Socialist revival and party-building (was: Re: Party building (sects and non-revolutionary times)

LouPaulsen LouPaulsen at
Sat Sep 27 02:29:27 MDT 2003

----- Original Message -----
From: "Martin Spellman" <martinwriter at>

In a response to Fred Feldman, Martin calls my own party and all other
existing Marxist parties "pathetic failures":

> But they are generally pathetic failures. With the fall of the Soviet
> and the collapse of the world communist movement an opportunity has
> now for over 10 years. What group has managed to fill the political gap?

I think these sentences indicate that Spellman's perspective here is very
wrong in several ways.

In the first place, the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the
world communist movement were not an opportunity.  They were a disaster.  I
realize that dialectically speaking every disaster also creates
opportunities, but in the short run - and on a world scale, ten years is the
short run - a disaster is a DISASTER.

We in WWP were very aware of the failings of the USSR and of some major
trends in the world communist movement.  Nevertheless, we were never tempted
to hope that they would be wiped out -by imperialism- so as to make room for
us to have more influence.  One aspect of Sam Marcy's Global Class War
perspective which we thoroughly assimilated over a period of decades was the
understanding that there was and is an ongoing struggle between the workers
and oppressed worldwide, AS A WHOLE, and the world bourgeoisie, AS A WHOLE.
The Communist Parties of the USSR, Eastern Europe, China, etc., and their
governments, were detachments on our side of the war.  They were detachments
with problems, but they were not the class enemy.

If you are in a military struggle, serving in the trenches, you may have a
lot of gripes about other people on your own side.  But, unless you are an
insanely self-centered traitor, you do not hope for the enemy to swarm over
the positions in other parts of the battlefield and exterminate your least
favorite comrades in the hopes that the survivors will have to make you the
general of the routed remnants.

Arguing that the destruction of the USSR and the international communist
movement created a political 'opportunity' is like arguing that a big
asteroid strike creates opportunities for evolution by wiping out competing
species.  It is indeed true that some competing currents on the socialist
scene have been weakened or eliminated.  But that is not the major aspect of
the situation.  The major aspect is that the workers and oppressed, and the
socialist movement as a whole including ourselves, have been very grievously
hurt.  Every element of the movement was thrown back and faced with the
question of -survival-, not of growth.  Socialism itself was discredited
among the toiling masses of the world; it became seen not just as
problematic or undesirable, but impossible, unthinkable.

On some (not all) levels the world has been thrown back to the kind of
situation that existed immediately after the Paris Commune, before the
growth even of the Second International.  Anyone who scoffs that WWP or the
ISO or whoever hasn't leaped to 'fill the gap' doesn't seem to have any
grasp of the magnitude of the problem.

In fact - and this is my second criticism of Spellman's perspective - I
think it is a fundamental mistake to think that parties can just grow at
will and make revolutions whenever they please, if they are properly
organized (this is the implication of his 'proof' that we are badly
organized because we haven't grown at well and made revolution).  That is
voluntarist idealism, not materialism.  We are not talking about parties as
supra-historical entities, free to grow independently in their own countries
like bulbs in flower boxes.  We are talking about the development of the
Human World.  We are talking about planet-wide waves of political and
economic development which take decades to run their course even at today's
speeds.  We are talking about a socialist wave whose first trough was in
1872, whose peak was somewhere around 1968, and whose second trough was
around 2001.  Any socialist force that -tries- to grow now immediately finds
 itself dragged back by, and attempting to drag forward, the social weight
of the entire suffering world.

It is not enough for us, or for any US party, to merely attempt to revive a
socialist movement "only here" which is not merely practically impossible
but *logically* impossible.  We have to be instruments of the generation of
the next global socialist wave.  FORTUNATELY, this wave is generated not
only by the determination of socialists, but fundamentally by the crises and
internal contradictions of capitalism.  The events of the last two years
have proved this.  The imperialists who were made arrogant and triumphalist
by their victory of ten years ago have radicalized the planet more
effectively than an army of agitators.  But we socialists have to attempt to
lead the outrage in a socialist direction, imparting the lessons so dearly
bought in the last cycle of history, and there are not nearly enough of us
doing that yet.  That is what a socialist party should be about in this
period, not squabbling with other tendencies.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I must confess that I am very, very far from feeling the demoralization and
sense of pathetic failure that Martin feels that I should have when
contemplating the activities of my party.

Tonight there was a public meeting in downtown Chicago attended by something
like 300 people.  You can see the announcement and speakers list at this
link: .  As you can see, the speakers were
quite advanced politically.  It was a big lift for the movement in Chicago
which is gearing up for several major actions in the next few days.  It was
a building action for the October 25 demonstration in DC.  It was heavily
publicized on African-American radio, and I would say that the participants
were about 40% African-American, which is a tremendous breakthrough in the
segregated city of Chicago.  It was a big success.  It wasn't a WWP action;
it was heavily supported by the mostly-independent Chicago Coaltion against
War and Racism, and it happened as it did only because many organizations
and individuals which are not dominated by WWP believed generally in the
perspective of the event and mobilized for it.

On the other hand, WWP members nationally assisted International ANSWER in
publicizing the September 26-28 days of resistance initiative of which this
meeting was a part.  Here in Chicago, WWP members and friends arranged for
speakers, arranged transportation and housing for speakers, arranged the
venue, arranged for organizations to have literature tables, laid out
leaflets, printed leaflets, publicized the event by e-mail, posted it to
webpages, telephoned for volunteers to handle the door, worked the door,
distributed leaflets, raised funds, as well as speaking from the platform.
We weren't the only ones with responsibility for the success or failure of
the event, but we had a LOT of the responsibility for the success or failure
of the event, particularly in proportion to our own numbers and resources
here.  ("We" is mostly not "me" in this case, btw.)

If Martin's criterion for 'pathetic failure' is 'having failed to become a
mass revolutionary party', I can only repeat that you can only do that when
it's possible, not when it's impossible.  On the other hand, Martin demands
that we 'start where people are'.  But in that case, it is success, not
failure, when you do the work and accept the responsibilities associated
with holding a successful educational rally against "occupation in Iraq,
Palestine, and everywhere", advancing people's understanding, boosting the
morale of the movement, and building our base for the next phase.
"Party-building" is basically no more or less than recruiting and training
other people who will agree to do that work and accept those
responsibilities in accordance with one's party's general approach.

Lou Paulsen
member, Workers World Party, Chicago

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