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The tasks ahead for revolutionaries and socialists

Published Nov 18, 2010 9:42 PM

Larry Holmes
WW photo: G. Dunkel

The following talk was given Nov. 13 at the Workers World Party national conference by Larry Holmes, a member of the Secretariat of Workers World Party and a leader of the Bail Out the People Movement.

I want to turn to the central premise of our discussion today — that is, our analysis that capitalism has reached a tipping point, that it has entered a new, permanent crisis that is beyond reform. Reforms are being taken away in front of our eyes. Capitalism does not have the ability to recover itself in any way that is meaningful to the social needs of the working class.

This is not a controversial thesis in our view. Certainly it should be subject to critique; it should be debated.

What is controversial is that there are not enough revolutionary Marxists who are talking about it. That is the controversy; that is the problem. We are not contending that the analysis is a simple one. It is not new. It is an application of Marxism to the present situation.

Productive forces of the world have reached such an incredible height that they are no longer compatible with capitalism. They have outgrown what has become a barbaric system that is just holding things down. The world, its people and all life are hostage to it.

This is very important. Understanding this is understanding what we have to look forward to — what our global class is going to look forward to.

There is one crisis after another, perpetual crisis, crashes, depression, deflation, inflation, bubbles, a crash of this system, a crash of that industry, and at the same time the constant effort to restructure, downsize and steal from the working class as a way to compensate for what capitalism is not getting — because it does not have any new markets on which to dump its overproduced commodities.

Even what the capitalists are trying to do to the workers, under the excuse of reducing the deficit, is a form of restructuring. You don’t need more Social Security. You need to work longer, and let us take everything away to sustain anyone who is not productive — retirees, the poor, the disabled. It is another form of capitalist restructuring, just like downsizing with new, lower wage levels.

This is not common knowledge in the working class for many, many reasons. Perhaps the biggest reason is the bourgeoisie is very gifted in concealing it, with their culture of lying and denial, deception and hiding the suffering, and telling workers what they want in order to manipulate them toward one or the other imperialist parties.

Some of the confusion is because workers are not accustomed to looking at the system. Their reaction is to look at their own situation and the situation of their families and their local situation. Understandably so.

Our working class here is not trained to look at the system, just as they are trained to be passive. This was the problem in the elections. They had no reason to come out and fight for any candidate. So the Tea Party and the money behind them did their thing.

If there had been a referendum on a Works Progress Administration program — where everybody gets a job — there would have been a different turnout. But the election wasn’t about that.

It was a set-up. In time workers will gain this consciousness — in their own natural and uneven way — based on exhausting all possibilities before choosing the struggle. And we will be part of that.

Taking the struggle to a higher level

We have to look at our consciousness. We are not above the workers. We are not elitist. But in order for us to be helpful, our consciousness has to be higher. Or else we have nothing to offer.

We have a higher political consciousness and a sense of history, especially recent history. We know the big problem is an ideological one.

A generation ago capitalism declared victory over socialism. “It is the end of history,” remember that? “We won. There is no alternative to capitalism.” Capitalist triumphalism, I think they called it. “So get used to it.” This is what has been spoon-fed to everyone. It has had a big impact on the working class and on its organizations — a demoralizing impact.

The question for us is: What do we do about it now?

We know we need to be with the struggles. There are going to be many, many struggles — more than we can imagine or even cover — all of a defensive character. Save this school. Save that pension. Save this group of workers from being laid off. Right now, it’s mostly the public workers. We must be part of all these struggles and help them, and help the working class to devise both the program and strategy to fight back.

We must be part of the anti-war struggle — the struggle to defend our comrades who have been targeted by the FBI — because it is them today and you know who it is tomorrow.

We are not arguing that we should move away from these ongoing struggles. We cannot merely relegate ourselves to taking up the many, many local struggles and trying to connect to them as best we can. That is insufficient.

Our job is not just to be there and to tail the working class. It is to illuminate the road ahead as best we can.

Right now it means we have to open a campaign about abolishing capitalism and reviving the struggle for world socialism. If we don’t, a lot is at stake.

Think about it. What are we to do as things get worse and questions begin to arise: Is this it? Is all life on the planet stuck in this capitalist crisis and going down like the Titanic? What an unimaginably depressing thought! Though you can be sure that will occur in the minds of many, especially the youth.

We have to say no. But we’ve got to find an exciting way to say it. Why? If it wasn’t a problem, if it was known, we wouldn’t have to think about it. But it is not known, so we have to try to do something exciting to rectify the problem.

That is the motivation for our campaign to abolish capitalism and revive the struggle for world socialism. If we don’t do it — if we are silent — then it is surrendering to capitalist ideology. It is a surrender to bourgeois racism and war and all their lies. That is unacceptable.

I think we can learn from the Tea Party. They are paid for by the ruling class, and they are very sharp on their class interest. We have not even called for a campaign to abolish capitalism, and they are already afraid of us.

There is a reason a lot of their stuff is socialist baiting. It is a preemptive strike. They see the handwriting on the wall. They know where conditions can lead.

The battle for ideas

We should be no less sharp than our class enemies in relation to our class interests when it comes to the ideological challenge. It is important for the political movement.

Those who some of us consider the vanguard — again, not some elite, but those based on their consciousness, having dedicated themselves to serve the struggle, to serve the revolution — where are they on this question? Are they discussing the capitalist economy or are their heads and minds all submerged understandably in the mass work that is already overpowering them, that is too much for them and that is liable to be more so as things get worse?

