IN THIS ISSUE of The Organizer Weekly No. 13 (October 31, 2020):
• Editorial: All Out November 4 and 7 to Stop Trump’s Planned Coup!
• The Coup Threat Continues: What Way Forward for Labor? — statement by the Labor Fightback Network
• Greetings from an Undocumented Immigrant Rights Organizer to the October 10 Binational Conference Against NAFTA 2.0
• Report on the Labor Rights Breakout Session of the October 10 Binational Conference Against NAFTA 2.0
• The Relevance of The Transitional Program — Part 2 of a multi-part series
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All Out November 4 and 7 to Stop Trump’s Planned Coup
A statement issued earlier this week by United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) underscores the urgent need for the labor movement and its community allies to get out into the streets in huge numbers on Wednesday, November 4 and Saturday, November 7 to stop Trump’s planned coup.
“Trump has indicated several ways that he may attempt to steal the election,” the statement reads. “He may try to do that through legal mechanisms. He may try to do it through voter suppression or intimidation. He may try to do it by simply stopping the count of mail ballots.”
The UTLA leadership goes on to note that the first couple of days following the November 3 election will be decisive, as “Trump and the right wing may be testing the water, so we have to act fast and mobilize big.”
The UTLA statement concludes with a review of a time, 20 years ago, when the labor movement dropped the ball and did not mobilize to stop a stolen election. The authors write:
“The 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore came down to the Florida recount. The Democratic Party made a decision. They decided not to mobilize the millions of people who wanted to make sure that every vote was counted. They decided to rely solely on the courts.
“The Republican Party and right wing made a different decision. They decided to challenge the count in the courts AND in the streets. They mobilized, got thousands of folks into the streets in rallies, and they took control of the narrative. They created the frame: ‘Loser Gore is trying to steal the election.’ They created the conditions on the ground that allowed for the court to end the recount.”
[We should add that in 2000 the national AFL-CIO leadership refused to buck the Democratic Party’s directive to stay off the streets, thus contributing to the demobilization that ensured Bush’s “selection.” This sorry episode of labor’s subordination to the Democratic Party was recounted in great detail by then AFL-CIO staff member Jane McAlevy in her memoir; see The Organizer Weekly no. 12].
The UTLA statement concluded by reiterating its call to action beginning November 4, proclaiming, “We cannot let them steal an election again!”
Labor action to protect the integrity of the vote mushrooms
Hundreds of union locals, central labor councils, national unions, and other workplace organizations have heeded the lessons of the 2000 election debacle and are preparing the actions required to stop Trump and the Republicans from orchestrating a coup.
Many unions have adopted resolutions calling on the labor movement as a whole to “take whatever nonviolent actions may be necessary to stop Trump from stealing the election.” Some of the resolutions — such as the ones adopted by the central labor councils in Rochester (NY), Troy (NY), Seattle (WA), Madison (WI) or Western Massachusetts — have called for workplace actions, up to and including a general strike.
An ad-hoc network of more than 100 labor organizations and leaders —— the Labor Action to Defend Democracy (LADD) — has emerged with the aim of helping to promote the bottom-up mobilization of the millions of workers in the labor movement, in alliance with community forces, starting November 4. “Labor can make the difference,” stated a LADD organizer.
The Organizer newspaper concurs: The fight against voter suppression is our fight. The fight to defend the right to vote is our fight. Millions of workers and oppressed people in this country have fought tooth and nail to secure this right, many of them lost their lives.
It is up to the working class and its organizations to champion the fight in defense of the very bourgeois democratic rights that have been won through bitter struggle by working people — rights that have been eroded continuously.
More than 500 demonstrations are being organized nationwide the afternoon and evening of Wednesday, November 4 by the broad-based Protect the Results coalition. Unions in many cities will be joining these actions. On Saturday, November 7 the labor movement has taken the lead in organizing what could be huge demonstrations to protect the integrity of the vote.
The stakes are huge. As a labor organizer in San Francisco put it: “We cannot count on the legal system to defend us; we can only count on ourselves, on the collective power of our unions and community partners.”
All Out November 4 and November 7!
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The Coup Threat Continues – What Way Forward for Labor?
By the Labor Fightback Network
The U.S. system of governance is facing a qualitative political crisis of a magnitude unprecedented since the Civil War. For the first time ever, a U.S. president has stated repeatedly that he will not concede defeat if he loses reelection. This is not an idle threat and the election is less than two weeks away.
