This political resolution, written on behalf of the Freedom Socialist Party National Committee, was discussed and adopted at the party’s December 2022 convention. (See story here. ) This final version incorporates changes made there by the FSP membership. It addresses in depth the profound shifts occurring in the world since the party’s 2019 gathering — and the role of revolutionary socialist feminists in shaping what comes next.
II. Qualitative change in the capitalist world order
III. The contradictions of the profit system pave the way for socialism
IV. Shifts in imperialist relations
V. A planet under maximum stress and the impacts on its inhabitants
VI. Two indispensable keys to advance: socialist feminist theory and the Leninist party
VII. The array of forces on the Left
VIII. The need for leadership in a time of growing assaults and resistance
IX. Perspectives for FSP in the coming period
Humanity is crying out for change. The signs are everywhere, as resistance greets the many attacks on working people and threats to our very survival. From organizing for safe job conditions and better pay, to protesting corporate polluters, to demanding reproductive freedom and an end to police violence and war, workers, young people, and the abused of the world are making it known that we want things done differently. We want a new set of priorities. We want a form of democracy which allows our voices to be heard, not one which drowns us out amid a cacophony of corporate lobbyists and bourgeois politicians.
But we must go beyond resistance to revolution if we are to be healthy and free. Resistance leaves the system intact, whereas victory over the exploiters and oppressors prepares the necessary stage from which we can begin to create the new society that we so desperately need.
The international web of corporate profiteers and the states which act on their behalf are responsible for the barbarous agenda of climate disaster, war, racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia. They can’t help themselves, because their decisions are based not on the needs of the planet and its inhabitants, but on the implacable drive to secure ever-increasing profits. They are playing the roles written for them in the capitalist script.
Moving beyond resistance to a world free from exploiters and imperialist warmongers requires a vision beyond anything taught in school. We — the working-class majority — must imagine a society utterly devoid of these parasites. One that is a true democracy in which decisions are based on what people need, rather than on what creates unimaginable wealth for a tiny minority. One in which working people, who together with nature produce all wealth, have the power to act jointly for the common good. One in which the workday will be safer, shorter, and more fulfilling; leisure time will be expanded; and no one will go hungry or be deprived of education, creative opportunities, and a decent life.
In an anthology about Trump’s alleged mental illness, one contributor wrote that socialists are also unhinged, because the vision of world revolution is an expression of grandiose thinking. But this vision is not a utopian pipe dream. It is based on a scientific theory about the development of class society and of the working-class movement, aka Marxism. Historical evidence is what guides socialists’ analyses and strategic and tactical decision-making.
Marxist theory has been elucidated and expanded upon by thinkers including Frederick Engels, V.I. Lenin, and Leon Trotsky. It demonstrates that the next stage of collective evolution is socialism, with workers and those formerly oppressed in charge. Such a transformation, which alters the basic fact of who holds the power, is called a social revolution. And the need to make this change has never been more urgent. Because over time, operating in the only manner it can, the capitalist system has ushered in an era today of multiple, profound crises.
The climate is shifting in a way that brings apocalyptic consequences. Both global warming and the Covid pandemic highlight the fragility of for-profit healthcare systems and the inability of capitalist governments to respond to disaster. The invasion of Ukraine raises the possibilities of a third world war and the use of nuclear weapons. These climate, pandemic, and war realities threaten disaster for an already unhealthy world economy, and thus for working people. And in the political sphere, the far right persists, the assault on democratic rights escalates, and autocrats reign in countries internationally.
These are the crises humanity faces, and overcoming them is a matter of sheer existence. But the current ruling classes have no solutions. Salvation is up to workers.
And the most oppressed members of the working class — those who are perpetually held down on the basis of gender, skin color, sexuality, national origin, age, ability, and the like — have a special role to play. As the people with the least to lose and most to gain from all-out change, their militant leadership is needed to unite the working class into a force capable of smashing capitalism and patriarchy. This is something that the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) has continually emphasized throughout its nearly 60-year history.
Throughout modern history, labor and social movements have used all manner of strategies in attempting to make the world a better place. But most of them have failed and will continue to fail.
One tack, for example, is relying on the election of liberals, as Democrats are seen to be in the U.S. However, this does not halt the march to oblivion, because defending capitalism is the fundamental program of these politicians. Voting in Joe Biden did not cause the right wing to go home, nor did it make the misogynists give up their war against women, nor did it alleviate the suffering of immigrants and refugees in the U.S. and abroad. Social democracy’s strategy of endless reforms is similarly doomed, because that approach also consists of relying on bourgeois politicians to solve the problems that they themselves have created.
For their part, Stalinist groups succumb to lesser-evil politics on a global scale. They endorse any bourgeois regime, no matter how repressive, that is an opponent of the top dogs and former colonialists of the world, especially the U.S. But these “anti-imperialist” regimes supported by Stalinists have no intention of overthrowing capitalism. Anarchists, on the other hand, oppose all state power, including in working-class hands, leaving workers and the oppressed no ability to defend a revolution once it is made.
Later sections of this document will address these tendencies of liberalism, social democracy, Stalinism, and anarchism in more depth. But the takeaway here is the urgent need for a plan of attack that is not dependent on or subservient to the capitalist class enemy and its governmental handmaidens. No one ever said this will be easy. But it is necessary. It must be done. It can be done. And it will be done. Building a revolutionary party which grasps in its bones the need for independent working-class politics is crucial to moving beyond resistance and finally replacing capitalist power with workers’ power.
And just as replacing the profit system with socialism has become more urgent, so too has the need to build the vanguard party. Constructing and enlarging this indispensable ingredient of the working-class movement is what the FSP is all about.
The eyes and ears of the working class are beginning to see and hear more clearly. That’s because capitalism is failing them. People are looking for new, radical solutions. A 2021 U.S. poll by Axios found that among people between 18 and 24, a negative view of capitalism outweighed a positive view 54% to 42%. Sixty percent of Black women reported that they supported socialism. In a separate poll done in the UK, two-thirds of people aged 16 to 34 reported a desire to live in a socialist society.
This is where the leadership of a revolutionary party comes in. The vanguard party is an organization that James P. Cannon, the primary founder of U.S. Trotskyism, called “a band of revolutionary fighters, ready, willing, and able to meet and defeat all enemies of the people and assist the masses in clearing the way to the new world.” This kind of organization was conceived by Lenin and modeled by the early Bolsheviks in Russia.
With the correct leadership by a revolutionary party — the right explanation of what socialism really is and how it can be achieved and the right kind of participation in the mass movements — the numbers of people turning to socialism for a solution will continue to grow. The working class will become an invincible social force.
And there is no time to lose. The planet is closer than ever before to the possibility of nuclear incineration. It is closer now than ever before to annihilating the life-sustaining conditions of Earth’s ecology. This means that getting rid of capitalism has literally become about saving the world. And it means that the Leninist party must become bigger and bolder in its vision.
II. Qualitative change in the capitalist world order
As the crises discussed above show, nothing stays the same; everything is in motion of one kind or another. Sometimes, however, a buildup of quantitative changes creates a seismic shift — a difference in the essential character of a thing. Today, the sharpening and deepening of trends and events in at least three spheres amount to qualitative changes in those areas. And not only in those areas — together, they amount to fundamental change in the basic nature of the times since World War II, and even since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Key transformations are taking place in the power relationships among the imperialists, in the state of the far right, and in the situation for democratic freedoms in advanced capitalist countries, notably the United States. They mark a period of new perils and new opportunities for socialist revolutionaries.
Profound challenges to the “unipolar” globe
The main qualitative change is the challenge to the longstanding alignment of imperialist powers. This is signaled primarily by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China’s encroachment on the preeminent economic position of the U.S., and the fragmenting of the European Union after three decades.
The danger of large-scale inter-imperialist war is real. War between great powers is one of two means by which capitalism has historically saved itself when on the verge of collapse. It is a fight to redivide economic and political control of the world. Much more will be said about imperialism and its offshoot, war, in a later section.
The growth of fascist forces in the U.S. and the roles of the two establishment parties
Fascism is the other drastic avenue that the ruling class can turn to for salvation. This capitalist regime of last resort includes an extra-legal armed force which suppresses the chief opponent of the profit system — the proletariat, or working class. Recently, right-wing and fascist forces have grown tremendously in highly developed bourgeois democracies, to the point where they are now acting out in the open, training with impunity, and entering mainstream politics.
Still, the United States is not a fascist country, even though some fascists are roaming the streets. As Trotsky explained, fascism comes to power based on a mass movement of desperate people at a time of grave economic and social crisis. Chief among these scared and angry people are members of the petty bourgeoisie, or middle class, like small-business owners, family farmers, and middle managers. They are urged to blame scapegoats for their misery instead of the real culprit, capitalism. The fascists recruit using the lures of misogyny, racism, anti‑Semitism, xenophobia, anti-LGBTQ+ messages, and anti-communism.
At this point, though, the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Patriot Front, VDARE, and the other champions of white and male supremacy are far from assembling a mass movement. And an equally important factor in the rise of fascism is also missing: serious material support by sectors of the capitalist class, or bourgeoisie. This was precisely the turning point in pre-World War II Germany, when chiefs of heavy industry turned to the Nazis to suppress workers’ opposition as their economic system capsized. Smashing the working class and its organizations is fascism’s underlying goal.
The turn to far-right elements by many loyal Republican Party politicians indicates a trial balloon by the ruling class to gauge their prospects should they need to do away with democracy completely. Trump’s “stand back and stand by” message to the Proud Boys is in fact the general message to the fascists as a whole by a sector of the bourgeoisie.
Included in this sector are heavy hitters like Koch Industries. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, “Koch Industries is widely known as a major right-wing political donor. It’s also a vast conglomerate that’s deeply intertwined with fossil fuels, with interests in refineries, equipment, engineering, and construction services for petrochemical facilities, gas transportation and storage, and more. The industry has also funded far-right hate groups directly.” And the Koch family’s former Nazi connections are widely reported.
When Donald Trump lost the election to Joe Biden, the reactionaries did not accept defeat and go home. They still call for civil war to “save America.” And the Democrats cannot get rid of them, even if they were to have one hundred percent control of both houses of Congress. This is because the party’s political methods do not include the one thing capable of defeating the fascists — building a mass movement of workers, women, people of color, and all the oppressed.
In fact, the Democrats cower at the prospect of mass worker-led organizing, because this would demand far more than what the second party of the bosses is willing to provide, and its true character would be exposed. Instead, they tell people that the way to stop the right wing is to vote for more Democrats. But more Democrats in office will not stop the downward slide of capitalism, which is what fuels despair and the appeal of the far right.
The ultraright in the U.S. can be as bold as it is because the working class has been, until recently, fairly demobilized. This reflects a general lack of self-confidence, but not because the class is unwilling to fight. It is due first and foremost to labor leaders leashing the workers’ movement politically to the Democratic Party.
What does this mean for a revolutionary party? That one of its immediate and most important tasks is to persuade the working class that its future is doomed if it relies on any capitalist party, no matter how pretty the rhetoric. A break with the Democrats would boost workers’ self-confidence and spur their self-organizing. And that is what will defeat the fascists.
Attack on freedoms in the bastion of bourgeois democracy
Hand in hand with the spread of the ultraright are mounting attacks on and even elimination of democratic rights, occurring especially, but not only, in the U.S. capitalist headquarters. This chilling trend is a third qualitative change in the capitalist order.
Recently, all eyes have been on the U.S. Supreme Court. In a flurry of recent decisions, it has proved itself an enemy of reproductive justice, voting rights, and environmental protections. While appalling, none of their judgments should come as any surprise, issuing as they do from an inherently undemocratic institution. Nine unelected individuals, entirely chosen and confirmed by bourgeois politicians, have the power to decide the fate of millions. These millions are supposed to accept their authority because their priestly black robes convey the message that they have wisdom beyond that of the ordinary worker.
