The question of a workers’ party is crucial for the Virginia working class. Until there is a workers’ party the class will remain disorganized and impotent against the two ruling class parties in our state.
To seek further clarity and grounds for unity across organizations, the Editorial Board of The Virginia Worker has recently surveyed Virginia organizations on their position related to this question. Several organizations responded to our inquiry, while several did not.
What was illuminating in this endeavor was how few groups exist outside of the Democratic Party sphere of influence.
Several groups would not respond to our questionnaire, a few felt they lacked the ideological unity among their membership to provide answers. With that said, the responses we garnered run across the political spectrum on the Left – from those more amicable to working with or as Democrats, to those who absolutely reject participating in elections.
The Virginia Worker Editorial Board is united in the position that a beginning point for any discussion of a workers party must be grounded in the party theses first drafted by the Third International in their initial two congresses.
These theses were developed in opposition to those of the Second International – which had proven itself ideologically and practically bankrupt in adhering to a genuine, independent working class politics which did not capitulate to the ruling classes of their respective countries.
The Third International’s theses on the party question did not entail an absolute rejection of running electoral campaigns or winning offices under the capitalist political system, but aimed to utilize this electoral system to popularize the principles of independent working class power and furthering the goal of establishing worker control across society.
The following are answers from each participating group to our questionnaire on the party question – The Virginia Communist Party, Workers Voice, The Communist League of Richmond, and Black Rose Anarchist Federation. The Liberation Party of Virginia, Shenandoah Socialist Collective, Virginia Democratic Socialists of America, Liberation Road, and Counterpower did not provide answers.
Does your organization believe workers need their own party? Why or why not?
Virginia Communist Party: The goal of the Communist Party is to unite workers and the oppressed, and serve on the frontlines fighting for their interests. We are workers from all backgrounds, and we believe this is our greatest source of strength.
We are the workers’ party. However, we face challenges with successfully engaging in the current electoral system as candidates ourselves since we are not a part of the two-party system in America. The CPUSA is a political organization that aims to unite and serve the working class.
We believe that the current two-party capitalist political system does not lend itself to the representation of the working class, and this has become only more evident with time. The CPUSA encourages its members to run for office, although at this time we do not have our own major political party to run under, so those of us who do run tend to run as independents.
It is, for obvious reasons, difficult to get our candidates elected under the current political conditions, and it is also difficult to get our members to run for office as there is a valid fear of violence against them. Aside from electoral politics, we as the party of the workers engage in mutual aid, build dual power, offer political and economic education, and more.
Workers Voice: Yes. The working class needs its own independent political instrument. For too long, the working class has been subordinated to the Democrats by trade union bureaucrats and middle class social movement leaders. Without political independence, working people will be fighting with one hand tied behind their backs.
Communist League of Richmond: Yes. Workers need their own party because the proletariat are the gravediggers of capitalism, but without a party organization of their own, they will find themselves buried in the muck of the capitalist system.
The capitalists have various apparatuses, including bourgeois parties; without a party, workers will be drawn to these enemy organizations, will become demoralized, or will remain dispersed. Workers need an organization of the most conscious and committed people that will fight alongside them and illuminate the path forward.
CLR is a revolutionary organization because we believe that it is necessary to not only pursue economic reforms, but to engage in a political struggle to remake society. History shows that all modern revolutions that have succeeded have involved a party (or an organization that functioned like one).
Only the proletariat objectively occupies a position in society that makes socialist revolution possible; however, revolution is not inevitable, and a successful revolution is even less so. Without the right strategy, ideas, and organization workers cannot fulfill this mission.
Black Rose Anarchist Federation: Black Rose/Rosa Negra (BRRN) does not believe working class revolution can be achieved through engagement with the electoral process. The state exists to protect private property and conquest of the state, either through electoral or revolutionary means, will result in the slow cooptation of revolutionary aspirations by the demands of state maintenance. We reject the need for an electorally oriented workers party.
For some tendencies on the left, workers’ parties are intermediate organizations which are vehicles for movement building which can broaden and deepen the base of revolutionary working class movements. Calling such an organization a party seems rooted in a desire to mimic the past, and is likely to confuse people, but BRRN is not opposed to such organizations simply because they use the word party.
We believe that intermediate organizations, which have radical politics but lack the ideological and tactical discipline of especifist or cadre organizations, serve an important role as spaces where workers can develop their political and organizing experience, but our focus is on the mass level of organizing and not the building up of broader radical groups.
