Perspectives for Struggle in 2012
By Socialist Alternative
This document analyzing the historic struggles of 2011, particularly the Occupy movement, and putting forward perspectives for struggles in 2012, was unanimously agreed by the National Committee of Socialist Alternative, which met February 18-20. It has been slightly updated and amended since then to reflect new developments.
1.Over the last year a sea change in both U.S. and international politics took place. Faced with a spiraling capitalist crisis, and with the traditional political parties of the “left” and “right” offering only deeper misery as their “solution,” tens of millions of ordinary people forced their way onto the stage of history in bold and desperate attempts to change its course. Early last year, the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt gave confidence to the workers and youth of Wisconsin, who consciously emulated their tactics of continuous protests and occupations. Then, the mass revolts across Europe – in Greece and Spain in particular – directly inspired the Occupy Wall Street movement, which in a few short weeks dramatically changed the face of U.S. politics, ushering in a new era of protest and open class conflict.
2.The Occupy movement gathered together the pre-existing activist layer in U.S. society while simultaneously birthing a new and self-confident generation of activists, thereby laying the basis for new upsurges of struggle and radicalization in 2012 and beyond. The Oakland “General Strike” and port shutdown on November 2, the December 12 West Coast Ports Shutdown, and the preparations for a showdown at the Longview, WA port between the ILWU and EGT underscore the growing militancy and political development of the Occupy movement, as well as its impact within the ranks of organized labor.
3.Working out clear perspectives for how Occupy and wider struggles will develop in 2012 is difficult, particularly with the complications created by the elections. In part, perspectives hinge on the economic crisis now engulfing Europe and China, which threatens to send the entire world into a new recession and reverse the feeble economic recovery in the U.S. Renewed recession would dramatically sharpen class tensions but, whether the economy slumps or not, the experiences of the last year have educated the activists, alongside the wider working class and youth, laying the basis for even more advanced class battles in the coming period.
4.Political attitudes underwent a transformation in 2011, as popular consciousness began to catch up with the reality of an enduring social, political, and economic crisis of capitalism. After the sweeping victory of Tea Party Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections, many on the left, especially apologists for the Democratic Party, placed the blame on “apathetic” workers and predicted a sustained right-wing shift in U.S. society. However, we explained the election mainly reflected an anti-incumbent “throw the bums out” attitude toward Obama and the Democrats after two years of broken promises, pro-corporate policies, and failure to resolve mass unemployment. We anticipated that new events and the experience of having the Republicans in power would rapidly undermine support for the Republicans and provoke fresh struggles. The February “Battle of Wisconsin,” provoked by Governor Walker’s attacks on the trade unions, confirmed our perspective more rapidly and thoroughly than even we anticipated.
5.Now the Occupy movement has compelled everyone, including all the presidential candidates, to respond to issues of class inequality and corporate domination. Obama and the Democrats have attempted to co-opt the movement and the language of the 1% vs. the 99%, but their deep ties to Wall Street do not go unnoticed. Meanwhile, the Republican candidates are forced to argue against class ideas, denying even the existence of the 1% or class divisions in society. In the run-up to the New Hampshire primaries, Rick Santorum blasted Mitt Romney for using the term “middle class,” saying he preferred saying “middle income,” while Gingrich enraged Republican strategists by successfully painting Romney as a “vulture capitalist” and soundly defeating him in the South Carolina primary.
6.Meanwhile, a Pew Research poll released in January shows a rapid rise in class tensions, with 66% of Americans now saying there are “strong conflicts” between rich and poor, which is a significant rise since 2009 when only 47% saw “strong conflicts.” While we cannot yet speak of widespread class consciousness in the Marxist sense (i.e., understanding of the potential power and historic role of the working class), the rapid growth in “class feelings” creates fertile ground for class consciousness to develop. Already in the last year, the idea of a general strike has twice been seriously posed in actual struggles in the U.S.: first in the Wisconsin struggle, when our organization played a key role in popularizing the idea of a one-day public sector general strike, then in Oakland, when Occupy’s call for a “general strike” brought tens of thousands into the streets, including important contingents of organized labor.
7.Parallel with rising class anger, sympathy for socialist ideas is also on the rise. Half of young people aged 18-29 view socialism positively, according to a Pew poll in December. This is six percentage points higher than 20 months ago. Meanwhile, support for capitalism continues to decline, with 47% having negative views of the system. At present, of course, understanding of socialism remains quite low, with many vaguely looking toward more regulation, social democratic reforms, or a “mixed economy” rather than a planned economy under democratic workers’ control.
8.Nonetheless, levels of socialist sympathies this high are significant, especially given the nearly universal condemnation of socialism by the corporate media and both parties, backed up by deep reservoirs of anti-communism built up in the Cold War era. The poll further underscores the growing objective space for building a mass socialist movement in the U.S., even if the subjective factor – organized Marxist forces – remains extremely weak.
