The Clare Rose Strike and the Spirit of ’34: Victory at All Cost!

By Joe LaMonte

We would like to present a preview of the new Workers Bulletin published by the Socialist Labor Group in New York City, with a report of an ongoing strike. For over a month, Teamsters on Long Island have been striking against the local Budweiser distributor. This and other coverage will be published in the Bulletin soon, along with more information about the project.

We expected a slight decrease in wages, but not [by] 30%. We were forced to strike—we had no other options left.– Striking Clare Rose worker

Since April 23rd, Teamsters Local 812 have been striking against Clare Rose Beer Distribution Company, a family-owned business in Yaphank on Long Island, NY. The striking Teamsters say the Rose family hired out-of-state scab workers to replace them. The Rose family has also threatened to permanently hire the scabs, attempting to beat down organized labor. Should Rose and their cronies be successful, it could echo across the state of New York, especially in the wake of elections which barely elected James Hoffa, Jr.—whose respect among Teamsters has fallen off in the past few decades among the rank and file.

The local community is a tremendous source of support for the Teamsters, and their families have come out to walk the picket line. Local teachers have also been seen holding placards in solidarity with their fellow workers, and even small business owners are refusing orders of Anheuser-Busch products such as Bud and Bud Light. No strike is ever successful without critical mass behind it. During the 1997 UPS Strike, Teamsters were joined by other workers from different industries who came out to show their support, demonstrating during their lunch breaks. In the end, the UPS workers won all of their demands. That said, if it was not for the aircraft workers, pilots, teachers, among others, who knows whether or not they would have been victorious. The lesson is clear enough:  workers who struggle alongside their brothers and sisters from different industries greatly increase the likelihood of a strike’s victory.

But it takes more than working-class solidarity to win. Lately, bosses are feeling emboldened with the extremely pro-business presidency of Donald Trump. Like Obama, who continued the Clinton-era policies of outsourcing production and jobs overseas, Trump’s brand of anti-worker politics threatens to turn the entire country into Right to Work, weakening and ultimately destroying unions.

As a result, unions have been on the decline, but it must be remembered that this was not always the case. The Teamsters came to the fore as a powerful union during the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934. At the time, Minneapolis businesses were all open shop. The strike was among the largest and most intense in modern American labor history—it led to workers directly confronting not just the local police, but also the Minnesota National Guard. This cemented the tough reputation the Teamsters are known for, but it was thanks primarily to the fact that there were outspoken socialist militants who took the lead , sometimes in opposition to the vacillating bureaucrats. Union bureaucrats were unable to contain their socialist rank and file, and thankfully so. It would not be difficult to imagine what would have happened if these working-class militants bowed down to the overly cautious bureaucrats in the union leadership, or if they were concerned about going up against the police in fear of personal injury. Had any of these occurred, we would have a much weaker and submissive union—if one at all!

Strikes occur because workers are left with no other choices. In that sense, strikes are usually defensive. They are prompted when the boss begins to ratchet up the attack. And when workers push back, capitalists sometimes deploy the police as they did in Minneapolis in 1934. That’s because the job of the state, which includes the police, is to protect the bosses to make sure workers are always “put in their place”. Today, when living standards are continuing to decline for workers everywhere in every country, we need the spirit of 1934 to truly fight back and create not only a strong, but smart labor movement. Whether you voted for Trump or Clinton—or no one at all—we have to acknowledge the fact that that neither the Democrats nor Republicans will ever back an independent, militant socialist labor movement.

But what does it even mean to be a socialist militant in the workplace? It means that we see the possibility of victory in every strike, we take stock in our failures and victories, and we rely on other workers both in our industry and those outside of our industry for support. It means being able to clearly point out our potential allies and enemies. Strikes are necessary. If successful, they can check the advances of the boss. But a strike does not mean that some imaginary peace between the bosses and workers has been disrupted—not at all. A strike is a rude wake-up call which reminds us that there is an ongoing struggle between workers and the boss. A strike is a reminder of the class struggle, and that this struggle is not just about American workers, but conducted by corporations and politicians around the world against all workers. Just as union members are diverse in terms of race and gender, and so we call each other as brothers and sisters, so does this family extend into other countries in Mexico, China, Syria, and elsewhere—fighting the same fight under different political conditions. Socialist militants recognize that workers across the world have one common enemy—the boss—even if that boss is an American citizen and happens to live next door to us.

We need to start stepping up our game at union meetings, on the shop floor, and in our daily lives if we want to overcome our differences as workers to win meaningful gains. We need to understand how the capitalist system works as a whole if we want to know all of the tricks and traps it leaves for us in our path. A socialist perspective makes this clear. And this is why as workers we need to understand socialism and explain its necessity to our fellow workers. If we do this, we are better prepared even before the bosses launch their next offensive against us. We need socialism, not liberalism or conservatism, because we need a perspective and strategy strictly for and by the working class. If you’re a worker reading this and agree, we urge you to get in contact us, the Socialist Labor Group.

Is Socialism Not a Struggle for Power?

By Jack Rusk and Hart Eagleburger, reposted from the Left Voice website on May 8, 2017.

Attempts to separate revolutionary authority from socialism mangle both the aims and history of socialism.

Friedrich Engels once wrote, “A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is.” In making this statement, Engels was explaining that a proletarian revolution could only be successful if the workers subdued their class enemies in the process of taking power. Engels understood that socialism was an inherently antagonistic project that pitted workers against their exploiters, and to pretend otherwise would be either an unwitting blunder or a conscious evasion.

