Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Letter to the CWP: NY Elections, Barbaro and United Front Work

First Published: Workers Viewpoint, Vol. 6, No. 37, October 14-21, 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Dear Workers Viewpoint,

Good luck in your efforts to support the paper financially. I’ll continue to buy the paper, and when I get back more on my feet financially in the future, I hope to do things like buy some gift subscriptions as Christmas presents for friends.

I hope you can make it through these hard financial times and continue publishing weekly because the paper is very high quality now. Your economic analysis has always been one of your strong points and by analyzing what is behind the high interest rates, how the merger movement is a sign of weakness of capitalism, and why supply-side economics won’t work, it gives me a deeper understanding of why capitalism doesn’t work. I always enjoy the columns on sports and movie reviews.

Your optimism for the situation in Iran and support for the left and other progressive forces helped me to understand the recent chain of events which was, to say the least, beginning to bother me. Also, I thought you made a good point in your article on Solidarity Day in issue number 35 when you said, “What is setting the labor leaders into a particular state of motion today? It’s not simply rank and file pressure on them from below. The gloomy economic situation means the capitalists still need the labor misleaders in their pockets, but can afford them less. They are losing position with the bourgeoisie – the economic crisis means business and government has less flexibility to support and buy off labor parasites.”

However, I do have some questions on the article on Barbaro in issue number 35, page 5. I didn’t like it that much.

First of all, I think it is fine to support Barbaro as he takes some progressive stands, no matter to what degree. But you say that “his campaign has provided a vehicle for revolutionary and progressive forces to carry out political education and exposure among a broader audience than normally possible.” (last paragraph of the article) This is true in general, but shouldn’t your article be part of that vehicle? I don’t think it does.

The party has such an excellent analysis of the national and international economic situation, but the article in supporting Barbaro benefits from very little of that analysis. Wouldn’t it have been helpful and educational for the masses of people to realize that there are some larger forces that are beyond the control of Barbaro, Koch, or any mayor? That way, someone could support the progressive stands of a local politician without having illusions about the system. For example, isn’t it true that even when the MTA takes a half-step to repair part of the subway system, it may run into problems in financing its plan because it has to sell bonds to raise some of its money, and the bond market still stinks because of the crisis of capitalism? To say, “Admitting that the city’s future depended more on outside forces, Mayor Koch told the Times, ’I don’t believe government can do very much on a local level to enhance prosperity.’” (2nd to the last paragraph) doesn’t seem to be a very clear statement.

Perhaps in future articles, you can elaborate on Barbara’s statement that win or lose, “the main thing is to continue to build and strengthen this political movement we have started.” That way, it is possible to take progressive parts of his program and build on that.

To me this is a united front type of issue which requires independence and initiative as well as unity. This article shows me the unity – which should be there – but I don’t see the independence and initiative.

I’ll look forward to future follow-up articles on this issue.

A good friend

* * *

At the heart of any kind of united front work that the Party engages in is the question of our independence and initiative. That is, what does the Party stand to gain from its involvement. In different situations of course the independence and initiative of the Party will be defined differently. In the early years of the Party it was simply (and somewhat crudely) defined as whether or not we had a speaker, or could sell our papers or had the right to air our views in coalition meetings. This was in a period of capitalist stabilization where the American people as a whole were not as open politically as they are today.

Today, primarily because of the deepening economic crisis, there is greater opportunity for the Party to reach out to, influence and lead broader groups, strata and classes of people. What was impossible in the past is entirely possible today. The key is the Party’s ability to boldly capitalize on a rapidly changing political scenery where different groups and organizations are more open to unite. Take for example, the recent Solidarity Day demonstration in Washington D.C. Driven by the growing attacks from the Reagan Administration and the fermenting anger among the rank and file, the AFL-CIO bureaucrats had to take action. The degree to which we could use this opportunity to reach out to a broader cross section of American workers depended on how well we used our existing work and influence in the labor movement.

This holds true for the Barbaro campaign. Recently a community organization that we work in endorsed the Barbaro candidacy. The move was mutually beneficial. Barbaro welcomed the endorsement because it was the only group in a community which had otherwise been branded “Koch territory” to stick its neck out to support him. The endorsement gave him the chance to reach out to a new segment of voters.

