Ideas & Debates
Nothing to Lose But Our Chains: A Working Class Program
Since Sanders stepped out of the presidential race at the DNC, throwing full support behind Hillary Clinton, a broad range of left, socialist groups and Sanders supporters have been casting their gazes to the Green Party. A CNN poll in early August showed Stein with a projected 5 percent of the total vote, and 13 percent of the vote from would-be Sanders supporters. For more than a few left and socialist groups, Jill Stein is being put forward as the best option come November. In this article, we return to the bare-bone idea of party and program needed to advance the interests of the workers and oppressed.
August 31, 2016
The two capitalist parties and their electoral charade has brought us to a face-off between Trump and HRC. Both are detested in their own rights. Both work to channel, disorganize, and co-opt the widespread disillusionment of American workers, social movements and community leaders.
We watched as the Democratic Party made Sanders’ presidential bid impossible from the start, a fact that was only confirmed by the DNC email leak in late July. Many Sanders supporters have now hopped onto Clinton’s boat to forge ahead with the Democratic Party’s modus operandi of permanent imperialist war, increasing precarity and hardship, increasing imprisonment and police terror, worsening public education and health, and cuts to social programs and welfare. We watched in recent weeks as the Republican party has all but imploded, with several Republicans announcing plans to back Clinton.
In July, police murdered Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and thousands took the streets, blocking highways, occupying, and organizing for an end to police brutality upheld by a racist system. Their rallying cries: “Black lives matter,” “No justice, no peace! Take it to the streets and FTP!” and “Stop killing Black people!” On August 1, Korryn Gaines was raided in her home by police who were there to “serve a warrant.” After a seven-hour standoff, Gaines was shot and killed; her 5-year-old son was shot in the arm. On August 13, Milwaukee police killed 23-year-old Sylville Smith. A three-day uprising ensued.
The state endows police with the purpose and tools to repress and terrorize the working class and oppressed groups to maintain the social order and divisions upon which capitalism depends. The Movement for Black Lives has impressed this deepening and radicalizing understanding into the consciousness of a new generation of youth who are rebelling in the streets. Many of these youth reject both Trump and Clinton.
More and more, we’ve learned to reject the false choices posed by the Democratic and Republican parties, who peer out at us from their convulsing, degenerating symbiotic state.
But our aims and interests as the working class and oppressed go beyond simply breaking with the two parties. To put up a fight against capitalism, racist police brutality, and the ruling political caste, our organizations and movements need a revolutionary socialist program that is independent of the capitalists.
Political independence of the working class
Most workers are underpaid, overworked, and stretched thin. Despite spending most of our waking hours at work, we still can barely pay the bills, much less save for leisure or study. The cost of higher education has reached absurd heights, the cost of living prohibits us from looking to the future or enriching our lives and minds. Many have no choice but to take out exorbitant loans and be locked down for decades, working only to pay off debt collectors. Retirement and pension are being cut, so many workers have no choice but to toil into their old age. There isn’t enough money for health care, so working families lose their homes in order to pay for expensive treatments.
Yet there remains a sector in society—dubbed the "1%" by the Occupy movement—that is enriched by our labor, social inequalities, and the precarious conditions we face. The richest sixty-two people in the world hold as much wealth as the bottom 3.6 billion, or half the world’s population. The bosses make a huge profit off of the surplus value extracted from the working class: from Chinese factory workers, to undocumented and low-wage retail workers, to secretaries in corporate offices and truck drivers transporting goods.
Importantly, a “third party” or even a “party of the 99%” with no clear class delineation is not enough.
The interests of the working class are diametrically opposed to the interests of capitalists. A party that represents Wall Street billionaires cannot offer any solutions for the working class. This is true both of Hillary, a figurehead of the Democratic establishment, and for Bernie Sanders, whose anti-establishment rhetoric brought people who had long since given up on the Democratic Party back into the fold. The Democrats, like the Republicans, are a party that represents the wealthy and, as the recently leaked emails show, is totally controlled by business elites and the party establishment.
Importantly, a “third party” or even a “party of the 99%” with no clear class delineation is not enough. Such a party will ultimately fail to raise our consciousness as a class and get at the heart of society’s major contradictions—that of class conflict and war between the working class and the capitalist ruling class. Despite their “eco-socialist” platform, the Green Party continues to be a multi-class party, even running candidates who are business owners. In 2000, the Greens ran Ralph Nader, who fired workers for forming a union. In 2016, the Greens seek to foster “community-based economics” that “limit the size” of corporations- clearly seeking a “compromise” between the interests of capitalism and the interests of the working class. As a party that continues to include business owners and support more “moderate” capitalism, the Greens are undoubtedly in the camp of the bosses, not of the workers, and cannot put up a real fight against capitalism.
We must organize as workers and rely on our own strength as a class. We make the nation. We pave the streets, build our homes, sustain our lives; we produce, sell, transport; we teach and provide care. No country in the world can operate without the collective effort and productive activity of the working class. Yet all decisions about production are made by business owners who are solely concerned with profit. The politicians who make policy represent the interests of those wealthy business owners—most clearly exemplified by the billions donated to campaigns, as well as big business lobbying firms.
