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The global pandemic, the class struggle, and the tasks of the Socialist Equality Party

This resolution was adopted unanimously by the membership of the Socialist Equality Party in the United States at its Sixth National Congress, which was held online from July 19 to July 24, 2020. 

Part 7 - Tasks of the Socialist Equality Party

67. The work of the party is guided by the unshakable conviction that the working class is the basic and leading revolutionary force in society, and that the American working class, notwithstanding the immense challenges that it confronts, in the most powerful bastion of world imperialism, will rise to the level of its historic tasks.

68. A quarter century has passed since the founding of the Socialist Equality Party in June 1995. Previously, the American co-thinkers of the International Committee of the Fourth International had existed as the Workers League (which had been founded in 1966). The transition from a league to a party was a response to the breakdown, in the 1980s and early 1990s, of all the old nationalistic and bureaucratically dominated mass parties and trade unions. The previous tactic of placing demands on the old organizations—with the expectation that the growth of the revolutionary party would assume the form of a radicalization within the framework of these organizations—was superseded by objective processes and events. 

69. Drawing the necessary political conclusions from the altered situation, David North motivated the transition from the Workers League to the Socialist Equality Party:

                         If there is to be leadership given to the working class, it must be provided by our party. If a new road is to be opened for the masses of working people, it must be opened by our organization. The problem of leadership cannot be resolved on the basis of a clever tactic. We cannot resolve the crisis of working class leadership by “demanding” that others provide that leadership. If there is to be a new party, then we must build it.

70. As a result of this initiative, which was implemented by all the sections of the International Committee, the Fourth International has been able to vastly expand its political influence in the working class. The launching of the World Socialist Web Site in February 1998, which arose out of the transformation of leagues into parties, has been a crucial factor in establishing the role of the ICFI as the authoritative representative of socialism. During the past quarter century, the reactionary role of petty-bourgeois agencies of imperialism like Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and the Left Party in Germany, to name only a few, has been thoroughly exposed. Bernie Sanders’ aborted presidential campaign—into which the International Socialist Organization and countless other middle-class tendencies had dissolved themselves—differed from these other organizations only in the American-size scale of its pragmatic fatuousness and programmatic bankruptcy. The International Committee can reaffirm the words written by Trotsky in the founding program of the Fourth International: “Outside these cadre [of the ICFI] there does not exist a single revolutionary current on this planet really meriting the name.” 

71. The Socialist Equality Party must act upon the revolutionary implications of the present crisis. Opposition to the policies of the ruling class is growing. Even as the pandemic rages out of control, the Trump administration, with the backing of the Democratic Party, is demanding a reopening of the schools in the fall, risking the lives of hundreds of thousands of teachers and students. Federal unemployment benefits will be eliminated or scaled back by the end of this month, as the financial oligarchs seek to use the social crisis facing millions of people as a form of economic blackmail.

72. In November 2019, shortly before the outbreak of the pandemic, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a high-level think tank, made the following assessment of the world situation:

                             Mass protest movements are roiling politics around the globe… Protesters are frustrated with perceived corruption and economic inequality. Often young, angry, and urban, protesters are not an organized opposition proposing the substitution of their party or ideology for an existing one but a leaderless movement demanding their voices are heard. In some cases, protesters’ demands are clear; more often they are muddled. Across the board the aggrieved want change in systems that feel outdated, broken, or nonresponsive.

73. On January 3, before there was any news of the expansion of the coronavirus beyond China, the Socialist Equality Party published a statement defining the 2020s as a “decade of socialist revolution.” Pointing to the mass demonstrations and strikes in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, France, Spain, Algeria, Britain, Lebanon, Hong Kong, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Kenya, South Africa, India and many other countries, the SEP wrote that “the objective conditions for socialist revolution emerge out of the global crisis.” 

74. As with all elements of the capitalist crisis, the pandemic is vastly accelerating the growth of social opposition in the working class. As great as the crisis is, however, it does not lead automatically to socialism. Writing in 1935, another period of explosive social conflicts, on the eve of the Second World War, Trotsky explained that “Marxism, the only scientific theory of the proletarian revolution, has nothing in common with the fatalistic hope for the ‘final’ crisis. Marxism is, in its very essence, a set of directives for revolutionary action. Marxism does not overlook will and courage, but rather aids them to find the right road.” He continued:

                          There is no crisis which can be, by itself, fatal to capitalism. The oscillations of the business cycle only create a situation in which it will be easier, or more difficult, for the proletariat to overthrow capitalism. The transition from a bourgeois society to a socialist society presupposes the activity of living men who are the makers of their own history. They do not make history by accident, or according to their caprice, but under the influence of objectively determined causes. However, their own actions—their initiative, audacity, devotion, and likewise their stupidity and cowardice—are necessary links in the chain of historical development.

