I'd like to thank the people at May Day Books for inviting Sojourner Truth Organization to the Twin Cities and for giving us the opportunity to make this presentation tonight.
What I'm going to attempt to do tonight is to acquaint you with some of the debate and discussion now going on within STO. This, I think, is much more difficult than discussing matters about which we already have a worked-out position, but I think it will be worthwhile for two reasons:
1) First, the debates exemplify our approach to critical Marxist thought.
2) Second, I hope the debates will illuminate the dialectical process of the movement of history, as we have been studying it in the dialectics class which we have been teaching here in the Twin Cities.
But before I get into the debates, I'd like to tell you a little about the history of STO. Sojourner Truth Organization was founded in the fall of 1969 by a group of Chicago activists. It had its roots in the Revolutionary Youth Movement II tendency within Students for a Democratic Society. Its initial focus was on point of production organizing within an extra-union context and on community-defense work. As the revolutionary upsurge of the sixties waned, we developed an emphasis on theoretical work and discussion and debate to clarify political line both within the organization and within the left as a whole. In the last three years, we have revitalized our emphasis on mass work — with a new emphasis on issues of social reproduction as well as a new approach to production work.
We are now a small national organization with our main strength still in the Midwest, particularly Chicago and Kansas City.
In terms of political orientation, we look for guidance to the writings of Marx, Lenin, Antonio Gramsci, W. E. B. DuBois, and C. L. R. James.
Central to our politics are our positions on:
1) white skin privilege as the keystone of bourgeois rule in this country;
2) the importance of the struggle of oppressed nations for their liberation as a part of the international proletarian revolution;
3) the theory of the dual consciousness of the working class.
All of these positions are based on an appreciation of basic contradictions within the working class. We agree with Lenin when he said in his Philosophical Notebooks: "The condition for the knowledge of all the processes of the world in their 'self-movement,' in their spontaneous development, in their real life is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the struggle of opposites."
As Lenin went on to say, it is this conception of historical development as the struggle of opposites which furnishes the key to understanding "the 'self-movement' of everything; it alone furnishes the key to the 'leaps,' to the 'break in continuity,' to the 'transformation into the opposite,' to the destruction of the old and the emergence of the new." We would say, to understanding revolution.
We in STO think that the fundamental contradiction of capitalism is that pointed out by Marx in Chapter I of Capital; that is: the two-fold nature of the labor contained in commodities. Labor which produces both use values — products — and exchange value.
For the working class, this dualism manifests itself in the contradiction between the world view of the worker as a wage slave and the world view of the worker as a creative producer, a potential ruler.
For capital, this dualism manifests itself in the contradiction between the ability to produce use values using very little direct human labor and the need to appropriate the exchange value which is created only by direct human labor.
Analysis of this latter contradiction underlies the current debate within STO on the nature of the capitalist crisis.
Like many other groups on the Left, Sojourner Truth Organization is attempting to make an analysis of the current period which will guide us in our work. We are in the midst of a theoretical debate on the nature of capitalism, a debate which has important political consequences.
All of us in STO agree that capital, particularly U.S. capital, is in a period of serious crisis. The disagreement within our organization has been characterized as being whether this crisis is a cyclical crisis or a secular crisis, one which comes only once in an age. I am in the "secular crisis" camp, but I think it is a mistake to narrow the question down to whether the "once in an age" crisis will come in the eighties.
I'd like to take a few minutes to acquaint you with the differing views of political economy which underlie the two positions in this debate, and then I'll discuss their political implications.
Both poles of the debate see the increasing social productivity of labor as the basis of capital's crisis. Competition between capitalists forces them to make each of their workers more productive. This is usually done through giving each worker more machinery to work with. These more productive workers can then make goods more cheaply than the workers whose capitalists are using older methods, and the innovative capitalists can make an extra profit. But this extra profit is only a temporary phenomenon. Once the technical innovations become generalized in an industry, the price of the products tends to fall and profit decreases.
The problem for capital springs from the fact that though both machinery and workers are needed to produce products, use values, only workers create value, and not just value but value over and above their wages. It is this surplus value which is the capitalists' profit. But as the workers become more and more productive, produce more and more use values, the proportion of capital invested in labor power, workers, as compared with the capital invested in machinery, grows ever smaller. And since profit comes only from the surplus value created by the workers, the capitalists' rate of profit falls. This fall in the rate of profit leads to a decrease in capital's ability to accumulate for new investment and thus to a drop in new investment with consequent unemployment.
