When the financial crisis exploded in 2008, the political establishment came to the aid of bankers, financiers and industrialists with multi-trillion dollar bailouts – and the capitalists and their politicians have been making working-class and poor people pay the bill ever since. Layoffs, home foreclosures and property repossessions, price hikes and budget cuts all continue to devastate people’s lives.
Since then, a bitter sense of injustice has grown among workers everywhere, especially as the CEOs of banks and corporations have continued to announce big profits and award themselves huge bonuses. The economy has not returned to growth as promised. The bosses have not started hiring and the politicians have not stopped their struggles for personal power. Now a new outbreak of the financial crisis looms and millions face another round of pain.
Without a clear vision of an alternative to more sacrifice, it is difficult for working-class people to resist the ongoing attacks on their living standards. For the first three years of the economic crisis, the loudest voices of protest have come from the racist, right-wing Tea Party, whose anti-government, pro-business program offers only more of the same misery. But among workers not attracted to the right’s racist, free-market message, a rising sense of injustice is beginning to turn into a realization that they need their own movement of resistance.
The “Occupy Wall Street” protests that have spread across the country have won a positive response from working-class people who would otherwise not identify with the protesters. The social background and political views of the young activists who initiated the protests are hardly typical of those who are suffering the most in the economic crisis, but working-class people are glad to see someone finally targeting Wall Street. Indeed, a growing number are asking why it took so long for such protests to begin. Union members are wondering why their leaders haven’t organized protests like this. Blacks and Latinos, who have suffered by far the worst effects of the crisis, are starting to pressure their leaders to speak up. The Wall Street protests’ greatest effect has been to encourage a sense among a still small but growing number of working-class people that it’s time to take a stand in defense of their lives and against the continued profiteering of those at the top.
A serious mass fightback against the war on working-class jobs and living standards is long overdue. The big danger is that the union and community leaders will try to divert the struggle into the dead end of supporting Democratic Party electoralism – as they have always done. That’s why we will focus in this article on how the Democrats have been just as responsible as the Republicans for the efforts to make working-class and poor people pay for the economic crisis. As President Obama begins his campaign for re-election by declaring himself “a fighter for the middle class,” we will not forget that he spent his first three years in office promoting his own tax breaks for businesses and budget cuts for workers – while capitulating to the demands for even more extreme pro-business policies coming from the Republican Party and their rabid Tea Party supporters. In fact, we will show that even Obama’s new jobs bill amounts to more of the same coddling of capitalists and sacrifice for workers.
As we join with other working-class, poor and young people in promoting the greatest possible united fightback against the capitalist attacks, we revolutionary socialists stress that there is no solution in either of the two major capitalist parties or the capitalist profit system they serve. Massive struggles can beat back the attacks and even win some improvements for a time, but the capitalist system is unavoidably heading toward another Great Depression which will threaten humanity with even greater suffering through deprivation and war. The only solution will be working-class revolutions that seize power from the capitalists, the politicians who serve them and the state that protects them. With power in its hands, the working class will be able to set about building a socialist economy in the interests of people everywhere and not the profit of a few.
Popular disgust with Washington reached a tipping point this past summer as Republicans and Democrats became locked in disputes over the Federal budget. The U.S.’s costly imperialist wars were already driving rising levels of government debt before the massive bailouts of bankrupt banks and corporations in 2008. Two years later, the federal budget was on course to break the “debt ceiling,” which limits the total amount of debt the government can accumulate. Without a deal to cut the budget or raise the debt ceiling, the Obama administration claimed that the federal government would have defaulted on its debt payments, triggering a collapse of the entire world economy.
The two parties’ deadlock was finally broken at the last minute when Obama and the Democrats signed onto a Budget Control Act that mandates over $2.4 trillion in cutbacks in vital Federal programs while foregoing their proposal to slightly raise taxes on the corporations and the rich. (See the box “Shared Sacrifice.”) According to the deal, over the next ten years $900 billion will be cut from so-called “discretionary” spending programs, including childcare assistance programs, Head Start, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) low-income nutrition program, maternal and child health programs, family planning services, educational expenditures, low-income housing assistance and the Older Americans Act which includes home-delivered meals.
