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On the outbreak of the First World War, the SDP leader, Friedrich Ebert, ordered members in the Reichstag to support the war effort. Karl Liebknecht was the only member of parliament who voted against Germany's participation in the war. He argued: "This war, which none of the peoples involved desired, was not started for the benefit of the German or of any other people. It is an Imperialist war, a war for capitalist domination of the world markets and for the political domination of the important countries in the interest of industrial and financial capitalism. Arising out of the armament race, it is a preventative war provoked by the German and Austrian war parties in the obscurity of semi-absolutism and of secret diplomacy."

In April 1917 left-wing members of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) formed the Independent Socialist Party (USPD). Members included Kurt Eisner, Karl Kautsky, Emil Barth, Julius Leber, Ernst Toller, Ernst Thälmann, Rudolf Breitscheild, Emil Eichhorn, Kurt Rosenfeld, Ernst Torgler and Rudolf Hilferding.

At its congress in Halle in October 1920, a split occurred in the party. Left-wing members left to join the German Communist Party (KPD). The Independent Socialist Party continued until 1922 when it merged with the Social Democratic Party.

Documents of the Workers Party & Independent Socialist League 1940�

The Workers Party was founded in 1940 by members of the US Socialist Workers Party who had developed differences over the class nature of the U.S.S.R. and the position the SWP should take, should the war in Europe develop into a war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.


Internal Discussions, Bulletins, and Memoranda


India in Revolt, by Henry Judd, Introduction by Max Shachtman, 1942

This is not our War, A Declaration by the Workers Party

Smash the Profiteers, Workers Party Campaign Committee/Irving Howe, 1946

Jobs for All, Workers Party 1946 Campaign for Mayor of NYC program, 1946

Socialism The Hope of Humanity, Workers Party 1946 Campaign for Mayor of NYC program, 1946. Speech by Max Shachtman, Candidate

The Fight For Socialism, The Principles and Program of the Workers Party by Max Shachtman, 1946

Workers Power —and—Independent Socialist & International Socialist The political journals of the Independent Socialist Clubs & International Socialists in the U.S.

On September 17, 1964 the Berkeley Independent Socialist Club (ISC) was founded by a small group of “Third Camp” revolutionary socialists, led by Hal Draper and Joel Geier. The Club originated following a years-long faction fight in the Young People’s Socialist League and the Socialist Party to defend the political program of the Workers Party/Independent League (WP/ISL), against former comrades, Max Shachtman and his supporters, who were swinging rapidly to support of the Democratic Party and American imperialism.

Like the WP/ISL, the ISC was defined by its uncompromising opposition to imperialism of any kind, summed up in its programmatic slogan, “Neither Washington nor Moscow, but for the Third Camp of International Socialism.”

Among the ISC’s distinctive contributions to left-wing politics in the 1960s was Hal Draper’s concept of “socialism from below” – a reaffirmation of Marx’s core vision of socialism as mass revolutionary, democratic, working class revolt, controlled from below. Draper’s model rejected both of the prevailing schemes of “socialism from above” presented by social democratic parliamentary reform, on the one hand, and Stalinist nationalization of industry, on the other. The theoretical bedrock of ISC politics was the self-emancipation of the working class- the idea that socialism’s essence is workers power, working class rule over society through workers control of the economy and the state through organs of direct workers democracy.

From 1964-69, the ISC was primarily a student organization, playing an active role in the black liberation, Free Speech and anti-Vietnam War movements. It supported women’s and gay liberation even before those movements arose in the 60s. The ISC was also involved in the Farm Workers unionization effort, in teachers unions, and played a leading role in organizing the first campus clerical workers union. Some of the key political ideas the ISC fought for on the left – independent political action, black power and armed self-defense – began to take tangible form in 1967. The ISC was the driving force in the organization of the Peace and Freedom Party (PFP), and in the creation of the alliance between the PFP and the Black Panther Party around the Free Huey campaign and the running of Huey Newton (from jail) for Congress and Eldridge Cleaver for President.

From 1965-67, local clubs with similar politics came into existence in New York, Baltimore, and a few other cities. In 1967 they joined together in a loose federation, the Independent Socialist Clubs of America (ISCA) and began publication of the Independent Socialist magazine, first from New York, then from Berkeley. After the Students for a Democratic Society splintered in 1969, a small section of SDS fragments joined with ISCA on Labor Day, 1969 in forming a national organization, the International Socialists. At the same time, the IS newspaper was renamed International Socialist.

In September 1970, the IS organizational center was relocated to Detroit the newspaper was renamed Workers’ Power and became a bi-weekly. In October 1975, it moved to weekly publication. The name Workers’ Power symbolized both the fundamental political program of the IS and the IS’ new strategic orientation. Out of the international working class upheavals following 1968, there arose for the first time since the late 1940s the possibility of building revolutionary workers parties to the left of the social democratic and Communist Parties. The perspective of the IS, based on the experience of its predecessors – the Communists of the 1920s, the Trotskyists of the 1930s, and the Workers Party of the 1940s – was that the road to a revolutionary workers party in the United States was through a rank and file movement in the trade unions based on a clear class struggle program.

To maximize the strength of its small forces, the IS prioritized its industrial work around auto, steel, teamsters, telephone, the postal service, and teachers. Its newspaper, written for factory sales, concentrated on rank and file and social movement struggles. Workers’ Power carried extensive coverage of the historic working class revolt of this period, which was and has been generally ignored by most publications and historians. Its reporting of the auto industry and the United National Caucus, of telephone and the United Action caucus, of the teamsters and Teamster for a Democratic Union, Upsurge and the teamster strikes of 1975-6, and of Steelworkers Fight Back and the Sadlowski campaign, are of such depth that students of the period will probably find more coverage in Workers’ Powerthan possibly anywhere else.

Workers’ Power was also a prime source for coverage of the anti-racist struggle, the women’s and gay liberation movements, and other fights against oppression, as well as prison revolts. Its foreign coverage spanned the Middle East, Africa and Latin America as well as the European revolutionary Left. It also features unique, detailed coverage of the Portuguese Revolution.