Does Trump have the power to pull off a coup? A lengthy article recently published by The Atlantic points out there is little legally to stop him. Our system presumes a peaceful transition of power. There are no clear procedures to respond to such a threat. If necessary, Trump has threatened military intervention by the armed Homeland Security and border patrol forces he sent into Seattle and Portland to attack Black Lives Matter protesters. When asked to disavow white supremacy, he told racist gangs (“militias”) to “stand back and stand by,” thus sending them a loud dog whistle to engage in violent intervention.
Many are already organizing to intimidate and assault voters on Election Day. And, Trump can count on racist police to back them up when they do. As of now, he does not have the support of the branches of the armed services, the FBI (which has stated that white supremacist militias are the chief domestic terrorism threat), and portions of other federal intelligence agencies. However, it remains to be seen if they would intervene to prevent a coup. Some generals have said they would resign rather than order troops to suppress protests, but that only leaves the way open for others to carry out such orders.
Moreover, the Democratic Party has not mounted an effective resistance. Ultimately, both parties answer to their ruling class corporate funders, not their constituents. It is in the interest of the ruling class to continue the disastrous policies of both Trump and neoliberal warmongers like Biden. If push comes to shove literally, there is a risk that Democrats may concede to Trump in order to prevent more disruption to the economy and to the institutions sustaining the capitalist system. They have already given up on any effective means to block Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. As of now, their approach to voter suppression and election theft has been largely legalistic, which could result in the election being decided by a Supreme Court likely to support Trump.
Whatever the ultimate outcome, the next few months will have a decisive historical impact. Our most basic democratic rights could be lost while we battle a life-threatening pandemic, a deepening depression, widespread police brutality and white supremacist attacks, and the continued ravages of hurricanes and wildfires, all of which have a disproportionate effect on those already marginalized. If that happens, we risk civil war and a slide toward actual fascism. This is not something that most U.S. workers would have considered an imminent threat until the last few months, even with cumulative pressures building up over many years. If we lose our democratic rights, defending ourselves becomes far more difficult and dangerous. As capitalism continues to unravel, continuing crises are fully predicable and will worsen. Humanity is literally running out of time to overcome these crises.
Up to now, the pressures of the pandemic, racist attacks, economic survival, and climate disasters have preoccupied most people in this country. Only in the last few weeks, have large numbers of groups prioritized the threat beyond liberal volunteer efforts to sway the vote. Local coalitions of labor, faith, environmental, economic justice, antiracist, and gender justice groups have been springing up throughout the country, as well as national efforts like Protect the Results, a politically diverse coalition that includes the CWA and the SEIU, representing over 2 million workers, and The Frontline, led by the Working Families Party and the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement appealing to left-leaning liberals. A more radical left-wing effort – People’s Strike – has been circulating a pledge to participate in demonstrations, occupations, and rolling strikes between Election Day and Inauguration, with a list of pro-working-class demands. And, there are many promising local efforts.
As labor activists, we recognize that the organized labor movement could play a decisive role in this fight. Thanks to the ability to withhold our labor, we could stop Trump’s power grab. The Labor Fightback Network (LFN) applauds the Rochester (NY) Labor Council’s call for a general strike after the election if Trump fails to concede. However, this is not likely to be implemented without a call from top union officials and thus far, no such call has been made. A more likely scenario is that mass protests, with labor involvement, will escalate into local strike actions and then a mass strike wave that union officials would be forced to support.
AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka did issue a statement claiming that the “The labor movement simply will not allow any breach of the U.S. Constitution or other effort to deny the will of the people” and that the AFL-CIO will “… stand ready to do our part to ensure his (Trump’s) defeat in this election is followed by his removal from office.” But what is “our” part? In LFN’s opinion, mass demonstrations are absolutely necessary, but may not be enough, especially during the current pandemic. The risks of COVID exposure plus violent repression by both government forces and white supremacist thugs could make it difficult to mobilize truly massive numbers of people in the streets for days or weeks at a time. Withholding our labor is not only more effective inherently, but could be far more appealing under these circumstances.
What can we, as labor activists, do during this final week?
First, we must continue to defend the right to vote; encouraging early and mail-in voting and supporting the U.S. Postal Service. If we are not at high risk for COVID, we should sign up to be poll-workers and poll-watchers to ensure that voters who might be racially profiled are allowed to vote and can do so safely.