We must organize as workers and rely on our own strength as a class.
We must organize within political organizations that represent the interests of workers—inherently at odds with the interests of their bosses. We must organize within political organizations that understand the power that lies within the working class- the power to make society run- and seeks to unleash this power against capital.
Class struggle, Black struggle, Struggle for the oppressed
While we fight shoulder to shoulder with workers seeking to better their conditions, we know that socialism cannot be reached by an accumulation of gradual reforms. If we think about everything that is wrong with the US today—imperialism, environmental destruction, millions without healthcare or adequate housing, massive student debt—is it really conceivable that we can fix capitalism through one reform at a time?
Revolutionaries take part in elections in order to wage a battle over ideas, program, and bring a socialist perspective to a broader public. However, we cannot achieve socialism through elections. Historical experience reveals that any deep and lasting transformation of society is brought about by mass mobilizations as a step towards insurrection. Sanders fostered illusions that the Democratic party—the party of big business, of deportation and imperialist wars—could carry out a political revolution in favor of the working class. Instead of encouraging the active mobilization of workers, the youth, and oppressed people, Sanders told his base that change could be achieved by voting.
However, even after Sanders gave his full support to Hillary Clinton and urged his supporters to do the same, protests have continued against police brutality. The youth, workers, and oppressed who are protesting are willing to fight for a way forward, beyond the empty promises of politicians. It shows that people want a real left alternative, real change, and, for many, a true revolution.
The struggle for Black liberation is a central component of revolutionary struggle in the US. We cannot simply fight for economic reforms; rather, we must fight against all oppression and for the collective liberation of all people. This means using the power of the working class at the service of Black liberation; it means unifying the labor movement with Black struggle to organize against police brutality and the racist government. This means initiatives such as a strike against police terror, using working class power to fight against racism.
Cops defend and enforce the racist, capitalist system by means of coercion and violence. They are not “our union brothers and sisters,” but the very oppressors who are sent to crush our organizations and mobilizations. With this understanding, we are discussing with union rank-and-file and non-union workers and left organizations to build a campaign that will force union leaders to disaffiliate police organizations from the AFL-CIO, and all labor unions.
A political party cannot stop at Black struggle, but must fight for the liberation of all oppressed people—women, queer people, differently-abled people and all people of color.
Against imperialism and for internationalism
The US spends more money on its defense budget than the next 12 countries’ defense budgets, combined.. This means that within the US, there is “no money” to fix Detroit’s crumbling schools, or to relieve the massive student debt for the majority of young people across the nation, but there is money for war drones, over 800 permanent military bases overseas, and murderous interventions. Internationally, this defense budget has much bloodier results—it spells the death of Syrian children from drones or from drowning in desperate attempts to get to safety. The Obama administration alone dropped bombs on 7 different countries (Afganistan, Pakistan, Libiya, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Syria), more than the Bush administration. In the meantime, the military industrial complex gets rich off of death and destruction abroad.
We must oppose all US imperialist wars and interventions and oppose all imperialist candidates—not just Donald Trump, but also the “lesser evil” Hillary Clinton. Sanders, who supported the wars in Afghanistan and Kosovo and defended Israeli attacks on Palestinians, is no alternative either.
We must be against imperialism and warmongering. However, we must go beyond simply opposing US actions abroad—we must organize on the principle of internationalism. We must actively support progressive and anti-imperialist efforts abroad. This means taking to the streets not only for struggles within the US, but also internationally, like many did after the police murders in Oaxaca.
During the Democratic primaries, we saw the word “socialism” increasingly embraced by millions, especially youth. Although Sanders is not a socialist, the success of his campaign point us to a new generation that has come into political consciousness during and after the 2008 economic crisis that does not owe anything to capitalism. Young people are struggling more than their parents’ generation to “make it”. Saddled with debt, the notion of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” has become a felt impossibility amidst unemployment and precarity, low wages, and massive debt.
What is the way out of this misery? Sanders put forward a “political revolution” that would vote in new and more progressive candidates. His subsequent endorsement of Clinton is the most obvious evidence of the complete strategic failure of this conception of revolution. We do not need a political revolution, we need a socialist revolution.
Workers make the country run, so we should run the country. We produce, transport and distribute everything. There is no need for bosses whose interests are their own profits, not the benefit of society. The working class should take the economic and political reigns of the country in their own hands, creating a society without bosses that is organized for the benefit of all, not the luxury of a tiny minority.
Some people think organizing for socialism is fighting for a crazy pipe dream. In fact, the widely operating illusion is that somehow minor tweaks can alleviate the miseries of capitalism. The illusion is looking to capitalists to end imperialist wars, solve the environmental disaster, and poverty.
Only a revolution can change the current state of affairs—not the “revolution” of Sanders, but rather, a working-class revolution that is organized against racism, sexism, homo- and transphobia, and all oppression and exploitation created and perpetuated by capitalist society.