Not every Communist Party is sufficiently developed and consolidated. They have not all broken completely with centrist and semi-centrist ideology. There are instances where it may be possible to go too far, tendencies that would genuinely mean the dissolution of Communist parties and groups into a formless united bloc. Theses on the United Front: Executive Committee of the Communist International, December 18, 1921.1
The question whether and to what extent to unite with counter-revolutionary social democracy2 is not a question settled once and for all as a matter of principle. To believe otherwise results in either a sectarian or a liquidationist approach. In both cases the possibility of a dynamic revolutionary policy is foreclosed from the beginning. On the contrary it is a question to be resolved in relation to the analysis of the concrete balance of forces in a given conjuncture.
What is a matter of settled principle for communists is the need for any united front or entryist policy to be guided by the integral communist program3 of proletarian dictatorship and to be implemented for the purpose of breaking down the cohesion of social democracy while winning new forces for this program. Deviation from this purpose reduces communists to the tailist “left” of the “formless united bloc” which the Comintern warned would be the certain result of any united front policy not premised in a complete break with centrism.
Therefore the first question communists must ask themselves is not the secondary organisational question of whether to accumulate forces inside or outside of DSA or any other organisation or party of counter-revolutionary social democracy. Rather, they must begin by asking the primary political question of whether their agitation and propaganda works to advance a proletarian or a social democratic line within the advanced elements of the workers movement. It is perfectly possible to advance a revolutionary policy of struggle against social democracy within a social democratic organisation. By the same token it is equally possible for the assertion of organisational independence from social democracy or its predominant party-political expression to mask a complete capitulation to the social democratic approach.4
Keeping this in mind we will refrain from an abstract polemic reducible to a ritualistic repetition of the need for communists to assert their formal organisational independence in relation to social democracy. We are in fact of the opinion that such organisational independence is necessary today and that operation within social democratic political organisations diffuses rather than concentrates forces around the communist program in the current adverse situation. However our focus below will be whether organised “left” currents in DSA are practicing a policy of communist entryism however misguided or rather a policy of capitulation to social democracy and petty bourgeois radical incoherence.
To this end we will briefly examine the publicly available documents of several tendencies within DSA which assert a challenge to the leadership of the organisation from the left.
1: Communist Caucus
The 2019 Statement5 of this tendency begins by observing that the “DSA's objective should be to end capitalist domination and exploitation”. Not only does this observation in no way differentiate the Caucus from the discourse of the social democratic right within DSA6, it is made without any clarification of the defining characteristic of capitalism as generalised commodity production on the base of the wage relation.7 This results in a fundamental unclarity on what it means to “end” capitalism which is also shared in common with representatives of the right like Sunkara.
The Statement continues by alleging that support for democratic struggles against historically contingent forms of oppression which divide the working class entail support for the “struggles and demands of oppressed communities”. No mention is made of the need for worker leadership and centrality in the struggle for democratic rights, nor of the way the movements for democratic rights under bourgeois and petty bourgeois leadership form an essential pillar of imperialist reaction today. Everything is papered over with the cross-class mystification of “community” so beloved by the NGO bureaucrat.
The text continues with twelve more points which advocate constructing organisations of economic struggle while noting that the Democratic Party can “never replace, and will often [often!] decay working class power”. Nothing is said on the need to build a fighting party to lead the assault on the state and establish proletarian dictatorship through the destruction of bourgeois democracy as the precondition of communist transition. We welcome the commitment of the comrades of the Communist Caucus to economic struggles and certainly don’t dispute their communist loyalties. However we would be inclined to say their communism is rather more utopian and romantic then it is Marxist and scientific.
2: Marxist Unity Slate
The Marxist Unity Slate declares its intention of uniting the “thousands of DSA members” who are “inspired by Marxist politics” around a “credible vision for an independent socialist movement in the United States”. We think these are excellent objectives. Unfortunately what we find is a recipe for uniting “thousands of DSA members” around a slightly “radicalised” rendition of their existing illusions.
They begin their Mission Statement8 by informing the reader that DSA has made a “historic achievement for socialists in the United States” by recruiting 90,000 members (the great majority of whom are inactive). The fact that DSA as an organisation is completely integrated with the complex of apparatuses which constitute one of the two major bourgeois parties in the US, and that corporative reformism is the overwhelmingly predominant line within it, is left unmentioned. The DSA simply cannot be placed in line with the Communist Party or the IWW and doing so displays the opportunist's hallmark, irresponsibility towards the truth.
