The pivotal 2020s: A time for revolutionary ideas

Freedom Socialist Party 2019 Political Resolution

People on scaffolding hold a sign:
In Washington, D.C., friends and members of RW and FSP joined hundreds of thousands to protest Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. PHOTO: Sue Mi Ko / FS
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THIS RESOLUTION, drafted for party-wide discussion in the late spring of 2019, was honed and adopted by Freedom Socialist Party members at FSP’s October 2019 national convention in Washington state. The version below includes some brief updates since that time.

New developments have only served to underscore and deepen the conclusions presented in this resolution. Sinking economies wreaked havoc in many parts of the globe. Enormous social upsurges triggered by deprivation and corruption burst forth in Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, India, Ecuador, Chile, and Bolivia. Months-long street protests continued to rock Haiti and Hong Kong. New examples emerged of polarization both to the right and to the left, while Donald J. Trump became only the third U.S. president to be impeached and face trial by the Senate.

The document that follows explores the nature of the global crisis, highlights the urgent need to find solutions, and offers conclusions about how revolutionaries can formulate, inspire, and lead toward a socialist feminist alternative.


I. Overview

II. A global economy with U.S. imperialism at the hub
The recent crash and the human cost
The current situation — rocks and hard places
Booms, busts, and capitalism’s inevitable decline
Desperately seeking solutions

III. Military might backs U.S. economic power

IV. Heightened class conflict on a world scale
A rising right-wing tide
Confronting adversity, workers resist
Women in the forefront
A lack of revolutionary direction limits valiant struggles

V. The battle on U.S. the home front
Trump’s election and the crisis of bourgeois democracy
Impeachment — richly deserved, but no solution
Seeding the ground for fascist growth
Middle-caste misleadership
Identity politics vs. socialist feminism and revolutionary integration

VI. The Left’s response to the crisis: down the reformist rabbit hole
Running scared, moving rightward
The far Left not immune

VII. The planet and its people need our revolutionary optimism

VIII. The road ahead: FSP prospects and priorities
Expand international revolutionary regroupment through CRIR
Build up Radical Women, FSP’s partner in the socialist feminist vanguard
Forge a left wing in labor and the mass movements by stepping up to leadership
Beat the drum for a broad, working-class united front against fascism
Strengthen the party through education, recruitment, and replenishing staff

I. Overview

Two decades into the 21st century, crisis, polarization and turmoil dominate the global landscape. Neither permanent war nor neoliberalism has halted the erratic but inescapable decline of capitalism.

Bad news is easy to come by. Reports flood in daily of war, worsening income and wealth inequality, far-right brutalities, and the plight of refugees. Most threatening of all — the drastic environmental change, which threatens the very survival of humanity and has already made many of Earth’s creatures extinct.

Good news gets less press, but it exists! Looking at the struggles of workers and the specially oppressed around the world, one can see an upsurge by women remarkable in its scope and intensity, an Arab revolution that refuses to die, a renewal of class struggle through strikes from the U.S. to China — and much more that is hopeful and inspiring. The chieftains of the profit system are meeting heroic opposition. But, as Leon Trotsky said in Denmark in a 1932 speech called “In Defense of October”:

Even the stormiest activity can remain in the stage of demonstration or rebellion, without rising to the height of a revolution. The uprising of the masses must lead to the overthrow of the domination of one class and to the establishment of the domination of another. Only then have we achieved a revolution. A mass uprising is no isolated undertaking, which can be conjured up any time one pleases. It represents an objectively conditioned element in the development of a revolution, just as a revolution represents an objectively conditioned process in the development of society. But if the necessary conditions for the uprising exist, one must not simply wait passively, with open mouth; as Shakespeare says: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”

Lebanon saw massive protest against regime corruption during the fall of 2019. Shown is a young demonstrator outside Beirut on October 27. PHOTO: tongeron91/Flickr

To build international socialism, revolution in the United States, the stronghold of the dying order, remains key. Solidarity here with freedom battles around the world is most meaningful and powerful when it weaves together comradely mutual support with full-on opposition to the imperialist monster in its home lair. This is a key concept FSP shares with our closest international collaborators in the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR).

While revolution here in the U.S. is not on the immediate agenda, it will come, because it is so badly needed and because no empire lasts forever. It must be consciously prepared for, and that means that the role of the Freedom Socialist Party is vitally important.

We can take pride in the fact that so many developments today validate our ecosocialist, internationalist, feminist, and revolutionary integrationist program. Together with the fate of the planet, the issues of women, Blacks and other people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and immigrants dominate the news cycles. And FSP, along with our sister organization Radical Women, has the analysis that shows how all of these problems relate to the fundamental question of class. Furthermore, we have strategies and tactics for moving forward, from our understanding of the importance of the Leninist party to our commitment to building united fronts. Now we must gain the confidence and show the will to be movers and shakers in labor and the social movements, turning our ideas into action. Because, although these are times of great suffering and danger, they are also alive with opportunity. The crying need is for leadership.

The party has a beautiful, dedicated, multiracial, multigenerational cadre, one that includes veterans with decades of experience and newer comrades brimming with fresh perspectives and energy — all of us linked together by our politics and our burning desire for change. If ever there was a time for us to decide our duty and do it well, that time is now.

II. A global economy with U.S. imperialism at the hub

Making sense of today’s seeming chaos and finding a path forward must begin with a clear, hard look at the fast-crumbling economic foundation of society. Latter-day capitalist economy is a complex web, more interdependent globally than ever before. As an example, Apple combined materials, components and labor from 34 countries to produce the iPhone 6S.

Just as Marx predicted, capitalism in its fullest development functions as a planet-wide entity, but one that is fractured and held back by national boundaries.

Within this vast network, the U.S. continues to be dominant, as it has been for nearly a century. The U.S. is the largest national economy. It produces roughly a quarter of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP — a figure representing the total of goods and services produced). It is the main consumer of the exports of half the world’s nations. And half of all financial transactions are made in dollars.

Its economic might allows the U.S. to engage in all kinds of maneuvering to prop up its own bourgeoisie and the system as a whole. Nevertheless, capitalist economy continues to be chaotic, destructive, and bedeviled by its own contradictions.

The recent crash and the human cost

The policy of neoliberalism, aka “free trade,” involves breaking down global barriers to the movement of goods and capital; intensifying the exploitation of labor; and privatizing anything and everything publicly owned, from education to natural resources. Previous political resolutions and the Freedom Socialist newspaper have discussed how neoliberalism was supposed to create stable growth and prosperity — and how it failed. Corporations made gains, but at a huge cost to workers and the environment. And neoliberalism did not prevent the most severe crash since the worldwide depression of the 1930s.

The meltdown began with the bursting of the U.S. housing bubble in 2007. This was a result of a super-inflated construction boom, predatory lenders who sold people homes they could not afford at deceptive mortgage rates, and speculators who bought up housing debt in the hope of collecting. When home prices fell and people defaulted on their loans, the financial institutions were stuck with mountains of bad debt. The New York stock market, the world’s largest, dropped by more than 50 percent. As the recession spread, however, the poorer, less-industrialized nations were struck the worst, and they have been least able to bounce back.

Barack Obama’s government bailed out the giant financial corporations with many trillions of taxpayer dollars. Both in the U.S. and elsewhere, national economies owed their partial revivals to the most massive transfer of public funds into private hands in history. Investment blogger John Mauldin described it as “years of astonishing, amazing, unprecedented and astronomically huge monetary stimulus by the Federal Reserve, Bank of Japan, European Central Bank, and others. … They opened the spigots and left them running full speed for almost a decade.”

The working class was not so fortunate. Almost nine million U.S. jobs disappeared. Savings were obliterated; homes foreclosed. Big cities reported increases in homelessness of up to 40 percent, with many rural areas hit even harder. Healthcare, education, and vitally needed social services got cut to pay to rescue big business. Just as was true for countries, people who went into the recession with the least wealth, especially those of color, suffered the most and experienced no catch-up. Their losses — in money and in opportunities — have imprinted their lives and those of the next generation.

For many in this country and many more across the globe, the recession never ended.

The current situation — rocks and hard places

In the spring of 2019, the media hyped good news on the economic front. The stock market, though shaken several times by Donald Trump’s trade aggressions, was on an overall upswing. The first quarter GDP was higher than predicted, and unemployment was down. But the buried details told a different story, providing an education about how capitalism hides its inner workings.

The glad tidings from Dow Jones reflect an economic fantasy world in which fictitious capital far outstrips society’s material wealth — things you can wear, eat, live in, and use for work or play. Fictitious capital is the make-believe wealth of stocks, hedge funds, financial “derivatives,” etc. Case in point: U.S. companies used profits to buy back their own stock to the tune of $1.16 trillion in 2018, “investing” twice as much in pumping up their supposed worth as they did in actual production. So while stock markets hit new highs, the actual creation of goods and services is slumping in all the world’s major economies.

