Some Necessary Points of Reference

For Building Socialist Organizer, U.S. Section of the Fourth International, In the Coming Period

(Resolution Adopted by the 12 National Convention of Socialist Organizer — October 2012)

1. The Resolution adopted by the July 1-3, 2012 meeting of the General Council of the Fourth International titled “The Stakes of the 8th World Congress of the Fourth International” placed at the center of our tasks the urgent need to build and strengthen the sections of the Fourth International on the line of the transition. Building the revolutionary party is needed to help the working class and all the oppressed the world over overcome all the obstacles on the road to the conquest of political power, the most important of which is the misleadership of the mass workers’ organizations.

[Note: This General Council resolution was adopted unanimously in May 2013 by the delegates at the 8th World Congress of the Fourth International.]

The introductory section of the General Council resolution quotes Trotsky as follows:

“The active intervention of the masses in historical events is in fact the most indispensable element of a revolution. … The uprising of the masses must lead to the overthrow of the domination of one class and to the establishment of the domination of another. … In order to sweep away the outlived social order, the progressive class must understand that its hour has struck and set before itself the task of conquering power. Here opens the field of conscious revolutionary action, where foresight and calculation combine with will and courage. In other words: here opens the field of action of the Party.”

And Trotsky adds,

“Without a Party that is able to orient itself in its environment, appreciate the progress and rhythm of events and win the confidence of the masses, the victory of the proletarian revolution is impossible. These are the reciprocal relations between the objective and the subjective factors of insurrection and revolution.” (1932 Copenhagen Speech on the “Lessons of the October Revolution”)

The starting point for the Fourth International in the epoch of imperialism is that the “historical crisis of humankind is reduced to the crisis of revolutionary leadership.”

The fight to build the revolutionary party as the “conscious expression of the unconscious or semi-conscious struggle” (Lenin) cannot be divorced from the struggle for the workers’ united front – and the anti-imperialist united front in countries dominated by imperialism. The General Council resolution puts it this way:

“To make sure that the revolutionary party can actually be built during the revolutionary crisis, a Fourth International section is needed, carrying out united-front policies aimed at helping the masses advance toward the solution of the question of power by their revolutionary mobilization around transitional demands.”

2. As Marxists, we understand that successfully intervening in the class struggle requires a fine-tuned assessment of the political situation; only on this basis can we properly define our tasks. The resolution adopted by the July 2012 meeting of the General Council correctly focuses on the crisis of domination of the capitalist system that is concentrated right at the core of U.S. imperialism. The resolution states, in part:

“[We are witnessing today] a total and general crisis of domination of the most powerful imperialism, the imperialism which is in charge of ensuring the ‘global order’ of the decaying system founded on the private ownership of the means of production: U.S. imperialism. … This total and general crisis which is social, political and institutional is pushing the oppressed and exploited masses to resistance. This, in turn, is becoming an aggravating factor of the crisis. …

“As for U.S. imperialism, it is the focal point of all the contradictions of the world situation: it must impose its world order, but it is no super-imperialism. … The crisis of domination of the entire capitalist system is concentrated right at the core of the U.S. imperialist system. Its domination over the entire world is gaining momentum, but in crisis conditions that are constantly worsening. The root cause is the impasse of the regime founded on the private ownership of the means of production.

“U.S. imperialism [is] now compelled to intervene in every financial, economic and military operation to maintain this global order. That is why it constantly seeks to lay part of the burden on the shoulders of competing imperialisms. …

“On the domestic level: with a ballooning debt which is suffocating the economy, U.S. financial capital is under obligation to widen the profit margins in order to ease market pressures. This is what, even inside the ruling class, increases the weight of the proto-fascist Tea Party wing, which openly demands that the government commit itself to terminating all labor rights and guarantees and to engage a more brutal offensive against the working class.

“But even if that offensive has scored considerable gains – the termination of collective guarantees in the auto industry, the adoption of incredibly brutal union-busting laws in several states, combined with economic collapse unprecedented since the 1929 crisis, causing 50 million to 60 million people to live below the poverty level and millions of people to lose their homes – it has come up against the working class’s resistance.”

