The ORGANIZER WEEKLY NEWSLETTER — Issue No. 15 — December 5, 2020
IN THIS ISSUE:
(1) What It Will Take to Beat Back the Corporate Agenda: For a Workers’ Emergency Recovery Plan! — Statement by Socialist Organizer
(2) Mumia’s Life in Great Danger Again! — Appeal by IWC Co-Coordinators
(3) Support our 30th Anniversary Expansion Drive!
(4) Don Bechler: Trade Unionist and Organizer for Single Payer Healthcare — Obituary and Reprint of “Dialogue” on the “Democrats and Single-Payer”
(5) France: The Fight Against the Global Security Law — Two Recent Editorials by Daniel Gluckstein in Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers Tribune)
(6) The Relevance of the Transitional Program (Part 4, Final)
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(1) What It Will Take to Beat Back the Corporate Agenda — For a Workers Emergency Recovery Plan!
Statement by Socialist Organizer
“Wall Street was fine with a Donald Trump presidency. Turns out it’s good with a Joe Biden presidency, too.” That is the headline of a November 6 article published by vox.com. The article explains why Wall Street is so content:
“Liberal voters seem quite upset Sen. Mitch McConnell is likely to retain power; investors seem to have no such qualms. … A Joe-Mitch combo means higher taxes aren’t coming, the trade situation might be easier, and no more wild tweets from the Oval Office.”
The author added that a Joe-Mitch combo would mean more “labor peace” and lower expectations from Biden’s union supporters.
A Necessary Look Back at 2008
Twelve years ago, in 2008, expectations among trade unionists and labor activists were extremely high when Barack Obama and Joe Biden were elected to the nation’s highest offices. After all, throughout their campaign they had promised a massive public works program (to put millions of people back to work in the aftermath of the 2007-2009 “Great Recession”) and the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA, or card check), to make it easier for workers to organize unions to fight for their interests.
Those hopes were soon dashed.
Before he was even sworn in, Obama came under intense pressure from the Business Roundtable, which published a full-page ad in The New York Timesaffirming that “unionization is a cause of long-term unemployment” and that the Employee Free Choice Act is a bad idea “at this time.” One of the signers of this ad was Lawrence Summers, who went on to become Obama’s Treasury secretary.
Not surprisingly, Obama announced that he would welcome a “compromise resolution” on EFCA that “could meet the legitimate concerns of the business community,” which opposed the bill. EFCA was too “divisive” at this juncture, Obama affirmed. The priority, he insisted, must be to “reassure the financial markets” (Washington Post, Jan. 16, 2009). One of the main advocates of this “compromise” approach was Joe Biden.
The Wall Street Journal ran an article on April 22, 2009, titled, “Card Check Is Dead,” which reported, glowingly, that, “[T]he setback for labor on EFCA has to be a bitter one.”
The Democrats controlled both houses of Congress after the 2008 elections, and they still turned their backs on all their promises. They could not shelter behind a Republican-controlled Senate to justify the betrayal of their promises — as they would two years later, having demoralized their base and fueled massive abstentionism in the 2010 mid-term elections.
So what did the labor movement do after Obama and Biden were elected? Nothing. Because of its subordination to the Democratic Party, labor went along with the implementation of the devastating corporate agenda. All talk about “putting Obama’s feet to the fire” evaporated into thin air.
None of the top leaders of the labor movement took the Obama administration to task for proposing an “alternative” to EFCA or for bailing out Wall Street at the expense of Main Street. (Instead, the AFL-CIO top brass called for bailing out Wall Street and Main Street, knowing full well that the lion’s share of the estimated $8 trillion in economic recovery funding would go to line the pockets of the Wall Street banksters.)
The labor officialdom simply accepted the unacceptable, thereby paving the way for a “jobless recovery” that decimated workers’ jobs and communities and laid the groundwork for Donald Trump’s victory eight years later.
How was it possible, rank-and-file unionists asked at the time, not to oppose the job cuts and concessions demanded by the robber class when workers’ jobs, communities, and lives were on the line?
Pandemic Ushers in “The Other Great Depression”
The situation today is far more dire than it was during the 2007-2009 Great Recession.
Four-hundred million jobs have been lost worldwide as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), while 1.6 billion people have been plunged into the informal economy with near-starvation wages. Financial experts are calling it “The Other Great Depression.”
In the United States alone, more than 278,000 people have died from COVID-19 — five times the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam. Forty million Americans live in poverty according to government guidelines, with another 105 million at immediate risk, and the number is growing at an alarming rate. (Poor Peoples Campaign)
Almost half the labor force (80 million out of 160 million) was unemployed at one moment or another during the spring of 2020. In October 2020, the real unemployment rate still hovered around 25%. Full-time jobs with living wages are being destroyed left and right in most branches of industry.
Former Treasury Secretary Summers declared that the current pandemic is “the greatest threat to prosperity that the United States has faced since the Great Depression.” He estimated the losses to the U.S. economy from the first wave of COVID-19 at $16 trillion.
Not everyone is hurting, however. The stock market is hitting an all-time high. The five major high-tech corporations (Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft) are posting record profits during the worsening pandemic. Their aggregate market capitalization is estimated at $7 trillion. The rich are getting richer while more of the working class descends into poverty.
This is the stark reality of capitalism in its death agony.
At this writing, 12 million workers across the United States risk losing their paltry unemployment benefits by the end of the year. It’s not as if there is no money to extend or even increase unemployment relief. The money is there. The Democrats and Republicans had no difficulty reaching an agreement to increase the 2021 Pentagon budget to the record level of $740 billion.
A “compromise” stimulus proposal is being negotiated by Democrats and Republicans that would cut the woefully inadequate unemployment benefits in half. The plan, moreover, would not include another round of $1,200 stimulus payments, prompting Senator Bernie Sanders to declare, “Tens of millions of Americans living in desperation today would receive absolutely no financial help from this proposal. That is not acceptable.” (Washington Post, Dec. 4)
This new stimulus plan demonstrates the kind of “compromises” the twin parties of the bosses have in store for us over the next four years if we don’t reclaim our unions for struggle and fight back.
