Solidarity Founding Statement
A Note on this Publication
This Founding Statement was adopted at the founding national convention of SOLIDARITY in the Spring of 1986. It is reissued here in its original form.
Obviously, events since then have altered the face of the world and U.S. politics: the collapse of bureaucratic dictatorships in Eastern Europe and profound crisis inside the Soviet Union; the defeat of the Sandinistas in the February 1990 elections and the subsequent year of struggle in Nicaragua; the proclamation of a New World Order and the slaughter carried out by Western Imperialism in the Gulf War; the effort to build a Rainbow movement around Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign; to name only a few.
SOLIDARITY has published leaflets, discussion papers, and pamphlets on these and other questions, and has participated in struggles around them. These materials are available from the organization.
However, the fundamental principals presented in this Founding Statement continue to be the basis of SOLIDARITY's politics.
—The SOLIDARITY Political Committee, April, 1991
FOR A SOCIALIST ALTERNATIVE IN AMERICA
Nearly two decades ago, United States and world capitalism
entered the first phase of a protracted, system-wide crisis. This
still unfolding crisis has demonstrated the classic features well-known
to Marxist crisis theories, but also new ones. Since the early
1970s we have witnessed the reassertion of boom-and-bust cycles,
of intensified national economic rivalries evidenced by protectionism
and other measures; and a visible expression of the falling rate
New developments, however, have also given this period
of crisis a unique character: "stagflation" recessions
in which inflation continued despite high unemployment and economic
contraction; an explosion of international debt which threatens
to swallow the banking system alive; and perhaps most unexpected
for Marxists, the system's unprecedented ability through government
intervention to produce short-term solutions, even at the cost
of deepening underlying contradictions such as permanent high
structural unemployment in the U.S. and Europe.
The long crisis has produced glimpses of revolutionary
possibilities, beginning with France in 1968. If the revolutionary
left's anticipations of imminent social revolution in 1968 proved
highly optimistic, nonetheless the following years did see the
first phases of potential working-class revolutions—Chile
preceding the 1973 coup, Portugal during 1974-75, South Africa
today. National liberation movements won independence in the former
Portuguese African colonies and in Zimbabwe. In Vietnam, U.S.
imperialism suffered its greatest historic defeat. Recent years
have seen the opening up of profound social struggles and democratic
movements in countries of "peripheral" capitalism such
as South Korea, Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines and the Central
American region. A victorious revolution occurred in Nicaragua
and revolutionary struggles continue to unfold in Guatemala and
A dramatic feature of present-day struggles in many
"peripheral" or Third World capitalist states is the
growing social weight of the working class-as expressed both in
its own class organizations and in its alliance with the peasantry
and urban "marginalized" masses. The rapid growth of
the working classes in Latin America, Asia and South Africa makes
even more relevant the application of Marxist analysis and politics
in these struggles. The emergence of militant mass labor movements
in repressive conditions has confirmed the potential for the working-class
movement to lead the struggle for democracy, for the transformation
of political to social revolution and the possibility of building
authentic working-class revolutionary parties.
Eastern Europe has also experienced its own crisis.
The bureaucratic stranglehold on the economy engenders low productivity,
inefficiency, and inability to meet elementary consumer needs.
In some cases, the crises of these states has also been linked
to the contradictions of capitalism, as the ruling bureaucracies
seek Western bank loans and investment to cover up their own failures.
This crisis exploded most dramatically in the Polish
workers' movement Solidarnosc in 1980-81. From a struggle for
the elementary right of independent trade unions, the movement
spearheaded by Solidarnosc rapidly evolved into a classic proletarian
revolutionary challenge—a form of dual power—before being
tragically defeated by the imposition of martial law. That movement
represents the high point so far of the struggle for socialist
freedom in the Eastern bloc.
As revolutionary socialists in the heartland of imperialism
we are deeply inspired by all these struggles, and are committed
to study and build solidarity with them. This is a task to which
further discussion will be given later in this statement. Nonetheless,
the hard reality remains that the protracted crisis has not produced
any generalized revolutionary upsurge. Indeed, the general trend
of the past decade for the working classes of the "advanced"
industrial capitalist countries has been one of declining union
strength and, to some degree, political conservatization. As labor
became disoriented, rightist forces gained ground.
There are important exceptions, to be sure: the limited
victory won by German metalworkers for a shorter work week; the
tremendous resistance shown by the British miners, although their
struggle was lost because of the passivity of the British labor
bureaucracy; the successful U.S. miner's strike of 1978 and the
beginnings of important strikes resisting further concessions
in the past year. In at least one country, Britain, the revolutionary
left played a significant role in defeating an incipient fascist
Nonetheless, contrary to the expectations of virtually
all shades of opinion in the U.S. and Western European left, the
line of march of the working class of the "advanced"
countries has been one of retreat. The forces of the revolutionary
left were, of course, much too small to reverse this process,
even had we fully understood it. It is not surprising that as
the workers' movements of the U.S. and Western Europe have retreated,
the revolutionary left has also declined in these countries. At
the same time as the combativity of the organized workers' movement
has receded, the broad social and political "issues"
movements such as feminism, environmentalism and anti-militarism
have persisted, with ups and downs. These movements play a critical
role in raising a visible challenge to the most odious aspects
of the deepening capitalist assault. They keep alive a spirit
of debate and resistance, which often succeeds in winning the
sympathies, if not the active participation, of the majority of
This is demonstrated most dramatically in the deep
anti-war, anti-militarist sentiment in the advanced capitalist
countries, which has become a factor the capitalists must take
into account in pursuing their war plans and spreading their nuclear
arsenals. The anti-missiles movement that swept Western Europe
and the anti-intervention movement in the U.S. are recent examples.
The challenges raised by these social movements also
serve to deepen the debate in the workers' movement and shake
the collaborationist complacency of its leadership. The hard-won
official pro-choice position of the Canadian New Democratic Party
and the controversy within the American AFL-CIO on the issue of
Central America testify to this capacity.
The continued existence of such movements has also
been critical to the left's very survival. As activists within
them, we seek to maintain their independence from the capitalist
lesser-evil electoral trap. We also seek to deepen their connections
with and integration into working class political life in order
to prepare the way for the emergence of a working-class movement
that can address the totality of political and social questions
Over the past decade in most of southern and western
Europe, as well as Japan, the revolutionary left has deeply declined
or self-destructed. Meanwhile the reformist "Eurosocialist"
parties have come to power in France, Greece, Spain and Portugal
--and proven to be dismal failures in confronting the crises
of their own societies. They have broken every electoral promise,
whether it was breaking free from NATO, creating democratic economic
reforms, ending unemployment, liberating women or allying with
Third World liberation struggles. Clearly social democracy has
not created an alternative to working class retreat, but is only
one political expression of that retreat. The American Scene
But nowhere has the decline and disorientation of
the left been as acute as in the United States, and for revolutionary
socialists in the U.S. this must be our practical starting point.
The small forces of the revolutionary left in the U.S. face an
acute crisis of perspective. That crisis cannot be overcome by
ignoring it, or resolved by means of admiration and support for
struggles in other countries.
A profound conservatization of the left, caused in
part by the decline of dynamic mass opposition movements, has
pulled many former radical activists into the Democratic Party.
We are completely against this disastrous course, and we regard
combating this trend as a basic task of socialist politics. There
has been a smaller but equally disastrous drift toward Stalinist
politics and a tendency toward organizational bureaucratism falsely
packaged as "democratic centralism." We believe that
revolutionary socialist regroupment, and the general political
approach to be outlined in this statement, is a first step toward
overcoming this crisis and rebuilding effective socialist politics
and organization in the U.S.
The need for such politics and organization has never
been greater than at present. The construction of such an alternative
must begin from the realities of the U.S. working class, the movements
of the oppressed and the left. All of these have been deeply disoriented
by the ascendancy of Reaganism and weakened by the employers'
The politics of Reaganism, however, are a symbol
and symptom of an increasingly aggressive stance by U.S. capital—not its cause. On the other hand, economic changes in the past
several years have begun the "restructuring" of U.S.
industry and of the working class itself, to the profound disadvantage
of the traditional labor movement. Older industries and their
unions have been thrown into decline. A larger proportion of jobs
are low wage, disproportionately filled by women and oppressed
minorities, while the proportion of the industrial and blue-collar
working class within the population as a whole has decreased.
At the same time a large sector of affluent professionals and
managers has been created. This newly prosperous layer greatly
swells Reagan's political base, and has helped create the tone
for the policies of deliberate social neglect in mainstream politics
as well as the calculated viciousness of the right wing.
On the other hand, business does not feel it can
afford expensive reforms, whether at the level of collective bargaining
or social spending, which characterized previous periods of prosperity.
Even more to the point, capital does not feel a threat from below
that would force it to deliver such reforms. Rather, its strategy
is to impose the full costs of making U.S. capital competitive
and profitable on organized and unorganized workers, on the Black
community and on women. The fruits of this strategy are visible
everywhere, in a thousand daily atrocities. In the Black inner
cities, infant mortality rates are at Third World levels—a
predictable result of the slashing of pre-natal nutrition programs.
"De-industrialization" has ruined whole regions. The
percentage of unionized workers has fallen to 18%.
From the late 1960s to the mid-'70s, a mass-based
women's movement created a new atmosphere in which reproductive
freedom, childcare and a decent job began to be seen as rights.
