Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Richard Simpson

Labor Party: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

First Published: The New Voice, Vol. XI, No. 8, December 19, 1983.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

All too often the idea of a Labor Party crops up as a solution for the myriad of problems facing workers.

At the West Coast Labor Notes Conference in Oakland (see the previous issue of TNV), it came up again. Many people talked about founding a “mass labor party.” The conference did not allow specific decisions or resolutions, so labor party champions popped up here and there, advancing their position in any context they could find. No matter what the discussion or the issue at hand, someone would be sure to say, “What we really need is a mass labor party.”

These sentiments are wrong, and they threaten to distract the working-class movement from more important and productive work. The labor party scheme would be to the class struggle as a whole exactly what it was in Oakland: a diversion.


The sentiment for a labor party arises from the failure of the Democratic Party to meet the needs of the working class. That part of the argument is true. However, the appropriate conclusion to draw from the Democratic betrayal is that electoral politics as a whole serve the ruling class, not that workers need a new party.

At a caucus arranged for public sector workers at the conference, several people made their obligatory call for a labor party. They said it would be especially helpful for public workers, who are thrown into electoral politics every day of their lives whether they like it or not.

One person disagreed. She pointed out that her experience as a public worker and as a representative of public workers taught her to be wary of programs to make the political system “work” for the rank and file. Her union had backed any number of “friends of labor” for city councils, boards of supervisors, school boards, etc.; in the end, all the politicians had to make peace with the system.

She said: “We spend hours trying to figure out how workers should relate to elected bosses. Our members understand they must be active in the electoral arena, but sometimes they forget that we cannot rely on a ’sympathetic’ politician any more than industrial workers can rely on a plant manager who pledges to ’work with the union.’

Under the onslaught of economic crisis and Reaganism, working people are searching out effective ways to fight back. The level of struggle is still low, but in one case workers have already shown their disillusionment with the system: They have boycotted electoral politics in increasing numbers.

There are two paths open to revolutionaries at this time. We can work hard among the masses, organizing their growing sense of resistance into meaningful struggles against the system that oppresses them. Or we can embrace “practical” schemes and projects that drag people back to the various frauds of capitalism. Forming a labor party comes under the second category.

The left wing of the labor movement will not find the masses in a labor party. Activists who rally to that banner will do all the work of organizing the party, only to find the apparatus firmly in the hands of sell-out union bureaucrats. Meanwhile, the workers will languish in disillusionment, waiting for leaders who are too busy building a labor party to advance the struggle.

There is no doubt that workers and their revolutionary leaders must pay close attention to what happens in electoral politics and jump into the fray when the need arises. But whether we are talking about this arena of the class struggle or any other, what the working class needs now is diligent, militant organization.

A revolution that crushes capitalism and establishes socialism is the only way to solve problems facing U.S. workers. A revolution of this kind requires a communist party. A scientific outlook, strict discipline and revolutionary commitment to the working class is the form this party will take...not a business-as-usual political party under a new label.