Indeed, as the General Council resolution points out, a salient characteristic of the current situation in the United States is the deepening crisis of ruling class politics, product of the acute and deepening crisis of capitalism itself. And this, in turn, has produced a new and increasing level of discontent among working people, youth and the oppressed. It is a situation that is extremely propitious for putting forward the political perspectives of the Fourth International and for building the U.S. section of the Fourth International on the line of the transition.

3. The working class is the only revolutionary class in society. Only through its self-organization and self-activation can the working class – made up of workers of different genders, ethnicities, nationalities, sexualities, ages, and skill levels – free itself from the bondage of capitalism, and only by freeing itself can the working class free the rest of society from the chains of exploitation and oppression. This reality is rooted in the capitalist relations of production and the extortion of surplus value by the capitalist class.

The Fourth International – basing itself on the Marxist method – has always underscored the fact that the working class, through its own movement and its own organizations, is the central motor force of revolutionary change. To overthrow capitalism and establish a socialist democracy, there is no substitute.

Through its struggle for emancipation, moreover, the working class must champion the struggles of all the oppressed and exploited sectors of society.

In this regard, the July 2012 General Council resolution states:

“The imperialist destruction of nations has led to the massive forced migration of millions of young people and workers to imperialist centers where they face systematic discrimination as they attempt to work, survive, and resist under the most precarious conditions. Throughout the world the hardest hit by the capitalist crisis are those whom Trotsky called in The Transitional Program the ‘most oppressed’ layers of the working class – the youth, working-class women, migrants, and the oppressed nationalities.”

While the autonomous struggles of distinct layers of the working class (women workers, immigrant workers, etc.) or other oppressed strata of society (students, peasants, etc.) may often play an important role in the class struggle at a given moment, the most effective means to fight for the rights of all layers of the working class and other oppressed strata is through organization on an independent working class basis. Thus our overall strategy is centered around reclaiming the workers’ organizations as militant resistance instruments, the organization of all layers of the working class on an independent class basis (unions, parties, soviets, etc.), and the fight for the political hegemony of the working class.

Our task as the U.S. section of the Fourth International is to struggle for the abolition of capitalism and bourgeois property relations. We must fight for the working class to take political power into its own hands. And this means that for us the most important question, the overriding question, is that of the independence and unity of the working class. And as the “Communist Manifesto” teaches us, the class struggle always take place in a first moment in the framework of the nation, as a component part of a movement that unites the class struggle on a world scale.

This is why fighting for the unity of the U.S. working class – integrating all its components, whatever their national, ethnic or cultural origins – is such a crucial question.

4. Marx makes a crucial distinction between the working class as a class “in itself” (or as Marx also calls it, a “mass that is already a class as against capital”) and a class “for itself.” And by a class “for itself” Marx means a class that is conscious of its existence as a distinct social class – something that is crystallized in its class organizations and in the entire panoply of its institutions that are the product of its class struggles. Trotsky speaks of the “bastions of workers’ democracy” built by the working class within the narrow crevices of bourgeois society.

All these workers’ organizations – beginning with the trade unions and the workers’ parties – constitute the working class as a class for itself. This is why the Fourth International, basing itself on the lessons of the workers’ revolutionary struggles, has affirmed in all its recent World Congress documents that helping to raise the working class to the task of seizing political power is a task that is inseparable from the defense of the existence of the working class as a class – which necessarily entails defending the organizations that have constituted it as a class.

5. Decaying capitalism today seeks to destroy all existing workers’ organizations in order to lower labor costs and atomize the workers’ resistance struggles. This offensive would not be possible without the direct aid provided by various counter-revolutionary apparatuses, which in various forms seeks to promote or accompany this process. The defense of all existing labor organizations, beginning with the trade unions, against the corporatist offensive is a central task of the Fourth International.

We defend the trade union organizations despite the policies of their leaderships, which threaten the very existence of the unions as they deliver them to the capitalists and imperialists.

This is a central question for the Fourth International today. In the United States, it is vital that we defend the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions against Trumka and co., all staunch defenders of the bourgeoisie and their interests from within the workers’ movement. But herein lies their contradiction, as Trotsky pointed out: The top trade union bureaucrats can only carry out their reactionary policies while seeking to preserve at least somewhat, and within certain limits, their trade union base. Having said that, we must at all times defend the unions against the reactionary policies of the bureaucratic apparatus at their helm. This is a hallmark of the policies of the Fourth International today, which we support. Those who cannot defend past gains will not make new ones.