Our militants are engaged in mass organization work, that is, in organizing workplace unions and tenant formations, which have the potential to develop as meaningful poles of working class power. This is to say, that a workers party, or an intermediate organization with radical politics that span multiple tendencies, is something which our militants could consider participating in, but that such formations are not a core part of our strategy. We propose instead, to bring workers into our organization directly through mass level organizing in unions and tenant formations.
BRRN is, predictably, not interested in the notion of a revolutionary organization being the vanguard of revolution. The vanguard of the working class, that is, the leading edge of the working class struggle against capitalism, is more likely to organically develop through working class struggle, rather than through reading and discussion in revolutionary organizations.
Our task is then, not to proclaim a path and argue that position, but to constantly be engaged with working class struggle such that we can identify emerging movements which pose a challenge to capitalism so that we might strengthen those movements, connect them with our existing bases, learn from their praxis, and encourage the adoption of our revolutionary vision.
We support efforts on the left to coalesce around commonalities in our programs so that we can build the working class movement. Nothing is gained by sectarian infighting over political positions that have little bearing on currently unfolding struggles. This is particularly true in Virginia where the revolutionary left has traditionally struggled for longevity and is often isolated in small cities.
An intermediate organization composed of militants from revolutionary organizations with theoretical and tactical unity AND working class militants developing their revolutionary analysis, certainly has merits as a vehicle for broadening and deepening the working-class struggle.
If such an organization ultimately aimed at running candidates in even local elections though, it would quickly divorce itself from the working class struggle, becoming preoccupied with the illusions of state power, which can not be directed toward revolutionary ends, especially while capitalism remains largely uncontested.
This statement on workers’ parties is the product of one Black Rose militant in Virginia. It is in line with our organization’s principles, but is not a statement of our federation.
What does a workers party look like to your organization?
Virginia Communist Party: We are Marxist-Leninists, meaning that the cornerstone of our style of organizing is democratic centralism. What this means is that all comrades are encouraged to share their views and experiences, to conduct collective investigations into the questions and conditions of here and now, and to decide democratically, based on those material facts, on how to best proceed in serving the people. That is the democratic side.
The centralism side is that, once a decision has been made, it is binding. When new information and further developments are brought forward, we re-evaluate as necessary, but each of us is accountable to the whole, and when a decision is made, for example to support a certain policy, that is what we work towards as a collective. Dissent is allowed, and there are channels to challenge decisions, but when we decide to do something, we resolve to put our best foot forward as a Party and match our words with our deeds.
Workers Voice: A workers’ party would look different from the parties of the ruling class. It would have a mass democratic character and would not limit itself to electoral struggles.
It would fight in the streets and in the workplaces for the daily needs of workers, mobilizing the oppressed and exploited against the bosses and their parties. The workers party would be a political home to all of capitalism’s victims – workers, oppressed nationalities, women, LGBTQI+ people.
Communist League of Richmond: A party will look like the most advanced workers, tightly organized and well disciplined, promoting their program and perspective through all facets of working class life. They practice democratic centralism, holding their own leaders and themselves accountable.
In a democratic centralist organization, issues are debated openly and once a decision is taken everyone is responsible for carrying out that decision. This does not mean that once a decision is made it can never be revisited– ongoing internal struggle can strengthen an organization.
Maintaining democracy prevents an organization from becoming a cult or a group that cannot correct its mistakes, and maintaining centralization (ie, unity of action) ensures that the party’s members do not operate at cross purposes and undermine the group’s legitimate decisions.
Without this unity of action, the party’s decisions will be dead letters and democracy will be impossible. Democratic centralism is not just a buzzword for following the leaders– it also means leaders must be even more disciplined than rank and filers in obeying the legitimate decisions of the membership.
What is the purpose of a workers’ party?
Virginia Communist Party: The liberation of the working class. The current capitalist system is best understood as a dictatorship of the rich over the rest of us; the purpose of a workers’ party is to unite the interests of the working people against that power.
Workers Voice: The purpose of a workers’ party is to concentrate the political power of the working class under a working class leadership. The party would be the expression of working class opposition to capitalism and lead the class in day to day struggles.
Communist League of Richmond: A party’s purpose is to lead and foster class consciousness within the working class. To elevate that class consciousness to revolutionary socialist consciousness.
To begin the organization of the most advanced sections of the working class into a tool which the class can use to make social revolution. To actualize the potential of the working class and build the power to build a working class revolution.
What is the ultimate goal of a workers’ party?
Virginia Communist Party: Communism; that is to say, a society where everyone provides what they are able, and are provided with what they need.