9.A central factor impacting mass consciousness and perspectives for struggle is the fate of the U.S. economy. Headlines in December and January announced the economy was “gaining steam” based on fresh job creation and corresponding declines in the unemployment rate. From October through December, the U.S. economy grew at 2.8 percent, the highest rate since the second quarter of 2010, but overall GDP growth in 2011 was just 1.7 percent.
10.The fourth quarter growth prompted many to once again begin celebrating a sustained recovery. However, more serious analysts point to recurrent weak spots in the U.S. and world economies, including the anemic housing market, persistently high unemployment, continued budget cuts and layoffs by federal, state and local governments, threats from the eurozone debt crisis, the slowdown in China, and so on. The conclusion of serious capitalist strategists is that the U.S. economy remains extremely vulnerable to fresh economic shocks, both internal and external.
11.Even if some level of anemic economic growth continues through 2012, budget cuts, layoffs, foreclosures, and growing inequality will also continue. For working people, there remains no recovery. It is worth remembering that many times in history, including in the U.S. in the 1930s, the periods of economic upswing following recessions provided more breathing space and confidence for workers to fight back. However, if a new global recession sets in this year – a widely discussed possibility in the business media – the impact on consciousness and struggle could be explosive. The U.S. and world working class now have the experience of 2011 under their belt, and they will not be in a mood to quietly submit to even deeper miseries.
Perspectives for Occupy
12.Following the mass movement in Wisconsin, we explained that the dam had broken and that we had entered a new era of struggle. However, our main perspective was for defensive battles against budget cuts, attacks on unions, layoffs, foreclosures, or fresh attacks on immigrants, women, or LGBT rights. Occupy Wall Street (OWS) was something different. While resting on mass anger at class inequality, corporate corruption, and economic anxieties, fundamentally Occupy was a generalized struggle against the elite and the system as a whole. Rather than taking a defensive posture on this or that single issue, the ideas and rhetoric of Occupy boldly raised the need for a radical reorganization of our economic and political system. This feature, also seen in the youthful uprisings worldwide, captured the imagination of millions, “changed the conversation,” and put the ruling class on the defensive.
13.Although the movement has clearly been weakened by police evictions and winter weather, it is by no means defeated. On the contrary, much of the activist layer born out of Occupy emerged from police repression more confident of their political power, while the mayors, police chiefs, and federal authorities who conspired to coordinate the repression find their legitimacy and political authority further undermined.
14.Nowhere is this clearer than in Oakland, where the occupiers were twice able to shut down the nation’s fifth largest port in retaliation against police repression, while divisions within the mayor’s office and police officials played out publicly. Similarly in New York, Bloomberg’s cynical lies and brutal methods were exposed and his credibility damaged. More recent confrontations between police and organized ultra-left trends in Occupy Oakland gave city officials the opportunity to paint occupiers as bent on bedlam but, in general, ruling class attempts to discredit Occupy has met limited success.
15.While the situation varies across the country, in many areas it’s clear that Occupy activists are regrouping for the next phase of the struggle. From the start of this movement, we have urged turning outward to draw larger numbers into activity, to develop a working-class orientation, and to build campaigns around concrete demands. Making clear demands and fighting for specific reforms is not a contradiction – as some trends in Occupy argue – with a more general critique of the system. The “transitional method” developed by genuine Marxism is the art and science of building the link, through a program of fighting “transitional demands” and proposals for struggle, between the immediate burning problems facing working-class people and the need for the socialist transformation of society. It is a method of demonstrating through the practical experience of struggle that capitalism is incapable of meeting our needs, and it outlines the concrete strategic tasks to bring about system change in direct relation to the living struggle and current consciousness.
16.In fact, on the basis of experience, the most serious activists in the Occupy movement, attempting to resolve this same problem, are increasingly turning toward campaigns on immediate issues facing working-class communities and youth. The national “Occupy Education” day of action on March 1 appears to be gathering momentum, as does the idea of mass non-payment of student debts. After the experience of almost a million people participating in “Bank Transfer Day” last fall, we must be prepared for this kind of struggle taking off.
17. With developments like “Occupy the Hood” and neighborhood assemblies in many areas, activists are shifting focus to take up immediate struggles in working-class communities. The “Occupy Homes” fight against foreclosures is gaining momentum in a number of cities, and more nationally coordinated action is being prepared. Occupy-inspired campaigns against budget cuts to crucial social services are also gaining some momentum in various cities. As of yet, the new campaigns being taken up by various circles of Occupy activists have not managed to rebuild the scale of protests and national momentum the movement had last fall, but the potential for new upsurges exists.