For a Workers’ Emergency Recovery Plan
On November 3, the working class majority voted to get rid of Trump, but they also voted for Change — Real Change. They want an end to the pandemic, immediate relief, jobs for all, affordable housing for all, single-payer healthcare for all, papers for all, quality public education and social services for all, and an end to U.S. wars and interventions abroad. This is what they voted for, and this is what they expect and need — today.
The solutions exist to get the country out of this deepening recession (fast becoming a Depression) and to bail out working people, who are not responsible for the healthcare / economic crisis.
In 2007-2009, the Workers Emergency Recovery Campaign (WERC) put forward a plan — based on a lengthy and detailed document produced by the San Francisco Labor Council — that obtained widespread support nationally. The Organizer newspaper supported this campaign and reported on its initiatives month after month.
Such an emergency plan is needed today. While the situation is not exactly the same as it was more than 10 years ago — the pandemic, for one, has added fuel to the fire — the demands raised at that time are no less relevant and urgent today. The list of demands, of course, needs to be updated to address the crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is required today is for the labor movement to begin taking action, independently, in alliance with its community allies. We need to mobilize hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of our union members and supporters in the streets in the coming months to say:
• Enact the Defense Production Act to authorize the government to produce the masks, testing kits, PPE, and vaccines needed to stamp out out the epidemic!
• Enact Single-Payer healthcare (Medicare for All) now!
• Compel businesses to guarantee the payment of full wages to all employees who are isolating themselves at home!
• Requisition residential buildings and hotels to house all homeless and all people with inadequate housing!
• Decree an immediate halt to evictions, and declare a moratorium on the payment of rent and rental charges!
• Ban all layoffs and job cuts! For a Massive Job-Creation Program!
• Tax the rich/Progressive Taxation!
• Impose price controls on basic necessities and medications!
• Requisition the $740 billion U.S. war budget and redirect these funds toward meeting human needs!
• Stop servicing the debt — as debt repayment from the various stimulus plans will be used increasingly to impose massive austerity plans on working people.
• Enact a moratorium on student debt and develop a plan to eliminate it!
• Fund infrastructure for safe schools so that students can return to the classroom!
• Confiscate the billions of dollars tied up in speculation and redirect these sums to funding the healthcare needs of the working-class majority and the poor.
What’s It Going to Take to Win These Demands?
Over the past few years, more and more sectors of the labor movement have risen up to say, “Enough Is Enough! We Can’t Take It No More!” Educators launched a Red State Revolt (with massive, illegal strikes) that soon engulfed teachers and support staff in Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, Oakland, New York, and beyond.
In most cases the movement from below propelled the local union leaders to jump on board, lest they be bypassed by the rank-and-file. In most cases, strong alliances and coalitions were built with labor’s allies, particularly in the Black and Latino communities.
Nurses, sanitation workers, hotel workers, delivery workers, gig workers, healthcare workers, transportation workers — and their unions — all began to reclaim the strike weapon, long abandoned by the top labor officialdom. In different ways, these workers and unions began to reclaim the independent, class-struggle traditions that built the labor movement.
But the top leadership of the labor movement remains subordinated to the Democratic Party — and through the Democratic Party, they remain subordinated to the bosses. Labor’s failure to act independently of the parties of Big Business is the main obstacle facing working people today.
Biden had not been sworn into office yet when AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka sent a memo to the president of the Vermont AFL-CIO demanding that he and his executive board rescind a resolution adopted in early November authorizing workers across the state to strike in the event that Trump should attempt to go ahead with his planned coup. Trumka threatened placing the Vermont state body in receivership.
Trumka’s memo has outraged union members nationwide. Dozens of state, city and national labor bodies had adopted similar resolutions. These resolutions affirmed labor’s independence and potential power. Some of the resolutions even urged the labor movement to organize a general strike to stop any coup attempt.
Supporters of these resolutions recalled the 2000 presidential election, when the AFL-CIO leadership explicitly banned its members from mobilizing in the streets to protest the “constitutional coup” that stole the election from Al Gore. Militant unionists were not going to stand by again in 2020 as Trump set out to steal the election.
Acting as Trumka did is a sure way to oversee the slow but inevitable demise of the labor movement. The Vermont AFL-CIO should have been commended by the top leaders of the labor movement for their strike resolution — not denounced.
Huge pressures are going to bear down on the labor movement to be patient with Biden, to not rock the boat (as this would only play into the hands of Trump and his followers), to not place demands that cannot be met given the Republican stranglehold of the Senate, to not strike — or, at the very least, to water down our demands.
Such a course of action would be suicidal.
More than ever, the labor movement must break with the Democrats – both through independent mass action in the streets and workplaces, and in the political arena, by beginning to form coalitions with community organizations, particularly from oppressed communities, and to run independent labor-community candidates on a local level.
We calll on our readers and supporters to join us in promoting widely a Workers Emergency Recovery Plan and independent working-class mass action and political action.
Bail Out Working People — Not the Banks!
The Time For Action Is NOW!
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 The official unemployment rate is 6.7%, but this figure does not include the under-employed (people working only a few hours per week), or workers who have given up looking for work. The New York Times (Dec. 5) reports that “a growing share of the unemployed have been out of work a long time. … Since only September, the number of these long-term unemployed is up by a devastating 1.5 million people — a 64% increase.”
 During World War II, the U.S. government told the auto companies they weren’t to produce cars, but whatever was needed for the war. Well there’s a war on now! It’s an economic war in which working people are losing our jobs, our healthcare, our houses. So let’s to turn the plants into producing what’s needed.
 The following are the 10 fundamental demands put forward in 2008-2009 as part of a Workers’ Emergency Recovery Plan to Bail out Working People — NOT Wall Street:
1. Put a halt to the Wall Street bailout plan. Not one more penny should be earmarked to bail out the bankers and speculators. It’s time to bail out working people.
