On the centennial of Lenin’s death A strong class orientation is needed in 2024

The writer is Workers World Party’s First Secretary.  

The necessity for a strong class orientation and internationalism in understanding and in deeds is decisive in the spirit of the 100th anniversary of the death of Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the great Bolshevik Revolution in the former Soviet Union.

The relationship of class forces

Obviously, every communist should know that the class struggle and all that it requires from the working class, ideologically, organizationally and strategically, is central to Marxism/Leninism and the goal of socialist revolution. 

It is necessary to remind ourselves of the relationship between the working class and revolutionary theory. It is more helpful if the way that we remind ourselves of this does not rely on theoretical conceptions alone that can seem abstract. 

It’s better to break things down in order to clarify the relevance to today.

When we look at the world situation, right now, the factor that combines, subsumes and transcends all of the overlapping developments that impact the global class struggle is the relationship of class forces on a global level. 

It’s important to isolate and analyze each crisis, be it war, the geo-political  struggle between nations, the danger of fascism, the erosion of U.S. imperialism,  climate crisis, the capitalist economic crises, with the irreversible crisis of late stage capitalism, etc. 

However, in examining each crisis, we have to make sure that we are not missing the forest for the trees. This is the importance of understanding the relationship of class forces. What is this relationship? When everything is taken into consideration, which class — the capitalist class or the workers and the oppressed — is generally stronger and prevailing in the global class war?

At present, the capitalist class, with all of its contradictions, prevails over the world relationship of class forces. We say this with the utmost confidence that however long and uneven the process may be, the working class will gain the upper hand in the global relationship of class forces. 

However, the fact that such is not the case at the moment constitutes the greatest crisis for the working class. This crisis might be less worrisome if the capitalist world was not rapidly descending into an ever worsening phase of turmoil, destabilization and violence brought on by its disintegration. The disintegration phase is a good thing, but it’s also a very dangerous thing. 

Until the relationship of class forces changes in favor of the working class, the workers and oppressed to a very great degree will suffer the pain and trauma of a world falling apart, without having the means to turn a nightmare to their advantage; to turn it even into a revolutionary situation. 

Knowing this should make it easier to understand the necessity to strengthen our class orientation. But this understanding will not have any effect if it feels less urgent, consequential. It demands our attention not later, but now. 

Is unity between the workers and oppressed peoples possible?

It should come as no surprise that some, especially among the oppressed, but also other radicals, feel that internationalism — meaning class solidarity and united working-class struggle on a worldwide basis — is not possible, because the working class in the imperialist centers are relatively more privileged and considered loyal to imperialism and that this dichotomy is based on the history of imperialist conquest and colonialism that can’t be undone. 

From our perspective we understand more than anyone else that inequality between workers is a serious obstacle to internationalism. But we also understand that the social positions within the working class, driven by changes in the world capitalist economy, are also not fixed but constantly changing. This is why we understand that the necessary degree of internationalism required to change the relationship of class forces is as possible as it is critical. But changing the relationship of forces can’t be left up to external forces; it must be struggled for. 

The very existence of bourgeois nation states is a barrier to working-class internationalism that must be overcome. Very few countries developed through natural means alone. Rather, they came into being to serve imperialism. However, this fact alone does not negate the existence of class society, the working class and the inevitability of class struggle in the U.S. and everywhere else. 

What’s more, with very few exceptions, the working class at the centers of world imperialism tend to be more multinational, with the most oppressed, including women and LGBTQ2S+ workers, occupying the leading role in the class struggle. 

There are some instances where class becomes extremely complicated. 

In my view, to a large extent Israel at present is an exception. Israel is an extreme version of a relatively small and completely artificial settler-colonial state being imposed on the region by imperialism and displacing and subjugating the Indigenous population. 

There’s a working class in Israel. But that class is not only divided, it is hostage to the reality of colonial occupation. In Israel, the struggle to free Palestine is the key to the class struggle. 

Most of the population in Israel that is not native to Palestine was not forced to migrate there out of economic need but many migrated there to be part of the Zionist project. This suspends its development as a class. The most vital, politically healthy part of the working class there are Palestinian Arab workers who are 20% to 25%  of the population and also 25% of the working class. 

