Join the Socialist Equality Party!
The Socialist Equality Party is a political party of and for the working class. The SEP seeks not to reform capitalism, but to create a socialist, democratic and egalitarian society through the establishment of a workers’ government and the revolutionary transformation of world economy. We seek to unify workers in the United States and internationally in the common struggle for socialism—that is, for equality and the rational and democratic utilization of the wealth of the planet.
The Socialist Equality Party (US) is in political solidarity with the International Committee of the Fourth International. The ICFI is the leadership of the world socialist movement, the Fourth International, founded by Leon Trotsky in 1938. The ICFI publishes the World Socialist Web Site.
In all countries the sections of the International Committee fight to unite the world working class in a common struggle for social equality.
What is Socialism?
Capitalism has failed the working class of the United States and the entire world. Increasingly desperate conditions for the vast majority—mass unemployment, poverty, indebtedness, ever declining wages—are combined with the most fantastic levels of wealth. CEOs make more in a day than their workers make in an entire year, and hedge fund managers make more in an hour than most Americans make in their entire lives.
At the root of all the problems of modern society—inequality, war, the attack on democratic rights—is a social and economic system, capitalism, in which everything is subordinated to the interests of a tiny elite. The alternative to capitalism is socialism: the reorganization of all economic life under the democratic control of the working class, to serve social needs, not private profit.
Socialism means genuine social equality, on a world scale. It means that satisfying the basic rights of the working class—the right to a job, education, health care, a secure retirement, a decent standard of living, a world without war—is the aim of society, not the enrichment of the financial elite. Socialism means the extension of democracy to the foundation of all of society: the economic process. It means the control of this process according to a scientific plan for the general improvement of humanity.
Socialism will be achieved only through the establishment of workers’ power. This will require a difficult struggle. But the “final goal” of socialism—the abolition of economic exploitation, all forms of inequality, the oppression of one group of human beings by another group, and, consequently, the removal of all restraints on individual creativity and the flowering of human culture—is not the outcome of a mythical quest. The revolution that will lay the political basis for socialism is prepared in the course of countless struggles by the working class, in the US and internationally, to defend its interests and oppose the efforts of the financial and corporate aristocracy to impose the burden of the crisis on the masses. Socialism is not a gift to be given to the working class. It must be fought for and won by the working class itself.
The program of the SEP
The program of the Socialist Equality Party starts not with what capitalism can “afford,” but with what the working class requires. Our program is not tailored to what small-minded opportunists and pragmatists may consider immediately “achievable.” What can or cannot be achieved, in any given situation, is determined in struggle. Those not prepared to fight will never win anything.
The SEP insists that everyone has basic social rights, necessary for life in a complex modern society. We demand that everyone have access to a job with a livable income, that health care and education must be provided as a social right. Young people have the right to a future, and we demand the abolition of student debt. We call for the immediate withdrawal of all US troops from wherever they are stationed abroad, and an end to the drive by the ruling class to restructure the world in its interests. We call for the defense of democratic rights, and the abolition of the police-state infrastructure built up under both Bush and Obama.
The demands raised by the SEP are not separate from the goal of socialist revolution. Rather, each demand by its very nature raises a challenge to the material interests of the corporate aristocrats. As they encounter the resistance of corporations and the capitalist state to their legitimate demands, working people will see ever more clearly the need for the revolutionary transformation of society. The fight for these demands strengthens the working class, unifies its disparate struggles, and in each case poses the necessity of taking political power and establishing socialism in the United States, as part of the socialist reorganization of the world economy.
American imperialism and the drive to World War III
The efforts of the American ruling class to find a way out of the crisis propels it, on the one hand, to intensify its assault on the working class in order to extract a greater share of the product of labor and, on the other hand, to engage in ever more reckless militarist violence abroad. The globalization of production, far from diminishing international conflict, has raised to new heights the basic contradiction between world economy and the nation-state system.
The dissolution of the Soviet Union, 25 years ago, was interpreted by the strategists of US imperialism as an opportunity to restructure the entire globe in the interests of the American capitalist class, unencumbered by either the countervailing military power of the USSR or the specter of socialist revolution. The first Bush administration proclaimed a “New World Order,” and the Pentagon outlined plans to prevent the emergence of any regional or global challenger to US interests. The Gulf War of 1990-91 was followed, under the Clinton administration, by a decade of sanctions and intermittent bombings of Iraq, military interventions in Somalia, Haiti, Sudan and Afghanistan, and the brutal “human rights” war against Serbia in 1999.
Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the second Bush administration launched what Bush called the “wars of the 21st century,” with the invasion of Afghanistan in the autumn of 2001. Under the framework of the “war on terror,” the Bush administration followed the Afghan war by launching the second invasion of Iraq in 2003. Obama—the first president in US history to complete two full terms with the nation continuously at war—added the bombings of Libya, Yemen and Pakistan, and the CIA-backed civil war in Syria, to the list of military operations.