2. Enact a moratorium on all home foreclosures, utility shut-offs, evictions and rent hikes. Nationalize the mortgage industry, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
3. Enact H.R. 676 — the universal, single-payer healthcare plan. Take the private insurance companies out of the healthcare equation. Guarantee fully funded pensions for retirees, along with healthcare and other benefits.
4. Enact the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) so that every worker can have union representation.
5. Stop the layoffs in auto and other industries across the country. Nationalize the Big 3 automakers. Re-tool the auto industry to build rapid mass transit, solar, and wind systems.
6. Stop the scapegoating of immigrant workers. Stop the ICE raids and deportations. Papers for All!
7. End all funding for the U.S. wars in the Middle East and bring our troops home now. The war expenditures in these countries alone are estimated at $3 trillion. Redirect all war funding to meet human needs.
8. Enact a massive national reconstruction public works program (minimum expenditure needed of $1 trillion) to rebuild the nation’s schools, hospitals and crumbling infrastructure and to put millions of people back to work at a union-scale wage. Provide all necessary funding for a genuine Reconstruction program in the Gulf Coast; enact the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act (H.R. 4048).
9. Defend and expand the rights and economic security of those who are unable to work. Grant living-wage benefits to single parents, disabled, seniors, and the unemployed. End the arbitrary, punitive time limits, sanctions, denial of education, and forced unwaged workfare in the TANF welfare program.
10. Tax the corporations and the rich — not working people -— to help finance a workers’ recovery plan. The rich currently enjoy historically high levels of wealth while being taxed at bargain-basement rates. Implement a retroactive tax on windfall revenue on the oil-energy industry, return capital income taxation to 1981 levels, and repatriate the $2 trillion from the offshore tax havens.
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(2) Mumia’s Life in Great Danger Again!
(Appeal by IWC Co-Coordinators)
December 4, 2020
Dear comrades and friends,
Donald Trump has scheduled executions of death-row inmates in federal prisons until the very last moments of his tenure. These include the use of firing squads and the electric chair. Although he can no longer be executed directly, Mumia Abu-Jamal*, the “voice of the voiceless,” is also in great danger.
Mumia and his supporters have issued a warning about a serious outbreak of COVID-19 at the Mahanoy Correctional Facility in the state of Pennsylvania, where Mumia and 2,400 inmates are being held. Twenty prison guards have tested positive. Inmates are kept in lockdown in their cells, except for showers and emergencies.
Mumia is 66 years old and has suffered years of liver damage, making him extremely vulnerable to the pandemic. Prison personnel are the ones bringing in the virus.
The coalitions in the United States fighting for the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal are calling on organizations and activists the world over to urge Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf to release Mumia and other elderly and sick prisoners on humanitarian grounds. Wolf has the power to grant “compassionate release.”
The International Workers Committee Against War and Exploitation, For the Workers’ International calls for this campaign to be relayed as widely as possible on an international level. The IWC calls on trade union, political, and democratic rights organizations around the world to demand that Pennsylvania Governor invoke “compassionate release” for Mumia and all elderly inmates. Your letters and statements should be sent post-haste to the Pennsylvania governor at the following addresses:
Governor Tom Wolf
Office of the Governor
508 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Or by email: email@example.com
Please send copies of your statements to:
On behalf of the International Workers Committee
Against War and Exploitation, For a Workers’ International (IWC)
* Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Black activist, member of the Black Panther Party at the age of 14, then a freelance journalist in Philadelphia, PA, was sentenced to death in July 1982 for the murder of a white police officer in a rigged trial. He spent 29 years on “death row.” In 2011 the U.S. Supreme Court commuted his sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
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(3) Support our 30th Anniversary Expansion Drive!
In March 2021 we will celebrate the 30th anniversary of Socialist Organizer and of our publication: The Organizer Newspaper (now a weekly newsletter because of COVID-19 restrictions).
On a weekly basis over the next three months, we will publish articles, interviews, and campaign reports — both domestic and international — from our archives. We are certain that you will enjoy reading and/or re-reading them. These also will be posted to our rapidly improving website. (This week we reprint the 10-point platform of the Workers Emergency Recovery Campaign.)
We are attaching to this letter the PDF of the “Alarm Manifesto” adopted on November 10, 2020, by the OCRFI, the international current to which we are affiliated. It places the deepening crisis in the United States in the context of the terminal crisis of decay of the capitalist system as a whole and explains why the fight for socialism is on the agenda today — more than ever. Such a global perspective, we believe, is necessary to understand the centrality of the fight for a break with “lesser-evil” politics — for a Labor Party and for a Black Workers Party linked to the fight for a Labor Party.
There will be greater openings now to advance the struggle for independent working-class politics as the conversation within labor and other social movements is shifting away from Trump and his threatened coup to what will happen with the new administration, especially now that Biden has announced his transition team and made some of his cabinet choices — all very much to the liking of Biden’s Wall Street and military-contractor sponsors.
There have been some major developments in the labor movement, with a significant wing already challenging Biden’s corporate agenda. The obstacles ahead, however, are numerous. One case in point is the AFL-CIO leadership’s effort to suppress this rising opposition to corporate rule within the house of labor, as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s letter to the Vermont AFL-CIO attests. Trumka’s letter threatens placing the Vermont state federation under receivership if it does not rescind its call for a general strike should Trump refuse to leave office.
Major conflicts lie ahead.
We urge you, our longtime readers, to continue your subscription to The Organizer. We need your support for our 30th Anniversary Expansion Fund. A one-year subscription to our newsletter is $20. A Solidarity subscription is $50 per year. An Active Supporter subscription is $100 per year. You can renew your sub at any of these three levels by going to the PayPal link on our website, or you can send a check or money order to The Organizer, P.O. Box 40009, San Francisco, CA 94140.
Thank-you in advance for your continued support,
The Editorial Board of The Organizer Newspaper
The National Organizing Committee of Socialist Organizer
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(4) Don Bechler: Trade Unionist and Organizer for Single Payer Healthcare
By Alan Benjamin
Don Bechler, a longtime unionist, organizer for Single Payer healthcare, and advocate for independent working-class politics, died October 24. He was 73 years old. Don was a subscriber and supporter of The Organizer and a close friend.
