The Case for a Revolutionary Socialist Party
By The Organizer
One question immediately confronts anybody who has come to the conclusion that inequality, war, racism, sexism, and all forms of oppression can only be eliminated through eliminating capitalism: How can this monumental task be achieved?
This article will make the case that a revolutionary socialist party based on the Marxist program is absolutely needed to help the working class and the oppressed get rid of the exploitative capitalist system.
We will outline our perspectives on revolutionary organization and argue that individual activists can become more effective participants in the struggle for social justice by joining Socialist Organizer, the U.S. section of the Fourth International, and fighting together with us for a socialist world of democracy, peace, and freedom.
The Actuality of Revolution
The arguments put forward in this article can only be understood in the context of the objective necessity — and possibility — of a worldwide socialist revolution today in the 21st century.
James P. Cannon, an important founder of the Communist Party and of the Socialist Workers Party, wrote:
“The greatest contribution to the arsenal of Marxism since the death of Engels in 1895 was Lenin’s conception of the vanguard party as the organizer and director of the workers’ revolution. That celebrated theory of organization was not, as some contend, simply a product of the special Russian conditions of his time and restricted to them. It is deep-rooted in two of the weightiest realities of the 20th century: the actuality of the workers’ struggle for the conquest of power, and the necessity of creating a leadership capable of carrying it through to the end.”
The actuality of revolution (i.e., the high probability of revolutionary uprisings in the short- and medium-term future) is due to the fact that capitalism is a rotten system that can only create more poverty, more hunger, and more war. The current financial crisis testifies to this.
In 1921, the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky explained:
“No social system departs from the arena until it has developed the productive forces to the maximum degree attainable under the given system. … Since the further development of the productive forces within the framework of bourgeois society is inconceivable, the basic premise for the revolution is given. The curve of capitalist economic development swings, through all the fluctuations, not upwards but downwards.”
These lines are more valid than ever. Capitalism in the era of so-called “globalization” cannot develop the productive forces; in fact it can only survive today by destroying them — through war, privatization, de-industrialization, and deregulation.
In order to keep their businesses profitable, the corporations are seeking in every country of the world to get rid of all the social conquests of the working-class — a process that is leading to the destruction of nations around the world. Never before in human history have so many people been starving or sick.
We can see the fate capitalism holds for all humanity by looking at the genocidal destruction and chaos inflicted by imperialism on Iraq or on the whole continent of Africa. This irrational system cannot be “humanized”— any more than imperialist war or hunger can be “humanized.”
But, as Trotsky explained in 1921, capitalism will not collapse automatically, like a rotting house caves in under its own weight:
“Does this mean that the doom of the bourgeoisie is automatically and mechanically predetermined? No. The bourgeoisie must still be defeated and overthrown! … Revolution in and of itself signifies a living class struggle. History has provided the basic premise for the success of this revolution — in the sense that society cannot any longer develop its productive forces on bourgeois foundations.
But history does not at all assume upon itself — in place of the working class, in place of the politicians of the working class, in place of the Communists — the solution of the entire task. No. History seems to say to the proletarian vanguard (let us imagine for a moment that history is a figure looming above us), ‘You must know that unless you cast down the bourgeoisie, you will perish beneath the ruins of civilization. Try, solve this task!’”
Capitalism creates the economic and social conditions that lead to popular uprisings, but it is up to us to build the political instrument needed to lead these struggles to victory.
An alternative faces humanity: socialism or barbarism. As the saying goes, “The future is unwritten. The one we get is up to us.”
Two Characteristics of Socialist Revolution
The case for a revolutionary socialist party — a type of organization sometimes referred to as a vanguard party — rests upon an understanding of the two major characteristics that make a socialist revolution different from all previous revolutions and social struggles.
A socialist revolution requires (a) an unprecedented level of mass mobilization to take down the ruling regime, and (b) an unprecedented level of mass revolutionary consciousness to build a brand new social order.
In The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx explained:
“All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.”
Past revolutions were mostly struggles of powerful elites to kick out the existing ruling class and take over the reigns of society. For example, in the French Revolution of 1789, the merchants fought to take power from the king and the aristocracy. Working people often poured into the streets and laid down their lives, but they ultimately were only political appendages of some sector of the upper class.
