U.S. and World Politics

Russian Revolution and its Relevance to the U.S. Working Class

Lessons on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution

By Steve Zeltzer

One hundred years after the Russian revolution, the conditions for world revolution are growing. In fact, today, one hundred years after the Russian revolution, capitalist academic hacks are worrying that “Bolshevism is Back.”

This was the title of an article by Anne Applebaum in a major piece in the Washington Post. She is a propagandist for U.S. imperialism and is even on the board of directors of the National Endowment For Democracy, which is involved in counter-revolutions throughout the world. She rewrites the history of the Russian revolution and says that the new “Bolsheviks” will be right-wingers and Nazis. “But suddenly, now, in the year of the revolution’s centenary, it’s [Bolshevism] back.”

What she does get right is that the capitalist class and their political parties are collapsing, and this political degeneration is allowing for the introduction of Bolshevism as a solution to the capitalist crisis.

Despite the massive witch-hunts during the ’40s and ’50s, millions of workers and youth now see socialism as a solution to the crisis. While in Cuba this month, I watched an interesting debate on CNN on taxes between rightwing anti-communist Cuban American Ted Cruz and social democrat Bernie Sanders.

Sanders said that he was in favor of free medical care for all, free education for all, and free childcare for all. At this point, Cruz accused him of being a “socialist.” Sander’s response was that he was a socialist but not the Cuban variety, but the Denmark and Scandinavian variety.

Sanders, of course, wants to make capitalism better through reforming the banks and instituting a WPA (Work Projects Administration) type program. The fact however, that on mainstream corporate media, the debate was between socialism and capitalism again confirms that the issues of socialism and capitalism are on the agenda for millions of workers. The youth of the United States, in the millions, see socialism as their only way to have a future.

One of the growing developments of this political internecine war between the capitalist parties is the Democrat’s campaign to blame the loss of the election on the Russians. The attacks by this corrupt reactionary warmongering party and their shills are linked up in a campaign to further encircle Russia and threaten North Korea and China.

 The Democrats have launched an hysterical campaign to cover-up their political bankruptcy by blaming the Russians for losing the election instead of their own corruption, rigging of the primaries, and hatred of them by the working class. Their growing anger against Clinton and the policies of the Democratic party led directly not only to support for Sanders but the election of Trump.

What is behind this hysterical attack on Russia is the utter political and economic bankruptcy of U.S. capitalism and the growing drive toward world war. The adventurism of the U.S. is not new.

Declining imperialist power

Historically, every declining imperialist empire has become more and more adventurist, and we face a growing inter-imperialist rivalry. Already the U.S., under Trump, has openly supported far more U.S. imperialist interventions including invading Venezuela and threatening the total destruction of North Korea. In a brazen act of war ignored by the capitalist media he even invaded and occupied the Russian consulate in San Francisco. Under international law, this property is the Russians’, but for Trump and the Democrats, when it comes to the Russians, there are no international laws. They are also now demanding that RT (the Russian 24/7 English-language TV news channel) register as foreign agent and are moving to shutdown RT in the U.S. Of course for now, the Chinese and other countries media are not immediately threatened but the fear that the U.S. capitalist class and their corporate controlled media have of RT is, again, an example of their political desperation.

The capitalists in the U.S. and around the world could not, in 1917, believe that the Bolsheviks would take power much less hold it. Their shock at the victory of the Soviets in seizing state power, and the ability to withstand an invasion by thousands of imperialist troops including 8,000 from the United States was not supposed to happen. Trotsky who built and led the Red Army was able to rally the working class and maintain the revolution but not without a very high cost. Thousands of workers and unionists were killed and it created the conditions for the rise of Stalin and a parasitic bureaucracy. It also led to the view that socialism could be built in one country. Today, there is no question that only an international revolution, particularly in the advanced capitalist countries, can develop socialism, and indeed, the conditions for that world socialist revolution are more fertile today than in any time in history.

Rise of Trump

One cannot looks at the rise of Trump without also looking at the decline of U.S. imperialism and the collapse of income and conditions for millions of workers in the United States. For the last 30 years, the real income of the working class has declined by 20 to 30 percent and the exodus of the U.S. industrial base was all about increasing capitalist profits. The movement out of the unionized industrialized mid-west to the non-union south, then Mexico and now China, and other countries throughout the world, has left an angry fury among the working class.

The rise of the fascist racist rightwing in the U.S. and internationally also coincides with the growing crisis of imperialism. The U.S. invasions of Iraq, Libya and interventions in Syria have made millions of people refugees—forced to move to Europe for survival. This is the largest migration since the second world war and of course the rightwing has used this influx to blame the migrants in order to incite racist, fascist ideology against them.

