The Workers League and the founding of the Socialist Equality Party
The following report was delivered by National Secretary David North to a meeting of the Workers League membership on June 25, 1995. This document elaborates the political and theoretical foundations upon which the Workers League then founded the Socialist Equality Party in 1996.
The Historical Setting
Ten years since the split in the International Committee
As we meet this weekend, we are approaching a very important anniversary: the tenth anniversary of the ICFI's split with the opportunists of the Workers Revolutionary Party.
In the course of the fight against Healy, Banda and Slaughter, we frequently noted that all the great struggles within the Fourth International were bound up with profound changes in the world political situation. The faction fight of 1939-40 developed against the backdrop of the beginning of World War II. The split of 1953 came only months after the death of Stalin, the East German uprising and the beginning of what was to be the protracted death agony of the Stalinist regime. The theoretical principles defended by James P. Cannon and the other orthodox Trotskyists who founded the International Committee were to be practically vindicated only three years later with the eruption of the Hungarian Revolution.
The struggle within the International Committee between 1982 and 1986 anticipated the historic events which have changed, literally, the political map of the globe during the past decade. The criticisms made by the Workers League were to be directly vindicated by events which followed rapidly on the heels of the split.
There were, in essence, three interrelated issues that were raised in the struggle with the WRP: (1) the role of Stalinism; (2) the role of social democracy; and (3) the role of bourgeois nationalism. In the decade prior to the split the WRP had turned back to Pabloism in its assessment of the political role of these three dominant forces within the working class. To each of these forces, or at least to sections of them, the WRP attributed the possibility of a revolutionary role. Lenin's theoretical legacy was distorted and reinterpreted to justify the adaptation of the WRP to these forces. It was declared politically illegal to assert, on the basis of scientific analysis, verified again and again by historical experiences, that these tendencies functioned as political instruments of imperialism within the workers movement.
The events of the past decade have demonstrated irrefutably the bankruptcy of Healy's political line, and, for that matter, of the entire Deutscher-Pabloite perspective of the bureaucracy's revolutionary potential. The International Committee's insistence on the unalterably counterrevolutionary character of Stalinism has found its incontestable confirmation in the collapse of the Soviet state, which was the product not of its overthrow by an external force, but of the conscious actions of the bureaucracy. Nearly 60 years ago Trotsky warned that were capitalist relations to be reestablished in the Soviet Union, "a bourgeois restoration would probably have to clean out fewer people than a revolutionary party." The accuracy of that prediction has been demonstrated by the political physiognomy of the former Soviet Union. The principal personnel of the Russian regime and all its leading parties consist, for the most part, of individuals who occupied comfortable posts within one or another section of the old Soviet bureaucracy and its associated nomenclatura.
As for social democracy, it, too, has suffered a devastating political rout. If this process has lacked the drama of the Stalinist catastrophe, it is because the pretensions of social democracy were far more modest: the parties of the Second International did not claim to represent an anticapitalist alternative. Moreover, the process of degeneration was so protracted that the failures of social democracy were never attended by an atmosphere of exceptional tension and crisis. Even in its death agony, social democracy has maintained an attitude of passive indifference.
All over the world, the reformist utopia of a humanitarian capitalism has been doused with cold water. In country after country, the reformist parties and trade unions have gone from defeat to defeat and have endured massive losses in membership. In power or out of power, these parties and organizations have devoted themselves to only one task: the stifling of all working class resistance to the offensive of capital against the working class. The records of the NDP in Canada, the Labor Party in Britain, the Socialist Party in France, the Socialist Party in Italy, the Socialist Party in Spain, the Social Democratic Party of Germany, the Social Democratic Party of Sweden, the Socialist Party in Japan and the Labor Party in Australia (to name only the most prominent) bring to mind, once again, words written by Trotsky more than 60 years ago: "The present crisis that is convulsing capitalism obliged Social Democracy to sacrifice the fruits achieved after protracted economic and political struggles and thus reduce the German workers to the level of existence of their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers."
Finally, we come to the role of bourgeois nationalism. In the early 1960s the Socialist Labour League had, in its writings on Cuba and Algeria, defended and developed the classical Marxist-Trotskyist analysis of the role of bourgeois nationalism. In opposition to the fashionable theories of the day, the SLL insisted that the nationalist movements, despite their radical anti-imperialist rhetoric, were not legitimate and viable representatives of the aspirations of the oppressed masses. In the 1970s, however, the SLL abandoned its principled positions and became ardent admirers of the petty-bourgeois nationalists, from Nkomo, Mugabe and Mandela in Africa to Gaddafi and Arafat in the Middle East.
An assessment of the historical role of bourgeois nationalism requires only that one compare the present activities of the national movements with the claims that they were making as recently as a decade ago. Arafat, to use his own words, continues his humiliating political striptease. The would-be liberator of Palestine has become the chief policeman of Gaza. Nelson Mandela has assumed responsibility for the defense of capitalist interests in South Africa. The list of such "betrayals" is almost endless, except that the word "betrayal" is not really appropriate. For the present policies of these leaders developed organically out of the objective character of the nationalist movements that they led, and the disastrous consequences of their policies were entirely predictable. In a more profound sense, the term "betrayal" applies to those opportunists who utilized Marxist phraseology to provide political cover for the bourgeois nationalists.
The end of the postwar era
For an extended historical period, the parties and organizations that could be defined as Stalinist, social democratic or bourgeois nationalist were in the leadership of hundreds of millions of people. In one form or another, with varying degrees of militancy and/or demagogy, these movements identified themselves with and appealed to the elementary social discontent and aspirations of the working masses. They claimed to stand for the overthrow, radical transformation, or, at the very least, gradual reform of the capitalistic system.
Such claims are no longer made. All these organizations accept and believe in the triumph of capitalism. Those who come late to Thatcher come hardest. Given the universal character of the transformation that has occurred in the political agendas of these organizations, it is not possible to explain this process on the basis of their individual failings or the unworthy character of their leaders. We must root the political transformation in objective changes in the political economy and process of production of world capitalism.
Of course, Stalinism, social democracy and bourgeois nationalism each has its own specific origin and history. None of these tendencies, moreover, represents a homogeneous formation. Nevertheless, the influence of these organizations represented definite political relations that arose out of the Second World War and which were essential to the equilibrium of capitalism for an entire historical period after 1945.
The term "postwar" designated and defined an entire historical era. It signified more than a simple fact of historical chronology. The term expressed the obvious fact that the vast and complex structure of international politics and economics was a direct product of the outcome of World War II.
World capitalism was, in a fundamental sense, resurrected in 1945. The direct instrument of this resurrection was the vast industrial and financial power of the United States. The indirect instrument of this resurrection was Stalinism, which utilized the material resources and prestige of the Soviet Union to disarm and betray the international working class.
In the broadest historic terms, it was not only the world war that ended in 1945. The Second World War itself was the climax of the greatest economic, social and political breakdown in world history. For some 31 years, since the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, the capitalist world had been convulsed by wars, revolutions, and a breakdown of the entire mechanism of capitalist production. The restoration of this equilibrium, after 31 years of upheaval, came only after more than 100 million lives had been sacrificed, in the trenches and on the battlefields of two world wars, in the cities subjected to saturation bombings and, of course, in the gas chambers of the Nazis' death camps.
