Our Assessment of the Movement for a People’s Party

Reply to a Question from Our Readers

[Over the past month, a number of our readers have written to ask for our assessment of the Movement for a People’s Party (MPP), a political formation that is getting considerable publicity of late. Here is our reply.]

In December 2017, The Organizer newspaper published an editorial that underscored the political importance of the newly formed Movement for a People’s Party (MPP), which had resulted from a break with the Democratic Party by a significant wing of Bernie supporters. At the same time, the editorial pointed to serious political weaknesses in the MPP’s orientation, which, if left unchecked, could potentially derail this very promising development.

The editorial pointed to two questions that had to be addressed if there were to be any real motion toward building an independent party of and for the working-class majority: (1) the need for a clean and complete break with the Democrats, and (2) the need for a working class party rooted in the unions and communities of the oppressed, a party that is linked, moreover, to the struggle of the Black liberation movement to forge its own independent Black working class political party.

On the first point we were concerned about postings on the MPP’s website that embraced an “inside-outside” approach toward the Democratic Party, such as this:

“Historically, a successful inside-outside strategy involves pressure from within an establishment party and pressure from a major independent party. Together, those from within and those from without work as a team to either force an establishment party to represent working people or replace it with a party that does.”

On the second point, we took issue with the very concept of a people’s party, explaining how this differs from a working-class party in that such people’s parties historically — and worldwide — see the struggle not in class terms (workers vs. capitalists) but rather as people of all social classes vs. the oligarchy (the financial elites).

We took particular exception to MPP national director Nick Brana’s repeated reference to self-described “left populist” parties in Europe as models of “successful” people’s parties to be emulated. Brana pointed to three “examples of success” in forging “coalitions of progressive groups” — Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, and France Unbowed in France.

“These are not examples of independent politics,” we wrote. “They are not rooted in the working class and its organizations. They all have bowed, to one degree or another, to the dictates of the European Union, that is, to the dictates of global capitalism.”

An Agreement Soon Abandoned by the MPP

The December 2017 editorial initiated a fruitful dialogue over the following nine months between the MPP and the editorial board of The Organizer that led us in early September 2018 to launch the Labor-Community Campaign for an Independent Party (LCCIP) around a compromise agreement focused on two intertwined objectives:

“Our first objective is to promote running independent labor-community candidates beginning in 2019 at a local and state level around a platform that embraces workers’ and communities’ pressing demands. The explicit aim is to advance the effort to build a mass party for working people rooted in unions, youth, and communities of the oppressed. The platforms of these independent candidates need to be discussed and approved by labor-community assemblies, and the candidates must be answerable to these assemblies and to the coalitions formed for this purpose.

“Our second objective is to promote widely in the trade union movement a committee that advocates for a Labor-Based Political Party. A resolution adopted by the October 2017 national convention of the AFL-CIO affirmed that, ‘whether the candidates are elected from the Republican or Democratic Party, the interests of Wall Street have been protected and advanced, while the interests of labor and working people have generally been set back.’ A second convention resolution concluded that, ‘the time has passed when we can passively settle for lesser of two evils politics.’ The committee’s goal will be to promote the discussion inside the labor movement about the need to break with ‘lesser of two evils politics’ and to create a ‘Labor-Based Political Party’ — a reference to the title of a forum organized by key labor officials at the October 2017 AFL-CIO convention. In order to create such a mass party for working people, we will organize to raise awareness in the unions of the need to break with the Democratic Party.”

The compromise agreement did not erase the political disagreements between The Organizer’s editorial board and the MPP. For example, the MPP steering committee refused to accept the term “working class” in the two-point agreement, considering it an “outdated concept.” The compromise, however, enabled us to move forward together toward building a labor- and community-based independent party. Key to this agreement was the understanding that we were not setting out jointly to build a people’s party. For the editorial board of The Organizer that was simply out of the question; we could never agree to support an effort aimed at building a multi-class people’s party.

For the next six months, the LCCIP grew and flourished; we gathered close to 1,000 endorsements of the two points of unity in the space of a few months. But this soon fell apart when the MPP leadership insisted that we had to jettison our initial compromise agreement and accept a new name that included the term “People’s Party.” This was presented to us as an ultimatum. We were shocked.

