Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Workers World Party endorses a Democrat

With a sense of shock and horror I read today that Workers World Party,  the party I once tried to join, and whose literature I have promoted locally and internationally as Marxist-Leninist, has endorsed a Democrat for the U.S. House in the 8th Congressional District in New York City.

Here is the article from Workers World Party, dated 18 June:

Charles Barron supporters rally
Published Jun 18, 2012

A special event — "Activists want Charles Barron in Congress" — was held at the Solidarity Center in New York City June 8. Barron, a city councilperson, is running for U.S. Representative for Brooklyn's 8th Congressional District. The primary election takes place June 26.

Barron is a former Black Panther who continues to connect with many sectors of the progressive movement. He has marched alongside oppressed activists and Occupy Wall Street in the fight against poverty, budget cuts, foreclosures, racial profiling like stop-and-frisk, police brutality, the prison-industrial complex, and all forms of injustice at home and abroad.

Barron recently won the endorsement of District Council 37, the city's largest public employee union, representing 125,000 members and 50,000 retirees, and the well-respected Black-oriented Amsterdam News.

International Action Center Co-Coordinator Larry Holmes, who emceed the special event, stated that if Barron wins the election, the movement will have an important radical and ally in Congress. Out of the 535 seats in both the House and Senate, only 42 are held by people of color, according to Barron.

To learn more about and to help with Barron's campaign, go to charlesbarronforcongress.com.

— Monica Moorehead
Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

I've recently written a few blog posts about Marxist-Leninsts bending to the opportunist illusions created by the Barron campaign.  They can be read here and here.

But an endorsement at a meeting chaired by Workers World Party First Secretary Larry Holmes raises the question to a much higher level.  The dishonesty of the whole WWP approach to Barron is underscored by the fact that the WW article never mentions he is a Democrat, an elected official of a capitalist party playing the leading role in the world's mightiest imperialist state.

When Barron speaks euphemistically about radical economic redistribution, he is dog-whistling to two constituencies:

    a.  To radicals and the so-called movement, indicating he and they share a secret regarding his actual politics: that he is on their side.
    b.  To Democratic Party and labor tops:  that he will only speak in a series of rather coy euphemisms and no more, to lock down a party cohort so it won't bolt for the door; this is the role the party leadership
        and the ruling class need Barron and his like to play. 

For a Marxist-Leninist to support any Democratic Party candidate for any reason smacks of Bernstein and nothing else. 

What can account for such a stand?  The error flows from a non-proletarian perspective and a too close integration into the left-liberal perspectives of the petty bourgeois protest politics milieu, the perennial popular-front-manufactured detour created the waylay reformists and identity politics nationalists from reaching scientific socialist politics.  This modern day popular front type politics is especially strong in imperialist countries like the US, and especially strong in capitalist centers like New York City.

For Marxist-Leninists to promote the electoral prospects of an imperialist party via the catspaw of the Barron campaign in 2012 is dismaying.  But, such detours typically have a long preparatory period of inhaling and exhaling based upon the vicissitudes of the protest politics milieu.  If a Marxist-Leninist party sees this milieu as the site of a future revolutionary movement-in-becoming, further and more unfortunate detours are possible if not certain.

This fact surprises in 2012 because of the whole-hearted support given nationwide OWS actions by Workers World Party.  OWS rejected electoralist and opportunist bread and circuses in favor of making the site of power, Wall Street, the physical zone of struggle.  Certainly many OWS rank and file will vote for a Democrat in 2012, but why give such a choice the imprimatur of Marxism-Leninsim?  Before and after the election we need to win the best of these youth to scientific socialism, and having support of a candidate of the imperialist Democratic Party on our grade card will make for costly [and avoidable] steps backward.

Marxist-Leninists must break from their decades-old [in some cases, six or seven decades old] reputation as being supporters of class struggle in off-years but supporters of the Democrats in election years.  Surely a seventy-year-old balance sheet of this failed path of opportunism and class-collaboration is enough?  The social base for such opportunism disappeared decades ago. 

