List of Documents
- Text of the San Francisco Branch Cindy Sheehan Flier
- The Executive Committee’s (EC) Response to the SF Branch Flier
- The SFWIL’S Response to the EC’s Criticisms of the Cindy Sheehan Flier
1. Cindy Sheehan for Congress Campaign Flier Debate inside the Workers International League
CINDY SHEEHAN FOR CONGRESS
PEOPLE BEFORE POLITICS
Cindy Sheehan is no politician. If she is elected to Congress, she will not become a politician.
Politicians, whether Democrats or Republicans, place their own self-interest as their highest priority. Because our society is sharply divided between the “haves,” who enjoy a monopoly on power and influence, and the “have-nots,” who are alienated from the political process, politicians — for the sake of their own survival — have cynically sided with the corporations in the belief that their own political prospects will be enhanced. Rather than promoting the interests of everyone, politicians are content to promote corporate interests, while throwing a few crumbs to the rest of us to create the illusion we, too, are being served. They accept money and gifts from corporations in order to finance their reelection campaigns and enjoy special luxuries, even though this acceptance places them under an unspoken obligation to help the corporations in return. When running for office, politicians tell the voters what they think voters want to hear. They make promises they have no intention of keeping. Winning at any cost is their guiding principle.
Nancy Pelosi is a politician. She declares opposition to the war in Iraq but consistently votes to fund it. She has offered no analysis of the real reasons motivating the war in Iraq. She voted in favor of invasive wiretapping and immunity for corporations that engaged in illegal wiretapping. She has initiated no legislation to fix our ailing schools, health care facilities, housing crisis, etc. She has accepted money from the following corporations, to name a few:
Because of the loss of her son in the war on Iraq, Cindy Sheehan is pursuing an entirely different set of priorities than the politicians. Her first goal is to end the war so that other families, both here in the U.S., in Iraq, and in Afghanistan, do not suffer the same loss. Unlike Pelosi, she has actively built the antiwar movement, demanding that all U.S. troops be brought home now.
This means that the Cindy Sheehan for Congress campaign is first about the pursuit and defense of truth, particularly about why the U.S. government initiated an unprovoked war on Iraq. Any honest analysis is compelled to begin with the statement of a senior C.I.A. analyst: “He describes the invasion of Iraq as an ‘avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat but whose defeat did offer economic advantages’… Oil, the author contends, is at the core of U.S. interests in Muslim countries….” (San Francisco Chronicle, June 27, 2004)
The Cindy Sheehan for Congress campaign is also committed to exposing the truth behind the politicians’ disingenuous declarations that they equally represent all the people. In American politics money is in fact power. A recent New York Times article (June 7, 2008) reported that in preparation for its August convention in Denver, “Elected Democratic officials have been calling corporations — meeting with Wall Street executives and flying to San Diego, Philadelphia and Las Vegas — to raise $40 million the party has budgeted for the convention…. Brochures being sent to potential corporate donors … say that ‘as a sponsor’ of the convention, corporate executives will have access to as many as 232 members of Congress, 51 Senators and 28 governors in what is being marketed as a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity.”
The article goes on to report: “Whereas $1 million will buy the top sponsorship at the Democratic convention, the top sponsorship at the Republican convention … has a $5 million price tag.
In stark contrast, the Cindy Sheehan for Congress campaign, instead of selling favors to the rich and powerful, is dedicated to defending and serving the interests of ordinary working people who, after all, constitute the vast majority of our population. Not having a million dollars to wave in the faces of politicians to catch their attention, our needs are systematically ignored and unacknowledged.
While the war in Iraq and Afghanistan cause the U.S. budget to hemorrhage, our schools house overcrowded and under equipped classes with overworked teachers. Health care facilities are understaffed and underfunded. Global warming is unleashing catastrophic effects on our environment as one part of the country is submerged by flooding while another part is parched dry from drought. Unemployment is surging; inflation is eroding our wages; and millions of us are haunted by the prospect of losing our houses to foreclosures. But politicians have done nothing to significantly alleviate these nightmares.
Therefore the Cindy Sheehan for Congress campaign will not rest content with electing Cindy Sheehan to Congress while leaving the entire corrupt political system intact. On the contrary, this campaign is resolved to use a Cindy Sheehan victory to turn the entire political system upside-down. Rather than serving a fabulously rich minority, it seeks to champion the rights and needs of the vast majority of us working people who are disenfranchised by a political system based on corporate money.
But such a goal can only be achieved by launching a movement and bringing together the millions of ordinary people who have no voice in the current political system. As isolated individuals, we are powerless, but together we can wield history-making power. However, such a movement can only rise to its historic potential if it proceeds according to democratic principles where proposals are discussed, debated, and determined by a vote. In this way policies can be chosen on the basis of the best argument, not on the basis of their proponents having the most money. With everyone having a voice, we could begin to build a society that is guided by what is in everyone’s interests because the majority in fact would rule. Leaving power politics and dollar democracy behind, we could create a society that is both rational and moral.