18.Adbusters, credited with initiating OWS, put out a call to action for 50,000 people to occupy Chicago starting on May 1 to protest the G8 summit (originally scheduled for Saturday, May 19 – Sunday, May 20) and the NATO summit (still scheduled for May 21 – 22). The mobilization appears to be gaining steam, and the Obama administration – fearing disruptions – moved the G8 meeting to Camp David. However, the NATO summit protest will still likely attract tens of thousands and be the central flashpoint of resistance for Occupy activists in the spring.
19.Across the country, Occupy and immigrants’ rights activists are building for May 1 demonstrations, which could be large in some areas, though calls for a May 1 national “general strike” will fail to gain much traction among workers. The protests against the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida in August and, to a lesser degree, the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in September will also be important rallying points for the movement.
17.The Occupy movement is characterized mostly by the raw anger of young people and their determination to struggle. The idea that one-off days of protest are not enough, that constant resistance is necessary, is a huge step forward. Most importantly, the idea that a radically different economic and political system is both possible and necessary was at the heart of the Occupy movement.
18.At same time, consciousness generally and among those actively involved in Occupy is starting from a very low level. This echoed our experience and analysis of the huge struggle in Wisconsin earlier in the year. Still, despite the low consciousness and the lack of organized political forces (and in some ways because of these factors), there is widespread openness to and interest in anti-capitalist and socialist ideas in both these movements, especially among youth.
19.Deep confusion prevails about the way forward, what approach can mobilize wider layers, and what a viable alternative to capitalism might look like. In the early stage of Occupy Wall Street, this ideological vagueness allowed it to attract all manner of support, with each political trend projecting its own ideological stamp onto the movement. However, this approach rapidly hit limitations as the size and potential power of the movement developed.
20.The ubiquitous debate within the Occupy movement over adopting demands revealed some of these limitations. Virtually nowhere was the movement able to concisely put together a basic fighting program or set of rounded out demands. Yet the most serious activists everywhere recognized the practical need to adopt fighting demands on issues facing working-class communities, and in practice certain demands were adopted. Focused protests to stop budget cuts, foreclosures, tuition increases, and union busting forced the movement to adopt demands, though these demands were often framed in weak, muddled, and limited ways as a concession to the prevailing “no demands” consciousness.
21.This sort of stumbling, pragmatic, empirical development of consciousness is a window into how ideas will continue to be clarified as wider struggles erupt in the U.S. The fact that the active elements in Occupy Wall Street were disproportionately middle class youth – with the core heavily influenced by anarchist ideas – was not an accident of history, but rather a necessary stage through which consciousness had to pass. When the winds of history blow, “the tops of the trees move first,” as Trotsky put it when referring to the role of the middle-class youth of Russia in the early stages of their revolutionary movement.
22.Now, circles of left activists based around clear political trends, including organized socialist and anarchist groups, are partially filling the vacuum of ideas within Occupy in a whole number of cities. In some cases this has been a healthy influence, encouraging a more working-class orientation and bringing the experience of basic community organizing methods into the movement. But sometimes, in combination with these positive influences, some left and anarchist forces have encouraged ultra-left and adventurist methods which are causing problems and reinforcing the “anti-political” mood.
Danger of Ultra-Leftism
23.As the Occupy movement wanes in numbers and influence, there is a danger that ultra-left ideas will grow more prominent. This is a clear pattern in history: following the peak of every serious social movement, mistaken tactics can grow out of moods of impatience, frustration, and isolation. The most energetic layer of activists who, in the period of the movement’s rise, grew self-confident with the wind of popular support at their backs, suddenly feel their hard-won influence and power slipping from their grasp. Attempts to regain the initiative through overly bold or confrontational actions can gain support, especially among freshly radicalized youth who have not experienced the ups and downs of the class struggle.
24.An important example that is provoking national debate within the Occupy movement is the January 28 clash between Oakland police and several hundred occupiers equipped with shields, firecrackers, and other projectiles, alongside the subsequent break-in and vandalism in Oakland City Hall. Their attempt to turn an empty building into a community space was overshadowed by the violent clash, and police used the incident to justify the arrest of 400 people later in the day at a separate peaceful march. Learning nothing, some of the organizers issued a public statement threatening “to make your lives miserable” and shutting down the airport if police continue to prevent the liberation of the abandoned building.
25.While the severe repression deepened public anger at the Oakland police, the incident will almost certainly further isolate Occupy Oakland from the wider working class, reducing most ordinary people to the role of bystanders. Attempts by media and politicians to paint Occupy activists as “terrorists” will be laughed off by most thinking workers, but at the same time they will be far more hesitant to participate if such actions become the new face of the movement. Occupy achieved massive public sympathy, but to turn passive support into an active mass movement the organizers must adopt campaigning demands that connect with consciousness and methods of struggle that inspire the widest possible participation.