It is only natural, within the context of a capitalist system
which from its inception has been built on foundations of male
supremacy as well as class exploitation, that the imposition of
austerity and right-wing political solutions entails a counter-
assault to wipe out women's recent gains.
Nonetheless, the struggles that produced the limited
victories for women were the result of real-life conditions which
still exist—the large-scale entry of women into the work force
by both necessity and choice, the percentage of families now headed
by women, etc. The model of the male wage-earner-centered family
held up by the right wing is increasingly a myth. Against whatever
odds, therefore, women's struggles for basic rights will continue.
The recent call by NOW for demonstrations in support of abortion
rights, the cutting edge of the right-wing attacks on all women's
rights, is undoubtedly an expression of this reality.
Participation in these struggles must be central
to the revival of a labor movement, as well as a left, worthy
of the name. Special attention must be focused in the present
phase of the capitalist crisis on escalating militarism. Far from
being a transient phase or a particularly grotesque feature of
one right-wing Administration, dramatic and continuing increases
in military spending are deliberately built in as part of the
effort to "reflate" a slump-prone economy. The fact
that these increases boost a ruinous deficit, itself a threat
to the economic confidence of the ruling class, has created political
contradictions which are still being fought out.
At the same time, politically the escalation of "defense"
spending is part of the effort to construct a consensus for policing
the Third World, under the cover of stopping "Soviet expansionism."
Such a consensus is necessary in order to make millions of American
workers feel they have a stake in policies which are, in fact,
destroying their jobs, their communities and their lives.
In this situation, the task of constructing a socialist
alternative in the U.S. begins with the building of resistance,
in large battles and small ones, in the unions and the broader
social movements, to the economic and social assaults of capital.
The participation of socialist activists in these daily struggles
is far more important than the elaboration of complex schemes
of "structural reform" for which there is no means of
We try to introduce relevant political ideas into
these daily struggles, in any way we can, helping to link them
together, to build alliances and ties of solidarity between them.
This means participating in all fights for reform. But it also
means introducing a broader vision of a society without exploitation
or oppression. Such a society cannot be handed down from above;
it requires that ordinary working people take control, collectively
and democratically, over their lives.
Socialism is the society that workers and the oppressed
will begin to build when they have taken power through a revolution
that grows out of their daily struggles. It must be based on workers'
democracy, meaning both workers' control of production and the
exercise of political power through mass democratic institutions.
Only through such institutions of workers' democracy can the working
class keep the power it has won and use it to construct a new
Our socialist vision is therefore profoundly revolutionary
and democratic, visionary and rooted in daily struggle, working
class and feminist, anti-capitalist and anti-bureaucratic. Only
by forging such an alternative at home can we ultimately fulfill
our obligations to the struggles for freedom around the world.
INTERNATIONALISM: A POLITICS OF SOLIDARITY
For us as revolutionary socialists, the struggle
for freedom is worldwide and indivisible—from Central America
to South Africa, from Puerto Rico to Poland. Internationalism
has particular significance for socialists in the U.S., whose
ruling class commands the largest nuclear arsenal and which plays
the greatest role in perpetuating misery in defense of its world
empire. As sections of the American working class begin to resist
such corporate assaults as concessions, union-busting and plant
closures, one important political responsibility for socialist
activists is to patiently explain the commonality of these struggles
with the movements of working people and the oppressed for political
freedom and social justice in Latin America, South Africa, the
Philippines and elsewhere.
Our internationalism begins at home, with the fullest
possible participation in movements opposing U.S. imperialist
intervention in the Third World, its continued colonial occupation
of Puerto Rico and the Micronesian archipelago, and its arms buildup
which threatens humankind with annihilation. Contrary to ideologues
of liberalism and even to some who call themselves part of the
left, we do not distinguish "progressive" versus "reactionary"
forms of U.S. intervention. The American ruling class has no progressive
role to play anywhere in the world.
In Central America, whether the United States government
is back ing death squads or the ultra-right or Christian Democratic
"reform" from above, its objectives remain the same.
Usually, in fact, it pursues both tactics at the same time, toward
a common aim: to keep the region open to U.S. investment and the
worker and peasant masses disciplined by poverty, powerlessness
and fear. These conditions are generally known as "stability,"
"social harmony" and "favorable business climate."
In South Africa, "constructive engagement"
and the mildest of cosmetic sanctions against apartheid are two
sides of the same pro-racist U.S. policy. South Africa is an economic
pillar and regional military bulwark of the Free World, and under
no circumstances is the U.S. prepared to allow the Black majority
to jeopardize this arrangement. Indeed, while indulging in purely
verbal gestures against apartheid (a system to which, of course,
no one except explicit Nazis give open approval), the U.S. has
strengthened its military partnership with South Africa by moving
toward open support of the South African-backed UNITA movement
The same considerations apply with respect to the
United States' relationship to dictatorships in the Third World,
as they did to the late Shah of Iran, Sadat of Egypt and Marcos
of the Philippines. These client dictators retain the full support
of the U.S., regardless of how alienated and hated they are within
their own countries, unless repression fails and the threat of
revolution from within undermines "stability."
In the Middle East, the United States, together with
its ally and junior partner Israel act in concert to suppress
all expressions of the Palestinian peoples' nationhood and aspirations
for justice and human rights. Unlimited U.S. military and economic
support to Israel are the underpinning both for Zionist expansionism
in the Middle East and for Israel's increasing global role in
Third World repression, including the genocide in Guatemala.
In virtually all these cases the imperialist foreign
policy of the U.S. capitalist class is backed up by bipartisan
Congressional consensus, by mass media silence or complicity,
and by the implicit and often active support of the trade-union
bureaucracy. An important first step in breaking through the pro-
imperialist consensus is to force an open debate. This has now
begun to take place within the unions around the issues of Central
America and South Africa. On many other issues, however—notably
the Middle East—there is virtually no serious discussion inside
the institutions of the labor movement, the media, or anywhere
As anti-intervention and solidarity activists, we
work in a wide range of movements: the unions, the Pledge of Resistance,
Sanctuary and in the Salvadoran, Nicaraguan and Guatemalan solidarity
networks. We see the building of the anti-apartheid movement as
a major priority. In addition, the strengthening of the movements
in solidarity with the Palestinian people is a key task, especially
given the continuing attachment of much of the left to Zionism.
There can be no single formula for building all the
movements. We support any form of activity that mobilizes people
and raises consciousness. However, the general drift to the Democratic
Party has made itself felt in the movements, a retreat which in
fact demobilizes activists, eases pressure on Congress and the
Administration and thereby indirectly contributes to the drift
to the right in both capitalist parties.
We favor strategies that combine a range of activities
such as in dependent electoral activity or local initiative campaigns,
broad unified mass actions, civil disobedience where this helps
build the struggle, and ultimately a broad mass mobilization that
links the struggle against intervention abroad to workers' struggles
against austerity at home.
Where the American capitalist class expresses support
for democratic movements in Eastern Europe, such as the struggle
for independent trade unions in Poland, or the efforts of dissidents
and independent peace activists in the Soviet Union, it is purely
hypocritical. Washington has no real interest in the victory of
the Polish workers' movement—its concern lies in discrediting
socialism by falsely identifying it with a police state which
cannot tolerate any form of independent working-class institutions
(unions, parties, newspapers, etc.). Indeed, the victory of the
movement for trade union rights inside Poland would only have
served to highlight the contrast between the fantastic rank-and-file
democracy and militancy of the Solidarnosc movement in 1980-81
with the bureaucratic and supine character of the union movement
today in the U.S.
The suppression of Solidarnosc by the Polish bureaucracy
not only discredits the name of socialism, but provides political
ammunition for U.S.-sponsored anti-communist crusades and repression
--including the "disappearances" and death squad assassinations
of unionists in Guatemala and El Salvador. Here again the AFL-CIO
leadership—with its rhetorical support for "free trade
unions" and its very real alliance with the CIA to manipulate
labor movements in the name of "free trade unionism"
in Central and South America, Africa and Asia—is a pillar of
U.S. foreign policy.
We as revolutionary socialists are unconditionally
in support of the Solidarnosc movement and support the extension
of the movement for genuine unions, socialist democracy and working-
class power to the other states of Eastern Europe and the USSR.
We believe also that workers' struggles of even greater magnitude
will ultimately shake the bureaucratic regime in China to its
We support these struggles, not in counterposition
to the struggles of workers for the right to organize and win
political freedom in South Africa, Turkey, Chile and Palestine
—but because we consider that these struggles have a common
historic destiny and strikingly similar dynamics. It is a remarkable
feature of today's social struggles, East and West, whether under
capitalist or non-capitalist rule, that the movement from below
of the exploited and oppressed is spearheaded by working-class
self-organization. Such organization points to the possibility
of genuinely socialist societies without bosses or bureaucrats;
it therefore poses a common revolutionary challenge to rulers
and privileged elites of all types.
Another prominent feature of struggle today is that
world capitalism and so-called transnational corporations have
brought about economic transformations, however distorted, leading
to the formation of militant new workers' movements in the Third
World. Whether in traditional manufacturing facilities relocating
to the Third World or in new high-tech silicon chip sweatshops,
often based on the superexploitation of women in 19th century
conditions, new working classes are being forged.
The workers' movement in South Africa is the most
dramatic exam ple of a newly-arising proletarian movement with
revolutionary potentialities. This movement will unquestionably
play the leading role in the destruction of apartheid.
