Should the left try to take over the Democratic Party?

by Louis Proyect on November 7, 2016


Benjamin Kunkel

Should the left try to take over the Democratic Party? That question is answered affirmatively in Benjamin Kunkel’s Sweet ’16: Notes on the US Election that appeared in Salvage, a British journal launched by Richard Seymour and other well-known Marxists in July 2015. Meanwhile, Jacobin founder Bhaskar Sunkara and managing editor Nicole Aschoff, a lecturer in sociology at Johns Hopkins, make the case that Only Socialism Can Defeat Trumpism in The Nation, an article that might be more properly titled “Only a Reformed Democratic Party Can Defeat Trumpism”.

Despite the freshness of magazines like Salvage and Jacobin, there is something a bit musty about such advice. When you consider Kunkel’s role as a founder of the very smart and sassy n+1, you have all bases of Young Turk Marxist journals covered. Considering the hoary past of the Democratic Party hostile takeover strategy, you’d think that there would be an aversion to the Earl Browder shuffle from insurgent youth. But then again, Jacobin has always been friendly with Dissent Magazine, a proponent of working in the DP just as much as the CPUSA’s Political Affairs journal.

To some extent, this might have been expected given n+1, Salvage and Jacobin’s infatuation with the Sanders campaign. When Sanders turned out to be much more of a Democratic Party insider than an insurgent, many on the left were reconciled to fall into line behind him since “Trumpism” (whatever that is) was considered such a threat. Speaking with Marxist authority second to none, Adolph Reed wrote a provocatively titled piece Vote for the Lying Neoliberal Warmonger: It’s Important that probably had the effect of allowing the smart, young Marxists to support Hillary Clinton, the candidate of the oldest, continuously functioning capitalist party in the world. Reed was like a rabbi telling a Reform congregation that it was okay to eat shrimp.

I suppose that since Benjamin Kunkel is a month shy of 44, my jibes about young people might seem misplaced but considering my age (a carefully guarded secret) not so much so. It reminds me of what Harry Magdoff told Michael Lebowitz just a few months before his death at the age of 92: “If only I was 80 again, I’d be down in Venezuela in the thick of things with you.”

Kunkel has a BA from Harvard and an MFA from Columbia in creative writing. One can only surmise that learning to write fiction must have been a big help in preparing his Salvage article that begins by lumping together the Sanders campaign with Syriza and Podemos as “populist”. However, this misses a crucial difference between Sanders and the two European parties, namely that they were formed as a conscious break with the Greek and Spanish two-party systems that consisted of centrist capitalist parties and the social democracies trading places once the voters got sick and tired of the incumbents. Once things continued to worsen under a new government, the only recourse was to vote the bums out just like in our own two-party shell game. Syriza, of course, turned out to be no different than the social democracy after taking power and there is some question about Podemos’s resolve. That being said, Sanders never pretended to be anything different than a Democrat as his promise to endorse Hillary Clinton should have made clear from the outset.

I am also a bit skeptical about Kunkel’s assurance that the youthfulness of Sanders voters and their being “nonchalant about race and sexual orientation, laissez-faire about drugs and religion” makes much difference in the long run. In 1984 Ronald Reagan was much more popular with 18-24 year olds than Walter Mondale. This was because the economy was more robust than it is now and because many young people succumb to idiotic campaign commercials just like old people do. On August 2nd, it was reported that 10 percent of Sanders voters were ready to vote for Gary Johnson, just 3 percent less than those who were leaning to Jill Stein. This obviously indicates that youth is no guarantee of wisdom even if they wear tattoos, smoke pot and download Lady Ga Ga into their smart phones.

Kunkel may no longer be listed on the n+1 editorial board but his article resonated with an editorial that appeared in the Spring 2016 issue that I found irksome both for its dabbling in Syrian amen corner politics and its misunderstanding of what the Vietnam antiwar movement was about. Leaving aside the Syrian discussion which is not germane to this article, the n+1 editors lamented that the 60s radicals did not hook up with the Democrats like the Communist Party did in the 1930s. Citing Daniel Schlozman’s “When Movements Anchor Parties”, they faulted the antiwar movement for not “anchoring itself within the party structure” and creating “a lasting alternative coalition”. You can guess what that meant for me—joining the Upper West Side Democrats and stumping for Bella Abzug and Ted Weiss. I confess to making mistakes as an SWP member at the time but if transported back to 1971 in a time machine, the last thing I would have done is ring doorbells for liberal politicians as current n+1 editor Nikil Saval did for Bernie Sanders.