Second, we must build the demonstrations being called by national or local community coalitions, many already with labor support; organizing internally in our unions to ensure a large turnout. These protests are necessary even if Trump loses and gives up on his coup plans, because Joe Biden must be put on notice that labor will push back against his anti-worker policies. For example, in the middle of a pandemic, Biden won’t even support Medicare for All.
Third, we must do whatever we can to give traction to the calls for strike action. Even small local strikes could grow into a massive strike movement, as was evidenced by the Red for Ed movement two years ago, forcing support from union officials.
Lastly, we must consider the longer-term picture. Defending the basic right to vote and a peaceful transition of power is essential at this moment. But, it is also necessary to continue advocating for a genuine political alternative to the Democrats and Republicans. We urge you to join us in building Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP), an effort to create an alternative to the twin parties of the bosses, both of which have led us to this scary historical turning point.
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Greetings from an Undocumented Immigrant Rights Organizer to the Binational Conference Against NAFTA 2.0
By E.J. Esperanza
[Note: The following message was sent by E.J. Esperanza to the October 10, 2020 Binational Conference Against NAFTA, the Wall of Shame, and For Labor Rights for All. Esperanza, an undocumented lawyer and immigrant rights activist, was not able to attend the conference for reasons he explains below.]
I am sorry that I will not be able to join you at the Binational Conference. Together with other immigrant rights activists, I am currently at an ICE detention center in the town of Adelanto, in California’s San Bernardino County. We are here to demand that the governor and state authorities shut down the Adelanto ICE detention center and all other for-profit detention centers — all of which have become death camps for the detainees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As you may know, ICE contracts with private prison companies, such as GEO Group, Inc. and CoreCivic, to operate the majority of its large network of facilities. All have witnessed a huge outbreak of COVID-19 because of the lack of proper protective equipment, the cramped quarters, the unsanitary conditions, and the lack of adequate healthcare.
In response to the spread of COVID-19 throughout the detention centers, hundreds of immigrants have gone on hunger strike across the country. From Northern California, Central California, Southern California, to Colorado, to Louisiana, an unprecedented wave of hunger strikes has swept the country, largely ignored by the media. Prisoners in Adelanto and other facilities have been striking continuously for their freedom and for their very lives.
Activists up and down the state of California, and beyond, are crying out, “How many more people in ICE detention have to die or get infected before these death camps are shut down?” They are demanding: “FREE THEM ALL!”
Democratic Party: Not a Lesser Evil
At the Mesa Verde Detention facility in Bakersfield, Calif., hunger strikers sent an Open Letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Xavier Becerra demanding that they inspect the detention facilities and oversee the standards of care. These Democratic Party officials, however, have refused to take such action.
The immigrant community is very clear about the real threat presented by the Trump administration. We’ve spent every waking hour fighting it. But there is a growing awareness in the leadership of the immigrant rights movement that the Democrats are no “lesser evil.” This is an assessment borne out by experience and 15 years of struggle against Democrats and Republicans alike.
Despite all the rhetoric and crocodile tears over the missing children who were separated from their parents, the Democratic Party has refused to hold the immigrant detention centers accountable. They have refused to stop GEO’s expansion. They have sided with the for-profit detention centers.
This is no accident. The Trump administration did not create the deportation regime under which we are living today. His administration has merely enforced existing laws drafted and signed into law by the Clinton administration, in the infamous Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. These laws gave unprecedented power to the federal government to militarize the border, criminalize immigrants, and detain and deport families on a mass and unprecedented scale.
The sophisticated machinery that leveraged for-profit detention centers and state-of-the-art surveillance technology was the work of the Obama and Biden administration, and their administration alone. Its aim has been to militarize the border and establish a deportation militia under ICE capable of commandeering every local law enforcement agency in the country, every database, to identify, track, detain, and deport immigrants on a mass scale.
Obama and Biden deported nearly 3 million immigrants in eight years, deporting on average nearly 400,000 immigrants a year. Trump has deported far fewer. The infamous detention of children at the border is also a policy that began under Obama and Biden, back in 2014, which received much less attention than Trump’s policy.
Independent Mass Action
During COVID-19, the immigrant rights movement has secured victories precisely by opposing and mobilizing independently of the Democrats in California, Colorado, Louisiana, Texas, and beyond. Over 10,000 immigrants have secured releases due to this growing movement in the last several months. Everywhere a powerful movement is being forged to demand Papeles Para Todos / Papers for All! — No Detentions and Deportations! — No More “Comprehensive Immigration Reform”!