In Brazil and Mexico, in south Asia and elsewhere,
these new workers' movements will through heroic effort and sacrifice
create their trade union and political organizations which ultimately
challenge imperialist hegemony and capitalist social relations.
In many countries of the Third World, where the burden of the
international debt crushes all possibilities of social progress,
workers and peasants are faced with starvation to pay off a debt
which they never agreed to acquire and from which they receive
no benefit. The militant workers' movements of these countries
are the best hope for waging a struggle to repudiate these debts
contracted between international bankers and local ruling classes
over the heads of the peoples.
The revolutionary struggles unfolding in Central
America require special attention today, not only because of their
great intrinsic importance but also because of the enormous threat
they face from the United States. While struggles of great importance
are unfolding in many countries from South Africa to the Philippines,
the one immediate revolutionary threat to U.S. domination is in
Central America, since the Sandinista victory in 1979 and the
development of a revolutionary crisis in El Salvador from late
1979 to the present.
This fact is both tragic and inspiring. Tragic because
in the absence of revolutionary challenges in other larger countries,
U.S. imperialism is able to concentrate all its savagery on the
task of crushing Central America's revolutions in the bud. But
also profoundly inspiring, because after more than seven years
Nicaragua continues to withstand the onslaught and because the
popular movements continue under the most difficult conditions
of rural air war and repression in El Salvador and genocide in
We stand on the side of the Nicaraguan people, whose
revolution led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front is
a giant step toward liberation. Likewise we are in solidarity
with the Salvadoran struggle led by the Farabundo Marti National
Liberation army and the Revolutionary Democratic Front (FMLN-FDR)
and the Guatemalan resistance led by the United Guatemalan National
Resistance (URNG). We recognize that the extreme difficulties
facing these struggles are overwhelmingly due to the forces arrayed
against them by the U.S. and its regional puppets such as the
Honduran regime, the Nicaraguan contras and increasingly the government
of Costa Rica.
The Nicaraguan revolution in particular presents
both a source of inspiration and complex theoretical problems
for Marxist analysis. Under conditions of extreme underdevelopment
and the relatively low social weight of the working class, the
possibilities for the development of classic forms of proletarian
power (e.g. the exercise of power through workers' councils) are
limited. Nonetheless, in marked contrast to many Third World revolutions,
Nicaragua since the victory of July 1979 has seen the emergence
of an important element of revolutionary democracy. In this process
a major role has been played by mass organizations that have a
life not controlled by a party-state monolith. Deep inroads have
been made against capitalism and bourgeois authority; at the same
time, basic human rights and most democratic political freedoms
have remained intact under conditions of severe economic crisis,
invasion and bourgeois provocation. All these factors represent
a first step in constructing a post-revolutionary state that is
non-bureaucratic and non-authoritarian.
Given the chance to develop free of outside intervention,
the still fragile institutions of revolutionary pluralism in Nicaragua
might develop further, placing greater direct power in the hands
of the masses. Such a transition would not, of course, be guaranteed
even under the most favorable conditions, but would depend crucially
on the political orientation of the FSLN. Under the actually existing
conditions confronting Nicaragua, in which the survival of the
revolution and the nation depend first and foremost on defeating
an imperialist sponsored contra invasion that has internal allies
within the rightist political opposition and the church hierarchy,
the degree of revolutionary democracy is more likely to contract
than expand for the duration of the war.
A political attitude toward the Sandinista government
of Nicaragua cannot be based either on wishful thinking or on
predictions of an "inevitable" bureaucratic degeneration,
but on the FSLN's actual record of struggle during and since the
revolutionary victory. This record shows that the FSLN has both
waged an intransigent anti-imperialist struggle and placed its
confidence in the Nicaraguan masses to advance the revolution.
We therefore support the Sandinista government unconditionally
in its struggle against US. imperialism, the contras and the pro-
capitalist forces in Nicaragua.
We demand the end of all economic aggression and
military threats by the U.S. against Cuba. As Noam Chomsky has
pointed out, Cuba has been the target of more "international
terrorism," including nuclear terrorism, in the past 25 years
than any other country in the world. Only the people of Cuba have
the right to determine how their country is to be governed and
with what other countries it will be allied.
We do not share a common political attitude toward
the Cuban government and Castro leadership, nor do we share complete
theoretical agreement on the character of Eastern European societies.
In fact, as will be discussed in a subsequent section,
we believe it is a mistake for American revolutionaries to construct
organizations today on the basis of total agreement on precise
theoretical interpretations of historical events, or complete
agreement on every current question.
What unites us is our support of the struggles for
freedom everywhere, as symbolized by the Polish workers' movement
and the Nicaraguan revolution. We are committed to learning from
the struggles of workers and the oppressed everywhere, and building
solidarity with them. We come together not because we share total
commonality of views, but because we are on the same side of the
struggles of workers and the oppressed everywhere.
The enormous changes in capitalism that have taken
place in the past decade or so and those that are yet to come
require a thorough transformation of organized labor in the U.S.
Our vision of a renewed labor movement is one that is democratic
to the core, militant in its methods of struggle, unrelenting
in its advocacy of equality for all people, class-wide in its
appeal, and internationalist in outlook. This requires not only
the transformation of existing unions, but the organization of
millions of unorganized workers in every sector of the economy
and the formation of a new working-class based political party.
To face capital in this era of change, labor must
change itself accordingly. Perhaps the greatest single change
required by labor for its survival is its relation to capital.
From a relation of cooperation and dependence, labor must develop
a stance of opposition and independence toward capital.
The job of transforming the labor movement belongs
to the rank and file of labor. The labor bureaucracy's desperate
dependence on U.S.-based multinational capital and its political
parties precludes them from playing a significant role in such
a change. The transformation of the union by the ranks is not
something for tomorrow and not something that happens in a moment.
That fight has already begun. At the moment its central focus
is on the resistance to concessions and union-busting. But it
is also found in other struggles of the day. Socialists participate
in these struggles and attempt to draw the lessons that can move
the fight from mere resistance to one for greater change within
labor and within the society as a whole.
Socialists have always been participants in and builders
of trade unions. The U.S. labor movement is no exception. Throughout
American history socialists have been in the front ranks of those
fighting to make them democratic organizations of the working
class. The positive view socialists have of unions flows from
the belief that it is the working class through its organized
self-activity that is the central agent of socialist revolution.
While unions themselves are not revolutionary organizations, they
can play an important role in developing the consciousness, self-confidence, and power of the working class.
Since the end of World War II most trade union leaders
in the developed capitalist nations have chosen the road of cooperation
and social peace. In the context of an unprecedented expansion
by the western capitalist economies following the war, the choice
of cooperation seemed logical to most leaders and acceptable to
most members. This collaborationist orientation did not mean the
absence of struggle altogether. Conservative governments and recalcitrant
employers continued to provoke strikes and in Europe the needs
of capitalist reconstruction after the war occasionally provoked
confrontations over the content of the social pact. But for the
most part, trade union leaders throughout the West abandoned the
practice and even the ideology of class struggle.
Today, the social pact is crumbling. Ironically,
it is not the working class, but the capitalist class that has
broken the social pact with the labor bureaucracy. Within the
last several years, capital throughout the developed industrial
economies has reneged on the post-World War II deal. In part this
is simply a reaction to the global economic crisis which has made
the terms of the deal too expensive in an era of intense international
competition and world-wide industrial restructuring. In part it
is the belated realization that the labor bureaucracy still thinks
as if the deal was on—or can't see beyond it even when they
know—and are unable to offer any serious resistance. It is
also in part a consequence of a massive political shift to the
right which is itself a child of capitalist crisis. Just as socialists
participated in past resistance to bureaucratization or other
effects of the social pact even when the fight seemed hopeless,
so today we must be part of the response to the new capitalist
offensive no matter how limited it may seem.
The most evident characteristics of capital in the
1980s have been fluidity, mobility, willingness to enter and leave
new fields, organizational change, and unabashed globalism. Those
of American trade unionism in the 1980s have been bureaucratic
organization, rigidity of strategy and practice, fear of the new,
narrowness of programmatic vision, and insular nationalism. The
social pact developed in the U.S. in the 1940s was based on an
agreement by labor to limit wage and benefit gains to increases
in productivity. In practice this meant gutting workplace organization
and power in exchange for a growth in personal income commensurate
with the overall growth of the economy and the expansion of profits.
Politically, this accord emerged as the institutional
alliance of labor with the Democratic Party and the rejection
of a labor party direction. Labor's reform agenda would in practice
be limited to what the Democrats thought feasible in the light
of America's growing police function in the world. Both the industrial
and political deals rested on negotiations among elites and required
further bureaucratic insulation of the labor leaders from the
influence of their members. Contract negotiations increasingly
became the realm of specialists. Solidarity, shop floor power,
and the accrual of skills by rank-and-file members ceased to
be central characteristics of unionism in the U.S.
The Black, women's, and rank-and-file movements of
the late `60s and early `70s in the U.S. made significant forays
against the bastions of bureaucratic power and the social pact
on which it rested, but they were unable to breech the walls.
By the mid-80s, vast merger movements, technological change,
increased capital mobility, and above all internationalization
increased capital's leverage over organized labor in the U.S.
In fact, much of labor's declining clout was a result of the decline
in old industries and the rise of new ones that accompanied a
restructuring of the international division of labor.
