US Marxist School 2020: preparing for the American socialist revolution

On November 14 and 15, Marxists from across the United States and around the world came together for our US comrades' virtual Marxist School, “After the 2020 Elections: Preparing for the American Socialist Revolution.”

2020 has been a tumultuous year, full of sharp and sudden changes, not least of which was the presidential election. For revolutionary socialists, a balance sheet is needed after such points of inflection in the class struggle. One clear conclusion can be drawn from the election: the US and world working class cannot rely on either the Democrats or Republicans for their salvation.

To further deepen the discussion, Socialist Revolution held six sessions covering everything from the elections to the fight against femicide to the climate catastrophe and more. This was the International Marxist Tendency’s most well-attended online event ever in the US, with nearly 600 participants joining the sessions throughout the weekend!

Election 2020 and the fight for socialist revolution

For the first session on Saturday, John Peterson, chief editor of Socialist Revolution magazine, spoke on the elections and how the working class was offered no real choice between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Since there is no political party today who represents the working class, American workers are divided along electoral lines between the Republicans and Democrats. Biden was able to win this election, but more voters than ever cast their ballot for the incumbent. Biden and Pelosi claim to have a mandate for a national unity government, but the country is divisively split.

We should make no mistake. When a capitalist politician speaks of reconciliation, they are preparing the ground for even more attacks against the working class. The trail of big money donations show that Biden was Wall Street’s preferred candidate. Centrist and right-wing Democrats, moreover, have already begun an offensive against the left wing of the party, against AOC and “the Squad.”

Yet, the push for a national unity government is a sign of weakness, not strength. The ruling class is unable to rule in the old way and is divided over how to confront the crisis—and the working class. Trump will continue to have a strong hold on the Republican Party through his newly announced super PAC, and “Trumpism” is far from finished. His base includes millions of angry and distressed workers, because there’s no working class alternative to the big capitalist parties. The Democrats have lost the support of large sections of rural and unionized workers after taking them for granted for decades and imposing their own austerity. That section of the working class is not likely to turn back to the liberals.

If we’re going to fight Trumpism, we need to understand it. The Trump camp is not a single homogenous reactionary bloc. Due to the lack of a mass working-class alternative, Trump has skillfully and cynically tapped into a mood of discontent, putting himself forward as an alternative to the “elites” and the Wall Street-backed Democrats. For instance, many Trump supporters in Florida also voted for a $15 minimum wage. These people might not yet join a socialist organization, but they would join a mass workers’ party! The emergence of such a party would cut across the ability of demagogues like Trump to present the Republicans as the party of the working class. Like a magnet, a mass workers’ party could collect all the iron filings across the crevices of the United States and unite the forces of the American proletariat. Only socialism can beat Trumpism, and we need to prepare a strong Marxist tendency to intervene when such a working-class party forms.

The George Floyd uprising and the struggle against police terror

In one of two concurrent sessions that followed, Erika Roedl, an organizer for Socialist Revolution in Minneapolis, discussed the George Floyd protests and the Black Lives Matter uprising this summer. Over 50% of Americans thought that burning down the Minneapolis Third Precinct was justified. Of course, the BLM movement didn’t just appear from nowhere. It goes back to the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012. More murders of black men—such as Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014—were followed by more protests, but the movement never reached the intensity that we saw this summer..

George Floyd was not the first, the second, but the 49th black man to be murdered in Minneapolis by police in recent years. As the saying goes, his death was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The protests took on a class perspective. For instance, Minneapolis protesters tied demands against the state with the need for affordable and quality healthcare and housing.

Contrary to the myth, Marxists do not ignore systems of oppression. However, we must understand that racism and bigotry are a product of capitalism. The police played an important role in early American society to reinforce racism, starting as slave catchers. As Lenin explains in The State and Revolution, the state is nothing more than armed bodies of men—the police, prisons, etc. The ruling class uses these institutions to oppress the other classes in society. Rubber bullets quickly taught protesters this lesson. There’s no room to discuss “reforming” the police, when its sole purpose is to organize violence against the working class. When communities in Minneapolis learned they could no longer rely on the police, they organized their own neighborhood committees and patrols for safety. Moreover, the protests spread from Minneapolis to across the whole country.