The Cindy Sheehan for Congress campaign is dedicated to nothing short of this goal.
2. The Executive Committee’s (EC) Response to the SF Branch Flier
August 23, 2008
Comrades, below are the EC’s comments on this question, which the NC will take up as part of the discussion on the McKinney / Sheehan work at tomorrow’s meeting.
In the EC’s opinion, our general approach to the work we are engaged in supporting the McKinney and Sheehan campaigns is quite clear. The way we orient to these kinds of campaigns and individuals has been successfully confirmed in practice over decades of work and outlined in detail in the documents of the IMT, of which we are component part. Furthermore, our basic approach to this year’s election was clearly outlined in the U.S. Perspectives document discussed and approved at our National Congress in May. Comrades will remember that it was precisely the two paragraphs on the elections that were discussed the most, and in the end the Congress adopted the following text unanimously:
“. . . Regardless of what we decide, our main task must be to continually emphasize the need for the unions to break with the Democrats and to build a mass party of, by and for working people.
“As in other fields of work, our engagement in electoral politics must be focused on making contacts and winning new members to the WIL. We should encourage our comrades to register to vote and to engage with people who in an election year are more politically aware and interested. We understand that an anti-worker candidate will win this year and that even a protest vote against those candidates will not make a tremendous difference. However, we are not abstentionists. We are fighting for a mass political alternative for the working class, and participation in electoral politics is one tactic we use to raise our ideas within the movement. An election year provides us with an important opportunity to discuss our program and recruit new people to the WIL.” (U.S. Perspectives 2008)
If we examine history and the experience of our International, how would we approach the question concretely in relation to someone like Tony Benn? Eugene Debs? Hugo Chavez? Or the left reformist candidates of the RC in Italy? A candidate’s sincerity or rapid development toward the left / our ideas does not change our basic approach. Until and unless the candidate is our own comrade, running on our program and under the organization’s control, we offer critical support and maintain our absolute independence. It is clear that every concrete campaign / candidate is different and that there are many variants and constantly changing factors we must keep in mind in order to flexibly take advantage of opportunities to build the WIL through our participation and intervention. However, the SF draft leaflet represents, in our view, a fundamental departure from our basic approach, and the EC is therefore not in favor of its being used in its present form.
The NC is the political leadership of the WIL, a political team made up of individual comrades elected to this body by the National Congress on the basis of their political and organizational attributes. It is not a federation of branch representatives. Therefore, the fact that this leaflet was passed unanimously by the 5 SF comrades present at the meeting it was discussed and voted on, does not alter the fact that this is a political question that affects the WIL as a whole. As the EC and comrade BL (on behalf of the SF branch) could not come to a resolution on this, the NC, as the inter-Congress political leadership of the WIL, has a responsibility to take it up politically and to come to a decision.
The draft leaflet contains quite a lot of very interesting material that can certainly be used to show the differences between Pelosi and Sheehan and to illustrate why the WIL has endorsed and is energetically participating in her campaign. However, the overall approach to her campaign, as expressed in this draft and in comrade BL’s accompanying letter, is in the EC’s opinion, incorrect.
Comrade BL’s introductory letter says: “It was written in such a way as to hopefully influence how Cindy Sheehan and the people around her regard her own campaign.” Yes, we aim to influence Cindy and those around her campaign, and to do this we must have a positive influence on it and work to build it. But our main goal is to win the ones and twos to the WIL on the basis of our program and ideas. To the degree that we can influence her, we do so on the basis of drawing those around her campaign closer to our ideas and program, which we must openly state. We must identify the best people around her campaign and recruit them to our program, thereby building a stronger base for the WIL within her campaign, in order to recruit even more and to have an even greater influence on her campaign in that manner. It is certainly possible that we could recruit someone like Cindy Sheehan at a certain stage. But this is not our main goal. Again, recruiting the ones and twos is our main goal. Yes, we must skillfully present our program in a way that connects with those around her, starting from our main points of agreement. But this does not mean that we adopt the campaign’s approach, language, etc.
BL’s letter says: “Hence, it begins with terminology that she uses herself on her web site. But then it tries to go beyond her framework by drawing out the logical implications of her own positions. As a result, there is much that this flier does not say.” Yes, we build on points of convergence, but we at all times maintain our own ideas, approach, perspectives, and independence. The approach in this leaflet, if it were put out in the name of the WIL effectively blurs the line between the WIL and her campaign. This may be a fine leaflet for her campaign, and if they wanted to publish it as is in her name, it would be a very good thing – for her campaign. We could then help distribute it, along with our own leaflets, selling our own paper, discussing our ideas and program with people, etc. But it is simply not appropriate as a WIL leaflet. Yes, using simple language such as “ordinary working people” instead of “proletarians” or “Big Business politicians” instead of “representatives of the bourgeois” is entirely appropriate in a leaflet of this character. But the approach in this leaflet goes beyond using more easily accessible language.