Since 1979 the employers have waged an unrelenting
assault on the wages and conditions of American workers. Through
recession and recovery, concessionary bargaining has continued
unabated. A recent study by the Brookings Institution showed that
by 1985 concessions had affected virtually every industry in the
unionized private sector.
The content of employer demands, however, has changed
and become more or less standardized in the last few years. Employers
are not satisfied with simple wage cuts or freezes. An increasing
proportion of concessionary demands concern the elimination of
barriers to competition among workers. Whether it is through cooperative
schemes such as QWL or ESOPs, through the ability to contract-out
at will, through earnings based on performance, two-tier wage
systems, the goal is to eliminate the last vestiges of worker
solidarity, workplace organization, and other obstacles to total
employer control and "flexibility." This is sought not
only in the currently organized industries, but in the new service-oriented
industries as well. Scab herding, private and public organized
violence and union busting have all returned to the scene and
for the most part been supported by incumbent politicians: ranging
from the White House, through Democratic governors such as Babbitt
(Phelps Dodge) and Perpich (Hormel), down to City Hall (including
Harold Washington of Chicago).
Within the last year or so, however, the fight over
concessions and increasingly over unionism itself has escalated.
In a growing number of situations employers have been willing
to take long strikes in order to break or humiliate the union.
In a growing number of instances, the companies have used organized
violence (professional "security" outfits) themselves
or convinced the appropriate level of government to do it for
them. Phelps Dodge, A.T Massey, Danly, Chicago Tribune, and Hormel
strikers all faced a level of armed force that has not typified
U.S. labor relations for years.
Resistance to the employers' offensive has also grown.
Typically, this renewed resistance is seen as a fight against
concessions and in defense of the union. Also typically, the will
to fight originates at the local level. Sometimes the international
union tolerates it, sometimes it opposes it, but only rarely do
the Internationals organize the resistance themselves or extend
aggressive support to it.
In struggle after struggle, groups of workers or
local unions have sought out support from other unions. In some
places this has given rise to organizations like the Massachusetts
Labor Support Project or Toledo Area Solidarity Committee; more
often it is ad hoc in nature. The search for solidarity from other
unionized workers and from other oppressed social groups is not
just the implementation of a left perspective. Such efforts have
arisen not only in urban settings with large left populations,
but in small towns and rurally-based plants. It has become typical
for strikers to seek out other unions, farm organizations, and
community groups in their areas.
Usually, some level of support is forthcoming. While
no organization of significant strength and few of real durability
have arisen, this search should be viewed as the first steps toward
the reorganization of labor, the first tentative steps toward
a working-class response to the shift in the power relations of
classes in the U.S.
The organization of the millions of low-paid workers
who increasingly compose the new center of gravity—if not necessarily
the center of power—within the working class is obviously key
to any strategy for transforming the U.S. labor movement. But
it is not just a matter of hiring more organizers or beefing up
the organizing budget of today's unions, much less of hiring media
wizards or selling credit cards to the poor. It is a political
question. It requires the spreading of a new consciousness that
embodies opposition to capital, that breaks down barriers of race
and sex as well as occupation and enterprise. This calls for a
labor movement in which the concerns of workers as Blacks, Latins,
and women are as legitimate as the fight for higher pay; in which
the power to change life at work is once again a central concept
of unionism; and in which unions are seen as leading crusaders
for the underdog, not protectors of a declining turf. It should
be obvious also that the international redivision of labor that
has created many of these changes requires an internationalist
outlook. Strong links must be forged with the new and growing
labor movements appearing in much of the Third World.
Clearly the changes so desperately needed in the
U.S. labor move ment will not come from the top. As socialists
we put no faith in lobbying the bureaucracy much less in permeating
it. Within the existing unions, hope remains at the grass roots
level. It is to the base of labor that we take our ideas and proposals.
The labor movement we fight to build is not simply
more democratic and more "progressive" than the existing
unions. Its major defining feature is not just a different set
of positions or even a more militant stance in collective bargaining.
We fight to build a labor movement that has a fundamentally different
relation to capital than today's unions: one of opposition, not
collaboration, of class struggle, not "interest group"
This historic task is not simply something for today's
socialists; it is the job of the millions of workers who will
compose the active base of such a movement. The socialists cannot
substitute themselves for the class, nor can we hope to see such
a development by simply propagandizing about it. Our approach
rejects both substitutionism and propagandism in favor of an activist
approach to existing struggles in which we participate and from
which we attempt to draw the lessons that point to a greater strengthening
of the movement. Our basic tasks include:
- Rank-and-file work at the local union and workplace level. The fight to transform local unions, build or rebuild workplace union organization, and capture local unions for rank-and-file power are central tasks in the struggle to transform labor.
- Building rank-and-file opposition movements within existing international unions.
- Building organized resistance to the employers' offensive. In fighting the employers these days some level of organized resistance beyond the local union and independent of the control of the international union officialdom is needed.
- The struggle against racism, sexism and heterosexism in the unions and on the job. Racism, sexism and heterosexism have always been barriers to a genuinely class-conscious labor movement in the U.S. Although the proportion of women and minority workers in unions is greater than in the past, racism, sexism and heterosexism within the unions remains a barrier to true equality in the labor movement.
- The fight for genuine internationalism. The global nature of capitalism in its era of crisis and restructuring requires an internationalist response from organized labor.
- The fight for a labor party in the U.S. We are convinced that a break from capitalist politics is a necessary condition for the creation of an effective labor movement. Even in terms of the defensive posture, no matter how militant, the working class is certain to take under today's circumstances, independent political organization and opposition to the pro-employer politics of both major parties is an indispensable part of the search for new forms of labor organization.
OPPRESSED MINORITIES IN THE U.S.
Racism and national oppression have been cornerstones
of U.S. capitalism since its inception. The exploitation of nonwhite
peoples—both within its borders and in the colonial and neocolonial
worlds—has served as a source of profit for the U.S. ruling
class as well as a political tool to maintain its dominance.
The historic oppression of Native Americans, Chicanos
and Puerto Ricans flows from their conquest by the U.S. Blacks
were torn from their homeland and brought in ships as slaves.
For Chinese-and Japanese-Americans, Filipinos and Arab-Americans,
who came to the U.S. like many other workers from Europe, the
virulent racism they encountered has formed their particular identity
as oppressed nationalities. In some cases, special laws regulating
their ability to maintain residency or own land were passed. The
systematic discrimination which these groupings have suffered
is different in kind from the ethnic discrimination which sections
of the white working class have encountered.
The struggle for socialism thus entails a combined
fight against the existing economic order and against the oppression
of minorities. Although each of these struggles has its own dynamics,
they are also inextricably intertwined, both by the nature of
the demographics of minorities, who are overwhelmingly proletarian,
and by the divisive use capitalism makes of racism.
We support the efforts of oppressed nationalities
to self organization in all spheres-in political organizations,
in unions, in the women's movement, in the community, and in the
society at large. We support the fight for affirmative action
within integrated institutions, and the fight for political and
economic liberation, including the right to self-determination.
We oppose the utilization of the Immigration and
Naturalization Service (INS) as a weapon in the hands of the employer.
The threat of deportation keeps many workers from unionizing or
fighting for decent wages. We also oppose the deportation of those
who have fled from dictatorships or from the conditions imposed
by U.S. intervention in Central America.
The current economic crisis has hit minority workers
hardest. Within the minority community women, youth, and the elderly
have borne a disproportionate share of the attacks. However, the
depth of the crisis has also meant that white workers facing concessions
are in the same boat. The more militant and politically conscious
among them are thus beginning to make the links between their
situation and that of oppressed minorities.
The gains achieved by minorities in the 1960s and
`70s have been eroded under the impact of the ruling-class offensive.
Yet the crisis in housing and employment, the issues of police
brutality and drug use, and the continuing political disenfranchisement
of minority communities have not yet produced as large a fightback
as existed in the Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Asian-American
and Native American communities of the 1960s and early `70s.
Much of the resistance that has arisen in recent
years has taken an electoral form. Clearly the Rainbow Coalition
is the most developed expression of this phenomenon. The desire
to seek allies among all who seek to fight against social injustice
is at the heart of the coalition, as well as a recognition that
those who are oppressed by the institutions of class rule must
have a political voice. But at the same time the formation is
locked within the confines of the Democratic Party.
This development flows from two reasons. One is the
continuing under-representation of minorities in political life,
which spurs them to fight in the electoral arena. The second is
the destruction of the leadership which arose in the 1960s, through
both political assassination and co-optation.
Some veterans of the liberation movements of the
1960s are still active, and the potential exists for new, younger
fighters to join them in forging a new revolutionary leadership
within the Black, Native American and other oppressed nationality
communities that can respond to the present situation.
The crisis today—unlike the 1960s—affects all
sectors of the working class. This means that the fight of revolutionaries
for leadership of Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican and other minority
workers will not be limited to "which way forward" for
their movements. It will inevitably take up various social struggles.
The links Jesse Jackson has been able to forge between P9 members,
farmers, minorities and peace groups is indicative of the potential
for a multi-issue, anti-capitalist movement.
Socialists can help to provide an analysis for such
a movement which will strengthen its independent, class-struggle
character. Solidarity supports the fight to restore social spending
programs that particularly affect minority communities and to
oppose the military budget. In this fight we urge support for
demands which challenge capital's "right" to determine
the fate of these com munities, and which lead to the community's
self-mobilization and self-governance.