They are the social and political link between the class struggle and the liberation struggle until something changes in the remaining part of the working class. If we were there, part of our work would be to push workers to save themselves, break with Zionism and help unite the world’s working class. How much time and effort communist and advanced workers should devote to this task would depend on the needs of the Palestinian resistance.

Class and the struggle against racism

For communists with a class orientation, our participation in the struggle against racism and all other forms of oppression has a distinct political objective. Our goal is not only to be in solidarity with the oppressed, it is to educate and call on the working class to take the lead in this struggle. 

The end goal for us is to maximize class unity, without which it will be impossible to make a revolution and establish socialism. The struggle against all forms of oppression is central to our existence and work, because we communists understand or should understand that the greatest obstacle to our class is fragmentation.

The connection between class orientation and internationalism

There are many good developments that tend to strengthen working-class solidarity. As we have talked and written about for a considerable time, changes in technology have enabled the working class to interact and coordinate the class struggle on a global and immediate level in a way that did not exist before. 

The worldwide protests sparked by the genocidal war against Gaza are only the most recent examples of how material conditions have advanced the potential for real internationalism in heretofore unimaginable ways. The main problem that’s holding back the ability of the working class to take full advantage of the new technological level is its political and ideological weaknesses. The capitalist class is determined to do everything possible to sustain these weaknesses. 

This is the reason why, if we want to change the relationship of class forces in favor of the working class, it is absolutely vital for us to do whatever it takes to strengthen our class orientation. We should consider this objective essential to our relevance and even for our very existence. The best attitude for us to have about this is to pretend as if we only recently discovered the weaknesses that are hampering the working class’s ability to assert itself as an independent force, and now we are trying with all of our might to respond to our new revelation.

Radical and revolutionary forces in the working-class movement cannot impact the consciousness of the working class overnight. Events and the course of the class struggle are decisive factors in this process. But such forces do not have the luxury of thinking that they are too weak to take on this struggle, or pretend as though the struggle is not necessary. 

When this happens, the left cuts itself off from the working class. Political forces and movements, even forces that are revolutionary that deprioritize a class orientation, render themselves weak and ultimately irrelevant.

If the struggle to raise and spread class consciousness is forfeited, it only helps the capitalist class. This is a struggle that should be prioritized, deliberate, bold, creative and constant. 

Generally, and especially at this moment, there is no more important struggle. It would be an enormous step forward if like-minded forces could launch a new campaign that, apart from that campaign’s tactics, has the objective of concretely strengthening class consciousness and internationalism, especially among workers who are already in the process of being radicalized.

The BRICS alliance: Its significance and its limitations

A contradictory development that working-class organizations, leftist, revolutionary and progressive forces everywhere, including ourselves, are struggling over is how to view the alliance between Brazil, Russia, India and China and South Africa referred to as BRICS.  

A considerable number of other countries, including Iran, as well as Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, have joined this alliance. For the moment, in practical terms, this is the main opposition to U.S. imperialist hegemony. It poses an enormous problem for U.S. imperialism. 

The bases for this alliance are complex and fluid, but most essentially this alliance reflects a worldwide geo-political sea change. That change is the crumbling of the U.S. imperialist empire and the rise of China. Obviously, the social and political characters of the countries in this alliance are different. Therefore, the BRICS alliance must not be considered an example of working-class internationalism. 

The existence of this alliance impacts the global class struggle, but it is not based on class unity or class struggle.

BRICS is based on curtailing U.S. imperialist hegemony, especially in relationship to the Global South, but also China, Russia and other countries. In a sense, this alliance is temporarily filling that vacuum created by the inability of the world’s working class, as of yet, to be strong enough to occupy the position of the main opposition to U.S imperialism and capitalism in general. 

BRICS is important to countries like Iran and Venezuela, etc., because it partially shields them from being isolated in relation to U.S. imperialism. This is of particular importance to China as the danger of war grows.

Is the role of the working class in the United States unique?

The relationship between the working class in the U.S. and the workers and the oppressed in every other part of the world is dialectical. The struggle all over the world has the effect of weakening U.S. imperialism, which in turn creates the basis for greater revolutionary consciousness and ultimately revolutionary class struggle at the center.

