A new generation of students and workers has inherited the crisis of capitalism. Capital must always expand, but now it finds itself in one of its inevitable crises of reproduction that annihilates “the future and constructs the youth as a subject of social protest.”1 A new generation is seeking tools for coping with crisis and cuts, and some are turning towards political struggle as a solution. The question then arises: what political method do we use for battle? Which traditions do we draw from heavily and which do we mostly leave aside? Huey Newton for instance dealt deeply with this question when he found no group he wanted to work with and decided to create a new method.
Reading revolutionary militant and decolonial theorist Frantz Fanon as well as Karl Marx and Mao Zedong transformed his political thinking, providing a framework for why and how to build the Black Panther Party. The Panthers spread like wildfire through the US because the fighting history and readiness of the Black working class met its reflection in an anti-imperialist Marxist theory developed and propagated by Black militants.
Another US attempt to build a new approach was the Johnson-Forrest Tendency (JFT) started in 1940 by Trotskyist militants CLR James and Raya Dunayevskaya. Separating from Trotsky over their analysis that the USSR was capitalist rather than socialist, the JFT produced ground-breaking revolutionary theory but split in 1955 over ” the proper orientation of organized revolutionaries.”2 In 1969, a new group called Sojourner Truth Organization was founded which eventually attempted to apply the theoretical content of JFT in practical form through rank-and-file workplace newsletters. These were not the dry parliamentary papers of union officialdom, or the narrow party-line perspective of Trotskyist and Stalinist operations, but an attempted application of JFT politics taking race, gender, culture, and theory seriously within the landscape of the workplace. In a handwritten flyer from 1973, dealing with the combination of class, race and gender oppression, STO writes:
The company has reached a new low for dirty tricks. They are sending the women up on the furnaces to work clayman3.
To make things worse they have assigned the White women to office jobs so that only the Black sisters will be sent on the furnaces. They must not be permitted to get away with this. The women are fighting, but they need help. (As usual, no help can be expected from the union.) Discuss with friends near you what ACTION to take to prevent this OUTRAGEOUS INJUSTICE. If we don’t stop this indecency, we have no right to hold our heads up (pass this along).”
As non-profiteers, Trotskyists, Maoists and insurrectionists enter the field of struggle, many are discovering internal contradictions of their method and becoming open to an alternative. The rank-and-file orientation coupled with serious organizing, focus on mastery of the Marxist method and serious attention to race and gender make the STO workplace papers an invaluable source for a new generation of activists, students and workers. In a time of Greek rebellion, Nepali revolution, the Chicago Republic Doors and Windows occupation and much other working class resistance to the effects of the capitalist crisis the STO workplace papers can be a powerful tool to develop the politics and framework for dynamic class struggle in the midst of this crisis they’re making us pay for.