26.Similarly, calls for a May 1 “general strike,” while well-meaning, are a completely premature ultra-left tactic that will not result in widespread workplace strikes. Despite the experience of Wisconsin, OWS, and other important steps forward in the last year, class consciousness, labor militancy, and strike activity remain at historic lows in the U.S. This, combined with Occupy’s lack of any real base in the unions or workplaces, means very few worker activists will take their call seriously, undermining the authority of Occupy activists urging the general strike. Of course, we cannot rule out a few workplaces (ILWU Local 10 in Oakland, immigrant truck drivers, etc.) taking strike action and some students, especially immigrant students, organizing walkouts, but all these could be accomplished without the discrediting effect of calling for a full “general strike.” The main dynamic of the “general strike” will most likely be large protests on May 1 by Occupy and the immigrants’ rights movement in a number of cities.
27.The rise of ultra-left moods in the Occupy movement highlights the vital importance of building a genuine Marxist organization to equip the best workers and youth who want to overthrow the system with the necessary ideas, strategy, and tactics to be effective. If a strong socialist force with correct tactics is not built, it is inevitable that some of the best activists will be lost to various dead-end and self-isolating political trends, or to the opportunist forces that can grow in response to this.
Occupy and the Unions
28.The Occupy movement inspired the active ranks of the labor movement and challenged conservative union leaders. At the same time, for the Occupy activists the problem of how to relate to the unions is causing substantial political debate. On the West Coast especially, both the conservatism of union leaders and the ultra-leftism of sections of the Occupy movement is on full display. It’s worth taking a closer look at the conflict between the leadership of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and Occupy activists because it provides the best window into this broader process.
29.Following the major police crackdown on Occupy Oakland in October, a 2,000-strong general assembly called for a “general strike” and a march to shut down the huge Port of Oakland on November 2. With widespread sympathy for Occupy among union ranks, many labor leaders were pushed further than they wanted to go, officially supporting the action, which was respected by the longshore workers. In reality, there were very few actual workplace strikes, but many workers took personal or sick days, students walked out, and longshore workers didn’t cross the mass community pickets set up at the Port of Oakland. Estimates range from 15,000-30,000, making it the biggest Occupy protest outside of NYC. This excellent mass action, while not a general strike, dramatically boosted the confidence and authority of Occupy Oakland. At the same time, through a positive example of what is possible, it exposed the shameful failure of labor leaders to organize similar actions of their own against Corporate America.
30.For this reason, the subsequent West Coast Port Shutdown on December 12 and actions called by Occupy groups to defend the Longview ILWU in their dispute with EGT met with public denunciations from leaders of the ILWU and other union tops. Union officials bitterly complained that Occupy groups failed to get agreement through official union channels when they called for the December 12 shutdown or the subsequent call to shut down the Longview port when the EGT ship docked to be unloaded with scab labor. But with important sections of ILWU ranks supporting the actions – particularly in Longview, where the labor dispute was centered – it’s clear the leadership’s attitude flowed from fear of losing authority and having their conservative, law-abiding, failed methods of struggle challenged.
31.At the same time, mistakes conditioned by ultra-left political trends within Occupy handed unnecessary opportunities for union leaders, the corporate media, police, and government officials to isolate the port shutdown actions. Rather than dismissively avoiding direct negotiations with union leaders, Occupy activists – including left-wing rank-and-file longshore workers – should have clearly proposed joint action for the West Coast Port Shutdown through official union channels. Even if this had been rejected, the union leaders would not have been able to hide behind the issue of democratic process.
32.Similarly, when Occupy activists connected with the “Black Orchid Collective” organized a solidarity meeting in Seattle for the ILWU Local 21 workers in Longview, WA, they did so without seriously attempting direct dialogue with ILWU leaders. Conservative elements within the ILWU seized on this mistake to disrupt the solidarity meeting, promoting a statement by the ILWU president arguing against Occupy plans to shut down the Longview Port when the EGT ship docked to be unloaded by scab labor. Despite the presence of rank-and-file ILWU members speaking at the meeting in favor of the shutdown tactic, ILWU leaders tried to portray Occupy as a completely outside group imposing their approach on the workers. The pro-leadership group broke up the solidarity meeting by yelling and shoving other activists.
33.The next day, the Black Orchid Collective issued a statement correctly denouncing this undemocratic and disruptive behavior. However, their statement also attempted to portray the Occupy movement as a budding new leadership for the working class, in effect attempting to substitute Occupy for the unions. While many workers are sympathetic to and inspired by Occupy, with some unionists taking an active part, this energy should be used to help left oppositionists transform – not replace – the unions. The International Socialist Organization published articles correctly criticizing the Black Orchid Collective for attempting to bypass the unions but scandalously failing to criticize the union leaders’ right-wing offensive against Occupy and the rank-and-file militancy of the ILWU!