When the Second World War came to an end, the only capitalist power in the world that remained economically dynamic was the United States. The old European capitalist powers, England included, were all exhausted. The world that took shape in the closing months of the war and its aftermath was largely the product of political and financial institutions created by American imperialism. It must be immediately added that these institutions would not have had the opportunity to take root and establish a new equilibrium without the crucial assistance provided by the Soviet Union and the Stalinist parties.
In Germany, for example, the collapse of the Third Reich gave rise to the formation of workers committees that seized control of the factories. In some cases, these committees had driven out SS units that had been instructed to destroy the plants. These committees, like the one formed by Krupp workers, often advanced the demand that the industries be expropriated without compensation. The US military authorities were hostile to these committees; but the dampening of political militancy required the services of the KPD, the German Communist Party. Its program stated that economic reconstruction was to take place on the principle of the "completely unrestricted development of free trade and private entrepreneurial initiative on the basis of private property." As a matter of fact, in certain instances the CDU went further than the KPD, actually calling for the nationalization of "key monopoly industries."
The same pattern was followed throughout Europe. In January 1947, Palmiro Togliatti boasted in the Constituent Assembly that there were less strikes in Italy than in most other European countries:
"In the last years no political strike has taken place in Italy.... This is a country where the unions have signed a wage truce, a pact which is unique in the history of the working class movement, because it determines a maximum wage, not a minimum one. This is really the striking and absurd feature of the economic situation in which we live: it is the working class and the unions who are giving the best example and are taking all the necessary steps to preserve the discipline of production, order and social peace" (Capitalism Since 1945 [Blackwell, 1984], p. 55).
The most destructive aspect of Stalinism was its role in politically disorienting the working class. The glorification of the economic achievements of the Soviet Union, aside from the exaggerations, distortions and lies of Stalinist propaganda, vulgarized socialism into a mere nation-building exercise, separated from its essential foundations in the international struggle of the working class. This especially benefited the national bourgeoisie of the colonial and backward countries, which sought to legitimize its own capitalist program by portraying it as a variety of the "Soviet model." At the same time, workers in the advanced countries, to the extent that this model was associated with police-state dictatorship and chronic shortages, were alienated from socialism.
While politically and ideologically subordinating the working class to imperialism, the Soviet Union also provided a vital rationale for the political and economic arrangements upon which the hegemonic role of the United States was based. The specter of the so-called Soviet threat provided support for the political and economic hegemony of the United States and thereby suppressed interimperialist antagonisms.
The postwar system and class relations
The United States emerged from the war as the undisputed master of the affairs of world capitalism, its unchallenged industrial leader and the principal source of international liquidity. The value of all other currencies was expressed in terms of dollars, convertible into gold at the price of $35 to an ounce. Four D- marks, 360 yen and 4.32 Sfr. "equaled" one greenback. All international transactions were calculated and completed in dollars. For nearly a quarter century, world trade and international finance were entirely regulated by the organizations and mechanisms created on the basis of the 1944 conference at Bretton Woods.
But the very success of Bretton Woods in rebuilding capitalism gradually undermined that system. The rebuilding of European and Japanese capitalism weakened the dominance of the United States. The shifting trade payments and the balance of trade called into question the role of the dollar. The end of dollar- gold convertibility in August 1971 marked the beginning of a protracted breakdown of the postwar economic equilibrium, which had been based on the preeminent role of the United States.
Between 1973 and 1982, American and world capitalism was gripped by deepening economic crisis: first, the eruption of inflation signaled by the "oil shocks" of 1973 and 1979, along with it "stagflation," and finally deep recession. The depth and gravity of this crisis necessitated a fundamental change in the social policy of the bourgeoisie, from a policy of compromise to one of increasingly ruthless confrontation.
In all capitalist countries, but especially in the United States and Britain, the 1970s and early 1980s were marked by deepening class struggle. The technological revolution, whose scientific foundations were developing throughout the twentieth century, above all in the development of quantum mechanics, was driven by a fundamental economic imperative: to counteract the pressure on profits. This was inextricably linked to a conscious sociopolitical aim: the weakening of the working class. I make this point to stress that the technological revolution of the last two decades was not only, in some abstract sense, a purely scientific phenomenon. Of course, the process of scientific progress is not simply a response to immediate political or economic needs and interests. But it is also wrong to entirely abstract scientific developments, technological innovations, or economic processes in general from the living interaction of social classes.
Certainly, the experiences of the 1930s alerted the American bourgeoisie to the social danger that was posed by vast industrial complexes in heavily-populated urban centers. Both the dispersion of industries from urban centers to more rural areas and the automation of industrial processes, which became fairly widespread in the 1950s, reflected the social concerns of the bourgeoisie.
The growing economic pressures of the 1970s, associated with increasingly bitter class conflict, accelerated the process of technological transformation. The following fact should be considered: the very section of the working class, both in Britain and the United States, that had for decades stood as the main pillar of resistance to the power of capital, the coal miners, has since the late 1970s all but ceased to exist as a significant industrial force. In Britain the NUM, which humiliated the Tories in 1972 and then forced them from office in 1974, was utterly defeated in the 1984 strike and has since been reduced to a few thousand members. The same fate, more or less, has befallen the United Mine Workers here in the United States.
The fate of the miners in Britain and the United States was only one of the most dramatic consequences of the offensive launched by capital against labor at the end of the 1970s. When Paul Volcker was appointed chairman of the Federal Reserve and immediately raised interest rates to unprecedented levels, the Workers League warned that this marked the beginning of a general offensive by the bourgeoisie against the working class. We were certainly correct. The recession of 1979-82 marked a turning point in international class relations.
The offensive of capital
There was, first of all, a change in the governments of Britain and the United States. Thatcher came to power in May 1979. Volcker came to power, without an election, in July 1979, and introduced economic policies which guaranteed the formal defeat of Carter in November 1980. Even before the election, as the Workers League warned at the time, the impending change was indicated in the pronouncements of the leading business journals. We noted the frequent use of a new term, "reindustrialization," and called attention to an article that had appeared in Business Week in June 1980:
"Reindustrialization will require sweeping changes in basic institutions, in the framework for economic policy making, and in the way the major actors on the economic scene--business, labor, government and minorities--think about what they put into the economy and what they get out of it. From these changes must come a new social contract between these groups, based on a specific recognition of what each must contribute to accelerating economic growth and what each can expect to receive."
The change in domestic social relations was accompanied by a shift in international policy. From the signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963 to the initially successful SALT negotiations, the United States had pursued in relation to the USSR a policy that, for a time, was known as "detente." This phase also came to an end in 1979. The invasion of Afghanistan was utilized as a pretext to adopt a far more hostile attitude toward the Soviet Union. The SALT II Treaty was never ratified by the Senate. With the election of Reagan, the United States adopted a policy of belligerent confrontation toward the Soviet Union. If a number of recently published memoirs are to believed, elements within the Soviet bureaucracy were seriously concerned that the United States was contemplating military action against the USSR. At the very least, the massive military spending undertaken by the Reagan administration was intended to enormously increase the pressure on the limited budget of the Soviet Union.
The shift in international policy was also indicated in the Middle East and Latin America. The Malvinas War, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the expulsion of the PLO from Beirut, the dirty wars conducted by the United States in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, not to mention the invasion of Grenada--all these developments reflected the change from compromise to confrontation.
