Workers’ Party Tennessee – A Modest Proposal
by Marcus Otono
The League for the Fifth International has been consistent throughout the entirety of its existence and even in its precursor organizations, about the need in the United States for a party of labor. This was an easy position to support, albeit not so easy to accomplish. And we weren’t alone in seeing this need. Indeed, most of the socialist organizations also supported this position throughout the decades, as witnessed by the many attempts to found said party of labor by groups on the socialist left.
The problems of founding a workers’ party have been many, but the main sticking point has been the Democratic Party itself and its positioning as being the “left” of allowed political discourse in the US, at least in the last century, plus its duopoly status as one of only two choices guaranteed to be on ballots across the country. This is bolstered by the undemocratic first-past-the-post electoral system which works against their or minority parties or candidates. They have buttered their bread for decades now on being the “lesser of two evils.” But things have been changing in the aftermath of the Great Recession, aka, the Long Depression.
In spite of the “recovery” in the economy, with the stock market constantly reaching new highs, productivity reaching high water benchmarks, and huge fortunes amassed by an elite few in the economy, this bounty has not “trickled down” to the rest of us as has been promised by politicians and economists of the bourgeoisie through the parties of the bosses, both Democratic and Republican. Production soars on the backs of the working class, yet paychecks remain stagnant, or even fall when adjusted for inflation, through both Republican and Democratic administrations. More and more people, especially young people just starting out in their work careers, have been saddled by unimaginable debt to pay for schooling to qualify for jobs that barely pay above minimum wage. This being a product of the “for profit” educational system modeled and supported by both of the bourgeois political parties. As the economy for the wealthy shows obscene gains, fully 40% of the rest of us can’t afford a $400 emergency expense without borrowing it. Indeed we are at levels of wealth disparity that has not been seen since the feudal times of just before the French revolution. And in US history, inequality not seen since the decade immediately preceding the Great Depression.
But unity in the fight over these issues that affect the whole of the working class and much of the middle class, runs into big issues of social oppression that affect sections of these classes, people of color, women, the, immigrants, LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups. These battles absolutely need to be fought, and, indeed, they are being fought by those directly affected. But if they remain isolated from one another or even limited to “intersectional” alliances we will never achieve the mass class-wide force needed to win decisive gains on these issues, let alone put a stop to the system which generates them and afflicts all of us.
Most communists through the years have recognized that no one is free unless everyone is free. But it’s not enough just to fight these battles isolated from one another with no overall strategy to unite them against the real enemy, the capitalist system itself. In most of the fights today against special oppression of minorities, the underlying culpability of capitalism is not even mentioned as a root cause that has led to the symptoms that are being fought. What’s also almost never mentioned, and especially by many of the newly empowered socialist style groups like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is that in every battle against special oppression, class usually plays a major role in the severity of the oppression. A Latinx female maid at the No-Tell Motel faces a much harder fight against the special oppression against women for example, than does a lily-white, Trump (or for that matter Hillary) supporting female lawyer.
To state this truth of life under capitalism can be difficult for people and especially so for people who are newly radicalized. After all it means going against the prevailing “wisdom” of the government, the media, and most of the population that societal ills can be conquered piecemeal and under the auspices of a system that’s actually built on the general oppression of everyone, other than the already wealthy and powerful. And even for the ones who know this truth, to speak it aloud is to risk the approbation of the very people they’re trying to help.
But we are not here to make people feel comfortable, including ourselves. We are here to speak the truth as we see it and analyze it, no matter how uncomfortable that makes some folks, including ourselves, feel. We will not make demands on the oppressed, they can and must make their own decisions about their own lives, but we must speak this truth if for no other reason than to provide information that can be used to make informed decisions about their own fates. If they don’t agree, at least we’ve done what we could and haven’t shirked our duty to our fellow humans.
Truths like the police terror and special oppression of black people. If capitalism could solve the problem, would we still be having the problem in 2018? It’s been over 50 years since the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, 155 years since slavery ended, yet it seems that if anything, we’re going backwards. And just because we elected a black, establishment, neo-liberal, and pro-business President we’re still far from being any sort of “post racial” society. At its most basic, the special oppression of black people exists today for the same reason it existed in the past, because there’s money to be made, call it “super profits,” by the owners in society. And the same goes for all special oppressions, whether those oppressions affect Latinx, documented and undocumented, Muslim immigrants fleeing American or Russian imperialism in their home countries, women, or gay, it’s more or less because there are super profits to be made under capitalism by keeping these oppressions in place. And of course, fanning the flames of discrimination against these marginalized groups has the added benefit of dividing us, narrowing our focus, and preventing any unified strategy to make real changes in society.
This lack of focus is why we need a workers’ party that will encompass all of these fights against all of these oppressions into one unified hammer that can smash the system that condones and supports oppression in general.
DSA and An American Party of Labor
About a year ago, we supporters of the League for the Fifth International in the USA decided that, like tens of thousands of people since the rise of Trump, the Democratic Socialists of America represented a rallying point for resistance and the best place to thrash out a strategy for waging this. We also thought that this moment – with the most right wing President in many years and the Democrats just having fielded the candidate of Wall Street, there was another historic opportunity to make the creation of a mass party of the working class and all the oppressed a reality. So despite the fact that as revolutionaries we are fundamentally critical of the DSA’s social democratic program and electoralist strategy, and most immediately their equivocal stance about whether or not to stand candidates completely independent of the Democrats, we joined.