34.Despite these political weaknesses and divisions, the mass solidarity and militancy of the ILWU and the Occupy movement still succeeded in scoring a major victory, forcing EGT to concede on the key issue of the ILWU’s right to operate the grain terminal in Longview and on other issues. It appears the Obama administration did not want to take the heat this election year for using the U.S. Coast Guard, a branch of the U.S. military, to bust the ILWU and, instead, arranged behind the scenes for Washington State Democratic Governor Gregoire to force EGT to make a number of important concessions. The Democrats would never have done this, however, if it were not for the militancy and mass mobilizations of the ILWU and Occupy.
35.Of course, struggles in 2012 will not be limited to the Occupy movement. The continuing budget cuts and attacks on trade union rights could provoke fresh waves of working class resistance, particularly in the public sector, which remains the most densely unionized sector of the U.S. labor movement. The Occupy movement stirred up renewed confidence and a mood to fight within the union ranks and among some union leaders.
36.At the same time, many labor leaders used support for Occupy to cover up a year of defeats and concessions. The Wisconsin movement, initiated from below, was derailed by union leaders’ sabotaging the general strike campaign and channeling the struggle into their electoral recall strategy. This failed strategy flows from their deep ties to the Democratic Party as well as their generally timid, conservative outlook. Even if unions succeed this year at replacing Governor Walker with a Democrat, workers should not expect a Democratic Wisconsin governor to reverse Walker’s budget cuts or all of his attacks on union rights.
37.Big business and politicians have continued their attacks on unions since their victory in Wisconsin. We should not forget that even Democrats initiated major anti-union legislation last year, most notably in Illinois and Massachusetts, underscoring how the frontal assault on U.S. labor is part of an overall capitalist offensive, not simply a right-wing Republican agenda. Unions in Ohio were able to reverse anti-labor legislation through a big referendum victory in November. The vote reflected the popular swing against right-wing anti-worker propaganda. It also showed that unions can reach out and unite broad layers of workers when they want to. However, most labor leaders only know how to mobilize for elections, and as long as they remain tied to the Democrats, this means marching unions into their grave.
38.The Indiana legislature, dominated by Republicans, just delivered another severe blow to organized labor. The January passage of a “right to work” law banning closed-shop union workplaces makes Indiana the 23rd “right to work” state, with most others concentrated in the South and other mainly rural, low union density states. Indiana’s traditionally strong unions organized boisterous but small rallies at the state house to support the Democrats’ stall-tactics on the bill, but had no serious mass movement strategy to defeat it. There should have been a major national mobilization and a bold class appeal to non-union workers to organize Wisconsin-style mass protests and, this time, coordinated strikes and mass direct action.
39.The defeat of Indiana’s traditionally strong labor movement gives confidence to other state legislatures – most ominously in Michigan – to consider similar “right to work” legislation. Given the history of labor militancy in Michigan and the economic desperation of many workers there, such an attack could provoke a major backlash. As in Wisconsin, the corporate juggernaut pushing austerity and attacks on workers will inevitably spur fresh resistance struggles. To bring these struggles to victory, however, will require building a new class struggle union leadership to replace the existing privileged bureaucracy.
40.The ascent, in recent years, of more fighting elements into the leadership of several unions is an important development. Opposition groups now control several key teachers’ union locals which, despite setbacks, remain a pole of attraction. The leadership of the National Nurses Union played an excellent role in Wisconsin, and the new president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, a former Labor Party member, has adopted a more fighting stance. The leadership of the ILWU, facing pressure from below and a tradition of left-wing militancy, also remains one of the most militant unions despite their recent attacks on Occupy activists and left-wingers within the union.
41.Important weaknesses remain, politically and in terms of rank-and-file activity and consciousness. This was most vividly revealed when the new left-wing Chicago Teachers Union leadership initially agreed to horrible anti-union legislation last year. And as of yet, none of these left trends has gained national prominence. However, in the context of a generalized upsurge of struggle, the small pockets of left union militancy can rapidly emerge as a leadership capable of mobilizing broad groups of workers. Especially where they can achieve important victories through mass mobilizations, they can set the national tone and become centers of gravity for the labor movement, exerting pressure on conservative union leaders.
42.As we repeatedly explained in our material on Wisconsin, the weakness of the organized left gave the Democratic Party and their allies in the union bureaucracy a free hand to derail the movement. But we can draw inspiration and lessons from imagining what would have been necessary for victory. With a stronger organized left within the union movement, the widespread if diffuse support for a “general strike” could have been organized into a cohesive campaign to force the labor leaders to call a one-day public sector work stoppage. Combined with an escalating campaign of mass actions, it’s very possible Walker could have been defeated. In turn, a victory in Wisconsin would have electrified workers everywhere, showing that determined mass action combined with political independence and defiance of anti-union laws can win victories. If new mass struggles break out in areas where healthy socialist and left union leaders have established positions, this “subjective factor” could have a major impact and act as a catalyst for new developments.