The only way to begin addressing the profound U.S. social crisis is to break with the Democrats and build a political party of the working class.




  1. Oh Jay. This is sad, and only shows how completely oblivious you are about Charles Barron and his role in New York politics. Barron is a revolutionary who is hated by the Democrats. He founded the Freedom Party a couple of years ago to promote independence from the Democrats in the Black community. He runs as a Democrat in this instance because he comes from the Black community in Brooklyn, and that's the only way to get on the ticket. Your WWP bashing is getting ridiculous.

    1. Thank you for your comment on my blog. I see from your Blogger profile that you are interested in "Communism, Socialist revolution, Vampires, Self-injury, Abuse survivors, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bela Lugosi, horror, comics, writing". I am a reader of Kim Newman myself, though not a fan of 'Vampires' generally.

      Regarding the points made in your comment:

      The Freedom Party has not even had any coverage in WW newspaper since 2010, so it is hard for me to believe that it was seriously intended as anything more than a vote-catcher for Barron.

      As far as Barron being hated by the Democrats, I think that if he didn't exist they would have to invent him.

      If Barron were a revolutionary, he would not run as a Democrat, and he would certainly not justify his run by stating that there were too few Black Democrats in the US House. The Democratic Party is an imperialist party, and there can be no free ride given to its officials, not matter what their rhetoric.

      Is "getting on the ticket" the be-all and end-all for a revolutionary? It sounds to me like the next step up for Democrat: activist > local office holder > gaining reputation as principled politician > a few tries for bigger NY office > a serious run for national office in the US House when the incumbent retires. If he wins, he will become feted by web networks to the left of MSNB, especially if resistance to austerity and foreclosures increases in the Black community. Democrats will be able to say that their party speaks for all the oppressed because it has room for Barron; the NY Times and The Nation will be able to point to Barron as a danger to the Democrats who must be out-spent by more mainstream voices. Everybody wins: Barron and the Democrats get to have their cake and eat it, too.


      As for my WWP "bashing", I reject the characterization. I have donated money to the party, distributed its newspaper here in Cleveland, promoted Low-Wage Capitalism and Capitalism at a Dead End by Fred Goldstein on my blog and among Marxists internationally. Over 1000 people worldwide have downloaded Low-Wage Capitalism by from Scribd page; over 400 for Capitalism at a Dead End.

      In my comments on WWP I have scrupulously avoided the typical rhetorical 'bashing' and over-statement. But I do think it is dishonest of WWP to print an article where its leaders endorse Barron, and never mention that he is a Democrat. Very troubling.


  2. Why are you so surprised, Jay? Workers World supported Jesse Jackson, after all.

  3. Jay,

    Are you not aware that the WWP supported Democratic candidates in the late 60s (that is, long before its right turn toward SWP-type peace crawls? Then, Workers World claimed that party affiliation in primaries was mere formality, the important question being relationship to the party machine.


    1. Stephen,

      Thank you for your comment, and for following my blog.
      It certainly seems that in the case of the Barron campaign, WWP has returned to their position of candidate party affiliation being a mere formality, secondary to the candidate's relationship to the party machine, as you point out.

      Thank you for your input.


  4. From a blog reader via email:

    Food For Thought On Barron

    Some Points:

    1. The criteria by which Marxist-Leninists decide to take action, any action, electoral or otherwise should be: Does this action advance the working class and oppressed people?

    With this in mind, Communists can interact in elections in numerous way. They boycott them in a revolutionary situation, like Mao did in 1945 when the Communist Party was banned. They can run their own candidates to preach a Communist message, as WWP did in the 1980s-90s. They can also endorse a mainstream candidate. Marx voted for Lincoln. The 1st International endorsed Henry George, the utopian social-democrat for mayor of New York.

    The question must be: will this advance the class struggle and oppressed people?

