See below the WIL's response for Sean O'Torain's original letter.
The Workers International League's Reply to Questions About the Launch of the CMPL
The Workers International League is organizing meetings in a number of cities to raise the idea of the need for a mass labor party in the United States. We sent out a notice for the meeting we will hold in Minneapolis, Minnesota on September 9th, 2010. Almost as quickly as this was sent out, we received an e-mail from Sean O’Torain who thanked us for this initiative but also raised some critical comments. The WIL would like to clarify the purpose of the Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor (CMPL).
The CMPL is an attempt by the WIL to raise the idea that the working class needs its own party, a mass party of labor. Neither the WIL nor the CMPL is a mass party, nor are we even a small labor party. A mass party of labor would be a political party based on at least a large part of the trade unions, which number more than 13 million members. The key to building this party is to change the present policies of the leadership of the labor movement, the majority of which support the Democrats, or in some cases, even the Republicans.If the present leaders do not change their approach, this will in many cases require the building of opposition movements to win the support of the majority of the members, so new leadership can replace those presently in leadership positions in the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, as well as in the National Education Association.
The CMPL is open to all those union members, workers who would like to join a union, community activists, students, the unemployed, and retirees who want to put this idea forward both inside and outside the labor movement. The WIL is convinced that there will never be a mass working class political party of any significance unless it is based on at least some of the resources of the trade union movement.
Given the vacuum of militant leadership that exists, the WIL has the perspective that sooner or later, the working class must struggle to defend its standard of living and its hard won rights. When this happens, the working class will turn to its traditional organizations: the unions. This will open up big debates on what the best way forward is for the trade union movement. It will also open up discussions on how other movements: Student, anti-war, immigrants' rights, community groups and others can ultimately succeed only by linking up with labor and challenging the two capitalist political parties: the Democrats and Republicans. Our role is to raise this idea before these mass movements emerge, to help, even if in a modest way, point the way forward for the working class majority of this country. Our approach can be summed up in the words of Leon Trotsky, written in 1933, when he said: “The role of revolutionaries is to drag developments forward by the hair, just a little bit.”
Even prior to these mass struggles, the idea of running independent labor candidates and the need for a labor party has begun to surface in the movement. If you read our paper, Socialist Appeal issues 56 and 57, we describe the small tendencies toward a labor party that presently exist. In South Carolina, the state AFL-CIO has actually relaunched the Labor Party and is running one candidate for the sate legislature, Brett Bursey. The CMPL supports this effort. Although this is extremely modest, it is one more candidate than is being run in the other 49 states and the District of Columbia. In North Carolina, SEIU has set up the North Carolina Families First Party and is looking toward running candidates in 2012. In Pennsylvania, the Steelworkers were very close to running one of their own, Jack Shea, as an independent labor candidate in opposition to the Democrats in the midterm elections.
Comrade Sean asks why the WIL is taking this initiative on our own. The answer is quite simple: No one else has taken this initiative. If such a campaign already existed we would have already joined it and would be participating in it. He also asks why this initiative is being launched on short notice. We are not sure what he means by “short notice?” The CMPL is just beginning to reach out to those who agree with its aims. Anyone who wants to join this effort can now do so. If a number of unions join this effort, we would more than happy for the CMPL to organize itself more formally or in another form altogether, and we would participate in this broader movement. But for this to happen, significant forces in the labor movement must come forward. We believe it will probably be a long struggle until a mass labor party movement is born, but are pleased with the overwhelmingly positive response we have received so far.
Sean also brings up the issue of left sectarianism, by which he means the inability of the tiny leftist groups to work together. The WIL looks at this issue differently. Sectarianism is where the left does not orient to the mass of the working class and intervene in its organizations. Instead, the left sectarians spend their time living in their own little world, divorced from the real concerns of the workers. Even if the WIL put out a call for all of these groups to unite, Sean does not explain why a call from the WIL would succeed in this respect, when every other attempt to do so has ended in disaster.
In terms of left unity, Dan Labotz is running for the US Senate in Ohio on the Socialist Party ticket. The WIL would urge workers and youth in Ohio to vote for him in the midterm elections. However, the reason we are launching the CMPL is that we feel campaigns such as this are limited because they do not have a base in the trade unions. The fact is that most workers will never vote for a left party or protest candidate unless it had some real resources behind it and was therefore seen as a serious challenge to the Democrats and Republicans. The aim of the CMPL is not to "unite the left," but to reach out to all those who agree with the points of agreement of the campaign and to raise these ideas in the movement.
In terms of the name of the party, when a mass party of labor is formed, a name can be chosen by the party. However, we have not encountered a lack of attraction among young people and workers regarding the term “labor,” except among some segments of the sectarian left.
In addition to Minneapolis, the WIL will have CMPL meetings in a number of cities including New York and St. Louis. Any workers, young people, community activists and others who want to help our campaign should join the struggle and raise this banner in the unions and other movements. Anyone interested in this can contact our website at www.masspartyoflabor.org. We would encourage comrade Sean to organize his union and community contacts and set up a CMPL meeting for Chicago, so we can work together to build the campaign.
Tom Trottier for the WIL
Sean O'Torain's Original Letter to the WIL
Dear Comrades, Thank you for your initiative on a mass labor party. However i would like to raise a few points. As far as i can see this initiative is launched only by your own small group. There are many other groups which agree with the need to build a mass labor party. Why Comrades have you chosen to launch this initiative on your own rather than trying to bring together these different forces and as many union and community groups as possible, and why Comrades have you chosen to launch this initiative at such short notice? For these reasons unfortunately it seems destined to be of limited success.