In this context, it becomes important for the working class and the politically advanced forces in the U.S. to understand their responsibility to the workers and oppressed everywhere.  

A century ago, Lenin believed that ultimately the development and struggle emanating from the working class in the U.S.would decide the fate of the world revolution. The world has changed over the past century, and Lenin’s view may be debatable. We would still argue that Lenin’s assessment remains essentially correct..

Why trade unionism cannot be the only form of class organization

From a revolutionary Marxist perspective, one of the biggest misconceptions about the working class is that the trade union movement is not only the main and preferred form of working class organization, but the ONLY form of worker organization. 

Most socialist groups and forces, including relatively revolutionary forces, have succumbed to this misconception. This misconception fortifies the idea that the best that the working class can hope for is the ability to negotiate the conditions of its exploitation with the capitalist class. 

It presupposes that since revolutionary class consciousness, internationalism and the struggle for socialist revolution are beyond the aims of trade unionism, then these goals are more or less permanently off the table of the class struggle. 

It also promotes the false idea that there are finite limitations to the political development of the working class, including the right and the necessity for the working class to engage in political struggle independent of the capitalist ruling class. The class struggle is not only a struggle for economic demands; it is a political struggle and ultimately a political struggle for power. The trade unions are part of the political struggle, but they are not capable of manifesting their full potential.

The contradictions of the trade unions do not in any way alter the need to support them. And help build them. Without them, the working class would be left defenseless. Still, it is important to raise the limitations of trade unions because — especially now in the wake of the heightened magnitude of the world capitalist crisis — any barriers to the political development of the working class must be identified and overcome. But this does not mean that it’s time to turn away from the union movement. 

To the contrary, sharpening a class orientation would require turning even more towards the labor movement, with a refined political strategy for influencing union workers’ labor struggles and the internal union struggles. It’s important for communists to be in the union movement as strongly as possible. However, many changes have to significantly diminish the barriers that labor bureaucrats have erected in order to keep radical ideas out. 

Actually, in some instances, it may even be easier to influence rank-and-file workers as well as union leadership structures from the outside where one’s politics and initiatives can’t be suppressed by those in the trade unions who might be inclined to do that.

Again, the struggle for class consciousness is more critical now than ever. The last few years have opened the road forward for the working class. The intervention of radical young workers into the organizing drives at Amazon, Starbucks and many other companies marks the beginning of a sea change in the transformation of the workers’ movement. The big workers strikes and the changes in the leadership of several big trade unions are also evidence of transformation. 

There was an anticipation and hope that the initiatives of Amazon, Starbucks and many other workers would be decisive to the formation of a big, radical wing of the workers’ movement that in turn would accelerate the radical transformation of the workers’ movement. 

The full scope of my expectations may have been a bit premature; however, the transformation is underway, and it’s going to reach a level that will raise the class consciousness of tens of millions of workers. But the struggle for class consciousness is still going to require the most advanced forces in the working class, like us, actively leading the way.

There’s a reason why Starbucks and Trader Joe’s and more and more companies call the workers they exploit “associates.”  It is part of the war against class consciousness. There’s a reason why workers are not only thrown into competition for jobs but also constantly reminded that they must compete with workers somewhere else, either in another country or in a nearby town or city. 

There’s a reason why women in general are paid between 20% to 25% less than men. Women workers of color are paid even less due to national oppression along with sexism.  In actuality, there are a number of reasons for this. Apart from maximizing exploitation and profits, it is to divide the working class and suppress class consciousness.

Historically, with some notable exceptions, the prevailing tendency in the trade union movement has been to play into the divisive machinations of the ruling class. Unless something is missing, it seems as though most of the labor movement has all but abandoned migrant workers at a time when the war against migrant workers is the most dangerous threat to class solidarity. 

This has a devastating impact on classwide consciousness. Of course, this is not to ignore that unions are changing. Union workers are pushing back against the ingrained culture in unions to compete with each other and limit their obligations to their own members and even more so to the Democratic Party. 

Today, unions are more inclined to actively support the struggles of workers in different unions, different industries and different locations. This tendency is vital, and it must expand; otherwise, capitalism will continue to benefit from the fragmentation of the working class. 

