The 5th FRSO Congress is important to our understanding of the U.S. and the world, and how to change it. The last couple of years point toward the emergence of a new period, different than the last twenty-five years. The U.S. is being strategically defeated in Iraq. This hampers the ability of U.S. imperialism to act elsewhere. In addition, the defeat in Iraq has slowed and in some cases stopped Bush’s domestic agenda. The so-called “Republican Revolution” is over, while the Democrats are facing rebellion from their own supporters. At the same time, three mass movements stand out – the growing and deepening antiwar movement, the mostly Mexicano/Latino immigrants’ rights upsurge, and the simmering anger and resentment of African-Americans following the neglect and abuse at the hands of the Bush administration in the wake of hurricane Katrina.
Stuck in Iraq
Slow painful defeat is stalking U.S. imperialism in Iraq. The Iraqi resistance has made the plunder of Iraq by President Bush and the U.S. ruling class extremely difficult. Furthermore, the heroic Iraqi people's resistance to U.S. imperialism has foiled broader plans for domination of the Middle East and other parts of the world. The Pentagon bragged five years ago that it could fight two medium-size wars at the same time in different parts of the globe and win them. Instead, every national liberation and left-wing movement struggling against U.S. domination is busy advancing their struggle while the U.S. is caught in the tiger's trap of Iraq. For the foreseeable future the U.S. is stuck in Iraq.
Digging Its Own Grave
The U.S. bourgeoisie faces a dilemma: Will it escalate the Iraq war into a high-risk regional conflict, continue with some variant of the status quo, or withdraw its troops and admit defeat?
Regional War: It is unclear if this is the road that Bush is taking, but the 2007 "troop surge" points in this direction. It is a risky approach that even most of the U.S. bourgeoisie is opposed to. However it has historical precedent–as the U.S. was losing the war in Vietnam it escalated into Cambodia and Laos. Bush continues to target and harass Iran—most recently raiding an Iranian consulate in Iraq. Meanwhile, the Middle East is rising up, with patriotic forces in Palestine and Lebanon delivering blows to Zionism and U.S. imperialism. In Afghanistan we see the signs of an anti-occupation resurgence against the U.S. and Britain.
Regional escalation could mean attacking Iran directly, or possibly Syria, and could draw in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Kuwait. Escalation could mean death for millions, with tens of millions of lives ruined. Bush's vision of the "War On Terror" is a war without end. Bush threatens and delivers missile attacks and air raids as a form of diplomacy. The response to U.S. occupation and oppression is resistance and it is spreading. Escalation is a high-stakes bet for the U.S. ruling class.
Withdrawal: The other possibility is that the U.S. will make a plan to withdraw from Iraq. The U.S. will withdraw to bases in nearby countries, getting out while they still can. This will hurt U.S. power in the region, and U.S. prestige in the world, but allow a U.S. presence. The U.S. military can continue to harass and terrorize the independent countries and movements in the region, while propping up the pro-U.S. governments of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, among others.
The War at Home
Bush's domestic agenda lies in the ruin and rubble of Iraq. The long list of reactionary items that the Republican Party planned to foist upon the American people is now in the trash–Social Security privatization, health care cuts, a federal law banning gay marriage, anti-union laws, and so on. Furthermore, the war in Iraq has had an impact on politics at the state and local level, improving the conditions to fight back and turn back reactionary domestic agendas in states where motion exists.
Over the past three years, opinion polls demonstrate a progressive shift in the views of Americans, driven by the Iraq war, corruption, and issues like immigration. This shone through in the November 2006 midterm elections when American voters opposed “Stay the Course” and opposed the occupation of Iraq. Americans had something to vote against, and where Democrats ran on an antiwar platform, they generally won. Where Democrats campaigned on a “we can manage the war better” line, they won fewer seats than predicted.
