To:      marxism-international
Subject: M-I: Pete Brown on the Labor Party in the US
Date:    Monday, April 13, 1998 5:51 AM

These two articles on the Labor Party were printed in the summer of 1996
by the two organizations that emerged from the Marxist-Leninist Party,
USA.  Neither of these organizations is free from problems but I believe
that both of these articles are fairly solid.

          -- 1 --
    The Labor Party--
    What is its Relationship to the Tasks of Building
    an Independent Movement of the Working Class?
    by Jack Hill -- Chicago Workers' Voice: #11

          -- 2 --
    Union bureaucrats establish "Labor Party"
     by Pete Brown -- Communist Voice: Vol 2, #4


                                by Pete Brown

    In early June the founding convention of the new "Labor
Party" was held in Cleveland. This is a party founded of, by and
for a section of upper-level trade union bureaucrats, together
with an assortment of social-democratic-minded allies of theirs.
It is NOT a mass workers' party or an avowedly revolutionary or
socialist party. This party's founders were happy for many years
functioning as the "labor" tail of the Democratic Party, but with
the latter's drift to the right, giving up any pretensions to
traditional Rooseveltian liberal-labor politics, they felt the
need to try and revive such politics.

--Reaction from the left--

    It's interesting to see the reaction to this event from
various leftist groups, as it provides a sort of mirror in which
one can view the various trends. Let's look at a few of these.

    First of all, under the heading "most enthused" we should
include "People's Tribune", newspaper of the League of
Revolutionaries for a New America. Now, in the old days LRNA
called itself the Communist Labor Party, but in the conditions of
the 90s it revamped its image, threw communism out the window and
emerged as generalized, mild-mannered "revolutionaries." Their
special advocacy group is the poor, people on welfare, etc., and
they often have informative articles about the struggles of these
strata. But their political orientation has gone completely awry.
LRNA doesn't even pretend to have any doubts or criticisms of the
new party. They enthusiastically proclaim, on their front page,
"Labor Party to fight for employed and unemployed." They're
excited that the Labor Party decided to allow the National
Welfare Rights Union and the National Union of the Homeless to
affiliate to the party. And granted, that is quite a concession
from union bureaucrats, to even admit that poor and homeless
people exist. But what evidence do they have that the Labor Party
"will fight for" the unemployed?

    In their centerfold spread on the party's founding
convention, LRNA waxes enthusiastic about the great numbers of
people there -- 1,367 delegates "representing more than one
million people" according to LRNA. But this is the typical trade-
union bureaucrat style of counting. The president of a trade
union with a hundred thousand members will say he "represents
100,000 people", neglecting to mention if those 100,000 people
expressly sent him on this mission, or if he even informed them
about it.

    LRNA's article contains some information about the Labor
Party's 19-page program. They say it calls for a constitutional
right to a job (at $10 an hour); supports affirmative action and
immigrant rights; denounces racist church burnings and police
brutality; and calls for a guaranteed annual income. All good
things, of course; but one wonders if LRNA isn't just selecting
out the most popular items from this 19-page program. (I hope to
examine this program in a future article: since the Labor Party
Advocates refused to allow any discussion of program before the
party's founding, and never publicized any drafts of the program,
I haven't yet had an opportunity to peruse it.)

    This is LRNA's method in dealing with the founding convention
to just slough over differences and act as if everyone's enthused
and everyone's equal. Workers on strike, people on welfare, etc.
are thrown into the same boat as top labor bureaucrats like Tony
Mazzocchi and social-democratic political figures like Jim
Hightower and Ralph Nader. And of course all these figures are
going to go all out for the homeless, the unemployed, those on
welfare and those suffering under racial and ethnic
discrimination. Is this for real? LRNA thinks so, or at least
wants to hope so.