But a socialist revolution does not seek to replace one ruling minority with another. It is the first revolution that aims to put power into the hands of the majority: the working class and its oppressed allies. Marx famously wrote: “The emancipation of the working class must be the act of the workers themselves.”
From this — and from the comparative strength of the capitalists in comparison to the old monarchies — flows the need for extremely high levels of mass mobilization in order to successfully overthrow the ruling class.
Unlike the merchants, who already held substantial socio-economic levers (businesses, newspapers, universities, etc.) before they looked to seize political power from the monarchy and aristocracy, the power of the workers lies only in their numbers, a power that can only be channeled through independent organization.
A revolutionary socialist organization or party cannot (and should not try to) substitute itself for the mass of workers. A small group of armed activists cannot make a revolution in the place of the majority — as the tragic example of Che Guevara and the guerrillas in Latin America demonstrates.
A socialist revolution neither seeks to tinker with the existing power structure or return society to a previous state of affairs, like many slave and peasants revolts throughout history had done. It seeks to completely overturn the current exploitative system, create a whole new social order (a workers’ government as a transition to socialism), and bring about a society that has never before existed. It is thus the first revolution in world history to completely remake society according to a pre-conceived plan, a political perspective for the transition from capitalism to a classless socialist society.
Of course, this plan — what we call the Marxist program — does not (and cannot) foresee all the details of this transition, which will be determined by specific conditions and events. But the majority of the working population must understand and support the basic points of this political perspective in order to collectively overthrow capitalism and build a new workers’ government — much as some sort of blue-print and construction knowledge is needed to build bridges and skyscrapers. You cannot spontaneously make a socialist revolution any more than you can spontaneously build a new bridge.
Uneven Development of Consciousness
“The very need for the party originates in the fact that the working class is not born with an innate understanding of its historical interests.”
– Leon Trotsky
Turn on the TV and you’ll clearly see that the capitalists do everything possible to confuse and disorient the population. Not surprisingly, many people (in most periods) fall for at least some of the ruling-class propaganda spread through media, the educational system, and the political establishment.
But decaying capitalism — which must constantly try to lower wages and destroy workers’ gains (public schools, hospitals, social security, etc.) — pushes ordinary people to fight back in order to survive. As socialist historian Hal Draper has correctly pointed out:
“To engage in class struggle it is not necessary to ‘believe in’ the class struggle any more than it is necessary to believe in Newton in order to fall from an airplane. … The working class moves toward class struggle insofar as capitalism fails to satisfy its economic and social needs and aspirations, not insofar as it is told about struggle by Marxists.”
The masses learn through experience in these struggles. But the working class is not homogeneous — there are differences of nationality, gender, and sexual orientation; differences between white collar and blue collar workers; and differences of region, religion, and political traditions — therefore different sections of the oppressed will radicalize at different times and tempos. This heterogeneity is particularly strong in the United States, a country built on the ideology of white supremacy and the subordination of oppressed nationalities.
This uneven development of class consciousness and organization produces the need for a revolutionary socialist party.
The workers and youth who come around to revolutionary ideas sooner than their peers must band together to more effectively fight for the interests of the workers and the oppressed as a whole and recruit more individuals to the revolutionary socialist — i.e., Marxist — political perspective.
It’s that simple: Some people radicalize before others — and these revolutionaries need to work together to aid the rest of the oppressed reach higher levels of political thought and action.
Contrary to the claims of liberals and anarchists, there is nothing elitist or “authoritarian” about this perspective. Real socialists believe that workers “need no condescending savior,” to quote from the lyrics of The Internationale. In other words, working people are capable of freeing themselves.
As we will demonstrate throughout in this article, it is absurd to argue that a Marxist organization or party is inevitably an elitist force that aims to impose its will on the working class, because:
1) A multiracial revolutionary socialist party made up overwhelmingly of workers is of the working class, not “outside” it;
2) At no time should a revolutionary socialist party try to substitute itself for the working class and its mass organizations; and
3) The goal of the party is not to put itself into power, but to put the working class majority into power, in the form of a government of grassroots, multi-party, democratically-run workers’ councils.
