From International Socialist Review, Vol.21 No. 2, Spring 1960, pp.35-37.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Farrell Dobbs is the Socialist Workers Party’s candidate for President of the United States in the 1960 elections. He was the SWP presidential candidate in 1948, 1952 and 1956.
WE ENTER the sixties amid changing political conditions that forecast the opening of a new and higher stage in the American class struggle. Events are pushing the unions away from support to capitalist political parties and toward the formation of an independent labor party. This necessary turn in union policy, which the union bureaucrats can’t block indefinitely, points in the direction of a fundamental showdown between labor and capital. Although labor is by far the stronger in potential class force, its victory in a showdown is not automatically assured. In the long run class political consciousness will be decisive in determining the outcome of the battle. Today the capitalists have a big class advantage, stemming from policies consciously designed to serve their own interests at the expense of society as a whole. Labor stands in an opposite position; it remains crippled by illusions that social progress can be made through collaboration with the enemy class. Despite growing necessity, the unions have failed to develop an independent class policy in industry and politics; and they have still to arrive at the anti-capitalist, pro-socialist outlook fundamental to a solution of society’s basic problems. These class needs can be met only when the workers unseat the capitalist-minded union bureaucrats – in short, labor faces an increasingly acute crisis of leadership.
There exists within the general labor movement a revolutionary-socialist tendency capable of projecting the independent class policy the unions require. But this politically class-conscious section of labor has been thrust into isolation from the workers through a combined attack by the union bureaucrats and the capitalist witch hunters. Only now are favorable conditions developing for fusion of the revolutionary-socialist program with the mass power of the unions.
An opening step toward such a fusion can be taken through the presidential campaign of the Socialist Workers party which is now getting under way. To understand why the SWP campaign holds promise of gains which will help to strengthen class political consciousness among the workers, let us examine the broad lines of social conflict developing on a world scale and the political repercussions that result within this country.
Across the globe peoples long subjected to imperialist exploitation are rising up against their oppressors. They want to develop their own industries in order to raise their standard of living. They are determined to free themselves from foreign interference and decide for themselves what, economic and social order will best serve their needs. Their search for the right answer impels them, erratic though the course may be, in the direction of socialism.
China has advanced along this road to the abolition of capitalist property relations and establishment of a workers state based on nationalization of the means of production and the introduction of planned economy. Earlier social overturns of a similar nature took place in Yugoslavia and across Eastern Europe. Together with the Soviet Union these workers states now encompass one-third the earth’s surface and close to half of all humanity. Viewed in combination with the colonial rebels elsewhere in the world they constitute a formidable anti-imperialist force.
The power of the anti-imperialist forces is further strengthened by the great forward leap in Soviet scientific, technological and military potential. American imperialism no longer has the atomic monopoly and general military superiority with which it launched the cold war some fourteen years ago. A country that can send a rocket to the moon, as the Soviet Union has done, can also deliver rockets armed with hydrogen warheads against an imperialist aggressor anywhere on earth, including the United States.
These revolutionary advances on the world arena have brought a power stalemate which compels American imperialism to slow down its cold-war offensive and adjust its diplomatic policy to a temporary, uneasy truce in international relations. Although the imperialists try to use this act of tactical expediency to parade as peace lovers, they have actually made no basic change in their foreign policy; on the contrary, they are using the lull in the cold war to intensify their preparations for hot war.
The situation becomes doubly dangerous for world labor because imperialist political deceit is accompanied by Stalinist misrepresentation of the true state of affairs. Dressing up old-line Stalinist policy in new verbiage, the Kremlin bureaucrats call for universal disarmament, peaceful coexistence and friendly competition between rival social orders. They dangle this line before the insurgent world masses as a sure road to socialism by “gradual” means.
Reasonable though this approach may seem – and no matter how great a popular response it may evoke – the imperialists would never agree to such a course. The Stalinist bureaucrats understand this fact and they have shaped their real policy accordingly. What they actually aim for is a deal with imperialism to divide the world into spheres of influence with an agreement to maintain the status quo within each sphere. They are ready to help preserve capitalism outside the Soviet orbit in the hope this will enable them to save their own privileged position in the area where they now rule.
Stalinist policy runs directly counter to the needs of the masses in the capitalist sector of the world and it clashes with the democratic aspirations of people within the Soviet bloc countries. Workers’ uprisings in 1956 against the Stalinist regimes in Poland and Hungary laid bare the basic antagonism between the ruling bureaucracy and the masses within the workers states. In crushing the Hungarian revolt the bureaucracy strengthened itself temporarily, but didn’t win a permanent lease on life. The status quo can’t be frozen indefinitely in the Soviet bloc countries; new political explosions will occur and they will cause repercussions throughout the world labor movement.