As one writer posting on the Colorlines website aptly summed up:
The shameful and dangerous debt ceiling deal passed into law... is rooted in the grand bargain that the political class made in 2008: to save Wall Street and allow those in the rest of America to drown Katrina style.
The three big “entitlement” programs – Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid – are not hit by the first phase of cuts, but will be served up for slicing by way of the bipartisan “Super Committee.” This committee has started its dirty work, though as of now there is no agreement in sight. It is supposed to make at least $1.5 trillion in cuts, and Obama, other Democrats and the Republicans have made specific proposals, with both parties advocating even deeper cuts than mandated. Whatever the committee decides will then have to be approved by Congress without any amendments, and then signed by the President by December.
However, if the Super Committee is deadlocked, or if its recommendations are not adopted without amendment or are vetoed by the President, then cuts are to come by way of “triggers” built into the Budget Act. These would automatically cut spending by $1.2 trillion, slicing some programs (including the military, Medicare, farm subsidies and healthcare) while exempting others (including Social Security and Medicaid). Analysts have pointed out that these triggers could be undone by future congressional action.
It should be noted that $21 billion of the cuts were scheduled to take effect this fall, and a similar amount is slated for September 2012. That is, relatively few cuts were planned to hit before the November 2012 elections. One might have thought from their rhetoric that the fanatically right-wing Tea Party Republicans would have insisted on slashing everything in one sitting. But the ruling class and both of its parties are allowing time to test the public response before making a far greater attack. Many capitalist leaders know – well ahead of the working class itself – that continued passivity on the part of workers and youth cannot be taken for granted: the rebellions in other parts of the world could be echoed in the U.S. if the country’s rulers act too rashly.
After signing the Budget Control Act, Obama switched into electoral mode. He launched his American Jobs Act campaign in a nationally televised speech to a joint session of Congress on September 8 and has been pushing it hard since then.
Of course, if he were serious about addressing the unemployment crisis, Obama could have fought for such an act in his first two years, when he had a Democratic majority in both House and Senate. But now the obvious problem is that only a few of the Act’s measures are likely to overcome Republican opposition in Congress. Indeed, the Act as a whole was defeated in the Senate on October 11, but Obama then promised to introduce its components separately. We will examine several of its proposed measures that point to the deceptive nature of the initiative.
The main element of Obama’s Jobs Act is to extend the reduction in Social Security payroll tax deductions for both workers and small businesses. This tax holiday represents more than half of the total expenditure of $447 billion dollars called for in the Act altogether. The savings to workers will amount to about $1000 on average, some of which will lead to increased consumption, but hardly enough to create enough new demand to stimulate many businesses to hire more workers. It is at best a minor measure to ease some pain and raise votes for Democrats. Furthermore there is justified concern that reducing payments to Social Security is designed to legitimize the idea of future cuts to the program itself.
Other proposals include an extension of unemployment benefits and a number of schemes offering tax breaks to companies that hire the unemployed. Tax breaks that promise to induce businesses to do more hiring haven’t worked in the past three years, but pro-business initiatives included in Obama’s Jobs Act are actually worse than ineffective.
One such proposal is Bridge to Work, an adaptation to the Federal level of a program called Georgia Works. Bridge to Work proposes to induce recipients of unemployment benefit payments to take up temporary positions with private employers, in the hope that this will help them to be hired for real jobs. In this way, workers will be working for profiteering private enterprises in return for their unemployment benefit payments (and perhaps an additional minor stipend). What’s more, the government will be footing the bill for the employers, who will thus gain the benefit of free labor! Prominent Republicans like Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, despite their general opposition to the Jobs Act, have both spoken up in favor of this scheme.
