TOWARDS A NEW AMERICAN MARXISM – PART 2
One of the strangest things I ever did while I was a member of For The People (FTP), a New Left organization I once belonged to, was advocating for a bottom–up strategy for the AFL-CIO union I was in, while I was participating in a top-down organization. FTP was based on the Soviet Model of organization which calls for a Central Committee (CC) that appoints all the officers of the party. Even the CC of FTP was a self-anointed body of the intellectuals who started the newspaper project and a few, handpicked vanguard workers. For the 10, or so years that I supported FTP, we never held a vote or nominated people for office. It is my opinion that the Intellectuals were lacking in practical organizing experiences, didn’t participate in their own teachers union and were completely enamored with the Russian Revolution. They used the Communist Party, USA (CPUSA) as their model of what a Socialist Party should act like. Today, we know this was a bad idea, but back then we believed that socialism was working in the USSR. We fell for all the propaganda, too. Even the Maoists among us were enraptured with the Chinese Communist Party and its propaganda.
But we were wrong and we have to admit that in order to move on to a better idea. The Soviet model was a top-down bureaucratic dictatorship, similar in many ways to the AFLCIO’s model for running trade unions. Even Russia’s attempt to form a capitalist democracy has collapsed into another dictatorship, this time it’s the rich who silence all dissent.
Today, I know that to lead, in a political sense, means to lead by example. Our actions speak louder than ours words do and if I want to build bottom-up and democratic unions I have to have a bottom-up and democratic political party to build them with. A party to build the kind of democratic organization that I have been advocating for in my trade union work. A bottom-up party, to lead in the struggle for the hearts and minds of the American workers.
I have some ideas about how a new American Marxist Party (AMP) could be structured. As I have already outlined in “A Theory of Empowerment Organizing”, (available to read at http://www.newamericanmarxism.wordpress.com), I envision an AMP which is made up of numerous community based organizing committees. These organizing committees are the most important part of our outreach campaigns to welcome workers and members of the working class to the Party, as we help them try to solve their day-to-day political problems. In FTP, we ran a food co-op, an unemployed workers council, workers education classes and we published and distributed a political newspaper. Under a top-down structure like FTP’s, people could volunteer for any committee, but all the committee chairpersons were appointed by the CC.
In contrast, an AMP would be a bottom-up, democratic group in which each committee, either organizing a labor union or a community group would elect their own chair, who would represent that group at a central committee of chairs. This CC would hold regular meetings and report back to the membership before taking any action on behalf of the AMP or its chapters. It’s a little simplistic, but I think it’s enough of a skeleton to give you a basic idea of how to build a bottom-up political organization. As the AMP grows, its international structure can still reflect this bottom-up style, with a CC of dully elected members, whose actions can only be implemented if the membership approves by a national vote. Guarding the membership’s right to approve or disapprove any decisions of the CC is the only way I know of to empower them. To make them feel that the AMP truly is a members-run organization.
Empowerment organizing is an essential revision to any Marxist party with a realistic expectation to move the revolution forward in their lifetime. Sitting on the sidelines waiting for the next calamity to bring down capitalism or preparing for armed struggle to topple the government and replace it with chaos and anarchy are lessons that the last 100 years has told us doesn’t work. Get up to speed with your history and move on to the next “big thing”, the next phase in the development of Marxism. An American Marxism that works for the American Working Class. A Marxism that fights for the rights and freedoms and issues of workers in America, in the American political arena, of the 21st Century, right now! With a Marxist analysis that can be used right now as we think of ways to win more and more socialist inspired programs. Until finally, we are strong enough politically and the people approve of our Socialist dreams for them.
Democracy in a Marxist Party model is no threat to the ability to use Marxism for the basis of our present-day analysis. Majority rule is a trustworthy solution to choosing between differences of strategy that creep up in any political debate about either socialism or capitalism. Membership approval also solidifies support, once an issue is settled, so we can unite against our common enemies. So long as a vote is held fairly and the count is true, the membership will accept it as their own and move on to the next issue. All Marxism is eventually proven true or false by its practice in society and its eventual re-evaluation and advancement of Marxist theory. The dialectal-materialist philosophy upon which Marxism is based has not been altered by a democratic dimension. In many ways, democracy is a natural development of class struggle in the present circumstances. This is where we find ourselves in the 21st century, facing global capitalism, with a two-party political system to defend ourselves.
Unlike the Soviet or Chinese models of government, we don’t have to eliminate the “Menshevik” or arrest the “Gang of Four” to achieve a false sense of unity. We just need to let “majority-rule” be the solution to our disagreements. We do not need to keep splitting into smaller and smaller “rulers of the realm”. We can be different but united if we are willing to give democracy a chance to work in a Marxist organization. Different solutions to the same problem can co-exist and if we are honest in our critique of each other’s work, we will eventually reach a united Marxist analysis. Or at least we will follow the “will of the majority”, together.