Saturday, July 30, 2016

There is a choice

It has been said that the attraction of Bernie Sanders was his principled stand and reticence to compromise his political ideals. His supporters have been impressed by the staunch defense he made of his "democratic socialism.” However, Sanders can be criticized for having conceded the most basic of socialist tenets: that an independent working class must create its own revolutionary party and put an end to class collaboration. His support and endorsement of Hilarity Clinton legitimized those who felt a need to offer a “pragmatic” electoral policy of the “lesser evil”. Success in the class struggle demands working-class independence from all capitalist parties. Sanders instead simply increased the ability of the “progressive” wing of the Democrats to absorb popular discontent.

The task of convincing fellow workers of socialism is a daunting one. The working class has been fooled into accepting the concept of common interests wherein the problems of the capitalist class and its state are theirs also. The belief that there exists a community of interests from which we all derive common benefits is a mistaken one but nevertheless held strongly even by supposed critics of the status quo such as Sanders. Two crucial political fallacies permeate American workers thinking. First, that the present system can be organized through a process of legislation and regulation so that it will operate in the interests of the majority, and second, that "proper leadership" is an essential requirement. Such ideas have created a cornucopia of radical-left parties in the United States but the almost-forgotten World Socialist Party of the United States may impress you if you have an appreciation of the history of America’s socialist movement.

It is said that a portrait of Eugene Debs, the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party of America (SPA) The SPA was first formed in 1901 following a split with Daniel De Leon’s Socialist Labor Party (SLP). It did not have as its sole objective the establishment of socialism unlike the SLP but instead was basically a left-wing, social democratic, reformist party with hundreds of thousands of members and supporters and many hundreds of elected officials. The First World War profoundly shocked the SPA, with at least some of its members questioning its policies, tactics and objectives, thus the "Socialist Party of the United States" (SPUS)—its name inspired by co-thinkers in the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB) and the Socialist Party of Canada (SPC)—came into being.  Those leaving to found the new organization were encouraged by the rapid growth of the so-called “impossibilist” movement in Canada and were deeply discouraged by this growing trend towards reformism in the SPA as seen in what was called ‘sewer socialism’ – the municipal socialism of Victor Berger

The WSPUS maintains that it has been unique in the history of American socialist parties since its inception by unrelentingly putting forward the original conception of socialism, defined as a post-capitalist mode of production where the accumulation of capital is no longer the driving force governing production, but production is instead undertaken to produce goods and services directly for use. The WSPUS defines socialism as a money-free society based on common ownership of the means of production and cooperative and democratic associations as opposed to bureaucratic hierarchies and companies. Additionally, the WSPUS considers statelessness, classlessness and the abolition of wage labor as components of a socialist society—characteristics that are usually reserved to describe a fully developed communist society. Unlike anarchists the World Socialist Party advocates a political revolution because it argues that as the state is the "executive committee" of the capitalist class. It must be captured by the working class to keep the former from using it against the will of the latter.

A "mild-mannered, blue-eyed man with a vast memory" who was "textually brilliant in Marxist lore", as one observer noted, Adolph Kohn attempted to gather around him others opposed to the World War in Europe and who felt that the pursuit of ameliorative reforms only served to bolster the capitalist system. Members of a “Study Circle” began to argue that a new, anti-reformist party separate from the SPA should be organised. Others, such as leading left-wing members of the SPA in Detroit like John Keracher and Dennis Batt, were at first sympathetic, but they felt that Marxists should remain in the SPA for the time being, and swing it towards socialism. The formation of a new socialist party was premature, they claimed. This small group decided to organise separately, and at a meeting in Detroit on July 7, 1916, the Socialist Party of the United States was launched. At the meeting, 19 members of the Detroit local of the SPA resigned from that party and at its formation, the SPUS had only 43 members. The SPUS sent its manifesto to the author, Jack London, and on September 21, just eight weeks before he died, he replied to the party’s national secretary William Davenport.
“Please read my resignation from the Socialist Party, and find that I resigned for the same reasons that impel you to form this new party . . . I congratulate you and wish you well on your adventure. I am not bitter. I am only sad that within itself the proletariat seems to perpetuate the seeds of its proletariat.”