So what has our experience been and what conclusions do we draw from it? Many, if not most of DSA and especially on a national level, still seem to believe and support the old idea, inherited from their Socialist Party predecessors, that a party that openly supports the bosses party, the Democrats, can also support the workers and the oppressed. The truth of history shows that neither party will actually do anything for anyone other than the owners unless they are forced to do so by struggle. Whether it’s the early Republicans and Abraham Lincoln being forced to issue the Emancipation Proclamation in an attempt to end the U.S. Civil War to the Democrats enacting the New Deal, then the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts on the heels of the struggles that birthed those movements, these parties will not change unless they are forced to by militant struggle. Yet the Democratic Party especially, has ridden the horse of these half century or older accomplishments into support from workers and the oppressed for the election victories that they have achieved. It’s clearly time for another route to societal power. Even if the “lesser of two evils” won every election, it would still wind up more and more evil as time and election cycles went by. As we’ve seen by the choice in 2016 between a right wing populist like Trump, willing to pander to the alt-right and fascist supporters in his “base,” and a neo-liberal establishment candidate like Clinton. One who took advantage of “white fear” to turn us against the least powerful members of society and the other who turned a blind eye to the justified rage and fear that fueled her opponent’s rise. America cannot be made “great” again on the demonization of the poor and oppressed, but neither is America “already great” when a majority of us are poor or near-poor. But what’s worse is the Democrats cannot even muster the fight to strongly defend their constituencies and so lose half the elections to the “greater evil.” Leading to the problems of today mentioned above. Voting for and attempting to pull the Democratic Party to the “left” has been shown throughout the history of electoral politics to, instead, pull these “entryists” to the right rather than pulling the party “left.”
In keeping with this self-imposed mandate to do whatever is necessary to actually accomplish the task of founding a viable U.S. Party of labor, League supporters in the Middle Tennessee DSA introduced a resolution for a long term project of getting a workers’ party on the ballot in that state. We made this move not because we thought that we could “elect” socialism or that there could be a workers’ government in a single isolated state of the union, but because the impetus for a workers’ party has to start somewhere and the Mid TN DSA was looking for a longer term project to take on. In addition, the Mid TN DSA has shown itself to be significantly to the left of the national organization and, as such, seemed to be more amenable to this sort of proposition.
Unfortunately, the resolution was soundly defeated in favor of another, very worthy, but also more local proposal to fight the prison-industrial complex in Tennessee, one of course that we will fight hard for.
The Fight Continues
It’s not that a resolution to make a long term proposal to oppose the prison-industrial complex is wrong. The abuses of the US “Justice” system are many and odious and should be fought. But like all abuses under capitalism, it’s a battle that won’t ever be won until society is reorganized under rational, planned, and thoughtful analysis. In other words, under socialism. The best that will be accomplished with this will be some piecemeal “reforms” that will be taken back as soon as the bosses decide it’s safe to do so. And that’s if any reforms can be accomplished in the first place. If nothing else, the history of the last 50 years should have taught us that.
Which is not to say that this battle should not be fought of course. Any oppression should be fought, but it would be better for all oppressions to be fought under a common strategy that encompasses and accounts for all the oppressions that we face daily. The difference between a workers’ party and a proposal to fight an oppressive branch of the system is not a matter of “preference,” it’s a matter of the best way to fight said oppression with a united strategy and the tactics that come out of that strategy, adopted and adapted on the ground as the fight is waged. And the only way to have that unified struggle is to have an umbrella organization that encompasses all of our struggles from the economic to the political, to the social. That’s the definition of a workers’ party.
Our decision to join the DSA received some criticism and a lot of skepticism from comrades on the far left. And it’s not if the criticism and skepticism was not well founded. It’s not like we didn’t argue the points raised against entry into DSA among ourselves before making the decision. However, once the decision was we have been working to raise our priorities within the organization, both locally and nationally. Our primary goal is beginning the struggle for a workers’ party for all, workers, all members of the class whether working or retired or disabled, and the specially oppressed. And yes, that means the victims of the criminal Criminal Justice system in the US.
Indeed this applies to all the fronts of struggle against Trump and the Republican governors and congress, as long as they control it. The building of a new party of the working class has to lay its foundations in the struggles on the streets in the communities, against the racist cops, in the fight for union recognition and contracts, against the ICE raids, and confronting the marches of the white supremacists. We think the DSA branches (chapters?) need to be involved under their own banners in all these struggles and raise them in every election they stand in. DSA members need to fight for unionizing the unorganized and restoring the strength of labor from the local to the national level. We need to be fighting for a free universal healthcare system, for a living wage for all. We need to fight on the issue of climate change which is already devastating the USA and the word. All these and may more issues need to be united in an action program that the DSA takes out into all the ongoing campaigns and points to the anticapitalist, socialist solution, culminating in the necessity of a workers government.
Ideally, the impetus for a workers’ party would come from the remnants of organized labor, the unions with organizations like DSA bringing support to the proposal, but not necessarily organizing it. However the urgency of the task before us cannot be delayed until the union bureaucracy feels it has no choice but to support the initiative. We need a party of labor now and must advocate for it with all sympathetic groups.
And the Mid TN DSA was sympathetic to the proposal with several people expressing support for the idea, while voting for the alternative. The idea being that the other proposal was more doable and locally based. It didn’t help that Tennessee is one of the many states where the bar for getting a political party on the ballot is extremely high. But we cannot give up because the need is so great. We will continue to advocate for a workers’ party because it’s is what is desperately needed.
To conclude, we urge all members of DSA, nationwide, to think about making this project into a reality in your local branch. Just like we urge all members of organized and unorganized labor to take back our political future from both parties of the bosses. We will continue to fight for this because this is what is needed. The Dempublican Party is not on our side. We need a political party that stands with the rest of us every day and in every struggle. We need an American party of labor.