Why We Speak about a Pre-Revolutionary Situation in the U.S.



A Discussion with American Comrades


By Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 4 June 2020, www.thecommunists.net




The popular uprising in the U.S. after the cold-blood murder of George Floyd by the police is currently the key event of the world situation. Day for day, the masses are demonstrating on the streets, fighting the police, ignoring curfews imposed by the governors,… in short, the workers, youth and oppressed have set the country on fire. A growing number of police and National Guards show sympathy for the protestors and kneel with them. In response, governors in at least 29 states have already mobilized 20,000 members of the National Guard without, however, succeeding in clamping down the protests. A desperate Trump Administration threatens to use the 1807 Insurrection Act and to deploy the U.S. army in order to smash the uprising.


The RCIT has published several statements in the past days analyzing the developing situation and elaborating the appropriate tactics for the mass struggle. [1] In response we have received correspondences from a number of socialists both from within as well as from outside of the U.S. While various comrades agreed with us, others also expressed criticism about our assessment on the current situation as pre-revolutionary. In this article we will not repeat our comprehensive analysis of the popular uprising but rather limit ourselves on discussing several objections of comrades.




What are the criteria of a (pre-)revolutionary situation?




We will start with a brief summary of the Marxist definition of a (pre-)revolutionary situation and why such a characterization applies to the U.S. today. Basically, Lenin and Trotsky named three criteria to characterize a situation as (pre-)revolutionary.


a) “It is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change”;


b) “The lower classes don’t want to live in the old way”;


c) “There is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses”. [2]


We think that all these criteria apply to the current situation in the U.S. The ruling class is deeply divided. In fact such divisions started already at least four years ago when Trump came to power. The decay of world capitalism since the beginning of a new historic period in 2008 and the resulting decline of U.S. imperialism, the absolute and undisputed hegemon within the capitalist camp for nearly seven decades, has provoked a deep crisis within the American monopoly bourgeoisie. While the majority of the ruling class wishes to continue the old way, a minority faction, represented by Trump and the ultra-reactionary camp around figures like Steve Bannon, recognizes the inability of the U.S. to do so. As a result they advocate a retreat from the position as a global leader of the world order and a turn towards protectionism and aggressive militarism abroad and an ultra-reactionary, white-supremacist assault on the working class and the oppressed at home. While this course has certain logic from the point of view of the ruling class, it suffers, among others, from the embarrassment with the orange hair that personally represents accurately the moral decay of U.S. imperialism, a kind of historical tragedy and farce combined in a single person.




The deep crisis of the political order in the U.S.




This deep crisis within the ruling class has resulted in a kind of domestic Cold War between both factions of the U.S. bourgeoisie. This crisis has massively accelerated now, as the U.S. face the worst economic slump since 1929, the highest unemployment since many decades, a rapidly deteriorating Cold War with its most important imperialist rival China, the criminal incompetence of the Trump Administration in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, etc. These inner divisions within the ruling class are even more escalating as the majority wing recognizes that Trump wants to utilize the current situation in order to militarize the country and to win the approaching elections with the help of the army on the streets. We finish this brief summary by pointing out that even a President Biden would face similar problems and it is simply impossible for the U.S. ruling class to return to the pre-2016 situation because American capitalism has dramatically weakened in the recent past (while China has become much stronger).


It is equally obvious that the popular masses are not willing to continue living in the old way. 36 million people are currently unemployed, many families – particularly among the black and Latino communities – face impoverishment in addition to everyday repression by a chronic racist as well as brutal police force. This is why the huge majority of the U.S. working class and oppressed communities support the current protests. This is visible from so many symbols of solidarity from ordinary people on the sidewalks applauding the demonstrators. The fact that even sectors of the repression apparatus show some kind of sympathy or at least understanding underlines a broad popular support beyond doubt.