In their own way, Stalinism, social democracy and bourgeois nationalism quickly adapted themselves to the new situation. The German social democracy surrendered power to the CDU. Mitterand, who had come to power in 1981 promising radical reform, repudiated his program after the French bourse fired a few shots across his bow. In Australia, the Hawke government introduced policies far more reactionary than the Liberals had dared to attempt. In the Soviet Union, the enfeebled state of the Stalinist gerontocracy was the most glaring expression of the passivity and disorientation of the entire regime. As for the bourgeois nationalists, they began to rein in their demands as soon as it became clear that the crisis of Stalinism deprived them of their most important patron.
The crisis of imperialism
The international bourgeoisie realized great successes in its attack on the working class; but it could not control the process of globalization that has undermined the entire economic foundation of postwar capitalist stability. In 1989-90 the International Committee was virtually alone in insisting that the breakdown of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe was a harbinger of a world crisis of historic dimensions.
Today, no serious observer of the international scene would deny that the general equilibrium of the old post-World War II order has broken down. The present conflicts among the imperialist powers--first of all, between the United States and Japan--foreshadow new upheavals as the struggle for markets, precious resources and sources of cheap labor intensifies. The policy of the Clinton administration reflects an emerging consensus within significant sections of the bourgeoisie that the United States must utilize whatever pressure necessary to preserve its preeminent position. In World Policy Journal, Ronald Steel writes:
"The collapse of the Soviet Union meant the collapse of communism as an animating faith of the discontented and the ambitious. Market capitalism is everywhere triumphant. But this is less a victory for the United States than celebrants seem to imagine. Capitalism is a game that every nation can play. Like the Cold War, it is a game of power. Some nations play that game as well as the United States does--or even better. In real politics--unlike in economic theory--it is relative gains that count: it is not how much the total pie grows, but whose slice is getting larger. The American slice is not growing; that of its economic competitors (read 'former Cold War allies') is. Having triumphed over communism, the United States is now falling behind in the trade wars of capitalism.
"The American public cannot be expected to continue to permit Cold War allies such as Japan and South Korea, or anti-Soviet partners such as China, to decimate America's own industrial base in the name of free world internationalism. A nation that is unwilling or incapable of protecting its own workers, because it is bound to intellectual abstractions such as open markets and internationalism, is a nation doomed to internal strife and second-class status. An enlightened American nationalism will put a higher priority on the protection of American jobs than on helping corporations move abroad in pursuit of cheap labor. It will also stop providing free military protection for its economic competitors under the illusion that this preserves America's self-declared status as a 'superpower.' 'Unpaid security guard' would be a more accurate term.
"Internationalism should not be viewed, like charity, as a badge of good intentions. Nor is it an absolute good in itself. It is simply a method to advance the interests of people organized into national societies. Where it does this it will be embraced. Where it does not, it will, quite reasonably, be rejected."
The postwar order is clearly in a shambles. Within this disequilibrium, or, more precisely, at the heart of it, is the frenetic drive of global investors to lay hold of their share of a declining international pool of surplus value, which is the outcome of the relentless drive by the bourgeoisie to eliminate ever wider sections of the working class from the process of production. The daily upheavals on the global currency, bond, equity and commodity markets record the relentless pursuit of surplus value by the financial insomniacs. The scale of these transactions is staggering: the global currency markets trade over $1.1 trillion a day. Each week they shift wealth equal to the GDP of the United States.
The New Tasks of the International Committee
The implications of the world crisis
The old equilibrium of world capitalism has broken down. We are rapidly moving into a new and protracted era of international capitalist disequilibrium. The global productive forces that have developed on the basis of capitalism since the end of the war are incompatible with the nation-state system and private ownership of the means of production. The breakdown which is now unfolding is, in historical terms, as profound and potentially explosive as that which emerged at the beginning of the century. Ahead of us lie wars and revolutions.
It follows from the crisis of capitalism and the breakup of the old parties, organizations and movements that for so long dominated the working class that there now emerges the possibility of establishing the authority of the sections of the International Committee within the working class.
In a historic and programmatic sense, the sections of the International Committee are the revolutionary parties of the working class. In our organizations are concentrated a powerful tradition and vast experience. Outside of the International Committee, there is not a revolutionary tendency deserving of the name. But our sections have worked, for the most part, under conditions that were not favorable for the development of mass revolutionary parties. We still must establish, in practical terms, the political authority of the International Committee within the working class.
Marxism is a science. But there exists no set of formal instructions which can explain, in advance, the precise steps which must be followed in the building of a revolutionary party. Moreover, it is in the nature of the historical process that the past provides no exact guide to the future. One can draw lessons and inspiration from the traditions of the past. But the future will not take shape as a pale imitation of the past.
The development of the International Committee requires of its cadre a creative response to the specific problems of the present epoch. We yield to no one in our defense of the historic program upon which the Fourth International is grounded. But that program was itself continually enriched in an unrelenting struggle to create the organization through which the working class would finally establish socialism.
For many decades objective conditions denied our movement the possibility of leading masses of workers. We conducted work, and we say this without any embarrassment, that was primarily of a propagandist character. We waged our struggle, for the most part, on an ideological plane. However, and this particularly distinguished the whole history of the Workers League, we continuously sought, even under the most unfavorable conditions, to link our work, to the maximum extent possible, with the living experiences of the working class. Indeed, there have been many occasions when the activity of the party directly influenced broad sections of the working class. The campaigns in defense of Gary Tyler and the Washington Post workers; the central role played by the Workers League in the miners strikes of 1974 and 1977-78; and the leading role played by our party in the PATCO strike and the Phelps Dodge strike; the defense of Roger Cawthra; the work of the Mack Avenue Committee, and, most recently, the defense of the school bus drivers. These are only the most notable of the many campaigns through which the Workers League has deepened its influence within the working class, particularly among its most politically-advanced sections.
Marxism and sectarianism
For decades our enemies among the petty-bourgeois radicals have denounced us as sectarians. By that they meant our devotion to principles, our uncompromising hostility to Stalinism, our antagonistic attitude toward the middle-class radicals, our refusal to make peace with the politics of class collaboration. Healy, who had frequently and forcefully expressed to me his admiration for the practical verve of the Workers League, also hurled against us the accusation of "sectarianism." He arrived at this conclusion fresh from private meetings with Arthur Scargill and on his way to an audience with Mikhail Gorbachev in the Kremlin!
Used scientifically, and not as an epithet, sectarianism is a term that denotes a tendency that finds it impossible--and even may consider it impermissible--to concretely relate the principles of Marxism to the experiences and needs of the workers movement. In the development of the Fourth International, Trotsky had occasion to do battle against such tendencies, and we consider what he said in these struggles part of our political heritage.
"Marxism," Trotsky wrote in 1935, "has built a scientific program upon the laws that govern the movement of capitalist society and were discovered by it. This is a colossal conquest! However, it is not enough to create a correct program. It is necessary for the working class to accept it. But the sectarian, in the nature of things, comes to a stop upon the first half of the task. Active intervention into the actual struggle of the masses of workers is supplanted for him by propagandistic abstractions of a Marxist program.
"Every working class party, every faction, during its initial stages, passes through a period of pure propaganda, i.e., the training of its cadres. The period of existence as a Marxist circle invariably grafts habits of an abstract approach onto the problems of the workers movement. Whoever is unable to step in time over the confines of this circumscribed existence becomes transformed into a conservative sectarian. The sectarian looks upon the life of society as a great school, with himself as a teacher there. In his opinion the working class should put aside its less important matters, and assemble in solid rank around his rostrum. Then the task would be solved.
