IN THIS ISSUE of The Organizer Weekly Newsletter No. 4
(1) Editorial — COVID-19: Both Parties to Blame for this Disaster
(2) “Bloody Thursday” Commemoration Points to Need for a Labor Party — by Mya Shone and ILWU Local 10 President Trent Willis
(3) Join Us for Socialist Organizer’s Summer 2020 Online Educational Conference!
(4) Institutional Racism, Black Self-Determination and the Black Party — by Daniel Gluckstein
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(1) COVID-19: Both Parties to Blame for this Disaster
Each day these last two weeks has set a new record for COVID-19 cases in the United States. Deaths from the virus in the U.S. exceeded 138,000 as of July 14. The U.S. has only 5% of the world’s population yet has experienced 26% of all known cases and 24.5% of all deaths. With the increasing spike, these numbers can only be expected to rise significantly.
Why are the numbers in the U.S. so much worse than elsewhere?
Factors include deliberately negligent government policies; extreme income and racial disparities regarding access to care, housing, and safe food and water; a limited, underfunded, and dysfunctional social safety net; economic pressures forcing most “essential” and lower-income workers (often people of color) to continue working in extremely unsafe conditions; the lack of universal paid health care and the resulting underlying poor health of many American people even before the pandemic; the warehousing of many elderly, ill, and disabled people in nursing homes (accounting for 43% of U.S. deaths); the confusion of constantly varying state and local guidelines; and an individualistic, anti-scientific culture that encourages resisting the social responsibility of wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing.
It’s easy to blame it all on President Trump and his Republican enablers. Indeed, Trump, whose behaviors meet the standard clinical diagnostic lists for narcissism and sociopathy, has certainly aggravated the situation. He continues to lie about the severity of virus, claiming just last week that only 1% of the cases are serious. He has promoted false cures and stands in the way of adequate testing. He sets an example of negligent disregard by holding rallies without masks and physical distancing, and is pressuring state governments to reopen businesses and lift health restrictions even where cases are skyrocketing.
In an especially heinous move, Trump and his minion, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, are trying to force children and teachers back into classrooms by threatening to withhold federal funds to any school district that refuses to reopen, something they have no legal right to do directly without Congressional action. He is threatening to end access to health insurance to over 11 million American people and has withdrawn the U.S. from the World Health Organization, while blaming China for the pandemic.
Trump’s racist efforts at voter suppression, such as falsely claiming that mail-in voting is subject to fraud and threatening to close the U.S. Postal Service, are making voting physically dangerous. By failing to address COVID-19 responsibly, his administration is driving the U.S. into a major economic depression that will only worsen all the other problems American people are facing today.
However, it has taken far more than one man and one party to create this disaster. Increasing income inequality, housing instability, a failed health care system, efforts to defund and privatize public schools, gutting workers’ rights to organize and worker safety protections, the diversion of over half the budget to imperialist military spending, and the white supremacist policies driving environmental racism, mass incarceration and immigrant detention, police brutality, and the “war on drugs” all predate the Trump administration and are among the many factors making the COVID-19 crisis far worse in the U.S. than elsewhere.
These policies are the result of bipartisan government action over generations and of the cooptation of labor and social justice movements into the Democratic Party, thereby limiting action to minimal reforms at best. Locked into a two-party system bankrolled by the capitalist ruling class, American voters have almost no democratic decision-making power. Without a party mobilizing in the interest of workers and of the marginalized and oppressed, radical change via the electoral system is impossible, and even minor concessions are difficult to achieve or defend.
Meanwhile, in the name of defeating Trump, the leaders of many social movements continue the failed strategy of lesser-evilism that led to Trump’s election. If Trump is defeated this fall, we can be assured that very little will actually change without increasing protest.
There is a bright spot in the midst of this disaster: We are seeing a rise in militant activism unprecedented since the 1960s, such as the Black Lives Matter protests and a revival of successful union organizing. Finally, in the face of increasingly overt racism and income inequality, climate change, and now a pandemic, many American people are demanding fundamental change. Capitalism has never been more unpopular.
