Sunday, June 18, 2023

Trotsky’s grandson Esteban (Seva) Volkov

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Seva with Trotsky and Natalia Sedova in Coyoacán. [Photo: Museo Casa de León Trotsky]

Trotsky’s grandson, Esteban (Seva) Volkov, died on June 16, 2023 at the age of 97.  I am deeply saddened by the death of Esteban.  He was a remarkable person who maintained the legacy of his grandfather his entire life while also creating a successful career in a new country with a new language and raising a family.  His greatest accomplishment was the establishment of the Trotsky Museum in Coyoacán Mexico and its survival in the teeth of opposition by the local Stalinists and government bureaucrats.

It is difficult to imagine the horrors that the young Seva experienced.  He was barely 14 years old when his grandfather was assassinated. By that time, he had lived through the arrest and subsequent murder at the hands of the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union, of his father Platon Volkov, a leading member of the Left Opposition.  His mother, Trotsky’s daughter from his first marriage, Zinaida, committed suicide while trying to get medical attention for her depression and tuberculosis in Germany.   Seva was taken in by his uncle, Trotsky’s older son, Leon Sedov.  Sedov was essentially Trotsky’s ambassador to the supporters of the Left Opposition in Europe and was the linchpin for the creation of the Fourth International. Sedov was himself assassinated by Stalinist agents in France in 1938. Seva was reunited with his grandparents in Mexico only after a bitter custody dispute following the assassination of his uncle. For a young child these series of shocks could be nothing less than a holocaust on an individual scale.  It is therefore all the more remarkable that Seva did not grow up to be a bitter and depressed individual whose spirit was broken. Instead, Seva was imbued with the same optimism about the future of humanity that characterized his grandfather.

I was present at a number of conferences in the U.S. where Esteban spoke but I only had one brief personal exchange with him.  That was at a conference on The Legacy of Leon Trotsky and U.S. Trotskyism held at Fordham University in New York in July of 2008. I spoke to him at the very end of that conference and only had time to express my appreciation of the work he had done in keeping the flame of his grandfather’s legacy alive. Even then, at the advanced age of 82, Esteban had the demeanor of a tall and handsome man whose eyes expressed both his resolve and his generosity. He looked far younger than his years. On that occasion my then soon to be partner, Nina, gave Esteban a flower and he graciously kissed her, in the manner of old-world etiquette.

I made trips to Coyoacán on three different occasions.  On one of those trips with my colleague Frank Brenner, we had the good fortune to be escorted by a guide who had extensive knowledge of the background behind the struggle to maintain the museum against continuous attempts by the Stalinists in Mexico to shut it down. 

The last time I saw Esteban was virtually, through a remote video conference at the First International Conference on Trotsky held in Havana, Cuba in May of 2019.  He was interviewed from the Trotsky Museum by Alan Woods, a long-time scholar of Trotskyism, a leader of International Marxist Tendency and one of driving forces behind the new edition of Trotsky’s biography of Stalin.  (See our article on announcement of the publication of the book on Stalin, and our summary of the last day of the Conference on Trotsky in Havana, ).  In addition to the interview with Esteban, the Trotsky Museum was one of key backers of the conference in Havana.


An obituary and two interviews conducted by Alan Benjamin with Esteban Volkov on the subject of Trotsky’s assassination can be found by following this link :

Esteban Volkov was the last living witness to Trotsky’s assassination. His presence will be missed.

Alex Steiner, June 18, 2023

Esteban (Seva) Volkov in 2012

Thursday, April 6, 2023

A Celebration in New York

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by Alex Steiner

I walked down to the Criminal Court building in Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon to witness the spectacle of the arrest and arraignment of former President Donald Trump.  I was wondering how far I could walk before coming up against the police barricades.  I didn’t have to walk very far to find out.  There was a crowd of probably a thousand or so just North of the court house.  Navigating my way to the front I soon ran into the expected police barricades.  No one, including journalists,  who were not on a special list, could get through the police lines.  This crowd, let’s call them the “northern encampment”, there being a similar group south of the court house, seemed to be mostly curious rather than overtly political.  One was a tourist from France who was comparing this event, somewhat dismissively, to the demonstrations against Macron in Paris.   There  were  a good number of people there who were of no strong political persuasion but made the pilgrimage downtown just to see Trump taken down.  I have to admit that I could empathize with them.

