Communists, elections and revolution

Fred GoldsteinThe following talk was given by Secretariat member Fred Goldstein at the Workers World Party national conference Nov. 7-8 in New York City.

The fact that we decided to take on an election campaign within this monster is itself a sign of the growth and development of the party, that the party feels ready to move forward, because it is a tremendous challenge and an uphill struggle.

Communists and elections in general

Elections have been around since capitalism became a developed economic and social system and since the workers have become a cohesive class. Elections have always been subject to debate in the communist movement, especially in revolutionary times.

Lenin, in his book “Left-Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder,” which should be read much more than it is, said probably the most important words on the subject. He said that elections make a difference and have to be paid attention to by the communist movement — until the workers disperse the bourgeois parliament and set up their own regime.

As long as the workers are still following the parties of the bourgeoisie or have their own parties, and participate in a bourgeois-constructed parliamentary system, communists must pay the closest attention to it and use it in the best way they can to ultimately destroy the parliamentary system.

Now, that does not apply to us at this particular juncture, but it is something that we must bear in mind for the future. Running for office per se is not something that we are presently concerned with. Historically, running in the elections is a way of measuring the influence of the party and a way of measuring the class consciousness of the vanguard of the masses. But we are not anywhere near that and that is not what we have to be concerned with now.

Election and Marxist propaganda

What we do need to be concerned with is something Peter talked about — recruitment. Participating in elections is a new form of struggle for many of the people in this room. This is just one of the many forms of struggle that the party will have to master — all the way from peaceful demonstrations to occupations, seizures, picket lines, strikes, general struggle strikes, legal struggle and not legal struggle, underground struggle. All of these forms of struggle and others have to be mastered by any party that hopes to lead this multinational, millionfold working class to power.

But now we are embarking on an electoral campaign. What is it that is important for us? We need to develop our skills as Marxist propagandists. We all cheered for socialism yesterday, as we should. But that is inside the hall.

Walk out onto St. Nicholas Avenue or Broadway, and it is another matter. The challenge of finding those elements among the masses, among the different sectors of our class, who can be pulled toward Marxism and socialist revolution — that is an art that we have to master.

As was pointed out, we have become masters over the years at activist agitation mixed in with Marxism. But agitation alone is not enough to win somebody over to a world view. That takes propaganda — meaning elaboration of what socialism is, what capitalism is and why we have to get rid of capitalism. That is a task for a propagandist.

I think it is fair to say that a revolutionary party is a party of fighting propagandists. When the Vietnamese started their struggle against the French, they sent out armed brigades and called them armed propaganda brigades. They had loudspeakers on bicycles and explained imperialism, capitalism and landlordism to the peasants. That is how they began and built the core of the Vietnamese Communist Party — in a rural country.

So the role of propaganda has been recognized by communists all over the world, since Marx began the whole struggle.

Elections open a window to the masses

We have a chance to go face to face with our class and with all the oppressed. And why is this such an opportunity for us? Because the bourgeoisie has opened a window with their election campaign. They opened the window by sponsoring debates, discussion, interviews, put out literature, etc. What does this do? It makes the workers’ ears perk up — “Let me listen to this.”

The workers may not be all that enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush or any of the official candidates. But those who are thinking about things want to see if there is anything in this process that is going to help them improve their condition or prevent attacks upon them. And that is why they listen now. And we need to take advantage of this window of opportunity.

We need to hone our skills as Marxist propagandists and speak to the workers, the students, the people in the community who are willing to listen. We need to find the one in 100 or the one in 500 or 1,000 who will stop on the street, come over to listen to us, ask for a paper or a leaflet. If we can pull them towards us, it will be on an ideological basis.

That is going to be the final strength of our party. Struggle combined with ideological unity around Marxist ideology and socialist revolution. That’s the glue that will hold this party together through thick and thin, through political reaction and militant upsurge.

The election campaign offers us an opportunity to speak to all sectors on Marxism and socialism. And it offers us the opportunity to operate as a national unit, when we are the strongest. We must seize upon this opportunity and not get diverted from it.

It doesn’t mean giving up any struggle. It means bringing the campaign into the struggle.

This campaign cannot be carried politically by our candidates alone, as wonderful as they are. It can only be carried by the party as a whole. I’m not talking about getting the tables up and the speakers working, etc. I mean talking to the masses of the people.

Anybody, new or old, can participate politically. From a rally, from a sound truck or a ladder to forcing our way into a debate, to giving out the paper or leaflets to the masses, we can bring the message of socialism and revolution to any place we can get to.

I want to emphasize that the Workers World newspaper can become a major instrument of the campaign. Articles on the campaign, messages from the candidates, can be brought to factories, hospitals, big box stores, fast food outlets, street corners. Everyone can participate.

We must not be afraid to make a mistake. We must get our feet wet. We must try to get people in the street to listen to us and come towards the party.

Speaking to Black Lives Matter

We can go to many areas. Take the Black Lives Matter movement. We can bring Marxism to their movement. For example, we can discuss the capitalist state. We can show how the police in this country began as slave patrols sent to capture escaped slaves, and also to discipline plantation slaves and subjugate the Native peoples.