--"Socialist Action": diehard defenders of the bureaucrats--

   Also under the heading "very enthused", but with some possible
reservations, we could list "Socialist Action", a mild-mannered
Trotskyist newspaper (and organization). Now, the founding of the
Labor Party is actually precisely what SA has been advocating for
years. In their basic policy statement, given on page 2 of their
newspaper, they say, "We advocate a labor party based on the
unions." No doubt many SA supporters were also active in Labor
Party Advocates, and they're pretty excited about the party's
founding. So the front page of their June 1996 newspaper
proclaims, in large red headlines, "The Need for a Labor Party
with a Winning Union Strategy."

   This issue of their paper appeared shortly before the party's
founding, and AFTER an LPA conference in Northern California. SA
was looking forward to the founding convention, but got a scare
at the California conference when former California governor
Jerry Brown showed up as the featured speaker. They recognize
that a Labor Party might function as simply a stalking horse for
bourgeois politicians, to draw workers back into the fold of
mainstream bourgeois politics. In an interesting sidebar, "A page
from labor history", they note that rotten AFL bureaucrats in the
late 1930s set up a political grouping, "Labor's Non-Partisan
League", for just such a purpose. And they say a debate broke out
at the California LPA conference over the question of basing the
Labor Party on the trade unions, or "for a party that would
submerge unions in a combination of groups like the Greens and
other middle-class political formations -- as well as demagogic
political representatives of the bosses." By "demagogues" SA
means people like Jesse Jackson and Jerry Brown.

    So here's the basic dynamic of the Labor Party, according to
SA: whether it should be "based on the trade unions" or whether
the unions should be "submerged". On this question, let no one
doubt, SA is all for having a Labor Party "based on the unions."
In advocating this they wax enthusiastic over "Brother
Mazzocchi", the trade union official who has been pushing
strongly for this position in the Labor Party.

    SA pretends that this is a major question of principle, like
a question of class orientation. Presumably the Greens and the
"demagogues" represent other class forces, while trade union
leaders represent the working class. But why? Because they are
officials of trade unions, elected by workers? But isn't the mass
base of the Democratic Party -- the vast majority of those who
register and vote Democratic -- also workers? So by the same
logic does this make Bill Clinton a representative of the working

    The question is, how can SA justify their advocating "a labor
party based on the unions" as the way forward for the working
class, when they know that "based on the unions" means "dominated
by the trade union officialdom", the same officialdom that has a
stranglehold on the working class movement today? To SA's credit,
they have some recognition of this little problem. For example,
in a separate article they note how bureaucrats of railway unions
overturned a membership vote and helped impose a backward
contract settlement on rail workers. And in an article on the
Detroit newspaper strike they express strong doubts about whether
John Sweeney is up to organizing a winning strategy. They even
have their doubts about Mazzocchi, noting that he conciliates
those labor bureaucrats who are still staunchly pro-Democratic
Party, and urge him to take a more "independent" stand.

    But these are only doubts "among brothers." Basically, SA is
all in agreement with Mazzocchi. And this means giving a dead-end
orientation to the workers. The working class stands in need of
reorganization today, to establish itself as a class force
independent of the bourgeoisie. But this can't be conceived of as
consolidating a social-democratic political vehicle for the labor
bureaucrats. Nor can it be limited to organizations "based on"
the present trade unions, who represent a fairly small percentage
of the working class. And even for those workers presently in
trade unions -- although they already have some rudimentary class
organization, the stifling bureaucracy sitting on top of this
organization means that these workers, too, will have to go
through a period of reorganization before they can establish
their independence from bourgeois politics.

--"Spark" wants a no-vote--

    Another Trotskyite paper publicizing the Labor Party's
founding is "The Spark". "Spark" isn't as enthused about it as
SA, but they're generally supportive of the project. The main
point in their article is to criticize the founding convention's
decision to NOT run candidates in the 1996 elections. The
convention leaders argued that it served no purpose to run
candidates who could not possibly win. "Spark" criticizes this,
arguing that even if you don't win, you can at least publicize
your politics and help to wean workers away from the established
parties. At least, "Spark" says, the founding convention could
have urged a no-vote tactic against the established parties.