Now is the time to break once and for all with the twin parties of Capital and to build a party of labor and all who are oppressed and marginalized in the U.S. Join us in creating labor and community coalitions essential to that democratic process. Participate in preparations for the Break the Grip of the Two Party conference. We can’t risk waiting any longer. Our survival depends on it.
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(2) “Bloody Thursday” Commemoration Points to Need for a Labor Party
By MYA SHONE
The cranes stop on the Oakland docks and the massive container ships lay at anchor every year on July 5 as Bay Area longshore workers stop work and lay down their tools in commemoration of Bloody Thursday. On that date in 1934, San Francisco police in a show of force murdered two longshore participants in the Pacific Maritime Strike. The response was swift from workers throughout the city — and a general strike ensued.
The militancy of longshore workers up and down the West Coast in that era, as with the teamsters in Minneapolis and the autoworkers in Toledo and Detroit, led to the expansion and strength of unions, resulting in workers’ rights, higher wages and benefits.
Now, 86 years later, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area — Trent Willis, president of ILWU Local 10, and Keith Shanklin, president of ILWU Local 34 — have concluded that the way forward for the working class is not only to strengthen unions. Labor must create its own political party because only in so doing will the working class assert its political power and address its needs.
On Sunday, July 5, at a mobilization at the vast SSA container terminal at the Port of Oakland, during a car caravan by means of FM radio, and again at the concluding rally at the Oakland Coliseum, Brothers Willis and Shanklin brought together all the struggles by workers and community activists throughout the country to reinforce their theme that the time has come to forge a Labor Party. [See excerpts below from Brother Willis’s statement to the July 5 rally.]
Nor have they stopped there. These militant labor leaders have made the discussion of a Labor Party integral to the agenda of the Committee to Stop Police Terror and End Systemic Racism advanced by the Bay Area longshore locals with the active participation of community and class struggle organizations.
The issue that crystallized is how to create the building blocks that result in a national party rooted in labor and incorporating youth and communities of the oppressed. As with our union fightback, the struggles erupting in our local communities provide the basis for democratic participation of workers and the community at large in labor-community coalitions that define issues and result in candidates beholden to the coalition that are independent of the Democrats and Republicans — the one big property party with two names.
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ILWU Local 10 President Trent Willis Speaks Out
In 1934 our brothers and sisters in the longshore union paved the way for us to have the jobs and to enjoy the conditions and benefits that we enjoy today. We had brothers and sisters up and down this coast who died so that we could have the right to even stand on this stage and have this rally.
Over many years of hard-fought battles against the boss, we made great gains, but the threats and attacks against us have not disappeared, far from it. Fast forward to today. Right here at this terminal we’ve had more than two incidents of racial graffiti drawn on the walls. We’ve had nooses hung. We’ve had swastikas drawn on walls. This is in 2020.
What I’m saying is that the fight is never over.
Unfortunately, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans seem to do much for us when it comes to fighting for our rights on the job, or fighting for our rights as tenants, or fighting for our rights as home buyers, or fighting against systemic racism and police murders. When we go out jogging or when we go into a store and get accused of trying to pass a phony $20 bill, are we supposed to get shot or choked to death? How can we accept this situation?
That is why I believe that the struggle under way today against systemic racism, against oppression, poses the need for another party. We need a political party that looks out for the interests of the working class — a workers’ political party. The Democrats and the Republicans, excuse my French, aren’t doing shit for us.
This is why we are always in the streets marching and chanting and whooping and hollering because we’re not getting the resources that we’re supposed to get as citizens of this country. This is supposedly the richest country in the world, and we’ve got people sleeping out on the street right over there by the bridge.
We’ve got a growing number of homeless and jobless people, while this cat [a reference to John Fisher, owner of the Oakland A’s baseball team] wants to come in here and build a playground for the rich [a reference to a new ballpark and fancy malls at the Howard Terminal in the Port of Oakland].