The Marxist Program
“The interests of the class cannot be formulated otherwise than in the shape of a program; the program cannot be defended otherwise than by creating the party. … The class, taken by itself, is only raw material for exploitation. The working class acquires an independent role only at that moment when, from a social class in itself, it becomes a political class for itself. This cannot take place otherwise than through the medium of a party. The party is that historical organ by means of which the class becomes class conscious.” – Leon Trotsky
The political basis of a revolutionary socialist organization or party is its political program. The Marxist program is an indispensable guide to action that formulates the tasks and goals of the oppressed and, based on the accumulated lessons of past struggles, outlines realistic methods to achieve these objectives. It is a road-map for the liberation struggle of humanity.
The first major break-through in the development of a scientific revolutionary program was the publication of The Communist Manifesto in February 1848, on the eve of a massive revolutionary wave that swept across Europe. Before Karl Marx, nobody had formulated a realistic perspective on the long-term objectives of the workers’ movement.
“Marxism was the first to transform socialism from a utopia into a science,” explained the Russian militant V.I. Lenin in 1899. “It made clear the real task of a revolutionary socialist party: not to draw up plans for refashioning society, not to preach to the capitalists and their hangers-on about improving the lot of the workers, not to hatch conspiracies, but to organize the class struggle of the proletariat and to lead this struggle, the ultimate aim of which is the conquest of political power by the working class and the organization of a socialist society.”
The Marxist program is not an arbitrary invention, a dogma, or a blueprint to reach utopia. The Communist Manifesto notes, “The theoretical conclusions of the Communists … merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes.” Indeed, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were only able to reach their political conclusions because of their participation in the bitter workers’ struggles in Europe of the 1840s.
The power of the Marxist program springs from the fact that it accurately reflects and foresees the real living historical process. Look at our world in flames at the beginning of the 21st century, and you can see that The Communist Manifesto’s case for workers’ revolution remains more valid than ever.
But because society (like everything) is constantly changing, the Marxist program must always be enriched to incorporate new experiences and lessons from recent developments and struggles and to adjust the program accordingly. Lenin explained:
“We do not regard Marx’s theory as something completed and inviolable; on the contrary, we are convinced that it has only laid the foundation stone of the science which socialists must develop in all directions if they wish to keep pace with life.”
From the First International to the Fourth International
Since 1848, the world has been shaken by wars and revolutions, and the Marxist program has progressed and developed significantly. Let’s look at one example: the development of the theory and practice of revolutionary socialist organization, as seen through the history of the four workers’ internationals.
The First International, also known as the International Workingman’s Association, founded by Marx, Engels, and many others in 1864, aimed to bring together under one organizational umbrella all the existing organizations of the workers’ movement, whether trade union or political (socialist, reformist, anarchist, etc.). After the defeat of the first workers’ government in history, the Paris Commune of 1871, the First International was dissolved.
The Second International, also known as the Socialist International, founded by Engels and co-thinkers in 1889, consisted of mass parties based on a socialist program, in which both reformist and revolutionary currents co-existed. Under the pressures of the tremendous capitalist expansion in the pre-war years, the parties of the Second International became more and more co-opted into the status quo and in 1914 they definitively betrayed the interests of the working class by supporting World War I.
The Bolshevik Party led by V.I. Lenin in Russia belonged to the Second International until 1914, but stayed true to the principles of revolutionary Marxism, which was the precondition for its ability to lead the Russian Revolution of 1917 to victory. Some of the key features of the Leninist organizational perspective can be summarized as follows:
1) A revolutionary socialist organization or party must be built around the full Marxist program. Due to the uneven development of consciousness of the working class, it cannot, in most periods other than a revolutionary crisis, be a “party of the whole class”; it must only group together the most advanced elements of the class, i.e., the vanguard. While it can and must work within larger mass workers’ organizations, unions, and parties and popular struggles in its quest to win the support of the majority of the working class, the party must never abandon its political independence, as expressed through its own demands and publications, such as its newspaper.
2) A revolutionary socialist organization or party must be based on the organizational method of democratic centralism, meaning free and open discussion of all political questions and unity in action of the whole organization after a democratic, majority-rule vote is taken.
The Third International, also known as the Communist International, was founded in 1919 by V.I. Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and their allies throughout the world with the goal of building revolutionary parties in each country of the world to lead a world socialist revolution. Millions rallied to the banner of the Third International, but the failure of the revolutions in Italy (1919-20), Germany (1918-23), and China (1925-27) led to the isolation of the Russian Revolution, the rise of the dictatorial Stalinist bureaucracy in the 1920s, and the subsequent degeneration of the Third International in Stalin’s hands.
