“Speaking Truth To Power”: Why It Sucks as a Political Program

In this essay we will attempt to explain why the working class needs to have its own, independent, revolutionary socialist workers party, by comparing what we would have if we had our own workers party as opposed to what we have if we just “speak truth to power”.

We don’t like to “talk down” to people.  We ourselves are not so “high up” that we could “talk down” to people even if we wanted to!  But we have to face the reality that the US working class is by far the most backward working class in the industrialized world, politically.  The US is the only major industrialized nation that does not have a mass “socialist” or “communist” party.  This means that the US working class has never risen to the level of complete working-class-consciousness; it has been stuck at the “trade-union-consciousness” stage of development since the early 1900s.  The main reason for this is that the workers of the USA have been brainwashed by the capitalist class and their bought-and-paid-for servants in the Democratic Party and in the trade unions to believe that “socialism is bad” and “capitalism is good” – and that the class interests of workers and capitalists are one and the same!  This widely-held belief among US workers  in the identity of interests of capitalists and workers would make workers in every other industrialized country – and many so-called “third world” countries – shake their heads in disbelief.   This decades-long brainwashing of the working class has made it impossible for even intelligent people like Edward Snowden to simply  tell the difference between a communist and a fascist!

Brilliant whistleblower Edward Snowden displays the typical crippled political consciousness of the working class in the USA.

If Edward Snowden can’t tell the difference between Mao – a lifelong member of the Communist Party – and Hitler – who was never a member of any socialist organization ever and who incinerated tens of thousands of communists and socialists in his death camps (and Snowden’s a relatively educated US worker) you get a good basic idea of just how ignorant US workers are when it comes to politics.  This state of political ignorance among the US working class bore its most malignant fruit ever when the workers of the USA voted for a worker-hating billionaire for President – thinking that, somehow, a disgusting greedhead racist pig like Donald Trump would fight for the rights of workers! But that is getting off the track of our basic lesson plan on PoliSci101 as taught by a revolutionary worker!  Our subject today is not Donald Trump but one of the big political swindles going on in the so-called workers movement of the US, namely the “need” to “speak truth to power”.  What in hell does this political phrase “Speak Truth To Power” really mean?  And if it seems to you like we are “talking down” to you maybe it only seems that way because you, worker of the USA, have a vastly exaggerated sense of your own political wisdom, which, in fact, you do not possess AT ALL!  This is why you keep on voting this year for the Democrats and next year for the Republicans and still can’t understand why your lives aren’t getting better.    So please read on and see if you learn something.

“Speaking Truth to Power!” Sounds good, doesn’t it? Or maybe it should be like this: “SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER!” Even better, right? It’s like a demand now. Or how about: “SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER!”. Now THAT is a revolutionary slogan! But let’s go all out and say we are “SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER!” Take THAT, “powers that be”!

No matter how you write it; no matter how you say it, it means just one thing: “we accept the status quo; we know that there is a power up there somewhere and it is often against us; but if we just let those rightful “powers that be” hear our demands, they will become afraid of us and will do what we demand of them.”

As revolutionary Trotskyists, we study political speech scientifically. Everyone knows that all words have specific meanings; and that political words have special political meanings. But what most workers are only dimly aware of is that when political words are combined into political phrases by the enemies of the working class, those meanings are distorted, falsified and turned into lies. A clever phrase like “speak truth to power” is made to sound militant and revolutionary when in fact it is servile and cowardly – anything but revolutionary. Yet so-called “revolutionaries” seem to *love* the phrase “speak truth to power”. This is just one of the signs that they are fake-revolutionaries.

When political words are combined into phrases their meanings become (usually) more complex. It is our job as Trotskyist political scientists to deconstruct these slippery phrases used by fake-revolutionaries and other defenders of the capitalist system and to clearly show to the working class how these clever phrases are used to rip the working class off. And today’s lesson will show that the seemingly radical and revolutionary phrase “speak truth to power” contains a complete reformist political program that completely disarms the working class politically and hands it over to its mortal enemy, the capitalist class, bound and gagged!

So let’s analyze this political formula: “speak” “truth” “to” “power”. Break it down into its component parts. “Speak”: means of course to address something to someone else. We speak to communicate ideas. That part is straightforward.

The next word describes what we should say: “truth”. The working class is basically honest; when it addresses individuals or groups of individuals we as workers like to have the truth on our side and we also like our leaders to speak the truth to us and to whomever we ask them to address on our behalf. “Speak truth”. Very nice, nothing to oppose there. So far this phrase seems to be OK. And so is “Speak truth to”. Obviously if we are going to speak truth we must speak it to… someone.

“Speak truth” to whom? To whom will we address our speech? To “power”. What is “power”? Obviously, if we are going to “speak truth to” power, then “power must be a thing, some kind of material entity. You do not “speak truth to” the dog or to the birds in the trees, or to the sky; you speak truth to a person or persons. So this word “power” must be a noun, correct? Who constitutes this “power” we wish to address?

