The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

United States:
The Political and Social Situation, 2018

Apr 8, 2018

The following text was adopted at a meeting of the whole Spark organization, describing the situation in which our work is carried out.

In the first days of February, the stock markets plunged. Some commentators blamed the loss of nearly two-and-a-half trillion dollars in seven days on automatic computer trading programs, which take advantage of nearly split-second infinitesimal differences in stock prices to rake in profit. Computers weren’t running amok! They simply magnified what was happening. In this particular case, misplaced bets on the volatility of stock prices forced shareholders in several speculative funds to sell off their shares quickly, causing a mini-panic in the stock market.

While stock prices stabilized afterwards, this illustrates the insanity of the functioning of the financial system and its fragility. A few speculative bets could turn into a mini-panic in this case, and potentially into a widespread catastrophe precisely because a debt crisis of all the major powers looms over the global economy. All of them, in response to the 2008 collapse, ran up colossal amounts of debt, in part through government debt, in part through arcane mechanisms such as the Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing”—in other words, the printing of money in order to buy up the banks’ bad debt.

In the immediate sense, the problem for Wall Street was the growing indebtedness of the U.S. government—which was subsequently reinforced by this year’s tax overhaul and new budget. According to the Congressional Budget Office, these changes mean that the government will be required to borrow nearly one trillion dollars this year, and it projects that the borrowing will reach nearly two and a half trillion dollars a year by 2028—with one of every three dollars in revenue going just to pay interest on the debt.

And while Wall Street publicly applauded the tax cuts, whose beneficiaries are none other than some of its biggest players, underneath it was uneasy about the prospect of how much the growing U.S. debt would push up interest rates, and how that might disrupt the financial markets.

The media peddles the idea that we all benefit from Wall Street. Not true, and even less true today than it was in 2001, when the wealthiest 10% of households already controlled 77% of all the stock. By 2016, the wealthiest had increased their share to 84% of all the stock. The rest of it—only 16%—is owned by another 40% of the population, but most of that is owned only indirectly through 401(k) plans, pension plans, insurance plans, annuity contracts, VEBA plans....

More and more of the value created in the productive economy is going into the accounts of the very wealthy, and from there into speculation, even into such absurdities as Bitcoins. An ever smaller share of the socially produced wealth is invested in upgrading, replacing, and expanding the physical system of production, not to mention the country’s infrastructure in which production is carried out.

The broad productive economy has been spinning its wheels ever since the “Great Recession” of 2008-09 supposedly ended. Manufacturing, construction, new orders for durable goods (excluding commercial aircraft) and the production of consumer goods have not yet returned to the levels they had reached in 2006-2007—despite nine years of “economic recovery.” When corrected for inflation, those basic indexes, which are based on monetary outlays, show an economy mired in stagnation. That dim view is reinforced by indexes based on actual physical output—such as freight loadings and shipments of crude oil and petroleum, which are still running at lower levels than before the 2008-09 recession. Housing construction—once considered one of the important “motors” of the economy—is running at a level lower than in any recovery since the end of World War II.

The languishing of the private economy has been made worse by the diversion into private hands of federal, state and local budgets, theoretically set aside for public services, education and social services.

No Recovery for the Working Population

Even without a brutal collapse of the economy, the threat of which is contained in the growing debt crisis, the consequences for ordinary layers of the population have been dire.

Unemployment continued to run at 4.1% in February, for the fifth month in a row. After almost nine years of supposed recovery, 4.1% doesn’t speak to a strong job market. But 4.1% is only the official rate. If all the people who have been discarded from employment were actually counted, the level of unemployment could measure about 22%, that is, more than five times as high as the official figure. (Figures that diverge from official ones come from calculations that appear on the Shadowstats website. This is not to say that Shadowstats should be considered the final word, but we use it as a reference because it consistently shows the tendency of what has been happening to the working class, the reality that government statistics have long been, and increasingly are, doctored to hide.)

