[Marxism] Sanders: 'Make Democrats a party of the working class, not liberal elite'
jbustelo at gmail.com
Thu Apr 6 20:20:25 MDT 2017
On 4/5/2017 3:33 PM, Fred Murphy via Marxism wrote
> Thought experiment: Let's say Sanders and Warren succeed beyond their
> wildest dreams and either rout the neoliberal wing of the DP altogether or
> break with the DP and successfully organize a new formation - in either
> case, would it then be a working-class party? What else would have to
> happen to make it so? While I see a lot of broadly reformist,
> quasi-social-democratic ("progressive") programmatic points on the Our
> Revolution website, I see nothing to indicate any aspiration to be a
> working-class or social-democratic party. And Google searches on "trade
> unions" and "labor movement" on that site come up effectively empty.
* * *
I think this response to me is based on our experience in the U.S.
Socialist Workers Party (that both Fred and I belonged to). The SWP had
a schema that a working class party is either:
a) Programmatically proletarian, in other words, the SWP,
b) Based on the unions, or
c) One of the traditional currents in the workers movement, like
Stalinism and Social Democracy.
Yet in the Communist Manifesto and other writings, Marx and Engels very
clearly reference one party as the first worker's party, the English
Chartists of the end of the 1830s and 1840s, even though it is on
another planet from the criteria. And they were intimately familiar with
it, especially Engels.
I'm going to go over this in a little bit of detail because I think many
people haven't thought through that a workers party is not mainly an
organization but a social phenomenon arising from a class movement.
The first thing to understand is that the Chartists weren't a
centralized, structured political organization.
Then there's the program, which was strictly limited to electoralist
bourgeois-democratic reforms, like universal male suffrage and
parliamentary districts of equal population.
And the Chartist supporters included not just clubs organized by
working-class activists but quite prominently also a wing of the middle
class (bourgeois) radicals, including several members of parliament.
In what sense were the Chartists a "party" then?
First political parties were just being invented back then, and other
meanings of "party" were all meshed together with it. In this context,
it means, first and foremost, a side to a dispute (like a "party" in a
lawsuit) and in this sense a self-and-other recognized "interest group,"
so to speak, not necessarily organization.
In this sense, Occupy was the embryo of a worker's party, a movement
conscious of what it represented ("the 99%") fighting a recognized enemy
("the 1%") that controlled the economy, the government and the media.
And, yes, because of its origins with a bunch of weirdo anarchists and
then everyone copying Wall Street, it was a very strange movement.
Marx and Engels called the chartists a worker's party for many reasons,
including that the London Workingmen's Association played a key role in
starting it, the composition of the couple of national assemblies they
held, reflecting the composition of their base, the tactics they used or
were associated with even if not officially "Chartist" actions
(including mass petitions, rallies, marches and strikes), and that the
central leaders and the newspaper they started spoke as representatives
of the workers in defense of the interests of the working people.
Marx and Engels were very much for getting involved in this kind of thing.
In criticizing the attitude of the German Marxists in the United States
in the 1880s in relation to the labor-sponsored Henry George candidacy
for NY City mayor, Engels wrote:
Our theory is not a dogma but the exposition of a process of
evolution, and that process involves successive phases. To expect
that the Americans will start with the full consciousness of the
theory worked out in older industrial countries is to expect the
impossible. What the Germans ought to do is to act up to their own
theory --if they understand it, as we did in 1845 and 1848--to go in
for any real general working-class movement, accept its faktische
starting points as such and work it gradually up to the theoretical
level by pointing out how every mistake made, every reverse
suffered, was a necessary consequence of mistaken theoretical views
in the original programme; they ought, in the words of The Communist
Manifesto, to represent the movement of the future in the movement
of the present. But above all give the movement time to consolidate,
do not make the inevitable confusion of the first start worse
confounded by forcing down people's throats things which at present
they cannot properly understand, but which they soon will learn.
I think that is fully applicable to the current U.S. situation even if
the next sentence in what Engels wrote is not: "A million or two of
workingmen's votes next November for a bona fide workingmen's party is
worth infinitely more at present than a hundred thousand votes for a
doctrinally perfect platform." [And please note: this has nothing to do
with small propaganda campaigns: there were 11 million vote for
president in the following election, so Engels is talking about a party
with a mass following].
In that piece by Engels and many other writings, Marx and Engels stress
that their theory is one of development, a description of social forces
and classes in motion, with the Marxists looking to the working class
beginning to cohere as a distinct group with common problems and
interests that bind it together. And then though a series of issues and
struggles, realizing that what it needs to do is take over the government.
