For a Labor-Socialist Ticket in 1968

Spartacist number 11, March-April 1968

The 1968 elections come at a time of enormous discontent over the Vietnam war, deeply-felt and violent outbursts of disillusionment among the Negro masses, and an upsurge in labor militancy and rash of hard-fought strikes. The exposure of the Democratic Party as the party of savage racist oppression in the American cities and imperialist intervention in Vietnam sharply poses the necessity of a break with the two capitalist parties in favor of a Freedom-Labor Party based on a working-class program which can link up the issues of the war, the ghetto and the labor struggle. The 1968 Presidential elections offer the best opportunity in 20 years for the intervention of radicals in the electoral arena through the form of a labor-socialist ticket—to consist for example of a local trade union leader and a socialist, one of whom might well be black—which could build wide support for a decisive break with capitalist politics and lay the basis for a movement to struggle for a Freedom-Labor Party.

Need for a Working-Class Party

The United States is the only advanced capitalist country which does not have some kind of mass party of the working class. The need for such a party of working-class struggle has long been recognized by Marxists and was included as one of the basic points of the Transitional Program of the Fourth International. The increasing recognition of the role of the Democratic Party in the maintenance of the capitalist status quo poses this question sharply as the necessary consequence not only of the objective situation but of needs which are becoming widely subjectively felt by broad sections of the population—student radicals, ghetto militants and now, following a period of relative labor quiescence, sections of the working class.

Yet the American Left, faced with such immense possibilities for the intervention of a radical program, exhibits increasingly its lack of any perspective for this period and turns more and more to passive enthusing and mindless activism combined with an essential cynicism toward a relevant perspective for social change.

American radicalism has long been confronted by the seemingly permanent situation of a working class which has shown itself, even in periods of great militancy and willingness to fight for economic demands, politically pragmatic and complacent, with an explicit philosophy, on the political scene, which is essentially passive—"rewarding the (so-called) friends of labor and punishing its enemies." Such a situation, of course, is not an abstract and a priori phenomenon, but exists in the context of the historic betrayals and misleaderships of the working class by those who presumed to speak in the name of radicalism. One of the healthy features of the New Left movement, and certainly one of the formative factors of its ideology, has been the rejection of the example of the old Communist Party—the New Left generalizes this to "the Old Left"—with its history of capitulationist politicking which found its clearest expression in the support of Roosevelt and the New Deal and continues today as the "Reform Democrat" orientation.

Political Struggle, Not Abstentionism

But the New Left, while presuming to have rejected this approach to radical politics, has actually taken over one of the basic underlying conceptions of this outlook—the equating of struggle on the political front with cynical maneuvering toward the various enemies of the working class. The New Left has instead embraced a concept of non-political and even anti-political militancy and activism. It mindlessly throws its energies into self-destructive physical "confrontation" with the "war-makers" and passively and enthusiastically applauds the directionless and programless ghetto outbursts which leave the situation of the black masses unchanged. The New Left rejects out of hand the possibility for working-class struggle, viewing the political passivity of the workers as given, rather than the result of the absence of a revolutionary leadership. By rejecting an orientation to revolutionary political struggle, the New Left dooms its efforts to failure, and its cadres to disillusionment and disorganization. Impatience and cynicism do not make a program.

The result of this rejection of any kind of political struggle by the radicals is the continuation of the reformist status quo. The recognition of the need for political struggle and the utilization of this recognition remains in the hands of the reformist fakers, best exemplified by Irving Howe and his ilk, to whom politics is synonymous with "coalitionism." The demonstrated militancy of the trade unions remains tied to the liberal trade union bureaucracies; the black ghetto, despite its deep disgust with and rejection of the liberal establishment, still votes Democratic at election time. All opportunity for political struggle remains the monopoly of those whose only concept of politics is maneuvering within the capitalist system.

Failure of the CNP

The spectacular failure of the Conference for New Politics only serves to demonstrate this lack of a political perspective for the radical movement. The participants at the Conference were unable to distinguish between independent working-class politics and the use of the forms of independence to further the aims of coalition politics within the system. Common to all the competing political alternatives was the attempt to build an outside base of a temporary sort from which to exert pressure within the existing framework. With the limits of such a perspective, the radicals were unable to break from those whose aims are an admittedly temporary break with the Democratic Party because its naked exposure as the primary tool of racist brutality and imperialist slaughter is an embarrassment and a threat to the maintenance of capitalist rule. Those at the Conference who were perhaps opposed to this underlying conception of political action could see no alternative but the diffuse and unrewarding perspective of "community organizing" without a program.

SWP’s Opportunism

The announced presidential campaign of the Socialist Workers Party in the 1968 elections must be seen in this context. The whole role of the SWP in radical politics has been to reinforce the fragmentation of current struggles into isolated compartments of militancy, without a perspective for linking up these struggles into an anti-capitalist one. While the SWP gives lip service to some acceptable demands and even includes in its formal program the call for a labor party, it accepts the present vacuum on the left as given and, instead of intervening to change it, actually seeks to head off the development of a broader perspective by jumping into the ring a year early in order to "cop the field" for its own candidates.

Towards a Labor Party!

The Spartacist League, at this juncture, calls for the formation of a broadly-based labor and socialist ticket, as a concrete step in the building of a political party of the U.S. working class. Such a campaign, which would link up the anti-war sentiment to which the SWP seeks to appeal with the broader felt needs of the masses, would transcend the sterile concept of a "protest vote" in posing the need for independent working-class political action on a real scale. The fight to build such a campaign would provide a focal point for rank-and-file struggle in the unions around the issues of the Vietnam war, the rights of black workers, union demands and strike struggles, rank-and-file control of the unions, the fight to break the unions’ reliance on and ties with the capitalist state, a fundamental break with the Democratic and Republican parties and the enfranchisement of the working people in a political party to fight for their needs. Out of this struggle could come the forerunner committees to a Labor Party.

Thus the Spartacist League does not at this point endorse any of the essentially defective variants, rather seeking to help shape a real alternative to capitalist politics. If this fuller perspective has not materialized by the summer of 1968, it would then be necessary to choose from among whatever supportable possibilities exist at that time. In the interim, we will seek to assist the SWP, as we might any tendency within the working-class movement, to meet the technicalities of ballot entry, while calling upon them to indicate their willingness to withdraw at least part of their ticket in favor of a labor-socialist one and to work for the formation of such a ticket.


Posted: 22 September 2004