The youth group of the IS, the Red Tide, an overwhelmingly working class and black organization, provided in depth coverage of youth and high school struggles.

From 1968-72, and again from 1973-4, the editor was Kit Lyons from 1972-3, David Finkel from 1974-76, Gay Semel in 1977, Kim Moody and in 1978 Marilyn Denton. The paper was distinctive in the left of that period for the outstanding quality of its art and cartoons, the work of Lisa Lyons.

The work of digitalizing Workers’ Power and its predecessors was done by Michael Billeaux, Charles Peterson and Joe Richard, and David Walters promptly posted it.

It Doesn’t Help to Blur the Lines

Craig McQuade | The history of the U.S. left is filled with examples of how to build left-wing organizations. Unfortunately, the history of the U.S. left is also filled with examples of how to demobilize and defang these organizations.

While the International Socialist Organization has an organizational history that dates back only four decades, and those decades were periods of extremely one-sided class warfare during the neoliberal era, the foundations of our organization were built on the history and lessons of past struggles and experiences.

I’m glad that Socialist Worker has opened its pages so that we can have a full discussion of what these lessons mean for us in our current political environment.

It isn’t particularly shocking to say that there has been a political shift in the recent past. Wherever we date the beginning of this shift, I think it is clear that popular politics have changed dramatically, and also that the 2016 primary season and the election of Trump marked a change in the norms of political discussion.

However, I strongly hesitate at the idea that the Trump era has ushered in a new political terrain in which we need to throw out the old playbook of principles. Indeed, the principle of political independence from both parties of capital seems all the more important now that the temptations of realignment or a “dirty break” present themselves.

The Democratic Party presents a dead end for political independence, regardless of the level of organization that one brings to their strategy. While the left may be embroiled in a debate about the strategy of running inside the Democratic Party, what the public sees is progressive candidates running as Democrats.

This has always been a central pillar of the Democrats strategy of co-optation — it’s why the Democrats have always been tolerant of the party’s left wing. So long as the left wing has a (D) next to the names on the ballot, the party establishment is happy because that (D) builds the Democrats more than any other organization.

Of course, it isn’t enough to say that the way to grow the left isn’t through the Democrats — we have to present a way forward must be presented in its place.

While Todd Chretien’s contribution correctly states that the Communist Party grew during the period of the Popular Front, it is worth noting that this wasn’t across the board. Indeed, the Alabama Communist Party, and the Communist Party in the South in general, bled membership during the period of the Popular Front.

The party had made major inroads in Alabama and the region in the early 1930s because it demonstrated through its activities that it had a radical commitment to racial equality, which put it directly at odds with the liberal establishment in the South at the time. Not only did it talk the talk, but it demonstrated through its commitment to court cases like the Scottsboro Boys and its organization of the Sharecroppers’ Union that it was willing to risk popularity to do what was right.

In the period of the Popular Front, however, the party hemorrhaged membership because it became associated with an exploitative Works Progress Administration. The party instead was flooded with racists and sexists, and people saw no distinguishing reasons to join the CP when its politics appeared from the outside identical to the CIO and liberal organizations.

It was because people moving left could not distinguish between the party and the liberals around the party that liberal organizations grew while the southern CP shrank — despite the hard work and continued commitment of many CP leaders to radical causes in the South.

At a time when people are moving left, we need to be building an organization that offers people something different. We need to build an organization that can demonstrate independently that it has the knowledge and ability to lead in struggle.

It is easy to be politically independent of the Democratic Party when the party is a monolithic block pushing neoliberalism at every turn. It is far more difficult, but far more important, to stand independent of the Democratic Party when the left wing of the party seems to be doing well.

Because we are an organization that looks to history to help us make sense of and understand the present, we know where the left arm of the Democrats will lead the people who look to it for leadership.

It is our task to build an alternative outside the Democrats so that when that eventual disappointment comes, there is an alternative to frustration and disillusionment. That is not always an easy task, and it can sometimes feel like a very lonely task, but it is only through this independence that we can build an alternative path forward.

Will China’s Bubble Burst?

This article, written by Hannah Sell, was originally published in the June 2021 issue of Socialism Today, the monthly magazine published by our co-thinkers in the Socialist Party of England & Wales. The Independent Socialist Group stands in solidarity with the Socialist Party as part of the Committee for a Workers’ International.

Unlike many other aspects of US foreign policy, Biden’s election has not led to a fundamental change in direction when it comes to China. However, instead of Trump’s quixotic and inconsistent unilateral ramping up of tensions, Biden is attempting to build a coalition of global powers behind US imperialism, with the aim of putting up a firewall against the further rise of China.

Is that possible? What are the limits to the continued rise of China? One of the most useful recent books on the Chinese economy is Thomas Orlik’s China: The Bubble That Never Pops. Previously based in China for eleven years as Chief Asia Economist for Bloomberg, his book – while not written from a socialist point of view but that of Western capitalism – still provides a useful picture of the contradictory character of China, and how it relates to China’s economic growth in the past and, to some extent, the future.

The title of Orlik’s book might indicate that he thinks China’s growth is set to continue uninterrupted. This is not the case. Without putting a timescale on future crises he predicts they will come, quoting the late German capitalist economist Rudi Dornbusch that “crises take longer to arrive than you can possibly imagine, but when they do come, they happen faster than you can possibly imagine”.

He points, however, to some of the unique features of China that have allowed it to grow from 1989 when it’s “GDP was just 2.3% of the global total” to 15% in 2015, and to be predicted to reach 19% by 2024. While written from an opposite class standpoint, his book confirms the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) analysis of China.

Over a decade ago, in 2007-2008, there was a debate in the CWI on the character of the Chinese regime, including in the pages of Socialism Today. One view – mainly espoused by people who have since parted ways with the CWI – was that China had already become a ‘fully-fledged’ capitalist economy, which was completely integrated into the world capitalist economy. At that stage, the leadership of the CWI argued that, while the direction of travel – towards a ‘normal’ capitalist regime – was obvious, it had not yet been fully completed and that China remained a transitional ‘hybrid’ regime.