“Republican Meltdown!” announced the front page of Fight Back!. The wipeout is so tremendous that the "Republican Revolution" begun in 1994 is over. That year, the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives with a net gain of 54 seats (230 Republicans to 204 Democrats). The Republicans ruled the Senate with a small majority, a net gain of 8 seats, while one Democrat switched. Democrats Clinton and Gore were in the White House.
The tables have turned now, with Bush and Cheney sitting in the White House and the Democratic Party holding power in Congress. In November 2006, the Democrats won the House of Representatives (233 Democrats, 202 Republicans) and the Senate (49 Democrats, 49 Republicans, and 2 Independents caucusing with Democrats) as well as the majority of state governorships (Democrats 28-Republicans 22).
However, the President runs the country, and Congress is relatively weaker. It matters little, since the Democrats are not focused on ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq, but on “handling” it better. The Democratic plan is “not to have a plan” and instead to focus on winning the next presidential election. The Democrats are a party of the rich and powerful who do not want to see a setback for the U.S. empire. Neither we, nor the Iraqi people, nor the peoples of the Middle East can afford to wait. We must get the U.S. out now.
Beginning A New Period–Opinions Are Shifting, People Are In Motion
We are in a new period, with the U.S. defeat in Iraq shaping the other contradictions. Compared to even three years ago, the situation is markedly different and brings to an end the long period of a building right-wing motion in American society led by the U.S. bourgeoisie.
The new period is marked by strong antiwar and anti-occupation opinion, a popular view that the Republicans are corrupt or criminal, and a renewed distrust of politicians. Many Democratic grassroots activists oppose the Republicans more than they support the Democrats. The base of the Republicans is adrift because of the war, corruption, and the growing disparity of wealth. The Republican attack on immigrants was meant to define and divide, but had little effect on the elections.
People opposing the Iraq war are outwardly angry with Bush–some calling for his impeachment. Bush is close to being the most “unpopular” president ever, with a Newsweek poll of May 2-3, 2007, finding an approval rating of only 28%. The same people are realizing that the Democrats are reluctant to end the Iraq war, and independent action is developing. A section of the antiwar movement is poised to move beyond the Democrats and become radicalized. We see this developing contradiction with regular Democratic voters and followers demanding the Democratic Party stop funding the war. The leadership of the antiwar movement needs to organize this base of people independent of the Democrats. Large protests in Washington D.C. and local actions at the offices of Congresspersons are on the rise.
We should continue to make every effort to contribute to, develop, and lead the antiwar movement. The Iraq war shapes all the other social questions. The antiwar movement is progressive and powerful. It is impacting all sectors of society. For instance, the AFL-CIO is calling for the “speedy return” of U.S. troops from Iraq, a big shift from past pro-war positions. These days there are labor union contingents, like SEIU and UNITE HERE at antiwar marches. Local union halls are discussing and organizing to oppose the war, with many union members having relatives serving “in harms way”. New formations like Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and active-duty antiwar groups are opposing the war and growing quickly, bringing working class people into the leadership of the rallies and the movement.
In large part oppressed nationalities are opposed to the war and it is expressed in different ways. African-American people consistently and strongly opposed the war and occupation from the earliest days. African-American recruitment to the U.S. military is less than half of what it was when Bush announced “Mission Accomplished.” At the historic May 1, 2006 immigrants’ rights mega-marches, antiwar speakers and statements were high profile. Groups like Latinos Against War in Los Angeles are amongst the leaders of the marches.
In this time of U.S. war in the Middle East, Arab-American and Muslim people face racist repression and 13,000 were threatened with deportation in 2002. Yet in April that same year, when the U.S.-backed the Israeli invasion and devastation of Jenin, over 100,000 marched in Washington D.C. It was historic: the largest ever protest of Arabs, Muslims, and their supporters in the U.S. Arab-Americans and Muslims turned out again by the tens of thousands to protest the U.S.-backed attacks of Israel upon Lebanon and Palestine in August 2006. The main slogan was “Support the Resistance”. Large numbers of Arab-Americans and Muslims continue to mobilize and protest the Iraq war.
