T.O. Weekly 14: Biden, the Economy and the Drive to “Co-opt” Labor
The ORGANIZER WEEKLY NEWSLETTER
Issue No. 14 — November 20, 2020 http://www.socialistorganizer.org
IN THIS ISSUE:
• Editorial: Biden, the Economy and the Drive to “Co-opt” Labor
• Why We Support the Fight for Independent Working-Class Politics: Statements from Sandy Eaton, Nnamdi Lumumba, Connie White, Mike Carano, Bill Leumer, and E.J. Esperanza
• Our Readers Speak Out: Letters to the Editor and Our Reply
• OCRFI World Conference Adopts Alarm Manifesto, Charts Road Ahead
• What a Socialist Response to COVID-19 Would Look Like
• MEXICO: “Violence Against Women Is Rooted in the Capitalist Machine”— Interview with Liliana Plumeda, women’s rights activist
• The Relevance of the Transitional Program (Part 3 of a Series)
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Editorial: Biden, the Economy and the Drive to “Co-opt” Labor
On November 16, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris held a press conference in Wilmington, Delaware, in which they outlined their plan to “restore the economy.” They had just met via Zoom with business and labor officials. The New York Times reported on this press conference as follows:
“The president-elect described his conversation [with business and union leaders] as ‘very encouraging,’ painting it as an example of his campaign message — national unity — in action. He said that both the CEOs and the union bosses had agreed that the government must act boldly to bring the economy back up to speed. ‘I wish you could’ve heard — corporate leaders and labor leaders singing the same hymn here,’ Biden said.” (November 17)
The corporate CEOs have every reason to be content with the outcome of the November 3 elections. “Wall Street,” the French financial daily Les Echos reported, “gave four times more money to Biden than to Trump.” (October 28)
The New York Times summarized Wall Street’s reaction concisely: “The prospect of a divided government — should Republicans retain control of the Senate — appeals to businesses for a variety of reasons. Wall Street has warmed to the idea, believing that such a situation would restore credibility to the White House but prevent progressive policies that target businesses from being enacted.” (November 10)
“Slowing Global Economy”
In recent weeks, Wall Street analysts have warned of a “slowing global economy from which the United States cannot escape” and a “widening recession.” They have called on the incoming administration to enact the “harsh” austerity measures needed to “get the economy back on track.” (PBS Nightly Business Report, November 16)
The trillions of dollars of “stimulus package” debt, the overwhelming majority of which went to line the pockets of the Wall Street speculators, must be repaid, the spokespersons of Corporate America insist — and it’s the workers who must shoulder the burden of the austerity measures (budget cuts, massive concessions, corporate restructuring and layoffs, etc.) that come inevitably with debt repayment.
If the unions are to be compelled to swallow the poison pill of austerity, “National Unity” between the workers and the bosses becomes not only necessary, but essential.
This is not only an “American” phenomenon. The drive to co-opt the unions into accepting and implementing the bosses’ anti-worker agenda is taking place the world over, often with different names: “Social Pacts” – “Labor-Management Partnership Agreements” – “Sacred Union” – among others. Everywhere the labor movement is being summoned to sing from the same — corporatist —hymnal.
That is the reason why Biden has included 27 labor officials, many of them top AFL-CIO officials, in his transition team. The presence of United Farm Workers (UFW) President Teresa Romero on the Transition Advisory Board, which oversees the work of the entire transition team, is most revealing.
The EFI “Model”
For many years, the UFW has prioritized its “partnership” agreement with the corporate growers through its participation in the Equitable Food Initiative. “The UFW, according to its own website, “helped found EFI in 2008 to improve farm worker lives in greater numbers than can be achieved through unionization.”
Instead of fighting for enforceable labor laws with strict implementation procedures, instead of organizing workers and negotiating strong contracts, the UFW has promoted what is called “social labeling” — meaning “a certification system through which farms found to comply with EFI standards are licensed to apply its ‘Responsibly Grown. Farmworker Assured.TM’ label to their products.”
Social labeling has been implemented in countries around the world over, where it is used as a means to squash union organizing drives and impose lower wages and standards.
Worker Resistance is Growing
Growing sectors of the U.S. labor movement, just like their European and Asian counterparts, are refusing to subordinate the interests of their members and working-class communities in the name of “national unity” schemes. The bosses’ offensive against the working class has intensified, but so, too, has the workers’ resistance to the growing attacks.
This fighting spirit of the labor movement was captured in the Open Letter sent at the end of October to the presidents of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA) by the presidents of seven educators’ unions in California. The Open Letter states, in part:
“As an alliance of education unions in some of the largest cities in California, we call on our national unions — the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers — to commit to immediately mobilize millions of union members, community allies and others into mass protests at the first indications of an attempt [by Trump] to steal the election. Specifically, we must be prepared to act independently of the Democratic Party to defend the future for working people through collective action.” (our emphasis)
Acting independently of the Democratic Party will be needed — in the workplace and in the political arena — if the working class majority is to survive the barbarism of a capitalist system in its death agony.
