Edited version of a talk by Loan Tran, a member of the Executive Committee of Workers World Party’s Interim Central Committee and a leading organizer of the Durham branch, at the WWP national strategy meeting held May 11-12 in Newark, N.J.
Sarah Collins Rudolph refers to herself as the “fifth little girl” from the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four Black girls in 1963 — Carol Denise McNair, 11 years old; Carole Robertson, 14; Cynthia Wesley, 14; and Addie Mae Collins, 14. Sarah is captured in a famous photograph in a hospital bed with both eyes covered in gauze. Her sister and the three others were eulogized by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while she remained in the hospital recovering.
In the past 56 years since the bombing, she has not received a single apology from the city of Birmingham. No therapy, no treatment for her trauma and, perhaps to add insult to injury, she is still paying for the medical bills related to treatment of her eyes — her left one, which she lost, and her right one, which still has glass in it. No restitution and no acknowledgment that she was there and survived. She calls herself the carrier of history. She has lived with that day every day, and today she is witnessing the vile racism of Trump and every KKK member and neo-Nazi whom this administration embodies and enables.
In 1973, four years after the historic Stonewall Rebellion, an arson attack killed 32 people at the Upstairs Lounge, a gay bar and haven in New Orleans — a city at the time where an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 people out of a population of 600,000 were gay and lesbian. Because being openly gay during that time was so dangerous and could get you killed, few family members stepped forward to claim the dead bodies. Those who survived were isolated and kept quiet because the fear they had was justified — identifying with the burn scars on their bodies meant losing their jobs and any semblance of security.
And as the homophobic and transphobic history of this country would have it, many of those survivors would later die during the AIDS epidemic under the horrendous anti-gay policies of the Reagan administration.
In 1994, Dr. John Britton and James Barrett, a clinic escort, were shot to death outside an abortion clinic in Pensacola. This same clinic was bombed before in 1984 and again in 2012.
The My Lai massacre took place in 1968, where over 300 Vietnamese people were brutally murdered by U.S. troops who were trying to eradicate the Viet Cong and the National Liberation Front. In 1982, ordered by the Israeli Defense Forces, the Phalanges killed anywhere between 460 and 3,500 Palestinians in an effort to clear out the Palestine Liberation Organization fighters from Sabra and Shatila. And in 2004, a year after the Iraq War began, 42 Iraqi civilians were killed by U.S. troops during a wedding.
Sara Collins Rudolph’s story perfectly captures what we mean when we say capitalism is dying. History is the past, but it is also the present.
We do not have to reach backwards to tally deaths of our class given the ever-expanding empire. The killings in Palestine continue. The treachery of U.S. occupation continues. Just weeks ago three Black churches were set on fire in Louisiana. Now at least six Ferguson activists have been found dead. The Pulse shootings in 2016 earned the title of the worst hate crime against LGBTQ people in history, with a gunman who killed 49 queer people and left 53 others wounded on Latinx night in an Orlando club.
Capitalism at a dead end
These massacres and shootings, bombings and fires should indicate to even the most minimally politically conscious person that capitalism and its tendrils — white supremacy and patriarchy — are dying, and as it drowns, it seeks to take as many with it as possible. In the course of its death, who will be the carriers of history? And of which history? I imagine for every Palestinian child killed, there is a sister; for every lesbian murdered, there is a lover or family member; for every Iraqi, Venezuelan, Syrian, Yugoslavian, there is a friend, a teacher, a parent, a neighbor.
Faced with this painful reality for every oppressed person and worker here in the U.S. and abroad killed by police, by a boss, by a criminal billionaire like Jeff Bezos, a sexist lawmaker, a developer — there must be a communist, a revolutionary, an outside agitator holding a picket line, occupying an apartment building or an embassy under siege, defending the land, the water, the air.
It is a matter of human life, not in the idealistic or the moralistic sense — but in a socialist sense — that only socialism has any chance of putting the wealth of the world back into the hands of the billions who have paid for it with their lives and labor.
This is the gravity of the task ahead of us. And so much is beyond our control, as humans and as revolutionaries who only have our bodies and each other. Perhaps things have already tipped over the edge, perhaps at best our efforts are hospice care for the end, perhaps the aspiration to save humanity and change course is as impossible as stopping the Earth from revolving around the sun — but even then, we know we must try. And we must attempt this effort with great clarity.
It is simply not enough to scoff at the Democratic Party and its genius and evil process of absorbing our class into the electoral arena where millions can vote while millions more perish. It is not enough to simply criticize the left for its shortcomings on questions of class and national oppression. It is not enough or even right to simply dismiss the sectors of our class — many of whom are young and oppressed and who are deeply dismayed with capitalism — as being self-absorbed for saying who we are as queer people, as women and trans people, as disabled people.