43.The failure of the left and the labor movement to build an independent political alternative or offer a fighting program to resist the capitalist crisis means the space for right-wing populism is left wide open. The Tea Party and Ron Paul, while partially encouraged by sections of big business for use as battering rams against the unions and social movements, are also a warped expression of popular anger arising from below. They tap into working people’s legitimate frustrations and anxieties, but their solutions amount to racist, sexist, and homophobic scapegoating alongside simplistic appeals for small government and traditional values. Since the crisis began, populist attacks on women, immigrants, the LGBT community, and the unions have gone way up.
44.Following the 2010 Republican congressional victories, an unprecedented assault on women’s rights occurred in 2011. A record 135 legislative attacks on women’s rights in 36 states passed, an increase from 89 in 2010 and 77 in 2009. This included 92 new restrictions on abortion access, breaking the record of 34 abortion restrictions in 2005, according to the Guttmacher Institute. These statistics provide one snapshot of the fiercely stepped-up right-wing offensive against all the historic gains won by past social movements. Attacks on LGBT rights, on immigrants and African Americans, and on the trade unions are part of the same right-wing juggernaut, funded by sections of big business and promoted by Fox News and other corporate media outlets. With pressure from the right wing dominating the Republican primary debate, and given the need of party leaders to whip up their base for the elections, we should anticipate a new round of attacks in 2012.
45.We should also anticipate a fight-back. The rise of the Slutwalks in cities across the country and around the world is, in part, a direct reaction by tens of thousands of young women to right-wing attempts to push them back into traditional roles. Like Occupy, the Slutwalks were characterized by youthful activists self-organizing independently of the traditional women’s organizations. While we correctly criticized the tactic of reclaiming the word “slut” and the very limited class appeal and program of the protests, it is nonetheless an important, positive indication of things to come.
46.2012 could prove to be a watershed year for LGBT rights. The February 7 ruling of a federal appeals court that California’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court. Subsequently, Democratic controlled legislatures in Washington State, Maryland, and New Jersey legalized same-sex marriage, although the Republican governor in New Jersey vetoed the legislation. In Washington and Maryland, just the seventh and eighth states to legalize gay marriage, right-wing groups have vowed to launch a ballot initiative this year to reinstate the marriage ban. Already, in Minnesota and North Carolina referendums are up for a vote this November to enshrine a ban on same-sex marriage into the state constitutions, and the issue could flare up in several other states this year.
47.In 2004, ballot initiatives banning same-sex marriage passed in 11 mostly rural, conservative states, supported by 60-70 percent of voters. Since then, support for LGBT rights has surged, with 53 percent now believing “same-sex marriage should be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriage,” according to a May 2011 Gallup poll. Republicans have long used LGBT people as scapegoats and devised ballot initiatives on marriage to rally their conservative base to the polls, while Democrats have largely ducked the issue. This year, however, it appears that Democrats in several states are similarly choosing fights on same-sex marriage to rally voters from their own bases, many of whom have been angered by budget cuts and other pro-corporate polices by the Democratic Party. While we need to recognize that the Democrats are only using the same-sex marriage struggle to promote their narrow electoral interests, we will clearly campaign for marriage equality, explaining the historic importance and victory it would represent if in 2012 voters in several states for the first time approve same-sex marriage, as is quite possible.
48.After the Prop 8 marriage ban passed in California in 2008, a youthful LGBT rights movement erupted. Notably, its fresh leaders took a very critical approach toward Obama, exposing his hypocrisy and placing clear demands on his administration at a time when few prominent left voices were prepared to directly attack Obama. With no support from the mainstream LGBT rights groups, they organized one of the biggest LGBT rights demonstrations in U.S. history, drawing 150,000 to Washington, D.C. in October 2009. With the battle playing out in the courts, the legislatures, and the electoral arena this year, we could see a revival of the movement, especially if a bold lead is provided by conscious left forces.
49.The situation facing undocumented immigrants is increasingly intolerable. Obama has carried out approximately 30% more deportations than occurred during President George W. Bush’s second term and about twice as many deportations as during Bush’s first term. Workplace raids, often aimed at unionized companies, are also increasing. With the economic crisis, racist appeals against immigrants “taking jobs” and “leeching off social services” are gaining a wider echo among more backward sections of the U.S.-born working class. On this basis, a number of states – most prominently Arizona, Georgia and Alabama – have passed draconian anti-immigrant laws denying undocumented workers social services and instructing law enforcement to aggressively profile immigrants. Arizona also recently banned ethnic studies.
