Looking at the Left: Socialist Alternative

Jerry Clay looks at the history and methods of Socialist Alternative (U.S.)

Victory, Sweet Glorious Victory!

The victory of Kshama Sawant in Seattle, W.A. and the near victory of Ty Moore in Minneapolis, M.N. has resulted in quite the advance for Socialist Alternative (SAlt) and more broadly for socialism across the United States. SAlt has roughly doubled in size from 200-250 to 400-450 with new branches popping everywhere, most notably Hawaii.


Bad News Time

The Committee for a Workers International (CWI), SAlt’s international affiliation, has a very long and troubling history when it comes to organizing parties. The major issues are bureaucracy, economic reductionism (or economism) and expulsion for alternate views.

In the beginning, the CWI was an entryist operation inside the various labor and social democratic parties around the world. Entryism is the organized existence of a political group within another party for the express purpose of splitting that party. Over the course of five decades using the strategy in the United Kingdom, they grew to roughly 8,000 members and more full time bureaucrats than the Labour Party itself (roughly 200,000 members at the time.) To this day they are still heavily invested in their “full-timers,” with their Irish section possessing 25 of them in an organization of 100. Little surprise that in most of their organization it is these staffers that are in command.

Economic reductionism or economism is the view that economic demands and fights will spontaneously generate in the workers’ consciousness a revolutionary Marxist perspective of the world. In other words it downplays or ignores democratic demands and battles in favor of trade union struggles for higher wages and better conditions. While it is true that a starving working class cannot rule, it’s also true that the working class cannot rule through anything less than extreme democracy in all society – a demand all CWI sections raise only for the workplace. This economism arises from their entryist history and from Trotsky’s transitional program.

Rather recently, comrades in the British section of the CWI were treated to expulsion for espousing Marxist economic theory inside a supposed Marxist organization. This flies in the face of the dominant form of economic theory in the party, Keynesianism. This is reminiscent of the early 90s split on the tactical question of whether or not to remain entryist (ignoring the simple fact they could have a common organization using two different tactics until one proves absolute). Now, I haven’t the space to explain what these theories are or to pick sides – that’s neither my point nor my goal. Any organization that cannot stand multiple theories on economics or tactics is a party that cannot prepare the working class for its mission to rule society. It also cannot stand any open difference without an inevitable split (the exact opposite of how the Bolsheviks operated, the party CWI holds up as patron saint.)


Marxism or Economism 

We in the socialist movement have many options, most of which have been tried in one country or another and failed to one degree or another. The notable exceptions are the historic mergers of social democracy. These mergers united workers into mass parties on a Marxist basis with freedom of criticism and freedom of tactics. Socialist Alternative and all sections of CWI have been split many times, sometimes organized, sometimes not. This will continue until we have principled Marxist unity.

(Originally published in The Red Vine.)


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