Here’s Kunkel’s formulation of the same game plan but more pessimistically:

What was once called the New Left failed to assemble, in 1968 or after, any similarly effective coalition; its main components – organised labour, the non-unionised non-white poor, and college-bred liberals and leftists like myself – have never coordinated their politics very well, and, even if they had, might have lacked the numbers to dominate and define US politics. Electorally, this reduced the broad American left to the position it still endures as the appendage of a Democratic Party it can neither possess nor abandon.

I am not sure what Kunkel means by the “broad American left” but for those of us trying to assemble a revolutionary organization that has the power to finally break the neck of American capitalism, we have a different agenda. Our interests are not in electing a more capable administrator of capitalist property relations but abolishing them. In a way, I feel odd bringing this up with a self-described Marxist like Kunkel who is young enough to be my son, but it has to be said nonetheless.

Kunkel finally gets down to brass tacks in the concluding paragraphs of his article:

Bernie and Trump have performed the service of revealing the Democratic and the Republican parties to be largely empty vessels, much more readily commandeered by their ideological fringes than anyone supposed. But the empty vessels are not frail barks; these have been the two principle [sic] parties in the US since before the Civil War, and no matter what other developments perturb US politics neither party will readily cede to an upstart. Much easier than to displace either party, if still daunting enough, is to take it over, as Trump has at least temporarily done to the GOP, or to radicalise it from within, as a generation of politicians, activists, donors, foundations, and publications did in shifting the Republicans ever-further to the right.

The idea of similarly remaking the Democrats from the left, as well as attempting from now on to field presidential candidates closer in outlook to Sanders than Clinton, may not seem alluring or plausible after party officials undermined Bernie in the primaries and Clinton courted Republicans to counter Trump. But the party is essentially a shell, with a small permanent organisation in the form of the Democratic National Committee and no formal dues-paying membership in the European style.

The notion of the Democratic Party as a “shell” rather than a membership party in the European style has been around for some time. In the March-April New Left Review (behind a paywall), Susan Watkins wrote about Sanders in the same vein as Kunkel, namely as the American equivalent of Syriza and Podemos. She also concurred with his “shell” analysis:

In European terms, the Democratic Party is not really a party at all, but simply a framework within which candidates can run for office; when there isn’t a Democrat in the White House, it doesn’t even have a national leader. There are no party members, only affiliated voters, who register as such with their states rather than with local party branches, and don’t pay dues, attend meetings or decide policy.

Let’s consider this argument carefully. It amounts to a “left tea party” strategy. We all join the Upper West Side Democratic Club or its nearest equivalent and earn the respect of fellow members to the point when you can become a delegate to a convention or run for office on anti-corporate platform. It has worked for the Republican Party, hasn’t it?

Admittedly, the idea that leftist candidates raising money through small donations on the Internet is seductive. It seemed to have worked for Sanders, didn’t it? What’s missing in this calculation, however, is that Sanders never would have gotten the millions he did if not for a long career as a conventional liberal politician that afforded him face time on MSNBC and a many other TV shows. In other words, he tapped in to the same cash cow as Donald Trump whose TV appearances also had made him a brand name.

For all of the allure of Internet-based campaigning, we should never forget that the bourgeois media has the ability to put the spotlight on candidates who conform to the class interests of the owners. And with respect to the Internet, there is the same sort of class bias at work in electronic media as the Daily Beast’s crusade against Jill Stein might indicate. With Chelsea Clinton on the board of directors that owns the website, it is Goldman-Sachs’s agenda that gets promoted, not “the people’s”.

Ultimately it is not sufficient to decide to run for Congress as a principled leftie committed to revolutionary or even progressive change. You have to spend years and years building up a public image that comes from Rachel Maddow appearances where you go on and on about the “billionaire class” but you can be damned sure that those appearances are only made possible by your status as an elected Democrat. Otherwise setting up a website for Paypal donations would be a waste of time. Also, it may have been possible for Sanders to have built up such political capital in a state like Vermont but Texas or New York? A utopian prospect.

More importantly, if you are serious about getting to the root of our problems, electing a “populist” like Sanders is just putting a Band-Aid on a cancerous tumor. The environmental crisis, the looming epidemics of diseases brought on by that crisis, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the desperation of peoples living in the global South that leads to horrific wars, and a general waste of human potential require a total transformation of economic and social relations. One might have hoped that a Marxist like Benjamin Kunkel understood that.

