‘Here in the very belly of imperialism, you have comrades'
Alfonso Casal, National Spokesperson for the American Party of Labor, spoke to Evrensel about the APL and the U.S. policies.
We are in the years when the imperialists' rivalry to grab the share of the international scene has accelerated, and the struggle of the working class and peoples has occasionally risen or marked their signs. In such a time, the large and small scale communist groups also intensify their discussion of the road to the working class power to certain levels. In the United States, the American Party of Labor (APL), a small but stable party founded in 2008, is one of the most interesting fruits of this process.
APL's National Spokesperson Alfonso Casal talked about the APL and the U.S. politics:
As we know, Mr.Casal, you are the national spokesperson of the American Party of Labor? What is APL? How did it emerge?
APL actually has a very long history. It really goes to the deep origins of APL, which begins with William Z. Foster, the great Williams Z. Foster who was Chairman of Communist Party USA in the neck in the 1930s, 40s and early 50s. He led the anti-revisionists against Browderism. He supported Mao in China at the time when it was necessary to support Mao in China. And at the very end of his life, he was beginning, he died in 1961, to sharply criticise Khrushchevite revisionism.
And as a matter of fact, and I don't know whether this story is true, but it's one of those stories that if it isn't true, it should be true. In his very last days, he went for medical treatment in the Soviet Union. And at his hospital, he was visited by Khrushchev and some Soviet dignitaries. And supposedly one of the last things that Foster did on his deathbed was to curse out Khrushchev. Curse Khrushchev for his revisionism. Enver Hoxha believes that Foster may have been murdered. But in any case, the story of the APL really begins with Foster. Because Foster's secretary was a great comrade by the name of Jack Shulman. And Jack Shulman was one of the first true anti-revisionist in the American Communist movement after Foster's death.
He broke with CPUSA. He travelled to China, travelled to Albania. At the time of the Chinese Albanian rift, he sided with Albania, supported Albania. He published a newsletter called “Albania Report”. And he was the source for Albanian literature, magazines from socialist Albania, newspapers from socialist Albania. And I have the honour to say that he was my mentor. As a young man, being interested in socialism, in Marxism Leninism, I learned about the position of socialist Albania was taking. And I wrote, and I found out about Jack and the fact that he was distributing literature of socialist Albania. And I wrote to him. And we had a very long correspondence over many years. He invited me to visit him in his home. He basically became my mentor, my guide, my director, my inspiration.
At the same time, there was in Britain a similar comrade by the name of Bill Bland who also one of the first anti-revisionist. He was as the honour of someone called him “Hoxhaist, before Hoxha”. That he supported the socialist Albania and criticised Maoism before even the Albanians. Well at the same time, Bill Bland was working in Britain. Jack and Bill came together in the. 1990s. And an organisation was formed called “Alliance Marxist-Leninist” which was mainly stationed in Canada, was mainly active in Canada. But it is through that I later came in contact with another comrade named Hari Kumar. If I was charitable, modestly Jack Shulman's protégé, Kumar was Bill Bland’s protégé. And so we, he and I, started working together. We started up producing a Marxist-Leninist magazine called “Alliance” which lasted into the early 2000s.
And it was essentially people from “Alliance”, other interested parties, people who had broken from CPUSA, or from RCP, from a number of other revisionist groups, that then came together to form APL. And the name APL first appeared in 2008. I would say that we are a very young party, a new party. Our party really hasn't didn't take its final form until about four years ago. But, yes, that's the deep origins of the American Party of Labor. Really starting with Comrade Foster, and then through the efforts of comrades Shulman, and Bland, and the people who are here today.
What are the goals of the APL?