People who question the 22% figure should look at the percentage of civilian adults without a job today—which is about 40%. Certainly, as many as half that number may be unable to work for one reason or another, including age. But that could leave 20% or so without a job, not 4%. This is just another way of saying that the official unemployment figures have little relationship to the reality workers face today, trying to sell their labor power in the “job market.”

Increasing numbers of those the government characterizes as employed are in precarious jobs: part-time and temporary workers, contract or “self-employed” workers like Uber drivers, and even “on-call” workers—that is, available to work when an employer decides they are needed, what used to be called the “shape-up” during the 1930s. No industry is immune from these “flexible” practices. Even the automobile industry increasingly puts its new hires into temporary or part-time positions, and employs multitudes of subcontractors, even inside the main plants—subcontractors who use all the same practices, often more extensively.

In 2015, almost 15.8% of all Americans worked in “temporary or unsteady” work, a rapid increase from the 10.7% just ten years earlier. This was the conclusion of a study done by Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger (who chaired Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers). Furthermore, 94% of the net job growth during those years came in this so-called “alternative” work. The cold statistics simply reflect the cold reality that many young workers are discovering. In search of a job, they find, instead, instability and insecurity.

Incomes of those working continue to slump, a slump that goes back decades. Even corrected for inflation based on the government’s current Consumer Price Index (CPI), average weekly earnings of production and non-supervisory employees haven’t yet come back up to their 1973 level.

As the economic crisis progressed, the Labor Department began to “doctor” the CPI. This new CPI—undergoing one alteration after another, starting in the 1980s, and especially in the 1990s—served increasingly to understate the level of inflation. If the CPI that had been in existence when Carter was president had continued, it would show a steady, steep decline in workers’ real weekly earnings. It would show, for example, that real weekly earnings in December 2017 were the equivalent of less than half their 1973 value. The government’s statistics increasingly hid the reality of what was happening to the overall standard of living.

This tinkering with the CPI had a big financial impact on government programs. For example: the undoctored CPI would show that Social Security payments should be 70% higher today than they are, just to keep up with inflation.

Then there are all those government assistance programs in which eligibility and benefits are determined in relationship to the government’s official poverty “guideline”—which itself is supposedly adjusted for inflation by the CPI. (Like food stamps, for example, or Medicaid or school breakfasts or lunches, and many more.) Coming out of the 1960s, these were considered “entitlements” based only on a person’s or household’s income—and increases in the poverty “threshold” in relationship to the CPI protected them somewhat against the ravages of inflation. But the old CPI has long been junked. What’s worse is that many of these programs have been handed over to the states in the form of “block grants,” allowing the states wide latitude in how they are disbursed. And the funding that goes into block grants has often been absolutely frozen.

Finally, there is no automatic adjustment tied to inflation for the federal minimum wage. In real terms, the minimum wage hit its high point in 1968. Over the years, there have been occasional minuscule increases agreed to by Congress. But since 2009, when the federal minimum was set at $7.25 an hour, there have been no increases at all. Although many states have set a higher minimum wage within their borders, the federal minimum still sets the benchmark. And $7.25 is a benchmark for poverty. It produces only $15,080 a year for full-time, 52-weeks-a-year work.

Median household income has not declined quite so precipitously as the wages of individuals—but that’s only because starting in the 1960s, more women were entering the workforce, thus giving traditional households two incomes, rather than one. While it’s socially advantageous for the working class to have more women out of the household and engaged in social production, on the economic level it has been a means to compensate for the decrease in male income. Two incomes in a household may have allowed mortgage payments and car notes to be met and food put on the table—for a period of time. But to the extent that the second income supplemented the loss in a man’s income, those extra wages simply attest to greater exploitation of the family as a whole. And poverty is concentrated today in single-parent families headed by women. Fifty-one percent of all families living in poverty (almost 12 million people) are headed by a woman—which actually brings a federal government website on poverty to suggest that the answer to poverty is ... marriage! (38.8% of black female-headed families were poor; 40.8% of Hispanic; and 30.2% of white.)