Many in the United States and around the world are now contemplating the need and desirability of socialism, but all too often in a form that apparently does not require the revolutionary exercise of power. In particular, social democrats attempt to preserve an air of bourgeois respectability by distancing themselves from any notion that a workers’ state — the dictatorship of the proletariat, as it has been known since Marx — is a possible, necessary, or desirable aim for the working class. But since capitalism is an authoritarian relationship between capitalists and workers, social democrats who can’t see the need to organize workers to break down and supplant the power of capitalists fundamentally misconstrue the goals of socialism.

Inverting Engels, social democrats warn that “authoritarianism” — a term which serves as a stalking horse for criticizing the workers’ state — should be avoided as a practice and condemned in principle by socialists. For instance, Joseph M. Schwartz, a national vice chair of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), does precisely this in Jacobin’s recent publication The ABCs of Socialism:

Socialism, of all stripes, was conflated with the crimes of the Soviet Union and doomed to the trash heap of bad ideas. Yet many socialists were consistent opponents of authoritarianism of both left and right varieties.

In order to buttress his argument, Schwartz cites the writings of Rosa Luxemburg, Victor Serge, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. However, what these famous revolutionaries actually wrote regarding “authoritarianism” (as we briefly saw above from Engels) contradicts Schwartz’s position. Rosa Luxemburg and Victor Serge strongly supported the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary dictatorship against the capitalists who attempted, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, to “strangle Bolshevism in its cradle.” The Bolsheviks found justification for their actions in the writings of Marx and Engels, who advocated banishing capitalism via a “forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.”

More generally, the spectre of the Russian Revolution and its subsequent civil war haunts social democracy, since that historical experience exposes the falsehood that capitalists will ever allow a peaceful transition to socialism. The vain aspiration to produce socialism by evolutionary means and peaceful elections is always derailed by the bourgeoisie through political manipulation, xenophobia, nationalism, and — when all their other means have failed — violent counterrevolution.

We can join Schwartz in a sincere opposition to capitalist “authoritarianism,” which aims to thwart the attempts of socialists to advance on the path to human liberation. However we strenuously object to his opposition to socialist “authoritarianism,” which is the only means by which the socialist dream could ever be realized [1]. Framing the struggles of socialists as ones of democracy counterposed to authoritarianism is a misunderstanding of the true stakes involved in a potential transition to socialism.

The Opposing Argument

Schwartz’s essay “Is Socialism Undemocratic?” appears both online and in ABCs of Socialism [2]. Schwartz argues that, in spite of the claims of the United States’ propaganda, socialists were not proponents of authoritarianism but, contrariwise, the most vigorous opponents of authoritarianism. To support this claim, he cites various textual evidence, including the Communist Manifesto, Rosa Luxemburg’s unfinished pamphlet on the Russian Revolution, and Victor Serge’s writings.

Schwartz also outlines two categories of historical events and phenomena, one of authoritarianism and the other of socialist struggle. In the first bucket, he drops the USSR, Latin American dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s, and presently existing putatively socialist states (Cuba, Vietnam, etc.). In the later bucket he puts the uprisings against the USSR in Eastern Europe (East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, etc.), the struggles of the First and Second Internationals in Europe, and the governments of Salvador Allende in Chile and Michael Manley in Jamaica. Schwartz writes, “While criticizing capitalism as antidemocratic, democratic socialists consistently opposed authoritarian governments that claimed to be socialist [3].”

This is certainly not the place to delve into the complicated and worthy topic of the nature of any of the regimes that Schwartz mentions to interrogate if they were/are actually socialist, an issue about which much has been written. The pertinent question here is if Schwartz is correct that being authoritarian necessarily disqualifies a government from legitimately claiming the socialist mantle.

Luxemburg vs Schwartz

It is unfortunate for Schwartz’s argument that he cites Rosa Luxemburg’s pamphlet on the Russian Revolution, since it contains many points that weigh against his position — and was written explicitly to rebut such positions. Critics of the Russian Revolution often mention this work to support their portrait of the Bolshevik regime as ill-conceived and immoral. In fact, Luxemburg wrote the pamphlet in support of the Bolsheviks — who, nobody will deny, instituted an authoritarian regime — and in reading it one is struck by the volume and tenor of her praise for the new socialist government. There is no doubt she raises criticisms of the Bolsheviks, but these are qualified by her insistence that “[i]t would be demanding something superhuman from Lenin and his comrades if we should expect of them that under such circumstances they should conjure forth the finest democracy, the most exemplary dictatorship of the proletariat and a flourishing socialist economy.”

Luxemburg speaks of a “basic error” that some make in counterposing “dictatorship to democracy.” Undoubtedly, this is the precise error that Schwartz makes, the same error which Kautsky (in his renegade phase) made before him. Continuing, Luxemburg argues in favor of both democracy and dictatorship: “Yes, dictatorship! But this dictatorship consists in the manner of applying democracy, not in its elimination, but in energetic, resolute attacks upon the well-entrenched rights and economic relationships of bourgeois society, without which a socialist transformation cannot be accomplished.” Thus we see that Luxemburg did not see a fundamental contradiction between “authoritarianism” and socialism.