Places where the immigrant community had previously been unorganized – like the Central Valley in California, rural regions in Louisiana, Vermont, and Texas – have seen important battles taking on private detention centers and the Democrats alike.
In these localities, local Democrats have time and again sided with the private detention centers, posing the need for immigrants to run their own candidates locally in a way never seen before. In rural places like McFarland, Bakersfield, and Adelanto in California, and Williamson County in Texas, the question of an independent working-class party has been urgently presented by the limitations of the Democratic politicians that sit in power locally. It’s in places like these where the conditions to run independent labor and community candidates are ripening.
So as we fight to liberate our people from detention centers, the question of independent working-class politics is posed to the immigrant rights movement.
I look forward to working with all of you across borders to tear down the Wall of Shame, free all the prisoners from the ICE detention centers, and repeal NAFTA 2.0
Thank you, and best wishes for a successful conference.
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BINATIONAL CONFERENCE AGAINST NAFTA 2.0 AND FOR LABOR RIGHTS FOR ALL
(October 10, 2020)
Report on the Labor Rights Breakout Session
Speaker after speaker took the floor to report on the situation of the working class on both sides of the border and to denounce the use by the transnational corporations of the “free trade” agreements to reduce labor costs.
The opening speaker noted that a special chapter on labor rights was included in the body of the new trade agreement — officially known as the US-Mexico-Canada agreement, or USMCA, but more aptly called NAFTA 2.0. This labor rights chapter, while it has some progressive aspects, is little more than words on paper; there is very little possibility that the wholesale attacks on labor rights carried out under the original NAFTA treaty will see any improvement under NAFTA 2.0.
No real action has been taken by the Mexican government, no real enforcement mechanisms have been implemented, to ensure compliance with the new provisions stipulated in the labor rights chapter. No federal funding has been set aside to set up government offices to replace the conciliation and arbitration boards, which are in the pockets of the employers. No funding has been budgeted, no structures have been put into place, to proceed with the speedy revision of the tens of thousands of “protection contracts” — that is, the bogus contracts signed with the company unions.
Many speakers noted that leaders of the charro unions — that is, company unions — have placed countless obstacles in the way of the creation of new independent unions. When these new unions are constituted and obtain official recognition — often after extensive mobilizations such as in San Quintín (with the agricultural workers) and Matamoros (with the maquiladora workers) — the companies, in collusion with the charro leaders and the labor authorities, do everything possible to stop the signing of new collective-bargaining agreements with the independent unions. They collude, for example, to prevent the holding of free and democratic union elections that would give the workers the ability to select the union representatives of their choice, as stipulated in the basic ILO conventions.
It was reported that the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause (regarding the resolution of disputes involving investors and states) was carried over from the original NAFTA agreement into the new agreement in relation to Mexico’s oil industry. The ISDS clause protects the investors and U.S. oil companies. Should Mexico decide to re-regulate or re-nationalize the extraction and processing of its immense oil reserves — the backbone of the Mexican nation’s sovereignty — the investors’ complaint would be taken to an international tribunal and the re-regulation or re-nationalization would be reversed immediately.
In the case of the United States, it was stated that the struggle for labor rights, which has not abetted under Trump, is bound up with the struggles against racism, and that the main obstacle facing both the labor movement and the struggle for Black liberation continues to be the subordination of the trade unions to the Democratic Party. A clear example of this was the adoption of NAFTA 2.0 itself. The labor movement initially was very hesitant about supporting this new “free trade” agreement, especially after the devastation caused over 25 years by NAFTA to U.S. workers. But the Democratic Party, and Nancy Pelosi in particular, for their own electoral considerations pushed the AFL-CIO to adopt what is fundamentally an anti-labor, pro-corporate treaty. A toothless labor chapter was needed to seal the deal.
It was further explained by numerous speakers that in Mexico repression against those who struggle continues to be a common practice. Following are just some of the cases:
– The criminalization of sister Susana Prieto, lawyer and legal counsel to the SNITIS MOM 20/32 trade union movement of maquiladora workers in Matamoros, Mexico. She was imprisoned for charges fabricated by the governor of the state of Tamaulipas. All those present at the Binational Conference from different parts of Mexico, from the southern border of Mexico to the northern border, as well as from the United States, agreed on the need to express our solidarity with Susana Prieto and with the SNITIS, the independent union that emerged from this struggle, and to fight for her total and unconditional freedom. All participants pledged to urge the Mexican authorities to drop all the phony charges against her.