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Why We Support the Fight for Independent Working-Class Politics: Statements from Labor, Black, and Latino Community Activists
(Sandy Eaton is a retired nurse and union organizer based in Quincy, Massachusetts)
After a summer of rallies, marches and labor actions against the police murder of African-Americans and other marginalized people, President Trump threatens to ignore the results of the recent election, calling on his supporters, many of whom are organized into armed goon squads, to go into the streets themselves. Some ask if civil war is coming. Unlike 160 years ago, working-class communities, including communities of color, exist in every state and a spirit of resistance to the fascist threat is widespread. Sections of U.S. Labor are strategizing to bring its muscle to bear. Trump is being thrown onto the ash heap of history, but he will not go quietly. His legacy of division and hate, climaxing centuries of white supremacy, will survive him, making efforts to unify and embolden the working class and oppressed communities all the more urgent.
Will a Biden presidency bring the fundamental change that growing numbers of people need and expect? He won’t publicly incite racist pogroms and praise murderers here in the U.S. He may tone down the drive toward a cold war with China. But he pledged his loyalty to finance capital earlier this year during the Democratic Party’s primary election campaign by promising to veto any Medicare for All legislation that arrived on his desk. This as the pandemic spread and the idiocy of employment-based health insurance became glaringly obvious. The U.S. will continue to incite and provoke wars and atrocities across the Global South, and regime change wherever our ruling class sees fit.
The political and moral bankruptcy of the two-party system is now so obvious. The Republican Party is now explicitly the primary vehicle of white supremacy. The Democratic Party has repeatedly squelched attempts to supplant its neoliberal stance with the mildly social-democratic program associated with Bernie Sanders. Its “centrists” are now blaming those engaged in the fight for national health insurance, a minimum wage that is a living wage and environmental sanity for the losses sustained by the party in the House of Representatives, pushing instead its dear neoliberal agenda, even as much of the world recognizes its futility. Only political independence by the working class, organized in the workplace and in the community, in unity with all oppressed communities, will lead the people of the United States out of the wilderness of decaying capitalism.
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(Nnamdi Lumumba is a co-convener of the Ujima Peoples Progress Party, based in Baltimore, Md.)
The current U.S. election drama is a product of the continued crisis of the capitalist system. It continues to not be able to rule in the same old way!
Now more than ever, the U.S. working class must consolidate its strength and build its capacity to defeat the capitalist class and win socialist transformation.
Workers, especially Black, Brown and other oppressed communities, must abandon our allegiance to capitalist parties and support efforts like the Ujima Peoples Progress Party that build independent working class parties, labor movements and fightbacks that take on the ruling class to end domestic and international capitalist policies.
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(Connie White is a Labor Party activist based in Los Angeles)
When I saw that about 49% of the large voter turnout voted for Trump, I started to think about strategy for a way forward to building a labor party. There’s a saying: how do we eat an elephant? — one bite at a time. We are in a fight for our lives. I believe that capitalism is on its last legs and only recovers on the backs of the working-class.
Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP) will gain recognition if we keep our organizing connected to the issues that confront us every day – issues like a livable wage based on median wage and not minimum wage, universal healthcare, ending homelessness and creating affordable housing, just to name a few. If we organize with a focus on a working-class, labor party majority in the House of Representatives – as an initial strategy – we might be able to turn things around for the masses, the working-class, in the United States. We have only our chains to lose! #LaLuchaContinua
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(Mike Carano is a retired Teamster truck driver based in Tallmadge, Ohio)
The Democrats expected to have a Blue Wave and gain control of the Senate but that didn’t happen. Instead they lost seats in the House of Representatives.
The election has exposed the continuing failure of the Democratic Party and should make the job a little easier for us to build a mass working class party rooted in the unions and oppressed communities.
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(Bill Leumer is a former president of the San Jose-based local of the International Association of Machinists, IAM, based in San Francisco)
Despite the pandemic, huge numbers of people came out for the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. That reaction won’t go away because nothing has been implemented to restrain the cops in the Democratic-controlled states as well as the Republican-controlled states.
Running independent candidates as we propose in Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP) has to be linked to these activist organizations where possible. There are many other possibilities such as defending Roe v. Wade given the composition of the Supreme Court where it will be challenged.
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(E.J. Esperanza is an undocumented immigrant rights organizer based in San Jose, CA)
The immigrant rights movement in the United States has been very clear about the real threat posed by the Trump administration. We’ve spent every waking hour fighting it. It’s a good thing that Trump has been shown the exit door. But Biden is not our friend. There is a growing awareness in the leadership of the immigrant rights movement that the Democrats are no “lesser evil.”
The Trump administration did not create the current mass-deportation regime. It began under Bill Clinton and was expanded under the Obama and Biden administration, which deported nearly 3 million immigrants in eight years. The infamous detention of children at the border began under Joe Biden.
So as we fight to liberate our people from the detention centers, the question of independent working-class politics is posed to the immigrant rights movement.