Because of their own oppression—and their identification
with struggles of other nonwhite peoples—many members of oppressed
minorities in the U.S. have been drawn, historically, to radicalism.
The ability of these activists to play leading roles in the multinational
movement against the U.S. ruling class, however, has been limited
by the segmentation of the U.S. working class, which has been
divided, historically, along racial and gender lines.
Additionally, white radicals—including socialists
--have usually failed to orient correctly toward genuine collaboration
with Black, Latin, Asian and Native American revolutionaries.
Our own organization, by its composition, reflects this historic
defect. We seek both by recruitment and regroupment to learn from,
and work with, revolutionaries from communities of oppressed nationalities.
The fight for liberation in southern Africa, against
intervention in Central America, and for international working-class
solidarity, is part of the fight against the racism of the U.S.
ruling class. Given the increasing militancy of Black workers
represented by the Coalition of South African Trade Unions (COSATU),
and the increasing identification of Black Americans with COSATU,
the African National Congress (ANC) and other liberation groups,
the liberation of southern Africa can have a profound political
impact on the consciousness of Blacks in the U.S. and greatly
enhance the chances of a revival of the movement under working-class
As capital guts the urban centers of the North, with
their large minority communities, the fight for jobs, housing
and other services in those cities, as well as the fight against
police abuse and right-wing terror, must be continued. But the
increasing flight of capital to the South and Southwest requires
us to pay special attention to the combined economic and racial
struggle in those areas: 53% of Blacks still live in the South,
and the Chicanos in the Southwest will soon be the largest minority
in the U.S.
There, too, Native Americans continue to fight for
the right to control their land. Special attention must be paid
to the struggles of Native Americans, who seek reparations for
the genocide committed against their people, oppose forced removal,
and raise demands against the energy corporations which threaten
their very existence.
The fight of oppressed nationalities takes different
forms, both urban and rural, both among the longest oppressed
nationalities [Native Americans and Blacks] as well as among the
most recent victims [refugees from Central America], both defending
communities of oppressed nationalities and demanding affirmative
We are socialist-feminists: we hold that the struggle
for socialism requires the struggle for women's liberation—we cannot make a revolution to create a society without exploitation
and oppression unless women are fully part of that revolution
and that new society. We also hold that the struggle for women's
liberation requires the alliance of feminist movements to the
class struggle. Most women cannot hope to control their lives
or even achieve equality with men within a capitalist society.
The class struggle is not something that happens only at the workplace
or in trade union battles. And revolutionary socialist organization
will have to unify movements of all subordinated groups.
Yet, socialists have too often tried to create unity
simply by insisting that class oppression "comes first."
To tell women that they must postpone their struggle against male
domination in the greater interest of the working class is not
only to define the working class as male but also to maintain
rather than overcome the divisions that already exist within the
working class. Real unity is possible only on the basis of equality:
equal participation of women at all levels of organization, full
commitment of organizational resources to work in the women's
movement, and the incorporation of feminist perspectives into
all areas of socialist political activity.
A socialist movement that does not speak to women's
needs and aspirations will hardly be able to mobilize women for
revolution. A working class driven by sexism will be vulnerable
to capitalist strategies of divide and conquer. Men's insistence
that they have the right to monopolize better-paying jobs in the
name of their traditional breadwinner role pits men and women
workers against each other, weakening trade union organization.
A working class which has not confronted the fundamental
issues of sexual politics raised by feminism will be more easily
manipulated by conservative political forces. The new right's
"pro-family" politics plays on real fears and real needs.
Its invocation of an ideal family based on the control of women's
sexuality and confinement to traditional roles may fly in the
face of reality, but strikes a responsive chord when the alternative
is the insecurity and disintegration of personal life, the relentless
commodification of women's sexuality in the mass media, in advertising,
in entertainment, and, for many women, in actual relationships.
The continuing depth of women's oppression is shown by the vicious
means still used to keep women "in their place:" violence
in fact and image, rape, battering, sexual harassment.
A working class not ready to challenge family roles
in which men continue to have primary responsibility for income
earning, while women continue to have primary responsibility for
children, caring for men, and domestic work even if they also
hold paying jobs, will continue to regard male wages and unemployment
as serious political issues, while women's pay and women's jobs
Solidarity between different groups within the working
class, between trade unionists and welfare recipients, between
the organized and unorganized, between the skilled crafts and
service and clerical workers, will therefore be much harder to
achieve. The struggles of working women for equal pay for work
of "comparable value," affirmative action, equal access
to all trades and professions, representation in union leadership
and safeguards against reproductive hazards and against sexual
harassment on the job will be crucial to achieving this solidarity.
The development of feminism—as theory of women's
oppression and organization for overcoming it and as vision of
an alternative society—has made a major contribution to Marxist
theory and socialist politics. For example, in its call for a
revolution in personal life as well as public life, feminism has
helped return Marxism to its early liberatory, democratic thrust.
Socialists have been led to develop and deepen the Marxist ideal
of human emancipation encompassing every aspect of life. A socialist-feminist
vision aims to end not only economic exploitation, physical insecurity,
and material deprivation, but also alienation from our bodies
and sensuality, our capacity for intimacy, sexuality, and play.
Where traditional Marxism envisioned collective responsibility
for children only to free individual women from the burden of
motherhood, feminism has helped us to see further. Our goal is
not just to socialize childcare but also to allow both men and
women to participate in raising children. We will never have deeply
humane and comradely relationships in work, political and community
life until we break out of the destructive sexual division of
labor in which women but not men are expected to nurture and care
The struggles of women against male domination—whether for equality in the workplace, for reproductive freedom,
for the freedom to live openly as a lesbian, for the end of male
violence against women, etc. —are crucial not only to the building
of a women's movement but to the development of a revolutionary
socialist movement. Organizations run by and for women themselves
develop the experience, self-confidence, consciousness, and militance
of women in a way that mixed organizations can never do. In autonomous
women's organizations, women learn leadership skills and come
to trust and rely on each other.
And while women's liberation cannot be achieved under
capitalism, women can improve the quality of their lives through
the struggle for reform. Each victory that increases women's scope
of action, access to economic support independent from men, ability
to contest women's cultural devaluation, and so forth, contributes
to the strength of women's self-organization.
Therefore, these battles also provide the experiential,
material, organizational and ideological base from which women
can ensure that their needs, interests, and goals are at the forefront
of socialist politics. By developing political program around
women's issues, by insisting that those issues be recognized in
common actions with other forces, by educating and supporting
women activists who also participate in socialist organizations,
feminist organizations have forced the revolutionary socialist
left to develop politically far beyond what would have been otherwise
We are committed to building a women's movement which
is multi racial and working class. Women of color and working-class
women have been under-represented in the self-defined feminist
movement. We will challenge—in our own press and in writing
for others, as well as in our organizing efforts—any definitions
of feminism that exclude the self-organizing efforts of working-class
women and women of color to fight against their oppression.
We recognize that women of color and other working-class
women have been in the forefront of struggles to gain wider societal
supports for quality parenting alternatives and adequate incomes
to support families, either from expanded job opportunities or
from direct federal aid. We also recognize that the issues raised
by the self-defined feminist movement, including reproductive
rights, violence against women and affirmative action/comparable
worth, are crucial to the lives of working-class women and women
of color. For example, abortion for us is only the first necessary
step in guaranteeing a woman's freedom to decide when and if she
will bear a child. Real choices over reproduction require a broad
range of rights: the right to quality, affordable childcare; the
right to be lesbian; the right to safe contraception and protection
from forced sterilization; the right to decent housing and safe
and rewarding work at a living wage, etc.
Whether women of color choose to participate in the
women's movement through autonomous structures which they set
up, whether they join the broad women's movement, or whether they
constitute a caucus within the movement, their participation is
crucial for creating a movement to liberate women. Without the
presence of women of color to champion their own needs, the feminist
movement can more easily be divided. We will extend our efforts
to influence the nature of national feminist campaigns—to express
the concerns of working-class women and women of color.
Women, like the working class and other oppressed
people, utilize many forms of organization in order to fight back
against their secondary status. It is important for feminists
to link, therefore, with popular struggles in which women play
leading roles. Women are the backbone of many community organizations,
anti-racist and civil rights groups, unions, solidarity committees,
anti-war and antinuclear organizations. Women are everywhere,
and even when women do not think of themselves as "feminists,"
through organizing against oppression and making demands on their
employer, their government, their society, they develop leadership
capacities and become political people who are taking control
of their lives. This is the essence of feminism.
We also commit ourselves to maintaining a focus on
the interrelationships between struggles for women's liberation
in the U.S. and those of women in other countries of the world.
We accept the responsibility for educating the feminist movement
in our own country about the extent to which U.S. capitalism profits
from women's oppression in underdeveloped countries by extracting
super-profits from their cheap labor while destroying the economic
gains made by women's struggles in the U.S.