– Workers in the automotive industry who have dared to challenge the union control of the CTM, CROM, and CROC charro unions have been the victims of targeted layoffs. This has been the case, in particular, in the AUDI and General Motors factories.
– The same has happened to maquiladora workers throughout the border region, particularly in Baja California, where there have been massive layoffs of workers who sought to join independent unions.
– The independent unions, also known as autonomous unions, have been the victims of government intervention. One example is the offensive against the SME (Mexican Electricity Workers Union), whose legitimately elected leadership has been denied official government recognition.
In the arena of the municipal, state and federation workers’ organizations the following was exposed and denounced:
– The corporatist collusion between the charro unions and the State has been maintained, particularly in the most important sections of the working class, such as the oil workers, the electrical workers affiliated with the SUTERM, and the teachers, whose leaderships have approved all the structural “reforms” (destructive of public enterprises and services). This corporatist union structure ensures government recognition of unions beholden to the bosses and the State, while unions that have conquered democracy are denied recognition through the denial of their toma de nota — that is, the official recognition of the elected leaders, authorizing them to represent the workers in any given sector.
– In the case of the organizations of workers at the service of state governments, it was reported that there is a tendency to create small unions by municipality or even workplace, which in the name of “democratizing” the union structures and getting rid of the corporatist union mis-leaderships, only weakens the labor force and its bargaining power.
In all cases, the need to continue fighting for the democratization of the large unions was underscored. Key to this is the need to denounce the complicity of the labor and conciliation boards, which act simply as relays for the bosses and the politicians in their pay.
In relation to the unorganized sectors of the working class, the following was noted:
– Most of the Mexican working class, if they have jobs at all, are in a continued state of precariousness; they are part of the “informal sector”. This trend is also growing in the U.S., where the number of unionized workers is decreasing.
– Many speakers stated that progress should be made in promoting the organization of unorganized, precarious workers. These workers need to be part of a collective body that is able negotiate with companies and sign collective-bargaining agreements.
– The need to organize private-sector workers, who are denied their rights through various methods, was also discussed. Special attention should be paid to new forms of labor exploitation, such as subcontracting and outsourcing in its various forms.
– The imposition of the “business models” developed by electronic apps was discussed, the most well known being those in transportation, such as Uber and Lyft, or food-delivery companies. These gig workers are not considered salaried employees and hence are denied minimum wages, benefits and basic labor rights as they are deemed “independent contractors”. They have to assume all the risks on the job and pay for their work tools. Labor activists from San Diego’s Rideshare Drivers United reported that there is a proposition on the ballot in California — Proposition 22 — that is aimed at legalizing this anti-worker situation. Labor activists in California are calling for No on Prop 22 in the upcoming elections. The San Diego activists warned that the capitalists are seeking to export this Uber “business model” throughout the world. This is why they have spent US$188 million to promote their Yes on Prop 22 campaign. If Proposition 22 passes in California, it will have a domino effect.
On the effects of the COVID pandemic on the working class:
– It was noted that the brunt of the economic crisis and of the pandemic has been placed on the shoulders of the workers on both sides of the border. The spread of COVID-19 has not stopped; in fact, it is expanding, and it is being wielded by the bosses and governments in their service to implement policies that attack the rights and conquests wrested through bitter struggles by the working class and the people.
– Numerous speakers denounced the violations by the large corporations and industrial complexes in Mexico of the presidential decree on COVID-19. Workers in the maquiladoras, in the automobile industry, in complexes like those of Grupo Salinas, or in the port of Lázaro Cárdenas are all being ordered to go to work without the proper protective equipment and other safety measures. Infections and hospitalizations are on the rise in this sector, with thousands of preventable deaths. Workers unwilling to show up for work under these unsanitary conditions are forced to sign “voluntary resignations,” under threat of losing their pensions or other benefits.
– Speakers also took issue with new forms of exploitation such as teleworking, which has been imposed in various public and private sectors, a modality that increases the work hours, expands flex time and disrupts the privacy of the worker at home.
– It also was reported that the pandemic has increased the exploitation of women, who must bear the burden of meeting their work objectives, ensure the care and often the education of their children, and bear all the costs and demands of staying home. In addition, domestic violence has increased in recent months and women and children are the primary victims.
– Speakers proposed to endorse the legislative proposal by the New Workers Central (NCT) related to emergency and/or pandemic situations.