Indeed, at times Luxemburg is fulsome in her praise of the Bolsheviks. In her pamphlet’s first chapter, she writes, “Whatever a party could offer of courage, revolutionary far-sightedness and consistency in an historic hour, Lenin, Trotsky and all the other comrades have given in good measure. All the revolutionary honor and capacity which western Social-Democracy lacked was represented by the Bolsheviks. Their October uprising was not only the actual salvation of the Russian Revolution; it was also the salvation of the honor of international socialism.” And in the final chapter she trumpets, “Lenin and Trotsky and their friends were the first, those who went ahead as an example to the proletariat of the world; they are still the only ones up to now who can cry with Hutten: ‘I have dared!’” These are not the words of someone who seeks to distance herself from the Bolshevik regime [4].

Ironically, it is the Second International ‘democratic’ socialists that Schwartz says he admires who were responsible for the murder of Luxemburg. No doubt this was an authoritarian action, but a most contemptible one, and a crime that sadly silenced one of the towering revolutionaries of the time. This is one of the many leaks that spring in Schwartz’s account of noble socialist democrats versus sinister socialist authoritarians.

Whatever her critiques of the Bolsheviks, as the German Revolution unfolded Luxemburg came to realize that a more organized party would be needed to lead the armed workers to a ‘socialist dictatorship’: “The crisis had a dual nature. The contradiction between the powerful, decisive, aggressive offensive of the Berlin masses on the one hand and the indecisive, half-hearted vacillation of the Berlin leadership on the other is the mark of this latest episode. The leadership failed. But a new leadership can and must be created by the masses and from the masses [5].” The revolution needed more authority to save her from the social democrats who, by killing her to protect German democracy, nurtured the most brutal authoritarianism of the century.

Serge vs Schwartz

Schwartz’s marshalling of Victor Serge is also counterproductive for his argument, since Serge was at one time among the most talented propagandists for the Bolshevik cause. In Year One of the Russian Revolution, Serge is willing to go even further than Luxemburg in defending the Bolsheviks.

One of the most controversial actions of the Bolsheviks was suppressing their enemies through ‘terror,’ or politically directed violence. Luxemburg, for one, criticized the Bolsheviks for their use of terror in her pamphlet. Serge, on the other hand, noting that “[t]here has never been… a revolution without terror,” provides a justification for the Bolsheviks’ actions: “Red terror… is not only a necessary and decisive weapon in the class war but also a terrible instrument for the inner purification of the proletarian dictatorship itself.” Serge calls on workers around the world to “defend the first Workers’ Republic” which he thinks is strengthened by means of these tactics.

In fact, at times Serge criticizes the Bolsheviks for being excessively lenient towards their enemies. One incident that he cites is the armed Bolshevik workers in Moscow allowing counter-revolutionary combattants to walk away after being captured, some even with their weapons: “The fighters of the counter-revolution, butchers of the Kremlin, who in victory would have shown no quarter whatever to the Reds – we have seen proof – went free. Foolish clemency! These very Junkers, these officers, these students, these socialists of counter-revolution, dispersed them-selves throughout the length and breadth of Russia, and there organized the civil war.”

Serge justified the Bolsheviks being absolutely ruthless during the Russian Civil War, noting that defeat in struggle meant the crushing of the proletariat, just as defeat in the Finnish Civil War led to the massacre of the revolutionary socialist workers. After discussing the White terror in Finland, Serge states, “The total extermination of all the advanced and conscious elements of the proletariat is, in short, the rational objective of the White terror. In this sense, a vanquished revolution – regardless of its tendency – will always cost the proletariat far more than a victorious revolution, no matter what sacrifices and rigours the latter may demand.” Serge is certainly not one to shy away from advocacy of authoritarian measures in the service of socialism!

In fairness, in some of Serge’s later writings he did not take such an unequivocal position towards the Bolsheviks (Schwartz does not mention which works of Serge he is drawing upon for inspiration). Nevertheless, even in his later years, after his persecution under Stalin’s reign, he would oppose the efforts of those who would invoke authoritarianism to crudely conflate quite different socialist (and non-socialist) legacies. In his essay “Thirty Years After the Russian Revolution,” [6] Serge writes: “What a poor excuse for logic, which – pointing accusingly at the dark spectacle of Stalinist Russia—attempts to prove the failure of Bolshevism and therefore of Marxism and even socialism.” And in Serge’s memoirs, he issues the verdict: “Bolshevism was, in my eyes, tremendously and visibly right. It marked a new point of departure in history [7].”

Marx and Engels vs Schwartz

As we have argued, the methods of dictatorship should not be abandoned by socialists. Rosa Luxemburg and Victor Serge certainly shared this opinion with regard to the Bolsheviks. Schwartz stumbles when naming these individuals in an attempt to sustain his own argument, since their writings contradict his claim. But even without them, it is mysterious what coherence a position of rejecting “authoritarianism” per se could have. A government, for instance, that refused to use coercion in one way or another is nigh unthinkable.

Schwartz is not the first to commit the error of disparaging “authoritarianism” per se, nor, we fear, will he be the last. Indeed, in a previous article we analyzed the DSA Left Caucus (LC) platform which said it was opposed to authoritarianism. Of course, this begs the question: which authoritarianism is the LC opposed to? The authoritarianism of North Korea? Of Cuba? Of the United States? Of Iran? Of the Bolsheviks? Clearly, the authoritarianism label often confuses more than it enlightens, as it conflates starkly different types of regimes.