Throughout this period, the American ruling class has pursued a definite strategy of increasingly bloody warfare. As the Preface to A Quarter Century of War: The US Drive for Global Hegemony, 1990-2016, states:
The last quarter century of US-instigated wars must be studied as a chain of interconnected events. The strategic logic of the US drive for global hegemony extends beyond the neocolonial operations in the Middle East and Africa. The ongoing regional wars are component elements of the rapidly escalating confrontation of the United States with Russia and China.
It is through the prism of America’s efforts to assert control of the strategically critical Eurasian landmass, that the essential significance of the events of 1990-91 is being revealed. But this latest stage in the ongoing struggle for world hegemony, which lies at the heart of the conflict with Russia and China, is bringing to the forefront latent and potentially explosive tensions between the United States and its present-day imperialist allies, including—to name the most significant potential adversary—Germany. The two world wars of the twentieth century were not the product of misunderstandings. The past is prologue. As the International Committee foresaw in 1990-91, the American bid for global hegemony has rekindled interimperialist rivalries simmering beneath the surface of world politics.
A third world war involving nuclear weapons is not simply a theoretical possibility; it is an immediate practical danger, arising from intensifying conflicts between the major powers, all of which possess nuclear arsenals. In May, the Union of Concerned Scientists published a report under the headline, “The risk of nuclear war with China: A troubling lack of urgency”. It warned:
Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, the governments of the United States and the People’s Republic of China are a few poor decisions away from starting a war that could escalate rapidly and end in a nuclear exchange. Mismatched perceptions increase both the possibility of war and the likelihood it will result in the use of nuclear weapons. Miscommunication or misunderstanding could spark a conflict that both governments may find difficult to stop.
Military planners are actively strategizing for the use of nuclear weapons in war. The Obama administration has launched a $1 trillion nuclear weapons modernization program that includes producing a new generation of lower-yield munitions designed for use in combat. A report published last year by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a leading think tank for the US State Department, Pentagon and intelligence agencies, argued that “the scenarios for nuclear employment have changed greatly since the ‘balance of terror’ between the two global superpowers.” As a result, the “second nuclear age” involved “thinking through how they might actually employ a nuclear weapon, both early in a conflict and in a discriminate manner.”
All the imperialist powers—from the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Japan, to Canada, Australia and New Zealand—are seeking their place in a new carve-up of the world. The historic antagonism between Germany and the United States (which fears any single power coming to dominate Europe), a major factor in the two world wars of the 20th century, is again asserting itself. In June, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier outlined a policy of returning Germany to the status of a “major European power,” which would be forced “to reinterpret the principles that have guided its foreign policy for over half a century.” In a direct challenge to the United States, Steinmeier insisted that “the illusion of a unipolar world [has] faded” and that “our historical experience has destroyed any belief in national exceptionalism—for any nation.”
The drive to war is inextricably connected to the growth of authoritarianism. Under the framework of the “war on terror,” the American ruling class, followed by the ruling classes of all the major capitalist countries, has erected a vast military-intelligence apparatus that illegally spies on the population of the entire world. In the United States, local police have been equipped with billions of dollars in advanced military hardware and have been transformed into a paramilitary force that kills more than 1,000 people every year. Plans for a vast expansion of war after the 2016 elections will be inevitably accompanied by domestic repression against all opposition to the policies of the financial aristocracy.
The working class and socialism
Only through the struggle of the working class, the main revolutionary force in modern society, can a progressive solution be found to the breakdown of capitalism.
The working class is revolutionary because (1) it is the principal productive force in society; (2) the historical and political logic of its resistance to capitalist exploitation and oppression leads to the abolition of private ownership of the means of production, the replacement of the profit motive with the satisfaction of social needs as the driving principle of economic life, and the realization of genuine social equality among all people; and (3) it is an international class whose victory will break down the barriers of national states and unite humanity in a truly global community devoted to the protection and development of its common home, the Earth.
Never before in history has the working class comprised such a large proportion of the world’s population. In countries, particularly in Asia, where modern industry hardly existed only 50 years ago, the massive inflow of capital has financed an immense growth in the industrial infrastructure and the working class. Within the historically advanced centers of capitalism of Europe and North America, the working class is the overwhelming majority of the population. Technological advances, shifts in the international division of labor, and the decline in the global position of American-based manufacturing have altered the composition of the working class. But the economic and social transformations in the United States have either expanded or created new categories of workers. In 1960, the year John F. Kennedy was elected president, women were still a relatively small percentage of the workforce. The “service industry” was in its infancy. “Programming” was the occupation of a small number of skilled specialists. No one yet spoke of “IT workers.”
