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Five Resolutions for the Socialist Movement in 2021

2020 was a year of upheaval, crisis, and struggle. 2021 will require the socialist movement to be strategic about how to go forward. Below, Left Voice offers five New Year’s resolutions for the socialist movement in the U.S. 

Sybil Davis

December 31, 2020
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Photo: Amir Hamja

2020 has finally drawn to a close. It was a year defined by a capitalist crisis unlike anything we’ve seen in generations. Almost two million people have lost their lives to Covid-19 while Jeff Bezos and other capitalists enrich themselves. Internationally, tensions between the U.S. and China continue to rise as U.S. hegemony is in steady decline. At the same time, the Eurozone seems prepped for a major crisis with the double punch of Brexit and Covid-19, and Latin America is experiencing some of the worst economic conditions in recorded history. Joe Biden is about to come to power in the U.S. as the ruling class’s attempt to restore U.S. hegemony on the world stage and re-legitimize institutions at home, all while preparing to implement devastating austerity.

However, 2020 did have some bright spots for the Left. Most notably, the Black Lives Matter movement swept the United States and the world after the police murder of George Floyd. We saw a rise in workplace struggle in the U.S. with strikes and work stoppages by essential and frontline workers to combat their dismal working conditions. Just this week, Argentina became the largest country in Latin America to legalize abortion, following a long and valiant struggle from the working class. 

You might be interested in: From Black Lives Matter to Revolution

This is just a snapshot of the dynamic conditions facing us in 2021. As the capitalist crisis deepens — for it seems highly unlikely that the vaccines will be able to resolve the crisis as quickly as the capitalists hope — we are sure to see a rise in attacks on the working class. But this will probably go hand-in-hand with a rise in class struggle. As healthcare workers and other essential workers showed us in 2020, the ground may be getting more fertile for combative struggles of the working class. At the same time, the U.S. Left is about to face a new oppressor-in-chief who has already made it clear that he is more of the same in terms of both domestic and foreign policy. In 2021, it will be of vital importance for the organized Left to remain clear-eyed about the tasks ahead for the coming period.

To this end, we have humbly prepared five suggested New Year’s Resolutions for the socialist movement in 2021.

Resolution #1: Break with the Democrats and the Union/NGO Bureaucracy

For the Left to survive the coming period, the current era of neo-reformism in the U.S. that began in earnest in 2016 must come to a swift end. Neo-reformism, as it is implemented in the U.S. by groups like the DSA, subscribes to the strategy that we must work within the Democratic Party to either push it left or get enough leftists elected on their ballot line that they can do a “dirty break” and found their own party. This strategy has failed us at every turn: not just in the United States, but internationally; not just currently, but historically. When reflecting on the balance sheet of this strategy (even if we are to just look at it’s balance sheet in 2020), we are presented with an itemized list of failures at best and betrayals at worst. 

These failures and betrayals are not the fault of the rank-and-file of organizations like the DSA, but rather of their leaderships, who have led them headfirst into one of the two biggest parties of capital and imperialism in the world. For years, the DSA and other nominally Left organizations were asked by their leaders to dedicate time and money to getting Bernie Sanders elected. Then, when Sanders was once again unceremoniously stabbed in the back by the Democratic Party establishment, his message to his millions of supporters was clear: fall in line, be a good soldier for Joe Biden and the rest of the capitalist war criminals that have been chosen for you, because this is the most important election of our lifetimes. 

At this moment, when presented with the absolute failure of the strategy that they had been tirelessly advocating for, the leaderships of these organizations chose to not take any conclusions. They disappeared into local activism or supporting Democrats at the local level, changing nothing of their strategy. 

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This subservience to the Democrats goes hand-in-hand with an alliance to the bureaucracies of unions and non-profits. These figures are dangerous because they will claim to be allies of the working class, use their positions to gain legitimacy and leadership, and then work with the Democrats to liquidate social movements and abort class struggle. Millions of us saw this happen with the Black Lives Matter movement this summer. Various NGOs intervened in the struggle only to lead the movement back to Joe Biden, even as Biden opposed the demands of the movement at every available opportunity. 