Furthermore, Schwartz’s attempt to distance socialism from authoritarian methods obscures the real history and aims of socialism. He writes that the Communist Manifesto “ends with a clarion call for workers to win the battle for democracy against aristocratic and reactionary forces.” This is a strange, or at best incomplete, interpretation of the Manifesto’s call to “raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy,” which, incidentally, occurs in the middle of the Manifesto, not the end [8]. What Marx and Engels are referring to here, as shown by their urging of the working class to displace the “ruling class,” is the working class’ taming of not only the aristocracy but the bourgeoisie. What follows that passage is consideration of methods by which the proletariat can make “despotic inroads on the rights of property.”

Moreover, Engels, in “On Authority,” makes the case that the revolutionary socialist project and authoritarianism are fundamentally inseparable: “A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists.” These were the insights of revolutionaries who actually came close to seizing power from the capitalists, and sometimes succeeded. It may be less jarring to buy into peaceful, democratic socialism, but is there anything about our times to suggest that socialism will not meet intense opposition, and should we not be ready for it?

In sum, a rejection of authoritarian methods necessarily implies a repudiation of any kind of vision of socialist revolution or rule. This might be palatable to democratic socialists, who are at pains to shore up their credibility with liberals and conservatives by unconvincingly distancing themselves from “authoritarianism.” However, this is not the socialism of Rosa Luxemburg and Victor Serge, and most certainly not the socialism of Marx and Engels.

Lessons from the Past

To assert authoritarian methods are vital mechanisms for socialists in power is not to condone all repressive measures that socialists have taken throughout history, some of which have been indefensible, inhumane, and, indeed, anti-socialist. However, it is an admission that coercive measures are among the tools socialists will need to take over capitalist property and organize a workers’ state. It is also a call to study history and examine which tactics were useful and justified, and which were not, and which have applicability to the present situation. Truly, the devil is in the details.

We can illustrate the necessity of using authoritarian measures for a socialist project by reference to the experience of the Russian Revolution. Contrary to the “liberal myth” of a bloodless initial phase of the revolution, the events that overthrew Czar Nicholas II were quite violent indeed. Soldiers chucked police snipers shooting protesters from rooftops and killed senior officers who ordered them to suppress the demonstrations [9]. Before the Bolsheviks took power, they, along with other revolutionaries, organized a defense of Petrograd to prevent the counterrevolutionary general Kornilov from subduing the revolution [10]. Once in power, the Bolsheviks took many authoritarian actions to defend the revolution, including sending the Cheka to foil the coup attempts of the British envoy Lockhart, monarchists in various locations, and even the faction of Left Social Revolutionaries who wanted to reopen the war with Germany [11]. Perhaps the most authoritarian episode of all was the routing of the White forces through the five years of the Russian Civil War [12]. Even at the time, social democrats objected, but had the Bolsheviks not carried out these measures, the Russian Empire would have been ruled by something akin to a fascist dictatorship based on mass extermination of leftists and pogroms against Jews.

But we can also illustrate the necessity of pursuing revolutionary strategies by reference to historical episodes when socialists chose to do the opposite — that is, follow a path more palatable to social democrats. These failures provide an object lesson in why class compromise is a prescription for defeat. In 1927, pickets of Chinese workers in Shanghai put down their arms rather than fight for state power against the nationalists of Chiang Kai-Shek [13]. That choice, made at Stalin’s behest, did not save them from more than twenty years of civil war and imperialist depredation. How much better it would have been had, they, and the workers of the general strikes of 1923 in Germany and 1926 in Britain, had been properly organized to seize power [14]. The same can be said more recently for the workers of Indonesia, Chile, Iran, Egypt, and Syria. Democratic socialism will not save us from these choices and their consequences.

For a Workers’ State

A workers’ state worthy of the name is dictatorship of the working class which is run democratically by and for the workers. The Bolsheviks saw councils or soviets as a new kind of state, through which workers could rule, but which could succeed only if an international socialist revolution gave Russia the means to develop and continue the transition toward socialism. But the actual circumstances of the civil war and blockade against revolutionary Russia were disastrous. As Lars Lih discovered in Trotsky’s speeches from 1920, they knew that “Our situation is in the highest degree tragic [15].” The workers’ state served to carry out the fight against the capitalists, but it was not socialism and it did not do any good for the workers in the Soviet Union or the wider world when under Stalin it began to repress the oppositionists in the Party and workers who tried to preserve a measure of control in their workplaces.

Trotsky and others attempted, without much success, to restore democracy in the party and in the soviets, and that must be our starting point in defining how the dictatorship of the proletariat should function in the time it takes to prepare for the world revolution. Stalinism was not simply repressive, but destroyed the Communist Party’s ability to use democratic debate and decision making as a means of developing good revolutionary strategy. The historical circumstances of a revolution will always be extremely difficult both for human needs and for intelligent decision making, which means that the authority of a workers’ state in solving problems is absolutely indispensable – but a workers’ state that handles its decisions democratically and recognizes mistakes, not a Stalinist regime that falsely calls its mistakes ‘socialism.’

Many shrink from addressing the question of the workers’ state, since it means taking responsibility for the very difficult and antagonistic actions that will have to be carried out in the course of the world revolution. The question is all the more unsettling in the context of socialism, as some of the most monstrous acts in history have admittedly been committed under red flags, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by socialism’s ideological opponents. Most of the ‘Communist’ Parties that have come to power have no right to call themselves socialist, but even so, to disavow the authoritarianism inherent in the struggles of, for instance, Chinese peasants against their imperialist, nationalist and landlord oppressors, or of the Vietnamese against the U.S. war machine, or the Bolsheviks against the counterrevolution, is to fundamentally misjudge what is needed to defeat systematically organized authoritarian repression by capitalists.