Not one Supreme Court justice, however progressive, and whether appointed by a Democrat or Republican, has ever questioned the legitimacy of capitalism. Their rulings presume this system as foundational to society. So, since capitalism cannot do away with the historical bigotries which it inherited from the past and molded to suit its current needs, it is inevitable that some justices will find those bigotries fair and defensible according to the Constitution.
Supreme Court justices are products of their times. The 1857 Dred Scott decision denied citizenship rights to people of African descent. Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 upheld the separate but equal doctrine. However, in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education declared that doctrine unconstitutional. And in 1973, Roe v. Wade granted the right to choose abortion. Like the Bible, which is the real constitution for the religious bigots on the court, the U.S. Constitution has been revealed as a document which can justify whatever someone wishes. But, while high court judgments are at heart an expression of capitalist will, they can also reflect the pressure of the popular majority against the status quo.
Just as it is a mistake to attribute Trump’s actions to mental derangement, it would be a mistake to interpret the recent actions by SCOTUS as simply the machinations of mean, mad, and bigoted individuals. As in the past, the rulings are a product of the times.
The top court is not the only place where democratic rights are being torn up and tossed into the fire. Politicians are restricting what students and educators in the public schools can say and do, to instill conformity in working-class youth at a very young age. Their suppressions do not generally extend to the private schools attended by children of the rich and privileged.
A prime example of assaults on democracy in education are school decisions and legislative bills that prohibit discussion of queer issues in the classroom. These are buttressed by book-banning that conveniently allows the right-wingers to go beyond specific issues of sex and gender identity. What’s mandatory can be just as atrocious as what’s excluded. In Florida, home of the “Don’t Say Gay” law, recent legislation establishes November 7 as “Victims of Communism Day” and requires schools to teach the “horrors of communism” together with it!
The goal of these laws and policies is to shape students into a workforce disciplined in subservient obedience to the needs of the ruling class. Consider that the committees in Congress which deal with education are called the House Committee on Education and Labor and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The capitalists know that teachers manufacture something crucial to their profits: the next generation of workers dependent on selling their labor-power to survive. That’s why they need to discipline educators as well as students. That’s why teachers are given scripted lessons for their students and why they must administer standardized tests of little to no benefit for the students themselves. And that’s why groups on the Left who dismiss education workers as playing a secondary role to industrial workers in the class struggle are severely mistaken.
Civil liberties are indispensable weapons for the abused and exploited in the struggle for a better world. Ruling-class assaults on these freedoms beat down popular opposition while enhancing the power of the state. Every repressive law is another pretext to legally call out the armed guards of the capitalist order — the police — before having to fund and rely upon the fascists. Anti-democratic propaganda and calls for authoritarian rule are attempts to soften up public opinion to accept what the future could hold.
A threatening synergy
It is no accident that escalations of imperialist rivalry, the heightened profile of fascists, and dramatically stepped-up blows against democratic rights are appearing at the same time. Historically, they need not occur together. As Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky pointed out, the first inter-imperialist war, World War I, did not include any fascist states, whereas the second one did.
It is further evidence of qualitative change that these developments are occurring together and reinforcing each other now. Jointly they represent an intensification of the worldwide capitalist attack on working and oppressed people — and a challenge to a revolutionary party to step up its theoretical thinking and mass organizing.
III. The contradictions of the profit system pave the way for socialism
The drastic crises and changes discussed here don’t come from nowhere. They are the logical outgrowths of a system at war with itself — the eventual fruits of contradictions built right into capitalism. The good news is that these internal conflicts, while provoking capitalism into causing more and more misery throughout the world, are also laying the groundwork for a new type of society.
A system ruthlessly divided between haves and have-nots
In the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels explain the many ways in which the inevitable logic of capitalist development carries within it the seeds of the system’s destruction from the start: the creation of its great antagonist, the proletariat; the internationalization of the economy; and more. And in Capital and other works, Marx delves into other self-generating problems, like the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and the impulse toward overproduction leading to recession. Previous political resolutions have also addressed these issues in depth.
From the immediate point of view of working people, one of the most pertinent tensions within capitalism is between social production and private profit. Goods and services are produced by the masses working collectively — whether next to each other or separated by oceans — but the rewards go overwhelmingly to a tiny elite.
The profit system has brought the whole world together into an international economy and raised the level of labor productivity exponentially. These are two objective prerequisites for socialism. There is enough food to feed every person. There are enough material resources and scientific knowledge to provide high-quality healthcare to everyone. No one needs to be homeless. No one needs to lack running water and electricity.
Under capitalism, however, globalization and a high level of productivity do not serve the needs of the vast majority. Decisions are made with the goal of maximizing profits. Anything which subtracts from the bottom line is ignored or resisted.
That’s why rivers and seas are toilet bowls and dumpsters for capitalist enterprises. That’s why medicines are not made universally available for poor countries. That’s why, even in highly developed countries, people go to bed hungry. That’s why, with rents shooting up and pandemic-related protections against eviction expiring, millions of U.S. tenants face the possibility of homelessness.
The other side of the coin, of course, is that a handful of tycoons acquire unimaginable fortunes. They possess mansions and yachts. Far from starving, they feast on the world’s finest cuisines. The outrageous wealth discrepancy is well-known. As Oxfam and many others have documented, eight billionaires own the equivalent of what the poorest 50% of the global population owns, a gap which is still widening. In 2021, 698 million people, or 9% of the world’s people, lived in extreme poverty, defined as trying to survive on less than $1.90 a day.
And the scourge of poverty is not restricted to downtrodden and less developed countries. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the official rate in this country in 2020 was 11.4%, meaning that about 37 million people were impoverished.
A higher percentage of women than men were poor, by more than 2%. A shocking 25.7% of people with disabilities fell into this category. In 2018, the Census Bureau reported that poverty among Native Americans was 25.4%, the highest of any racial or ethnic group. Also experiencing destitution at a higher-than-average rate were Black people at 20.8% and Hispanics (the government term) at 17.6%.
Yet while the U.S. and U.N. both acknowledge the problem, their solutions are doomed to failure. The U.S., for example, provides some “safety nets.” But services such as Social Security as supplemental income and Medicare as a form of healthcare for millions of seniors do not even come close to meeting the needs of their recipients. Meanwhile, politicians constantly warn of the money running out. Welfare programs within the existing system are completely incapable of doing away with poverty.
According to the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, “Companies have a responsibility to respect human rights and labour rights in accordance with international standards which includes identifying and avoiding practices that perpetuate poverty traps.” But capitalist companies are not capable of living up to this charge, because exploitation is key to their survival individually and as a class. Corporations search the globe to find the lowest-paid workforce. Within nations they do the same, doing everything they can to prevent union organizing and thus making their employees poorly positioned to raise their standard of living. And they cannot do otherwise, because if they did, they would lose out to their competitors. Truly, capitalism is a dog-eat-dog system.
Papering over the truth with lies, doublespeak, and false fixes
Precisely because the ruling-class agenda is antagonistic to human needs, capitalists can never be honest in what they tell us. They cannot concede that their wars are aggressive adventures for conquest. They cannot confess that the reason they are anti-woman and anti-LGBTQ+ is because they need to divide people up into little patriarchal family units, each one on its own to provide economically for its members. They cannot reveal that the global migrations of economic and climate refugees are due to calamitous conditions they themselves have created. They cannot acknowledge how prominently racism figures into their calculations as a tool of super-exploitation and “divide and conquer.”
The level at which the profit-mongers need to lie to us is high and getting higher.
Consider the meaning of the word “democracy.” On its website, NATO plainly asserts that it “promotes democratic values.” Let’s investigate.
One of NATO’s members is Hungary. In March 2022, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, apparently overwhelmed with the democratic spirit, declared a state of emergency, using the war in Ukraine as a pretext. With this decree, the government granted itself permission to grossly restrict people’s freedoms. Among other things, it expanded its attacks on women’s rights and those of the queer community with efforts to outlaw discussion of gender issues in school. In July, Orbán made sinister comments chastising his NATO allies for permitting fraternization among people of different skin colors and national backgrounds. “We [Hungarians] are not a mixed race, and we do not want to become a mixed race either,” he said.
So much for NATO’s stated democratic intent. The organization’s real mission is defending U.S. and European imperialism from threats to their rule, as shown by its military support for particularly corrupt and repressive regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Of course, NATO tried to prettify its actions by telling the world that the dictatorships they backed were “fledgling democracies,” like cuddly baby sparrows first learning to fly. They might as well call a newly conceived zygote a person. As George Orwell writes in his novel 1984, “Freedom is slavery.” Or, democracy is dictatorship.
It is worth recalling that NATO was formed following World War II as a military opposition to the Soviet workers’ state. While proclaiming its love for peaceful solutions, it has participated militarily not only in Afghanistan and Iraq but in Bosnia, Kosovo, and elsewhere. Initially made up of 10 countries in western Europe plus the U.S. and Canada, it now consists of 30 countries due to eastward expansion.
With the Supreme Court’s ruling against Roe, women and transgender or nonbinary people capable of pregnancy lost the right to choose whether or not to have a child. Supporters of the court decision say that terminating a pregnancy is murder. Yet there are at least 15 states that want to ban or severely curtail abortions but hypocritically also have the death penalty. One of these is Texas, where, in an awful merging of the two issues, legislators have tried to make abortion punishable by death, so far unsuccessfully. It is also in Texas that a notorious evangelical pastor has called for death to LGBTQ+ folks — and to unruly students in school!
Of course, Roe didn’t end lives, it saved them. It vastly reduced the number of tragic deaths women experienced from unsafe, back-alley terminations. Mortality from abortions in the first five years following the 1973 Supreme Court decision dropped by 80% compared to the previous five years. But in our Orwellian world, pro-life is in fact pro-death.
Another falsehood the capitalists would like workers and the oppressed to swallow: They alone know how to run society, and when they win, everyone wins. What’s taking place in Sri Lanka is a bitter rebuke to this deadly propaganda.
In April 2022, this island nation of 22 million declared bankruptcy. The country’s wealthy leaders ran out of foreign exchange sufficient to pay their bills. Not an individual, not a business, but an entire country went broke, with a foreign debt standing at an astounding $51 billion. And because of skyrocketing inflation, even if food is available in the markets, working Sri Lankans simply don’t have the money to pay for it. Medicines are increasingly in short supply. The available funds don’t allow the rulers to buy Covid vaccines. The country began rationing fuel and people waited in line for days to get it, some dying in the sweltering heat.
The government is striving to save its capitalist economy — not its schools, or the jobs of government workers, or small businesses. These were dispensable sacrificial lambs as it turned to a “loan restructuring program” with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for relief. This guaranteed that vital social services would be cut, with devastating consequences for poor and working people. Brave students protested the impending austerity, many of them calling for the rational solution of canceling the debt. Dozens of them were quickly arrested.
Saving the profit system in Sri Lanka means that suffering people will lose and many will die, while the international banks win. As one despondent Sri Lankan plainly remarked: “I am fed up with life.” But, as Orwell might have written, losing (for some) is saving (for others).
From capitalism to socialism: realities created by the old system allow for the birth of the new
As noted, capitalism has already created the material circumstances for socialism, including an international economy and great leaps in productivity. But why are these two things key?Trotskyists like FSP believe that a new, collective, not-for-profit society can only be built as a worldwide system with the capacity to provide abundance for all. This idea is supported by theory and history. In the past, one by one, countries including Russia and China made revolutions that created workers’ states. This phrase describes a transitional phase between capitalism and socialism in which the proletariat has seized power and replaced the system of private ownership with public ownership. However, Russia and China remained surrounded by imperialism, which maintained its global dominance. Like much of the world, they suffered from underdevelopment and scarcity in many areas. They needed the political and material aid that revolutions in the more prosperous countries could have provided.