STO is in basic agreement on this underlying schema. The debate in our organization is whether this development of the social productivity of labor results simply in a crisis for capital of a falling rate of profit or whether it results in a more fundamental crisis of the functioning of the law of value itself.
Those who see the crisis as being one of the falling rate of profit argue that, leaving aside for the moment the question of socialist revolution, capital can overcome the crisis through depression and devaluation of capital, through searching out cheaper labor power, and through opening up new industries with a lower organic composition of capital.
This capitalist reindustrialization will require sharp breaks in routine and acute struggle against the working class — but when it is completed, capital will begin a new cycle of accumulation and expansion, and workers will be hired in even greater numbers than previously.
To put it briefly, this view sees the constant tendency of capitalism being to expand — to reproduce capitalist relations of production on an ever-wider scale, absorbing an ever-growing percentage of the world's people into these capitalist relations of production. This expansion is punctuated by cycles of boom and bust. But until it is stopped by the socialist revolution, each crisis will be followed by another period of expansion.
What are the political implications of this view? This view states that because the tendency of capitalism is to expand capitalist relations of production on a world scale, the international class struggle will become increasingly one of the proletariat versus the capitalists. Other divisions of the world's peoples, such as that between oppressed nations and oppressor nations, will become less important.
What does the other pole — the notion of the crisis of the law of value — say on this question? It argues that as capital develops, the class struggle will become increasingly a national struggle.
Why is this so? Because as capital develops, it approaches its own inner limit of development. It is increasingly unable to incorporate new sectors of the world's population into itself, and even casts out sectors previously incorporated, such as oppressed-nation workers within the advanced capitalist nations. Because these marginalized workers are excluded from the productive process, their struggles increasingly focus on needs of their nation as a whole, such as housing, utilities, health care. They come to see themselves more clearly as members of an oppressed nation as the material differential between oppressed-nation workers and oppressor-nation workers becomes more acute.
What is the basis in political economy for this perspective? This view focuses on the contradiction within capital between the workers as a creative producer of use values and the worker as a wage slave who produces surplus value for the capitalist. The capitalist system is based on the appropriation of this surplus value. It needs it to expand and even to survive. But as the general creative capacity of society in the form of science and technology becomes ever and ever more incorporated into the productive process, labor in the direct form becomes less important in the production of use values. Yet capital needs the surplus value created by direct labor in order to function in its normal fashion. This contradiction brings a crisis for capital which will be increasingly difficult for it to resolve by the familiar pattern of boom and bust. The capitalist world system becomes more chaotic. Unemployment becomes increasingly the norm rather than the exception. Large sectors of the workforce will be marginalized, permanently unemployed or only sporadically employed. Within the advanced capitalist countries, these marginalized sectors will be the people of color. And as I said before, these marginalized sectors will come increasingly to identify with the national aspect of their class position.
All of us in STO, whether we see the current crisis of capital as a cyclical crisis or a secular crisis, see new difficulties for the class struggle in the present period. The increasingly disproportionate unemployment of people of color — whether it be temporary or permanent — leads to increased divisions within the working class. The division between white workers and workers of color is no longer one of relative advantages for white people, but increasingly a division between those who can work and those who can't work at all. This makes the fight for equality more difficult. We all agree that this fight must continue but those who see the crisis marginalizing workers of the oppressed nations see new potentials for struggle around issues of social reproduction.
The increased divisions within the working class brought by the capitalist crisis poses another threat to the worker's struggle — that of FASCISM.
Up until our general membership meeting in April of this year, STO had held the position that fascism was not currently a threat in the United States. Our position stood in contrast to that of most sections of the New Left who applied the term fascism to every instance of state repression.
Our position was based largely on our analysis of how the bourgeoisie maintains its rule in this country. Bourgeois rule is based on a system of white skin privileges — relative advantages in political, economic, and social conditions available to all white people, including white workers — solely because of the color of their skins. These relative advantages, along with white racist ideology, provide the basis for white workers' subordination of their class interest to racial and national group interest. Bourgeois rule is maintained through the acquiescence of whites, who identify more with their own bourgeoisie than with their fellow workers of color, and through the repression of the struggle of peoples of color.
However, we see that our previous analysis is no longer adequate in two respects.