In the U.S., Trump is a reflection of the failure of U.S. capitalism and the rise of an open, racist, fascistic ideology that the solution needs, to be a strong man to bring back capitalism in “the good old days.”

The policies of Democrats and the U.S. trade unions

The policies of deregulation pushed by Carter in the airline industry, and followed up in trucking and other industries by both Democrats and Republicans has had little organized political opposition by the pro-capitalist trade unions. The result of the witch-hunts in the U.S. against militant trade unionists who built the CIO and mass worker unions was a neutered trade union movement that in fact had been decapitated. In fact, the formation of the AFL-CIO was the establishment of a pro-capitalist pro-imperialist trade union federation built on anti-communism, and collusion with the CIA and U.S. capitalism throughout the world. This business union operation is run by bureaucrats and labor brokers who make hundreds-of-thousands of dollars and are part of an aristocracy. They have refused to organize any national fight against privatization and deregulation and they have built a top down structure that mimics the corporations that they make deals with, or try to make deals with.

If you go to the AFL-CIO website or any of the major international union websites, there is nothing about any strikes or lockouts of their own members. Instead, they push support for the Democrats, and their fight-back consists of sending emails to the capitalist Congress begging it not to hurt them. A latest example of their total political bankruptcy is calling on Trump to make the anti-working class trade agreement, NAFTA, better under his regime. They urge workers to send emails to Trump’s negotiators to get a good deal.

It is also not surprising that this same bureaucracy has refused to link up the workers in Mexico and Canada directly with workers in the U.S. When workers in Mexico organized in the parts, and auto plants, they faced repression by the U.S.-controlled government with company unions and harassment and even murder of organizers. In auto, the UAW bureaucracy refused to take direct solidarity action to refuse scab parts from these plants. They of course were on the boards of these same corporations.

Coming crash bigger than 2008

The crash of the world economy in 2008 shook capitalism and threatened a total collapse of the world capitalist economy. In the U.S. millions of workers were dispossessed of their homes by the same vulture capitalists that created the panic, and millions also lost their retirement. Today, many U.S. workers cannot afford to retire. The deregulation of the financial markets was, in fact, pushed by Clinton and the very Democrats who were in charge of Congress at the time. The banks were bailed out by trillions of tax dollars, and now the U.S. is in debt to China and other capitalist countries. Trump has actually escalated the very decline of U.S. capitalism and imperialism.

The rise, at the same time, of a U.S. and global oligarchy is greater today than at any time in our history. The wealthiest 25 individuals in the United States today own $1 trillion in combined assets. These 25 hold more wealth than the bottom 56 percent of the U.S. population combined, 178 million people.

This world oligarchy and the capitalist drive for profits will, without a doubt, lead not only to another collapse even deeper that 2008, but to revolutionary conditions throughout the world, and especially in the United States, where laissez faire capitalism still dominates.

The social crisis in the United States is not new. When millions of immigrant workers marched in 2006, the capitalists were very concerned that this would turn into a social movement. The Democrats and Republicans spent billions to terrorize and deport workers and their children. This was a bi-partisan operation. The Democrats and Republicans passed NAFTA, which forced over ten million Mexicans to immigrate and now they are blamed for the economic crisis created by the capitalists corporate trade agreement. Obama was, until now, known as the “Deporter in Chief,” and the militarization of the border and deaths of thousands of immigrants on the border is on the bloody hands of both Obama and the Democrats, as well as the Republicans.

Unity of Mexican and U.S. workers

We must unite with the Mexican and Canadian workers with direct working class links and action. We need to oppose the re-colonization of Mexico and for not only the cancellation of NAFTA, but also the re-nationalization of the lands, oil, railroad, telecom and mines under workers control. U.S. workers need to support the working class of Mexico taking back their country, and obviously we need to do the same here.

Environmental catastrophe

There is also a catastrophic environmental and climate disaster that in fact is being escalated by the fossil fuel industry and utilities who control the Congress. The necessity of public control of the energy industry and the utilities must immediately be raised as a critical solution to this deadly and dangerous world crisis. The hurricanes and the deadly fires in California that go on throughout the year are further examples that capitalist control of our economy is threatening the world.

Racism and fascists ideology

The open rise of racist and fascist ideology is exemplified by Trump and his advisor, Bannon. They argue that we need to preserve a white nation and this has incited and encouraged the growth of neo-Nazi, racist and anti-Semitic groups. The open harassment and terrorism against Blacks, Latinos, Asians, women, LBGT people, has created a massive backlash of anger. Trump has helped unite the mass of people in the United States against this government. It is also a historic opportunity for the working class to bring millions into militant, class struggle unions, that defend democratic and human rights.