Don was born and raised in Detroit. At a young age he joined the Socialist Workers Party, where he worked at the party’s print shop in New York City. He was transferred to the Los Angeles branch in the late 1960’s and was assigned in the early 1970’s to be a caretaker of James P. Cannon, founder of the SWP who had retired to Los Angeles.
In the late 1970’s, as part of the SWP’s “turn to industry,” Don moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he got a job at the Westinghouse plant in San Jose, soon becoming a member of IAM Local 565 and eventually a chief shop steward in the plant.
While working at Westinghouse, he took airline mechanics classes. After receiving his certification, he began working as an airline mechanic at United Airlines at SFO, where he was an active member of IAM Local 1781 until his retirement.
I got to know Don in 1994, when we worked together on California Proposition 186: the Single Payer Health Insurance ordinance. Don became passionate about the urgent need for Single Payer (aka Medicare for All) and made this effort the centerpiece of his political activism for the rest of his life. He founded Single Payer Now and signed up tens of thousands of endorsers of Single Payer into his database, or activist listserv. These were people he involved in lobbying in Sacramento, gathering new endorsers for his database, and raising funds for mailings and regular forums.
Don’s second passion was taking groups of friends and activists on his yearly two-week trek through Yellowstone National Park. Though he invited me to join him on these trips time and again, I was never able to join him — but as his neighbor, I heard every detail of his trips when we got together for coffee at our local café.
And we would always talk politics. Don understood that independent political action was central to the fight for Single Payer. He participated in two national conferences of the Labor Fightback Network at Rutgers University in New Jersey and was an endorser and supporter of Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP). Both organizations promote the struggle for a Labor Party.
In June 2018, The Organizer newspaper published a “Dialogue with Don Bechler on Independent Politics and the Fight for Single Payer.” Readers of The Organizer will readily understand that the issues discussed in the “Dialogue” [see reprint below] are as relevant today as they were more than two years ago.
We will all miss Don greatly. He was a friend and comrade to so many of us. As Don’s good friend Rita Valenti wrote: “Let’s honor Don’s legacy by securing healthcare for all, Medicare for All now!
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Dialogue with Don Bechler on Independent Politics and the Fight for Single Payer
[Note: Following is a dialogue between Don Bechler, chair of Single Payer Now, a California-wide organization that is affiliated with Health Care Now on a national level, and Alan Benjamin, editorial board member of The Organizer newspaper. It took place in San Francisco on May 30, 2018.]
Alan Benjamin: Don, Single Payer Now organized a public forum in San Francisco to expose the attacks on Single Payer by both Republicans and Democrats. At your event, you referenced repeatedly a document titled, “Democratic Party Talking Points Provided by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for Candidates to Use to Divert Conversations Away from and Criticize Single Payer.” What is this document and what is its significance?
Don Bechler: This document is proof of what many of us have been saying for a couple of decades about the Democratic Party and Single Payer healthcare — namely, that the Democrats always find ways to divert this discussion with language like, “Yes, we support Single Payer, but … we cannot do it because of A, B, C, D, E, F, or G” … and the list keeps going.
It’s proof that will help us convince more people to go out and build a massive and independent movement for Single Payer healthcare, or Medicare For All.
A.B.: Many people who’ve read this “Talking Points” memo were alarmed. What is your assessment?
D.B.: At a time when more and more people are bringing up the need for Single Payer, this is a document, as its title says, to divert the conversation away from Single Payer by insisting on the many things we need to do first. It calls, for example, for lowering people’s healthcare costs by “allowing the federal government to negotiate with drug companies to get a lower price on medications for people on Medicare, like the Veteran Affairs Department does.”
So they don’t come out and say, “I hate Single Payer”; they say, we need to do all these other things.
The second point in the document is the call to “allow more middle class families to qualify for tax breaks to reduce their healthcare costs.” Again, they’re saying something, but it’s not a Single Payer solution.
If you are a true healthcare advocate, you want a system that provides healthcare for everybody. You want it to be financed through progressive taxation and be comprehensive, and for everyone to have it, just like public education.
If you read their document, you see that we have to do this thing first and that thing first. It’s always, “Yes, but …” It’s always been, “Yes, but …” from the Democrats over the past 25 years that I’ve been working on this issue.
A.B.: But there is more than “diverting the conversation” in the Democratic Party’s “Talking Points” document. There is also sharp criticism of Single Payer, taken almost directly from the playbook of the Republican Party. The authors, for example, take issue with the Vermont Single Payer campaign, stating that there is really no viable financing mechanism in a Single Payer plan. Your response?
D.B.: The governor in Vermont backed away from his support to Single Payer because he was pressured by the private insurance industries to back off. The largest employer in the state, which is IBM, also put pressure on the governor.
As for the financing in Vermont, the authors of the “Talking Points” memo came up with a figure of a 10% increase in the income and business taxes. But that is still cheaper than what you’d be paying now with all the insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs.
There are three bills in play that I am concerned about. One is a California bill called the Healthy California Act (or SB 562). It would save $37 billion a year, which is a lot of money. More important, it provides healthcare for everybody, including undocumented immigrants in the state of California.
The other two bills in play are national bills: HR 676 (with more that 100 members of Congress who support it) and SB 1804 (with 15 U.S. Senators who support it).
There are pluses and minuses to these two bills: The U.S. Senate bill would override the Hyde Amendment, which prevents women from seeking abortions with federal funds. The other two bills don’t really do that. HR 676 provides for long-term care. The Senate bill does not.
But the fundamental thing is that they’re both moving forward with a national health plan that guarantees healthcare for everybody and saves billions of dollars.
A.B.: Bernie Sanders made this issue a centerpiece of his campaign. Millions of people came out in support of Single Payer. And yet Bernie got smashed on this issue at the Democratic Party national convention just prior to the 2016 election. Nurses from CNA came back to California and reported that the DNC issued an explicit directive to prevent any discussion about, or any support for, Single Payer at that convention or in the months leading up to the November general election. Why can’t the Democratic Party get behind Single Payer?