The unfortunate fact is that a political project that seeks to expropriate the owners of property has enemies — class enemies, to be precise. Therefore socialism is necessarily confrontational, and it is only prudent to think through questions of how to deal with the organized efforts of the workers’ adversaries. Socialists should squarely face issues of class dictatorship with the courage that a movement for total human emancipation demands.

Notes:

[1] A note on terms: the economic systems often called ‘socialism’ or ‘communism,’ from Stalin’s regime onward, bear almost no resemblance to what Marx or even Lenin would describe as socialism, a society without classes. Surely they were all authoritarian, but the problem was not that the state used authority, but against whom it was used — the workers, peasants, and many sincere revolutionaries, rather than capitalists. In this sense, these false ‘socialisms’ were authoritarian states of the right, not the left. The closest humanity has come to socialism has been the first stages of the transition, under the dictatorship of the proletariat, as it was known in Russia, where quite a lot of authority was needed to organize the economy and suppress capitalist tendencies.

[2] In ABCs of Socialism Schwartz’s essay appears under the title “Doesn’t socialism always end up in dictatorship?”

[3] A real inadequacy of all these socialists esteemed by Schwartz, unfortunately, is that they did not organize the workers to have quite enough authoritarian power to smash reactionary elements in their local militaries and achieve state power! That would mean replacing the existing state, not working through it as Allende, Manley and the Scandinavian social democrats have done.

[4] As an aside, Luxemburg overstates the degree to which democracy had disappeared from Russia after the ascension of the Bolsheviks to power. As historian Sheila Fitzpatrick notes, the Bolsheviks developed their own version of parliamentary politics within the party, with well-organized factions with a mass base “playing the role of political parties in a multi-party system.” (Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, 3rd Edition, p.100) Heated debates raged on a variety of issues, and were won by means of persuasion, not diktat (for instance, Lenin winning over the party on the issue of Brest-Litovsk). The degree of dissent available to those outside the party rose and fell with the fortunes of the Civil War. It was only after Luxemburg’s death that intraparty democracy ebbed, in 1921 with the ban on factions and in 1922 with Stalin’s rise to General Secretary. This is also to say nothing of the democracy within the soviets prior to that point.

[5] For background on Luxemburg’s changing politics in her last days, see Pierre Broué, The German Revolution 1917-1923, Chapter 12, “The Uprising of January 1919.”

[6] Sadly, “Thirty Years After the Russian Revolution” is not available online but one can find it in the Haymarket Books edition of Year One of the Russian Revolution, among other places.

[7] Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary, p.133

[8] The actual end of the Manifesto is still less a call for liberal, anti-authoritarian democracy: “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions . Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution . The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” Emphasis added, though it hardly need be.

[9] See Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy, Chapter 8, “Glorious February”; quote is from p.321.

[10] See Alexander Rabinowitch, The Bolsheviks Come to Power: The Revolution of 1917 in Petrograd, which contains a detailed discussion of the Kornilov Affair and the Bolshevik insurrection.

[11] See Alexander Rabinowitch, The Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd, which serves as an academic compliment to Serge’s more polemical (and excellent) Year One of the Russian Revolution.

[12] See Bruce Lincoln, Red Victory: A History of the Russian Civil War and also William Henry Chamberlin, The Russian Revolution, especially volume II.

[13] See Harold Isaacs, The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution

[14] See Isaac Deutscher, Stalin: A Political Biography, Chapter 10, “Foreign Policy and Comintern I, 1923-33.”

[15] See Lars Lih, “‘Our Position is in the Highest Degree Tragic:’ Bolshevik ‘Euphoria’ in 1920.” in History and Revolution: Refuting Revisionism. Haynes and Wolfreys, eds.

International Workers Day—Open the Borders!

Second Joint Statement of Mid-Atlantic Revolutionary Socialists and Socialist Workers Alliance of Guyana, also distributed May 1, 2017.

On this May Day, we are seeing the end of the recovery of capitalist world power and the fastest uptick in mass struggles toward socialist revolution in many decades.  A long term general strike in France’s colony of Guiana has been followed by a decisive, continuing general strike next door in Brazil. In both cases the working masses were fighting austerity attacks on their standards of living.  Workers have blocked roads and airports, shut down the subway system, and fought against state repression.  In Europe, a recent poll showed that a majority of young people would join an uprising against the capitalist state—and we wait to see where this will first happen.  Capitalism will be brought down when the international working class follows the road of the rising workers of the global South.  US workers must join the struggle of the most oppressed in the US, who are steadfastly fighting against Trump’s attacks on workers, immigrants, refugees, LGBTQ people, women, and people of color.

A revolution rests on a foundation of strengthened working class organizations, and it takes a revolutionary socialist party to lead the working class  successfully in the fight against capitalism.  Putting workers— immigrants, women, Black and Brown, LGBT—in a position of power to defend themselves is a goal best served by independent working class organizations and revolutionary socialist politics.

In the United States, more people support socialism than at any time in the recent past, with many supporting candidates who say they are socialists, or organizations calling themselves socialist.  But to successfully organize a general strike or a revolution, the working class needs strong unions and movements that do not sell themselves out to the capitalists, especially the Democratic Party.  So we need a socialist party to coordinate the fight against the capitalists, and we need it to be revolutionary so it will not take the temptation of joining the capitalists in power.