1) First, in relationship to the working class, we see that once the bourgeoisie has normalized its rule based upon white supremacy, the ideology develops a life of its own, and fascist groups such as the Klan and Nazis are far better situated to mobilize masses to fight for that ideology in an uncompromising fashion. The potential for such a mobilization grows out of an economic crisis in which capital is no longer able to satisfy the needs and aspirations of even the white workers and petty bourgeoisie — and out of a social crisis that has led to a rapid decline in popular loyalty to traditional institutions.
A popular vision of a revolutionary way out of the crisis can mobilize sectors of the population who have been dislocated by the capitalist crisis and alienated from the traditional bourgeois institutions of conciliation. Both communist and fascist visions of such a revolutionary alternative exist in this country today. But given the strength of white supremacist ideology and the weakness of the left in this country, it is the fascist vision which is most obviously on the upsurge.
2) And this totalitarian fascist vision is attractive to sectors of the bourgeoisie. The failure to understand this attraction of the bourgeoisie to the fascist alternative was the second weakness of STO's previous analysis.
We still maintain that bourgeois democracy supported by a system of white skin privileges is the bourgeoisie's favored form of rule. However, the current economic crisis calls into question the bourgeoisie's ability to maintain its rule on that basis. A fascist totalitarian state becomes a possible alternative both as a means of social control and as a means of exploitation, of extraction of surplus value.
However, to say that sectors of the bourgeoisie are attracted to the fascist alternative is not to say that the fascist movements are a tool of the capitalist class, or even that the interests of the bourgeoisie and the fascists are the same. One of the distinguishing features of fascism is its autonomous, mass, revolutionary character which poses a threat to the very bourgeois forces who may support it.
Thus, the relationship between the fascist movement and various sectors of the bourgeoisie and the state is varied, complex and contradictory. STO maintains that the U.S. left has viewed this relationship much too simplistically.
Some sectors, such as those involved in the National Anti-Klan Network, have downplayed the connections between the fascist movements and the state, even to the point of seeking to use the state to fight the Klan through lawsuits and Congressional investigations.
Other sectors, such as the Communist Workers Party and the anti-Klan coalition which it initiated, People United, make the opposite error. They see the Klan and the Nazis simply as tools of the bourgeois state. This leads them to tie anti-fascist work and anti-repression work together in a way which continually focuses on the state.
STO works within both of these anti-Klan coalitions. In that work we have argued that it is important to see the distinction between state repression and fascism so that a strategy can be developed which adequately fights both institutionalized white supremacy and state repression, and the growing fascist movements.
However, a new question has arisen within STO about the possibility for developing one strategy which will do both. We are currently discussing the proposition that the struggle against fascism and the struggle against institutionalized white supremacy and state repression may be contradictory rather than complementary.
The fascist strategy on race is not in a continuum with the white supremacy of the state but is an alternative to it. This suggests that a defeat for state racism will not of itself represent the defeat of fascism; on the contrary, the failure of the state's racist strategy will make the threat to Blacks from the fascists themselves even more acute. Conversely, it is also clear that to defeat the Klan or the Nazis will hardly dent the racist apparatus of the state itself. Thus the struggle against both forms of white supremacy is made more urgent by an understanding of the differences between them.
All these questions about the relationship between the fascist movements and the bourgeoisie have a direct bearing on how we do anti-fascist and anti-racist work. But we are certainly not awaiting the resolution of these questions before we start our work. Thus we have also been discussing more specific questions of strategy and tactics for the work.
One question is that of the role of united front work. STO is a member of all three national anti-Klan coalitions. We see such national coalitions as essential to the fight against fascism. Yet we see that the existing coalitions must be transformed before they can be effective in this fight.
Therefore, we have decided that united front and left coalition work cannot be the totality of our anti-fascist work. We must begin our own anti-fascist organizing projects — directly confronting the fascists in the communities and schools where they are now organizing. Hopefully such local mass work will provide a model for national work of the anti-Klan coalitions.
In our STO discussion of united front work, we have also begun to develop a critique of Line of March's proposal for a United Front Against War and Racism. A portion of that critique is relevant to the general question of united front work.
Line of March assumes that unity of the class will follow from unity of the left and left social democrats. We say that unity of the class will flow from the class's own experiences in struggle. This is particularly true in the U.S. today, where left organizations have very little influence within the working class. Left coalition work is important, but we must also be working to develop forms of organization and struggle in which the working class can participate now to gain unity and a sense of its own strength.
I have focused in the presentation on the capitalist crisis and the struggle against fascism because current discussion and debate in STO have focused on these areas. But our political work is by no means confined to them.
