The following speech was presented by Julius Arscott, leading member of Socialist Action at the recent Revolution or Ruin conference held online on November 21, 2020 following the panel ‘What We Need’ in the session titled ‘How to Get It’. WATCH CONFERENCE HERE: https://youtu.be/nuLDI5rZ_xE
By Gary Porter, Julius Arscott and Barry Weisleder
The first panel today described the multiple and deepening crises of the capitalist system. Capitalism, as Marx described, must constantly expand. Capitalists must make profit or perish. This is not driven by human need. It is driven by the imperatives of a system that now blocks the path to human progress, to the very survival of humanity. Capitalism has nothing positive to contribute.
The tendency of the rate of profit to decline, as global corporations adapt to every initiative of their competitors, propels several processes:
1. Speed up of production, as we see at Amazon. This predatory behemoth manages order pickers and delivery drivers with continual remote time measurement and slave driver oversight.
2. Automation, leading to unemployment of many, instead of delivering benefits to all.
3. Export of jobs to foreign shores and the abuse of super-exploited labour.
4. Racism, which increases profit.
5. Sexism, which increases profit.
6. Overshadowing all of these are deadly pandemics.
7. Austerity and concessions bargaining.
8. Endless war, and
9. Climate catastrophe.
Capitalism can solve none of these problems. Not a single one.
The revolutionary overthrow of capitalism by the assertion of workers’ power, the destruction of the entire capitalist property system and state structure, are the only practical and reasonable answers. Liberals, Stalinists and social democrats say we revolutionaries are extremists, and unreasonable people. It is not us but the ravages of capitalism that are extreme, threatening survival of humanity and many other species. Their modest reforms solve nothing. In fact, over the past 50 years, neoliberal austerity has wiped out many reforms won earlier. Under reformist leadership, the workers’ movement has been driven backwards.
The working class is the only force with its hands on the great economic levers of society. Only the workers can bring the capitalist system of exploitation to a grinding halt. Only workers can start up the economy again, under their own democratic control, no longer driven by profit but by human needs. The bosses are completely unnecessary.
What compels the working class to revolt? What ushers in a pre-revolutionary situation? It is not the brilliant pamphlets or sparkling oratory of revolutionary socialists, though brilliant and sparkling they may well be. It is the relentless, increasing attack by capitalism on workers’ standard of living, on workers’ rights, on Black workers, women workers, and LGBTQI workers. A workers’ revolt occurs when conditions become impossible and workers see no other way out.
When that time comes, when a revolutionary opportunity appears, whether the revolution succeeds or fails will very much depend on whether there is a Leninist party sufficiently developed and with enough influence in the workers’ movement to be able to emerge as the leadership.
The Russian Revolution of October 1917 demonstrated conclusively the victory of the Leninist concept of the revolutionary vanguard party and the defeat of the Menshevik notion of the broad “Marxist” party. The Mensheviks held that the working class “spontaneously” develops towards revolutionary consciousness and that therefore the task of Marxists is to organize a party that would reflect this expectation.
By relying on spontaneous militancy for the development of revolutionary consciousness, the Mensheviks relegated the historical tasks of the revolutionary vanguard to a spontaneous historical process. Inevitably, they built a mass party of uneducated workers, led by a layer of careerists, parliamentarians and intellectuals for whom workers’ power was remote and surreal. Such parties eventually and inevitably betrayed the socialist revolution. The Mensheviks supported Kerensky and the fleeting bourgeois government, the Duma, or parliament. Today the NDP leadership, sitting atop a party founded by the merger of the Canadian Labour Congress and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, is absolutely committed to Canadian imperialism. It is an implacable enemy of socialist revolution and the revolutionary party. This is what Menshevism has produced. This is what we must defeat in Canada to emerge as the leaders of the working class. We in Socialist Action fight the labour lieutenants of capital in tandem with like minded activists and socialists in the NDP Socialist Caucus and in the Workers’ Action Movement. There is no way to avoid that fight and there’s no easy way to win it. Those who do not understand the primacy of the working class, or who do not have the patience and grit for such a fight against social democratic treachery, will not make it as Leninist revolutionaries.
Lenin held that revolutionary consciousness did not develop “spontaneously” but had to be constantly fought for. He set out to build a disciplined vanguard party capable of fighting for the Marxist program and transforming the revolutionary potential of spontaneous militancy into revolutionary consciousness and revolutionary action. On a smaller scale, those who have organized workers prior to a collective agreement ratification vote know about the effort involved in educating and agitating to effectively fight the boss. None of this organization occurs ‘spontaneously’.