Turning now to the Aschoff-Sunkara article, it is a variant on the theme I have seen repeatedly over the past 35 years or so when men like Reagan and the Bushes were being elected and most prominently from Thomas Frank who has been banging away at this for most of that time in books like “What’s the Matter with Kansas” and “Listen, Liberal”, his latest. Frank et al are jiminy crickets to the Democratic Party. They say, “If you don’t mend your ways, you’ll be sorry”—being sorry over losing elections obviously. As far as mending their ways, this means returning to the proletarian orientation it once had in the good old days. You know, like Flint, Michigan was once upon a time. Just watch “Roger and Me” and it’ll be obvious. If you don’t provide good union jobs, the workers will vote for people like Donald Trump.

Aschoff and Sunkara put it this way:

The Democratic Party must ponder a tough question: How much of Trump’s support among the white working class can really be chalked up to Republican propaganda and race-baiting, or is a good deal of populist anger rooted in the Democrats’ hypocrisy on economic issues? If the past eight years of Obama recovery haven’t benefited these workers, why would they be enthused to rally beyond his anointed successor?

Why don’t the DP tops get it? The votes are there if you reverse course and take a rock-ribbed social democratic approach:

Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party would do well to take the popular demand for an alternative seriously. Americans—especially young adults and minorities—don’t see Sanders as a dinosaur trading on nostalgia or harking back to an irredeemable past. Instead, they see capitalism as a key source of their troubles.

All this leads to the same conclusion as Kunkel’s:

As with the collapsing social democrats in Europe, the Democratic Party’s best bet is to move left and embrace a platform that speaks to the real needs, fears, and aspirations of working people. This doesn’t mean looking back with rose-colored glasses on the New Deal; it means building a coalition of young people, working-class whites, and minority voters around a new politics.

In other words, become a leftist Democrat. This is really what it means. How else will the Democrats embrace such a platform unless there are smart, young Marxists in the party’s ranks that can be spelling it out the benefits for them? This has been the basis for Dissent Magazine type politics for the past 54 years since its founding by Irving Howe and other former revolutionaries. It is the world of The Nation, Dissent, George Soros philanthropy, AFL-CIO education departments, Democratic Party think-tanks like the Center for American Progress, and countless other high-minded and well-funded nonprofits that will always find a place on staff for an Ivy League graduate who can defend working inside the Democratic Party using Marxist rhetoric.

Despite the professed allegiance to Karl Marx, the real theoretical justification for a Democratic Party takeover strategy would be in the writings of Eduard Bernstein. If you assume that the Democratic Party is the American equivalent of the British Labour Party or the European Social Democracies, it becomes the vehicle for the kind of piecemeal reforms Bernstein advocated.

At the heart of the Kunkel and Aschoff/Sunkara articles is a failure to assess the Democratic Party in class terms, a rather glaring deficiency given their ostensible Marxist provenance. My good friend and fellow North Star editorial board member Mark A. Lause wrote a four-part series on the history of the two-party system that was distinguished by its careful analysis of the class roots of the Democratic Party. It is essential reading for a new generation of radicals who are rightly disgusted with Hillary Clinton and those like Adolph Reed who stump for her. This is from Mark’s final installment in the series:

Following the lead of the AFL-CIO, many African-American organizations, and women’s groups, the “progressive left” rationalizes the same miserably failed doctrines. The Democratic Socialists of America, because “the U.S. electoral system makes third parties difficult to build,” expects “progressive, independent political action will continue to occur in Democratic Party primaries . . . .” Progressive Democrats of America declares that it “was founded in 2004 to transform the Democratic Party and our country.”

By abstracting their values from what they do politically, they can imagine electing Wall Street flunkies as a means of fostering profound social progress because of what the voters have between their ears. In the social and political real world, a candidate who solicits votes based on his advocacy of draconian national security measures will likely promote those measures—regardless of what those who vote for him/her might be telling themselves, but have no means to socially and politically express.

As it happens, there has been a dramatic shift on the part of the DSA. On October 29th, a number of well-known members, including Bhaskar Sunkara, issued a statement that at least has the merit of rejecting Adolph Reed’s marching orders: “Hillary Clinton is a staunch defender of the status quo, and will not be a friend of social movements and the left when in office. We think our time and energy is much better spent on building opposition to her administration now instead of canvassing votes for her.”

