The Revolutionary Press in the Biden Era

  • Madeleine Freeman | 
  • May 20, 2021

Many socialists are wondering where we go from here — what role can a revolutionary publication play?

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Half a year ago in the town of Guernica, Argentina, several thousand families occupied a plot of land. The land had been empty for decades, and it was set to be turned into a gated community for the wealthy. But instead, working-class women and their children began using the land to construct their own town. Their protest was eventually repressed by a government from the “center-left” — police attacked the families with tear gas and batons. All the bourgeois media dutifully reported the government’s lies to justify the eviction. But there was a socialist publication in Argentina that offered live reporting from the occupation. With articles, photos, videos, and radio programs, La Izquierda Diario documented the struggle hour by hour — especially the brutal repression. This publication became a voice of poor people in struggle. But not only that: it could encourage their democratic self-organization and connect them with workers who could bring solidarity and their own experiences. This is a modern example of what a socialist publication can do.

Today in the United States, reformist socialists are becoming increasingly integrated into the Democratic Party and the imperialist state. They are tying themselves to the Biden administration, thus abandoning any perspective of overcoming capitalism, preferring to fight for minor reforms at the expense of both workers in other countries and in the United States. But while reformist organizations have experienced some growth, the revolutionary socialist Left is largely in disarray. How can revolutionaries in the U.S. today contribute to building an independent socialist party? As Left Voice, we believe a powerful socialist press is crucial in the current period. This article will set to explain that strategic hypothesis — but first, we need to analyze the situation we are in.

A Vanguard Press

The last year of economic, political, and social upheaval across the United States (and the world, for that matter) has put neoliberalism and its leaders on notice. It has accelerated a process of profound questioning of the neoliberal system, which has dominated the economic and political spheres since the late 20th century through vicious attacks on the working class and its institutions. From the struggle of essential workers against the government’s pitiful response to the pandemic, to the uprising against police terror that brought a new generation into the streets, to burgeoning activism around eviction defense and migrants’ rights, millions of people across the country have entered the political scene and are beginning to take deep structural issues into their own hands — seeking new solutions and new leaders.

They join another generation of activists, young people, and workers who were galvanized by the first wave of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014, Bernie Sanders’s campaign in 2016, by the teachers’ strikes of 2017, and by Donald Trump’s election and subsequent attacks on working and oppressed people throughout his presidency. Combined, these groups represent the disillusioned offspring of neoliberalism in decline: a sector of the population that has woken up to the fact that the injustices they face are the doing not of a single bad politician or policy, but rather of a system fueled by oppression — in the workplace, in the home, and in the streets. These are the people who shouted for revolution in the streets after George Floyd was murdered in cold blood by a cop as three others watched, who get Marx and Lenin trending on Twitter, and who openly call themselves socialists. They are trying to unionize their workplaces, and they do not see themselves represented in the parade of nonoptions in either political party.

These people are being politicized in the context of a Left that was decimated in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s bureaucratization, the suppression of revolutionary processes across the world in the latter half of the 20th century, and the onslaught of the neoliberal offensive. The result is the domination of a reformism that aims to negotiate slightly better terms for capitalist exploitation. Meanwhile, the last holdouts of the revolutionary Left, fragmented and often sectarian, have little connection to the real processes of class struggle. In this context, this new generation of politicized people, along with the most leftward elements of what’s left of the U.S. revolutionary organizations, are the clay out which a new organization will be formed — one that fights for the liberation of all people with the power of a united working class.

After the last year of struggle, these sectors are coming to conclusions and searching for answers — for how to carry the struggles of the past several years forward and how to put an end to a system that offers them nothing but a future of misery. And they are situating themselves in a new political context, with Joe Biden sitting in the White House after the Democratic Party successfully co-opted a sizable sector of the burgeoning labor and social movements to vote “the lesser evil” and give the Democratic Party a majority in both the House and the Senate. It remains to be seen if the Democrats can continue to funnel the growing hunger for change back into the ballot box through certain concessions, or if class struggle will take the most conscious elements of the working class in an independent direction.