The vast majority of the people—whether they work in factories and on construction sites, or in offices, medical centers, shopping malls, primary and secondary schools, university complexes or scientific laboratories; whether they drive trucks, buses and trains or fly commercial aircraft—live from paycheck to paycheck. These workers share common problems and face a common enemy: the gigantic financial and corporate institutions that hire, fire and exploit them in the pursuit of profit.
There is a staggering contradiction between the economic and social significance of the working class and its negligible influence on the political direction of society. The concentration of wealth is accompanied inevitably by the concentration of political power. Within the United States, the financial and corporate oligarchy has monopolized political power to an extent that has no equal in any other advanced capitalist country. The American working class has never succeeded in establishing its own mass political party. The present crisis has exposed the enormous price that the working class is paying for its subordination to the Democratic Party.
For new organizations of working class struggle
The interests of the working class can be secured only through mass struggle. All history demonstrates that nothing is handed down from above. Democratic rights, social reforms, the eight-hour day, the prohibition against child labor—even these gains won under capitalism were the byproduct of revolutionary upheavals.
New popular organizations of the working class must be built in opposition to the existing trade unions. The AFL-CIO and the Change to Win Coalition are not working class organizations, but auxiliary arms of corporate management. They work actively to increase the exploitation of the working class and to isolate and demoralize any opposition from among the workers themselves. They encourage nationalist sentiments, dividing different sections of the working class against each other. Politically, the unions work to channel the working class behind the Democratic Party and thereby subordinate it to the politics of the capitalist class.
Over the past four decades there has been a collapse in the number of strikes, the elementary form of class militancy—from 35 million lost man-days due to strikes in 1968, to 16 million in 1972, to less than 2 million today. This is due not to a decline in social tensions—social inequality has soared during this same period—but to the betrayals of the trade union bureaucracy. At the same time, the wealth of the union bureaucracy has become increasingly disconnected from the conditions of the membership, or even the number of unionized workers. From 2001 to 2008, the membership of the United Auto Workers fell from 701,000 to 431,000—a decline of about 40 percent—but the UAW’s billion-dollar assets increased. This was a period that saw repeated concessions contracts imposed on auto workers, reducing wages and benefits and introducing multiple-tier wage systems.
To advance its interests, the working class must build genuine mass organizations—rank-and-file workplace, factory and neighborhood democratic action committees—animated by the spirit of revolutionary intransigence and opposition to the two parties of big business. These organizations must begin with the needs of the working class and must be democratically controlled by the working class. They must take ever greater responsibility for unifying the working class—employed and unemployed, skilled and unskilled, native-born and immigrant, across different industries and workplaces—and organizing their common struggles against the capitalist class.
The Obama administration: A government of the corporations
The fight for the social needs of the working class, the defense of democratic rights, and an end to war raises at every point the necessity for the independent political organization of the working class. It is impossible for the working class to advance its interests within the framework of the Democratic Party and the capitalist two-party system in the US.
Millions of working people voted for Barack Obama in the hope that his administration would reverse the reactionary policies of George W. Bush. These hopes have been refuted by experience. Under the fraudulent banner of the “war on terror,” the Obama administration continues to pursue the global imperialist agenda of the American ruling class. He has waged a new war against Libya, and now Syria and Iran are in the crosshairs. The use of drone missiles has made the “targeted killing” of Afghan and Pakistani civilians a daily occurrence. At the same time, the Obama administration steadily intensifies pressure against Iran, preparing the grounds, on one or another pretext, for a military attack that would have catastrophic consequences. In the final analysis, Obama, like his predecessors, believes that American military power can be used to offset the consequences of the decline in the global economic position of the United States.
In the United States, the Obama administration has bailed out the banks, carried out a relentless attack on the working class and led the calls for cutting social programs. To the extent that differences exist between the two parties, they are of a tactical character—over how best to defend profits and prevent the development of an independent opposition in the working class.
The fight for the political independence of the working class means a struggle against all those middle-class organizations, including nominally “socialist” groups, which claim that the Democratic Party can be pushed to the left through mass pressure. This position is aimed at preventing the working class from establishing its own independent political party.
In fact, the Democratic Party long ago abandoned even a nominal commitment to social reform. The rightward movement of the Democratic Party has been accompanied by attempts on the part of its middle-class supporters to promote all manner of lifestyle issues and identity politics as a means of obscuring the question of class and social equality.
Both parties, the Democrats as much as the Republicans, represent American imperialism, the most reactionary force on the planet. The working class must establish its political independence from big business by breaking with the Democrats and the Republicans and building its own political party.
For a Workers Government
The experience of the Obama administration testifies to the supreme reality of political life in the United States: the total control maintained by the multi-billion-dollar corporations and the super-rich over all branches of government and the two-party system. The executive branch, Congress, the judiciary and state and local governments are subservient to corporate interests. No legislation can be enacted and no measure can be taken that is perceived by the capitalist class as a threat to its interests and wealth. American democracy is ever more nakedly a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.
