The auditorium of the Durham Public Library could hardly contain the electric energy and revolutionary fervor of those who gathered for the “Hard Times Are Fighting Times: Building a Southern Movement for Revolution and Socialism” conference here on March 29. The conference was a testament to the momentous changes taking place in the working-class movement in the U.S. and drew more than 100 activists from across the South and other parts of the country, representing many struggles.
Participants came from throughout North Carolina, as well as Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, West Virginia, Maryland, and elsewhere. Several revolutionary student organizations sent delegations to the conference, including the Socialist Student Union in Rock Hill, S.C.; the Revolutionary Students Union in Blacksburg, Va.; and the Appalachian State University Marxist Student Union in Boone, N.C. At least four other socialist organizations attended. There was strong participation from youth and people of color, including African American, Latino/a, Arab and Asian. Several curious passersby at the library were drawn in and stayed throughout the day.
Taurean Brown, a local Durham activist, told Workers World, “I think the conference was a powerful moment where people from all walks of life came together. People gained powerful knowledge from a socialist perspective to address the constant ills of white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist patriarchy.”
It was a tremendous gathering of both regional and national significance that helped to rally a number of forces around a revolutionary, struggle-oriented, pro-socialist pole of resistance and unity in this period of capitalism at a dead end.
‘Hard Times Are Fighting Times’
The banner of the conference resonated deeply with many — that as the conditions of the working class, especially the most oppressed, continue to decline as the global capitalist crisis deepens — the only choice the masses have is to unite and fight back. The seriousness of the crisis and the revolutionary optimism of the perspective put forward by the conference inspired some of the most class-conscious forces to participate.
The conference sought to grapple not only with the important developments of the day — including the Moral Monday movement, the low-wage workers’ struggle, fightbacks against police brutality, and more – from the perspective of revolutionary Marxism, but also with the unique conditions of the U.S. South and the tasks to deepen a revolutionary, anti-racist, socialist perspective within the broader movement.
A preconference discussion document prepared by the Durham branch, the conference sponsor, outlined the motivation for the conference and the need to develop both a perspective and a strategy that addresses the U.S. South. The opening of the document reads, “The region has a dual character — it is a part of the U.S., the greatest imperialist power in the world, but has a different pattern of development rooted in slavery, and as such it is part of the Global South — characterized by colonialism, exploitation by imperialist powers, and national oppression.” This, the document explains, is what makes the South so vital to a revolutionary strategy in the U.S., but what has also frustrated past organizing efforts. (Read the entire document at workers.org.)
The document also extensively addresses the significant role that the U.S. South plays in the global economy, the history of slavery and national oppression that characterizes the region, and the changing character of the working class. Strategies like the assemblies movement that effectively address these conditions and merge the anti-racist and labor struggles are among the strategic paths to victory, particularly in this period.
Building revolutionary solidarity
The day began with a tribute to Chokwe Lumumba, the late mayor of Jackson, Miss., and a message of solidarity to Carlos Riley Jr., a Black youth from Durham who, days prior to the conference, had been sentenced to 10 years in prison after being framed for shooting a police officer.
The opening panel laid out an overall perspective that helped to ground discussions throughout the day. An analysis of the capitalist crisis and the political movement in North Carolina and the South was woven into many of the opening talks. Saladin Muhammad, co-coordinator of the Southern Workers Assembly and the Black Left Unity Network, spoke on the centrality of the Black working class and an understanding of the national question, particularly in organizing the South. Other talks also raised the contributions of Vladimir Lenin on the right to self-determination and imperialism, particularly with regard to understanding the current imperialist-led crises in Ukraine and Venezuela.
Conference attendees then participated in small discussion groups led by plenary speakers, allowing everyone to delve deeper into the issues raised in the opening panel. There were also two discussion groups that dealt with raising the history of struggles led by oppressed people in the South and with the role that communists, including Workers World Party, have played in past and present struggles in the region.
Durham WWP member, Lamont Lilly, who co-facilitated a discussion on what it means to be a revolutionary today, explained that “[To be a revolutionary means to] build movements. Revolutionaries connect struggles. Revolutionaries speak truth to power and hold that power accountable to the people. Revolutionaries listen to the people and learn from the people. Revolutionaries make sacrifices for justice. Revolutionaries love and give love.”
Four workshops after lunch addressed some of the major struggles of the day, including police brutality and state repression, new methods of organizing in this period of capitalism at a dead end, imperialist war and women’s and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer liberation, and the role of revolutionary cultural organizing in the movement.
Jasiri X, a revolutionary hip-hop artist from Pittsburgh, Pa., co-facilitated the workshop on revolutionary culture and later, before the entire conference, gave a moving presentation on his recent trip to occupied Palestine. Later that evening, he headlined “Beats & Resistance,” a hip-hop show that also featured local artists BeatNam Vets and Laila Nur.
The closing panel raised lessons of Marxist and struggle-oriented politics in practice, including what it means to join a revolutionary party. Jeralynn Blueford, the mother of 18-year-old Alan Blueford who was fatally shot by Oakland, Calif., police in 2012, gave a powerful address about the struggles around her son’s case. At the end of her talk, the room echoed and vibrated as she led a chant of “All power to all the people!”
Fern Figueroa, of Freedom Road Socialist Organization, shared lessons of building shop-floor struggles as a rank-and-file Teamster and of organizing against police murders in Florida via video, as he was unable to attend at the last minute.
Larry Holmes, first secretary of Workers World Party, closed the conference by raising the importance of the low-wage workers’ struggle and the need to deepen political solidarity with this development that is sweeping the U.S. and the world.
Brandi Geurkink, who attended the conference with a delegation from the Socialist Students Union, told WW, “I really enjoyed the conference, particularly how everyone I came into contact with had a keen understanding of intersectionality and worked really hard to create a space where everyone felt safe, included and valued for their unique contribution and perspective.”
Photos: Workers World Durham, N.C., bureau