Students Oppose War
An important sector, the student movement mobilizes for the huge antiwar protests in Washington D.C. and other big cities. The war is the main issue on campus and up until now, the ups and downs of the student movement have mimicked the antiwar movement. Many campuses have antiwar rallies and also help lead community protests. On campuses across the U.S. there are counter-recruitment campaigns opposing the efforts of military recruiters. Other campuses have protested U.S. government or military officials speaking on their campus. At least one has targeted U.S. military research on the campuses. There is tremendous possibility for students to impact and lead the antiwar movement in the new period. Students are more willing to use radical tactics and militancy is growing. The student movement is emerging and playing a bigger role, for instance with the March 20th National Day of Action called by chapters of the newly-formed Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). It was one of the largest antiwar protests on campuses since the U.S. was defeated in Vietnam.
Immigrants’ Rights Movement (IRM)
May 1st, 2006, International Workers Day, was historic as an estimated 7,000,000 people marched for immigrants' rights. The largest mass movement in the U.S. since the Black Civil Rights movement, it took to the streets of every city and town where immigrants live. Millions of Mexicanos, Chicanos, and other nationalities protested the Republican-sponsored Sensenbrenner bill. The spontaneous movement expressed the demands of foreign-born workers and others who faced decades of low wages, super-exploitation, and racist abuse in the U.S. The tremendous growth in the number of Mexican immigrants is a direct result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its negative impact on workers and peasants in Latin America. NAFTA is the policy the U.S. bourgeoisie forced upon Canada and Mexico to dominate their economies and profit from lowering all workers’ wages.
The Republicans misread the response of the American people to this movement, hoping to shore up their electoral base with a “whites only” attack on immigrants. Instead the immigrants rights movement won a big victory by defeating Sensenbrenner's bill and forcing the Republicans to retreat, splitting their ranks. A section of the bourgeoisie still clings to the nightmare of criminalization and deportations. However, most of the bourgeoisie, represented by Bush's views, want to combine a program for legalization with reactionary guest worker programs. With a Democratic Congress and Bush wanting a positive legacy of some sort, legislation may come forth. Be that as it may, we as a movement demand freedom, rights, and equality for all, not just some.
The immigrant mega-marches of May Day 2006 were victorious in blunting the right-wing attack. To see rallies this size again will likely take more sharp attacks from the bourgeoisie. After May Day 2007, with large protests in Los Angeles, Chicago, Milwaukee, and other places, there is debate about the effects of a year of increased repression, raids and deportations. Some argue repression created fear and caused people to stay home. In Chicago on the other hand, activists say the raid by sixty U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents with automatic weapons on a discount shopping mall, just days before May Day 2007, caused an angry response that swelled the Chicago immigrants’ rights march to 250,000.
Spontaneous movements rise and recede quickly, though tens of thousands of town, state, and nationality based organizations are working to build the movement now. City and national coalitions formed and continue to organize, like March 10th Movement in Chicago, the March 25th Coalition in Los Angeles, National Alliance for Immigrants Rights and the National May 1st Movement for Worker and Immigrants Rights. The IRM promises to be a front of struggle for years to come and includes the leadership and activity of some unions. The union response is uneven, depending on the type of union and the outlook of the local or national leadership.
The immigrant struggle is focused on passing legislation and leadership is looking to mobilize and follow through on the demands of the masses of immigrants. We will continue to provide leadership and organize the movement, supporting what is just and good, criticizing what is wrong, and to defend workers and people against attacks. The immediate struggle is to stop ICE raids and deportations. A second focus is the struggle against reactionary racist laws being passed by town councils. Finally, legislation towards legalization will be walled with barbed wire, checkpoints, and armed guards. We support legalization and full equality, while opposing guest worker programs and other backwards measures.