Even the bourgeois media are forced to acknowledge this. According to a Reuters poll “64% of American adults were ‘sympathetic to people who are out protesting right now,’ while 27% said they were not and 9% were unsure. (…) Even in rural and suburban areas largely unaffected by the demonstrations, most people expressed support. A little more than half of rural residents said they were sympathetic to the protesters, while seven out of 10 suburbanites agreed.[3]


Another poll arrived at similar conclusions. “A Morning Consult poll conducted on May 31 and June 1 – several days after demonstrations began in protest over Floyd’s killing at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer who held a knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes — finds that 54 percent of Americans either strongly support or somewhat support the protests that are going on. Conversely, just 22 percent say they somewhat oppose or strongly oppose the demonstrations. (…) 55 percent in the Morning Consult poll saying police violence is a bigger problem than violence against the police. Just 30 percent hold the opposite opinion.[4]


And Newsweek, a well-known magazine of the capitalist establishment, published a poll which did not only show similar figures of popular support for the protests. It also reports that “a majority of Americans, 54 percent, believe that burning down a Minneapolis police precinct building following the death of George Floyd was justified.” [5]


Finally, it is also evident that there is “a considerable increase in the activity of the masses”. Hundreds of thousands are marching in hundreds of cities – despite police repression, 11 persons have been already killed, and a curfew in 40 cities. When has such a large scale national movement spreading even to small towns ever taken place in the history of the U.S.?!


One of the clearest signs of a pre-revolutionary situation is the cracks within the repression apparatus. There have been numerous examples of police kneeling with protests (a symbol introduced by the great Colin Kaepernick), joining demonstrators or even holding banners in solidarity.


Another highly significant development are reports from Veterans and GI rights organizations that a growing number of National Guard and active-duty GIs are refusing to deploy to U.S. cities rising up against police-perpetrated killings. [6] It is not surprising that under such circumstances a number of Generals, including the Secretary of Defense Esper, are not very enthusiastic in deploying the army in U.S. cities. Cracks within the ranks of the army and the police are a well-known sign of (pre-)revolutionary situations in history. In summary, we think that our characterization of the current situation in the U.S. as (pre-)revolutionary is pretty accurate.




Where is the organized workers movement?




What are the main arguments of comrades who have criticized our characterization? First, comrades object that the organized working class, i.e. organizations of the workers movement like trade unions, has not joined the struggle. Another, related, objection is that the state of political and economic organization of the working class is very low.


Both observations are undoubtedly true. However, we think that this criticism does not invalidate our characterization of the current situation in the U.S. as pre-revolutionary. Why? First, the trade unions organize only a small minority of the workers in the U.S. In total, only 10.3% of the workers belong to a union. In the public sector the share is 33.6% but in the private sector it is only 6.2%. [7]


Furthermore, the trade unions in the U.S. are particularly conservative and connected to the monopoly bourgeoisie – in particular the Democratic Party. Hence, it is not surprising at all that the union don’t join a militant mass movement from the beginning.


History teaches us that this is not an exceptional development but has happened many times. In France in May 1968, the trade unions joined the struggle reluctantly only late in mid-May – after weeks of mass struggles and barricades. Nevertheless, the mass movement which was started by the youth had provoked a revolutionary situation already before the unions joined the struggle. [8]


More recently, we have seen the Arab Revolution in 2011 – and also the second wave in 2019 – where the trade unions mostly didn’t play a significant role. Here too, the youth played a leading role. However, only the pro-Stalinist left denies the revolutionary character of these events. [9]


Let us also add the example of France in 2018/19 where the spontaneous movement of the Yellow Vest started tremendous mass mobilizations resulting in numerous confrontations with the police. The CGT joined these struggles only belatedly and mostly only on a local level. [10]


In summary, the unions are often dominated by corrupt bureaucrats who are linked to the bosses and their parties. This does not deny the fact that these institutions are important and that revolutionaries have to work inside them in order to mobilize the rank and file members against the bureaucratic leadership. But to judge the revolutionary character of mass struggles by the participation of the unions betrays an utter conservative approach which is not useful for revolutionaries.


As a matter of fact it is a typical sign of any spontaneous mass movement that the youth are its most advance, most militant component.


