Class Struggle: Path to Working-Class Liberation
In one of two very encouraging articles on the San Francisco mass transit system (MTA) on p. 4 of the July 2 issue of CHALLENGE, it states at the top right of the page, “We have confidence that the working class can and will fight back. It is our job to make sure that when they do, that more of them choose the road to communist revolution.”
I often find that sometimes something is phrased in such a way that a new realization comes about, even for something that is not a new concept. In this case it happened to me, and it’s one of the reasons that CHALLENGE is so useful, particularly when we encourage as many workers and students and other members and friends of PLP as possible to write articles and letters for the paper. Everyone has a slightly different take on the situation and expresses it slightly differently.
I happen to be a former physics professor, and with those two sentences I had a flash insight into an analogy with the very common phenomenon of resonance. Resonance happens when an intermittent force is applied with the right timing to a system that has a rhythmical motion, such as a child on a swing. Anyone who has ever pushed a child, or even an adult, on a swing knows that in order to make the swing go higher and higher it requires that we push on the swing every time it returns and reaches its backmost point. That is, when the pushing is in synchrony with the swinging itself. When those two processes — the pushing and the swinging — are in sync, the energy in the swing and the height it reaches continue to increase, until we stop pushing.
It happens, as we all know, that workers cannot possibly engage in class struggle on the job continually for very long periods of time. To do so would rob us of our income, and we are less equipped to weather such periods than the bosses are. So we are forced to temporarily end our struggles at some point and go back to work. Therefore the intensification of class struggle, through job actions and strikes, must necessarily happen periodically — when conditions become too horrible to bear. That’s like the swing. So during such periods of intensified class struggle, if communists push in sync with that swing, more and more workers will, in fact, “choose the road to communist revolution.”
Communists push all the time, both during and between job actions and strikes, but the greatest effect is during intensified class struggle. Our participation in the class struggle is the only path to liberation of the working class (including ourselves) from the relentless oppression, exploitation, genocidal wars, racism, and sexism of capitalism. Join PLP to help push.
Massacres in Palestine, South Africa, Ukraine
Having lived through the rise of anti-communist, fascist, racist movements in the 1930s, the images of hundreds of bloody Palestinian babies and children in Gaza brought back the horror of Nazi genocide against all who resisted their occupation. My tortured sense of humanity said do something, speak out.
I pinned a paper sign to my shirt saying Boycott Israel to see if I could learn the reaction of New Yorkers to the Gaza massacre. To my surprise 95 percent of the first day’s response was positive. One black senior center worker I talked to about it caught up to me later to say that the U.S. also committed genocide and had concentration camps for black slaves. I replied that that’s what the capitalist profit system produces.
Another guy pointed to my sign saying, “You’ve got b*lls, man.” I thought for a few seconds and told him that if people can ignore murdered children and keep quiet, they’re missing something more than b*lls. Later I got some smiles and thumbs up from passersby. Going home a black bus driver asked about “Boycott Israel” and I explained that it was part of a worldwide movement in the 1980’s against the white racist South African apartheid government which got 80 percent of its weapons from Israel to commit genocide against black people. I said Israel has also been making war on the Palestinian people for 70 years, using the same apartheid tactics of territorial prisons like Gaza and the West Bank, settlement expansions and slow extermination of people through blockades that denied basic needs. To my surprise as I left the bus, the driver grabbed my hand, shook it and said “thank you.”
Most opinion polls show there is no support for more wars and we need to expose contradictions like Obama being “heartbroken” by Gaza images while being responsible for sending the weapons and bombs used to murder civilians not only in Gaza but worldwide. We should challenge the U.S. government’s demand for a “world outcry” over the downed Malaysian plane that flew over a war zone while for months that same government never said a word about 230,000 East Ukraine refugees who have been bombed and shelled daily by the U.S.-financed fascist Ukrainian military.
Sometimes I can bring a discussion around to how capitalist profits are behind all these wars on people and I always have a CHALLENGE newspaper ready to show how PLP is trying to destroy the disease called capitalism with a communist revolution for a system that unites all workers and provides for their needs.