For another example of news that isn’t as rosy as it first appears, let’s take figures announced with great fanfare for April 2019. The Trump administration boasted of 263,000 new jobs and a drop in unemployment to 3.6 percent. But the jobless numbers don’t count people who have run out of benefits and given up looking for work, people who have retired (by choice or otherwise), and young adults who have also given up and moved back home. The people who left the workforce in April outnumbered the ones with new jobs, so there was actually a net drop in employment of 103,000 that month. Taking the spring 2019 economic news at face value is like thinking you just bought a shiny new muscle car, only to pop the hood and find a single misfiring cylinder.

The real indications are that post-recession economic growth has peaked and is heading downward around the world. The overall growth rate in the Eurozone was a sluggish 1.6 percent at the end of 2018. Even in China, home of the “miracle” economy, expansion slowed, down from an amazing 14 percent in 2007 to 6.6 percent in 2018. Meanwhile, GDP is actually shrinking in devastated countries like Venezuela, Yemen, Sudan and South Sudan.

The International Monetary Fund as of April 2019 estimated that fully 70 percent of the global economy would experience negative growth for the year. Many bourgeois economists in the U.S., including some who are usually optimistic, also predict a slowdown, which they euphemistically call a “market correction.”

Conclusion: another recession is on its way. Exactly when is impossible to pin down — but it seems safe to say it will be sooner rather than later.

Booms, busts, and capitalism’s inevitable decline

Stock prices have nearly tripled since 2010, and the total assets of the richest 1 percent have risen to five times that held by the bottom 50 percent. PHOTO: htmvalerio/Flickr

Since production for profit first became the dominant economic force, its growth has been a matter of jagged leaps and falls. As Karl Marx explained, the chaos of the marketplace made the alternation of crises and booms a basic fact of capitalism. And, as capitalism declines and its problems become more acute, the more violent the economic roller coaster becomes.

The U.S. poverty rate remains stubbornly high, and the homeless population of LA County has risen 49.5 percent since 2011. PHOTO: David Lee/Fllickr

To summarize a crucial contradiction built into the system: As technology advances and workers gain new skills, companies can produce more goods. To compete successfully, each enterprise strives to get the most from its employees while paying the least they can get away with for their labor-power. Businesses borrow from the banks to ramp up production and pour their goods into the marketplace.

But in the unplanned, competitive capitalist system, there is no real way of knowing until after the goods hit the market whether they can be sold. If nobody buys them, their value is lost, and along with it the company profits. Workers are laid off and then can purchase even less. Businesses supersize their layoffs, default on their loans, and go belly up, causing the whole system to spiral down. This is the recurring “crisis of overproduction.” It’s not that there are more goods than people want, or even desperately need. Under capitalism, however, what counts is whether people can pay for them.

Most of the biggest capitalists survive the crisis and in fact make out like the bandits they truly are. Thanks to the downturn, they can buy labor, resources and equipment at bargain prices and begin the cycle all over again. Governments often help to rev up the economy by spending massive amounts of money on domestic projects like the New Deal of the 1930s and/or by going to war, with its guarantee of profits to be made through military production, the destruction of cities and whole countries, and sometimes rebuilding.

Another of the contradictions hard-wired into capitalism, and related to crises of overproduction, is the tendency of the average rate of profit, society-wide, to fall over time. (Note that this is a general trend, not a given in all times and circumstances.)

Karl Marx explains in Capital how it is that the labor-power of workers gives economic value to things produced for sale (commodities). He goes on to explain how, in the course of production, workers create value above and beyond the cost of their labor-power, or what they are paid. This “extra” value is called surplus-value. Profits come out of this surplus-value. But business owners have expenses in addition to labor costs, like paying for buildings, machinery, equipment, raw materials, energy, etc. The “rate of profit” takes into consideration both kinds of expenses. It’s the ratio of surplus-value to total capital investment.

Why does the rate of profit tend to fall? Mainly, because of the tendency of productivity to increase. Productivity is the ability of labor to produce more in fewer hours. It rises over time because of advances in things like technology and how work is organized. (Think of the famous innovation of Henry Ford’s auto assembly line.)

When more stuff is generated with fewer workers, there may be more cheeseburgers served by automated kiosks, more orders packaged by robots, more of whatever billions of commodities, but the value embedded in each is less. For the capitalists, this means that their profit rates fall, and this is a death knell for the system. It also helps to precipitate overproduction, since they are now motivated to produce even greater numbers of commodities to compensate for the lower value attached to each one.

In the U.S., the average rate of profit fell steadily in the 1970s, reaching a low point in 1982. Enter neoliberalism, which temporarily and partially revived the rate of profit. But since 1997, it has again been falling. Measured over seven decades, it fell by 28 percent between 1945 and 2017.

Machine-assisted increases in productivity should make workers’ lives easier and allow them to spend fewer hours on the job. Instead, it is used against them, resulting in layoffs and spreading misery and hardship. Today, robotics and other high-tech systems are booming in what has been called the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The world’s most prestigious management consultant firm estimates that by 2030 increased use of automation will replace 400 million workers worldwide — and perhaps more. (For context, this would be more than 10 percent of today’s global labor force of about three and a half billion people.)

Meanwhile, some of the once-normal features of capitalism are changing in ways that expose its limits and harm workers.

One such case has to do with the relationship of productivity to wages. Until 1978, productivity gains in the U.S. and other highly developed countries were mirrored by a rise in wages. But since then, all the increased profits from greater productivity have gone straight into the pockets of the master class. Workers’ real wages have essentially flat-lined.

Another twist occurred in unemployment. In prior recessions, once business picked up, so did jobs, even if not immediately. But a “jobless recovery” followed the recession of 1990-91. The uptick in profits never translated into new jobs. And, despite what official statistics claim, employment still hasn’t fully recovered from the 2007-09 recession. Especially hard-hit are residents of rural areas, people of color, and workers who lost their jobs to the neoliberal factory escape across the border.

These are symptoms of a social order becoming more decrepit hour by hour.

Desperately seeking solutions

As the 2016 political resolution concluded, “As a strategy to return the profit system to its youthful health, neoliberalism has failed. But the capitalists still cling to it, because they have no viable economic strategy with which to replace it.” As a result, economic policy in the U.S. and elsewhere has become more fragmented, conflicted, and irrational.

Particularly in domestic policies, neoliberalism still holds sway. Countries around the globe continue to privatize publicly owned services, facilities and resources, like schools, energy, transportation, telecommunications, banks and water. The drive to privatize picked up in both rich and poor countries after the 2008 economic disaster. China is in the lead, followed by India, the United Kingdom and the USA. And deregulation, another cornerstone of neoliberalism, remains the order of the day and a priority for Trump’s administration.

When it comes to international trade, the picture is somewhat different.

Capitalism is thoroughly a global entity, which means that countries depend on trade, and there is no going back on that score. When it comes to “free trade” versus protectionism, no nation’s approach is ever purely one or the other. Historically, though, countries that are already highly developed tend to favor more open wheeling and dealing, free of tariffs and other barriers.

However, the main factor is that everybody is seeking an advantage over everybody else, by whatever strategy seems optimal at the moment. And, given that neoliberalism has failed to fulfill the dreams of U.S. capitalists, it is no surprise that Trump has added protectionist policies to his repertoire. He is aggressively using tariffs, quotas and other restrictions on the imports of foreign competitors in order to protect home industries. Closing off trade is not the goal; Trump just wants to make sure “America” comes out on top.

Trump has used a scattershot, multi-country approach in his escalating trade wars, but his number one target has been China. The Chinese economy is less than half the size of its U.S. counterpart. But it’s still a fast-growing economy, and it’s the world’s second-largest. All was well when China was mainly a source for cheap labor and consumer goods. However, its leap to the fore in high tech, its escalating imperialist aspirations, and its rapidly spreading international financial ties are seen as a threat to the U.S. position as Top Capitalist.

Protectionism today is politically as well as economically motivated. Trump is promoting policies that primarily benefit heavy industry, the main ruling-class sector that put him into office, even as this orientation wreaks havoc for agriculture and many producers of consumer goods. And, as a bolster to his populist face, Trump’s “America First” doctrine plays to the workers, small-businesspeople and farmers ravaged by neoliberalism.

This combination of leftover neoliberalism, protectionism and shoot-from-the-hip bravado has kept everybody guessing about what comes next. And, in the long run, it can do nothing to reverse capitalism’s terminal prognosis. One thing it has done, though, is increase global instability and the ever-present danger of more war.

III. Military might backs U.S. economic power

The U.S. has been dubbed “the world’s policeman.” Fair enough, if one acknowledges that the mandate of the police under capitalism is to protect the property rights of the ruling class. But a more apt characterization might be the planet’s most brutal bully and leading terrorist.

