Workers Party in America
Redefining “Membership” in a Political Party-Movement
Mark Forums Read
Redefining “Membership” in a Political Party-Movement
16th December 2010
Die Neue Zeit
Redefining “Membership” in a Political Party-Movement
The following discussion is not to be found in either my earlier theoretical pamphlet or the subsequent programmatic book. The reason is that this is an operational issue and not a strategic issue, though the strategic issue implicit here is political support, of which I wrote in my programmatic book:
Majority political support by the working class for a program is not the same as mere electoral support for registered “parties,” since the latter can entail protest votes like modern Russian liberal dissidents voting for official Communists “for democracy” against the ruling elite in the Kremlin, and since the former can be found in other areas like spoiled ballot campaigns and especially honest membership itself in a political party.
As stated above, the best gauge of political support is individual and mass party-movement membership, though the word “membership” should be reexamined. The immediate context of this discussion lies in a February 2009 article of the
, a British Marxist newspaper. As one Mark Fischer explained:
It was with this in mind that our leadership – meeting on February 1 – agreed to launch the new category of ‘associate member’ of the CPGB. This replaces the class of ‘supporter’, which again served us well enough in its time, but has now become too hazy, ill-defined and lacks any real obligations for the people who fill out the application box regularly featured in these pages. Associate members will have limited, but real rights in the organisation – and duties, of course.
Various other words are used to denote mere dues-payers, such as “sympathizers” by the left-communist International Communist Current (to distinguish them from “militants”). However, these words are also problematic.
Part of the discussion will also include a critique of the longstanding communist failure to address the differences between principles and program.
Emulating the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands
“Paragraph 1 in Martov's draft: ‘A member of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party is one who, accepting its programme, works actively to accomplish its aims under the control and direction of the organs [sic !] of the Party.’ Paragraph 1 in my draft: ‘A member of the Party is one who accepts its programme and who supports the Party both financially and by personal participation in one of the Party organisations.’ Paragraph 1 as formulated by Martov at the Congress and adopted by the Congress: ‘A member of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party is one who accepts its programme, supports the Party financially, and renders it regular personal assistance under the direction of one of its organisations.’” (Vladimir Lenin)
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
, Lenin noted a dispute within the fledgling Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party on who should be a party member.
Underlying both competing definitions, however, was an attempt to imitate the model provided by the then-Marxist Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD), in as many ways as possible within the Russian condition.
As noted by historian Lars Lih:
Konspiratsiia ["the fine art of not getting arrested"] was a central value long before WITBD
and Lenin's only contribution was to insist on a more professional commitment to learning the appropriate skills. If Lenin did put forth a specific organizational proposal on this subject, it was
the idea of a small, centralized organization of revolutionaries by trade with high konspiratsiia standards linked informally to mass organizations [like unions] with a lesser degree of konspiratsiia
. In this light, Kautsky's intervention into the debate on the Menshevik side takes on a certain interest.
Kautsky endorsed the Menshevik stand on the definition on a definition of a party member – but only because of the repressive underground conditions faced by the Party in absolutist Russia.
In the case of open societies such as England, Switzerland and France, announced Kautsky, Lenin's formulation would be the better one.
There are, of course, contemporary considerations for Lenin’s argument on participation as opposed to Martov’s, as noted by one Mike Macnair:
The idea of the party of activists is in itself no more than a recognition that political activity is work – and that, like other forms of work, it benefits from (a) commitment and (b) an organised division of labour.
It also has a ‘civic republican’ aspect to it. That is, it is counterposed to the liberal and market political-science view of parties, which sees party leaderships as firms offering political brands
to the atomised voter-consumer or member-consumer. In contrast,
in the ‘party of activists’, the party member is to be an active citizen of his or her party
, through active involvement in a branch, fraction or other party body which does its own collective work as part of the party, and the passive consumer-member is not to have a vote.
Problems with the Party-Movement of Activists Only
However, to cling dogmatically to Lenin’s argument on participation has problems, both historical and contemporary. First, as Macnair continued:
The other, negative, side of the ‘party of activists’ idea is given by its combination with the ‘actuality of the revolution’:
the idea that the trouble with the Second International was its ‘passive propagandism’
, and that the tasks of the workers’ movement have gone beyond propaganda, etc, to agitation intended to lead to the immediate struggle for power. Taken together with the idea of a developed division of labour,
this idea leads all too easily into the creation of a division of labour between the ‘grunts’ at the base
, who are to run round like blue-arsed flies from one agitational initiative to the next, and the thinkers in the leadership.
Self-education of the militants at the base and long-term propaganda work for ideas that are not currently agitational is damned as ‘propagandism’.
