Capitalist exploiters and their politicians are gathering to toast one another at the World Economic Forum. Their conference occurs at a time of dramatically escalating attacks against working-class and poor people both abroad and at home. The U.S. imperialist ruling class is mopping up after its devastating terror campaign against the people of Afghanistan and is threatening to unleash similar terror against other peoples of the neo-colonial world. At home, they are using post-September 11 patriotic hype to hide new attacks on the working class. They’re handing out massive tax breaks to businesses and the rich while calling on workers to sacrifice. They are conducting a vicious campaign of persecution against immigrants, particularly Arabs and Central Asians, in the name of fighting terrorism.
Abroad, there are signs of mounting struggle that not only show that the capitalists’ attacks can be defeated, but that the working class has the power to overthrow the entire capitalist system. Most notably in Argentina, working class struggle in the form of general strikes, mass protests and rioting toppled the government when it tried to implement an IMF/World Bank austerity program. Mass upheavals have also rocked Indonesia, Nigeria, Bolivia and Ecuador.
At home though, mass struggles are yet to challenge the capitalists’ attacks. A powerful, united protest against the WEF would give a big boost to the working-class fightback that’s needed in this country. It would also show the masses of the “Third World” who are fighting U.S. imperialism and its local rulers that they are not alone in their struggle. In doing so it would not just shut down this or that ruling-class conference, but would further the struggle to get rid of the entire system of exploitation and oppression that is capitalism.
Unfortunately, there’s little chance that this week’s protests against the WEF will be powerful mobilizations of tens of thousands in the tradition of the “anti-globalization” protests in Seattle, Quebec City or Genoa. Certainly the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the patriotic campaign that has followed have temporarily dampened popular feelings of protest. But most of the work of limiting the potential protests has actually been done by the competing leaders of the “anti-globalization” movement, who have divided and held back the movement’s forces.
Instead of one united protest against the WEF, these leaders have organized separate protests and competing “conferences”:
These divisions are not the result of simple organizational sectarianism and selfishness alone. They express political outlooks that have held back the movement since the Seattle protests, and have only deepened since Sept. 11. If a powerful movement is to be built that can challenge the capitalists, the problem of the movement’s misleadership must be understood in order to be overcome.
Mass protests scored an inspiring victory in Seattle in 1999 when they stopped the World Trade Organization (WTO) from meeting. What is not widely understood is that this achievement came as a result of the protesters’ determination to break free of the grip of the various protest organizers in order to shut the conference down. The decisive moment came when large numbers of union workers broke from the official union march to join thousands of protesting youth. The streets were taken over and a chokehold was placed on the conference.
This scared the imperialists. But even more, it terrified the bureaucratic organizers of the protests. At future protests the union leaders made a point of only minimally mobilizing their members, and scheduling their events for different days from those of more radical protesters. Liberal NGO bureaucrats stepped up their witchhunt against “violence” in the movement, studiously ignoring the fact that the bulk of the violence came from the cops.
Some radical protesters, committed to a model of “autonomous” self-organization through affinity groups, tried to avoid the official leaders’ sabotage by holding their own “direct actions.” But this only succeeded in achieving symbolic small-group actions and abandoned the mass of would-be protesters to the whims of the bureaucrats and the batons and tear gas of the cops. Others, including supposed “revolutionary socialists,” tried to have it both ways, rhetorically supporting militant protest actions while continuing to cozy up to the treacherous liberals rather than exposing them.
As a result, each subsequent attempt to re-create Seattle on U.S. soil (in Washington against the IMF and World Bank, in Philadelphia and Los Angeles against the Republican and Democratic national conventions) was weaker than the previous. In spite of similar bureaucratic restraints, big protests did take place elsewhere, notably in Genoa and Quebec City last year. But the movement in this country was already declining and faced with a political crisis well before September 11.
The murderous terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 were a tragedy for the working class. The agonizing loss of so many lives was horrific. But the attacks also dealt the working class a tremendous political setback. Attempting to appeal to the “Third World” masses’ hatred of U.S. domination, terrorists launched attacks for which American workers, themselves victims of the U.S. ruling class, paid by far the heaviest price. The terrorists thus allowed the U.S. ruling class to promote the idea that “we” are under attack in order to bolster American workers’ support for a massive imperialist assault on Afghanistan, and to encourage workers to sacrifice for the nation’s supposed “common interests.”
American workers’ justified anger at the terrorist attacks should have been directed at the U.S. ruling class, for it was ultimately responsible for the attacks. U.S. imperialism creates the conditions of exploitation and oppression in the “Third World” that drive such attacks. And if Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda group conducted the attacks, the U.S. government is even more directly responsible. After all, Bin Laden is just the latest example of a local ruling-class figure previously trained, funded and armed by the U.S. to repress their own people, who later turned and challenged the U.S. for a bigger slice of the capitalist pie. Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Panama’s Manuel Noriega are other recent examples.
