A “Party of the People”

30 years ago I became an active member of the first of a number of “third party” organizations that I have been part of over the last three decades. It was then called the National Interim Committee for a Mass Party of the People, shortened a year or so later to Mass Party Organizing Committee. Arthur Kinoy, since deceased, was its founder and spiritual and ideological leader. For 10 years, from the mid-70s to the mid-80s, it helped to advance the idea that building a progressive third party was a strategic key to forward progress in this country.

Yesterday, at the Millions More Movement event in Washington, D.C., I was pleasantly surprised to hear Minister Louis Farrakhan call for, among other positive things, a “party of the people,” as one aspect of what he sees as necessary today in the fight for justice and human liberation. He put it forward as a vehicle that could help to force the Democrats and Republicans to take seriously the demands of an African-American-led, progressive political force.

Farrakhan’s speech was profoundly different compared to one I heard him give about a month ago at a church in Newark, N.J. I went away from that one disappointed. Rather than a speech critiquing the government for its many crimes and injustices, Farrakhan spent major minutes analyzing the state of male/female relationships in the black community and urging black men to get their act together so that they could develop healthy personal and sexual relationships with black women. Although I support that objective for those black men who are heterosexual, it was not what I expected from a public spokesperson trying to motivate people to make the trek to Washington, D.C. for a big demonstration.

Yesterday, as described in an article in today’s New York Times, “speakers, led by Louis Farrakhan. . . embraced an agenda of self-help. . . demanded reparations for the descendants of black slaves and floated the idea of a new political party to increase the power of blacks and other minority groups. Mr. Farrakhan urged the crowd to mobilize support for progressive social policies. ‘The government will never do for the poor of this nation until and unless we organize effectively to make government respond to the needs of the poor,’ Mr. Farrakhan said. . . ‘We must go back home and organize as never before.’”

And it wasn’t just Republicans Farrakhan critiqued. “The Democrats have used us and abused us. They look at the black and the brown and the poor like this is a plantation, and our Democratic leaders are like the house Negro on the plantation of Democratic politics.”

Is this for real?

One key test will be to see if there is follow-up by the Millions More Movement to organize a “party of the people” on the ground, at local levels, an essential task if this is a serious commitment and not just a great speech.

Another key test will be to see if there is a strengthening of outreach to the leaders of “Brown, Red, disenfranchised and oppressed” constituencies, as listed in point 1 of the 10-point listing of “The Issues of the Millions More Movement” (www.millionsmoremovement.com). Although there was a dynamic and powerful range of African American leadership on the speaker’s platform, a significant weakness was the absence of speakers from those other MMM-identified constituencies.

Another key question will be whether this movement/party begins to run independent candidates for office. In the United States of America, masses of people do not take you seriously as an alternative to the Democrats and Republicans if you don’t do so. It is not enough to be a coalition of organizations with a good platform, occasional demonstrations and issue-oriented campaigns and, during election season, efforts to negotiate concessions from the powers-that-be. Our objective must not be negotiating concessions but constructing the kind of massive and unified political force that builds towards the actual implementation of a “power to the people, not corporations” agenda. Running independent candidates, in the U.S. context, is essential to that objective.

And if this movement/party begins to take root, what will the Green Party and Labor Party do?

Both of these national, independent political formations are predominantly white. Both of them though, in different ways, do represent the issues and interests of the disenfranchised and oppressed.

One of them, the Green Party, continues to run candidates for office, primarily at a local level, and has over 200 in office right now. It also continues to contend with internal divisions caused partly by serious differences in 2004 over the Presidential question, partly by strategic differences revolving around how to relate to progressive Democrats, and partly by a relative handful of loud sectarians on email lists.

The Labor Party, nine years after its founding in June of 1996, doesn’t run candidates and seems to be essentially a loose network of unions who agree that we need a working-class party and which works on some issue campaigns, but it is without an organizing approach that is either building local chapters or generating much political energy. Despite this, a “third party” network which brings together unions representing over 2 million workers is an important institution.

It seems to me that there would be much to be gained by some serious dialogue at national and local levels between leaders of the Millions More Movement, the Green and Labor parties.

It also seems to me that this potential new infusion of energy into the progressive independent politics movement is a development much to be welcomed. I know that there will be some independent progressives who will feel threatened by it, threatened by the overt call for reparations, threatened by the power of Minister Farrakhan within the MMM, threatened by the potential of a strong African American movement. It is one thing to have a minority of people of color in your predominantly white organization; it is another thing entirely to have a broadly-based, aroused and mobilized black community in alliance with other people of color putting forward its self-determined agenda. Those of us who appreciate the continuing problem of white supremacy within the progressive movement will, hopefully, have our work cut out for us.

“Hopefully” because it is just the day after a great speech. We will have to see what tomorrow brings.