It is equally impossible to freeze the status quo for very long in the countries under capitalist rule. The very forces that have acted to compel a slowdown in the imperialist war drive are also operating to prevent any lasting social stability under capitalism. Although the world labor and colonial movements face a general crisis of leadership, this obstacle does not halt the struggles for social improvement. Mass action simply takes longer to gain enough momentum to break through the barriers and then it develops in distorted forms; but the masses keep asserting themselves.
These trends upset the schemes of American imperialism, making it more determined than ever to impose its will by all possible means, including war. The imperialist belligerence stems from social contradictions within the United States itself. Growth of the productive forces within the country threatens a deep crisis of over-production. There is increasing danger of a severe economic slump that would bring on catastrophic unemployment and lead to a social explosion at home, unless the capitalist class can expand its exploitation of peoples abroad.
But one-third of the world market has been closed to capitalist exploitation by extension of the Soviet bloc to China and Eastern Europe. Elsewhere lesser imperialist rivals are stiffening their competition with American capitalism. In the one-time colonial preserves strong opposition to imperialist domination has developed; and in the case of Cuba a colonial revolt has flared up right on the United States’ doorstep.
Instead of forging ahead toward unrestricted exploitation of the world, American imperialism finds its expansionist drive slowed down, if not turned back. Still determined to achieve its objectives, the capitalist ruling class is using the cold-war lull for an attack on American labor to safeguard capitalist privileges nationally and to get into a better position to drag the country into war.
Imperialist military adventures are not ruled out because of the horrible dangers in an atomic war. Truman risked atomic war when he plunged the country into the Korean conflict. Eisenhower had no compunction about the war risks involved in a military occupation of Lebanon. The bipartisan government at Washington continues the fantastic military buildup, quarreling only as to whether enough is being done. Generals and capitalist politicians openly advocate a policy of “limited” wars, disregarding the risk of triggering World War III.
Only the revolutionary advances abroad have prevented a general war so far. These limited advances have allowed precious time for the extension of class-struggle opposition to imperialism; but peace can be assured only when the workers within the imperialist countries take independent class action against the imperialist warmakers.
An anti-war struggle of this kind can’t be waged under the leadership of Stalinists, social democrats or union bureaucrats. In every case these misleaders of labor are shifting further to the right in their political line, abandoning any pretext of real socialist policies, if they ever had any. A new leadership must take the helm before labor can get started on the class-struggle road to peace.
In the United States the present capitalist attack on the unions begins to open the way for the rise of a leadership capable of projecting the policy labor needs. Changing economic and social conditions should help the process along.
Within the framework of a series of boom-recession cycles the country is drifting into economic decline. Even though a full-scale depression has not yet struck, the cyclical ups and downs in the economy are generating feelings of insecurity in the population. Many are being thrust directly into personal economic crisis by the persistent rise in chronic unemployment which is spreading across wider areas of production; government figures for January show that over four million are now jobless during boom times. The AFL-CIO predicts the present boom will slack off by July; and capitalist economists speak of a general economic slump by 1961. For workers this will mean a sharp rise in unemployment, in many cases so prolonged that jobless benefits will become exhausted.
Economically the workers are put in double jeopardy because of bureaucratic misleadership in the unions: they are hurt by the crisis trends under capitalism; and they have no independent class program to defend their interests. The politically-bankrupt union bureaucrats support the imperialist war policy and count on the arms program to provide jobs. They look to the capitalist government for social benefits through legislation and for help in collective bargaining with the bosses. To impose their false policy on the workers, they strangle union democracy and connive with the bosses to suppress so-called “wild-cat” strikes.
Changing times are now beginning to break up these well-established forms of bureaucratic control over the unions. The bosses don’t intend to allow the class peace so necessary to the bureaucratic policy. They are resisting, not granting, concessions to labor; and the government is backing them up in what is rapidly becoming a general war against the unions.
The bosses are cutting production costs through automation, speedup and other devices intended both to squeeze more out of the workers on the job and to whittle down employment so far as they can. They resist wage demands and chip away at the escalator clauses pegged to the cost-of-living index; without resorting as yet to outright wage cuts, they put the workers in a position where rising prices and stiffening taxes eat into their purchasing power.
Union demands are met by counter-demands calculated to tear down long-established job conditions and to weaken union control generally. The bosses force strikes and drag them out in a war of attrition against labor. Strike insurance, professional scab agencies and direct government support to strikebreaking attacks are reappearing in new forms.