For example, the leaflet in effect asserts what Cindy will or will not do. It states: “Cindy Sheehan is no politician. If she is elected to Congress, she will not become a politician.” Obviously, we don’t expect Cindy to take money from the corporations Pelosi is funded by, and we expect her, if she wins, to call for the immediate withdrawal of the troops, etc. But we simply cannot know or assert in advance what a candidate will or will not do. That is for the campaign to do. We can only report the facts on her positions and what she says she will do, and then explain why we support these positions and further develop our perspective and ideas. We must at all times make it clear that while we are energetically working to build her campaign, we are a separate organization. We are in effect working in a kind of electoral united front, and must always maintain our organizational and political independence.
Yes, by all accounts she is steadily moving to the left and this is very good, we support and encourage this. But it does not change our basic approach. We support and encourage her with our ideas and methods. There are many, many things that Sheehan says which are good and which we agree with and encourage. But she also calls the U.S. “a fascist police state,” which is certainly not our position. She is a big advocate of impeaching Bush – we do not make this a focal point of our work at all. She talks about “saving our representative republic.” i.e., a bourgeois-democratic republic. (These quotes from Sheehan come from an interview that appeared today, August 23, 2008. It is available in full here: http://www.palestinechronicle.com/view_article_details.php?id=14098)
Fair enough, this is her prerogative as a candidate and her way of getting people to look at the problems in the U.S. political system, but it is not the WIL’s position. Yes, she has come a long way since she began her political activism, but interviews such as this do not indicate that she has moved beyond some sort of left reformism, or at best, centrism. These are not insults, but definite political descriptions used by Marxists to characterize someone’s political outlook at a given time. A person’s political views and approach can often change quite quickly. And in the current conditions, we are not going to come out with a leaflet calling her a “centrist” or a “reformist.” But internally, we must be clear that we are not yet dealing with a revolutionary Marxist, a Bolshevik — a member of the WIL. Again, unless and until we are running our own comrades as candidates, under our control and running on our program, we are offering critical support and cannot take responsibility for what candidates may or may not do, may or may not say.
Also problematic is the concept of “politician” vs. “non-politician.” This only serves to confuse the point we need too get across, which is that we need political representation of, by, and for the working class. It’s a fine turn of phrase to tap into “anti-politician” sentiment which is so prevalent (and which is only natural given the situation). We could certainly say that Pelosi is a big business politician, and that what we need are working class politicians, but a leaflet put out in the name of the WIL cannot write off “politicians” in general. We need to draw out the class content clearly.
The leaflet also quotes from an article in the San Francisco Chronicle: “Oil, the author contends, is at the core of U.S. interests in Muslim countries…” This may well be the simplified understanding of many anti-war activists as to the causes of the war, but the WIL / IMT position is that while oil was certainly a factor, it was above all about geopolitical and strategic control over the entire region, as part of the inter-imperialist conflict on a world scale, as well as a message to the poor of the world not to “get out of line.” By not expanding on the Chronicle article’s basic point about oil, it may appear that this simplistic explanation is the WIL’s position. Our task is to raise workers’ political understanding of the causes for the war — imperialism and capitalism — not just oil.
Most importantly, the draft leaflet does not mention the need for a mass party of labor as the only way forward for working people. True, we need not raise this in every single leaflet and article we produce, on each and every subject we cover. But as our U.S. Perspectives document clearly outlines, raising this must have a central place in our election year work. A WIL leaflet intended for an election campaign is certainly an appropriate place to raise this central point of our organization, which few if any others are raising in a clear and consistent manner. It doesn’t matter if this is not yet getting a mass echo. We are looking for the ones and twos who agree with our perspectives on this and other key questions.
Instead, the leaflet makes a call to “help build a movement.” What is the class composition of this movement? What is the goal of this movement? Clearly, we want a working class movement, and a mass party of labor. We are confident the SF comrades agree with this perspective. If so, the leaflet should clearly state it. That is, after all, the position of the WIL. The “movement” that is in an embryonic stage around Sheehan may well play some role in the future mass party of labor. But it is our responsibility to point out that only when the unions break with the Democrats, and their tremendous power is harnessed to build a mass party of labor fighting in the interests of the working class majority, will the monopoly of power of the two parties of the ruling class be seriously challenged and ultimately, pushed aside. Again, our basic approach in this work must be to outline the main points of agreement, explaining that this is why we support this campaign, but then raising our own points, such as the need for a mass party of labor and other aspects of our program.
We must also note that presenting what was intended to be a WIL leaflet to Sheehan and her campaign before it became an official WIL leaflet was not the appropriate course of action. We are a democratic centralist organization and must discuss and approve things internally before they are presented publicly. Whether the SF branch had approved it or not does not change this. Branches of the WIL are not autonomous units that function independently of the organization as a whole. Fact checking her positions is one thing, but the entire draft of a WIL leaflet should not have been presented to her before it became an official WIL leaflet, if that was indeed the case.