The Merriam-Webster English dictionary defines the word “power” in this way:

1 power

noun, often attributive pow·er \ˈpau̇(-ə)r\

1. a : (1) ability to act or produce an effect (2) : ability to get extra-base hits (3) : capacity for being acted upon or undergoing an effect
b: legal or official authority, capacity, or right
2. a : possession of control, authority, or influence over others b : one having such power; specifically a sovereign state c : a controlling group; establishment —often used in the phrase the powers that be
d archaic: a force of armed men; e: chiefly dialectal; a large number or quantity
3. a : physical might b : mental or moral efficacy c : political control or influence
4. powers plural : an order of angels — see celestial hierarchy
5. a : the number of times as indicated by an exponent that a number occurs as a factor in a product 5 to the third power is 125; also : the product itself 8 is a power of 2 b : cardinal number 2
6. a : a source or means of supplying energy; especially : electricity b : motive power c : the time rate at which work is done or energy emitted or transferred
7 : magnification
8. scope
9 : the probability of rejecting the null hypothesis in a statistical test when a particular alternative hypothesis happens to be true
Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/power

Looking at this list of the many definitions of the word “power”, we see that we can immediately eliminate several of these: 1a; 2a and e; 3; and the mathematical and parametrical references of 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. That leaves us with these:

1. b: legal or official authority, capacity, or right
2. b : one having such power [over others – refers to definition 2a – IWPCHI]; specifically a sovereign state c : a controlling group; establishment —often used in the phrase the powers that be
d archaic: a force of armed men
Now in the case of “speaking truth to power” as it relates to the “archaic” definition of “a force of armed men”; it is interesting that in the dictionaries of the capitalist period this is considered to be no longer valid. But of course the “forces of armed men” are not the “power” we are addressing when we use the phrase “speaking truth to power”. Everyone knows that the police are the armed fist of “power” but not “power” itself. The police are merely the pawns of those “in power” and are ordered to do their dirty work by “power”.
That leaves us with “legal or official authority”; “one having such power over others”; a “controlling group or establishment”. This must be the “power” we are “speaking truth to”.
The first thing that strikes a revolutionary Trotskyist when analyzing this term “power” as it applies to the “establishment” that runs the city, state or nation is that it is a very vague term that does not correctly describe the true nature of this “power”. As revolutionary Marxists, we understand that the real “power” in any capitalist country like the United States is held in the hands of the “capitalist class”. So why, we ask, did the people who came up with the phrase “speak truth to power” deliberately choose the vague term “power” instead of the more scientifically precise and correct term “capitalist class”?
The reason is simple: they do not want to use the more precise and scientific term because if they did then they would be revealed to be revolutionary Marxists and not the simple reformists that they actually are. If you use the precise, scientific Marxist language, you will be labeled by the “powerful” capitalist class as a “commie”; and the reformists who created this wonderfully vague demand to “speak truth to power” DON’T WANT THEIR CAPITALIST MASTERS TO MISIDENTIFY THEM AS MARXIST REVOLUTIONARIES! At the same time these reformists wish to trick YOU the workers into believing that they are “radical” and adventurous by “SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER!”
Let’s look a bit closer at this tricky bit of verbal posturing encompassed by the seemingly innocuous phrase “speak truth to power”, designed to make the reformist mice look like LIONS to the uninitiated (though at the same time providing a wink and a nod to the “powerful” that says “don’t worry, we’re not going to go beyond merely “speaking truth to power!”).
Every revolutionary Trotskyist “speaks truth” to every worker she or he talks to; it is our tradition, it is our job, it is our promise to you and it has always been the #1 rule of revolutionary Marxism: to never lie to the working class. But to “power”? Well, there are certainly times when it is NOT wise to “speak truth to power”; like when you are organizing a union in a non-union shop; or when a capitalist asks you how you like working for his company.
Only cowering slaves take the position that they must always “speak truth to power”. They rat out their fellow workers in order to ingratiate themselves with the capitalists. They always tend to lie to their fellow workers and to tell the truth as they understand it to their masters.
So why do the reformists try to inculcate in the minds of the working class that they must always “SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER”? Whose side are they on: the side of the workers or the side of the capitalists?
But isn’t it OK in a demonstration, say, in Washington, D.C. to come right out and make our demands, to honestly and openly address our grievances to “the powers that be”? Of course it is. BUT FOR REVOLUTIONARY TROTSKYISTS, “SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER” IS NOT AN END IN ITSELF! We don’t just “speak truth to power” and then go home, grinning like idiots because “we really told them off this time, didn’t we”? IF ALL WE DO IS “SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER” WE HAVEN’T DONE A DAMNED THING AT ALL! We are still “power”-less workers who have merely addressed our pitiful grievances to “the powers that be” (who, in the case of the vast majority of mass demonstrations in Washington, D.C. make certain to leave town well in advance of the Big Demo)! If all we do is “SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER!” … and then the “power” tells us to go fuck ourselves…? What do we do when this “power” answers our honest appeal with rubber bullets, tear gas and even live ammunition? Do we keep on crawling and begging the “legitimate powers that be” to accept our humble petitions like the peasants did in Tsarist Russia, crawling on their knees to the Tsar’s palaces to present their petitions, hats-in-hands – only to be shot down like dogs by the Tsarist military? Are we workers today more or less cowardly than our peasant ancestors?