But this was not to be, for reasons discussed in several of Trotsky’s books and, as the Soviet Union was breaking apart, in the Freedom Socialist. Isolated and under relentless military and economic pressure from outside, these countries were unable to prevent the emergence of privileged bureaucracies, could not move forward to socialism, and fell back to capitalist restoration.
In the 100-plus years since the 1917 Russian Revolution, capitalism has made huge strides technologically and become more tightly knit internationally, although at great cost to workers around the world, including those in agriculture. From global supply chains, to vast knowledge about resources, to sophisticated methods of planetary accounting, capitalism has developed the infrastructure for a unified economic system. However, because the laws of its development lead to dire problems like runaway climate change, it is undermining its own advances.
But a not-for-profit system will have no reason to sacrifice communal welfare for individual gain. Socialism can dissolve capitalism’s contradictions and provide for all.
Objective conditions are ripe for revolution, as Trotsky noted in The Transitional Program over 80 years ago, and people are already in motion protesting and resisting across the globe. What’s needed is the right leadership, or the subjective factor in this equation, to convince people fed up with the status quo that the only solution is for workers to seize state power.
IV. Shifts in imperialist relations
Just as the world is one economic unit, with winners, losers, and hopeful contenders, the same is true on the political and military fields, with the globe divided into big imperialists, junior imperialists, and the countries that suffer from their exploitation and rivalries.
V.I. Lenin explained that imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism. That means that finance capital (banks, stock markets, etc.) has come to dominate the economy. It also means that the most advanced capitalist powers have captured and carved up among themselves the entire globe, its labor forces, natural resources, and geopolitical advantages. Following the Second World War, fought to re-divide the planet, the U.S. emerged decisively as the leader of world imperialism.
That’s why 800 or so U.S. military bases strategically dot the Earth. That’s why the U.S. intervenes in regional conflicts everywhere. The U.S. military is the police force for the world’s foremost imperialist, ready at any moment to curb competitors and suppress local movements of oppressed people for freedom and material improvement in their lives.
Just because imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism does not mean it is unchanging. On the contrary. Just as businesses within a country continue to compete against each other, with some succumbing and others emerging as hegemonic, so too do the national bourgeoisies of individual countries continue to compete against one another.
As a result, there is a never-ending struggle among the various imperialists. The logic of this is eventual war, usually provoked in the moment by one of capitalism’s recurrent, built-in economic crises. The national ruling classes recruit workers to their cause by citing a supposed physical threat from an enemy combined with concerns for democracy and freedom. For a glaring example, take the U.S. aggression against Iraq, rationalized by the danger of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and the noble cause of liberating the Iraqi people from the regime of Saddam Hussein. But the imperialists of the “free world” belie pretexts like these by supporting despots whenever and wherever it suits their aims.
As discussed, the ongoing struggles among imperialist countries have reached a qualitatively different stage today. The U.S. is being challenged as never before. China is a major player, hence the daily diatribes against that nation in the bourgeois news media. Russia aspires to be a major player; that’s what its war against Ukraine is all about. A realignment of imperialist forces is clearly occurring, with the resolution still to come.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine
The aggression by Russia against neighboring Ukraine is not at its core due to the personal ambitions of Vladimir Putin for his country or psychological delusions of grandeur on his part. Putin and his decisions are shaped by world events that have led to him becoming the guardian of the interests of a class of very rich Russian capitalists. He is acting on their behalf.
To rein in public opinion, Putin went beyond suppressing free speech. He spread the lie that the war was equally in the interest of Russian capitalists and workers. This shared concern was purported to be the elimination of a threat posed by the “Nazification” of Ukraine. In peddling this line, Putin vastly exaggerated the Nazi presence in Ukraine and completely invented its danger to Russia.
Far-right elements certainly do exist in Ukrainian society, including in the military. But, as measured in the electoral arena, public support has sharply declined. Ten years ago, the reactionary Svoboda party had 37 members in parliament. Today it has one. Contrast that to France, where the anti-immigrant, ultraright National Rally party (formerly the National Front) makes up 15% of the National Assembly with 89 members.
This is not to minimize the danger that far-right organizing poses in Ukraine, any more than it should be discounted in the U.S. or Australia or France — or Russia.
However, some outside observers, including on the Left, are using the existence of neo-Nazis in Ukraine to deny the country’s right to effective self-defense, either implicitly or explicitly. By doing so, they are buying into Putin’s straw-man argument. (For more, see “The Far Right in Ukraine” by Taras Bilous.)
In pushing his war, Putin also appealed to the yearnings of Russians to count for something in the world and regain some of the status the country enjoyed when the USSR was the globe’s second superpower. For his own imperialist reasons, he made much of the fact that after the Warsaw Pact nations agreed to disband in 1991, NATO reneged on its promise not to expand eastward. He was spotlighting for Russians that they had been duped by the West into giving up their defensive pact only to see the enemy consolidate and enlarge its own might.
Given the unforgiving logic of imperialism, the truth is that the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union was bound to make the countries of Eastern Europe a battleground between larger and better-armed powers. To be sure, NATO was attempting to win dominance there. But so was Russia. As early as 1992, Russia pursued a war that gained it occupied territory in Moldova. It invaded Chechnya in 1994 and Georgia in 2008. It seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
Given the lack of rights to speak and organize freely in Russia, it is impossible to gauge how well Putin’s one-sided propaganda succeeded with the people. Brave protesters against the war, especially feminists, have risked arrest and worse to voice their disapproval. But, given the certainty of repression for standing up against the government, the sentiments of the majority are unknown.
There is no such difficulty in identifying the attitude of Ukrainians. Faced with the very unwelcome greeting given Russian soldiers and the successes of Ukrainian workers on the battlefield, Putin had to revise his pretext for attack. He finally announced the real reason for the war: his mission is to end the “unipolar world.”
Putin’s goal is to catapult Russia into the top tier of imperialist powers. That’s what it means to declare the end of the unipolar world, a world dominated economically and militarily by the United States. His government had for some time prior to the invasion promoted the idea that nothing of substance will happen in the world without Russia’s participation. He nurtured Russian nationalism with reminders of the glory days of the tsarist empire and the messianic role of the Russian Orthodox Church. Again, this cannot be seen as the abnormality of a lunatic. There was and is a logic to Putin’s war.
Putin and his advisors certainly miscalculated about the degree and effectiveness of Ukrainian opposition to their invasion. But a miscalculation shows that there was a calculation to begin with, something rational and not “crazy.” Putin carefully assessed the U.S. defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan as a sign that the U.S. position within the imperialist world was weakening and he understood the greater difficulty Uncle Sam would have engaging in yet another military adventure. At the same time, he weighed his own victories in Georgia, Crimea, and Syria, where Russian intervention marginalized or eliminated large sections of the opposition to dictator Bashar al-Assad and saved his regime. Putin reasoned that the time was right for an aspiring imperialist superpower to assert its might.
- A test for the Left internationally
There is no question that, on one level, the war in Ukraine is a proxy war between the U.S. and NATO on one side and Russia on the other. But it is something else as well; it has a dual character. It was also an invasion by an imperialist country on the make for more territory and control waged against a less powerful non-imperialist country. It was an unjustifiable violation of national sovereignty, one that gave the Ukrainian people no choice but to defend themselves.
Trotskyist organizations have generally recognized this complexity. For example, the Committee for Revolutionary International Regroupment (CRIR), of which FSP is a founding member, calls both for the disbanding of NATO and Russia out of Ukraine.
In contrast are political groupings which see only a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia, who by and large take one of two positions. Some have taken a position of no support for either side, declaring each side equally indefensible. Others adopt Putin’s justifications and defend the invasion on the grounds that Russia was increasingly threatened by the eastward movement of hostile NATO forces, or that it was protecting the Russian-speaking population in the eastern Donbass region, or that it was liberating Ukraine from an alleged Nazi regime. The leftists who defend the invasion, directly or indirectly, tend to be Stalinists, a tendency that will be addressed again in a later section.
The statement of the Cuban Communist Party is instructive in this regard. It correctly points out the danger posed by NATO’s expansion, but refrains entirely from condemning Russia’s invasion. From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on February 22, two days before the incursion:
The determination of the United States to impose the progressive expansion of NATO towards the borders of the Russian Federation constitutes a threat to the national security of this country and to regional and international peace.
The U.S. government has been threatening Russia for weeks and manipulating the international community about the dangers of an “imminent massive invasion” of Ukraine. It has supplied weapons and military technology, deployed troops to various countries in the region, applied unilateral and unjust sanctions, and threatened other reprisals.
… We call on the United States and NATO to seriously and realistically address the well-founded claims for security guarantees of the Russian Federation, which has the right to defend itself.
In this conflict instigated by Russia, it is the Ukrainian people who have the right to protect themselves, by any means necessary. This includes their prerogative to accept weapons from whomever is willing to offer them, even NATO. Not recognizing this right is tantamount to closing out any possibility of Ukraine, a David to Russia’s Goliath, successfully shielding itself. In similar fashion, should the U.S. attempt an invasion of Cuba, it would be proper to uphold Cuba’s right to accept weapons regardless of the source, including imperialist Russia. In 1938 in “Learn to Think,” Trotsky presented precisely this argument in a hypothetical scenario involving Italy, France, and Algeria.
In this document, Trotsky reasoned as follows:
Let us assume that rebellion breaks out tomorrow in the French colony of Algeria under the banner of national independence and that the Italian government, motivated by its own imperialist interests, prepares to send weapons to the rebels. What should the attitude of the Italian workers be in this case? I have purposely taken an example of rebellion against a democratic imperialism with intervention on the side of the rebels from a fascist imperialism. Should the Italian workers prevent the shipping of arms to the Algerians? Let any ultra-leftists dare answer this question in the affirmative. Every revolutionist, together with the Italian workers and the rebellious Algerians, would spurn such an answer with indignation. Even if a general maritime strike broke out in fascist Italy at the same time, even in this case the strikers should make an exception in favor of those ships carrying aid to the colonial slaves in revolt; otherwise they would be no more than wretched trade unionists — not proletarian revolutionists.
Workers and radicals should demand that there be no quid pro quo with the imperialists in exchange for weapons. Of course, Zelenskyy has indeed accepted multiple strings tied to the military aid. He wants Ukraine to join both NATO and the European Union. And he has voiced no objection to the plans of private Western corporations to steal billions from the Ukrainian people once the war is over and reconstruction begins. His politics replaces one prospective exploiter of the Ukrainian people with another.
Stated plainly, Zelenskyy is a bourgeois politician. As such, he has a history of anti-working-class politics. In 2020, before the current war started, Zelenskyy supported a proposed new labor code which allowed for employers to terminate contracts without cause and raised the minimum number of workers necessary in a business to start a union. Since the war began, he has backed forced overtime and provisions which limit workers’ incomes. In August 2022, Zelenskyy signed Law 5371, a union-busting measure which eliminated collectively bargained agreements in favor of individual worker-employer agreements.
As revolutionary socialists, FSP backs Ukraine’s right to defend itself while giving no political support to Zelenskyy. We support independent working-class political action with a program of replacing the current bourgeois leadership with workers’ power.
Ukraine is a prime example of why bourgeois leadership of resistance against imperialist attack is not in the best interests of workers and the oppressed. The best weapon against Putin’s aggression would be a worldwide anti-war movement with working-class leadership.