Defense of immigrants' rights is sharpest in the Southwest, the historic homeland of the Chicano people, formed as a nation when the U.S. seized Mexican land and colonized the people living there. The development of the Chicano nation is historically linked to, but separate from, Mexico. We now see vigilantes and thugs attacking and murdering Mexican immigrants here. These white supremacists fear that as more Mexicans arrive and meld with the Chicano people, the demands for self-determination will grow and gain strength. We support self-determination for the Chicano people. We favor the waving of Mexican and other national flags and encourage the national sentiment of the immigrants. Our slogan is "Workers and oppressed peoples unite!"
African-Americans after Hurricane Katrina
On September 1, 2005, immediately following Hurricane Katrina, FRSO issued a statement: "New Orleans–People Are Dying". It said, “Though the powerful storm was tracked and announced on every news station – every hour on the hour for days – and the region had experienced being smashed by big hurricanes in the past, government and politicians let this catastrophe happen and are now allowing the situation to get worse. The reason: low-income Black people do not matter to them. Not to Bush, not to the Republican Party, not to rich white people. Black people's lives are not worth a thing to them. Poor people are expendable and their homes and livelihoods are unimportant to those who rule the land. Remember, this is the South and Black people are an oppressed nation in this part of the U.S. Black people’s oppression is not just history, it is now. The outrage is building across the country.”
Since then, African-American people have organized a series of protests and marches in New Orleans and across the South. Throughout the country, in places where people meet and organize, like union halls, churches, and universities, people raise money, aid evacuees, and host speakers. Aided mostly by family, certainly not by the government, as many as 300,000 people have been displaced by the disaster and are struggling to survive and find jobs in cities across the South and Southwest. The impact on African-American communities and consciousness will be felt for years. As far as the rich are concerned, after the hotel and tourist areas are rebuilt, the rest of New Orleans can be the “Lost City of Atlantis.”
Among African-Americans, George Bush’s ratings are the lowest for any president ever. Hurricane Katrina has brought home a sense that this government will not meet the needs, let alone desires, of African-American people. As mentioned earlier, African Americans are consistently opposed to Bush’s Iraq war and military recruitment is way down. Beyond aiding the victims of Katrina, the main expression of African-Americans to date has been in voting against Bush and the Republicans.
For African-Americans, another issue that has the potential to spark intense struggle is police brutality. Back in 1992, the failure to obtain a guilty verdict against the white cops who mercilessly beat Rodney King caused a great rebellion in Los Angeles. Today in every big city, police brutality continues across the U.S. The “United We Stand” days forced human rights and anti-brutality activists to retreat for a while, but those days are now over. Struggles against racism and national oppression are coming back into the streets and the courts. In response to police brutality against African-Americans and other oppressed nationalities, spontaneous movements will rise up. Organizing against police brutality is often fast and furious, but can empower people to fight back and stop more state-sponsored murders. The NYC police murder of Sean Bell on his wedding day and the response of his family and supporters is a recent example.
Another pressing issue is the 2.3 million prisoners in the U.S. today. Due to poverty, racist policing, and a corrupt criminal justice system, African-Americans are imprisoned at higher rates than other oppressed nationalities and whites. This form of social control and national oppression is obvious and direct. While African-Americans are 13.5% of the population (40 million), they are 44% of prisoners. Campaigns against wrongful imprisonments and death row, like the Aaron Patterson case in Illinois, are known around the world. Struggle both inside the prisons and by family and friends outside is likely to increase. Activists are exposing the out-of-control profit making and labor abuses of the prison industry.
The Struggles of the Working Class
While the U.S. bosses wage wars abroad, there is a class war at home. The multi-national working class in the U.S. is the majority, with great potential power in its hands. The working class is the class of the future, of socialism. For now, however, the monopoly capitalist class lords over it and exploits the workers–the producers of wealth in society. The polarization between the multi-millionaires and billionaires on the one hand and the workers on the other continues—the rich get richer. Even President Bush feels the need to warn corporate CEOs about their audacious pay and benefits. Of course, President Bush also passed tax cuts to the richest people in society. Workers pay more and more of the taxes every year.