Later, at our 2012 International Executive meeting, we reached an agreement on a definition of China as a unique form of state capitalism. Nonetheless, beneath the common formula, different approaches remained and are relevant to developments today. Given that even during the debate we were in agreement on China’s direction of travel, it could appear that these issues are unimportant. However, as we argued at the time, these seemingly secondary differences could have important consequences. We argued it would be wrong to base ourselves on a single perspective that China would develop on purely capitalist lines, uninterrupted by turns in the direction of the regime. On the contrary, the working class needed to be prepared for different scenarios, including the possibility that, faced with a deep economic crisis, the regime could revert to much greater intervention in the economy in order to ensure its survival.

Since then two major crises of world capitalism, first in 2007-2008 and then the Covid catastrophe, have indeed led to a turn to greater economic intervention by the Chinese state. For example, from 2014, the share of industrial assets held by state firms ended a long decline and started to increase as a result of the regime giving them priority over private competitors. Further moves in that direction have taken place since, and more decisive ones are possible in the future. Overall, while Chinese capitalism has developed further than at the time of our debate, the Chinese state has also increased its grip, centralizing power around Xi Jinping, and maintaining powerful levers with which to direct the economy, including those parts of it that are in private hands.

State intervention on the up

Orlik’s book recognizes the unique character of China and how it has helped it to weather the economic storms. He concludes that “If underlying strengths, energy and imagination all fail, China’s policymakers can also fall back on the unusual resources of a Leninist party state. Chief among these is the ability to shift policy decisively, comprehensively, and without regard to procedural or legal niceties. That was on display in the response to the great financial crisis”. While the brutal Chinese regime bears no resemblance whatsoever to genuine Leninism, which stood for the development of a planned economy under democratic workers’ control, it is nonetheless correct to point to the unique capacities of the Chinese state. As Orlik puts it, “China’s policymakers are not all-knowing or all-powerful. They do have an unusually extensive and powerful set of tools they can use to manage the economy and financial system”.

One specific example he gives is the way that the Chinese state was able to partially deal with the gigantic property bubble that developed in the first half of the last decade. He explains that “from 2011 to 2016, China built more than 10 million apartments a year. Demand averaged less than 8 million units. In the gap between these two numbers: ghost towns of empty property, cement shells of skyscrapers ruining the edge of major cities, and finished developments with no lights in sight”. Therefore “the consequence, if the market had been left to its own devices, would have to be a significant contraction in supply and fall in prices, as excess capacity was restored, but only at the expense of a crunching correction in GDP”.

However, “the market was not left to its own devices”. For example, in Guiyan, the capital of Guizhou province, “old properties were torn down, part of a massive program of slum clearance”. In total 5% of the housing stock in Guiyan was demolished, with the residents paid compensation by the government which meant “slum residents could afford to move into one of the new skyscrapers”. Just to make sure that they did, compensation was not paid to residents but instead “paid directly to the developer once residents decided which apartment they wanted to occupy”. The same pattern was replicated across the country with the state banks providing funding for slum clearances.

Despite a couple of individual examples, Orlik does not really draw out the disruption and, for some at least, misery that resulted from such policies being implemented from above, with no democratic control, with the fundamental aim of deflating the housing bubble, rather than meeting the housing needs of the population. Nonetheless, he correctly recognizes that the Chinese state was able to intervene to ameliorate the effects of the property bubble to an extent which would not be seen in a ‘normal’ capitalist country.

His book was obviously written before Covid, but China’s success in dealing with the pandemic – at least relative to most of the world – could be given as another example. China, the country where the pandemic began, had an official growth rate of 6.5% for 2020, while every other major economy suffered a serious contraction. Even if the 6.5% figure is inaccurate, it is clear that China was at the top of the league table for dealing with the virus. China contained the virus by introducing strict lockdowns where even small clusters of cases were found. The very repressive character of the state was a factor in the effectiveness of containment measures, but not the only one. Unlike Britain or the US, where the need to earn a living forced wide sections of the working class to ignore self-isolation rules, China had a policy of delivering food and goods to those who were having to isolate. That is not to suggest it worked well – the residents of one town ordered into lockdown had to take to social media to report they were starving due to lack of food deliveries – but it was still far more effective than measures taken by the major Western capitalist powers. The elimination of Covid in China, where it began, might have been possible, were it not for the fact that it is becoming endemic in the rest of the world.

Finance sector

Orlik concentrates a large part of the book on the Chinese finance sector. Events have developed since it was published but they confirm his analysis. He points out that the stimulus packages that the Chinese state implemented after the 2007-08 financial crisis, far bigger than those of other countries, led to incredibly high debt levels, so that by 2017 “for the country as a whole, government, corporate and household debt was 260% of GDP, as high as the US”. He goes on “close to four out of every ten yuan in national income” were “required for debt servicing”, higher than in the US. But while most Western commentators were predicting the bursting of the Chinese bubble Orlik points out the “important points” China has had in its favor. “As a nation, China saves almost half of its income a controlled capital account means it’s difficult to move those savings offshore. As a result, the vast majority ends up in the domestic banking sector” which could, therefore, “count on a steady inflow of cheap domestic funding. Financial crises typically start when banks’ funding dries up. In China that was unlikely to happen”.

China’s banking system remains dominated by the big four state banks. However, Orlik points to the growing instability of the system as a result of private ‘Wealth Management Products’. These are offered by the financial tech companies like Ant Group and Tencent, and have sucked cash away from state banks by offering higher interest rates. By the end of 2016 they were “equal to about 19% of bank deposits”.

Orlik illustrates how the interests of the Chinese state can be threatened by this. He describes how “at the start of 2017, Alibaba’s Yuebao (part of the Ant Group) became the world’s largest money market fund, with 1.3 trillion yuan in assets under management. Those were funds that only a few years earlier, the banks would have counted as cheap deposits. Now they had to pay a premium to borrow them from Alibaba’s asset managers”.

He points to when the Anbang Insurance Group was effectively shut down by Chinese regulators in 2017. Why, he asks, did they “crackdown so hard and so publicly”? His conclusion is that this was not – at least primarily – as a result of political infighting but because “Anbang was gaming China’s regulatory system, taking advantage of its status as an insurance firm to soak up cheap funding, and using that to go on an acquisition spree” and endangering economic stability. In other words the Chinese state was intervening in the privately-dominated parts of the finance sector in order to maintain the overall stability of the system and thereby defend its own power.