What all these figures say, in one way or another, is that the standard of living of the working class is going down, and that it has been going down for years—actually for decades. There has been an enormous and ever increasing disconnect between increases in productivity—that is, the wealth produced in production—and wages.

A Big Step Backwards

To put it in historic perspective: working people in this country again find themselves in the precarious situation American workers had always confronted—with the exception of the three, maybe four decades following the end of World War II.

During the post-war decades, the standard of living rapidly improved. With American imperialism escaping World War II unscathed in its own productive apparatus, with its imperialist competitors as well as the Soviet Union seriously disabled by the war, it was able to impose its order over, and to sink its economic talons into, an ever-extending global empire. At home, American capitalism, producing for a war-ravaged Europe, was able to engage in a wide ranging expansion of productive forces, despite a series of recessions that followed. The combination of those economic factors gave American capital the means to cede wide improvements in the population’s standard of living. Moreover, capital was still faced with an organized and combative working class coming out of the ‘30s, as well as a growing black mobilization that came up starting in the 1950s—social factors which convinced capital to cede a small part of its rapidly growing profits to the population. Gains may have started with the organized working class, but over time, many of them “trickled down” to parts of the working class that weren’t in unions. The result was marked improvement in the standard of living, as well as stability for large parts of the working class.

Based on this steady improvement, a certain number of assumptions took root in the working class: one could find a decent-paying job, and keep it; children would be better off than their parents, much better if they were able to go to college; certain benefits came with the job if you stuck with it—health care, pensions, vacations, etc. These assumptions were never true for important parts of the working class, but there was enough reality to them to mark the popular mind. Certainly, there were always significant parts of the population in poverty, but even the black population, who had absorbed a disproportionate share of the poverty and unemployment, saw a fairly rapid improvement during these years. Especially after the urban rebellions, jobs opened up rapidly, and the standard of living of the black population increased faster than did that of the white population, narrowing a part of the difference between black and white.

That period—when large parts of the working class had more or less stable lives—came to an end with the advent of the economic crisis in the 1970s and, above all, its deepening in the 1980s. A whole generation has not known anything different than what they see today: that is, jobs that are insecure; wages that will not allow them to establish a home; schools that do not prepare their children for the modern society in which they live; and public services in such a bad state of disrepair that human life and health are often put at risk.

The Revival of Class Consciousness: A Necessity

The condition of being part of an exploited class means today what it has usually meant in this country, and always meant for working people in large parts of the rest of the world: instability, insecurity, lives that are precarious. BUT, the consciousness of the working class has not caught up with this reality. Yes, many are angry. Yes, many feel cheated that some people have much more than they do, and they feel it’s unfair. But resentment isn’t a program. And it can lead in quite reactionary directions—as it has today.

The working class has no perspective based on its own class interests today, no experience that gives it even a sense of what those interests could be, what goals to fight for that would allow the working class to go forward. It doesn’t even have the militant reformist perspectives that imbued the struggles of the 1930s for unions or the struggles in the 1950s and ‘60s of the black population for equal rights.

Even the traditions of those movements are gone. The ‘60s are ancient history. The ‘30s don’t even enter into the equation. There’s no one left from the ‘30s even just to tell what happened, and very few left from the ‘60s—and most of them have learned to live in and accept this society. The history of both of those massive mobilizations is left in the hands of reformist academics, who obscure the fact that those mobilizations were pregnant with the possibilities of revolution—and might have taken that path if they had been led by organizations which had had that goal.

But the only class organizations the workers had, and still have, are the unions. And for many decades, stretching back to World War II, the union leaderships sold the idea—and still continue to sell it in the current disastrous situation—that workers can improve their situation by cooperating with the bosses. This can only mean, within the framework of capitalist society, that the workers put the bosses’ interests before their own. The unions helped reinforce, even create the myth of the “middle class,” the idea that everyone has a chance to move up. Perhaps—but American imperialism was living off the rest of the world. That “middle class” position was paid for by imperialism’s wars against dozens of “underdeveloped” countries, and the terrible human cost associated with them—wars that almost all the unions supported almost all the time. (Just as the “recovery” from the global Great Depression was paid for by the 80 million deaths attributed to World War II.)