The Fourth International, founded by Leon Trotsky and his co-thinkers in 1938, upheld the central strategic goal of building mass revolutionary socialist parties to lead a world revolution. But for decades the Socialist and Communist parties remained hegemonic in the workers’ movement, and the Fourth International remained isolated from the working class. The Fourth International suffered a dislocating split in 1953 but was eventually re-founded in 1993, in the new context opened by the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989-91. Today, the Fourth International has sections in over 45 countries and is a growing force.
The capitalists understand better than most activists that those who fail to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. This is why they spend millions of dollars each year to fund reactionary think-tanks like the Hoover Institute to advise them how to successfully co-opt opposition and derail mass movements.
A revolutionary socialist organization or party acts as the memory for our class and passes on the lessons learned from past struggles and the dozens of revolutions that have erupted since 1917. Without this political instrument, each new generation would be forced to start from scratch and learn by trial and error.
By learning our program and participating in Socialist Organizer, the U.S. section of the Fourth International, you can become a more effective activist today. Instead of improvising, you’ll be basing your actions on the bedrock of past lessons of struggle, together with thousands of co-thinkers in the Fourth International around the world. By taking action based on a scientific, long-term perspective on how to win social justice, you can prevent yourself from succumbing to the demoralization caused by the inevitable ups and downs (and partial defeats) in the mass movement.
Spontaneity and Organization
“Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary practice.”
– V.I. Lenin
Spontaneity — in other words, political initiative taken by workers and the oppressed outside the structures of their mass organizations — is an essential and absolute necessary expression of the resistance of the oppressed.
Spontaneous struggles can win specific demands, strikes and even go so far as dismantling the capitalist state — as occurred, for example, in Russia (February 1917), Germany (November 1918), Spain (July 1936), and Bolivia (April 1952).
But it is easier to know what you are against than to know what you are for. Spontaneous uprisings do not automatically create a widespread understanding of a coherent and realistic plan for moving from capitalism to socialism — nor do they automatically create the organizational structures needed to displace the reactionary leaderships of the workers´ movement and coordinate a successful national insurrection.
History has shown that a revolutionary socialist party is needed for workers to take power. Why? First of all, such a party has a coherent, scientific political program; it is educated in the history of past revolutions and the tactics involved in making them. In times of revolutionary crisis, there is not enough time to learn by trial and error. In a life-and-death situation, tactical mistakes are paid for dearly.
Second, a revolutionary party is needed to co-ordinate a national revolution. History has shown that isolated local uprisings will inevitably be crushed. For example, in the German Revolution of 1919, the workers and youth rose up in city after city, putting power into the hands of local workers’ councils. But because each uprising took place at a different time, they remained isolated and were unable to dismantle the national capitalist state apparatus. The result? The capitalists smashed each uprising individually.
“Without a guiding organization,” explains Trotsky, “the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston-box. But what moves things is not the piston but the steam.”
This was proven in practice in all the revolutions of the 20th century. Dozens of workers’ revolutions failed to take power because a mass revolutionary socialist party was missing. The absence of such a revolutionary party, plus the counter-revolutionary actions of the traditional reformist leaderships led directly to the missed revolutionary opportunities in Germany 1919-1923; Italy 1920 and 1944; Britain 1926; China 1927; Spain 1931-37; France 1936, 1944, and 1968; Bolivia 1952, 1971, and 2003; Chile 1973; Portugal 1974-5; Iran 1979; Nicaragua 1979; and Tunisia and Egypt 2011.
A sufficiently influential revolutionary socialist party will not spring up out of the blue: It has to be systematically built over the preceding years and decades. It is true that in times of revolutionary upheaval, a small organization — like Socialist Organizer — can play a pivotal role in the creation of a mass revolutionary party, but this can only happen if the socialists already have deep roots in the working class and its mass organizations before the crisis, if their organization has a correct program, and if they can then express their immediate and transitional demands in a way that makes sense to the working-class majority, youth, and oppressed.