"Though he may swear by Marxism in every sentence, the sectarian is the direct negation of dialectical materialism, which takes experience as its point of departure and always returns to it. A sectarian does not understand the dialectical action and reaction between a finished program and a living--that is to say, imperfect and unfinished--mass struggle.... Sectarianism is hostile to dialectics (not in words but in action) in the sense that it turns its back upon the actual development of the working class" (Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1935-36 [New York: Pathfinder, 1977], pp. 152-53).
There is no sectarian tendency within the Workers League or the International Committee. However, there does exist the danger that after so many years of enforced isolation, worsened by the grotesque decay of the trade unions and the reformist political parties, the Workers League and its sister parties might fail to act upon their analysis of the objective situation and detect the new opportunities for the development of the revolutionary movement. By failing to introduce into its practical work initiatives that are indicated by the objective logic of events, the party may fail to actualize the potential that exists within the given situation.
Within even the most revolutionary organization, there exist powerful inertial tendencies. In the Trotskyist movements of the postwar period, how could they not develop? Indeed, the stubbornness of our organizations, their uncompromising defense of doctrine and tradition, their resistance to faddish innovations in the face of superficially-conceived "new world realities" was an essential element of the revolutionary character of the International Committee of the Fourth International. But there is the danger that these tendencies, in the face of genuinely profound changes that require bold and creative initiatives, can become a cover for conservatism and complacency. Nothing can be more difficult for a revolutionary movement, as strange as this may seem, than to recognize that times have changed, and that forms of work which have prevailed for years are no longer appropriate for the new existing conditions; that the time of somewhat abstract propagandistic explanations of the general goal of our movement has been overtaken by events. Not that propaganda is no longer necessary, that we must not carefully explain what we stand for, but we must understand that it is not simply a question of commenting on our general conception of the broad pattern of historical development and the place of the revolutionary movement, conceived of in an abstract sense, within it, but taking the leadership of these struggles.
The formation of leagues
The forms of the party are not eternal; they are determined by and must reflect the historic conditions in which we work. Indeed, history demonstrates that the revolutionary potential within a given historical situation can only find progressive expression to the extent that the forms of party work are directed consciously toward its development. Or, to put it somewhat more sharply, the social revolution must be extracted from the hard matter of history within which it is encased.
It is the development of the contradictions of world capitalism and the class struggle as an objective historical process that determines the organizational forms within which our activity develops. These forms, and the relation to the working class that they express, bear a specific relation to the historic conditions under which they arose and initially developed. The formation of leagues, from the Socialist Labour League in Britain in 1959, the Workers League in 1966, the Revolutionary Communist League in 1968, to the formation of the Bund Sozialistischer Arbeiter in 1971 and the Socialist Labour League in Australia in 1972, was bound up with definite historical conditions and strategic conceptions of the development of the revolutionary movement of the working class.
The central strategical problem that confronted the Trotskyist movement in this early period in the development of the ICFI was the active and militant allegiance given by the most advanced sections of the working class to the mass Stalinist and social democratic parties and trade unions.
The political activity of our sections therefore assumed, despite variations in tactics, that the starting point of a great new revolutionary reorientation of the working class would proceed in the form of a radicalization among the most class-conscious and politically-active elements within the ranks of these organizations. Out of that movement, in which the sections of the International Committee would play a catalytic role as the most intransigent opponents of Social Democracy and Stalinism, would arise the real possibilities for the establishment of a mass revolutionary party. Our tactics were based on this conception. This strategical orientation was diametrically opposed to that of the Pabloites, who oriented their organizations toward the bureaucratic leaders, to whom they attributed revolutionary potential. We sought, in a sense, to revolutionize these mass movements from below, while they sought to influence via the bureaucracies from above.
The Socialist Labour League was formed in May 1959 as a tendency within the Labour Party. As was stated in the political resolution of the founding conference:
"The Socialist Labour League is an organization of Marxists within the Labour and trade union movement, dedicated to fighting for socialist policies in place of the present policies of class betrayal....
"The Socialist Labour League will continue to fight for working-class policies inside the Labour Party, despite bans, proscriptions and expulsions, and will continue to demand the right to be affiliated to the Labour Party....
"The Socialist Labour League is not an independent revolutionary working-class party. But its work and activities are laying the foundation for a future party of this kind, which is essential to the overthrow of capitalism and the achievement of working class power in Britain.
"Meanwhile the Socialist Labour League aims to win to its ranks all those workers in the Labour Party and Communist Party who want to build a revolutionary alternative to the betrayals of reformism and Stalinism, together with all other workers of like mind" (Labour Review, July-August 1959).
In the case of Sri Lanka, the strategic problem posed by the domination of the old organizations assumed especially acute form in that the mass party, the LSSP, was linked historically to the Fourth International. In Australia, the form of our political development was determined by the dominant position of the Labor Party, which in 1972, on the eve of Gough Whitlam's accession to power, enjoyed the active support of broad sections of the working class. In Germany, similarly, the formation of the BSA in 1971 took place in the heyday of the Brandt era, only months before an attempt by the CDU to remove the SPD from power through a parliamentary coup nearly provoked a political general strike.
In that period the constitution of our sections as political parties, in the formal sense of that term, would have represented an evasion of the concrete political tasks that were posed to the revolutionary movement. A militant working class was still in the process of testing out organizations and parties with which they strongly identified. To have proclaimed ourselves, at that point, a party, before the working class had really begun to see the need for a new organization, would have been, regardless of the radical phraseology with which it was justified, a form of sectarian abstentionism.
The Workers League and the Labor Party Demand
The significance of the labor party question
In the history of the Workers League, the issue of the labor party has played a central role. The call for the formation of a labor party represented more than an agitational tactic. It embodied a definite strategical conception of the revolutionary development of the American working class.
Indeed, an examination of the different ways in which the labor party question has been formulated by the Workers League provides a profound insight into both the political evolution of our party and the objective development of the class struggle in the United States.
The Workers League was formed in the autumn of 1966. This was a period characterized by a radicalization of broad sections of the working class and youth. The civil rights movement, which had been until 1965 predominantly a movement of nonviolent protest in the South, was superseded by the eruption of violent struggles in all the major urban centers of the North. The opposition of students to the war in Vietnam was beginning to assume a mass character. At the same time, there were clear signs of restlessness within the working class. The trade union movement was growing rapidly, as teachers and other social service workers became organized. In the beginning of 1966 New York City was paralyzed for several weeks by a transit strike that was called in defiance of the law.
The degeneration of the Socialist Workers Party had been clearly reflected in its abandonment of the party's traditional call for the formation of a labor party. Throughout this period the SWP largely abstained from the struggles of the working class.
In reviving the labor party demand, the Workers League was striving to reassert the central and leading role of the American working class in the struggle against US capitalism and, at the same time, to elaborate a viable strategy for the development of the revolutionary movement.
The resolution adopted by the founding conference of the Workers League stated:
"At this stage in the development of the American working class our central transitional demand must be the creation of a labor party, a party of the American working class. The working class must be shown that it must of necessity go beyond isolated economic struggles to a fundamental political struggle against the ruling class and its political instruments. The labor party demand thus becomes the unifying demand of all our work in the United States. It must permeate all our propaganda and agitation: among the working class youth, in the trade unions, among the minority peoples, around the war question....