Where’s the priority here? Is the priority the hungry people living in the street or is it a stadium for the Oakland A’s — especially when the A’s already have a stadium off of 66th Street?
When a rich man has a dream, our dreams as workers have to go by the wayside. You can’t have billionaires running society. That’s not how things should work, but that’s how they work in a society run by the billionaires, by the 1 percent, who fund and control the Democrats and Republicans. They get paid off.
That’s why we have to mobilize and act politically in our own name.
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(3) Join Us for Socialist Organizer’s Summer 2020 Online Educational Conference!
Members and Supporters of Socialist Organizer, The Organizer newspaper and our weekly Organizer Newsletter:
Join us Saturday, August 1, from 2 pm to 5 pm Pacific on zoom (either video or phone participation) for a focused exploration of how Socialist Organizer meets the challenges confronted by the working class and communities of the oppressed at this pivotal juncture in the class struggle.
Join us in discussion with your concerns, comments and ideas to strengthen Socialist Organizer and expand our reach.
Three sessions are scheduled:
- To focus on our efforts through Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP) to create labor and community coalitions in cities across the United States that are the building blocks for an independent working class party, that is a labor-based party rooted in communities of the oppressed. The session will also address the articulation between the fight to build a Labor Party and the fight to build an independent Black Workers Party.
- An examination of the current challenges confronted by the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and the creation of a democratic-secular Palestine.
- The significance of the Fourth International today, developments taking place worldwide that will lead to its reconstitution, including a report on international youth activities. Also, as has been the underpinning of Socialist Organizer from its formation almost 30 years ago, it is not just our struggle for a Labor Party in the U.S., we advance efforts as well for a Workers International.
We find ourselves today amidst a historic uprising and the potential to lead to economic and social change. As Leon Trotsky stated so eloquently in 1938 in The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International: The Mobilization of the Masses around Transitional Demands to Prepare the Conquest of Power, “The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat.”
Join us Saturday, August 1, 2 pm to 5 pm, to discuss how we as members and supporters of Socialist Organizer can overcome obstacles and move the struggle against capitalism — the private ownership of the means of production — and towards socialism forward.
If you are interested in attending this online S.O. Educational Conference, contact us at <firstname.lastname@example.org> or 415-216-5346. Also, please visit our website at http://www.socialistorganizer.org.
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(4) Institutional Racism, Black Self-Determination and the Black Party
After George Floyd’s murder by the Minneapolis police on May 25 provoked an unprecedented mobilization of millions of youth and workers in the United States, standing up against institutional racism, the Internationalist Communist Tendency (TCI) —French section of the Fourth International — organized an online Marxist Educational Conference on June 12, 2020, on the topic: “United States: Black People, the Black Party and the Labor Party.”
Three comrades gave presentations and responded to questions: Nnamdi Lumumba, spokesperson of the Ujima People’s Progress Party, a Black working-class organization based in Baltimore (Maryland); Alan Benjamin, a representative of Socialist Organizer, the organization that upholds the positions of the Fourth International and the OCRFI in the United States; and Daniel Gluckstein, on behalf of the TCI leadership.
The Organizer newspaper has printed numerous articles and statements by Lumumba and Benjamin on the question of independent Black political action, but it has not printed any articles on this topic by Daniel Gluckstein. The statement below by comrade Gluckstein — as well as the presentations and answers to questions from the participants in this Marxist Educational Conference — are all published in Issue No. 18-19 (July 2020) of The Internationale, the theoretical magazine of the Organizing Committee for the Reconstitution of the Fourth International (OCRFI).
Copies of this theoretical magazine can be ordered for $5 on our PayPal account (socialistorganizer.org) or by writing to us at <email@example.com>.
The presentation below has been abridged slightly for reasons of space.
