As capitalism’s contradictions deepen, efforts to hoist the costs of the economic and ecological crises onto the backs of the working class, people of color, and the Global South will intensify and will require militant resistance. As revolutionary socialists, we must go beyond resistance and begin fighting to win, translating the crisis of state legitimacy and of the neoliberal consensus into an opportunity for Left growth.
Now is the time to promote socialism and to expose capitalism’s ruthless exploitation of people and the planet as the source of crisis. More and more people are questioning the willingness and even the ability of capitalism to resolve the problems we face. In this period we see an enormous opportunity to talk about socialism, an opportunity unlike anything we’ve seen in decades—but it cannot be the socialism of the 20th century. Twenty-first century socialism must be a socialism renewed by intersectionality, ecological sustainability, and radical democracy. A renewed vision of socialism must be rooted in deeper theoretical development, our innovative and power-building mass work, and dialogue with other parts of the party and social movement Left. It is this kind of vision that we must share boldly and broadly with masses of people.
Our mass work in the social movements must reflect both our understanding of the crises and our 21st-century socialist vision. As jobs and the social wage intensify as targets of ruling class efforts to shift the burden of the crisis onto the working class, we must be at the forefront of the struggle. We must work in a way that helps move us beyond resistance and towards power. This means developing strategies and demands that challenge the logics of capitalism, neoliberalism, and ecological exploitation and puts forward counter-proposals for how the crises can be resolved, with capital paying the costs. It also means fighting the crises in a way that roots us more deeply amongst the poorer sections of the working class and amongst public sector workers.
We must also put more resources into developing new kinds of organizing. New Working Class Organizations that combine electoral mass democratic work with fight-back organizing while building alternative institutions are leading the development of multi-tactic strategies. These strategies move us beyond resistance, offer methods for building power on a broader scale, and look at building local and regional power blocs capable of challenging capitalist modes of governance. At the same time they see municipal and local governments led by the Left as important steps in that process.
Building new movements in this country cannot be disconnected from the struggle against imperialism, in particular US imperialism and the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. The people of this country, who have already decisively rejected the Iraq War, are slowly beginning to turn against the Afghanistan War. While the anti-war movement has been slow to rebuild in the wake of the gravitational pull of the 2008 election campaign, mass sentiment against the wars is growing. Organizationally we need to assess where and how participation in anti-war work is possible and intentionally rebuild our active role in this movement.
Given all that is required of us in this moment, we know that we cannot accomplish our goals without a stronger Left. Left Refoundation work must continue to play a guiding role in our strategies. Building on relationships we’ve developed with advanced forces in the social movement Left, we will embark on a new Left Refoundation effort, the construction of a new “Socialist Front.” This Front will provide an opportunity to collaborate with left forces around shared work. In addition to the Front, the US Social Forum and continued participation in Revolutionary Work in Our Times (RWIOT) will also be important elements in our Left Refoundation work.
If we are to rise to these tasks and take on the crises of our times, then we must also strengthen our own organization, applying our strategies with discipline and grounding our work and our vision in a firm grasp of the conditions in which we must act.
THREE INTERSECTING CRISES
The crisis we face is represented by the intersection of economic, political, and ecological forces. We know that capitalism, as a system, brings with it crises; that there is no other capitalism. In the aftermath of these crises a new method of accumulation emerges out of the ashes of the old. The form of accumulation and the nature of the state structure have depended on the dynamics of the class struggle. The crisis we face today however, particularly in relation to its ecological aspect, is a different sort of crisis that endangers the very survival of human—and for that matter all—life. The multi-sided nature of these crises makes this moment an extremely dangerous one, as well as one containing immense possibilities.
The Economic Collapse
The economic meltdown that commenced in 2007 and really got rolling in 2008 is not just the most significant capitalist crisis since the Great Depression, but signals the end of a capitalist “regime of accumulation”—neoliberalism—that had defined the ruling consensus in the US since the early 1980s. After nearly 30 years, the neo-liberal ruling consensus is unraveling. Its reliance on the “invisible hand” of the market to promote economic growth, on the promotion of bubbles and easy credit to offset the driving down of real wages in the US, on the shredding of the social safety net and the “globalization” of industrial production to work around the tendency of the rate of profit to fall—all these strategies have run up against objective limits. The current economic crisis, what can best be described as a global recession or depression, represents both the results of a crisis of overproduction and a crisis brought on by financial speculation.