Obama’s Bridge to Work could easily open the door to a mandatory program. It is reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s “welfare reform” program fifteen years ago, which imposed near-slave-labor rules that require recipients to work for below-minimum wages without normal workplace rights. Along with Bridge to Work, other changes are being proposed to further convert unemployment insurance benefits into taxpayer-funded gifts to private business.
Some Democrats have accurately pointed out the modest scale of Obama’s Jobs Act – that it promises to “save or create” far fewer jobs than are needed. But this complaint misses a more central point. Everyone knows there is a great deal of work that needs to be done – building and upgrading schools, hospitals and houses, improving and expanding infrastructure like bridges, railroads and urban mass transit, creating an efficient electrical grid and new energy sources, and much more. This calls for an immense program of public works, government projects aimed at providing the jobs and accomplishing the tasks that people and society need. Yet Obama’s plan relies heavily on private capitalists when it is already evident that the private sector is not interested in doing the job because there is no guarantee that such investments will be profitable. This task requires the government itself to undertake the huge centralized investments and planning that are needed. But the capitalists and their politicians resist such policies because they would encourage people to push for the government to further intervene in the economy in the interests of broad social needs.
Consider Obama’s proposal to initiate some public works projects on the basis of for-profit private enterprises by creating a “National Infrastructure Bank.” The initial funds for the bank would be provided by the government but would give priority to private companies. Private investors would be encouraged to make loans to this bank, loans which would be guaranteed by the government and which would get repaid through the collection of tolls and other surcharges to the public. In this way, the proposal points toward the privatization of basic government responsibilities for the building and maintenance of basic public infrastructure like roads. Even though it cedes much control over infrastructure projects to private capitalists and guarantees the capitalists’ profits even if the programs fail to make money, this conservative-friendly proposal, which in the past has had bipartisan support, is unlikely to pass since Republicans are determined to resist any new government programs and insist on “free market” policies at every turn.
While Obama’s American Jobs Act promises to create jobs, the Budget Control Act he already signed into law will destroy huge numbers of jobs by cutting the funding of government programs. Together with further cutbacks proposed to pay for the Jobs Act, this will certainly add up to a reduction in jobs overall.
Nearly 464,000 government employees have lost their jobs since 2008, and state and local governments are expected to cut at least 800,000 jobs in the next fiscal year. In the private sector, workers were hit harder and earlier by the “Great Recession,” with over 8 million jobs lost just up to February 2010. While there was a net gain of over a million private-sector jobs in the following year, this rise not only did not make up for the losses but was overwhelmingly in low wage categories, while most of the jobs lost were in the middle or higher wage categories. In fact, the great rise in the numbers of adults below the poverty level is not due just to the rise in unemployment; it is even more a result of the increased proportion of lower wage labor in the last few years.
That said, the unemployment figures themselves are staggering. In September, official figures were announced that underscore the rapidly deteriorating living standards of the working class. At the same time, the racial divide is getting more severe, with Blacks, Latinos and immigrants suffering disproportionately.
According to the official numbers (which notoriously underestimate real unemployment and under-employment), whites face about 8 percent unemployment, which means there are almost 10 million unemployed white workers. Unemployment among Blacks stands at about 16.7 percent, which translates to 3 million workers, while unemployment among Latinos is at 11.3 percent, or about 2.5 million. And while the percentages for people of color are dramatically higher, they would be worse if undocumented workers who have been made jobless were counted – or if the disproportionate number of Blacks and Latinos in prisons and of undocumented workers in detention were included.
Youth unemployment is even worse: both the overall figures and those for youth of color in particular are staggering. As one study put it, “Youth unemployment has always been higher than that of other workers, but the Great Recession of 2007–2009 and the subsequently tepid economic recovery dramatically increased unemployment among youth.” For white youth ages 16 to 19, the unemployment rate was 23 percent in July, but for Black teens it’s 39 percent. Latino and immigrant youth face similar jobless rates.
