Skip to content

The 1970 Black Power Upsurge in the Caribbean: A Commemoration

Fifty years ago, in February-April 1970, the spark of Black student militancy in Montreal set off a mass popular upsurge in Trinidad and Tobago. It was the coming of age of the Black Power Movement in the Caribbean.

A few week later, I set out for Trinidad along with Tony Thomas, a U.S.-based socialist and a historian of African-American music, to gather first-hand reports of the movement and its impact. Our reports were reprinted in a Canadian-based socialist newspaper, Labor Challenge, from which the following texts were taken. They also appeared in a long out-of-print pamphlet, Black Power in the Caribbean (Pathfinder, 1971).

To commemorate this historic event, the three reports by Tony Thomas and myself appear here. They are introduced by the retrospective account that I published last year of the 1969 Black student upsurge in Montreal that gave rise to the 1970 Trinidad movement.–JR

Black Power in the Caribbean: Contents

  1. The Rise of Black Power in Canada: The 1969 Student Protest Against Campus Racism,” by John Riddell (first published, January 27, 2019).
  2. The 1970 Mass Upsurge in Trinidad,” by Tony Thomas.
  3. “Canadian Imperialism in the West Indies,” by John Riddell.
  4. “Lessons of the 1970 Upsurge: A Discussion among Caribbean Activists,” by John Riddell

The 1970 Mass Upsurge in Trinidad, by Tony Thomas

Over the past ten years, a new consciousness has arisen throughout the world. We see it in the struggles that rocked the U. S. in May 1970; in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia; in the struggle now going on in Palestine. People around the world are waking up to the need to fight the rotting imperialist system in order to control their lives.

For Black people around the world, this has taken the form of a movement for Black power. Blacks everywhere have demanded control of their communities. They have protested cultural genocide and identified with their African heritage. They have called for unity in the struggle againstwhite imperialist aggression. The rise of the Black power movement in the U. S. has heightened Black consciousness all over the world.

This is especially true in Trinidad and other parts of the West Indies. In addition to contending with exploitation by imperialism, the brothers there also have to face a policy of anti-Black discrimination. There are privileges not only for the minority of whites, but also for Syrians, Orientals, and mulattos at the expense of Blacks and East Indians (mostly of Pakistani and Indian origin).

Skilled and clerical jobs, especially in foreign firms, are reserved for these lighter-skinned groups, while the unskilled jobs and unemployment in the cities are reserved for Blacks, and the back-breaking poverty of the cane fields is reserved for East Indians–all of this in a supposedly Black nation.

The problems of Trinidad are no different from those of other capitalist nations of the Third World. Although Trinidad has achieved formal national independence, this has changed only the form of exploitation by the white imperialists. The “independent” government of Eric Williams is nothing more than a Black mask for the white face of imperialism. Throughout the West Indies American, Canadian, and British interests own the islands and call the shots.

‘Tate & Lyle Get Out’. The British-based company ran major sugar estates in Trinidad..

In Trinidad, the main industries are oil and sugar, controlled by imperialist firms. These companies control 75% to 85% of all imports and exports. The foreign-owned sector of the economy has doubled since Trinidad gained independence from Britain in 1962. Canadian firms control 60% of the banking, leaving the rest to British and American interests. Out of the $500 million U.S. investment, the annual profit is nearly $100 million, a rate of 20%.

The 1970 crisis in Trinidad was aggravated by the fact that the economic situation, once better than that of the other islands, had rapidly deteriorated. In Trinidad a skilled worker makes 75 cents an hour, the average worker makes 50 cents, and the unskilled worker gets 25 cents. These are people who are lucky enough to have jobs. Twenty per cent of the population is unemployed, and another 20% works fewer than 30 hours a week.

Unemployment and underemployment rates for Black youth between the ages of 17 and 25 are double those of the general population. For these youth, the relationship between the neo- colonial regime and the devastation of the economy is clear. They have seen the so-called independent, so-called Black government operate as a tool of imperialism, leading them to dub its spokesmen “Afro-Saxons” for their aping of the British. In this context, the demand for Black power leads directly to a confrontation with the imperialists and their front-men in Trinidad.

The executive committee of the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU) stated at the height of the struggle on April 18: “In few other societies have race and class been so conspicuously identical….  The call for Black power is the call for proletarian power. The real substance of Black power ‘is … people’s control of the commanding heights of the economy…. It is the invading socialist society that is on the march under the ideological slogan of Black power.”

Tony Thomas

The Black power movement in Trinidad has taken shape over the past two years. Its first major action was in solidarity with brother Walter Rodney, banned from the staff of the University of the West Indies in Jamaica in October 1968 for his militant views. Then came the defense of West Indian brothers in Montreal who participated in the February 1969 struggle at Sir George Williams University. Of all the students who took part, only the West Indian students, most of them from Trinidad, were· subjected to court charges. In response, students prevented Canadian Governor General Michener from speaking on the campus of the University of the West Indies in Trinidad. They linked Canadian racist and imperialist policies in Trinidad with the victimization of the Sir George Williams students.

