To the Red Party,
My name is Art Francisco, and I am an activist in the Seattle area. Unlike Ben, I got my start in political activism rather late, about 16 years ago, a couple of years before the run up to the invasion of Iraq. About that time I became involved in identity politics through a social democratic leadership organization. Later, I would hang out with anarchist influenced students from the University of Texas which became my springboard into the anti-war movement in 2002. A couple of years later I moved to the State of Washington and wound up in the middle of an organizing campaign for delivery drivers. A co-worker and I organized 34 workers into the Teamsters. In 2011 I had a very brief relationship with the ISO which was useful in getting better acquainted with the activists in Occupy Seattle, but I left as it became clear to me that it was no longer possible to do practical work together. Some of my present work can be found at https://struggleforunifiedtheory.wordpress.com. I also do work in the Carpenters Union, some of which can be seen at http://thecontrolline.org
After reading several articles by the Red Party, I feel that a lot of honest work was put into “Is an American Syriza in the Cards,” as well as the other related documents that I reviewed in preparation for this response. Many of the formulations put together in the former are materialist, fairly mature, and well thought. That should be recognized and respected—that alone is probably worth deserving of any serious activist’s attention. Both Ben Seattle and I appreciate this hard work, and we appreciate being asked for our opinions on this work (Despite Ben’s colorful description of the Red Party’s proposed strategy). Before going on any further I would just like to state that Ben and myself see this as a possible beginning of a public, productive, protracted, and principled exchange between serious activists.
The description of Syriza and Podemos is one of the best I’ve read, but despite the title, the analysis of Syriza and Podemos (despite being the article’s main strength) is not the most important part of the article. The most important part comes much later when the Red Party lays out the boilerplate principles that some of its members may think are necessary to building the kind of organization that the movement needs, and the solution that some of its members may think that the movement needs. I oppose both, please allow me to explain.
The Boilerplate Program of “Perfect” Partial Demands
(Also known as the Terms and Conditions Page that was too long to read or take seriously)
American activists indeed lack clarity. They are indeed bogged down by some of the things mentioned such as the inability to do practical, principled work together (also known as sectarianism), and the habit of building leftist cargo cults. The Red Party’s article also correctly in my opinion, brings up the need for principled unity among activists in a mass organization. However, the basis for this unity is mistaken, and I think that is the first major weakness of the article. This basis of unity for example would immediately exclude both myself and Ben. In the article “Is an American Syriza in the Cards?” The Red Party wrote, “We maintain that the best, most durable and most fruitful form of unity is a single party organized around a Marxist program.”
I had a little difficulty trying to figure out exactly how the Red Party defined a “Marxist program,” so I read two documents that might explain that in more detail. One of those documents was called “Where we stand,” and the other was called “Draft program.” I also read the paragraphs that explain the three principles of what the “..American Syriza..” calls a “Marxist program.” Those principles listed by the Red Party are:
- Political Independence (self-explanatory, or is it?)
- Extreme Democracy aka Real Democratic Centralism. Unfortunately this wasn’t explained well in the article either, other than pointing to a few movements as examples. That unfortunately is no different from most cargo cults in the US.
I do not intend to get into a debate on whether the points from the article,”What We Stand For”” serve the movement or not within this response. It may take some time to discuss these topics and their meanings with the Red Party and other activists; in order to build clarity. Upon a deeper inspection of the principles and what is meant in “What We Stand For”,” one will find the typical terms and conditions for joining the organization. But what is to happen to those who meet 75% of those terms, or 50%, or 20% or 10%? Do they get shown the door? Let me offer up an alternative program that serves the needs of the Proletariat for building a mass Party that we can all get behind.
A 1 Point Program to Unite All Activists Opposed to Capital:
Both Ben and I are agreed that the primary principle of unity is not a “Marxist Program” but instead to unite those who will live and die to overthrow capital, and the bourgeoisie which emerged from it; and replace the system of capital with a classless society—period. In order to do so, an organization must remain completely independent of the bourgeoisie, which has diametrically opposing interests; and activists must engage with actors and organizations which are not independent on a principled basis—a basis that serves the primary principle of unity that does not surrender political independent character or messaging.
Social Democracy is Our Opponent, Not Our Ally
Ben and I believe that the principles of political transparency and self-organization will serve the principle of unity to overthrow capital. Everyone within the organization should have the right to speak to anyone and everyone within an organization, and they should have the right to self-organize. Only with these rights can we stamp out opportunism, promote political effectiveness, and provide minority rights. Without these rights, talk of democracy is hot air. A democratic organization with the characteristics described runs counter to the sub-trends that compose the broad bourgeois trend known as Social Democracy. Unfortunately the Red Party doesn’t acknowledge the need to be independent from Social Democracy for a reason I’ll get into later; but while on the subject of the need for a democratic mass organization to serve the Proletariat, and at risk of sounding repetitious, I’ll reiterate that Social Democratic opportunists have no desire to encourage democratic organization. This is because it will threaten exposure of their liquidationism.