Comrades, the EC bases its concerns regarding this draft leaflet on the perspectives and approach outlined in the 2008 U.S. Perspectives document, and in the approach of our international to this kind of work over many decades. In short, this draft leaflet reads like a very good leaflet for the Cindy Sheehan campaign. If she had asked us to collaborate on writing a leaflet for her campaign, and this was the result, it would be a fine thing. It is certainly more to the left and in more general agreement with our ideas than her previous leaflets, and there are many excellent points raised in it about the differences with Pelosi, the problems facing working people, etc. But it is not appropriate as a leaflet of the WIL, which is what it was intended to be. It is not written from the perspective of the WIL as a politically independent component part of her broader campaign, explaining our reasons for supporting her, and encouraging her and her campaign to come even closer to our position by clearly stating what our positions are.
These are the main reasons that we oppose using this as a WIL leaflet. It is not a simple matter of style or phrasing, but of the overall approach. As we begin our work on the electoral front, which we will be doing a lot more of in the future, it is crucial that we establish the correct methods of approach from the very beginning, which are important precedents for the future. We are confident that the approach adopted by the National Congress and the approach implemented with great success by our International over decades are correct.
August 23, 2008
3. The SFWIL’S Response to the EC’s Criticisms of the Cindy Sheehan Flier
The EC begins its critique with the following statement: “In the EC’s opinion, our general approach to the work we are engaged in supporting the McKinney and Sheehan campaigns is quite clear.” It continues shortly thereafter: “Furthermore, our basic approach to this year’s election was clearly outlined in the U.S. Perspectives document discussed and approved at our National Congress in May.”
We object to this approach where it is simply assumed that everything is already clear. When you state that our [the WIL’s] position is clear, that formulation suggests that the SF branch’s flier is automatically wrong so that there is really nothing to discuss. Of course, such an approach will further mean that any other comrades in the organization who may not be clear about these questions will not feel comfortable in raising questions, differences, etc. They will feel intense pressure to come to the defense of the organization or EC, regardless of their questions or opinions on the particular issues in dispute, because honest differences have been redefined in terms of a loyalty test.
The fact that the EC is operating under this assumption is evidenced by its approach to the SF branch in the phone call between John P. and myself. Instead of starting by asking what the branch meant by certain formulations in the flier, the conversation began with the assumption that everything was clear. Accordingly, the phone conversation consisted of listing indictments, rather than trying to seek clarification regarding exactly what the SF branch had in mind. We were accused of “watering down the program” and “adapting to the reformism of Sheehan.” It was also stated that “we [the WIL] are not interested in influencing the Sheehan campaign — we are only interested in recruiting the ones and twos.”
However, the fact that two NC comrades in the SF branch approved the flier without any criticisms suggests that the issues in dispute could not be entirely clear after all, given that they are leading members of the organization. And later two additional NC members of the Portland branch also indicated support for the flier. The EC thinking these issues are clear is not grounds for assuming that they are clear to all members of the organization or that the EC is correct in its assumption, especially in light of the absence of any arguments by the EC to support their assumption.
During the NC discussion, in response to my request that we conduct a written discussion about our differences concerning the SF branch Sheehan flier, our National Secretary stated: “The written discussion would interrupt the work and recruiting of the party, as was done with the Black struggle discussion.” Another way of regarding my request for a written discussion is that it would afford the opportunity to strengthen the party by bringing us closer together as we attempt to resolve our differences. Moreover, I believe that my contribution to the discussion, if adopted, will actually enhance our ability to recruit the ones and twos, and possibly more, to the party.
More importantly, if the EC does not believe that these are honest differences of opinion raised by loyal party members but are rather acts of willful insubordination, then a comradely discussion becomes impossible. If this is indeed the belief of the EC, then you should make these accusations explicit and provide evidence for your beliefs so that your accusations can be addressed forthrightly and we can resolve any problems or misunderstandings. Otherwise you will demoralize all those involved by conducting uncomradely discussions. We do not believe you have any evidence for this opinion, if in fact it is yours, and insist, as we always have, that we are loyal comrades and have always been among the strongest builders of the party.
We now want to address the content of your criticisms. We will begin with the minor points and conclude with the more important differences. As was stated in a previous communication, we believe that our approach is entirely consistent with the approach spelled out by Alan Woods as he has outlined in numerous places.
1. The EC stated in its criticisms of the SF branch flier: “…we offer critical support and maintain our absolute independence.” We entirely agree. But Alan Woods insightfully pointed out in his comments to the Greek section: “We do not go in like a bull in a china shop, denouncing all and sundry. In general, we should be positive, mainly emphasizing what the PASOK leaders should be doing. We should reserve our denunciations for the class enemy” [emphasis added]. As we will argue below, this is exactly what we did in the flier by pointing out the direction that the Sheehan campaign should take, given the existing concrete circumstances faced by the campaign.