It was out of these struggles that the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC), a loose coalition of groups, individuals, and trade unions, was formed to coordinate the Black power movement. The events of February 1970 were to fuse its original core of student radicals with the urban unemployed, sections of the workers’ movement, and the East Indian population.

On February 26, 1970, several hundred students led by NJAC held a march in downtown Port of Spain, in solidarity with the Sir George Williams students then coming to trial. The rally following the march was attacked by the police. This prompted the brothers to occupy the offices of the Royal Bank of Canada and the Roman Catholic cathedral, two symbols of white power in Port of Spain. The leaders of the action were arrested. That evening, 8,000 to 10,000 people rallied in Woodford Square; and from then on the movement remained massive.

On Wednesday, March 4, the NJAC held a march in solidarity with the arrested students due to appear for trial the following day. As they proceeded through Port of Spain, the group of 200 students grew until an immense crowd of 10,000 Blacks, nearly one-tenth the population of the city, was assembled. After police attacks, several store windows were broken, and later several bombings occurred. When an East Indian store, Kirpilani’s, was burned down, right-wing East Indian and Black spokesmen attempted to link this to the mass movement. They claimed that the Black power movement was anti-East Indian.

The attempt to paint the Black power movement as anti-East Indian backfired, for the movement began to take steps to win over the East Indians. People of East Indian origin make up nearly 40% of the population of Trinidad. Over 45% is Black; Orientals, whites, Syrians, and mulattos make up the remainder.

The strategy of Trinidad’s rulers has been to divide and conquer. Both major parties live off this division: the People’s National Movement, a Black party with a few showcase East Indians, attempts to build a base by doing favors for Blacks as opposed to East Indians. The Democratic Labor Party, similarly, attempts to be an East Indian party with a few showcase Blacks. Both hold to the same capitalist program, and both opposed the Black power movement and any unity it achieved with the East Indians. Thus, one of the great strengths of the mass upsurge in Trinidad was the spirit of unity that began to develop between the Black and East Indian peoples.

On March 5, NJAC organized a march to San Juan, a Port of Spain suburb in which Kirpilani’s store was located, calling for solidarity with the East Indians. A march of 700 left Woodford Square, and 20,000 to 30,000 arrived in San Juan.

A mass Woodford Square rally on March 9 called for a mobilization on the following day to help the East Indian workers cut cane in the Caroni sugar estates. The minister of industry denounced the plan as a “plot of Cuban-paid Communist agitators.” Bhadese Maraj, a prominent right-wing Indian religious and political figure, attacked the march as an infringement of the cane workers’ right to “work in peace.” The owners of the sugar estates called off all work at 6 a.m. on the day of the march. At least 2,500 marchers covered the twenty-eight-mile route in ten hours; they were enthusiastically greeted by the East Indians, who gave them water and food.

On April 6, NJAC activist Basil Davis was murdered by a policeman. The NJAC demanded an immediate government investigation of the shooting. It held its own “people’s court,” which convicted a police corporal of the slaying. A mass public funeral was called for April 9, in which 35,000 people participated – one­fifth of the population of the Port of Spain region.

A strike wave broke out during the first few weeks of April that involved workers in communications, construction, customs, trans­ port, electricity, water and sewage, paper mills, the post office, and sugar. It was led by the OWTU and the Transport Workers Union, whose leaders, George Weekes and Clive Nunez, were also the leaders of the Black power movement. On Sunday, April 19, the sugar workers joined the strike, raising the specter of Indian­African unity. The next day, a thousand East Indian sugar workers marched with Geddes Granger, a leader of NJAC. The labor upsurge posed the question of social revolution more directly than the Black power movement alone.

A mass march uniting the labor movement, the Black power movement, and the East Indian sugar workers was planned for April 21. Williams himself subsequently admitted that it was this show of unity that forced him to lower the curtain on democratic rights in Trinidad. On April 20, a state of emergency was declared and a dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed. After curfew, anyone out was likely to be beaten, shot, robbed, raped, imprisoned, or all of these, by the police. The leaders of the radical movement and the trade unions were rounded up in predawn raids. This was followed by hundreds of arrests and beatings. All newspapers were censored and radical newspapers were banned.

On the morning of April 21, the day of the scheduled mass march, the majority of the officers and rank-and-file soldiers at the Teteron Bay army base refused to carry out the orders of the government. The army revolt had none of the feature of a military coup or conspiracy. The soldiers’ refusal to obey the emergency mobilization orders can only be seen as a “strike” against Williams’s unconstitutional measures and an attempt to preserve Trinidad’s democratic institutions. In addition, it was certainly focused in part on internal grievances (such as the restriction of soldiers from beaches for “white tourists only”) laid bare by Black power agitation in the army.

