Sam Marcy: an apostle of revolutionary class unity
Based on a talk given at the Feb. 5 webinar “Global Class War: Lessons from Sam Marcy for workers struggles today.” Go to youtu.be/5Arb33Q8SN0 to view the webinar.
Comrade Sam Marcy put forth his Global Class War thesis 70 years ago — that’s quite a period of time. At that time, Comrade Sam was still in the Socialist Workers Party. And he was trying to show the leaders and the ranks of the SWP that there was a new situation for the global class struggle.
It had its contradictions. It had its strengths and its weaknesses. First, he underscored the strengths, on the heels of this tremendous earthshaking Chinese Revolution — a game changer — and the Korean War of liberation, a stronger Soviet Union, made so by surviving and prevailing in the second imperialist war designed to destroy it. Much of Europe was liberated as a result of the outcome of the Second World War. And of course, there were the tremendous liberation struggles in what’s now come to be known as the Global South.
That was the strength. In general the weaknesses of the time were in the centers of imperialism in Europe and to a large extent here in the United States — Sam was very clear about this. I think it’s probably the most important part of his global war thesis: the need for the class struggle on a global basis to be realized and embraced and owned consciously by everyone.
Sam believed it would be necessary, at the soonest possible time, for the revolutionary energy and fervor that was, so far, in the East and the most oppressed parts of the world, for that to move, not leave the East, but move into the imperialist centers, particularly in the United States.
In his 1953 document, Sam called this “The Missing Link.” That is the awakening of the U.S. working class, this powerful sleeping giant, and it understanding that what it does, what it’s prepared to do, is not only immediately decisive for struggles here in the United States, but because it’s the working class at the center of world imperialism, it is decisive for the entire world.
This was the special role that the workers and the oppressed of this country needed to live up to. They haven’t done it yet, but things are starting, as we see in all these tremendous organizing drives led by young workers of all kinds.
The critical link in the chain
There are many things about Sam’s document that have changed over 70 years, because change is the order of life. Everything changes but not this point, the point about the link, the critical link in the chain being the awakening and the embracing of the struggle by the workers in this country.
Sam died 25 years ago, and that’s a good excuse to review Sam’s main contributions. In my opinion, time has made Sam’s contributions even clearer and more important than they were at the time of his death.
You can describe Marcy’s legacy in a lot of ways — the reviving and the rebuilding of the revolutionary forces but also the reviving of a worldwide working-class movement — a revolutionary movement that has a world socialist revolution perspective.
This was the perspective of the October Revolution: the perspective that the various detachments of the working class, while they may be geographically separated and separated by a lot of things, they are still together and they are still dependent on each other. That was true then. That was true in 1917, and it’s all the more true now.
Today, we define the working class, its strengths and its weaknesses, very differently than the working class that Sam was describing 70 years ago. It’s changed in many, many ways, because of the vast changes that are constantly taking place because of technology.
The global working class is far more centralized in many ways, far more together. This is not a good thing for the capitalist economy, and the working class is far more aware of itself because of communications technology. And there are all the other reasons that it’s becoming more revolutionary and more united.
An apostle of revolutionary class unity
Sam was not interested in politicizing against our opponents in the movement for the sake of polemics. He was much more interested in what new ground could be broken among revolutionary forces, forces dedicated to socialist revolution and in the struggle, particularly the most oppressed workers.
What can be done to bring these forces together? Not to put aside differences but to understand that we’re working toward a higher level of unity. This is what Sam was dedicated to. I don’t think there’s anything more central to his legacy than this. Sam always wanted to know what’s going on amongst the most oppressed, the most oppressed sections of our class. He wanted to know the situation, because he felt that the working class’s ability to understand this and to intervene in it was decisive for the oppressed and for the goal of world socialist revolution.
Sam saw that a lot of the problems of the working class, the fragmentation, the backwardness, the sectarianism, to a large extent stemmed from years, sometimes decades, of setbacks and defeats. But we should not be weary. As a matter of fact, revolutionaries should be strengthened by the challenge of overcoming these problems, overcoming the fragmentation.
Sam was an apostle of revolutionary class unity one way or another. I think that’s a big part of this legacy.
Back in the time he wrote this document, the Global Class War, he was also fighting his comrades inside the SWP. He wanted them to be on the picket lines at the court hearings of the leaders of the Communist Party of the United States, who were being tried during the McCarthy era and threatened with jail.
Many of them spent many, many years in jail. A few of them died in jail. He wanted the SWP to be stronger in coming out in defense of the Rosenbergs. And why not? And to get over what he called the differences, that as important as they might be, should not be barriers to showing this kind of solidarity.
A true role model
Sam was a human being, and as such, like all humans, he had his contradictions. We all do. But I’ll tell you, you could never find a better role model for a revolutionary than Sam Marcy. He despised sectarianism, he despised chauvinism and all forms of bigotry. His biggest principle was to always put what was in the interest of the working class first.
If you’re arguing a point, if you’re arguing with comrades, if you’re arguing with opponents, never let your ego and your anger be the decisive thing in the decisions that you make. Make what is in the best interest of the working class the basis for the decisions that you make.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Comrade Sam and Workers World Party were invited to a meeting in 1993 in Brussels of forces around the world, and particularly in Europe, who remained revolutionary. Sam wrote a short but brilliant document for that Brussels conference, where he called upon everyone there, in spite of their different histories, in spite of whether they call themselves Stalinist or Trotskyist or whatever, Maoist, to unite around a Leninist revolutionary basis — even though it was a very heavy time of big setbacks, the biggest setback imaginable. It was also time for us to become revolutionary.
Sam saw the necessity of reforming the revolutionary vanguard and advised us accordingly. Be politically strong and mature in how you carry out the struggle, and this will enable you to bring others together. Now that we’re in the midst of a multiplying world crisis with all sorts of new crises, the economy, the Ukraine war — I’m sure that Comrade Sara is probably going to speak her mind about the Pentagon shooting down a Chinese balloon and how significant that is — the important thing, comrades, is that we begin this year inspired by Sam’s record, to reacquaint ourselves with everything that made Sam the revolutionary that he was.
Sam was unique in so many ways. He always grasped the lessons of the past. He lived mostly in the future, because you have to as a revolutionary. He was always looking forward. His eyes were always on the prize. And that was the world socialist revolution.