In adopting his new electioneering posture as a “warrior for the working class,” Obama declared: “I will veto any bill that changes benefits for those who rely on Medicare but does not raise serious revenues by asking the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to pay their fair share.” But as if he was in a rush to prove himself a fraud, later on the same day Obama proposed $320 billion more in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid to be implemented over the next ten years! Obama’s planned attacks on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid threaten to be devastating to the lives of working-class and poor people in this country.
Social Security in particular has long been referred to as “the third rail of American politics.” Because it is universally popular for offering at least a little financial support to American workers in their old age, commentators assumed that any politician that tried to touch Social Security would get a terrible shock. Unlike welfare payments to the unemployed and destitute, Social Security is paid for by contributions based on workers’ employment. As a result, it is not easily depicted as benefiting the undeserving – the sort of demagogy that made it easier for Bill Clinton to “end welfare as we know it” in 1996, In that case, Clinton could rely on anti-working class stereotypes of welfare recipients as “lazy.” Even more effectively, because the profound racism of American society has kept a disproportionate number of Black people unemployed and poor, Clinton could rely on racist stereotypes of the typical welfare recipient as being Black to undermine workers’ understanding that the modest welfare system represented a limited safety net for them. Instead, bigoted ideologues could depict welfare as a drain on the hard-earned tax dollars of “good” American (i.e. white) workers for the benefit of a (Black) underclass.
However, despite Social Security’s past immunity to attack, now both Republicans and Democrats are determined to find a way to cut it back. Last year Obama appointed the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson Commission to do the dirty work of proposing cuts. And this summer in the debt ceiling negotiations, he put Medicare and Social Security on the cutting table until the Republicans refused to agree to even small tax raises on the rich. Obama proposed lifting the eligibility age from 65 to 67 for Medicare, along with lowering the already negligible cost-of-living raises for Social Security. And then in August, he signed onto the Budget Act, which includes tampering with Medicare as one of the automatic “triggers.”
Overall, Obama has pushed the Democratic Party as a whole to give up its historic position of safeguarding Medicare and Social Security; any Democratic opposition to particular measures is no longer a matter of principle. For now, Obama has dropped the Medicare eligibility age issue and claims that he will not be promoting changes to Social Security in his proposals to the Super Committee. However, that the White House has been careful to add that just means that tackling Social Security is being put aside temporarily, awaiting another bipartisan effort on a “parallel track” to other moves to reduce the budget deficit.
If President Obama is committed to policies that make the working class pay for the capitalists’ crisis, what of the Democrats’ so-called “liberal” wing? The fact is that they have offered nothing more than rhetorical cover for Obama’s budget slashing.
Democratic Party “liberals” are grouped together in the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), which claims to stand for all sorts of policies in the interests of working people, like a living wage and affordable healthcare for all, union rights and civil rights enforcement. The policies the CPC promotes certainly don’t threaten the capitalist system. Indeed, in the liberals’ minds they are aimed at helping it: government policies that blunt capitalism’s harshest effects reduce the likelihood that working-class and oppressed people will rebel. The problem is that as the capitalist system has slid from recession toward depression, it can less and less afford such policies, and it demands ever more intense exploitation of the working class to survive. Over time the CPC liberals have had to give up on making any serious attempt to push for any of their favored policies.
In August, for example, a number of CPC members did vote against the final Budget Control Act – but only when it became clear that the bill was assured of passing without their support. Earlier, the entire CPC (including the majorities of the Black and Hispanic Caucuses) had voted for a plan put forward by Senate Democrats’ Majority Leader Harry Reid. This not only called for trillions of dollars in cuts but went along with the Republicans in not increasing taxes on businesses or the rich!
After the President’s phony job speech, the Progressive Caucus rushed to put out a positive statement. “Our country will finally make essential repairs to America’s roads and bridges. Wall Street and millionaires will start to pay their fair share.” This, of course, was a lie. However, the CPC’s desperate need to point to some policy aimed at addressing the unemployment crisis is understandable: for the first two years of the economic crisis, while Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress, they failed to deliver a single pro-working class reform and have just come out of almost year-long budget negotiations with nothing to show their constituents other than more pain.