The fact that the professional army went on strike at this point in the struggle shows how broad-based the opposition to the government was. The army held the only the large-scale arsenal. The police, many of whom were still loyal to the old order, had only small arms and clubs. For two or three days, there was no effective power backing up the regime.

The objective conditions for a genuine social revolution, for the sweeping away of the capitalist regime, were now fully present. Not only were the vast majority mobilized against the government and the system, but Williams’s own repressive apparatus had failed him.

Yet he was quickly able to restore his control.

The rebel soldiers controlled the islands’ only major arsenal and army base. But a coast guard bombardment interfered with whatever plans they may have had of marching on Port of Spain until after Williams had succeeded in securing a large arms shipment from the U. S. and Venezuela. The movement, without a well-organized rank-and-file base and with its leadership under arrest, did not respond to the confrontation either through mass strikes or demonstrations. After a short popular outburst in Port of Spain, the police regained control. American and Venezuelan warships raced to Trinidad. The army rebels began negotiations and accepted a new commander from the government.

Government repression then deepened. With the emergency laws in full force, the books and documents of the OWTU were seized, and the government charged fifty-five soldiers with treason and nine of the Black power leaders with sedition. The mass upsurge was beaten back.

The chief problem of the Black power movement was the absence of a strong leadership organization based around a unified program and series of demands. The small size of the pre-February movement – itself only beginning to develop an ideology and strategy but faced with an almost instantaneously developing mass movement – made the consolidation of an organized movement difficult. The lack of an organized Black power movement with a secondary leadership able to carry on after the top leaders were arrested was also an important factor.

You can be sure that the brothers in Trinidad and elsewhere are absorbing these lessons of the struggle.

Source: Labor Challenge 1970. Another version of this text can be found at TheMilitant.Com.

‘Holocaust to Resistance’ Tour Draws Wide Interest

Suzanne Weiss at McGill, February 17, 2020

‘Resistance to Hitler Has Lessons for Today’

By John Riddell: The dangers posed by the Covid-19 virus forced suspenion on March 19 of Suzanne Weiss’s tour introducing her memoir, Holocaust to Resistance: My Journey. But the tour’s results so far indicate encouraging interest in her story and its message of global solidarity.

Suzanne’s seventeen meetings in Toronto, Montreal, Kingston, Hamilton, Winnipeg, and Pittsburgh were attended by 1,000 participants. Many more saw or heard her four interviews in print and online. (See Interview by Radio Western.)

All Suzanne’s city and university presentations highlighted Palestinian human rights, a topic that today often triggers false accusations of anti-Semitism. (For a recent overview of this controversy, see IJV Statement.) Yet Suzanne’s meetings aroused no such criticisms. When her views were questioned, the exchange was respectful and constructive.

The meetings thus confirmed just how far removed the thinking of people in Canada is from that of its federal parliament, which has endorsed a “redefinition” of anti-Semitism aimed at stifling advocacy of human rights. Read more…

Toronto Pro-Israel Extremists Force Cancellation of a Pro-Israel Meeting

Undemocratic IHRA Redefinition Has Unexpected Result

By John Riddell: York University’s Centre for Jewish Studies has cancelled a proposed pro-Israel meeting “after the organizers learned of plans to disrupt the event,” reports the January 9, 2020, edition of Canadian Jewish News (CJN).

The disruption threat came from an extremist pro-Israel group, Jewish Defense League, with a long record of violence and disruption. (See note below)

The stated purpose of the gathering was to discuss “the current climate faced by Jewish students on campus” – a formula routinely used to introduce condemnation of students advocating human rights for Palestinians. Yet the meeting was challenged not by friends of Palestine, who scrupulously respect the rights of pro-Israel students and activists, but by a Zionist group notorious for expressing its hostility to Palestinian rights through extremism and violence. Read more…

Socialist Convergence and the Green New Deal

Notes on the Actuality of Revolution

Paul Le Blanc

By Paul Le Blanc: It is possible and necessary to build a powerful mass socialist movement in the United States by 2030 that could be in a position to provide an effective challenge to capitalism and transition to a socialist democracy. Both the objective possibility and the objective need exist. Revolutionary socialists have an opportunity to make it so – if we are willing to be serious, not just analytically and rhetorically, but in practice.

We must move beyond commentary and aspirations to actualities. We have limited time. At present we are woefully unprepared – we must change that. The growth of socialist consciousness in the political mainstream of our country, and the conception of the Green New Deal as a response to the socio-economic and environmental crises of our time, provide the basis for changing what must be changed.