2. The EC stated that Cindy Sheehan holds many opinions which we do not share, for example, in depicting the U.S. government as “a fascist police state” and focusing on impeachment of Bush. We agree and of course did not endorse these views in our flier.
3. The EC stated in response to our saying that Cindy Sheehan will not become a politician: “But we simply cannot know or assert in advance what a candidate will or will not do. We can only report the facts on her positions and what she says she will do….” We made this assertion on the basis of close collaboration with Cindy Sheehan over a period of months. We feel confident that the statement is true.
4. The EC stated: “…but a leaflet put out in the name of the WIL cannot write off ‘politicians’ in general.” In the flier, we are using the term “politician” in the way that ordinary working people use it, not as you are using it. We are addressing people who do not have a high level of political consciousness and who identify politicians with liars. This is clear from the context of the flier, as made explicit in the second paragraph. Using this definition of “politician,” we believe we can all agree that we are opposed to politicians.
5. The EC stated: “By not expanding on the Chronicle article’s basic point about oil, it may appear that this simplistic explanation is the WIL’s position. Our task is to raise workers’ political understanding of the causes for the war — imperialism and capitalism — not just oil.” Our flier does not state that oil is the ONLY cause of U.S. intervention, merely that an analysis must BEGIN with oil. And, of course, such an analysis would necessarily lead to capitalism and imperialism, but we did not think in this context we could have possibly made that point in a way that people could understand without spending pages and pages and losing sight of what the flier was about. We cannot possibly state all our positions and analyses in all our fliers, especially fliers that are agitational in nature.
6. The EC stated: “We must also note that presenting what was intended to be a WIL leaflet to Sheehan and her campaign before it became an official WIL leaflet was not the appropriate course of action.” In fact, the flier was not shown to the Sheehan “campaign,” which consists of many people. It was communicated only to Sheehan through her assistant. This was done to check for any possible inaccuracies before it was submitted to the WIL’s EC.
7. The EC stated: “Yes, we must skillfully present our program in a way that connects with those around her, starting from our main points of agreement. But this does not mean that we adopt the campaign’s approach, language, etc.” We believe this statement conflates and confuses two separate points. We entirely agree with the statement that we cannot adopt the Sheehan campaign’s approach. Our politics would become hopelessly muddled if this were attempted. But while firmly adhering to our own politics, we believe it is important to translate these ideas into a language that can be understood by those to whom the flier is addressed. Otherwise we will just be talking to ourselves and we will appear to others as a sectarian grouplet, repeating the same phrases to everyone in exactly the same way, regardless of differences among audiences and regardless of the existing circumstances that may require a flexible conception of what to do next. In other words, we will isolate ourselves from workers in struggle. Doesn’t a skillful presentation mean we are making it comprehensible to those we are addressing, using language THEY can understand, and taking up issues that are of special importance to THEM? In the following point we will argue that, while using different language, we adhered precisely to our program and instead of adapting to the Sheehan campaign’s approach, concretely indicated what steps the campaign could take to come in our direction.
8. We think the most important criticism is raised towards the end of the EC document. The EC stated: “Most importantly, the draft leaflet does not mention the need for a mass party of labor as the only way forward for working people.” And the EC goes on to state: “Instead, the leaflet makes a call to ‘help build a movement.’ What is the class composition of this movement? What is the goal of this movement? Clearly we want a working class movement, and a mass party of labor.”
But if our flier is read carefully, it will become clear that this is exactly what we did call for. In response to the EC question, what is the class composition of this movement? the answer was clearly provided: it is a movement that would aim “to champion the rights and needs of the vast majority of WORKING PEOPLE who are disenfranchised by a political system based on corporate money” [emphasis added]. And the flier continues: “But such a goal can only be achieved by launching a movement and bringing together the millions of ordinary people who have no voice in the current political system.”
By using these formulations (“working people” and “the millions of ordinary people who have no voice in the current political system”), who else could we possibly be referring to other than the U.S. working class? After all, the bourgeoisie is the RULING CLASS and has a political voice. We did not use the term “working class” in our flier because U.S. workers, for the most part, do not identify themselves as members of the working class. They think they belong to the middle class. WE ARE TRYING TO MAKE THE WIL’S PROGRAM ACCESSIBLE TO WORKING PEOPLE IN TERMS THEY CAN UNDERSTAND.
As for the question, “What is the goal of the movement?” we stated that the goal of the movement is the creation of “a society that is guided by what is in everyone’s interests because the majority would in fact rule.” There is no way such a society could be achieved within capitalism. It would absolutely require the establishment of socialism. But again, if we had used the word “socialism,” we would simply have confused people since here in the U.S. socialism is identified with totalitarianism. And we did not use the words “labor party” since people do not know what we are referring to. Because they have no experience of a labor party, they draw a blank when we throw out the words. At best, they might imagine a labor party headed by a Tony Blair-like character, or a labor party ruled by the labor bureaucrats who are continually knifing them in the back.