Despite suppression, peace activists in Russia have already managed to make a considerable statement. As Russian casualties continue to mount, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that anti-war efforts could grow into a movement capable of toppling Putin — which could be a tremendous first step toward positive changes for Russia’s stifled and exploited working people. Logically, however, the Stalinists who back the Russian invasion, including the Cuban Communist Party, must oppose the Russian protests. They are in essence supporting the Russian ruling class not only against Ukrainians, but against the Russian proletariat as well.
Unsurprisingly, a grab bag of different positions exists within the “big tent” Democratic Socialists of America. The national organization has emphasized the role of NATO in provoking Russia. But other DSA members, like U.S. Representative Jamaal Bowman of New York, fully support NATO in the war. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted this: “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is indefensible. The U.S. is right to impose targeted sanctions on Putin & his oligarchs.”
Fellow reform socialist Bernie Sanders joined in, issuing a statement saying, “The United States must now work with our allies and the international community to impose serious sanctions on Putin and his oligarchs, including denying them access to the billions of dollars that they have stashed in European and American banks.”
This issue of sanctions against Russia exposes an area of confusion on the Left. Many groups who oppose sanctions in this case, as most Trotskyists do, reject them on the grounds that they will hurt ordinary Russians. While this is true and a legitimate concern, it misses the main point.
Sanctions are at bottom simply a weapon in the class struggle. They can be used by either side, workers or capitalists.
For example, there is widespread left backing for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, as there was for the earlier demand for sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Both of these sets of sanctions hurt working people. As an analogy, strikes by transit operators or healthcare workers or teachers also typically cause everyday people some grief, yet the Left supports them also.
On the other hand, when the Bill Clinton administration levied sanctions against Iraq for the benefit of U.S. oil tycoons and other capitalists, resulting in the deaths of a million people, radicals condemned these measures. Today, U.S. and European sanctions against Russia are also in the service of the top imperialists. They are designed to weight the balance of power in their favor relative to an upstart competitor — and, yes, to hurt the Russian working class, with the aim of fomenting discontent and anger at the Putin regime.
A Leninist party denounces sanctions imposed by imperialists. It supports the BDS and anti-apartheid sanctions because they were called by working-class fighters engaged in just struggles.
- The role of Ukrainian women and the revolutionary potential of war
As noted, Putin found himself up against more than he bargained for when he attacked Ukraine. A striking factor that makes the Ukrainian resistance powerful and filled with radical promise is the participation of large numbers of women. As MSNBC reported:
Since the invasion, untold numbers of Ukrainian women from all walks of life have stepped forward and volunteered to serve on the front lines. They include women like the former Miss Ukraine, Anastasiia Lenna and Ukrainian MP Kira Rudik. The video of a 79-year-old volunteer Valentyna Kostyantynovska learning to fire a Kalashnikov has gone viral. She told Reuters it was her dream to take up arms and fight for her country. In the life and death struggle for freedom, every one of those women can make a difference.
The Zelenskyy government, however, does not hold the power of women in battle in such high regard. It issued an order prohibiting men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country in order that they remain available for combat, but no such restriction applied to women. And while it is true that children need to be protected, Zelenskyy’s move betrayed stereotypes about men, women, and childrearing that can only impair the resistance effort. It revealed that the tremendous capacity of organized and armed women is invisible through the lens of bourgeois ideology.
Lenin, Trotsky, and many other socialists have made clear that the obligation of revolutionaries caught in an inter-imperialist contest is to turn that war into anti-capitalist revolution in their own country, which is exactly what happened in Russia during World War I. In this case, Ukraine is in the position of defending itself against imperialist aggression, which is a different situation. But, by exposing the basic social fault lines like sexism that exist in Ukraine, the war still has the potential to move the country forward toward revolutionary change.
- The threat of the use of nuclear arms
Without even imagining nuclear weapons entering the picture, the aggression against Ukraine invites all the devastation of “normal” war: an explosion of displaced people, death on a large scale, destruction of infrastructure and the environment, sexual violence, economic havoc, contraction of personal freedoms, and on and on. But the possibility of nuclear war raises the stakes exponentially.
The thousands of nuclear bombs in the world are real. Many are ready to be deployed on a moment’s notice. Their level of destructiveness is unimaginable. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists:
Nine countries possess nuclear weapons: the United States, Russia, France, China, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea. In total, the global nuclear stockpile is close to 13,000 weapons. While that number is lower than it was during the Cold War — when there were roughly 60,000 weapons worldwide — it does not alter the fundamental threat to humanity these weapons represent.
For example, the warheads on just one U.S. nuclear-armed submarine have seven times the destructive power of all the bombs dropped during World War II, including the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan. And the United States usually has ten of those submarines at sea.
Moreover, nearly all the major nuclear powers — including the United States, Russia, and China — are now significantly increasing their nuclear arsenals in size, capability, or both. This growing new arms race is raising the risk of nuclear war.
Together, the U.S. and Russia, who are today at loggerheads over Ukraine, account for more than 90% of the world’s nukes. The U.S. B83 gravity bomb is 80 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. But lower-level nuclear weapons should not be discounted as a menace. In fact, their more limited force can make them seem more useable to the powers-that-be.
The possibility of an accident that triggers a disaster also cannot be ignored. Take for example Ukraine’s Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power facility, where shelling around the plant makes for a highly concerning situation.
With its assault on Ukraine, Russia is challenging the United States with the strongest tool at its disposal — war. The surrounding talk of the possibility of a real nuclear war erupting shows that moving the world closer to nuclear annihilation is due precisely to spiraling inter-imperialist rivalry.
China: the top economic threat to U.S. pride of place
The fraught U.S.-Russia relationship is not the only one internationally. For a number of years, China has been at the top of the Pentagon’s enemies list. Daily anti-China broadcasts and news items in the U.S. are the slow and patient efforts of its ruling class to prepare U.S. workers to accept war, if necessary.
And what is China’s crime? Violations of democratic and human rights? This can hardly be the case, since concerns over these do not prevent the U.S. from supplying Saudi Arabia or Israel with billions in weapons. China’s offense is that it is encroaching on the global economic hegemony of the U.S. capitalist class.
In 2013, China surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest trader of goods. That same year, it launched what is now called the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This is an infrastructure development strategy intended to invest massive amounts — possibly trillions in U.S. dollars over time — in countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe, and Latin America (149 in total at present).
The Guardian newspaper described BRI as “a state-backed campaign for global dominance, a stimulus package for a slowing economy, and a massive marketing campaign for something that was already happening — Chinese investment around the world.” It noted that affected countries such as Djibouti, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, the Maldives, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan and Tajikistan are “among the poorest in their respective regions and will owe more than half of all their foreign debt to China.” And it cited analyses that identify BRI as “a form of economic imperialism that gives China too much leverage over other countries, often those that are smaller and poorer.”
Meanwhile, China has a near monopoly on the planet’s supply of rare-earth metals, critical elements used in military production and advanced technology industries. Top Washington brass have pointed out the precarious position the U.S. is in because of this. To counter China’s preeminent position in this field, the Biden administration has allocated tens of millions of dollars to private corporations to process rare-earth elements in California.
Biden is not the only U.S. president who has been acutely aware of the implications of China’s growing ascendancy. In 2010, President Obama warned: “Countries like China and India and South Korea and Germany … are trying to out-compete us when it comes to clean energy. … They’re trying to out-compete us when it comes to producing engineers and scientists. … And frankly, in some cases, they’ve been catching up and even propelling forward ahead of us.” Perfectly expressing the goal of unipolar dominance, he added: “The U.S. does not play for second place. We play for first.”
Corporate America had been casting a wary eye on China for a number of years. Indeed, one of the reasons big business pushed its oppressive education reform on public schools was to manufacture more workers trained in state-of-the-art “digital literacy” in order to maintain a competitive edge over China.
This is the origin of the STEM curriculum — for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics — invading U.S. public schools. This is an approach which has put art, music, and physical education on the chopping block, all for the sake of competing with China in world markets.
China and Russia have an economic and political alliance that is an imperialist handshake to improve their own positions relative to the United States. The U.S., for its part, is determined to maintain its long-held primacy whatever the cost. The possible outcome is world war.
V. A planet under maximum stress and the impacts on its inhabitants
Evidence is quite out in the open that both nuclear war and climate catastrophe are palpably closer. Both threaten survival itself. Yet the ruling classes are willing to risk planet and life for their material privileges and power.
Consider that no species in Earth’s history has ever created the preconditions for its own extinction, including pre-capitalist homo sapiens. As previous wisdom has pointed out, a frog does not drink all the water from the pond it inhabits.
Imperialism, however, is an outlier frog. This frog does not care about life. It cares only about profit. The calculations it makes regarding climate change and nuclear war are only about how to make sure it survives in the event the rest of humanity is drowned or nuked.
It’s important to appreciate the path to annihilation that capitalism has led to, going against the very basics of nature. DNA may program individuals to die, but it programs the species to live. Capitalism in its highest stage programs not only individuals to die, but entire species. People instinctively will not accept this. But only revolution can stop it, throwing another glaring light on the need for a vanguard program and party.
The objective situation
Climate change is already showing its gargantuan destructive might. Pacific islands are submerging, forcing whole peoples to attempt to relocate in the middle of a world refugee crisis and wiping out entire animal species. One of them was the Bramble Cay melomys, a tiny, reputedly cute rodent that lived on a small isle near Papua New Guinea. Having lost almost all of its natural habitat to rising sea levels, in 2019 it became the first documented extinction of a mammal due to climate change.
In turning up the heat, climate change is causing an explosion of “natural” disasters, like hurricanes, superstorms, floods, deadly heat waves, droughts, and forest fires. The Wilderness Society notes: “Wildfires are getting bigger and more destructive. One of the main forces driving this trend is climate change, which has intensified summertime droughts; reduced the mountaintop snowpack, making fire seasons longer; and even increased lightning strikes that can trigger big fires in tinder-dry forests. Since the 1980s, researchers say, climate change has roughly doubled the area of wildfires in the western U.S.”
Global heating is also increasing the spread of disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports: “Lyme disease, West Nile virus disease, and Valley fever … are just some of the infectious diseases that are on the rise and spreading to new areas of the United States. Milder winters, warmer summers, and fewer days of frost make it easier for these and other infectious diseases to expand into new geographic areas and infect more people.”
As with every other curse of life under capitalism, the pain of climate change is not distributed equally. Its effects are magnified for women, Indigenous people, and people of color, and that means members of these groups are often in the forefront of the fight to check global warming and ameliorate its effects.
The U.S. government has long disposed of nuclear waste on Native lands. Other toxic waste is disproportionately dumped in poor localities with large populations of people of color. Polluted water in Flint, Mich., Jackson, Miss., and Newark, N.J., are more of the very many examples of environmental racism. The fights against racism and in defense of a healthy Earth are strongly interconnected.
And environmental racism is global. In a shockingly explicit example, Harvard economist Larry Summers proposed that the West dump its toxic garbage in Africa, whose countries were “under-polluted”! He was chief economist for the World Bank at the time.
It might be noted that he served as treasury secretary or economic adviser for several Democratic presidential administrations or campaigns. He is also infamous for asserting that women are genetically inferior to men in mathematics and science.