That is not an acceptable situation for those who consider themselves political activists, communists, socialists, militants — however they characterize themselves. We have a responsibility to the vanguard and potential vanguard elements, as individuals and as organizations, to make sure they are ideologically strong. They are the first layer to bring this discussion to about the need to have a campaign to abolish capitalism and raise the fight for world socialism.

It is not an abstraction in the day-to-day workers’ struggle; it has direct impact. Think about it. Capitalist ideas are insidious and everywhere. You don’t see them, but they are there, working their terrible, poisonous influence.

That’s true even on the question of whether workers should strike and what should be the goal of their strike. If you are told by the capitalists that we have to work together to be competitive against the city next door or some other country like South Korea or India or China, what is a worker to think when the question of fighting to prevent the bosses from taking something away is posed? How can we fight when we are supposed to cooperate with them and when giving up what we are asked to give up is part of that cooperation? It doesn’t make sense. Especially since the capitalists say this is the only system and it’s the end of the world.

If the capitalists are right, every other worker is either directly or potentially my competitor, my enemy. Think about what that does to solidarity. Think about how it generates racism, how it becomes an excuse for war. It is not an abstraction. Think about it. If we are trying to agitate for a general strike in this country — and believe me, the way things are going that is going to be on the radar screen. We should be talking about it with a lot of our comrades in other organizations.

This working class has got to learn how to defend itself. That is number one. How can you conceive of a general strike — which means solidarity, coordinated action on a mass level of workers in many localities and states, working in different industries — when you are told that working together is completely against the idea of competing successfully?

This affects the workers’ morale. Think about the deficit. What an amazing fantasy that they try to sell the working class that somehow in this country and in this world with unimaginable wealth, there is not enough for Social Security. And there is not enough to take care of those who are in need because they are disabled. There is not enough to provide for every need and comfort, so we have to cut your pension. It is such a crock. But it is swallowed because that is what we are told. But it is not the workers’ deficit; it is a capitalist system’s deficit. You can’t get there unless you are moving in an anti-capitalist direction — unless you are opposing the norms of capitalism.

It must be a world struggle, too. I say renew, reawaken the world struggle for socialism. The crisis is a world crisis. Our class is a world class.

You think they have been trying to divide us based on where we happen to be. That is going to be exacerbated in the immediate future. You are going to hear a lot of that from Democrats and Republicans. Mostly against China but against India and other emerging economies. Some of the union leadership is ready to buy in to it and divert the class struggle into some ridiculous struggle that has no meaning for one working class country against another working class country, worker against worker.

This is where things are going. That’s why this has to be a world struggle. True internationalists understand that the outcome of any struggle anywhere affects the struggle everywhere. And if you wear Che’s face on your shirt, unless you understand internationalism, you should take the shirt off because he understood this. He was the foremost internationalist of our time. So much so he couldn’t stay in one place.

The G-20 summit should be correctly called the summit of rich people and their puppets. Actually, in addition to the G-20 countries, there were 120 of the biggest bankers and corporate executives there who were really calling the shots. What are they doing? Our whole life, our future is in their hands, and they are fighting over who is going to get this or that market in which to push their overproduced commodities. At the same time our workers are being fired so those bankers and executives will have greater profits.

It is as if capitalism was a disease in a very advanced stage in our body, and instead of our organs working together in cooperation for the health of the whole body, the organs are fighting each other — trying to steal nutrition, trying to pull some enzyme, doing all kinds of crazy stuff that winds up with the body breaking down. That is what capitalism is right now.

Putting theory into practice

We have got to open up a campaign. We don’t have the details, but that is what is being discussed here and with other groups beyond this meeting. It has got to be a real campaign. The campaign to abolish capitalism and renew the world struggle for socialism has to be propagandistic, but it has to be more than that.

There have to be big events associated with it — big rallies, big meetings both inside and outside. It should be close to the real struggle, not apart from it.

There need to be international events. We haven’t forgotten our call for socialists to unite. Some people have called us naïve. “Oh, the socialist movement is so fragmented and so at each other’s throats that you can’t take it seriously.” That may be true. But if you are a revolutionary and you have what it takes to envision revolution and a new world, you should have what it takes to call for unity among socialists, especially among those who may have more in common than not. If you can’t do that, how can you expect anyone to take you seriously?

Finally, this campaign to abolish capitalism and revive the struggle for world socialism needs to be integrated into the mass struggle, not only on the local and national level, but on the international level.

Some of the most important days in the last 10 years — we didn’t stop the war against Iraq, but that doesn’t take away from what happened — Feb. 15 and 16, 2003, were days when groups with lots of differences — social democrats, communists, pacifists, the whole realm of different ideologies — brought out millions of people around the world to say no to war. We’ve got to do that for jobs. We’ve got to do that to stop foreclosures. We’ve got to do that to abolish capitalism.

We must have a concrete program that goes along with a campaign to abolish capitalism and bring back socialism on a world level. We must have concrete demands — social rights to a home, a job, health care and education, all the things you need to live. I tell you this struggle is necessary. It will help our class. It will help radicals. It will help everybody. It will give us a hand up in this economic crisis. Our job now is to figure out, if it is the right thing, who to ask to join us and how to proceed. Socialism or death!