For a Workers Party in the USA. If Not Now, When?
Millions on the street against the inauguration. Several thousands with spontaneous protests against the “Muslim Ban”. In Milwaukee alone, about 15,000 took the streets during the actions of “A day without Immigrants”, led mostly by Latinos. As much as the Trump administration provokes nationally and internationally, so too is the diverse and massive resistance.
The International Women ‘s Day on March 8th was another day of protest in the US, that included some strike action by teachers and students on the east coast and sporadically across the nation. Additionally, there are now increasing calls for May Day actions on the unofficial “Labor Day” worldwide and in the US. These calls are now including some trade union involvement, notably the SEIU in the western region of the United States.
The last time the American left has seen this amount of mobilization, action, and debate was during the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2012. However, this time the protests are in a massively expanded form. Various „identities“, including immigrants, women, alternative sexual orientation segments of the population and, of course, African-Americans are facing racist and repressive policies under the Bannon / Trump Cabinet. All “minorities”, in other words anyone who contradicts the pattern “white, masculine, hetero and weapon owner”, of the US population are challenged by this administration. Together these identities and their supporters, people that Trump supporters and officials classify as „other“, and implicitly not American, actually represent a majority of the population.
General Strike on February 17th?
In some newspapers and internet platforms (Strike for Democracy, S4D) a general strike was announced, although nothing much happened. In some cities, there were isolated activities, probably even work stoppages, but without the big trade union federations even mentioning a general strike, then the effort was doomed from the start. The most probable explanation is that many do not even know that the trade unions are needed to organize a general strike. Dissatisfaction and an internet social forum page is not enough.
Many people are getting “radicalized” right now in the US. In addition to the Trump camp, which has swept up the radical petit bourgeoisie of the Republicans and the Tea Party, there are similar tendencies in “liberal / progressive” milieus, which up to now have been more closely tied to the Democrats. Among these newly minted “radicals” it would seem that just the idea of simply proclaiming a general strike is enough. But just because one is dissatisfied and something „radical“ like a general strike is needed, that doesn’t mean that it can be pulled out of a hat at will. Or just because it’s needed to „protect democracy“.
However, such initiatives do clearly show what actually is needed and asks the crucial question for the US left, progressives, minorities, and, above all, for the US working class. The question of how to build a workers/labour party, that has strong enough roots and influence in society to carry out a general strike. And how to implement this together with the US trade unions?
Leadership by Sanders
Although, many of the activists participating in the protests, from the NGOs or the attacked minorities might not like this, it is a fact that they are currently led politically by Bernie Sanders. The same “independent” Bernie Sanders who has already sold out 13 million supporters to Hillary Clinton and her Democrats. With all the activism and indisputable need to carry out mobilizations at the moment, it must also be clear what it means when the liberal left, which includes not only the Sandernistas, but also left Democrats and related NGOs or networks, are leading these protests. No alternative to the existing political two-party system will develop with this type of leadership. The aim here is to try to renew the base of the Democrats and to build a mass support movement for them. This is a very acute danger. This misleadership and the absence of the organized working class from the protests, constitutes, perhaps, the biggest obstacle to the effectiveness of the anti-Trump resistance
What is the debate on the US Left?
An interesting and enlightening discussion recently occured between representatives of Solidarity (derivative of Tony Cliff’s International Socialists, now: IST, 1986, product of a fusion of 3 groups of different provenances), ISO (International Socialist Organization, excluded 2001 from the IST), and The Democratic Socialists of America (parts of the old SP of the Second International, currently comparable to the Linkspartei) in New York (video by Verso Books). The DSA and the ISO together probably have 25-30,000 members and, along with the Socialist Alternative (CWI) are the largest organizations of the left in the USA. The DSA is the largest, presumably at a great distance from the next two which are ostensibly Trotskyist. But there is certainly enough numbers to actually lead an initiative for a workers’ party, if they wanted it politically.
Yet the ISO has supported the Green’s candidate Jill Stein, a petit bourgeois party candidate. The DSA was in the Sanders camp, but has distinguished itself over the decades by being “loyal” to more progressive or “liberal” candidates of the Democrats such as Jesse Jackson and also Barack Obama in 2008. All those present at the conference were cheerfully discussing the mass protests and what opportunities are now unfolding for the US left. Of course, all the organizations hope to gain new members out of this, as is their right But the fact is, however, that no one in their introductory statements called for the establishment of a workers’ party (or a 3rd party a popular expression in the US), much less offered any concrete steps in this direction, raising a bleak picture of the US left.