Second, consider the SPD itself: by 1914, it had over a million members, but did it have the same number of activists and not just dues-paying members? In a guest comment on a blog, Arthur “Boffy” Bough made this comment:
The German SPD, which was by far the biggest, and most effective Workers party of the last century
even at its height had few people attending its Branch meetings
other than a few activists.
Third, consider the word “member” in a very non-political but longstanding example: sports clubs. Sports clubs, once part of the SPD’s model for alternative culture, offer
membership benefits but certainly no management over internal administration
. The same goes for leisure clubs and other, similar non-political organizations.
Therefore, a partial solution is offered, which takes into account so-called “propagandism”: Participation in the Party-Movement’s organizations for programmatic development and/or general activity.
Basic Principles vs. Program
“Anyone who is over 14 years of age, defends the programmatic principles, recognizes the Federal Statutes and does not belong to any other party in the meaning of the Parties Act can be a member of the Party.” (Dortmund Congresses of the WASG and Linkespartei.PDS)
When the German electoral “party” Die Linke (The Left) was formed, the founding congress(es) decided upon the organization’s Federal Statutes, where this rule could be found. Notwithstanding double standards in discipline being applied to former co-chair Lothar Bisky’s opportunistic “programs are something for the 20th century” statement in October 2009, there has been a longstanding communist failure to address the differences between principles and program.
The failure that yields both opportunism and sectarianism is the lack of identifying very basic principles separately from other programmatic material and even from lesser principles.
Recall the basic principles identified in my programmatic book: class strugglism, social labour, transnational emancipation, and partyism. Depending on other factors, the anti-economism “democracy question” elaborating in greater detail on the necessity of workers as a class expropriating ruling-class political power in policymaking, legislation, execution-administration, and other areas – as opposed to it being subsumed under transnational emancipation or partyism – can yield a fifth basic principle. For these basic principles, there needs to be a stance as strict as the programmatic “invariance” of the Italian Marxist Amadeo Bordiga:
Part I is the party program, the same program that was adopted at the foundation of the Communist Party of Italy in 1921. It was only
within the guidelines of the invariant basis of this program
that it was possible to add several points concerning our analysis of fascism, and more generally of the increasingly fascist nature of modern capitalist society, and concerning the relations between the world proletarian party and the state which is born as a result of the revolutionary victory, renouncing all the treachery and deceit of such an idea as “socialism in one country”.
The party’s doctrine is based on the principles of historical materialism and critical communism expounded by Marx and Engels in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, in Capital, and in their other fundamental works.
In other words, there should be unambiguous, full, and informed agreement with the basic principles.
The same does not hold true for “principles” held by specific sects, among them direct action fetishes, “all power to workers councils” sloganeering, and misplaced “permanent revolution” contempt towards those in less developed countries living as small tenant farmers and sharecroppers, who can indeed be politically revolutionary even if not socially revolutionary.
Turning, on the other hand, to the question of program apart from the basic principles, proper political programs are more an invaluable tool for political education or insanely derided “propagandism,” rather than a tool for political agitation.
Because of this, unlike transitory action platforms, electoral platforms, and other agitational tools, there are still problems with merely “accepting the party’s program.” Careerist politicians always accept proper political programs (not electoral platforms), only to ignore them at their convenience. Coalitionist compromises are also an ignorance or dishonourable defiance of proper political programs (again, not electoral platforms). On the other hand, agreement with the party-movement program, which was merely part the fully Bordigist solution of “invariance,” yields sectarianism.
After all, much hysterical fuss is made by reactionary non-workers about the menacing “Ten Planks” of the Communist Manifesto” – as if the programmatic common ground with radical Ricardians and their proper Bourgeois Socialism or economic republicanism, rejecting welfare states and corporate bailouts, has an invariant character!
The appropriate criterion for countering ignorance, dishonourable defiance, and sectarianism in relation to program is this: Honour of the Party-Movement’s program with informed acceptance.
Class Independence, Participation as Citizenship, and Redefining “Membership”
Before arriving at the concluding points, there is one other necessity to repeat from my earlier work:
central to class independence are the imperatives for the voting membership of party-movement to consist of an exclusively proletarian demographic and, at the same time, take an intransigent position against sectoral chauvinism.
That is, the voting the voting membership demographic should be only manual workers (forestry and mining workers, factory workers, proper farm workers, and so on), clerical workers (office workers, typical retail workers except those doing heavy-lifting in the warehouses, bank tellers, bartenders, and others involved in the provision of generally unskilled services), professional workers (teachers, professors without research staff, engineers like Bordiga himself, nurses, most non-self-employed accountants, and others), or those who have retired after working-class careers in any combination of the above occupations. Two examples of class-strugglist organizations on the left with this rule are the Independent Working Class Association in the UK (
) and the Workers Party in America (
Without this rule, there is a more class basis for working-class grunts vs. coordinator-class thinkers than stated earlier on the three problems with the Party-Movement of Activists Only.