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Our Readers Speak Out: Letters to the Editor and Our Reply
The publication last week of our Socialist Organizer statement on “The Meaning of the November 3rd Presidential Election” generated a larger-than-usual response from our readers. Many letters, such as the one from David K. (Boston, MA), expressed their strong agreement with our statement. David K., wrote:
“I am in agreement with your SO statement. You have covered the essential points, including the threat to the vote counting and the need to move toward political independence of the labor movement. Looking forward to working closely with you for next four years.”
Other letters, such as the one from Ruben “Papo” Sanchez (Queens, NY), expressed general agreement with the statement but felt it did not pay sufficient attention to the disruption that Trump’s huge army of supporters is going to cause over the next four years. He wrote:
“The idiot will eventually leave the White House. But unfortunately he has a huge base: 73 million people voted for Trump! I find alarming the silence of those leaders of his own political party. Their silence speaks volumes. Also, we should pay close attention to the Proud Boys and other such racist, misogynistic, and violent groups. Proud Boys got its start here in New York City.”
We also received letters from activists who support the need for a Labor Party but who “held their nose” and voted for Biden. One such letter from Richard C. in Oakland reads, in part:
“With Biden now elected president, we must go out and build a powerful grassroots movement that forces Biden and Harris to enact the progressive changes that people aspire to and need. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said to A. Phillip Randolph, ‘You got me elected; now go out and force me to keep my promises’.”
Two letters from longtime readers, however, expressed disagreement with aspects of our statement. We are reprinting these letters in full, together with a reply from our editorial board.
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Letter from Steve K. (Bridgeport, CT)
I appreciate the analysis in your S.O. statement. I do take issue with two things:
– Biden’s 51% of the vote does not constitute a mass repudiation of Trump. Quite the contrary, as it was a close result. The bad result for the Dems in Congress is further evidence that the Dems didn’t appeal to people. The current euphoria over Biden won’t last long, which is where I do agree with the bulk of your analysis.
– The big unions are too subservient to the Dems, as the big unions tried to sabotage the teachers’ strikes a couple of years ago.
I agree with your conclusion: We need to be in the streets, as the bosses’ offensive will continue.
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Letter from James V. (Oakland, CA)
I deeply regret that I must strongly disagree with your S.O. statement.
It goes awry with the very first presumption: “75 million votes represent a massive repudiation of Trump and his policies.”
The statement fails to acknowledge that, “70+ million votes [more than ever amassed previously by Democrats] endorsed the policies of Trump.”
With that gross and fatal omission, the statement proceeds to posit a number of improbable assumptions that totally contradict actual reality — where despite the nail-bitter vote for Biden, Democrats nearly lost the House, failed to gain seats in the Senate, and are confronted with a 6 to 3 reactionary majority on the Supreme Court that will endure for at least the next 40 years.
Actual facts mandate a complete re-think of progressive hopes and Democratic realities.
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Thank you for taking the time to write to us and express your comments, including your disagreements.
Regarding your objections:
Biden-Harris have secured, according to the most recent vote count, close to 80 million votes, 7 million more votes than Trump. And they are still counting votes in California, Illinois, and New York. So the numbers for Biden could go even higher.
The 306 electoral college votes for Biden (against Trump’s 232 votes), are exactly the same number of electoral college votes obtained by Trump in 2016, when Trump declared a “landslide victory” over Hillary Clinton — even though he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes.
We believe that these Biden votes represent a repudiation of Trump and his policies — a refraction in the distorted arena of our two-party electoral system of the millions who marched for Justice for George Floyd, or walked off the job in the massive illegal teacher strikes in the “red” states. These were not votes of support for Biden and his reactionary policies. Exit polls showed overwhelming support for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and a mass job-creation programs, for example — all policies that Biden has rejected. Biden was Wall Street’s candidate.
Our Socialist Organizer statement underscored the failure of the Democrats to take back the Senate or preserve their majority in the House of Representatives. We agree fully with Steve K.: “The bad result for the Dems in Congress is further evidence that the Dems didn’t appeal to people.”
Having said that, we share the concerns expressed by James V. and Ruben Sanchez that the 73 million votes for Trump reflect widespread racism, xenophobia, and misogyny in the United States — all scourges fueled by the ruling class, to one degree or another, to divide workers and prevent them from fighting for their class interests. We also share their concerns about the white nationalist thugs who have been emboldened by Trump and who are not going away. We agree: This is not inconsequential.
Our S.O. statement chose to accentuate the widespread rejection of Trump, as well as the openings for independent mass actions in the streets — and independent working-class political action in the electoral arena — in the coming period. It is only by waging a resolute struggle for working-class unity around workers’ pressing demands, while also supporting Black self-determination, that we will be able to push back the right-wing racists and their ilk. The hopes and aspirations of millions of people who voted for Biden, hoping for real change, will soon clash with Biden’s policy of “reconciliation” with the Republicans and “national unity” with Wall Street and Corporate America.
