Class struggle in the USA

marxismandtheusa500

The class struggle applies to the US as much as any other country dominated by capitalism—you cannot have an exploiting capitalist class without a working class that is being exploited. The US has 130 million workers, not including their families, and they are among the most exploited on the planet. Based on a high level of labour productivity, US workers create vast amounts of wealth for the capitalists but receive only a small ratio back in the form of wages and benefits.

The US has a long and rich history of revolution and class struggle—which the ruling class seeks to distort and conceal. The American Revolution was the first successful colonial revolt against what was then the most-powerful imperialist force on the planet. The Civil War was a revolutionary war of emancipation that expropriated billions of dollars of property—in slaves. And the bitter labour struggles of the last century wrenched important concessions from the bosses such as the eight-hour day and the right to strike.

There is a reason US workers aren’t taught their own history. If American workers were to understand their true power and past attempts to change society, they might be tempted to engage in open class struggle today. This represents a mortal threat to the continuation of the capitalist system.

One successful revolution anywhere in the world will transform the situation. Given its economic and military position on a world scale and the strength of its working class, the victory of the American socialist revolution will ultimately mean the liberation of the whole of humanity. As Leon Trotsky wrote about his brief stay in New York City before returning to Russia in March of 1917: “[The United States is] the foundry in which the fate of man is to be forged.”

On 20 October 2018, the White House published a document, entitled ‘The Opportunity Costs of Socialism’, which recognises the rising popularity of socialism in the United States (particularly amongst the young) and attempts to provide a scientific rebuttal in favour of capitalism. Alan Woods replies to this document’s slanders, and investigates why socialist ideas are gaining ground in the United States of America.

Tom Trottier examines the rise and fall of the Labor Party, which was founded by an alliance of unionists in 1996 and won some support, but rapidly declined in the late-90s and early-2000s. Tom explains why the Labor Party failed and why Marxists must draw lessons from the past to start laying the foundations and framework for a future mass, working-class, socialist party in the United States.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement clearly shows that, despite the civil rights struggles of the past, inequality and racism are still thriving in America. Many young people in particular are looking for answers and a way to solve the problems facing society. As Marxists we stand on the front lines in the struggle against discrimination in all its forms. We believe that to be successful, this must be combined with the united working class’s struggle against capitalism and for socialism. We take this opportunity to look back at and learn from the successes and failures of one of the most inspiring experiences of our

...

Nearly twice a week in the USA, a black person is killed by a white cop. In Ferguson, Missouri, the death of yet another young black man at the hands of the police was one too many. Necessity expressed itself through accident, and the murder of Mike Brown unleashed a wave of pent-up outrage and indignation across the country. The daily protests and nightly confrontations with the police, state troopers, and National Guard flooded the media with scenes reminiscent of modern day Gaza, Iraq—or the US in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Occupy movement has many people looking to past movements to see what we can learn from them that can help us in today’s struggles.  The period of the 1960s and early 1970s was one of upheaval around the world: May 1968, the Tet Offensive, the revolution in Pakistan, etc. The USA was not exempt from these powerful social movements. In the 1950s, the movement to end Jim Crow segregation helped to spur on movements against the U.S. imperialist war on Vietnam, large strike movements by the working class, and the movements for equal rights for women and the LGBT community.

In January of 1917, a meeting was held in New York City to begin organizing the left-wing of the Socialist Party of America. They wanted to publish a regular Marxist paper, which would be a tool to win over the rank and file of the SP to a Marxist program. There were approximately 20 people at this meeting, one of whom was Leon Trotsky. Trotsky was new to New York and the USA. Soon after the meeting, he would leave the U.S. and go back to Russia and play the role of co-leader of the first successful workers’ revolution, while the SP left-wing would go forward and eventually become the Communist Party.

As part of our ongoing series on the early Left in the United States, we turn next to the Socialist Labor Party and its central figure, Daniel De Leon. Given the continued influence of De Leon and his ideas on some people on the Left, our aim is to draw a balanced appraisal. With the benefit of hindsight, we examine the rise and fall of the SLP as a relevant force in the socialist and workers' movement in order to draw the lessons for today.

The American Revolution shook up the entire world. In the name of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” the thirteen British colonies that would become the United States of America, fought and won against the most powerful imperial power on the planet. The War for Independence was led by self-styled aristocrats like George Washington, but the actual fighting was done by small farmers, craftsmen and artisans, whites, blacks and Native Americans, freedmen and slaves alike.

Marxism and the USA was written at a time when George W. Bush was president, a time when many around the world – including many on the left – considered the U.S. to be one reactionary bloc, devoid of class struggle or revolutionary potential. Alan Woods' aim was to dispel these misconceptions, draw on the marvelous traditions of struggle throughout U.S. history, and inspire those new to the ideas of Marxism to learn more – and get involved. Providing one example after another, he showed how the ideas of socialism and communism are not recent, "foreign" importations, but have deep roots in the American tradition itself.

In this article, the conditions for socialist revolution to develop are analyzed. The experiences of the Socialist Party of America and other left groups are analyzed as well, for those that are interested in building a Marxist leadership need to learn from past left and labor movements to avoid making the same mistakes past socialists have made.

The 1934 Teamsters strike in Minneapolis, led by the Trotskyists of the Communist League of America (the forerunner of the Socialist Workers Party), was a decisive moment in the US labor and socialist movements. During the years preceding the strike, few would have expected the upsurge that took place in 1934.

For decades, the mantra “Capitalism = good” and “Socialism = bad” was driven into our heads. But even the most sophisticated apparatus for influencing public opinion – the mainstream media – cannot mold opinion as powerfully as experience itself. From the dizzying heights of the boom to the economic implosion of the last 10 months, dramatic events are shaking up and transforming the way Americans look at the world around them.

Many skeptics say that a socialist society could never exist in America. They say that Americans are greedy and unwilling to join together in common struggle. But US labour history is rich with examples of the heroism of the working class in their struggle for a better world. 

In 1947 the US "liberal" Henry Wallace visited Britain to present his views against the policies of Truman, while at the same time defending the "progressive" character of Roosevelt's policies. Ted Grant argued that Wallace had nothing to offer the workers but empty words while glossing over the same imperialist policies.

"We must not for a minute lose sight of the fact that the power of American capitalism rests more and more upon the foundation of the world economy, with its contradictions and its crises, military and revolutionary. This means that a social crisis in the United States may arrive a good deal sooner than many think, and have a feverish development from the start. Hence the conclusion: it is necessary to prepare." These words of Leon Trotsky seem written for today's situation!

"The Labor movement of America stirring, awakening to new ideas, new forms of organization, new methods of industrial warfare, revolting against its leaders — becoming revolutionary! Those frightened authorities who see in all this stirring and upheaval the work of “Bolshevik propaganda” are on the wrong track. No revolutionary movement was ever yet caused by propaganda alone. Conditions make Revolutions, conditions have caused, and are causing, the tremendous change in the attitude of the American Labor movement." (John Reed)

"Nothing teaches the American working class except hard times and repression. Hard times are coming, repression is organized on a grand scale. In America for a long time there has been no free land, no opportunity for workers to become millionaires. The working class does not yet know this. The very fact that for the next decade America promises to be the most reactionary quarter of the globe is sure to have its effect." (John Reed)