Monday, 1 August 2016

US Socialists Should Campaign For A Vote For Clinton and The Democrats

Socialists, in the United States, should campaign for a vote for Hillary Clinton, in the Presidential Election, and for Democrats in the elections for the Senate, House of Representatives and other positions in state elections.  They should do so not out of any support for Clinton, nor on the basis that the Democrats are any kind of socialist party.  Neither should they do so on the basis that a victory for Donald Trump has to be avoided at all costs, and so a vote for Clinton is a lesser evil.

The reason that socialists, in the US, should call for a vote for Clinton, and other Democrat candidates, is that, however distasteful the fact might be, it is, nevertheless, a fact that the Democrats are the Workers' Party, in the sense that Marx and Engels described it.  That is it is the Democrats to whom US workers look as their political representatives, just as they look to the Labour Party in Britain.  It is with the Democrats that US trades unions have their closest relation.

Unpalatable as it may be, if socialists, in the US, want to get the ear of workers, then, at least for now, it has to be by talking to them via the political channels that the Democrats provide.  That is no different to the situation that socialists faced in Britain, in the 19th century, when the British working-class looked to the Liberal Party as its political representative, and when the trades unions had a similar relation to it that US trades unions have towards the democrats, and when trades union sponsored working-class candidates stood as Lib-Labs.

During that time, there was no shortage of socialist sects, in Britain, including those like Hyndman's Social Democratic Federation, that called themselves Marxist.  Yet, Engels and Eleanor Marx encouraged their own supporters to ignore these sects and instead to go to where the workers themselves actually were, not just in the trades unions, but also in the Liberal Clubs.

What distinguishes the sectarian from the Marxist is that the former continually seeks ideological purity, even at the expense of the actual immediate interests of the working-class, whereas the Marxist always seeks the greatest possible of the working-class, even on the basis of an inadequate programme, in the certain belief that the most important things is for the class to move forward as a whole, and that ideological development will proceed along with it.

As Engels put it, writing to US socialists,

"….It is far more important that the movement should spread, proceed harmoniously, take root and embrace as much as possible the whole American proletariat, than that it should start and proceed from the beginning on theoretically perfectly correct lines. There is no better road to theoretical clearness of comprehension than "durch Schaden klug tererden" [to learn by one's own mistakes]. And for a whole large class, there is no other road, especially for a nation so eminently practical as the Americans. The great thing is to get the working class to move as a class; that once obtained, they will soon find the right direction, and all who resist, H.G. or Powderly, will be left out in the cold with small sects of their own."

As Engels also points out in his Letter to Florence Kelley Wischnewetsky it was on that basis that he and Marx had always proceeded.

”When we returned to Germany, in spring 1848, we joined the Democratic Party as the only possible means of getting the ear of the working class; we were the most advanced wing of that party, but still a wing of it. When Marx founded the International, he drew up the General Rules in such a way that all working-class socialists of that period could join it -- Proudhonists, Pierre Lerouxists and even the more advanced section of the English Trades Unions; and it was only through this latitude that the International became what it was, the means of gradually dissolving and absorbing all these minor sects, with the exception of the Anarchists, whose sudden appearance in various countries was but the effect of the violent bourgeois reaction after the Commune and could therefore safely be left by us to die out of itself, as it did. Had we from 1864, to 1873 insisted on working together only with those who openly adopted our platform where should we be to-day? I think that all our practice has shown that it is possible to work along with the general movement of the working class at every one of its stages without giving up or hiding our own distinct position and even organisation, and I am afraid that if the German Americans choose a different line they will commit a great mistake.”

The German Democrats were an openly bourgeois party, just as are the US Democrats today.

Marx had developed the basic outline of a revolutionary socialist programme, which is contained in his Instructions for the Delegates of the Provisional General Council of the First International, and also in The Programme of the French Socialist Party written with Guesde.  But, as engels points out, Marx set out the conditions for joining the First International on a basis that even the advanced sections of the trades unions could accept.

There is a certain similarity in  Marx and Engels' approach in this regard, to the idea developed by Rousseau of "The Lawgiver".  Rousseau, in The Social Contract, talks about the people or society being sovereign, but he also talks about the need for this sovereign to act wisely, and yet may not have the tools to do so.  Its in that context that he talks about the role of The Lawgiver.

This concept has led to accusations of Rousseau being a totalitarian, on the basis of this Lawgiver occupying the position of dictator.  In fact, that is far from the idea that Rousseau was promoting. The real nature of The Lawgiver is provided, in allegory, in Rousseau's novel Emile.

It is actually a role more like a tutor or advisor, who provides their students with advice and guidance, helping them to arrive at conclusions, and courses of action, via their own experience.  Consequently, there is no contradiction for Marx and Engels, in considering, from their own perspective, the need for the greatest theoretical clarity - as for example, Marx attempts in his Critique of the Gotha Programme - whilst throwing themselves fully into the development of the existing workers organisations, even on a most inadequate political platform.

As Marx put it, having written the Critique of the Gotha Programme, which he saw as an unnecessary concession to the Lassalleans, as part of their merger with the Eisenachers, 

"Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes. "

(Letter to Bracke)

Marx was not arguing against the merger of the two organisations, and later, when Engels wrote Anti-Duhring, he makes clear that he thought that the unity that had been achieved was indeed a great step forward.  The reason, Engels says, for writing Anti-Duhring, was to minimise the damage from what looked likely to be an inevitable split.  What Marx was arguing was that it would have been better to have had unity between the organisations merely on the basis of a programme of action, than to have had unity on a more developed programme that was wrong.