For socialists the question remains how to push for the latter — how do we take the politicization and radicalization of the current political moment, in which there is atomized but nevertheless relatively low class struggle, and use it to learn from the last struggles in order to arrive better prepared for the battles to come? How do we use it in the service of building the type of organization — forged in the real experiences of the working class — that will confront the union bureaucracies, fight for democracy and self-organization within our movements, fight to expand our struggles to new sectors, and agitate for a future that is free of daily exploitation?

This is where the prospect of a revolutionary publication — a collective organizer, as Lenin described it in What Is to Be Done? — acquires new relevance. Such a publication can serve as the site of debate — not only about Marxist theory and analysis, but also about the strategies we propose to both further the struggles of the working class now and how those experiences are part of a larger strategy for ensuring workers’ control. In this way, the publication serve as the “voice” of a particular struggle, and in doing so, it can expand the experience of that struggle, propose steps forward, and perhaps even bring the vanguard of those struggles closer to revolutionary conclusions.

This isn’t just an abstract question or a completely untested hypothesis. Left Voice’s sister site in France, Révolution Permanente, has recently become the voice of some of the most important struggles of the last five years, from the Yellow Vests to the Total refinery strike this year. Published by the Revolutionary Communist Current (CCR), RP has become a leading voice of the radical Left in France, with 16 million hits last year. Although the CCR is a relatively small group, its influence has been recognized by different publications, including New Left Review and International Socialism.

When oil refinery workers went on strike earlier this year for better working conditions, Révolution Permanente publicized the struggle and turned national media attention to these workers. With several organized socialists in the workforce reporting from the ground, RP connected the workers’ demands for better wages and against precarity to big political questions like the fight against climate change. RP recorded interviews with workers and videos of their families to show how the bosses’ attacks affect workers, and how they’ve tried to fight back.

Beyond simply publicizing the strike, however, Révolution Permanente was able, on a scale much larger than just having one to two people on the ground, to host debate for how to move forward. It provided a counter-perspective to that of the trade union leadership, which preferred to negotiate with the bosses rather than fight to the end. The website argued for self-organization and for the use of blockades and extended strikes to keep the struggle going, and also used articles to win workers over to the project of building a revolutionary workers’ party in France.

In other words, the press is not just a passive force that reflects class struggle.

A revolutionary press can be used as a frontline of political struggle, as a place where we fight — to convince, to challenge, to put forward the perspectives of parts of the working class that have drawn conclusions over the past year in relation to the Democrats, the bosses, the police, U.S. imperialism, and more. But denunciations are not enough: rooted in clear ideas and the experiences of the working class, the press must tie all these denunciations and analysis to specific aspects of a program for socialist revolution. In this way, the publication is a training ground for the vanguard of a future revolutionary organization — one that takes conclusions from class struggle based on a solid basis of revolutionary theory and a Marxist method for understanding the current political context.

A Vanguard Press with Mass Influence

It’s crucial to understand that the politicization that has captured the imagination and passion of the most advanced sectors of the labor and social movements has not occurred in a vacuum. Neoliberalism, and capitalism in general, are in the midst of a much broader crisis on many fronts, one that involves sectors of the population beyond just the “vanguard” of the labor and social movements.

This phenomenon marks the beginning of a new phase in a much longer process of neoliberalism in decline, one that reached a fever pitch with the economic crisis of 2008. As we have elaborated elsewhere, much of the global economy never fully recovered from that period: growth in labor productivity, the rate of profit, and so on, were slowed around the world. As U.S. capitalism struggled to save itself, it sacrificed the lives and livelihoods of millions of people — shutting down factories, slashing budgets for social programs, and leaving people to take on massive amounts of debt to take care of the bare necessities of life, from housing to education and healthcare.

This created a situation of sustained, albeit uneven, austerity for sectors of the working class in the United States, an austerity that has been thrown into stark relief by the pandemic and economic crisis. In the aftermath of the pandemic it is no longer possible to simply paper over the bleak reality of the world’s dominant imperialist power. This reality is people working two to three jobs just to make ends meet, millions of people fearing evictions or foreclosures, and millions more facing hunger every day. It’s a healthcare system that has been so gutted that a huge proportion of the 300,000 people who died from Covid-19 complications did so because there simply weren’t enough beds or equipment to care for them. It’s over 50 people dying in a snowstorm because a single private company controlled the energy grid for an entire region. It’s Black and Brown people being murdered daily by the police at a traffic stop or walking down the street.

