Who's a Marxist?

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Sat Apr 29 08:00:09 MDT 1995

I said that disputess over the term "MarxisT" are fruitless, what counts
is whether we are correct, justified, and useful to the oppressed.

On Sat, 29 Apr 1995, Guy Yasko wrote:

> You are correct that the name doesn't really matter.  However, I still
> think you're overly broad here.  How do you decide whether someone
> or something is of service to the working class?  It sounds to me
> like you have a list of criteria.

There's no a priori list of criteria which can be drawn up in advance and
applied mechnaically regardless of the circumstances. We make appraisals
about the cogency of our views and the adequacy of our practice based on
the best evidence and argumet available to us, test them against
objections and put them into practice to see if they work. If not we
revise them.

I used to accept the "inside-outside" view of political organizxing, which
holds that leftists ought to wotk inside the Democratic Party as well as
outside it in the movements. The idea is to either split or take over the
DP, based on the notion that in a period of decline the Party is weake and
susceptoble to such an approach, and on the assessment that the
winner-take-all big money structure of American politics precludes
effective third party organizing. I worked as an organizer in the Jackson
campaigns (Jesse not Henry) and as an activist in my local (Ann Arbor) DP.

This taught me that the I-O approach won't work. The party is owned by big
money; its real masters are more or less happy to use socialists to
organize for them, but will give them nothing. And if our forces are too
weak to get independent movements and parties off the grounnd, they are
too weak to take the DP away from its owners. These conclusions are
supported by a readind of the history of I-O attempts by the CPUSA, the
SP, DSOC/DSA, etc. to employ this strategy, as well as by careful analysis
of the financial and political structure of the party--see e.g., Joel
Rogers and Thomas Fergeson's Right Turn. I made a study of these things to
explain the results of my experiences in the DP.

Of course no obserbation can refute a hypothesis by itself. You can always
explain an observation away and maintain the hypothesis come what may.
Many leftists do just this to hold the I-O view because they think we bad
as the DP is, we have no alternative if we want to make a difference in
real world politics. I decided, though, that at some point you have to
fish or cut bait. In 1988 I used as my p[ersonal criterion whether
Jackson, having mounted the most effective internal insurgency the DP ever
say, got anything at all out of the 1988 DP Convention. He didn't, so I
resigned from the DP with great fanfare--"Death to the Democrats" op=ed
pieces in the Ann Arbor News, etc. (AA is a small enough town that the
carryings-on of a modertaely well-known local acativist, which I was, are
mildly newsworthy.) And I joined Solidarity, which maintains a position of
strict political independence--that is, we don't do Democrats (or
Republicans), but we do do independent electoral politics.

Of course the obstacles to Third Party organizing remain. So it is still
an open question whether Solidarity's strategy turns out to be the best
way to serve the people. But experience and theory suggests that I-O is
not  agood way to do it. This was not something that could be known a
priori, although one doesn't need to go through a period as a DP activist,
as I did, to find this out.

So the criteria are: do what;s best based on the evidencxe and arguments
you have--which is pretty empty. All the work is handled by the
substantive conntent of the evidence and arguments in the particular case
to hand.

--Justin Schwartz

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