Others just came out because it was a beautiful spring day in New York and a great occasion to participate in a kind of street theater that New York is known for.   There were of course a few Trump supporters, but they were a tiny, if very noisy, minority.  The mass mobilization of violent MAGA shock troops in the heart of liberal New York, the nightmare scenario of MSNBC and the New York Police Department, never materialized.  I later learned that Marjorie Taylor-Greene made a brief appearance but left after a few minutes when she realized the expected MAGA crowd never showed up.

I watched a trio of what appeared to be graduates of a Connecticut prep school sitting in a rickshaw, yelling “Trump, Trump, Trump” over and over again.  A single African American protester yelled back, “Fuck Trump, Fuck Trump, Fuck Trump.” A sign peeking out behind the heads of the trio proclaimed them as “EXTREME MAGA”.  It reminded me of the label on chocolate bars that try to distinguish themselves by adding the word “Extreme” to  “Dark Chocolate”. The owner of the rickshaw, an older Asian gentleman, did not look very happy hosting these snot-nosed wealthy kids from the suburbs.

Not making any progress in my attempt to get to the front of the court house from the northern encampment I decided to try the view from the West of the court building. I walked over to a green space called Collect Pond Park which was filled to capacity by a crowd of protesters and onlookers.  This site sits on top of a natural spring and in the 17th and 18th century was a source of clean drinking water for the island of Manhattan. It also served as a pristine natural landscape in the middle of downtown Manhattan. Families would come there for picnics.  By the early 19th century however the pond became heavily polluted and morphed into a disgusting sewer.  In one of New York’s earliest sanitation projects, the pond was paved over and eventually turned into a small park in the middle of Manhattan’s court district.

There was a distinctly festive atmosphere to the crowd in the park.  Even the yelling back and forth between pro and anti-Trumpists had a rhythmic charm to it.  A loud “Free Donald Trump” was immediately followed by an even louder “Fuck Donald Trump”.  A band was performing at the top of the park featuring a chant of “Fuck Donald Trump” in some kind of rap harmony accompanied by drums and cymbals.

There was a view through a metal fence of the entrance to the court house across the street but the only thing one could see were dozens of tents set up directly in front of the court.  These housed the major news organizations that were covering Trump’s arrest, including Associated Press, Eurovision, Washington Post, New York Times, etc. There were in addition to the tents what must have been dozens and perhaps hundreds of news trucks parked in the streets nearby from local radio and television stations all over the country.  It was a mystery to me what they could be reporting on since the only real news that day was the release of the indictment against Trump and his “Not Guilty” plea in court.   Only a few reporters were allowed to enter the court room to view the procedure and no cameras were allowed.  But all these news outfits were in the business of creating their own illusion of “breaking news” by filming a reporter standing in the street and providing non-existent “information” such as by speculating which door Trump will use to enter the building.


Political discourse, such as it was, consisted mostly in people holding up posters or giving out flyers.  There were also animated discussions taking place although the ones I heard seemed to have as much content as the “Free Trump - Fuck Trump” dialogue.  There were a few people who seemed to be regulars of the downtown court scene who were giving out their flyers to a captive audience that they rarely get.  One middle-aged woman gave out very tiny flyers, maybe  3 by 4 inches with a hand-written message that had the character of a hieroglyph. The words were so small and in such hard to read handwriting that all I could make out were a few odd words.  I gather she was protesting some injustice either to her personally or to someone close to her that took place across the street.  There were others handing out more traditional flyers, denouncing Trump with the slogan “No one is above the law”.  I saw one hand-written poster that said something like, “Free Julian Assange and Defend Trump against a political witch-hunt”.  The coupling of the demand to free Julian Assange, favored by the left, with the accusation that Trump is the victim of a political witch hunt is typical of those organizations calling for an alliance between the extreme left and the extreme right, a ‘Red-Brown’ coalition. This characterizes, to one degree or another, the recent politics of comedian and podcaster Jimmy Dore, Max Blumenthal and others.    The irony here is that when Trump was President his Administration went after Julian Assange with the same zeal as the current Biden Administration.

I had an extended conversation with one person in the park whose poster caught my eye, “Indict all Republican enablers, co-conspirators”.  That is exactly right and it is the one thing that the January 6th Committee completely elided.  Many leading members of the Republican Party in Congress were up to their ears in the conspiracy to steal the election from Biden.  And practically every single Republican in Congress protected Trump and his lieutenants from any kind of accountability for their crimes.  The person holding the poster was a Vietnam War veteran named George Robinson. I got into a wide-ranging political discussion with George and he agreed that not only Trump, but other recent Presidents should be prosecuted.  He also agreed that the rise of Trump was made possible by the Democrat’s abandonment of the working class.