So, from the point of view of class evolution, where are we in the
We are emerging (I hope!) from well over half a century where the
working class as a class was simply not a thing.
The victory of the United States over its enemies AND its allies in WWII
led to an unprecedented 25-year period of rapidly rising living
standards and job stability. Even after the general, average wage levels
started to decline, many working people continued to have an improving
This because of age-stratified wage structures. The apprentice who
started at the equivalent of $15 an hour in the early 70s was earning
say $30 by the early 90s. Of course, the guy who held the higher-paying
position in the 70s made $40 an hour, and by the 90s the apprentice wage
had been cut to $12. But the *individual* was better off even as wages
That began to change for some in the 80s in the "rust belt" and in
mining, but I believe it was when Bush the lesser took over in 2001 that
it started to become generalized, and then the 2008 depression had a
catastrophic impact, especially on people in their 40s, 50s and 60s.
Occupy marked the crystallization of consciousness in an over-saturated
solution of class resentment on a mass scale that had built up in the
previous decade. Young people especially were mad as hell that after
doing everything they were supposed to do, they were tens of thousands
of dollars in debt and has jobs flipping hamburgers or making coffee at
Occupy's "We are the 99%" was the first slogan expressing class
consciousness that caught on with masses of working people in my entire
Just think: by then every kind of "identity politics" had been discussed
and disected EXCEPT for working class identity politics. Why? Because
there was no working class identity. Now it started to emerge.
The phenomenon was not just that workers did not recognize that they had
common interests as workers. Many workers did not even consider
themselves part of the "working class." They though that term in no way
defined or described them or the circumstances of their lives.
And if you think of the 1950s and 1960s contrasted with the 1930s, it
makes sense that an avalanche of borugeois propaganda was able to
convince them that they were now "middle class." (One delicious irony in
all this is that "rebuild the middle class" has now become a working
The crystallization of class consciousness among many thanks to Occupy
had a tremendous political impact. Remember in the summer of 2011, right
before, all the talk was about deficits and cutbacks and Paul Ryan's
brilliance. After Occupy, it changed to growing economic inequality and
how to remedy it.
Various groups on the left talked about how Occupy "changed the
conversation" but I don't recall any that really analyzed the magnitude
of the social force needed to effect such a change in American politics.
That force was simply the working class beginning to cohere as a "class
for itself," i.e., conscious that it is a thing.
I think the Sanders campaign was a second stage in the awakening working
class consciousness, and in some ways it was more explicitly political.
You might argue it was fool's gold, but at least the fools were looking
Fred remarks that he went on the "Our Revolution" web site and he saw no
clear class message. But I think the whole Sanders campaign was very
strongly class-identified, even though what he would say were
summarizing his message were things like that the economy should work
for "everyone," not just the rich.
That was what was so striking to me about last week's Boston rally: His
NOT saying something like that the Democrats have to become the party of
everyone not just of the liberal elite but INSTEAD he said that the
Democrats had to STOP being a party of the liberal elite and become a
party of the working class.
* * *
I believe that the Sanders movement represents class motion among
working people, especially millennials, in the direction of intervening
in politics collectively as working people, i.e. towards becoming "a
class for itself." I think that is quite simply undeniable.
Marx explains the process in The Poverty of Philosophy:
Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people of
the country into workers. The combination of capital has created for
this mass a common situation, common interests. This mass is thus
already a class as against capital, but not yet for itself. In the
struggle, of which we have noted only a few phases, this mass
becomes united, and constitutes itself as a class for itself. The
interests it defends become class interests. But the struggle of
class against class is a political struggle.
I can't think of any reason why, if motion towards class political
consciousness can supposedly be advanced by supporting a bourgeois
imperialist labor party based on unions run by scoundrels with the likes
of Tony Blair as ring leader, it can't be advanced by relating to
something like the Sanders phenomenon, a movement born in the framework
of a bourgeois imperialist party which is being powered by rank and file
working people from below rather than some bureaucracy and that is
organizing around immediate economic and social demands that have arisen
in the economic and social struggles of working class and oppressed people.
I know it is unprecedented and there's nothing analogous in the last
century and a half and so on. But theory is gray and life is green.
I don't think previous experiences of wings within bourgeois parties
help that much. The consciousness working people here are emerging from
is unique, I think, and my point is that this is all about consciousness.
At any rate, I don't think you can argue that nothing is happening. I
think very, very clearly it is.
You can argue that Sanders is simply leading these people back into the
Democratic Party, derailing the movement, undermining their
consciousness or whatever you believe.
But I think turning a blind eye to this motion is a mistake.
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