Written by La Voz Editorial Team
As this issue of LaVoz appears, the 2020 election cycle increasingly takes center stage in US politics. For the left, this means grappling with the Bernie Sanders campaign, whose proposed social democratic reforms represent the boldest program in US mainstream electoral politics for at least a half century. Workers and oppressed people in the US have taken a pummeling since the 2008 recession; indeed, the capitalist class has been running roughshod over the working class for far longer. Sanders’ appeal to those of us not in the so-called one percent is therefore obvious. His advocacy for reforms such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal has proven popular, even, in the case of M4A, with the Fox News crowd.
Sanders’s candidacy, however, poses important conundrums for revolutionary socialists. The most influential current within the socialist movement, represented by much of DSA as well as Jacobin magazine, is unquestioningly endorsing Sanders. They argue that the Sanders campaign is the most promising prospect for implementing urgent reforms; that a Sanders victory will be an opening for more radical future struggles, maybe even for real socialism; and that, even if Sanders loses, his run will have raised mass socialist consciousness. While we reject these arguments, we don’t dismiss them.
Two articles in this issue take on the question of reformism within the socialist movement and the larger question of how reforms are actually won. The article on Bernie 2020 and the article critiquing Vivek Chibber, one of today’s leading theorists of reformism, both clarify that it’s not the reforms that the new social democrats or Kautskyists are proposing with which we necessarily disagree. To be sure, the Green New Deal raises major questions about whether reforms based on maintaining capitalist growth are even worth pursuing (We believe that doing so would be misguided). But whether the reforms are ones that promote socialism and, relatedly, planetary survival, or not, it’s the overall strategy for winning them with which we most decisively disagree. For such a strategy relies on bourgeois institutions and the Democratic Party, the oldest and most effective bourgeois party in the world. In what way is the DP most effective? Certainly not at winning reforms in favor of workers let alone increasing our power. What they have been most effective at, historically, is co-opting, demobilizing, and defanging any threats to the capitalist order that is the basis from which all of the destructive forces of the world emanate.
The reformists around Jacobin wager that the Bernie campaign will open a gulf within the DP, which can then form the basis of a future social democratic party. Revolutionary socialists, basing our arguments on the history of abject failure which such a strategy almost inevitably brings about, wager that it’s more effective, and a more solid basis for worker self-organization, to work outside the DP. Rather than centering bourgeois elections in our work, we focus on organizing in our workplaces, neighborhoods, and in the streets, building socialist consciousness through class struggle. The next period will prove who is correct. We only hope that the electoral path to socialism pursued by the reformists does not, as it did all over Europe ahead of WWI, and in places like Chile in the early 1970s, undermine socialism for a generation or more. The experience of social democrats in government in Sweden and France in the 1970s and 1980s, and more recently, Syriza in Greece must disillusion even the most optimistic reformist.
In this issue we also publish interviews with leaders and activists within the teachers’ strike wave from West Virginia, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Arizona; along with a solidarity action by Las Vegas Uber and Lyft drivers supporting their comrades on strike in California. These continue our engagement with the US working class in motion, led by rank and file teachers and workers who are drawing increasingly anti-capitalist conclusions. We also publish here an excerpt of our party’s document on how Marxists fight women’s oppression, both within capitalist society at large and within our own class organizations – parties, unions, and other social movement forms.
These pieces raise many important issues which will be of great interest to revolutionary socialists. What ties them together are (among other threads) the emphasis on working class independence and on building organizations that support and empower oppressed workers to lead. What distinguishes our Marxist anti-oppression method from those of other currents, both on the liberal and self-described socialist left, is our simultaneous rooting of oppression in capitalism while taking seriously the extra-economic (interpersonal, psychological, violent) expressions of oppression. Another unique aspect of our party’s approach is in our emphasis on addressing and rooting out oppression not only in capitalist society at large, but in our own organizations, focusing not only on larger societal, structural inequalities but also on their appearance – often in the form of small-scale interpersonal relations – and impact within our organizing spaces.
Another common theme in these pieces relates to what Trotsky called democratic demands and transitional demands. By “democratic demands,” Trotsky was referring to reforms, such as winning legal rights and protection, or a redistribution of wealth, that can be achieved within capitalism. By “transitional demands,” he meant demands that require the elimination of capitalist exploitation and the abolition of the bourgeois state. They can only be implemented with the establishment of communism. The demands both striking workers and women’s liberation militants make – as with any struggle for reforms – are usually democratic. With respect to women’s liberation, for example, equal pay for equal work, free abortion on demand, right to vote and right to divorce, real protections against sexual harassment and violence, expanded maternity and paternity leave, etc. Yet there are also demands that we would call “transitional.” These directly relate to the material base of oppression – for example, the reproductive labor performed by women in the household and family. Such demands can only be addressed with a workers’ government that socializes reproductive labor – free childcare centers, community laundromats and restaurants, communal kitchens, etc. Another way of saying this is that, because the capitalist class can sometimes be willing to grant democratic concessions but will never tolerate challenges to their property relations, the way to make any reforms durable is to have workers’ power, thus a workers’ state and eventually, communism.
Finally, a word on the inspiring uprisings in Algeria and Sudan (in this issue we feature a report from the latter). The ongoing revolutionary movements there are part of a long Arab revolutionary process that has been unfolding over the past eight-plus years. Since 2011, for example, the masses in Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, and Iraq, have all risen up. This process is borne of a deep structural crisis, as Gilbert Achar has recently discussed, caused largely by IMF austerity policies imposed by corrupt, deeply unpopular authoritarian regimes. These have resulted in deteriorating social conditions, declining wages, huge levels of youth unemployment, and more expensive staples. The trigger for Sudan uprisings, for example, was the government’s removal of bread subsidies, under pressure from the IMF. As Achar has shown, there will no stabilization of the Arab region without radical social, economic, and political transformation. Without this, we will only see more uprisings and counterrevolutionary reactions: “this should come as no surprise. As every long-term revolutionary process in history has shown, there will be a dialectic of revolution and counterrevolution as long as the key political and economic problems have not been solved.”
One of the most hopeful aspects of both the Sudanese and Algerian uprisings is that they’ve learned the lessons of the Egyptian revolution of 2011. First: don’t end your uprising when the military removes the head of state. The revolutions won’t achieve any of their ends if the military is allowed to take over. Further, the Sudanese revolutionaries are winning rank and file military to their side – a method reminiscent of the one successfully pursued by the Bolsheviks in 1917. This is one of the main reasons why the military hasn’t massively cracked down on the uprising. The second important lesson is the need to organize the working class independently, in alliance with peasants and popular sectors, so it can present an alternative government of its own. The other danger of these processes is that they culminate in replacing a bloody bourgeois dictatorship by a “democratic” capitalist and pro-imperialist government. On the day of our writing this editorial, the Sudanese masses announced a two-day strike to pressure the military to concede to a civilian government. The Arab uprisings are not yet crushed – they continue to unfold and continue to inspire! Our solidarity with the rising workers of Sudan and Algeria!
La Voz Editorial – June 2019
Written by La Voz Editorial Team