    Like SA, "Spark" is suspicious of the Labor Party leaders'
tendency to conciliate the Democrats and their trade union
supporters. They suspect that the bureaucrats might not be
putting all their cards on the table, since they've refused so
far to launch any campaign against Clinton and the Democrats. Not
only did the Labor Party refuse to run candidates, they also
refused to issue a stinging denunciation of the Democrats, or to
urge workers to boycott supporting the Democrats.

    These groups are right to be suspicious of the bureaucrats.
They should be even more suspicious. The fact that they aren't
shows the depth of old-style leftist politics, which these groups
have not been able to shake free of. They talk and talk about
"build the working class movement", but they don't want to
analyze what's actually going on in the working class movement
and what it will take to revive it. They think the established
trade union officials will do the work for them -- will ride in
on a white horse, declare the "Labor Party", and this will do the
trick of organizing the working class independent of the
capitalists. But after decades of domination of liberal-labor
politics promoted on a daily basis by the union officialdom, the
workers will have to go through a period of profound political
shakeup in order to establish their independence. This will have
to include a serious critique of the opportunists in the labor
camp and also revisionist forces among the leftists themselves.

--"Bulletin" gets the goods on how the bureaucrats organize--

   Finally, we come to the "Bulletin" Trots (Workers League), who
are highly critical of the new Labor Party project. They promise
a series of articles on the new party in their newspaper, "The
International Workers Bulletin". In the first of these, in their
July 1, 1996 issue, they concentrate on the way the founding
convention itself was organized. This was in typical bureaucrat
fashion: top-down, without democratic discussion, and with
leftist politics suppressed. First off, they make the point that
rank-and-file members of some participating unions didn't even
know about the convention:

           "Far from mobilizing the ranks of the labor
        movement for the building of a Labor Party, the
        Cleveland convention was organized behind the backs of
        the workers. Most of the unions which participated did
        not even inform their own members that the convention
        was taking place. The UMWA, for instance, has never
        reported the effort to establish the Labor Party in its
        magazine, `UMW Journal'. It endorsed the Labor Party
        only on the eve of the convention, sent only a handful
        of delegates, and yet cast 100 votes and secured a
        position for Trumka's nominee on the Labor Party's
        National Council." (UMWA is the mine workers union;
        Trumka is the president of the union, also the new
        national secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO.)

    There are two points here: first, that the founding of the
Labor Party does not represent the victory of any mass upsurge
among the workers themselves. The workers aren't even informed.
Secondly, that the union bureaucrats guarantee a dominating
position for themselves, even though they don't really
"represent" the members of their unions.

    "Bulletin" goes on to describe how the convention was rigged:
"All distribution of political material was prohibited, except
that provided by Labor Party Advocates." So any leftists who
showed up with hopes of generating broader discussion were

    Now, how about the way the Labor Party leaders produced a
program? "At dozens of meetings and conferences sponsored by
Labor Party Advocates over the past five years, Mazzocchi and his
supporters insisted that it was premature and even undemocratic
to seek any discussion on program before establishing the Labor
Party. The party's program would have to be decided
democratically at the founding convention, they claimed. But when
delegates arrived in Cleveland, they found a program,
constitution and plan of action had already been worked out in
advance by the leaders of the sponsoring unions...." Very
cute, the way the bureaucrats operate, isn't it?

   But wait. Couldn't participants in the convention offer
alternative resolutions? "Bulletin" says no: "The Labor Party's
resolutions committee, hand-picked by Mazzocchi, blocked
consideration of any proposal not favored by the top union
bureaucrats. The delegates were not informed of resolutions
submitted by chapters or affiliated locals unless they were
approved by the resolutions committee. No resolution not approved
by this committee could be considered except by the vote of two-
thirds of the delegates." Consider all the energy and
intelligence required by the bureaucrats to get all this planned
out. Amazing, isn't it? Just think if they used this much
planning to try and organize the unorganized, or push for higher
wages, or --  but no, forget it, they're not about to do any of
those things.