Vietnam War veteran George Robinson

Of course there is no denying that there is a political dimension to the charges brought up against Trump.  But there is at the same time a legal dimension that cannot be ignored.  Were these same charges brought up against anyone else there is little doubt that they would have been brought to trial, convicted and sentenced years ago.  And one can argue that Trump should have first been indicted on the much more serious crimes of tampering with the election in Georgia and of inciting the mob used in the failed coup of January 6.  Those cases have been sitting around for many months, with the Attorney General, Merrick Garland, unwilling to move on the recommendations of the January 6th Committee.  Finally, one can point to the rank hypocrisy of the Democrats push to prosecute Trump when they are at the same time protecting President Biden and former Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton for their many crimes.  All these facts are true,  but when it comes to shaping our attitude to the arrest and prosecution of Trump, they are somewhat besides the point.  Americans have a right to celebrate the fact that some measure of accountability is finally being exacted on this monstrosity who came out of the sewers of the New York real estate Mafia and who was instrumental in the transformation of the Republican Party into a party of neo-fascism.   So while we work out the broader political context of Trump’s arrest,  give us this moment to celebrate what will hopefully prove to be the downfall of a tyrant. 




Friday, October 28, 2022

UAW at a Crossroads

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Flint sit-down strike

Note: We are publishing a statement by Peter Ross and Steve Zeltzer on the current election campaign for the International Executive Board of the United Auto Workers Union (UAW). The statement provides an excellent overview of the history of the UAW from its roots as a militant working-class organization in the 1930's, to its degeneration in the post-war period and its current status as one of the most corrupt unions in the country. We do not necessarily agree with everything in this statement, but it is nevertheless an important contribution to a continuing debate about the future of the American working and its unions.

One issue that we disagree on is the use of the phrase "united front" in the context of building an alliance with other groups in the union. While we wholeheartedly agree that different groups should be able to collaborate on issues they have in common and work together in joint campaigns, calling this kind of activity a "united front" opens the door to theoretical confusion. The "united front" was a very specific tactic developed in the early years of the Communist International and later the Trotskyist movement that called on the mass parties of the working class, particularly the Communist Party and the Social Democrats, to bring together their forces in a joint struggle against fascism and reaction. The slogan had particular resonance in the struggle against fascism in Germany and France in the 1930's. Raising this slogan today when mass parties of the working class no longer exist or have become so corrupted - as for example the British Labour Party - that they can hardly be considered working class parties anymore, does not help in educating the masses about the need for independent political action by the working class. It is even worse when the "united front" slogan is applied in the context of statements signed jointly by several tiny political groups. It sows illusions that such groups have the capacity to become mass working-class organizations. Hal Draper dealt with this particular form of wishful thinking many years ago in his excellent essay, Anatomy of the Micro-Sect.

Given that caveat, the statement by Ross and Zeltzer deserves a wide audience. They point out the significance of the fact that one of the candidates in the UAW election, Will Lehman, has made a powerful impression by calling out the UAW bureaucracy and raising the question of socialism in his campaign. At the same time Ross and Zeltzer point out the schizophrenic position of the Socialist Equality Party which is behind the Lehman campaign. While running a candidate for a leadership position in the UAW, the Socialist Equality Party has very recently called for the destruction of the UAW and urged workers to vote against the union in the recent union organizing drive of Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama.

When Peter Ross tried to raise the question of the contradictory position of the SEP in relation to their campaign in the UAW in a comment on the World Socialist Web Site, he was censored by the editors of that online publication. We are adding Ross's unpublished comment on the WSWS in an appendix.

Alex Steiner

UAW at a Crossroads

Peter Ross and Steve Zeltzer

(United Front Committee for a Labor Party)

October 20, 2022

Last Monday, the United Auto Workers began mailing out ballots for the election of the union’s International Executive Board, its highest governing body. This is the first election in the history of the UAW in which every member will be able to vote directly for the leadership of their union.

This historic election comes two months after the UAW held its once-in-four-years Constitutional Convention—the first convention in which rank-and-file members were able to put themselves up for election to the union leadership.

These and other changes to UAW rules were put in place by a 2-1 vote in a union-wide referendum, which was part of a consent agreement with the federal government, after 17 executives were federally indicted for embezzlement and racketeering. The corruption scandal, which began in 2017, has rocked the union leadership, many of whom are implicated in taking company bribes and stealing dues money from the membership. The federal government has also installed a monitor, who in July issued a report on the leadership’s lack of transparency and violation of the terms of the consent agreement.