We can show that, as capitalism developed, the cops appeared on the street corners in Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore and everywhere. We can show that the police are rooted in capitalist society and are part of the capitalist state. The police went from being slave patrols to becoming strike breakers and spies; the ones without uniforms were called Pinkertons. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, what were the cops doing besides carrying out repression against the oppressed peoples?

They were scab herding. They were busting strikes in the copper mines in Arizona, in the meatpacking plants in Minnesota, in the Caterpillar plant in Illinois, in the newspaper strike in Detroit, in the paper mills in Pennsylvania and so on. That’s when you saw the cops in the other role that they have, aside from national oppression: strike breaking, busting heads and beating down the unions. It’s all coming from the same class that’s profiting — the capitalists.

Speaking to low-wage workers

There are hundreds of organizations and thousands of activists around the country who agree with us. They know that the low-wage workers are being exploited, that they don’t have decent wages and that the bosses are getting richer and richer.

What do we bring to that discussion? The workers should own McDonald’s. That’s what we bring to the argument. Yes, the workers should get $15 an hour. Yes, the workers should have a union. But McDonald’s should belong to the workers, just as Burger King, the big box stores, the factories and so on. Because these are places of exploitation, and exploitation itself must be abolished.

We know the problem is capitalism. And we know the solution is socialism. We can bring that message to the workers. And we have credibility because we are in the struggle. We are not just preaching from a distance.

Speaking to unionists

During a campaign we have a chance to meet unionists who will be amenable to Marxism. One of the high points of this conference, from my point of view, is the attendance of unionists from the UE [the Electrical Workers union] in Vermont who came here to tell about their defense guard against racism and the Klan.

That’s new. And that’s what the union movement needs. And who did this? Was it the run-of-mill trade unionists who are only looking for a raise? No! It was class-conscious, revolutionary trade unionists who did it without being asked. And it is no accident that this same union, the UE, carried out the occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors plant in Chicago. Much could be said about the historical struggle of the UE against racism, but there is not time here.

Tommy said yesterday the unions will never become class conscious spontaneously. That is straight out of Lenin’s “What Is To Be Done?”  As Lenin said, revolutionaries must get into the unions. The unions are the only class organizations that exist in capitalist society for the workers, and it’s been that way since capitalism became a real social system. Sam Marcy, the founder of this party, who was a trade unionist in his early days, used to tell us: “If the bosses and/or the ruling class push you out of the union by the front door, you come in the back door. If they throw you out the back door, you come through the window. But you must get in.” That’s where the class has its power as against the bosses. And any worker who has to work “at will” and do what he or she is told, will understand this in a heartbeat.

Look at the Boston bus drivers’ union, Local 8751, look at ILWU Local 10 in Oakland, and look at the UE. They are among the only unions in the country that fight racism, that fight for immigrants, that fight for Mumia. We have to multiply and spread that everywhere.

Speaking to immigrants

And we can bring Marxism to the immigration struggle. The detention centers for immigrants are profit centers, too. They are owned by private corporations, the Correction Corporation of America and others.

Before CCA signs a contract with the government, it is guaranteed to be paid for 100 beds, or 200 beds or 300 beds that will be filled. So ICE herds immigrants into the detention centers to guarantee that the beds will be filled and the capitalists get their profits. It’s part of the same capitalist system that exploits and superexploits immigrants by keeping them in fear of deportation.

So we have a lot to say about Marxism to the immigrant movement, for which we fight so hard, as well as the struggle against mass incarceration. And also to the women’s movement about patriarchal capitalism, its origins in property, in inheritance, exploitation, and many other things exposed by Friedrich Engels in his book “Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State,” which showed what led to the destruction of the status of women in society.

Of course we must talk to the LGBTQ movement, which is also in struggle against patriarchal capitalism. And we must speak to the anti-war movement and explain that this is an imperialist system.  It is not just a matter of a war here and another war there. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the imperialists have been trying to get back all the territory they lost in the 20th century. That is what all the interventions are about.

The imperialists want to get back Russia, Iraq, Syria, Libya, north Korea, as well as territory in Africa and in Latin America. War is endemic to monopoly capitalism. We must fight not just war, but the system of monopoly capitalism and destroy it in order to get peace on earth.

Sanders and socialism

Finally, a word about Sanders and socialism. Larry said yesterday that Sanders, bad as he is, also offers us an opportunity. Sanders has made, not socialism itself, but the word socialism, discussable. It is now a legitimate word that can be brought up because of the bourgeois election campaign. But guess who is the last one on earth who wants to publically discuss socialism? Bernie Sanders! When he is asked about it, he starts mumbling about Denmark or Sweden or Scandinavia and national health care, less inequality, and then goes on to the next question as fast as he can.

He doesn’t want to talk about it. But we do! And we can talk about it every place and everywhere. And we can explain to the people that socialism is not just about erasing extreme inequality under capitalism.

Of course we want to get rid of inequality — class inequality, national inequality, and sexual and gender inequality. These things are built into capitalism.

We want to turn things upside down. We want the bosses to be expropriated and for them to be on the bottom and the workers and the oppressed be on top! That’s the essence of socialism. And we don’t want any hemming and hawing about it. This can be understood by class-conscious workers, everywhere, easily!

Build a workers’ world! Build the election campaign! Down with capitalism, imperialism and racism! Fight for socialism!