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(en) black rose fed: A BLUEPRINT FOR A PARTY OF AN OLD TYPE By Scott Jay
Mon, 5 Dec 2016 12:50:04 +0200
"Blueprint for a New Party" recently published in Jacobin Magazine advocates a model of
building a new left electoral party - but author Scott Jay argues it is strategy that
leads to campaigning for Democrats and expanding the focus on electoralism rather than a
path to strengthening social movements. ---- These are desperate times. The victory of
Donald Trump promises a rightward turn in US policy as well as an emboldened far-right in
the streets. Immigrants will be among the first attacked by Trump's promise to expel them
en masse, but they and others will also continue to see an increase in daily harassment,
racist attacks and organized vigilante violence. ---- In response to these horrors,
Jacobin Magazine, which enthusiastically promoted Bernie Sanders as a route to rebuilding
the Left, has published an article by Seth Ackerman which provides what he calls "A
Blueprint for a New Party." Having put all their eggs in the Sanders basket for the past
year, Jacobin and Ackerman now lay out the possible next steps for what the Sanders
campaign supposedly promised all along-a newly formed independent third party to the left
of the Democrats. Ackerman describes this, at the end of the article, as a "Party of a New
What Ackerman provides is a lengthy history and analysis of attempts to build third
parties, in particular the US Labor Party, and challenges to attaining and keeping access
to the ballot. What he does not provide is much a of a picture of how this Party of a New
Type is going to be built, or by whom, or why anybody would want anything to do with it.
It is not even clear what sort of politics it would have or what-if anything-it would do
besides run candidates, although it may not even run candidates, apparently. How it would
even build the membership and resources to eventually run candidates is left as an
exercise for the reader, as they say in a graduate seminar.
Before we proceed, imagine for a moment that instead of the Left enthusing over Bernie
Sanders for the past year they had focused on organizing among working people and
oppressed people in defending themselves from the daily onslaught of capitalism. Imagine
what a stronger position we would all be in now, as the newly empowered far-right seeks to
assault the lives and dignities of immigrants, women, African-Americans, the LGBTQ
community, and others. Instead of talking abstractly about the possibilities of a New
Party, we would be talking about how to stop deportations, racist attacks and sexual
assaults. There are people around the US who have been doing just that, who do not call
themselves Leftists or read socialist periodicals, who have been working on protecting
their family members and neighbors from being deported or being beaten by the police.
Ackerman's proposal seems less interested in these problems and instead focuses on the
question of whether or not an electoral party should seek its own ballot line, to which he
boldly answers: "Sometimes."
What about the workers?
The problem with these "Parties of a New Type" is they appeal not so much to the working
people who they are supposed to represent but to other Leftists who love talking about
blueprints and grand strategies and united fronts. Nobody needs these parties-in-waiting
more than left-wing intellectuals looking to project their ideas. Nobody needs them less
than people actually fighting the daily grind of capitalism-they are left building their
own communities and organizations. They are building their own blueprints from daily
experience, developing new tactics that could in fact develop eventually into larger
national organizations and networks. If such a thing actually happened, the role of the
working class and social struggles would be central and not an afterthought, as it is with
Ackerman might object to describing his blueprint as one where the working class is an
afterthought, but there is hardly anything in his blueprint to suggest otherwise. The
working-class and class struggle are almost nowhere to be found in this blueprint. Are
local branches and chapters supposed to be rooted in workplaces, or in schools, or
neighborhoods? Are they supposed to represent practical efforts to fight austerity locally
or are they supposed to recruit like-minded, politically engaged people? If the former,
how exactly how is it supposed to do that?
This may seem to belabor the point-of course this is how the party would be built,
Ackerman might say-but it is precisely the inability of the Left to make practical
contributions to local struggles and to build itself primarily among the most affected and
most militant people in those struggles that has challenged the Left for decades. The Left
has not simply failed to put into practice a successful blueprint for a national
organization. Rather, it has typically failed to put in practice a blueprint for an
organization of twenty people in a single workplace or neighborhood who can resist layoffs
or evictions, probably because such a project is not nearly so sexy as grand strategizing
and electoral campaigns. They may not provide much of a basis for building social
movements, but they do allow their participants to feel like that is what they are doing,
which is usually enough.
