People who are familiar with our politics and publications will likely know that the Red Party at least tries to orient itself a little differently than most other socialist groups in the United States. While we seek as wide an audience as possible in order to distribute and debate our views, and do engage in more mass-oriented education and agitation where possible, much of our focus is towards the organized left, where we argue for increased democratic practices, open political debate and moves towards principled unity around a Marxist program as concrete steps towards the creation of a united communist party in this country.
We see this struggle of refoundation and unity of the existing left as one of the two core components to rebuilding the socialist movement, but one that unfortunately seems to get sidelined by many other organizations. Instead, these groups focus either predominantly or exclusively on reaching out to people who aren’t part of the existing left. While this is certainly positive insofar as politicizing ever-wider layers towards Marxism and organizing both campaigns and political parties is the second core component to rebuilding the socialist movement, it does carry with it an implication that the group doing the outreach is, to one degree or another, the already-formed revolutionary party, which simply needs to increase its own forces in order for the left to make a political breakthrough. Under this perspective, other socialist organizations are either seen as competitors for the “market share” of new activists, dismissed as wrong-headed sects or ignored altogether.
Take, for example, an article published on the Socialist Worker website in October called “Getting Organized to Change the World.”1 On the face of it, much of its analysis is pretty unobjectionable from a socialist perspective. The points that large-scale flash points – like Ferguson, Missouri – can arise seemingly out of nowhere, and that organizations arise to promote struggles that workers and other oppressed groups are engaged in – such as SNCC as an early leading organization of the Civil Rights Movement – are all certainly true. And that recent upsurges bring a hope they can “lead to the rebuilding of a left that has been in decline for decades” is a hope that much of the left shares. Finally, the argument made about socialist organizations being “the permanent memory of the class”, to quote Ernest Mandel2, is a solid one; to the degree that existing socialist organizations represent a fusion of the workers movement with Marxist analysis and political strategy, they serve as a repository for lessons learned from previous struggles, which can then be used applied to help better hone our movements in the future. Nevertheless, the article implies two points which are somewhat problematic when looking at the state of the left today as divided into a number of different organizations.
First is the unstated point of what kind of socialist organization is necessary, as the socialist movement has formed a number of different types of organizations over its history, from very broad parties organized around rather vague principles and goals, to hyper-centralized groups which severely tax rank and file activists lead by a small permanent leadership. A wider study of the International Socialist Organization, which publishes Socialist Worker, gives evidence toward an answer in that an organization like the Bolsheviks (and by extension the ISO) is ultimately the type of organization that’s needed. All well and good, but this raises many more questions than it answers, such as questions of historical distance, historiography of the Bolsheviks and other socialist and communist organizations, and the fact that many groups today claim the heritage of the Bolsheviks as their own to one degree or another.
The second problematic point is somewhat related, in that the article only talks about workers learning through struggles, treating political consciousness as a rather iterative process, and leaves out that debating different ideas, both within and between organizations, is also a component of the political learning process. Thus, the political strategy behind the activism can easily become, intentionally or otherwise, the purview of an organization’s leadership alone, rather than the common property of the organization.
It should be said that this isn’t to condemn the ISO as an egregious example of these problems. Rather, these issues are typical among much of the left, and indeed there are some suggestions that currents within existing groups are starting to talk about these issues anyway; a similar article from the ISO five or ten years ago would likely be more triumphalist about its own work, rather than speaking in more general terms, at least implying a wider socialist left outside the ISO. This is a positive development, and one which the Red Party hopes to see continue. The existing organizations on the left are correct in saying that they’re the basis for a future revolutionary party, at least insofar as their members are the ones learning and attempting to understand Marxist politics and strategy. But no organization today is going to be the sole precursor towards the party that we likely all want to see.
We in the Red Party are conscious of and frank about that fact; we are merely a campaign for the formation of such an organization, which we think will likely be formed through an open airing of both agreements and disagreements so that the politics and strategy of the party can become the property of the working class as a whole. This process may be starting to happen in a more concrete way than has happened in the recent past. May it continue and grow to become the organization we need.
(From The Red Vine.)