We will be warned by “progressive” Democrats not to rock the boat with our mobilizations, as they will “only play into the hands of the right-wing Republicans.” We will be told to scale back our demands and be more “realistic,” given the roadblock of a Republican Senate. That is exactly the wrong conclusion to be drawn from this election.
Breaking with the Democratic Party is more urgent than ever. Change never has and never will come from within the Democratic Party!
— The Editors
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OCRFI World Conference Adopts Alarm Manifesto, Charts Road Ahead
On November 8, 9 and 10, the Third World Conference of the Organizing Committee for the Reconstitution of the Fourth International (OCRFI) was held. Given the conditions imposed on workers by governments around the world in the name of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, this “Alarm Conference,” as it was named, had to be held by video-conference. More than 100 activists (and guests) from 35 countries participated.  The delegate from Turkey was hospitalized and therefore unable to attend.
These difficult technical conditions, however, did not prevent the activists present from discussing and making decisions during three separate five-hour plenary sessions. The discussions focused on the struggle for the reconstitution of the Fourth International at a time when on a world scale there is, on the one hand, a brutal offensive against the working class and oppressed peoples, and, on the other hand, working class mobilizations and revolutionary explosions on every continent.
Conference delegates took a firm stance against any and all forms of “Social Pacts” with the bosses and the governments in their pay — that is, against all forms of “partnerships” that subordinate workers’ interests in the name of “unity” with the bosses and their paymasters. Delegates called on the labor unions and working class organizations to break with the capitalists and their governments. Delegates also put forward the perspective of workers’ governments and the fight for socialism.
An Alarm Manifesto was discussed widely, amended, and adopted by the international conference. The Manifesto is addressed to “workers, youth, worker activists and all those who want to put an end to capitalist exploitation.” It can be obtained in multiple languages from all the organizations linked to the OCRFI.
The Conference also discussed ways to make the OCRFI a true center for helping to build revolutionary organizations the world over and to improve the publication of its six-language theoretical magazine: The Internationale. The conference also voted to give its full support to the preparation of the World Conference Against War and Exploitation, For a Workers’ International, to be held in 2021.
 Afghanistan, Algeria, Azania/South Africa, Bangladesh, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Burundi, Canada, China, France, Germany, Greece, Haiti, Hungary, India, Ivory Coast, Italy, Mexico, Morocco, Korea, Pakistan, Palestine, Peru, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Senegal, Serbia, South Africa, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, Zimbabwe.
 In France this “Social Pact” is known as the “Sacred Union” between the workers and the capitalists and politicians in their pay. “Sacred Union” harkens back to the outset of World War I, when the working class parties and unions initially opposed giving support to the war efforts and credits, but were co-opted by the powers-that-be into supporting the war in the name of “national unity” — or “Sacred Union” — to defeat the Germans.
 In the United States, this is Socialist Organizer.
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What a Socialist Response to COVID-19 Would Look Like
On February 27, when there were only 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, President Trump suggested that the virus would be seasonal. “It’s going to disappear,” Trump insisted. “One day, it’s like a miracle. It will disappear.” Almost nine months later, far from “disappearing,” the exponential growth of cases throughout the United States has reached over 11 million, and the death toll approaches a quarter million lives (248,027 on November 17) with almost one person dying every minute of every day.
“Researchers,” reported the New York Times (Nov. 17), “say the country is fast approaching what could be a tipping point — an outbreak so widespread that every American knows someone who has been infected.”
The human toll cannot be measured by infections and deaths alone. Unemployment means housing and food insecurity, education disrupted, and more.
Nine months since the advent of the pandemic coursing through the United States and the world, nursing homes and hospitals still confront shortages of basic protective gear (PPE-personal protective equipment), such as N95 masks, for their staff even though Congress allocated funding, albeit insufficient, at the end of March (CARES Act). This included $1 billion to the Pentagon to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” Yet, as Washington Post reporters Aaron Gregg and Yeganeh Torbati exposed on September 22, instead of building up “the country’s supplies of medical equipment,” these funds were “mostly funneled to defense contractors and used to make things such as jet engine parts, body armor, and dress uniforms.” The pernicious impact of capitalism knows no bounds.
“What measures appropriate to the situation [COVID-19 pandemic] would a government take if it were genuinely concerned to protect the health of the vast majority?”was the question posed by the Organizing Committee for the Reconstitution of the Fourth International (OCRFI) on March 24 as the U.S. Congress poured more than $4.5 trillion into a corporate bailout and the Pentagon — and other capitalist countries did likewise. Below is the response, reprinted from the Alarm Manifesto adopted by the OCRFI international conference on November 10 [see conference presentation in this issue]. — The Editors
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(text reprinted from the OCRFI’s Alarm Manifesto)
Such a government would place the entire production apparatus under State control and immediately direct it towards producing goods that are indispensable for stamping out the epidemic: masks, testing kits, disinfectant products, medicines, etc. It would organize the systematic testing of the whole population. To do so, it would not hesitate to requisition the big enterprises (starting with the pharmaceutical corporations) and the banks’ assets. Such a government would immediately reopen all hospital facilities that have been closed down, it would requisition all available premises needed to house as soon as possible the hospital facilities and life-support units that are indispensable for meeting current and future needs. Such a government would take the billions from where they are today, in order to ensure that medical care is free to all, and that the funding is there for all the medical staff and equipment that are needed to run hospitals properly.