    2. You cannot define class so narrowly as party affiliation? I would NEVER vote for Ralph Nader, Jill Stein, or David Cobb of the Green party. These are flim-flam populist hucksters who want "good capitalism to come back." I did vote for Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party, she is a socialist. Same party, different politics. I voted for Kucinich, a Democrat. Would never vote for Obama or Clinton.

    3. Do you really think that having Charles Barron in office will not advance the working class? He speaks about the overthrow of capitalism and defends Gaddafi and Mugabe. He is a militant anti-imperialist.

    4. You do realize that Moveon.org and the Democratic Party is spending literally millions of dollars to defeat him the Democratic Primary? If getting him elected is all a mysterious plot to get workers who are Communists to think they should vote democrat because of the wide tent, its a rather expensive investment.

    Just some thoughts.

    1. My reply:

      Thank you for your thoughts, and for reading my blog. These are important issues, and testify to the high level of concern the US ruling class has for the potential of resistance to its rule escaping the Democratic Party electoral trap.

      Here are a few of my thoughts on what you wrote:

      1. Supporters of Barron have not explained how election of any candidate of an imperialist political party, no matter their outspokenness, will advance the political independence of the working class.

      2. Karl Marx never voted for Lincoln. He and his North American cothinkers were right to call for a vote for Lincoln. But does that mean we as communists would vote for a Lincoln today? Clearly not. Today Marxists need their own party and the working class road to liberation requires independent class organizations, includingparties and labor unions.

      3. Afilliation to an imperialist party does reflect the class perspective of a candidate. Barron, Kucinich, and Obama are all members of an imperialist capitalist party, and serve different roles in justifying and rationalizing that party for their various constituences. This demonstrates the historic scope of lesser-evil rationales around Democrats.

      5. Support for Mugabe and Gaddafi and anit-imperialism by anyone, whether a bourgeois politician like Barron or not, is only the beginning of knowledge, not the end. Electing an anti-imperialist to higher office as a figure in an imperialist party advances only illusions in said imperialist party, the Democrats.

      Was it so long ago that we all agreed on the principle of "No Reliance on the Democratic Party"?

      6. Barron's election campaign is no more a 'plot' to dupe communists and revolutionaries than was the campaign to elect any other bourgeois politician using various popular front formulations and definitions. It is simply the properly functioning machinery of the Democratic Party as derailer of independent working class political action, offering workers and oppressed peoples only the job of being a voter.

      The fact that so many Democratic Party leaders oppose Barron allows both to have their cake and eat it, too. Barron has his radical credentials stamped by virtue of the character of his opponents; his opponents get to carry out their function of raising money and hiriring staff to derail an extremist candidate. None of this is a plot; it simply registers the ways in which the Democratic Party seeks to absord, disorient, and demoralize rank and file resistance with the electoral shell game.


  5. Jay,

    While I agree with you, I think you side-step the crucial question here: what defines the "Democratic Party"? Is there a distinction between the formal Democratic Party and its machinery? The question arises because of a peculiarity of U.S. capitalist political parties: their (at least in appearance) purely formal nature. In some state, I understand, even Republicans can and do vote Democrat. Could "using" the Democratic Party as a formal vehicle be more like using a capitalist Duma than like using a European-style political party?

    One answer as to why the label does matter is that the fundamental propagandistic task for Marxists in a country without a mass workers party is breaking the workers from the capitalist parties. Supporting any Democrat renounces and undermines that vision.

    Or does it? What if a communist ran as a Democrat and attacked the Democratic Party as an unreformable instrument of imperialism? Would that be legitimate if it allowed exploiting some contradictions in U.S. electoral laws?

    1. "What if a communist ran as a Democrat and attacked the Democratic Party as an unreformable instrument of imperialism? Would that be legitimate if it allowed exploiting some contradictions in U.S. electoral laws?"

      Given the situation if such an event ever comes, to pass, Stephen, I think it would be supportable as an exposure. It never has yet, and I think a profoundly new set of class relations would be required before it could.

      For now, communists I believe need to call for a break from the Democrats.

      Thank you for your comments.