[Marxism] GP entrails [In defense of Harrington and American Menshevism]

Bhaskar Sunkara bhaskar.sunkara at gmail.com
Tue Dec 30 14:30:43 MST 2008


As painful as it is to admit, Michael Harrington and what he affectionately
called his fellow American Mensheviks have been right about the prospects
for third parties and independent political action.  And let's not forget
these were people who came out of the Socialist Party and other parties that
pursued "independent political action" even during the popular frontist era
of the 1930s

An analysis of *American Menshevikism*:

U.S. parties are not like modern European parties. In Europe, the parties of
the Left tend to name leaders on the basis of a political viewpoint and, in
any case, only dues-paying members of the party have the right to elect
delegates, who in turn select that leader. But in the United States anyone
who declares himself or herself a member of a party can, without the payment
of dues or the affirmation of a single political principle, help determine
the leadership, program, and policies of the party.

The U.S. electoral system — something which socialists cannot change by an
act of will — does not allow for a credible form of "independent political
action" (as the Trotskyist and Trotskyist-derived portions of the U.S. Left
call it). The real options are to support and build the anti-corporate left
wing of the Democrats to the point where either (a) the Democrats become
dominated by the left or (b) more likely, the "party" splits along
ideological and class lines, or to abstain from electoral politics
altogether except as a form of protest, which ensures that American workers
will not take you seriously.

I wish it was otherwise. Yes, the Democratic Party taken as a whole is a
cesspool. But it's a cesspool in which those fighting for a pro-worker
politics have no choice but to wade.

It's true that prior to the 20th century, U.S. primaries were
machine-driven, closed affairs. With open primaries the parties became more
amorphous — which is why industrial unions in the 1930s were able to
influence them in a positive way, within limits. *The nature of the American
electoral system is what it is, and not to be overcome by an act of will*.
The reason that third parties haven't become major parties once the ballot
access rules were changed in the 1890s is not a failure to try. It's been
tried, and tried, and tried again. Similarly, the link of major institutions
such as the NAACP and the AFL-CIO to the Democratic Party is not to be
overcome by an act of will.

Build the working people's organizations, build the unions, build the
progressive forces, but don't expect to build a new Labour Party and then
expect the working people to come to you.  Then what do you do?  Wait for
some radicalizing event, some downturn and expect this working peoples party
(which would be what-- Social Democratic at best), to become radicalized and
turned into a revolutionary party?  Its a fantasy.

I wish the situation was different in America.  I wish there was a
revolutionary force that had any sort of potential.  I wish the left-wing of
possible could be overcome by an act of will, but unforuntately like Karl
Marx himself said, "Men make their own history, but they do not make it just
as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by
themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and
transmitted from the past."

I'll be in the DSA, in the cess pool of the Democratic Party, in the
mainstream unions, where the working people are, until you comrades can
prove me wrong and build a viable alternative for working people and then
I'll apologize and happily join you.



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