6. One of the main features of the world situation today is that within the rising revolutionary tide extending across Northern Africa, Europe and beyond, workers are looking to their traditional organizations, primarily their trade unions, seeking to reclaim them and wield them to win their heart-felt demands. They are seeking to win back their unions, wresting them away from the reactionary influence and stranglehold of the treacherous bureaucrats, and seeking to transform them into instruments for their struggles for emancipation.

This happened in Tunisia, where the workers grabbed hold of the old UGTT trade union federation – despite the fact that the UGTT had been largely integrated into the structures of the old regime – to wage their struggles for their rights. The very same process is occurring in Greece, Portugal, Spain – and all this, again, despite the repeated betrayals of the leaderships of the main trade union federations. The workers are seeking to reclaim their unions for struggle as a means of expressing their existence – and their demands – as a class in opposition to the barbarism coming down from the capitalists and imperialists.

This is happening as well in the United States, although not on the same scale as in Europe or Northern Africa. In Wisconsin, the Graduate TA’s and their union walked out, followed by teachers in 10 school districts – independently of the directives of their trade union leaders – to demand an end to the attacks on collective-bargaining. Some sectors of the movement also raised the demand for No Cuts, No Concessions. The bold actions by these trade unions, including a real bona fide occupation of the State Capitol, reawakened the struggle for trade union rights nationwide, prompting huge mass rallies in Madison and beyond.

The Wisconsin Uprising – uniting union activists and youth – gave rise to a similar movement in Ohio, where a union-led initiative on the state ballot ended up overturning the governor’s union-busting plan. This same movement was expressed in the two Oakland port shutdowns, in the Longview ILWU strike, in the struggles in defense of public education in California, and in the insurgent movements in the AFT (particularly in Chicago, where 90% of the union members authorized a strike vote at the beginning of the new school year) and other unions.

This struggle in Wisconsin was ultimately betrayed by the top union officials who came in guns ablaze to put out the rebellion, so deep was this movement from below (and from within the intermediate layers of the trade union officialdom), offering hundreds of millions of dollars in concessions in exchange for an agreement to keep collective-bargaining rights for public workers. The Wisconsin rebellion had to be stopped by any means necessary.

The top bureaucrats and Democrats succeeded in derailing this burgeoning movement into the safe channels – for the ruling class – of the electoral arena. All were frightened to the marrow of their bones by the specter of Wisconsin. But the betrayals and the fact that Scott Walker ultimately prevailed in the recall election does not take away the fact that Wisconsin showed in its purest form the willingness to fight back, to reclaim the unions for struggle, including for a general strike. It showed the way forward.

This is why a central task of the Fourth International is to be part of this working-class fightback and movement to reclaim its trade unions, which are the result of the historic struggles to constitute the working class as a class for itself. We must intervene in this process – posing the need for independent working class action and independent working class political action, building rank-and-file caucuses but also utilizing the policy of the united front from above and from below, conscious at all times of utilizing and deepening the fissures that are developing within the trade union officialdom as the crisis deepens to help mobilize the rank and file.

The fight for working-class political independence is inseparable from our strategy of ensuring that the trade unions fully play their role as militant and democratic resistance instruments for their members and for the working class as a whole (against austerity, racist attacks, the rollback of women’s rights, etc.). Socialist Organizer must prioritize getting its members into unions and organizing a functioning Labor Fraction to coordinate its day-to-day work in the unions.

7. On every continent, the Fourth International has placed at the center of its work the fight for the independence of the workers’ movement. This orientation has been clearly laid out in all the recent resolutions adopted by the World Congresses of the Fourth International. This is all the more essential because in the epoch of imperialist decay and the forced march to capitalist barbarism, the integration of the trade unions and the issue of the “new world governance” are a major trait of the capitalist offensive against the working class.

In every country this question is posed, though the national forms may vary.

The founding program of the Fourth International calls on its followers to fight in all circumstances for a break by the trade union and political leaderships that represent and speak in the name of the workers with the capitalist system in its death agony.