Rise of social democracy

The rise of social democracy is part and parcel of the social and economic crisis in the United States, and the likely election of Sanders, or someone like him, will be a reflection of the growing backlash against capitalism, and also the movement toward socialist ideas by millions of workers and youth who have no future in capitalism.

In the midst of this fundamental capitalist world crisis, there also exists a massive political vacuum. 

There is no mass democratic workers party in the U.S. And while there is a growing class hatred, the U.S. working class has been disorganized and atomized not only by the capitalist class but also by a trade union bureaucracy that is terrified that mass workers actions will lead to general strikes and their overthrow.

A section of the U.S. trade union bureaucracy is now talking about the formation of a social democratic labor party. They met at the 2017 AFL-CIO convention, and talked about the formation of a labor party in conjunction with a formation called Labor For Bernie. Like former Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers Union Secretary, Tony Mazzochi, they see a Labor Party as a capitalist electoral party and not a mass working class party with a working class program of action. Despite this, there is growing anger and frustration with the support for the Democrats. This will obviously grow as this crisis deepens.

Like Sanders, those union officials’ support is for reforming capitalism—including the Democrats’ implementing a Roosevelt-type WPA program. The idea that this world capitalist system and crisis can be solved with a WPA program has little real reality, and those who voted for him and consider him a socialist will soon discover the reality of this plan.

What now?

What to do now is the question of the day. There is no mass working class party, but the need for one that is based on the rank and file workers grows more critical. The first step to develop such a party is to build United Fronts that bring together workers on class struggle issues. We need to unite all workers organized or unorganized to defend workers nationally who are on strike, locked out, or who have been fired for defending worker and union rights. The Transitional Program,1 a set of immediate but far-reaching demands that call into question capitalist rule and lead to workers taking government and state power, is a plan for action in taking forward the defense of the working class and to build its power.

We also need a national political education campaign against privatization and outsourcing that includes all workers and the communities that are affected by these policies. The need for mass working class action against these attacks have to be fought in order to back these struggles up and also to organize against the attacks on immigrants, African Americans, Asians, Women and LBGT people. We need to build these united fronts as organizations of action that can rally the working class and move toward support for general strikes and mass worker actions.

The growing political and social crisis will offer us historic opportunities for such actions. The ongoing internecine warfare between the capitalist parties and within them is undermining their legitimacy in front of the working class as they see the systemic corruption and manipulation of both parties. This warfare is exposing not only the true nature of these capitalist parties but also the economic and political bankruptcy of the U.S. and world capitalist systems.

Technology and global economy

The development of the Internet, Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics and the gig economy in fact are escalating the crisis for world capitalism. Workers throughout the world are now temporary, part-time workers with no hope under capitalism for survival in this new world. At the same time, workers are directly linked up with each other electronically, and have the power to organize internationally, including international strikes against multi-nationals and union busting governments. The re-organization of the world economy by the working class is now more feasible than at any time in history, and the communication tools that tech workers have, as well as tens-of-millions of workers, can and will be used to fight the very system that is destroying them. That is why the capitalist fear the communication network and are desperate to control it. What they know is that as mass movements develop with millions of workers, these workers will use these tools to challenge capitalist power and their control of the media and propaganda. The need for an international labor communication network and live streaming channels is vital to unify worker struggles globally and the technology is now user friendly as smart phones allow this broadcasting and live streaming by millions.

Removal of Trump

The growing call for the removal of Trump by impeachment also should be opposed. We should support the independent organization of mass working class action and general strikes to remove him, his family and his cronies. This is the kind of action that can galvanize the entire working class and strengthen it organizationally for the tasks ahead including the formation of a mass democratic, working class party that can put forward a program and action for power.

Unity with workers of the world

Finally, the need to oppose imperialist war is critical, and also offers an opportunity to unite with workers in Korea, Japan, China, and around the world. The drive for imperialist war by the capitalists can only be stopped by the unity of the working class of the world. The use of xenophobia, racism and nationalism is the method of choice for a ruling class in crisis with no solutions other than war.

The U.S. working class has nothing to gain by war against Russia, Venezuela, North Korea or China. Our enemies are not the workers throughout the world but our capitalist class, who have slaughtered tens-of-millions since 1898 when the U.S. occupied Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines to supposedly bring “democracy” to these people.

The working people throughout the world are waiting for the working class here to wake up and take control, and that is our task on the road forward.

1 The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International: The Mobilization of the Masses around Transitional Demands to Prepare the Conquest of Power, “The Transitional Program” By Leon Trotsky, 1938.