Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

John Martin, Milwaukee, Wis.

Perspectives: Another View of Citizens Party

First Published: The Call, Vol. 9, No. 35, November 3-16, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Call has been giving favorable coverage to the Citizens Party, and that is a good thing. For too long The Call seemed to be opposed to a third party or labor party. The CPML Program, for example, argues that aside from the CPML itself, “all other political parties in the U.S. are defenders of the capitalist system... consciously promoted” by the bourgeoisie.

But in the haste to outgrow such childish reasoning, I hope The Call makes a careful analysis of what the Citizens Party actually is and does. Mass and organized opposition to the old parties is needed: but whether or not the Citizens Party contains the germ of that opposition or the “vehicle to start this trend in motion,” as a recent letter to The Call put it, remains to be seen.

First of all, it looks to me as though the Citizens Party has chosen to build mainly on a national level, from the top down. Its main goal is to capture 5% of the national vote, an extremely unlikely possibility.

I think this is the wrong way to build a third party movement today. Struggle over police repression, school desegregation, wages and working conditions are mainly localized in individual cities, communities or factories. Instead of throwing themselves mainly into building these class, national and social struggles, the Citizens Party is almost exclusively promoting votes for Commoner-Harris.

In Milwaukee, a city which has been rocked in recent months by a number of sharp mass struggles, the Citizens Party has been almost invisible. Except for the anti-nuke movement, from which the organization draws its supporters, Citizens Party activists have not been the main core in the Afro-American, labor, women’s or anti-repression movements, which have pushed the struggle here ahead. These are the people who need to be activists of any third party.

Secondly, the concerns of the majority of people, especially the workers and minorities, are-not centered on the national elections. Among people I know, the main question for November is whether to vote for Carter in order to stop Reagan or just not to vote at all. On the other hand, thousands of people here have been actively involved in a series of strikes, the Take Back the Night movement, the North Division high school struggle, the “Oust Police Chief Breier” drive, several local elections and other city-wide campaigns.

Although war, inflation, and the major national issues are vitally important, neither Carter, Reagan, nor Anderson offers any answers. Commoner, despite whatever contributions he could make to solving those problems, doesn’t have a chance.

Finally, the conditions inside the labor movement and Democratic Party are not yet ripe for a split “from above.” Compare today with 1948 and Henry Wallace’s third party the Progressive Party. At that time, 12 national unions with a combined membership of 1.4 million as well as a still strong Communist Party U.S.A. backed Wallace. Even so, Wallace was only able to attract 1,157.172 votes. The working class and Afro-American people largely backed the Southern “moderate” Harry Truman, and the Progressive Party fell apart.

Today, even though U.S. imperialism is declining, most of the labor movement is not actively calling for a third party. Winpisinger, the United Electrical workers and a few others who are backing the third party idea or Commoner are exceptions. Even though the growth of social democracy in the unions aids the third party trend, DSOC, the largest social democrat grouping, backed Kennedy before the convention and is still committed to working in the Democratic Party.

The Sept. 22 letter to The Call by a Citizens Party activist urged us to build the Citizens Party as a “power base to challenge our rulers over the next four years.” I think the power base we need today is mainly to build the unity and strength of the working class, minority and people’s movements in the struggles as they are actually occurring. While we should support the Citizens Party and other efforts to build a labor party, we should have a realistic assessment of where such efforts are really at.