The U.S.’s advanced economy and comparatively higher standard of living, like that of other imperialist powers, is based significantly on using its economic might to dominate and super-exploit the neo-colonial world. Thus, for example, as overall profits have slowed in recent years, the U.S. in particular has helped prop itself up by enforcing massive debt repayments from impoverished “Third World” countries through the IMF and World Bank.
But such oppression and exploitation inevitably sparks massive struggles by workers and poor people. Capitalism hires its cops and soldiers as a last line of defense against the threat of such struggles. When local states seem too weak to intimidate the masses, the threat of imperialist might is necessary. The U.S. imperialists’ long record of sponsoring coups and invading countries to crush revolutionary upheavals must constantly be refreshed by new shows of force.
With this revolutionary Marxist understanding of how capitalism operates, we in the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) had no illusions that the U.S. government’s response to the terror attacks would have anything to do with a search for “justice.” Within days of the terror attacks we wrote:
American workers are justifiably and intensely angry over the murder of their innocent brothers and sisters.... But George W. Bush and the rest of the scum who rule America are angry for a different reason. Somebody has humiliated them; their place as the world’s most powerful and seemingly invincible terrorist has been challenged! New York has received a taste of what the people of Baghdad, Belgrade and elsewhere have suffered on a far greater scale at the hands of the U.S. military. Soon, Bush & Co. intimate, the masses abroad will receive a bloody response which will dwarf past atrocities and reestablish who has the only “God-given right” to engage in mass murder on this planet. Terror does rule the world, and Bush wants to make it clear who is going to exercise it.
But that wasn’t the response of those who have imposed themselves as the leadership of the “anti-globalization” protest movement. On the contrary, most rushed to support the government’s patriotic war drive, some offering advice on how it could conduct its imperialist policies a little more delicately and democratically.
All but one of the liberal Democrats endorsed Bush’s war-drive in its entirety, and the bulk of the Senators and Representatives from the Democratic Party endorsed the PATRIOT Act. This last piece of legislation declares war on “terrorism” (defining it broadly enough to include strikes and other forms of working-class struggle and political dissent), greatly expands the government’s powers to arbitrarily arrest and deport immigrants, and gives police agencies broader powers to investigate individuals and groups for political reasons. The one exception to all this was Barbara Lee, Democratic Representative from California, who voted against giving Bush authorization to conduct any military campaign he wanted, and voted against the PATRIOT Act. But even she rallied to the imperialist cause, voting to finance the war on Afghanistan. And yet she will be speaking from the WWP/ANSWER’s podium on Saturday!
The bureaucrats who run the AFL-CIO, led by John Sweeney, of course did not raise a peep of protest against the war drive. The government returned the favor by quickly making clear that its calls for sacrifice were directed only at workers. It bailed out the airline companies but refused to save the jobs of tens of thousands of workers who were laid off. It took every possible measure to protect the health of politicians during the anthrax attacks while letting postal workers die. And the government then allowed Enron bosses to loot their workers’ pension funds before the company collapsed. In response, the pro-capitalist hacks of the AFL-CIO failed to organize a single protest.
The most prominent liberal trade-reform and NGO leaders who have stood at the head of “anti-globalization” protests rallied to the flag as well. Green Party presidential candidate and darling of much of the left, Ralph Nader, explained that he could support U.S. military action against Afghanistan and even a full scale military occupation of the country – he simply hoped it would be done according to international law. He told a San Francisco radio audience October 9: “If we’re gonna do what we’re gonna do, we should do it in a very constitutional way. If we’re going to make that move, we’ve got to accept certain responsibilities. Just as [when] we declared war against Japan, defeated Japan and had General Douglas MacArthur have a peaceful occupation of Japan until he brought it around to a more peaceful and stable country and economy.” Nader the super-Green of course forgot that the U.S. occupation of Japan followed the devastation of two of its major cities by U.S. atomic bombs, and that an occupation of Afghanistan would follow similar, though not necessarily nuclear, mass murder.
Prominent “anti-globalization” figure Medea Benjamin of the Global Exchange (GE) group, had already shamed herself in the Seattle protests by complaining that the police didn’t arrest enough direct actionists. But she raised her voice again, this time to call for similar efforts to apprehend the terrorists according to international law. Her partner at GE and favorite of the left, Kevin Danaher, outdid Benjamin in his appeal to be an adviser to imperialism. “If you’re going to get these guys,” he explained, “you need something more sophisticated than just bombing and killing.... I want them on the stand. And I want whoever aided or abetted them behind bars.” With an eye to future protests, Danaher declared that this is “not an anti-war movement, but a fight for ‘global justice.’“
The fact that the self-appointed liberal leaders think that the struggle for “global justice” doesn’t mean a struggle against U.S. imperialist war-mongering shows just how shallow their idea of “justice” is. The primary concern of the AFL-CIO leaders, liberal trade-reformers and others has all along been that “globalization” (i.e., the deepening of imperialist exploitation and competition around the globe) is undermining the relatively privileged living standards of the American middle class.