As we try to bring a working-class and anti-racist
perspective to women's organizing, we work to bring a feminist
perspective and women's issues into all areas of our work. We
hope in this way to prepare and consolidate alliances between
the feminist movement and other opposition forces. We organize
women's groups to march in anti-racism demonstrations and strike
We support all forms of women's organization-caucuses,
task forces, committees—in unions and workplaces, in the anti-
intervention, peace, anti-racism and other movements. We take
responsibility for introducing feminist campaigns for gay rights,
abortion rights, battered women's shelters, against sexual harassment,
to our fellow trade-unionists and community activists. We take
responsibility for bringing women workers' special needs into
contract bargaining and other union campaigns, for example around
In all areas of feminist organizing, we emphasize
the self-activity and political development of women. As is true
of other social movements, reliance on the Democratic Party has
seriously weakened the women's struggle. We oppose campaigns,
strategies, and forms of organization that encourage passivity,
reliance on leaders, experts or politicians. We support strategies
of direct action, educational campaigns, grass-roots mobilization.
We are convinced that such strategies are the most effective way
for women to win reforms. We also believe that the self-organization
of women, their mobilization and development as political activists,
is crucial to the re-emergence of a revolutionary socialist movement
in the U.S.
The struggle for lesbian/gay liberation is bound
up closely with the struggle for women's liberation. The two oppressions
are related in the family system, which forces children into a
rigid, heterosexual mold, and oppressive, limited definitions
of masculinity, femininity and sexuality.
Freedom for lesbians and gay men requires a drastically
expanded range of choices for all people—as sexual beings,
as family members, as working people, as men or women, as children
and adolescents. The visible disintegration of the traditional
family makes the creation of new ways for people to relate sexually,
live together and raise children more and more urgent. The autonomous
organizations of lesbian/gay people have pioneered these issues,
and we strongly support them.
Full civil rights for gay people would be a major
step forward in this broader liberation struggle. We fight for
repeal of all so-called "sodomy" laws, which are antiquated
constraints on heterosexuality as well as homosexuality; for passage
of local, state and federal laws banning discrimination based
on sexual orientation in housing, employment and services; for
repeal of all anti-gay provisions in the immigration and naturalization
laws; and for the end to any legal distinction, whatsoever on
the basis of sexual orientation. We also fight for the inclusion
of gay rights clauses in union contracts.
Besides these moves against discrimination, lesbians
and gay men desperately need support today against threats to
their health, safety and lives. Funding for AIDS research and
social services for people (of whatever sexual orientation) with
AIDS and ARC has been inadequate and slow in coming; it must be
increased manyfold. The ever-present danger of anti-lesbian and
anti-gay violence has been compounded by the despicable use of
AIDS panic to fuel bigotry.
We support efforts to make the police and courts
enforce existing laws against violence and to add provisions against
anti-gay violence to existing laws against racist violence, as
well as lesbian/gay organizing in self-defense. We oppose attacks
under whatever pretext against gay institutions and gathering
places. A necessary antidote to anti-gay bigotry is a realistic
and sympathetic portrayal of lesbian/gay life in the media, schools
and other public forums.
Finally, we support lesbian/gay struggles that challenge
the existing heterosexual family system. Homosexual partnerships
must be granted equal recognition and support with married and
unmarried heterosexual couples and households. Lesbians and gay
men must be granted full rights to custody of their children,
without sacrificing or hiding the way they live. The unjustified
bias in adoption and foster placement toward "traditional"
or "normal" households must be eliminated. Within our
own organization we will not only support the self-organization
of lesbians and gay men, we will try to be supportive of the personal
and sexual choices all our members make.
FOR INDEPENDENT POLITICS
The necessity for autonomous class action is at the
root of our conception of independent political action. Class
independence is at the heart of revolutionary socialist working-class
politics, which emphasizes workers' self-organization, self-activity
and reliance on their own strength—including building their
own alliances with the oppressed. In the electoral arena, the
principle of working-class self organization requires an independent
Lacking such a party, the working class and other
progressive movements are reduced to pressure groups on bourgeois
politics, no matter how militant their activity. This is the trap
from which labor in the U.S. has yet to escape.
Just as we believe that workers, through their class
institutions (the unions) should have a policy of challenging
the employers rather than of accepting collaboration, we believe
the same principle should apply in the arena of politics. Unlike
reformists, we do not see ourselves as "critics" of
the bourgeois parties, the Democratic and Republican parties,
but as opponents. Indeed, in the U.S. the question of the Democratic
Party is the most important principled and practical divide between
the politics of reformism and revolutionary socialism.
The Party Line of reformism in the U.S. holds that
the arena for progressive politics lies inside the Democratic
Party. However frayed around the edges, however disunited on other
issues, sectors of reformism come together on this question—from the most conservative to the most liberal wing of the AFL-CIO
bureaucracy, from the middle-class women's movement leadership
to the mainstream leaders of civil rights organizations to the
Rainbow Coalition, from liberal cold warriors to the Democratic
Socialists of America.
In fact, the Democratic Party is the graveyard of
movements for social and political change. It is a party controlled
by and thoroughly tied to corporate capital, and for that reason
is irrevocably committed to the maintenance of the world U.S.
economic empire. It is therefore a party of intervention in Central
America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the rest of the Third
World; at home, its ability and will to advocate social reform
is strictly limited by what capital is prepared to tolerate.
Quite logically, then, in periods of capitalist prosperity
the Democrats promote the institutional advancement of unions
within the system, generally support social spending and programs
which more reactionary sectors of business opinion oppose, and
pose as champions of equality for minorities and women. In periods
of austerity the Democrats ruthlessly sacrifice social interests
to the needs of the system. Thus on questions of slashing spending,
attacking the gains of the civil rights movement and holding back
women's struggles for equality, the Democrats have presented no
meaningful or lasting opposition to Reaganism.
No matter how often the quest to capture the Democratic
Party for progressive politics fails—as it always does and
always will—the argument for "giving it another try"
constantly revives in the wake of each defeat. The bitter experience
of social movements inside the Democratic Party in the past two
decades alone stretches from the betrayal of the Mississippi Freedom
Democratic Party at the 1964 convention to the cynical put-down
of Jesse Jackson's supporters in 1984; the bureaucratic reversal
of the party reforms of the McGovern period; the continual Democratic
betrayals of the labor movement over labor law reform, taxation
and the budget, national health insurance and myriad social issues
as well as basic union rights. Today, as the Democrats seek to
recapture white votes and business confidence, Gary Hart's pro-corporate
"neo-liberalism" has become the political center of
gravity in the Democratic Party.
Nonetheless, the illusions that the Democrats are
the party of working people and the "little person"
continually reproduce themselves. They will continue to do so
as long as the basic institutions of the American working class
remain tied to the Democratic Party.
It is therefore essential that socialists continue
to make the case for an independent party based on the labor movement.
The case for a labor party must be made today, even though we
know that socialist propaganda alone will not create it, and even
though the politics of today's official labor movement are a powerful
obstacle to it.
We do not pretend to know the precise structure a
labor party in the U.S. would have, nor how left-wing it would
be at its inception, nor whether the first mass impetus for independent
politics will come from within organized labor or from mass social
movements such as a revived Black Liberation struggle. Our arguments
today center on the necessity of an independent party of the American
working class; we seek to advance this idea by all appropriate
means and we also support all efforts at independent politics
which might set an example in this direction.
The conception that the Democratic Party is the arena
for progressive politics extends deep into the left. While there
are myriad strategic and tactical variations on the pattern, there
are two major sets of argument put forward in favor of left involvement
in Democratic Party electoralism.
The first and generally more systematic is the politics
of reformism, theorized most notably by Michael Harrington and
the leadership of DSA, in both its left and right wings. The core
of the reformist argument identifies the labor movement with its
leadership, views this leadership as the real left wing of U.S.
politics, correctly points out the indissoluble allegiance of
this leadership to the Democratic Party, and concludes that both
loyalty to the working class and practical politics demand that
the left focus its political attention on the struggle to change
the Democratic Party to a "real labor party" or some
While the reformists' strategy has no chance of success
in transforming U.S. politics, their theory serves the important
function of cementing their own loyalty to the existing labor
bureaucracy. So long as reformism is organized around the premise
that the "left wing of the possible" is bordered by
the political consciousness of the labor leadership, the spokespeople
for reformist politics are accepted by at least a sector of that
leadership as advisors and even as representatives of a certain
semi-respectable version of "socialism."
In carrying out this function, social-democratic
ideologues have promoted within the labor movement the notion
that concessions can be progressive, that employee buyouts to
rescue employers are a progressive structural reform, and other
disastrous notions. In this way, some of the worst setbacks suffered
by American workers become theorized as "strategic gains."
In addition, by organizing a substantial sector of
radicals around working in the Democratic Party, the reformist
argument promotes the accommodation by these radicals to pro-corporate
notions of capitalist restructuring, the necessity of austerity,
and certain crucial aspects of U.S. imperialism such as the military
and political alliance between the U.S. and Israel. Thus many
leftists (inside and outside DSA) find themselves working in the
service of politics which they know to be bankrupt, in the belief
that this is the only way to "Dump Reagan" or build
a "realistic struggle for power."
A second, more radical, although less theoretically
sophisticated, orientation toward the Democratic Party by the
left is based on the desire to defeat U.S. intervention in Central
America and ally with the Black struggle and other social movements.
Spurred by the Harold Washington victory in Chicago in 1983 and
even more by the Jesse Jackson movement of 1984, this orientation
sees the Black movement as providing the crucial center and leadership
for a "people's politics" inside the Democratic Party.
This conception is central to the political perspective
of several ex-Maoist formations, to some ultra-Stalinist groupings
such as Line of March, to the newly formed socialist North Star
Network, and various others.