Part of Trump’s “America First” rhetoric has been to supposedly repudiate the global policeman role. In reality, however, Washington continues to back its economic schemes and coercion with naked military threat. The U.S. spends more on its armed forces than the next 10 nations combined. This huge chunk of the federal budget has a dual benefit: it uses public money to pump up the profits of corporations producing arms and military supplies while it funds the armed might needed to keep imperialism operating at the top of its game.

The state of permanent war that became a fixture under neoliberalism continues today. In 2018, 68.5 million people became refugees. Some were forced from their homes by famine or environmental destruction, but the majority fled because of armed conflict. The map below depicts the areas of the world where people are dying from wars, “civil unrest,” or outright genocide. What it doesn’t show is the role of the U.S. government, whose political and economic tentacles tie it to many of these conflicts, often as one of the causes. Nor does it show the Pentagon’s military troops deployed in over 150 foreign countries.


MAJOR WARS (blue) — 10,000 or more deaths in current or past year
WARS (solid pink) — 1,000–9,999 deaths in current or past year
MINOR CONFLICTS (medium pink) — 100–999 deaths in current or past year
SKIRMISHES AND CLASHES (light pink) — Fewer than 100 deaths in current or past year

In the spring of 2019, the Trump administration used the desperation of Venezuelans suffering from horrendous inflation and hardship to threaten U.S. military intervention to bring down the government of Nicolás Maduro. Although opposition leader Juan Guaidó failed in this instance to gain enough support from Venezuela’s army to stage a successful coup, the threat of U.S.-instigated conflict remains.

The Middle East continues to be a flashpoint. Buoyed by Trump’s support, hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced inflammatory plans for further annexations in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The U.S. relationship with Iran is also on a hair trigger.

The expanding risk of war reflects heightened economic tensions internationally and the volatility of the overall political climate, which includes stepped-up popular resistance.

IV. Heightened class conflict on a world scale

Neoliberal austerity in the face of the soulless recovery has awakened the fighting spirit of many of the world’s workers and oppressed. They are heroically rebelling against established elites and repressive regimes in Syria, Sudan, and all points east and west, north and south. But the right wing is seeking to advance based on the same disgust and disenchantment with the status quo that is fueling working-class and progressive upsurges.

A rising right-wing tide

To tackle the bad news first: mass dissatisfaction with the failure of neoliberalism to lift economic standards for the majority, together with anger at corrupt and repressive political rule, has allowed dangerous right-wing politics to gain a foothold in many places.

This is sharply evident in Europe, which for years has hosted a fledgling crop of ultra-right forces like the French National Front founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1972. War and instability in the Middle East and Africa have driven desperate waves of migrants onto the shores of Europe. This has provided fodder for poisonous xenophobia and racist scapegoating.

The far-right populists who have been gaining ground in much of Europe are more reactionary than the traditional conservative parties, but for now maintain some political distance from outright fascist groups. The growth in their influence is alarming.

As an example, in April 2019 the Spanish ultra-right party Vox entered the elections for parliament for the first time and won a seat with 10.6 percent of the vote. Longstanding mainstream parties, including the social-democratic reformists, are increasingly reaching out to smaller right-wing parties to patch together coalition governments. On the upside, although the reactionaries made some headway in the May elections to the European Union parliament, their gains were not nearly as large as expected.

In Southeast Asia, regressive and authoritarian elements are also tapping into collective frustration, especially among workers and small-business owners. They are building right-populist movements by whipping up ethnic and religious differences. In Indonesia, where Islam is the main religion, President Joko Widodo shifted significantly rightward to placate Muslims protesting the “blasphemy” of a Christian politician close to him. In Myanmar, where Buddhists outnumber others sects, the military has implemented ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya minority, who are primarily Muslim. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has become infamous for his use of state terror and assassination against the population, ostensibly to fight crime.

The winds of reaction have swept across Latin America just as elsewhere. The social-democratic regimes that constituted the “pink tide” in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, and Bolivia are all now replaced or on shaky ground. The most recent and clearest move to the right came with the election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Latin America’s most populated country and the world’s eighth-largest economy. This shift in Brazil correlates directly with the downturn in the region’s export-dependent economy beginning in 2014. Less money was coming in because of a drop in oil prices and less business from China, whose double-digit annual growth was finally beginning to slow.

Confronting adversity, workers resist

Now the good news: the right wing may be ascendant, but the capacity of workers to fight back is on full display internationally. This is happening even in countries like Turkey and the Philippines, where authoritarian governments violently suppress protest. Working people everywhere are battling to survive: gold miners in South Africa; truckers in Portugal; automobile assemblers in Russia; bus drivers and factory strikers in Iran; maquila workers in Mexico.

In January 2019, 150-200 million workers across India launched a two-day general strike, probably the largest ever, against government plans to gut labor legislation. On May Day 2019, Nigerians rallied in response to the country’s economic troubles, demanding a stronger social safety net, while construction laborers in South Korea protested deteriorating working conditions and agitated for equal pay for temporary employees.

In China in 2018, 1,700 workplace actions were recorded, 80 percent of them over nonpayment of wages. And a notable fight for an independent union, banned in China, broke out that year at the Jasic welding equipment company, attracting support from students intent on building youth and labor solidarity. Students also joined workers in Hungary who rose up in 2018 against a “slave labor” law mandating unpaid overtime and a 72-hour workweek.

With a slogan of “Our territory, our body, our spirit,” thousands join the historic Indigenous Women’s March in Brazil on Aug. 13, 2019. PHOTO: Douglas Freitas/alassderivas

A small sample of heartening developments from the first half of 2019:

  • Teachers and students in 27 cities in Brazil went out on May 15 to protest Bolsonaro’s announced 30 percent cutback and political clampdown on education.
  • May Day demonstrators in Indonesia confronted police who blocked their march to the national palace to demand higher wages.
  • Two million Hong Kong residents hit the streets in June, facing tear gas and rubber bullets. They forced the government to give up its plan to undercut civil rights by extraditing people arrested in Hong Kong to mainland China for trial.
  • Many of the recent struggles include radical demands and a broad range of issues. For example, 40,000 people marched in Berlin in April 2019 against rising rents, calling for the expropriation of real estate companies and hedge funds, calls which the majority of Germany’s workers and youth support.

The militancy of workers is impressive and a hopeful sign. But, so far, few of their battles are achieving major gains or clear victories. Instead, they are opening salvos that forecast a much wider and deeper class war that is building.

Women in the forefront

One reason for optimism is that women are demonstrating that their rightful place is on the frontlines of rebellion.

Women are the mainstay of the international wave of teacher mobilizations. In the U.S., educators staged successful wildcat strikes in right-to-work states and 30,000 hit the bricks in Los Angeles. Teachers in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Morocco, Tunisia and other African countries have walked out for decent wages and for school conditions in which learning can flourish. In Poland in 2019, 300,000 teachers waged the biggest strike there in almost 40 years.

In India, women spearheaded organizing by Dalit sanitation workers. Garment workers are demanding paid maternity leave and sexual harassment protections in Bangladesh, while housekeepers in Hong Kong are pushing for a 44-hour workweek. In Spain and Italy, women have fronted the campaign against austerity measures, as they have the opposition to the privatization of water in Ireland.

During the past decade, Kurdish women have been a critical part of their people’s battle for survival in Northern Syria. As the Freedom Socialist reported in April 2019, “Feminism is one reason Rojava has had so much success in beating back the Islamic State.” (See In Kurdish Rojava: Syria’s imperiled freedom fighters.) Iranian women lead in fighting for free speech and women’s freedom in Iran, despite fierce repression. In Sudan, women played a prominent role in the April 2019 overthrow of decades of dictatorship. Since then, however, they and other dissenters have been under fire, literally, by the military regime now in power. Rapes by paramilitaries have featured heavily in the repression.

In Latin America, 2018 has been called “the year of the feminist uprising.” Women in Argentina led millions in insisting that abortion be legalized. Massive female protest reverberated in Chile, Brazil, and Mexico. Women in 11 Latin American countries held demonstrations demanding access to higher education. A spotlight was shone on domestic violence in the region, which is believed to host 60 percent of the killings of women by partners. New groups emerged to raise issues faced by lesbians and by Afro-indigenous women.

Indigenous women continue to play a heroic role in Latin America and around the world. They are in the first ranks of defiance against extractivism, a term for turning nature into a commodity for sale and exploiting it without any restraints. People have become sadly familiar with the results: vast areas of land destroyed, local populations driven out, whole species extinguished.

But several victories have been scored against the Earth-destroyers, due in no small part to Native women’s leadership. In 2018, resisters quashed more than five dozen mining concessions and stalled four pipeline projects. Territory was regained in 2018 and 2019 by Maasai villagers in Tanzania; by indigenous communities fighting a massive rubber company in Ratanakiri province in Cambodia; and by the Udege in far east Russia. And the Australian state government of the Northern Territory was forced to pay compensation for stolen Aboriginal lands.