9. The EC stated: “Yes, we aim to influence Cindy and those around her campaign, and to do this we must have a positive influence on it and work to build it. But our main goal is to win the ones and twos to the WIL on the basis of our program and ideas. To the degree that we can influence her, we do so on the basis of drawing those around her campaign closer to our ideas and program, which we must openly state.”
We are pleased that the EC emphasizes the importance of influencing the Sheehan campaign. But we would like to further emphasize that this goal and the goal of recruiting the ones and twos are INTERCONNECTED. Our prospects of recruiting will be increasingly enhanced by moving the Sheehan campaign in our direction. The closer the campaign is to our ideas, the easier it is to recruit.
Unfortunately, the EC has not adopted a consistent policy about whether we should try to lead or influence workers in movement. For example, in the phone conversation with me, John P. specifically stated that we are NOT interested in influencing the Sheehan campaign but are only interested in recruiting the ones and twos. And in a very recent communication to Mark V. regarding his trade union work, John P. wrote: “Our goal in these struggles at this stage is not to lead them or to have a decisive influence over the ‘masses’ of the union, but to find the ones and twos for our own organization.” This formulation makes it seem as if Shamus should not have organized a union (which then helped him to recruit), that we should not be helping to lead the immigrant rights movement, and that we should resign from any leadership role in the antiwar movement. When was this policy of abstention discussed and adopted by our party? IF THIS IS INDEED OUR PARTY’S POSITION, THEN IT CERTAINLY HAS NOT BEEN MADE CLEAR TO MANY OF US. CONSEQUENTLY WHEN THE EC INTRODUCES THIS ASSUMPTION INTO OUR WORK, IT HAS PRODUCED CONFUSION AMONG US AND DISRUPTION TO OUR WORK. In so far as the EC believes we are just a propaganda group, it does not distinguish between propaganda literature and agitational literature, which has led to misunderstandings. The SF branch Sheehan flier was intended agitationally, not as merely propaganda.
We think it would be a disastrous mistake if the WIL abstained from movements where workers are in struggle. First, our playing a leadership role in these movements or exerting a strong influence on their direction will augment our ability to recruit the ones and twos. Second, we will appear like parasites to workers engaged in these movements because it will look as if we are only there to recruit and build our own party, not build the movement and engage in working class solidarity. They will think we are using them to promote our own, purely self-serving goals. So our ability to recruit will actually decline. Third, it is contrary to our Marxist tradition to abstain when workers are in struggle since it will increase the chances that the leadership of these movements will end up in the hands of reformists, and any prospects for the movement growing and becoming more militant will be reduced. Here is an example of our commitment to engagement from the Second Congress of the Third International:
“Bearing in mind the rush of the enormous working masses into the trades unions, and also the objective revolutionary character of the economic struggle which those masses are carrying on in spite of the trade union bureaucracy, the Communists must join such unions in all countries, in order to make of them efficient organs of the struggle for the suppression of capitalism and for Communism. They must initiate the forming of trade unions where these do not exist.”
In his book on Bolshevism, Alan Woods argued: “Nevertheless, even at a time when the question of armed insurrection had been pushed to the fore by events, the fundamental task of the Party was still that of winning over the masses. Without that, all the talk about overthrowing tsarism would have been so much empty chatter.” How can we win over the masses, given we are not in an insurrectionary period, when we are not engaged in their struggles, trying to provide the proper leadership?
Elsewhere in the same book he argued: “It was necessary to win the masses over in action, by means of timely slogans and correct tactics, to demonstrate in practice the superiority of Marxism on the basis of the concrete struggle and experience of the masses. In other words, the problem before the Party was to win over the mass movement and not to counterpose itself to it. The whole question of the relationship of the Party and the mass movement can be reduced in the last analysis to the difference between the finished scientific programme of Marxism and the necessarily unfinished, incomplete and contradictory movement of the masses. Whoever is incapable of finding a bridge between these two aspects will forever be incapable of building a mass movement.”
Notice that Woods speaks of building a BRIDGE between the program and the mass movement. It is not simply a matter of taking elements from the program and inserting them into the mass movement regardless of how they will be received.
10. As has already been mentioned, the EC emphasizes “the need for a mass party of labor as the only way forward for working people,” which they say was lacking in our flier. But in raising this criticism, the EC misunderstands the point of the flier. The flier is not intended as pure propaganda, but indicates the next step that should be taken by the campaign. If we were to call for a labor party in our flier, that call would fall on deaf ears. At the present time, the call for a labor party can only realistically be raised propagandistically where we spell out in an article in S.A., for example, exactly why we workers need a party of our own. The Cindy Sheehan campaign at this moment is not even remotely in a position to initiate a labor party. It simply does not have the forces, especially union forces, to accomplish the task. Nor is there any movement among activists in the Sheehan campaign, let alone among working people in general in the U.S., around the call for a labor party at this moment. So it makes no sense to direct the slogan of a labor party at the Sheehan campaign at this time as an agitational slogan since agitational slogans are something to be acted on now. But there is movement around the Sheehan campaign in terms of her getting elected to office, and this movement opens up the possibility of growing into something bigger and extending beyond the elections in November. This movement might then in turn be in a position to link up with other similar movements (e.g., around McKinney) so that the potential for the creation of a labor party would in fact become a more real possibility.