It is also the viewpoint developed by some prominent
Black scholars, most notably Manning Marable, who synthesizes
some of the institutional arguments of reformism (e.g. that the
Black leadership represents in essence an American social-democratic
mass politics analogous to a European labor party) with the more
radical thrust of Jesse Jackson's Black populism.
Supporting the Rainbow Coalition represents an attractive
option to the white left, which acutely recognizes its isolation
from the Black community. It is also exciting to activists in
the anti-intervention movement, whose priority is the desperate
struggle to hold back the assault on the Central American revolutions
and who see the Rainbow Coalition as an ally with social power.
In such a situation it is all too easy for leftists to convince
themselves that whether Jackson and the Rainbow are independent
of, or within, the Democratic Party is really only a terminological,
secondary or tactical question, and that to not support the Rainbow
on such grounds is hair-splitting.
We believe, on the contrary, that independence from
the Democratic Party is a decisive question, at least as important
if not more so than any particular point in a formal program or
platform. The willingness or unwillingness of the Rainbow Coalition
or major forces within it to break from the Democratic Party determines
whether the Rainbow offers the potential to seriously challenge
two-party capitalist political hegemony, or is only a pressure
group within the system which can be contained, then conservatized
Unfortunately, there is no available evidence to
suggest that this question is open inside the Rainbow: rather,
Jackson and the Rainbow leadership are committed to working within
the Democratic Party, indeed to saving the Democratic Party. We
do not share that goal, and therefore for us any form of political
support to the Rainbow Coalition is excluded. We make it clear
through our literature, statements, etc. that we regard the overall
political project of the Rainbow Coalition inside the Democratic
Party to be a tragic dead end which blunts the enormous potential
of the movement.
On the other hand, where Jesse Jackson or the Rainbow
are engaged in actual activities such as anti-war demonstrations,
civil rights struggles or speaking out for a just peace in the
Middle East as Jesse Jackson has done, we of course support such
actions even though we may not be in full agreement with every
slogan. The positive attitude of movement activists in general
toward the Rainbow Coalition is understandable and normal. While
our views should be clear, we do not want these differences to
be an obstacle to building demonstrations and solidarity actions
in defense of Central America, against racism, etc.
Under present conditions there is, unfortunately,
no clear-cut electoral strategy for the revolutionary left to
follow. We are not anti-electoral. That is, wherever there are
local, state or national initiatives of an independent radical
character (ranging from anti-war, farmer-labor, Black, Latino,
or environmentalist to socialist), the question of whether to
support them, and how, is open for discussion.
Members of our new organization come from a variety
of political traditions with somewhat differing experiences on
the strategy and tactics of independent political action. While
we reject any form of support to candidates of the bourgeois parties,
we recognize that the possibilities for building independent politics
need to be explored with an open attitude toward various potential
We recognize that we are only at the beginning of
the struggle to build, or rebuild, socialist political consciousness
in a section of the American working class. We do not pretend
to have a fully worked out strategy to achieve this, and we recognize
that learning how to build a revolutionary organization in the
U.S. will require an experimental and flexible approach for a
considerable period, as well as studying the experience of revolutionary
One of the errors that many different political organizations
have committed is to assume that they are not just at the beginning,
but already far along the road of developing a working-class
revolutionary party. This led them to posture as fully-formed
vanguard organizations—despite their small size and lack of
roots in the working class—and reject common work, much less
unification, with other revolutionaries.
We believe that these would-be vanguards organized
themselves in a way that would be counterproductive for revolutionary
socialists at any time, and was especially inappropriate for the
U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s. A genuine vanguard only emerges through
years of immersion in the struggle of working class and oppressed
Even in a revolutionary period, when its leading
role is widely acknowledged, it must be internally democratic,
allowing all its members to present their views openly, to organize
other members around these views and to change the policies of
the organization if a majority is convinced they are correct.
It must also be open to the working class and social movements,
honestly explaining its policies and difficulties, listening to
and sometimes accepting outside criticisms, adapting to spontaneous
popular initiatives and engaging in a frank dialogue with other
currents on the left.
In a period of defensive struggles, we must emphasize
democracy within our own organization and openness to those outside
it at least as much. In establishing guidelines for our organizational
functioning, we are adapting the historical experience of the
international revolutionary socialist movement, notably the practice
of the Bolshevik party in the early years of the Russian Revolution,
to suit our specific circumstances.
We consider an activist membership a necessary condition
for a genuinely democratic organization. We expect members working
in the same movement to coordinate their efforts and discuss their
common problems together. We aim to carry out united campaigns
in support of ongoing struggles, making sure that these interventions
are appropriate to our resources and level of involvement and
have been preceded by adequate discussion. In all of our work
in social movements, we follow the general principle that the
lowest body (work group, branch, etc.) that can make a decision
on the conduct of that work should make that decision, and that
the opinion of those most directly involved in the work should
be given the greatest weight.
Once a considered position has been reached, members
have the obligation to help carry it out. Of course, a member
who does not agree with a specific decision taken by any body
of the group should not be placed in the difficult position of
being responsible for implementing the decision; but in any event,
members should not interfere with the implementation of a collective
decision. We intend to carry out our decisions critically rather
than blindly, keeping in mind the analysis and arguments that
went into them and allowing ourselves the greatest possible leeway
to reconsider and correct any mistakes we may make.
For an organization to be democratic, it must allow
for a free and democratic internal life, in which criticism and
debate are viewed as a necessary part of developing a program
for action. Just as important, the principles of majority rule
pertain, so that the decisions taken after democratic discussion
are binding on the leadership of the organization and actually
affect the policy of the organization. This latter method of functioning
contrasts both with the social-democratic model, in which no one
is bound by the decisions of the organization, and, consequently,
the party leadership is not bound by the membership's decisions;
and with bureaucratic models of organization, in which the leadership
is out of the control of a membership that is nonetheless expected
to carry out its every decision.
A truly democratic organization must be composed
of activists. If the general perspective of an organization is
the product of not just its general political program but also
the concrete experiences of its membership in the unions and in
the mass movements' then it is absolutely essential from a practical
political viewpoint that its members be involved.
Since any given member only acquires direct knowledge
from the work in which he or she is immediately involved in, the
organization must provide as much information as possible to its
membership. An activist in a trade union or an abortion rights
group must be able to receive timely information about antiwar
or Black liberation movement activities in order to round out
his/her knowledge and allow him/her to participate in the political
discussions of the organization on the same basis as every other
member. An active educational program for all members, newer and
more experienced alike, is essential for this purpose as well.
In short, the organization must create a collective
experience for its members. In turn, each member contributes to
that collective experience by being active. We will also pay special
attention to developing leadership skills and giving leadership
roles to women and others who have traditionally been denied them.
On the other hand, we absolutely reject any concept
that the members of the organization must present themselves as
a monolithic bloc to the outside world—this is one of the features
of sects that most healthy activists find repulsive. And we recognize
the need to develop among all members of the organization a sense
of confidence in their own abilities. This implies the necessity
of not just tolerating, but understanding that members of the
organization must take initiatives—not wait for some central
committee in another city to hand down directives. A healthy organization
must encourage its members' initiative and assure them the flexibility
to assess particular conditions and translate the group's general
principles to practice that meets and engages those circumstances.
In contrast to the practice of groups that present a monolithic
face to the outside world, not just acting in common, but pretending
to think exactly alike as well, our organization has a responsibility
to distinguish between the carrying out of united campaigns and
the appearance of functioning as unthinking bearers of "the
A leadership, by virtue of the fact that it controls
an organization's resources, has a distinct advantage in internal
debate. For that reason, the right to form tendencies or factions
is absolutely necessary to insure both a democratic discussion
and the possibility that a minority may persuade enough members
to become a majority. Furthermore, the organization as a whole
must be educated in the idea that in any given debate, frequently
no one is 100% correct or 100% wrong.
Rather, it is often a case that different tendencies
reflect different aspects of the same reality in an uneven manner.
OVERCOMING SOME ERRORS
In forming a new revolutionary socialist organization,
we are obligated to examine some of the errors of the recent U.S.
revolutionary left, whether of the currents of which many of us
were members or of other sectors.
Such an assessment must be carefully balanced. While
the most important lesson of the 1970s was the failure of sectarian
models of party-building, those very failures have caused many
radicals to forget the even more profound lessons of the 1960s
--the imperialist, racist and capitalist nature of the Democratic
Party—which a large wing of the movement learned during the
Vietnam war of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
It is of the greatest importance that a critical
reassessment of the struggle for revolutionary organization lead
us forward, not backward to passivity or accommodation to the
political institutions of the system. Yet the very real dangers
of reformist politics, whether expressed in the demoralized cynicism
of many prominent social democratic intellectuals or the Rainbow
Coalition perspective of former Maoists, must not prevent us from
examining the failures of over-expectation and sectarianism.
In the early half of the 1970s the revolutionary
left overestimated its own strength and (more importantly) the
pace at which the capitalist crisis would develop and the working
class would respond. A plethora of small revolutionary organizations
believed at various times in the 1970s that they were on the road
to building a revolutionary party in America. Put together over
time, several thousand militants passed through these party-building
formations; thousands more went through the experience of the
New American Movement, which while not "Marxist-Leninist"
or Trotskyist in orientation also envisioned becoming a mass-
based party for an American socialism.