An Aug. 11, 2021, article published online by the National Institutes of Health describes how highly developed nations dump e-waste into African countries like Ghana and Nigeria:
Waste electronic and electrical equipment (e-waste) consists of used and discarded … items ranging from refrigerators to cell phones and printed circuit boards. It is frequently moved from developed countries to developing countries. … Many of these used products are irreparable and are discarded with other solid waste to local landfills. These items are then often scavenged for the purpose of extracting valuable metals by heating and burning, incubating in acids and other methods. These activities pose significant health risks to workers and residents in communities near recycling sites. E-waste burning and dismantling activities are frequently undertaken … in or near homes. As a result, children and people living in the surrounding areas are exposed, even if they are not directly involved in the recycling. While toxic substances are dangerous to individuals at any age, children are more vulnerable as they are going through important developmental processes.
Culpability and false solutions
The scientific consensus has long been that the chief cause of these environmental problems is the use of fossil fuels to satisfy energy needs. Socialists go one step further and recognize that because energy policy is under the control of the bourgeoisie internationally, the insatiable drive for exorbitant profits is the fundamental culprit. If workers were in charge, a turn to renewable power sources would have come about long ago.
It is not as though climate change is the result of roasting too many marshmallows. It has been brought about by the massive fossil fuel consumption required for manufacturing, transport, and other economic operations without which contemporary society simply cannot run. It is, in other words, caused by the lifeblood of the worldwide capitalist system.
The truly unsurpassed culprit behind global warming is the U.S. military, creating a quite natural link between anti-war and pro-environment activism, with mass anti-capitalist movements urgently needed in both cases.
Military spending is obscene and getting more so. In December 2021, President Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act, approving $768.2 billion in so-called defense spending, an increase of 5%. And every dollar spent by the Pentagon not only increases the misery of people at home and abroad in one way or another, it also exacerbates the climate crisis.
A March 2020 article on the website FossilFuels.com pointed out that the U.S. armed forces consume “more fossil fuels than entire countries,” stating:
Beginning during the second half of the twentieth century, fossil fuel consumption by the world’s militaries grew substantially. As warfare has become increasingly carbon intensive, military aircraft and other large war machines have continued to guzzle massive amounts of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. Today’s modern armies, air forces, and naval fleets are consuming fossil fuels at unprecedented rates. In addition to using fossil fuels to power machinery like tanks and battleships, weapons manufacturing also guzzles a significant amount of energy and fossil fuels.
… As the world’s largest military power, the U.S. military is the single biggest consumer of fossil fuels and producer of greenhouse gas emissions in the world.
… The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University estimates that the U.S. military has emitted roughly 1.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions since the global war on terror began in 2001…. This level of greenhouse gas emissions is equivalent to operating 257 million passenger cars annually. The carbon emissions from war-related activity in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria is projected to have reached 400 million metric tons of carbon dioxide through 2019.
The U.S. military is like a putrid abscess devouring all an organism’s energy resources while simultaneously emitting unsurvivable levels of toxic waste. The Biden administration’s plan to expand both fossil fuel production and U.S. military expenditures will only make things worse, similar to feeding an infection just what it needs to keep on growing and spreading.
The Democrats give lip service to sustainable energy. All the while, they allow the fossil fuel industry to continue enjoying the bonanza generated by the stratospheric oil market prices that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In the first quarter of 2022, BP tripled its profits to a record $8.5 billion. Shell’s profits rose to $9.1 billion, also a record. Exxon raked in $5.48 billion. Heavily taxing these profits would go a long way toward solving numerous domestic and world social problems.
But what bothers the Democrats are not these absurdly high gains. They reel instead from the inflation caused by the high energy costs, which lowers the value of corporate profits. For this reason, Biden has opened up new sources of fossil fuel to help lower prices, announcing an agreement with Saudi dictator Mohammed bin Salman in July 2022 which would increase oil production levels by 50%.
Turning to solutions, the Paris Accords, for example, are wholly inadequate. Citing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and referring to a maximum tolerable average temperature elevation of 1.5 degrees Celsius, Inside Climate News reported this:
Nearly two-thirds of the pledges under the Paris climate agreement are “totally insufficient” to meet the critical climate targets.
To keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7°F) compared to preindustrial times, the IPCC has found that global greenhouse gas emissions need to fall by about half by 2030 and then reach net-zero by mid-century. The longer countries stall, the steeper the necessary emissions cuts become.
Strategies proposed by socialists which leave the capitalist system intact also cannot be relied upon. This includes the Green New Deal, introduced into the House of Representatives on February 7, 2019, by Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and numerous others.
The resolution they put forward correctly points out the tragic consequences if nothing is done to combat global warming. It points to the opportunities that addressing the problem could create in areas like jobs and social advances, including justice for Native peoples. It emphasizes the inclusion of vulnerable communities, unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, and academia — along with businesses — in decision-making.
But the Green New Deal nowhere addresses the underlying cause of climate change, which is capitalism itself. Like many other reforms in the U.S., this one, if ever passed, is likely to be so diluted as to be utterly ineffective. Even in its present form, it does not take on the polluters in a truly meaningful way, as for example calling for nationalization of energy under workers’ control. The only way to achieve results is through the widest possible mass movement with a radical perspective.
The movement and the necessity for complete revolution
Over the coming period, world hunger and starvation will increase as potentially several billions of people experience shortages of potable water and low crop yields. Many of them will be forced to join the mass migrations already taking place due to war, economic crisis, repression, and global heating. Revolutionary Marxists should be in the forefront of the fight for refugees and others who experience the worst ravages of climate change.
At the same time, we recognize that the only solution to the climate emergency is ridding the world of capitalism and immediately turning to renewable power sources along with policies of repair like massive reforestation, the conservation of energy through things like free mass public transit, the curbing of waste in all its forms, soil regeneration, and so on. Stated plainly, what’s needed is a socialist revolution to put the working class in charge. Yet it is unfortunately not in the power of socialists to achieve this today or tomorrow. That raises the question: How does a vanguard party approach a situation where there is a divide between the urgency of the matter and current prospects for significant change?
In politics there are no shortcuts, regardless of the depth of a crisis. The job of socialists is first of all to educate people and persuade them of the need for sweeping social transformation. The goal is to turn opposition to climate change into an international, anti-capitalist mass movement with working-class leadership, one open to every person who is victimized by global heating, appreciates the danger, and wants to do something about it.
Connecting the climate crisis to other causes is key to victory. It is not its own separate issue and organizing around it as a single issue will not result in a movement large enough and powerful enough to lead to victory. A multi-issue movement can build bonds of solidarity across different groups of people, breaking down barriers dividing the working class and thereby strengthening it and preparing it for the confrontations ahead.
Given the understanding that capitalism can’t help but disregard the environment because of its focus on its bottom line, climate change must be one component of an ecosocialist vision. Like the fights against patriarchy and white supremacy, the fight to save the planet cannot win without putting an end to capitalism. And the fight for socialism will be that much stronger and able to succeed with the participation of passionate environmental campaigners.
VI. Two indispensable keys to advance: socialist feminist theory and the Leninist party
To defeat this march to death represented by global heating and the potential for nuclear war, nothing short of a workers’ revolution will do. Given the massive amounts of pro-imperialist propaganda oozing from all the capitalist mouthpieces, it will take a party well-trained in analyzing and organizing to speak the truth and lead the opposition.
But the working class is not united in its daily struggles. It is divided by bigotries which have accumulated over the course of history. Overcoming these bigotries is therefore a necessary condition for the working class to discover the solidarity which makes it a formidable social power.
The power of Marxist feminism
Because divisions among workers and the oppressed are a basic source of capitalist power over them, movements which unite the working class are the ones with revolutionary potential. And the most powerful such movement internationally is the one for women’s freedom. What are the reasons for this?
One is simple. Women are members of every oppressed group. They experience discrimination based not only on gender but on race, national background, age, sexuality, abilities, religion, and more. As FSP and Radical Women co-founder Clara Fraser writes in 1978’s “Socialist Feminism: Where the Battle of the Sexes Resolves Itself”:
Woman in modern capitalist society occupies a unique place. She is oppressed in the home and super-exploited at the workplace. The woman of color is triply subjugated, on account of sex, class, and her race. Since the bourgeoisie uses both race and sex antagonisms to divide and weaken the entire working class, women, especially minority women, become the focal point around which all workers and all the oppressed can coalesce and act in solidarity.
Women … represent, symbolize, and express all the victims of the dominant class, because half of all the afflicted are female. Women are accordingly central to the creation and the culture of communism.
Another factor making feminism a revolutionary proposition is capitalism’s absolute dependence on women’s super-exploitation on the job and their free labor at home and in society, as volunteers, caregivers, and so on. At work, their low pay relative to men produces super-profits for the company while also putting downward pressure on wages generally. And they are indispensable to raising the next generation of the labor force.
Women’s liberation requires doing away with the profit system. A socialist economy is the only one that can finally do away with patriarchy, because, unlike capitalism, it has no material need for sexism and the related ills of homophobia and transphobia. In the few short years before the 1917 Russian Revolution was overtaken by Stalinism, the Bolsheviks showed how much could be done for women’s freedom and status when the profit motive is absent. For the same reason, eliminating racism hinges on eliminating capitalism.
In turn, however, revolutionary feminism, like working-class radical Black leadership, is necessary for the socialist revolution to take place and to succeed. As is said by feminist radicals in Latin America, “La revolución sera feminista o no será.” The revolution will be feminist or it will not be realized.
Though patriarchy takes different forms in different places, it is a single, worldwide phenomenon. In some regions it is more brutal than others. In Saudi Arabia, women must have an officially designated man to sign off on all manner of routine activities, including where they can work and travel. Only recently was male guardianship removed from a woman’s right to choose maternity care. In the U.S. and other advanced capitalist countries, women are not legally required to be as smothered, despite scattered voices expressing extreme positions. Still, in the U.S. women are in an ongoing fight for equal pay and opportunities at work, against sexual violence, and, quite notably today, for reproductive justice including abortion, no forced sterilization, childcare, and more.
It is precisely because patriarchy is a global reality going back millennia that women and LGBTQ+ people are forces to be reckoned with. For this force to be effective, however, revolutionaries must pay close attention to sexist oppression everywhere and champion individuals and groups which oppose it.
Socialists must also grasp the critical difference between bourgeois feminism and Marxist feminism. Bourgeois feminism promotes the right of women to gain privilege and power within capitalist society. Bourgeois feminism advocates for women becoming CEOs of big firms and running campaigns for election to high office. But because the profit system can award such gains only to a select minority, bourgeois feminism has nothing to offer the female majority.
As opposed to this, revolutionary socialist feminism fights for the needs of the specially oppressed women and others who challenge the institution of the nuclear family, the unit of working-class atomization. This feminism does not stop with a moderate “pro-choice” call, but instead agitates for free abortion on demand for anyone who may need one. When Marxist feminism is part of the program of a revolutionary party, the organization can be assured that it is fighting for the most oppressed, and therefore the people most likely to provide militant, determined, enduring leadership — like the women fighting for the liberation of Kurdistan, for the victory of Tigray against greater Ethiopian chauvinism and its policy of wartime rape, and for freedom from the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Central principles of the revolutionary party
Capitalists rely on an entity called the middle caste to transmit their values, ideas, and program — like reformist feminism — to the working class. The middle caste is not a class, with a specific relationship to the means of production. They are a social layer whose members claim to represent workers and oppressed groups — but whose real job, whether intentional or not, is to sell out those groups in order to maintain the status quo for the bosses.
In order to keep the peace, top union officials do everything they can to avoid class confrontations and convince the membership to settle for less. The leadership of Planned Parenthood tells women to vote for Democrats, politicians who may say the right things about reproductive freedom, perhaps even sincerely, but who also had no strategy which could stop the Supreme Court from overturning Roe.
Examples like these make it clear that middle-caste misleadership confines its scrawny strategy to the interests of relatively more privileged layers of the working class. Thus, they pass along to union members contracts which accept two-tier plans that drive a wedge within the membership. They approve of legal abortion, but not the call for free abortion on demand, which would include all women, including the poorest and most dispossessed.