On unity in action:
A unanimous aspiration of the conference participants was to move forward in united action and to formulate a response to the problems facing the working class.
– For many speakers, the basic problem is the capitalist system. They noted that the “free trade” agreements are but the contemporary expression of the survival needs of a system in crisis, a system that must seek to reduce the cost of the labor force, guided by voracity, a system that is destroying nature as well.
– A proposal was made to raise on both sides of the border the call for “equal pay for equal work”.
– Speakers on both sides of the border expressed the need for the labor movement to affirm its class independence and not submit to the interests of this or that wing of the capitalist class; in that sense, the initiative of an organizing committee for a Labor Party in the United States and the call for a general strike against Trump’s policies and against any attempt by Trump to impose a coup d’état by not accepting, as he has been promising, an electoral victory by Biden in the November 3 elections, is very significant.
– Some speakers mentioned that it was necessary to issue a call for a national or continental conference, underscoring the urgent need to link the broad movements of the U.S. working class with the mobilizations in the rest of the continent.
– It was proposed that days of coordinated action be held throughout the continent, beginning by coordinating actions with comrades in Canada, the United States, and Mexico.
– It was proposed that all the participants in the Binational Conference, along with the members of their organizations, join in building the World Conference Against War and Exploitation, convened by the International Workers Committee, which was formed in Mumbai, India, and in which union and political activists and leaders from 52 nations participate.
– It was proposed to speak out against repression, like that which occurred on September 28 against the march of women in Mexico City. We must call for the release of political prisoners throughout the continent, and for all the facts to be brought to light — with those responsible brought to justice — regarding of the disappearance of the 43 normalistas (teacher trainees) of Ayotzinapa.
Other matters that were addressed and that also were taken up in the other breakout session were the following:
– The fighting for non-payment of the debt;
– The fight against the mega-projects;
– The fight for the renationalization of everything that has been privatized;
– The campaign to expel from Mexico the looting companies like Constellation Brands, Coca-Cola, and the open-pit mining companies.
The following points were agreed to at this breakout session:
– Reject unflinchingly the NAFTA 2.0 agreement.
– Participate in the World Conference Against War and Exploitation convened by the International Workers Committee.
– Campaign to raise funds for the comrades of Generando Movimiento, who were fired from the General Motors Corp. in Silao, Guanajuato.
– Support the campaign for massive unionization and against precarious work, and participate in the campaign to expose and oppose the drive by the gig corporations to promote “independent contract” status.
– Use any and all openings, including within Mexico’s current labor legislation, to promote processes of democratization from the bottom up, from the rank-and-file.
– Generate discussion forums to go deeper into the consequences of COVID-19 for the working class, in particular in relation teleworking and its implications in the educational field.
– Write a letter addressed to comrade Susana Prieto, wishing her a speedy recovery from her illness (which had prevented her from attending the Binational Conference), expressing our continued solidarity with her and the SNITIS.
– Develop a campaign in relation to the need to fight against outsourcing.
– Demand that the Mexican Department of Labor implement immediate and unconditional solutions to the demands of the workers in struggle. No more dialogue without a solution!
– Support the Mexican Electricity Workers Union (SME) and demand that the Department of Labor grant immediate recognition to its democratically elected leadership.
– Support the comrades of the Agricultural Workers union (SINDJA) of San Quintin, for a prompt solution to their demands and for the continuation of the campaign to boycott Driscoll’s company.
– Democratize the large unions, carry out the complete reform of the SNTE’s bylaws.
– Support the struggle of the National Coordination of Education Workers (CNTE) and demand the reform of the SNTE bylaws for South-Eastern Mexico, for union democracy without State intervention and for the total repeal of the destructive “Educational Reform” enacted under former President Peña Nieto. In the particular case of Section 40 of Chiapas, we declare our support for the demands of the Democratic Caucus of Section 40 of the SNTE-CNTE so that the workers can be represented democratically.
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The Relevance of The Transitional Program
(Part 2 of a multi-part series)
As world capitalism continues its deepest crisis since the Great Depression, hundreds of thousands of workers and youth have begun to question the myths we’ve been taught about the inevitability of capitalism and the impossibility of socialism. Judging from the mass upsurges the world over, there is every reason to believe that the deepening global economic crisis — revealing nothing less than the systemic crisis of the capitalism in its death agony — will accelerate the unrest that has been mounting throughout the world and notably in the United States.