The Unions: Partners Not Needed Under Attack

Today, the unions themselves are under attack—despite their long-standing, strenuous efforts to respect their side of the “gentlemen’s agreement” that John L. Lewis first struck with GM in 1937, an agreement subsequently reinforced as one union after another gained official “recognition” from the bourgeois state. In exchange for recognition and a certain level of improvement in contracts, the unions effectively served as the guarantor of social peace. This didn’t mean there were no strikes—even long and combative ones. The capitalists never were wont to cede something unless they had to. But those strikes were carried out within the very formalized legal framework which was fully established by the time the World War II no-strike pledge came to an end. And that was a bulwark that prevented militant economic strikes from spreading out, prevented them from taking on a social or political character.

Today, at least parts of the bourgeoisie apparently have concluded that the unions are no longer needed to hold back the struggles of the working class. In reality, there are no massive struggles to hold back and have not been for decades.

In the years since the McCarthy period began to tear up that “gentlemen’s agreement,” 28 states have passed “right-to-work” laws, which among other things mean that workers aren’t automatically enrolled in a union if a union representation election is successful. Starting first in states where unions were not so strong, these laws have passed into a former center of union strength like Michigan. The Civil Service Commission of Michigan, following steps taken in other states, unilaterally abrogated the right of public employee unions to bargain over almost anything but wages and certain benefits, and eliminated almost all the full-time union positions or union hours paid for by the state. The Supreme Court may soon overturn an earlier ruling concerning the constitutionality of so-called “agency fees” charged by public sector unions. The Trump administration imposed a contract on workers at the Department of Education that they had rejected: a contract, which effectively eliminates all protections for working conditions. Federal prosecutors, using laws passed during the McCarthy period, have opened corruption investigations in a number of unions. Given the corruption that freely gushes out of every pore of this corrupt society, unhindered by legal prosecution, it’s hard to imagine that federal prosecutors could keep a straight face when announcing indictments for the unions’ penny-ante corruption.

For the most part those attacks on the unions come from the Republican Party because the unions are a big organizational and financial support for the Democrats. But it is not just Republican partisan interests that explain this attack. The unions are under attack because important parts of the bourgeoisie are calling for it, and even funding it. And Democrats certainly offer no real defense against the attacks. When a Republican governor and legislature split between the two parties passed right-to-work legislation in Nevada in the 1950s, Democrats made no effort to overturn it when they came back in power—and they had the possibility several times. It’s useful to remember that perhaps the two most important prosecutions for “corruption” came during the Democratic Kennedy administration and the Democratic Clinton administration—targeting Jimmy Hoffa and Ron Carey, and behind them, the Teamsters Union. And we shouldn’t ever forget that when the bourgeoisie needed it, going into the two world wars, the Democratic Roosevelt administration railroaded James Cannon and seventeen other militants of the SWP into Federal prison—just as the Democratic Wilson administration did to Eugene Debs and the IWW.

All of these actions threaten the funding base of the unions. In turn, this interferes with their ability to carry out their day-to-day work of grievance handling, arbitration and contract negotiation—the work that is their reason for existence within the legal framework that recognizes unions in this country. To push back against this attack would require a full mobilization of the labor movement, ignoring skill and company and industry lines, above all, ignoring whether workers are organized or not. It would require strikes that shut down business as usual, that interfered with the functioning of the state apparatus itself. Whether workers are ready to answer such a call isn’t at all sure today. But the unions, long integrated into the bourgeois state apparatus, certainly didn’t test the waters, not even in Wisconsin, where they at first organized large demonstrations. In Wisconsin, they gave their members finally the goal only of removing the Republican governor, putting Democrats back in office. Even when their own lives depended on it, the unions have proved themselves unable to make the kind of fight that would shake this society.