1. Converging Necessities and Possibilities

The economic, social and political situation in the United States is incredibly fluid. A mass radicalization within our complex and multifaceted working class – generated by deepening crises – has created the possibility of a strong socialist movement within the next five years. A revolutionary Marxist pole can become an effective influence within that movement. It is a necessary precondition for the development of a revolutionary socialist party that would be capable of posing an effective challenge to capitalism by mid-century.

We need to develop an overall perspective measured in years and decades, with such future possibilities dictating what we do in the coming months. We should not try to do in months what will take years, but we should be putting into place now the practice and the structures that will enable us to bring things to the next level as the time comes.


‘Out of this overall dynamic, some variant of socialist consciousness has become a factor in the thinking and discussions of millions of people, and tens of thousands of people are drawn to socialist organizations.’


A proliferation of social movements has been generated by today’s crises and radicalization, and the movements have naturally added to that radicalization. This process has, in turn, generated the Bernie Sanders campaigns and other electoral campaigns (in most cases utilizing the Democratic Party ballot-line) that explicitly make use of some variant of class analysis and critique of capitalism, also making use of the idea of socialism as a solution. Despite considerable vagueness and fuzziness, this has not only reflected but also, in turn, contributed to a continuing radicalization process.

Out of this overall dynamic, some variant of socialist consciousness has become a factor in the thinking and discussions of millions of people, and tens of thousands of people are drawn to socialist organizations – particularly, over the past few years, to Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Some have been inclined to put all their eggs in this particular basket, but the radicalization process that is underway is far bigger than this particular basket.

It is essential that revolutionary socialists dare to engage with the thousands and millions of radicalizing workers who are part of this process. Many have been inspired by Sanders or other figures, seeing them as the personification of their own embryonic socialist hopes – but that must not be our standpoint. Our inspiration and focus must be not with the individuals, but with the thousands and millions, with their aspirations and their learning process and their developing consciousness and will to struggle. That will be the basis for a mass socialist force capable of truly challenging capitalism. We cannot afford to be in orbit, for example, around Sanders – but we cannot afford not to be in orbit around the evolving mass base that responds to the socialist message.

As the socialist candidates and elected socialists actually come into conflict with the Democratic Party leadership (which is organically connected with the capitalist ruling class, which will never relinquish its hold of that party), the mass socialist base will become further radicalized. Whether or not the current socialist leaders themselves become radicalized (or instead betray the aspirations and promises that they eloquently articulate), the mass base will be prepared to stay true to the passionate ideals and radical consciousness – assuming that the way has been prepared for them to continue on this pathway. The time frame for this process is not 2019 to 2020, but more likely will stretch to 2023. But we cannot wait passively – what we do now can help to prepare the way for subsequent steps.

The subsequent steps seem to me to be as follows: crystallization of mass socialist movement, creation of an independent mass workers’ party, the sharpening struggles for reforms, the sharpening collisions with the capitalist power structure, culminating in truly winning the battle of democracy – and the transition to socialism.

Three bundles of practical tasks flow from such an orientation.

  1. Maintaining, building, deepening independent social movements and mass action are essential for (a) winning actual victories, (b) advancing the radicalization process, (c) building a genuine socialist movement, (d) keeping “our” elected political representatives honest (transparency and accountability), and (e) preparing the pathway to revolution and socialist democracy. We have seen that socialist electoral work can be invaluable – but historically we can also see that, by itself, electoralism is a trap. At the heart of what we do must be serious and consistent engagement in social struggles.More than this, we must be clear that the only hope for our ultimate victory is the development of such a movement throughout the world, a key reason being that the destructiveness of global capitalism can only be vanquished on a global scale.  This requires the development of global organizational networks of activists to develop the analyses, strategies and tactics that will be essential for our survival and triumph.
  2. Deepening socialist consciousness must be primary and ongoing. One cannot do this by lecturing people about the Marxist classics, although study groups around such classics is part of the process, along with producing more socialist literature, generating more conversations about socialism, and especially connecting such things to actual, ongoing, practical struggles. A working-class focus, as well as opposing all forms of oppression, as well as supporting genuine democracy are all at the heart of such consciousness. So are internationalism and anti-imperialism. There are many dimensions of the process, including in some cases giving critical support to socialist candidates who may not be advancing a consistent socialist message. We support them to the extent that they are, and to the extent they are not, we frankly criticize them (without trashing them) – clearly explaining our criticism in ways their supporters can understand.
  3. Steeping our activities and our activists in a political culture that can sustain us is essential – providing, in what we are and what we do, shining examples of democratic and comradely functioning. We must resist being animated by fear. As we must function as comrades, we must not be afraid to disagree with each other. There is much that we don’t yet know, so we must not be afraid to learn – which means we must not be afraid to take risks. Although we share a fundamental revolutionary socialist standpoint – it is especially necessary now to insist on the need for diversity, testing out various possibilities (for example, around electoral work, involvement in DSA, etc.).Over time, we can draw the lessons and build on them, with a more durable revolutionary unity than can be imposed by “orthodox” dogmas and superimposed “discipline.” This can only amount to something, however, if it is a process that begins to bring together organized networks of activists, crystallizing in cohesive organizations that can play an essential role in sustaining practical action while at the same time fusing this with the spread and deepening of socialist consciousness.