Socialist Revolution. Of course. Our goals are real to give a Marxist Leninist voice to the mass movement or the mass movements that develop in this country. Certainly, there's a small but active anti-war movement in this country. There's a trade union movement in this country. There are movements for immigrant rights, against sexism, sexual discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination. And we have seen our role is to be present in these movements. Not simply because it's the right thing to do, the correct thing for a Marxist Leninists to do is to be active in the mass movement. But that by participation in the mass movement to be able to perhaps impart through our participation a Marxist-Leninist understanding, and a Marxist-Leninist direction to whatever extent we can within the mass movement. So I suppose a fair way to answer your question in one sentence. Our goal would be to give a Marxist Leninist voice to present day struggles in the United States, and that would be the beginning.
It is going to be a funny question: Is socialism possible in the U.S.? Because lots of intellectual circles say that the U.S. politics are so much built on an individual basis?
There is a truth that American culture is extremely individualistic. And certainly, capitalism fosters individualism, fosters idealism, obscurantism and mysticism, and metaphysics. I am not in the habit of quoting former CPUSA chairman Gus Hall. He was an ultra-revisionist. I don't often quote Gus Hall. But he did say something that was very telling once I thought was very truthful.
Hall was being interviewed on a radio one time. And the radio interviewer asked him “Why there is no socialism in the United States?”And Hall responded: “Well, let me rephrase that question. Why didn't you ask me why is there no socialism in the country with the most advanced, pervasive and dominant capitalist media in the universe?”.
There's a truth in that. So, there is something of an uphill battle. But the laws of capitalism and capital development don't end in the United States. In many ways, American society is particularly sharp and rife with contradictions.
If you were to ask me how would I visualise the development of world communism, what country would become socialist, I would not put the United States at the back of the list. In many ways, American capitalism has feet of clay. This country, although it's often hidden, this country does have a revolutionary history. This country does have a history of workers' struggles. This country does have a history of resistance. A part of our job is to tap into that history, to revive that history, to popularise that history, and certainly, we see ourselves a part of that history and part of that tradition.
So, yes, there are certain particularities to American culture and American society. But then again all societies have their particularities in their individual condition, in their concrete conditions. But I don't think that in any way means that there's something special about the United States, and socialism in this country will never happen, or socialism in this country will be exceptionally difficult, or not be achieved. As I said in many ways, the objective conditions for building the mass socialist movement, dare I say even the object of conditions for revolution existed in this country.
What are you doing today as the APL? What are your focuses?
Well, we've been active throughout the country, and in a number of locations throughout the country. We have integrated ourselves into a number of struggles we've worked with. The immigrant rights movement. We have worked with anti-war organisations. We work with anti-Trump organisations and movements. Actually, sometimes it's difficult to remember so many of the things that we've been involved in. We have a project that we call “Red Aid” which is bringing direct assistance to the masses, to the poor, to the people who need it the most, bringing food clothing, blankets for winter nights, really reaching out to to the people in a very concrete and positive way. We've been active in many many fronts and many many struggles.
Where is this going. I think, again, it's going towards building a Marxist-Leninist presence. You asked earlier about what liberals say about communists and what the liberals say about socialists. One thing that we have taken directly, and that goes back to what I said about “Red Aid” in reaching out to the masses and going out literally into the streets, to the poorest neighborhoods and reaching out to the people, giving them food and giving them warm clothing, a coat, even a warm cup of coffee on a cold night. They know that's the communists who are doing this. It's the communists who are reaching out to them. It’s the communists who are bringing them a coat on a freezing night. It's the communists who bring them a meal when they're starving. That's the way to combat liberal propaganda. To show the masses of the people, the communists are your defenders. The communists are your friends, and the communists are you.
I would like to talk about practical politics in order to hear about your analysis. What do you think the political and historical process we are experiencing right now? What is the analysis of the world and the U.S. politics of the APL?
Well, certainly, in the United States where we are seeing the development of a fascist movement and a fascist government. We wouldn't go so far as to say that it is fully developed fascism. Or we would characterise it more as a neo-fascism or a proto-fascism. All the characteristics of fascism are not there yet. For example, we haven't seen yet the development of a fascist militia, brown shirts, black shirts which are a very common thing with Falange. We haven't seen that yet. So the Trump regime doesn't have all the characteristics of a fully developed fascism. But it's putting them in place. And certainly, it represents an extreme right authoritarian imperialist term, even more, imperialist in American politics. That is the present situation internally within the United States. Severe move towards the right wing authoritarianism and neo-fascism. That we believe needs to be combated through mass mobilisation, that needs to be combated by the connecting and the bridging of all the different struggles that there are going on in the streets of the United States. We need to build a strong anti-fascist democratic people's movement by bringing together all the different elements of the that are presently in the struggle.