Those in attendance also learned that “Abolish the Police” is an inadequate slogan. The movement instinctively understands we cannot reform the police, but the liberals have co-opted its slogans. After protesters swarmed around the Fifth Precinct, the Minneapolis City Council declared it would disband the police department. Now, they will not even rename it until the next election, let alone disband it. Minneapolis City Council is dominated by “progressive” Democrats who hold back the movement. The BLM movement has no political party. We need a leadership that understands that what needs changing is capitalism. What is needed is an organization trained in these lessons from every period of the class struggle, to transmit those lessons into today’s struggle. Otherwise, like this summer’s protests, the masses will expend all their energy before the struggle achieves its aims.

Facing a climate catastrophe: we need a planned economy!

Meanwhile, Antonio Balmer, contributing editor of Socialist Revolution, spoke on the climate crisis and the need for a planned economy. In previous years, climate change had been posed as a problem of the future. But as has happened with so many other fault lines within capitalist society, history has caught up with a bang, and the effects of climate change are accelerating and directly impacting the lives of millions worldwide.

Since the beginning of capitalist industrialization, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by about 50%—and half of that increase has occurred just in the past three decades. Twenty of the warmest years on record have occurred in the last 22 years. In February of this year, scientists recorded the warmest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica. And on a global scale, September was the warmest month in all of human history.

What urgently needs to be done now, should have started decades ago. Under a rational planned economy, humanity would have fully transitioned to renewable energy long ago. But under capitalism, the profit motive is the sole driving force in the economy, and the fossil fuel industry has been allowed to continue its catastrophic activities to this day.

The bare minimum change that is necessary is a complete overhaul of the entire global economy. Not only must we transform our energy production, transportation systems, and agricultural system—we also need to prepare for the effects of the damage that has already occurred, by preparing flood defense for coastal cities and preparing to relocate hundreds of millions of people. In many cases, the technical solutions to these problems already exist, but until the working class overthrows capitalism, any discussion of curbing climate change remains purely hypothetical.

In spite of the bleak prospects for the future of our planet, Antonio highlighted that we must remain optimistic. Climate change is also one of the radicalizing factors that will impel the working class along the road to revolution. An anticapitalist streak can already be observed in the youth wing of the environmental movement. The key task is to orient to the working class with a revolutionary socialist program that combines the struggle for jobs and higher living standards with the fight for massive investment and a restructuring of the economy to address the effects of climate change. Only a planned economy under workers’ control can effectively confront this crisis!

How revolutionary socialism can revive the labor movement

The second day commenced with two more sessions. Tom Trottier, contributing editor of Socialist Revolution magazine, gave a presentation on the role that revolutionary socialism can play in revitalizing the labor movement. There are a number of advantages to being part of a union, but those gains are still limited by capitalism itself. There has been a significant decline in union representation since 1947, in the aftermath of World War II. Workers’ real wages are lower today than they were in 1973, at the end of the postwar economic boom.

Inflation has overtaken growth in wages. Unemployment has also worsened in the present crisis. The bosses can use the unemployed as a tool against employed workers, in order to force them to accept pay cuts. The present union leadership successfully uses class-collaborationist policies to subdue the workers. If a capitalist is losing money, then the class collaborationists propose cuts to pay and benefits in order to retain jobs. In spite of that, capitalists still outsource industry.

If we look at the labor movement today, there is no organized left opposition to these policies. Revolutionary socialists must change this. Most of the unions were built by socialists, communists, and anarchists. The struggle for the 8-hour day, pensions, and benefits were won by militant leaders like Eugene V. Debs and “Big Bill” Haywood. Recent history has shown that the American working class is still combative, like the West Virginia teachers in 2018! The militant fighting spirit and abilities of the American working class is vital but to achieve victory, the working class needs Marxist ideas.

Marxists in trade unions should start from the premise that the interests of the workers and those of the bosses are completely opposed to one another. We look to the example of the Minneapolis Teamsters’ Strike in 1934, where just five Marxists were able to grow their local from 75 members to 5,000 with the correct strategy and tactics, and win major concessions. Marxists must put forward the perspective that workers must fight not just in the workplace, but on the political front with their own party. Also, strikes themselves can take on a political character. A recent example was the sick-out by air traffic controllers in response to the Federal government shutdown in 2018 and 2019. Our task today is to prepare Marxist cadres in these unions, so we can intervene in the movement at large and influence it with our ideas and perspectives.