Women are pacesetters in every sphere of activism, taking on the powers-that-be while also combating patriarchal attitudes and racism inside the movements themselves.

A lack of revolutionary direction limits valiant struggles

The upsurges taking place around the world are exhilarating. But the vast majority have not set their sights beyond achieving reformist goals or better conditions within a system that is permanently unjust and unequal.

Even uprisings strong enough to topple governments, for example during the Arab Spring, dissipate if they have no clear roadmap for where to go next. The pattern repeated in 2019 when the magnificent revolt in Sudan stopped short of overthrowing not only the dictator, but the system as well, and fighting for workers’ power. As of this writing, though, the end of that story is still to be written.

A movement without a revolutionary program can make gains, even significant ones, but it loses the opportunity to make fundamental, lasting change. This puts its reforms forever in jeopardy — the long struggles to defend abortion rights and voting rights come to mind. And it can leave the field open for counterrevolution.

As an illustration, in October 2018, the Yellow Vest movement erupted in France, fueled by the desperation of economically precarious farmers, small-tradespeople, and marginally employed and low-paid workers. More than 300,000 mobilized and wrested a number of concessions from the Emmanuel Macron government. The dynamic French protests inspired similar upheavals from Taiwan to Pakistan and Ireland. But they lacked a political leadership with a clear, anti-capitalist program. Given that, the ultra-right in France has predictably attempted to move in to channel people’s distress and disillusionment with the status quo into anti-immigrant attacks and nationalistic fervor.

To win radical social transformation requires the partnership of revolutionary ideas with a revolutionary organization — a vanguard party. Such a party categorically opposes capitalism and its every expression and provides the working class with consistent, knowledgeable and courageous leadership, as the FSP aspires to do. This is what is so keenly needed to unite and elevate the many manifestations of rebellion into an unstoppable power for thorough-going change.

What else is needed? The working class is linked across national borders, and its building of socialism can only be achieved on an international, unified scale. And U.S. economic, political and military might remains the most powerful imperialist force blocking its way. As the struggle heats up in country after country, defeating the beast in its home lair is decisive to the entire world’s survival.

V. The battle on the U.S. home front

The election of Donald Trump has rightly been seen as a green light for ruling-class and far-right aggression against working people and the most oppressed.

White supremacists felt safe to crawl out of the woodwork. Violent assaults on people perceived as Muslim or Jewish have escalated, as have attacks based on skin color, sexual orientation, gender and disability. Trans people, especially those of color, are being beaten and killed.

Relaxing before the 2019 May Day march in Seattle. PHOTO: Doug Barnes/FS

After facing a historic number of deportations under Barack Obama, immigrants and refugees found themselves slandered as rapists, murderers and parasites by his replacement. In fact, Trump’s pledge to deport all 11 million or so undocumented immigrants was a centerpiece of his campaign. Since he took office, his administration has attacked on many fronts, separating families, caging children, revoking domestic violence as grounds for asylum, using ICE to round up hundreds of poultry workers in Mississippi, and much, much more.

Meanwhile, the right has moved into mainstream politics with growing confidence. Once Trump fulfilled his dream of a solidly conservative Supreme Court, anti-abortion forces turned on a full-court press to overturn Roe v. Wade. One state after another has passed laws that amount to reverting women to state property.

But just as is true internationally, this is not a one-sided attack. Workers, women, people of color, immigrants, queers, youth and others are standing up against exploitation and injustice. To review some of the highlights:

Twenty major work stoppages in 2018 involved 485,000 employees, the largest amount in nearly three decades. Mass strikes made up almost all of these stoppages, which resulted in wage hikes for enormous numbers of workers. Teachers and employees of hotels, casinos and restaurants have filled the ranks of these battles, illustrating with crystal clarity the important leadership role of the people of color, immigrants and women who do the large majority of these jobs. These workers — especially striking teachers — achieved victories by building community support at the same time as they pushed the ossified, bureaucratic leadership of their unions into action.

Labor activism has not abated in 2019, as shown by weeklong teacher strikes in Los Angeles and Oakland, educator walkouts in Denver and elsewhere, and organizing across the country by domestic workers who are largely women of color and immigrant women.

Young people are also on the march. Students have walked out in solidarity with teacher strikes and to demand action to counter climate change. They have also mobilized in large numbers in the wake of school shootings, with many of them indicting the militarization of society from the top that fosters gun violence.

Women and people of color are high-profile in the revved-up student activism of the last few years. Black women were in the lead of a 2019 student occupation at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore to protest racial profiling, a university contract with ICE, and the hiring of a private, armed police force. University of Arizona students have protested the U.S. Border Patrol. Youth in Charlottesville, West Virginia, joined together to oppose threats of violence against Black and Latinx students.

Five years ago, huge protests erupted after the police killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and other African American men and youth. Black activists have taken the lead in exposing the stark racial disparity meted out by the police and prison systems. Organizing for greater police accountability to the community is on the rise and has resulted in some concrete gains.

The demand for reparations, currently experiencing a revival, is putting a harsh public spotlight on the long-term consequences of U.S. slavery. Today’s massive racial inequality — not only in income and ownership, but in education, incarceration, and health as well — has roots reaching back 400 years. Leading voices in the Black community are pushing for solutions that go beyond financial compensation and reach to fundamental changes that will benefit all of society’s poor and disenfranchised.

Trump’s widely publicized abusive behavior toward women sparked female resistance in the U.S. and worldwide from his first day in office. The outing of incidents of sexual violence by celebrities like Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein triggered an avalanche of survivors, both female and male, to step forward and demand an end to tolerance for abusers. And it also helped to spur more discussion of the sexual harassment suffered by low-paid women in everyday jobs.

Most recently, a spate of harsh anti-abortion laws, some of which amount to near-total bans, are causing a feminist outcry. But these have yet to be challenged by an organized movement.

While much of the LGBTQ+ movement has slid into mainstream respectability, there is a vibrant sector, particularly among trans and gender-nonconforming youth who are challenging patriarchal norms and definitions. They are taking on Trumpites over issues like legally binding gender identification based on assignment at birth and restrictions on healthcare and restroom use. At the same time, queers are strongly engaged in opposing fascists and defending free speech and transparency activists like Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange. A refreshing sign of stirring militancy is that more than a hundred organizations (including FSP) endorsed the 2019 Reclaim Pride Coalition in New York City, which put together a political march and rally aiming to recapture the spirit of the Stonewall Rebellion.

Elders, the majority of whom could not survive without Social Security and Medicare, have become determined opponents of cuts to the social safety net. As The New York Times has observed, retirees may have more disposable time once they are out of the workforce and the kids are launched; many become involved in causes like housing, universal healthcare, and reining in police violence. And there’s been a surge of people with disabilities also getting active to defend themselves against Trump’s policies, like his bid to dismember Obamacare (aka the Affordable Care Act).

All these developments are encouraging. But in the U.S., as on the international scene, the people who are so passionately taking up causes are typically making only limited gains, despite some of the achievements noted in this section. A big part of the problem is that leaders of the labor and social movements are still promoting faith in the Democratic Party — and in bourgeois democracy generally.

Trump’s election and the crisis of bourgeois democracy

In the U.S., the twin parties of big business, the Democrats and Republicans, compete each four years to decide which one of them will get to reap the benefits from laying their hands on the levers of power. They do this by scamming voters with the promise of delivering real change.

Trump’s rise came as a shock to Washington and big-business insiders (although most of them seem to have adjusted nicely, especially given the lovely tax cuts). They seriously underestimated just how badly the Obama administration failed to satisfy the millions of frustrated and fed-up voters who wanted to break with politics-as-usual. But Trump has done no better at providing solutions, and voters will be searching for candidates in 2020 who seem once again to have more to offer. Consequently, the Democrats are throwing everybody at the wall to see who sticks, from Joe Biden to the social-democratic reformists.

The supposed basis of the U.S. political system is democratic rule by the majority, protections for civil liberties, and an equal voice for all. These were the ideals touted by the rising bourgeoisie in its triumph over feudalism, embodied in the French and American Revolutions. The reality of course is that not one single capitalist nation has provided true equality or justice.

The classical form of bourgeois democracy enshrined in the U.S. Constitution is a system of checks and balances among three independent branches of government — the executive, legislative and judicial. It’s not hard to demonstrate that this setup has been in a state of disintegration for some time, even judging by its own rules.

  • Congressional gridlock has become a permanent feature of government along with the overt selling of elections to the highest bidders.
  • Civil liberties and freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights took a big hit during the Bill Clinton presidency, and then a quantum nosedive for reasons of “national security” after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
  • Donald Trump was the second president within two decades to be sent to D.C. despite the majority voting for someone else. In 2000, the allegedly independent Supreme Court installed G.W. Bush despite clear indications of electoral fraud in the critical state of Florida.