This process took place in the Russian Revolution of 1917. In February, the Bolshevik Party only had 23,000 members, but by October the organization had grown to 240,000 by agitating for “Land, Bread, and Peace” and by patiently explaining their positions to the rest of the workers, poor farmers, and oppressed nationalities.
The Question of Leadership
Due mainly to the conservatism of our current labor and political leaders — and because of the bloody betrayals of Stalinism — many radicalized youth reject the idea of leadership. But leadership doesn’t mean an elitist minority giving orders from above; it means taking political initiative.
Leadership is a relationship. When you pass out a flier or try to convince a friend to come to a protest, you are providing leadership. Even a spontaneous strike or spontaneous protest has leaders — somebody has to be the first person to walk off the job or make an impromptu speech.
In reality, leadership always exists in all social movements and organizations — including the most anarchist-inspired ones — because some people have more political experience than others.
The real question is: What kind of leadership is needed?
The current leaderships of the working class are the main obstacles in the struggle for social justice — and the responsibility for the failure of so many revolutions during the last century rests on the shoulders of the sell-out misleaderships of the labor movement (principally the Socialist and Communist bureaucracies) who have done everything possible to prop up and rescue the dying capitalist system.
Contrary to the claims of certain leftists, the main barrier to moving forward in the struggle is not the “apathy” of the workers or their “lack of class consciousness.” Throughout the world, working people are fighting back, but they constantly are faced with the barrier of the class-collaborationist leaderships of the workers´ movement.
The Transitional Program, the founding program of the Fourth International in 1938, notes: “The multi-millioned masses again and again enter the road of revolution. But each time they are blocked by their own conservative bureaucratic machines. … The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of revolutionary leadership.”
In the United States, the main obstacle in the workers’ movement has been and continues to be the trade union bureaucracy, which is tied at the hips to the bosses and the Democratic Party.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and with the worldwide crisis of the old Socialist and Communist parties, the capitalists are relying more and more on new instruments to mislead the oppressed: non-profits (NGOs), World Social Forums, and so-called “Trotskyist” organizations like the United Secretariat.
These forces call for “humanizing” capitalism and its institutions (the IMF, World Bank, European Union, etc.), getting rid of the “outdated” workers’ organizations (trade unions in particular), and scrapping the existing gains of working people. The United Secretariat, for example, claims to represent the banner of Marxism and the Fourth International but has openly participated in the capitalist governments in Brazil and Italy and dutifully implemented their reactionary policies of privatization and war.
The root cause of this misleadership is simple: The capitalists are a tiny minority of the population and can only maintain their rule if they co-opt the workers’ organizations, through the transmission belt of their bought-off leaderships.
“The strength of capitalism is not in itself and its own institutions; it survives only because it has bases of support in the organizations of the workers. As we see it now, in the light of what we have learned from the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, nine-tenths of the struggle for socialism is the struggle against bourgeois influence in the workers’ organizations.”
The current reactionary leaderships cannot be given the boot by abstractly “rejecting leadership.” What is needed is an alternative leadership — not of a few “enlightened” individuals, but of hundreds of thousands of revolutionary activists worldwide dedicated to the liberation struggle of humanity and organized around a scientific political program, the program of the Fourth International.
The Danger of Bureaucracy
Of course, the potential danger of bureaucracy is present in any organization, whether national or local. But Socialist Organizer and the Fourth International have successfully been able to ward off bureaucracy by creating an organizational structure where the power flows from the bottom up; where open and democratic discussion on all questions is the norm; where there is accountability at all levels; where full-time party organizers make no more than an average skilled worker; and where there is total financial independence from the bosses and their institutions.
If you argue that all revolutionary socialist parties inevitably become bureaucratized, you are saying that working people and youth are incapable of collective democratic control of their own organizations.
In reality, Socialist Organizer functions far more democratically than many decentralized groups run on “consensus” that have recently become popular with radicalized youth. What tends to emerge in these anarchist-inspired groups is a “tyranny of structurelessness” where decisions are made behind closed doors or where those with the best informal cliques are able to dominate the group.
Without a transparent organizational structure, you cannot have accountability, regular elections, recall of representatives, or a collective overview of whether decisions have been implemented.
But what about the common objection that a revolution led by a revolutionary socialist party will inevitably create a Stalinist dictatorship?
