladeshi textile workers for livable wages. Threads that connect transpeople standing up against transphobic violence to Brazilian indigenous communities battling international mining corporations. Threads that connect us to the program and history of our party, which was the first socialist party to recognize and prioritize the struggles and crucial leadership of the most oppressed.

Socialist feminists are the vanguard weavers of a multi-hued and beautiful rope. A rope strong enough that the working class can use it to scale the mountain and reach a summit free of exploitation, poverty, and prejudice. A summit with a stunning future view of our one, only, and healing planet.


Steve Hoffman

Steve Hoffman is a maintenance electrician and shop steward at a Seattle community college who represents his local AFSCME union at the M.L. King County Labor Council. His favorite pastime is hiking trails in state parks that are maintained by other members of his union.