    But even this procedure leaves a bit of an out, you say;
couldn't someone who was real well organized, and real
determined, publicize his own alternative resolution and try to
get the two-thirds vote to have it placed before the convention?
Well, now let's consider the voting procedure:

           "...Of the nearly 3,000 delegate votes cast, a clear
        majority, about 1,600, were in the hands of the nine
        endorsing national unions....
           "Another 908 votes were cast by local unions and
        nonendorsing national unions, giving full-time union
        officials nearly 90 percent of the total votes. Only
        152 votes were cast by local chapters of Labor Party
           "The endorsing unions received 100 votes each, with
        additional votes for each of their own locals which
        affiliated to the Labor Party....the result was a huge
        bloc vote cast at the direction of a handful of top
        officials. Fourteen hundred people attended the
        convention, but four of them...cast a total of 1,075
        votes between them.
           "By contrast, the 120 individuals who attended the
        convention as at-large delegates were allowed to cast
        two votes altogether."

   Bulletin further makes the point that "this procedure was not
voted on by the delegates or submitted for their consideration
before the convention opened. It was simply announced as a fait
accompli, as part of the convention rules."

   One can't help wonder about the enthusiasts from "Socialist
Action". Aren't they embarrassed by this? Have they no shame?

   "Bulletin" goes on to describe how the organizational
structure of the Labor Party was set up in the same way, with
Mazzocchi and his bureaucrat friends guaranteed longstanding
domination of the party. As a sidelight, they also point out that
Jerry Brown appeared at the convention and "got the most
enthusiastic response of any speaker"; which goes to show that
"Socialist Action" was wrong in thinking that there was some kind
of principled contradiction at work between the "unionists" like
Mazzocchi and the "pro-demagogue" elements. Mazzocchi got his
party based directly on the unions, just as he wanted; but he
also opened the convention up to the demagogues, who preach the
kind of politics Mazzocchi wants to impose on the workers.

     Thus, "Bulletin" gives a sharp critique of the Labor Party's
founding convention. The question this raises, though, is: Why is
"Bulletin" so critical of a "labor party based on the unions"?
Isn't this just what "Bulletin" itself advocated for many years?
Back in the 1980's "Bulletin" supporters were known as the
foremost "knights of the labor party." On any question, they
would say the solution is to build a labor party. Then it would
be pointed out to them that this means putting working class
politics into the hands of the labor bureaucrats. And for this
they had no answer (which doesn't mean, as those familiar with
them know, that they fell silent).

   This culminated, at the time of the Persian Gulf war, in
"Bulletin's" infamous demand that "the unions must vote" on the
question of war. Every other leftist or progressive group was
opposed to war and raising slogans like "no blood for oil." But
"Bulletin" stood out for not taking a position on this important
political issue; instead they called for the unions to vote on
the question. But who did they think was going to organize such a
vote?   Precisely the same stratum of labor bureaucrats who
organized the voting at the Labor Party's founding convention.

   Perhaps "Bulletin" has changed. They say: "The Cleveland
convention demonstrated, as the Workers League and the Socialist
Equality Party have warned for several years, that it is
impossible to build a political alternative for the working class
based on the AFL-CIO." So perhaps, since the Gulf war, Bulletin
has become more critical of the labor bureaucrats. But then, in
the past as well "Bulletin" was quite critical of the
bureaucrats, at times. The Bulletin "method" was to combine naive
faith in the bureaucrats (calls for a labor party, etc.) with
hysterical denunciations of the bureaucrats when the latter did
not live up to their naive expectations.

   Perhaps, to some extent, this is just a sectarian difference.
In the last few years "Bulletin" has organized its own electoral
vehicle, the Socialist Equality Party. There may be some common
points between this organization and the Labor Party -- for
example, the Socialist Equality Party also calls for a minimum
wage of $10 an hour -- and Bulletin is no doubt anxious to
differentiate its formation from that of the union officials. In
any case, so far they have made a contribution in showing how the
bureaucrats organized their convention, and this now throws the
ball back into the court of LRNA, SA, and other "labor party"
supporters like "Spark": Can they really stomach such an
organization? <>

     --- from list ---