Right now, capitalism is suffering from self-inflicted wounds–a crisis of profitability–and since we don’t have a revolutionary socialist movement as yet, many workers are turning to different kinds of populism.  ‘Democratic Socialists’ like Bernie Sanders claim to offer a kind of capitalism that protects the interests of US workers, never mind the rest, and never mind that US capitalists will not allow it to happen.  And right-wing populists like Trump direct resentment against immigrants and the oppressed.

Socialism starts with active social movements, including actions around stopping deportation raids, organizing protests against politicians who allow them to happen, defending sanctuary locations—and much more beyond that.  We support equal rights for all immigrants, and an amnesty from all charges, but the fundamental socialist perspective is to open the borders and ultimately end the division of the world into nation-states.  If workers can cross borders or create an opportunity to break down walls, we absolutely support them—someday soon, they may need to on a large scale.

In today’s marches, labor unions are participating, but their bureaucratic leaders have barely mobilized and insisted on a separate location from the immigrants’ rights marchers.  This is because labor bureaucrats don’t follow a strategy of unifying the working class, but look out for their own interests as sidekicks to the Democratic Party.  Obama deported more people than any prior president, and the Democrats intend to continue that policy whenever they return to power.  For a labor movement that includes immigrants and actively organizes the unorganized, we will have to take down the labor bureaucrats and reorganize the unions on a socialist basis.

As the Communist Manifesto says, the workers of the world have no country.  But world capitalism only makes its profits by exploitation– and in some countries, exploitation of workers is deeper than in others.  Imperialism is the system by which countries like the United States keep other countries oppressed, so that this deep exploitation can continue. 

Globalization has meant that capital and investments can move freely almost anywhere in the world.  But workers cannot move freely because of borders and immigration controls.  That means most of the world’s working class has to face lower wages in the countries oppressed by imperialism.

Sometimes, imperialism decides it is best to destroy a country to make an example.  This has happened to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now Syria.  When Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad kills 500,000 Syrians and makes 10 million of them refugees, US and Russian imperialism are fully responsible because of their role in trying to make sure the Syrian Revolution fails—just as they are responsible for those refugees looking to Europe and other countries for good paying work.  Imperialism creates the conditions in which workers need to move for work, even facing hardship, violence, exploitation, separation and state repression.  To side with refugees and immigrants means to oppose Assad, the capitalists of the global South, and the imperialists on which they all rely to hold power.

Some workers in the imperialist countries, and many union officials, support immigration restrictions.  What this means is to take advantage of the lower level of exploitation, at the expense of all the workers who are not able to get that advantage.  But deeper exploitation of others only eventually leads to deeper exploitation everywhere, and the working class needs to unite internationally to fight against what capitalism is bringing them.

Capitalism has been stagnating for more than 40 years, and only continues to grow based on exploitation in places like China and India.  A severe economic crisis and depression is almost certain to happen in the next few years.  Capitalism is also literally burning up the environment’s ability to support us, and no capitalist government has the power to stop them.  

Only a socialist revolution throughout the world can reengineer the economy for sustainable use of resources and a better quality of life.  Automation will soon make it possible to live comfortably with much, much less time working—do we want to see those benefits go to a few capitalist lords protected by armed guards, or the world’s population and environment?

We do not have time to be half-way socialists or let history take its course.  A socialist revolution, or else continued degradation and repression, with irreparable harm to the world.  Join the socialist movement and build a revolutionary party!

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May Day 2017 — Workers’ Struggle Has No Borders!

Joint Statement of the Socialist Workers Alliance of Guyana & Mid-Atlantic Revolutionary Socialists – Distributed at the marches, May 1, 2017.

May Day 2017 has arrived in the midst of a world in a capitalist economic crisis which the capitalist ruling class seeks to solve by squeezing more and more out of the working and oppressed masses. The domestic programs of job cuts, immigration restrictions, super-exploitative wages and police repression are combined with international program of war in places like Yemen and Syria to extinguish the last sources of the Arab spring. Donald Trump’s election was the crowning achievement of a resurgence of right-wing populism which has spread across the developed world. The working people of the world have not taken these attacks sitting down and have fought back with general strikes as in French Guiana and Brazil.

May 1st, International Workers Day, provides working people across the world with an unprecedented opportunity to show solidarity with each other’s struggles. The capitalist oppression of some nations, imperialism, has two main features, which are more and more bringing workers in the developed and developing worlds into close contact. First imperialism seeks to export production abroad to cheaper sources of labor and secondly imperialism under-develops countries to the point that their citizens seek a better life in the developed countries. By introducing draconian legislation limiting the rights of these immigrants, these developed countries are able to pay immigrant workers a pittance.

As immigrants and refugees seek a better and safer life in countries like America, it is the duty of every revolutionary socialist to fight against all restrictions against refugees and immigrants such as Trump’s ban and wall. It is also important to fight for equal rights for all immigrants. Karl Marx once famously remarked that in America “labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the Black skin it is branded.” We can take this lesson about the inability of the white working class to achieve freedom while Blacks remain enslaved and update it to the situation today with immigrant workers. Labor cannot emancipate itself if immigrant workers are left to struggle alone because they lack citizenship rights.

It is against this backdrop that the Mid-Atlantic Revolutionary Socialists and the Socialist Workers Alliance issue a joint statement of solidarity on International Workers Day. Guyana is the third largest source of immigrants to New York City and neighborhoods such as Little Guyana and Flatbush where Guyanese reside are in fear of raids and deportations. The struggle of NYC’s workforce against layoffs and for a living wage are mirrored by struggles of Guyana’s sugar workers who face the loss of an entire way of life as the government goes about privatizing the sugar industry.

