Sunday, October 26, 2008

USA Needs a Working Class Political Party

Below is an excerpt from a US labor delegation's interview with Stalin over 79 years ago. The discussion contains key insights into why the USA still lacks a nationally organized working class political party in any sense, including even one with bourgeois social-democratic ideology. It should also be noted that a nationally organized working class political party in this case is not a Marxist-Leninist or Communist Party but a mass workers party that is independent of capitalist parties.

The USA currently has two small social-democratic style working class parties (Labor and Working Families). However, these are only organized in a small number of states (the Labor Party is in South Carolina, while the Working Families Party is in New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Oregon and South Carolina). The absence of a nationally organized working class party is the main reason why the USA is politically backward compared to most other capitalist countries (e.g. there is no universal health care system).

Interview with the First American Labor Delegation,
September 9, 1929

SECOND QUESTION. How do you explain the absence of a special mass workers' party in the United States?

The bourgeoisie in America have two parties, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, but the American workers have no mass political party of their own. Do not the comrades think that the absence of such a mass workers' party, even one like that in Britain (the Labour Party), weakens the working class in its political fight against the capitalists?

Then another question: Why do the leaders of the American labor movement, Green and the others, so strongly oppose the formation of an independent workers' party in America?

Brophy: Yes, the leaders did decide that there was no need to form such a party. There is a minority, however, which considers that such a party is needed. Objective conditions in America at the present time are such that, as has been pointed out already, the trade-union movement in the United States is very weak, and the weakness of the trade-union movement is, in its turn, due to the fact that the working class at present does not have to organise and fight the capitalists because the capitalists themselves raise wages and provide satisfactory material conditions for the workers.

Stalin: But if such provision is made at all, it is mainly the skilled workers who benefit. There is a contradiction here. On the one hand it would appear that there is no need to organize because the workers are provided for. On the other hand you say that it is precisely those workers who are best provided for, i.e., the skilled workers, who are organized in trade unions. Thirdly, it would appear that the unorganized are just those workers who are least provided for, i.e., the unskilled workers, who most of all stand in need of organization. I cannot understand this at all.

Brophy: Yes, there is a contradiction here, but American political and economic conditions are likewise contradictory.

Brebner: Although the unskilled workers are not organized, they have the political right to vote, so that if there is any discontent the unskilled workers can express this discontent by exercising their political right to vote. On the other hand, when the organized workers meet with particularly hard times they do not turn to their union, but exercise their political right to vote. Thus, the political right to vote compensates for the absence of trade-union organization.

Israels: One of the chief difficulties is the system itself, the election system in the United States. It is not the man who polls a majority of votes in the whole country, or even the majority of the votes of any one class, who is elected President. In every state there is an electoral college; every state elects a certain number of electors who take part in the election of the President. To be elected President, the candidate must obtain 51 per cent of the votes. If there were three or four parties no candidate would be elected, and the election of the President would have to be transferred to Congress. This is an argument against forming a third party. Those who oppose the formation of a third party argue in this way: Don't put up a third candidate because you will split the liberal vote and you will prevent the liberal candidate from being elected.

Stalin: But Senator La Follette at one time was creating a third bourgeois party. It follows then that a third party cannot split the vote if it is a bourgeois party, but that it can split the vote if it is a workers' party.

Davis: I do not regard the fact mentioned by the previous speaker as a fundamental one. I think the most important fact is the following. I will quote the example of the city where I live. During the election campaign the representative of a certain party comes along and gives the trade-union leader an important job, and in connection with the campaign places certain funds at his disposal, which he puts to his own use. This gives him a certain prestige connected with the job he has received. It turns out, therefore, that the trade-union leaders support one or the other of the bourgeois parties. Naturally, when there is any talk of forming a third party, a workers' party, these labor leaders refuse to do anything in the matter. They argue that if a third party were formed there would be a split in the trade-union movement .

Douglas: The chief reason why only skilled workers are organized is that to be able to join a union a man must have money and be well off, because the entrance fees and dues are very high and unskilled workers cannot afford to pay.

Moreover, the unskilled workers are in constant danger of being thrown out of work by the employers if they attempt to organize. The unskilled workers can be organized only with the active support of the skilled workers. In most cases they do not get this support, and this is one of the chief obstacles to the organization of the unskilled workers.

The principal means by which the workers can defend their rights are political means. That, in my opinion, is the chief reason why the unskilled workers are unorganized.

I must point to a special feature of the American electoral system, the primary elections, in which any man can go to a primary, declare himself a Democrat or a Republican and cast his vote. I am convinced that Gompers could not have kept the workers on a non-political program if he did not have this argument about the primary voting. He always told the workers that if they wanted political action they could join either of the two existing political parties, capture the responsible positions in them and win influence. With this argument Gompers managed to keep the workers away from the idea of organizing the working class and of forming a workers' party.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Revolt with a Vote! Communist Candidates are a Must, Says Gus Hall.

Written specially for this blog by Michael of the Gus Hall Action Club:

William Z. Foster, former Marxist-Leninist leader of the Communist Party USA and Communist presidential candidate, said that "The Republican party is the party of finance capital, of the great bankers and industrialists of Wall Street....From the Republican party no relief, but only a worsening of existing conditions may be expected." On the other hand, "the Democratic party is no less the party of the big capitalists." It is "the second party of capitalism" which has "a flood of demogogy to delude the masses and to prevent their taking steps against the capitalists by keeping them fettered with the two party capitalist system." (William Z. Foster, Towards Soviet America, 1932, International Publishers)

Nevertheless, Gus Hall, a later leader of the Communist Party USA and Communist presidential candidate, noted that Marxist-Leninists support "the defeat of the most reactionary anti-labor, racist and pro-war candidates." But he makes the point that "class collaboration in the field of politics is a sell out." (Gus Hall, Capitalism on the Skids to Oblivion, 1972, New Outlook Publishers)

Both Foster and Hall fought for a broad coalition against monopoly capitalism and looked forward to working-class political independence from the two parties of capitalism.