Ensuring other activists that The Red Party believes in what they call “extreme democracy,” or that the Red party’s form of democratic centralism is “real,” or “genuine,” or the “true democratic centralism,” doesn’t inspire the confidence needed to let me sleep at night. Based on the primary principle of unity to overthrow capital we can have discussion on other things, like Internationalism, Democracy, the state, classes within capitalism, etc. We must discuss publicly so that the most conscious activists can decide on what best serves the needs of the movement.
A Strategy Built on Sand
Moving on, the article “..American Syriza..” concludes with a strategy of running in the 2016 Congressional elections as a means of organizing a party. The article states, “At the present time, we believe that the best organizational form to begin this process is a Socialist Alliance to run in the 2016 Congressional elections.”
When I read this, I was a little perplexed.
I studied two other articles to try and understand this reasoning. In a Red Party article published in November 2014, called “Getting Organized to Change the Left,” the Red Party may have dropped a hint. They wrote, “While we seek as wide an audience as possible in order to distribute and debate our views, and do (sic) engage in more mass-oriented education and agitation where possible, much of our focus is towards the organized Left.” This brings up a question, “What is the organized left?”
Towards the end of “Getting Organized” is a clear example, the ISO. After a brief criticism of some problems within the ISO, The Red Party states, “The existing organizations on the left are correct in saying that they’re the basis for a future revolutionary party. At least insofar as their members are the ones learning and attempting to understand Marxist politics and strategy.” But there is a problem missing from this formulation. The problem is that most of the existing organizations like the ISO are not independent from the bourgeoisie. In fact, many existing organizations promote complete dependence through Social Democratic institutions as evidenced in The Red Party’s own article, “For a Socialist Alliance in 2016,” which cites the ISO’s support for the Greens,
“Several Trotskyist organizations – the International Socialist Organization, Socialist Alternative, Solidarity and the Workers International League –routinely support Green Party candidates, the Greens being the main beneficiary of left-wing protest votes in a country without a mass workers’ party.”
Despite the brief criticism of the ISO and like groups, the Red Party’s article stayed silent on their Social Democratic politics and associations. So, when the Red Party uses the term “independent,” it appears to me that they are not calling for independence from the bourgeoisie and bourgeois ideology like Social Democracy, but rather, the veil of the Democratic Party.
By failing to call attention to the Green Party’s close proximity to the Democratic Party, or explain its Social Democratic nature, the Red Party opens the doors to illusions. The illusion is that the Green Party is independent of the class enemy when this independence is about as thin as rice paper. How does it help the workers if we cannot explain which activists and organizations are on their side which ones aren’t? If the Red Party seeks to focus attention towards forces that tail bourgeois ideology who are tied by carrots and sticks, then what makes their campaign for congress any different than say the Socialist Alternative (or the ISO)? Don’t the workers deserve to know who their friends and opponents really are? Shouldn’t revolutionaries instead be attempting to find and engage with other revolutionaries who will not bend to the whims of trade union bureaucrats and non-profit CEOs?
No One Today is Prepared to Navigate
the No Man’s Land of Electoral Politics
Why is the Red party in support of this scheme of running for congress? Based on “Socialist Alliance 2016” they appear to believe that there is an electoral “political vacuum” for “explicitly socialist candidates.” Yes, there are zero political voices in the elections independent of the class enemy. This is inviting like an open field—a mine field. It is presently open for anyone who can kiss butt and be obedient to avoid being blown up. How else would one achieve electoral success without an independent mass organization that serves the Proletariat? The Red Party in their own words write with disregard for the gravity and danger of this strategy,
“Some organizations to their credit, do try to fill the political vacuum that exists by either running or supporting explicitly socialist candidates. In 2012 the Socialist Party, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Equality Party and Freedom Socialist Party all ran presidential candidates—with a little over 20,000 votes between them. The irony of standing five separate competing campaigns in the name of working class unity was apparently lost on them.
We don’t need to repeat these mistakes again.”
Later, towards the end of “Socialist Alliance” the Red Party writes, “Hopefully, a socialist alliance would come to see itself not as a purely electoral vehicle but a permanent campaign in its own right – a step toward a genuine revolutionary party.”
That’s a big hopefully. Hopefully, such a campaign would be independent. Hopefully, the Red Party can save face and won’t be forced to grovel and beg. Hopefully, the Red Party won’t be pressured by the capitalists who own all of the media, non-profits and trade union leaders. Hopefully, the Red Party won’t have to betray the workers while feeding them lies by the dump truck. Hopefully, the stars will align and Jesus himself will turn the alliance of opportunists and charlatans into a revolutionary party.