The liberal Democrats see themselves as Obama’s left flank, acting as a loyal pressure group, but they don’t represent a force to be reckoned with. Thus, when the CPC released their own jobs proposal the week after Obama’s, it drew little attention. The proposal included a “Prioritize Emergency Job Creation Act,” something which Representative John Conyers, a senior CPC member, has been touting for years. But the CPC never attempts to mobilize public support for such measures by calling meetings or organizing protests and has not brought its proposal to the House floor for a vote, even when the Democrats had a clear majority. The CPC’s policy proposals are just window-dressing to hide the pro-capitalist nature of the Democratic Party.
Having failed to oppose Obama’s budget cuts, the CPC now claims to have drawn a line in the sand on cuts against Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. But listen closely, and one can discover that their defense of these programs is not based on principle so much as electoral considerations. That is, they generally argue that standing against cuts to those programs will be the best way to distinguish themselves from the Republicans in the 2012 electoral contest. As one liberal voice commented: “If President Obama supports cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits, that will be a defining moment of presidential weakness – and put all Democrats facing re-election in 2012 at risk.” But what of after the elections? Based on the liberals’ capitulation to Obama’s catastrophic budget cuts this year, who could trust the Democratic liberals to stand up for anything?
The truth is that when it comes to defending ourselves against the relentless attempts to make us pay for the economic crisis, working-class and poor people can only afford to trust our own ability to protest and fight back. Massive protests, occupations and strikes can stave off the capitalists’ attacks for a time. But workers and young people who see the need for such a fightback are immediately confronted with the problem that the only organizations that exist to which people may look to organize a fightback are controlled by corrupt bureaucracies that are just as tied to the Democratic Party leadership and its policies as are the worthless Congressional liberals.
The major organizations that claim to specifically represent workers and oppressed people also failed to tell the truth about what Obama is proposing and caved in to his terrible budget deal.
Decades of retreat in the face of the bosses’ mounting attacks have left this country’s unions greatly diminished in size and power, but they nonetheless remain the only genuine mass organizations that the working class has. The unions could lead broad numbers of workers into struggle if they took a strong stand against the injustice of making the working class pay for the capitalists’ crisis. However the leaders of the unions are not nearly as concerned with defending their members’ interests as they are with maintaining their own positions of power and privilege as brokers between the workers and bosses. They fear mobilizing workers in struggle and usually try to direct workers’ desire to fight back into the passive, disempowering channel of supporting electoral campaigns and lobbying elected politicians.
Most union leaders reacted to the outbreak of the economic crisis by redoubling their commitment to this losing strategy. They failed to protest the bailout of the banks and bankrupt corporations and did not even try to start a fightback against the wave of layoffs and other attacks on workers that followed. Recognizing that their electoral strategy has been discredited by the Democrats’ history of betrayals, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka gave a fiery speech in May as the Federal Budget negotiations ramped up, describing the budget proposals as a “despicable canvas of cruelty.” He threatened Democrats that unions would withdraw their support from them if they didn’t oppose the worst budget proposals:
It doesn’t matter if candidates and parties are controlling the wrecking ball or simply standing aside – the outcome is the same either way. If leaders aren’t blocking the wrecking ball and advancing working families’ interests, working people will not support them. This is where our focus will be – now, in 2012 and beyond.
Of course, Trumka’s threat to hold Democrats accountable proved to be hot air. AFL-CIO union officials denounced the Budget Control Act, but blamed the disaster on the Republicans. Then, after Obama’s phony jobs speech, Trumka led the rest of the union bureaucracy in seizing the first chance to put the budget betrayal behind them and make out as if Obama was on working people’s side, sending a mass e-mailing to union members that was positively euphoric:
Did you watch President Obama’s speech last night? He showed working people he is willing to go to the mat to create new jobs on a substantial scale. His speech should energize the nation to come together and get serious about jobs.