The founding members were frequently asked why they were adding to the number of socialist parties. Is America not already blessed with a multiplicity of workers’ parties? Why start another? Why add to the confusion? The answer given was that there is no way of challenging and refuting the spurious programs of the parties which promises to reform capitalism except by building up from the ground an organisation of socialists working only for socialism. The SPUS participated in the left-socialist circles of the time, mostly in the profusion of socialist educational classes, especially with the Michigan socialists expelled from the SPA in 1919 who first helped form the Communist Party of America (CPA) and later formed the Proletarian Party of America. Groups were formed in New York City, Cleveland, Portland and San Francisco. The "Proletarian" group and the SPUS split apart over support for the Soviet Union. The Proletarian Party, headed by John Keracher, regarded the USSR as a workers' state which needed defending and was expelled from the SPA in May 1919. Together with a number of other former SPA factions, it assisted in forming the Communist Party. Yet within a year, Keracher’s Michigan group was charged with “Menshevism,” because they did not believe that a socialist revolution was imminent in the United States. They were expelled from the Communist Party. They continued to support Bolshevism, they also denied that socialism had been established in Russia. It was felt unfortunate that it was not possible to save “these otherwise valuable socialists” from their “infatuation” with Bolshevism, a SPUS member put it. But also unfortunately, as with the Socialist Party of Canada, the IWW and many European socialist parties, Comintern’s 21 Conditions imposed policies that were at odds with their own concept of the course of a socialist revolution.

Pressured by the Palmer Raids of January, 1920, and threatened with trademark litigation by the Socialist Party of America, the SPUS in the early 1920s re-named itself as the "Socialist Educational Society" (SES). There were three locals in the SES period, located in Boston, Detroit, and New York. The NYC local was the most active and events often included Louis Boudin as a guest lecturer. In 1927, the SES changed its name again to the "Workers' Socialist Party" (WSP). The party published an irregular organ during the 1930s, The Socialist, which was launched in November, 1929, and continued publication until July 1938. The heyday of the WSP was 1930 and 1940s when it had perhaps 150 members. During the 1930s, the Boston Local held outdoor and indoor meetings, debates and economics classes six days a week. The WSP, however, made little headway elsewhere in the United States, although locals were founded in Los Angeles and San Francisco. During the Depression years, the Boston local’s membership grew until it became the largest and most active group within the WSP. In fact, outside of the Communist Party, the Boston Local of the WSP was without a doubt the most active and best-known organization professing Marxism in New England.

In 1947 the party's name was again changed, this time to the current World Socialist Party of the United States, because it was being confused with the Socialist Workers’ Party, a Trotskyist organization. The change also emphasized the WSP’s internationalism and world outlook that socialism will be a cooperative, worldwide system, which has clearly not yet been established and refuses to support nationalism (or national liberation), hinders global working class solidarity. Nationalism is seen as a concept only useful to separate people, and is therefore anti-working class.

The WSPUS diminished during the Red Scare period of the 1950s. It was a dark period for democracy where dissenters who voiced social criticism were suspected of indirectly assisting the USSR, and they were all but guilty of treason. Threats of social ostracism, loss of jobs, and government persecution silenced most critics who had any large audience. After the repressive situation improved, the WSPUS was unable to capitalize on the upsurge in political interest during the 1960s to eventually become moribund following the ending of publication of The Western Socialist. Much of the decline can be ascribed to the ageing of the membership and it required the understanding and cooperation of fellow workers and were lacking in this particular support. The WSPUS rejuvenated to a degree in the mid-1990s thanks to the internet and has members scattered across the United States but it has to be said the World Socialist Party of the United States faces a difficult task in its attempts to pick up the pieces once again.

Today’s political climate can be viewed as one that is in a transition as was the socialist scene in the early 20th Century, remedial palliatives to capitalism on offer in the name of socialism but when a socialist supports a Democratic Party candidate, it is like boarding a train that is headed in the opposite direction of one’s destination. Sanders’ pro-capitalism is not a trivial issue. The Democratic Party is a top-down political party, controlled by corporations, and indisputably pro-capitalist. Capitalism is above all an economic system that promotes diametrically opposed interests between workers and capitalists. Capitalists must compete against one another in order to survive, and to compete successfully they must maximize profits, which in turn requires keeping production costs, including labor costs, to a minimum. Sanders might say he is for ordinary working people or for the “middle class,” but in so far as he embraces capitalism, he is also for corporations, because capitalism cannot operate smoothly without the smooth functioning of corporations, and hence, Sanders’ loyalties are at best divided, sowing more confusion than clarity. His distinguishing attribute is that he favors a tighter leash on corporations and a stronger safety net for the working class, which is mere reformism. America badly needs a vigorous socialist party.

America is a plutocracy, which means a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich where politicians are financed by a select group of oligarchs. Always, there are groups in protest against some aspect or other of this social system. The energy and ingenuity they display in campaigns they consider important provides further proof that once working men and women get on the right track capitalism's days are numbered. Enthusiasm is an excellent and valuable thing when rightly applied, but when it is wasted in fruitless directions it only leads to disheartenment and apathy. The WSPUS has resisted all attempts on the part of those on the Left to renounce its principles and in doing so has been accused dogmatism and sectarianism. This charge is seen by the WSPUS as badge of political honesty and sincerity; of persistence and perseverance. These are precious attributes. But the WSPUS needs more than that. It requires the understanding and cooperation of fellow workers and it is humble enough to admit that it has been lacking in this particular support. The World Socialist Party’s message has always been the same message – that the workers can just as easily run society for their own benefit. 

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