Education, healthcare, safety, dignity; peace, land, and bread! These things are only possible when the workers and oppressed are united and brought into power. That is our goal.
Workers Voice: The ultimate goal of the workers party is to fight for the political rule of the working class and its allies and the construction of a socialist economy based on the democratic control of the working class.
Communist League of Richmond: The ultimate goal of a workers’ party is communism– a classless, stateless, moneyless society. The path to communism must be preceded by socialist revolution and a transition period during which the state and the party wither away.
What should the program of a workers’ party be?
Virginia Communist Party: Revolution for the liberation of working and oppressed people. Only political, economic, and social revolution can free us.
Our program must be rooted in dialectical materialist analysis, that is to say, rooted in a scientific understanding of the real world, and geared towards one thing: building revolution. This program, therefore, will shift over time and be fitted to the conditions of the world and of the working class.
Workers Voice: The workers’ party should raise slogans and programmatic points that advance the struggles of workers and the oppressed.
No issue is off limits. Lenin admonished revolutionaries to act as “tribunes of the people” taking positions in every fight for democratic rights and against oppression. The program of the workers party has to address current issues facing the working class. This includes the looming climate catastrophe and imperialist war.
It should also show its usefulness in advancing the struggles and immediate needs of workers. Revolutionaries fight for reforms, not as an end in themselves but to help prepare the class to fight the bosses.
The program also has to link the current immediate and democratic struggles to the struggle for socialism through transitional demands. The program has to be clear, not vague.
Communist League of Richmond: A program should be centered in settling the primary contradiction in society at the moment, without neglecting other contradictions. The working class is divided by race, sexuality, region, and more.
A program takes these seemingly varied and diffuse interests and synthesizes them into a single cohesive plan and vision. It is therefore able to serve as a pole of attraction that can bring workers together in struggle. There is no universal program applicable to all societies and all eras.
A program is based on the real conditions in society, and will also address the relationship between the proletariat and other exploited classes (like the lumpenproletariat), and will weigh in on an array of other forms of oppression like racism and homophobia. Parties must engage in social investigation and revise their program when necessary.
A party’s deeply rooted engagement in workers’, socialist, and democratic struggles should provide ample opportunities both to spread the program, and to receive feedback on how to improve the program.
Can a workers’ party win political power through the capitalist state?
Virginia Communist Party: The historical position of our Party, as discussed by Lenin, is that there are many tools in our proverbial toolbox. Electoral politics is one of those tools, and Socialists and Communists should most definitely utilize it.
However, revolution cannot come from electoralism alone — that’s why it’s called revolution, and not reformism! A house cannot be built with only a handsaw. We believe that nothing less than a mass movement of the workers and oppressed will do.
Workers Voice: No. While electoral campaigns have an educational and agitational usefulness, the capitalist state cannot be used by the working class to achieve its own ends.
That said many workers have illusions that we can solve workers’ problems or even advance to socialism via electoral reforms. This is why we run our candidates for office with our program, to show in practice what can and cannot be accomplished within the capitalist state. This is why workers have to build their own state based on democratic workers councils.
Communist League of Richmond: No. Workers, and hence a workers party, can only win power through a revolution which topples the ruling, capitalist class.
Nevertheless, a party may choose to contest elections to use both the campaign and its seats in a governing body to promote its perspectives and program. Party members who hold office should remember that the most important part of the struggle takes places outside the halls of government, and should maintain party discipline to promote the organization above their own political ambitions.
What is the relation between a workers’ party and the unions?
Virginia Communist Party: We must be first in line to stand with the workers in their efforts to unionize, and have been, since 1919.
Given the events of recent decades our presence and support became less obvious; for our sake as well as theirs. But we have always been with them, and we always shall be.
Workers Voice: The unions, as mass working class organizations, would be central to the building of a workers’ party. Currently, the unions are dominated by a bureaucracy that acts in collusion with the bosses.
We believe that socialists have to sink roots in the unions in order to build a class struggle left wing. This class struggle wing world fight to build an alternative leadership in the unions.
Organizing the South is a critical task for working people. New manufacturing sites, service, food processing, and retail are all sectors ripe for unionization. The nonunion, “right-to-work” South needs union organization, but building unions is not enough. Southern workers need independent political organization.
Communist League of Richmond: The party supports union struggles and the labor movement in general. But it should not subsume itself into the labor movement and does not limit itself to economic issues.
The party may invigorate and join existing unions and seek to raise class consciousness within them, but it may also choose to found new unions in some scenarios.