Middle-caste strategies support the basic “divide and conquer” game plan of the master class. In contrast, prioritizing the needs and leadership of those who are most abused can unite the disparate members of the working class.
In order to keep the peace, one of the key myths that middle-casters spread is that of commonality between the interests of business and workers, expressed in the old adage, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” The notion is that as corporations flourish, so too will working people. Looked at either logically or historically, though, this is patently false. Business success can only grow at the expense of greater exploitation, borne out by the flat-lining of wages and the extreme growth in wealth inequality as profits and CEO benefits soar astronomically.
Given that the interests of capitalists and proletarians are in fact diametrically opposed, it follows that the working class needs its own independent politics — its own leadership and its own party.
The middle caste, including socialists who yield to supporting “lesser evil” Democrats, dedicates itself to obscuring this imperative. In fact, the crucial need for independent working-class politics is one of three interrelated principles which distinguish a revolutionary party from the non-revolutionary socialist Left. The others discussed here are internationalism and the aim of workers seizing state power.
The first principle recognizes that capitalist politicians represent the class enemy, with the corollary of no support to bourgeois politicians or states.
In the U.S., the Democrats and Republicans are the good cop/bad cop duo of parliamentary politics. It is easy for many working people to see that the increasingly right-wing Republican Party is out to hurt them. But it can be harder to acknowledge the harsh truth that the Democratic Party is no alternative.
As one example from the decades of Democratic betrayals, Biden promised to support labor unions. Yet in the face of a looming walkout by much-abused railway employees over pay, benefits, and draconian work rules, he and Congress broke the potential strike by invoking the Rail Labor Act. Workers were forced to stay on the job under a contract most of them had voted to reject.
Another case in point: Biden also pledged to respect the environment. But as Inside Climate News correctly noted in July 2022:
The Biden administration took two of its biggest steps yet to open public lands to fossil fuel development, holding its first onshore lease sales and releasing a proposed plan for offshore drilling that could open parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s Cook Inlet to leasing through 2028.
The moves run counter to Joe Biden’s campaign pledge to halt new oil and gas development on federal lands and waters, and come as the president is under mounting political pressure to address high energy prices.
With the reduction of Russian oil and gas on the world market, the U.S. bourgeoisie is happy to step in and rake in mega-profits, with no care for the climate danger this poses. And the Democrats go along with it. Such is the impossibility of capitalism to solve the problems it has created.
The second principle of a Bolshevik party is internationalism — solidarity with the world working class. The organization does not take positions pitting “our workers” against “their workers.”
To violate this conviction is to give free rein to the imperialists to wage war against each other or against non-imperialist countries. In the end, this means worker killing worker on behalf of their bosses. It means allowing the ruling classes to portray poor migrants as enemies of a given working class, when in fact they are economic refugees escaping misery created by capitalist policies that harm workers everywhere. As long as workers are divided along national lines, the requisite solidarity for social revolution will be thin and weak, at best.
Recognizing that fundamental reform of the capitalist system is a dangerous pipe dream, a vanguard party holds the goal of proletarian state control as its third principle.
This control is essential to beginning the construction of a new and better world. It is only when workers replace the bourgeoisie as the ruling class in society that they can begin to change the way decisions are made about how the economy should run. Naturally, it will operate on behalf of the majority, not on behalf of the leech-like capitalist class. Anything short of this kind of transformation leaves the profit system breathing, ready to recover from any near-death experience and resume its brutal attack on humanity and the planet. Ready, indeed, to resume its use of lethal weapons against us.
That is why revolutionary socialists are not pacifists. Workers have the right to armed self-defense against attacks by the bosses, government, or fascists. Given the capitalists’ love of killing people, working people cannot abandon the right to bear arms to defend themselves and their families, coworkers, and class.
VII. The array of forces on the Left
As already noted, the urgency of the problems humanity faces today translates into a political urgency to build a revolutionary party. That means engaging in debate with other left tendencies, continuing efforts to build united front actions around issues where there is agreement, and looking for opportunities for possible regroupment. It will take more than one-on-one recruitment to assemble a mass party.
Roughly speaking, organizations which claim to be anti-capitalist fall into one of four categories: social democracy, anarchism, Stalinism, and Trotskyism. Obviously, there are far more than four left organizations! Yet the many representatives of each category do share certain political principles in common. That is why these terms are useful.
All these groups are making efforts to recruit today’s fighters. In that sense, left organizations, including FSP, compete with one another based on their respective programs. However, the Left also needs to work together to maximize its strength against the ruling-class opposition.
FSP can expect to routinely cross paths with representatives of these various tendencies in our day-to-day political engagement. At every point along the road to workers’ revolution, we will encounter not only their leaders, members, and supporters, but also other individuals who are fresh to revolutionary work and are looking for answers. We might even meet seasoned activists who have begun to question the principles, strategies, and tactics of groups they previously endorsed. It is therefore crucial for us to stay abreast of all the main forces participating in the class struggle and be prepared to explain our program, including what we share with others and how we differ from them.
The revolutionary party is not a talk shop, as James Cannon often emphasized. The goal is not to win academic debates, build up a list of publications in peer-reviewed journals, or sit on the sidelines as critics.
Nor is the party a clinic for psychological counseling, though socialists recognize that capitalism is increasingly destroying people’s mental health along with their physical well-being. It is no accident that the U.N. World Happiness Report ranks Afghanistan as the country with the most unhappy people, with an estimated one-fifth of the population clinically depressed. Nor is it a coincidence that the report’s most unhappy countries are the poorest and least democratic. Fighting for a world without poverty, constant insecurity, and restrictions on human rights is the political approach to combating mental suffering.
In sum, the aim of the revolutionary party is to lead a struggle for workers’ power — not a matter to be taken lightly. The lives of millions and millions of poor and abused people are at stake. Indeed, the future of humanity and the planet hang in the balance.
A Bolshevik party is distinguished from democratic socialism, anarchism, and Stalinism by its adherence to the three central principles described above: class independence, internationalism, and seizure of state control. A party that doesn’t embrace those precepts is leading its followers to defeat.
In the U.S., social democrats, or reformist socialists, are most robustly represented by the Democratic Socialists of America. DSA both ideologically backs candidates of the capitalist Democratic Party and works overtime on their behalf. That is their main arena of political activism, though some DSAers also participate in other struggles.
The DSA claims to be on a mission to build a progressive wing of the Democratic Party. They do not define the word “progressive,” however. Its meaning for the DSA is apparently broad enough to allow endorsement of Democrats who are Zionists, NATO imperialists, and patriotic champions of alliances with the likes of Saudi Arabia. They support Democrats who find it a virtue to cooperate across the aisle with Republicans, which means that when you vote for a Democrat as a lesser evil to a Republican, you get the Republican anyway.
And, because DSA urges voting for Democrats, any argument against the Democrats is an argument against DSA.
The politicians of both the Democratic and Republican parties pass laws making it as difficult as possible for socialist opponents to get on the ballot. They are wined, dined, and owned by lobbyists from the privately held military, pharmaceutical, agricultural, and energy industries. Inserting a few left-leaning Democratic legislators into the mix is not going to change the basic nature of the electoral scam or lead to the results that progressives in or out of the party want.
John Judis, an avid Bernie Sanders fan, accurately described in his book The Socialist Awakening the fundamental social-democratic strategy. He called it “socialism through capitalism”; that is, socialism via the bourgeois ballot box. Social democrats promote the idea that a society operating for the benefit of the working class can be achieved without first challenging the capitalist hold over state power. But it is stretching the power of imagination beyond reason to imagine that the bourgeoisie will surrender willingly all the elite privileges and pleasures of their system.
In the absence of a strategy to gain state power, democratic socialists are left with a magical vision which sees a step towards socialism in every legislative victory for workers, however small. They take these piecemeal gains as all that is required to move society toward socialism. But history and current events should make it crystal clear that this strategy will never get rid of capitalism, and in fact cannot even win reforms that last. The record of social democracy in Europe is also not encouraging. While bouncing in and out of power, governments of this kind have implemented privatizing, anti-labor, neoliberal policies and joined in U.S.-led imperialist wars.
The “voting our way to socialism” approach cannot end war or terminate the threat of fascism. It cannot end periodic layoffs and recessions. It cannot end economic exploitation. It cannot stop the rollback of workers’ gains, as in the U.S., where voting rights, reproductive freedom, Medicare, and Social Security are all on the chopping block. It cannot stop the incineration of the planet. And, in advocating this approach, social democracy constitutes a major obstacle on the road toward actually achieving socialism.
If social democracy’s vision is one of achieving socialism through capitalism, anarchism’s vision is achieving communism by going around capitalism, a political detour. And whereas social democrats reject independent working-class political action, anarchists reject working-class power.
In theory, at least, anarchists reject all states, whether capitalist or proletarian. They generally understand socialism as a federation of freely associated autonomous communities each lacking hierarchical leadership, which is inherently repressive in their view. They agree with Marxist revolutionaries on the end goal of a classless, stateless communist society, but intensely disagree about how to get there.
There are many strands of anarchists, from anarcha-feminists to social ecology anarchists and many more. Perhaps most pertinent for this discussion are the direct-action street activists that socialists meet with in protests and demonstrations, the horizontalists who are often influenced by the Zapatistas in Mexico, and the self-styled libertarian socialists prominently represented by Noam Chomsky. There can be both overlap and conflict among them in the realms of theory and practice.
In the direct-action sphere, the 2011 emergence of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement in Manhattan and its subsequent worldwide spread attracted progressive-minded people to slogans about the 1% versus the 99%. It smashed open a window on the real workings and consequences of capitalist economy. It sparked important new discussions about inequality and about new ways of living based on human values and solidarity rather than consumerism and competition.
OWS was eventually busted up by the powers-that-be. Before that, however, it had internal problems and failings to contend with. For one thing, despite lots of popular enthusiasm for it, Occupy didn’t manage in most places to forge organizing connections with people who couldn’t leave work or home for hours or days at a time. For another, its commitment to consensus decision-making rather than majority vote seriously hampered its functioning and frustrated many participants so badly that they left. By its own nature, Occupy was a self-limiting phenomenon.
Occupy was a strongly “horizontalist” movement. Horizontalism is a philosophy and practice that prioritizes the “egalitarian gathering of people into popular assemblies” in the words of writer Thomas Nail. This is in direct contrast to building political parties, including on the Left, which are seen as dividing people rather than uniting them. Horizontalists in the U.S. have been strongly influenced by the Zapatistas in Mexico and popular revolts in Argentina in the early 2000s.
But, as Elias Holtz writes in a 2016 Freedom Socialist, “In its heart, horizontalism is cynical and defeatist. Instead of working to take and keep power on behalf of working people, it reduces its goal to taking over public squares. … Instead of building to overthrow capitalism, horizontalism settles for creating temporary mini utopias.”
Black bloc methods are another form of direct action by anti-statists. These mask-wearing protesters tend to focus on provoking the cops, whatever the specific issue. They are prone to destruction of property, and sometimes to violence against people they see as on the other side. Many express the goal of using these tactics to create highly visible “ruptures in the system” that will more and more inspire people to resist authority and ultimately create an irresistible force against the state.
Young people who are passionately opposed to the status quo are often drawn to this sort of anarchism, at least for a time. But it does not attract people who have learned that progress cannot be made without organization, accountable leadership, and a correct program. FSP’s job is to offer people drawn to the surface radicalism of anarchism an alternative way of fighting for change, one with more staying power.
