Third Party: Breaking the Ties That Bind
The U.S. two-party system that has protected the economy is in crisis and in the beginning stages of self-destruction. The capitalist class knows that it can no longer rule in the old ways. From the state budget battles to the fight for immigrant rights, for decent health care and the protection of public education, to the Occupy Wall Street movement, the American people are increasingly aware that something is terribly wrong. They are demanding that the government solve their problems and they are growing increasingly restless at the government’s refusal to do so.
The impulse toward a third party is arising from historical tendencies. At the same time, it is being formed and shaped within the context of the qualitatively new conditions and the struggles that are arising on the basis of those conditions. Regardless of the form, these struggles can all be traced back to the same content — the disruption and destruction of the capitalist system, caused by electronic production — and the battle to reorganize society on the foundation of that new means of production.
The struggles are intense, but in a historical sense they are just beginning. The political consciousness that is injected into the motion now will help to shape its content as the struggle develops.
Response to Economic Crisis in the Rust Belt
The response to the economic crisis began to play itself out on the level of the cities and states of this country following the 2010 elections. These elections helped push forward open attacks on the working class while furthering the shifting of wealth to corporations and the wealthy.
The struggle against the state budget cuts and against the attacks on collective bargaining in the spring of 2011 went through interrelated and overlapping phases. Open protests against pending legislation took the form of occupation in the various cities. The struggle moved into various petition campaigns for repeals or recalls and then to elections to recall elected officials or overturn legislation. This process varied in different states according to political conditions on the ground.
The first phase saw the open demonstrations at state capitals throughout the Rust Belt. Daily occupations and protests took place as the first volley was fired at the public employees, state-by-state. Even though those protests were some of the largest of such gatherings since the 1930s and 1960s, they still were not enough to stop the onslaught, as the state legislatures moved to reshape the government to serve the corporations over those of the people. Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan became the front line battle grounds.
The response to the attack expressed different degrees of intensity. In both Wisconsin and Ohio the budget bills proposed were passed by their legislatures, and their governors signed them. The bills were direct attacks on the collective bargaining rights of all public sector workers in those states. The attacks in those two states opened a militant response from all sections of organized labor. This helped to unite the workers in both states in the private and public sectors.
Rapid, decisive and successful recall and repeal campaigns in the first phase were carried out in Wisconsin and Ohio against the Republican representatives. In the next phase, Wisconsin workers needed to win three recall seats in the Senate to have the majority. They were successful in winning only two seats. So, the Republicans maintained the majority.
In the case of Ohio the repeal process was very successful. They needed 300,000 signatures statewide but were successful in getting one million more. In these two campaigns, the struggles were intense. The fight has polarized the population of each state as the workers attempt to beat back the corporate control being imposed upon them.
In Michigan the attacks were different. Governor Rick Snyder and corporate forces relied on the old divide and conquer strategy of setting one group against another. Thus all public employees are not under attack, just the state employees. Not all seniors pensions are being taxed, just those at a certain age bracket. The Governor of Michigan has been successful in this attack on one entity at a time; thus the solidarity across the state was less rapid.
The Democratic Party of Michigan openly declared it would have nothing to do with either of the petitions, the “Recall of Governor Snyder” or the “Repeal of Public Act 4” (Emergency Manager), which has the power to take over cities, townships and school districts. Labor unions in the state only gave lip service to the efforts. However, AFSCME and the teacher unions helped with printing costs for the “Repeal of Public Act 4” petitions.
The petitioning was strictly an all-volunteer effort in Michigan. A broad section of individuals collected signatures on both the “Recall of Governor Snyder” and the “Repeal of Public Act 4”, even though there are only 3 cities — Benton Harbor, Ecorse and Pontiac, Michigan and the Detroit School District — that are currently affected by Emergency Managers.
However, the state is already extracting concessions from other cities. In the city of Northville the school teachers ratified a contract that increases their health care out-of-pocket costs from $300 to $3,000. And Detroit police had to sign a contract ending their pensions, forcing them to use 401Ks.
Michigan is experiencing one of the worst economic crises in history: people are being cut off welfare, and more cuts to safety net programs are on the way. The Michigan Legislature voted for Governor Snyder’s 48 months ( 4 years lifetime) “time limitation” for people on welfare (part of Clinton’s so-called welfare reform of 1996), which will affect tens of thousands of people, including up to an estimated 45,000 children. Almost 25% of Michigan’s children already live in poverty. How will the families feed their children, pay their rent or house notes, and what about their health care? The people of this country are in a war, and revolutionaries need to educate the working class about their role in this war.
As a result of all these struggles, there is a bubbling of interest in the Rust Belt toward building all kinds of parties. The “legitimate” institutions and organizations are not part of this process. What is left is anger, frustration and a large mass of people that have no organizational expression, no leadership speaking on their behalf, who at any point can explode.
U.S. Third Party Development
Motion toward a third party development is underway in the U.S. The trade unions are widening their independence from the Democratic Party. Obama’s base of independent voters and what is left of the old Roosevelt coalition is adrift. While there is no widespread, organized popular call being made at this time for such a party, preliminary underground developments are occurring through pre-party probing in the form of articles, declarations, meetings, discussions, conferences, etc.