Obama’s speech was sprinkled with enough “progressive” phrases to give Trumka and other misleaders an excuse to cheer for him again. But Obama has already shown that the only people he will go to the mat for are the capitalists, and the union leaders have shown that they have every intention of allowing the Democrats to get away with more broken promises.
The leaders of the major “civil rights” organizations that claim to represent people of color are just as tied to the Democratic Party as the leaders of the unions. Organizations like the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) do engage in struggles for democratic rights. But their allegiance to capitalism even restrains the character of their fight for racial and ethnic equality.
The NAACP, for example, passed an emergency resolution on July 27 supporting the lifting of the debt ceiling, but managed to avoid saying anything about the Budget Control Act as a whole. Their resolution just called “for a serious and balanced solution to this debate,” echoing Obama’s tiresome appeals for dialogue. More recently, in response to Obama’s jobs proposal in September, NAACP President Ben Jealous came out for it enthusiastically, despite its fraudulent nature, and credits his group for having influenced Obama’s proposals.
NCLR President Janet Murguía also issued a statement that backhandedly supported the budget deal, echoing Obama’s own rhetoric:
Although this was not the deal we believe would be best for America, NCLR recognizes the importance of raising the debt ceiling given that the prospect of default was far worse. ... Going forward, we hope that lawmakers will put aside their partisan differences and develop a better, more balanced approach.
In September, Murguía also enthused over Obama’s fake jobs legislation, calling it a “welcome and necessary charge to Congress to tackle the unemployment crisis head on.”
Like the band that kept playing as the Titanic slowly sank, the bosses of the unions and the leaders of the most prominent Black and Latino organizations will continue reading from the Democratic Party’s script while the vast masses of people sink deeper into poverty. For as long as they control the key organizations and resources that working-class, poor and oppressed people can turn to in the hopes of organizing a struggle, they must be challenged to organize a fightback. At the same time, the most class-conscious workers and young people must come together to build an alternative political leadership that is armed with a scientific understanding of the economic crisis and how to solve it, as well as a program of struggle that can unite the masses in defense of their most immediate interests and show them the way forward in challenging the system that keeps them down. That means building a revolutionary party of the working class dedicated both to leading workers’ immediate struggles, and to advancing working-class consciousness toward a revolutionary uprising that overthrows the capitalists and puts the working class in power.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, capitalist ideologues have claimed that Marxist ideas have been disproven and that private enterprise and profit would offer the world’s people growing prosperity and expanding freedoms. In reality, the Stalinist states represented despotic, state-run versions of capitalism whose rulers covered their oppressive and exploitative rule with fake socialist window dressing – just as American imperialism covers its war-making with pretensions of spreading democracy. In fact, the economic collapse of the Soviet Union was sign of the rising crisis of global capitalism and foretold the financial crisis now gripping the West.
As we explained at length in our major article “Marxist Analysis of the Capitalist Crisis,” world capitalism is now on the edge of another financial crash into the economic ruin of another Great Depression. The capitalists can only hope to escape by dramatically intensifying their exploitation of the working class. At the same time, the economic crisis will drive intensified competition between the great economic powers, meaning more imperialist wars of conquest in the “Third World” and ultimately, the danger of another World War.
While capitalism has brought humanity to the edge of catastrophe, it has also created the potential to finally solve the basic problems of poverty, exploitation and oppression. Capitalism has brought into existence the science and technology capable of producing an abundance of everything people need. The problem is that for as long as the economy remains in the hands of capitalists and limited to the production of profits, the potential will be squandered.
We revolutionary Marxists do not hesitate to warn that there is no solution to the capitalist crisis short of working-class revolutions the world over. These would seize control of the economy from the capitalists so that the productive potential of the world economy can be to work to provide the goods and services people need. We also warn that the capitalists use their courts, cops and armed forces to defend their rule and have proved that they will not stop at any level of murderous violence to keep the masses down.