A Long Right-wing Move of Society Legitimized by Trump

In the context of this social situation—following years during which the population found its standard of living in a permanent decline—Donald Trump pushed himself onto the political scene in 2016. Through his vile, reactionary tweets, by his virulent nationalism, Trump marks the degree to which the political scene continues to move far to the right. But we have to be careful not to ascribe that development only to him—he is a symbol of it, maybe even a fitting one. But he didn’t cause it. And he’s not even the key part of it.

For decades, the Republican Party has been taking up openly retrograde social positions—opposing abortion and the teaching of evolution in the schools, while pushing for religion—as a way to establish a solid voting base for itself among religious fundamentalists. Trump was not the first to appeal to white workers’ resentments. Remember Nixon, with his appeal to the “silent majority.” Nixon said, “silent majority” in a way to make clear he was saying, “hard-working, patriotic WHITE workers who go to work and never protest!” And it was heard that way. The Republicans denounced “welfare queens” driving Cadillacs. Bill Clinton acted to offer up “welfare reform” (“getting rid of welfare as we know it”). The Republicans called for “law and order.” Clinton gave them the vast construction of the incarceration state. And as for “Make America Great Again”—with all its nationalist and racist undertones—Trump borrowed that from Bill Clinton, too. So, no, Trump’s reactionary ideas are not new, and not just a Republican specialty.

What is different today is the openness with which Trump parades his reactionary ideas: denigrating women; characterizing immigrants as criminals; mocking the black population; honoring the extreme right, bragging about American military power. Running through all of this is a poisonous nationalism, expressed through Trump’s consciously cultivated racist persona. He spews it overtly and from the podium of the presidency, giving legitimacy to the most reactionary ideas, providing a cover for those who act on them, contributing to the often times bitter divisions that already exist in the working class. That counts, and it has to be said.

But to focus on Trump alone obscures the fact that vicious racism was already building before Trump came along. Black churches were burned before him, migrants from Mexico were attacked by vigilantes, unions were pushing anti-immigrant prejudices, and the unions themselves were being marginalized by anti-labor court rulings. Abortion clinics were being destroyed, women abused and raped, young black men murdered. None of this originated with Trump. These are the products of American capitalist society as it decays and rots.

Parts of the broad left, tailing after the Democratic party, make Trump the main issue, agitating for his impeachment or removal via the justice system. But we can be sure that, if he is removed, it will not be due to a popular call for his removal, but because significant parts of the bourgeoisie and of its political class want him gone.

With or Without Trump, the Policy of the Bourgeoisie Is Carried On

Despite the chaos coming from the Trump White House, the U.S. state apparatus has so far carried out all its functions, pursuing earlier wars and the general direction of policies laid down by previous administrations. From that standpoint, the bourgeoisie doesn’t have an overarching need to get rid of him. And he presided over the tax cut for themselves that they wanted. Nonetheless, it’s clear that there is a strong sentiment among the political class and some parts of the bourgeoisie that he should go. That sentiment is clearly reflected on the editorial pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times.

If he is removed—whether by impeachment, criminal trial or resignation combined with a pardon—it will certainly not be because of the disgusting human attitudes that flow from his Twitter account. It will be because he has directly interfered with the interests of American imperialism. In pursuit of his own fortune, he seems to have engaged himself in a defense of Russian interests that could create problems for the American state as it tries to thread its way through difficulties all over the world.

Of course, none of this is very clear. Trump has obscured what he has done. But Special Counsel Robert Mueller also is working behind closed doors. Even if he charges Trump, we will have no idea of what Trump and those around him really have done in its full extent. To expose his machinations is to expose what large parts of the bourgeoisie do. We should remember under what vague terms the possible impeachment, resignation and pardon of Nixon proceeded.