Since the book was published bigger steps have been taken to curb the financial tech companies. The Ant Group is now the biggest private company in China and the ninth largest in the world. Its stock market listing was planned for $37 billion at the end of 2020, which would have made it the worlds largest. It was dramatically withdrawn on the orders of the Chinese state, and since then Ant’s founder – Jack Ma – has largely disappeared from public view. His company has been ordered to restructure. The Chinese state is also demanding that Ant Group hands over its data to a state-controlled credit rating company. Other major tech finance companies have been ordered to do likewise.

These are important illustrations of the CWI’s analysis of the unique character of the Chinese state. Orlik’s book is a very useful description of how still, “the state dominates the economy, with the biggest banks and industrial firms following the direction of individual planners more than shareholders, and regulators intervening in markets before breakfast, lunch, and dinner”. However, he does not attempt to analyze what that means for China’s character or future.

How did China get here?

Despite casually describing the Chinese state as ‘Leninist’, he recognizes that today it is not comparable to the Soviet Union prior to 1990. He quotes the son of Deng Xiaoping (China’s leader from 1978-89) saying that his father thought that the last Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev was “an idiot”. Orlik accurately sums up the reasons for Deng’s contempt being, “Gorbachev’s mistake: attempting political and economic reform – glasnost and perestroika – at the same time. As a result, he lost control of the levers of power, losing both political control and his ability to fix the economy. For China, Deng had chosen a different road, ensuring that the Communist Party maintained its monopoly on power and using that power to steer the path to a more efficient economy”.

Unlike the Soviet Union, where, in 1917, a revolution led by the working class successfully overthrew capitalism and established a democratic workers’ state which was left isolated and then degenerated, the Chinese Communist party-state was deformed from its inception. Stalinism was the starting point for the Chinese regime. From the beginning, while defending the planned economy, the state was relatively independent, not subject to democratic checks by the working class.

Nonetheless, the mighty 1949 revolution, based on the poor peasantry, overthrew landlordism and capitalism, leading to important gains for the working class and poor peasantry particularly the ‘iron rice bowl’ (security of employment) plus education, health, and welfare provisions provided by state-owned enterprises and village communes. Today that has been almost completely destroyed. While elements of it still formally exist, security of employment is smashed, and state education and healthcare is not available to the three hundred million migrant workers who have left their homes to find work, often with no choice but to do so because of the increased automation of agriculture destroying farming jobs. They are left having to pay for every aspect of life. Even if they travel back to their home village, where they still have the formal right to free public services, the services may not exist. From 2000 to 2015, nearly three-quarters of all rural primary schools – more than 300,000 in all – were permanently closed.

As far back as the 1970s, the bureaucratic state under Deng began to take some steps towards introducing market relations, undermining the nationalized planned economy. Like Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, these were taken empirically to try to overcome the economic crisis that had developed under the bureaucracy’s criminal mismanagement of the planned economy. In the aftermath of the collapse of Stalinism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, as capitalism appeared to reign triumphantly globally, the powerful Chinese state machine went much further, introducing capitalist relations on an enormous scale and setting out to ‘breed’ a Chinese capitalist class. However, learning from the implosion that had taken place in Russia they strove to keep it under state direction. Even today the regime is not simply the repressive agent or servant of the – newly-formed, historically speaking – Chinese capitalist class. The Chinese state, a product of Maoism-Stalinism, has a large degree of autonomy in fostering and steering the development of capitalism in the way that best preserves its own power.

There is no historic analogy that fully applies to China today. However, Marx and Engels described the complex relationship between the state ‘superstructure’ and its economic foundations, and how, under certain conditions, a state power balancing between social classes (a ‘Bonapartist’ state) can for a period play an autonomous role in sponsoring the development of capitalist industry and fostering the development of a capitalist class. In Germany during the 1870s, for instance, Otto von Bismarck – based on the Prussian monarchist state, the army elite, and the Junker landlords – promoted the development of capitalist forces as the necessary basis for German imperialism’s increased military and economic power.

Splits ahead

This situation cannot continue indefinitely. Up until now, the developing capitalist class has largely accepted the dictates of the state which created it. However, it would be wrong to imagine that, for example, Communist Party membership cards will automatically prevent Jack Ma or others like him revolting at a certain stage against the restrictions put on them, and attempting to take full control of Chinese society, trying to mobilize the middle and working classes behind them with calls for ‘democracy’.

To date the relative success of the Chinese economy compared to Western capitalism has encouraged the Chinese capitalists to accept the status quo. In addition, both they and the Chinese state are aware that splits at the top could be a trigger for working-class revolt from below. Nonetheless, new economic crises, particularly if they lead – as they could – to further steps by the Chinese state to take more decisive measures against sections of the capitalist class, could lead to open conflict between the capitalists and a section of the state machine.

Orlik does not deal with prospects for class struggle developing, other than a telling aside that “the middle class has acquiesced to single-party rule as long as they keep getting richer”. Not only the middle class, but all classes in society, have ‘acquiesced’ to CP rule, and a gigantic increase in inequality, because, overall and in general, living standards have increased, even while enormous poverty remains. This has allowed the Chinese Communist Party, with over 90 million members, to maintain a significant social base.

Orlik also only sketches out some of the possible crises that could pop China’s bubble. He points to the danger of a financial crash, particularly given the destabilizing role of the private finance sector. He also raises that ever-increasing amounts of debt-fueled investment are already needed to fuel decreasing levels of growth. In the past China has outrun its problems with rapid growth but, against the background of increased tariffs and world economic slowdown, “the same trick will be difficult to pull off again”.

One of the other important issues he raises is the potential crisis as a result of China’s attempts to transform itself from being reliant on low-tech labor-intensive manufacturing and assembly to more advanced domestic industry, whilst at the same time developing its own domestic market.