"It is important that we develop our propaganda and agitation around the labor party slogan in such a way that we link the existing struggles and the related level of the more conscious militants with the generalizing concept of the labor party. We must avoid presenting the concept in a formal and abstract way. Thus, while a labor party must rely on the American trade union movement as its major base, it does not follow that the main impetus for a labor party now and in the immediate period ahead will necessarily come out of the trade unions. Embryonic developments in the direction of a labor party can begin within the Negro movement in the South, among Negroes and other minority peoples in Northern ghettos, and even around the war question. In all such cases we must struggle within these movements to turn the movement towards the broad layers of the class and the trade union movement in particular. While the movement towards the labor party can get its start outside the trade union movement, it must develop a base within the organized labor movement before it can develop into a serious force. Further, unless such movements struggle to become a movement of the class as a whole, they will of necessity lose whatever class program they have achieved, as they maneuver between the existing capitalist parties rather than struggling to supplant them." [Emphasis added.]
The fight for the labor party was, as this passage clearly indicates, linked to the struggle of the Workers League to establish its influence in the trade unions. It should hardly be necessary to point out the enormous difference in the relation that existed between the trade unions and the working class in 1966 and that which exists today. Bear in mind the following: just as many years separate the founding of the Workers League from the Flint sit-down strike as from today's aggregate. The end of World War II was to that time a somewhat more recent event than the end of America's direct military involvement in Vietnam is to ours. Many of the industrial workers who were veterans of World War II and who had participated in the great industrial strikes of 1945-46 were, at that time, in their mid-forties. Indeed, there were still to be found in the factories many workers who had participated in the struggles that had led to the formation of their CIO locals.
Many of the individuals who led the unions at that time were people whose personal identification with the earlier struggles provided a certain cover for their opportunism. To name only a few: Reuther and Mazey in the UAW; Jimmy Hoffa in the Teamsters (he himself freely acknowledged he had acquired his knowledge of organizing tactics from Farrell Dobbs and he claimed Harold Gibbons, who had been associated with the SWP, was one of his closest allies in the union); Harry Bridges in the ILWU; Joe Curran in the NMU; Albert Fitzgerald in the UE; and Leon Davis in Local 1199. From the younger generation, the most important figure was the right-wing Shachtmanite Albert Shanker, whose national reputation was based on his leadership of the strikes which had established the authority of the New York Federation of Teachers. All of these people were scoundrels of the worst order, but they retained, nevertheless, a certain credibility within the working class. It was their good fortune that they led the trade unions under conditions in which the dominant world position of American capitalism nurtured a policy of class compromise.
There could be no question, at that time, of developing a labor party independently of the trade unions. The strategical line that had been elaborated by Trotsky in 1938, only 28 years earlier, retained its validity. The political development of the CIO, interrupted by the war and then sabotaged by the onset of anticommunist reaction, had to be renewed. The demand for the labor party was the means of attacking the trade union bureaucracy on the most critical and vulnerable point of its policy: the political alliance with the Democratic Party.
Labor party campaigns (1972-1978)
In the years that followed, the Workers League developed its work in the trade unions on the basis of propaganda and agitation for the labor party. The years between 1969 and 1975 saw an enormous upsurge in industrial militancy: the wave of strikes in the electrical industry, the auto industry, on the East Coast and West Coast docks, and, of course, the walkout of postal workers in the spring of 1970.
The wage settlement won by steel workers in 1971, without a strike, was reported to be the event that actually triggered Nixon's decision, on August 15, 1971, to impose a 90-day freeze on wages and prices and establish a tripartite Government-Management-Labor wage board, whose purpose, upon the expiration of the freeze, was to limit annual wage increases to 5.5 percent. Today, the granting of annual increases of that size would be considered an act of extravagant generosity. In 1971 it was denounced by George Meany, the personification of the reactionary traditions and politics of the AFL, as a declaration of war on American labor and the first step toward fascism in the United States. Nevertheless, he agreed to serve on the wage board, and the Workers League developed a powerful political campaign within the trade unions, centered on the demand that Meany and his AFL-CIO associates walk off the board and break the 5.5 percent limit.
That campaign was popularized with the publication in the early summer of 1972 of a pamphlet, The Case for a Labor Party, of which we sold approximately 75,000 copies. Another pamphlet, Where Wallace Really Stands, was written to promote the formation of a labor party as the only effective means of halting the growth of Wallace's influence among industrial workers.
These publications led to the organization of a conference in Chicago in October 1972, where the Workers League established the Trade Union Alliance for a Labor Party. It was attended by workers from virtually every major section of industry. A second conference of the TUALP was held in St. Louis in February 1973. In March 1975, the party held in Detroit the most successful conference of the TUALP, which was attended by more than 300 delegates.
If one examines the documents of that period, one will find that the party was attempting to formulate more exactly the relationship between the fight for the labor party and the development of the Workers League as a revolutionary party. We had come to recognize that there existed the danger that the fight for the establishment of the revolutionary party could be blurred by the demand for a labor party of a politically indistinct character. Thus, we wrote in the perspectives resolution of November 1975:
"The Workers League fights for the labor party from the standpoint of the struggle for power and the building of the mass revolutionary party. The labor party is a necessary first step which the working class must take in preparation for the struggle for power. But it must never be seen as some sort of panacea and substitute for the revolutionary party."
In the perspectives resolution of January 1977, we again stated: "In emphasizing the need to step up the campaign for the labor party, comrades must never forget that the decisive issue is the building of the Workers League and its transformation into the mass revolutionary party. We fight for the labor party from this standpoint alone."
Perspectives resolution of 1978
Nevertheless there remained, despite these warnings, a dissatisfaction with the political ambiguity that attended the fight for the labor party. We recognized the persistent danger that the independent tasks of the revolutionary movement could be lost in the general demand for the formation of another working class party. Moreover, the way in which the call for the labor party was formulated as a "demand" addressed to the trade union bureaucracy carried with it the danger of subordinating the Workers League to the maneuvers of that bureaucracy. In the aftermath of our intervention in the miners strike of 1977-78, which had assumed the form of a rank-and-file rebellion against the UMW leadership and open defiance of the federal government, we subjected the labor party question to a fundamental reexamination. At the heart of that examination was a critical assessment of the position developed by Cannon in 1954, which argued that the impulse for the establishment of the labor party would come from the trade union bureaucracy.
The Workers League argued: "In practice, this means subservience to the trade union bureaucracy ... the whole experience of the AFL-CIO has shown that the bureaucracy will stop at nothing to destroy any genuine independent political movement by the working class against the two capitalist parties. Any political movement of any sort led by any section of the trade union bureaucracy, whether for a 'third' party or even for something called a 'labor party' would in no sense represent a real political break from the apron strings of the bourgeoisie."
The document represented a critical advance in yet another manner. It called attention to the fact that a movement for a labor party could assume revolutionary dimensions only to the extent that it represented a broad social movement of the working class. We stated:
"The labor party will not simply be a product 'of a radical upsurge in the ranks of the trade unionists.' There is no question that the spontaneous upsurge in trade unions will play a crucial role in the emergence of the labor party. But this is a narrow view whose basic error is to conceive of the struggle for the labor party as nothing more than the direct extension of trade unionism into the domain of politics. This is a reformist conception. The mass movement for a break with the politics of the bourgeoisie will emerge out of a spontaneous explosion sparked by the anger of all sections of the oppressed."
The Reagan years
As we have already stated, the election of Ronald Reagan represented a major change in the class strategy of the bourgeoisie and led to a profound change in class relations. The Workers League responded rapidly to this change and warned that the Reagan administration would initiate a major assault on the working class and its trade unions. On the eve of struggles that would involve millions of workers organized in the unions of the AFL-CIO, the party broadened its campaign for the formation of a labor party based on the trade unions.