The imposition of more democratic processes by the federal government has opened up some new possibilities for militant workers, but no confidence should be placed in the capitalist state to democratize the union. The new rules leave the bureaucratic apparatus untouched. It retains its function as a proxy of management, whose role it is to negotiate and enforce concessionary contracts in the workers’ name. The interventions of the capitalist state are not aimed at truly democratizing the union, but at providing its bureaucratic apparatus with a veneer of democracy, in order to preserve its legitimacy in the eyes of workers and stabilize it as an instrument of labor management. That the American government felt the need to intervene in union affairs is itself a damning indictment of the rot at the heart of the UAW and exposes the character of the bureaucracy as a junior partner of the capitalists. The union belongs to the workers! The rank-and-file must demand: feds and bureaucrats alike, out of the UAW!

The Movement for Union Democracy

Only a movement from below can truly bring democracy back to our union. Recent reform efforts have been led by Unite All Workers for Democracy (UAWD), a grassroots movement of UAW members from around the country, which commanded substantial influence at this year’s convention. The Administration Caucus, which has ruled the UAW for decades, usually sets the agenda for the conventions in a choreographed series of speeches and Administration Caucus-sponsored resolutions. But at this year’s convention, they were unable to prevent resolutions drafted by the rank-and-file and passed by union locals from reaching the floor for discussion.

UAWD-sponsored resolutions included one to start strike pay from day one instead of day eight, and increase strike pay from $275 to at least $400 per week. The International Executive Board (IEB) voted for the pay increase just prior to the convention, in an effort to take the initiative from UAWD, but convention delegates went a step further, passing the resolution to begin strike pay from day one and increasing strike pay to $500 per week, at the initiative of a striking Case tractor factory worker.

A UAWD-drafted resolution calling for the UAW to amend its constitution to require it to oppose contracts with tiered pay and benefits also made it to the floor and was the subject of extensive debate but was ultimately defeated. The two-tier system has been backed by the Administration Caucus as supposedly the only way to save autoworkers’ jobs in the face of company cost-cutting and outsourcing. It is both a betrayal of the newer members and a weapon against the demands of the more senior members, and it is a wedge which the management and bureaucracy use to divide the union membership.

On the final day of the convention, the Administration Caucus attempted to reassert its authority by forcing a revote on the increase in strike pay. Many of the delegates had already returned home by this point, and the Administration Caucus, working behind the scenes to pressure delegates, was able to rescind the increase in pay. These are the actions of a bureaucracy that is so used to ruling, it doesn’t know how to respond to rank-and-file opposition, and clumsily exposes itself in its efforts to retain control.

Another telling episode from the convention was the refusal of the Administration Caucus-dominated International Executive Board to invite a contingent of GM workers from Silao, Mexico—who recently founded the independent union SINTTIA—to attend the convention. Instead, they invited the so-called Solidarity Center—an international operation of the AFL-CIO—which receives $75 million per year in corporate and federal money from the National Endowment for Democracy. The AFL-CIO has a long history of collaborating with the CIA and American government in suppressing workers’ struggles, propping up corporatist trade unions against independent unions, and overthrowing governments around the world, including in Brazil, Guatemala, Guyana, and the Dominican Republic. They worked to sabotage a peasant movement in El Salvador, supported the apartheid regime in South Africa, and participated in backing right-wing unions in Chile prior to the 1973 coup, which resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands (see also, the Labor Education Project on AFL-CIO International Operations). While the multinational corporations have spread production all over the globe, the AFL-CIO prevents workers from mounting an effective response by organizing internationally. In the age of globalization, the only way to rebuild the labor movement is on an international basis, and this means a rebellion against the AFL-CIO.

The Radical Roots of the UAW

There is a long history of militant working-class struggle in the UAW. Following a long decline of the craft unions organized in the American Federation of Labor (AFL)—long-controlled by their own ossified bureaucracies—the onset of the Great Depression and a wave of militant struggles opened a new era in the American Labor Movement. In 1934, a wave of powerful general strikes in Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Toledo, led by socialists and left-wing workers, showed that the organized working class could defeat the employers.

This eruption of class struggle gave a powerful impetus to the development of the Labor Movement. The following year, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) was founded, originally as a committee within the AFL, and then, after it was forced out, as an independent organization of industrial unionists. The UAW, also founded in 1935, was divided from its inception between a group aligned with the radical-led CIO and a group aligned with the conservative, class-collaborationist AFL. Due to the efforts of militant workers and socialists, the UAW followed the CIO out of the AFL, and went on to grow rapidly. The 44-day Flint Sit-down Strike of 1937 forced General Motors to recognize the UAW, and within the next few years, it also won recognition from Chrysler and Ford.