The DSA correctly mentions that there is an important on-going conflict within the US trade unions and that the Left should intervene. On the one hand, Trump embodies the attack of US capital on workers’ rights and the ruthless enforcement of capital’s interests; on the other hand, he lures the union leaders and part of the class with his protectionist promises to “bring back our jobs”. This last promise was especially effective in the swing states like Michigan and other parts of the „Rust Belt“ hit hard by the job losses over the last 40 years of globalism. Accordingly, a class-militant, socialist policy in the trade unions should actively be pursued to take action against the racist agenda of Trump and defend the class in its diversity, but also declare that protectionism ultimately turns against the US working class. Instead of nationalism, advocate for solidarity with, for example, the Mexican workers for the good of workers in both countries.
The role the Democrats and what role of the ISO, Solidarity and DSA are playing in the US trade unions and what we could and should do there is not mentioned in this discussion. Instead, the representative of the DSA fumbles on how many “liberals” have now become active and how they should be inspired for a leftist policy. These liberals are often referred to as “counterparts” to the Trump movement during the discussion: almost all those that participated on the January 20th demonstration fall under the label “liberal”.
The ISO is painting itself an the advocate of the minorities and repeats the truths, which should at least be clear to the public, and evokes activism. However a political perspective is missing.
Instead, Sanders, Stein, all sorts of networks and NGOs are now already described as a great common movement, which only needs enough mobilization of the masses to function. However, if politics, class struggle, and the creation of consciousness were so simple, then we should find strong, leftist, socialist movements already in place after the protests of the past ten years. Since this is not the case, something else must be needed, over and above numbers and a basic commonality of purpose. Where there is no analysis of the class forces in this period of the imperialist crisis, the political-programmatic comprehension of the tasks involved will be lacking and failure will be the result. No, we will need more than mere numbers. We will need a perspective and analysis of where we are, then a program that will flow from that perspective and analysis. And finally a tasks document that flows from the program.
And in the US, the task of building a working-class party that breaks with the Democrats, that declares openly the fight against them within in the trade unions and establishes itself as a class party, is the essential objective necessity in the class struggle!
Perspective of a labour party
A cardinal error of the US left is its analysis of the Democrats and the resulting relationship to them. From this revisionist point of view, the Democrats are treated by most of the US left like a bourgeois worker’s party, a party that could and should be pushed to the left. We disagree with this assessment.
That the Democrats are a „bourgeois“ workers’ party is an opportunistic distortion of the concept of the bourgeois workers’ party itself. Even worse, this illusion is also currently being spread massively by the Sanders camp about the Democratic Party. The truth is that the Democratic Party is a political party whose history has never been anything but an open-bourgeois formation supporting and enacting openly bourgeois policies. And in historical fact, in the nineteenth century, Democrats have also been the “right” bourgeois party, based on the large estates of the American south. It was the newly formed Republican Party who was „left“, although they too based themselves on the bourgeoisie, just the competing sector on the East Coast. What made them „left“ for the times was a more openly anti-slavery platform. This changed in the 1930s, when President Franklin Roosevelt launched a Keynesian economic policy, and the Democrats built up their roots in the trade unions and established themselves as „left“ and for the workers. Although they never actually renounced their belief in or support of the bourgeois ruling class, these New Deal reforms cemented for decades the illusion that the Democrats were a „workers“ party.
The fact that they now play a predominant role in respect to the trade unions could also be observed in the “Fight for 15/15 Dollars now” campaign. There the SEIU (service union in the organization “Change to win”) had led the campaign, groups such as the Socialist Alternative intervened and together tens of thousands of low-wage workers were mobilized onto the street. The enforcement of this minimum wage was then left to the “left” deputies of the Democrats at the local and regional level. The massive Wisconsin protests in 2011 which was transformed from militant street and working class action into a „recall“ campaign against the anti-worker governor Scott Walker was also sidetracked into electoral politics. This shows that even the militant campaign currents of the last few years were ultimately directed back into the „safe“ outlet of electoral politics and the Democrats. More recently, the energy of the millions that had hoped for the “political revolution”through Sanders are also being forced into well-worn channels that doesn’t challenge the “left” wing of the bourgeoisie, the Democrats, in any significant way.
