Workers Vanguard No. 974
18 February 2011
Capitalism Has Nothing to Offer Youth
SYC Speech at New York Holiday Appeal
(Young Spartacus pages)
On January 21, the Partisan Defense Committee, a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League, held its 25th annual Holiday Appeal benefit for class-war prisoners in New York City. A Spartacus Youth Club member gave the following speech, which has been slightly edited for publication.
It is important for revolutionary youth to take up the cause of the class-war prisoners because, as the old Industrial Workers of the World saying goes, “They are in there for us and we are out here for them.” Even if we do not share the same politics, we stand on the same side of the class line. If the working class is to move forward, it is essential that we defend our class brothers and sisters.
Around the world, the capitalists’ attempts to make the working class pay for the bosses’ recession have come down on youth especially hard. In the U.S., 43.8 percent of black teens are now unemployed as well as 23.5 percent of white teens.
Obama continues his frontal assault on education, seeking to smash the teachers unions and privatize schools through the charter school movement. Higher education is becoming even more unreachable as capitalist governments from New York to London to Puerto Rico are raising tuition rates as part of broader “austerity measures,” i.e., attacks on the working class as a whole.
The capitalist class continues to uphold the bourgeois family, meaning one man on one woman for life. Maintaining this family structure requires the brutal repression of women and youth, as we saw in the case of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student who jumped off the nearby George Washington Bridge rather than face the torment of being a young gay man in America. Just weeks later, two young men in the Bronx were savagely beaten because they were suspected of being a couple.
Add to this the racist war on drugs, which continues to target black and minority youth. According to the New York Times one out of every nine black men between 20 and 34 is currently behind bars or on parole. The majority of these cases involve “drug-related offenses.”
Perhaps nothing explodes the “end of racism” myth more graphically than the fact that the police continue to gun down black and Latino youth no less under Obama than under any other administration. Witness Angel Alvarez and Luis Soto, who were shot down by the cops just blocks away from here. It is clear that capitalism has nothing to offer youth today. It is a brutal, exploitative and decaying system that must be completely uprooted and overthrown.
If we are to succeed, the youth must learn that the struggle to put an end to racism, sexism, starvation, exploitation, imperialist war, rampant disease and mass imprisonment is a class struggle. It is the struggle of the workers, who seek better wages, benefits, equality, etc., against the capitalists, who seek to squeeze every last ounce of profit out of the skins of the workers.
Hand in hand with this understanding comes the realization that if students want to put an end to capitalism, they cannot do it alone. They must be allied with the working class, because only the working class has the power to shut down production and bring the whole capitalist system to a grinding halt. Right now, the students at the Río Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico are on strike against a tuition hike. The students are maintaining their strike in spite of violent repression from the cops and private security guards. The student action is courageous; however, the success of the student strike will hinge on whether or not it is joined by the workers. It was only through the united action of the students and workers that the campus strike last spring was victorious.
These struggles are not new by any means! And just as capitalist repression has a long and bloody history, the working-class struggle to abolish oppression has a long and powerful history as well! The high point of this was the Russian Revolution, when the working class, under the leadership of Lenin’s Bolshevik Party, actually ripped state power out of the hands of the capitalists and established the first workers state in the history of the world.
It is important for revolutionary youth to remember that we are not alone! We are not the first people who have felt this way! Others started this fight long before we were born, and it is up to us to continue it in the future and bring the class struggle to its victorious conclusion.
It is also essential that the youth internalize the lessons that previous generations have learned in the class struggle. Central to these lessons is that the capitalists’ courts are never neutral. They are the exclusive instrument of the capitalist state, whose interests are diametrically opposed to the interests of the workers. From this understanding springs the slogan: There is no justice in the capitalist courts! If you are looking for proof of this slogan, look no further than the cases of the class-war prisoners. These courageous men and women are living the reality of this slogan every day.
Our class understanding of the state and its courts sets us apart from the rest of the left. A good example of this was seen last semester at CCNY, the college just across the street. The International Socialist Organization, or ISO, held a video showing of a new documentary about death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. The ISO is in a campaign to pressure Obama to start a civil rights investigation into Mumia’s case. The Spartacus Youth Club was able to intervene at this event and point out, among other things, that Obama is the class enemy! He is the top cop of the capitalist state, whose job it is to maintain the racist capitalist system, which means getting rid of people who are perceived as threats to the capitalist order, like Mumia. When I asked the ISOers why they thought that Obama, who is explicitly pro-death penalty, would lift a finger to free Mumia, the ISO had no response.
Reformists like the ISO see the injustices against Mumia and the other class-war prisoners as an embarrassment to the capitalist state. They seek to build illusions in the capitalist courts and attempt to appeal to the capitalist rulers’ imaginary sense of justice. We know that the capitalists want anything but justice for the working class. While we support the pursuit of all legal means to free Mumia and all the class-war prisoners, we understand that ultimately it is only the working class who has the power to free them from the capitalists’ death grip.
Our class perspective also informs our position on military recruiters on campus. We have always opposed the recruiters because we understand the U.S. Army to be the tool of imperialist domination. This is why we protested their presence last semester at CCNY, and our relatively small team of demonstrators found considerable support among the other students. Liberals, however, have in recent years based their opposition to recruiters on the fact that the U.S. military discriminated against homosexuals, not because it is a tool for mass murder and imperialist plunder. These same liberals will find themselves ideologically disarmed this next semester, as the U.S. military is now an “equal opportunity employer.” While we always opposed “don’t ask, don’t tell” as part of our defense of basic democratic rights for homosexuals, it was never the basis of our unconditional opposition to the imperialist military.
As Marxists we understand that social struggle is inevitable. Witness the widespread outrage in Tunisia, or in Europe at the recent round of “austerity measures.” In London, students took to the streets by the tens of thousands to protest the tripling of their tuition. At the same time as the British ruling class is engaged in the largest attacks on the working class in years, Prince William and Kate Middleton are enjoying a rather different type of engagement, busy with the preparations of their outlandish royal wedding. Camilla and Prince Charles drove into one of these student demonstrations. When the students found out who was in the car, they surrounded the vehicle shouting, “Off with their heads!”
Class struggle is inevitable. What is not inevitable is who will win. For the working class to seize power from the hands of its oppressors and hold on to it requires the leadership of a Leninist vanguard party. As an older comrade said to me, “Marxism does not hover above the earth as a separate entity in space. Marxism exists only in human beings.”
And that is why, if you feel the way we do, if you understand that capitalism needs to be overthrown, if you want to fight for the emancipation of these prisoners and the emancipation of all of humanity, then join us in the struggle to overthrow this racist, sexist, bloody, oppressive capitalist system once and for all! Free the class-war prisoners! No illusions in the capitalist courts! Onward to a socialist future!