Matthew and Ryan (Solidarity 255) both criticized my article on unions and the Democrats, but they did so in strikingly different ways.
In Matthew’s letter, a single word reveals the weakness in his argument. He concedes that the British Labour Party has become a lot more like the Democrats but adds: “[It] is not the same yet”. “Yet” is the key word. Because as critics of Labour here are quick to point out, that is exactly what’s happening. The grip of unions on the party has weakened dramatically. The Labour Party no longer even pretends to be a socialist party. We don’t disagree on that point, and it’s a central part of my argument. What Matthew neglects to comment on is my observation that the Democrats have been changing too over the years, with unions playing a far more significant role today than they have in the past.
And it’s not just about unions throwing money at the Democrats. Anyone who watched the Democratic National Convention on television this month would have seen a very large, proud union contingent with banners and signs. And those trade unionists, elected delegates to the convention, were singled out and referenced by Obama, Biden and other speakers. In fact, I’ll bet you’ll find that Obama and Biden are far more likely to make positive references to trade unions in their speeches than Ed Miliband does.
If the Democrats are becoming more and more like Labour, and Labour more and more like the Democrats, I think my argument is a valid one. And I think that Matthew seems to accept at least part of that as being true.
As for Ryan, though he too rejects the idea that socialists and trade unionists have any place in the Democratic Party, he compares supporting the Democrats to supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which is not just unfair but offensive.
Matthew concluded his letter by asking if I think that British unions were right a century ago to form the Labour Party. Of course I do. It would be a wonderful thing if American unions today did the same and formed a Labor Party. And even better if that party adopted socialist politics. And better still if those socialist politics were not tainted by Stalinism or social democratic reformism, but reflected the great tradition of independent, revolutionary socialism.
But comrades, that’s a fantasy. There is not going be a revolutionary, third-camp, Shachtmanite mass party of the workers in America any time soon or, to be honest, ever.
Serious socialists who really do want to change the world accept that our unions are not perfect unions, that our Labour Party is not the party we’d like, and in the USA, that the Democratic Party leaves a lot to be desired.
But those are where progressive are, where the workers are, and our role is to fight side by side with those workers in those institutions — and not to fantasise about a perfect world.