On the level of consciousness, these conditions have produced an anti-neoliberal and nascently anti-capitalist sentiment among vast swaths of the population — not just among those who explicitly call themselves socialists. People are looking for alternatives to a system that puts the profits of a select few over the lives of billions of people, that leaves people to fend for themselves while billion-dollar multinationals get bailouts and tax breaks. And these shifts have both progressive and reactionary expressions.

Of course, those alternatives mostly fit into some picture of capitalism, one that is just a little fairer for the vast majority. In the absence of both generalized class struggle and a real organization that can exert its influence in these processes to push for more revolutionary conclusions, the question of overturning capitalism is either undesirable or merely abstract for the great majority of people. Indeed, for what they’re worth, the major polls report that “socialism” is not much more popular now across different sectors of the population in the United States than it was 10 years ago.

But what is evident is that the crisis of neoliberalism, which has intensified with the onslaught of the pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis, has precipitated a certain “break” in the logic of bourgeois rule. This opens doors to revolutionaries to do politics. This is evident in everything from the rise of Sanders and Trump in 2016 to the discussions around universal healthcare during the pandemic. It’s clear in the fact that direct payments and a $15 minimum wage have majority support among Americans, and strong support even among Republicans. People are questioning the idea that utilities and basic services shouldn’t be guaranteed or that they should be subject to the whims of the market.

We can sense this sentiment in the slogans of the Black Lives Matter movement, which involved millions of people and enjoyed the majority support of the population. Fifty-three percent of people reported that the burning of the police station in Minneapolis in the wake of George Floyd’s murder was justified. These protests, perhaps the largest in U.S. history, asked a critical question about the police, the guard dogs of capital: Who do you protect, who do you serve? That “defund” and “abolish the police” became national demands shows that people are calling into question the role that the cops play in capitalist society and are rejecting it to various extents.

And though workplace struggles hit a low point in 2020, there is a growing consciousness among workers that it is they and not the bosses who are essential, that they make society run and that they deserve protections and a living wage. Though it is still too early to make any concrete definitions or hypotheses about class struggle in 2021, what is true is that thousands of workers are currently on strike around the country, from Volvo workers in Virginia to miners in Alabama. And though the unionization effort in Bessemer was thwarted by Amazon’s efforts and the misleadership of the union bureaucracy, the support and attention this union drive received, and the similar efforts it inspired, signal that new sectors of workers are coming to see that they have more power to fight for their interests when they stand together. People are understanding just how much the odds are stacked against workers in the United States, and that standing together fighting for their interests makes them stronger than acting in lockstep with the mandates of the bosses.

And though there are limits to speculating about class consciousness and we can’t reduce it to one homogenous process, what all this means is that there is more space now for socialists to stoke the latent class hatred that lies buried in the U.S. working class and do politics with it — to agitate for workplace struggles, to talk about the importance of independent working-class organizations, including its own party free from capitalists, their politicians, and their friends in the labor and social movements. There is ample room to point to every single injustice in society and link it directly to the system of wage exploitation that dominates the world economy.

What better way to do this than by making use of the vast resources for news, ideas, and information that is already at the fingertips of the majority of the working class? What better way to highlight capitalism’s contradictions than with a publication that can present clear ideas in many mediums?

Antonio Gramsci developed the idea of “integral journalism” to describe the role of the press in society. His comments are instructive for thinking about the role of a socialist publication in the struggle for revolution. The press isn’t just an alternative to bourgeois narratives and propaganda, but rather a tool “that seeks not only to satisfy all the needs (of a given category) of its public, but also to create and develop these needs, to arouse its public and progressively enlarge it.”[[Antonio Gramsci, Selected Writings 1916–1935 (New York: New York University Press, 2000), 383.]] In other words, the press is not a passive report of working-class happenings, but a plane of struggle.

A revolutionary press — or at least one that hopes to coalesce into a revolutionary party rooted in the working class with influence far beyond its numbers — must put forward a perspective on every injustice facing the working class today and show how the power of the united working class can pose a solution. Although most people may not agree with all our ideas, the publication can mobilize people around partial aspects of these ideas and show the working class that it is stronger when it comes together to fight for its demands.