In Russia, Stalinism grew out of specific historical circumstances, not the structure or program of the Bolshevik Party. The main reasons the revolution degenerated into Stalinism are:
1) Socialism cannot be built in just one country, especially not an economically backward, poverty-stricken peasant country;
2) Twenty-one countries attacked Russia, barred trade with the new government, and funded a bloody civil war in which the most resolute revolutionary layer of workers and peasants were killed, while the rest fled to the countryside to look for work; and
3) The revolution was isolated after the defeats of the German Revolution of 1918-1923 and the Chinese Revolution of 1927.
If you understand the socio-economic roots of Stalinism, then you can see why future workers’ revolutions will not inevitably degenerate into totalitarian dictatorships. There is little reason to doubt that as the upcoming revolution spreads throughout the world, democracy and abundance will flourish in its wake.
Revolutionaries and the Mass Movement
But what, you may ask, can we do today to fight for revolution? And what is the role of Socialist Organizer in this process?
This is not a simple question. The process through which working people can come to understand their historic mission — i.e., the process of building a mass revolutionary party — is long and complex. This process is intrinsically linked to the evolution of the class struggle, with all its ups and downs.
The mass movement develops unevenly. In periods with lower levels of class struggle, the majority of workers are not active in any collective fightbacks. They are too busy struggling to survive, demobilized by the conservative leaderships of their organizations, and weighed down by the illusions spread by the capitalist media and government, particularly the widespread illusion of powerlessness.
But periodically, despite these obstacles, workers and the oppressed do fight back and they learn (often very quickly) through these struggles. The consciousness acquired through these experiences is crystallized in the mass united-front organizations they build to fight back against the bosses. Without their independent organizations, workers and oppressed nationalities would be defenseless against the attacks of the ruling class.
Trade unions are the workers’ elementary form of self-organization, bringing together workers in a workplace regardless of their political perspectives, gender, nationality, etc., to fight for their class interests. As the mass movement deepens and advances, the workers and the oppressed must also build mass political parties (to defend their interests on the political arena) and, in periods of revolutionary crisis, create workers’ councils (soviets).
It is through building (and defending) its various class organizations that the working class progresses toward social revolution, transforming itself from a class in itself into a class for itself.
A Marxist organization that aims to win the support of the majority of the population cannot remain indifferent to these struggles and mass organizations because, as The Communist Manifesto explains, socialists “have no interests separate and apart from the working class as a whole.”
Activism Today and Socialist Organizer
Contrary to popular belief — and contrary to the practice of some small sectarian socialist groups — real socialists aim to be the best fighters for the immediate interests of all the oppressed.
Far from “waiting for the revolution” before taking action, Socialist Organizer seeks to be at the forefront of all the day-to-day struggles of workers, youth, and all the oppressed, no matter how “minimal” the demands.
Socialist Organizer actively mobilizes against cuts to public education and public services; to stop the corporate bailouts; to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; against the ICE raids and for amnesty for all immigrants; to defend trade unions and transform them into fighting instruments; to defend reproductive rights; against police brutality and all racist attacks; to win better wages and single-payer health care; and to win many other immediate and transitional demands. We defend tooth and nail all the conquests won in past struggles (public services, democratic rights, social security, independent working class organizations, etc.).
There are two main interrelated reasons for this strategy. First, the “day-to-day” struggles of the workers are necessary stepping stones toward revolution. Success in immediate fightbacks generates confidence and momentum, leading to broader and broader struggles.
As the movement deepens, more and more people become open to revolutionary ideas, thus facilitating the construction of a revolutionary socialist party. It is inconceivable that a revolutionary uprising involving the majority of the people could arise without being preceded by a whole period of preparatory struggles in which working people gain confidence in their ability to fight, in which the idea that “struggle pays” spreads like wildfire, in which the Marxists sink roots deep into the working class, the youth, and the oppressed nationalities.
The intervention of a revolutionary socialist organization (even a small one) in a strike or campaign can often mean the difference between victory and defeat. This was the case in the famous Teamsters’ Rebellion of 1934, in which a small Trotskyist organization led a victorious strike that set off a wave of similar upsurges throughout the country. Similarly, during the Vietnam War, our political predecessor, the Socialist Workers Party, played a central leadership role in the victorious anti-war movement.