On the political front the bosses use their Democratic and Republican agents in government to hamstring the unions through anti-labor laws. They will probably go a little easy on demands for further laws until their stooges have got themselves re-elected in the fall. In the meantime they have the new Kennedy-Landrum-Griffin law to work with; and among its many provisions hostile to labor this law clears the way for open FBI intervention in the unions. The future will see these imperialist political police attempting to give all of labor the same treatment they have been dealing out to radical workers all through the witch hunt.
The basic shift in capitalist tactics undermines the position of the union bureaucrats, discrediting their whole line based on “labor statesmanship.” In the long steel strike – which clearly revealed the changing class relations – the union ranks were ahead of the leadership in giving battle to the bosses. They won a victory in the sense that the open corporation attack was halted temporarily. But the wage settlement was the poorest in years; the escalator clause was mangled; there was no reduction in hours without reduced pay to help safeguard employment; and the contract terms open the way for the McDonald bureaucracy to make “statesmanlike” concessions to the bosses on work rules.
This experience illustrates the widening gap between bureaucratic policy and the workers’ needs; and the gap will become wider still when the next economic slump hits. Mass protests against unemployment reached a post-war high in the spring of 1959, a trend that forecasts an even greater outburst next time there are mass lay-offs. The fight for an effective union policy in industry will intensify, along with labor demands upon the government for meaningful social legislation. Life under capitalism will drive the workers toward class-struggle economic and political positions. In the long run the union bureaucrats won’t be able to stop it; but they can and will continue to inhibit and distort the labor struggle.
At the present stage of developments the task for socialists remains primarily one of advancing a class-struggle program for labor. This will help union militants to clarify their thinking and prepare a sound programmatic basis for future action when the ranks decide to take union affairs into their own hands. In presenting their political analysis socialists should also pay close attention to developments in the mass movement as a whole.
Formation of the Negro Labor Council within the AFL-CIO implies action going beyond the announced aim to fight for equal rights in industry and democratic rights in the unions; it may serve to stimulate more effective union support to the general civil rights movement and thereby sharpen both the Negro struggle and the class struggle, particularly in the South. The outbreak of student demonstrations against Jim-Crow lunch counters in the South gives further impulse to mass action in the fight for equal rights; and it marks a shift of initiative toward younger Negroes capable of greater militancy.
Social ferment is increasing among youth on college campuses and in the high schools. Many are becoming rebellious against conditions under the capitalist two-party system. They are searching for a new political course and, though they have not yet become socialist-minded, they are willing to listen to socialist ideas.
Rising social tensions, generated by the twin threats of war and depression, are beginning to counteract conformist pressures long imposed by the witch hunt. People in many walks of life are asking searching political questions; they are thinking for themselves; and they begin to recognize the need to fight boldly to maintain freedom of thought, expression, association and action.
In addressing people newly interested in socialist ideas it will be well to keep in mind the political circumstances under which their thinking has been previously conditioned. Take, for example, a person who came of age after 1946. Throughout his adult life he has been subjected to an atmosphere of cold war, hot war and witch hunting. He has experienced or seen others experience periods of temporary economic hardship in times of slump; but he has at most, only hearsay knowledge of severe depression conditions.
A person in this position knows union life only under the domination of an iron-handed bureaucracy which preaches class peace, extols the virtues of capitalism and stifles democracy within the organization. He has little idea of the tremendous power inherent in the working class; and he has had virtually no access to a true, complete history of past labor struggles which would help him to understand that power.
To reach people who find themselves in this situation it will be helpful to start from the big concerns in their minds today and present the socialist answer to these problems in clear language and comprehensible terms; then go on from there to deal with even more basic political questions. By weaving in the class lessons to be drawn from world labor history, a sense of class power and a deeper knowledge of sound class principles can be developed.
Groundwork can be done in this way to get across a basic class-struggle program: formation of an independent labor party in opposition to the capitalist parties; labor support to the civil rights struggle and promotion of a political alliance between the unions and the minority peoples; an economic policy designed to serve labor’s needs; a working class policy to defeat the imperialist war conspiracy and attain world peace; a program to establish workers’ democracy throughout the world labor movement; a socialist perspective for the United States.
These are the lines along which the Socialist Workers party will conduct its presidential campaign. Vigorous efforts will be made to use every possible medium to reach people becoming interested in socialist ideas and draw them closer to the movement. This calls for a strong turnout of active socialist campaigners and equally strong financial support.
If socialist-minded people throughout the country back the SWP campaign to the best of their ability, 1960 can be made the best year for revolutionary socialism since the cold war began.
Last updated: 21.1.2006