Recovering workers’ organizations from the union bureaucrats is among the most pressing tasks for the socialist movement because if we agree with the hypothesis that we will likely see a rise in class struggle in 2021, then these bureaucrats will be the ones doing everything they can to keep workers from engaging in it. These bureaucrats have already, in 2020, sold out their rank-and-file workers and allowed them to be coerced into working in dangerous situations without the proper protections. 2021 is sure to offer more of the same. 

The socialist Left must break with the Democrats and union/NGO bureaucracies and work to create an independent working-class party that fights for socialism. This type of party is necessary to fight back the advances of the capitalist state. As they ramp up their attacks on the working class, the socialist movement can no longer give any support to those who argue that we should work with those that oppress us.

Resolution #2: Center the Working Class and the Oppressed

It can be easy, in discussion of the working class, to think that those who argue for their centrality are taking up a moral position, that the argument is that in some way that the working class is more inherently revolutionary than other groups. This misconception has led to two different (but equally dangerous) perversions of socialist theory in the U.S. 

The first perversion is taken up most prominently by Jacobin Magazine. Those who subscribe to this perversion agree that the working class is central but then interpret it to mean that socialists should only put forward “class-wide demands,” which typically take the form of reforms such as Medicare for All. This perversion of socialist theory leads to these socialists first ignoring demands around things like race, gender, and sexuality while also watering down their politics in the hopes of being more “appealing” to the whole working class. 

The problems with this line of thinking are manifold, but to begin with, it ignores the actual make-up of the modern working class. The working class is Black and Brown, queer and trans*, undocumented and precarious; it is incredibly diverse, so demands about Black liberation, for example, are demands for the working class because large sectors of the working class are Black.  By leaving out demands around these “special oppressions,” we leave out demands that are central to improving the conditions for many working class people while also failing to demonstrate  solidarity with various different oppressed groups contained within the working class. In addition, by watering down our politics in order to seem more appealing, we are selling out the revolution before it has even begun. This is not to say, of course, that any time we talk to a working class person, we must preach to them about the necessity of revolution; however, presenting our moderate demands (like free healthcare for everyone) as part of our program shifted what the goals of the socialist movement should be. Our goal is not to win moderate reforms but the liberation of all.

The second perversion of socialist theory stemming from a misunderstanding of the working class is almost the inverse of the first. This perversion rightly points out that some sections of the working class are reactionary, but then this line of thinking uses that as an excuse to de-center them. Followers of this perversion argue that the working class is secondary, a challenge to be addressed later. Instead, they would have us believe that we can achieve liberation through social movements. Social movements around specific demands or identity groups have been effective in pushing for certain demands and reforms over the years, but there is an inherent flaw in all of them: they are multi-class. In practice, this means that some members of the movement are fighting against liberation, because true liberation means the abolition of capitalism. Bourgeois members of social movements may agree with this or that reform, but they will fight tooth and nail against challenging capitalism, since that would mean challenging their own material position. Therefore, multi-class social movements can be effective at winning reforms, but they will never be able to overthrow capitalism on their own.

The truth of the matter is that the centrality of the working class is not a moral stance but a practical one: only the working class has the power to overthrow capitalism and liberate the oppressed. They hold this power not because of their nature but because of their material place in society. If workers decide to, they can shut down the whole capitalist economy. No other group has that power. If the working class, as a class, decides to shut things down, they will immediately shut down. Because of this, socialists must put the working class at the center of our work. However, we cannot either forget to fight for the specially oppressed or lionize the nature of the working class. It is true that many working class people have reactionary sentiments. This is just another task of the socialist movement: we must, in the spirit of Lenin, patiently explain and convince sectors of the working class to our politics. It is a slow and steady process for which there is no shortcut, for that is the work of a socialist: to win over large sectors of the working class to our cause.