In painting a detailed picture of the injustices of capitalism, in universalizing the experiences of recent instances of class struggle, a revolutionary publication and the revolutionaries behind it can put forward a perspective of uniting all the struggles against capitalism — painting a clear line between the struggle of essential workers and the Black Lives Matter movement, between the struggle of autoworkers in the United States and the fight of Palestinians against Israel’s U.S.-backed settler colonial project.

The Fight Is International and Anti-imperialist

An internationalist party requires an international publication that can overcome the differences of nationalism and borders. Such a publication must help build a united fight against the incursion of the world’s imperialist powers and their allies in the national bourgeoisie of dependent countries.

Left Voice is part of an international network of publications that showcase revolutionary politics, initiatives, theory, and class struggle across the world, organized around a common set of politics. The Left Voice / La Izquierda Diario network publishes 15 online newspapers in seven languages. Together, these sites got over 75 million hits last year, making this the most widely read socialist publication in the world today. La Izquierda Diario Chile gave a voice to the millions of people who took to the streets late last year to protest against the neoliberal regime there. La Izquierda Diario Bolivia was similarly on the front lines as workers and peasants fought the coup government. But in both these cases, the sites were not just about reporting on struggles. They had a political line, fighting reformist misleaders who tried to channel the movements toward negotiations with the governments. So all 15 papers in the network are guided by a common program and common politics.

A central tenet of those politics is that the fight against imperialism is critical to overturning capitalism across the globe. And it’s around this idea, and the coverage of workers’ and oppressed people’s struggles across the globe, that the publication can begin to introduce other groups in other countries to the project of an international of socialist revolution.

For example, as the Colombian uprising reverberates around the globe, Left Voice is highlighting the struggle and sharing the stories of the workers, activists, and young people leading the way, paying particular attention to the role the United States has played in the country. Though our own forces are centered in the United States, our publication can reach workers and activists all over the world with these stories. We’ve received hundreds of messages of support for the Colombian uprising from protesters fighting the military coup in Myanmar. This show of internationalist solidarity is the kind on which any future revolutions depend.

An International Network of Collaborators

Publications have a long history in socialist organizing. From the Bolsheviks to the Black Panthers, political projects have used their press to present their politics to new audiences, organize around those ideas, and cohere their political programs. These have been sites of open debate between Marxist intellectuals and activists, as well as sources of information about class struggle that do not get the same attention in the bourgeois press.

While these experiences are useful in thinking about the relationship between a revolutionary organization and its press, we are undoubtedly facing different conditions than these groups. We now have technology that allows us to spread revolutionary ideas around the globe, at a speed of which earlier revolutionaries could not have even dreamed. We use that technology to the fullest. If it is true that the terrain is open to agitate broadly against the evils of capitalism and to win over a sector of the most advanced sectors of these recent processes of class struggle, then the revolutionary publication takes on an added significance and relevance in the current moment — one that is characterized by a crisis of neoliberalism on the one hand, and a fragmented and relatively weak socialist movement on the other.

As Left Voice, we hope to use the experiences we have accumulated — reporting on class struggle from Alabama to Argentina and distinguishing ourselves from the union bureaucracies, dialoguing with elements of the Black Lives Matter movement who are breaking with the NGOs and Democratic Party, and situating ourselves as a pole of attraction for healthcare workers fighting back against the pandemic and the for-profit healthcare system, to name a few — to expand the reach of revolutionary ideas and debates and to organize the working class around those ideas. With these experiences alone we have already grown from a website that reaches 20,000 people to 200,000 a month, sometimes close to half a million.

But reach alone is not enough. We need to vastly expand the work we’re already doing to gain real influence and to create the foundations for a new party that fights for the working class, that leads the social movements with a revolutionary perspective, and that struggles against oppression in all its forms. To put forward politics that reflect a solid Marxist and revolutionary understanding of current conditions and the tides of class struggle and with our own positions as workers and revolutionaries, to use the publication to uplift every instance of class struggle and have an experience with the most advanced sectors in those struggles so that we can begin to connect disparate fights into one single battle against this murderous system.

It is in that spirit that we are launching a new website, one that more accurately reflects our politics and program, and that highlights the voices and struggles of workers across the world. We invite you to participate — to get to know our politics, to tell us your stories and struggles, and help cover the amazing power of the working class that is awakening across the globe.

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