Why Yet Another Political Party Is Not the Solutions to Our Problems
Info: SocialistAlternative.org Page
I have been reading your pamphlet, "Challenging the Two-Party System," and I feel that there are some errors deserving serious reconsideration. "Imagine if a political party was willing to ignore corporate interests and rally the hundreds of millions of workers, young people, and the poor who are fed up with corporate-dominated politics and pass sweeping legislation to fundamentally change our lives," is the opening line from chapter 5. The problem is that your response to the capitalist-dominated state is to make yourself the party in charge.
There are plenty of examples of this around the world, present and past, so there's not much for conjecture. In the United Kingdom, the Labour Party has ruled on-and-off since the 1930's. Yet, their first minimum wage law was passed in 1998, before which there was no limit to how low a laborer was paid. The Labour Party, whether recently in the Iraq War, or ancient such as colonial repression by the British imperial forces, has always supported the gun and the bayonet.
Sure, this is only a "Labour" Party, and not a Socialist Party, but its values, slogans, and ideals are closest to that of elective socialism, which is your platform. Even then, let's take a modern Socialist Party that has organized itself according to the lines you have laid out: the Spanish Socialist Workers Party, or Partido Socialista Obrero Español. It is a socialist party with a Social-Democratic outlook, which means cooperation with the trade union movement and reverence for widespread, democratic support. In the 2008 election, it received 43.87% of the popular vote, making it the most dominant force in the government (the Nationalist's party only received 39.94%). (Parties-And-Elections)
But, Spain's unemployment is more than 20% (Bloomberg.com) and for every dollar earned by every worker, they are in debt by a dollar and twenty five cents. (BDE.es) Yet, they've been following your plan even before you laid it out: "What we need is a new political party that refuses to take corporate money, is controlled through a democratic vote of its members, and fights determinedly for the interests of the working-class majority on the issues of jobs, wages, benefits, health care, housing, war, discrimination, and the environment."
"The task in front of all working people, young people, the poor, and the elderly is to help build such a party." Well, that party has been built up, we've seen where it works, and we know what its results are. In Germany and France, too, the Socialist Parties have reached significant proportions. The Social Democratic Party of Germany, in the 2005 federal election, received 34.3% of the seats in government. (BBC.co.uk) It was the dominant party, though a coalition of individual, conservative parties received 35.2% of the seats in government. Yet, the unemployment rate continued to bounce up and down, almost unaffected by the government's policies -- as it continues today, where a single, conservative party is currently the dominant force. (IndexMundi.com)
From 1981 to 1995, François Mitterrand was the Prime Minister of France, representing the Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste). Yet when he came into office, the reported unemployment was only 6.5% (real unemployment: ~13%), and by the middle of his rule, in 1987, it was reported as 10.8% (with REAL unemployment at ~21.6%). (Actrav.Itcilo.org.) These are just mild indicators in the particular rule of these Socialist Parties. Perhaps what is most curious is the absence of anything resembling Socialism: workers were not given direct management of industries, but rather, an enlightened hand behind the scene directed the economy. Naturally, the voters responded appropriately. What's the use in electing a Socialist Party that doesn't believe in Socialization? None at all.
Yet, these parties followed through on your blueprints. "The development of fighting sections of the labor movement will also be important," and "The majority of workers devastated by this recession are looking for a serious alternative, not for further inter-party bickering." But, these helpless slogans finally wind down into what you translate them into: "There needs to be a massive tax on the rich and big business." (Chapter 7 of your pamphlet.) So, what's the difference between the Democratic Party and the Socialist "Alternative"? "We want slightly more taxes on businesses than Democrats." As Darwin described the different species of the jungle, I might just as well describe the animals in the political scene: the difference between them is one of degree, and not of type.
The Socialist Party, as you're planning yours, has been given its turn, and it has failed. The alternative people want now isn't just an alternative just to Statist Capitalism. They want an alternative to Statist Capitalism that comes under the guise of Socialist rhetoric and ideology, or basically, all that any Socialist Party has offered.
"Capitalism can't make profits building quality low-cost housing, protecting the environment, or ensuring everyone has a living-wage job. Corporate interests get in the way. And the government won't do it because it is controlled by two corporate parties." (chapter 7 of your pamphlet) And why is it that Socialists denied this everywhere they have been elected democratically and through the people? Isn't it true that corporate interests are replaced by political interests, and that these act in the same exact way, except with different people? That is, isn't the Socialist Party more reversionary than revolutionary, bringing us back to state-dominated feudalism, instead of actually giving us democratic control over our workplace and our communities?
If there is going to be Democratic Socialism, it is going to be demanded by the people -- and a demand for making a revolutionary change to this world won't fit into a ballot box. It fits in the hearts, the minds, and the actions of the people, but it cannot be written on a piece of paper asking people to choose their masters. It cannot be the banner of government that sustains itself off of the labors of its people. It cannot be the reality of a society where the workers still must beg for permission to do anything in a world that they struggled to build up.
