“Ruwan Munasinghe, who lives United States of America, speaks to Sri Lankans. He is a 22 year old student and originally from Sri Lanka”
Ruwan belongs to an opposition tendency of the 4th International, named “Tendency for a Revolutionary International”
Hey, what is going on USA right now?
The situation in the US before Covid was very much a product of the Economic recession of 2008. Under leadership of the Democratic Party, the state came to the aid of large corporations. The economy slowly recovered and under Trump it reached a certain level of vitality. However, the recovery almost solely benefited the rich. This defense of large capital exacerbated persistent wealth inequality and triggered a series of expressions of dissent against large capital: Occupy Wall Street, the 2011 Wisconsin workers protests, and later, a series of teachers strikes across the country.
Indeed, just before Covid-19 lockdown, it could be said that we were in the middle of a small labor upsurge with strikes from Teachers, Nurses in New York, Hotel Workers, UPS package delivery workers, Graduate Student Employees, Stop and Shop grocery store workers, and GM auto workers. Additionally, in the middle of this there was a massive uprising against police brutality and racism in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite this, the state of working class fight back was (and is) in a poor position. There is little to no political organization of our class. Unionization rates are extremely low and the domination of the two capitalist parties has been persistent.
As I am writing this, a total of about 180 thousand people have died in the United States as a result of Covid-19. US national GDP is expected to drop by a total of over 10% this year. To put this into context, the US GDP dropped by around 4-5% during the 2008 financial crisis. The profit rate of US capitalists is expected to continue to decline precipitously. In many areas of the country, unemployment levels are at the level that they were during the Great Depression of the 1930’s or worse.
The covid crisis has caused a severe crisis for all workers in the United States. The economic struggle of workers is intimately connected with the Covid crisis. The pandemic has made obvious the extreme lack of protections for all workers in the US. It is clear that all of the capitalists and bosses are willing to sacrifice the lives of frontline workers in order to try to maintain profits.
In my local area, for instance, Stop and Shop grocery store workers have been waging a fight for Hazard pay. Nurses, who have suffered from an extreme lack of supplies, have taken to the streets. Likewise hotel workers in my state have recently created a petition delivered to the state Government demanding hazard pay, recognition that hotel employees are frontline workers, guaranteed health coverage during a layoff, keeping workers on the recall list for two years, and the endorsement of a relief fund for undocumented workers. Many workers have been furloughed or fired. Moreover, across the country the bosses have been using the Covid crisis to stultify efforts to unionize shops and other union fights.
In spite of the terrible situation, workers are fighting back. In the Boston area, tens of thousands of construction workers, carpenters and painters walked out of their jobs in protest of work conditions. Across the country, workers at General Electric plants protested against having to work while being exposed to Covid and demanded that production be shifted to making ventilators. In June, 4,300 Bath Iron Works (a company owned by General Dynamics) went on strike over a fair contract.
In my state, workers from various industries, representing multiple unions, as well as unemployed workers came together to form “Connecticut Workers Crisis Response” (CWCR) to mobilize around attacks against workers. The group has formed a plan of action that became a document entitled “Emergency Labor Response to the Covid-19 Crisis”. Additionally, the group has released statements on such things as the reopening of schools, and mobilized on the streets in protest.
One critical thing to point out about the response from labor is that the fight has gone beyond merely basic economic demands. Workers have been linking their fights with the Black Lives Matter movement in recognition of the fact that the class is disproportionately Black and Brown and that the oppression of workers is highly racialised. Likewise, workers have joined in on calls for prisoners and immigrants in detention camps–where Covid-19 has had formidable effect–to be freed.
Related to this–and absolutely critical to understanding the effect of Covid-19 in the USA–is a proper comprehension of the reality that the US is an empire with a number of nationalities within its own population. Puerto Rico, for instance, is a colony of the US in the Caribbean Sea. Black people, the Chicano people of the Southwest, and all Indigenous Americans are oppressed nationalities. It is these oppressed nationalities (along with certain national minorities) that have suffered the most from Covid-19. The death rate from Covid was highest for Black and Indigenous people. The Navajo Nation experienced one of the worst outbreaks in the entire country. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Hispanics” was the category with the highest unemployment rate for the 2nd Quarter of 2020.
And, of course, in the middle of the Covid crisis, there erupted one of the largest mass uprisings in the history of the country protesting the death of George Floyd, the severe racism against the black population of the US, and police brutality.
In summary, the fight of workers as a class, including the particular struggles of all the oppressed nationalities, remain the most important arenas of struggle against the Covid-19 crisis. It is part of our role as Marxists to lift the cries of these struggles to the highest volumes, develop the class consciousness of the movements, and strive to build political organization for the entire class.