Internationally, I want to say it's the same old story overseeing the U.S. imperialism doing what it always does. Certainly, there are danger points, threats against Democratic Korea very recently. The United States intervention in the Syrian conflict and the possibility of a direct confrontation between American imperialism and Russian imperialism in Syria.
The international situation is dangerous. The international situation is tense. Our response to it here, what we can do here within the United States, is again participating the mass movement, build an anti-war movement, take it to the streets and build the pressure and keep the pressure on.
Do you think that president Trump is a joke? Is he an exception from the international situation? What could APL say about how Trump became a president?
It's an interesting question. I think that Trump is not an exception. I think if we look around the world, we see a move towards right authoritarianism and neo-fascism in various locations in the world. Yes, we appoint Trump here in this country, but there's also a Marine Le Pen in France.
Some political parties on the left disagree, but the Putin regime in Russia. There is a definite tendency towards neo-fascism on the world scale. So to that extent. No trump is not an exception, not at all. He seems to be all too representative of where contemporary capitalism is, where modern day capitalism is. Beyond that, well, one remembers that in the 1920s and early 30s, no one took Hitler seriously. If you look at what was said about Hitler, he was a joke, he was a buffoon, he was this fool in a Charlie Chaplin moustache with his bizarre uniform prancing and ending and raving. And everyone laughed at him. And then, they stopped laughing. Then they stopped laughing. That is what we see in this country. Is Trump a bafoon? Yes. Is he a bad joke? Yes. But we take him very seriously. And we take what he has threatened to do in terms of the U.S. imperialism abroad.
Even liberal democracies in the West are in retreat. When Obama was elected, everyone was thinking that everything was solved. However, right now, there is a move towards a right-wing authoritarianism.
That's very true. Capitalism will change its shirt depending on what it feels will serve it best. And if capitalism feels that it needs to have a strong authoritarian hand, it will turn to fascism. But if it feels, when it feels that fascism has done its job, it will take off its black shirt and put on a white shirt and tie and return to liberal democracy we've seen this in Europe. Look at Italy, Spain, Germany. We easily saw with a change of government leaders the same ruling class under fascism as under liberal democracy. So yes the liberal democracy did make gains. And one would not deny that. One should never fall into the sectarian trap of saying: “Oh, all capitals are the same, fascist, liberal are all the same. No, not at all. There is a definite difference and this is been pointed out. Comrade Stalin pointed this out in under liberal democracy in Britain in the United States. Yes, there was capitalism. Yes, it was oppressive. Yes, it was imperialist. But it had a parliament. t had unions. It had workers parties. And that can't be denied. So, the achievements of liberal democracy are there, of course. But it's also a question as to what extent the ruling class feels that it can no longer rule in the old way. And when the ruling class feels that liberal democracy is not serving them, they will give up liberal democracy for fascism. Just as if they feel that fascism is going to endanger them, bring ruin down on all of them, then they will abandon fascism. But the capitalist essence remains the same.
What do you think about the relationship between the U.S. and other super powers, like China and Russia?
Well, there's always, of course, inter-imperialist rivalry, but that's a given. That will always exist as long as capitalism exists, as long as imperialism exists. There will be an inter-imperialist rivalry. And we see it. Certainly, the United States and Russia are confronting each other, beginning to confront each other in the Middle East. China has kept a lower profile in terms of great power rivalry with the United States. But China, Chinese imperialism is active in Africa, for example, and trying to influence African economies and investing in Africa.