As for the reformists like Cornel West and Bernie Sanders who love to look tough in front of the workers by “SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER!” – that is all they intend to do! They “SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER!” morning, noon and night – and “power” ignores them and even laughs in their faces! Why can “power” do this? Because so long as the working class idiotically contents itself with merely “SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER!” and does not go on to organize a revolutionary workers party that will lead the fight to actually “TAKE POWER OUT OF THE HANDS OF THE CAPITALIST CLASS AND PLACE IT IN THE HANDS OF THE WORKING CLASS THROUGH WORKERS SOCIALIST REVOLUTION”, the “power” will keep right on enjoying its rights and privileges and its massive wealth – stolen from us! – and will never lose even one night’s sleep! So long as the working class keep following the reformist cowards and political idiots who will NEVER go beyond “SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER!” – nothing… absolutely NOTHING will change unless the “power”-ful capitalist class “feels” like it’s a good idea.
We just had a great example of this with the “Fight For $15” campaign in Illinois. These reformists – completely tied to the apron strings of the Democratic Party – adopted a slogan that is so lame that it is amazing and it proves that they are 100% in favor of the capitalist system. For the better part of two decades now, every scientific study of the minimum wage in Illinois has stated that in order for the workers in Chicago to live like human beings, they must make at least $25/hour. This has been studied for EVER! So why do these reformist cowards who organized the “Fight For $15” (there is a misuse of the word “fight” if we ever saw one!) crawl on their knees begging the “powers that be” for a mere $15 – ten dollars an hour LESS than what is necessary for workers to live decently in this Democratic Party-run death trap for the working class?
The answer is simple: these people who are running the “Fight for $15” are more interested in trying to look “reasonable” to the “powers that be” among the Illinois capitalist class than they are in honestly and courageously demanding that the working class of Illinois get PAID ENOUGH MONEY TO LIVE ON! These reformist cowards who run the misnamed “Fight For $15” (which should be called “Get Down On Your Knees And Beg For $15”) are trying to show how loyal and responsible they are as defenders of the capitalist system by not making the – to the capitalist class – unreasonable demand (!) that Illinois workers get paid enough money to actually barely keep their heads above water! By making their demand so low, they tried to “SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER!” – but not so as to alarm anyone in the filthy rich capitalist class! The leaders of “Fight For $15” hope that if they behave themselves and can prove to the capitalist class that they can keep the “demands” of the workers well under what the capitalist class deems to be “reasonable” then they might some day be rewarded with a state senator’s job or a well-paid spot in the House of Representatives or Senate! They are interested in furthering their POLITICAL CAREERS AS LIBERAL DEMOCRATS – not in fighting for actual living wages for workers!
So they crawled through Chicago and crawled to Springfield and crawled back through Chicago again and even went to Washington D.C. and crawled there as well – always “SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER!” but never backing that up by ORGANIZING A REVOLUTIONARY SOCIALIST WORKERS PARTY!
So what did the “powers that be” do with the all-too-“reasonable” “demand” of the “Fight For $15”?
Billionaire Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner used their petition for toilet paper and he vetoed the legislation “demanding” the starvation minimum wage of $15/hour!
So NOW what will the apostles of “SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER!” do? They “SPOKE TRUTH TO POWER!” – and “power” told them to go get fucked! Will the “Fight for $15” people now raise their demand to “Fight for $16” or to “Fight for $25” (which is the MINIMUM of what the minimum wage MUST BE in Illinois if we want workers to live like human beings and not from paycheck-to-paycheck)? Will they continue to hide under the skirts of the Democrats, who, when they ran the State House in Springfield worked overtime to keep their piddling minimum wage always well below the rate of inflation? Or will the reformist cowards who run “Fight For $15” finally stop their phony charade and just go work for the Democrats or go get real jobs?
Who cares what they do? A reformist is as a reformist does; and these dyed-in-the-wool reformist Democrats will never amount to anything! All they can do is lead workers into the dead-end of voting for the Democrats – that is their role in this life.
Lastly we ask you, young (or old) worker: when will YOU finally realize that merely “SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER!” has never and will never change anything and start to organize a revolutionary socialist party that seeks to get rid of a capitalist “power” that doesn’t care if you live or die and to replace that “power” with a revolutionary socialist workers government?
The working class does not need pro-capitalist intermediaries in the Democratic or Republican parties to represent us – FALSELY! – in the local, state and national governmental bodies! We need OUR OWN party 100% financed by, organized by and led by WORKERS that represents the political and economic interests of the WORKING CLASS only! Once we have such a party, we will be able to stop merely “SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER”; we will be on our way to WORKERS POWER IN A WORKERS GOVERNMENT where we the workers – who make up the vast majority of the population in EVERY country – will decide how the wealth WE CREATE gets distributed! We will no longer have to endlessly beg our wealthy capitalist masters for a few crumbs!

Workers of the World Unite! Dump the Republicrats and Build A Revolutionary Trotskyist Workers Party and Fight For A Workers’ Government!

–IWPCHI

 

 

 

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