He again points to the role of the state when it comes to trying to haul China up the value chain. He explains how, “ascending to the presidency in 2013, Xi Jinping inherited a state that was already tilting back toward industrial planning and an expanded role for the state in directing China’s technology catch-up. Once in power, he pushed even further in that direction”. Huge resources were put in. “In 2017 China spent $444 billion on research and development”. Only the US spent more. As a result, “there were more inventions. The number of triadic patents – patents deemed valuable enough to register in the US, Europe, and Japan – by Chinese inventors rose from 87 in 2000 to 3,890 in 2016. That’s still considerably below 14,220 for the US, but the acceleration is impressive”.

Orlik’s focus is on the potentially partially negative consequences in succeeding in moving up the value chain. He points to how for Western capitalist countries over the last forty years, “advances in technology come hand in hand with a widening gap between rich and poor, often with wrenching consequences for harmony and political order” as increased productivity has resulted in fewer manufacturing workers, with more workers left unemployed or in low-paid service sector jobs. In China, such a process would be taking place with a starting point of a still relatively limited domestic market. According to the World Bank in 2019, China’s GDP per capita was $16,092 per annum, compared to $62,530 for the US. The consumption share of Chinese GDP was just 2% higher in 2019 than it was in 2007. Its limited domestic market means it is still highly reliant on exports, so increased tariffs and barriers hit it hard.

Orlik does not discuss how far the Chinese state, faced with mass revolt as a result of this process, might take measures to try to limit the driving down of wages, shoring up its support among the working class via striking blows at the private sector.

Nor does he draw conclusions about how far China can succeed in getting to the top of the value chain in the face of US attempts to block it. China is the world’s second power, but it still lags way behind the US. At this stage five of the top six most valuable companies in the world remain American, while the top Chinese company comes in at seventh, and it only has two in the top twenty. The dollar remains the global reserve currency.

The weakness of China is demonstrated by its continued reliance on the US for semiconductors, vital to produce smartphones, computers, modern cars, and much more. At this stage, the equipment needed to produce them is a virtual US monopoly. Last year alone China had to import $350 billion worth of semiconductors. The state is desperately pumping money into developing a domestic semiconductor industry but as yet has a very limited capacity to produce the most advanced chips.

Global turmoil

Nonetheless, the US attempts to block the development of China are fraught with difficulty. The days where the US had overwhelming dominance on the global stage, as it did immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, are over. There is no automatic support for Biden’s position from other major Western powers. French President Macron, for example, said earlier this year that it would be counterproductive “to join altogether against China”, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel has declared she is against the “building of blocs”.

Fundamentally their hesitation stems from the high level of integration of the world economy, and the important role that China plays within it. Governments under pressure from the US to stop using Chinese products face a real dilemma. For example, over the last three years, the US has run a campaign against Chinese company Huawei. Yet of the 170 countries that use its products only around a dozen have banned it so far.

China is also the world’s biggest creditor, having lent huge sums mainly to neo-colonial countries to fund Chinese-built infrastructure projects via the Belt and Road Initiative. It also holds around $1.1 trillion (4%) of US government debt, which selling could plunge the US into crisis, with severe consequences for the world economy, including China.

However, despite the clear dangers to the world economy as a whole to increased conflict with China, it is clear that, in this era of capitalist crisis, declining US imperialism is impelled to continue in that direction in order to try and defend its interests against its nearest rival. The result will not be a short-term victory for one side, but rather a period of intensifying instability and conflict as the world’s great powers fight for dominance, but are incapable of decisively claiming it.

Against that background, the Chinese regime will not be able to continue to weather all the coming storms. Whereas Chinese demand, albeit partially financed by the US treasury’s underwriting of the world’s financial system, acted as a prop for the world economy in the 2007-08 great recession, and China has weathered the Covid crisis better than others, it is unlikely to cope so well with the next global crisis. The centralization of power around Xi Jinping gives an impression of strength but could very quickly turn into its opposite as economic and social crisis develops. Then all the centrifugal forces between different regions of China, but above all between classes, would come to the fore.

The voice of the powerful Chinese working class has not yet made itself fully heard. The Chinese state is rightly terrified of the consequences of that changing. The crucial task for the working class will be to develop its own organizations – including further steps towards the development of independent trade unions and of a mass party of the working class, armed with a program for the socialist transformation of society. This requires fighting for the nationalization of the big private corporations and banks, combined with a program of democratic workers’ control and management drawing together the state sector in a real socialist plan of production. The growth of China is a factor destabilizing world capitalism the growth of the Chinese working class will further the struggle for genuine democratic socialism.

China: The Bubble That Never Pops
By Thomas Orlik
Published by Oxford University Press, 2020, £23

Constitutional Amendment: Defining the Role of DSA’s National Political Platform

Reasoning: DSA is considering the adoption of a national political platform for the first time in recent history. Platforms and programs have historically played a very important role in defining the political principles and practice of socialist organizations. Defining this platform’s role clearly will give it greater meaning and practical relevance as the great goal of our work. Political unity based on a definite program is more durable than unity based on rigid dogma, so the political criterion for membership should be acceptance of the national political platform. If a national political platform is adopted at this convention, the DSA constitution ought to be amended in the following way.

Old language: Article III, Section 1

Membership shall be open to every person who subscribes to the principles of the organization.

New language: Article III, Section 1

Membership shall be open to every person who accepts the national political platform of the organization. Acceptance does not mean agreement with every point of the platform, and members are free to organize within DSA to make specific changes to the platform. Rather, it means committing to fight for the platform as the overall expression of the movement’s aims.

--> Independent Socialist League

The Workers Party formed in 1940 in opposition to the Soviet invasion of Finland. In 1949, it renamed itself the Independent Socialist League (ISL) and in 1957 joined the Socialist Party of America.

From the description of Independent socialist press publications for the Worker's Party and the Independent Socialist League, 1940-1958. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 191029158

The Workers Party (1940-1949), a Trotskyist organization founded and led by Max Shachtman, split from the Socialist Workers Party in 1940, holding the Soviet Union to be a novel exploitative social formation, bureaucratic collectivism. Opposing the "two camps" of imperialism, the WP led struggles against the World War II no-strike pledge, and published Labor Action, a rank-and-file newspaper, and The New International, a political/theoretical journal, both continuing until 1958, when the successor to the WP, the Independent Socialist League (1949-1958) merged with the Socialist Party. The Workers Party was a source for many of the ideas, personalities and journals of the post-World War II non- and anti-communist left, and former members influenced the found the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (later Democratic Socialists of America).

