What Must Be Done Next
Though all of us have spent our lives trying to build the kind of mass revolutionary party that led the Russian workers to victory in the October Revolution, we are now smaller than we have ever been before.
But even so, we must take into account that our tendency which could be called, Cannonist1 Trotskyism, once numbered in the hundreds reaching a pinnacle of around 1,500 around the time I joined the SWP in 1945, and once again in the mid-1970s.
Now, to make a very long story that we all know short, we are now too small to even function as an organized political organization. What holds us together is our magazine, and small as we are, we try to function as a potential nucleus of a mass revolutionary workers party by participating as a tendency in the mass movement.
But we are hardly an exception to the rule. All self-described revolutionary socialist tendencies have also shrunk. However, there are many more who have gone our separate ways while still claiming to be the nucleus of a mass revolutionary party.
As you all know, I tend to be more optimistic than most. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I am oblivious to how much the odds seem to be against us. They are huge. Even so, we have something going for us, which is far more powerful than our most powerful enemies and opponents—history is on our side!
Just a glance at the world today speaks louder than thousands of words. And I don’t have to tell you what it means to us here in this room today. With world capitalism and its imperialist ruling classes facing the broadest and deepest economic crisis in world history, the relation of class forces is on its way toward shifting away from the ruling classes and castes, and towards the workers of the world and their natural allies coming together to fight for their common interests. This promises to become a tidal shift, of tsunami proportions, in the class relation of forces.
As most everyone knows, the tide of history has been running against us since shortly after the Second World War, when global capitalism decided in 1944, with the allied victory in sight, to adopt Keynesian economic policies. This set into motion more than 60 years of false capitalist prosperity.
In fact, there can be little doubt that this artificially contrived period of relative capitalist equilibrium is over and cannot be brought back to life. But as long as capitalism lives, the ruling class will use every means at its disposal to keep itself alive.
On the other hand, we cannot deny that though there is no permanent solution to global capitalism’s economic, political and military crises, the ruling class will still try to extend its life span by further slashing mass living standards. This is their only way to raise the falling average rate of profit high enough to postpone their inevitable collapse for as long as possible.
The capitalist class has been successful for longer than we had imagined possible. And, it will continue to squeeze the working class and their natural allies until there is a revolutionary response and the working class emerges as the leading force in this new global uprising.
A large number of the unemployed have already joined the objectively anti-capitalist occupy movement. But they are not necessarily acting in the name of their class. Rather, they see themselves as natural allies of the working class.
On the other hand, even workers who think they are “middle class” are beginning to realize deep down, that they are workers. That’s why when the working class takes the road of class struggle in their own name, as they did during the 1930s in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, the unemployed, inspired by the sharpening class struggle, will tend to enlist in the strike struggles of their class on its picket lines. In other words, when workers and their unions take the road of class struggle, the unemployed change from being the reserve army of labor, who are used by the bosses against striking workers, into their exact opposite—into powerful allies of the working class.
Striking workers have more than one way of educating those who have yet to become conscious that they are an organic part of the working class. They are taught the easy way or the hard way that what’s good for workers in struggle is good for all workers, employed or unemployed, whether they know it or not.
What must be done next
Now that we have described as well as we can the changing character of mass consciousness, we need to get down to the nitty-gritty of what we must do next. I think we socialists are all more or less of the same mind in this regard. Small and weak as we may be, we still have many-hundreds of potential revolutionary socialist allies here in the San Francisco Bay Area.
I have already told comrades at least one thing I think we can try to do: That is, try to form something like a nucleus of a Joint Committee of Revolutionary Socialists. One of the comrades, who participated in the shutting down of the Oakland port for a day, told me that a slogan seemed to be circulating among some in the crowd calling for a Workers United Front. It seems to me at least, that such an option is premature and could not get off the ground at the present time.
Though we can expect that workers and their unions may be ready for class struggle action sooner than we think, they still have to suffer more than they already have before they are ready to risk becoming a part of the growing army of the unemployed.
It seems more realistic to begin the way I have proposed—the formation of a Joint Committee of Revolutionary Socialists—since at the present time there is not a mass response by workers and their unions. American workers don’t even have a mass reformist workers party. In other words, mass worker consciousness lags far behind the rapidly rising consciousness of them and their natural allies in the “occupy” movement. But on the other hand, the upsurge is catching. And is very likely to spread fast.
Let me explain why I think that the formation of something like a Joint Committee of Revolutionary Socialists is not at all a far-out proposition even though we are too small to try to set it in motion by ourselves. In fact, such a committee could put some meat on our scrawny bones.
We need to talk to those of our allies we think would listen to what we have to say. I think it fair to say that there are potential supporters of our common cause among the handful of independents who we work with. There are groups like Socialist Action, International Bolshevik Tendency, Freedom Socialist Party, and others who share many of the same ideas in response to the “occupy” movement. These include:
- A deep understanding that the capitalist system cannot be reformed to meet the demands and interests of the overwhelming majority of the people;
- That the U.S. government (national, state, and local) is the creature of the ruling capitalist class and must be replaced by a workers government;
- That true democracy means that workers own and control all production;
- That there are no common interests between the ruling less-than-one percent and the working class;
- That the working class needs its own political party that represents its own interests, including its interest in having a workers government that can represent the 99 percent (the workers and their natural allies);
- That the working class and its allies must break completely with the Democrat and Republican Parties, and establish their own working class parties that are forthrightly opposed to capitalism.
After all, we no longer live in the world of the 20th century. The 21st century has become a very new and different world than the one we have lived through until now.
The decline of Stalinism and the rising credibility of Trotskyism
To be sure, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and its satellites in Eastern Europe was a powerful blow to the revolutionary socialist movement. But it can now be seen that it also has had a positive side effect. Its disintegration confirms the Trotskyist thesis that the socialist revolution must be a worldwide working-class revolution—that either there would be a political revolution in the degenerated and deformed worker’ states to lead the way to world revolution—or they would revert back to capitalism.
In other words, the collapse of the Stalinized workers’ states has vindicated this prediction of the Trotskyist movement—that a worldwide working-class socialist revolution will have nothing to lose but its capitalist chains.
Comrades, history is on our side, and the revolutionary socialist movement of which we are a part has a world to win.
I will end by telling you a short story about what happened to me when I was a merchant seaman during World War II. One of my many shipmates was a Spanish guy who had been a veteran of the Spanish Civil War and a former syndicalist who was also under the influence of Spain’s Stalinists. New as I was to joining the Socialist Workers Party, I tried to defend the Trotskyist political line. In response to my defense of Trotskyism, he said to me something like, “Trotsky was a good man and was a leader of the Bolshevik revolution, but he made the mistake of wanting to start a world revolution everywhere in the world all at once.”
Now, strange as it may seem, it’s certainly looking like we are at the beginning of the earliest stages of a coming world revolution, pretty much like all at once. Or—more likely—with one revolutionary uprising following very closely after another, and all of them in a relatively short period of time.
1James Patrick “Jim” Cannon (February 11, 1890-August 21, 1974) was an American Trotskyist and a leader and founder of the Socialist Workers Party.