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.

1 comment:

fosterhall said...

Midwest Communist asked that the following message be posted as a comment:

Great post!! I thought of these words when I read your piece:

"The two-party system," William Z. Foster of the Communist Party USA once said, "is the apple of the capitalists' eye, so far as maintaining their political control of the workers is concerned." Foster stressed that monopoly capital controls both major parties and that "American labor's coming of age will be marked by the establishment of its own party." (William Z.
Foster, Twilight of World Capitalism, 1949)

Thanks for writing about this!!