From the description of Independent Socialist League records, 1945-1958. (New York University). WorldCat record id: 479594451

The Workers Party (1940-1949), a Trotskyist organization founded and led by Max Shachtman, split from the Socialist Workers Party in 1940, holding the Soviet Union to be a novel exploitative social formation, bureaucratic collectivism. Opposing the "two camps" of imperialism, the WP led struggles against the World War II no-strike pledge, and published Labor Action, a rank-and-file newspaper, and The New International, a political/theoretical journal, both continuing until 1958, when the successor to the WP, the Independent Socialist League (1949-1958) merged with the Socialist Party. The Workers Party was a source for many of the ideas, personalities and journals of the post-World War II non- and anti-communist left, and former members influenced the development of the Socialist Party and helped found the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (later Democratic Socialists of America).

From the guide to the Workers Party and Independent Socialist League Records, 1945-1958, (Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives)

Socialist Party

The industrial conditions in the United States, the constantly changing frontier, and the lack of class stratification had prevented the development of a strong socialist movement in the United States. However, in the late 1860’s and early 1790s, a number of branches of the First International were formed in the East, and on July 4, 1874, a Social Democratic Workingmen’s Party of North America was organized with a rather indefinite Socialist platform, becoming in 1877 the Socialist Labor Party.

The Socialist Labor Party showed much activity during the next two decades, but the attempt of its leader, Daniel De Leon, to impose too rigid a discipline upon its membership and his bitter opposition to leaders of organized labor led to a split in the party. The dissident group, under Morris Hillquit and others, joined in 1900 with the midwestern Socialists in nominating Eugene Victor Debs for president.

This was followed by a Unity Conference in 1901 at a convention in Indianapolis in 1901. The two merging groups were the Social Democratic Party of Eugene Victor Debs and the "Kangaroo" wing of the older Socialist Labor Party. The Socialist Democratic had been organized in 1898 by veterans of the Pullman strike of the American Railway Union, led by Debs, and was largely composed of American-born workers.

From the beginning the Socialist Party was the ecumenical organization for American radicals, including Marxists of various kinds, Christian socialists, Zionist and anti-Zionist Jewish socialists, foreign-language speaking sections, single-taxers and virtually every variety of American radical. On the divisive issue of "reform vs. revolution" the Socialist Party from the beginning adopted a compromise formula, producing platforms calling for revolutionary change but also making "immediate demands" of a reformist nature. A perennially unresolved issue was whether revolutionary change could come about without violence there were always pacifists and evolutionists in the Party as well as those opposed to both those views. The Socialist Party historically stressed cooperatives as much as labor unions, and included the concepts of revolution by education and of "building the new society within the shell of the old."

The Socialist Party aimed to become a major party in the years prior to World War I it elected two Members of Congress, over 70 mayors, innumerable state legislators and city councilors. Its membership topped 100,000, and its Presidential candidate, Eugene Debs, received close to a million votes in 1912 and again in 1920. But as with any ideologically mixed organization, it was forever in internal disputes.

An early disagreement was over the Industrial Workers of the World, which Debs and De Leon had helped create as a competitor to the American Federation of Labor. Some Socialists supported the IWW, while others considered "dual unionism" to be fatal to the solidarity of the labor movement and supported the Socialist faction in the AFL led by Max Hayes. In 1916, Eugene Debs refused to run again for a candidacy, so by referendum, Allan L. Benson was chosen as the Socialist nominee for presidency.

During the First World War the American Socialist Party was one of the very few parties in the international socialist movement to maintain its opposition to the war, and many Socialists were imprisoned, including Debs himself. In 1919 there was a major split in the Party, when those who accepted Lenin's demand for unconditional allegiance to the Third International left, to form the Communist Party and the Communist Labor Party. However, the two parties later merged.

The Socialist Party did not run a Presidential candidate in 1924, but joined the American Federation of Labor in support of the independent campaign of the progressive Senator Robert La Follette of Wisconsin, hoping to build a permanent Farmer-Labor Party. In 1928 the Socialist Party revived as an independent electoral entity under the leadership of Norman Thomas, an opponent of World War I and a founder of the American Civil Liberties Union.

In 1932 the impact of the Great Depression resulted in revived support for the Socialist Party, and 896,000 votes were cast for the Party's Presidential candidate, Norman Thomas. But by 1936 the left-liberal policies of the New Deal took a severe toll. In that year David Dubinsky and other socialist union leaders in New York called on their membership to vote for Roosevelt, and formed the Social Democratic Federation to promote socialism within the ranks of the liberal/labor wing of the Democratic Party. The Socialist Party's vote in 1936 dropped to 185,000, little more than 20% of that of 1932. The outbreak of the war against Fascism and the wartime prosperity further weakened all parties on the left.

The Socialist Party was down to about 2,000 members after the war, and had more or less withdrawn from electoral action in the face of the increasingly restrictive ballot-access laws passed by state legislatures around the country. In 1956 the Socialist Party and the Social Democratic Federation reunited, under pressure from the Socialist International. A right-wing group in the SDF opposed the merger, and established the Democratic Socialist Federation.

As of 1957 the SP-SDF was pervaded by a strong sense that the time had arrived to start over and rebuild a major radical party in America. The Independent Socialist League was a Trotskyite splinter group founded and led by Max Shachtman, with about 400 members. In 1958 the ISL dissolved, and its members joined the SP-SDF. This ended any hope of further mergers, since Shachtman's intention was to attain control of the Socialist Party. Almost at once a faction fight erupted over the concept of "realignment." Shachtman and his lieutenant, Michael Harrington, argued that what America needed wasn't a third party, but a meaningful second party.

The realignment supporters said that in sixty years the Socialist Party had failed to bring labor into the Party, and in fact kept losing their labor sympathizers (such as the Reuther brothers) because they saw they could do more within the Democratic Party. It was also argued that in view of restricted ballot access the Democratic primaries were a better forum for electoral activity than Socialist candidacies. But the basic argument was an appeal to traditional Marxism: Labor is the motor for social change, labor will not come to the Socialist Party, therefore the Socialist Party must go to labor - which means going into the Democratic Party.