“No plan of operations extends with any certainty
beyond the first contact with the main hostile force,”
Helmuth von Moltke.
Will The Red Party’s plan survive first contact? I do not think it has been sufficiently thought-out. Therefore, I am not very confident in it. How do Red Party members expect to avoid all of the thousands of mishaps and betrayals by similar groups with real “Marxist” programs who followed the same strategy? Such a plan makes me think of the Battle of the Somme with soccer balls being kicked into No Man’s Land as troops are ordered to march in lock step into artillery and machinegun fire. Our friends at the Red Party say that we need to unify the “organized left” which I frankly, wouldn’t trust to lead a children’s sports team, let alone a mass party of workers into the No Man’s Land of elections. I wouldn’t trust them with a city council position in Seattle, let alone a seat on the US Senate! One only has to look at France, or Greece, or India to see the bankruptcy behind that kind of strategy. Despite writing several pages documenting the betrayal by Syriza, the Red Party seems to think that conditions are far too different for that kind of failure to repeat in this nation. And yes, we can look at elections as a tactic and not a strategy, but I’m not convinced that the Red Party sees it in that way. I wouldn’t trust a carpenter to do the delicate work of brain surgery, so why would I trust bumbling activists from a cargo cult like the ISO to embark on a dangerous campaign for US Senate?
Despite that at some level, the Red Party seems to understand that the other organizations which have adopted this electoral strategy are opportunist; the Red Party appears to have uncritically adopted it without any public debate or discussion. Hypothetically speaking, even if it were possible to unite the opportunist “organized left” groups under one umbrella for an election—which I don’t think is possible; there would still be the problem of the one big opportunist strategy, and whether or not it is where we should commit our energy. Is this really addressing the needs of the movement? How will it not legitimize the present capitalist state and election system? How will it dispel illusions instead of promoting them?
A Project that will Serve the Needs of the Movement
We do need a practical strategy and we need principles that will guide that strategy to build a truly independent mass party of the working class to fight to overthrow bourgeois rule. Ben and I think that strategy will include an on-line news and culture service that will not only facilitate greater collaboration between workers and activists, but to also to organize millions of workers towards their historic mission to overthrow the class enemy. This will likely require custom software, but before we can talk about software and the logistics of a news service, we should talk about the need for one itself—compared to the say, the idea of elections. A news service is something that we can begin to work on with relatively little experience as there will not be a steep learning curve. It is something that can be worked on with relatively few people, with few resources and it will bring about a high labor/productivity ratio. The productivity of labor is something that independent activists should deeply consider to maximize the effectiveness of our time when considering the projects that we commit ourselves to. Presently we live in a time that is non-partisan. This effects not only the class that is destined to overthrow the bourgeoisie, but the activists who believe in the power of that class to the bone. Based on my readings and interactions, the members of the Red Party seem to understand that the movement is backwards and primitive, themselves included. They want to do something about that which is good, but the project that they want to embark on is far beyond their skills and abilities and doesn’t address the problem. We need a project to raise the consciousness, skills and abilities of the movement. We need to be able to raise the consciousness of the best activists in quantity and quality. We need a way to train ourselves and to train the most advanced sections of the proletariat to help us. I believe that an online news and culture service will meet that need while elections at this time will ignore it.
I don’t think that elections at this time will raise the consciousness of millions of workers to overthrow the class enemy. Rather, I think that elections would have an effect of promoting the illusion that the system allows for a diversity of opinion and that it’s working. Without a mass organization of the proletariat which is independent of the bourgeoisie, and commits itself to the goal of overthrowing the bourgeoisie, thereby recognizing the need to raise the level of consciousness of the entire proletariat to meet this mission—I don’t think that putting time and energy into elections will amount to much. In the war against the bourgeoisie, the elections are a no-man’s land. It would take correct principles, independent organization, integrity and tactical brilliance to navigate them. Those ingredients are simply are not here at the present time. That said, I do believe that all of the ingredients are there for a very powerful news service. The one thing that is missing is recognition of this need by conscious forces independent of the bourgeoisie, and the determination to make it happen. We need to build that recognition and to organize those forces enough to be able to discuss and collaborate on the project of a news service—which would in my opinion, raise the consciousness of both activists and workers exponentially. It is possible that in the future we can take off the table the question of elections for another round of debate, but for now at least I believe that the topic should be tabled for independent forces.
 “Is an American Syriza in the Cards?” http://red-party.com/is-an-american-syriza-in-the-cards/
 “Draft program” http://red-party.com/about/draft-program/
 “What We Stand For” http://red-party.com/about/what-we-stand-for/
 “For a Socialist Alliance 2016” http://red-party.com/for-a-socialist-alliance-in-2016/
 “Getting Organized to Change the Left,” http://red-party.com/getting-organized-to-change-the-left/
Good job Art. I think you nailed it.