I think that we're living in a time of change, we're living in a moment where the outcome isn't quite clear yet. Certainly, there is the established and most powerful imperialist bloc of the United States and its allies. But now we have two less powerful imperialist countries beginning to take their steps on the world stage. They are beginning to make their appearance. I had often when comrades asked me: “How do you characterise Russia? Is Russia imperialist?” I would say it is more aspiring imperialist. It's an imperious power that's beginning to take its course. That's where we are now. And a challenge is being posed to the hegemony of the U.S. imperialism by Russian imperialism, by China. Of course, this challenge is in their own interest. This is not a challenging the U.S. imperialism out of the goodness and kindness of their hearts. They are challenging the U.S. imperialism because it is in their own imperialist interest to do so. Where this will go. We'll see, but certainly, it is the cause for us to be even more vigilant, even more, careful in our analysis. And even more ready to take the streets and take action against any imperialist aggression on anyone's part.
The APL just released a statement on a recent tension between the U.S. and North Korea. What do you think about the U.S. and North Korea relations? What is your party’s stance?
Well, I think as it's well known the United States has been pressuring, harassing, intimidating, attempting to isolate, attempting to destabilise North Korea for the past sixty years. So, in one sense, there's nothing new in the situation that exists with North Korea. What is new is that the Trump administration is trying to prove itself if he will to the world. It has to show that it's tough. It has to show that it’s still the master. Rest assured that it's still in charge. And one of the time honoured ways to do this is by increasing aggression and harassment towards North Korea. And so what we're seeing is not something that is totally new, as I said it's been there for the past sixty years. But what we're seeing is a recent escalation in American harassment and provocation against Korea. Our task is to defend Democratic Korea. While our task is to defend any country harassed or assaulted by the United States imperialism. But, in this case, it is it is North Korea. And we must unite with all progressive and anti-imperialist elements in demanding not only an end to U.S. provocations against a Democratic Korea but in demanding the concrete demand of a final peace treaty. There has been no peace treaty to the Korean War. The Korean War officially, technically, legally is still going on. And I think it is an important part of the anti-war movement. And then the movement to defend the D.P.R.K. against imperialism purist aggression to demand not just of the United States cease its aggressions against Democratic Korea, but finally come to the table and negotiate a peace treaty with Democratic Korea and recognise Democratic Korea as a legitimate state, the legitimate Korean state.
Is there a special meaning of the U.S. provocation to the North Korea today?
It's an old tactic. How is it that governments, capital's governments, even feudal governments throughout history, how is it that the states have built up support? When they feel that they are losing legitimacy, in losing prestige at home is to whip up militarism to whip up ultra-patriotic, reactionary fervour, and they do this through creating a threat, creating a threat or nonexistent threat, and then standing up and showing that they're standing up to this non-existent threat.
And it's a sign of the weakness of the Trump government. It's a sign that the government, maybe not Trump himself but who knows what is going on in his mind, but certainly the present American government, the present American regime knows that it is not accepted by the majority of the American people. The election results are very very interesting. Over half of the American electorate did not vote. Half of those who did vote voted for Clinton or for third parties. Trump government was only elected by less than one fourth of the eligible voters. It knows that it's a minority government. It knows that it's on shaky ground. It knows that it is rejected by the overwhelming majority of the American people. And as I said it is a tactic that bourgeoisie governments, imperialist governments and as I mentioned even the feudal governments have used in the past when the legitimacy and support are shrinking at home, try to build that support through militaristic adventures.
So, you are saying that they are taking these actions in order to consolidate their power in the U.S. What are your observations on how these policies affect the U.S. working class?