Yet, they stop short of calling for a new party of the left:

We reject the realignment strategy that has guided much of the left’s electoral orientation for decades. We do not, however, call for an immediate and total break from voting for or supporting any Democratic candidate. We all fervently supported Bernie Sanders in the presidential primary, and recognize that he probably would have been a footnote to the campaign if he tried to run as an independent. Voting for Democratic candidates in specific state and local races can be justified in many circumstances.

In the meantime, Jacobin has called for a meeting on November 21 at 7pm at the Mayday Space in Brooklyn (176 St. Nicholas Avenue) that celebrates the publication of issue 23 that features an article by Seth Ackerman titled “A Blueprint for a New Party”. He and Nicole Aschoff will be the featured speakers.

Although I have my doubts about any strategy based on a “blueprint”, I am holding out hope that the comrades are serious about breaking with the Democratic Party even though I remain a bit skeptical based on the Aschoff/Sunkara Nation article. Hope does spring eternal in the human breast.

As is the case in Europe, social forces are accelerating the drive toward new left parties that open up the possibility of shifting the relationship of forces against capital. No matter the betrayal of Syriza or the vacillations of Podemos, such parties are the almost inevitable consequence of a labor movement that has not been saturated with revolutionary consciousness. Considering the depths of the social crisis that arrived in Russia in 1917 and the widespread confidence in the revolutionary movement, it would be unrealistic to expect anything approaching such proportions now in Europe or the USA. For the Leninist sect, October 1917 exists all the time and everywhere even if its assessment is nothing but wish fulfillment, something Freud regarded as a neurosis. We on the other hand must be grounded in reality rather than faith-based initiatives.

The left squandered an enormous opportunity in the 60s and 70s. With all due respect to Benjamin Kunkel, who is quite advanced in his thinking except on the Democratic Party question, we did need to think in terms of a lasting institutions but not the one he had in mind. If we had a left party today that emerged out the 1960s radicalization that had 50,000 members or so, it would be the ruling class and not us that would have its back against the wall. Comrades, we are entering a period when such a party is in our grasp. Let’s not blow our chances again.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Yates November 7, 2016 at 1:49 pm

I would take what Kunkel says with several grains of salt. Here is something I wrote about him, in an essay published on Truthout titled Markets are the Problem (Not the Solution):

“Those who struggle against the victimization of workers are typically left-wing in their political outlook. What do they think is needed to create a society in which we have obligations for our fellow human beings, such that, as the Industrial Workers of the World say, an injury to one is an injury to all? Most confine themselves to political and economic agitations that might generate the freedom of those who labor to sell their capacity to work to the highest bidder, to form labor unions and to enjoy full political rights.

While these measures are necessary and admirable, they presume the continued existence of markets and the rule of money that accompanies it, the very things that provide cover for the horrors that define our daily labors. This acceptance of markets has been embraced recently even by self-proclaimed Marxists. Ben Kunkel, the writer, founder of the magazine n+1, and author of a book on radical political economy, said in a recent interview:

‘So at least in theory, you could have a market economy where everybody receives the same income. It might not work for other reasons – because there would be, I suppose, no incentive at all to do a better job than someone else in terms of what you received in compensation – but at least in theory, there’s no incompatibility between an absolute equality of income, and absolute freedom in terms of how that income’s spent.’

Here we have a man of the left equating freedom with consuming and using equal income as an ultimate goal for a good society. By suggesting that we can leave markets intact as we fight to build a new world, Kunkel ignores the truth that market relationships, what Marx called the “cash nexus,” are an integral part of capitalism. The labor market, in which our labor power is bought and sold as if it were a lump of coal or a piece of machinery, cannot be allowed to exist if we want to end exploitation. This market, like all others, is profoundly alienating, allowing us both to fail to grasp our subservience to the capitalists and to deny our complicity in a vicious and deadly system.(8) And as Marx scholar and economist Michael Lebowitz argues, we create ourselves as we produce and distribute society’s output. If goods and services are made and dispensed through markets, the individualistic, self-serving behavior that these demand is bound to infiltrate our being. We will continue to find ourselves alienated from our labor, the products of our labor, and one another. We will be bound to make ourselves into human beings incapable of cooperative, collective productive relationships. Markets inevitably force us to act as individuals, responding to monetary incentives. We cannot liberate ourselves while maintaining a wage system and the selling of goods and services for a profit.”


Eric Romsted November 7, 2016 at 1:55 pm

“But the party is essentially a shell, with a small permanent organisation in the form of the Democratic National Committee and no formal dues-paying membership in the European style.”
Very odd to conclude from this that the Democratic Party will be ‘easier’ to take over than European parties. If the US parties are essentially networks for connecting candidates and officeholders with donors and other power-brokers, what is there for the left to take over?