Now, as noted earlier by Mike Macnair, “the party member is to be an active citizen of his or her party, through active involvement in a branch, fraction or other party body which does its own collective work as part of the party.” The bourgeois word “citizen” was romanticized during the French Revolution as an egalitarian and especially “fraternitarian” appellation replacing Mr., Mrs., Excellency, and so on – much like the more radical word “comrade” several decades later. Despite the early romanticism with citizenship and its practical application to individual relations with the nation-state, Marx and Engels noted that:
The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got. Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation […]
However, citizenship can be applied in another context. Because the word “member” outside of a political context implies membership benefits without management over internal administration, it is useless to use this word to describe those undertaking programmatic development and/or general activity within the organization. Therefore, the first and most important concluding point is this definition:
A Citizen of the Party-Movement is any manual, clerical, or professional Worker: who is over [insert age minimum] years of age; who unambiguously, fully, and informedly agrees with the Basic Principles of the Party-Movement; who honours the Program of the Party-Movement with informed acceptance; who pays dues and/or dues equivalents in accordance with the Rules of the Party-Movement; and who participates in the Party-Movement's organizations for programmatic development and/or general activity.
This fundamental redefinition of “membership” is a practical shift towards having at least one tier below that of Party-Movement Citizen. Naturally, one of these tiers is for none other than those workers (emphasis on “workers”) merely paying dues and/or dues equivalents, derided by Macnair as the “atomized […] passive consumer member” with the “political brand” mentality. With this tier, and as the second concluding point,
it would be more difficult to assess the mere dues-paying workers, not being inclined to attend branch and other party meetings, for appropriate positions on basic principles and proper political program
. Consider, for example, the majority of the dues-paying members of the Socialist Party USA and the California-centric Peace and Freedom Party, who are reformists but are members for the sake of voting for candidates for public elections – and contrast them with the majority of activists in both organizations, who are more revolutionary. Limited voting rights on some questions would be the norm for this tier.
While class independence makes necessary that party-movement citizenship to have an exclusively proletarian demographic, the third concluding point is that
non-voting membership rights and dues obligations could be given – perhaps on a case-by-case basis – to those belonging in some of the other classes
(emphasis on “some,” since bourgeois radicals better known as “silver spoon socialists” do not belong), most notably:
1) Dispossessed elements which nevertheless perform unproductive labour and can perhaps be called the modern
(like butlers, housemaids, paralegals, all who work exclusively in luxury goods production and sale, and perhaps all who work exclusively in non-civilian arms production and trade) – should it be resolved that they are actually not part of the proletariat itself;
2) Proper lumpenproletariat, preferring legal work to illegal work (like prostitutes where illegal and rank-and-file gangsters), as opposed to lumpenbourgeois and lumpen elements;
3) Coordinators themselves, a dispossessed class apart from the so-called “prole” classes (like mid-level managers, tenured professors with subordinate research staff, doctors without general practice businesses, and bureaucratic specialists); and
4) Nationalistic or pan-nationalistic petit-bourgeoisie in only less developed countries, whether in urban areas (like small-business shop owners) or rural ones (like the more numerous small tenant farmers and sharecroppers) – but again with no voting rights, unlike the opportunism from one Georg von Vollmar to a crippled Lenin himself.
[Note: Individuals among the so-called “Student Left” are likely to fit into one of the four classes above or into a petit-bourgeois background in the most developed countries.]
The fourth and least important concluding point is on the question of “honorary membership,” which signifies little in terms of actual membership rights and dues obligations. For example, the reformist political analyst Walden Bello, founding director of the Bangkok-based think-tank Focus on the Global South, is an honorary member of none other than Die Linke. Such honorary membership could be granted to select intellectuals for their outstanding theoretical and ideological work.
Programming Class Struggle and Social Revolution
by “Jacob Richter”
Upping our game
by Mark Fischer [
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back by Vladimir Lenin
Lenin Rediscovered: What Is To Be Done? In Context
by Lars Lih [
Communist strategy and the party form
by Mike Macnair [
Lewisham Town Hall Stormed
by “A Very Public Sociologist” [
Federal Statutes of the Political Party DIE LINKE
by the Dortmund Congresses of the WASG and Linkespartei.PDS [
Die Linke und ihre Programm-Phobie
(“The Left and its Program-Phobia”) by Thomas Vitzthum [
Fundamental Theses of the Party
by Amadeo Bordiga [
Manifesto of the Communist Party
by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels [
“Not One Man, Not One Penny!” German Social Democracy, 1863-1914
by Gary Steenson [
How We Should Reorganise the Workers' and Peasants' Inspection
by Vladimir Lenin [
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