What about the presidential Election and Democrats?
The Republican incumbent, Donald Trump is likely to win the election in November. The Democratic Party has rallied around Joe Biden–Barack Obama’s vice president and a lifetime politician with a long history of supporting attacks against workers and Black people. However, for some time it was not absolutely certain that Joe Biden would be the Democratic Party Nominee. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders put up a challenge to the other candidates by running on a platform of more substantial reforms.
Bernie Sanders won a significant amount of support from politically-conscious youth. Part of the attraction towards Sanders was his promise of government-provided healthcare and college tuition. Yet Sanders did not represent a challenge to the Democratic Party in any meaningful way. Sanders does not represent revolution at all.
Sanders has been a staunch supporter of US imperialism for the past 20 years. He has no particular program for Black liberation. He has no clear program for a revolutionary plan to combat climate change and for worker-controlled energy production. Sanders has faithfully worked to build up the Democratic Party, is squarely against workers ever taking power, and is thus a class enemy to the oppressed workers of this country and the world.
Earlier in this year, the Democratic Party began consolidating all of its efforts on supporting Joe Biden. Without putting up even a shade of resistance, Sanders immediately expressed his firm support for Biden and has faithfully worked inside Biden’s campaign team ever since.
Within the past couple of months we have seen that a lot of the most egregious violence used against Black Lives Matter protestors has been under the oversight of Democratic Party politicians. Moreover, the Democrats have demonstrated that they have hardly any capacity at all to protect the working class from the Covid pandemic.
Lenin and others before us were very clear that we will not be able to win meaningful reforms for our class by tailing social democrats and progressive liberals. Rather, reforms are best won through the independent revolutionary struggles of the working class. It is precisely in this spirit that Lenin wrote, ” Reformist tactics are the least likely to secure real reforms. The most effective way to secure real reforms is to pursue the tactics of the revolutionary class struggle. Actually, reforms are won as a result of the revolutionary class struggle, as a result of its independence, mass force and steadfastness.”
Elsewhere he noted, “This so-called bipartisan system prevailing in America and Britain has been one of the most powerful means of preventing the rise of an independent working-class, i.e., genuinely socialist, party.”
So, around the world we need to concentrate our efforts on building up the political organization of the working class and developing a revolutionary program with which we can fight against imperialism, climate disaster, the abuse of oppressed genders, and capitalism in its totality.
Tell us something about the socialists motivations?
The US revolutionary left is incredibly small. This, of course, needs to be put into context. Historically, the US has exercised extreme repression against communists. The attacks from the state against Black revolutionaries and other oppressed peoples in this country in particular has been on a level that might be hard to comprehend for comrades who haven’t lived and worked in the US.
Nonetheless, there has been a resurgence of interest in socialism and revolutionary ideas. As the world has seen in recent months, the oppressed of the United States are fully capable of revolt. The oppressed are not docile. Revolution is absolutely possible in this country and we won’t stop working towards this end.
As for socialists actually contesting the Presidential elections, there is Gloria la Riva of Party of Socialism and Liberation, and Jeff Mackler of Socialist Action. Both of these candidates have fought for the perspective of a revolutionary alternative to politics in the US. Though these two have their own contradictions and limitations they are setting an example of class independence.
Socialist Resurgence is running Dan Piper for State Representative in the city of Hartford, capital of the state of Connecticut. Dan is a teacher, trade union militant, and long time revolutionary.
What’s going on currently the black liberation movement? “Example the murder of George Floyd”
Though many different people participated, the mass uprising against police brutality was a spontaneous response of the most militant sections of the hyper-exploited black communities of this country. Sections of the bourgeoisie certainly took pains to try to co-opt the subsequent mass movement for black lives. Moreover, less-radical middle class and liberal activists tend to be disproportionately represented in the leadership of the mass movement. Part of this is a reflection of the reality that within hyper-exploited black communities the Democratic Party, relatively conservative black clergy, and other bureaucrats maintain a disproportionate amount of clout above the masses. On the one hand, the oppressed black communities are often at the very front of the struggle against capital (and represented a sizable and absolutely crucial part of the vanguard of the working class). On the other hand, Black and other oppressed communities have a lot of internal contradictions that even an uprising and mass movement can’t resolve at once. Nevertheless, the past several months represent a huge step forward and this change should not be underemphasized.
As an active student what are the activities going on as concerned workers rights, women’s issues…ect?
