The hallmark of ideology is when one projects what one wants to see happening in a given situation, episode or event in the class struggle, in place of what one is actually seeing. Ideology suffocates political practice by denying class struggles the oxygen of their living dynamics. A practice constructed on ideology is incapable of learning from and, in so doing, constructively influencing, the class struggle.
No tendency or milieu of the broadly-defined socialist movement started out with a fully-formed ideology. Every flavor of every tendency of every nominally anarchist/socialist/communist group, from anarcho-syndicalist to Hoxhaist to Marxist-Humanist and beyond, started from a theory, an analytical framework and a political practice based upon that theory and analytical framework. At one time, they had militants, cadre or sympathizers operating in the class struggle, putting their theory, their analytical framework and their political practice into effect. The common denominator between them all is that they produced the hallmark of ideology.
Is ideology inevitable in the socialist movement? No. But it is a perpetual threat and a perpetual problem.
When the words “workers’ party” are raised, everyone jumps into their foxholes. It’s impossible to approach the question without satisfying the need to perform a full biological workup in advance: what kind of political party, a vanguard party or a mass party? What tendency does it draw from, is it a Leninist or social democratic (or ‘democratic socialist’) party, what kind of “-ist” is it (Maoist or Trotskyist or etc.), is it a labor party, is it a national or international party, etc. to say nothing of those whose political positions reject the party-form (and all those who support it) regardless.
All discussions and organizational work that approach the question in this beat-to-shit manner miss the point: that point is that there is a positive affirmation within the call for a workers’ political party. That positive affirmation is what a workers’ party actually does.
When stripped of all apparent functions, the workers’ party has one basic (if often hidden and mystified) function: to serve as a mediation between and among the working-class and its class struggles in the interests of the whole class.
What that looks like in practice is the conscious growing-over of struggles from one terrain to another, mediated by and through the political organization.
That might be work to move a struggle on the parliamentary terrain, such as resistance to legislation like Act 10 in Wisconsin or to bills that would raise sales taxes or cut Medicaid, onto the economic terrain, into the workplace, by directly facilitating various forms of job actions. This most often means the day to day, pick-and-shovel political work of meetings, leafleting and tying such general attacks to the peculiarities of workers’ own workplaces.
That might be work to move a struggle on the terrain of production onto the terrain of reproduction, such as agitating for health care workers’ strikes and organizing campaigns to provide free medical care to the communities in which they work, such as through the networks of free clinics. In cases where such growing-over from production to reproduction has already manifested itself, as in the West Virginia public school workers who organized food distribution to K-12 students during their recent strike, it would mean actively participating (and facilitating participation) in such efforts and working to expand them to provide for all vulnerable groups and the most impoverished fractions of the working-class.
That might be work to move a struggle on the economic terrain, such as the ongoing strike at Frontier Communications and ongoing lock-out at Tecnocap, into a generalized struggle on the political terrain. It could take the form of organizing the logistics to have Frontier workers walking the public school workers’ picket lines and public school workers walking the Frontier picket lines, agitating for the Frontier workers to demand that the lock-out at Tecnocap end and that the West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) be funded through a severance tax on natural gas as part of their strike, or taking up collections for the Frontier strike fund at other workplaces in other sectors and industries.
That might be work to move a struggle on the legal terrain, such as resistance to the Janus v. AFSCME case or resistance to voter suppression, onto the economic terrain, by giving support to the North Carolina public workers who are fighting to overturn General Statute 95-98 that makes public employee unionism illegal in that state and to the fast food workers who have linked their struggle for a higher standard of living with the struggle against the oppression of the black community.
In everything that it does, the workers’ party has one unique and specific trait: it always speaks and acts in the interests of the whole working-class. It does so by always working to escalate and generalize labor’s class struggles. This is accomplished by providing tangible assistance and resources to particular struggles so that they may not only achieve their stated aims– like the West Virginia public workers’ demands for raises and a fix to PEIA, like the Frontier workers’ demands for job security and infrastructure upgrades, like the North Carolina public workers’ demand to legalize their labor organizations– but become struggles which advance the strategic interests of the working-class in its ultimate struggle against capitalism. This is accomplished by not only cultivating, nurturing and organizing this growing-over in labor’s class struggles, but making the connections between this class struggle and this growing-over to the real movement toward socialism.
Like the need to classify and categorize working-class political organization into its appropriate ideological identity described earlier, most discussions involving the steps to form a workers’ party and how it operates miss the point. Some tendencies, groups and individuals seem to believe that it’s enough to call an organization a political party for it to be as such. A “look the part, be the part” kind of deal. A small group may agree that they support a workers’ party, so they form one. It has a name (often some combination of the words “socialist”, “communist”, “labor”, “worker”, “international” and “revolutionary”), it has a program, it has a logo, it has some equivalent to a constitution and by-laws, it has a newspaper or website and a mailing address, etc.
However, the formal organization of a political party is secondary to party-work. Whether a formal organization exists or not, the content of party-work remains unchanged. What leads to the formation of a formal organization is the same thing that the formal organization does: common work.
Common work is what socialists are doing when they act together to mediate labor’s class struggles from one terrain onto others, when they escalate particular struggles into general struggles and when they provide material-tangible assistance to the class. Whether there are 3 or 3 million socialists engaged in common work together, the only difference is the extent of their influence and their capability to deepen their influence within the class.
The workers’ party is born from this common work. The workers’ party formalizes this relationship among socialists and between socialists and the rest of the class.
That means it is not necessary to craft a perfect program and construct the formal trappings of organization before socialists can do ‘party-work’; it means the exact opposite. We do party-work to create the workers’ party, we don’t create the workers’ party to do party-work.
To be in a position to engage in common work, there must be open and honest discussion. A long list of theories, analytical frameworks and derivative political practices are active in the class at any given time. These must be scrutinized and can only be validated through the class struggle. That means that these theories, analytical frameworks and derivative political practices must be compared to what we are actually seeing and experiencing in the class struggle. If they are mistaken, we are all obligated to demonstrate that they are mistaken. If they are wrong, we are all obligated to demonstrate that they are wrong.
The surest guard against ideology in theory, analysis and practice is such open and honest discussion when combined with common work.