U.S. Politics and the Economy

Today’s Situation and What Is To Be Done Next

By Joe Johnson

Today we are in a situation similar to that of just before the 1934 strikes. These similarities are such as to make it vital for us to understand those strikes and the truths they demonstrated.

We have an accurate, detailed, historical record of the Minneapolis Teamster strikes and this writer spent months speaking with its leaders before they died. In particular, I talked with Vincent Ray Dunn when Ray had full recall and knowledge of all the strikes’ major developments. Ray was the major organizer and leader of the Teamster strikes.

The two innovations that the Teamster strikes produced of most importance to us now are: The uniting of larger and larger sections of the working class, and taking the attack to the capitalists and not simply reacting to their attacks. There are many more important lessons to be learned, but these two are necessary for us to learn now.

Before the 1934 strikes the workers were divided by craft, and this division with others so weakened them that they were defeated time after time. It was only when under revolutionary leadership that they were able to unite and win.

We are in a similar situation now. The unions are separated from the working class as a whole, so when they do struggle against the bosses they do it in a divided, weakened condition.

A good example today of uniting is the recent big Chicago teacher’s strike. It succeeded because the striking teachers spent considerable time, energy and thought into uniting with the larger community, so that when they had their mass demonstrations and their strike, they had the active support from the community. They were only able to get their support by enfolding within their union demands the needs of the community. Simple trade union action is no longer sufficient.

But it is not only communities that need to be enfolded within the strike, but other organizations as well, for example, the environmental movement. With the capitalists’ massive destruction of the Earth there has developed an ever enlarging grouping of people, workers, small capitalists, and even a few large capitalists who wish the destruction of the earth to stop. Without the leadership of the working class, these people, who have massive resources of money and members, can do little but beg the capitalists to do better. Or act like little children and smash windows and other ultra-left actions that may be more or less violent, but which lead only to defeat.

In the teamsters strike in Minneapolis it was necessary for the strikers to enfold the small merchants into support. This was done as a conscious decision of the leadership. Much energy was devoted to this before and during the strike.

Ray Dunne told me how the strike leadership understood the needs and problems of the small merchants; knew of their strengths and their serious weaknesses. They did similar work with the other elements of society, working quite successfully organizing and getting the active support of the unemployed.

Acceleration in the class struggle

A second way the period we are in is similar to the time just before the 1934 strikes is that there is acceleration in the class struggle. The working class in the United States has been on the defensive and in retreat for so long that it is hard for even the best revolutionary to understand that now it is both possible and necessary in select areas to be on the attack. This does not mean that defensive struggles are not important; they remain of great importance.

We can see this in the fast food strike in New York where the main demand is for higher wages. Now defense will be a part of attack; see for example the Chicago teachers’ defense against closing schools as well as calling for better schools and more teachers at higher wages.

There is a subjective problem that needs to be considered. The best, most politically advanced, self-sacrificing of the working class have been deeply submerged in the retreats and defeats. It is difficult for them to see that “the times, they are a changin’.” They can see a fighting retreat, a defensive struggle, but not an attack. This needs to change. To point out the errors and crimes of the union leadership, to call for solidarity in defensive struggle is no longer sufficient. What is now necessary is bold leadership by the vanguard in attacking the capitalists where they are the weakest. We can see those weak areas of capitalism; so let us in an organized and intelligent way attack them.

An area has opened before our eyes. Congress has lost the support of over 90 percent of the population. A large majority of the U.S. population, of all classes, understands that Congress is made up of the servants of the very rich capitalists. People do not have faith or support for Congress. This is where we need to attack. As revolutionaries we do not wish to reform Congress, but to destroy it. This needs to be done not with words of criticism but action.

A congress of the 99 percent

Now, we are not ultra-left; we do not want to throw stones at Congress, and we are not sufficiently united and militarily strong enough to be able to physically attack Congress. What we need to do is to develop a congress of our own. An assembly of the 99 percent where what is to be done can be debated and deliberated on. Just as Congress is the assembly of the ruling class, this new congress would be an assembly of, and for, the working class and its many allies.

However, given the size of the United States and that given areas are developing at much different speeds, these assemblies will just be on a state, region or city level. Think of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers and Soldiers Deputies as a Russian example of what we should do.

Detroit, for example, is ready for such an assembly. There are now, in Detroit, many sizable militant community groups, civil rights groups, etc. Plus, there are sizable environmental groups in and around Detroit. These should not be minimized because of their small size and minimal militancy in the past. With global warming and the advanced nature of the capitalist destruction of the air, water, animal and plant life, these groups are fast becoming stronger and more anti-capitalist. Witness the 50,000 strong March on Washington by these groups recently. True, they need to have the leadership that can come out of these assemblies, but they are on the correct side of the barricades and that is what is important now.

All these groups, and let me stress there are many, many of them and they have sizable numbers and power on their side, should be part of the Detroit assembly. This assembly, which together can deliberate, discuss and debate their common problems, and what is of great importance, can decide what common action to take. It could, with the leadership that is available in Detroit now, be an assembly that would out-perform the Legislature in Lansing, Michigan of the capitalist parties. It would not at this early stage have the body of armed men that the Petrograd Soviet had; that will come later.

A general strike?

Should we not first have a general strike, then form the assembly? It is the assemblies that will make possible the general strike. As of now there is not likely to be a general strike of any meaning. The calls that have gone out for a general strike in Wisconsin, and now in Michigan, have little or no preparation, and without deep, thorough preparation, the call for a general strike is likely to produce a dud. But the assembly would be capable of giving real meaning to such a call.

Does the development of these assemblies mean the socialist revolutionary party with a correct program is no longer necessary? Absolutely not. The formation of the Petrograd Soviet did not mean the Bolshevik Party was unnecessary. In the assemblies is where the Socialist revolutionary party with its correct program will win over the masses to itself. It will be the forging of the U.S. revolution.

We shall win.