The editorial board of The Organizer replied that this proposal was unacceptable on two counts:

(1) Self-proclaiming ourselves as a new party — which is what the change of name to People’s Party amounted to — was not just premature, it would alienate all our labor supporters, who understand, as we do in The Organizer, that we are just at the beginning stages of forming an Organizing Committee to promote the AFL-CIO resolutions. We are just beginning the process of organizing independent labor-community assemblies that are involved in critical labor and community struggles; that run candidates on a local level who are mandated by, and are answerable to, these assemblies; and that are the building blocks for a new mass-based independent working class party.

(2) Calling the independent labor- and community-based party that we seek to build (on the basis of the AFL-CIO resolutions) a People’s Party is not an option for us. We had made our objection to this name crystal clear to our MPP partners from Day One.

We explained to our MPP partners that we in The Organizer remain fully attached to the slogan coined by Tony Mazzocchi and the Labor Party of the 1990s: “The bosses have two parties, we [workers] need one of our own.” We reminded our MPP partners that when we formed the LCCIP in September 2018 we had come up with a compromise formulation — “for an independent party of and for working people, youth and communities of the oppressed” — that left the designation of the name and character of the new independent party to be decided at some point in the future after the patient work laying the groundwork for the new party.

There was another point that was very important to us: the question of a “clean break” with the Democratic Party.

When we formed the LCCIP together with the MPP, we agreed that the labor-community candidates running on a local level who were promoted by the LCCIP would be “clean-break” candidates. Understanding that many local races would be non-partisan races (that is, with candidates not required to list party affiliation), we agreed that the LCCIP-supported candidates would not call for supporting Democrats for other public offices and would advocate for a new independent party of and for working people, youth, and the communities of the oppressed. This stance was the very definition of “independent.”

So the agreement collapsed. We could not accept having the LCCIP placed on the track of building the People’s Party, as the MPP proposed. The political split was consummated over very clear programmatic questions. The MPP went ahead with its effort to launch a People’s Party in 2020 (with a founding convention in 2021 and a presidential candidate, no less, in 2024), and we on the editorial board of The Organizer newspaper joined forces with the overwhelming majority of the LCCIP Organizing Committee to establish LCIP (its new abridged name) on the basis of the coalition’s two original points of unity — with one amendment: the term “working class” was restored in the new text to underscore the class character of the party that we seek to build.

Our Concerns Are Confirmed

No sooner had the compromise agreement fallen through than The Organizer‘s editorial board learned that the MPP had joined the California Progressive Alliance (CPA) as an “organizational ally.” The CPA is a coalition that works both inside and outside the Democratic Party. It endorses “progressive Democrats” running for office in local, state and federal elections. Joining the CPA no longer surprised us; after all, the MPP website still included a FAQ affirming that, “the missing ingredient in our progressive movement today [is] pressure from outside the Democratic Party [that] will cause it to change or be replaced.”

Joining the CPA as an “organizational ally,” in our view, meant legitimizing CPA’s “inside-outside” strategy in relation to the Democrats. It meant legitimizing a vote for Bernie Sanders in the California Democratic primary, a vote that was taken by the CPA at its January 2020 convention.

Joining the CPA as an “organizational ally” meant legitimizing a vote for CPA-endorsed “progressive Democrat” Shahid Buttar, who is running against Nancy Pelosi. The MPP, in fact, sponsored a people’s budget mobilization jointly with the Buttar for Congress campaign in San Francisco in mid-July. It was fundamentally a Buttar campaign rally.

The editorial board of The Organizer opposes this political orientation. Building a new party of the type we seek is not a short-term effort; it’s a long, careful, and sustained process that has to involve the direct participation and leadership by organizations representing labor unions and communities of the oppressed. Key stakeholders in such a party cannot be mere endorsers subordinate to a process in which their input is not central. We have only just begun to identify which organizations are likely to commit to this process, let alone bring them fully on board.

We on the editorial board of The Organizer are committed firmly to the orientation expressed by the two prongs in the LCIP’s Statement of Purpose. This is the orientation required to build a truly independent labor-and community-based political party. There are no short-cuts; in fact, the quest for short-cuts can only create new obstacles in the fight for independent working-class political action.

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