While most of this talk appears unconnected, it represents a third party motion that has one foot inside the Democratic Party pushing it do the right thing, with the other foot outside, discussing the need to create new reformist political parties to the left of the Democratic Party. After (and possibly before) the 2012 general elections we should expect to see more rapid motion and organization directed towards the development of third parties.
We must always ask ourselves a fundamental question during each and every step along the revolutionary line of march, “What are the American people prepared to understand at this time?”
Recent polls indicate that an increasing number of Americans would look favorably on the creation of a third or fourth party. Two pollsters, Patrick Caddell and Douglas Schoen, pulled together the results of these polls in an August 25, 2011 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece entitled “Expect a Third-Party Candidate in 2012.” “A Rasmussen Reports poll conducted [in August]” they wrote, “found that ‘just 17% of likely U.S. voters think that the federal government today has the consent of the governed,’ while an extraordinary 69% ‘believe the government does not have that consent.’”
“More than half (51%) of voters favored having a third major political party,” the article went on. “Nearly one-third (31%) said that having a third major party in our country is very important. Voters favored having a major third party run a candidate for president in 2012 by a margin of 58% to 13% —with one in five saying they were absolutely certain or very likely to vote for a third-party cadidate.”
“In line with these findings, 52% of all respondents in a May Gallup poll said there is a need for a third party,” and for the first time in Gallup’s history, “a majority of Republicans polled embraced the idea.”
Historically the working class has been economically tied to the capitalist class at the point of production. It’s been politically tied to the capitalist class through the Democratic Party. Today, the Democratic Party remains the glue that ties the workers to the capitalists politically. That’s why the League’s strategy is to throw the blow at the middle — the Democratic Party — to break that connection as a first step towards the development of working class political independence.
Is the development of a third party a blow that strikes at this middle? It is, and revolutionaries should welcome and embrace motions towards a third party. As workers are increasingly thrown out of the production process and out of the capitalist economy, the subjective political ties are beginning to fray and break. The process is accelerated with the development of a third party, which becomes a new environment and school for political independence from capitalist rule.
Tactical alliances with bourgeois third party developments are temporary and necessary alliances that are totally consistent with and along the revolutionary line of march. While the League fights side by side with other forces to create a third party, it remains poised to fight those expressions that advance any form of exploitation and private property.
As revolutionaries we are integrally, intimately and forever committed to the development of working class political independence and development of class consciousness, to take each step and complete each stage along the revolutionary line of march.
Investigate, study, learn from history
Philosophy teaches that things develop as sublation – destruction and preservation. What will be destroyed? What will be preserved?
To answer these questions and plan ahead, a deep understanding of American politics and the political apparatuses is necessary. Some inquiry is needed into what are the rebellious groupings or cores within the existing apparatuses that can attract all these loose groups that today are putting out feelers for a third party. A third party will not come from someone’s wishes. It will arise from historical tendencies, and the development of the tendencies over a long period of time.
When we talk about a third party we must keep uppermost in our minds that we are talking about a bourgeois party, a party that will be formed to save private property – if not capitalism. The formation of such a party does not require the same kind of radical break with tradition that a worker’s party will demand.
What do we learn from the last big effort toward forming a third party? The Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) in 1948 was in a very difficult situation. It seemed that fascism was going to take over in the U.S. In this difficult situation, the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) became the chief organizers of the PPP, dropping its independent role entirely. It was correct to accept the goals of the PPP, but they never identified their own independent positions. As a result, it was crushed right along with the CPUSA. The CPUSA did as well as it did because Henry Wallace, an anti communist, was a decent person who wouldn’t red bait within the PPP.
The people who are moving toward a third party today are much more bourgeois, more anti- communist and less experienced.
Finally, we have to understand what is driving the third party motion today. In 1948 It was the hold-over’s of the Roosevelt coalition and all they represented. Today there is an objective process forcing this process forward. It is the irreversible development of electronics, with the resultant decline in the value and standards of labor and the inevitable leap to a qualitatively new social order.
Tasks of the League
At the heart of all the struggles today is the effort by the ruling class to realign the political superstructure to protect private property and the naked rule of the corporations, and the resistance to those efforts by a growing section of the American people.
The ruling class has no intention of allowing the growing mass of propertyless to have a political voice. In the face of the ruling class juggernaut, the American people have no representation, and there is nothing on the horizon that speaks for the people, who themselves are scattered and divided as to their true interests.
We will now see the importance of a line of march. Now that calls for a third party are emerging it is important to move carefully, not so far ahead as to lose the connection with other revolutionaries, but not too timidly to end up simply following behind. It will be essential to visualize a progression from where and how political resistance evolved in this country, to learn how to develop it as a basis for the qualitative step into a worker’s party.
The war must be won on the political battlefield. The League concentrates on the political aspects of the struggle, defending democracy for everyone. But democracy is impossible without defeating the economic power of the corporations, and the only way to do that is to take over the corporations.
Nationalization of the corporations in the interests of the workers is the next step in achieving the ultimate goal of gaining the political power to guarantee that the socially necessary means of production are finally placed in the hands of the people.
The call for nationalization sums up the demands of the people, and offers a solution. The fight to unify around this next step is the environment in which the League can assist the class in seeing its historic mission, present a vision of the future that is possible, and disseminate a strategy to achieve it.
Political Report of the Standing Committee, League of Revolutionaries for a New America, September 2011.
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011