Thus the union bureaucrats and Ralph Nader, for example, have spoken with one voice against free trade pacts like NAFTA and the FTAA, saying their greatest evil is that they threaten American jobs. The U.S. capitalists certainly do use free trade policies to set foreign and American workers in competition against one another. But their primary purpose is to deepen U.S. domination and exploitation of the “Third World” economies. Teaching American workers to view foreign workers as competition rather than as brothers and sisters facing the same imperialist enemy only encourages workers to hold a nationalist allegiance to their own ruling class. What’s needed is a campaign to unite all workers, here and abroad, in a struggle to raise wages for all workers everywhere.
Underlying the union bureaucrats’ and liberals’ nationalist policies and their role in holding back the struggle since Seattle is their privileged class position. Labor bureaucrats enjoy handsome salaries and all sorts of perks as a result of their control of the unions. In order to maintain their position they must balance between the workers on whom they rely for their bargaining power with the capitalists, and the capitalist system on which they ultimately rely for their privileges. So when capitalists’ attacks on workers threaten to undermine the bureaucrats’ own power, or when workers’ anger and demands for action threaten the bureaucrats’ continued control, they may call protests or strikes to defend themselves. But they always seek to avoid or sabotage any mass struggle that could threaten the system itself.
Similarly, the liberal trade-reformers like Nader and Global Exchange have been driven to promote protests against the World Bank and IMF and “free trade” agreements because the capitalists have cut them out of their accustomed place at the bargaining table over such policies. By standing at the head of big protests they hoped to leverage their way back into seats at the imperialists’ bargaining table.
Thus, after the mass protests of workers and youth in Seattle threatened to overturn the capitalists’ banquet tables altogether, the liberals and bureaucrats have tried to much more strictly control protests from going “too far.” Now in this most patriotic of times when America is engaged in a war to reassert its unchallenged right to dominate the planet, most of the liberals don’t even want to organize a protest – if the U.S. didn’t rule the world they would be out of a job! No wonder so many of them chose to set up their own banquet tables at their United Nations talk shop instead of mobilizing a mass protest.
With the cowardly refusal of the union bureaucrats and liberals to call a united mass protest against the WEF, the first group to step into the breach was the WWP, with its ANSWER front-group announcing a teach-in on Friday and a protest on Saturday morning. The WWP did this in the most sectarian way, simply declaring the protest in ANSWER’s name rather than calling a meeting of all interested groups to organize a united protest.
In response, the AWIP coalition was created. Instead of condemning the sectarian way ANSWER had declared their own protest and calling for a united struggle, AWIP decided to call their own competing protest, carefully scheduled and directed to avoid any potential for the two protests to unite.
We in the LRP, like most people attending the protests, stand for united action against the capitalists with all groups willing to join the fight. United action doesn’t mean we all have to agree politically. We don’t. But united struggles can clarify which group’s ideas are correct, and which aren’t while still taking the struggle forward. LRP supporters argued in organizing meetings for the two protests to join together and were furiously rejected. We will be participating in both protests and will urge protesters to take every opportunity to unite the two mobilizations into a single show of force.
Some people may think that while it is bad that ANSWER and AWIP have been so sectarian as to organize two separate protests, they are at least an alternative to the liberals who refused to organize a protest, and they certainly have better politics, both opposing the war on Afghanistan and the attacks on immigrants. But that would be a mistake. In reality, the reason why the two groups have organized separate protests is that their leaders are keeping the chairs warm for different wings of the liberal leadership to re-take their place at the head of the struggle.
The WWP’s preference is to tail liberal Democrats in building protest movements. Thus they always elevate former Attorney General Ramsey Clark to a leading position in protests. This time they will also give Congresswoman Barbara Lee a featured opportunity to speak from their platform as if she really opposed the war on Afghanistan.
The soft-socialists, Greens and direct actionist groups in AWIP generally prefer to tail the union bureaucrats and liberals outside of the Democratic Party. For example, the International Socialist Organization (ISO), which is playing an important role in AWIP, enthusiastically joined Ralph Nader’s last presidential campaign, and even campaigned for Medea Benjamin’s run for Congress.
When deepening economic crisis and growing anger of workers forces the bureaucrats and liberals to unite again in protests designed to control the masses rather than lead them, you can expect the leaders of ANSWER and AWIP to join together again to kiss the liberals’ asses.