D.B.: The Democrats, fundamentally, are supporting the 1 percent in this country, and Single Payer runs counter to the interests of the 1 percent. A lot of these people are big donors to the Democratic Party, and they have big investments in the health insurance companies.
Here in California Gavin Newsom is running for governor. Some people think he’ll support Single Payer. Maybe yes, maybe no. On occasion he says he does, but it’s usually accompanied by many “buts.” If you look at where his campaign funding is coming from, you will see that he received $922,000 from Blue Shield of California, an insurance company. If he really wanted to show some integrity around Single Payer, he would announce that he is not accepting any money from the health insurance companies. But he is not doing that.
A.B.: The AFL-CIO first endorsed Single Payer at its national convention in Pittsburgh in 2009, but it went on to campaign for a “public option” and then for Obama’s Affordable Care Act, pushing Single Payer way into the background.
At its most recent convention in St. Louis, the AFL-CIO vowed to be more forceful in its support for Single Payer, but this, again, is not likely given their subordination to the Democratic Party, which, as we have seen with their “Talking Points” memo, does not want to touch Single Payer.
What’s it going to take to get Single Payer enacted in this country?
D.B.: There are different opinions about this question in the Single Payer movement. Our organization, Single Payer Now, is dedicated to winning an initiative in California at some point for Single Payer. Our criteria for moving on this is to have 5 million people in a database, so that we can communicate among ourselves and launch a winning campaign.
The media are opposed to us. No matter how good our arguments, they come out and find a low-level economist somewhere to say, “This won’t work.” And they give 12 reasons for that.
I support people who want to go out to pass Single Payer through the legislatures, though I have less confidence in that. People have a lot of illusions about what we can get done in Sacramento or Washington, DC.
My goal is to build an electorate that is solidly Single Payer, where any candidate who says I’m not for it gets booed off the stage.
A.B.: Any final comments?
D.B.: Democratic Party politicians are taking advantage of the Single Payer movement. They see it has some energy, because it does at times. So they say, “Hey, I think I’ll support this issue and get some campaign volunteers.” Then later on they take a dive on it. I’m nervous right now about Newsom, and I’m nervous about Ricardo Lara, who sponsored the Senate bill.
A.B.: So it’s about building an independent movement for Single Payer that is not beholden to the Democratic Party politicians?
D.B.: Yes, absolutely!
What we must do is build an independent movement for Single Payer that is not beholden to the Democratic Party politicians.
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(5) FRANCE: The Fight Against the Global Security Law
La Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers’ Tribune) Issue no. 266 – 25 November 2020
The Global Security Law: Illegitimate!
Editorial by Daniel Gluckstein
“Legal” and “legitimate” are two adjectives derived from the same Latin root. Legal is what relates to the law, and the Dictionnaire historique de la langue française [Historical Dictionary of the French Language] specifies that the word previously had “a moral sense which today has disappeared”. Legitimate is what is “fair, justified by right”. In this case, the same source points out, “legitimate is in contrast with legal“.
If the Global Security Bill were to become law (1), it would become legal to jail whoever dares to film acts of police violence! Legal, but not legitimate: from the point of view of democracy and civil rights, what is legitimate is the mobilisation that is demanding the withdrawal not only of Article 24, but of the whole evil project.
It must be noted that “global security” fits well in the arsenal of the Fifth Republic, an anti-democratic, anti-working-class and anti-social regime that came out of the coup d’état in 1958. Every one of the laws passed under Macron over the last three years has worsened either the anti-democratic character of the institutions, or their anti-working-class social content. But this observation applies equally to the series of governments of every political stripe that have preceded it over the last 60 years!
The Fifth Republic can, of course, wish to impose its legality; nevertheless, it is completely illegitimate from the point of view of democracy. The current mobilisation against “global security” contains a much larger question: the question of the political regime. Can one content oneself, as the Director of L’Humanité (2) has done, with pointing to “liberalism (…) gained through authoritarian impulses”? Why this refusal to state clearly that the institutions of the Fifth Republic are in essence authoritarian, which they are increasingly with each of the counter-reforms and repressive laws that have been imposed, and that consequently they must be abolished?
As for [France Unbowed leader] Melenchon’s promise to repeal the Global Security Bill if he is elected President… So, we need to wait two years? What is more, we are entitled to expect an “unbowed” President to not content himself with just repealing the Global Security Bill, but also the Fifth Republic itself, aren’t we?
All this comes down to the need (or conversely, the fear) to break with the current institutional system. Defending civil rights that are under threat means that winning back the rights that have already been lost and winning back democracy itself are on the agenda. Winning back rights and democracy involves the majority – composed of working people – taking power into their own hands and deciding what a genuinely democratic system should be; in other words, a system in which legality and legitimacy are one and the same thing. Winning back rights and democracy involves removing the institutions of the Fifth Republic and electing delegates of the people to a sovereign Constituent Assembly that will lay the foundations of a genuinely democratic system at both the social and political levels.
Should we be scared of taking this path? Or, on the contrary, should we clearly state this objective, which is the only one that meets the need to win back civil rights and democracy?
(1) Translator’s note: The Bill was passed by the National Assembly on 24 November, and will head to the Senate in December.
(2) Translator’s note: Today a daily newspaper, L’Humanité was previously an organ of the French Communist Party and maintains links to the party.
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La Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers’ Tribune) Issue no.267 – 2 December 2020
FRANCE: Withdraw the Global Security Law Right Now!
Editorial by Daniel Gluckstein
It is an understatement to say that the protest marches on 28 November took many commentators by surprise with their size and scope. Some commentators were even worried. Anger and indignation against the freedoms-destroying legislation called the Global Security Law rallied together hundreds of thousands of protestors on the streets of dozens of cities and towns. The protestors were even more determined in the face of a mounting number of acts of violence by the police, which confirmed that a ban on filming or photographing police actions would give the green light to an escalation of unlimited repression without safeguards.