There is no doubt that the realignment strategy was successful within its own terms. Former SP labor people like A. Philip Randolph rejoined the Party, and many new people of this type were recruited during this period. But to many Socialists, realignment in practice turned out to be something they could not stomach. The realignment strategy focused on getting hold of power, and Socialist politics is concerned not only with winning power within the status quo but also with redistributing it to build a new society. Furthermore, the result of the strategy was often to tone down everything that distinguished Socialists from liberals, and "where labor is" turned out to be not at the left of the Democratic Party but at the center, in alliance with the big city machines.

At the 1968 Socialist Party Convention the Shachtman-Harrington Caucus held a clear majority, though a slim one, and voted down resolutions demanding American withdrawal from Vietnam and urging independent political action. They passed a resolution endorsing Hubert Humphrey - a resolution which Norman Thomas, who had less than six months to live, opposed as best he could from his hospital bed, pleading in vain with the membership to reject it. They elected a clear majority of the Party's National Committee, and installed their own supporters as National Secretary and Editor of the Party paper.

At the riotous Democratic Party Convention in Chicago in 1968, Realignment Socialists were present as delegates, and Bayard Rustin, having lost his old pacifist and radical orientation, served in effect as a black floor manager for Humphrey. At the same time, many Debs Caucus members were in the streets with the demonstrators.

By 1970, with Michael Harrington as National Chairman under Max Shachtman's leadership, the Socialist Party was showing a growing tendency toward democratic centralism in practice. Nevertheless, Harrington maintained contacts with the liberal wing of the peace movement and he and his personal followers formed yet a third caucus, the Coalition Caucus, to pursue the realignment strategy within the more liberal sectors of the Democratic Party and the labor leadership.

In March of 1972 a Unity Convention was held, to finalize the merger of the Socialist Party with the Democratic Socialist Federation. The tightly disciplined Unity Caucus, as the Shachtmanite wing now styled themselves, were by now suspicious of Harrington, and succeeded in pushing through the Convention a constitutional amendment providing for a "troika" in the Chairmanship. The "troika" was made up of Harrington, Charles Zimmerman of the DSF, and the aging former civil rights leader Bayard Rustin. A resolution opposing the Vietnam war, which was supported by six Party Locals and by both the Debs Caucus and the Coalition Caucus, failed.

At the end of 1972 the Socialist Party, now completely under control of the right wing, changed its name to Social Democrats USA. This lit the fuse for the disaffiliation of many of the states and locals within the Debs Caucus, and for many resignations. Early in 1973 the Socialist Party of Wisconsin, with the support of the California and Illinois Parties, called a "National Convention of the Socialist Party," to be held Memorial Day weekend in Milwaukee The Debs Caucus had recently organized a Union for Democratic Socialism, as an "umbrella" organization of both members and non-members of the Socialist Party, and the UDS now made plans for a major conference on "The Future of Democratic Socialism in America" to be held at the same time. The resulting body voted to reconstitute the Socialist

Bernadette Devlin Elected MP for Mid Ulster Constituency

Bernadette Devlin, Irish socialist and republican political activist, is elected Member of Parliament (MP) for the Mid Ulster constituency on April 17, 1969, standing as the Independent Unity candidate.

Devlin is born in Cookstown, County Tyrone to a Roman Catholic family and attends St. Patrick’s Girls Academy in Dungannon. She is studying Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast in 1968 when she takes a prominent role in a student-led civil rights organisation, People’s Democracy. Devlin is subsequently excluded from the university.

She stands unsuccessfully against James Chichester-Clark in the Northern Ireland general election of 1969. When George Forrest, the MP for Mid Ulster, dies, she fights the subsequent by-election on the “Unity” ticket, defeating Forrest’s widow Anna, the Ulster Unionist Party candidate, and is elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. At age 21, she is the youngest MP at the time, and remains the youngest woman ever elected to Westminster until the May 2015 general election when 20-year-old Mhairi Black succeeds to the title.

After engaging, on the side of the residents, in the Battle of the Bogside, she is convicted of incitement to riot in December 1969, for which she serves a short jail term.

Having witnessed the events of Bloody Sunday, Devlin is infuriated that she is consistently denied the floor in the House of Commons by the Speaker Selwyn Lloyd, despite the fact that parliamentary convention decrees that any MP witnessing an incident under discussion would be granted an opportunity to speak about it. Devlin slaps Reginald Maudling, the Home Secretary in the Conservative government, across the face when he states in the House of Commons that the paratroopers had fired in self-defence on Bloody Sunday.

Devlin helps to form the Irish Republican Socialist Party, a revolutionary socialist breakaway from Official Sinn Féin, with Seamus Costello in 1974. She serves on the party’s national executive in 1975, but resigns when a proposal that the Irish National Liberation Army become subordinate to the party executive is defeated. In 1977, she joins the Independent Socialist Party, but it disbands the following year.

Devlin stands as an independent candidate in support of the prisoners at Long Kesh prison in the 1979 European Parliament elections in Northern Ireland and wins 5.9% of the vote. She is a leading spokesperson for the Smash H-Block Campaign, which supports the hunger strikes of 1980 and 1981.

On January 16, 1981, Devlin and her husband, Michael McAliskey, are shot by members of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), who break into their home near Coalisland, County Tyrone. Devlin is shot fourteen times in front of her children. British soldiers are watching the McAliskey home at the time, but fail to prevent the assassination attempt. The couple are taken by helicopter to a hospital in nearby Dungannon for emergency treatment and then transported to the Musgrave Park Hospital, Military Wing, in Belfast, under intensive care. The attackers, all three members of the South Belfast UDA, are captured by the army patrol and subsequently jailed.

In 1982, she twice fails in an attempt to be elected to the Dublin North–Central constituency of Dáil Éireann. In 2003, she is barred from entering the United States and is deported on the grounds that the United States Department of State has declared that she “poses a serious threat to the security of the United States,” apparently referring to her conviction for incitement to riot in 1969.