Noble ideals aside, the bottom line is that bourgeois democracy is designed to keep the capitalist class in power, their property safe, and the opposing classes as compliant as possible. Elections are one cog in this machine. As Marx famously said, “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.”

However, bourgeois democracy only works if enough of the common people believe in it. And this is an area where capitalism is in trouble today. In many people’s eyes, the claim that this is the best system ever, and one that can never be improved upon, rings hollow. Thus the growing appetite for socialism, especially among young people.

The loss of popular legitimacy and approval means that social/political regimes turn more toward force and coercion to maintain themselves. One of the things that this involves is growing concentration of power in the executive branch. This is a natural feature of capitalist development after its best days are over, one that George Novack explains in his book Democracy and Revolution and has been discussed in previous political resolutions and the Freedom Socialist. It means that presidents gain more and more ability over time to run roughshod over the legislature and judiciary — for example, by going to war without congressional authorization or by signing unilateral executive orders that ban immigration from majority-Muslim countries or that mandate the building of a 2,000-mile border wall. This trend has been progressing in the U.S. for several decades.

Related to this tendency of executive power to become dominant is a phenomenon known as Bonapartism, which can develop when class tensions are especially strong and there’s no immediate prospect for a resolution. The need arises for a strong central figure who can pretend to be above the class struggle and take matters into their own hands. So a Bonapartist regime is an authoritarian one headed by a “strongman” who acts on behalf of the ruling class while spouting anti-elitist rhetoric to delude regular folks into thinking he’s on their side. Donald Trump’s demagogic, right-populist, personally boastful 2016 campaign offered people the illusion that a forceful leader could solve the problems they faced.

Since his election, Trump has extended the parameters of executive authority considerably. Arguably more than any prior president, he has bullied and extorted Congress into doing his bidding. He appoints open political toadies into powerful positions, not only in his Cabinet, but also in agencies and spheres intended theoretically to be neutral — notably, the judiciary. He blatantly pressures agencies like the Federal Reserve to adopt measures that are very good for his big business buddies and sponsors in the short term, but are horrible for working people, and will inevitably be catastrophic for the entire country in the not-so-long run. When the legislative branch declines to enact his more erratic, irrational, illegal and/or brutal policies, Trump decrees them by executive order anyway, or tries to.

Impeachment — richly deserved, but no solution

Some horrified liberals began to talk about impeaching Trump even before he took office, but Democratic leaders like House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi were wary. Finally, after the “quid pro quo” Ukraine scandal broke publicly in early September 2019, the House of Representatives began hearings into the possibility of impeachment.

In mid-December 2019, the House Judiciary Committee charged Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of justice. The Democratic-controlled full House voted to approve these two articles of impeachment less than a week later. Trump’s trial in the Senate is expected to take place in January, and the chance that this Republican-dominated body will find him guilty is zero.

But guilty he certainly is, and of far greater “high crimes and misdemeanors” than he is being impeached for. His policies and actions are brutal, racist, misogynist, xenophobic crimes against the working class. Still, he is doing exactly what a flailing ruling class expects him to do to protect its bottom line. And let’s not pretend that any real or lasting change will come from exchanging Trump for Vice President Mike Pence — defender of white nationalism, the hard-core religious right, and big business!

Abuses and obstructions like Trump’s are everyday, business-as-usual activities within capitalist so-called democracy. But Trump is much cruder and more blatant in his maneuvers and political antagonisms than is considered acceptable by some of his peers. Plus, 2020 is a presidential election year. The Democrats promoting impeachment claim to have nothing but high-minded, constitutionally based intentions. In fact, of course, they are hoping that the strategy will net them big political gains.

For our part, leftists should use the impeachment process to focus a high-intensity beam on the routine corruption and usurpation of public power that is hard-wired into capitalism. And it’s critical to expose the reality that in the U.S. this system-deep rot is bipartisan. Democratic politicians have been just as culpable as Republicans in concentrating power in the executive branch over time. In sum, they are full partners in the crookedness, favor-trading, and backroom deal-cutting that is a natural part of the profit system.

Seeding the ground for fascist growth

So, for now, Donald Trump continues on as the very model of a rising Bonaparte. But is he a fascist, as a lot of his radical opponents like to call him?

July 25, 2019, protest at New York City Hall calling for an elected police oversight board. PHOTO: Adam Gregory

Trump is a right-populist, intentionally outrageous strongman who relies on and eggs on the most racist, sexist, and national-chauvinist currents in society. Is he helping pave the way for possible fascism? Yes. Are he and his administration fascist? No, and it’s misleading and hazardous to label them so.

Open fascist organizing has definitely increased in recent years, and opposing it is a main concern of FSP and others. The first principle in effectively fighting fascism is to understand it.

Enormous confusion about the nature of fascism holds sway in the culture and even among leftists. Academics and mainstream social critics tend to paint all forms of authoritarianism with the same brush. They focus on what’s most visible about fascism, which is a hodgepodge that can include everything from ardent nationalism to scapegoating of immigrants and disdain for art. They can’t identify fascism’s particular essence and why it comes to power.

Fascism is the last-ditch resort of the capitalists to secure their profits and class rule. From their perspective, all is well as long as they can maintain control with regular elections and the “ordinary” use of police and the military, combined with modest payouts for more privileged workers and a degree of middle-class tranquility. But there can come a time when the economy is a disaster; the middle class collapses; poor and perpetually unemployed people lose all hope of a better tomorrow; and workers threaten to burst out of containment. Then, as Trotsky puts it in Fascism: What It Is and How to Fight It:

The turn of the fascist regime arrives. Through the fascist agency, capitalism sets in motion the masses of the crazed petty bourgeoisie and the bands of declassed and demoralized lumpen-proletariat — all the countless human beings whom finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy.

The 1 percent could never hold their power without the relative compliance of workers and broad support from the middle class — who are, in the strict Marxist sense, owners of small businesses and farms. Speaking broadly, though, the middle class can include people like managers and professionals, who work for someone else but are privileged and highly paid.

In hard times, ultra-right kernels in society can begin to grow into a mass movement based in the petty bourgeoisie and led by a figure or figures with a Nazi-like ideology. History has shown that fascism can only build such a mass force when social and economic disruption becomes so profound that the door is open for working-class revolution. But if the workers miss their chance, and the ruling class has still discovered no “normal” way out of its crisis, then a capitalist-backed fascist regime may arise.

Yes, the U.S. has already experienced erosion of civil liberties. Yes, police-state conditions already exist for target populations. But fascism would bring this to an altogether different level. Its basic purpose is to completely destroy the capacity of workers and their organizations to fight back against whatever the ruling class has in store for them. Unions and reformist organizations of all stripes would be crushed or taken over and turned into their opposites, brown-shirt clones of themselves. Schools, cultural institutions, the media and Internet — all totally regimented. To call the Trump-Pence administration “fascist” dangerously trivializes just what is at stake.

There’s no question that Trump has greased the skids for the ultra-right. While in office he has played to the reactionary forces who supported his election and he has refused to denounce racist, anti-immigrant, and explicitly fascist groups. The result has been the largest and most public displays of the far right since 1939, when the German American Bund filled Madison Square with 20,000 Nazi sympathizers.

Trump has further fanned the right-wing and proto-fascist flames with anti-communist rhetoric. He’s given Cold War relics John Bolton and Elliott Abrams stature in his administration, and talk of the Red Menace features prominently in his campaign against China and threats against Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Domestically, his redbaiting is a crass attempt to rally voters against the more liberal Democratic Party candidates as the next election approaches.

Trump may be nurturing fascist seeds, but the actual development of fascism is not at all a foregone conclusion. The question becomes, how then to ward it off?

FSP has a long and proud history of analyzing fascism and organizing against the thugs who try to bring it to life. The party has shown that jumping in with direct action by working-class united fronts when the neo-Nazi groups are still small is the route to success. We know that active engagement by unions is crucial to the fight.

And we recognize the party’s special responsibility to continue to provide leadership in this cause. Trotsky wrote that while fascism as a mass movement is “the party of counter-revolutionary despair,” the communist organization is “the party of revolutionary hope.” That is what FSP must be. The party can help people appreciate that, to a significant degree, we still have our democratic rights in the U.S. — and we need to use them while we can!

The party also realizes that as long as the profit system lasts it will contain the germ of fascism within it. The only way to eradicate fascism for good is to eradicate capitalism, just as it is the only way to finally and definitely get rid of sexism, racism, and all the other bad “isms.” This means that we need to win opponents of fascism, and all the people we work with, to a positive program for socialism and a revolutionary perspective on how to get there.