75. Criticizing the bureaucratic fatalism of the Stalinists, Trotsky added, “a revolutionary situation does not fall from the sky. It comes about in the class struggle. The party of the working class is the most important political factor in the development of a revolutionary situation.”

76. The work of the Socialist Equality Party during the second half of 2020 will develop under conditions of an escalating political crisis. The upcoming presidential campaign will provide further evidence of the political bankruptcy of the two main capitalist parties, which are the servants of the financial-corporate oligarchy. However bitter their tactical differences, the Democrats and Republicans are equally committed to the defense of the capitalist system. Regardless of which party wins the election—and that requires the debatable assumption that the election will be held—the tendencies that found such noxious expression during the Trump administration will persist and worsen. It is undeniable that Trump is a fascistic gangster. But he did not slither like a snake into an American Garden of Eden. Trump is nothing other than the individual personification of the most parasitical, ruthless and reactionary ruling class in the world. The policies of his administration are less a break with than a continuation, under conditions of intense crisis, of those of Reagan (1981–89), Bush I (1989–1993), Clinton (1993–2001), Bush II (2001–2009) and Obama (2009–2017). 

77. The Democratic Party and its pseudo-left agents seek to present the election in existential terms, warning of the catastrophe that awaits the country should Trump be re-elected. But the catastrophe has already struck, and it will continue should Joseph Biden become president. The assault on the working class will continue. As for foreign policy, the Democrats have made clear that they intend to escalate the confrontation with Russia and China.

78. The presidential campaign of the Socialist Equality Party is based not on electoral calculations, but on the logic of the class struggle. The SEP candidates, Joseph Kishore and Norissa Santa-Cruz, will utilize the campaign to encourage the independent militancy of the working class, raise its political consciousness and understanding of the socialist perspective, and prepare workers and youth for the struggles that lie ahead, regardless of which capitalist party wins the election. Above all, the SEP will utilize the campaign to explain to American workers that they are part of an international class, and that the struggle against capitalism in the United States can be successful only to the extent that it is waged on the basis of an international strategy, opposed to all forms of nationalism.

79. The size and geographic scope of the mass demonstrations of 2019 demonstrate the growth of a globally integrated international working class, now comprised of 3 billion people. The past 30 years have seen a massive shift away from agricultural work, as hundreds of millions of peasants and farmers migrated to the cities and joined the ranks of the working class. In 2007, for the first time in world history, a majority of humanity lived in urban areas. The working class is increasingly interconnected by technology, with over 2 billion people accessing the internet for the first time, between 2014 and 2019.

80. Within the framework of this internationalist strategy, the central focus of the activity of the party must be on intervening systematically in the class struggle and winning to the party the most politically conscious workers and youth. The party must bear in mind the words of Trotsky: “What are the tasks? The strategic task consists of helping the masses, of adapting their mentality politically and psychologically to the objective situation, of overcoming the prejudicial traditions of the American workers, and of adapting it to the objective situation of the social crisis of the whole system.” 

81. Trotsky wrote in the founding program of the Fourth International: “The strategic task of the Fourth International lies not in reforming capitalism but in its overthrow. Its political aim is the conquest of power by the proletariat for the purpose of expropriating the bourgeoisie. However, the achievement of this strategic task is unthinkable without the most considered attention to all, even small and partial, questions of tactics. All sections of the proletariat, all its layers, occupations and groups should be drawn into the revolutionary movement. The present epoch is distinguished not for the fact that it frees the revolutionary party from day-to-day work but because it permits this work to be carried on indissolubly with the actual tasks of the revolution.

82. In carrying out this work, the SEP advances, as advised by Trotsky, transitional demands—that is, demands and initiatives that connect the issues and needs arising from a concrete situation to the strategy of socialist revolution. In relation to the coronavirus pandemic, the SEP calls for and will fight for an end to the reckless and criminal back-to-work campaign; the repeal of the corporate-Wall Street bailout; an emergency program to provide economic security for all unemployed people and vastly expand the health care infrastructure; the expropriation of the wealth of the corporate and financial elite to address the urgent social crisis facing tens of millions of people; and the establishment of workers’ democratic ownership and control of the major banks and corporations.

83. All of these demands proceed from the foundation that the response to the pandemic must be based on what workers and society as a whole need, not what the capitalist system and the financial oligarchs are prepared to give. They lead inexorably to the ultimate conclusion: the need to establish workers’ power and abolish capitalism. 