The power of auto workers during the period of the UAW’s founding came from taking direct action on the shop floor to stop production. This approach was successful in protecting the health and safety of workers and also in stopping the firing of union militants and rank-and-file leaders. There was also significant support at this time for the formation of a Labor Party, independent of both the Democrats and Republicans.

The nature of the UAW gradually changed in the following years, as the union became established and took on a dual role as both the negotiator and enforcer of labor contracts. In March 1939, a group of ten UAW locals led by Trotskyists came together to support the formation of a Labor Party and to keep power in the hands of the rank and file. This was opposed by a conservative faction led by Walter Reuther and a faction led by the Communist Party, but the Trotskyists' Union Building Program was adopted, along with a resolution calling for the formation of a Labor Party in the United States. However, the leadership of the CIO remained subordinate to the Democratic Party.

In the World War II era, the UAW’s Executive Board signed a no-strike pledge to assist the American war effort. This was backed by the Communist Party. After the war, communists and class struggle militants were systematically purged from the trade unions. The AFL and CIO merged into a single anti-communist and pro-imperialist alliance, and the labor movement went into sharp decline. The Administration Caucus began its life during this period as an anti-communist grouping founded by then-UAW president Walter Reuther, who remained president until his death in 1970. The Reuther leadership vehemently opposed the militant tactics that had built the UAW, and they eventually signed contracts that ended this power on the job, while solidifying their own leadership.

The UAW bureaucracy became little more than an adjunct of the Democratic Party. At a UAW convention in San Diego in 1995, then-President Bill Clinton, who had been invited to speak, told union leaders that he would support NAFTA whether they liked it or not. After this speech, the craven UAW officials gave him a standing ovation despite his open declaration that he would push deindustrialization via this corporate trade program. The UAW and AFL-CIO tops have been right behind not only Clinton but also Trump, who passed the USMCA, a trade agreement replacing NAFTA that is aimed at further consolidating the North American trading bloc in preparation for conflict with China.

Today, Flint, Michigan—the site of one of the great victories of American labor—is a decaying city in the deindustrialized area around Detroit, known to most Americans as the town whose residents were poisoned by their water supply. Flint is emblematic of the decay of American capitalism and the defeats of the Labor Movement. Yet after a lifetime of rule by the Administration Caucus, which has overseen one concessionary contract after another and helped run the Labor Movement into the ground, rank-and-file workers have shown that there is still a spark of life in the UAW.

Almost a century ago, American Trotskyist James P. Cannon described the Flint Sit-down strike in these terms: “The revolt, which no bureaucracy could contain, was spearheaded by new people—the young mass production workers, the new young militants whom nobody had ever heard of…” The strike was propelled by the “bitter and irreconcilable grievances of the workers: their protest against mistreatment, speedup, insecurity; the revolt of the pariahs against their pariah status.”

Today, after decades of attacks on living and working conditions, there is a new generation of workers who are being driven into struggle against the capitalists and the union bureaucracies. A wave of strikes, unionization drives, and renewed working-class militancy has shown that workers will not continue to accept endless wage cuts, sellout contracts, and attacks on their livelihoods. It is up to this new generation of workers to return the UAW to its radical roots, sweep away the bureaucracy, and turn the union back into a weapon to defend the rights of working people.

Reformism and Sectarianism: Two dead-ends for the working class

The Administration Caucus has clearly been taken aback by the level of support and organization among the rank-and-file for the upstart reform movement. But now that they know the strength of this movement, they will make every effort to crush and disperse it.

Three weeks after the convention, UAW Region 1 “CAP Coordinator” Brian Negovan flagrantly violated the “Official Rules for the 2022 International Officer Election” by attempting to prohibit campaign leaflets from being passed out outside a meeting of a retiree’s chapter. UAW Presidential candidate Will Lehman’s campaign has reported a similar act of intimidation by Local 598 District Committeeman Sean Meachem, who confronted Lehman and a team of volunteers who were leafleting outside a GM plant, took photographs of them, and called GM security to remove them from the premises.

