Those Who Came Before Us

The working class needs its own party, a party which will aim to organize the fights and struggles of working people, a party based on the conviction that the working class and the employing class have nothing in common – in the words of the IWW. A party which will, as the IWW did at the beginning of the 1900s, confront racism, this moral cancer inside the working class that paralyzes labor's ability to organize as one class.

The working class needs its own party, a party which will not conciliate the capitalist class, but organize to fight against it – as Eugene Debs declared in 1920. Debs, after leading the great railway strike of 1894, worked with other militants to form the Socialist Party. He knew elections could not do away with the ills of capitalism. But he ran for president five times – in order to speak to the working class about its own power, its capacity to build its own society, free from all exploitation. While in prison, nearing the end of his life, he won nearly a million votes in the 1920 elections. Those million votes were a testimony to the growing class consciousness that working people had of themselves as a class in itself and for itself.

The working class needs fighting unions, yes, but it also needs its own party. In the 1930s, some of the organizers of the general strikes of 1934, and of the sit-down strikes of 1936 and 1937, understood that fact, and they worked to try to build a labor party, coming out of the fight to form a union. But those who really fought for the working class to organize politically were a small minority.

Many more believed that the unions had a friend in the Democratic Party. That mistake robbed the working class of its own political perspective.

Worse, the movement of the 1930s did not systematically work to confront the racism that existed among a large part of the white working population, including in the unions themselves.

In the 1950s and '60s two vast social movements grew up, one that aimed at breaking the back of the racism enshrined in this country's laws, the other against the U.S. war in Viet Nam.

But the organized working class – that is, the unions – stood aside from these movements. An enormous opportunity was lost.

There were some people active in those movements who understood that behind these deep problems lay the capitalist system itself. Among them was Malcolm X, who began to confront this problem at the end of his life. What more he might have done, no one knows: he was assassinated in early 1965.

The explosive urban rebellions of the following years, even though they shook the capitalist system, did not find a leadership which proposed to uproot that system, the system which still engenders racism. Nor did the movement of soldiers against the army lead into a fight against the system that requires war.

We have since lived through a very long period, marked by the lack of fights and a lack of political consciousness, the consequence of those betrayals so many decades ago.

But the class struggle continues, a decidedly one-sided struggle today as the capitalist class continues to erode workers' living standards worldwide in order for the capitalists to maintain and increase their profits and wealth during this decades-long crisis in its economic system.

But we have every reason to expect that the workers will rise up – and when they do, that their struggles will be explosive. They will need their own political organization with the will and the determination to fight for a different perspective.

Going back to our history does not mean emulating everything those earlier militants said or did. But these people who came before us grappled in one way or another with the problems that capitalism has created for working people in this country. The pages that follow detail some of what they believed and acted on. The articles appeared originally on various other websites.

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