Such a government would organize the containment of the whole population, in particular by obliging businesses to guarantee the payment of wages to all employees who are isolating themselves at home. And in the dominated countries, where the vast majority of the workforce is in the “informal sector,” without regular wages or guarantees, such a government would guarantee to each worker an income to live on satisfactorily during the period of confinement. It would organize the distribution of the foodstuffs and basic subsistence products needed by the population.
Such a government would nationalize or renationalize basic research, and would allocate to scientific teams the funds needed for research into emerging viruses and other diseases. Such a government would proceed immediately with the requisition of residential buildings and would house all homeless and badly housed people, for whom the “containment” measures that have been announced are meaningless as long as they do not have a home.
Such a government would decree an immediate halt to evictions, it would declare a moratorium on the payment of rent and rental charges, it would decide to immediately ban layoffs and job cuts. Such a government would order price controls on basic necessities and medicines, in view of the fact that the major retail chains and pharmacy chains are pushing up prices everywhere on the pretext of the pandemic and the economic crisis. In order to do this, such a government would requisition the big powers’ military budgets, which today continue to fund imperialism’s military interventions against the peoples. More generally and irrespective of the country, such a government would redirect credits allocated to the military towards the needs of the hospitals.
Such a government would immediately stop servicing both the domestic and external debt. It would confiscate the billions tied up in speculation (especially the speculation currently being carried out by the big corporations in relation to the fall in the value of their own shares!) and apply them to servicing the healthcare needs of the vast majority. A government that would take measures that are needed for the survival of working people, measures that are contradictory to the demands of the capitalist class, would not hesitate to break with that class.
For our part, organized in the OCRFI and fighting for the reconstitution of the Fourth International, in each of our countries we declare ourselves in favor of forming such governments that will exclusively serve the interests of the vast majority, and we will support any step by the working-class organizations in this direction. We are in favour of governments that will not hesitate to requisition the pharmaceutical corporations, large companies and the enormous assets of the banks in order to fund measures for protecting the urban workers, rural workers and the youth.
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MEXICO: “Violence Against Women Is Rooted in the Capitalist Machine”
Interview with Liliana Plumeda, women’s rights activist
(The following interview is reprinted from Issue No. 265 — Nov. 20) of Tribune des Travailleurs [Workers Tribune], the weekly newspaper of the Democratic Independent Workers Party / POID, of France.)
Question: What happened in Cancún on November 9th?
Liliana: A rally of mostly women in front of the Municipal Building was dispersed by the police with tear gas and live ammunition. Women arrested that day also denounced the sexual violence committed by the police against them.
Question: Why this rally?
Liliana: People assembled to demand the punishment of those responsible for the murder of Bianca Alejandrina, “Alexis,” a 20-year-old woman whose dismembered body was found in various garbage cans. This assassination is one of eleven murders of women every day acknowledged officially by the authorities.
There was another aggravating circumstance: The authorities did not lift a finger when her disappearance was reported to them, nor when she received threats. Alexis was an activist; she campaigned for women’s rights, and the right to abortion, in particular. The population was deeply outraged by the murder and mobilized despite police repression. In recent months, no less than five such demonstrations were repressed with the goal of criminalizing the struggle for women’s rights.
Question: Why Cancun?
Liliana: Cancún, with its white sandy beaches bathed by the Caribbean Sea and its idyllic climate, attracts many foreign tourists. It is also a strategic location for drug trafficking to the United States. As a territory that is disputed between the Colombian and Mexican cartels, it generates extreme violence and social decay. Cancún has become the capital of human trafficking, where women and children are forced into prostitution. Criminal groups control the local police.
Question: What is the root cause of this violence?
Liliana: Poverty. The precarious situation caused by the policies of “free trade,” privatization, and deregulation has created the breeding ground for the development of organized crime. The last 30 years have seen the flourishing of the drug, prostitution, and arms-trafficking industries. One of the most brutal expressions of this situation is the “femicides.”
The mass killings of women began on the northern border [with the United States –Tr. Note], in the city of Ciudad Juarez, where hundreds of working-class women and girls were “disappeared.” Women working in the maquiladora industry were especially targeted. Their bodies have been found in mass graves along the border. The drug, pornography, and prostitution industries have treated these women as “disposable goods,” with the complicity of the Mexican State.
The spread of these killings coincided with the advent in 1994 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), in whose name governments dismantled economic and social rights, subjecting the country to the dictates of U.S. transnational corporations. This trade agreement cannot be dissociated from the measures of “migratory security” with the United States, which equip the Mexican army and at the same time supply the cartels with arms to maintain a permanent war zone in Mexico.