— The Organizer Editorial Board
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Excerpt from Presentation by Daniel Gluckstein
In the United States, and I agree fully on this point with the two previous speakers, the issue posed for Black people is the issue of fighting for national self-determination and self-organization, in a situation where – as Nnamdi Lumumba put it so well – the Black movement always has been betrayed by sectors belonging to the labor movement or so-called progressive movements. Those alliances collapsed. Yes, Black people cannot be relegated to the role of “auxiliary troops” in struggles being waged by others. They must take on their own responsibilities, their own leadership role in that movement.
An institutional racism that is the legacy of 400 years of oppression
I should like to emphasize one aspect for our French comrades. When we talk about racism in the United States, we are talking about institutional racism. Nowhere else in the world has institutional racism taken on so large a dimension as in the United States. Nowhere else in the world has it been, as in the United States, a dominant element in a period covering more than 400 years of history.
In no other country in the world has capitalism emerged in such a close relationship with the exploitation of Black people in particular. In no other country has racism been to such an extent the ideological envelope “justifying” and authorizing all the acts of persecution of which Black people in the United States have been the victims for more than 400 years.
The wealth of the United States was born out of slavery, the deportation and murder of millions of Africans
We must stress this point: The wealth of the United States was derived from slavery, from the forced deportation and murder of millions of sons and daughters of the African soil, without whom the United States would never have become the power it became.
But there has not only been slavery. In a whole series of episodes in U.S. history, to which Nnamdi Lumumba has referred, Black people, who have played a crucial role in the liberation struggle in the United States, have been betrayed repeatedly by those who should have been their allies, or actually were their allies.
One of the most striking episodes was when the United States became a modern capitalist country through the Civil War, when the country’s industrial North defeated the South, which was based on agriculture and slavery. We know very well that the Northern capitalists were not concerned about freeing the slaves in the beginning; rather, their main concern was to consolidate their domination, and they had even given guarantees to the Southern slave-owners that slavery would be maintained.
But in the war against the South, they were faced with a problem: The Northern troops couldn’t win the war, and in order to defeat the South, they had to do what they had refused to do in the beginning: they had to call on Black men to enlist. More than 200,000 Black men enlisted in the Northern army, with 125,000 coming from the South and 80,000 from the North. Without this commitment by Black men, it is likely that the North would have found it very difficult to defeat the South.
Up to a certain point, the Northern capitalists were dependent on this commitment by Black men. To obtain that commitment, they not only promised an end to slavery – emancipation – but they went further: they promised land, “40 acres and a mule,” in other words, within a U.S .economy that was largely agricultural, this was an opportunity for Black people to become Black farmers, based on the model of white farmers, and as a result to win a certain degree of economic independence. This therefore meant emancipation that would be both political and economic.
Following the North’s victory, a movement began in the South, a revolutionary movement referred to as the Radical Reconstruction period, which saw Black people and part of the poor white population take their fate into their own hands and impose the election of Black men in the legislatures of the Southern states for the first time. One of the Southern states, South Carolina I think, had a majority of Black representatives in its state Congress.
Radical Reconstruction: A key period in U.S. history
During Radical Reconstruction, the masses imposed a whole series of progressive measures: the education of children, and political freedoms, including the right to vote for Black people and women. But there is one thing they did not gain, even at the highest point of that revolutionary phase, and that is land ownership. Reneging on their promise of “40 acres and a mule,” the Northern capitalists did everything they could to ensure that the main source of wealth, the land, remained in the hands of either the railway companies or the big landowners.
This was a betrayal of the promise of economic emancipation, without which political emancipation meant nothing. Economic and social equality were denied to them by the same people who had promised it to them.
The Radical Reconstruction phase, when poor whites and Black people became allies and imposed a whole series of democratic gains – including women’s rights, the right to vote and the right to abortion, for example – and formed militias to defend their rights, finally came to be regarded by the capitalist government of the United States as a threat to its system, the system of private ownership of the means of production.
There was a reversal of alliances, and the Northern capitalists once again allied themselves with the former slave-owners of the South. Together they crushed bloodily the Radical Reconstruction movement. In Tennessee alone, 20,000 Black members of a self-defense militia were slaughtered in the space of a few days. And there are many more examples.
