Capitalism atomizes us. To overcome our separation, we need to organize. One form of working class organization is the political party. Parties function primarily as the representatives of class interests. In the US, both major parties serve the interests of capital. While the Democratic Party has historically been the party of reform, it is also the graveyard of social movements.
The working class needs its own party, but what kind of party? Should we build a party now or wait till some future date? If not now, what should we do in the interim? The authors of the Towards an Independent Workers Party (TIWP) resolution address several of these questions. They lay out three interconnected actions for the chapter:
- Tactical use of the Democratic ballot line while rejecting attempts to take over the Party
- Propaganda against the Democratic Party and for an independent party
- Exploring opportunities to run independent candidates, in consultation with coalition partners
Dirty Break or Class Independence?
Historically, the socialist movement has struggled with how to use elections in service of the working class. However, the strategic starting point has been the need to forge class independence. Without an independent party, the working class cannot shape a strategic vision contrary to the power of capitalists. The lack of such a vehicle has limited the strength and organization of the US working class.
TIWP rejects class independence for now. Instead, it advocates that the chapter use the Democratic Party as the main vehicle for electoral politics. TIWP argues against realignment and in favor of a “dirty break”—running socialist candidates inside the Democratic Party to popularize socialist ideas, spark class struggle, and eventually form an independent party. However, at the chapter level the dirty break is indistinguishable from realignment in practice, and reproduces many of the same problems. For starters, elected candidates are not accountable to the chapter and the risks of co-optation once elected are great.
Progressive Bromides or Socialist Propaganda?
Can Democrats be an effective mouthpiece for socialism? While it seems that socialist ideas are currently thriving thanks to politicians like Bernie and AOC, fears of co-optation are warranted. It’s true that progressive politicians have helped to popularize reforms like M4A, however their limited political vision serves as a means of ideological containment—the fight for socialism is reduced to rebuilding the welfare state. It’s not surprising that this emphasis on expanding the welfare state aligns with the vision of socialism—decommodification and state regulation—favored by the TIWP authors.
While the “dirty breakers” call for an independent party the candidates they support do not. Most of these candidates support ideas consistent with the DSA’s historical realignment strategy; yet they face the same contradictions the “dirty breakers” identified in transforming a capitalist party into an instrument for the working class. Worse still, the candidates are reestablishing legitimacy for a party which has become increasingly discredited in recent years. While these candidates have picked some fights with the Democratic Party establishment, these conflicts just make the party look more appealing to sectors of the working class.
Equal or Junior Partner?
The DSA needs to build coalitions with other working-class organizations to avoid the sectarian trap. However, TIWP subordinates the chapter’s political independence to external organizations. The chapter is reduced to playing second fiddle in a coalition-building strategy that informs much of the DSA.
An overemphasis on coalition-building is problematic for multiple reasons. First, it defers leadership to external organizations and undervalues the contributions of DSA members who can bring more to the table besides their activist labor. Second, it means the DSA will end up “tailing” the initiatives of other organizations, adopting their demands and tactics out of fear of alienating “senior” coalition partners. Third, it suggests to members that the DSA lacks the confidence to determine its own positions, run its own candidates, or call its own actions, without consulting coalition partners.
TIWP fails to move us in the direction of class independence. It favors continued support of progressive Democratic candidates and postpones concrete steps to build an independent party to a hazy future. TIWP advances the idea that Democratic candidates will propagandize against their own party. This is absurd and easily refuted by both the Sanders campaign and the actions of democratic socialists currently in office. Finally, by deferring to coalition partners, the authors of TIWP submerge our socialist politics and delay the institution-building tasks that flow from class independence. In doing so, the authors of TIWP sacrifice socialist principles to political expediency.