‘There is a need for a serious, practical strategic orientation to guide our work.’


By themselves, these three “bundles” are not adequate. There is the need for a serious, practical strategic orientation to guide our work – a strategic orientation rooted in the reality of our time, related to the actual development of consciousness among masses of people, capable of mobilizing masses of people in an actual struggle for political power and socialist transition.

2. Whales and Revolutionary Strategy

In 2013 I gave a talk in Australia drawing from the history of the Russian revolutionary movement to pose a challenge for revolutionary-minded activists of today. The Bolsheviks, in the years before 1917, put forward three demands over and over again: (1) an eight-hour workday for workers, (2) land redistribution for the peasants, and (3) a constituent assembly to establish a democratic republic. These came to be known as “the three whales of Bolshevism”—based on the popular Russian folktale that the world is balanced on the backs of three whales.

These “three whales” were meant to mobilize masses of people around the strategic orientation Lenin developed with his comrades – that a worker-peasant alliance would bring about the democratic revolution that would overthrow monarchist oppression and clear the way for an effective struggle for socialism. I asked: “What is the strategic orientation that could bring the working class to power in society today, and how can this be expressed in popular and practical struggles in the here and now, in a way that can capture the imaginations of masses of people?”


‘Our equivalent to “the three whales of Bolshevism” can be found in the Green New Deal.’


I was not calling for three worthy demands or struggles to be popularized in some abstract way, but rather a strategic orientation actually capable of mobilizing masses of people to take power. I did not pretend to have a solution. It seemed to me the answer might emerge from the realities of capitalist crisis, and around both the logical implications of, and elemental popular responses to, those realities. It seems to me, six years later, that our equivalent to “the three whales of Bolshevism” can be found in the Green New Deal.

A central reality of our time is the destruction of our environment. Alan Thornett, a seasoned working-class Marxist active in Britain for many decades, has summarized the situation in this way: “Irreversible and catastrophic changes are already underway. One thing is clear: if we human beings continue living, consuming, and disposing of our waste the way we are today, the ecosystems of the planet will be damaged beyond repair within three decades.”

To avoid the worst of such calamity, according to the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global carbon emissions must be cut in half by 2030 and to zero by 2050. Thornett has emphasized what should be common sense to any serious Marxist: “The environment is as much a working-class issue as wages, working conditions, or health and safety. It is not an add-on, an optional extra. The unavoidable reality is that in the end we can’t defend anything, or win anything, or build a socialist society, on a dead planet.”

The impacts of the growing environmental disasters – already generating militant mass actions particularly among the very young – will be bringing suffering and death to millions of people over the next several decades. This will jolt many more masses of people out of the ruts of passivity, apathy, and complacency.

False “solutions” – urging individuals to consume less, recycle more, abstain from littering, and do something about flatulating cows – are utilized to mask the reality that the deeper and most destructive dynamics can actually be found in the relentless and voracious capital accumulation process, and the massively wasteful activity of wealthy and powerful elites. Under the influence of such elites, some politicians engage in lying on a massive scale, denying that climate change is real.

The more liberal politicians, as Naomi Klein has pointed out, say all the right things and do the wrong ones, also in deference to the powerful multi-national corporations on whom they are dependent. Such deception even filters into the ranks of those genuinely concerned about and fighting for the preservation of our environment – who slip into moralistic lectures to the working-class majority (already victimized by intensified exploitation coupled with growing cutbacks and insecurity) about the need to accept austerity and impoverishment in order to save the planet.

This central point must not be missed. The relentless and voracious capital accumulation process, and the massively wasteful activity of wealthy and powerful elites, are essential to the nature of the capitalist system, and they are at the heart of the climate crisis. The brave and brilliant teenager Greta Thunberg confronted the wealthy elites gathered at the World Economic Forum in 2019: “I want to challenge those companies and those decision-makers into real and bold climate action. To set their economic goals aside and to safeguard the future living conditions of humankind.” In her next breath she added: “I don’t believe for one second that you will rise to that challenge.”

Thunberg is giving voice to a demand (paraphrasing Leon Trotsky), stemming from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the world’s youth, and unalterably leading to a fundamental challenge to the existing system of power. As Alan Thornett correctly stresses, this is an issue of central importance to the working-class majority. Indeed, the wide layers of youth just mentioned are vibrant and rising elements within that working class.