An even more extreme version of such a conservative approach is the argument that the situation in the U.S. could not be characterized as pre-revolutionary because there exists nothing close to a workers party or even a revolutionary party. Again, we agree that building such a party is a crucial task and we have emphasized this again and again. However, history has shown repeatedly that the popular masses do not wait for others to build a party but enter the arena of class struggle when they can’t bear any longer the exploitation and oppression.


This is particularly true in the current situation where large sectors of the opportunist left and the trade union leaderships have joined the reactionary bandwagon of state bonapartism and supported the anti-democratic Lockdown policy of large sectors of the ruling class. As the RCIT has explained in numerous documents this Lockdown policy is utterly reactionary as it forces large sectors of the working class and the oppressed to stay at home and as it bans the fundamental right to public assembly and to demonstrate. Hence, the Lockdown Left and the union bureaucrats did not call the masses to fight on the streets against the mass sacking, against the wage cuts, against the bosses and governments failure to provide people with protective equipment against the Corona Virus etc. [11]


In fact, the current popular uprising in the U.S. – as well as those in Lebanon, Iraq [12] and Hong Kong [13] – they all are taking place against, in violation of the Lockdown and “social distancing” rules which the ruling classes have imposed in the past months! In other words, the advanced sectors of the working class and the youth understand much better and much earlier than the opportunist left and union bureaucrats that they must ignore, that they must break the rules of the reactionary Lockdown regime if they want to fight for their rights. The workers and youth today fight because they do the opposite of what the Lockdown Left all over the world told them to do in the past months: they don’t “Stay at Home” but they “March on the Streets”! Undoubtedly, the masses are much more progressive than the Lockdown Left! [14]


Of course, we are aware – and have said so many times – that the construction of an authentic revolutionary party is crucial in order to transform a revolutionary situation into a successful revolution. However, revolutionary and pre-revolutionary situations can and often have emerged without the existence of a revolutionary party or even a workers party (see e.g. the Arab Revolutions in the past decade).




On Looting




Finally, another objection which has been brought forward against our assessment on the current situation as pre-revolutionary is the fact that a number of lootings have taken place. Hence, there is the argument that “a serious criminal element is taking advantage of the movement in some of the major cities”. Again, we think that this objection is not valid.


A spontaneous mass uprising often involves some elements of looting. We have seen a similar phenomenon in Britain in 2011 during the August Uprising. [15] Of course, looting is not something which revolutionaries advocate. However, one has to judge things concretely. First, we strongly deny that looting is a key characteristic of the current popular uprising (except for those who trust Fox News). No, this is a third-rank, hardly relevant feature of this mass movement. The main characteristics are huge mobilizations, the breaking of the curfew, the fighting against the police and the burning of police cars and headquarters, the fraternization of some elements of the police and the National Guards, the support of large sectors of the population, etc.


Secondly, one has to differentiate. Looting of banks, betting shops or of malls is not the same like looting a small shop. The later harms one part of the community that has to be won over to support the protests. Thirdly, one has to understand that large sectors of the masses suffered terrible in the past months since the economic depression – worsened by the Lockdown so beloved by the opportunist left – produced deep poverty for many millions. It is not surprising if under such circumstances people hope to get something back by looting a shop.


Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar rightly emphasized in a op-ed for the Los Angeles Times that one must not lose a sense of proportion when criticizing some incidents of looting. He wrote that “Those who criticize the looting and fires, saying that those actions are hurting the protesters' cause aren't wrong, but they're not right, either. (…) "The black community is used to the institutional racism inherent in education, the justice system and jobs. (…) So, maybe the black community's main concern right now isn't whether protesters are standing three or six feet apart or whether a few desperate souls steal some T-shirts or even set a police station on fire, but whether their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers will be murdered by cops or wannabe cops just for going on a walk, a jog, a drive. Or whether being black means sheltering at home for the rest of their lives because the racism virus infecting the country is more deadly than COVID-19." [16]


It seems to us that this basketball star has a better understanding of the situation than many so-called leftists! In any case, revolutionaries must not fall into the trap of underestimating the revolutionary potential of a mass uprising because of some incidents of looting.