Revolutionary uprisings of the working class will have to arm themselves in self-defense and smash the capitalists’ state power, replacing it with a state based on the armed and organized masses of workers and poor people. Unlike the oppressive parodies of socialism represented by the Stalinist states, genuine workers’ states will see the great masses of people control their destinies through far more democratic means than capitalist democracy’s once-every-several-years choice of who rules. Elected councils of workers’ representatives who enjoy no privileges over other workers, and who can be replaced at any time, can first arise out of the need to organize the mass struggle against the system. After the revolution, they can form the basis for the workers’ new state power and government.
Establishing a planned economy directed toward the production of people’s needs rather than private profit, workers’ governments will be able to immediately address the masses’ most urgent needs. Over time, they will also be able to heal the damage to society and the environment that centuries of exploitation, oppression and war have wrought. By producing an abundance of everything people need, a workers’ government will be able to overcome the basis for society’s division into classes and see a truly human society of peace, cooperation and freedom replace it.
That, in brief, is our vision of the revolutionary socialist solution to the crisis faced by workers and oppressed people. However, that is something that the broad masses of workers will only become convinced of over time, on the basis of their own experience of fighting for solutions to their needs within the system, combined with the work of a revolutionary party leadership explaining the lessons of the struggle at every point. So we must turn our attention to the immediate need for the working class to begin a struggle to defend itself against the capitalist attacks.
Layoffs, foreclosures and budget cuts have already devastated the lives of millions of working-class families in this country. Obama’s next round of cutbacks will compound that misery. The economy’s further tilt toward Depression promises even worse.
A fightback against the ongoing attacks on working-class and poor people is desperately needed. The “Occupy Wall Street” protests have taken the initiative of targeting ground zero of the financial crisis and shown real courage in not backing down in the face of police brutality and unlawful arrests. In doing so they have encouraged a growing number of workers to conclude that now is the time for action. So far, however, the occupation protests have mostly mobilized young white people from better-off backgrounds in purely symbolic actions. We defend these protests and work to make them as strong and politically effective as possible. At the same time, we insist that they need to be transcended by mass struggles of the primary victims of the economic attacks: working-class and poor people. Because Black, Latino and immigrant workers are suffering the worst effects of the attacks and have the least interest tolerating capitalism’s continued rule, they will surely revive their great traditions of struggle and play a key role in showing other workers the way forward.
Working-class and young people cannot afford to wait for the ideal organizations and the best political leaders before beginning to struggle. Both inside and outside the unions and other organizations, they should press for those organizations to start building a movement of direct, mass action to stop the attacks. Protest marches, if seriously built, can start to unite workers, giving them a sense of their potential power. Even bigger, more decisive actions, like strikes and general strikes to win their demands, can then seem more realistic and possible. The occupation of public parks to protest can serve a useful precedent for far more meaningful occupations, such as when budget cuts trigger moves to close schools and hospitals or when bosses move to close factories.
Of course, the movement of struggle that workers need must have a program of demands and policies to address their needs, starting with the immediate situation they face today. Recently, protesting Verizon workers marching on Wall Street revived the slogan They Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out! that was first raised so effectively by the 2008 occupation of the Republic Windows factory in Chicago. Since then, we have used the slogan Billions for Banks – Layoffs and Cutbacks for Workers’ and Youth? Hell No! to express working people’s widespread sense of injustice and link it to essential immediate struggles. But in addition to broad slogans like this, the movement must also adopt specific demands that clearly express working-class and poor people’s most vital interests.
Beginning with basic defensive demands like Stop All the Budget Cuts! and Hands Off Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid!, momentum can build toward an offensive struggle for policies that could start to address workers’ needs, like the jobs crisis. Indeed, to unite the broadest movement possible, demands must be raised right now that are in the interests of all workers, employed and unemployed, organized and unorganized. Unemployment is the most urgent problem to address. We must argue for struggles to demand Jobs for All! And with private profiteering capitalists having proven that they won’t create jobs no matter how many tax breaks are given them, we must fight For a Massive Program of Public Works to Rebuild Schools, Hospitals and Infrastructure and Create Jobs for All!