This is the force that has the potential for bringing into being a serious and effective response to the global climate crisis. Such a response can materially transform the lives of a majority of the people for the better, as well as advancing the cause of political and economic democracy, with liberty and justice for all. This is the point of what is called “the Green New Deal.”

The Green New Deal – still in the process of being developed and articulated – involves a radical pathway sketched by Naomi Klein in this way: “in the process of transforming the infrastructure of our societies at the speed and scale that scientists have called for, humanity has a once-in-a-century chance to fix an economic model that is failing the majority of people on multiple fronts. Because the factors that are destroying our planet are also destroying people’s quality of life in many other ways, from wage stagnation to gaping inequalities to crumbling service to the breakdown of any semblance of social cohesion. Challenging these underlying forces is an opportunity to solve several interlocking crises at once.”


‘In tackling the climate crisis, we can create hundreds of millions of good jobs around the world, invest in the most systematically excluded communities and nations, guarantee health care and child care, and much more.’ — Naomi Klein


The Green New Deal combines multiple goals: people before profit, homes and good communities for all, health care for all, education for all, transit and communication systems for all, nourishing food for all, access to cultural and recreational nourishment for all, creative outlets for all, genuine liberty and real justice for all. Klein adds: “In tackling the climate crisis, we can create hundreds of millions of good jobs around the world, invest in the most systematically excluded communities and nations, guarantee health care and child care, and much more. The result of these transformations would be economies built both to protect and regenerate the planet’s life support systems and to respect and sustain the people who depend on them.”

As has been suggested throughout what is presented here, revolutionary internationalism is essential for our triumph – preventing the destruction of our environment cannot be accomplished in a single country.

This is more than simply desirable. It is necessary. By 2030, we will need to have built an international movement capable of bringing into being such a global Green New Deal, because by that time its actual implementation will be a necessity.

3. Conclusion

Given the truth in Greta Thunberg’s words before the World Economic Forum, by 2030 we will need to be overturning existing power structures and replacing them with popular and democratic structures. Ours is truly a time in which “the actuality of revolution” must inform all that we think and say and do.

Such an orientation is inseparable from the various organizational structures we craft, the specific strategic and tactical orientations that we develop. As the year 2030 approaches, as we have built the organizations and campaigns and consciousness that are so necessary, socialism may become a powerful force in the political mainstream.

But as Rosa Luxemburg so eloquently explained, we must not misunderstand this political mainstream to consist exclusively, even primarily, of electoral activity. Revolutionary socialism means people becoming actively involved through non-electoral mass actions in fighting to defend their own future. All such struggles to protect people’s dignity and quality of life, Luxemburg explained, are part of “the ultimate liberation from capitalism” and creation of a society of the free and the equal. She saw this generating what she called “a lovely madness” among the working-class majority, the vision that “a huge effort full of sacrifices” can truly result in a better world.

Not everything can be mapped out in advance – but this cannot be an excuse for holding back. As Luxemburg explained: “We can only grow through struggle, and it’s in the middle of struggle where we learn how to fight.”

Sources

Ian Angus. Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016.

Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen, Thea Riofrancos. A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal. London: Verso, 2019.

John Bellamy Foster. “On Fire This Time,” Monthly Review, November 2019.

Naomi Klein. On Fire: The Burning Case for A Green New Deal. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2019.

Paul Le Blanc. Unfinished Leninism: The Rise and Return of a Revolutionary Doctrine. Chicago: Haymarket, 2017.

Paul Le Blanc, Rob Lyons, Matthew Strauss, “Principles and Tactics: Socialists Utilizing the Democratic Party Ballot-Line” (a debate), Links: The International Journal of Socialist Renewal,

Georg Lukács. Lenin, A Study on the Unity of His Thought. London: Verso, 2009.

Rosa Luxemburg. Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg, Volume 5, ed. by Paul Le Blanc and Helen Scott. London: Verso, forthcoming.

______________. Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, ed. by Mary-Alice Waters. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970.

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez et al. “RESOLUTION Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal.”

Bernie Sanders. “The Green New Deal.”

Greta Thunberg. No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference. UK: Penguin Books, 2019.

Alan Thornett. Facing the Apocalypse: Arguments for EcoSocialism. UK: Resistance Books, 2019.

Leon Trotsky. The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1974.

Related Texts on This Website

The ISO’s Collapse: ‘A Political Assessment’ by Lance Selfa and Paul D’Amato

Introductory Note by John Riddell: The unexpected dissolution of the U.S. International Socialist Organization in April 2019 has provoked wide concern and debate among socialists. The ISO had long been the largest and most effective revolutionary socialist group in the U.S. Until the last few months before its demise, it was at its peak in size and effectiveness.

This collapse was all the more surprising given the context: an encouraging revival of labour struggles and interest in socialism after decades of retreat.

On May 26, 2019, former ISO member Paul Le Blanc published a searching study of the ISO dissolution on this website: “What Happened to the International Socialist Organization?”