As the housing market, commercial real estate and small banks collapse, unemployment continues to climb and state budget crises are imposing huge hardships on tens of millions. These conditions will affect the majority of people in this country, with deep consequences for the working class, especially immigrants and people from oppressed nationality communities.
The Political Crisis
The capitalist state has historically achieved legitimacy through a combination of both hegemony and repression. It is critical to acknowledge that stable capitalist societies cannot rely on repression alone. Legitimacy exists to a great extent to the degree to which the capitalist state is perceived as “fair” to a critical mass of people. Part of being fair is protecting the citizens of the nation-state. Insofar as the state is unable or unwilling to protect its citizens and allows them to be ravaged, the state loses legitimacy.
Neoliberal globalization—the global reorganization of capitalism—brought with it the weakening of the sovereignty of many capitalist states. Insofar as they were linked to one another, particularly through free-trade agreements, those agreements put restrictions on the ability of the state to act in the interests of the population of their respective countries. The erosion of various protections to the citizenry has led to the sense that the state is no longer a legitimate actor.
This crisis of legitimacy has been sharpened not only by the economic collapse and its effects but also by ruling class responses to the collapse. While the very financial institutions that triggered the current economic meltdown and contributed most to global warming have been bailed out at public expense, working-class people—both the so-called middle class and the poor—have been faced with growing foreclosures and evictions, widespread layoffs and unemployment, and the slashing of government budgets and service provision. This strong state intervention in the economy not only directly contradicts neoliberal ideologies of the “free market,” but does so clearly in favor of capital, revealing the capitalist state as an instrument of the ruling class rather than the legitimate upholder of the common good.
The Ecological Crises
The deterioration of the environment has moved much faster than had been assumed by many. Most of the Left took environmental issues less than seriously, with the exception of nuclear power, and, in some cases, toxic waste. It has become increasingly clear, however, that the intersecting ecological crises, including but not limited to water, climate, food, toxics, and bio-diversity, deeply affect all living beings. The issue of whether we as humanity can survive these crises is squarely in front of us, and is no longer a distant problem or theoretical question. Climate change, peak oil, the depletion of the oceans through over-fishing, loss of forested areas, declining availability of drinking water, degradation of food, and chemical pollution of air, soil, and water are all issues of immediate and pressing concern.
This ecological factor is the unstable element in the larger equation of our conditions. Unlike previous capitalist crises, the current intersection of economic, political, and ecological forces has resulted in a situation that could quite possibly mean the end of human civilization. It is clear that capitalism, with its endless drive for accumulation, is hurtling us faster and faster towards catastrophe and that liberalism’s partial remedies offer no real solutions. But it is also true that traditional Marxist-Leninist thinking around “the development of productive forces” or economic development and production, mostly through massive industrialization, has been part of the problem.
Indigenous, oppressed-nationality, and small-scale agricultural and fishing communities—particularly women of color—have been disproportionately affected by ecological crises and have been at the vanguard of the struggle against the many ways that capitalism destroys environments and people. These communities, across the globe from the South to the North, and their environments have been subjected to the ruthless pillage of ongoing “primitive accumulation” (the extraction of raw materials for capitalist benefit) and have historically been the places that toxic waste has been disposed of. Now they are the places most devastated by ecological disasters. It is essential that we look to the movements of those most affected for direction in developing movements and solutions.
Although these three intersecting crises represent an unprecedented opportunity for the Left to expose capitalism, win over greater numbers to socialism, and unite broad sectors behind its leadership, history has demonstrated that crisis does not automatically favor the Left. The response to neo-liberal globalization—and the response to the current threefold crisis—has come from both the Right and the Left. Right-wing populism is particularly dangerous because, contrary to other forms of right-wing ideology, it is generally based within social movements and tends to utilize some of the rhetoric of the Left. Unless the Left is willing and able to lead stronger movements on a greater scale, there are very serious possibilities that ecological crises will reach beyond the point of no return or that the Right will seize the initiative. There are signs that this is already happening. Recent polls show that fewer people than one year ago think there is human impacted climate change and global warming.
It is in this context that we situate our strategic orientation for the next three years, focusing on socialist interventions that will organize the working-class and oppressed nationality peoples against crisis austerity measures and around left strategies for winning power.
SOCIALIST INTERVENTIONS IN THE COMING PERIOD
Deepen relationships and collaboration with organized and social movement Left forces
In the last period we recognized that the Left was “poorly situated to participate in, offer leadership to and help connect” ongoing struggles in a significant way and that “left forces in most of these movements are weak, fragmented, and usually drowned out by the more organized bourgeois forces.” As a result we focused on raising the question of organization and working towards “greater interconnection, cross-fertilization and common praxis between the organized, more consciously socialist or ‘party’ left, and the left forces of the social movements.”
This outlook continues to inform this period’s Left Refoundation orientation, which will focus on building a new “Socialist Front,” participation in the US Social Forum, and Revolutionary Work In Our Times (RWIOT).
Boldly and broadly share a renewed vision of socialism
Historically, resistance to capitalism globally happened through national liberation struggles and Third-World Marxist struggles that were almost always tied to either the USSR or China in opposition to US imperialism. Within the US this was reflected as a larger revolutionary Left that participated in various people’s struggles and red work. For the past several decades, revolutionary forces and the broader left have been divided and operating under the assumption that an explicit call for socialism is not a practical strategy. Despite the seemingly obvious material contradictions that oppressed peoples experience on a daily basis, nearly all of our energy has been focused on practical, day-to-day organizing.
The recent economic crisis, however, has raised doubts among the masses about the infallibility of capitalism. There is a sizable crack in the system that presents the opportunity to re-introduce, re-imagine and de-mystify socialism as a viable alternative. Now is the time to popularize socialist ideas, dispel myths that have been propagated by the defenders of capitalism, and launch a campaign designed to move thousands and ultimately hundreds of thousands of people towards socialism.
Bring analysis of the crisis and counter-hegemonic demands to mass work
Socialists active in the social movements must be encouraging resistance to crises based on an understanding of its three intersecting elements. This does not mean simply fighting back, but it means constructing (and organizing around) counterproposals to those that are being advanced by capital to address the three crises, e.g., the Left proposing nationalization of banks and of abandoned means of production (like auto plants), calling for a “retooling” of these means of production for the social good (using the abandoned auto plants to build mass transit vehicles and for other ecologically sustainable uses) and the development of regional planning systems.
In keeping with the analysis of a “lower/deeper” orientation, we must concentrate ourselves in the sectors of the working class where low-income oppressed-nationality workers, especially women, play a leading role. This often means fights around broader “social wage” issues, fights that incorporate community and workplace considerations in their struggles—demanding the reincorporation of public coverage for public needs like health care, education, childcare, social security, etc.
The inclusion of public sector workers must also be central to our analysis and work. These workers, many of whom are women of color, deliver the social wage that we seek to protect and expand and, as the economic crisis deepens, are on the frontlines of mass layoffs and budget cuts. Just as more and more folks turn to social-safety-net services to survive, the workers delivering these services are cut back below the already bare-bones, pre-crisis levels.
Mass Democratic Projects:
Study, support, and strengthen this work
For some time now, the leading edge of left responses to neoliberal globalization and its crises have worked by combining popular movements in the streets with a strategic orientation towards the state. The Bolivarian circles in Venezuela, Evo Morales’s indigenismo orientation to the social movement left in Bolivia, and the FMLN in El Salvador are all examples of this approach in Latin America. In Nepal, the Unified Communist Party (Maoist) has combined people’s war with electoral organizing and now mass insurrectionary activity. While the conditions in the US are different than Latin America or South Asia, we draw inspiration from these multi-tactic approaches to revolutionary strategy.
One of the most visible and exciting efforts at such multi-tactic strategies in the US has been the mass democratic projects developed out of New Working Class Organizations (NWCO). These projects seek to move beyond individual “communities,” and build alliances with broad progressive forces under the leadership of low-income, working-class people of color. They have been inspired by the Left in other countries who have used public office at the local level to win important structural reforms, build their base, and challenge neoliberalism. At the same time they challenge bourgeois democratic governance practices by mobilizing and organizing the “lower/deeper” layers of society through participatory democracy.