Similarly, when the politicians claim that budget cuts are necessary because of debts owed to American banks and bondholders, the struggle against the cuts should demand that the government Repudiate the Debt! The working class can’t tolerate the government continuing to bail out the bankrupt banks; we need to fight for the repudiation of debts to Wall Street and other imperialist financiers, along with the cancellation of the personal debts of working people and the poor. To centralize the country’s resources and put them to use according to an economic plan focused on society’s needs and not profit, the banks and credit system must be nationalized.
By advocating that a growing working-class movement fight for the government to implement such policies, revolutionaries do not want to encourage illusions among workers that their problems can be solved within the limits of capitalism. On the contrary, revolutionaries fight for such demands in order to win victories while helping reform-minded workers test their hopes of solving their problems without a revolution and conclude that a workers’ revolution is necessary.
The rise of a working-class movement that fights for such policies will of course be doomed for as long as the organizations of the workers and oppressed remain tied to the capitalist Democratic Party and its disempowering electoralism. But breaking free of the Democrats’ grip and moving onto the road of class struggle does not mean that workers can afford to ignore political power and achieve their aims by direct action alone. On the contrary, workers need to build a new political leadership for themselves in every union and community organization, workplace and neighborhood, if they are to break the grip of the current reformist and pro-capitalist bureaucrats and most effectively mount a defense against the capitalist attacks. Since any serious defense against the capitalists’ anti-working class attacks represents a threat to the system, only a leadership dedicated to the system’s overthrow can be trusted not to hold back or sell out the struggle.
A political party of working-class leaders armed with the Marxist theory that can explain capitalism’s crisis, and a program for socialist revolution that can solve it, is needed at every step. We in the League for the Revolutionary Party are dedicated to building such a vanguard revolutionary party of the working class.
1. For more on the Tea Party, see our major article “Race, Class and the Crisis: A Marxist Analysis of the Tea Party Movement,” Proletarian Revolution No. 83 (Fall 2010).
2. See the Library of Congress’s “Bill Summary,” and the complete Budget Control Act.
3. Imara Jones, “The U.S. Doesn’t Have a Debt Problem. It Has a Crisis of Values.” Colorlines, August 3, 2011.
4. For more on Clinton’s moves to “end welfare as we know it,” see our article “Stop Workfare – Jobs for All!” in Proletarian Revolution No. 54 (Spring 1997).
5. For more on trends in rising unemployment and low-wage employment, see the National Employment Law Project’s report “A Year of Unbalanced Growth: Industries, Wages and the First 12 Months of Job Growth After the Great Recession”.
6. Desmond Brown, “Rethinking Youth Engagement Strategies,” Center for American Progress.
7. Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President on Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction,” September 19, 2011.
8. Robert Pear, “Obama Proposes $320 Billion in Medicare and Medicaid Cuts Over 10 Years,” New York Times, September 19, 2011, www.nytimes.com/2011/09/20/us/politics/medicare-and-medicaid-face-320-billion-in-cuts-over-10-years.html.
9. Russell Berman, “House Dems back Reid bill but warn about GOP-friendly changes,” The Hill, July 30, 2011.
10. Congressional Progressive Caucus, “Co-Chairs React to Obama Jobs Speech,” September 9, 2011.
11. Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, quoted in “Liberals warn Obama against cutting entitlement benefits,” CNN, July 7, 2011.
12. Richard Trumka, “Remarks by AFL-CIO President, National Press Club, Washington, DC,” May 20, 2011.
13. Richard Trumka, “Jobs,” E-mail to AFL-CIO members, September 9, 2011.
14. Janet Murguía, “Statement of NCLR President and CEO, On Debt Ceiling Compromise,” August 2, 2011.
15. Janet Murguía, “NCLR President and CEO Applauds President Obama for Jobs Plan,” September 9, 2011.
16. Walter Daum and Matthew Richardson, “Marxist Analysis of the Capitalist Crisis: Bankrupt System Drives Toward Depression,” Proletarian Revolution No. 82, Winter 2010.