84. Specific tasks flow from this perspective:

a. The intensification of the party’s fight to develop a network of rank-and-file safety committees linking every factory, office and workplace. These committees, democratically controlled by the workers themselves, should formulate, implement and oversee measures that are necessary to safeguard the health and lives of workers, their families and the broader community. This must be connected to the fight to develop a socialist leadership in the working class and the recruitment of workers into the party.

b. The continuation of the party’s defense of the progressive content of the two American Revolutions, which is indissolubly linked to the fight against the racial-communal politics of the Democratic Party and its pseudo-left middle class agencies. The claim that the United States is riven by racial antagonisms, and that white workers are to blame for the conditions of black workers, is false and politically reactionary. The SEP opposes the demand for reparations, which is a petty-bourgeois policy aimed at dividing the workers and advancing the capitalist ambitions of a privileged section of the African American bourgeoisie and upper-middle class, which wants greater access to the wealth monopolized by the top one percent.

c. A broad and active campaign to build the International Youth and Students for Social Equality on the campuses and schools and among working class youth. In particular, the IYSSE must organize and lead opposition among youth, in alliance with educators and the entire working class, to the campaign to reopen the schools under unsafe conditions.

d. The SEP and IYSSE must wage an unrelenting campaign in defense of all immigrant workers who continue to be subjected to relentless persecution by ICE. The party and its youth organization demand an end to deportations. They call for migrants to be welcomed and for those incarcerated to be released from custody. They demand an end to the separation of families and the provision of decent housing and financial support to asylum seekers and refugees. Immigrants must be provided every opportunity to enjoy secure and productive lives within the United States with full citizenship rights.

e. The SEP must intensify its campaign against war and militarism, which threaten to unleash a Third World War. All factions of the ruling class are committed to the geostrategic interests of American imperialism. The fight against war must be based on the working class; it must be anti-capitalist and socialist; it must be independent from and hostile to all political parties and organizations that defend the capitalist system; and, above all, it must be international, uniting and mobilizing the vast power of the working class in a unified global struggle to end capitalism and its nation-state divisions, and establish world socialism.

f. The struggle against state oppression and war is indissolubly linked with the fight against internet censorship and the defense of the right of journalists to expose state crimes. The SEP and the IYSSE must continue to campaign for the unconditional freedom of Julian Assange, for the end of the persecution of Chelsea Manning, and against the censorship of the WSWS and other left-wing, anti-war, and socialist websites and individuals by technology giants such as Google and Facebook.

85. The political impact and effectiveness of the SEP’s initiatives and campaigns depend on the recruitment of working people into the party. Revolutionary politics does not unfold in some sort of distant, ethereal and super-human realm. Even the most favorable objective conditions need to be acted upon by politically conscious workers, who have been educated by the party. The establishment of rank-and-file safety committees in auto plants in Detroit, Toledo and other parts of the country has demonstrated the vital role played by the party in the development of the working class as a politically and socially conscious force.

86. The party must patiently explain to workers and youth the nature of the crisis and the strategy of the struggle for socialism. But the need for patient explaining must not become a justification for passive contemplation. Opportunities to translate political understanding into practical actions must not be missed. The aim of the party is to lead workers in struggle.

87. All of the work of the SEP will be carried out in the closest collaboration with the International Committee of the Fourth International. There is no national solution to the global pandemic, as there is no national solution to any of the great problems confronting the working class—inequality, exploitation, war, environmental degradation. The building of a mass socialist movement in the American working class must be connected to the mobilization of the billions of workers throughout the world, the massive social force that can finally put an end to capitalist barbarism and chart a new way forward for mankind.

88. At its Summer School one year ago, the Socialist Equality Party, based on a review of the development of the Trotskyist movement and the objective situation, concluded that the ICFI had entered a new historical stage. SEP National Chairman David North defined this stage as one “that will witness a vast growth of the ICFI as the World Party of Socialist Revolution:

                         The objective processes of economic globalization, identified by the International Committee more than 30 years ago, have undergone a further colossal development. Combined with the emergence of new technologies that have revolutionized communications, these processes have internationalized the class struggle to a degree that would have been hard to imagine even 25 years ago. The revolutionary struggle of the working class will develop as an interconnected and unified world movement. The International Committee of the Fourth International will be built as the conscious political leadership of this objective socio-economic process. It will counterpose to the capitalist politics of imperialist war the class-based strategy of world socialist revolution. This is the essential historical task of the new stage in the history of the Fourth International.

89. To carry out its immense political responsibilities, the party and its cadre must be firmly rooted and educated in the historical experiences of the Marxist movement. The immense history embodied in the ICFI must be brought into the developing movement of the working class. The intersection of the objective radicalization of the working class and the practice of the party will create the conditions for the victory of the working class, the abolition of capitalism, and the socialist transformation of world economy.


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