Bernie Sanders Info Wanted

Andy Daitsman adaitsma at
Fri Mar 3 05:49:47 MST 1995

XTROT quotes me as follows:
>>Does this mean we wait for lefty labor leaders, fuzzy populists, and sexy
>Hollywood actors (read Winpisinger, Jackson and Asner) to organize a
>national labor party?  If you feel like waiting for the millenium, go right
>The sad, pathetic, undesireable fact is that a third party in the US will
>inevitably contain people like Winpisinger, Jackson and Asner, AND the great
>proletarian activists in Milwaukee.
>(prolonged tumultuous applause)

Isn't that supposed to be "the great _unwashed_ proletarian activists in
Milw..." ;)

Seriously, Don, I don't disagree with you at all.  My argument isn't about
the inclusiveness of the party, rather it's about what we have to do to make
the party a reality.  Waiting for Wimpy et al to do it for us, well I'm
sorry but it just ain't going to happen.  For some reason I'm reminded of
Prairie Fire's song "celebrating" the Bicentennial: "Two Hundred Years is
Long Enough" ("Two hundred years/ this bicentennial is for/ the rich want
us/ to slave for them two hundred more," you get the idea).  We haven't been
waiting quite that long for the sacred proclamation, but we have been
waiting for at least a decade now and it still hasn't seemed to happen.

>   And whatever I may think of Sanders (and its not much), he would be the
>perfect guy to run on a social democratic ticket in the US.

Maybe, maybe not.  In the absence of a national social democratic party, we
are way too early to even start thinking about that.

>>Given the particularity of hegemony in the United States, left discourse can
>be ridiculed and marginalized until we prove that our project has meaning to
>a significant sector of the population.  And the only way to prove that is
>to win elections. <
>   What you're describing is basically a social democratic enterprise (and I
>won't criticize it on that basis. At this late date none of us have the
>perfect strategy).

Yeah, it's social democracy.  What can I say?  My dad was a popular front
CPer who devoted his life to the labor movement after he quit the party (in
56, before I was born).  From him I got the idea that small gains are better
than no gains.  I look at in strategic terms: we're completely isolated from
and ridiculed by any significant popular base, so we have to approach them
first with language that they can accept.  That means appropriating those
elements of liberal discourse that can best lend themselves to popular
struggles: equality before the law, popular sovereignty, things like that.
If we can sell that agenda, and folks see that the left doesn't have horns
after all, then we can see about moving forward.

[stuff cut]
>   Again, if you want to win some elections you have to form a social
>democratic party, hold conventions, get your constituant groups together,
>raise some cash, put out a program to the left of the Dems (the easiest
>part), and join that twisted process of selling out your supporters. I am not
>suggesting that this, if successful, would necessarilly be a bad thing. You
>can burrow yourself in the left wing of such a party and DO THE RIGHT THING.
>If that's your thing.

Here I disagree.  My whole argument is that you don't start a viable party
by holding a convention.  Some folks might remember the citizen's party back
in the 70s, the most recent attempt I know of to create a social democratic
party in the US.  It failed miserably--partly because their candidate for
president, Fred Harris, was particularly uncharismatic, but more because
their organizing style was top-down.  That is, they started by holding
conventions, and then attempted to run a traditional political campaign.

The way to start an electoral party is to first create a mass base.  And you
do that by organizing, which I'm using in the Gramscian sense of creating an
organic relationship between your organizing committee and the base.  That
kind of relationship can only be created by:

>   > ... the dirty work of
>day-to-day organizing, establishing an electoral base on which they can
>build, and developing their agenda as they go along. <
[Don continues:]
>   I was one of these people (practically full time) for ten years and you
>make it sound a lot more noble and selfless than it really is.  Since I
>graduated from highschool in 1980 (the year reality set in) there have been
>about 1001 attempts at turning what you describe in Milwaukee into a
>mass-based labor party, all of which cannot even claim the miniscule
>successes of the Canadian NDP (which I agree is a disaster).

I really think that what's happening in Milwaukee is new.  It turns out that
Milwaukee's labor council is controlled by the left -- those same folks who
used to belong to pre-party formations but "saw the light" in the early
eighties and got into doing real mass work.  They got jobs in factories,
joined their local unions, became shop stewards, got elected to local union
executive boards, stepped up to regional councils, and from that
institutional base provided the impetus and the core base for founding
Progressive Milwaukee.  That's the hard work I was talking about before, and
what we see today in Milwaukee is how it's paying off fifteen years later.

[more stuff gone]
>   There is little evidence that the workers are ready to throw off their
>shackles (even long enough to support a LABOR party) and any attempt to form
>a third party should keep that key fact in mind. You will have to compete in
>the arena provided by the ruling class if you want to play the game of
>electoral politics.
>   The question of whether or not a third party is desirable (or a reasonable
>use of time and resources) is one thing.  The nature of, and possibilities
>for, such a party is quite another.

Again, I think a gradualist approach is viable.  It sure as hell has worked
for the Christian right, whose agenda was so far out of touch with
mainstream America that they were originally laughed at.  Now they're the
largest mass movement in the country, and we're running as fast as we can
just to keep up...


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