In the United States, this means fighting for the trade unions, for the AFL-CIO in particular, but also for Change to Win and the independent unions – the only organized expression of the working class as a class for itself – to break with the capitalist class and its political instrument: the Democratic Party.

The capitalist class depends politically on the Democratic Party’s subordination of the trade unions – the only existing mass workers’ organizations – via the trade union bureaucracy. Fighting to break the unions from the Democrats and for a Labor Party based on the trade unions is a central task of Socialist Organizer, the U.S. section of the Fourth International, and is the U.S. expression of the Fourth International’s international orientation to build its sections “on the line of the transition.” (To drop our call for a Labor Party based on the trade unions would mean letting the union bureaucracy off the hook – it would mean failing to highlight the fact that subordination to the Democrats is THE main obstacle facing the U.S. workers’ movement.)

Over the past three and half years since Barack Obama was elected, this subordination by the trade union officialdom to the capitalist class via the Democratic Party has had particularly devastating results for the working class and for all oppressed sectors of society. On every front – assault on trade union rights (most notably for public sector workers but also for auto workers in Detroit), massive cutbacks, destruction of jobs and social protection, rampant wave of home foreclosures, attacks on democratic rights, continued reversal of women’s rights, assault on immigrant workers, intensified racist attacks against Blacks and other oppressed sectors, and the list goes on – working people are taking it on the chin.

Reliance on Obama and the Democratic Party has led the trade union officialdom to embrace and accompany the most reactionary policies.

But at the same time, linked to the movement of the youth for their rights – the struggle of working people around the “No Cuts, No Concessions!” demand has been raised from within all the major struggles – from the autoworkers, who called for rejecting the sell-out contract; to the nurses and their supporters in Wisconsin; to the teachers and youth in California and across the country who are fighting the budget cuts, and beyond. This underscores the fact that THE central question today is the independence of the workers’ movement, which means the need for the trade unions to break with Obama and the Democratic Party.

As the resolution adopted by the July 2012 meeting of the General Council notes,

“The fact remains that the resistance of the U.S. working class remains at the center of the crisis [in the United States]. This raises the need for the U.S, section to redefine the forms and means of the fight for the independence of the labor movement at its next convention, which raises the question of a Labor Party that breaks the bonds of subordination by the trade unions to the Democratic Party.”

The only social base for building a credible mass working-class alternative to the Democrats are the trade unions and organizations of oppressed peoples. To try to build a mass working class party that is not principally the expression of these social forces and their organizations is a dead-end strategy. Thus we reject the strategy of building the Green Party, a Populist Party, or a SP/Peace and Freedom Party – though when possible or necessary we can relate to some of these developments to push them in the direction of a Labor Party, independent Black politics, etc.

8. In the case of Wisconsin, but this is true as well in California, it is worth noting that a large sector of the youth was able to make common cause with the working class around common demands, notably against the cuts. The crisis-ridden capitalist system has no choice but to attack the gains and living conditions of the working class and also all other sectors of the population, particularly the youth, who are facing the wholesale destruction of public education, universities, jobs – and the very right to a future.

The demand of No Cuts, No Concessions! poses the united fightback of the working class and youth. The question of fighting to get the unions to embrace this struggle against the cuts and concessions is the critical element; we must always fight to get the unions to champion the struggles of their members and of all components of the working class and the oppressed.

This does not mean that there is not an autonomous and specific youth dimension in the struggle. There is. And the Fourth International will have to move quickly to address building this autonomous movement of the youth, in conjunction with the independent movement of the working class. The weak youth work of the F.I. remains a central problem that must be overcome in the next period.

As the resolution adopted by the July 2012 meeting of the General Council of the Fourth International further points out,

“The 8th World Congress [of the Fourth International] will have to establish the terms and forms of a true turning point in our work in direction of youth, which implies apprehending and expressing the particular place of youth as it is confronted with this ultimate stage of decomposition of imperialism. It is true that casualizing the younger generation is a source of profits for capitalism and it is more efficient than scrapping the guarantees of the older generation. This entails a political consequence: ‘youth jobs.’ youth unemployment, sub-contracting, lowering qualification, multi-tiered retirement systems (after the counter-reforms) which tend to sever the link between the younger generation and the organized working class.