It is very noticeable that students and all youth in the US are becoming increasingly political. For the past couple of years that I have spent organizing as a student I have seen this. Around the country, it has been students and young people that have comprised some of the most dynamic sections of the movement against environmental destruction. Across the country (even prior to the mass movement in support of black lives), anti-racist struggles have surfaced on college campuses in places like University of Connecticut and Syracuse University. Same thing with women’s rights struggles. At my own school we frequently organized around all three of these issues–often all at once.
Furthermore, you may be interested to know that student interest around labor issues is strong. I’ve spent a lot of effort doing student-labor solidarity work and I’ve seen on multiple occasions before my own eyes that many students develop a socialist–or explicitly revolutionary class conscious–consciousness through the experience of supporting various labor struggles. It is important to note that students in the United States, in general, are becoming increasingly proletarianized. Most students are already workers themselves.
An important example of this is graduate students who are forced to do unpaid and underpaid work for rich Universities. In the past year there have been very important strikes of graduate students in places like Harvard and University of California. Two years ago we fought to win a graduate employees union at our school against massive resistance from the university administration.
So yes, through experience we have seen that many students across the US have a strong proclivity towards not just a social justice consciousness, but even class-oriented, revolutionary consciousness.
Would you like to speak a bit about international solidarity of socialist revolutionaries?
Of course. Capitalism is the system we are fighting against. The rule of capital is the most oppressive force in the entire world and the rule of capital is fundamentally international in its operation. And it must be said that the United States is a country that oppresses Sri Lanka! Through institutions like the IMF, the bourgeoisie of the US are able to impose their own avaricious interests upon the great masses of the island via neoliberal economic policies that the Sri Lankan ruling class assists in enforcing. It is absolutely important that the most oppressed and class conscious of the workers within the Imperialist countries maintain contact with the workers of the exploited nations that are under the boot of the imperialists (i.e. U.S, China, etc.).
We must expose and fight against the many connections that capitalism weaves across all corners of the face of this planet. It is impossible to free ourselves from this web without international coordination. If capitalism is going to be defeated it is going to be defeated by the proletariat on an international level.
We need international organization (in the spirit of the best aspects of the Comintern and all the Internationals) to learn from each other’s struggles and coordinate revolutionary forces for the new crisis that we are facing.
Finally would you like to convey a message to Sri Lankan left?
Yes. Firstly, I would like to let it be known that comrades across the world are watching Sri Lanka and we are following the struggles that Wame Handa is waging in defense of revolutionary methods of struggle. We have been reading, for instance, your polemics against comrade Vikramabahu Karunaratne and we are impressed by the pains you all have taken to uphold a perspective of maintaining independence from bourgeois parties.
To the Marxist revolutionaries of Sri Lanka and all of the most class-conscious militant workers, I have the following message: never forget the importance of studying Bolshevik-Leninism and developing a firm grasp of dialectics. The political situation in Sri Lanka imparts an immediate importance to ideas like ‘united fronts’ (as opposed to popular fronts), ‘class independence’ (as opposed to class collaboration), Leninist electoral strategy, self-determination for oppressed nationalities, and the nature of the bourgeoisie state. We must also study imperialism, the fundamentals of Marxist economics, social reproduction theory, historical materialism and the basic principles of Marxist dialectics.
Although it may seem obscure and counterintuitive, during times when some of the key figures of revolutionary socialism (including Engels, Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, and Trotsky) were in the face of catastrophe and life-or-death struggle, they specifically strained themselves in order to emphasize the importance of understanding dialectics; They specifically strained themselves to urge revolutionary leaders to immerse their entire worldview in dialectical principles such as contradiction, interpenetration of opposites, and transformation of quantity into quality; And they castigated leaders who did not understand the importance of this.
Lastly and most importantly, I want to end by reminding all of the comrades in Sri Lanka that they must focus their efforts on the most exploited sectors of Sri Lanka. This includes the women garment workers, all the estate and plantation workers, the migrant workers in the Persian Gulf countries, and the masses of Tamil people who find themselves occupied in their own homeland of Eelam.Today the ruling elites have grown comfortable living off the oppression of these most exploited people. But this only makes it all the more monumental when their time finally comes to an end. Like an overly ripe fruit, a time will come when they fall from their high positions and become merely a rotting afterthought aside the vitalizing roots that sustained them.
நாங்கள் எல்லா இடங்களிலும் ஒடுக்குமுறையை எதிர்த்துப் போராடுவோம்!
For a world without oppression! Red salute to Wame Handa!
මේක විශාල අරගලයක් ජය වේවා !!!
Interviewed by – Samantha Rajapaksa
(Active member of CGT- Education Sector)