To give you a more complete view of STO, I'd like to speak briefly about some other areas of our current work:
support for national liberation struggles
the anti-nuke movement
the women's movement
the revolutionary left tendency.
STO sees struggles of oppressed nations for their liberation from imperialism as an integral part of the proletarian revolution. At our last general membership meeting we re-affirmed our position that "nationalism of oppressed peoples, manifested in revolutionary anti-imperialist struggles for national liberation, is the most widespread and visible example of 'applied internationalism' in the world today."
Within the borders of the United States we see the Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican and Native American movements as a part of this struggle of oppressed nations against imperialism.
We have implemented this position through support for these movements and through work in the anti-war movement.
We see this work as of growing importance in the present period. As I mentioned earlier, some in STO think that the struggle against capital in this country will take place in increasingly national forms as large sectors of oppressed-nation workers are marginalized from the workforce.
Internationally, support for national liberation struggles and anti-war work in this country become more urgent as the imperialist war machine flexes its muscles.
But history has shown us that the worldwide socialist revolution does not proceed according to a domino theory, with one nation after another entering the socialist camp. The current events in such diverse countries as China and Zimbabwe point out the vast difficulty of nations being able to remove themselves sufficiently from the imperialist world system to move down the path of socialism.
The international proletarian revolution is not a linear struggle but a series of breaks and leaps and counter-revolutions. Struggles of the proletariat in the advanced industrial nations are crucial for the ultimate victory of socialism and at times come to the foreground of the international proletarian revolution:
France in 1968
Italy in 1969
Poland today. . . .
Since I know that the Twin Cities is an important center for anti-nuclear work, I just want to mention that STO is active in the anti-nuclear movement. In that work we stress the need to fight against the entire nuclear cycle. Particularly we work with sectors of the anti-nuke movement who support the struggles of Native people to protect their lands from exploitation and appropriation for nuclear mining and dumping. We also seek to constantly make the connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Third, we stress the need for militancy and look to the struggles of Native peoples and farmers as a guide for militant action.
STO is also active in the women's movement, particularly in the Reproductive Rights National Network and in local anti-militarist/anti-nuclear women's groups which we see as part of an emerging anti-imperialist sector of the women's movement.
The women's movement is currently addressing many important and exciting questions about its orientation and direction.
In the 1960s we had the women's liberation movement which directly grew out of the Black liberation movement. Women fought for control over our own lives by addressing a broad spectrum of issues — abortion rights with no forced sterilization, job opportunities, child care, new social relations between men and women, affirmation of the lesbian alternative.
In the 1970s the women's movement turned inward, becoming the "women's community."
Now in the eighties the militant women's movement has re-emerged with an increased awareness that a mass, militant women's movement is necessary to protect our hard-won gains. Even more important, a significant sector of the women's movement is saying that the fight against racism, national oppression and imperialism must become a part of the women's movement — that it is not sufficient that as individuals we may be anti-racist or anti-imperialist, but that the women's movement must say up front that we cannot be free as women until all people are free.
Practically this means seeking out alliance with third world groups of both women and men and working on issues which they view as the most crucial. Theoretically, this means studying the history of racism in the women's movement and the relationship between patriarchy and imperialism.
But, of course, there are many other trends in the women's movement. One which we think it is particularly important to fight against is the movement to the right by many of the Marxist-Leninists who work in the women's movement. This move to the right shows itself in an emphasis on legislative work and building coalitions with social democratic forces and an insufficient emphasis on building a strong, autonomous, militant women's movement.
The rightward drift of the left is apparent in many places besides the women's movement. STO feels that at this time it is important to counter this drift to the right by coalescing a revolutionary left tendency within the communist movement. We think that such a tendency exists but generally in the form of small isolated groups or individuals. We hope that in this period, revolutionary leftists can begin to work together in the mass movements. In an effort to aid this process, we have taken two steps which we hope will help facilitate communication and discussion between groups and individuals in the revolutionary left.
First, we have begun to put out a newsletter in which people can exchange information about their work, their organizations and political perspectives and hopefully discuss questions of common interest. Copies of the first issue of this newsletter are available on our literature table.
We have also begun to speak to other groups and individuals about jointly sponsoring a conference to discuss the current period — the nature of the capitalist crisis, the mass movements and the tasks of the left. We'll be distributing information about that conference here in the Twin Cities and hope that you will be interested in attending.