Letters – March 4, 2017

Criticism; control the bureaucrats

Criticism

I would like to, in a personal capacity, go over the Foundation Faction’s Manifesto and draw out some criticisms.

“Some of our more recently-joined members have promoted a line against certain Party positions, most notably our longstanding policy on national self-determination rights for oppressed peoples. They have successfully advocated for an extraordinary convention (to occur approximately 10 months after the prior convention instead of the scheduled 24) solely to advance their views. While there is nothing in the Constitution that forbids this, it is unnecessary and sets a poor precedent of attempting to legislate out every disagreement on the spot. Certain advocates of the extraordinary convention have also spoke favorably of reducing the time between regular conventions to 1 year or even less. We in the Foundation faction object to this proposal – 2 years is a high enough pace for a party to be changing national policy. To be doing more conventions in less time could be very destabilizing to the party’s internal community and make our positions far too erratic. There is a time and place for debate, and rightfully it should be happening leading up to and in the time between regular biennial conventions.”

I agree with the general criticism that early conventions should not be called at a whim, they ought to be reserved for an emergency situation as comrade MS has pointed out in their “Comment on the Early Convention”. However, the fundamental issue is that the provision within our Constitution doesn’t have a clear intended application. There ought to be a discussion regarding what the intended application of the provision is, given the Constitution itself is unclear and has led to confusion throughout the party.

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Now I want to move on the second part of the manifesto. This sec​ tion is based on a p​ df file that I posted in a forum at one poin​t, ​and I have to stress this: ​Did not formally submit as a proposal​, nor do I have any intention of doing so.

“This would replace a committee composed of people of varying genders, races, and political stances with one that is entirely white and composed of largely the same political line.”

If the implication here is that we need to impose ‘diversity quotas’ then I deeply disagree with this. Our goal should be to educate the widest layers of our party as possible, not keep a ‘diverse’ select few in charge.

“It would be a CC fully-empowered to make political decisions in recruitment and submit applicants to an ideological ‘acid test’ rather than gauge what a potential member could actually bring to the party. The list itself, likewise, has not been critically assessed for its value to the party but for its value to a political line.”

The concern was about the dissemination of the skills necessary to run the party on a national level to as many comrades as possible. I think that the entire membership, ideally speaking, should have some experience in running the national organization, regardless of their political line (or ‘whiteness’). Every cook must be able to govern, as someone once said.

“The only defense of this proposal, so far, has been an apparent interest in implementing single-term limits on the Central Committee. This is a terrible idea for a number of reasons.”

Single-term limits would be a terrible idea, yes. Though the need for regular dissemination of administrative skills among the wider membership is still a fundamental concern, and I still believe that regular rotation of ‘officials’ (or administrators, bureaucrats, whatever your preferred term) would be a core part of that development.

“​We have people in our CC who perform essential functions and manage our documentation and logistics well. Shuffling the entire CC every term without reason is only damaging to the basic operation of the Party. At best, it does nothing to help it. If a member is to be replaced there should be reason for it.”

While I absolutely accept the point that certain individual Central Committee members play essential roles, this is dancing around the point: W​ e should be actively disseminating these essential skills among the wider membership.​ We ought to actively take measures against a small group of individuals holding a monopoly on the skills and knowledge essential to running the Party. ​That was the core political principle behind my ‘list’. I do agree that replacing the entire CC all at once would be a terrible idea, but it’s no better to leave those essential skills in a select few. You can’t recall someone if you can’t effectively replace them.

All-in-all, I find it odd that a faction is seemingly basing itself on motions that do not (yet) exist. No one has put forward a resolution reducing time between conventions, nor has anyone proposed a new Central Committee. I have treated the faction’s manifesto in the best faith possible, but it must be pointed out most of what this faction is based on ​doesn’t actually exist. This seems to be a faction based on fear of what could be, not on what is.

  • Susie M

Control the Bureaucrats
A Response to the Foundation Faction Manifesto

The proletariat needs to begin to develop power over its full-timers under conditions of bourgeois rule—in its own institutions, in its own organisations—if it is to be in a position to take the power from the bourgeoisie and create a state which is actually answerable to the working class, rather than one which becomes a state for itself, like the Stalinist regime.

— Mike Macnair, “Control the Bureaucrats”

Human history is the history of class struggle, and inherent to the development of revolution is the internal struggle for political clarification. There will almost always be heavy contention in the course of the development of a Party in its infancy—another dialectical vision of progress— whose tensions must be debated democratically within the channels of the Party itself. In the traditions of Marxism clarified by Kautsky and Lenin and maintained by leaders of groups as diverse as Trotsky, Bordiga, and Bukharin who understood themselves to be operating on Bolshevik practices, etc., the point of such a worker’s party existence is to represent proletarian interests, to educate proletarians to the nature of class struggle, and to provide a structure for that proletarian representation. It is, in short, to channel class struggle towards revolutionary ends and to represent the struggle within the class for political clarification towards those very ends.

Indeed, with that understanding of the nature of a worker’s party, the undersigned have a very hard time understanding what is wrong with adjusting the foundational documents to democratically reflect the views of dues-paying membership. Our tendency stresses principled programmatic unity—we want to be an active part of this Party.

The Foundation Faction Manifesto makes it clear that they want to slow debate and development of the Party’s vision, as if the clarification of our beliefs must move at the pace of cultural or economic change itself. We see little reason to believe that, and if anything this call for factional division has brought problems in our ability to deliberate to a head. An excessive emphasis on patience in 2017 means sitting out the most volatile and promising political environment in fifty years.