In the years that followed, the trade unions were, as the Workers League had anticipated, the center of the most bitter class struggles of the postwar period. Each of these struggles was defeated as a result of the policies of the AFL-CIO. Even before the election of Reagan, the AFL-CIO had signaled, with its acceptance of the terms of the Chrysler bailout, its willingness to collaborate with the employers and the state in lowering the living standards of the working class. After Reagan's accession to power, beginning with PATCO, the AFL-CIO deliberately isolated and ensured the defeat of section after section of unionized workers.
In our 1985 perspectives resolution, we analyzed the material basis of these betrayals of the working class. "The trade union bureaucracy," we wrote, "is not merely an aggregate of corrupt individuals. It comprises a definite social stratum which has an utterly parasitic relation to the trade union movement, and which, on the basis of the services it renders to the bourgeoisie, enjoys a standard of living far higher than that of the workers it supposedly represents.
"The ruling body of the AFL-CIO, its Executive Council, has 35 members--the leading officers of 31 unions plus the top officials in the AFL-CIO national headquarters. According to official reports filed with the US Labor Department, these men disposed of a combined income in 1983-84 of $3,913,089. Including all the officers of the labor organizations represented on the AFL-CIO Executive Council, their combined income in salary and expenses in 1983-84 totaled $44,987,846. If we now include in our calculations the entire staff of these 31 unions, plus the AFL-CIO, the annual payroll breaks down as follows: in salary, $321,677,435. To this astronomical figure must be added another $71,532,780, which is paid out to cover extra 'expenses'--i.e., hotels, 'business' lunches and dinners, etc. Thus, the 35 members of the AFL-CIO Executive Council speak directly on behalf of a gargantuan bureaucracy which consumes just under $400 million per year!
"Hoards of petty bureaucrats, who perform no productive labor, stuff themselves to their gills on the dues paid by the workers they refuse to defend. The International staff of the United Steelworkers consumed more than $45 million in wages and expenses--a sum that equals more than 41 percent of the total dues paid by members in 1984. The International staff of the UAW disposed of more than $61 million in 1984, approximately 30 percent of the union's income in dues.... On the basis of the total income of just a small but representative portion of the trade union officialdom, it is not unreasonable to estimate that the labor bureaucracy as a whole consumes several billion dollars per year. Here is to be found the real material base of the bureaucracy's slavish defense of imperialism, its pathological anticommunism, its desperate fear of the working class and its hatred of all those within the workers movement who stand on the basis of the class struggle against capitalism."
From this analysis we drew the conclusion: "The mobilization of the working class against American imperialism must of necessity take the form of an internal civil war within the trade unions, pitting the rank and file against the well-paid agents of the ruling class. The political essence of this struggle is the struggle for Marxism in the trade unions and the building of the revolutionary party as the alternative to the AFL-CIO bureaucracy. This is the task of the Workers League."
Taken as a whole, the 1980s marked a definite change in the relation of the AFL-CIO to the working class. A partial list of the defeats for which it was directly responsible suggests the historical character of its betrayal: PATCO in 1981; Continental Airlines, Phelps Dodge and Greyhound in 1983-84; AT Massey in 1985-86; United Airlines, Pan American Airlines, the Chicago Tribune, Hormel, and Wheeling-Pittsburgh in 1985-86; TWA, Colt Firearms, USX Steel, IBP and Patrick Cudahy in 1986-87; John Morrell and International Paper in 1987-88; Pittston and Eastern in 1989.
In the perspectives work that was developed after the split with the Workers Revolutionary Party, the Workers League grappled with the programmatic implications of the betrayals of the AFL-CIO. While the resolution of July 1988 still used the formulation labor party based on the trade unions, it marked a major advance in our understanding, in concrete terms, of the relationship between the fight for the labor party and the development of the revolutionary movement. It decisively affirmed our rejection of any sort of reformist labor party. We stated clearly that the Workers League would consider itself under no obligation to give any support, critical or otherwise, to a political party formed by the trade unions. Only to the extent that a labor party formation contained real potential for a development along revolutionary socialist lines would it merit the support and active encouragement of the Workers League.
But even by then, the phrase "labor party based on the trade unions"--which appeared in only one passage in the entire document--had been overtaken by events. Indeed, the phrase, to the extent that it still appeared in the documents and statements of the Workers League, resembled something like a vestigial remnant of the past evolutionary development of our movement.
As we stated in February 1990: "The quantitative accumulation of betrayals and defeats and the ever-expanding web of labor-management collaboration have produced a qualitative transformation in the relationship of the bureaucracy to the ruling class on the one side, and the working class on the other. The union leadership, from the highest levels of the AFL-CIO down to the local union officials, is being fully integrated into the structure of corporate management....
"The transformed role of the trade union bureaucracy has been expressed most clearly in the Eastern strike and the attempt of the pilots' leadership to engineer a so-called workers' buyout of United Airlines. At Eastern the leadership of the union in no sense negotiated to defend the jobs, wages and benefits of the workers. From the beginning it bargained on its own behalf, seeking to protect its privileges and gain posts in corporate management."
Finally, in 1992, in the world-historical context of the bureaucratic dissolution of the Soviet state, we drew the necessary conclusions from the betrayals of the labor bureaucracies internationally and in the United States:
"What are the lessons which must be drawn from the juridical liquidation of the USSR? After all, the Soviet state and its economic foundations were not overthrown from below. They were dispensed with from above. These transformations have been carried out over the head of broad masses of people by tiny bureaucratic cliques utilizing their positions of power to paralyze the workers movement and liquidate its past achievements. What has occurred in the former Soviet Union is a manifestation of an international phenomenon. All over the world the working class is confronted with the fact that the trade unions, parties and even states which it created in an earlier period have been transformed into the direct instruments of imperialism.
"The days are over when the labor bureaucracies 'mediated' the class struggle and played the role of buffer between the classes. Though the bureaucracies generally betrayed the historical interests of the working class, they still, in a limited sense, served its daily needs; and, to that extent, 'justified' their existence as leaders of working class organizations. That period is over. The bureaucracy cannot play any such independent role in the present period.
"This is true not only for the bureaucracy in the USSR, but for the American bureaucracy in the trade unions. At our last congress we stressed that the leaders of the present trade unions cannot be defined as a force which defends and represents, if only in a limited and distorted way, the interests of the working class. To define the leaders of the AFL-CIO as 'trade union' leaders, or, for that matter, to define the AFL- CIO as a working class organization is to blind the working class to the realities which it confronts."
The Formation of a New Party
A new stage has begun
The profound economic and political transformations of the last two decades have compelled us to make a new assessment of our strategical tasks. We do not call for a labor party based on the trade unions, for it is incontestably true that such a party would in no way represent a progressive, let alone revolutionary, movement toward independent working class politics. As this review of the development of our political line since 1966 should make clear, we have not arrived suddenly at this conclusion as the result of a subjective overreaction to the crimes of the bureaucracy.