Finally, if Trump goes, this won’t necessarily stop the rightward move of political life in this country. It well might exacerbate it, even speed it up, as extreme right wing forces mobilize in response. Coming out of a long-lasting economic crisis and the lack of organization in the working class, there already is a relationship of forces that reinforces the extreme right. And the portrayal of Trump as victim of the establishment’s intrigues might serve as a potent energizer for a very extreme right.

What Campaign For the Working Class Party?

In any case, the political situation today, as it is, seems more reactionary than it was two years ago when we worked on the election campaign for Working Class Party. The Working Class Party appeared when the political scene was fluid, when many workers, fed up with politics as usual, were looking beyond the two official parties, looking for something they could identify with. Trump and Sanders benefitted from this. On a much, much smaller scale, so did Working Class Party. We know we talked to many people who had or would vote for Trump or Sanders, maybe even Clinton, but nonetheless agreed with what we had to say.

The extremely reactionary climate, only partly created by Trump, has hardened the political scene. It would not be surprising in 2018 to see more people determined to cast “a practical vote”—whether those people are Trump supporters or opposed to Trump. Fear of one of the two parties can serve as a big motivator for voting for the other in a two-party, winner-take-all system.

The Democratic Party has been somewhat resurrected thanks to Trump. His overt misogyny, racism, anti-immigrant stance, etc. have all allowed the Democrats to appear as defenders of oppressed layers of the population. Focusing anger on Trump allows it to hide its own share of the responsibility for a situation that has really been disastrous for working people.

Democrats have been positioning themselves as the supporters of all those people outraged by Trump. Last autumn, under the tag #RiseAndOrganize, the Democratic Party said it wanted to “galvanize protestors and get them working on achievable political wins.” In other words, work to elect Democrats in 2018. And the Democrats’ hand—and money—has been seen in every big event since Trump took office, starting with the Women’s March in Washington the day after the inauguration, all the way up to the student protests this March.

In 2016, we already ran into some black workers who questioned suspiciously what “working class” meant. After all, Trump talked about workers, even working class. Did it mean we were supporting him? People who asked would listen to what we had to say, but what about those who didn’t ask? And how many more will there be this time who don’t ask? The fact that Trump won, despite all predictions, and that he has made racism an every-day staple of his administration, has already led to wider suspicion, if not hostility and a kind of nationalist sentiment in parts of the black population. We should remember, for significant parts of that population, their vote is a right won by bloody sacrifice—and there are many people who resent being told by anyone else what to do with it.

We will face this suspicion—and there is no way to deal with it by explaining how bad the Democrats are. Yes, on the political level, both parties are equally “bad”—but we exist within the framework of a two-party, winner-take-all electoral system that practically forces people to choose one or the other. Trump, who makes racism his byword, drives the black population and many immigrants into the hands of the Democrats. And if we focus our discussion on criticizing their choice, why wouldn’t they hear that criticism as support for Trump and the Republicans? The two-party system puts us in a box so long as we focus on what’s wrong with one of the two parties, instead of on what we stand for. We have to offer OUR perspective—it’s the only meaningful way to answer people who support one or the other of the two parties. The reason revolutionaries participate in bourgeois elections is to express their own policy, which otherwise wouldn’t be voiced.

Trump may have lost support from some white workers who voted for him—maybe even a lot. Does that mean they will be more open to us? Maybe. But it’s reasonable to assume that many will simply be demoralized by the experience. In any case, there are all those who continue to support him, despite or maybe because of a possible impeachment—and that support seems to have hardened, to the extent we can judge. Some are pleased with his open racism. And then there are the others. In their desire to express their anger with the situation they found themselves in, they paid no attention to his open racism. But that means they don’t see the danger in racist ideas—and that’s a big step toward accepting them. It’s hard to imagine that it will be easier this time to engage Trump supporters in discussion. Simply talking about “unity” of the working class in a moral fashion doesn’t do it. We have to discuss what the working class could do, what prospects it could give itself—but also, then, what kind of fight is required, preparing to mobilize its power against that of the capitalist class, which ultimately gets back to the question of the working class as a whole class.