In those cases, the party should not be afraid to present its viewpoints, but it should do so democratically. This democratic contestation may take a number of forms, including challenging and replacing bad leadership, stirring the rank and file, or even pushing to change the very structure of a particular union to be more empowering to workers.
Is a party different from a workers’ mass organization? Why or why not?
Virginia Communist Party: Yes and no, it depends on the Party. Our Party, in following with the Bolshevik tradition, seeks to build professional revolutionaries from the so-called forward-most detachments of the working class.
That is called vanguardism. Chairman Mao likewise put forward the mass line, which is a slightly different approach, but we in Virginia believe is ultimately complementary as it stresses specifically the importance of rooting ourselves in the working class above all things.
Mass organizations are typically more broad in orientation; some do not publicly identify as Communist or Socialist even. Both are necessary.
Workers Voice: Yes, the party is a fighting political organization. It has a broader program and purpose. The mass organizations of the class, like the unions, are inclusive of all types of workers.
We believe that the workers’ party has to be composed of the best and most class conscious fighters. It explicitly fights for a full program and political power independent of the employer’s political parties.
It also has a clear commitment to combat all forms of oppression on a daily basis and build for international solidarity with workers’ struggles all over the world.
Communist League of Richmond: The workers’ party should consist of the vanguard of the proletariat– in other words, it contains the most politically advanced workers and the best leaders from the working class united by a revolutionary Marxist program.
Mass organizations contain workers of a variety of opinions, including workers who are more backwards or confused in their ideas or who have less leadership experience.
Parties identify advanced workers and can pull them into the party through their work in a mass organization. Additionally, the mass organizations provide opportunities for the class as a whole to learn through struggle, and provide opportunities for the advanced workers to raise the consciousness of other workers.
How do we build a worker’s party?
Virginia Communist Party: By serving the people, and showing them that we are for them; that their struggles are our struggles, and that we will always stand with them and for the material improvement of their lives.
Virginia is a microcosm of the inequality plaguing the imperial core; the northern suburbs of the Capital are some of the wealthiest in the country, while the Appalachian folk in the southwest experience poverty on a scale all decent working people would be appalled by if they only knew about it.
The great glistening of the imperialist bases on the coast and McMansions in the suburbs stand in stark contrast against the joblessness, homelessness, and despair found elsewhere. We must highlight these contradictions, and make it very clear what the way forward is.
Most people simply want to live a decent, quiet, dignified life with the people they love; this is not possible so long as the vultures of capitalism are free hover above us all day and night, watching everything we do, hearing everything we say, stealing everything we produce; feasting on our still-living corpses as we simply try to make it day to day.
The capitalist class produces first and foremost its own gravediggers. Our purpose is to give them a shovel, and that shovel often comes in the form of education.
Education, community organizing, and democratic centralism are three crucial aspects of building a party for the working class. Ensuring that we are both educated in terms of political and economic theory as well as engaging in praxis, aka on-the-ground community efforts, is key.
Workers Voice: The workers’ party cannot be built with gimmicks and shortcuts. Developing militant activists requires authentic, persistent political education, as well as relentless tempering and testing in the fires of struggle.
Some socialists have the notion that they can participate in the Democratic party and reformist groupings like the DSA. This is a recipe for continued subordination and the watering down of politics. Building a party is not simply a local or national problem. The capitalist system is a world system and as internationalists, we see the need for an international party of the working class.
Communist League of Richmond: There are two major aspects of party building– the first involves taking the small circles that currently typify the left, and uniting those that can be united through political discussion and common struggles.
These small groups can expand and merge once they have achieved enough political unity. Not all existing grouplets will be able to achieve unity, and not all of their members may be suitable members of an emerging party.
The second major aspect involves amplifying the class struggle. Revolutionaries should see it as their duty to make the class struggle more widespread and more intense, and to increase the degree of organization in the working class.
Through this involvement in the class struggle, revolutionaries will come into contact with the most advanced workers, pulling them into revolutionary organizations. A socialist organization founded on a principled unity and a working class movement that is well-organized, militant, and conscious are the two primary foundations of a communist party.
What are the obstacles to building a workers party?
Virginia Communist Party: The current dictatorship goes to great lengths to convince people that the problems in our lives are all individual and abstract in nature. That poverty is the result of personal choices.
That illiteracy is a choice. That hunger is a choice. That suffering is the result of moral failure, and that the only person worthy of dignity is one who has “earned” it.