There has been an objective change in the character of the trade unions and their relation to the working class. The decades of political degeneration have resulted in the deep-going alienation of the bureaucracy from the working class. The AFL-CIO is not, in any serious sense, an organization of the working class, albeit one that pursues reformist goals. At a press conference Lane Kirkland was asked whether he saw the need for any change in the policy of the AFL-CIO. This was not too long ago. He said, no, union policy remains the same as it was in the time of Gompers. He saw no reason for change. As a matter of fact, his policy is not what it was in the time of Gompers. When asked what the goals of the AFL were, Gompers said: "More!" Kirkland's response to that same question, if he were honest, would have been: "Less!" The AFL-CIO is an organization based on a petty-bourgeois social formation whose interests are entirely hostile to those of its captive working class membership.
It is impervious to the interests and needs of the working class. For more than 15 years Lane Kirkland presided over an endless series of devastating defeats without encountering from within the Executive Council any notable opposition, let alone a serious demand for his resignation. During the same period, heads rolled in the board rooms of corporate America. In the Senate and Congress the bourgeoisie orchestrated a purge of the liberal establishment. But within the labor movement, nothing changes within the bureaucratic hierarchy.
Just consider the following: in the course of the twentieth century there have been, I believe, eighteen presidents of the United States. There have been seven British monarchs. There have been, eight, or perhaps, nine, popes. But there have been only four presidents of the American Federation of Labor, including the two who have served since it merged 40 years ago with the Congress of Industrial Organizations. That is a measure of its isolation and alienation from the working class. Indeed, it is possible for an official of the AFL-CIO, I am referring to Richard Trumka of the UMW, to increase his power within the union hierarchy even as the rank-and-file membership of the organization of which he is the nominal leader shrinks to a fraction of its size when he originally took office. Today, if Lane Kirkland has been compelled to resign from office, it is not because the AFL-CIO is finally "reflecting" the pressure of the membership. Rather, it is because, at long last, the shrinkage of the AFL-CIO is directly affecting sections of the bureaucracy and causing unease within its ranks.
Another, though no less important, factor is the concern among the strategists of the bourgeoisie that the disintegration of the AFL-CIO has created a vacuum for the emergence of an alternative radical popular movement within the working class.
Our task, however, is not to speculate on the fate of the AFL-CIO bureaucracy or to align ourselves with a nonexistent progressive tendency. We must draw the appropriate conclusions from the collapse of the AFL-CIO and correctly formulate the new tasks of the party. If there is to be leadership given to the working class, it must be provided by our party. If a new road is to be opened for the masses of working people, it must be opened by our organization. The problem of leadership cannot be resolved on the basis of a clever tactic. We cannot resolve the crisis of working class leadership by "demanding" that others provide that leadership. If there is to be a new party, then we must build it.
Perspectives and formulation of strategic tasks
The strategic tasks of the revolutionary organization must be based, first and foremost, on a scientific assessment of the principal characteristics of the epoch.
The International Committee maintains that the present crisis is of a systemic, rather than merely conjunctural, character. This crisis, in the final analysis, is rooted in the fundamental problem of the capitalist system: that of extracting sufficient surplus value to offset the tendency of the rate of profit to decline. The very technological revolution instigated by the bourgeoisie in its war against labor--and I want to stress again, this technological revolution is not merely a response to abstractly conceived economic forces; there were real political and social aims--has deepened the fundamental contradiction of capitalism. Seeking to solve one problem, it has in fact reproduced it on a higher level. In the course of intensifying the rate of exploitation, the driving of ever broader sections of the working class out of the process of production has reduced the total mass of surplus value produced by labor and upon which the average rate of profit is based.
All the measures now being employed by the bourgeoisie of the leading capitalist powers--the relentless drive to increase productivity, lower the cost of production, obtain access to ever cheaper sources of labor and increase market share at the expense of their competitors--reflect the pressure of this objective process.
The development of this crisis leads inexorably in two directions: (1) toward war as the product of the intensification of the struggle among the capitalist powers for market share and (2) toward social revolution as the product of the intensification of the class struggle arising out of the need of the bourgeoisie to subordinate even the most elemental needs of the workers to its struggle for global domination and its insatiable drive for surplus value.
The Formation of the Socialist Equality Party
Social conditions in the United States
Objective conditions lead in the direction of revolution. But the development of revolutionary consciousness is not, as we know from history, an automatic process. The impulses generated by the subterranean contradictions of capitalism do not directly translate themselves into socialist forms of thinking. The response of the working class to a given objective situation is bound up with a vast complex of historically-given conditions. These may and, indeed, do vary from country to country. But in each case the Marxists must find the path to the minds and, I might add, hearts of the working class.
In transforming the league into a party, we must consider the form in which the crisis of the capitalist system reveals itself to the broad mass of working people. To put it most simply, millions of working people have experienced a protracted and ongoing decline in their standard of living. They live their lives in permanent fear for the security of their jobs, struggling to make ends meet as wages decline and prices rise.
The dominant feature of American life is the widening gap between a small percentage of the population that enjoys unprecedented wealth and the broad mass of the working population that lives in varying degrees of economic uncertainty and distress.
The indices of wealth and poverty
I recently acquired a book entitled America's New War on Poverty that contains valuable data relating to social stratification in the United States. Permit me to cite some of the information contained in this book.
*Polarization of wealth and poverty
From 1977 to 1988, the incomes of the richest 1 percent rose by 96 percent and those of the richest fifth more than 25 percent, while the poorest fifth of American families saw their incomes drop by more than 10 percent.
From 1983 to 1989, the lion's share of the nation's total increase in wealth--62 percent--went to America's richest 1 percent. The bottom 80 percent captured just 1 percent of the gain.
In 1990 the poorest fifth of Americans received 3.7 percent of the nation's total income, the lowest proportion since 1954. That same year, the richest fifth received over half the nation's total income, the highest proportion on record.
In 1943 Americans who earned the equivalent of at least $1 million annually in modern dollars paid 78 percent of their total incomes in federal expenses. As of 1990, the percentage of federally taxed income for the richest 1 percent had gone down to 21.5 percent.
Between 1979 and 1989, the number of taxpayers reporting adjusted gross incomes of $200,000 or more grew more than eight times (94,000 to 790,000) while their federal income tax rate decreased from 45.3 percent to 24.1 percent.
In 1988 approximately 1.3 million individual Americans were millionaires by assets, up from 574,000 in 1980; 180,000 in 1972; 90,000 in 1964; and just 27,000 in 1953. In 1994 there were 28 millionaires in the US Senate and 50 millionaires in the House of Representatives.
The proportion of Americans with full-time jobs whose incomes were too low to bring a family above the poverty level rose by 50 percent between 1979 and 1992, from 12 percent to 18 percent of all workers. One out of 10 Americans use food pantries, soup kitchens or food charities.
One in five American children--14.6 million--is poor. More American children lived in poverty in 1992 than in any year since 1965, although the US Gross National Product grew by 53.2 percent during the same period.
In 1991 an estimated 12 million children under the age of 18 (18.3 percent of all children) were hungry. Between 1989 and 1992 the number of children receiving food stamps increased by 41 percent, to 13.3 million. In 1990 children made up an estimated 30 percent of all homeless persons seeking shelter.
In 1990, 15 states had child poverty rates of 20 percent and above. In Mississippi and Louisiana one in every three children was poor, while in New Mexico, West Virginia, the District of Colombia and Arkansas, the rate was one in four.
American children are twice as likely to be poor as Canadian children, 3 times as likely to be poor as British children, 4 times as likely to be as poor as French children, and 7 to 13 times more likely to be poor than German, Dutch or Swedish children.
Between 1984 and 1987, the US had the lowest success rate in lifting children out of poverty among a sample of industrialized countries, with a rate nine times smaller than countries like the UK and France.