50.These attacks amount to a reign of terror in many communities. After the Georgia law passed, a mass exodus of undocumented immigrants from the state devastated the economies of immigrant-dominated towns and industries. In a historic sense, this stepped up repression must be seen, in part, as a ruling class response to the 2006 mass uprising of immigrant workers, similar to the massive growth of police repression in African-American communities following the black rebellion of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
51.The national movement in solidarity with immigrants in Arizona in 2009 was followed by continuing youth direct actions, walkouts, and protests demanding access to education. While it remains difficult to anticipate when new outbreaks of mass struggle will take place, especially given our organization’s limited presence within the Latino community, such outbreaks are inevitable. May Day demonstrations will probably be larger this year than the last couple years and offer an important opportunity for socialists to intervene and build support. Given the atmosphere of fear and repression, additional upsurges in the immigrant rights movement will likely erupt suddenly as a result of this or that provocation, as they did in 2006.
52.The economic crisis, including unemployment and foreclosures, impacts African Americans at much higher rates, while attacks on social services and public education target black communities. Despite high hopes, life under the first black president has only worsened for African Americans and the poorest sections of U.S. society. Brutally unequal incarceration rates, police profiling and repression continue in the black community. The Georgia prison strike in 2010 and the California prison hunger strike in 2011 underscore the continuing potential for struggle against the criminal injustice system. The entire social, economic, and political situation is ripe for struggle, but as in the wider working class, the crisis of leadership also holds things back among specifically oppressed sections of the population.
53.What is notable, however, is the growing section of African-American intellectuals and political leaders, notably Cornel West, who now sharply attack Obama. The development of “Occupy the Hood” in many cities indicates the potential for building a new multi-racial left as struggles continue to develop. Any serious move toward building an independent working-class political challenge to the two parties of big business will find important points of support among communities of color.
54.Another major flashpoint could develop out of the new war clouds developing over the Middle East. The U.S. and its allies, particularly the Israeli ruling class, are hypocritically worried that if they do not take out Iran’s nuclear facilities by June, Iran could develop the capability to build a nuclear bomb. The Republicans and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu are beating the war drums, but Obama prefers the economic sanctions that the U.S. and Europe have imposed as a more stable tactic for maintaining imperialist dominance over the region. The region is already an extremely volatile tinderbox, gripped by popular political revolutions. Israel could very well launch air strikes on Iran by June. If Iran fires missiles back, it could engulf the entire unstable region in another bloody war. The U.S. and Europe could launch air and naval strikes, and Iran may also shut off the Straight of Hormuz, which would send the price of oil up by possibly $50 a barrel and weaken the global economy.
56. Any military attacks on Iran would be met with protests around the world, especially in the Middle East. The people of Iran have the right to defend themselves from imperialist attacks, including armed resistance. At the same time, socialists are opposed to nuclear weapons, which ultimately can only guarantee “mutually assured destruction.” We advocate eliminating all nuclear weapons, starting with the huge arsenals hypocritically held by the big powers, like the U.S., Britain and France, as well as Israel’s arsenal. We must call for international solidarity, based on the workers’ movement worldwide, to stop imperialist aggression against Iran. A renewal of the revolutionary movements in North Africa and the Middle East, including possible revolts of the oppressed Palestinian masses and new upsurges of social protests and strikes in Israel, would be a powerful counterweight to Israeli and imperialist aggression and military interventions.
55.For the environmental movement, the Keystone XL Pipeline project is currently the key battleground. The proposed 1,711-mile pipeline would be the longest oil pipeline outside of Russia and China. It would carry heavy oil from oil tar sands in Canada across the Great Plains to the Gulf Coast to be exported abroad, exacerbating the climate change crisis. In August, 1,253 people were arrested as part of an historic two-week sit-in at the White House. Demonstrations spread throughout the fall, with protesters confronting Obama at nearly every public campaign stop and 12,000 protesters surrounding the White House on November 6. This unprecedented civil disobedience by the environmental movement, which is challenging the Republicans as well as Obama and the Democratic Party over a year after the BP oil spill, is an important step forward for the movement. Notably, several unions – including TWU and ATU – came out against the project even though it will create some jobs temporarily.
Elections and Struggles
56.While our broad perspectives and approach to the 2012 elections are outlined in a separate document, here it is necessary to warn how the elections will complicate perspectives for struggle. Historically, presidential elections have sucked the energy out of social movements, isolating them and pushing them further to the margins of U.S. politics. The logic of lesser-evilism, as we have repeatedly explained, means most social movement organizations mute all demands aside from those acceptable to the Democratic Party and effectively channel their bases into get-out-the-vote efforts. Mass protests and other methods of struggle that open democratic space for criticism or exposure of the Democratic Party’s pro-corporate politics are avoided in order to prevent the “greater evil” Republicans from being elected.