Middle-caste misleadership

One of the biggest obstacles standing between workers and an understanding of the need for revolution, not just reform, is the middle caste. This is a social layer of people who are not a class, which is defined in brief by whether you buy other people’s labor-power or sell your own. Instead, the middle caste is a group with a specific political role to play. That function is to be a buffer between bosses and workers and prevent class struggle from coming to a boil. Part of the way the middle caste does this is by getting workers and the oppressed to believe in capitalist ideology, like the classic lie “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”

To get a picture of this social caste, think of the union heads who bring in $300,000 a year (a fairly typical amount) and understandably have absolutely no intention of ever going back into the regular workforce. Come contract negotiation time, they urge their members to accept a bad deal as “the best we can get.”

Middle-casters are the professional opportunists in the labor, feminist, people of color and LGBTQ+ movements, forever cutting backroom deals and pacifying the more radical impulses of the ranks. They are the power brokers, the sellouts, the labor lieutenants of the capitalist class. On the world stage, they include the Stalinist bureaucrats of the former Soviet Union and the social democrats implementing neoliberalism in countries in Europe and working hand-in-glove with the Democratic Party here.

As the party’s 1982 political resolution asserted, “The equilibrium between the ruling class and the middle caste is the critical social glue which has maintained capitalist rule long after capitalism as a system has become outdated and retrogressive. But for middle-caste treachery and betrayal, world revolution would have long since triumphed.”

The main task of misleaders in the labor and other movements is to prevent a real confrontation between workers and their exploiters. In the U.S., this involves persuading people that it’s important to support the Democratic Party and channeling activists into electoral politics. The appearance on the scene of Democratic candidates with a socialist tinge, like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is part of this sabotage of working people’s ability to act in their own interests.

Striking charter school teachers and staff walk the picket line in Chicago on Feb. 6, 2019. PHOTO: Charles Edward Miller

As crippling as the role of this social layer is, FSP has always emphasized that it’s important to see that the middle caste has a dual essence. Although its job description is to maintain the status quo for the elite, its members owe their positions to the laboring and oppressed people they claim to represent. And this means they can be argued with, held to account, occasionally pushed to the left, and sometimes worked with productively in the movements at the grassroots level.

The party and Radical Women have had some successes in demanding that the middle-casters do right by working people. An outstanding example is the pioneering effort to introduce women, including women of color and lesbians, into the white-male-dominated electrical trades at Seattle City Light. Our principled persistence pushed a number of initially hostile labor leaders to support affirmative action, respect women and people of color at the utility, and defend these workers’ rights.

Conditions today are causing people to lose faith in traditional leaders and gravitate away from the political center. The middle caste has less space to broker its deals and is losing control over disgusted working people. This means the party will have more opportunities to press these class negotiators forward while at the same time striving to break their hold on the movements.

Understanding our job in relationship to the middle caste is critical to acting as a Bolshevik in all the movements, but especially in unions. The point is not to go mano a mano with bureaucrats simply for the sake of it. The point is to engage with the ranks, persuade them of the need for a radical perspective and strategies — like breaking with the Democrats — and work with them to fight for democracy in the unions. Our mission is to provide leadership in the struggles of the working class and subordinated people to help them break the chains holding them back.

Identity politics vs. socialist feminism and revolutionary integration

Another big aspect of this mission currently is the need to do ideological battle with identity politics.

Since our founding, the Freedom Socialist Party has recognized that the many forms of special oppression people experience are key to capitalism’s survival. This is true both because of the economic super-exploitation involved and because of the divisions caused within the working class. We analyzed feminism and the Black freedom struggle as absolutely key to fighting capitalism and winning socialism. We championed the issues and political leadership of women, people of color, queers, people with disabilities, immigrants, Jews, elders, and youth. We defended their right to organize autonomously as part of the movements for change and their right to form caucuses within left organizations, from our own party right on up to the body representing world Trotskyism. Our support for autonomous organizing was strongly manifested from the very beginning, when women party leaders helped launch Radical Women just a year after FSP itself was founded.

Identity politics, as the term is commonly used, is completely different than the party’s perspective on special oppression. It excludes rather than includes. It is a basis for division rather than building alliances. Its essence is, as comrade Nancy Kato put it, “the elevation and prioritization of one’s specific identity over all others.” It is the umbrella, she wrote, for cultural nationalism, separatism and other forms of chauvinism.

Difference is ranked over commonalities and shared interests. One’s personally or socially defined category becomes the most important way of orienting to the world. As a corollary, only those who belong to one’s own “tribe” need to be taken into account, listened to, worked with, or followed. Class as a central material reality and basis for common cause is obliterated.

Republican and Democratic politicians both exploit people’s attraction to identity politics. Photo ops and cynical verbal pandering are substituted for the development of programs that would meaningfully address problems like systemic racism, sexual violence, poverty, and mass incarceration.

What contributes to this narrow approach to making change? One factor is the widespread lack of class consciousness generally in the United States. Another is the longstanding vacuum of radical leadership in the movements. And a third cause is the fact that marginalized and abused groups have suffered serious blows and won few solid victories over the past period. This can create the widespread pessimism that is fuel for cultural nationalism.

Identity politics were around, and the FSP was critiquing them, long before the term was even coined. The party has always counterposed the vital role of Black leadership of the working class and of revolutionary integration, a cornerstone of FSP theory and practice, to Black cultural nationalism, which prioritizes race identity over all else. We’ve stood up to and debated with cultural chauvinists of color throughout our history. We’ve argued for revolutionary politics based on the interdependence of class and race in the movements of labor, African Americans, Chicanas/os, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and immigrants.

From their earliest days, Radical Women and FSP have also dueled with radical feminism and lesbian separatism, approaches which also reject solidarity on the basis of a common source of oppression in favor of narrow loyalties based on gender or sexuality. RW members had to contest being characterized as traitors to their sex!

Radical feminism — essentially the belief that men are the problem, not the system — is also responsible for a 21st-century version of single-issue identity politics. This is the emergence of trans-exclusionary radical feminists (called TERFs). A current refusing trans women entry into women-only spaces has been around for a long time, based on the idea that biology determines gender, period, and trans people are fundamentally fakes. In the past few years, however, this backward trend has intensified. Proponents claim now that the very existence of trans people is an assault on and attempt to erase lesbians.

Another example of contemporary single-issue politics is the right wing of the reparations movement, African Descendants of Slavery (ADOS). In particular, this sector demands that Blacks who came to this country after the end of slavery — no matter how profoundly affected they have been by its racist legacy in the U.S. — be excluded from any benefits of reparations.

Identity politics has also become more and more an umbrella for bids to legitimize the reactionary chauvinism of those who are dominant culturally, racially, or nationally, and so on.

This includes but is not limited to white supremacists and anti-immigrant crusaders in the U.S. and Europe; attackers of Malawian refugees in South Africa; and members of ethnic and religious groups who are violently suppressing minorities in their countries, such as Hindus against Muslims and others in India, Sinhalese Buddhists against Christians in Sri Lanka, and Buddhists against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

A suicidal fracturing is going on worldwide in the working class and among the most oppressed. FSP’s advocacy of a clear program that respects differences while building on commonalities, one of the party’s hallmarks, is increasingly crucial.

VI. The Left’s response to the crisis: down the reformist rabbit hole

The dominant political theme of this period is intensification of the class struggle, with strong shifts away from the center. Rising social movements are breaking out, and a new generation of disenfranchised youth is open to socialism as an alternative. On the opposite pole, the right wing is organizing more boldly, exploiting the frustration and desperation of people caught in the vise of the crisis.

More keenly than ever, the growth of the right wing in the U.S. and internationally demands strong, clear leadership from the Left, a bold and compelling voice and program to counter the siren call of the right. The far right owes the success of its growth in part to cowardice and abdication of leadership by much of the Left. Even as the center is being discredited and abandoned, there are left parties around the globe sliding further into reformism and making more concessions to imperialist demands for austerity. (Readers can refer to Freedom Socialist articles for examples of left-populist concessions to neoliberalism in Greece, Brazil, Venezuela and Mexico.)

The drift toward the center has roots that reach well back into last century. There have been many times in the history of the socialist movement when a sector lost confidence in the power of the working class to triumph over its rulers. Pessimism became endemic during the 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Many took to heart the pronouncement by the elite that this meant the socialist “experiment” was dead, and capitalism had proven unbeatable. All that could be hoped for was a continuous effort to soften its blows. Some believed enough accumulation of reforms would constitute a sort of slippery slope eventually resulting in socialism. Many leftists drew the wrong lessons from the brutal comeback of capitalism in the former workers’ states: that the mistake was to contend for state power and use it to transform society. Rather, the story went, we should focus on microcosms of democracy in our neighborhoods and at our workplaces, or on creating an alternative culture. Somehow, someday, decades or centuries hence, these utopian islands would coalesce into a new system.