Agreement on tactics is decisive




We conclude by emphasizing the following. We think that our characterization of the current situation in the U.S. as pre-revolutionary is accurate. However, we don’t believe that for revolutionaries the main issue today should be the exact designation of the current situation. What is more important is the issue what should be the tactics of Marxists today.


The RCIT advocates in the current situation the following tactics as crucial in order to move the struggle to a higher stage.


a) Organizing of popular assemblies and the formation of committees of action in workplaces, neighborhoods, schools and universities. Such committees should decide about the demands and the course of action. They should also elect delegates so that there can be a regional and national coordination.


b) Building of armed self-defense committees in order to defend the communities against the enemy in blue and to drive the police as much as possible out of the communities.


c) Organizing of a general strike.


In addition, we consider it as important to intensify agitation among police, National Guard members and federal troops so that they refuse order to suppress the protests. Finally, it is urgent to organize a massive international solidarity movement, something which has already started spontaneously.


For the RCIT, it is crucial to agree on the key tactics, not so much on the exact designation of the current situation. We think that large agreement of the main tactics is crucial in order to come closer and to elaborate a joint program of struggle for the current stage of the class struggle in the U.S. Revolutionaries in the U.S. as well as abroad should join forces in this historic situation in order to advance the building of a Revolutionary World Party fighting for the overthrow of the capitalist exploiter system. Such a party must be free from all opportunistic trends among the so-called left, like the support for state bonapartism (like the Lockdown policy) and the reactionary support for any imperialist Great Powers (e.g. China, Russia, EU). We appeal to all comrades to join hands in working for such a historic task!


[1] See the following RCIT statements: United States: Is a Bloody Counterrevolution Looming? For a general strike and self-defense committee to defend the popular uprising against a police-military crackdown! 2 June 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/north-america/is-a-bloody-counterrevolution-looming-in-the-us/; A Pre-Revolutionary Situation Has Opened Up in the U.S., 31 May 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/north-america/a-pre-revolutionary-situation-has-opened-up-in-the-u-s/; USA: Justice for George Floyd! Workers and youth of all color: unite in struggle! For self-defense committees against the police! Organize a general strike now! 30 May 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/north-america/usa-justice-for-george-floyd/

[2] V. I. Lenin: The Collapse of the Second International (1915), in: LCW 21, pp. 213-214

[3] Grant Smith, Joseph Ax, Chris Kahn: Exclusive: Most Americans sympathize with protests, disapprove of Trump's response - Reuters/Ipsos, June 3, 2020 / https://www.reuters.com/article/us-minneapolis-police-poll-exclusive/exclusive-most-americans-sympathize-with-protests-disapprove-of-trumps-response-reuters-ipsos-idUSKBN239347

[4] Chris Walker: Majority of Americans Support Uprisings, Disagree With Trump, Poll Finds, Truthout, June 2, 2020 https://truthout.org/articles/majority-of-americans-support-uprisings-disagree-with-trump-poll-finds/

[5] Matthew Impelli: 54 Percent of Americans Think Burning Down Minneapolis Police Precinct Was Justified After George Floyd's Death, 3 June 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/54-americans-think-burning-down-minneapolis-police-precinct-was-justified-after-george-floyds-1508452

[6] Candice Bernd: As Trump Threatens to Send Military Into Cities, Some GIs Refuse to Comply, Truthout, June 3, 2020 https://truthout.org/articles/as-trump-threatens-to-send-military-into-cities-some-gis-refuse-to-comply/

[7] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Union Members Summary, January 22, 2020 https://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm

[8] See on this e.g. “Everything was possible” – France, May 1968, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/france-may-1968/; see also: Ernest Mandel: The Lessons of May 1968, New Left Review I/52, November–December 1968, https://www.marxists.org/archive/mandel/1968/07/lessons-may68.html