“The words of Trotsky in The Revolutionary Betrayed are more relevant than ever: ‘Every revolutionary party finds its chief support in the younger generation of the rising class.’

“Assimilating the understanding that the majority of recruits to the Fourth International will come from the youth is an absolute necessity if our sections are to move toward a real and consistent intervention among young people. The weakness of our intervention among youth is one of the major problems facing the Fourth International. Youth work should not be something peripheral or secondary to our overall activities – it must become completely central to the construction of all our sections.

“The axis of our intervention among young people must be the independent mobilization and organization of young people around their demands, in unity with the working class as a whole and its organizations.

“In the context of the subordination of the traditional workers’ organizations to the capitalists, the bulk of youth struggles today (in which special attention must be given to the fights of students, especially in Chile, Quebec, Puerto Rico) take more autonomous forms than in the past and are sometimes led by reactionary forces (NGOs, alter-globalizers, etc.) that aim to divide the youth from the working class and manipulate these movements against the workers’ organizations.

“The emergence of the Occupy, Indignados, and YoSoy132 movements reflect these contradictory tendencies. In a national context where the mass of young people do not see the workers’ organizations as a political alternative (given their subordination via their leaderships), and where student unions are either non-existent or very weak, the spontaneous revolutionary resistance of the youth has been channeled into movements led and dominated by apparatuses who promote reactionary politics under the pretext of ‘rejecting politics.’ ‘consensus,’ ‘rejecting leadership, etc.
“While the dynamics and forms of youth struggles (of the student union, democratic rights, and Occupy/Indignados varieties) vary greatly from country to country and thus require a concrete analysis and approach, as a general rule the sections of the Fourth International must find every avenue to actively intervene in the struggles of young people, to promote an independent mass action orientation, to push for unity with the workers’ organizations, and to win the best layers to revolutionary Marxism.”

9. There is, of course, in the United States a very specific dimension of the class struggle that involves the question of national oppression.

Socialist Organizer’s perspective on the national question in the United States rests upon some basic pillars:

– White supremacy has been and continues to be the central source of division within the working class in the United States. To help overcome this obstacle, we fight for the unions to champion the rights of racially and nationally oppressed groups, and we support and participate in the autonomous movements and organizations of Blacks and Latinos, as part of an overall strategy of building working-class unity.

– The most oppressed sectors of U.S. society have a tremendous revolutionary potential that will be central to the revolutionary struggle – and the construction of a mass revolutionary party – in the United States.

– We support the self-organization of all groups that face racial and/or national oppression in the U.S. in their fight for equality and social justice. At the same time, we fight to forge the unity of all components of the U.S. working class in the fight for socialist revolution, which is the precondition for wiping out racial oppression.

– Black people were a component part of the constitution of the American nation but at the very same time were permanently excluded by the ruling classes from inclusion within this very nation. The history of slavery, the U.S. Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, etc. gives the Black struggle a specificity within the class struggle than cannot be equated directly with any other oppressed group in the United States.

– We support Black self-determination and Black nationalism, though we do not advocate territorial separation. To further their liberation struggle by breaking with the Democratic Party, and to enable the forging of a unity of equals with workers of other nationalities, we support the construction of an independent Black Party, which we in S.O. see as linked to the struggle for a Labor Party based on the trade unions. We would seek all avenues to promote the unity of a Black Party with (and potentially within) a Labor Party.

– The struggle of Chicano/as – i.e. Mexican-Americans – and of immigrants from other countries of Latin America is a major component of the class struggle today and in upcoming period. The struggle for legalization, against racial profiling and deportations (SB1070, etc.), in defense of Ethnic Studies and bilingual education, and other demands for equality and cultural autonomy are hugely important, particularly given the massive scapegoating of immigrants across the country. We support the self-organization of Chicanos and all Latinos and see our work within MEChA, in particular, as a key avenue of political intervention. If a movement in this direction were to emerge, we would support the formation of a Chicano/La Raza/Latino political party to fight for the demands of Chicanos and other immigrants; within such a party we would push for political independence and unity with the organized workers’ movement and the Black liberation movement linked to the struggle for a Labor Party.