Representing the libertarian socialist variety of anarchism is the philosopher, linguist, and political critic Noam Chomsky. He is part of the anti-communist crowd that considers Stalinism as arising logically from Marxism and Leninism — which is very unsophisticated reasoning for someone credited with a brilliant mind.
In theory, Chomsky is against all states, definitely including the former workers’ states. In practice, however, he supports capitalist states. He has endorsed voting for allegedly lesser-evil Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, writing: “The left should … recognize that, should Trump win based on its failure to support Clinton, it will repeatedly face the accusation (based in fact), that it lacks concern for those sure to be most victimized by a Trump administration.”
One could reply that, given this logic, Chomsky himself is demonstrating his lack of concern for those most injured by Clinton’s and Biden’s policies — of whom there is no shortage of victims.
The great historic test of anarchism came during the Spanish Revolution in the second half of the 1930s. Anarchists made up the majority of rebellious unionists and of many peasant organizations also. They had the opportunity to make a realistic bid for state power — but refused to do so. Instead, they joined a coalition government with the bourgeoisie that sabotaged the uprising and helped to pave the way for General Francisco Franco’s four decades of dictatorship.
The persistent poison of Stalinism
When it comes to Stalinist groups, they do not usually announce themselves as such. They do not showcase articles about the theories and policies of the betrayer of the Russian Revolution. But Stalinism is a force in today’s political world, including in the U.S.
One easily identifiable characteristic is political support for capitalist but supposedly anti-imperialist regimes and politicians, like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or Russian President Vladimir Putin. Their “anti-imperialism” can consist of nothing more than hostile relations with the U.S. The embrace of governments like these by leftists reflects the faulty logic of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
The Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) recently applauded the electoral victory of Gustavo Petro in Colombia, as did the Communist Party of Cuba. Petro was in the past a member of the M-19 guerrilla movement. According to Reuters, “Petro has vowed profound social and economic change.” He promised to stop oil production because of the damaging effects on the environment, despite its crucial role in the Colombian economy. He has proposed raising billions via progressive taxes on rich corporations. In a country where 50% of the population is poor, these ideas resonate loudly.
But Petro is no socialist. He said so himself. “We are going to develop capitalism in Colombia. Not because we love it, but because we first have to overcome pre-modernity in Colombia.” But, as should be achingly obvious by now, “capitalist development” means the growth of economic inequality, the loss of sovereignty for Indigenous people, and disruption of the environment.
Petro’s remarks dial up the “two-stage” concept of revolution for underdeveloped countries, invented by Joseph Stalin and thoroughly rebutted by Trotsky with his theory of permanent revolution.
According to Stalin, before workers in a less advanced nation could take charge and begin to build toward socialism, the country would have to first pass through a phase using private capitalist investment to develop infrastructure and industry. Only after this was accomplished could workers come to power and begin to shape society in their own interests. But Trotsky explained how a workers’ government from the start could spur the necessary economic and technological advances while at the same time improving the conditions of life by nationalizing crucial industries under workers’ control, providing state-supported housing, healthcare, childcare, and education, and so on.
As we have repeatedly noted, leaving capitalism in power means continued exploitation of labor and crises which will be solved on the backs of workers. Worse still is the prospect of an ending similar to what occurred in 1973 Chile under social democrat Salvador Allende, when the bourgeoisie and its military, still alive and kicking and even treated with kid gloves by Allende, launched a deadly assault on the working class, killing tens of thousands of people in the process.
Stalinists, beguiled as they are by practically any regime which trumpets anti-imperialist rhetoric, also give political support to workers’ states run by privileged bureaucrats. In countries like Cuba and North Korea, Stalinists see the ruling parties as revolutionary because they verbally oppose capitalism and the U.S. They loudly and quite correctly protest ruthless and criminal U.S.-led sanctions. But the top layers of these regimes grant themselves far more material privileges than they do the average worker. They repress the democratic freedoms of their own people, and in so doing they weaken their own revolutions. Workers’ democracy is necessary to generate the widest possible approval for the revolution and to maximize the best possible decision-making.
It should be clear that social democracy, anarchism, and Stalinism are not entirely independent political doctrines. In some ways they are hybrids of one another. The fundamental flaw is that they do not consistently uphold revolutionary principles.
VIII. The need for leadership in a time of growing assaults and resistance
Working people have taken some serious blows since FSP’s previous convention in October 2019. With the pandemic and capitalism’s own internal mechanics shaking the world economy, the bourgeois playbook of divide and conquer has gone into overdrive with heightened assaults on distinct groups of workers, alongside those on the class as a whole.
These attacks are designed to keep exploited and oppressed people distracted, beaten down and estranged from one another, as the capitalists descend like vultures to reap massive rewards off every twist and turn of the Covid and economic crises.
Workers haven’t taken these attacks lying down, but have risen to meet them with outbreaks of union organizing and protests and resistance in the street. Even more significant is that they are expressing a deeper understanding that capitalism must go.
Young people understand the need for revolution most of all. The teenagers and early twenty-somethings of Gen Z have come of age in a time of expanding inequality, violence, instability, and environmental destruction. This has created a whole new generation of activists and organizers who want socialism. In impressive numbers, they reject the social divisions of racism, sexism and the gender binary and have an instinctive solidarity and empathy with all the oppressed.
The class struggle has the potential to be enormously boosted by this new throng of rebels and by workers’ demonstrated will to fight back. But revolutionary potential can only be realized with revolutionary leadership.
The recent mass mobilizations bursting onto the scene clearly reveal the lack of principled radical direction within them. Instead, the capitalists are depending as usual on middle-caste misleaders to try and pump the breaks. FSP has an essential role to play, working with other radicals and militants, to help the masses push the sellouts out of the way and escalate the fight with the ruling class.
U.S. labor on the move
After decades of a labor movement in decline, it is thrilling to see U.S. working people fighting for themselves and for improvements for their class. Teachers, for example, are battling for the good of students and communities as well as for themselves as workers. Clearly people are tired of eating the bitter fruits of neoliberalism. They are angry to see their living standards plummet, their unions come under attack, and their housing, healthcare and childcare become priced out of reach.
The current labor upsurge is a fantastic opportunity for FSP’s socialist feminist, class-struggle brand of unionism to shine.
- Class struggle is irrepressible
Labor resistance has been sweeping the world.
In Greece, unions waged more than 30 general strikes to protest the vicious austerity imposed in the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown. Union federations in India brought out 250 million workers for a general strike in November 2020, possibly the largest walkout ever. They issued demands that united workers, farmers, and the impoverished. In Australia, workers are striking in higher numbers than in nearly 20 years. In summer 2022, British rail unions launched the biggest strikes in decades, bringing massive disruption to the system across the nation.
For decades, it looked like the situation would be different in the United States. Unions here have been under such attack that one might expect that they would be down for the count. Bosses have been perfecting the art of union-busting, availing themselves of an entire industry of anti-labor consultants. The courts routinely impose injunctions to stop effective picketing. And the Supreme Court made the entire public sector “right to work” when it issued the Janus decision in 2018 — a very strategic blow, considering the public workforce is five times more unionized than the private. Right-to-work laws now cover all workers in 28 states.
Officials of the large unions have not responded well to these challenges. In the political arena they still insist on relying solely on the Democratic Party, a vehicle designed and built to run in the interest of the enemy class. On the economic field they refuse to mobilize for battle, consistently trying to figure out how to keep their ranks from striking. During the 2021 Northwest Carpenters Union contract negotiations, members had to vote down four crummy contract offers before the leadership finally called a deliberately ineffective strike.
Many fed-up workers are leaving passivity behind. Militancy began to build in 2018 with a wave of teacher strikes, many of them in anti-union “red” states (Republican-leaning) like West Virginia and Oklahoma. Nurses and other essential workers rebelled in 2020 to demand far better Covid safety measures. Then 2021 saw a slew of walkouts in manufacturing, healthcare, universities and more. Some strikers refused to settle for lousy deals. Workers at John Deere struck the company for over a month, held their ground, and voted down subpar offers pushed by their timid leadership, continuing to walk the line. Many more big contracts expire in 2023, which could mean plenty of large walkouts.
- Youthful and Black workers lead the way
Just a few years ago, it was beyond anyone’s imagination that employees in over 200 Starbucks stores would form a union. Other retail staffers across the country are also organizing, as are tech workers at Google and Facebook. Young workers, many burdened with heavy student loans, are not buying into a future of low wages, bizarre schedules, and dictatorial management.
And their revolt grows, both in scope and determination. Hundreds of newly minted Starbucks organizers attended the Labor Notes conference in June 2022. There they told other attendees that they have often walked off the job or held militant rallies and actions even when the national union helping them, Workers United, cautioned them not to go so far. FSP comrades who met young workers at Labor Notes report that they were interested in socialism and enthusiastically supported anyone who indicted capitalism for its sins. National polls do conclude that there are two things that young folks support more than any other age group — unions and socialism.
As has been the case throughout U.S. labor history, Black workers are playing a key role in the current upsurge. Consistently the most unionized racial group in the U.S., they are well represented in the ranks of essential workers who are rising up and unionizing. In many parts of the country, Amazon’s warehouse employees are largely Black, and these are the workers driving the effort to organize this viciously anti-union behemoth.
A bold Black-led effort to form a union at a facility in Bessemer, Alabama, a right-to-work state, was launched in early 2021 by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Amazon reached into their deep pockets to mobilize an army of union-busting consultants. The organizing effort garnered national support, but RWDSU relied too much on that piece of the puzzle and tried to bypass the long process of house calls, building shop floor actions, and the like. The union was at first voted down by a wide margin. But it came quite close to victory in a re-do of the election ordered by the National Labor Relations Board.
The next year the independent Amazon Labor Union (ALU) achieved an historic triumph by establishing the first-ever union at a U.S. Amazon facility. This was in Staten Island, New York, territory much friendlier to unions, and the win showed the value of a bottom-up effort. But the next ALU campaign in a nearby warehouse came up short. Clearly a coordinated nationwide campaign, bringing together the different unions and community allies, could target every tentacle of the Amazon beast and bring greater success.
FSP’s politics of revolutionary integration, which among other ideas posits the critical need for radical Black leadership for the progress of the multiracial working class as a whole, is a great tool for engaging in the newly energized struggles of workers. One example of that program in practice is the Root Out Racism at King County and Beyond! mobilization initiated by Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS). Racism had been rampant at county worksites for decades, and party comrades in OWLS recognized that Black employees were showing leadership and taking the county on. The campaign organized bold actions driven by the rank and file and pushed local union officials to take up the fight.
- Women revitalize the union movement
The 1990 Radical Women document Women Workers: Sparkplugs of Labor called it right when it predicted that the “second sex” would continue to stream into employment and bring with it a fighting spirit. Today women constitute nearly half of union membership, and they are driving much of the labor action that is picking up steam.
The mass strikes mentioned above by teachers and nurses, as well as the organizing drives in heretofore strictly non-union employers like Starbucks and Trader Joe’s, have been largely female-led insurgencies.
Of course, women workers in and out of unions have long been mobilizing to address the multiple oppressions they face in this misogynist society. They have fought to win workplace protections and vital social services; they have battled sexual harassment and discrimination on the job; and much more.
Today, reproductive justice is front and center. Many FSP comrades have been pushing unions to embrace the fight for abortion rights for decades, and they can attest that it has not been easy. But in the wake of the SCOTUS takedown of Roe, things have changed.
Many labor bodies have passed strong resolutions in support of abortion and reproductive freedom. The RW-initiated National Mobilization for Reproductive Justice (NMRJ) has been endorsed by 10 labor organizations. Comrades report that when they bring a motion to endorse NMRJ to their local union, it receives vociferous support from the ranks, often accompanied by a hefty donation.