The US trade unions also played an important role in the current leadership election of the Democrats. While the leadership of the AFL-CIO supported former Labor Minister Perez and believes that he could strengthen the confidence of the workers in the party, the question remains unanswered why this was not done during his term of office as Labor Secretary in the Democratic administration of Barack Obama. Individual trade unions, on the other hand, supported the candidate Keith Ellison from the Sanders camp, who was then defeated, only to assure his loyalty and declare that the party must now be rebuilt together. Apparently for most of the US left, unity is more important than real change.
The main tasks
A break from these failed policies of the bourgeois left must be the main task of the wider US left today. The mass protests against Trump must not lead to a revitalization of the Democrats. Here, we must actively promote a break with them and also with Sanders. During the minimum wage campaign, mainly Latin American and black workers were mobilized, being the majority in the US low-wage sector.
Now the task would be to take these extremely exploited segments of the class as a starting point to mobilize within the trade unions against the division of the class by the racist policies of the Trump government. Here, it also would have to be clearly shown that the Democrats, as well as the Greens, do not represent an alternative for us. Under the Obama administration, 3 million migrants were deported and, economically, more precarious jobs and lower wages were implemented. This will not change just because the Democrats are being more oppositional to even worse policies advocated by the Republicans.
The Democrats clearly remain an open bourgeois party, not based on the organized workers’ movement or any other mass working class base and is, therefore, not a reformist workers’ party. To recognize this and to orientate its tactics accordingly, sould be the main task of the US left today.
To blindly follow the current leadership of the protest movement and where its political leadership is not openly challenged, takes away the only potentially successful perspective that is currently present. A combination of the anti-racist movement, such as “Black Lives Matter”, with the mobilization of the women’s day actions, the „Day Without Immigrants“ strikes, and with actions and initiatives in the trade unions, can prepare the ground for a socialist policy and program. But not if Sanders and Co. Are trusted. Only when a break with the Democrats of all shades is considered, then can the mass movement also make a choice. Namely, against the betrayal and illusions, and in favor of a class-militant, anti-racist and anti-capitalist perspective. If this is not offered by the US left and if the organizations are only searching for small-scale growth within the “democratic” mantle, then the protests are just being abused, cynically and opportunistically, by the Democratic Party. Eventually, the mass movement would not be able to build a real alternative to capitalism.
Chance not to miss!
Once again, history and the reality of heightened class struggle has presented the US left, both established socialist parties and the newly radicalized segments of the more reformist left, with the opportunity to establish an American party of labor. Otherwise, a mass movement of resistance will be sold out, once again, to bourgeois forces by the centrist and hesitant policy of the essential actors. This reality should be at the center of all debates and disputes of the US left. This will also include the question of which program should be used to arm the resistance against Trump: whether an abstract struggle for “democracy” or “human rights” is really sufficient or whether a program that can actually fight for a socialist future is needed. Another important necessity will be for the centrist groups to overcome their “hostility towards the program” which is inherent for them.
It is not just the “movement” that counts, but also the socialist intervention, the break with the bourgeois consciousness, which must take place programmatically and organizationally: against Trump, the Republicans and Democrats alike! This is the task facing the US left.
The application of workers’ party tactics in the United States today involves two things: firstly, the struggle for their foundation in all corners of the anti-Trump protest movement, but also in the trade unions and to put demands on their leadership to break with the open parties of the Bourgeoisie and to form a working class party. Even in the case of their refusal and the failure of such a party, this can only improve the conditions for their future construction.
This approach can also help to raise the anti-bureaucratic struggle in the trade unions, for their transformation into organizations of militant class struggle, by helping the working class vanguard to gather around this perspective. Secondly, the intervention by means of a revolutionary transitional program is necessary. The latter is all the more important when it should come to a US labour party. Revolutionaries would, from the outset, advocate for that party to not follow the way of the parties of the Second and Third International, and degenerate into reformism and centrism, and not into the hopeless sectarianism and schisms of the Fourth Internation,but to that of the revolutionary communism of a future Fifth International!