Resolution #3: Be Anti-Imperialist

The United States is perhaps the greatest imperialist power in the history of the world. Its grasp stretches around the globe, and there is no region that does not feel its influence to some degree. Between sanctions, wars, and oppressive treaties, the United States still holds the dominant place in the world economy — though its control is slipping. Far too often, socialists in the U.S. turn a blind eye to this imperialism to focus solely on the situation at home. The clearest and most damning example of this is the way that so many socialist organizations supported Sanders, AOC, and other progressive Democrats because they fought for Medicare for All at home, all while voting for bombs abroad. 

In every case, these socialists make the devil’s bargain to trade conditions for the working class internationally for the conditions of the national proletariat. In other words, imperialism allows for better conditions for the working class of imperialist countries because of wealth that is violently extracted from imperialized countries. Socialists who are not sufficiently anti-imperialist can easily be lured into this bargain because it does allow for important reforms for the national working class. 

You might be interested in: Socialists Must Be Anti-Imperialists

But, once again, our goal is not — and cannot be — liberation for some. Our task is to win the liberation of all from the terrible and oppressive system of capitalism. To ignore the plight of the international proletariat is both intolerable and foolish because it forgets that, just as capitalism is organized internationally, so must we be. Imperialism is not separable from capitalism; it isn’t a side issue that we can address as an afterthought. The two are intrinsically connected. When we successfully have our national revolution, the forces of capitalism will attack us from all angles until we have finally wiped them out. The only way to do this is through, to borrow the slogan of Fred Hampton, “international proletarian revolution.” International solidarity is vital because it is part of the end game, so to speak, of socialist revolution. If we do not oppose imperialism with all of our might now, we cannot expect the international solidarity necessary for a revolution later. 

Resolution #4: Develop Theory Through Study

Studying is perhaps the least “sexy” part of being a socialist. It is much more exciting to be in the streets, and it can be more immediately rewarding to participate in mutual aid programs. Both of these are important experiences for socialists, but nothing can come close to the immense value of study. Studying trains us to be more developed socialists who then can be more effective at convincing others to join us. Study also allows us to learn from the mistakes of the past so as to not repeat them while also taking important lessons from the successes. 

Studying doesn’t just mean reading the classics of Marxist thought (though that is, of course, important). Studying also means keeping abreast of what’s going on nationally and internationally, reading what the bourgeois press think about the crisis, and understanding the terrain in which we are organizing.

In addition, study and theory are essential to organizing any revolutionary party. How we create our organizations, how we structure them, and how they operate all need to be based in clear political theory. The only way to develop that theory is deep and concentrated study. 

Study allows us to improve our analysis, and by improving our analysis, we will also improve our praxis.  

Resolution #5: Be Pessimistic About the Present but Optimistic About the Future

The times ahead of us are hard, and at times, the path may seem rocky. It is easy, in these moments, to question or even lose faith in our project. At times, capitalism may seem unbeatable, but we must stay the course. 

We are engaged in a war, not merely a skirmish, and in that war, we vastly outnumber our adversaries. There are many more of us then there are of those who oppress us, and we are the ones who hold the actual power in society. We are the ones who build their cities, who make their trains run, who take care of their children, who make their products, and who keep their economy afloat. They cannot do anything without us. We are the motor that makes society move. That power is what we have to harness, and it is what must keep us going. 

There will be defeats, there will be betrayals, there will be set-backs, and nothing will happen as quickly as we’d all like it to, but the world is constantly in motion. Conditions are continually changing, and as they do, more and more people are being won over to the cause of socialism. We see more and more young people rejecting the capitalist system that has brought them nothing but misery. We’ve seen millions of people take the streets around the world to protest state violence. We’ve seen more and more worker struggles. And we will see still more in the days to come.

The world is beautiful; we can’t let capitalism fool us into thinking that it is ugly. It is our historic task to end the system that has oppressed us.  

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Sybil Davis

Sybil is a trans activist, artist, and education worker in New York City.

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