Michael Yates November 7, 2016 at 3:17 pm

I wouldn’t put much faith in Seth Ackerman’s blueprint for a new party. He’s an advocate of market socialism. Here is a truly devastating critique of Ackerman’s economic thinking, written by Matthijs Krul, It is well worth reading.


Michael Nau November 7, 2016 at 4:37 pm

Louis, I’m glad that you noticed the DSA statement and totally agree that a “party is within our grasp”. I think the issue is that attempts on the left to build a party have run into just as many difficulties as attempts to take over the Democrats. I know this in part from reading about your experiences in the SWP.

As a co-signer of the statement (not its author), here’s my thoughts: too much of the Democrats vs. third party debate focuses on the presidency, which the left has no hope of winning in the short run anyways. And to be honest, the Greens are not especially inspiring, at least in a lot of places. Our efforts should be focused on building an independent socialist electoral base at the local level through democratically-run, explicitly socialist organizations/coalitions that run socialists for local office. The choice of ballot line should depend on local circumstances (many local elections are nonpartisan and ballot access laws vary considerably). Only with these local building blocks in place can we eventually vie for power at the state and national levels.

I think DSA can play an important role in this, but DSA is right to not claim that it is “THE” party. My hope is that folks that are members of Socialist Alternative, ISO, or some other socialist group who read this reach out to other groups in their area and start building these coalitions. We absolutely should publicly debate and disagree, but if the criterion for cooperation is 100% agreement then we’ll get nowhere.


Robert Calk November 8, 2016 at 11:24 pm

Not that the Green Party represents a strategy for revolutionary change, but to suggest that the Green Party’s primary focus is the presidential candidacy is an intentional misrepresentation sounding like something out of the DNC playbook.

The foundational core of the Green Party concerns running candidates in local elections. There are over 270 Green candidates in the upcoming election at all levels of government. The presidential race serves to support those efforts: securing federal funding, ballot access, participation in debates, and a nation-wide spotlight for candidates and the party. The November election is likewise the same time candidates are elected in a number of other races.


Louis Proyect November 7, 2016 at 5:38 pm

The choice of ballot line should depend on local circumstances (many local elections are nonpartisan and ballot access laws vary considerably).

If that includes running as a Democrat, we part company.


David Berger November 21, 2016 at 2:09 pm

Totally agree with Louis on all counts.


Michael Nau November 8, 2016 at 9:02 am

Louis, no need to part company. I agree that we need an independent left party. The question is how we get there. We already have a bunch of independent left parties, but they never seem to grow or even win local races except for a few isolated instances. You sound willing to dump all of them for something better – I am too – but just having a few dozen (or few hundred) people declare a new party for a country of 300+ million won’t change the balance of forces. A party that doesn’t win will never become a mass party.

In my view, we need to engage with the 40% of Democrats and Democrat-leaning voters who identify as socialist or who are open to socialism. Yes, I know that most of them are social democrats or have only a vague idea of what socialism means. But there are millions more of these people than have ever heard of Trotsky or who want to immediately overthrow the government. We should not wait for these people to pick up Capital but work with them as allies to confront local political establishments.

If your analysis of the Democratic Party is correct (I think it is), then party elites will defend capital and try to crush Bernie-type campaigns. This experience of repression will radicalize many people and hopefully shatter local political coalitions, opening up political space for well-organized, independent left forces that can actually win.

Now, maybe you live in a place where there are thousands of well-organized socialists who can turn out hundreds of thousands of votes for independent socialist candidates, so you don’t have to worry about this middle step. If you are like me and live in a county with over one million people but less than one hundred organized socialists scattered across several groups that tend to distrust each other (CPUSA, DSA, SAlt, ISO, maybe others), then there is a lot of groundwork that needs to be done before we have a local political party that can actually challenge the capitalists who run our town.


Benjamin Kunkel November 8, 2016 at 7:31 pm

I’m grateful for Louis Proyect’s sustained engagement with my recent Salvage article. But seems to me his would-be rebuttal of my argument—an argument in favor of left entryism in the Democratic Party, you could summarize it—consists less of counter-argument than of the rehearsal of revolutionary pieties. Proyect blankly refuses to confront the realities of an electoral system devoid of proportional representation, and this makes all three of what I take to be his main objections to my essay unconvincing.