The Communist International of Lenin and Trotsky explained that struggles around immediate demands are a crucial means toward revolution: “The present epoch is revolutionary precisely because the most modest demands of the working masses are incompatible with the continued existence of capitalist society, and the struggle for these demands is therefore bound to develop into the struggle for Communism.”
A revolutionary socialist party — the conscious expression of the unconscious or semi-conscious liberation struggle of the oppressed — can only be built by participating in the existing class struggle and the existing organizations of the working class and the oppressed. Marxists know that the broad masses learn through their direct experience, and therefore the only way for a multiracial Marxist organization to win the leadership of the class is by directly participating in the living mass struggles and proving in practice that it is the most consistent and farsighted defender of the interests of the exploited majority.
The fight to win the majority to the fight for power is above all a practical struggle (not simply a “battle of ideas”), which is why a real revolutionary organization must be the best builder and defender of the trade unions and all other mass workers’ organizations.
The Communist International correctly drew the following practical conclusion: “It is not a question of appealing to the proletariat to fight for the ultimate goal, but of developing the practical struggle which alone can lead the proletariat to the struggle for the ultimate goal.”
So how exactly does Socialist Organizer help advance the struggle?
While the ruling class constantly seeks to “divide and conquer,” our strategy is to fight for the unity of workers, the oppressed, and their organizations. We fight against the bosses’ attempts to pit working people against each other through racism, sexism and homophobia.
We are defenders of self-determination for Black people and all oppressed nationalities. We know that the path toward real working-class unity — particularly in the Unites States, a country built on slave labor, the genocide of Native Americans, and the ideology of white supremacy — requires both the self- organization of the oppressed and a consistent struggle against racism among white workers.
A multi-racial revolutionary socialist party is also needed to help us as individuals see beyond the horizon of our direct experience. Individuals can see, by themselves, only a fragment of the national and international picture. For example, if you are a young immigrants rights activist, you probably have a good take on the state of the movement in your community, but it would be impossible for you on your own to have a clear vision of the statewide or national movement.
So what would you do if someone proposed a nationwide student strike against the tuition hikes? If you were a member of our organization, you would discuss with Socialist Organizer activists throughout the country to get a sense of the overall movement and determine whether the call for a student strike would be realistic.
Our organizational method of democratic centralism means our membership collectively decides on effective and relevant demands and then fights together for those demands in the mass struggle. This method has enabled us to have a big national impact in the antiwar movement, the trade union movement, and the immigrants rights movement. Collective political action is always more productive than individual action, which are like a drop of rain in the ocean. But by joining together with like-minded activists you can make a huge impact.
That is why we think the most effective way for you to make a positive impact in today’s struggles is by joining our organization and fighting side by side with us in the class struggle.
The Labor Party
Socialist Organizer supports every step forward in the struggle and always tries to point the way ahead. This is why we are among the main advocates today for the unions to break from the stranglehold of the Democratic Party and to form a Labor Party, based on the trade unions and all the organizations of the oppressed.
The millions of people who voted for Obama hoping for “change” will sooner or later see through bitter experience that Obama and the Democrats represent big business, not working people.
All of our country’s past social movements have been severely stunted, and eventually derailed, by the fact that they remained subordinated to the twin parties of the bosses. Indeed, the United States is the only industrialized country of the world where the working class and its organizations have not broken with the political monopoly of the capitalists by forming a mass workers’ party.
The creation of a mass Labor Party based upon the trade unions — and including within it or allied with the organizations of the oppressed (particularly Blacks and Latinos) — would radically alter the whole national political situation. Apathy inevitably reigns among working people when no real alternatives are offered.
As Trotsky wrote in 1938, “Any revolutionary organization occupying a negative or neutrally expectant position in relation to this progressive (Labor Party) movement will doom itself to isolation and sectarian degeneration.”
Fighting for a mass Labor Party is a necessary bridge towards solving the crisis of leadership of the U.S. workers’ movement. The history of the U.S. working class shows that it is highly unlikely that a revolutionary socialist organization can win over the majority of workers and their allies prior to the creation of a national Labor Party and outside and independent of its evolution.
The fight for a Labor Party is the U.S. expression of the Fourth International’s transitional method of party-building. We do not think it’s likely that mass revolutionary party will be built through direct, linear recruitment to Socialist Organizer; rather, we think a transitional form of organization, bringing together political tendencies from many backgrounds on the basis of class independence, is needed.