Guyana Sugar Workers Protesting Estate Closure (pictured)

The capitalist world seeks to divide working people in every way possible so that working people see each other as enemies. This division functions to obscure the fact that the working people of the world share the same enemy in the capitalist ruling class and their governments. By fighting for immigrant and refugee rights, working people are actively combating this division. Also, immigrants bring with them their own traditions of struggle and organization from which other workers can learn.

While we fight against the national division of working people, it is important for socialists to champion the cause of those oppressed based on their race, gender, gender identity and religion. Defending women, people of color, LGBTQ folk and Muslims from the onslaught of the Trump administration remains a priority. Tactics used to target immigrants will inevitable be turned against citizens as well. The NYPD’s gang raids on public housing perfectly mirrors the raids carried out by I.C.E. against undocumented immigrants. It is only natural that immigrants and people of color should unify behind a demand to Stop the Raids!

NYC Immigrant Workers Strike at Tom Cat Bakery (pictured)

The ruling classes of the world are united in their opposition to the interests of the working people. As president Trump was elected and went about carrying out his campaign promises to deport immigrants, ban Muslims and enforce “Law & Order” amongst “the Blacks,” the rulers of other countries have not mouthed any opposition. Guyana’s president Granger has yet to speak out against the immigration raids in Guyanese communities in NYC, or against Trump’s proposed tax on remittances which make up approximately 20% of Guyana’s GDP. In fact Granger stated that he foresees no change in relationship between the USA and Guyana as a result of Trump’s election.

The masses of the world need to take a page out of the book of the ruling class and stick by each other. When Trump instigates racism against the Mexican people, the American working class needs to respond with mass militant protests to show that Mexican masses share more in common with them than the American workers do with the likes of Trump or the Democrats.

To achieve this kind of unity, it is necessary for working people to build a political party which can represent their interests. The supporters of MARS and SWAG believe that this needs to be a revolutionary socialist party. This May Day we march with others outraged by the economic misery, social oppression and imperialist wars of the capitalist world and loudly proclaim that the only solution to these problems is socialist revolution.

Working people around the world need to recognize that we are the ones who run society and when we withhold our labor then society comes to a stand still. Strikes are not just a way to defend our economic interests but a powerful way to show solidarity with those oppressed people under the gun of the state. When whole cities or countries of working people go on strike, these events pose the question of which class runs society. While general strikes pose the question of power, the really challenge lies in answering the question. How do we empower the working class to take control of society?

By fighting for leadership in the organizations of the workers and oppressed, socialists aim to show that gains won under capitalism can only be kept by overthrowing capitalism because if the system remains intact, it’s continual drive for profits will inevitably lead to increased exploitation and oppression. We urge all those who have hit the streets on this May Day to reach out to us to assist in the crucial task of building the revolutionary part of the working class!

On the Protests in the United States: Notes to our Statement on Syria

It must be said that the response to Trump’s attack on Syria within the US has been totally inadequate, primarily because the Democratic Party completely supported this new turn in US imperialism. The US anti-war movement should have been just as vocal throughout the past six years in condemning Assad and support for his regime by the Russian and US imperialists, but its failure to mobilize is nonetheless a further setback. While the Democrats and their supporters deserve blame, the leftists supporting Assad share the blame for preventing protests from becoming genuinely internationalist, as do the other leftists who have failed to build a movement that could overwhelm the megaphones of the Assadists.

Of course, it is unsurprising that the Democratic Party as a whole has endorsed Trump’s attacks in Syria. Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren have specifically endorsed the strikes, and the only criticism has been on the basis that the attacks have not given Congress a formal opportunity to give its approval. These actions by the Democratic Party have helped Trump recover politically from self-inflicted wounds and show their pretense of a ‘resistance’ to be a lie. Furthermore, the approval of Trump’s war policy by Democrats and liberals in the media has sabotaged resistance to Trump and the formation of a genuine anti-war movement.

The Democratic Socialists of America, a wing of the Democratic Party, have correctly criticized the attacks, though not for the best reasons (citing domestic and international law). With 20,000 paper members, they turned up no organized presence at protests Friday in New York, and very few individual members. The International Socialist Organization and Socialist Alternative, the two largest groups of their kind in the US, have adopted decent positions on Syria. However, they have done nothing to organize immediate opposition to the attacks, and little to organize an antiwar movement that opposes Russian imperialism and defends the Syrian revolution. They have other priorities. This can only be explained by the fact that an antiwar movement now must challenge the Democratic Party, and compel left-liberals to face difficult decisions about the true nature of that party and what must be done with it.

The consequence of this failure is that the antiwar movement remains dominated by front groups for Stalinists like the Workers World Party (International Action Center / Peoples Power Assemblies), the Party of Socialism and Liberation (ANSWER Coalition), and the Revolutionary Communist Party (World Can’t Wait / Refuse Fascism), which defend Assad and greatly undermine both the effectiveness of the antiwar movement, and its value in solidarity with Syrians. In the past six years, the antiwar movement has been a hollow shell because of organizers’ refusal to confront US responsibility for Assad’s carnage in Syria, and the failure of these organizations to recognize US complicity in Assad’s crimes, as well as Russia’s, should not be forgotten as we deal with foreseeable US aggression against Syria, Iran and North Korea.