Our concern is not with where the workers are, but where they are going.  We have no choice, but to accept where the workers currently are, and what organisations they have created on that basis.  It is the mark of the ultra-left sectarian to avoid the current workers organisations, because they are not ideologically pure, revolutionary organisations.  How on earth do they believe the workers would spontaneously create such organisations, and if they could, the role of revolutionary Marxists would be itself redundant!

We do not shun the workers for their lack of ideological development, but commit ourselves, all the more, to assist the workers in raising themselves above their current level of understanding.  It is why, as Marx and Engels say in the Communist Manifesto,

"The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties.

They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.
They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement...

The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the lines of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement...

The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement."

In 1979, The Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory attempted to reconcile this conflict of seeking to promote an advance of the working-class, via its political wing, without providing uncritical support for the existing programme of that party.  Something similar could be adopted in the US now.  In other words, socialists, in the US, at the same time as being out in the streets, and in the communities, campaigning for a vote for Democrat candidates, can be talking to all of the workers engaged in that campaigning alongside them.  They can discuss all of the inadequacies of the political programme of the Democrats, and the need to transform it.  They can discuss how far such transformation is possible within the existing framework of the Democratic Party, and what lessons can be learned from Bernie Sanders campaign within it.

At the same time, they can discuss with all of those many more workers they encounter, via the campaign, what Sanders campaign demonstrates, in terms of the need for more workers to take an active part within the party, much as has happened with the influx of workers to the Labour Party, enthused by Jeremy Corbyn.

Socialists, in the US, might also take a leaf out of the book of the Tea Party, and it is a lesson that the Corbynites are learning too, that at a certain point, the growth of mass support also has to be channelled.  A mistake in the past has been that when the Left in the Labour Party grew stronger, it became embroiled in endless, esoteric debates and battles over rules and resolutions.  Much of it had to do with the sects seeking to win pyrrhic political victories over the party establishment, in a belief that one of their main duties is to expose and embarrass the existing labour movement leadership.  Such activity distracted from the task of building real support, even on an inadequate platform, at the grass roots level, and of turning the party outwards into the wider movement communities, to become a truly mass party.

It would have been a mistake to have followed that same course again.  A series of worthy resolutions won at conference do not amount to a hill of beans, unless you carry the large mass  of the party with you, and a sizeable part of the wider periphery in the labour movement.

But, the coup attempt, against Corbyn, the revelations about the actions of the DNC, in undermining Sanders, also shows that we cannot ignore these structural and organisations tasks either.  Its understandable why Corbyn, McDonnell and others do not talk about deselecting MP's, because they do not want to give ammunition to their opponents, who are already accusing them of wanting to engineer a split, and so on.  But, likewise, it is clearly not tenable, in the longer term, for the majority of the PLP to be so out of step with the party, and with the democratically elected leader of the party.

As recent events have shown, the PLP and their supporters, will go to great lengths to get their way, and although they are less than a tiny minority, they have considerable influence, due to their privileged position and access to, and support from the Tory media.

In Britain, it will be necessary to utilise the large membership base, and support for Corbyn within it, to bring about some simple, immediate organisational changes.  The election of a more Corbyn friendly NEC will help, but its also necessary to change the rules on electing the leader  so as to remove the current privileged position of the PLP and MEP's; we need to abolish the Compliance Unit; we need greater control over the party apparatus; we need to reintroduce mandatory reselection of MP's.

In the US, socialists need to mobilise the forces energised by the Sanders campaign, to start selecting more left-wing candidates for the Senate, House of Representatives, Governorships, Mayors and so on.  Whoever wins the Presidency, will have to deal with Congress, and the more radical the forces there, the more the President can be held in check.

Utilising the enthusiasm provided by the sanders campaign, should be central to that in the coming months.  Its important not to allow the idea to take hold that the struggle for the Presidential candidacy is the be-all and end-all.  More important is turning all of those forces outwards, to build the party, and its activities at a grass roots level. 

Socialists in every block and precinct should be working in Democrat organisations to raise all of the issues that came up as part of the Sanders campaign, to use that to draw additional forces into the party and to begin to renew the party at a grass roots level, turning it outwards to support every strike, every community action, and so on.  At the present time, of repeated shootings of black people by the police, across the US, such activity is vital, in organising the political response.

It provides a perfect example of the need to develop solutions based on self-activity and self-government, for example, a demand for black self-defence groups, similar to those developed by the Black Panthers in the 1960's, and for democratically organised, self-policing of black communities, by the community itself.

The election campaign provides a perfect opportunity for socialists to raise discussion of the need for such solutions on the doorstep, as part of their canvassing, and at the same time, to encourage others to join with them, in a struggle for the adoption of such policies.  It opens up the opportunity to offer assistance of local party organisations, or even just activists from within the local party, to establish tenants and residents associations, and other forms of community organisation.

Workers in the US may find, as workers in Britain found with the Liberal Party, that the existing structure, the ingrained power of capitalist interests, may make progress impossible, and so will be led to create a new party, as workers in Britain did, with the Labour Party.  But, that development has to be one led by the workers themselves.  It cannot be one in which, once again, a sect or combination of sects, declare themselves the saviours of the working-class, and wait for them to come flocking to their door.

For now, US workers have not broken with the Democrats, and it is to them that they look for answers.  If socialists, in the US, do not want the only answers given to those workers to be the ones given by Clinton and her ilk, they have to be part of that Democrat election campaign themselves, and to show to US workers that a vote for Democrat candidates is not the end of the story, but merely the start of the struggle.

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