The Unity Slate goes on to observe that the union bureaucracy cannot be relied upon to build a workers party and such a party must have an “explicitly socialist” rather than a “left progressive” or populist character. On these points we agree. However their formula for building the party has been written in a, no doubt, willful ignorance of the past century of communist experience. We are informed the party must be constituted around a “minimum-maximum” program with the ultimate objective of calling a “constituent assembly” to replace the “US constitution” in order to deliver “true democracy”.
This might have been what many Marxists considered an adequate blueprint for the transformation of societies characterised by semi-feudalism and absolutism before the dispersal of the constituent assembly in Russia and the establishment of council dictatorship proved them decisively wrong. However to call for “true democracy” when bourgeois democracy is the universal norm, and to look forward to a constituent assembly when such bodies have shown their face as weapons of counter-revolution for more than a century is to be guilty of either idiocy, pandering, or both. The Kaiser and the Tsar called, they want their popular democratic opposition back.
The Points Of Unity of DSA Emerge begin with a validation of a “diverse working class” and a demand that we “honour” all the “particular expressions” of “class struggle from below”, which it would seem find their concrete content in movements against “racism, misogyny, transphobia, ableism and every other form of oppression”. Here, as is usual for the postmodern identitarians, the particularity of the class struggle against exploitation is dissolved into the general protest of the “marginalised” against oppression, and, by extension, into the petty bourgeois managers who make such protest their business. The proletarian defence of the democratic rights of the oppressed is premised on the universality found within and against the wage relation. It demands no appeal to a fragmentary patchwork of “myriad particularities”.
This is followed by a second point which takes up the petty bourgeois utopian call for “abolition” of the “carceral state”. As if such a directive were anything more than nonsense, absent the dictatorship of the proletariat and the systematic imposition of “carceral state” measures against the bourgeoisie. In practice, such calls for “abolition”, at best add a mystifying “radical twist” to justifiable but completely reformist demands for an increase in the social wage and decrease in police violence against working people,and at worst serve as an ideological screen for further anti-worker militarisation.9
Much as in the case of the Communist Caucus examined above, the remaining points of unity combine every buzzword of petty bourgeois radicalism with a call to build organisations of economic struggle. We are in full unity with the latter but we fear the former is a dangerous obstacle to the realisation of this aspiration in fact. As with the Communist Caucus, the construction of a fighting party and the struggle to destroy (not “abolish”) the state is completely beyond their economist horizons. On the contrary integration within the bourgeois state through a “socialist electoralism” which consists of “strategic endorsements” for bourgeois social democrats is the practical substance of Emerge's strategic vision. As they noted in September 2020, “recent examples from the Pink Tide in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Brazil might serve as models of movements composed of socialist political parties in the electoral sphere with a special relationship to extra-parliamentary movements”.10
For Emerge the final goal is to function as an economic pressure group in relation to social democratic governance of the bourgeois state. The loyal grassroots opposition to reformist treason.
4: Red Star San Francisco
Red Star San Francisco is a DSA caucus based in San Francisco, CA. They begin their points of unity11 by assuring the reader they are “revolutionary Marxists”. How does Red Star define revolutionary Marxism? As a “living breathing theoretical framework” which “can never be a static set of dogmas”. With this degree of analytical flexibility we are confident that both Noske and Van Jones could also claim the title.
The one thing we do immediately learn about “revolutionary Marxism” is that “popular legislature [sic] and politicians with benevolent intentions can help create more favourable conditions for change”. For DSA Red Star, revolutionary Marxism is simply that last extra cherry atop the reformist sundae of “benevolent” social democratic bosses. Reformism as the means through which the bourgeois disorganises and dominates the workers is politely swept under the rug.
We are further informed that “socialism” means a “workers state”. What it might have to do with overcoming the defining features of capitalist production is left less clear. What is unfortunately “clarified” all too well is the reduction of the wage relation into the intersectional soup of “multiple oppressions”. One cannot offend the NGO managers!
5: Red Caucus
Red Caucus is “a caucus of revolutionary Marxists in the Portland chapter of Democratic Socialists of America”. As the reader has most likely learned to expect at this point, a review of their points of unity12 combine a carefree disinterest in the scientific meaning of terms like socialism and capitalism with a laundry list of identitarian complaints and NGO-inspired utopian reform demands.
Red Caucus has also issued a response to DSA Class Unity's articulation of an absentionist stance towards the uprising following the murder of George Floyd.13 Here they argue that the nationwide riots represented a “pre revolutionary conjuncture”, having apparently forgotten that such a conjuncture entails the existence of a revolutionary party. They further embarrass themselves by claiming that “the fight for a socialist society demands that we confront and abolish our oppressive police and prison complex”. As if the destruction of the bourgeois state machine was just another winnable reform-demand in the struggle for “racial justice”. (Someone has been reading too much Critical Resistance.)
