Nearly seventy comrades and contacts converged on the National Center of the US Section of the IMT in Brooklyn, New York for the 2016 Northeast Regional Marxist School. Held just days after Donald Trump’s stunning election victory over Hillary Clinton, it was a standing-room-only crowd as comrades from New York, New Jersey, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Louisville, KY, Toronto, Montreal, and London assembled for what proved to be a weekend of passionate political discussion. In addition, over 3,700 people from around the world tuned into the four sessions via live stream on Facebook.
Comrade Steve Iverson from Boston delivered a lead off during the Saturday afternoon session on “The Role of Individuals in Making History.” This is doubtless one of the most complex theoretical questions faced by Marxists. The subject has taken on added significance in the United States this year as two immensely unlikely individuals, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, exercised a decisive influence on the 2016 presidential election.
Building on the theoretical insights of Marx, Plekhanov, and Trotsky, comrade Steve explained how “historical materialism alone gives us the tools to analyze” the way individuals can be thrust forward by the contradictory forces unleashed in the course of class struggle.
Contrary to the vulgar assertions of the bourgeois critics of Marxism, we do not see history as the mere unfolding of impersonal material forces. Marxists have long understood how particular and often unlikely personalities can arise as the accidental expressions of historical necessity. Just as the upheavals of the French and Russian Revolutions elevated two lawyers from the provinces—Robespierre and Lenin—to positions of decisive historical importance, so too has the troubled digestion of degenerating US capitalism burped up the con-artist and playboy Donald Trump and made him President-elect.
Contributions from the floor further sharpened the discussion, replete with historical examples and analysis ranging from the importance of Lenin and Trotsky in the October Revolution to the role right-wing labor bureaucrat John L. Lewis played in preventing the emergence of a mass labor party in the United States during the 1940s.
The Saturday evening session featured comrade John Peterson, editor of Socialist Appeal (US), giving a lead off on “The Trump Presidency: How to Fight it?” He had originally prepared a lead off on the Mexican Revolution; however, under the weight of events, his topic had to be changed. This session proved to be the fieriest of the entire school, and it was no surprise that it was the most widely viewed online with over 1,700 tuning in. A comrade from Switzerland who was watching reported that the energy in the room was so infectious that she wanted to applaud at the conclusion of the lead off. John began:
“Well, comrades, welcome to the United States of Trump. So much for summer session in the School of the Democrats under Clinton. We’re going straight into a post-graduate course in chaos, instability, and a very interesting time . . . This is what we mean when we say that we’ve entered an era of war, of crisis, of revolution, of counter-revolution. These are the sharp and sudden changes that we’re always talking about.”
He went on to provide an incisive analysis of the class forces which have brought Trump to power. After the disappointment of the Obama years, what’s left of the enraged petty bourgeoisie has united with elements of the working class in the devastated rust belt north and midwest and latched onto Donald Trump in hopes that he can lead them out of the capitalist crisis and “make America great again.”
They will soon be disappointed to learn that Trump possesses no magic formula to reinvigorate US capitalism. Instead, all he can offer is a retinue of discredited reactionaries who will attempt to maintain the status quo of declining living standards for the many alongside record profits for the wealthy few. John emphasized that the only way out of the crisis is the socialist revolution lead by cadres schooled in Marxism and Bolshevik forms of organization. In the absence of such revolutionary leadership, figures like Trump will continue to arise under the heaving pressure of the capitalist crisis.
Speaking from the floor, comrades expanded on this analysis and underscored the necessity of Marxists to intervene in the massive street protests that have erupted in the days since Trump’s election. Comrades from around the Northeast reported on the successes and challenges they’ve faced and on the huge public meetings they’ve organized for the coming weeks to discuss Trump and how to fight him. Comrades expressed their confidence in the working class and in our ability to intervene in the class battles ahead to build the forces of Marxism in the United States.
On Saturday night, comrades held a party to benefit the US section of the IMT’s Fighting Fund, raising hundreds of dollars, as well as strengthening the bonds of solidarity and revolutionary enthusiasm between comrades from across the region.
The Sunday morning session began with Comrade Joel Bergman, editor of the Canadian Francophone newspaper La Riposte Socialiste, delivering a lead off on “1905: Dress Rehearsal for the Russian Revolution.” He emphasized that the October Revolution—the centenary of which the IMT will be marking throughout next year—cannot be understood without first coming to grips with the events of 1905. He painted a vivid picture of how a protest and petition movement led by a priest and police spy, Father Gapon, rapidly transformed into a revolutionary firestorm. He explained how the first soviets formed and how Trotsky emerged as the most dynamic mass leader. He outlined the role of the Bolsheviks in the uprising as well as the failures of the Bolshevik committeemen, who had not absorbed the Marxist method, which presaged events not only in 1917 but also during the rise of Stalinism.
Comrades speaking from the floor further enlivened the discussion with detailed contributions about the three theories of revolution current in Russia at the time: the Menshevik two-stage theory, Lenin’s theory of the Revolutionary-Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry, and Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution. Comrades explained how Trotsky further developed his theory in the wake of 1905 and how Lenin came over to this theory when historical events proved it correct in 1917. Comrades also spoke passionately about how we must always be on guard against the scourge of routinism and mechanical thinking which led to the fatal mistakes of the Bolshevik committeemen.
The final session on Sunday afternoon entitled, “Britain on the Brink: Brexit, Corbyn, Labour and the Perspectives for Revolution,” was led off by comrade Josh Holroyd from the British Section of the IMT. As the setting sun streaming through the curtains bathed the participants in a red glow, comrade Josh delivered a detailed report on the intensifying political crisis in the United Kingdom. He detailed the fissures which have arisen in the ruling Conservative Party over the issue of the EU, and took us through the dynamics emerging after the failed “chicken coup” against Jeremey Corbyn in the Labour Party. He explained how Britain, stereotypically seen as a land of reservation and tranquility, is rapidly becoming the center of Europe’s most intense class battles. He detailed the IMT’s perspectives regarding Brexit, Corbyn, and the pro-Corbyn Momentum organization.
Comrade Antonio Balmer, an IMT full-timer from the National Center, provided the closing remarks to the school, emphasizing a sentiment that had been expressed earlier in the school: “there’s no better time to be a Marxist. What we’re living through right now is history unfolding. This weekend has been an orientation meeting for our forces to really absorb how we’re going to respond to this turning point.”
He ended his remarks with an electrifying appeal for all the participants to take what they had learned over the weekend into the struggles ahead. “We’re going to go back. We’re going to go back to the streets, back to the trenches, back to the campuses, back to our branches, and we’re going to build the forces of revolutionary Marxism!” Everybody stood and the school ended with energetic renditions of the Internationale and Bandiera Rossa.
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