The signing of the new United States-Mexico-Canada “free trade” treaty will only aggravate this state of affairs. The new “Migration Pact,” moreover, obliges the Mexican government to block immigration from Central America. This will throw thousands of migrant women and children into the hands of the drug traffickers and their human trafficking.
Question: How do women workers oppose this situation?
Liliana: In recent years, the women’s movement has grown considerably. But it is necessary to go beyond bourgeois “gender” demands, because the origin of violence does not only come from “machismo” but from the capitalist machine. Violence against women cannot be fought without fighting for a dignified life, a real wage, access to education, and healthcare — and it is the working class that must take the lead in this fight.
A step forward in this direction is the call issued by the New Workers Central (NCT) union federation and the Political Organization of the Workers and People (OPT), for the working class as a class to demonstrate on November 25, the day against violence against women. The demands include:
– an immediate halt to government repression!
– an immediate halt to the precariousness and violence imposed on women!
– for the right to abortion!
These are demands that complement the demands against the murder of women and for justice to prevail.
(Interview conducted on November 14 by J.C. Vargas)
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The Relevance of the Transitional Program
(Part 3 of a Series)
In his discussions leading up to the founding of the Fourth International, Trotsky underlined the importance of the political program for a revolutionary organization:
“The significance of the program is the significance of the party. The party is the vanguard of the class. The party is formed by selection from the most conscious, most advanced, most devoted elements …. Now, what is the party? In what does the cohesion consist? This cohesion is a common understanding of the events, of the tasks; and this common understanding – that is the program of the party. Just as modern workers cannot work without tools any more than the barbarians could, so in the party the program is the instrument. Without the program every worker must improvise his tool, find improvised tools, and one contradicts another. Only when we have the vanguard organized upon the basis of common conceptions can we act.”
In these discussions he stressed both the continuity and flexible nature of The Transitional Program: “This program is not a new invention of one man. It is derived from the long experience of the Bolsheviks. I want to emphasize that it is not one man’s invention, that it comes from long collective experience of the revolutionaries. It is application of old principles to this situation. It should not be considered as fixed like iron, but flexible to the situation.”
Trotsky noted that the document “is not a complete program,” in so far as it dealt very briefly with certain issues such as the economic crisis and the seizure of power. “We will write more and better,” he added. Thus The Transitional Program is not a dogma. Social reality is constantly changing and Marxism must be able to incorporate and analyze new experiences.
But the text remains to date the clearest synthesis of the lessons learned by the history of the workers’ movement.It remains an essential guide to action because it outlines the political principles and method for resolving the crucial question that faces all revolutionaries: How can we help the working class in alliance with all the oppressed conquer economic and political power?
The political strategy outlined in The Transitional Program flows from its assessment of the basic nature of our epoch: imperialism, the final stage of capitalism. The Transitional Program begins by observing, “Humanity’s productive forces have ceased to grow. … The objective prerequisites for the proletarian revolution have not only ‘ripened’; they have begun to get somewhat rotten. Without a socialist revolution, in the next historical period at that, a catastrophe threatens the whole culture of humanity.”
If the system were healthy enough to consistently develop the productive forces on a worldwide level (i.e. increase the wealth put to the service of the majority of humanity), then it would be utopian to speak about revolution as a realistic goal. But given the conditions of imperialist crisis, the capitalists are unable to grant even the most basic demands of the masses: “There can be no discussion of systematic social reforms and the raising of the masses’ living standards; when every serious demand of the proletariat and even every serious demand of the petty bourgeoisie inevitably reaches beyond the limits of capitalist property relations and of the bourgeois state.”
But if the economic preconditions (“the objective factor”) for world revolution have been ripe for so long, how has capitalism survived? The Transitional Program argues that the answer to this lies with the “subjective factor”: the absence of mass revolutionary parties capable of helping working people overcome the obstacles in their struggle for power. The traditional parties of the proletariat (Social Democratic, Stalinist, etc.) had done everything possible to prop up and rescue the dying capitalist system — as could be seen by the betrayals of the revolutions in Spain (1936), China (1925-7), Germany (1918-23), etc.
The Transitional Program argues that, “the central task of the Fourth International consists in freeing the proletariat from the old leadership, whose conservatism is in complete contradiction to the catastrophic eruptions of disintegrating capitalism and represents the chief obstacle to historical progress.” It concludes that, “the crisis of the proletarian leadership, having become the crisis in humanity’s culture, can be resolved only by the Fourth International.”
The method of intervention in the class struggle outlined in The Transitional Program is not complicated. The transitional method consists in approaching the masses at whatever level they may stand and in drawing them through progressive struggles towards a higher level of thought, organization, and action — that is, in the direction of socialist revolution. Trotsky does not put forward any rigid formulas for revolutionary action or raise a set of slogans for Marxists to endlessly repeat regardless of existing conditions. The text outlines its flexible method as follows:
“It is impossible in advance to foresee what will be the concrete stages of the revolutionary mobilization of the masses. The sections of the Fourth International should critically orient themselves at each new stage and advance such slogans as will aid the striving of the workers for independent politics, deepen the class struggle of these politics, destroy reformist and pacifist illusions, strengthen the connection of the vanguard with the masses, and prepare the revolutionary conquest of power.”