Anemia and other dietary deficiencies are common among poor children and adults. Iron deficiency anemia is twice as common in low-income children between the ages of one and two than in the general population.
In 1989, of high school students living in households with incomes between $10,000 and $15,000, 4.4 percent used a computer at home; in $40,000 to $50,000 households that number was 27.7 percent.
Between 1984 and 1994 the US spent 3 times more on defense than on its combined human needs and approximately 15 times more on defense than on education.
*Wages and part-time workers
Between 1970 and 1993 there was a 178 percent increase in the number of involuntary part-time workers, while the number of full-time workers went up by only 51 percent.
The minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation. Minimum wage earnings for a full-time, year-round worker have fallen below the annual poverty line for a family of three.
The 17.2 million net jobs created between 1979 and 1989 involved a loss of roughly 1.7 million high-wage manufacturing and mining jobs and an increase of 18.8 million low-wage jobs in the service sector. Most of the newly created jobs were in the two lowest paying industries: retail, $276 a week, and services, $357 a week.
During the 1980s the fastest growing category of housing was prisons. More than 1 in 250 Americans were housed in correctional facilities, the highest incarceration rate in the world.
In 1980 the census counted 315,974 prison inmates. A decade later the prison population had more than tripled, to 1.1 million inmates, or more than the entire population of Detroit.
More than 36 percent of Americans with annual incomes below $10,000 have no health insurance at all. In 1991 uninsured patients had death rates 44 percent to 124 percent higher than privately insured patients. One in five poor people had no health insurance during 1992.
The percentage of immigrant families living below the poverty line increased from 11 percent in 1979 to 31.7 percent in 1991.
A quarter of the US population, nearly 70 million people, reside in rural areas. Of these people, one in six lives in poverty.
The top 5 percent of American landowners own 75 percent of privately-held US land; the bottom 78 percent own just 3 percent.
Between 1980 and 1990 farm employment declined 22 percent.
The richest 1 percent of US households, with a net worth of at least $2.3 million, own more than 40 percent of the country's wealth.
Less than 0.5 percent of the population owns 37.4 percent of all corporate stock and 56.2 percent of all private business assets.
The top 5 percent increased their incomes from $120,253 in 1979 to $148,428 in 1989, while the wages of the poorest 20 percent fell from $9,990 to $9,431.
The top four percent of wage earners, numbering 3.8 million people, earned as much as the entire bottom 51 percent, numbering 49.2 million.
The top 20 percent received more income per year than the other four fifths of the population combined.
The impact of technological developments and changes in production techniques
The deterioration in the economic position and social conditions of the working class is directly related to the technological revolution and the globalization of production that it has fueled. Under the regime of the private ownership of the productive forces, the working class is victimized by technology. In contrast to the technologies of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which established mass production, assembly line industries that created tens of millions of new jobs, the computerization of production is driving millions out of their jobs.
In the 1950s one-third of US workers were employed in manufacturing. By the 1990s, the figure stood at 17 percent.
In 1990 US Steel employed 20,000 workers to produce as much steel as it had in 1980 with 120,000 workers.
Between 1983 and 1993 the introduction of automatic teller machines resulted in the elimination of 179,000 jobs.
Between 1947 and 1973, real weekly wages rose at an average rate of 1.9 percent per annum. Between 1973 and 1990 they fell in real terms by 0.9 percent per annum.
Measured in constant 1982 dollars, the average worker's wages fell from a peak of $308.03 in 1973 to $260.37 in 1991, a staggering fall in income.
At the start of the 1990s, the purchasing power of the average wage was 15 percent less than what it had been a decade before.
The proportion of male workers aged between 25 and 34 earning less than what has been determined to be the essential level to support a family of four has risen from 13.6 percent in 1969 to 32.2 percent in 1993.
New categories of work are emerging on the basis of the new technology, but they offer less pay and provide far less security.
It is to these social conditions that the Workers League must respond. In doing so, it must relate the historic perspective of socialism--so abused and distorted by the crimes of Stalinism--to the needs of the working class.
The Workers League, in forming a new party, must demarcate itself clearly from all the petty- bourgeois radical groups and their alphabet soup of pseudorevolutionary initials and various names from Marxist-Leninist Collective, to Lenin-Trotsky party, League of Communist Revolutionaries, etc. The more "revolutionary" the name, the more rotten their opportunism.
The aim of our party should be stated clearly in its name and in a manner that the workers can both understand and identify with. I propose at this time that we initiate preparations for the transformation of the Workers League into the Socialist Equality Party.
Briefly, in presenting this party to the working class, we must explain that its goal is the establishment of a workers government: and by that we mean a government for the workers, of the workers and by the workers. Such a government will utilize the political power it intends to gain through democratic means, if possible, to reorganize economic life in the interests of the working class, to overcome and replace the socially-destructive market forces of capitalism with democratic social planning, to undertake a radical reorganization of production to meet the urgent social needs of the working people, to effect a radical and socially-just redistribution of wealth in favor of the working population, and thereby lay the basis for socialism.
We will stress that these aims of the Socialist Equality Party are realizable only in alliance with, and as an integral part of, a consciously internationalist movement of the working class. There cannot be social equality and social justice for the American worker as long as multinational and transnational corporations oppress and exploit his class brothers and sisters in other countries. Moreover, there exists no viable national strategy upon which the class struggle can be based. The working class must consistently and systematically counterpose its international strategy to the international strategy of the transnational corporations. There can be no compromise on this essential question, which is the cutting edge of the socialist program.
The demands of the Socialist Equality Party
In striving to politically organize the working class, the Socialist Equality Party must respond to the pressing needs of the masses that arise out of existing social conditions. At a time when international capital is engaged in an unrelenting offensive against the working class, the social demands which address the basic needs of the working class assume a revolutionary character. After all, the old organizations would not have abandoned reformist demands if it were possible to achieve them through reformist measures. Every demand of the working class, on the most basic questions, poses a direct confrontation between the working class and the capitalist state.
We must outline, in detail, the demands which we will incorporate into our program. It is not necessary, however, to write a program as if it were a blueprint for the socialist utopia of the future. Rather, it must provide the working class with a unifying aim that corresponds to its objective interests. Moreover, it must strike a chord in the consciousness of the masses. The demand for social equality not only sums up the basic aim of the socialist movement; it also evokes the egalitarian traditions that are so deeply rooted in the genuinely democratic and revolutionary traditions of the American workers. All the great social struggles of American history have inscribed on their banners the demand for social equality. It is no accident that today, in the prevailing environment of political reaction, this ideal is under relentless attack.
In introducing this proposal, I think that we must give careful consideration to the manner in which it is implemented. Because the transition from the Workers League to the Socialist Equality Party involves not merely a reorganization of our present forces but a change in our relationship to the broad masses, I believe that this transformation requires patient preparation. It is not enough for us to change our name and proclaim ourselves a new party. We must work to encourage and develop a real social movement of the working class upon which this new party can establish a firm foundation.
We will utilize the 1996 election campaign to build up the forces upon which this transformation can be based. That is, the Workers League shall intervene in the 1996 elections with presidential and congressional candidates. It will adopt, for the purpose of ballot identification, the name Socialist Equality Party, explaining that it is utilizing this campaign to encourage a movement, based on the working class, for social equality. Through this campaign we shall establish the necessary foundation for the formal transformation of the league into a party.
This, comrades, is how I propose we should proceed.
World Socialist Web Site
All rights reserved