Date:    Tue, 03 Jun 1997 10:26:35 -0400
To:      marxism-international@jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU
From:    Louis Proyect 
Subject: M-I: Ben Seattle on the Labor Party

Ben Seattle:
>Today, in the U.S., countless examples could be given of political trends
>which represent the influence of a strata tied to the bourgeoisie.  Of
>these dozens (hundreds, thousands) of examples, one that is close to a
>"classic textbook" example--is the newly formed "Labor Party".  Many
>leftists and even "Marxists" swarm around the Labor Party like flies around
>shit.  They imagine that if they eat enough particles of poop--that they
>will be able to *transform* this piece of shit into something which smells
>wonderful.  But no matter how many leftists kiss the ass of its
>leadership--organizations such as the Labor Party are creatures *of, by and
>for* the corrupt trade union hacks and are tied with a thousand and one
>threads to the very conscious class which permits their existence.
>Transform it ?  It would be easier to turn lead into gold.  

Part of the problem in treating the Labor Party as a purely "reformist"
project is that it succumbs to a form of ahistoricsm that I would have
expected a rigorous thinker like Ben to avoid.

Labor Parties do not drop from the sky. They are a product of classes in
motion and/or in conflict, set against a backdrop of the shifting
relationship of forces between them. The British Labor Party emerged during
a fifty year period of imperialist expansion, while the American Labor
Party of today has emerged against a backdrop of economic decline. The
British ruling class had vast financial reserves to draw upon that it could
use to placate a restive working class. These reserves were replenished
from its colonial holdings and the relative advantage it had in
manufacturing vis a vis its capitalist rivals.

What are the objective conditions the US working class finds itself in
today? To start with, the American capitalist class can simply no longer
offer crumbs from the table the way it did in the 1940s through 1960s.
Japan and Germany are major capitalist powers while the Asian "tigers" and
China itself are the most rapidly growing economies in the world. The
solution to its competitive disadvantage is to take it out of the hide of
the working class. This means dismantling the welfare state and attacking
the trade unions. It has been successful.

As a defensive measure, a layer of the trade union bureaucracy has opted to
create a Labor Party. It would like to protect its bureaucratic interests
by creating a sharper instrument of struggle than the Democratic Party
which no longer shows any interest in upholding the status quo for trade
unionists or their officials.

A layer of revolutionaries have joined the Labor Party in the hope of
making it an even more militant instrument of struggle than people like
Winpisinger intended. There are precedents for this. When John L. Lewis
decided to form industrial unions in the 1930s, his agenda was not one of
transforming society. The CIO did however become a social movement, despite
the intentions of Lewis. This was because communists joined the CIO and
constituted its left wing. In the 1960s, a wing of the Democratic Party
sought to coopt the antiwar movement by forming a Moratorium. This
formation was designed to struggle against Nixon but in safe channels.
Again communists joined this "reformist" formation and turned it into an
instrument of struggle.

Will such efforts be successful with the Labor Party? Nobody can be sure.
The problem with the critics of the Labor Party is that they have no
REVOLUTIONARY PROGRAM. The reason that Lenin was able to create a *genuine*
vanguard party is that his efforts were tuned to the needs of the mass
movement. This very same mass movement was responsible for the creation of
Russian social democracy itself.

There is no mass movement in the United States today. Nor has there been
one for the past 25 years or so. Therefore party-building efforts take
place in a vacuum and inevitable produce propagandistic, ultraleft formations.

Most people like myself who are involved with the Labor Party, the
Committees of Correspondence or Solidarity have come to the realization
that the methodology of simply declaring oneself as a VANGUARD and
recruiting people to the full program by ones and twos does not work. I am
not yet sure what Ben's methodology is yet, but at this point I am hopeful
that he has broken with the old paradigm. His thoughts on the "network"
model are promising and I expect to have more to say when he discusses his
ideas on Leninism.

Louis Proyect

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