A genuine state crisis has broken out. Under the Fifth Republic regime, rule by the capitalist class presupposes that all of the institutions and public bodies are linked to and revolve around a single linchpin, the keystone of the institutions: the President of the Republic. So, what are we witnessing? Disintegration at every level. The law had barely been passed by Parliament when Interior Minister Darmanin swore that not one word would be changed. But the mass mobilisation in defence of civil rights threw a spanner in his works.
We saw forty members of the Macronist group in the National Assembly refuse to vote for the law; then we heard Prime Minister Castex appoint a commission with the task of rewriting Article 24, which immediately triggered public protests by Ferrand and Larcher, the Presidents of the National Assembly and the Senate, demanding that Parliament has responsibility for writing legislation; we then heard Castex sputter that there had been a misunderstanding; and then, once again, we had statements from both sides that rewriting anything was out of the question; and finally, we learned on Monday, 30 November, that Article 24 would be completely rewritten at Macron’s request. All that, in the space of a few days! And it’s not over yet…
Meanwhile, the number of “police blunders” is still growing. Sectors of the police, a major institution of the bourgeois state, are displaying increasing autonomy, in keeping with their radicalisation and provocative behaviour. The crisis has been worsened further by the personal posturing by the likes of Darmanin, Macron and Castex as a response to electoral calculations and forecasts for the next presidential election. The state’s crisis is being fed by the impact of their individual ambitions.
Consequently, people are worried. The editorial writers of the daily press are issuing warning after warning: it is time to stop the escalation. Some of them are even arguing that it would be better to withdraw the whole law in order to save its essential aspect: political rule by the capitalist class.
The power of the mobilisations on 28 November lies in the fact that they expressed both a rejection of the freedoms-destroying law, and anger on a whole series of other issues: anger at the job-cutting and lay-off programmes that are threatening hundreds of thousands of people; anger at the pensions reform which Finance Minister Le Maire has just declared to be a priority in the name of servicing the public debt, a debt created by the hundreds of billions handed out to the capitalists by the government and Parliament since the start of the pandemic; anger also at the scandalous way in which this government is acting faced with the pandemic, spewing more and more lies in order to better cover for the fact that as far as it is concerned, the only thing that counts is protecting the capitalists’ interests, not the health of the workers and youth, nor their jobs, nor their right to an education…
Yes, all of these expressions of anger, all of the acts of revolt, all of the people’s concerns are being concentrated right now in one demand: withdrawal of the Global Security Law. Over the last few days, we have heard some “strategists” argue in favour of the need to “broaden things out”. One possibility is that the current mobilisation remains faithful to its objective, forcing the withdrawal of the Global Security Law. In this case, it is important that all those who have taken this initiative – beginning with the journalists’ union, the Human Rights League and all the associations, and the various trade union and political organisations – and came together around it, remain firmly united in order to win. Because that is where the real “broadening out” will happen: imposing the withdrawal of this shameful law would give massive encouragement to the mobilisation to force the government to retreat on other issues.
Another possibility is that this is about trying to win on all the issues at the same time, in other words trying to impose the withdrawal of the Global Security Law, plus the withdrawal of the pensions reform, and a ban on lay-offs and job-cuts, and the necessary funding for schools, hospitals and more. In this case, the objective becomes a political one: it needs to be said clearly that the aim is to drive Macron from power and put an end to the regime of the Fifth Republic, and to impose a government that will resolve all of the issues in the interests of the majority, in the interests of working people. And it needs to be said clearly that a general strike on a united basis is on the agenda. Without which, talk about “broadening things out” will remain just talk, weakening the demand for withdrawal of the Global Security Law and weakening the mobilisation itself.
For its part, the Democratic Independent Workers Party (POID) has said it and expressed it on its banners and placards, and in its slogans and leaflets handed out on protest marches: we think that the urgent thing is to drive Macron from power right now, to convene a sovereign Constituent Assembly, to eliminate the Fifth Republic and open up the path to a government of the majority, a government to defend working people and the youth.
Of course, one can share this position, or not. But let us say clearly that the first step for heading in this direction, and in any case the first step for heading towards breaking with the bourgeoisie and its institutions, is to impose the withdrawal of the Global Security Law right now, immediately. Unconditionally, and on a united basis. A first step towards the major change which the situation places on the agenda.
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(6) The Relevance of the Transitional Program (Part 4, Final)
Demands, Principles and Tactics
The criteria for knowing what demands to raise is not their level of radicalism, or their acceptability to the powers-that-be, but rather their capacity to bring into action the broad masses of working people. Revolutionaries need to flexibly choose demands that fit with the actual conditions at a given time and place. Joseph Hansen, a founder of the Socialist Workers Party, explained this well:
“Our own wishes, or our own level of class consciousness, must not be permitted to influence our judgment as to the real nature of the current concerns of the masses or the issues on which they are prepared to go into action. Since the ideology of society as a whole is shaped by the ideology of the ruling class, we must prepared to accept situations in which the masses, or a sectors of the masses, will respond only to slogans of quite limited nature. Or, to put this in more revolutionary terms, we ought to look for such situations.”
“In the class struggle, battles break out as consequence of forces over which we have no control at the present of our development. Our party, as a revolutionary socialist party, has no choice, but to engage in these battles, otherwise it will not grow, but will wither on the vine. … If the working class had already reached the level represented by the program of revolutionary socialism, then we would not need any Transitional Program.”
While the principles of revolutionary socialism basically remain constant, the demands we raise in the mass movement will vary depending on many factors, such as the level of consciousness and mobilization of the working class, the level of economic development of the country, and dozens of other variables. Lenin’s motto was to be “firm on principles; flexible on tactics.”
George Breitman provides a good explanation of the crucial, and often overlooked, distinction between principles and tactics:
“Principles are propositions embodying fundamental conclusions derived from theory and historical experience to govern and guide our struggle for socialism. Relating broadly to our goals, they set a framework within which we operate. Although they are not eternal, they have a long-range character and are not easily or often changed. In fact, we have essentially the same principles today that we had in 1938. The dictatorship of the proletariat, or the struggle for a workers’ state, as the form of state transitional between capitalism and socialism—that is a principle with us. Insistence on class-struggle methods against class collaborationist methods—that is another.”