We need to be more precise in the expression of our ideas. It’s not enough just to speak of “working class” or of struggle. Trump uses the term “working class” or “working people” or just plain workers—and so does a part of the very extreme right (Traditionalist Worker Party, for example). And using the term “socialism” can obscure what we think. “Socialism” is used by many people, Bernie Sanders among them—but also by the National Socialist Workers Party.

Furthermore, it’s not simply a question of “struggle.” The struggles of the working class can give no perspective if they are aimed simply at extorting reforms, trying to get a somewhat better share of the wealth that the workers’ labor produces. This is the perspective unions gave to the working class during all the post-war years, leading to today’s dead end.

The Working Class: The Only Revolutionary Class

For us, to say “working class” has no sense outside of the goal the working class could fight for: that is, communism. The working class has the capacity to take all the wealth, and use it for the benefit of the whole society. If we do not have that in our head when we discuss, we can fall into simply calling for “struggle.” The question is not simply to struggle, but what to struggle for. The working class, rooted as it is in the very center of production, has the potential to fulfill its needs: to share out the work, so everyone can have a job; to set wages so everyone can have a decent standard of living; to index wages to inflation, requiring them to improve, and immediately, when prices increase; to use public money for services that are useful for the population: education, medical care, public services; and to pry open all the theft and dirty secrets of capitalist society, showing that it is possible to meet all these demands and more—it’s just a question of who has their hands on the wealth. We know that the working class cannot fulfill any of these demands within the framework of capitalist society, precisely because the capitalist class controls the wealth. But these demands correspond to the situation the working class finds itself in today. How many workers can see the reason in them today? We don’t know. We do know that a good number could understand that the working class needs to organize itself as a class, and responded when we campaigned in 2016 around the need for the working class to have its own party. We will do so again this year. When we do, we need to keep in mind the revolutionary perspective on which Trotsky based the Transitional Program.

We are not afraid to describe the situation today as it is. There may have been an occasional strike, isolated and restricted to those involved and perhaps some supporters. Some, like the West Virginia teachers strike, went even a little beyond that. But, still, there have been very few fights. Critically, there has been no widespread struggle of the working class for decades. Acknowledging this doesn’t mean we have lost our confidence in the capacities of the working class to fight as one class, nor does it mean that the working class has lost its capacity to struggle against capitalist society, to destroy it, and to bring to birth a collective society grounded on the ashes of capitalist society.

Others may toy with the idea that the working class has lost its capacities, that other forces are becoming key for incremental progress: women, for example, students, young black people, immigrants, etc. We do not believe we have entered a new historic epoch when the working class has lost its revolutionary possibilities to build a new society simply because it has not carried out mass struggles for decades. Nor has it been bypassed because production workers, its key troops, are increasingly a minority of the work force. The issue still is that the position of the working class in the economy gives it the reason and the means to destroy capitalist society and build another one.

We cannot say when the working class will begin to move again. It has before, after long reactionary periods. And it will again—perhaps with an astounding suddenness. The main problem, then, when workers begin to fight will be whether the working class has the leaders it needs. Will there be, implanted in the working class, those who fight for a revolutionary perspective? And how many of them will there be? During the whole long period since the Russian Revolution was left to founder, isolated, the working class has not found leaders that matched its capacities. In this country, within its ranks, the working class has had very few militants proud to be communists. There are historical and political reasons for this, and first of all the lack of organized revolutionary communist militants in the working class.

There is nothing we can do to force a struggle, to get past this reactionary period, and certainly not to prevent it from becoming more reactionary. But we can struggle to keep revolutionary ideas alive. We can find new militants. We can work to give them a communist heritage and make them proud of it. That is, we can work to prepare the revolutionary generation that can lead when the next struggles do erupt. And we can continue to raise the key idea of our period: that is that the working class needs to build its own organizations, concretely, today, a working class party.