“How to start a workers party”

I was asked for “an outline for ‘how to start a workers party.'”

But it’s not like just reading the directions and proceeding step-by-step for assembling a piece of Ikea furniture. It’s more like a surfer catching a wave. First you have to understand the waves. Or to put it another way: If the few thousand workers in the US who understand the need for a workers party could simply assemble it, we’d have had a workers party long ago. The question is: “Through what processes can a workers party develop?”

Movement in the streets
The US working class has a long history of moving first in the streets and work places, of mass mobilizations in other words. It was through that that the organizations (the unions) were built. We have seen a similar tendency in the last few years.

  • We had the huge mobilization of women (and men) right when Trump was installed into office.
  • We had the mobilizations at the airports following Trump’s Muslim ban right after he came into office.
  • We have had a series of mobilizations against the trampling of immigrants’ rights.
  • There has been a wave of strikes throughout the US.
  • Throughout all of this, both before and since Trump came into office, there have been the protests against the police murders, especially of black people.

How will this play out in the longer run?

If the unions played a role, these various protests could have become an overwhelming tsunami. But the unions have been throttled by a leadership that is committed to being “partners” with big business, both with the employers in the work places and with the employers’ representatives in politics through the Democratic Party. Some local union leaders will smile, nod their heads and maybe even say a few words in agreement with this criticism, but the one thing they will not do is actually organize to change those policies. That’s why the alienation inside the unions is so massive, why the union just doesn’t enter into the thinking of so many rank and file members.

“Yellow Vests”
That’s why any new movement in the US will tend to be chaotic and without a clear working class base. Think: “Yellow Vest” movement in France. (There, too, the union leadership had prevented a series of strikes from developing into a wider movement some six months or so before the Yellow Vest movement started.)

The Democratic Party will play no role in building such a movement. On the contrary, even its “progressive” wing will try to divert it. During the government shutdown, for example, that wing’s foremost representative – Bernie Sanders – sent out an email calling on people to sign a petition aimed at Republican senator Mitch McConnell. That was the sum total of what Sanders did. And those who are in the thralls of Sanders, such as DSA, simply follow in his footsteps. They, too, have refused to organize any sort of mobilizations.

How will a new movement in the streets arise? An impossible question to answer. It is most likely it will be through some sort of shock – either a new war, or an economic collapse, or an environmental catastrophe that costs hundreds or even thousands of lives (or more), or something entirely different. Another possibility is that protests could develop out of massive voter suppression in the next elections. In any case, such shocks are inherent in the situation. What is also inherent is that such a new movement will almost certainly be similar to the Yellow Vest movement in France – chaotic, unstructured and confrontational.

But order will tend to arise from this chaos. In France, the Yellow Vest movement held local assemblies and through that, they elected delegates to two national assemblies. The purpose of these assemblies was to help develop a more clear program and a way forward for the movement. It seems likely that something similar would happen in a new movement here in the US – that through that movement some body would be formed to guide and advance that movement. And if that body started to develop a structure, and if the working class started to stamp its imprint on it, what would that be but the start of a mass working class party? 

In other words, a working class party will not be simply an organization to run candidates for office. It will be a party that organizes workers to stand up for their interests and to help clarify that it is the role of the working class to fight against all forms of bigotry and oppression, to oppose environmental destruction, to oppose capitalist wars, etc. It might very well start around building the movement in the streets, rather than around running candidates. However, sooner or later it will have to run its own candidates for office, independent of and opposed to the Democratic Party candidates. If it does not, then it will inevitably sink into the Democratic Party swamp.

The role of working class socialists in this process would be to point to where it’s headed and to try to clarify the program and what organizational steps can and must be taken. In doing this, we will be opposed by the representatives of the union leadership and of the non-profiteers.

2020 elections and voter suppression
Today, the overwhelming thrust for most socialists and working class activists is towards getting Trump voted out. Even there, though, the issue of mobilizing in the streets should not be ignored. We should not ignore the threat of voter suppression on a mass scale. Nor should we simply leave it in the hands of the Democrats to stop it. They did not stop the fraud that installed Bush in 2000. They did nothing (except complain) about the wide-scale voter suppression in Georgia that resulted in the installation of a Republican governor in 2018. They will not mobilize to stop voter suppression in 2020.

Even active supporters of Sanders – or whatever other candidate – can make campaigning against voter suppression part of their activities. We should prepare for possible mass protests at voting polls where voter suppression is carried out. Similar protests might happen in cities where it’s not – like in California. Whether we believe in supporting Sanders or not, surely we can join together to prepare for that possibility.

Those who are involved in campaigning for their favorite Democrat today should not forget that. We should be building to stop voter suppression now. And along the way, we should be mobilizing around the other issues that arise – the census fraud that is being prepared; the tendency towards war against Iran; whatever other outrage Trump & Co. are carrying out; worker strikes where and when they happen. That is how we can help prepare the way for a mass working class party in the United States. And when that develops, it will transform US – and therefore world – politics.


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