Teachers: Reform or Revolution?
Teacher union comrades, like many of you, we are thrilled with the possibilities of change opening up in the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), as teachers’ anger and concern for students butts up against the Weingarten machine. But which direction should a new teacher movement take: reform or revolution? We want to talk with you about that.
Some of you are weary of contrasting the two concepts so starkly. You fight for reforms like winning a raise or changing our union or saving a neighborhood school or defending kids from deportation. You hope that out of such fights a movement will develop that will go much further than such reforms. We think that to go further you need more than hope — you need to aim consciously at a revolution that will replace capitalism with a communist society of sharing. You need a Party like ours that trains us for a lifetime of struggle. And you need to join that Party, learn the lessons of communist history, and help to expand and develop that Party internationally.
Our analysis takes off from the critique of social-movement unionism in the CHALLENGE article on the AFT convention (July 30). You saw at a convention panel how a militant woman teacher from the Black Caucus responded seriously to the call for revolution — and at the same time how excited she is to be running for City Council to carry her radical reform politics into a larger arena. At almost every turn, the new movement is facing choices between reform and revolution, whether we’re conscious of it or not. To run for the council seat or the mayoralty is to run away from a revolutionary movement.
From PLP’s point of view, the appeal of reform electoral politics to the new leadership and the masses of new teacher reformers could seriously sidetrack direct-action politics again as it has in the past. People dropped anti-war work to campaign for Obama, and the result is not only what Obama did as commander-in-chief but the fact that the anti-war movement evaporated. De Blasio’s election took whatever fight there was out of the New York City unions. Campaigning for the first woman president, or for an outspoken black woman strike leader for mayor of Chicago, will have the same effect.
But the main problem with electoral politics is not that radical reformers think it is revolutionary — you don’t. You too think it’s a big step forward, that to make a big difference, we have to work creatively within the system. That appeal is precisely what the system counts on to turn radical teachers away from thinking revolution.
We don’t expect you to agree now, and we want to listen to your arguments. If classroom teachers start running for city council, we will accompany you in the campaign and we will both learn from the experience, but you should know that we think that is not the way “to take power,” as one such new teacher-candidate put it. This is the old argument between socialists, who think we can elect socialists who will abolish capitalism by making new laws, and communists, who believe we will need armed revolution to take power from a capitalist class who keeps it by force of arms. But change is in the air. We can feel a teacher movement struggling to be born. We are engaged in building it together.
Capitalist education is ruinous for us. We both agree the school system is racist to the core. We heard together the testimony of researchers and classroom teachers at the Peace & Justice panel that segregation of schools is now so bad that the research has a new category called “intensely segregated.” All the gains in school integration in the South since the Civil Rights Movement have been wiped out, while New York State schools are among the most segregated in the country. Even new school diversity in residential neighborhoods is not showing up as more integrated, because incoming wealthier white or Asian parents often don’t send their children to local public schools.
The fixes are not working. Black and brown children who are bused to white suburbs are often met by racism. The 320,000 K-12 teachers thrown out of work and the hundreds of schools closed in the last few years are disproportionately black and brown. At the City University of New York, new research shows that new teachers are increasing in numbers, but not racial or gender diversity. In addition, admissions barriers increase the segregation of students in community colleges as compared to four-year colleges (it is now easier for a black student to be admitted to Harvard than to CUNY’s Baruch College).
Can such racism be reformed out of existence? We think it will take a revolution. So let’s talk more about reform and revolution. The need for communism is newly discussed these days among radical academics (e.g., Jodi Dean’s The Idea of Communism), and some younger poets and writers also see their work as inspired by communism — though, unlike Jodi Dean, they do not agree with the idea of a communist party and look more to Occupy-style forms. PLP would like to invite you to form study groups with us around this new thinking and the best “old” thinking about communism.
Can reformism rise to the challenge of a failed capitalism? If we accept that we need communism, what does that mean for our action as unionized teachers in the short, medium, and long terms? What does it mean to join PLP and be a communist teacher? What do we want education to be as communists? What would a modern communism look like, going beyond the advances of the first great wave of revolutions in the last century?