– While we agree on the central political perspectives for combating racial and national oppression in the U.S., there are legitimate differences within Socialist Organizer concerning various political questions on this topic, which merit further discussion. These include the following:

– Should the concept of self-determination – the right of an oppressed group to fully determine their destiny (up to and including the right to secession) – apply to all oppressed peoples or only to certain ones? Is it relevant for peoples for whom secession appears unlikely (or potentially unsupportable)? More specifically, should it apply to Chicanos, Native Americans and potentially Latinos in the United States? Linked to this question, does the combined nature of the coming U.S. revolution refer only to Black people, or does it apply more generally to Chicanos, Native Americans and potentially Latinos in the United States?
– Is there the possibility that the shared oppression facing Chicanos and immigrants from Latin America, and their joint resistance struggles, could lead in the future to the formation of a new Latino nationality, incorporating Chicanos and immigrants from Latin America?

10. All across the globe, the working class is facing an offensive aimed at atomizing it as a class. This is being done through the intensification of racial and national oppression (notably through the scapegoating of immigrants) and falsely wielding the national question to pit working people against each other. The European Union’s “Europe of Regions,” for example, claims to address the legitimate national demands of oppressed nationalities, only to better advance its reactionary aims of dismantling gains that have been gained in the framework of nation-states. It is being done in Algeria to break up the Algerian nation and its conquests by pushing for Berber “autonomy.” The list goes on.

But this atomization is also being done through the various forms of corporatism that have been deployed by the international financial institutions of capitalism in the name of the “new world governance.”

Over the past 20 years, the offensive – a reactionary offensive insofar as it seeks to prevent the working class from acting in unity in defense of its class interests – has witnessed the proliferation of NGOs, social forums and the like.

The July 2012 General Council resolution described this question as follows:

“[T]he offensive of capital everywhere is aimed at fragmenting the class, reducing it to a collection of individuals by challenging the collective specificity of its gains (collective bargaining agreements, status and so on) and the very existence of its organizations. To achieve this, aided by the apparatus, the capitalist class manipulates movements of the Indignados/Occupy type. …

“It is in this framework that the apparatuses have done everything possible to impose and spread their reactionary politics of atomizing the working class (NGOs, Social Forums, etc.), making use of the phenomenon on the ‘Indignados’ in the same sense. …

“In the United States the continued subordination of the trade unions by their leadership to the Democratic Party – including in Wisconsin where the unions were eventually sucked into the trap of the ‘Recall’ campaign against Governor Walker – created a political context which favored the emergence of the ‘Occupy’ movement. Seeing no visible political alternative to the twin parties of Capital, millions of young people (and workers) turned to the ‘Occupy’ movement in which they saw the means to express their anger at the capitalists, the bailouts, and the budget cuts.

“Yet this healthy wave of resistance from below was from day one in contradiction with the overall politics of ‘Occupy’ (marked by a refusal to place demands against the state) and its organizational forms (consensus, encampments, etc.) promoted by all the political misleaderships. While Occupy formations in some schools and cities were able to break with this model by organizing – on the basis of majority vote and in conjunction with the trade unions – mass actions around demands on the state (no cuts to education, solidarity with the Longview ILWU, etc.), in most areas the Occupy movement was within a few months largely dispersed, mostly into the dead-end of the Democratic Party and ‘Black Bloc’ confrontations with the police.”

Socialist Organizer was correct to intervene in the Occupy movement, both to expose the dead-end policies of the leading forces in Occupy and to forge a fightback labor-youth-community coalition, based on the teachers’ unions, against the budget cuts on the axis of No Cuts, No Concessions!

Having said this, there remains a political difference in the leadership of the S.O. National Committee that also needs to be clarified in the course of the pre-convention discussion and at the convention itself: Was it correct to run the headline in The Organizer newspaper “What Way Forward For the Occupy Movement?” – or, rather, was this an adaptation to the Occupy movement by equating Occupy with the workers’ movement?
This matter, which might appear to be insignificant on the surface, raises some serious theoretical questions that need to be addressed fully in the course of the pre-convention discussion.

In addition, on the basis of this resolution, it will be necessary for the SO National Committee to prepare in the coming weeks a brief resolution outlining our immediate tasks in the period ahead.

 

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