But history shows that there is no such thing as a “final crisis of capitalism.” Capitalism creates its gravediggers, but it does not ensure them their victory. The organized efforts of a genuine revolutionary party— the conscious expression of the struggle of the mass of working and oppressed peoples for their liberation — are needed to help the working class and its allies overcome all the obstacles in their path to power.
To fulfill this monumental task, revolutionaries must base their actions on a political strategy rooted in the lessons learned from past victories and defeats in the course of the class struggle. Anything short of this is a recipe for failure. There is no better time than now for the young generation and militant workers to absorb the lessons of a fundamental work of Marxism: The Transitional Program, by Leon Trotsky.
The Roots of the Transitional Method
The transitional method is the culmination of the development of Marxist strategy beginning with the birth of the revolutionary socialist movement in the mid 19th century. Karl Marx’s fundamental political contribution was to link the goal of socialism to the struggle of the working class. Before Marx, socialist ideas were primarily propagated by the “utopian socialists.” They postulated that a free classless society could be established by simply convincing the population as a whole of the desirability of a classless society — or by building islands of egalitarianism in a sea of capitalism. Parallel to this, the emerging workers’ movement tended to focus on immediate “bread and butter” demands, lacking a coherent long-term vision for social change.
Marx and his collaborator Frederick Engels overcame this division by establishing in The Communist Manifesto (1847) the fundamental objectives and “lines of march” for the working-class movement. They explained that socialism was a historical necessity that could only be achieved through the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist order itself. To achieve this goal, the working class would have to transform itself from a class “in itself” (an object of exploitation) to a class “for itself” (an agent for social change) through the process of building independent class organizations, the highest expression of which was an independent political party.
The Communist Manifesto was written as a guide to action for the impending revolutionary wave that swept Europe in 1848. But this revolutionary wave was defeated and the question of the revolutionary struggle for power was pushed to the background in most countries for decades. During Marx’s lifetime, the workers’ movement was still in its infancy. Capitalism was in its progressive ascent and, with some ups and downs, experienced an unprecedented period of growth that lasted until the outbreak of World War One in 1914. In this context, Marxist strategy to establish the merger of socialism and the workers’ movement — in other words, to win the working class to the fight for political and economic power — remained embryonic.
The parties of the Second International (founded in 1889), led by the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), played an important and progressive role in winning many gains for workers and in establishing a mass base for socialism within the workers’ movement. But they tended to function on the basis of a strict separation of the fight for immediate demands (“the minimum program”) and abstract propaganda for the ultimate goal of socialism (“the maximum program”). In practice, the central focus of most parties of the Second International became the “minimum program” and the goal of socialism was put off to a vague, distant future. Some of the more moderate leaders of the Second International believed economic growth and prosperity would advance indefinitely. Socialism, they thought, would eventually and inevitably come about through the peaceful accumulation of reforms.
This perspective reflected the relatively prosperous conditions of the time in Europe. Capitalists were able to concede many important reforms to the European and U.S. (white) working classes, because the capitalist system was expanding and growing, conquering colony after colony throughout the world. In this context, the leaderships of the main Social Democratic parties and the trade unions became more and more conservative — in practice, if not always in words.
But capitalist prosperity could not last indefinitely. The world market was only so big and once the world was carved up, capitalism was transformed from a (relatively) progressive system, into an absolute reactionary one. The moment of truth came in August 1914 with the opening shots of World War One. The leaderships of the main parties of the Second International lined up behind their respective bourgeoisies and supported the inter-imperialist war, betraying the cause of socialism and thus creating the need for a new revolutionary workers’ international.
The roots of the Third International lie in the left-wing of the Second International represented by Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebnecht, Clara Zetkin, Leon Trotsky, and V.I. Lenin. In Lenin’s Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916), he argued that World War One showed that capitalism had entered into its final stage, imperialism, thereby opening a new explosive era of wars and revolutions. This analysis was validated by the conquest of power by the Russian workers, led by the Bolsheviks, in 1917.
The Third International (the Communist International) was founded in 1919 to lead a world revolution, in both the imperialist and dominated nations. It sought to displace the grave obstacle of the counter-revolutionary Social Democrats from the leadership of the workers’ movement, rescue Marxism from its opportunistic and reformist distortions, and generalize the profound lessons of the experience of the Russian Revolution. The discussions and resolutions of the Third and Fourth congresses of the Communist International (1921 and 1922) remain to this day key guides to action on tactics and strategy. They rank with The Transitional Program as the highest “school of revolutionary strategy” produced yet by the Marxist movement. The old “minimum program” was superseded by a new approach going back to the best elements of The Communist Manifesto and rooted in the best practices of the Bolsheviks.