Lehman—the only avowed socialist in the campaign—has rightly highlighted the Administration Caucus’s use of intimidation tactics, something that UAWD has failed to do. He has won a hearing in the UAW for raising issues no other campaign will broach: above all, the need to entirely dismantle the bureaucratic machine and replace it with democratic institutions controlled by workers themselves. He was the only candidate, in the election’s one presidential debate, to speak to the real conditions workers face, to attack not only the current bureaucrats but the bureaucratic apparatus itself, and to call for organizing workers on an international basis.

Lehman’s campaign—conducted by the Socialist Equality Party, which publishes the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS)—has centered on “abolishing the bureaucracy” and calls on union members to form so-called “rank-and-file committees” as an alternative. But the SEP’s committees are not broad-based organizations aiming to draw in the widest possible layers of militant workers and educate them in the class struggle. Rather, the SEP insists that the committees must be in full political agreement with itself on all issues. Hence, these committees are typically founded by and subordinate to the party, and generally consist of only a few members.

Workers want and need organizations they control, which give them a voice and allow them to become active agents in fighting for their own lives and livelihoods. The role of a Marxist is to aid the workers in their struggles for political independence and to fight for a revolutionary political perspective. This requires that Marxists immerse themselves in the movement, not section themselves off into isolated committees, which are doomed to sterility and irrelevance. It requires a willingness to build United Fronts, capable of drawing into struggle as many workers as possible, including those who have not yet come to revolutionary conclusions. Marxists must fight intransigently for a revolutionary program, but they do not demand that workers adopt all their positions as a precondition for uniting around common, transitional demands.

The “Trotskyists” in the SEP would do well to recall the 1938 discussion between Trotsky and Cannon on whether the Socialist Workers Party should support the movement in the CIO for the formation of a Labor Party. Trotsky called for the SWP to join these efforts as a necessary tactic for organizing the mass trade union movement politically, while maintaining an independent existence and revolutionary program for the SWP. Trotsky concludes, “To say that we will fight against opportunism, as of course we will fight today and tomorrow, especially if the working-class party had been organized, by blocking a progressive step which can produce opportunism, is a very reactionary policy, and sectarianism is often reactionary because it opposes the necessary action of the working class…”

Indeed, the SEP has long since gone over to an outright reactionary position, attacking the trade unions in general, and calling for workers to leave them for their own committees. For the purposes of this campaign, they now claim that they seek to abolish the bureaucracy, not the union itself, since the latter would make their campaign an obvious absurdity. This is pure sophistry, as a brief look at their past positions makes clear. In a WSWS article, “The middle-class ‘left’ and the UAW-GM contract”, published October 12, 2007, the authors write: “The Socialist Equality Party would advise workers, should the UAW come to their plant, to vote to keep it out. Joining the UAW would not advance workers’ interests one iota.” Elsewhere, WSWS refuse to differentiate between the union and its bureaucracy, calling the UAW an “agency of corporate management” and stating that their task is to “destroy, not bolster, the ‘persuasive power’ of the UAW and to build a powerful political alternative.” Last year, WSWS called for a “No” vote for the unionization of an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. Again and again, the website calls for the replacement of the trade unions by rank-and-file committees, i.e., the abolition of the former, even to the point of opposing the organization of unorganized plantsa direct attack on the union and the working class. Such backward positions not only discredit the SEP—they give priceless ammunition to the bureaucracy, which can and will be used against other revolutionaries in the UAW.

Rather than criticizing the SEP on this basis, the left-wing media outside WSWS has instituted an unprincipled black-out of Lehman’s campaign.

In contrast to the SEP, UAWD took the initiative in mobilizing pro-reform elements across the UAW during both the ‘one-member-one-vote’ campaign and the convention. Their platform calls for abolishing the multi-tier system, opposes corruption and the existing labor-management partnership, and has put forward the old slogan ‘30 Hours Work for 40 Hours Pay’ in answer to the mass-layoffs brought about by automation and cost-cutting. However, UAWD fails to even address the issues that Lehman’s campaign has raised and limits its aims to superficial reforms rather than building the organizations the rank and file will need to confront the Administration Caucus. Their presidential candidate, Shawn Fain, attacks individual bureaucrats but scoffs at the idea that the bureaucracy itself must be dismantled. Fain often hails the anti-communist Reuther as representing the supposed good old days of the UAW. While the UAWD platform calls, in vague terms, for “international solidarity” and makes a meek call for a “re-examination” of the UAW’s relationship with the Democrats, they have not pressed these issues in the IEB campaign and have provided little in the way of a concrete program. They have run on the whole, an insipid, pro forma campaign, completely lacking in militancy. It is little wonder that they have proved unable to mobilize mass support in the union after the convention.