Our attitude towards the Party Constitution must be similar to our calls for a working democratic government: collapsing legislation into one popular branch and reducing checks and balances to make government more responsive to the people. Why would we work against this in our own party? What foundation of a socialist republic would be preserved by that process?

We are faced with the prospect that faction fights could already bubble up so quickly, with so little political content at stake other than a chance for the new membership to debate and improve the Party documents. This is thoroughly demoralizing and

confusing: demoralizing to those who wish to see the majority will of the Party represented as membership expands, and confusing because so much of what is being discussed is not known to all the “opposing faction.” Our “faction” did not even know itself to be a faction! The Foundation Faction has forced an unnecessary factional mindset upon the Party: we do not have large enough working class representation within our ranks to need factions to represent differences of opinion. It would be good practice for Party members to speak with each other regularly before forming factions, if only just to be sure our differences of opinion have not been taken out of proportion.

We admit that tendencies and factions are endemic to any democratic process; however, without principled programmatic unity within the Party, and without a willingness to allow challenges to the Party bureaucracy on behalf of the general membership, this repeats the errors of Trotskyism. We can say that we follow Macnair, classical Bolshevik principles, and worker’s democracy all we want, but our practices speak louder than our program.

In order, however, to discuss more systemic issues, we need to clarify specific ones.

Certainly, there has been a severe lack of communication that comrade MB had hoped to address by m​ igrating ​to the Slack platform. It is not so much ​which ​platform we use so much as ​that we stick to one in particular so that all members can access all Party information and discussion in one place. We currently have three platforms, not counting secretive backchannels that have taken the place of open communication.

The fact that five people could be convinced that an informal proposal for CC that was never officially submitted into the CC by comrade SM—and that this would be conflated with calls for clarification on Party issues—illustrates that we will have to tackle the same demons the rest of the Marxist left does: the default paranoia of organizational logic, a bureaucratic rationality that imagines everyone else is coordinating and out to get you. We are ​not out to get you—we are not even in agreement on everything. We want to end the backchannels and put Party business where it belongs: out in the open. Any effort to the contrary is the opposite of the foundations of a Party or a socialist republic.

What most speaks to the air of mistrust is that ​the objections the Foundation Faction cite as their primary motivations are in response to policies not formally proposed by anybody. The replacing of all Central Committee would be unwise, and attempts to
vote by slate are unwise as well. The reason the Special Convention was called as not to replace the CC or even to ask for new members to stand, although it seems clear that since the Special Convention is effectively just an early Convention, this does need to happen.

CC elections should not be handled by slate voting. No formal slates should be proposed. This was a mistake of both the post-civil war Bolsheviks and of almost all Trotskyist parties since then. It tends to create highly divisive factions, centralized party functions into what are effectively bureaucratic, and a party that seeks to not just educate the working class but strategically manipulate it; it is good that neither the Foundation nor the informal clusters within the Party have called for slate voting.

Our Constitution and our draft program doesn’t know whether its demands are immediate, minimum or maximum. It’s not acceptable for a party based on Marx, Engels, Kautsky and Lenin’s programmatic politics in the 21st century to have demands that are largely unsequenced in order of implication, need, or likelihood of success, especially when the social and legal conditions for such a party to be democratically viable in the United States as of yet do not exist. The conflations of tactical demands confuses the vision of socialism that we espouse with more conventional progressive or post-Marxist social democratic politics.

Our party is, again, in its infancy. It cannot be representative of the working class, but it has grown in the last few months in response to a larger atmosphere in the country. The call for the convention seems to have been developed out of a sense that there were contradictions within our platform on the questions of national liberation and, more importantly than stated in the Manifesto, class collaboration with​ petit bourgeois elements within our society by policies we support. This is a serious platform issue. Other concerns about the demands as they are currently stated revolve around a lack of clear distinction between tactical demands such as the Fight for 15, which is clearly not a socialist policy but is good for the working class, transitional demands such as the restructuring of the country for a socialist republic, but little talk of maximalist demands such as the abolition of surplus value itself. This makes the exact economic program and the historical thesis undergirding it very nebulous. Calls to build a foundation of socialist republic based on a party at this stage in development is, at best, aspirational, so the ability to refine these planks democratically is needed.

If there is a way to do that beyond special Conventions, which we admit are destabilizing, this needs to be worked towards, but in itself would require a calcification of the Party Constitution, and this is beyond the scope of any committee or single faction within the Party to do as the Constitution currently stands. The lack of clarity warrants not only a piecemeal reform but a Convention to construct a viable program for our time. We wish we felt such a destabilization of procedure was avoidable but as the Foundation Faction Manifesto admits, our Constitution remains unclear about such matters. Our principles are based on transparency, democracy, and the understanding that democratic centralism is not merely rule by bureaucrats.

If Red Party refuses to follow through on its principles, if openness and communication cannot get a fair democratic hearing, we are afraid that the promise of a democratic

Marxist party may lead many of us elsewhere where procedures are clearer and activity more responsive to need. But we write this in hopes that we can remain Red Party comrades in good faith, and in order to do so we demand:

(a) centralization of all formal Party communication on a platform of democratic choosing with accessible archiving to maximize transparency
(b) establishment of a less cumbersome means of changing Party documents
(c) an open Party-wide discussion about bureaucratic dynamics and how to build a democratic internal culture, and

(d) a clarification of the ambiguities of the Party Constitution and a formalization of procedures.

— The Undersigned

Lexi Katsopolis
Grant Gallagher Jennifer Howell-Clark Patrick Janis
Henry Maier
Susie Mirtis
John Montez
Peter Moody
Joseph Sciortino
Crixus Weydemeyer
C. Derick Varn

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