New York — Workers World Party celebrated the 200th birthday of Karl Marx here on May 6 with “Marx@200: Class Struggle in the Age of Trump,” a series of panels and discussions. The event analyzed the relevance of Marx today to oppressed nationalities and groups as well as an analysis of who the working class is today.
Workers World contributing editor and event co-organizer Greg Butterfield kicked off the celebration with a vital quote from Karl Marx: “Labor in the white skin can never free itself as long as labor in the Black skin is branded.”
Tying it to today’s political reality, Butterfield continued, “In this era of Donald Trump’s undisguised white supremacy and the resurgence of neofascist movements in the U.S. and western Europe, the struggle against racism and for solidarity among all workers is key to advancing the struggle for socialism.”
WWP First Secretary Larry Holmes discussed the nationwide teachers’ strikes and what a revolutionary movement they are in the current political context. “This strike is illegal according to bourgeois law, which means that it is a rebellion. Tens of thousands of workers are saying ‘to hell with it,’ they can get fired, but they’re still walking out.” Today’s working class is increasingly militant and multinational, he added.
WWP Secretariat member and International Action Center Co-Director Sara Flounders talked about how “Marxism speaks to all the movements of the colonized and nationally oppressed. Every fighter for national liberation looked to Marxism to understand how to fight imperialism.” WWP organizer John Steffins spoke about Russian revolutionary leader V.I. Lenin’s contributions to developing Marxism in the age of imperialism, warning that appeals to “return to Marx” by ignoring the history of revolutionary struggles of the 20th century are a dead end for today’s fighters.
We then heard from Mike Legaspi of BAYAN-USA about how Marx has been integral to the struggle for liberation in the Philippines and about his legacy: “Marx died a long time ago, but his legacy lives on in us today. It is through class struggle that proletarian revolutionaries become immortal.” Jessica Schwartz of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization spoke on applying the mass line developed by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong to organizing workers in unions.
Today’s working class
During the second panel, chaired by WWP member and event co-organizer Julie Varughese, party members and candidates discussed what the working class looks like today. The panelists also answered questions from the audience.
Christian Cobb, a WWP activist and organizer with the People’s Power Assemblies, reminded us that “unions are Marxism in action.” As we see in teachers’ strikes across the nation, the rank and file are leading the way because workers are the union. Sara Catalinotto, a New York teacher and militant, spoke about her recent participation in a delegation to support striking Oklahoma education workers. Edward Yudelovich talked about repression against workers, highlighting the Trump administration’s attempt to prove a “conspiracy” against activists in unions who were arrested at the #J20 2017 counter-inaugural protests.
Al Shiflett, a WWP candidate member, discussed capitalism and the #MeToo movement. Marx was critical of the hierarchical and diametrical opposition between men and women, in which feminized labor is seen as insignificant and thus created a population that’s easier to divide and exploit.
Taryn Fivek, an economics teacher and organizer with WWP and the International Action Center, said, “Laden with debt, depressed, anxious, facing down killer cops, low wages, bad health care and precarious employment, young people seem to have given up on capitalism.
“The Trump presidency is the death spasm of an era,” Fivek declared. “It is up to us to build the next era, and it must be socialist, or we will perish. Because the only thing youth have to look forward to inheriting from their parents is a dead planet.”
Ted Kelly, a WWP activist based in Philadelphia, discussed prisoners and how they’re one of the most oppressed sections of the working class. It is slavery in its modern form and, as Marx noted, “Every independent workers’ movement in the U.S. will be paralyzed as long as slavery remains a central part of the republic.” Thousands of prisoners subscribe to Workers World newspaper, and Kelly reminded us that it is “our duty to grow the proletariat” by joining prisoners in our struggle.
Mary Kaessinger, a WWP wheelchair user, spoke about disabled workers and how the Fair Labor Standards Act allows employers to pay subminimum wages to disabled people, prisoners and restaurant workers. Currently there is a struggle to eliminate the subminimum wage at the state level, with the goal of ultimately challenging it at the federal level. Disabled people are fighting to join the workforce.
Solidarity with refugees, students, sex workers
Kayla Popuchet expressed anger against the system felt by young people increasingly shut out from basic human needs. Ana Androvic spoke on the plight of refugees and migrant workers and the need for classwide solidarity with their struggle. Haakon Lenzi talked about racism and gentrification, which he described as “about class struggle, a way for capitalists to seize property and displace people.” This writer also addressed the intense exploitation of Amazon.com workers.
WWP candidate member John Ebho gave an enthusiastic account of Marx’s influence on Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary leader of Burkina Faso. Renee Imperato, a disabled trans activist and Vietnam veteran, noted that “Capitalist imperialism survives on divide and conquer,” a strategy which failed in Vietnam since many U.S. soldiers refused to fire on their fellow working-class Vietnamese fighters. “The Vietnamese had one weapon U.S. imperialism couldn’t defeat: revolutionary class hatred.”
WWP member Sofia spoke on the increased assault by the state against sex workers through the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, which shut down online forums used by these workers to promote safety and community. They talked about ways to support sex workers, who are part of our class.
The event ended, quite appropriately, with the singing of “The Internationale” and eating of birthday cake. The working-class anthem was led off by 2016 WWP presidential candidate Monica Moorehead and Larry Holmes, with renowned Yugoslav composer Milos Raickovich accompanying them on the piano.
Afterward, we marched to The New School, led by a student, Mia, to join cafeteria workers and students. The school wants to fire dozens of cafeteria workers, some of whom have worked there for more than 16 years and have pensions. Many of the workers are Black and Brown.
The school tried to divide students and cafeteria workers by attempting to replace the workers with students who are not unionized and would be paid less. But this attempt failed, and students have joined the workers and occupied the cafeteria. WWP contributed food and cash donations.
There isn’t a more fighting way to show that Karl Marx, 200 years after his birth, is alive and well in our current revolutionary struggles.