Why is it that workers do not arrive at revolutionary class consciousness spontaneously? It’s no mystery. Workers are educated in bourgeois schools which falsely teach the superiority of capitalism – that insist that striving for personal profit is natural and normal. Workers work long hours to feed their families, pay rents, and to pay down mortgages and credit card debt. They read or watch bourgeois media which calls those who struggle against exploitation and oppression troublemakers, terrorists, or often racist names. Police violence is always just behind the curtain, or it is blatant and omnipresent for racial, gender and sexual minorities. And most workers are fragmented, lacking union representation. Unionized workers are seldom mobilized by the privileged, pro-capitalist bureaucrats who dominate the unions and who run them autocratically.
The working class develops toward political class consciousness through mass action in the class struggle AND through the resulting clash of rival leaderships, political parties, and programs. Revolutionary consciousness can develop only by means of the dialectic between theory and practice, formulated in a program and developed consistently only by a revolutionary party. The task of the revolutionary party is to win the majority of the working class to the revolutionary banner by means of the fight for a program of transitional and democratic demands. Our job is to transform the revolutionary potential of spontaneous militancy into revolutionary communist consciousness and to defeat all middle-class contenders active in the workers’ movement. How important is this work?
Trotsky summed up the centrality of the revolutionary party in a famous expression: “The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of revolutionary leadership”.
The gathering multifaceted crisis of world capitalism is forcing the working class, one layer after another, onto the streets in opposition, beginning with super exploited and specially oppressed people, blacks and other racialized minorities, women, and workers from underdeveloped countries.
With the passage of time, the reformists’ desperate efforts to hold back the wheel of history will demonstrate more clearly to the masses that the crisis of proletarian leadership, having become the crisis of humanity, can be resolved only by a revolutionary socialist leadership.
The bourgeoisie intervenes purposely in this process. The bourgeoisie creates a labour aristocracy and promotes the growth of a parasitic labour bureaucracy within the workers’ movement. This alien intrusion into the working class creates the main obstacle to the development of class consciousness and the principal enemy of communism. The reformist bureaucracy fosters reformist illusions on the working class, and maintains reformism in the workers’ movement by means of opposition to militant action and by relentless war on the communists. We who participate in the Workers’ Action Movement have experienced first hand the paranoia and reactionary behaviour of the misleaders of our unions as a result of our relentless agitational, educational and organizational work. WAM candidates received massive support, 36% and 34% of the votes of delegates at the November 2019 convention of the Ontario Federation of Labour – which the OFL brass refused to acknowledge.
The program and practice of the labour bureaucracy limit the forward movement of the masses. Development towards class consciousness can occur only as the result of political struggle between the tendencies active in the workers’ movement.
The working class in general, and the advanced workers in particular, mature through political conflict. The development of the working class towards class consciousness can only take the form of the political struggle of tendencies and parties. A key mechanism to move the workers’ movement forward, and to clarify the political differences between the various tendencies in the workers’ movement, is the United Front tactic. We call for all forces who can agree with limited, specific democratic and transitional demands to form a united front to advance those specific demands, for the benefit of all workers. To be effective, a united front must be non-exclusionary. It must operate democratically and it must allow all tendencies to promote their own programs, and to speak freely. We pursue this tactic in all the political work we do. It is evident, most recently, in the Toronto May Day Committee, in our Venezuela, Cuba and Palestine Solidarity work, in our Peel Against Racism rally, in the international campaign to Free Mumia Abu Jamal, and in our current proposal for united socialist campaigns in the next municipal elections, to name just a few examples.
The Revolutionary Party is not an intellectuals’ parlour game. It is a workers’ organisation. It is the product of a series of sharp, conscious struggles, not only against the ruling class, but against reformism and ultra-leftism inside the working class. We move from tendency and faction fights in the ranks of the revolutionary organization, to mergers with other parties that are moving in a revolutionary direction, and splits with those moving in the opposite direction. The development of the revolutionary party is a highly conscious process. It is the exact opposite of spontaneous. And, it is the only way to save the human race from misery and the threat of extinction. As we say, the work is its own reward, and this way forward is indispensable.Join Socialist Action. Together we will win, and the sooner the better.