That’s why, throughout the world, the Fourth International fights for independent workers’ parties and for united fight-backs, which can bring together organizations and activists from various political origins. We promote this work particularly through the important vehicle of the International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples (ILC), a regroupment in 92 countries of different political currents and activists in defense of trade unions, social gains, peace, and national sovereignty.
What Makes Socialist Organizer Different?
Many people ask us, “What makes your organization different from other socialist organizations? Why can’t you all join together?”
First of all, the bulk of the political perspectives outlined in this article are not shared by other socialist groups. Socialist Organizer and the Fourth International advocate and implement the transitional method — that is, we fight for the unity and political independence of the workers and we raise “transitional slogans” aimed at advancing the class consciousness and self-organization of working people and the oppressed.
This is fundamentally different from the politics of socialist groups like the Communist Party USA or the Democratic Socialists of America, who sometimes talk radical but support and participate in the Democratic Party, a party of the capitalists.
Throughout the world, the United Secretariat, for example, uses very radical “Trotskyist” rhetoric to cover for right-wing policies. As we mentioned earlier, a leader of the United Secretariat became Minister of Agrarian Reform in Brazil’s capitalist government in 2002 and proceeded to grant less land to the peasants than his right-wing predecessor. And in 2007, an Italian congressman of the United Secretariat voted to fund the occupation of Afghanistan. The list of similar betrayals goes on and on.
Our united-front strategy is also 100% different than those sectarian groups, exemplified by the Spartacist League, who abstain from day-to-day struggles, preferring to denounce everyone else as sell-out “reformists.”
Unfortunately, these tendencies (sectarianism and right-wing opportunism) have permeated other socialist groups in the United States — to the point where, for example, Socialist Organizer is the only organization consistently fighting for a Labor Party. Merging all socialists together today in one socialist organization is not going to happen because there are serious political differences among the different groups.
But we agree that unity is crucial. We think that all organizations and activists should try to work together on all the specific projects and demands that they agree on. Unity around concrete actions is the key.
Another central difference between Socialist Organizer and most socialist groups is that we are part of an international organization. The Fourth International has sections in over 45 countries, holds an annual meeting of a General Council made up of representatives from each country, and organizes international congresses every two years.
We need an international organization because capitalism is international. The Fourth International is able to co-ordinate the work of its different sections around campaigns in defense of the working class on an international basis. A victorious revolution in one country will constantly be threatened so long as capitalism as a whole is not overturned. An international organization is also needed for socialists in different countries to reach a common understanding of the constantly shifting crisis of world capitalism and to determine our tasks.
A final major difference is that our organization is run completely democratically. We think that a socialist organization needs open internal discussion like people need oxygen. To know what positions to take on the issues of the day and what demands to put forth in the struggle is often a complicated and difficult task, which requires free collective discussion and debate.
After all, our program is only “a guide to action,” not a book of magic formulas. You can read every line written by Marx or Lenin, but if you do not know how to apply their ideas to the conditions of your own time, you will not be of much use to working people. Marxism means the unity of revolutionary theory and practice.
Each member of Socialist Organizer is encouraged to say what they think and to convince others members of their position. Moreover the real key for a revolutionary organization is not that it avoids making mistakes (nobody avoids making mistakes) but how it goes about correcting them. Without internal party democracy and without rank-and-file control, it is very hard to correct political errors.
Some people worry that they will “lose their individual freedom” by joining a revolutionary socialist organization. Nothing could be further from the truth. A democratically run socialist organization, where every member has an equal voice, should allow for personal expression and expand individual freedom — not stunt it. Your personal talents, whether in organizing, writing, art, theory, or whatever, will be a valuable and appreciated contribution to the cause.
We know that many people have real hesitations about joining a socialist organization. It is a major commitment. But it is not a sacrifice. What do you give up? Some time, energy, and a bit of money. But what do you get in return? For one thing, you get a sense of purpose in life.
Faced with a society of violence and oppression, you are fighting back. Instead of submitting to the injustices — or easing your conscience by buying “fair trade” products or occasionally attending a protest — you doing everything you can to create a world free of oppression, alienation, and poverty.
In the words of James P. Cannon,
“To work for that future is the most important, the most inspiring, and the most satisfying occupation of all.”