[Marxism] Comments on a Phelps-Brenner-Luce article on the Democrats

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue May 11 08:03:58 MDT 2004

An interesting but wrongheaded article by 3 leading Solidarity members 
has been posted to the Portside mailing list, which is moderated by the 
Committees of Correspondence. The authors are Christopher Phelps, editor 
of a recent Verso book containing Max Shachtman's early writings on the 
"Negro question", Joanna Brenner, a socialist feminist who has written 
both books and articles for Monthly Review, and Stephanie Luce, an 
economics professor at U. of Mass. The article can be read at: 

While it makes a number of salient points about the Democratic Party, it 
tries to paper over the differences between those on the left--including 
Solidarity itself--who agree with those points and people on the left 
who advocate voting for Kerry. This would obviously include the 
Committees of Correspondence itself, a breakaway from the CPUSA that 
shares the party's umbilical cord relationship to the Democratic Party.

The authors claim that "Our position is that a reasonable case can be 
made for either of these left-wing responses to a baleful political 
situation that will not be resolved electorally."

In a spirit of reconciliation (or opportunism, for those less generously 
disposed), they try to analogize support for Kerry with Lenin's support 
for a Labor Party vote in the early 1920s:

"We hold a different view [from those who regard a vote for Kerry the 
way that most comrades on Marxmail do]. We believe that there are 
logical reasons why radicals or activists might vote Democratic, reasons 
that in no way entail illusions about the reliability of Democratic 
politicians. Most simply desire, viscerally, to see Bush and his cronies 
suffer a humiliating defeat. Others believe that social realities are 
more clearly laid bare when the kinder, gentler bourgeois party is in 
power, noting that there are fewer illusions about the nature of the 
system's workings when Democrats administrate austerity and war than 
when Republicans do. (Lenin made parallel arguments about the British 
Labour Party.)"

But there are important differences between the Democratic Party of 2004 
and the Independent Labor Party of Great Britain in 1921. This is what 
Lenin said in "Leftwing Communism: an Infantile Disorder":

"On the contrary, the fact that most British workers still follow the 
lead of the British Kerenskys or Scheidemanns and have not yet had 
experience of a government composed of these people—an experience which 
was necessary in Russia and Germany so as to secure the mass transition 
of the workers to communism—undoubtedly indicates that the British 
Communists should participate in parliamentary action, that they should, 
from within parliament, help the masses of the workers see the results 
of a Henderson and Snowden government in practice, and that they should 
help the Hendersons and Snowdens defeat the united forces of Lloyd 
George and Churchill. To act otherwise would mean hampering the cause of 
the revolution, since revolution is impossible without a change in the 
views of the majority of the working class, a change brought about by 
the political experience of the masses, never by propaganda alone."

In other words, Lenin urged the British Communists to help the Labor 
Party to get elected *for the first time* because it would expose the 
differences between the party's socialist verbiage and its willingness 
to accommodate to the ruling class. It was a process that was critical 
for the self-education of the working class that made up the 
rank-and-file of the party.

And so what does this have to do with the Democratic Party in the USA? 
In a word, absolutely nothing. The Democratic Party's record in office 
goes back nearly 200 years. It was the party of slavery and the Yankee 
mercantile class. It was superseded by the Republican Party during the 
civil war, but made a compromise with the Republicans in the 1870s that 
left blacks exposed to racist violence in the South. Until the civil 
rights era, it remained the party of Jim Crow. It has also been in power 
for some of the most savage imperialist wars in the 20th century, 
including WWI, WWII and the Vietnam war.

While there might have been an excuse for the British working class to 
hold illusions in a party that it had built with its own sweat and 
blood, there is no excuse for Marxists to foster illusions in the 
Democratic Party--no matter if it is done in the spirit of keeping peace 
at the dinner table.


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