Under these conditions, the struggle against imperialist capitalism, both at home and abroad, is faced with a crisis of leadership. Complicating the issue is the fact that the would-be movement in the U.S. against capitalism that began to take shape in Seattle has drawn most of its participants from relatively privileged middle-class youth. It has largely failed to attract the working class, particularly working-class youth. And it has almost completely ignored the most oppressed and exploited layers of the working class – Blacks, Latinos and immigrants.
The privileged position of many of the protesters means that many share much in common with the perspective of the liberal leaders, even if they are not concerned with securing bureaucratic advantages. Many are blind to the desperate reality of working-class life in America, let alone that of workers in the neo-colonial world, and to the type of revolutionary struggle that’s needed. But many outstanding fighters against capitalism can be won from the current ranks of the struggle, as long as they come to see that it is the working class, and particularly its most oppressed and exploited sections, that must not only be the power behind the struggle against capitalism, but also its political leadership out front.
While a thousand threads of privilege connect the liberal bureaucrats and most of their middle-class followers to the capitalist system in general, and the continuation of U.S. imperialism in particular, the working class and particularly its most oppressed sections have no fundamental interest in maintaining the system. While it is in the bureaucrats’ interests to prevent struggles from threatening the system, the working class has no such interest. Indeed, through struggles against capitalist attacks or for reforms, the working class can learn that it has the power to not only stop the capitalists in their tracks, but to overthrow the system altogether. Brought together in cooperation with one another in factories and workplaces, capitalism actually provides the working class with the basis for organizing and understanding the struggle against capitalism.
Revolutionaries work for the biggest possible protests against institutions like the WEF because they can expose the ruling class and encourage further working-class struggle. They can also provide experiences and opportunities for political debate from which people can draw revolutionary conclusions. But such protest movements cannot replace the struggles of the working class as the only force capable of truly challenging the capitalists.
The American working class is hardly immune from the effects of living in the world’s dominant imperialist country. Imperialism’s super-profits support a large middle class to which workers can aspire. The U.S. ruling class’s powerful position also affords it the opportunity to concede relatively higher wages and other benefits to a privileged strata of mostly white workers, which has a conservatizing effect. Moreover, racist capitalism encourages white workers to see lower-paid Black, Latino and immigrant workers as their enemy, not capitalism.
However the deepening international economic crisis continues to erode the U.S. ruling class’s ability to sustain such concessions. The current wave of attacks on workers is just the beginning of a campaign to make the working class pay for reviving profits. To divide and conquer the working class the capitalists necessarily direct their harshest attacks against people of color and intensify racism.
But the capitalists’ attacks will inevitably spark mass strikes and other forms of united working-class struggle across racial lines. And the struggles of Black and Latino workers, who most often hold fewer illusions in the system than their white counterparts, will inevitably play a role in leading white workers into action, as they did in the 1960s and ‘70s. In the course of such struggles, the working class will transform itself from the raw material for exploitation that it is today, to a class capable of freeing the world from all oppression and exploitation.
The greatest barrier to successful working-class struggles, from protests against institutions like the WEF, to strikes and other class battles, is the bureaucratic leaderships which hold them back and betray them. What’s needed is an alternative leadership from the working class which won’t try to restrain struggles within the limits of the system because it is committed to the system’s overthrow – a revolutionary communist leadership.
There is no need for hunger, homelessness and all the other shortages that are used to force workers and poor of different countries to fight one another like dogs. International capitalism has built up a world economy of such productive capacity that there is no need for the scarcity of jobs, goods and social services. If the world economy was freed from producing for private profit, and instead directed toward producing what people need, there would be an abundance for all. A classless, cooperative socialist world cleansed of all oppression can be built.
But the capitalists and their lackeys will not give up without a fight. Their military response to simple protests like this week’s makes that obvious. No, capitalist rule will have to be overthrown by revolutions that smash the capitalist state and put the working class in power. The most politically advanced and militant workers in each country must join together to build revolutionary parties as sections of a world revolutionary party, a re-created Trotskyist Fourth International, in order to lead the struggle to victory.
Thus the essential link between victory in today’s struggles, and the overthrow of capitalism, is the building of a communist revolutionary party that combines offering effective leadership to its fellow workers’ immediate struggles, with recruiting and training the most politically advanced workers and youth as leaders of the class struggle.
Such a revolutionary party must be internationalist. It must tirelessly encourage international unity in struggle of all workers against imperialism, and ferociously condemn every attempt to encourage nationalist consciousness among workers. And it must fight all forms of racism and sexism which divide the working class.
Importantly, a genuinely revolutionary party will have nothing in common with the false “socialism” of the now-collapsed Soviet Union, or those Stalinist states that linger on today like China and Cuba. In those countries, bureaucratic ruling classes administer statified capitalist economies on behalf of world imperialism. In China and Vietnam, such “socialism” even includes super-exploitation in sweatshop hell-holes for corporations like Nike!
If you agree with our strategy, or would just like to talk about it more, contact us. We have a world to win, and not a moment to waste!