Perhaps most glaringly, neither UAWD nor the SEP has publicized the ongoing strike of 700 Case tractor factory workers in Racine, Wisconsin, or attempted to use their campaigns to mobilize workers across the UAW to defend the strike.

Neither of these camps is capable of bringing real change to the UAW. What is needed is a true oppositional caucus, committed to building a mass movement in the UAW that will sweep the bureaucracy out of the union and replace it with new institutions of worker democracy. Until such a caucus exists, revolutionaries should work both in UAWD and outside of it, building United Fronts with the reform forces around certain demands, while openly criticizing reformism and fighting for a revolutionary perspective.

An oppositional caucus can only exist if it is absolutely independent of the Democrats, which led the bureaucratization of the unions, and have spent decades, together with their “Republican colleagues,” dismantling all that is left of the old Labor Movement. The first political task for a renewed Labor Movement will be to carry out a struggle against the Democrat-aligned bureaucracies and pose a political alternative: a mass democratic Labor Party in the United States.

The critical fight is to organize the large number of auto plants in the South, the Midwest, and Mexico. This has been an abject failure by the business-unionist officialdom of the UAW. We need to win these organizing fights by supporting a mass movement of workers in these communities that backs up organizing with direct action. This is how the UAW was built.

The Fight in the UAW in a New Era of Class Struggle

Workers all over the United States are suffering from the same conditions as UAW workers. They are dealing with the same sell-out bureaucrats and the same bosses who want to make profits on their backs. More layoffs and speedups are in store. We have to unite as a class to shut down industry because that is the only way we will win our demands. Negotiations do not result in any victories without militant struggles. When workers see the power they have through mass mobilizations, there is no stopping that power.

Workers must reclaim the ability to take direct action on the job to protect health and safety and prevent contract violations. The NLRB will not help us. The Biden Administration has underfunded and understaffed this agency while the federal government has provided $210 million for so-called “democracy” and "labor rights" union work in Mexico (supplied to the Bureau of International Labor Affairs through the USMCA trade agreement).

The auto companies aim to further gut the auto industry as they transition to the production of less labor-intensive electric vehicles. Auto workers and other UAW members should take up UAWD’s call for equal pay for a shorter work week, so that no one need lose their job, and workers can benefit from the enormous technological advances their labor has made possible.

The union movement must take as its starting point the international unity of the working class against the capitalist class and its political parties. In the UAW, this means building direct international links with other workers at GM, Ford, Caterpillar, and all other auto, truck, farm machinery and parts companies around the world, and taking direct action internationally with our fellow workers when they need it. We cannot allow the bosses to pit workers here against those in other countries or pit our members against each other with two-tier wages and substandard contracts. We need real union solidarity in action.

With no one in Washington representing their interests, many working-class people, including some in the UAW, have turned to the faux populism of the Republican Party, which is now moving toward fascism and dictatorship. The issues of growing racist attacks and the rise of fascism were not debated or even brought up at the UAW 2022 Convention by any grouping, but these issues are critical not only to UAW members and their families but the entire working class. In the past, the UAW supported the struggles against racism and the right to vote in the South, yet the present bureaucracy refuses to support a mobilization against the danger of a fascist coup. Instead, they rely on the Democrats. UAWD should link up with the Vermont AFL-CIO, which is fighting to build a democratic Labor Movement and organize the working class against the threat of another coup by the fascists in the Republican Party. We also need to defend Black, Brown, and Asian members, who face increasing racist attacks in the plants and in our communities.

There is also a growing threat of a catastrophic war between the US and China and Russia. The UAW, as one of the largest unions in the AFL-CIO, has long supported US imperialism around the world. We must end the trillions of dollars that are spent for the war machine while our cities and communities are falling apart and working people don’t have affordable housing, healthcare, or a good public education system. Both the Democrats and Republicans are bipartisan when it comes to more wars and privatization. We need to organize a national fight against wars abroad and privatization of public education, public services, and public lands. The enemies of UAW members are not Mexican or Chinese auto workers and the people of these countries, but the billionaires and capitalist class that are exploiting people throughout the world and use xenophobia, racism, and nationalism to pit worker against worker.

In this time of social collapse, we must rebuild our unions and take the first steps toward a Labor Party, founded and controlled by working people. Only such a party, capable of organizing the entire working class, can successfully oppose the giant transnational corporations and open a new era in the struggle for socialism.


Censored comment by Peter Ross on the World Socialist Web Site

I applaud Lehman for bringing socialist ideas before the UAW membership for the first time in many years.