As workers without work, we matter. We are up against this period of capitalism where we should understand a key characteristic to be the attempt of finance capital to stop, as much as possible, the very human development which could destroy it.
Unfortunately we do not have the favor of the revolutionary fervor of the 1960s. We have 2019, for whatever it’s worth. And as it stands right now, I believe it’s worth $280 trillion, half of which is being held hostage by 1% of the world’s population.
It is worth the 3.5 to 5 million women who formed a 385-mile wall around India’s western coast as they raised the issue of women’s oppression. It is worth the thousands of Uber and Lyft drivers worldwide who went on strike May 8. It is worth the more than a million students worldwide who walked out in March to protest climate change. It is worth the tens of thousands of teachers who went on strike in North Carolina, where striking is illegal, to demand funding for public education.
It is worth the thousands of migrants who have, since last October, come charging against the gates of the empire. It is worth the thousands of McDonald’s workers on the picket lines in defiance of sexual harassment at the workplace. It is worth the millions from Haiti to France, Palestine to Venezuela and beyond who have taken to the streets demonstrating what proletarian democracy really means.
It is worth the tens of thousands of prisoners who last fall went on strike demanding an end to slavery in its newest form.
Preparing for the period ahead
Are we prepared to fight for the worth of the world, the worth of our class? We must fight; we must put forward a revolutionary program and strategy that is capable of tearing down every wall in the workers’ struggle, jumping every barricade, and turning every corner where guns are pointed at us. And it cannot be stated enough, quite literally: Put the wealth of the world back into the hands of the world itself.
Just imagine what it would take and what it could do if every worker and oppressed person would hit the streets, the banks, the workplaces and the bourgie condos and ask: Where is our money? Every worker has the right to make that ask. Are we prepared to receive the fervor and rage that this could unleash?
A revolutionary program for this period not only requires a sharp political analysis of the conditions facing our class, it requires a level of rigor that wrestles with some contradictions and challenges new to communist tradition. The challenges and benefits of technology — of a world that is incredibly well connected and simultaneously incredibly surveilled by social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter — not only buy but sell data on who we are. These platforms are also warping our sense of reality, inundating our psyche with images of violent, capitalist oppression, and worse yet, limiting and repressing the fightback that is taking place within and outside of a digital landscape.
There are many young people, new workers and precarious workers who are caught on a high wire between revolutionary consciousness and demoralization. There is a fatigue in knowing so definitively that the end of capitalism is near. And this fatigue pairs perfectly with the culture of individualism that capitalism has bred — especially here in the center of the empire. How do we offer a way which wins?
We do not say to the distraught worker: Stop worrying about yourself! We say to the distraught worker, the demoralized youth, the oppressed person: Fight for what you deserve! Don’t fight each other! And don’t fight alone!
Class solidarity matters
We demonstrate that solidarity in this period is not lip service. We must be the harbingers of unity, no matter how difficult. But we must not make decisions foolishly — we must not mistake the urgency of this crisis as an opportunity to be rash, to cut corners or to not wrestle with the new conditions of this period which distinguishes it from many of the previous stages of capitalism.
There is enough time for a breath, for ideological re-armament, to take our perspective to the highest level possible and in the most winning way possible. We must tell the truth about what is happening to our class, and we must be truthful in the role we hope to and can play as revolutionaries.
This struggle did not start with us, and it is very possible that it will not end with us. But are we ready to take up the responsibility of giving our class a true, fighting chance? Our class is everywhere. How can we be everywhere with them? How do we fight and organize to make them the best fighters in their own best interests, the best carriers of history?
Is this the year our class becomes a tsunami breaking the chains of capitalism? I don’t know. But I do know this has to be the year we get ready for the years ahead — some of which may be very long, some of which could pass by very quickly. We have no crystal ball, we are not psychics — in fact, we are better than psychics. We are communists, who know that the making of a socialist revolution requires many things. Perhaps foremost is the requirement that we are embedded in struggle, that we contend with reality to make sense of a historical imperative: the liberation of all humanity from capitalism and oppression.
We’ve got to prepare our class to become manifest of its responsibility as the locomotive, the carrier of history.
We must do this for the Birmingham Four, for Flint, Michigan, for Stonewall, for Mumia, for Leonard Peltier, for Leslie Feinberg, for the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory workers, for the Haymarket Martyrs, for Sandra Bland, for Palestine, Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, Haiti, Libya, for the gravediggers of capitalism, and for the future of and the infinite possibilities of humanity.
Black Lives Matter! Build a Workers World! Smash patriarchy! Free Mumia! Long live Stonewall!