[9] The RCIT has published numerous booklets, statements, and articles on the Arab Revolution since 2011 which can be found on this sub-page of our website: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/. On our documents on the Syrian Revolution see the special sub-section of this website: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/collection-of-articles-on-the-syrian-revolution/

[10] Our latest statement on France is: For an Indefinite General Strike in All Sectors! Stop the neoliberal pension “reform” and bring down the Macron government! 12 December 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/france-for-an-indefinite-general-strike-in-all-sectors/

[11] The RCIT has analyzed the COVID-19 crisis extensively since its beginning. Starting from 2 February we have published nearly four dozen documents which are all collected at a special sub-page in our website: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/collection-of-articles-on-the-2019-corona-virus/. In particular we refer readers to the RCIT Manifesto: COVID-19: A Cover for a Major Global Counterrevolutionary Offensive. We are at a turning point in the world situation as the ruling classes provoke a war-like atmosphere in order to legitimize the build-up of chauvinist state-bonapartist regimes, 21 March 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/covid-19-a-cover-for-a-major-global-counterrevolutionary-offensive/; see also our book by Michael Pröbsting: The COVID-19 Global Counterrevolution: What It Is and How to Fight It. A Marxist analysis and strategy for the revolutionary struggle, RCIT Books, April 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/the-covid-19-global-counterrevolution/; see as well the essay by Michael Pröbsting: The Police and Surveillance State in the Post-Lockdown Phase. A global review of the ruling class’s plans of expanding the bonapartist state machinery amidst the COVID-19 crisis, 21 May 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/police-and-surveillance-state-in-post-lockdown-phase/.

[12] See on this e.g. the latest RCIT statement: Lebanon and Iraq: Forward with the Popular Uprising! 12 May 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/forward-with-the-popular-uprising-in-lebanon-and-iraq/

[13] See on this e.g. the latest RCIT statement: China / Hong Kong: Down with the National Security Law! Organize and mobilize against the looming counter-revolutionary onslaught by the Stalinist-Capitalist regime! 23 May 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/asia/china-hong-kong-down-with-the-national-security-law/.

[14] For a more detailed discussion of the failure of the Lockdown Left see e.g. chapter V in Michael Pröbsting: The COVID-19 Global Counterrevolution; see also by the same author COVID-19 and the Lockdown Left: The Example of PODEMOS and Stalinism in Spain, 24 March 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/covid-19-lockdown-left-podemos-and-stalinism-in-spain/; Social-Bonapartism in Argentina. The Partido Obrero (Tendencia) of Jorge Altamira supports the State of Emergency, 29 April 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/latin-america/social-bonapartism-in-argentina/; When Ultra-Leftism marries Social-Bonapartism and Gives Birth to “Post-Marxist” Obscurantism. A reply to the CWG/ILTT, 5 May 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/covid-19-when-ultra-leftism-marries-social-bonapartism/

[15] On the RCIT’s analysis and tactics during the August Uprising in Britain in 2011 see: Nina Gunić and Michael Pröbsting: These are not “riots” – this is an uprising of the poor in the cities of Britain! The strategic task: From the uprising to the revolution!, 10.8.2011, http://www.rkob.net/newenglish-language-site-1/uprising-of-the-poor-inbritain/; Michael Pröbsting: The August uprising of the poor and nationally and racially oppressed in Britain: What would a revolutionary organisation have done?, 18.8.2011, http://www.rkob.net/new-english-language-site-1/august-uprising-what-should-have-been-done/; Bericht der RKOB-Delegation über ihren Aufenthalt in London 2011, http://www.rkob.net/international/berichteuprising-in-gb/; Michael Pröbsting: Britain: “The left” and the August Uprising, 1 September 2011, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/britain-left-and-the-uprising/

[16] Alicia Lee: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar defends protests and says racism is deadlier than Covid-19 in powerful op-ed, CNN, May 31, 2020 https://edition.cnn.com/2020/05/31/us/kareem-abdul-jabbar-la-times-op-ed-trnd/index.html