Since the early 1970s, average real wages for workers has declined year after year. Real wages are adjusted for inflation. In industry and other economic sectors, we are seeing drastic wage cuts, job losses, buyouts, and outsourcing. The American auto industry is the prime example. In many industries, pensions are being cut or even disappearing through buyouts by bigger corporations. Other benefits are vanishing too—sick days, holiday pay, vacations, overtime, etc.
Health care is in crisis, with big corporations making tremendous profits while 45 million Americans, including 9 million children, have no coverage. There will be more struggles on this issue as the employer-based health insurance system continues to decay and collapse. Health care is the number one issue in union contracts. The solution is socialized medicine to cover all, only in the U.S. it is renamed as “single payer health insurance.”
Monopoly capitalists oppress peoples and nations to create conditions for greater exploitation–to increase profits. The capitalists’ strategy in the U.S. is underlined by uneven economic development in the Black Belt South and in Aztlan, the historic homelands, respectively, of the African-American and Chicano peoples. Lower unionization rates, “right to work” laws, higher rates of poverty, and displacement of people from their land all point to the need to organize the South. Some unions that recognize the strategic importance of the South work together with local activists to win victories and build power. The Raleigh, NC sanitation workers’ struggle is a good example. Most oppressed nationalities in the U.S. suffer poverty and unemployment more than white people.
For low-income workers we see the crisis is already here and people are forced off of welfare into all types of schemes. The “welfare to work” programs treat people like slaves and make a profit doing so. These programs are sometimes set up to compete with or replace decent paying, unionized government jobs. Not everyone “forced to swim” makes it, so hunger and homelessness are common in every city and some suburbs. The system can no longer meet the needs of this section of the working class. In pockets of society, where there is leadership, people are fighting back and despair can give way to rebellion.
Unions continue making concessions, for example in auto, airlines, and education. These areas are where union membership density rates are the highest and therefore should be strongest. But there is a problem, because most of the union leadership is not up to the task of fighting. Two and three tier wage systems are being agreed to by trade union bureaucrats, so younger and newer workers are feeling burned and turn anti-union. Where there are rank and file militants, like the Soldiers of Solidarity in the United Auto Workers union, the union leaders feel pressure to lead the workers in struggle. The setbacks for the workers are not as terrible and the workers begin to see that they themselves are the union. Some union leaders will fight back, like the United Steel Workers strike of Goodyear Tire in autumn 2006.
The failures of the John Sweeney leadership to turn around the unions’ decline lead Andy Stern to rebel in 2005. But the splitting of the AFL-CIO, with the formation of the Change To Win (CTW) coalition, is meaningless to most workers and harms the overall situation. Stern of SEIU and CTW is becoming increasingly class collaborationist, the main difference is they seek to internationalize collaboration. Like the AFL-CIO of the past, but with more ambition, the CTW wants to spread American business unionism to other countries. Like the AFL-CIO, the CTW claims that new organizing is their priority and the basis for splitting, but overall no progress has been made. Union membership is at 12% for 2006, down from 12.5% in 2005.
Organizing non-unionized workers into unions is still an overall positive and necessary trend. It is not a substitute for the class struggle, but in general it contributes to the ability of the class to defend itself. The employers oppose it such that, in new organizing efforts, employees who are active union supporters have a one-in-five chance of being fired for union activities. As a result, the unions are backing the Employee Free Choice Act. If it were to pass, it could turn around the decline in membership
It remains to be seen what impact the mega-marches of the immigrants' rights movement will have upon the working class as a whole. It is likely that workers of all nationalities are thinking that their power can be exercised through collective action and marching in the streets. With the likelihood of an economic downturn in the next two or three years, we predict where there is good leadership there will be fight backs.
Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO) and Election Policy
In FRSO, we view the differences between the Democratic and Republican parties as manifestations of contradictions within the capitalist class. There is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie manifest through the two-party system. Since 1985, the FRSO has taken a position on elections, sometimes working to build movements with an electoral expression, and other times supporting a vote against a reactionary candidate.
In the past we supported Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and the presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson on the basis of African-American political empowerment. Other times we strive to support and sustain independent or third party politics, like Ralph Nader's first run for President in 2000 or Elaine Brown's run for mayor of Brunswick, Georgia. Then there are times when an issue like the Iraq war defines our approach to elections on a national level.
The Iraq war was the main issue in the last presidential election and the 2006 mid-term elections. It will be so again in 2008. The mid-term vote was an opportunity to defeat Bush and the Iraq war policy. It created new conditions in which the antiwar movement has surged.
In 2004, FRSO said the main task was to build and organize the antiwar movement, which contains a large base of liberal Democrats. The FRSO encouraged people to vote against Bush. We could not endorse Kerry who took a pro-war, pro-occupation stance. We predicted correctly that Kerry would lose because he did not oppose the war.
The presidential campaigning for November 2008 has begun and the FRSO National Executive Committee policy is both responsive and clear. Ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq and war in the Middle East is at the top of our agenda. To accomplish this, our main activity must be to build the antiwar movement–to bring the troops home now. We are organizing people to protest war in the streets of all the major cities and small towns, conducting walk-outs against the war on campuses to build the student movement, and mobilizing for big antiwar rallies in Washington D.C. We support more militancy in protesting the offices of pro-war politicians, mostly Republicans, as well Democrats who claim to be antiwar but will not cut off war funding. The protests at Democrats’ offices inform us what a Democratic presidential victory will mean for the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
We encourage support for candidates that are firmly antiwar and anti-occupation, but that leaves us with few choices. Ohio Representative Kucinich is consistently antiwar, with no hope of winning. The Democratic Party leaders cynically use Kucinich to rope in a Left-Liberal base to support their “electable” candidates. FRSO wants people to vote against the pro-war Republican candidates, but we will not endorse the “electable” Democratic candidates willing to prolong the occupation (Clinton, Biden), or a Democrat who says we should end the occupation of Iraq, but leave U.S. military bases there (Edwards, Obama). We cannot support a candidate that says U.S. troops should come home over the course of two, three, or more years. We want the U.S. troops out now!
The leaders of the Republican Party, McCain, Giuliani, Romney, and others want to expand the war. “More war, more occupation” is a policy that must be opposed. FRSO is against all of the empire-expanding Republicans. We hope to prove it by leading, with others, the protests at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis on Labor Day weekend 2008. We plan to make sure the antiwar movement delivers a hard whack to Bush and the Republicans, whoever their nominee is.
It is a well-known fact that money rules U.S. elections. Whichever candidate can attract the most financial support from the capitalist class wins more than 9 out of 10 times. The FRSO view is that the masses make history, not the politicians, and not their rich bosses. We will focus on building the mass movement against the Iraq war, with elections being another way to express opposition.
The next three or more years hold forth great promise for the class struggle in the U.S. The U.S. bourgeoisie is not getting their way in Iraq and their defeat there zaps their strength in the region, in the world and here at home. A big defeat is looming, not just for Bush, but also for the system—for U.S. imperialism. We are arguing a new period has begun and two great movements—antiwar and immigrants' rights—are dynamic and creating waves through society. We think the struggle of the working class and the African-American freedom movement may be sparked by developments. Conditions are quite good and it is bringing out people, old veterans and new activists, to organize for social change. By assessing the period correctly, we have an opportunity to position ourselves to lead big struggles and consolidate victories through lasting organization. We can help to create a better world with peace, justice, and socialism.