As class struggle advances, our theory must also

BY:Emile Schepers| May 22, 2019

So many unresolved questions!  So much theoretical work that needs to be done, to underpin our strategies and tactics, and those of the working class!

What caused the overthrow of Soviet and Eastern European Socialism? Between 1987 and 1991, every socialist, communist led government in eastern and central Europe fell from power.  And these were governments that were quite varied in their approaches to building socialism, from Albania at one extreme to Yugoslavia at the other. Yet socialist governments remain in power in China, Vietnam, North Korea, Laos and Cuba—and they are also quite varied in their approaches.   

At the time of the disappearance of the socialist governments in Europe, various theories were put forward as to the cause, but no consensus has been reached.  That was three decades ago, and there still does not seem to be a general consensus throughout the world communist movement, and even among the wider ranks of Marxists.   It was Stalin’s fault, it was Khrushchev’s fault, it was Gorbachev’s fault —that’s about as sophisticated as some of the argument gets, and that’s totally unsatisfactory. We can do better.  Our party, with its century of experience, is in a good position to make a contribution to this work.

Why is this important for practical work, in a country like ours which is obviously not right on the cusp of a socialist revolution, and where we have our hands do full with urgent tasks of the day to day class struggle?  In the first place, it is important for our recruitment and political education work. Workers we talk to and try to win over to our positions frequently raise this question. The enemies of socialism frequently point to what happened in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as an argument for the impossibility or the undesirability of socialism.  Old themes of “human nature” making it impossible to create the type of society of which Marx and Engels dreamed get dragged out over and over, in the media, in academia and in the general society. We need a better analysis of the reasons for the defeat of Soviet and European socialism than we have today if we are going to prevail in these important arguments.  A major impediment for us is getting hold of the documents we need, especially if they are in languages we don’t have anybody who can read. So this can’t be done by ourselves in isolation, but has to be a multi-organization, multinational cooperative effort. But we need to be involved in it.

How do we integrate an understanding of the worldwide climate and global warming crisis into the theory of the systemic crisis of capitalism?

Recently, when the outline of the Green New Deal was first presented in Congress, questions were raised about whether this would be bad for workers inasmuch as the elimination of certain polluting industries would likely mean, also, the elimination of jobs in those industries.  This led some sections of organized labor to be skeptical about the Green New Deal. But there is a bigger theoretical and practical issue here, going far beyond the immediate legislative context, to an understanding of the changing nature of monopoly capitalism and imperialism.  If, as seems more and more evident, the capitalist mode of production grows increasingly unsustainable and dangerous for human and all other life on earth, how do we envision an escape and a different future under socialism worldwide?

How do we update our understanding of the interaction among the class struggle and the struggles against racism, sexism and homophobia?   

Obviously, racism, sexism and homophobia, as well as nationalist jingoism and xenophobia, are used by the class enemy as powerful weapons to divide the working class and to fire up its right wing mass base.  Yet we also hear voices, purportedly from the left, which seem to suggest that emphasizing the struggles against racism, sexism, homophobia etc. somehow distract, or detract, from the essential “class against class” core of the class struggle—as “identity politics”.  This is an old, old story in the history of the left in the United States, but it needs still needs to be dealt with.

How to clarify the interdependence of the class struggle and the struggle for socialism?

Especially among people very new to our movement and party, there is often confusion as to how, exactly, the contemporary class struggle relates to the thing that brought them to us in the first place, the burning desire for a transition to socialism.  If these two things are decoupled in such people’s thinking, they may even come to believe that such things as labor struggles are distractions from the fight for socialism. We need to present more specific analysis of why, in fact, in this country the only road to actually achieving socialism runs through class struggle.

One could list many more important theoretical issues which are not “just” theoretical, but have very direct and immediate implications for our strategy and tactics.

So these are debates that concern not just ivory tower “academic Marxist” theoretical discussions, but activists and in fact the working class as a whole.  We have to be in the middle of them—much more so than we are currently. We would bring to these debates our long and comprehensive activist history—it would not by any means be a set of “academic” exercises.

To do so we need to expand our ability to write and discuss these things, not only among our own party members but also including people who are not party members but who approach these theoretical and practical questions in a serious and well-founded way.  

Much of this will involve online publication.  We need to expand our capacities in this respect.  




    Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.


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