Fight Back or Go Under: A Modern, Working-Class Call to ActionWilliam T. Hathaway I Social Movement Studies I Commentary I December 7th, 2016
The presidency of Donald Trump is going to be a slap in the face of American workers that will wake us up to the reality of social class. Big T's pedal-to-the-metal policies will show us clearly that we are one class, the ruling elite are another class, and our interests are diametrically opposed. Our declining standard of living is essential for maintaining their wealth, and they will do whatever is necessary to continue that. They will jail us, deport us, kill us, anything to crush resistance.
But in the long term they won't succeed.
Why not? Because we, the working people of the United States of America, are stronger than the ruling elite. We are the 99%. Everyone who has to work for someone else for the essentials of living is working class, but many of us have been indoctrinated to emulate and admire the owners. They are a small, parasitical class that has stolen our labor for hundreds of years. The wage slavery they impose saps and undermines our lives, our energies, our futures, even our sense of ourselves. They are truly our enemies.
Their attempts to crush us will teach us that. We'll realize that the rich have not only taken away our possibility for a decent life, they are now taking away our freedom. When we choose to fight back rather than go under, we'll become tougher. The struggle will temper us. Our outrage will become revolt.
The forces of repression will gradually become less effective. Police and soldiers aren't machines; they are workers who have chosen the wrong side. When they realize they are attacking their own people, their loyalty will begin to waver. They'll start disobeying their masters. Eventually, the power structure, weakened from within and without, will grind down, falter, and fall. Then the revolution can succeed with a minimum of violence.
To avoid the unpleasantness of this conflict, many people hope that capitalism can be reformed. That's why progressives and pseudo-leftists such as Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein are popular.
Reformism has been tried ever since the Fabians of the late 19th century, without bringing any lasting changes. Reforms have had only a temporary impact. From the 1950s to the '70s unions were able to force through higher wages and better working conditions in many industries. Back then, capitalists could afford this because the main market for products was the home country, and higher wages stimulated consumption. This Keynesian approach created a bubble of prosperity in North America and Europe that has now burst and can't come back. The hard-fought gains of those days are being reversed because the world market has become more important than the home country. To compete globally with low wage countries such as China, India, and Brazil, corporations here have to slash their labor costs. The pressure of international competition is being shifted onto us, the workers. We are beginning -- just beginning -- to get the same treatment as third world workers.
These conditions will inevitably intensify; capitalism needs ever more profits to keep growing. It finances its expansion through bonds and bank loans, so it needs increasingly more money to pay the interest charges. And it must invest more in plant and equipment to stay competitive. Its rate of profit is always under pressure. And if it stops growing it dies.
Those pressures are increasing as the global economy approaches its limits of exploitable resources and markets. The rival capitalist blocs are fighting among themselves in a dog-eat-dog struggle for survival. To lower costs and hold on to its markets -- to remain top dog -- the US elite are pursuing repression at home and war abroad. The smiley mask that covered the face of the establishment has dissolved, revealing the predatory beast beneath.
A kinder, gentler capitalism is impossible, and the hopeful rhetoric of progressive reformists isn't going to change this economic reality. Their program is designed to divert potentially revolutionary energy into the dead-end of tinkering with the system, trying to fix it. But capitalism isn't broken; this is how it functions. We have to junk it, not fix it. It needs to be replaced with socialism. The two systems are mutually antagonistic, and the struggle between them can't be comprised.
We can win this! It's no more difficult than other evolutionary changes humanity has mastered. This is our time - a historic battle for liberation.
But to defeat the beast we need to be unified. For that we have to heal the divisions the elite fuel within the working class: the antagonisms of white vs. black, men vs. women, straight vs. queer, earlier generation immigrant vs. recent immigrant.
The decisive battleground is not the streets or the ballot box but the workplace. That's where our true power lies, where we can fight and eventually win. Workers run the profit machine. When we stop working, profits stop flowing. Withholding our labor through general strikes is a step towards breaking the power of the owners who have been getting rich from the profits we produce.
This requires being organized, and not in the sell-out capitalist unions we now have. We're going to have to take over these unions and throw out the labor bureaucrats, or form independent militant organizations that really represent us.
Then we'll be able to seize the companies and run them democratically to benefit humanity rather than the elite. It could take 50 years, though, before we're ready to do that. Those years are going to be filled with hard struggle -- not an appealing prospect.
But what's the alternative? Increasingly degraded lives. If we start fighting now, we'll discover a glory in that battle even in our losses, because they teach us and make us stronger. Rebelling is invigorating. It's an authentic life, not the superficial pleasantries of a lackey life.
To eventually win and give our grandchildren a better life (which is really what the human endeavor is about) we must build a revolutionary party that can lead the working class with a successful program. Leftist organizations are now in the process of discussing what that program should be. The more people involved in this discussion, the better the results will be. That's revolutionary democracy.
To take part, not just in the discussion but in the whole magnificent struggle that lies before us, we need to be in an organization. Just being angry isn't enough; unless we actively join with others, we won't be able to build a successful alternative to the capitalist parties.
An organization enables us to support and assist workers' battles. The debates within the group can broaden and clarify our own positions. Working with comrades is an antidote to the isolation that can afflict those who try to go it alone. Bonds of companionship and solidarity sustain us in difficult times. As the system's decay increases and conditions worsen, we're going to need all the help we can get ... and give.
In this protracted fight against capitalism many of our efforts won't show immediate results. An organization is our link to the future. It gives us concrete assurance that when the objective conditions for revolution have finally been achieved, knowledgeable and committed people will be there to make it happen: to overthrow capitalism and build socialism, in which the resources of the world are used to meet human needs rather than to generate profits for a few owners.
To work towards that, each of us should examine the parties and organizations on the Left, find one that matches our orientation, and actively support it. This list of US groups is a good place to start: http://www.broadleft.org/us.htm. The best program I've found is the Freedom Socialist Party's: www.socialism.com.
William T. Hathaway is a Special Forces combat veteran now working to overthrow the empire he previously served. He is the author of Radical Peace: People Refusing War, which presents the true stories of activists who have moved beyond demonstrations and petitions into direct action: helping soldiers to desert, destroying computer systems, trashing recruiting offices, burning military equipment, and sabotaging defense contractors. Noam Chomsky called it, "A book that captures such complexities and depths of human existence, even apart from the immediate message." Chapters are posted at http://media.trineday.com/radicalpeace.