6: Class Unity
Class Unity defines themselves as a “...a Marxist pole of attraction that works both within the DSA and outside of it to support the development of class struggle politics”. Their Statement of Principles14 combines a relatively realistic assessment of the class composition and political weakness of DSA with a straightforward economism they misleadingly package as “Marxist”. They enjoin a focus on “popular, universal social programs like Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, massively-expanded public housing, and a jobs guarantee” and advocate “...fighting to elect principled socialists running on bold, redistributive platforms”.
Needless to say, all of this has everything to do with Otto Bauer or Palme and nothing with Marx or Lenin. It is the dream of a new corporatism where (some) workers finally find their place in the sun within bourgeois society thanks to the concessions won from militant struggle. If Class Unity understands that such a compromise is by definition neither universal nor stable, no trace of such an awareness appears in their unity document.
One thing is clear from this brief review. There is no caucus in DSA which coherently upholds revolutionary Marxist positions. Rather, we find the “left” tail of a “formless united bloc”, which, for the most part, can't even admit the centrality of the working class, let alone the need to split with bourgeois worker's politics and establish proletarian dictatorship through the overthrow of bourgeois democracy. It is precisely these positions on party and state, based in the rigorous assimilation of the critique of political economy, which form the line of demarcation between proletarian and petty bourgeois ideology. It is these positions which are absent from the internal politics of DSA, just as they are absent from contemporary political life in general. What Lenin said of Levi and Serrati almost a century ago applies with equal force to the extreme left of the feeble attempts to revive social democracy today:
they are characteristic of the modern type of the extreme Left wing of petty-bourgeois democracy, of the camp of the “other side”, the camp of the international capitalists, the camp that is against us.15
It is impossible to struggle for a Marxist line within DSA or elsewhere when this line remains to be articulated. It is the recovery of revolutionary Marxism as an integral doctrine inseparably bound to practice within the workers movement that the current moment demands. We must begin from the beginning and accept no shortcuts.
—Margaret Wilson is a communist in the United States.
The Communist Movement at a Crossroads: Plenums of the Communist International’s Executive Committee, 1922–1923, Michael Taber, John Riddell, Leiden, Brill 2018, p 263. ↩
“If by Bolshevism – and we are stressing here its essential aspect – we understand such training, tempering, and organization of the proletarian vanguard as enables the latter to seize power, arms in hand; and if by social democracy we are to understand the acceptance of reformist oppositional activity within the framework of bourgeois society and an adaptation to its legality – i.e., the actual training of the masses to become imbued with the inviolability of the bourgeois state; then, indeed, it is absolutely clear that even within the Communist Party itself, which does not emerge full – fledged from the crucible of history, the struggle between social democratic tendencies and Bolshevism is bound to reveal itself...”
Trotsky, Leon, “The Lessons of October”, chapter 2, “The Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry – in February and October”, 1924 (https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1924/lessons/ch2.htm). ↩
By integral communist program we mean the violent destruction of bourgeois democracy, the establishment of proletarian dictatorship and the trajectory of construction of a combat party within the worker's movement to accomplish this end. The historical experience of the communist movement in the 20th century has fully confirmed the validity of this general orientation as the only means of creating the preconditions for the abolition of wage labor. To deny it is to regress to the level of petty bourgeois democracy. ↩
As organisations such as Left Voice, Philly Socialists and Counter Power prove to us daily. ↩
See Sunkara, Bhaskar, “The World After Capitalism”, Foreign Policy, January 15, 2020 (https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/01/15/socialism-post-capitalist-world) where Sunkara advocates that the wage relation be abolished... in favour of profit sharing within the firm! ↩
Compare with the clear formulation of the 1903 Program of the RSDLP: “The principal characteristic of this society is commodity production on the basis of capitalist production-relations...” Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party Second Congress, “Programme of the Social-Democratic Workers' Party adopted at the Second Congress of the Party”, 1903 (https://www.marxists.org/history/international/social-democracy/rsdlp/1903/program.htm) Ambiguity on “market socialism” is not admissible for Marxists. ↩
Take the example of a recent proposal by the mayor of Ihaca, NY where “police abolition” entails “...the combined staffs of the department's unarmed and armed workers exceeding the city's current number of police officers.” (https://www.gq.com/story/ithaca-mayor-svante-myrick-police-reform) ↩
Red Caucus, “We Have Nothing to Lose but Our Cops: A Critical Reply to Class Unity Caucus” (https://redcaucus.org/2020/06/05/we-have-nothing-to-lose-but-our-cops/) ↩
Lenin, “Notes of a Publicist: On Ascending A High Mountain; The Harm of Despondency; The Utility of Trade; Attitude Towards the Mensheviks, Etc.”, February 1922 (https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1922/feb/x01.htm) ↩