Along these lines, Ackerman focuses not on building power from below but on the legal
obstacles to electoral campaigns and how to maneuver around them. He sums up the blueprint
The following is a proposal for such a model: a national political organization that would
have chapters at the state and local levels, a binding program, a leadership accountable
to its members, and electoral candidates nominated at all levels throughout the country.
As a nationwide organization, it would have a national educational apparatus, recognized
leaders and spokespeople at the national level, and its candidates and other activities
would come under a single, nationally recognized label. And, of course, all candidates
would be required to adhere to the national platform.
But it would avoid the ballot-line trap. Decisions about how individual candidates appear
on the ballot would be made on a case-by-case basis and on pragmatic grounds, depending on
the election laws and partisan coloration of the state or district in question. In any
given race, the organization could choose to run in major- or minor-party primaries, as
nonpartisan independents, or even, theoretically, on the organization's own ballot line.
The ballot line would thus be regarded as a secondary issue. The organization would base
its legal right to exist not on the repressive ballot laws, but on the fundamental rights
of freedom of association.
Essentially what he is describing is the US Green Party, although with a "pragmatic"
approach to how it may or may not appear on the ballot. What is this pragmatic approach?
He describes elsewhere that such a party should avoid a "suicidal frontal assault" on the
existing parties, ie the Democratic Party. He even notes that, "The Labor Party[US]always
assumed that a genuinely independent labor party must have a separate party ballot line.
That assumption was a mistake." He does not say this explicitly, but it sure sounds like
he is advocating his party supporting Democratic Party candidates, at the very least in
the primaries, and we can imagine beyond that as well.
Ackerman takes so little interest in the social base that will carry out his blueprint
that he even argues that such a party could take advantage of Citizen's United, the
notorious Supreme Court ruling that allows unlimited donations from corporations and
billionaires into political campaigns:
In this model, the national organization would incorporate as a 501(c)4 social welfare
organization, permitting it to endorse candidates and engage in explicit campaigning,
while accepting unlimited donations and spending unlimited amounts on political education.
(It would also, of course, be free to adopt rigorous self-imposed disclosure rules, as it
The speed with which we have gone from celebrating Bernie Sanders' campaign funded largely
on $27 donations, to seeing Citizen's United as an opportunity to take advantage of
unrestricted political donations, is truly breathtaking. Who exactly is going to make
these donations of an unlimited size? No need to worry about that, apparently. How such a
party receiving free-flowing political donations will be certain to "adopt rigorous
self-imposed disclosure rules" is once again left as an exercise for the reader. Ackerman
has created a blueprint but with hardly any details.
Electoralism leads to electoralism
We have been told, over and over again, that left-wing electoralism will eventually feed
into social movements and vice versa. And yet, this never really seems to happen.
Electoral strategies always seem to focus on funding and promoting themselves, with just
enough lip service to give them a gloss of social movement relevance, but not much more.
Instead of being a launching point for social struggles, electoralism has been a one-trick
pony whose only concrete strategies feed directly back into itself and not into something
greater. Rather than providing a strategy for propelling social movements, it is almost
exclusively a justification for its own continuance. In the context of a country dominated
by two parties, this often means at some level feeding back into the Democratic Party,
reluctant to harm the only game in town.
For example, high on Ackerman's mind is the problem of "spoiling" elections - by which he
means running candidates against the Democratic Party thus leading to the Democrat losing
and a Republican win. This is primarily a problem because so many people (apparently) are
terrified of destroying the chances of the Democrats to win that they would never build an
alternative unless they had an answer to this problem. This was especially an obstacle, as
Ackerman points out, for the US Labor
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