Breitmain goes on to clarify the nature of tactics:
“Tactics, on the other hand, are only means to an end. ‘Only’ in this context is not meant to disparage them; without the appropriate tactics, principles cannot be brought to life, so there is clearly an interdependence between principles and tactics. But tactics are subordinate in the same way that means are subordinate to an end. They are good if they enhance and promote the principle, not good if they don’t. In addition, tactics are flexible, adjustable, variable. They depend (or their applicability depends) on concrete circumstances. To advance a particular principle, tactic A may be best today; but it may have to be replaced by tactic B tomorrow morning, or tactic C tomorrow night. Meanwhile, the principle remains unchanged. Tactics must not, cannot, be in violation of principle, but tactics are not limited to formal reaffirmations of our principles—they are not worth much if that is all they are.”
Another key, and related, distinction is between propaganda and agitation. For the Marxist tradition, the term propaganda refers to the explanation of many ideas to a few people; agitation means the spread of a few ideas to many people. Propaganda generally promotes the broad principles of socialism; agitation expresses the demands and proposals the revolutionary organization is promoting at a given juncture.
A demand may be wrong today, but right tomorrow. Marxist support the creation of workers’ councils, but it does not follow that we should call for these to built today in the United States. Trotsky notes that: “We should tell the workers the truth. But that doesn’t signify that every moment, every place, we state the whole truth, starting with Euclid’s geometry and ending with socialist society. We do not have the right to lie to them, but we must present to them the truth in such form, at such a time, in such a place, that they can accept it.”
The number of demands raised at a given moment is a tactical question. But, generally speaking, for a specific action fewer slogans usually allow the largest number of people to come together. A laundry list of demands appeals more to those who are already radicalized than to most working people. The weight Marxists give to a given demand also depends on a given context. Prior to 2006, Socialist Organizer opposed the deportations of undocumented immigrants, but it was only after Bush and Obama’s brutal wave of deportations that this became one of our central action demands.
The transitional method it is counterposed to two-dead orientations that are still dominant in mass movements today: liberalism and ultra-leftism. Liberalism (or
“opportunism”) means an adaptation to — or subordination to — the policies of the ruling class. Generally such an approach favors “working with” capitalists and their parties instead of mass action against them. Ultraleftism is marked by raising very radical demands that are out of touch with the consciousness of the masses of working people; its methods tend to rely on confrontations with cops and other forms of “direct action” of small groups of individuals. Often overlapping with ultraleftism is sectarianism, which is defined by abstention from the real class struggle.
The transitional method is the polar opposite of both the opportunists and the ultra-lefts, as George Novack specifies:
“[Liberals] have no need for a transitional program because they are content to remain within the ground of the democratic capitalist regime and do not intend to cross over to the opposite shore in combat for the revolutionary alternative. The ultralefts have no use for a transitional program because, in their overheated imaginations, they have already leaped over the stages leading to the revolutionary showdown, even though the masses, the principal fighting force, may be lagging far behind. They see no need for a bridge to enable the masses to make the crossing from where they actually are to the barricades and beyond.”
We should add that even revolutionaries armed with the Marxist method can make mistakes concerning what demands to raise. For example, the Bolsheviks had mistakenly supported the boycott of the elections to the Duma parliament in 1906 in Russia. As Lenin explains in his classic pamphlet on strategy, Left Wing Communism, this demand had been correct during the revolutionary upswing of 1905, but was out of place once the revolution was in retreat. The transitional method is not a magic-wand. It provides a criteria for determining how to intervene, but does not provide not all the concrete answers. Likewise, revolutionaries involved in struggle often can bend to opportunism or ultraleftism. Full internal democracy is needed to help the party overcome mistakes (which are inevitable) and minimize the inevitable pressures of outside capitalist society.
Marxists build and participate in all struggles of the workers and oppressed, no matter how small, but we do not limit ourselves to the immediate demands that arise in the class struggle. We always aim to push these the struggle forward and the point the way ahead, in the direction of socialist revolution. This brings us to the important role of transitional demands.
The Transitional Program explains the significance of transitional demands as follows: “This bridge [towards winning the masses to socialist revolution] should include a system of transitional demands, stemming from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat.”
Transitional demands are slogans that are understood and supported by the broad masses, but that challenge the fundamental workings of the capitalist state and the private ownership of the means of production. If massively fought for, they tend to pose the question of state power because they go beyond what the system can deliver.
Some of the transitional demands raised by The Transitional Program were:
– “Open the books of the corporations which claim they cannot afford to pay decent wages!”
– “Reduce the workweek with no loss of pay to provide more jobs!”
-“Organize a massive public-works program to build roads, hospitals, schools!”
-“Make the bosses, not the workers, pay for the crisis – raise wages to keep up with the cost of living!”
– “Nationalize companies that say they can’t continue to operate profitably and turn control of them over to the workers!”
All of these ideas can be raised in a way that seem completely reasonable to people today. But in reality they require socialism for their full implementation. (The key word here is full implementation, because aspects of some transitional demands, such as nationalizations of sectors of the economy, can sometimes be partially won under capitalism.)
What transitional demands Marxists should raise, and the emphasis they give to them, will vary and depend on the conditions of the class struggle. Likewise, what constitutes a transitional demand will depend on the context — an immediate demand today might become a transitional demand in a different situation.
Take the example of the Russian Bolsheviks in 1917. The main demands of the Bolsheviks, from the arrival of Lenin in April until the conquest of power in October, were “Land, Bread, and Peace!”, which they linked to the central slogan “All Power to the Soviets!” The capitalists and their Provisional Government could not provide bread, implement an agrarian reform, or end the war, thus these simple demands became “transitional” because they could only be resolved by the workers taking power. The importance of transitional demands is that they generalize the partial, localized struggles that inevitably break out, and orient these fightbacks towards the crucial question of power on a national level.