It is legitimate, of course, to ask whether The Transitional Program is still relevant for today. After all it was written over 60 years ago and many changes in the world situation have taken place.
Marxism is not a dogma. Nothing is automatically valid just because Trotsky — or Lenin or Marx — wrote it. “Revolutionary thought has nothing in common with idol-worship,” noted Trotsky in his article 90 Years of The Communist Manifesto. “Programs and prognoses are tested and corrected in the light of experience, which is the supreme criterion of human reason.”
Nevertheless, Marxist writer George Breitman makes a strong case for the continued relevancy of The Transitional Program:
“The transitional program was written for specific purposes, in the midst of a world depression, on the eve of a world war, for the founding conference of the Fourth International. That has led some people to question or belittle its usefulness for today or tomorrow, when conditions are different. This seems to me the worst kind of formalist thinking, if thinking is the right word. In the first place, it overlooks the fact that the essential conditions are not different — the contradiction between the maturity of the objective revolutionary conditions and the immaturity of the proletariat and its vanguard is even greater and more pregnant than it was in 1938. If not all the 1938 demands are applicable today (some weren’t even applicable yet in 1938) the essential tasks are the same and the method of the transitional program as it was written in 1938 is absolutely applicable today.”
The Transitional Method
Let’s take a closer look at the transitional method and its relevance for today’s struggles. The Transitional Program represented a sharp break with the opportunist method of the reformist Second International and the Stalinist Third International, which separated the fight for immediate demands from the fight for socialism. Not a word was said about how to bridge the immediate struggles and the goal of socialism.
The Transitional Program sums up the Marxist standpoint on immediate demands as follows:
“The present epoch is distinguished not for the fact that it frees the revolutionary party from day-to-day work but because it permits this work to be carried on indissolubly with the actual tasks of the revolution. The Fourth International does not discard the program of the old “minimal” demands to the degree to which these have preserved at least part of their vital forcefulness. Indefatigably, it defends the democratic rights and social conquests of the workers. But it carries on this day-to-day work within the framework of the correct actual, that is, revolutionary perspective … The Fourth International supports every, even if insufficient, demand, if it can draw the masses to a certain extent into active politics, awaken their criticism and strengthen their control over the machinations of the bourgeoisie.”
In today’s context of capitalist decay, there can be no rigid separation of the “minimum” program (the fight for reforms and in defense of past gains) and the “maximum” program (socialist revolution). Struggles for the “minimum” demands of working-people (such as decent wages, public services, democratic rights, etc.) run up against the workings of the decadent capitalist economy and state. If they are fought for massively, militantly, and on a national scale, these struggles can lead in the direction of revolution.
This point cannot be overemphasized: We live in an era of reactionary counter-reforms. Since the 1980’s, the capitalists and their agents have been pushed by the deepening crisis to seek to destroy all the previous gains of the working class (public services, labor rights, workers’ organizations, etc.). Today, the main struggles of workers have been to defend their current rights and win back old gains against all the reactionary measures pushed by the imperialism and its institutions (IMF, World Bank, European Union, etc.)
In these conditions, to not only defend past gains, but fight for new reforms — such as single-payer healthcare in the United States — has a powerful revolutionary dynamic. Of course, it is still possible to win short-term gains and reforms. But these are the exceptions that prove the rule and cannot have a permanent character, given the inevitable attempts by capitalism to take them back. Take for example the 44-day general strike that shut down Guadeloupe in early 2009. It took this semi-insurrectionary movement to win the relatively modest demand of a 200 Euro monthly wage increase. But immediately following the signing of the agreement, which granted many of the strikers’ demands, the powers-that-be have reneged on their promises and refused to grant even these modest gains.
The Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party and other ultraleft groups reject or downplay fighting for reforms (or in defense of past ones) under the pretext that these “economist” struggles are “not political enough.” Yet it is precisely in the struggle around their concrete needs that the masses can gain the experiences necessary to come to understand the need for revolution. Victories in struggles around immediate demands — such as stopping police brutality, defending access to abortion, or reversing budget cuts — build momentum, self-confidence, and class solidarity. Small victories, far from “buying the workers off,” tend to encourage a fight for bigger and broader demands. Without these day-to-day struggles, workers often remain demoralized, demobilized and cynical, making it much harder to move to higher levels of struggle.
Marxists have no interests separate and apart from the working class as a whole. We fight for all improvements in the living standards and rights of the exploited and oppressed. In these fightbacks we advocate class struggle methods, such as mass street protests, militant pickets, and strikes, which are the best way to make the power of the workers and their allies felt — both by the ruling class and by the masses themselves. This strategy is directly counterposed to the perspective of many liberal activists and organizations who promote “lobbying” politicians, letter-writing, or relying on Congress to pass some bill. We promote those methods that educate the masses, that teach them to rely on themselves and on themselves alone to resolve their problems. And in the process we build a revolutionary organization by winning over the most dedicated fighters to the program of Marxism.