The tendency towards wider concrete workers’ solidarity has not yet reached the level of a sea change. But it is another symptom of how the working-class movement is undergoing a transformation to a more inclusive and radical stage. 

Labor and Palestine: The transformation of the working class is underway

Construction workers at a protest for Palestine organized by Within Our Lifetime in the Bronx, New York City.

It seems that the level of trade union response to the genocide in Gaza is impressive and unprecedented, considering not so long ago, trade unionists might hesitate before saying anything at a union meeting in solidarity with the Palestinian freedom struggle. 

The unions, with perhaps a few exceptions, are not announcing support for the Palestinian resistance. They are responding to the genocide, destruction and ethnic cleansing that the U.S. government and Israel are perpetrating on Gaza. Their demand is for a cease-fire, which while hardly revolutionary, objectively helps the Palestinian resistance. But the response from labor is a big breakthrough. 

Labor’s response reflects the social character of the global outpouring against Zionism and genocide, which is generally young workers of all nationalities. This is a sign that underneath there is a powerful yearning in the working class to break with U.S. imperialism, move in the direction of internationalism.

Organic developments are strengthening class consciousness and internationalism in the trade union movement. It may be that some of the radical movement needs to catch up with this tremendously consequential process. 

If the working-class orientation of the movement is not as strong as it needs to be, there are other ideas that can fill the void left by such a weakness, ideas that tend not to strengthen class consciousness. 

The transformation of the working-class movement will pave the way for new developments. What could be a major reflection of this transformation is that it’s somewhere between likely and inevitable that in the near future another attempt to form a labor party will be launched that will be more meaningful than prior failed attempts to form a labor party in this country. 

The presidential elections this year may postpone this development, but it also may speed it up. The political character of such a party will fall in the general category of social democracy. Critical to the political character of such a development, and of great importance to us, will be the relationship of a new labor party to the Democratic Party. In addition, the degree to which such a party is connected to real workers’ struggles and to a section of the working class, especially the most oppressed workers, will be of the utmost importance.

Depending on the political character of such a party, it may be very important for revolutionary forces to enter it in order to fight for revolutionary, anti-imperialist and pro-struggle positions. Such a strategy will be more possible if there is a marked shift in the working-class orientation of the mass movement. 

Regarding solidarity with the Palestinian resistance and the working class, many of us were excited to support the organizing drives at Amazon, Starbucks, among migrant workers and elsewhere. That understood, is it any less legitimate or important to organize workers as workers to mobilize in solidarity with Palestine, especially against the imperialist power that makes Israeli genocide possible?

Fascism and the 2024 elections – What is the main danger?

The prospect of Trump becoming president again, the scary things that he says he will do if elected, the prospect for another Jan. 6, and what will be the reaction to the Trump court cases is going to make discussion of the danger of fascism in 2024 perhaps wider and more serious than it was in 2016. 

A section of the ruling class is either deeply concerned that a Trump win will harm their democracy, or they are whipping up that idea in order to frighten people into voting for Biden. 

This will require reopening the discussion of all questions related to the development of fascism, such as what is fascism, is a Marxist view of this question still relevant and what should be the response of the movement to this danger? 

There are many factors that play into the rise of Trump and the concentration of neo-fascist forces. Among these factors are the social impact on sections of the population of the decline of U.S. imperialism; the Democratic Party’s abandonment of the working class; and the decomposition and unraveling of the U.S. ruling class’s political establishment and of capitalist society in general. 

The main danger facing the workers and the oppressed at this time is that whatever is happening in the ruling class, the petty bourgeoisie, the economy and the world, the workers and oppressed are at the mercy of enemy class interests, because they don’t have sufficient vehicles for our class to harness and fight for our own class interests.

The struggle against war and the danger of fascism is a political struggle that is clearly international in scope. For some, even some including those who consider themselves socialist, the struggle against war and fascism is separate from the working-class struggle. We know that that is not so. But it’s not good to merely understand this. 

The time has come to develop a strategy that openly makes the struggle against war and fascism a workers’ struggle. How do we do that?  In 2024, history and the global working class is calling upon all of us to be ready to hear the call to rise to the occasion.

 

Larry Holmes

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Larry Holmes
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