In the current period in the United States, a central component of the transitional method is the call for the trade unions, in alliance with all the oppressed, to break with the Democrats and form a national Labor Party. As Trotsky explained in his discussions on The Transitional Program in 1938, a Labor Party is needed because a break with the twin parties of the bosses is a life or death question for the U.S. labor movement. It is the first step on the path to a workers’ government. But given the relative weakness of the revolutionary party, a transitional organizational form is needed to express this break today and, thus, act as bridge between the organization and consciousness of the working class and its organizations today and the mass revolutionary party of tomorrow.
Unfortunately, most socialist organizations in the U.S. have abandoned the fight for a Labor Party. Most believe their small groups will directly become the mass revolutionary party through individual recruitment to their organization. Some socialists have opportunistically supported the Green Party or Democratic Party. Others call for a Labor Party on paper, but refuse to fight for this inside the living class struggle. None of these approaches will in practice help the working class break its subordination to the Democratic Party.
Crisis of Leadership
The Transitional Program argues that the main obstacles to socialist revolution are the existing leaderships of the working class. At the moment Trotsky wrote the text (1938), this argument had beenrecently confirmed by the betrayals of the Stalinists in Spain and China, leadings to the bloody defeats of these heroic revolutions. Is this thesis still true today?
Contrary to the claims of Left groups and cynical academics who argue that the main obstacle today is the “low level of consciousness” or “apathy” of the masses, there is no lack of will to fight among working people. Workers understand from their daily experience the realities of the world we live in, far better than many leftist intellectuals. Livings standards have dropped for the majority in most countries for the past 30 years. And the already harsh reality of the struggle to survive has become harder by the day due to deepening economic crisis. “Free market” ideology inevitably rings hollow to any worker who has just lost their job, while management receives billions in bailout money. Faced with unprecedented attacks, working people and the oppressed are resisting by the millions. Pro-imperialist governments have been toppled in Tunisia, Egypt, Bolivia, Venezuela, and beyond. Socialist revolution, far from being a utopian dream, is on the immediate agenda in many countries.
But this growing radicalization does not automatically find an expression, i.e. a political outlet. The working class acts as a class “for itself” through its mass organizations and it looks to these organizations to advance its fight. When the workers’ organizations raise and fight for the workers’ demands, the results can be earthshaking.
But, in general, the leaderships of the trade unions and other mass organizations of the workers and oppressed do everything possible to keep the masses from fighting back. The capitalists would not be able to hold onto power without the co-optation of the workers’ organizations via the transmission belt of their leaderships. Thus the bosses consistently court, buy-off, pressure, and threaten the existing leaderships, pushing them to do their bidding.
In the words of James P. Cannon: “The strength of capitalism is not in itself and its own institutions; it survives only because it has bases of support in the organizations of the workers. As we see it now, in the light of what we have learned from the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, nine-tenths of the struggle for socialism is the struggle against bourgeois influence in the workers’ organizations.”
The contradiction between the desires of the working class and the reactionary politics of its leaderships can be seen throughout the world today in most strikes and mass movements. This contradiction reaches its most acute form when the activity of the masses pushes the country into a revolutionary crisis.
In his important 1940 article “The Class, the Party and the Leadership,” Trotsky explains that the decisive factor leading to the defeat or victory of a revolution is not the “maturity” of the working class, but the role of a revolutionary party:
“Victory is not at all the ripe fruit of the proletariat’s ‘maturity.’ Victory is a strategic task. It is necessary to utilize the favorable conditions of a revolutionary crisis in order to mobilize the masses; taking as a starting point the given level of their ‘maturity’ it is necessary to propel them forward, teach them to understand that the enemy is by no means omnipotent, that it is torn asunder with contradictions, that behind the imposing facade panic prevails. Had the Bolshevik party failed to carry out this work, there couldn’t even be talk of the victory of the proletarian revolution. The Soviets would have been crushed by the counter-revolution and the little sages of all countries would have written articles and books on the keynote that only uprooted visionaries could dream in Russia of the dictatorship of the proletariat, so small numerically and so immature.”
The specific political origins and contradictions of the misleaderships vary from one country to another. The Social Democratic and Stalinist bureaucracies continue to be central obstacles. But since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and with the ongoing crisis of the old Socialist and Communist parties, the capitalists are relying more and more on new instruments to mislead and derail the movements of the workers and all the oppressed, such as non-profits (NGOs) and other institutions that promote the “humanization” of capitalism.
Building a revolutionary party is not an automatic process, it is a practical, day-to-day question that requires learning not just from books but from experience. Party-building is one of the most important tasks today for the sections of the Fourth International (OCRFI). Millions of people, particularly of the young generation, are open to revolutionary ideas and can be won over to the fight for socialism.
It is not likely that revolutionary parties will likely be built through a linear development resulting from the simple arithmetic growth of our current organizations. The crisis of the workers’ movement, particularly since the fall of the Berlin Wall, has resulted in the emergence of many political tendencies and activists throughout the world that are seeking to fight for the interests of the working class, but that have not yet accepted the program of revolutionary Marxism. To these activists and organizations we propose working together on the united front campaigns around which we agree — such as those promoted by the framework of International Workers Committee Against War and Exploitation, For a Workers International (IWC) — and building independent workers parties, that bring together all the forces that stand on the grounds of class independence.
Tremendous opportunities exist for moving forward towards revolution. Stalinism is discredited and no longer can prevent the real Marxists from winning mass influence. The economic crisis will create many hardships for working people and for the activists and organizations of the Fourth International (OCRFI), but it will also help feed social upheavals threatening the whole edifice of capitalism.
To transform the growing potential for revolution into the successful overthrow of the current system and the establishment of a worldwide socialist democracy is the epic task facing us. Armed with the method and principles of revolutionary Marxism we can — and must — succeed. We hope to have shown in this text why the inspiring final words of The Transitional Program remain more relevant than ever:
“The present crisis in human culture is the crisis in the proletarian leadership. The advanced workers, united in the Fourth International, show their class the way out of the crisis. They offer a program based on international experience in the struggle of the proletariat and of all the oppressed of the world for liberation. They offer a spotless banner. Workers – men and women – of all countries, place yourselves under the banner of the Fourth International. It is the banner of your approaching victory!”