This mentality must be combated. There is likewise the issue of repression, which your readers are already likely very well aware of. The capitalist dictatorship is designed to ensure first and foremost that no one who opposes it will ever succeed, or will instead become co-opted into it. These are some of the obstacles we face.
Workers Voice: Illusions in bourgeois democracy and the persistence of racism, sexism, transphobia and homophobia. Bourgeois electoralism is sold to us like a product. Every election cycle is portrayed as the most important election ever. If the “other” party wins, we will descend into fascism.
Our class is also disorganized and atomized: only 10% of workers have unions, and many social movements end up co-opted by the democratic party. While we build a workers party we must also build the organizations our class needs to fight, and build collective power and a sense of solidarity.
Communist League of Richmond: The obstacles to building a successful workers party are legion. Achieving unity among Marxists has never been easy, but there is no alternative to political struggle for principled unity. Additionally, the class struggle is still at a low point.
The working class is not widely organized and, while there are encouraging signs of life, the scale of political and class consciousness to build a true vanguard party does not yet exist. There are dangers of co-optation and repression by the state.
Additionally, a bona fide party will have a large enough base of committed members that it can maintain a corps of full-time activists. Currently, most of the radical left cannot organize full-time– we must work jobs to provide for ourselves, and do political work in our free time. This situation is less than ideal, and we cannot get all the way to revolution without eventually overcoming this amateurishness.
Lastly, our society can be a lonely one. Increasing numbers of people do not feel a strong sense of solidarity on the job or in their community. Fewer people participate in mass organizations or community groups than during other periods.
In previous eras, Marxists could more easily join existing mass organizations and use their position to persuade members of the correctness of the party program and the importance of building a strong revolutionary organization; now, Marxists must ourselves play a leading role in building these sorts of mass organizations.
Do you see your organization as the political vanguard of workers?
Virginia Communist Party: Our goal is to be the vanguard of the people. Whether we are successful or not in this, only time will tell.
Workers Voice: No, we are a small organization and have no illusions that we are “the” vanguard of the class. We believe that such a mass party of the working class vanguard must be built.
The revolutionary left is scattered. One of our tasks is to regroup as many revolutionaries as possible. Workers Voice is the product of such a regroupment. Over the past 2 years, we have been engaged in joint work inside the Revolutionary Socialist Network, a formation that originated out of the shattering of the International Socialist Organization. Our own fusion is just one step in the reconstitution of the revolutionary left.
Communist League of Richmond: We are a small, local organization and we cannot claim that we represent the vanguard of the proletariat. The vanguard consists of the most politically advanced workers, and a political vanguard exists when these workers are organized and are leading the class as a whole.
Most of the workers who will one day comprise the vanguard are currently dispersed. An organization like ours is not the vanguard of the proletariat, but we can contribute to the foundation of such an organization by sinking deep roots into the class struggle, bringing in the most advanced workers, and raising class and socialist political consciousness broadly.
What would the strategy of a workers’ party look like in Virginia?
Virginia Communist Party: The key to tomorrow lies in building strong foundations today. Our work over the past year-and-a-half has primarily gravitated around building such foundations, upon which we will seek to build workers power and people’s power; not in abstract terms, but in material reality. This begins with analyzing the field, building personal relationships, and acquiring experience.
Workers Voice: Building the party will require the building of strong local organizations, workplace implantations and support for union organizing drives, propaganda work, and participation in mass struggles. This also includes building links of solidarity with workers in struggle worldwide.
Communist League of Richmond: The strategy of a workers’ party in Virginia cannot be totally separated from the strategy of other states. Indeed, one important aspect of a workers’ party’s strategy and program is that they unite workers across regions.
Consequently, party members and party organizations in Virginia would not be fully autonomous of the party center; their activities would be informed by local insights, but those local needs must be incorporated into a broader national and international framework.
We cannot make revolution in Virginia in isolation from the rest of the US population, and we certainly cannot build socialism here where capitalism and imperialism exist in the areas adjacent to us.
Having said this, the day-to-day activities of a party must respond to local realities and the party would continually conduct, evaluate, and draw lessons from a social scientific analysis of the working class in the area.
Furthermore, because the military industrial complex plays an unusually pronounced role in Virginia’s economy, the necessity of organizing workers to oppose imperialism takes on an especially important role.
While some autonomist dogmatists argue that only local organizers can confront local problems, a more centralized organization would be a tremendous boon to confronting issues specific to Virginia. The party’s central leadership can pool and distribute resources to especially strategic areas, and move cadres from areas where party work is thriving to other areas where experienced organizers are in short supply.