The left is very weak in the country. There is a paucity, a scarcity of left media. There is a lack of an oppositional voice, a leftist oppositional voice. Let alone a Marxist-Leninist oppositional voice. And so, with the domination of the bourgeoisie media, the near total domination of the bourgeoisie media, I mean the United States is backwards compared to other countries. You could name just about any country. Randomly almost. You see France, Spain, Germany, India, Pakistan, any place and there is at least an active popular voice. There is at least an active labour voice. There is an active alternative voice out there. And people out of not as easily fooled, and that is easily deceived. In this country, that voices weak to almost non-existent. And so the long in the short of it is that people are being deceived. You believe what you're told. One believes what they're told over and over again. And if there is no one there to say otherwise, one except what one is told is a truth. And I fear that is what we're seeing in this country. I am extremely concerned that the right ability to whip up and build up militarism and reactionary nationalism. They’ve done it before. And they're doing it again. That means of course, that all that means is that we need to again redouble our efforts make even more efforts. To resist, to speak, to provide that alternative voice, to reach out to the working class, even more, and more and more. But there is a possibility that imperialism will lead the American working class into another war. The possibility is there. And it's a very serious one.
I am going to go back to talk about the U.S. domestic policies, How do these policies affect worker unions?
There is a class struggle element within American unionism. It’s there, but it is very small. The American trade union movement was delivered a crippling blow, a devastating blow in the 1950s and 60s and up to the present day. The many American unions tied themselves and were tied to the Democratic Party, for example, and follow the Democratic Party. And certainly, there are comrades of all political parties and all denominations if you will. Socialists, anarchists, other Marxist-Leninist groups that are active in the unions and are trying to give a strong sense of class struggle and class consciousness to the trade union movement in the United States.
But as with the general situation, their voice is relatively weak. And American unions have suffered tremendously. Not only were the unions politically emasculated, politically crippled if you will. But even that wasn't enough. There has been now decades of union busting and the destruction of unions. I don't have the statistics at my fingertips to be able to give you. But one can just look around and this is not a big revelation. That the number of active unions and active union members in the United States today compared to twenty or thirty years ago is dramatic. And dramatic in the sense of how unions been targeted and how unions have been destroyed.
What is the recent political situation of American labour movement? Could you tell about it in detail? Could you explain the recent situation of American working class movement in a deep sense?
The American working class is at a turning point. No one is satisfied with the status quo or "business as usual" anymore, and it's not a question of wanting to return to some preconceived “normality.” "Power for money" politics and the farcical presidential election which led to Trump seizing power have exposed to everyone the utter hypocrisy of U.S. politics. Many people are disappointed or angry about the election, while others range from alienation from the two-party system to violent aversion to anything political. The results of the election triggered nationwide protests, including the Inauguration protests and the Women's March against Donald Trump, which was some of the largest in our history.
We’re seeing a continued deterioration of worker's rights. Reactionary legislation such as so-called “right-to-work laws” have ensured that workers have no protections, no rights, no benefits, and have no recourse if they're fired. The percentage of workers belonging to a union is about 10%, which half of what it was in the 1980s. Union membership in the private sector is less than 7%, which is the lowest since the 1930s. Both public and private sector unions are under constant attack by both the government and private business, drastically reducing the ability of workers to collectively bargain. Workers' rights in the U.S. are at an abysmal low.
Minimum wages have not risen in accordance with corporate profits, which leads to the wages of workers being worth less and less. Income inequality is atrocious. One out of seven Americans is in poverty, and some 40 million are food insecure, including children. Last year the average life expectancy in the US, and this is one of the most important measures of the overall functioning of any society, actually fell from 78.9 years to 78.8, the first time in over two decades it's fallen.
What are the plans of APL in order to organise in the American working class? What is its political tactic platform to organise in the class? How is the APL organising in the American working class?
Our Party has worked since its foundation for a united front to resist fascism and war. The rise of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States represents an unprecedented disaster for the working peoples of the U.S. and the working peoples of the whole world. But it's not only Trump we're engaged in a struggle with but the system that allowed him to rise to power. The “alt-right,” like the Nazis before them, pose as "revolutionaries" while, in reality, they represent militarism, fascism, racism, chauvinism, and the most reactionary parts of monopoly capital. The ruling class has made their peace with them, liberals wilt at the sight of them, and those in the government have put up no serious resistance.