He consistently attacked the bureaucracy and counterposed to it the power of the rank-and-file. He also raised the important question of international organizing several times. Fain’s answers, in contrast, were vague and uninspiring. The idea that the union can be democratized while leaving all the old institutions intact is absurd.


But Lehman should have provided concrete proposals on HOW to abolish the bureaucracy and what it would be replaced with, i.e. both immediate and long-term organizing goals for the rank-and-file committees, how they would elect an international leadership and measures for democratizing the union, to include the ability to immediately recall officials, pay limited to that of a skilled worker, open and direct elections, more regular conventions and mass meetings, creation of a union-wide forum to facilitate discussion, etc. Without these sorts of demands, the call to abolish the bureaucracy is vacuous. Also needed is a plan of action to organize the unorganized auto plants concentrated in the southern US and eastern Mexico.


If the SEP were serious about building rank-and-file committees, it would pursue United Front tactics aimed at drawing in as many militant members as possible. In practice, the SEP views the committees as proxies for the party, which has the effect of isolating them from wider union politics.


Lehman was able to participate in this debate not due to major organizing victories in the rank-and-file, but because of new rules brought about by the intervention of the federal government into the union. His candidacy would not have been possible without the victory of one-member-one-vote, in which UAWD played a key role. Where was the SEP in this struggle? Criticizing the bureaucracy is one thing, but without serious organizing efforts, these are only words.


If Greenhouse misquoted Lehman, that is indeed an egregious mistake, but union liquidationism is exactly what the SEP has preached for many years. Does Lehman know the history of his party? In an article by Jerry White and Barry Grey, “The middle-class ‘left’ and the UAW-GM contract”, published October 12, 2007, the authors write “The Socialist Equality Party would advise workers, should the UAW come to their plant, to vote to keep it out. Joining the UAW would not advance workers’ interests one iota.” Elsewhere, the WSWS calls the UAW an “agency of corporate management” and says its task is to “destroy, not bolster, the ‘persuasive power’ of the UAW and to build a powerful political alternative.” Last year, WSWS called for a “No” vote for the unionization of an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. Again and again, the website calls for the replacement of the trade unions by rank-and-file committees, i.e., the abolition of the former.


The SEP has now opportunistically altered its line for the purpose of this campaign, since to run a candidate for UAW IEB president while calling for the replacement of the UAW would have been an obvious absurdity. Now the WSWS says it doesn’t want to abolish the trade unions — only their bureaucracies. Its demands remain just vague enough that it can claim this is what it meant all along.


As Trotsky pointed out, opportunism is the flip side of sectarianism. The SEP has leapt on an opportunity to be heard and has had no trouble adapting its line to whatever was most convenient to the campaign, without really moving away from its sectarian and abstentionist politics.


Letter from Peter Ross to members of the SEP and the Will Lehman campaign:



I am a graduate student worker and member of UAW 2865, and a former provisional member of the Socialist Equality Party.


I attempted to post the below comment on September 26 to the WSWS article “The UAW presidential debate: A rank-and-file socialist confronts the apparatus,” by Joseph Kishore.

( I attempted to post the comment three times, and I don’t believe this was a mistake or technical issue. It’s incredibly hypocritical that an organization that protests internet censorship so forcefully would censor a critical comment, and it shows an incredible backwardness and lack of understanding of socialist methods. Will Lehman and members of the LA branch, do you really stand by this action?


I would add a few things to my original comment. I don’t think I sufficiently emphasized that Lehman made many powerful points. He was, as Kishore’s article notes, the only candidate to speak to the real conditions workers face and the only candidate attacking not only the current bureaucrats but the bureaucratic apparatus itself. He also, importantly, called attention to the undemocratic methods of the bureaucracy, including their attempts to intimidate and silence his campaign.


But I repeat: For years, the SEP has based its politics on the claim that unions can’t be reformed, yet now it runs a candidate for UAW president and say it wants to abolish the bureaucracy, not the union. To say the abolition of the bureaucracy wouldn’t be a reform of the union is pure sophistry. The party has in the past opposed the organization of unorganized plants. Obviously, this was a direct attack on the union, not its bureaucracy. I am still astounded that SEP members seem not to have noticed this glaring contradiction.


If the party had truly reversed itself and was now seriously engaged in fighting for rank-and-file power in the UAW, I would be compelled to support your campaign. But the SEP remains committed to sectarian politics - it refuses to build united fronts and it continues to reject and attack the Transitional Program.