Thank you, I patiently await a response.
Thanks for taking the time to send us your comments and criticisms of our pamphlet. Even where we don't agree, we find it useful and healthy to engage in this sort of dialogue and debate. In a dialectical manner, this is the way that ideas are clarified and all those aiming for a better world are able to clarify the most effective ideas, etc.
I don't have time now to personally respond to all your points. The events in Wisconsin, and supporting our members intervening there, are consuming my energy at present.
The main point point I would like to register, however, is that I think you fundamentally misunderstand our position as regards what kind of party we want, and beyond that, how we as a revolutionary organization would relate to any mass workers party that emerged (which would NOT most likely be our own party, or share completely our own revolutionary politics).
For example, our affiliate organizations in Britain, Spain, France, and elsewhere remain outside of the parties coming from the social democratic tradition at present, and do not support votes for them. We regard these parties and out-and-out pro-capitalist formations with no meaningful internal democratic life or adherence to pro-worker policies.
In our view, many of these parties were previously "mass workers parties with pro-capitalist leaderships," in that at their base they had widespread activist bases of working people and at least semi-meaningful democratic internal structures. Until the late 80s or early 90s in many European countries our affiliates worked as Marxist tendencies within these mass workers parties. However, we did not do so uncritically - in fact we were the sharpest and most energetic critics of these party's political leaders, to the point where in many countries our comrades were witch-hunted and forced out.
Read the history of the "Militant Tendency" in the British Labour Party for an example of our approach.
In many respects, we would fully agree with your criticism of these parties historically and certainly at present. We do not think human liberation will come, in the main, via the ballot box. However, it is a question of tactics and strategy in a long-term revolutionary struggle. At present the great bulk of workers and youth in most countries of the world have massive illusions in the democratic processes of capitalist governments, and seek to bring change via the ballot box. We do not advocate standing aside from this process and simply criticizing people for being delusional. While clearly warning of the limits of electoral strategies, and always advocating the construction of independent movements in the workplaces and communities to conduct the struggle there, we at the same time advocate using whatever democratic openings do exist to fight for our ideas, to mobilize and unite people against big business, and to show through example and living experience (rather than sideline commentary) the limitations of reformist approaches.
So I think you fundamentally miss the mark and don't fully understand our politics when you make your critique. It is quite possible and understandable that in our pamphlet much of this is not spelled out in full (though I do think the pamphlet does make many of the points I am here making, if in a more popularized form).
But read our other material and historical documents we stand on. Lenin's "Left Wing Communism" is a classic that addresses questions of electoral strategy in a way that remains fresh even in today's changed circumstances.
Hope that helps clarify,
But, that's the problem, is that their plan is your plan. The Socialist Parties of Europe, while having some origin in radical Marxism, still did exactly as you plan to do: mass-base through the unions and community centered around a worker-oriented, political party inspired by Marxism, and in the end, they just turn out to be typical Capitalists. This is the record, of course, when it comes to the elective Socialists of Europe. As far as Authoritarian Marxists, who followed a less than elective principle, the result is far more disastrous, whether you check China or Vietnam. Again, I'm not saying that you have the same ends in the mind -- I'm just pointing out that you're organizing with the same exact methods.
All throughout the pamphlet was arguments for a new, Socialist party. "We need to bring together all those committed to building a new movement independent from the Democrats and Republicans." (Chapter 5) "...we need to run independent anti-corporate, pro-worker candidates to popularize our demands and our struggles as a step toward building a new political party..." (Chapter 6) "We will work with all genuine groups and individuals to build a new left-wing political party..." (Chapter 7) Party, party, party. Yes, I understand that you want to have a basis in community groups, unions, etc., but your ultimate aim is to direct these forces toward a political agenda. That is, a political revolution with votes, not a real revolution with people.
It's classic in political brilliance, in that it can be summed up as: everything I said before is a lie just to get you to follow me, now I'm a dictator, and you can't stop me. This is why the phrase "Leninist" is hollow. Do you mean a Leninist as in Lenin of 1918 where he supported Dictatorship as the greatest power for workers, or in 1905, when he opposed it as the greatest power against the workers?
You don't even have to read an entire book to know that: Just read "Democratic Tasks of the Revolutionary Proletariat" (1906) and compare it to Lenin's "'Democracy' and Dictatorship," (1918). In the beginning, "We need Democracy," but in the end, "Democracy is a failure, so now you're all my slaves!"
I can understand why you would oppose using the phrase "Leninist-1918-Style" or "Leninist-1912-Style." By using these phrases, you're implicitly admitting that Lenin was nothing more than a politician. He changed his opinions on important issues such as Democracy and workers' self-management on a regular basis. Nobody likes to think that they're following someone who just a cunning, opportunist politician, without any concrete ideas about either society or its people.