Proyect first objects that I am being a fiction writer in describing Sanders as populist. As Laclau has demonstrated, populism is a designation and a political style almost wholly without determinate content. Rhetorically championing the people and attacking elites is enough to qualify, and Bernie did both. Eccentrically, Proyect seems to feel that a populist can’t emerge from a well-established major party: “[Kunkel] misses a crucial difference between Sanders and the two European parties, namely that they were formed as a conscious break with the Greek and Spanish two-party systems.” Far from missing this difference, I highlight it, pointing out that in an electoral system like that of the US or Britain—one without proportional representation—successful populisms will emerge and have emerged (as in the case of Corbyn) from within the major parties. This goes for the very different populisms of Trump and Sanders as well.

Second, Proyect favors creating “a lasting electoral institution” of a genuinely socialist character over collusion with the Democrats. So would I if I thought it were possible. Socialist candidates can seriously compete for local offices but I don’t see, nor does Proyect outline, any plausible scenario in which a mass revolutionary socialist party successfully fields candidates for national office. I think the Democratic Party is to be used by leftists instrumentally, unsentimentally, and discarded whenever it has outlived its usefuless to us, and I would be delighted to be convinced that a successful mass party of the left is “within our grasp.” Meanwhile I don’t see any convincing argument that this is so, and it appears the Democrats are the only electoral vehicle available to leftists at a national level. Proyect says he is old enough to be my father and points out that I’m getting a bit long in the tooth myself. In this context it strikes a sadly preliminary note to say, as he does: “We did need to think in terms of a lasting electoral institution.” After all these decades on the left, we are only now to *begin* thinking of such a thing? We have no idea of how to create a formidable left party, only the idea that we should?

Finally, Proyect adverts to the mere reformism of Sanders-style social democracy: “[I]f you are serious about getting to the root of our problems, electing a “populist” like Sanders is just putting a Band-Aid on a cancerous tumor. The environmental crisis, the looming epidemics of diseases brought on by that crisis, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the desperation of peoples living in the global South that leads to horrific wars, and a general waste of human potential require a total transformation of economic and social relations.” I agree with the second sentence entirely. My disagreement with Proyect has to do with the relationship between reformism and revolution. Truthfully, I don’t think any of us understands that relationship as well as we should, or that our understanding is improved by persistent allusion to Second International controversies; those belong to a historical context in which revolution throughout the advanced capitalist countries seemed a real and imminent possibly, as it no longer does today. My own belief, as I say in my essay, is that social democratic reformism has two virtues. First, it does a little to improve people’s lives prior to revolution. Second, it probably favors revolution precisely through demonstrating the inadequacy of mere reforms. Too many people believe when reactionaries are in office that replacing them with reformists would cure our ills. When and if social democratic reformers come to power in the US, it should be easier to perceive the systemic nature of just the problems that Proyect eloquently names and which he is right to believe can only be solved on the other side of capitalism.

Ultimately Proyect’s and my politics coincide: “Our interests are not in electing a more capable administrator of capitalist property relations but abolishing them.” The question is what to do in the meantime, and how to make that time as short and painless as possible.

There are few political conclusions I’ve reached that I would abandon more happily than that US socialists will have to make use of the Democratic Party if they want to have any effective role in electoral politics. But I would need new arguments to abandon it. Old hopes won’t do.


Louis Proyect November 8, 2016 at 9:05 pm

Thanks to Ben for highlighting a error in my article. In the last paragraph, I had written: “With all due respect to Benjamin Kunkel, who is quite advanced in his thinking except on the Democratic Party question, we did need to think in terms of a lasting electoral institutions but not the one he had in mind. If we had a left party today that emerged out the 1960s radicalization that had 50,000 members or so, it would be the ruling class and not us that would have its back against the wall.” I really meant to refer to lasting institutions, not lasting electoral institutions. My idea of electoral politics is in line with Debs and with the CPUSA prior to the Popular Front turn. The goal was to use elections to raise revolutionary consciousness, not to win seats. And when you did win a seat, you’d do the best you could to use it as a platform for revolutionary agitation rather than horse-trading in smoke filled rooms. I understand such a notion is remote to Ben’s experience but this is how I see things as someone trained in revolutionary politics by people like Farrell Dobbs and Joe Hansen. A lot of what they were trying to do was wrong but in terms of having a clear class perspective, they were right.


Jurriaan Bendien November 11, 2016 at 12:54 pm
logansafi February 14, 2017 at 3:41 am

What a yawner of a commentary!


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