Lance Selfa and Paul D’Amato, long prominent figures in ISO leadership, have submitted to this website a response to Paul Le Blanc’s article, “What Happened to the ISO: A Political Assessment” (see below). The article first appeared on “International Socialism Project” [ISP], a new website seeking to continue the heritage of the former ISO. Read more…

Evo Morales and Álvaro García Linera Analyze Bolivia Coup

Evo Morales

On November 10, 2019, Bolivia’s military threw its support behind an uprising of rightist pro-Imperialist forces, forcing the resignation of the elected government led by President Evo Morales and driving him into exile in Mexico. Rightist gangs unleashed a wave of murderous violence across Bolivia against all suspected of sympathy with Morales.

Canada’s government was shamefully quick in endorsing the coup. (See Yves Engler, “Canada Backs Coup Against Bolivia’s President.)

Posted below are comments by Bolivian President Evo Morales and Vice-President Álvaro García Linera from their Mexican exile.–JR

Evo Morales: ‘We will return to join the people now resisting the coup’

The following excerpts have been transcribed from an Al Jazeera video interview with Evo Morales in his Mexican exile. To locate the statements quoted below, start at 7:00 minutes. During this interview, Evo said in part: Read more…

The Red Scare and the Death of Stalin (1950-56)

A brief excerpt from ‘Holocaust to Resistance’, by Suzanne Berliner Weiss

Introduction by John Riddell: The experience of my partner Suzanne Weiss with the U.S. Communist Party in the early 1950s forms an interesting complement to my own account, in “My Search for Socialism,” of my experiences with the CP a couple of years later. We were both teenagers. Suzanne assessed the pro-Moscow Communist movement from within; I did the same from without.

The text that follows is a short excerpt from Suzanne’s memoir, Holocaust to Resistance: My Journey, available for $22 from Fernwood Publishers. For more excerpts and other information, see suzanneberlinerweiss.com.

The Toronto book launch of Holocaust to Resistance takes place on Friday, October 18, 7:00 p.m., at 60 Lowther Avenue, Toronto (St. George subway).

Suzanne is receiving many requests for speaking engagements, and I am assisting her in organizing these events. For this reason, my activity on this blog will be much reduced through the end of the year.


Read more…

Suzanne Weiss memoir available October 1

‘Holocaust to Resistance’ tells of solidarity ‘then and now’

By John Riddell: Long a familiar figure in Toronto left rallies and action coalitions, Suzanne Weiss has now published a life story arching from her first years in France occupied by Hitler’s troops to present-day tasks of liberation and eco-revolution.

Suzanne’s publisher, Fernwood, has organized a book launch on October 18, 7 p.m. at Toronto’s Friends House, 60 Lowther Avenue. She is also responding to many invitations to speak in Canada and beyond. To discuss an event, contact suzanneweiss63 [at] gmail [dot] com.


Suzanne Berliner Weiss, Holocaust to Resistance: My Journey, Fernwood Publishing, 2019, 311 pp.


A new website at suzanneberlinerweiss.com presents Suzanne’s eloquent introductory video along with a wealth of resources on the book: historic photos, readers’ comments, the table of contents, a list of coming events, and more. Read more…

My Encounter with the Trotskyist Movement

Part Two of a Reminiscence, ‘1958: My Search for Socialists’

By John Riddell: Hearing of my misadventure with the LPP (Communist Party) bookstore, Richard Fidler tipped me off to the existence of an alternative Marxist outlet, the Toronto Labor Bookstore, at 81 Queen St. W., opposite what is now Toronto’s City Hall Square. As I entered, I recognized the person at the desk – Ross Dowson, whose photo had appeared in the daily press. He had run several times as a Trotskyist mayoralty candidate and had recently picked up a few percentage points of the vote in each of two federal by-elections.


See also Part 1 — 1958: My Search for Socialism


Ross Dowson-2

Ross Dowson (1917-2002)

Neatly dressed and slightly balding although still in his early forties, Dowson greeted me with enthusiasm, as if he’d been waiting years for this encounter. We started chatting. Soon the conversation turned to the 1939 Stalin-Hitler pact that ushered in World War 2. I gave the standard defense: the Soviet Union was forced to accept the treaty in order to win time and gain a geographical buffer to fend off a likely German attack.

Dowson countered by informing me that, after the pact, the official Communist movement abruptly cancelled their campaign in Canada and globally to unite progressive forces against fascism. Then he voiced an idea that was totally new to me and that I immediately found convincing. What the Soviet Union may have gained militarily through the pact, Dowson said, counted for little compared to the impact of alienation and disorientation caused among its millions of supporters worldwide. Read more…

1958: My Search for Socialism

A Memoir (Part One)

By John Riddell: I hear many negative comments from socialist friends these days about “Stalinism” or “Trotskyism.” The terms are not easy to evaluate. They relate to history, to the Russian revolution and its contradictory legacy, to events now almost a century in the past.