To translate into French history, let’s say that Radical Reconstruction corresponds to the most revolutionary period of the French Revolution (1792-93), and to the Paris Commune (1871). It is without any doubt the most progressive social movement ever seen in the United States, and the core of that movement were the freed former slaves and part of the Black people in the North, allied with poor whites.
The Republican Party, which had carried the hopes of the North in the Civil War and had promised to end slavery, considered that capitalist rule was in danger. Allied with the Southern former slave-owners, it bloodily crushed Radical Reconstruction.
Not only that, it also encouraged a return to the worst kinds of racist persecution that had subsided for some ten years. This took the form of the Jim Crow Acts, a system of persecution and discrimination, which meant that from the later part of the 19th century onward, Black people in the South lost all of the democratic rights they had won previously. It also meant that any group of whites could lynch any Black person. In the 1920s and ‘30s in the United States, lynchings happened regularly, announced in advance in the newspapers: “Next Sunday, we will hang five Blacks” — all accused of made-up crimes. And thousands of people travelled hundreds of kilometers to attend “the show.”
This betrayal by the Northern “progressive” bourgeoisie of those who had enabled them to win the Civil War, of those whose rights had been removed one by one, delivering them up to the worst kinds of racist persecution from which they hoped they had escaped following the Civil War, finally returning them to slave status – not officially, but in practice – explains that sense of betrayal, and what Nnamdi Lumumba just said: We experienced betrayal by all of our allies, and we concluded from this that we had to organise ourselves and free ourselves, of course in alliance with others, but by leading our own movement ourselves.
Institutional racism and the labor movement
As Alan [Benjamin] has said, institutional racism continued to prevail even inside the labor movement, which in the United States was built by incorporating the racist and discriminatory positions of the bourgeoisie to a certain extent.
In the 1980s – not so long ago – I remember meeting a comrade, a Black labor activist, who explained to me that a few years earlier, in Los Angeles, the second biggest city in the United States, the municipal authority still only hired whites, and hiring was controlled by the union. When Black people applied to be hired as city employees, the union refused. They were forced to form a “separate” Black union. Why “separate”? What else could they do, when the existing union refused to admit Black people? The Black Employees Association was formed. It fought legal battles and finally imposed the hiring of Black people on the “white” union and City Hall.
Then, when the first employee “restructuring” plans were implemented by the municipal authority, City Hall applied the “last hired, first fired” rule. In other words, Black employees were the first to go.
This is a constant battle, for which we could give many other examples, which explains the fact that today, yes, the issue is posed in terms of national self-emancipation and self-organization by Black people.
Only Black people will free themselves
The particular oppression of Black people in the United States means that the spark for the uprising against oppression and exploitation is to be found first of all in the capacity of Black people to take their affairs into their own hands, of course in alliance with the other oppressed and exploited sectors of the working class. But it is up to Black people, and to them alone, to determine their alliances and the forms of these alliances.
This question goes beyond the Black question in the United States. Ultimately it is a concentrated expression of what Marx said, cited by Nnamdi Lumumba: “The emancipation of the workers must be the task of the working class itself.”
To conclude, I should like to show how this consciousness is deeply rooted in the mindset of generations of Black Americans. In a book devoted to the Radical Reconstruction period, I found this anecdote, which I will read to you. In that period there was an incredible movement to educate the children of former slaves. Some 9,000 teachers went down to the South to do this, and an estimated 250,000 children were educated at that time. A historian describes how the schoolchildren learned very quickly, as indicated in the following exchange:
“The teacher asks the children: ‘Now, do you still think that white people are better than you because they have straight hair and pale faces?’ They answer, in unison: “No, Sir!” The teacher continues: ‘No, they are not better, they are different, because they possess great power, they have formed a great government, and they control this great country. Children, what do you think makes them different from you?’ The children all shout in unison: ‘Money!’ The teacher continues: ‘All right, but what allowed them to have that money?’ The children reply in unison: ‘They took it from us, they stole it from us’.”
That was true in 1869, and it is still true in 2020.