Liberalism hinders working-class leadership

BY:Lowell B. Denny, III| January 28, 2020
Liberalism hinders working-class leadership


Editor’s note: This article responds to the November 2019 discussion question on political independence, working-class leadership, and the fight for democracy.

Before we effectively mobilize against a second Trump regime, against deepening fascism, and resisting a return to the Confederacy we’ve scarcely left, the Communist Party USA must ascertain what working-class leadership looks like, and we have to chart a path on how to build it.

What goes in invariably comes out, goes a crude rephrasing of the law of thermodynamics that the anti-Trump forces easily forget. If Trump loses in 2020, all that the progressive forces would have produced absent a vibrant working class are individuals who had opposed Donald Trump—neither a movement nor leadership is emerging from the anti-Trump activity. Yes, we’ve seen a lot of positives: the women’s marches, climate strikes, and the 2018 elections that led to victories by progressive congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib, for example, and the candidacies of Kaniela Ing (Hawaii) and Cori Bush (Missouri). But these disparate victories and actions have not coalesced into a movement. If the seeds of such a movement are there, as some would counterargue, where have these seeds gone after Clinton or Obama, or after Reagan and the Bush dynasty?

It is not enough to focus on Trump’s high crimes and cowardliness, his predilection to assault women, his use of the tools of white racism handed down to him from the start of this white-settler project, or the delusion that he’s some kind of man’s man. Calling out these things will not in themselves build the working-class consciousness required to build a working-class movement. We must put in other work.

A Trump defeat would undoubtedly provide better conditions for working-class successes. However, as  I’ve said many times, to the derision of the anti-Trumps, I would accept a Trump second term in exchange for a conscious, self-confident working-class movement, because this oaf Goliath in the Oval Office would run from our David without a rock being thrown. That is the sort of coward he is.  

The working class needs to awaken from the hypnotic influence of (neo)liberalism.

For the working class to take its leadership position and engage this struggle, it needs to awaken from the hypnotic influence of (neo)liberalism. The working class today is a lot like my own much-misnamed LGBTQ “community” of the current period. There is little community spirit, almost no fostering of communitarian values, or even insistence in having such values, and where narcissism has become a virtue. Despite the warning from gay and lesbian comrades like Harry Hay and Audre Lorde, the disparate parts of the LGBTQ “community” have ceded the terrain of struggle to liberals for whom homophobia, racism, and classism are only external enemies, not internal ones. (This was not always the case, as the 1980s and 1990s witnessed an LGBTQ community coming together for each other against the AIDS pandemic, Reaganomics, scientific neglect, homophobia, etc.)

For the working class to take its leadership position and engage the broader struggle, it needs to expose those within who deliberately want to hinder working-class leadership. For these class traitors, either the liberal doctrine and/or Democratic-Republican rule is sacrosanct and must be protected from the rabble of worker democracy and socialism. For these class traitors within, the working class is useful only to be mobilized in partisan elections, where rarely a working-class candidate is offered. These forces are content keeping us unorganized internally and battling external forces and mobilizing around election cycles.

We cannot confuse this paradigm with a vibrant working class prepared to lead.

For the working class to take its leadership position and engage this struggle, it needs to confront the racism, anticommunism, misogyny, individualism, and classism in its midst and cultivate labor democracy, solidarity, and community. Cultivation is not rhetorical; it is institutional.

We cannot be misled that our focus is only outward, that Trump is the sole enemy, because we fail to do the constant work to model within our own ranks working-class values for a working-class culture, of keeping our sisters’ and brothers’ welfare in mind as much as our own, of an injury to one is an injury to all and what that really means (in the sense that “if they come for you at night they will come for me in the morning,” as Baldwin penned to our imprisoned comrade, Angela Davis).

This is what builds a robust, confident working-class leadership.

The Party should not only direct members to join unions and civic groups where they have them, but to openly resist the liberal agenda and press radical ones instead. This must be our mark. This is leadership.

How many of our unions are as anticommunist as my own, the American Federation of Government Employees, which bars Communists from membership and  from holding any office, and yet are given persistent passes by not being called out? It would seem an obvious task for the news media of any communist party to expose these anticommunist unions, because these antique positions reveal much worse underneath.

How many form “morale committees” with management, like my local just did to raffle off a huge basket of junk food, beer, and a hibachi? My coworkers are struggling to pay rent and our stagnant wages cannot compete with a Hawaii that has opened its doors to real estate developers and investors. What does a winner-take-all raffle of high-fructose corn syrup and alcohol have to do with raising the consciousness of our workers?

But these are the sorts of things we lull ourselves uncritically into, like liberal narratives, and we are less and less prepared as the shit continues to hit the fan.

In many ways, we’ve gone over that cliff, but our advantage is that our forces continue to be replenished with people young and old drawn to and inspired by the tremendous work this Party has done. We need to commit to cultivating this advantage toward radical ends.

I took some heat for affirming an observation by Breht O’Shea, a Marxist organizer and host of a wonderful podcast, Revolutionary Left Radio: “Any Communist movement that lacks a robust, anti-revisionist strain will, in my opinion, begin to default to liberalism. It will alienate its proletarian base.” But O’Shea’s observation was correct then and is still, and we would do well to appreciate the spirit behind the comment. In allowing liberalism to set the standard, we suffer diminishing returns and undermine our capacity for leadership within the working class.



    Lowell B. Denny, III, has a degree in political science from Washington University. His political education began with his membership in Queer Nation-San Francisco, spending two months of work and study in Cuba in the early 1990s, then three months hitchhiking around Mexico where he got to spend a day in jail, and now living in Hawaii where the sovereignty movement is strong. He has worked in publishing, retail, as a school teacher and restaurant waiter. He is a member of AFGE Local 1234.

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