57.The experience of the antiwar movement especially shows the disaster of lesser-evilism. While Obama won limited political capital for withdrawing most U.S. troops from Iraq, he tripled the number of troops in Afghanistan, increased the use of drone attacks, and militarily intervened in Libya to derail the revolutionary movements of that country and region. Yet the antiwar movement, so boisterous and prominent under Bush, has virtually disappeared under Obama. The threat of military conflict with Iran is now on the agenda, but no serious protest movement has met Obama’s dangerous saber rattling.
58.For those on the left, including many Occupy activists who understand the corporate character of both parties, the challenge will be to prevent the elections siphoning off both activists and attention from the ongoing community, workplace, and student struggles. This task would be massively assisted if a genuine workers’ party existed, or at least a strong independent left presidential candidate to give expression to workers’ struggles in the electoral arena, but it seems unlikely even the latter will materialize.
59.However, Obama’s 2012 campaign will be far different than it was four years ago. In 2008, mass illusions were built up that change could be achieved through the electoral arena. Obama helped reestablish the tattered democratic credentials of American capitalism. But for the youth especially, these illusions are largely shattered. Anger at both parties and the sham system of “democracy” is at unprecedented levels. While the movement has not yet reached the stage of building its own unifying political voice, tens of millions of workers and youth have wised up to the reality of corporate political domination.
60.In fact, especially for the radicalized youth, healthy disgust with the existing political establishment means, on the one hand, calls to instead build real movements on the ground and, on the other hand, a simplistic rejection of “politics” in general. On the positive side, this mood could provide added energy for struggles to develop in 2012 even amidst the pressures of the Democratic Party election machine. In Spain, for example, at the height of their election frenzy, the youth responded to their fake no-choice election with the mass “indignados” movement. We should encourage a similar response to the U.S. elections.
61.At the same time, the anti-political ideas in Spain acted as a barrier to the indignados, preventing them from constructing a viable political force that could defeat capitalist policies. Similarly, here in the U.S. we must counter the anti-political mood. Anarchist ideas against voting or any participation in elections reinforce and appear to give intellectual weight to the broader anti-political mood. While taking a sympathetic attitude, we have to firmly argue against this ultra-left approach.
62.The 2012 elections will dominate the entire political life of the country. With increasing intensity up through November, it will be the main topic of political conversation for tens of millions of working-class people. Attempting to ignore or abstain from the elections, to just “focus on building real movements” is a formula for self-isolation. The Occupy movement and the left will be far more relevant if they intervene in the election debate with a clear, independent analysis and program. Slogans like “Occupy the Elections” can be a starting point to explain the pressing need to break from the Democratic Party and build left and anti-cuts electoral coalitions, and for a new party to represent the 99%. Even though we will not, in most areas, be in a position to run candidates or have serious left independent campaigns we can support, arming ourselves with a clear program and explanation of what is needed will help us maintain a dialogue with wider layers of working people and youth.
63.History books will record 2011 as a decisive turning point in the world situation. We are clearly going through another prolonged crisis of global capitalism. Now the menacing threat of further economic collapse exists alongside a rising tide of social upheaval. The battle in Wisconsin and the Occupy movement are symptomatic of the deeper crisis. The workers’ revolt in Wisconsin represented the opening act of a sweeping drama of class conflict being prepared in U.S. society. The social upheavals and class battles ahead will be the most intense in generations.
64.While Wisconsin revealed most clearly the raw class tensions boiling under the surface, just months later the Occupy movement revealed a political awakening which shook U.S. society. It was the first open expression since the crisis began of an initial, though confused, anti-capitalist consciousness developing among important sections of workers and, particularly, youth. At the same time, Occupy provided a wider outlet for the accumulated class anger, which will only deepen alongside the overall capitalist crisis.
65.The obstacles to the development of consciousness and mass struggle are huge. The U.S. working class is emerging from a historic low point in terms its political and class consciousness and its level of independent class organization. Therefore, the living memory of past struggles for use as a reference point and source of lessons has been broken for the bulk of the class. At the same time, unlike their European counterparts, U.S. workers and youth are less weighed down by the experience of devastating betrayals on the part of former mass socialist and workers’ parties. In this sense, socialism appears to most in the U.S. as almost a new, fresh idea.
66.In the context of the deepening crisis and the processes of revolution and counter-revolution around the world, broad left-wing and socialist ideas in the U.S. could grow quite rapidly, taking up some of the gaping political vacuum on the left. We are faced with an historic task. The new interest in socialism greatly outweighs our limited organizational capacity to consolidate it and develop it into active participation. The whole situation demands a serious, creative discussion on the measures that must be taken to fully mobilize, develop, and grow our still small forces. At the same time as building our own organization, Marxists must struggle to rebuild mass organizations of the working class. Only by combining a correct analysis and program with a new enthusiasm and energy to win fresh forces to Marxism, to deepen our political understanding and theoretical level, can we successfully build the movement for socialism in the coming period.