New organizations of working class struggle must be instruments for the revolutionary mobilization of the working class to take political power into its own hands, breaking the dictatorship of Wall Street and the corporate elite over political, economic and social life. This can be realized only through the establishment of a workers’ government—that is, a government of the working class, by the working class and for the working class, which will implement the socialist policies that are required to meet the needs of working people.
Socialism cannot be achieved simply through the election of socialist candidates to the existing state institutions. The state and its institutions are democratic only in the most formal sense. In reality, they are instruments of corporate domination created by capitalism, in which the Democratic and Republican parties, the twin parties of the ruling class, exercise a monopoly.
A workers’ state must be based on new forms and structures of participatory democracy—arising in the course of revolutionary mass struggles and representative of the working class majority of the population. This will ensure that such a government is truly popular and democratic, based on bodies elected directly from the factories, offices and other workplaces as well as the working class neighborhoods.
The International Unity of the Working Class
The Socialist Equality Party is the only party whose program is based on the common interests of the international working class. It is aimed at forging a united movement of workers of every country.
The problems workers confront in the United States are, in essence, the same as those confronting workers in every other part of the world. War, attacks on democratic rights, exploitation, unemployment, poverty and environmental destruction are not merely American problems. They are world problems that require global solutions.
Capitalism is a global economic system. Vast transnational corporations scour the world for the cheapest labor and for raw materials, producing for a world market. The same banks and financial markets dictate policy in every country. Because production is global, the problems of mass society can be resolved only on the basis of an international socialist program.
The SEP rejects the position that globalization is itself the problem, and that the task is to reestablish a national economic framework and strengthen the nation-state. The immense growth of technology and communications associated with globalization provides the basis for a dramatic improvement in the living standard of every human being. The problem is not globalization as such, but the subordination of the global economy to private profit and the interests of the wealthy.
When big business and its political representatives use low wages outside the US to justify the continual assault on wages and benefits in the US, this only underscores the need for American workers to unite politically with workers internationally in a worldwide struggle for socialism against the economic tyranny of the transnational corporations.
The Historical Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party
The Socialist Equality Party bases itself on the great traditions of the international socialist movement. Socialism stands for equality, human solidarity and cooperation, the material and spiritual liberation of mankind from oppression and want. The theoretical labors of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels established the historical necessity for socialism and laid the foundations for the creation of the modern revolutionary workers movement. With the 1917 October Revolution, socialism became the program of a mass popular movement that overthrew capitalism and established the first workers state—the Soviet Union. The Russian Revolution was part of a broader international struggle of the working class for social equality. Every major advance of American workers was associated with socialism and spearheaded by socialist-minded militants—from the eight-hour day, to child labor laws, to universal public education, to the formation of mass industrial unions, to the end of Jim Crow segregation in the South.
Like many great ideals, socialism has been abused and betrayed. In the Soviet Union, it was betrayed by a counter-revolutionary bureaucracy led by Joseph Stalin. Stalinism was not the continuation of the egalitarian and internationalist legacy of the Russian Revolution. It was a conservative, bureaucratic reaction against the revolution, based on the nationalist program of “socialism in a single country.” The Stalinist bureaucracy crushed workers’ democracy, imposed dictatorial rule, executed the genuine Marxists and subverted revolutionary struggles of the working class around the world—all in the name of “socialism.” This betrayal of the Russian Revolution and socialism culminated in the direct collaboration of the Kremlin bureaucracy with international imperialism in the breakup of the Soviet Union and restoration of capitalism at the beginning of the 1990s.
The SEP bases itself on the legacy of the best, most courageous and far-sighted representatives of the working class, who fought for socialism in opposition to bureaucracy. The greatest embodiment of this tradition was Leon Trotsky, co-leader with Lenin of the Russian Revolution. Trotsky led the struggle against the betrayals of Stalinism, dating back to the founding of the Left Opposition in 1923, and laid the basis for the rebirth of the international workers movement through the founding in 1938 of the Fourth International—the World Party of Socialist Revolution. The Fourth International, led by the International Committee, is today the only genuinely revolutionary party of the working class on the planet.
America has also produced great fighters for socialism—men and women who battled the labor bureaucrats and devoted their lives to the liberation of the working class. Among them are such figures as Big Bill Haywood, Eugene Debs and James Cannon. American workers must re-appropriate this rich socialist heritage in order to organize the struggle today to transform society in the interests of the people and put an end to poverty, exploitation and oppression in the United States and throughout the world.
We call on all those who agree with this program, support the fight for social equality, and oppose war and the assault on democratic rights to join the Socialist Equality Party and take up the fight for socialism.