Even so, the fact that antiwar demonstrations are largely Assadist and difficult to attend could be easily remedied by  the DSA, ISO or SAlt, which have significant responsibility to  provide an alternative organizational pole, as the organizations best able to fulfill this task. We stand ready to join a United Front opposing all imperialist aggressions in Syria, and call for a leadership that will actually analyze and anticipate the actions of imperialists across the region in the coming years, and extend not only solidarity but useful assistance and advice to the revolutionaries.  Anti-war and anti-imperialist organizing should not, ultimately, be left to these organizations, but a new international revolutionary socialist party, which any worker can identify.

For the Syrian Revolution: Against American & Russian Imperialism

The Mid-Atlantic Revolutionary Socialists condemns any and all attacks by the American imperialists, Russian imperialists, and the Assad regime and its allies. Victory for the Revolutionaries, and for the Revolution in Syria and throughout the Middle East!

For six years the people of Syria have been fighting for their lives. They have broadcast their struggle against a much-better equipped regime and its Russian imperialist and Iranian backers, in addition to the reactionary Islamist groups such as the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra. Their struggle remains, for all intents and purposes, invisible to many groups on the left which still apply a very crude anti-imperialist framework.

On April 6th, 2017 United States President Donald Trump ordered the launch of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from U.S. warships based in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. This was in response to the regime’s use of sarin gas, a banned nerve agent, against Syrians in Idlib earlier in the week. Idlib is the current strategic province in the regime’s cross hairs, having won a costly victory last November in Aleppo. Trump’s assault struck the military airbase from which the deadly nerve agent was loaded into aircraft and dropped unto its intended civilian target. The US warned the Russians of the strike in advance, and the Russians likely informed Assad’s forces as well.  The attack was plainly intended to send a signal without actually harming Assad’s ability to kill Syrians with conventional weapons. Twenty-four hours later, the regime continued operations from the very same air base.

Despite the fact that the United States has launched almost nine thousand strikes in Syria for more than two years, it is precisely because it was an Assad regime military installation which explains why we are now hearing the outrage of the pro-Assad left. Anti-war protests are beginning to swell across the United States, but there is little to suggest that these strikes will lead to war. The regime response has been somewhat lukewarm, in no speech did Assad or his cronies suggest that this was an act of war. The Russian response was one of disappointment, and they’ve positioned themselves to make whatever objections are convenient should the US step up these kinds of attacks.

Such a coordinated action makes sense when one considers the present domestic chaos emanating from the White House. For all of his Twitter bravado, Trump struggles to gain the confidence of the neocon wing of the Republican Party and has very little support from the Democrats. Such an attack is a tactical move to shore up the requisite support for his administration as well as to dispel rumors of any associations with Moscow. In this way, it was the perfect move to bring John McCain and Marco Rubio on board, and defuse hawkish Democrats. While US troops currently operate in Syria assisting US proxies in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), it is unlikely that the Marines or Special Forces will engage in direct conflict with Russian, Iranian, or regime forces. However, increased ground and aerial operations may very well trigger war if each side continues to carry out their slaughter of the Syrian people.

US policy has been to maintain Assad in power since Obama, and that remains the policy under Trump. The US imperialists might be happy to see Assad replaced by a more compliant dictatorship based on the existing regime, because Assad is now personally an embarrassment. But their overriding goal is to defeat the revolutions in the Mideast that have unfolded since 2011, and prevent revolutions from threatening US assets in the region, such as the regimes of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. Preventing any independent survival of the revolutions is a key objective, and the US is willing to meet Russian interests to achieve this goal.

So, the US cooperates with Russia to keep Assad in power, and will continue to do so. US policy is to stifle the revolutions and eventually put the Baathist regime back in control of the whole of Syria.  Therefore, revolutionaries who want to see the defeat of US imperialism must call for the defeat of Assad, by the revolutionaries. Circumstances can be imagined in which the Assad regime could inflict some further damage to the interests of US imperialism in the region, but the recent strikes are not a case in which defending the Syrian regime means weakening imperialism.

As Revolutionary Socialists, we staunchly oppose US military strikes and ground assaults in Syria. We also equally condemn all invading entities of Assad and his powerful allies and backers, including the Russians and Iranians forces. Often times the refrain of “Where is the revolution?” conveniently misses the revolutionary flags and demonstrations of Syrians who continually to demonstrate in both regime-occupied cities as well as those of the Islamic State. In fact, the revolution is a live struggle for democratic demands, which does not subordinate itself to the armed contingents that participate in the defense against Assad forces and allies. Rather, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and related forces rely on the cooperation of the local population to continue to fight, and are not in a position to crush the revolution themselves.  As in all such cases, we stand with the people fighting for their defense and demands, and the United Front needed to pursue those demands.  

This does not equate to supporting the FSA as a political leadership, and Syrians have shown advanced politics in refusing a number of would-be capitalist manipulations. In order for this defense to succeed, it must have the right to receive arms, including for air defense.  Finally, while we support the rights of Kurds to self-determination, but we do not support the leadership of the PYD, which continues to seek imperialist support wherever and whenever it can. No cooperation between the Kurds with either Damascus, Washington or Moscow will be constructive for the liberation of the Kurds, or for Syria as a whole. While the current state of things in Syria looks grimmer by the day, as Revolutionary Socialists we stand in full solidarity even if the Revolution is reduced to but one individual waving the Free Syrian flag.

If this message resonates with you, please contact us here, or through our Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/MidAtlanticRevolutionarySocialists/