August 17, 2021
From Marxist Update


“Historical materialism is under ferocious attack today,” said Waters, “even though you may never hear that world outlook — one of the cornerstones of Marxism — mentioned by name.” The attacks are spearheaded not by the traditional centers of reaction, she added, but by privileged middle-class layers that many consider to be the “progressive” wing of liberal bourgeois democracy.

There is a concerted attempt to negate the scientific world outlook that has guided the revolutionary vanguard of the working class for 150 years and in its place to advance creation myths, fables, conspiracy theories, contempt for science and rejection of the cumulative cultural patrimony of humanity. This is what underlies much of what we know today as “culture wars,” Waters said.

“Culture wars are at bottom class wars, and they are deepening today above all because the class struggle is sharpening as the crisis of the world order brought into being by the workings of capitalism in the imperialist epoch advances — now accelerated by the COVID pandemic.”

This is the context within which communists carry out our political work today, Waters stressed, and that won’t change substantially until there are new labor struggles of a size and social weight that can demonstrate a different class road forward.

Citing Frederick Engels’ graveside tribute to Karl Marx in 1883, Waters noted, “Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact … that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc.”

When Waters’ generation joined the SWP, she said, veterans of the communist movement “urged us to read and study, including works such as Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. They led us to become citizens of time and the world, to understand the ‘long view of history.’” Whatever our backgrounds, “we came to recognize and appreciate the diverse cumulative gains of humanity and to understand that communism will be built on the best of that culture.”

The New York Times  1619 Project was one of the examples of the political war on historical materialism addressed by Waters, as well as “cancel culture” and the counterrevolution on women’s rights represented by the campaign to deny the biological reality of two sexes.

The 1619 Project’s principal author, journalist Nicole Hannah-Jones, turns on its head the entire 500-year history of what is today the imperialist United States of America. At the center of her lead article she asserts the “belief, that black people were not merely enslaved but were a slave race, became the root of the endemic racism that we still cannot purge from this nation to this day.”

In other words, Waters noted, “she asserts that our history has been driven by an idea.” It has nothing to do with the fact that “the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art, and even the ideas on religion, of the people concerned have been evolved.” 

Waters noted that the entire piece by Hannah-Jones is a hymn to bourgeois democracy as embodying the highest of human “ideals,” which she claims Black people believe in more than any other segment of U.S. society.

Many of the facts of U.S. history referred to by Hannah-Jones, especially the meaning of the bloody counterrevolutionary crushing of post-Civil War Radical Reconstruction, are things the Socialist Workers Party has educated working people on for decades.

“Our job,” Waters said, “is to raise the discussion to a higher level and explain the unique character of black chattel slavery in the Americas, which didn’t arise out of pre-class society. On the contrary, it was grafted onto U.S. capitalist production for the world market and became a bigger and bigger obstacle to capitalist development, which depends on free wage-labor as the basis of capitalist production.”

Capitalism is the root of “systemic racism” in the U.S., not “white supremacy.”

SWP conference: Leading the working class to take power – The Militant