The Third Congress’ thesis “On Tactics” argues that the method of mobilizing the masses around their basic demands is fully revolutionary because in the epoch of decadent capitalism even the most basic demands of the working class are a challenge to the system:
“In place of the minimum program of the centrists and reformists, the Communist International offers a struggle for the concrete demands of the proletariat which, in their totality, challenge the power of the bourgeoisie, organize the proletariat and mark out the different stages of the struggle for its dictatorship. Even before the broad masses consciously understand the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat, they can respond to each of the individual demands. As more and more people are drawn into the struggle around these demands and as the needs of the masses come into conflict with the needs of capitalist society, the working class will come to realize that if it wants to live, capitalism will have to die. This realization will be the main motivation in their struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat. The task of the Communist Parties is to extend, deepen and unify the struggle around these concrete demands.…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.”
Unfortunately, the systematization and implementation of this transitional approach was brutally cut short. The Third International degenerated in the mid 1920’s with the rise of Stalinism in Russia. The defeats of the post-war revolutionary wave in Germany, Italy, and beyond, resulted in the isolation of the revolution in a poor backwards country, enabling a layer of bureaucrats led by Stalin to usurp power.
The Stalinist bureaucracy renounced the fight for world revolution, under the pretext of building “socialism in one country”. It transformed the Third International into a terminal brake on the revolutionary upsurges of the masses. Just as the Social Democrats had done years before, Stalinized Communist parties outside of Russia wedded their organizations to the maintenance of capitalism, and abandoned any bridge between their talk about socialism and their immediate actions. The consequences were dire.
From the mid 1920’s onward, the Stalinist political apparatus became the principal obstacle to the workers’ struggle, leading to the defeats of numerous revolutions, such as the Chinese Revolution (1925-27) and the Spanish revolution (1936-9), as well as enabling the rise of fascism in Germany in 1933. Since then Stalinism has betrayed literally dozens of revolutions and sown much political confusion by associating the words “communism” and “socialism” with a degenerated totalitarian political system. By the mid 1930’s, the task of upholding and developing the banner of revolutionary Marxism and helping the oppressed overcome both the Stalinist and Social Democratic bureaucracies fell to Trotsky and his co-thinkers.
The Transitional Program
Leon Trotsky wrote The Transitional Program for the founding conference of the Fourth International, as Europe and the world hurtled towards the abyss of World War Two.It was clear that Marxists had to prepare themselves politically and organizationally for the inevitable pressures of the war and for the revolutionary opportunities that would arise from it. In September 1938, the founding conference of the Fourth International took place in a barn on the outskirts of Paris. Twenty-two delegates from eleven countries participated, representing approximately 5,000 members worldwide. The conference adopted The Transitional Program — whose full title was “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” — as its founding program.
The goal of this guide to action was ambitious: to arm the young (and not particularly numerous) forces of the Fourth International with a program, based on the experiences of the preceding decades of class struggle, that would enable them to lead successfully to victory the revolutionary upsurges that were bound to arise in the wake of the war. In the face of Stalinist and Social Democratic distortions of socialism, it was necessary to reaffirm and develop the basic principles and methodology of Marxism and organize a new international organization — theFourth International — in order to ensure that the thread of revolutionary continuity would not be broken.
In 1938, following the defeats of workers in Germany and Spain, many people questioned whether it made sense to found a new workers’ international. The ex-Trotskyist intellectual Isaac Deutscher wrote: “Wasn’t it artificial to found an International during a period of ship-wreck for the international labor movement… The Fourth International only brought together small groups which struggled against the current.” The powers-that-be, however, were less skeptical. In 1939, for example, the French ambassador to Berlin warned Hitler: “I’m scared that after the end of a war there will only be one winner: Mister Trotsky.”
But, for Trotsky, the task of building revolutionary parties on a national level could not be separated from the construction of a Marxist international. Trotsky wrote that the founding of the Fourth International was “the most important work of my life — more important than 1917, more important than the period of the civil war, or any other.” Many skeptics argued that the Fourth International would not outlive Trotsky. History would prove them wrong.
In our next installment of this multi-part series, we will turn to take a closer look at The Transitional Program and its method.