On May 12, 2007, she is the guest speaker at éirígí‘s first Annual James Connolly commemoration in Arbour Hill, Dublin. She currently co-ordinates a not-for-profit community development organisation based in Dungannon, the South Tyrone Empowerment Programme, and works with migrant workers to improve their treatment in Northern Ireland.

The Path Forward

Proponents of abandoning the Democratic Party ballot line, either immediately or in 2030, would have you believe that it harms our movement’s political independence not to. Just like their stance on the ballot line question, though, that argument relies on either the misunderstanding or willful obfuscation of the truth of elections in America. Jared Abbott and Dustin Guastella propose in their article “A Socialist Party in Our Time?” one such method of achieving and maintaining that independence, which they call the “party surrogate” model. Slaughter reduces this model to simply realignment by other means, but it most closely resembles the model that has provided us the success we’ve seen so far, and intentionally and thoroughly adhering to this model will help maximize our success.

When we engage in electoral politics on any level, our goal must be victory. Not symbolic victories, not moral victories, but material victories for the working class. The branding exercise of which ballot line is used to achieve those victories is immaterial.

The party surrogate is a membership organization, like DSA, which behaves the way a workers’ party would and should, operating organizationally independent of either of the major parties. This surrogate would conduct electoral campaigns every step of the way: finding and recruiting candidates, leading and forming local coalitions, and doing the everyday blocking and tackling of elections from messaging to canvassing to data. This surrogate would, through intentional growth and development, become large and powerful enough to free our candidates from the network of donors, consultants, think tanks, and elites that control the Democratic Party. This organization would operate using the Democratic ballot line where it is strategic, as well as run candidates for nonpartisan seats like school boards or city councils. In doing so, we’d find that the organization is what is important, not the ballot line on which our candidates run. That flexibility and independent structure are more valuable to the working class than the symbolic victory of a workers’ party candidate pulling in 0.8% of the vote.

The party surrogate is much closer to the conception of a “party” as talked about by Marx and Lenin than any of the currently-existing third parties or any of the hypothetical third parties brought about by “breaks” from the Democrats. The party surrogate would be a political home for the entire working class, make decisions democratically, and ensure mutual accountability. The membership of the party would direct all external actions when it comes to electoral politics, but it wouldn’t have to solely rely on electoral politics in the way ballot lines alone do. The party surrogate would include tenants and workers organizing with each other in collective struggle, and our electoral program would be merely a manifestation of that struggle that is seeking to win and utilize elements of state power.

We also do not need an independent ballot line to contest for power with the Democratic Party. We’re doing that right now! Furthermore, the Democrats themselves are proof that merely occupying a separate ballot line does not make a group an opposition party. In fact, were we to create a separate ballot line and rely on that ballot line to gain a hegemonic foothold in a city like Washington, DC, we would end up in the same position as the Democrats there today. There would be nothing we could do to prevent developer-backed liberals from primarying our workers’ party Councilmembers on our ballot line. But if those Councilmembers are accountable to a party surrogate organization, we would be able to get them elected, crowd out capitalist opposition, and achieve socialist governing majorities for the working class of the District. At that point, it will be immaterial whether those Councilmembers were elected on the Democratic Party ballot line, the Statehood Green ballot line, as independent socialists, or on the Whig Party ballot line.

This leads to the final point on this matter: even if you grant that the dirty break does not necessitate a split from the Democratic Party ballot line now, in 2030, or even for 50 years, it’s a red herring. A loyal mass base large enough to allow for a dirty break while avoiding electoral marginalization will necessarily require a majority of Democratic voters and be powerful enough to dominate in Democratic primaries. By the time a dirty break could be successful the debate over realignment of the Democratic Party versus the dirty break would be irrelevant. At that point, it doesn’t matter what ballot line we use, we’d already be delivering all the material results for the working class that we can through electoral organizing and a parliamentary strategy.

When we engage in electoral politics on any level, our goal must be victory. Not symbolic victories, not moral victories, but material victories for the working class. The branding exercise of which ballot line is used to achieve those victories is immaterial. An insistence on a new ballot line is an individual vanity project that accomplishes nothing for anyone. We do not have the time, resources, and energy to spend on such a project. As the personalities behind the Movement for a People’s Party will soon find out, only real organizing and movement building will win power for the working class. Ballot lines are symbolic, and the rejection of the Democratic one is nothing more than a mood brought on by the obvious and abundant failures of the institutional Democratic Party. But the Democratic ballot line is a tool, and a powerful one, that socialists must use in our fight on all fronts for socialism, justice, and working class liberation.

1 A notable exception from DSA’s recent past is the Chicago City Council, which is officially nonpartisan and where party preference is informal and unofficial. Some other jurisdictions, such as Washington state, may stylize as “prefers Democratic Party” for the purposes of this article this will also be considered “using the Democratic Party ballot line” as there is no more official way to indicate affiliation in these cases.

2 While a party organ in that it is headquartered in the DNC and that most Democratic House members and campaigns work with it in some fashion, the exact nature of the DCCC is more complex. It is by no means official, in that it has no obligation to work on behalf of all Democratic House campaigns and, similarly, Democratic House campaigns and members have no obligation to support it via dues or campaign appearances.

3 EMILYs List does not necessarily hold true to this mission, having once initially supported anti-choice man Dan Lipinski over pro-choice woman Marie Newman. It also regularly interferes in primaries between two pro-choice women on the side of the more well-funded, establishment pick. For more on them and their influence see: Hannagan, Rebecca J., Jamie P. Pimlott, and Levente Littvay. “Does an EMILY’s List Endorsement Predict Electoral Success, or Does EMILY Pick the Winners?” PS: Political Science and Politics 43, no. 3 (2010): 503-08. Accessed January 14, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25699358.

4 Because individual contributions to campaigns are strictly limited, the identity of and favor with these bundlers is far more valuable than regular donor history. These people, of course, do what they do in order to receive concessions from lawmakers.


  1. Tamouz

    Sorry, but this option was not suitable for me. Maybe there are options?

  2. Ailill

    A very interesting thought

  3. Jamieson

    It is understood in two ways like that

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