NOTE. This is a discussion article on the historical background of the problem of the sect form of organization and its alternatives, and I hope it will be helpful in orienting thinking on the subject. It is not presented for adoption by anyone or for any kind of vote. (The fact that this has to be said explicitly is a reflection of some sect-habits of functioning.) On the other hand, it certainly does point to the organizational course which our committee now intends to pursue; but (to understate) this course also arises from sources other than purely historical considerations. This article may be helpful in giving an idea of the flexible possibilities inherent in the non-sect course., but it provides no models for blind copying. It will be enough if it enforces just the following conclusion: There is a road to a revolutionary party which is not the road of the sect.
This line of thought is not a product of the moment for me. On the historical side, it developed particularly from two experiences of the last two years or so: (1) In the course of working out a presentation of Marx’s politics, as I have been doing, I have had to think out an interpretation of what Marx and Engels thought they were doing in this field. (2) At the same time, I went thru the interesting experience of reading Lenin’s Collected Works from Volume 1 thru volume 20 (up to WW1), mainly in order to make sure if there is any factual basis for the “standard” fable about Lenin’s “party concept”. [There isn’t.] Naturally this reading was not taking place in a vacuum, for the everlasting problem of How to Build What was also being present. – It will be obvious that what is included below is only the presentation of a line of thought, and not an attempt to prove it.
Although this essay was written for a specific polemical purpose in 1970, its subject – how to organize a mass revolutionary party of socialist opposition to modern capitalism – is one of immediate and pressing concern to any serious socialist. And, as evidence of this, the essay has already gained a fairly wide distribution without any serious attempt to publicize it.
Nevertheless, its origins make some references unclear. In particular, the reader cannot help wondering who the “we” are who are referred to throughout the essay. This small note is mainly designed to answer this nagging question.
The political career of the author, Hal Draper, has been sketched elsewhere. In part the “we” refers to his comrades of the Workers Party especially when the reference is to union activity during the period of the Second World War. But the political tendency referred to found new recruits in the left wing of the Socialist Party, the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1950s and 60s. Since these new recruits considered themselves to be joining an ongoing “third camp” political tradition references to this period also use “we.”
Like all polemical essays, this one is easier understood if the immediate background is filled in. With the self-destruction of the student antiwar movement in 1968-69, thousands of people were looking for a new direction. Among the various fractions and splinters of the New Left the verbal commitment to the “working class” as an abstract concept was replaced by a move to “go to the workers” themselves.
But this was a movement of students overwhelmingly of middle class background whose knowledge of the American working class and its institutions, in so far as it existed at all, was based on what their bourgeois professors told them. Since what they had been told was that the trade unions were dominated by narrow-minded and corrupt bureaucrats with no social concerns, these students entered the world of work with the quite explicit notion that the immediate enemy was not the employers but the unions. The student activists who made up the majority of the membership of the various “third camp” political groups were no exception in this regard.
This was an extreme case of a sickness that has plagued the socialist movement from its beginnings. The following essay was directed at this immediate audience. Unfortunately, the attitudes and politics of this audience are still quite widespread even if they are expressed in less extreme form. And the organizational practices that follow from these politics continue to plague the movement. Which is why this attempt to point to a different road for the socialist movement is important.
Toward a New Beginning – On Another Road was transcribed by Per I. Mathisen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Last updated: 26.9.2004