John 1958-2

John Riddell, 1958

Well, I come from those long-ago times. My engagement with socialism 60 years ago hinged on evaluating the rival claims of Stalinist and Trotskyist movements. So let me recount how the world looked to me back in 1958, the year that I became a socialist activist. I invite readers to form their own opinion on the present-date relevance or non-relevance of this long-ago debate.

My story begins in Toronto, two months after my sixteenth birthday. Read more…

India’s Kashmir Crackdown Poses Risk of War

By John Riddell: On August 5, India’s Hindu nationalist government unilaterally revoked the autonomy of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, while flooding the region with troops, imposing a curfew, and shutting down all communications.

The state is to be broken in two, with the eastern portion (Ladakh) under direct rule by New Delhi.

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi shut down Internet connections, mobile phone services, and land-line phones in the besieged region. The fragmentary news that has trickled out speaks of arrests of leading politicians and widespread fear among the region’s 12 million inhabitants. Read more…

Lenin’s Verdict on Kautsky in State and Revolution

It’s Time for a Closer Look

Karl Kautsky (1854-1938)

By Lars T. Lih, Summer 2019: After 1914, Lenin and Karl Kautsky became bitter political enemies. No person was denounced by Lenin with so much obsessive fervor as was Kautsky—a reflection of the central role Kautsky had formerly played in the outlook of the Russian Bolsheviks. Nevertheless, despite his monumental anger at the person, Lenin never renounced his admiration for the views set forth by Kautsky in his earlier writings. On the contrary, he explicitly and enthusiastically continued to endorse “Kautsky when he was a Marxist.” Without appreciating this crucial fact, we will never succeed in understanding Lenin’s views in their historical context.[1]

One of the most instructive illustrations of Lenin’s conflicted attitude toward his former mentor is the section in State and Revolution devoted to Kautsky-when-he-was-a-Marxist. For Lenin, the cut-off point for Kautsky’s Marxist period was 1909, as we shall see below. He therefore divides his discussion in State and Revolution into two sections, one for material up to and including 1909, and another devoted to an article published by Kautsky published in 1912. Here we are interested only in the first section that is devoted to Kautsky’s earlier writings.


See also Lars Lih’s “Lenin-Kautsky Post-1914 Database”


Read more…

Lenin-Kautsky Post-1914 Database

What follows is the first online publication of a research tool created by Lars Lih in February 2008 and updated February 2011. — JR

By Lars T. Lih: The Kautsky-as-Marxist database is a collection that I have compiled of all comments by Lenin in his final decade, 1914-1924, that bear on the issue on his attitude during those years toward Kautsky’s prewar writings—or rather, his writings up to and including 1909.  The original aim of the database was to provide empirical material on a dispute about Lenin’s attitude toward Kautsky after 1914.

Both sides acknowledge that Lenin admired Kautsky strongly before 1914 and that he reacted in strongly negative terms to everything that Kautsky wrote starting in 1914.  The question is: did Lenin’s post-1914 negative attitude spill over into a reevaluation of writings by Kautsky earlier endorsed by Lenin? Read more…

James P. Cannon on Defensive Formulations and the Organization of Action

Introductory Note by John Riddell:

My article, “On Democracy and Socialist Revolution” contested the view that revolutionary Marxists (“Leninists”) favour a strategy for insurrection against parliamentary institutions, quoting from court testimony given in 1942  by James P. Cannon, a founding leader of the U.S. Communist Party and later of the Socialist Workers Party.

Cannon’s testimony, available on Marxists Internet Archive, stands as an authoritative exposition of how Revolutionary Marxists explain the road to workers’ power.

Some revolutionary socialists objected to Cannon’s presentation of socialist revolution as a democratic process employing, to the extent possible, peaceful means. One critic, Grandizo Munis, argued that Cannon should have displayed “proud valor” in boldly declaring his party’s insurrectional intentions.

In reply, Cannon explained that his courtroom conduct was an application of a principle generally understood among working people, that it is best to frame demands for social change as an exercise of democratic and human rights, while laying the blame for illegality and violence where it belongs – on the capitalist ruling class. Read more…

On the Democratic Character of Socialist Revolution

John1972

John Riddell in the 1970s

By John Riddell: Under the headline “Why Kautsky was right,” Eric Blanc wrote on the blog on April 5:

“Leninists for decades have hinged their strategy on the need for an insurrection to overthrow the entire parliamentary state and to place all power into the hands of workers’ councils.“[1]

When I read these words, my mind went back to a day 40 years earlier when this formulation was hurled at me by members of Canada’s security police.  They used it as justification for their illegal disruption and harassment directed against me and fellow members of the Revolutionary Workers League (RWL). Read more…