Here is how Trotsky described agitational demands:
“Agitation is not only the means of communicating to the masses this or that slogan, calling the masses to action, etc. For a party, agitation is also a means of lending an ear to the masses, of sounding out its moods and thoughts, and reaching this or another decision in accordance with the results. Only the Stalinists have transformed agitation into a noisy monologue. For the Marxists, the Leninists, agitation is always a dialogue with the masses.” (Trotsky, WHITHER FRANCE)
In other words, agitational slogans must result from a CONSTANT and UNBROKEN dialogue with the masses where we speak a language they can understand, and in turn we listen to what they have to say. If we introduce slogans, even transitional slogans, foreign to their experiences and understanding, then the dialogue will be broken and we will isolate ourselves from the movement.
As Marxists, when we are involved in movements, we not only want to provide them with our propaganda and analyses, but we also want to provide agitation and indicate what steps to take immediately in order to make the movement a more effective tool in defense of working class interests. In other words, the SF branch flier was intended, not as pure propaganda, but as agitation, pointing out what steps to take right now in order to keep the Sheehan campaign alive after the November elections. If these steps were in fact taken, it would bring the campaign closer to the creation of a labor party. Moreover, if our suggestions were accepted, then we would be seen as providing invaluable leadership to a campaign, which is already faltering, and would place us in a more advantageous position to recruit the ones and twos.
11. We believe there are indeed fundamental differences between the approach of many of us in the SF branch and the EC. In our opinion, the EC has adopted roughly the following approach: If and when we relate to working people in motion, we begin by taking up their demands, but then we must always tack on at least some of the more relevant transitional demands from our program.. So, for example, if the movement concerns elections, we must throw in the demand for a labor party. If the movement is work-related, then we must add the demand of 30 for 40. And so on. And if we do NOT make these additions, THEN WE ARE WATERING DOWN THE PROGRAM AND ADAPTING TO REFORMISM. Articles in Socialist Appeal reflect the same approach. Transitional demands are added to each article, even though they do not organically connect with the rest of the article.
This is a purely mechanical, not a dialectical approach. It does not take into consideration the level of consciousness of the working people engaged in struggle, and it does not take into consideration the language they use and understand nor what they are, or are not, prepared to struggle for NOW. We do not believe such an approach has ever been embraced by our Marxist tradition.
What distinguishes a revolutionary Marxist intervention in workers’ struggles from a reformist intervention is not the introduction of transitional demands, although if they are appropriate these demands should be raised, but that reformists do NOT want to mobilize the membership because they know that once workers are in motion, there might be no stopping them and the reformists will probably lose control of the movement. We, on the other hand, are constantly and relentlessly aimed at mobilizing workers and urging them to fight for their own interests, even though what the workers are pursuing at the moment are merely reforms. We urge them to organize as a class, independent of the bosses and independent of the political parties that represent the bosses. Once workers are in motion, a new dynamic begins to unfold. Here is how Alan Woods described the process in his book on Bolshevism:
“This gives the lie to the reformist opponents of Marxism who argue that the Marxists are ‘not interested in reform’. On the contrary, throughout history, the Marxists have been in the forefront of the struggle for the improvement of the lot of the workers, fighting for better wages and conditions, shorter hours and democratic rights. The difference between Marxism and reformism does not consist in the ‘acceptance’ or otherwise of reforms (you only have to pose the question to see its patent absurdity). On the one hand, is the fact that serious reforms can only be won by mobilizing the strength of the working class in struggle against the capitalists and their state and, on the other, that the only way to consolidate the gains made by the workers and to guarantee all their needs, is to break the power of Capital and carry out the socialist transformation of society. The latter is, however, unthinkable without the day-to-day struggle for advance under capitalism which serves to organize, train and educate the working-class, preparing the ground for the final settling of accounts with its enemies.” [ emphasis added] (Alan Woods, BOLSHEVISM)
And Woods further argued:
“From the Marxist point of view, the importance of a strike goes far beyond the fight for immediate demands over hours, wages and conditions. The real significance of strikes, even when lost, is that the workers learn. In the course of a strike the mass of workers, their wives and families, inevitably become aware of their role as a class. They cease to think and act like slaves, and begin to raise themselves up to the stature of real human beings with a mind and will of their own. Through their experience of life and of struggle—particularly of great events—the masses begin to transform themselves. Beginning with the most active and conscious layer, the workers become profoundly discontented with their lot, and keenly feel their own limitations. Defeats, still more than victories, force upon the worker-activist the burning need for a clear understanding of the workings of society, of the mysteries of economics and politics.” (Ibid.)