Comrades the left movement in this country is severely affected by left sectarianism, that is putting the interests of one group before the interests of the movement. I am sorry to say that this initiative of yours seems to reflect this left sectarian method which is so damaging to the left and workers movement. One small group launching a campaign for a mass labor party without trying to involve union locals and community groups and also involve other left and activist forces is a left sectarian approach and will be damaging. It is likely to mean your initiative unfortunately will be still born.
Take a few recent events. Katrina, the financial collapse, the BP gulf oil catastrophe, the continuing increasing unemployment and declining wages, the wave of home foreclosures, all these have resulted in rising anger in the working class against the corporations and their corrupt criminal capitalist system. Arising from these developments the left and radical movement has to ask itself a few questions. The main question is this. Why has the anger rising out of these events not been channeled into a mass fighting workers movement against the corporations and their capitalist system. Why has the road been left open for such right wing nuts as the tea party movement.
Of course first and foremost the union leaders have to be condemned for their refusal to act. They are the main problem. They control the unions with their millions of members but they use this control to hold any emerging movement down and instead to support capitalism and their capitalist party the Democrats. The union leaders have forfeited their right to lead the movement. A radical fighting opposition to capitalism and for democratic socialism has to be built in the work places, the unions, the schools and colleges and the communities.
But while the union leaders are the main culprits we in the left and radical movement also have to take our share of the blame. Yes the main reason a radical mass movement has not been built out of these crises of capitalism is because the union leaders will not give leadership. In fact they consciously hold the movement back. But that is not all. There is also the role of ourselves in the left and radical movement. Polls show that over 30% of Americans favor socialism over capitalism. Even if there is confusion about what is socialism his is an incredible figure given the fact that there is no mass movement campaigning for socialism. Given these figures why are the left and radical forces so weak and lacking in influence.
In just about any big American city there are hundreds of members, ex-members and potential members of left and radical groups. Where are they in this situation. Where are they when it comes to these opportunities being missed. I repeat again, Katrina, the financial collapse, the gulf oil disaster where the corporations came under such heat, the rising unemployment and falling wages and the loss of homes, why have the different left forces not been able to come together in united fronts of struggle around a program to defeat the capitalist offensive and through mass direct action and linking up with the broader workers movement thrown this capitalist offensive back and opened up a workers offensive to take on the corporations and improve working peoples lives.
I believe this failure of the left has been for a number of reasons. One is the left sectarianism I have already referred to. This is where the majority of the left groups act in a left sectarian manner, that is continuously jostling to secure their own interests at the cost of the wider working class movement. This makes it impossible for the many left and radical forces to work together effectively and also it repels the many activists and potential activists from taking organized united front action with the many left forces. Left sectarianism is a serious problem in the movement and damages the movement. All left groups have practized this. Personally speaking I have done so also. Left sectarianism has to be recognized for what it is, a serious problem which damages the workers movement and left and radical movement and it must be openly identified and openly opposed and campaigned against both in general and in any organization we ourselves are part of.
But it is not only left sectarianism that has been a problem for the left and radical movement. There are other problems. Ultra leftism is one. This is where elements of the left and radical movement does not take into account the existing consciousness and balance of forces in the workers movement and continues to speak and organize and orient as if the movement was at a higher stage of consciousness than it is. The result is that the left and radical movement cuts itself off from the rising anger in the workers movement and leave a vacuum for other reactionary forces to fill. I repeat again. Were the socialist and radical forces able to articulate the anger and put forward a clear alternative during Katrina, the financial collapse, the fall in wages and rise in unemployment, the catastrophe of the wave of foreclosures, the gulf oil catastrophe which exposed so clearly the profit addicted nature of the corporations and their criminal capitalist system. They were not. The left and radical forces have in the main been unable to connect with the consciousness of these waves of anger and this has been mainly but not only because of a combination of left sectarianism and ultra leftism. The section of the left and radical forces to which I am now referring have sought to leap in with ultra left terminology and formulations which have not connected with the workers consciousness, and on top of this have tended to avoid mass direct action fight to win tactics which could have helped the workers involved to win victories.
The left and radical movement is of course not uniform. Nor does it act the same way every day. It is not always ultra left. It is usually always left sectarian. But sometimes it is not ultra left rather it is opportunist. At these times the left and radical movement is also unable to connect with the workers movement because it wishes to build or maintain good relations with the union leaders or the liberal wing of the union leadership who in turn wish to maintain good relations with the capitalist Democratic Party and also as they do not believe there is any alternative to capitalism and as they do quite well out of capitalism they wish to maintain good relations with capitalism also. So there are times when the left and radical movement in their efforts to maintain good relations with the liberal wing of the union bureaucracy hold back the rising workers movement from fighting and in this way help to disperse this movement and throw it back and disillusion it. In this situation the left and radical movement consciously holds the rising movement back in order to try and fit into the wishes and program and approach of the union leaders. This prevents the rising workers movement finding its feet and moving into determined struggle. Again we can have the left and radical movement doing damage to the movement, this time in the form of helping the union leaders to block radical fighting struggles and the building of radical fighting socialist oppositions in the unions and workplaces.
It would be good to discuss some of these issues at the coming meeting of a campaign for a mass labor party. Incidently would it be worth considering that the new mass workers party should be called a "Working Peoples' Party," given the relative lack of attraction the word labor now has as a result of the refusal to the union/labor leaders to fight for working people?
Sean. Labors militant Voice.