Our strategy centers on mobilizing working people — particular the most oppressed layers such as Blacks and Latinos, women, and youth — because workers have real power. Simply by not going to work, we can permanently shut down any business, city, or country. Independent mass actions are not only more effective for winning our demands — the powers-that-be only make concessions when we force them to — but they are also the main vehicles for the self-education of working-people.
There are many obstacles for workers to reach Marxist conclusions: the sense of powerlessness and alienation generated by capitalist society; the traps of systemic racism and sexism; the political illusions pushed by the media; and, just as important, the treachery of the misleaders. To overcome these obstacles requires that working people go through major life-changing experiences.
The transitional method is based on the understanding that the vast majority of working people radicalize principally through their experiences in life and in mass movements, not through books or speeches. Workers learn by taking action. When they organize and mobilize for their interests, they begin to sense their collective power and question the myths taught about the nature of the system. “Life teaches,” was one of Lenin’s favorite sayings.
From the fact that the masses learn principally through direct experience flows an understanding of the limitations of what Marxists term “propagandism” — that is, spreading the “big ideas” and program of socialism through writings and speeches. Spreading socialist ideas is very important and must be a constant activity of any revolutionary organization. It is one of most important ways we recruit individuals to revolutionary organizations and train them as militants. But it takes much more to make a revolution than walking around with a bull-horn calling for an end to capitalism. If it were that easy, the system would have been overthrown long ago.
This is why the only way for Marxists to win the leadership of the working class is by proving in practice that they are the most consistent and farsighted defenders of the interests of the oppressed and exploited. The resolutions of the Third and Fourth Congresses of the Communist International insist on this point. For example, in his 1922 text “On the United Front,” Trotsky emphasizes: “It is precisely in the course of struggle that broad masses must learn from experience that we fight better than the others, that we see more clearly than the others, that we are more audacious and resolute.” The Communist International’s Third Congress thesis “On Tactics” specifies the tactics that flow from this understanding: “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.”
Intrinsically linked to the transitional method is the strategy of the workers’ united front. To successfully take on the bosses, workers and the oppressed need unity in action. That is why Marxists must always be the best fighters for unity against the capitalists and their institutions. Building a united front does not mean that different organizations should drop their distinct political perspectives. It means simply that they should unite to fight for the concrete demands on which they agree.
Given that so many workers’ organization are run by misleaders, the fight for the united front usually requires calling on the traditional leaderships to break from their subordination to the bourgeoisie, whether in a local strike or on a national political level. The Transitional Program explains:
“The chief accusation which the Fourth International advances against the traditional organizations of the proletariat is the fact that they do not wish to tear themselves away from the political semi-corpse of the bourgeoisie. … Of all parties and organizations that base themselves on the workers and peasants and speak in their name, we demand that they break politically from the bourgeoisie and enter upon the road of struggle for the workers’ and farmers’ government. On this road we promise them full support against capitalist reaction.”
The united front strategy also implies the defense of mass workers’ organizations against attempts by capitalists to destroy them. Today this has become particularly burning issue, as the ruling class, in its desperate search to lower labor costs, is attempting to dismantle all independent organizations of workers, particularly their trade unions. In the place of independent workers’ organizations, institutions such as the World Bank and the non-profits proclaim that all members of “civil society” can work together to combat the “excesses” of present society.
Unfortunately, many left groups today refuse to defend workers’ organizations because of their misleaderships. Rather than helping workers in their fights to take back their organizations and transform them into tools of struggle, they go along with a reactionary process. For Marxists the defense of the existing workers’ organizations is a necessary component of our strategy to organize the whole working class in alliance with all oppressed groups.
In the process of mobilizing the majority, The Transitional Program advises revolutionaries to focus not just on the top layers of the working class, but particularly on the most oppressed sectors of society — such as oppressed nationalities, women, and youth. A few short quotes from The Transitional Program illustrate this.
On oppressed nations: “The banner on which is emblazoned the struggle for the liberation of the colonial and semi-colonial peoples, i.e., a good half of humanity, has definitely passed into the hands of the Fourth International.” On racism: “An uncompromising disclosure of the roots of race prejudice and all forms and shades of national arrogance and chauvinism … should become part of the daily work of all sections of the Fourth International.” On women: “The sections of the Fourth International should seek bases of support among the most exploited layers of the working class; consequently, among the women workers.”On youth: “The Fourth International pays particular attention to the young generation of the proletariat. All of its policies strive to inspire the youth with belief in its own strength and in the future. Only the fresh enthusiasm and aggressive spirit of the youth can guarantee the preliminary successes in the struggle; only these successes can return the best elements of the older generation to the road of revolution.”
(series to be continued)