In other words, when workers are engaged in struggle, they acquire a whole new set of experiences which fundamentally alter their consciousness. They work in close cooperation with one another. They transform themselves from passive victims to determined, self-willing activists prepared to repel attacks or launch offensive struggles. They see how resistant the bosses are to even the most modest and reasonable demands. And so on. But perhaps most importantly, workers get a taste of the monumental power they can wield when they act in solidarity. And that experience is what fundamentally alters the relation of forces in the class struggle and leads to ever more intense battles in the future.
Therefore, we believe it is of paramount importance to begin with the consciousness of workers at their current level of development so that we start with THEIR issues and THEIR needs. What is crucial is that workers are mobilized to fight for their interests. We will not change their consciousness by simply adding some radical slogans THAT DO NOT ORGANICALLY RELATE to their concerns and are disconnected from their experiences and consciousness. When we introduce demands to workers, we must begin with their concerns AND DRAW OUT FROM THEM the next logical demands that point to a direction that will allow the workers to consolidate any gains they have achieved and then go even further and thereby move in our direction. This is a dialectical approach since the demands we introduce are connected to the consciousness of the workers. A mechanical approach merely pins on transitional demands even though they are disconnected to workers’ consciousness.
Here are some quotations from our tradition that we believe support our approach:
“The slogan of workers’ control can be extraordinarily useful in this regard. However, it must be approached correctly. Advanced without the necessary preparation, as a bureaucratic command, the slogan of workers’ control may not only prove to be a blank shot, but even more, may compromise the party in the eyes of the working masses by undermining confidence in it even among those workers who today vote for it. Before officially raising this very crucial slogan, the situation must be read well and the ground for it prepared” [emphasis added]. (Trotsky, THE STRUGGLE AGAINST FASCISM IN GERMANY)
“Not to pose an abstract socialist dictatorship to the real needs and desires of the masses, but starting from these daily struggles to oppose the national bourgeoisie on the basis of the workers’ needs, winning the leadership of the workers and gaining the power.” (WRITINGS OF LEON TROTSKY, Supplement 1934-40)
“It is absolutely necessary right now to prepare the minds of the advanced workers for the idea of creating shop committees and workers’ councils at the moment of a sharp change. But it would be the greatest mistake to ‘play around’ in practice with the slogan of shop councils, consoling oneself with this ‘idea’ for the lack of real work and real influence in the trade unions. To counterpose to the existing trade unions the abstract idea of workers’ councils would mean setting against oneself not only the bureaucracy but also the masses, thus depriving oneself of the possibility of preparing the ground for the creation of workers’ councils.” (WRITINGS OF LEON TROTSKY, 1933-34)
“The objections raised against single-issue demands and the accusations that campaigns on single issues are reformist reflect an inability to grasp the essential conditions of revolutionary action… It is not a question of appealing to the proletariat to fight for the ultimate goal, but of developing the practical struggle which alone can lead the proletariat to the struggle for the ultimate goal.” [emphasis added] (Third Congress of the Third International)
“Every working class party, every faction, during its initial stages, passes through a period of pure propaganda, i.e. the training of its cadres. The period of existence as a Marxist circle invariably grafts habits of an abstract approach onto the problems of the workers’ movement. Whoever is unable to step in time over the confines of this circumscribed existence becomes transformed into a conservative sectarian.” (Woods quoting Trotsky in BOLSHEVISM)
“Though he swears by Marxism in every sentence, the sectarian is the direct negation of dialectical materialism, which takes experience as its point of departure and always returns to it. A sectarian does not understand the dialectical action and reaction between a finished programme and a living — that is to say, imperfect and unfinished — mass struggle…. Sectarianism is hostile to dialectics (not in words but in action) in the sense that it turns its back upon the actual development of the working class.” (Ibid.)
We would like to emphasize that the differences over the SF branch flier are not clear and simple. Many of the differences revolve around and are connected with whether we view ourselves as a purely propagandistic circle or a nucleus of a party capable of intervening and perhaps influencing the struggles around us. This question has never been raised or discussed and consequently never clarified among us. Therefore it is important to conduct a comradely discussion if we are to achieve the kind of clarification that will make our party stronger and more adept at recruiting the ones and twos.
We continue to believe the SF branch flier is entirely consistent with the positions of the WIL, as this response indicates. We in SF are loyal sellers of Socialist Appeal where our program appears in its entirety and where our positions can be developed in articles and more fully explained. And we have steadfastly aimed at recruiting the ones and twos.
We are confident that our approach is entirely consistent with the Marxist approach Alan Woods has outlined on numerous occasions. In fact, we would encourage the EC to share this written discussion, starting with the SF branch Sheehan flier and concluding with anything the EC would like to submit in response to this document, with Alan Woods in order to benefit from his insights regarding our differences.