¡Ni Una Menos! The struggle against femicides in Mexico

Karen Campos from La Izquierda Socialista, the Mexican section of the IMT, spoke about the fight against femicides in Mexico. This horrifying phenomenon, in which women are demeaned, denigrated, and murdered just for being women has grown significantly in the past period. The crime, a symptom of capitalism’s tendency towards barbarism, was encoded in law in June 2012 after decades of increasing rates of femicides in Mexico—and yet these murders continue unabated.

Despite decades of the so-called war on drugs—which in practice amounts to military occupation—organized crime is still entirely intact, and in some regions, the drug cartels assume the role of the state. This has caused extreme social decomposition, providing fertile ground for the growth of misogyny, machismo, and general barbarism. While the capitalists speak about the lack of values and the need for education, there can be no “values” as such when the material conditions for them are entirely lacking. Thus, the problem of femicides in Mexico is ultimately tied to capitalism and imperialism.

This has rightfully provoked a mass movement against femicides, in which the Mexican Marxists have enthusiastically participated and intervened. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators across the country have taken to the streets in the past year. Feminist tendencies have claimed authority and leadership of the movement. But feminist theory, which places the question of gender above all else, and which blurs over the irreconcilable conflict of interests between bourgeois women and proletarian women, has led to the practice of isolating the struggle of working-class women from the struggle of the working class generally.

In order to advance, the movement needs Marxist ideas, which put women’s oppression on a class basis and thus can unite the entire working class in the struggle against femicides—and against capitalism. The comrades of La Izquierda Socialista have consistently put forward this perspective within the movement. While socialism will not eradicate women’s oppression overnight, it will lay the material basis for the working class to work towards overcoming thousands of years of the divisions of class society.

Socialism in our lifetime! Why we need revolutionary organization

For the closing session, Socialist Revolution contributing editor Laura Brown spoke about the recent progress of the IMT in the United States and worldwide. The events of 2020 have pushed a significant layer of workers and youth towards the ideas of revolutionary socialism. Hundreds of people have written us asking to learn more and join the organization, and the IMT has expanded into new cities across the country. Having started from a single individual just over two decades ago, the organization now has a growing presence in 60 US cities and towns.

Laura provided some highlights of the IMT’s work over the past year. During Bernie Sanders’s campaigns in the 2016 and 2020 Democratic Party primaries, the organization avoided the errors both of opportunism and ultraleftism, engaging with the progressive aspects of the movement, while always explaining the need to break from the Democratic Party. Comrades intervened energetically in the George Floyd protests, the largest movement in US history, arguing for the need to fight racism and police terror through socialist revolution and to link up the movement with the broader working class. Throughout the 2020 general election cycle, the Marxists resisted the pressure of “lesser evilism” and instead argued the need for a mass socialist party based on organized labor.

Attendees also heard from IMT activists in Mexico, Pakistan, Italy, South Africa, Canada, France, Brazil, Sweden, Morocco, Austria, Chile, and Britain. While the particulars of the situations in each country vary, two common threads ran through all of the contributions: the reality of the global crisis of capitalism, and the successes of the IMT in its efforts towards organizing the leadership of the future world socialist revolution.

As part of the international reports, we received an update on the campaign for the release of our Pakistani comrade Amar Fayaz. Amar was abducted by state authorities on November 8 and has been missing since. Many socialists, including several IMT activists, have gone through this ordeal in recent months and years—and were only released thanks to huge international campaigns. During the event, we took a solidarity photo to demand the immediate and safe release of our comrade, and we ask you to help us in these efforts.

The event took place in the context of worldwide economic recession, a global pandemic, and the most contentious US presidential election in living memory. But in the face of this unprecedented capitalist crisis, the American Marxists are filled with optimism. Beneath the surface of society, a powerful revolutionary socialist movement is brewing, and comrades of the IMT across the United States are organizing to ensure that this burgeoning movement is the one that finally ends capitalism once and for all. Join us!

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