It is all too easy to focus on some of the more grotesque
and colorful features in the lives of such groups: cults of mini-
personalities, contorted flip-flops of political line over China,
bizarre debates on applying Stalinist versions of the "United
Front" to trade-union and national minority work, internal
purges over "white chauvinism" or other manufactured
issues that destroyed whole groups, etc.
However, to focus on these aspects of the experience
risks missing the more important lessons to be learned from the
less obvious mistakes and misjudgments of those years. A more
thoughtful approach requires us to look at the experiences of
the sectors of the revolutionary left who were fundamentally democratic
and sane in their political approach.
The belief that our particular group constituted
in some sense the "vanguard party," or its core, in
a situation where in reality the group had only limited influence
at the base and even less actual leadership position among any
group of workers, created distortions of various kinds in our
politics. Such a situation inevitably generated certain tendencies,
which were often justified in terms of "Leninist" or
"democratic centralist" norms but which more often were
a serious misapplication and incorrect reading of the actual historic
practice of the Bolshevik party in Lenin's lifetime. Such tendencies,
which ex pressed themselves with varying degrees of intensity
in the lives of different groups, included:
- An over-centralization of leadership at the expense
of local initiative, tactical flexibility and willingness to experiment
with varying styles of work. There was a more or less continual
state of mobilization—sometimes with productive results, but
insufficient opportunity to evaluate experiences, with the result
that strategic initiative became too much the exclusive province
of the central leadership.
Political evaluation often was restricted to the discussion of a Political Committee, filtered down to a National Committee through reports, then to the ranks via NC members and "fait accompli" articles in the (always homogeneous) party press. The ranks, then, were trained (often well) to absorb and defend the line, rather than to help generate it. The bottom-up process was reserved for convention discussion every couple of years, and-by that very token-was largely gutted.
The overemphasis on "leadership" relative to rank-and-file initiative inside vanguard organizations was often reproduced in the groups' relationship to the class struggle. Small groups of revolutionaries overestimated their ability to lead and sometimes even assumed their historic "right" to do so by virtue of their "advanced" politics. One distortion to which this pseudo-vanguardism gave rise was the formation of large-scale or small-scale front groups with tenuous roots in the working class or the movements of the oppressed.
We are speaking here not of broad coalitions such as existed in (for example) the anti-war movement, but rather of organizations claiming to speak for masses of workers and the oppressed which were in reality completely dominated by a sect. The front-group method of organizing sometimes produced flashy short-term results followed by collapse; on the other hand, serious rank-and-file groupings which took care from the beginning to create a democratic internal process and a leadership with a real base had much more solid long-term records of accomplishment and survival.
- A vast inflation in the stakes of every political
debate, whether over strategy for a union campaign or even foreign
policy or theoretical issues, resulting in a tendency for factional
lines to form as a rule rather than as an exception in every disagreement.
Such factionalism was often in inverse proportion to the real
weight of the political group in the mass movement, so that the
more bitter the internal debate the less the outcome mattered
in the real world.
In Maoist or "Marxist-Leninist" groupings, all political questions were measured by their correspondence to whatever version of the "Three Worlds" or "main danger" theory was current. In Trotskyist groups the "primacy of program" conception, according to which every political difference was seen as a potential fundamental threat to the basic politics of the organization, led to bitter fights and splits on theoretical questions. In different forms such problems affected other groups, such as the International Socialists, whose insistence on too rigid strategic conceptions contributed to two damaging splits.
- The collapsing theoretically of struggles of
the oppressed into the category of "class." If proletarian
revolution was on the agenda and building the proletarian party
was the task of the hour, it became all too easy to ignore the
great complexities and multiple dimensions of social movements.
For example, in addressing the Black movement, the revolutionary
left correctly understood in general (whatever its particular
theory of the national or racial character of Black oppression)
that the Black struggle, with its highly proletarian composition,
is revolutionary in its overall thrust.
This correct insight, however, became oversimplified to the point of regarding every strike of Black workers or every struggle for basic democratic rights (busing, against police brutality, stopping a racist frame-up, etc.) as automatically "revolutionary" even when those involved did not view it in that way at all. Both Black and white revolutionaries were prone to this error, the latter more so if they came to the struggle from the outside. (Socialists inside the unions, white or Black, dealing with the real struggles of workers on a daily basis, usually more quickly acquired an understanding of reality.)
Another example was the left's difficulties in dealing with the women's movement, which was often written off as petty-bourgeois since as every revolutionist was supposed to know, the (abstractly conceived) working class was what mattered. In the process the left often gave short shrift to precisely those issues which actually mattered most to great numbers of working-class women. Here again, members of cadre organizations who were actually engaged in working-women's struggles (whether in traditional or non-traditional industries) learned important lessons which in turn were assimilated by their political groups. But too often the views and contributions of these members were undervalued within their organizations.
Ultimately, the hypertrophy of the role of "party leadership" combined with the failure of revolutionary expectations could lead to political degeneration. Veterans of the experience of the SWP can perhaps best testify to this dynamic: a series of turns developed by the leadership seeking keys to rapid growth; attrition of internal democracy; increasingly, the transformation of an essential and correct solidarity with Third World revolutions (especially Nicaragua) into a substitution of this work for party members' day-to-day participation in the political life of their workplaces and unions.
In the case of the SWP the incremental transformation of the party's consciousness ultimately expressed itself in a qualitative change in theory, towards a stagist conception of Third World revolution, and an approach to world politics which includes defense of Khomeini's murderous theocracy as "anti-imperialist," a retreat from full support of Polish Solidarnosc and a general accommodation to pro-Moscow Stalinism.
There is another, more subtle error which has exacerbated the tendency toward splintering of the revolutionary left. We believe that it is a mistake today to organize revolutionary groups around precise theories of the Russian revolution. We want to be clear about what this means.
Precision, clarity and rigor are the highest of virtues in developing theory and historical analysis; however, lines of political demarcation do not flow in a mechanical and linear way from differences of theoretical interpretation. Such an approach leads to unnecessary hothoused debates on issues where long-term discussion would be more in order. It also contributes to the dynamics of factionalism and splits, which in any case have been too high owing to our history of misassessing the political realities of our own society.
In seeking to overcome this negative legacy, our new organization brings together currents and individuals with a variety of views on theoretical and historical questions, from the interpretation of the Russian Revolution and its leadership to the struggle in Central America today. We will carry on discussion and mutual education, making no public pretense of monolithism and seeking to learn from each other's views. We have in common that we are on the same side when it comes to struggle: with the Nicaraguan people and their revolution against imperialism, with the Polish workers and their movement Solidarnosc against the ruling bureaucracy.
Because of the unique role of theoretical debate on the class character of the USSR and Eastern Europe in the life of the anti- Stalinist revolutionary left, it is relevant to elaborate briefly on our parameters of agreement. It is the tradition of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, of the Solidarnosc movement and others that will arise to follow its example—not the regime of Poland and the USSR or other Eastern European states—which represent the struggle for socialist freedom and the socialist future of humanity. We will stand on this position openly and without compromise.
Theoretically, some of us view these states as post-capitalist societies whose transition toward socialism is blocked by bureaucratic ruling castes and the pressures of imperialism. Others of us regard the bureaucracies as ruling classes, exploiting the working class in a new way, in a social formation which is a rival to capitalism but is no less reactionary. Others of us regard them as essentially a new form of capitalism itself, state capitalism; while still others do not have a firmly held theory or regard all existing theoretical explanations as inadequate.
We are determined that these differences will not prevent us from extending active solidarity to workers' struggles in Eastern Europe, nor from building a common socialist organization here in the U.S.
We also hold a variety of theoretical views on the nature of, for example, the Nicaraguan revolution, which will not prevent us from extending solidarity to it. We agree, at least, that no viable analysis of that revolution or others like it can be made by simply pretending it is a re-make of the Russian Revolution of 1917 in miniature.
On the question of Cuba, while united in our total opposition to all forms of U.S. hostility and intervention toward Cuba, we do not share a common view of Cuban society and its regime. Some of us feel that Cuba, despite the limitations on workers' democracy, represents a highly positive though unfinished revolutionary process with a crucial impact in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Others of us regard the Cuban regime, in its relationship to its own working class, to be no different qualitatively from the bureaucratic regimes of Eastern Europe and therefore not a positive revolutionary model. We will not seek to paper over these differences; rather, we regard our success in building a common organization which contains a diversity of views while maintaining comradely collaboration as a test of the viability of regroupment.
BASIS OF POLITICAL AGREEMENT
(as amended in 2013)
- We oppose the capitalist system and its destructive impact on humanity and the planet.
- Another world is possible, socialism: a system that is democratic, international, and ecologically sustainable.
- Our strategic goal is revolution‒led by the working class and oppressed‒that shatters the foundations of patriarchy, white supremacy, settler-colonialism, and capitalist rule.
- In the labor and social movements, we call for political independence and a break from the two-party system.
- We see organized labor as a central part of the working class movement; within it we organize for greater solidarity, internationalism, democracy, and militancy.
- We fight against all forms of racism and support the right of self-determination against national/racial oppression.
- We are a feminist organization that fights for the liberation of all women.
- We fight against homophobia, heterosexism, and the compulsory gender binary and support sexual and gender self-determination for all people.
- We are internationalists: we oppose the imperialist domination of the world by the United States and other rich countries.
- United by these principles, we are committed to building an organization of socialist activists and a broader anti-capitalist movement within the borders of the United States.