But, as already noted, economic, environmental, and social crises have propelled new masses into protest and new organizations identifying as left into existence. The majority, however, share problematic aspects in the areas of both program and organizing principles.

The pop stars of 21st-century progressivism often base themselves on post-Marxist theorists Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, who have found fresh renown as key thinkers of the “populist moment.” Their view is that “class struggle is just one species of identity politics and one which is becoming less and less important in the world in which we live.” In touting the need for “something new,” the left populists throw out much of what’s been learned from the past. Most commonly, they violently reject the need for a vanguard party and Leninist leadership.

Of course, they’re not the only ones. FSP’s Leninism — our conviction that the seasoned, principled leadership of a vanguard party is indispensable in making and defending the transformation to socialism — also sets us apart from some supposedly revolutionary leftists who are fleeing from this position.

Running scared, moving rightward

The quest on the Left for instant numbers at the expense of political principles has led some groups in Europe to take stands that concede to nationalistic fears and scapegoating of immigrants. Examples include:

  • Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British Labour Party and self-identified democratic socialist, has backed off from more pro-immigrant policies he once held in favor of putting “our economic needs first.”
  • In France, popular politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a supporter of the Yellow Vest movement, claimed that migrants “are stealing the bread” of French workers.
  • Podemos, the Spanish party that some have considered a near-perfect example of grassroots organizing, fragmented in part over immigration policy. Panicked by a strong surge from right-wing nationalists, a large section of Podemos argued that it should appear less “left” to broaden its appeal.

The far Left not immune

The challenges today are also testing the programmatic clarity, revolutionary principles and character of Trotskyist bodies and other groups with roots in the Trotskyist tradition. In many quarters, the dismal response to the test amounts to the social-democratization of the Trotskyist and Trotskyist-adjacent movement — the far Left, as it’s called in Europe. This process is very much marked by a heightened interest by left groups in making a name for themselves in bourgeois politics. It is also notable for a dizzying series of recent splits. Their causes are often murky, but FSP is investigating these with the hope that some positive political direction may emerge from them. And, in fact, some socialist groups are expressing more interest than before in joining together with other left organizations in united fronts.

Again, adaptation to reformism in the Trotskyist movement is not a new phenomenon; it has been happening for some time. During the political doldrums of the 1980s, the U.S. Socialist Workers Party (SWP) dumped Trotskyism altogether. The SWP was then the biggest section of the Fourth International (United Secretariat), or FI. The FI, led by Ernest Mandel, accommodated to the SWP’s retreat from revolutionary politics and also rejected feminism and women’s leadership.

FSP warned at the time that this would put the international body on the fast track to nowhere, and it did. Disheartened and disoriented by the defeats of the post-Soviet, “greed is good” 1990s, the FI officially oriented to the social-democratic and left-populist movements, particularly in Latin America and Europe. The FI section in Brazil approved one of its members accepting a ministerial post in the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, which was social-democratic in name and neoliberal in practice. And FI leaders pushed comrades in Greece to support Syriza, reformist betrayer of workers and the poor.

In 2009, the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) in France, then the largest FI section, deserted Trotskyism and dissolved itself to focus on electoral politics through the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA), which LCR led in creating and building. A total debacle ensued, with the NPA, and thus its bloc of former LCR comrades, losing between two-thirds and over three-quarters of its members. Yet FI loyalists who stayed in NPA still assert that it was right to “try something different.”

Socialist Action (SA) in the U.S. and Canada joined with four other FI sections in the last several years to form a small, loose faction opposed to FI’s liquidationist course. But despite this outwardly principled move, Socialist Action sabotaged the attempt by the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR) to reach out to the members of this formation, which has since fallen apart. Meanwhile, SA remains totally resistant to principled collaboration with FSP in anti-fascist, feminist or international work and has suffered a split in which half its members resigned or were expelled (it is unclear as of this writing). Former SA members have formed a new organization called Socialist Resurgence which is interested in exploring united front work with FSP.

Socialist Alternative (SAlt) in the U.S. is affiliated with the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), which has a long history of playing footsies with social-democratic and bourgeois parties. In recent years, with Kshama Sawant on the Seattle City Council, SAlt has compromised willingly with capitalist party representatives. For example, Sawant voted with her council colleagues to approve a new, Black, female police chief, who was an assistant chief and then the deputy chief during the period when Seattle became infamous for police brutality and corruption. Disputes within SAlt led to an internal break in 2018 and the CWI experienced its own three-way split among its 35 international sections in 2019.

Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant of Socialist Alternative. PHOTO: Seattle City Council

Socialist Alternative has endorsed Ralph Nader for president four times since 1996 and in 2012 supported the Green Party’s Jill Stein. This breaks with the policy of Lenin and Trotsky, who believed that when revolutionaries participate in electoral politics, they must draw a clear class line by only advocating parties and candidates with an unambiguously anti-capitalist program. SAlt is not shy about contradicting Lenin and Trotsky in a 2013 quote: “We disagree with those on the left who refuse to support any party or candidate unless they identify as socialist or anti-capitalist.”

SAlt was one of the radical groups who supported Bernie Sanders’ run for the Democratic Party nomination for president in 2016. By jumping on the bandwagon, these groups themselves moved deeper into reformism, rather than influencing numbers of people in a left direction

Like SAlt, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) backed Ralph Nader in 2000 and 2004. ISO has roots in Trotskyism, although as part of the minority “state capitalist” tendency. This current asserted that the USSR was not a degenerated workers’ state, as Trotsky characterized it based on materialist and dialectical reasoning, but instead a form of capitalism in which the state owned the means of production.

In early 2019, the ISO imploded, destroyed by decades of bureaucratic misleadership and the group’s failure to acknowledge, let alone solve, its problems of sexual abuse, sexism broadly, racism, and suppression of democracy. ISO members voted to disband on April 2. It’s unclear what the final outcome will be, including whether a significant portion of the group will re-form as some kind of confederation. Hopefully, some ISOers will be looking for revolutionary options, like FSP. Already, though, many members of the former group are looking to continue as activists by linking up with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

Although DSA operates as a direct funnel into the Democratic Party, it is often the first stop for people exploring socialism. It has seen an influx of new members thanks to growing interest in socialism, which Trump’s election intensified. In the 2018 midterm elections, the success of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other DSA-affiliated candidates running as Democrats fortified the illusion that capitalist parties can be used against capitalism.

The organizations that are burying their programs and principles within reformism and social democracy have bought into the idea that capitalism is unbeatable. They are accepting that the transition to socialism will take decades — even centuries. But we — humanity and the Earth we live on — don’t have centuries, and not many decades! Fortunately, though, these groups are wrong in their pessimism.

VII. The planet and its people need our revolutionary optimism

Perhaps the issue provoking the most hopelessness is the physical state of the planet, exploited by capitalism as mercilessly as that system exploits its workers, as our 2014 political resolution discusses in depth. But the environment is also an issue that is provoking some of the most dynamic action to win a better world, engaging young people especially in a vital and dramatic way.

The ever-worsening news about the ecological crisis comes from a multitude of directions. As one example, scientists estimate that dozens of species are being extinguished every day, with terrible repercussions for humanity’s own survival. Plants provide the oxygen that living creatures breathe and, as the foundation of the food chain, the food we eat — and almost 600 species have become extinct in the past 250 years. Up to a million more species of flora and fauna face that fate in the Earth’s sixth mass extinction of species. This is a shattering event provoked this time almost entirely by human activity in the industrial era — notably, those activities that cause global warming. Capitalism, operating on a “profit above everything” basis, has created the conditions for environmental destruction on a level impossible, even unimaginable, under prior systems.

Responsibility for this worldwide emergency lies overwhelmingly with the corporations and governments of “advanced” nations. This is true most of all of the U.S., with its gargantuan military and its heedless greenlighting of ruling-class rapacity. Heavily industrialized nations are not immune from the devastations of climate change. But it is the poorest and tiniest nations that are hardest-hit now, and they will continue to be in the future. Many low-lying small Pacific Island nations are already in the process of being submerged and face imminent evacuation. Destroyed reefs, fishing losses, flooded homes, and the ruin of agricultural lands by salinity make this fate inescapable for many more.

The United Nations has recognized the extreme inequality wrapped within the threat to all, warning that the disastrous effects of climate change could be so extreme that they “split the world into the rich and the dead.” The melting of sea ice at both poles, drought and desertification, super-storms, out-of-control wildfires and floods, a whole new population of climate refugees: these are the things nightmares are made of, but they are also now our daily reality.

March 5, 2019: students in Melbourne, Australia, demand climate change action during one of several recent international school strikes. PHOTO: Julian Meehan

But all is not lost. The young people leading the charge for climate action in Europe and elsewhere have not capitulated to despair. They are walking out of high schools and rallying in the tens of thousands. They are demanding action at the United Nations and sitting in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters.