It also helped to put the organization in a better position to reach out and influence on a city-wide basis other progressive forces supporting the Barbaro campaign. All too often the respect and prestige that the group had earned over the years in leading struggles against police brutality and for more jobs and better services remained within the community. The campaign endorsement presented the opportunity to go beyond the confines of the neighborhood.

The move also helped the group’s work in the community by forcing several social service agencies to back off from efforts to isolate it in a local coalition against the Reagan cuts. The agency heads were afraid of a possible Barbaro victory in November and the consequences of being on the “wrong” side when it came time to decide funding for different city programs. By getting involved in the elections and successfully fighting on new “turf,” the group was able to accomplish what it had previously not been able to with its grassroots organizing alone.

To shed some more light on the opportunities as well as the potential dangers of working in electoral politics, we should examine the experience of the Communist Party, U.S.A. in the 1948 Wallace Presidential campaign on the independent Progressive Party ticket. The Communist Party mistakenly banked on the Progressive Party to spearhead the opposition to the monopoly capitalists, throwing its full weight into it.

“Yet the Wallace movement was hardly the anti-monopoly coalition which the Communists had projected. It did not conform to what Foster himself had enunciated as essential: namely, that a third-party movement would have to be led by the organized working class, and enter into a firm alliances with the organized farmers, the Negro people, and the progressive middle class. No major labor leader, no labor federation, no prominent Negro organizations (but many important local leaders), and very few of the spokesman for the middle class previously associated with the New Deal supported the Wallace movement once it took shape as a third party. The communist were aware of this. Instead of admitting that no real coalition had been built, they rationalized their plight by drawing upon an earlier arsenal of ideas and experiences. They evoked the ’united front from below.’” (American Communism in Crisis 1943-1957, pages 178-79).

The Communist Party was unsuccessful in using their influence and leadership in the labor movement and other sectors of the American public as leverage. Instead, the Communist Party lost initiative in the Progressive Party scheme. “The inner rift between the Party and its influentials widened by the 1948 campaign. Those who had left the labor movement to run as Wallace candidates or who gambled their positions in so doing were among a larger body that turned against the Party’s policies in subsequent years. Those who followed the Party afterwards did so reluctantly.” (Ibid. 179-80)

Despite all the shortcomings and setbacks in the campaign, the Communist Party was still able to apply tremendous pressure on President Truman and the U.S. government. “Even at the last moment, Wallace himself rejected a chance to make a safe harbor. The most sensational but largely unknown aspect of the 1948 campaign is that as late as July 1948 the Democratic High Command intensely worried that the Wallace votes would succeed in defeating Mr. Truman, offered to negotiate with Wallace himself. This offer was rejected ... It is conceivable that by trading off a third party (which was in any case in severe difficulties), Wallace could have materially altered the nature of the Democratic Party’s campaign. This might have easily included a relaxation of the pressure on the Communist Party. If the grand jury indictments under the Smith Act could not have been halted, at least the Department of Justice could have decided that the Smith Act was indefensible under the terms of the First Amendment.” (Ibid, pages 188-90) Even if Truman had backed out of a compromise with the Progressive Party, the Communist Party could have then gone ahead and further exposed him.

Finally I want to address the criticism that the Barbaro article fails to sufficiently draw out the Party’s differences with the Barbaro platform and that our lack of criticism fosters illusions that New York City’s financial problems can be solved in the framework of capitalism. This first point of the article was to bring out that Barbaro’s emergence was no fluke but the product of a certain set of historical circumstances. More importantly we support the main thrust of Barbaro’s platform because it can potentially unite the majority of New Yorkers against the biggest, profit-hungry monopoly capitalists in the city.

Barbaro’s program of increased taxes on corporations is one that must be supported. At the same time, the article lacked a deeper analysis of New York’s current fiscal crisis. New York is a prime example of the bankruptcy of the strategy of Keynesian economics, that is, the city’s growing inability to raise revenues through the sale of municipal bonds for both operating as well as capital improvement expenses. In future issues of Workers Viewpoint we are planning a series of articles analyzing more extensively the state of the economy and political scene in New York and the implications for the rest of the nation.

It is however, wrong to pose the lack of this analysis only, or even mainly, as a matter of independence and initiative on our part. At all times during the Barbaro campaign we have reserved the right to raise criticisms or differences. We have raised our differences on crime, for example with Barbaro and will continue to in the course of his campaign. But our support for him is based on analysis of his program and on the potential to unite the majority against the monopoly capitalists. It is not based on our putting out an independent analysis.

Jim Davis