Trump and the American ultra-nationalism he represents can only be defeated through militant, organised mass action in the streets of every city. We can fight Trump through anti-war demonstrations, actions and occupations of Trump properties and places he intends to speak, and war manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing with the purpose of disrupting the march to war and militarization. We can fight against the imperialist system in the U.S. by battling against police murder, standing in solidarity with struggles like the one at Standing Rock, backing immigrant rights, defending LGBTQ individuals and oppressed peoples, and defending worker's rights and our standard of living. This is all part of our popular front strategy and our mission to build a Marxist-Leninist party in the United States.
It’s not just a question of historical necessity; it is not a question of survival. We are in the darkest situation in the U.S. in decades, possibly even a century.
Again another question is about foreign policy. What is your perspective on the U.S. involvement in the Middle East and particularly Syria?
This goes back to 1990s. The United States saw an opportunity to be able to impose its will directly on the Middle East. Yes, there were pro-American regimes. Yes, there were regimes that were friendly to the United States or they were occasionally tried to negotiate a path where they were sometimes it would work with the Americans, other times they'd say things that were critical of the United States. But I think even friendly regimes were put on the hit list. When the United States saw that it had the possibility to directly, nothing intermediaries, nothing to the third party, or, comprador regimes, but directly, control the Middle East. For example look at Mubarak. Look at Mubarak. Who was a greater ally of the U.S. imperialism than Mubarak? And yet when the opportunity came to destroy Mubarak, and imperialism move in directly. I jumped on and it took it. I think that is the general pattern that we're seeing in the Middle East today.
If you look at the Baathist regime in Syria, and the previous Baathist regime in Iraq. And these were anti-communist regimes. These were regimes that had more than a touch of fascism to them. These were regimes that quite often worked with the U.S. imperialism. I mean Syria, one Baathist regime joined in the invasion of another Baathist regime. Syria was part of the invasion of Iraq. But when the United States saw that it had the chance to directly, just push away, third parties and intermediaries, and directly control the Middle East, it took that opportunity.
Today Syria is next on the list I think. The Assad regime is in a precarious situation. Now certainly while we criticise the Assad regime and then the Baathist regime and Baathism, we wholeheartedly defend it against the U.S. imperialism and defend the Syrian people against the U.S. imperialism.
Assad seems to have looked for support to Russia. On the one hand, I want to say, of course, that is his right. But he's trying to play one imperialist power off against another one. And even if he somehow manages to get out from under the United States, he's now placed himself under the Russians. And really I think that the only principled position to take is total support for the Syrian people, qualified support for the Assad regime. Because after all who is it that has an army that can fight the U.S. imperialism. Well, it is the Assad government. They are the only army in the field. But the most important thing for us, as American Communists in American anti-imperialists, is to combat and fight against the U.S. imperialism in the Middle East. Whatever happens afterwards, well, that is a question for the Syrian people to decide.
The centenary of the October Revolution is coming. What is your assessment on the centenary of the October Revolution?
It is a wonderful anniversary, and one that has to be celebrated and one that has to be honoured. It makes one reflect on everything that we have achieved as a movement in these past hundred years. It makes us reflect also on the things that we didn't achieve. It makes us want to honour and celebrate our successes, but also take stock of what our failures were and what our mistakes were. As is, as was so often the case in so many ways, comrade Enver Hoxha said it best, when he said that the setbacks that have taken place, the counter revolutions that have happened have certainly extended the life of the exploiting system, capitalism, but they cannot stop the progression of humanity to its socialist future. The age of proletarian revolutions has only begun. And we have a lot further to go.
Do you have any message for our working class and people?
as far as the American Party of Labor goes, we are a small party, we are a young party, we have a long way to go. There are many things we need to do, many places we need to be, but we have dedication, and we have inspiration that we take from our comrades internationally. You have been an inspiration to us. Continue your struggle. Continue the exemplary work that you're doing. And know that here in the very belly of imperialism, you have friends and you have comrades who stand with you. The future looks bright. The future looks dangerous, the future looks tense. That it is also those bright. Again as comrade Enver Hoxha said history is on our side. We're going to win.