And they are suing governments on at least four continents. Youth in the Netherlands won a decision ordering the government to curb carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2020. Young people achieved a ruling protecting the Amazon rainforest in Colombia. In Pakistan, a seven-year-old girl set a precedent by gaining the right to proceed with her climate case, the first time a minor was allowed to sue in a Pakistani court. Working its way through the U.S. judiciary is a lawsuit targeting greenhouse gas emissions filed in 2015 by 21 young people ranging in age from eight to 19. So far, attempts by the federal government to crush the case have not succeeded.

Meanwhile, back at the middle-caste ranch, Democratic politicians are hyping their shiny Green New Deal. Certainly, parts of it are worth fighting for. But any gains made will not come through horse-trading in Washington, D.C., but through the power of a radical mass mobilization.

One avenue for strengthening environmental struggles is to link them to other urgent problems facing working people, which many young climate-change leaders are doing. Immigration is one such issue. Currently, wars and civil unrest are primarily responsible for the world’s 70 million refugees. However, drought and desertification are also main factors forcing people from their homelands. Global warming and related ecological disasters creating refugees are predicted to rise exponentially in the next two decades. Fighting for open borders and for ways to provide homes, food and jobs for all people, including migrants, is an essential part of lessening the harm caused by climate change while continuing to push for a complete course correction.

Although young people have the biggest stake in the climate crisis, the burden of solving it cannot only be theirs. If they are not giving up, how much more obligation does that place on veteran Marxists, who presumably have learned something from the history of other crossroads that humankind has faced? So: no surrender to apocalyptic pessimism!

It is true that Earth is already a changed planet, and to some degree there is no going back. But everything that’s done from here on out still matters. For FSP’s part, one of the things we can do is play a special role in the labor movement, where we have a strong presence. Comrades can join with others to bust the false dichotomy of jobs versus the environment and to challenge the conservative unions that are a bulwark of support for the fossil fuels industry.

The bottom line is that as long as capitalism exists, the drive for profit will relentlessly ride roughshod over efforts to reverse or mitigate the damage done and to safeguard the planet’s future. The best thing FSPers can do for people and our planet, as revolutionaries, is to organize and fight for ecosocialism, especially drawing a target on the greatest abuser of the Earth, the U.S. ruling class and government.

VIII. The road ahead: FSP prospects and priorities

The purpose of this conclusion to the political resolution is not to give a detailed plan, but rather a general orientation for the coming period.

While the class struggle has intensified, we are not at the door of revolution. The party’s top priority is still to prepare, both ourselves and our class. Our main job remains in the field of ideas, fighting for our program by contending for leadership within the social and labor movements wherever we are able. We battle for the hearts and minds of people in motion. Our aim is both to convince them of the validity of our program and to motivate them to work with us putting ideas into action as we build protests, united fronts, campaigns, and job actions. The unifying goal in all our work is to build the party, to work toward achieving the vanguard force the working class and all its battered and impoverished allies deserve.

Expand international revolutionary regroupment through CRIR

Events are coming to a head at a time when the revolutionary Left has been weakened by the century-long detour that it has taken away from Leninism into social democracy, Stalinism, state-capitalist theory, broad left parties, and popular fronts.

Bob Price (center, in sunglasses) with POS members and supporters in San Agustín Etla, Oaxaca, about 10 miles north of Oaxaca city. PHOTO: POS

But the kernel of true internationalism, the bedrock on which socialism will be built, still exists in small, struggling groups which are seeking to renew the revolutionary movement through socialist feminist regroupment. CRIR is made up of survivors who carry the banner forward into the future with optimism and confidence in our class. It is the expression of the indomitable human determination to meet the challenges of capitalism in decay with courage and solidarity, however modest our forces at this time. And so CRIR is the party’s first priority and a labor of love.

Build up Radical Women, FSP’s partner in the socialist feminist vanguard

Women are fighting back ferociously around the world, but largely within a reformist framework. Radical Women and FSP have a wealth of experience as Marxist feminists built on top of programs that put feminism at the heart of revolutionary politics. The opportunity is perhaps greater now than ever before for us to use this experience and these ideas to really strengthen female rebellion. And Radical Women has a special role to play in this, distinct from the party but with the party’s support.

The insurgency around women’s rights in Latin America has stimulated growing interest there in socialist feminism, and in RW specifically. Radical Women’s politics and history are already inspiring and aiding Trotskyists in other countries, which is an awesome development. If RW’s role as a help to other revolutionaries is to grow, then RW itself must grow. The time is right, if there is leadership to step forward.

And the party has the responsibility to promote this as best we can. Education for newer party members about RW’s history and achievements is an important part of this.

Forge a left wing in labor and the mass movements by stepping up to leadership

For our work in the movements, the party needs focus. What arenas are most important for us as FSP? Given our capabilities and the nature of the times, it seems that these would be: the labor movement, always our natural sphere; homelessness and housing, where perhaps the main battle against poverty is taking place today; the fights against police violence and the far right/white supremacy, which are related; feminist issues, especially reproductive rights; and the struggles of people of color, especially Blacks, as public workers and as leaders in opposing racism, from the halls of Congress to the streets of Baltimore.

Every FSP branch cannot take up all of these causes all of the time. But by and large, branches are already committed to one or more of these areas of work and are moving forward.

Of course, other issues come up and cry out for our organizing attention, like the acute need to defend immigrants and refugees against threats to their rights and their lives. We cannot be rigid about our priorities and what we respond to. At the same time, we cannot throw ourselves into every single cause, no matter how righteous or pressing. We have to make choices based on what we think will best strengthen the party and the class struggle.

And certainly what we are trying to accomplish with our efforts is just as important as where we put them. In the union movement, that can mean speaking up at every opportunity, making radical demands, connecting with other socialists, and pushing for more democracy. It can mean promoting the idea of multi-union militant caucuses like Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity in Seattle.

First and foremost, wherever we are organizing, we need to show ourselves as leaders, above all through our political ideas. We need to take risks, get out in front. This is what will draw people to us — while strengthening the causes we are part of.

Beat the drum for a broad, working-class united front against fascism

Given the havoc the far right is wreaking and attempting to wreak, repulsing them is obviously a priority. FSP is uniquely qualified for this given our experience in every branch city and our close study of Trotsky’s writings about both fascism and united fronts. Calling for and building united fronts and other multi-issue, multiracial alliances and formations to bring our side together is the order of the day. Working in such alliances is also another vital opportunity to win people to our revolutionary feminist program.

Strengthen the party through education, recruitment, and replenishing staff

Education is and always has been critical to developing as revolutionaries. This period of heightened class struggle makes a clear grasp of theory and lessons from history even more necessary. Comrades both new and old should be able to articulate a clear and compelling message to coworkers and people we are shoulder to shoulder with in the movements. And we must let these friends and allies know that we need them!

It’s a fact of life, and a truism of dialectical materialism, that things only last as long as they can still grow and change. In the party, we have talked before about the need for new generations of leaders to step forward — and some new leaders have! But we need to continue on this track, and it’s helpful to think about what this means concretely, from the next branch organizers to the next FS core staff and more. People need to aspire to new responsibilities and positions and be trained for them. This is how we make our claim to be a vanguard party real and sustainable.

This period of intense polarization is one of peril and misery. But it’s important not to lose sight also of the valor being displayed around the world and the victories taking place. The permanent revolution has been pushed back on some fronts, but is making gains on others. It remains a vibrant reality.

The most critical factor in determining its success is, once again and still, the challenge of leadership. As socialists, we can defeat the capitalist counterrevolution. What’s needed is to win our class to an alternative that is compelling, audacious and convincingly possible — to revolutionary socialism. We have to show that it’s not only necessary but possible to bring an end to capitalism’s brutality and replace it with justice and equality.

As Trotsky told students in that same speech in Copenhagen in 1932 quoted earlier:

In order to sweep away the outlived social order, the progressive class must understand that its hour has struck and set before itself the task of conquering power. Here opens the field of conscious revolutionary action, where foresight and calculation combine with will and courage. In other words: here opens the field of action of the Party.

To win a world is a big task. But we in the FSP are not alone; we are confident in the international working class; and we know that the power of this class will grow.

Stephen Durham and Susan Williams

About the authors

Stephen Durham is the International Secretary of the FSP and 2012 write-in candidate for the U.S. presidency. Stephen is a lifelong student of Latin American politics and is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese. He is an LGBTQ pioneer and labor activist, formerly a member of Hotel Employees/Restaurant Employees in California and New York.

Susan Williams is a retired physician and former delegate and founding member of Doctors Council, Local 10MD, Service Employees International Union. She teaches Marxist theory and is the FSP’s National Education Coordinator. Her other writings include the Red Letter Press pamphlet “Capitalism’s Brutal Comeback in China.”


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