Shoulder to shoulder with Radical Women in the struggle for bodily autonomy is a great place for FSP to be in the labor movement. More than ever, now is the time to heed Trotsky’s exhortation, “Turn to the woman worker!”
- A winning strategy
Newly formed collective bargaining units will face strong headwinds. Every employer, especially ultrarich ones like Amazon and Starbucks, will do everything in their power to make damn sure the workers never get a first contract. Their strategy: wear out their employees in order to break the union.
Both the bosses and the state will be looking to slow and reverse the momentum of organizing drives and militant strikes. So what can be done to keep labor moving forward?
Clues can be found by looking at the 1930s, which saw the biggest labor upsurge in U.S. history. Those titanic battles were led by communists and socialists. These folks were not like union officials today, but rather were kin to the delegates of the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World, described by James Cannon as “stiff-necked irreconcilables, at war with capitalist society.”
These radicals did not rely on cautious leaders of the established craft unions. And there was no NLRB to pin hopes on, although surely they would never have imagined counting on any institution of the capitalist state. They instead relied on militant mass strikes. They often united an entire city’s working class into a general strike that saw the unemployed become picketers instead of scabs.
Many of these militants also knew that they had to smash the color line to unite their class and move forward. Today we would add the task of confronting discrimination based on gender, sexuality, citizenship status, abilities, and the other wedges the upper class uses to divide the lower while reaping super‑profits.
This militant, class-struggle brand of unionism is the political legacy bequeathed to every FSP comrade, as well as to other revolutionaries engaged in labor’s cause.
- Now is the time!
Workers are organizing unions and walking off the job both because they are fed up and because they have lost much of their fear. For instance, Amazon employees talk about seeing “help wanted” signs in every other business they pass. They know that if they get fired for their efforts, it will likely be easy to get another job. The labor shortage throughout the economy has given workers more leverage.
But layoffs are becoming more widespread, especially in the tech sector, even as many grocery stores, hospitals, etc. continue to be short-staffed. Windows of opportunity do not stay open forever, especially in a capitalist economy subject to crisis. As explained earlier, capitalism is far from healthy and even harder times are coming. Although bourgeois economists are divided on the topic, many are predicting a recession.
But for now, obstreperous workers continue in motion. In the crucible of the class struggle, they will move to the left. It is the job of FSP comrades to be in the struggle with them, helping them move past reformism toward revolutionary socialist feminism — the politics suited to winning the kind of world they are fighting for.
Black Lives Matter: a multiracial awakening
Racist police violence has plagued our class since the inception of slave catchers wearing silver badges. But it took a horrifyingly clear video of the police murder of George Floyd for millions to pour into the streets in protest, shattering the silence of the lockdowns.
The 2020 summer of revolt took the entire country by firestorm. Day after day of demonstrations grew to become the largest civil rights mobilization in U.S. history. FSP’s theory of revolutionary integration was painted in living color, as the Black struggle for basic survival shook the country to its core and drew in people of every race, age, and gender. The inevitability of female leadership was proven again as working-class Black women, many of them young, led the charge. Massive multiracial marches showed a strengthening solidarity among members of the working class — Black, Latinx, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native and white — and the powerful potential for unity over issues of the most oppressed.
This immense outpouring put the basic question of Black liberation on the table and challenged every city, workplace, and mainstream media outlet to deal with systemic racism. And just like the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) explosion has undoubtedly energized many other struggles for justice and helped to sprout new ones.
As inspirational and widespread as BLM was, its lack of left leadership limited its capacity to make gains from the very start. Strategically weak demands like defunding the cops were pushed by anarchist police abolitionists over ones capable of building working-class power, like the fight for elected and empowered community review boards able to fire or discipline cop perpetrators of state violence.
Petty-bourgeois leaders of the mobilization pushed supporting Black business and donating to Black foundations and individuals over organizing. Cultural nationalists, who see race as the primary and defining relationship among people, told white people who were newly roused to step back, self-educate, and buy books instead of joining in collaborative, multiracial, grassroots activism.
Mass marches never last forever. A lack of left leadership and democratic organizations meant BLM didn’t give supporters channels for other militant tactics that would be ongoing and focused. As the movement recedes, politicians are back to pushing law and order to build fear and defend the police and the system overall.
Although Black Lives Matter did not succeed in reining in the cops, it did bring about a sea change in the understanding of racism in the U.S. and galvanized solidarity around race issues. It also helped to break through the isolating effects of the early pandemic, as people realized that this was a cause worth getting face to face for. On the minus side of the ledger, large Black-led NGOs headed by middle-casters have built up sometimes enormous cash coffers, stirring up criticism and controversy over what they are choosing to do with them.
In any case, revolutionary Black leaders do exist. As a vanguard, these activists are isolated from the masses until broader influence can be won. The wildfire of Black Lives Matter may have burned down to coals, but we know the embers will kindle again.
Women rise up against reaction
As a growing patriarchal tide tries to pull them back to the dark ages, women globally are standing up and fighting back.
The party and its sister organization, Radical Women, have long understood that women’s struggles are all globally connected. Patriarchy and capitalism work hand in hand in every country to subjugate women in order to extract as much unpaid labor from them as possible. As the economic crisis deepens, ruling-class efforts to hold down female rebellion grow even more desperate. In even the most developed bourgeois democratic countries, fundamental rights of women and girls are being stripped away.
Bearing perhaps the most severe brunt of the war on women are the brave women and girls of Afghanistan, where they resist the brutal attempts of the Taliban to enslave them. And in conflict-torn areas like Kurdistan and Tigray, women are taking up arms to defend their very lives in the midst of the rape and pillaging of war.
The struggles and demands of the most marginalized spread like wildfire across borders, because there is an understood solidarity among all of the doubly and triply oppressed peoples whose power to change the world is waiting to be unleashed. Iranian women who rose up for equal rights acknowledged inspiration from the just struggles of Kurdish women. Women in Afghanistan acknowledged their inspiration from Iranian women. And the larger mass of oppressed people in Iran — students, workers, immigrants — responded to the leadership of the women.
The battle of women for reproductive justice in the imperialist headquarters is being infused with new strength from their sisters abroad. While the emboldened, belligerent, and sexist Supreme Court majority has put the U.S. women’s movement on the defense, across the world women have been on the offense for abortion rights from Ireland to Argentina and Mexico. And that is the critical shift to push for.
The crisis in leadership within the movement for abortion and reproductive rights is dire. NGOs and the Democratic Party have disarmed the fight for decades by pushing it into the courts and ballot box while using the issue to raise money.
Now that the right wing has scored victories in the capitalist court, these same liberal leaders are responding with vigils and mourning. Women of color, poor women, and the young don’t have time to indulge in such hand-wringing despair.
Radical Women’s initiative in the National Mobilization for Reproductive Justice is exactly the militant, multi-issue leadership that the movement needs. Along with effective protest tactics, NMRJ is providing a program of reproductive liberation that includes long-ignored issues of women of color, immigrants, trans people, and Indigenous, disabled, and
As Marxists feminists, FSP understands how our entire social system rests on the oppression and theft of women’s labor. When women rise up and defend their very basic rights, they threaten the whole exploitative world order and weld together all fights for freedom. Supporting Radical Women and the burgeoning movement for reproductive justice should continue to be a top priority for FSP’s work.
Trans people under attack
The latest assaults on women’s rights and on the trans community are inextricably connected. The recent blitz of legislative and rhetorical attacks on trans people, including trans kids, have two aims.
First, they violently enforce a gender binary necessary to the profit-driven patriarchal order. As trans rights gain broader acceptance, the sexist social structure is threatened. Trans and queer people are also often among the strongest leaders in social movements, bringing a passionate and imaginative vision of liberation that threatens the status quo.
Second, attacks on trans and other LGBTQ+ people create a boogeyman and scapegoat to distract workers from the real source of social crisis, the capitalist system and the ruling class. Fear-mongering conspiracies that members of the queer community are “grooming” and indoctrinating children are designed to whip the far right into action.
Trans people and allies have stood strong against these bombardments. FSP will continue to take the assaults seriously as dog whistles to a violent, fascist base. A recent attempt by the neo-Nazi Patriot Front to attack a Pride parade in Idaho shows the danger in letting them go unopposed. So do Proud Boys’ disruptions of drag queen story hours for children at local libraries; in at least one case, in Nevada, the Proud Boys were armed.
FSP has a strong legacy of participating in militant queer and trans self-defense and must carry on calling for united fronts against this right-wing backlash, while promoting our program for total liberation for all.
Maintaining the fight against fascism
As capitalism grows more and more unstable, the ruling class will keep feeding the far right ideologically, while holding these thugs in reserve for the day they are needed to suppress left and working-class resistance.
White supremacists and neo-Nazis have become bolder and bolder. Far-right media has helped them recruit and inflame violence against the Black community, Asian Americans and other people of color, immigrants, trans and queer people, Jews, Muslims, women, and the Left. The threat to workers’ organizations is not far off, highlighting the importance of labor’s strong involvement in opposing the fascists.
The multiracial, diverse working class has fought brave fights against the far right in big cities and small towns. But leadership is pivotal in anti-fascist work, where flawed anarchist tactics and weak liberal pacifism hold sway. FSP has a proud tradition of pushing successful united fronts with labor’s active participation that bring the strongest of the class together to beat back the reactionaries. The party’s leadership in tactics, experience, and resolve will be needed now more than ever.
Fascists have the advantage of being eclectic and opportunist. They can use any issue or crisis to incite anger and recruit — from the Covid lockdown to FBI raids on Trump. They are capitalizing on the very real corruption and inequality of the system to gain support. FSP must not only oppose the brownshirts in the streets, but also continue to push the Left to work together to create a strong and visible counter-narrative to their ideas. Workers must be won to the left banner of socialism to stop fascism in its tracks.
IX. Perspectives for FSP in the coming period
For every political problem facing the working and oppressed masses, a revolutionary party must analyze the situation and explain what must be done in the moment to move our class forward. Theory guides practice and practice is what leads to change.
Has the party internalized the lessons of history which alone make possible a winning answer to the question of what needs to be done? How does it analyze current world events central to the class struggle?
We in FSP bring to the workers’ movement an analysis and program of fighting for the whole class by fighting for its most oppressed members first of all. Overcoming divisions to unite our class around a revolutionary program is the only path to victory.
It is a cliché to say that one stands on the shoulders of giants. But in FSP’s case it could not be truer. We trace our lineage in a direct line from, among others, Marx and Engels, through Lenin and Trotsky, to James Cannon and Clara Fraser. It’s impossible to imagine FSP without their contributions to thought and struggle, theory and practice, ideology and activism.
One of the things we have gleaned from them is that as U.S. socialists we have a special responsibility to the world. As of now, despite the changes underway, this country remains the globe’s biggest, baddest imperialist. The actions of the U.S. ruling class reverberate internationally, usually in the worst of ways. Our challenge is to make our own actions reverberate just as strongly, something that we can ultimately only do by joining forces with other revolutionaries at home and abroad.
FSP has the help of some of the most brilliant minds of the past two centuries to aid us in this task. If we take what we have learned from them and put it to the best use that we can at this moment of crisis, the party can play a key role in fighting for and winning the new world we know is possible.
About the author
Dr. Steven Strauss, who comes from a working-class Jewish family, is a lifelong Trotskyist, Ph.D. scholar in linguistics, and Baltimore-area neurologist who is now semi-successfully attempting to retire. A widely traveled internationalist, he has had the opportunity to meet with revolutionaries Celia Hart in Cuba and Neville Alexander in South Africa. He is the author of The Linguistics, Neurology, and Politics of Phonics: Silent “E” Speaks Out.