Raya Dunayevskaya 1956

The Absence of a Mass Labor Party in the U.S.

Source: This piece appeared as Dunayevskaya’s column, “Two Worlds: Notes From a Diary,” on Tuesday, October 30, 1956;
Transcribed: by Kevin Michaels.

Although it has no labor party of its own, labor dominates the current election campaign. [1] That is natural since they constitute the majority of the population and this is the time when everyone is out to get “the labor vote.”

It’s Fantastic

The labor bureaucracy is busy “getting out the vote” for one of the capitalist parties – the Democratic Party – while the other capitalist party is suddenly showing a hypocritical concern with the rank-and-file’s detestation of their labor leadership. From the fact that the trade union heads “cannot deliver the labor vote,” the Republicans draw the fantastic conclusion that they will have the labor vote.

The absence of a mass labor party is the fundamental factor in American life. It underlies the politics of the big parties as well as the little groupings, the daily lives of people and the general direction of the nation’s development.

There is certainly no stranger phenomenon, anywhere in the world, than the Democratic Party, which, since the Depression, has gotten the labor vote. Here is a capitalist party which, within one and the same body, contains the most reactionary element in American life – white supremacy South which is openly boasting of its “contented” (that is to say, non-unionized, underpaid, sweat labor) – and the labor vote of the North. This is due to the absence of a labor party.

It isn’t that the workers, during the Depression, left their fate up to the NRA. [2] Quite the contrary. They built their own organization, the CIO. [3] They did that, to the astonishment of the world, in a few short years. But they vote Democratic.

The Really Backward Ones

From this, the small radical groups conclude that the American worker is “politically backward” and tell him, year in and year out, that he “should” build a labor party.

The labor bureaucracy itself, at least in words, has threatened to do just that. For the old radicals, now is always the time to build one. For the labor bureaucracy, now is never the time to build one. Neither of them pay much attention to what the workers themselves are thinking on the subject.

In some respects, the American workers may be at a disadvantage in not having built a labor party. On the other hand, they may also see the advantage of not doing so and thus escape the stranglehold of the bureaucracy that dominates the mass party in each country that now has one. In England, for example, the worker certainly had much less freedom of action when “its” Labor Party was the Government.

It is true that during the war the labor bureaucracy tried to shackle the workers with a “no strike clause.” But the labor bureaucracy here is so weak, that wildcatting went on all the time and, at the end of the war, the workers broke out in the GM general strike.

One Thing Is Certain

What to do now? No one can tell the workers. One thing is certain and that is the one thing that all forget, be they capitalist leaders or labor leaders; big bureaucrats or little, old radicals or liberals:

The next fundamental political development will come from a new, a deeper layer in the population and not from the so-called most advanced, politicalized workers. It will come spontaneously, from below, and not be a plan handed down from above. That is why what form it will take cannot be known.

It may very well be that the American workers will “skip” the “stage” of traditional mass labor party.

Just remember it was the completely new “raw workers” who formed the CIO and changed the industrial face of America. It was not the AFL which was transformed into the CIO. The CIO grew up out of other roots. Not only that. Even unions like the International Ladies Garment Workers Union which did form part of the organizing committee for industrial unionism, came from the pressure of these unorganized workers.

The people most ready to reorganize society were found not in the union apparatus, nor even in the “left-wing” caucuses but among these “backward” workers.

- R.D.

1. Republican Dwight Eisenhower, the incumbent, defeated Democrat Adlai Stevenson in the 1956 Presidential election. (Transcriber)

2. The National Recovery Administration was one of the pillars of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program between 1933 and 1935. (Transcriber)

3. Initially the Committee for Industrial Organization, part of the American Federation of Labor, it split from its conservative, craft union-dominated parent and became the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1938. (Transcriber)