(Gus Hall: ’Communist candidates’ are ’a must.’)

Gus Hall said that Communist electoral candidates are a must and ran for president on the Communist Party USA ticket many times. He said, in Labor Up-Front, that Communist electoral candidates "stimulate" movements for political independence. They are "an indispensable element of the people’s anti-monopoly struggle." (Gus Hall, Labor Up-Front, 1979)

"Communist candidates," Gus Hall said, are "a must." And he noted that "a presidential campaign presents a unique opportunity to speak to millions of our people." Hall continued: "It is an opportunity to influence--and yes, to change--the thought patterns of great numbers. It is an opportunity to present our (Communist) Party, our program and positions to the majority of our people. It is an opportunity to take on the ideological challenge of Big Lie anti-Communism." (Gus Hall, For Peace, Jobs, Equality, 1983, New Outlook Publishers)

Drawing from experience, Gus Hall said that Communist electoral candidates have an opportunity to "struggle against racism, " "to speak to millions about socialism, about nationalization and public takeover" and "expose state monopoly capitalism in every area of life." And "without Communist participation as candidates many issues will never be discussed, debated or even raised, such as: the crisis of capitalism...corporate profits (and) socialism." (Gus Hall, For Peace, Jobs, Equality, 1983, New Outlook Publishers)

But, arguing against Communists who minimize the importance of Communist electoral candidates, Hall boldly states that "abandoning the electoral arena is liquidationism." "Some may argue, " Gus Hall said, "that we can be a factor in the election campaign from the sidelines, without fielding (Communist electoral) candidates. That is not a serious argument. During election campaigns people listen to candidates--their positions, platform, statements, promises, etc." (Gus Hall, For Peace, Jobs, Equality, 1983, New Outlook Publishers)

And Hall exposes the content of the arguments from other Communists against Communist electoral candidates. "For some reason, " he said, "the necessity of running Communist candidates in election campaigns is not self-evident in our Party...In essence, the questions raised are very similar to the ones raised against the concept of a Communist public presence, or the arguments one hears against the Party being an action-oriented organization. They are also very similar to arguments against integrating the Communist essence into our mass work. All the arguments have a familiar liquidationist ring." Gus Hall brings down the liquidationist line when he boldly declares that "to give up the Party’s electoral activity is to retreat before the class enemy’s political pressures and the legal obstacles they place." (Gus Hall, For Peace, Jobs, Equality, 1983, New Outlook Publishers)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Candidates in the 2008 Election

The only communist party in the US that is running any communist candidates for office in 2008 (including president) is the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL). Members of the Workers World Party (WWP) formed PSL several years ago after an internal dispute. PSL has gotten their presidential candidate on the ballot in 12 states, which was a massive task for a small organization.

Both PSL and the WWP participate in the International Communist Seminar in Brussels, which is hosted by the Workers Party of Belgium. It is an annual event that is attended by representatives of communist parties from all over the world. This includes the Cuban, Korean, Greek, Vietnamese and Russian communist parties, as well as numerous others. Note that not all parties attend every year.

In addition to the PSL's communist candidates, there are other anti-imperialists and progressives running for various other offices this year. However, it should be kept in mind that these other candidates are not communists.

Here is a brief list of some of the most notable:

* Cynthia McKinney, a Green Party candidate for president and former congresswoman

* Cindy Sheehan, an anti-war activist and independent candidate for US Congress in California

* Dennis Kucinich, a Democratic congressman seeking reelection to the US Congress from Ohio

* Anthony Pollina, an independent and Progressive Party candidate for governor of Vermont

For detailed information on where the PSL and the Green Party's presidential candidates are on the ballot, view this excellent chart at Ballot Access News. Note that the list of PSL ballot lines is at the bottom, below the chart. In addition, here is a list of Green candidates for various offices that deserve special attention.

The Classics of Marxism-Leninism

Communists often encourage those who are new to Marxism-Leninism to read a very large number of books, pamphlets and other documents. This can cause a problem, because many beginners simply become overwhelmed by a very large list of readings. This might make them choose to not read any of the Marxist-Leninist classics at all. Therefore, it is necessary to offer a streamlined list of the most essential classics for those who are new to read.

Here is a list of the most essential writings by Marx, Engels, Lenin and others:

The Communist Manifesto – Marx and Engels

Wages Labor and Capital – Marx

On Authority – Engels

Socialism: Utopian and Scientific – Engels

What is to be Done?: Burning Questions of Our Movement – Lenin

The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion – Lenin

The Rights of Nations to Self-Determination – Lenin

Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism – Lenin

The State and Revolution – Lenin

"Left-Wing" Communism, An Infantile Disorder – Lenin

The Foundations of Leninism – Stalin

Report to the VII Congress – Dimitrov

Combating Liberalism – Mao

Toward Soviet America – Foster

This list can be further reduced so that the student can read one document at a time. Suggest that they start out with reading The Foundations of Leninism by Stalin. It provides a great introduction and covers all of the basics of Marxism-Leninism.

Northstar Compass

Northstar Compass is an excellent journal advocating solidarity with the people of the former Soviet Union and the other former socialist countries in Eastern Europe. In addition to news from Eastern Europe and calls to rebuild European and Soviet socialism, the journal also carries important information regarding the latest crimes and nefarious schemes of US imperialism, currently under the leadership of the fascist Neocons. In this bleak, post-Soviet, world Northstar Compass offers a beacon of hope and insight for all socialist and progressive minded people who do not want to live under the boot heel of a Neocon global empire.

Please visit their website and consider subscribing: