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The Press and the Party

What is the role of a publication in the long-term strategy for socialism?

Juan Cruz Ferre

December 21, 2019
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Illustration: Ayelen Virdis

The press has always been a powerful tool at the service of political projects. And not just socialist ones but all kinds of political projects. Among revolutionaries, the example of Iskra is well known: Lenin saw in the publication the means to unite the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP), cohere it around a program, and tighten the coordination of its different branches and locals as a national organization.

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Similarly, Antonio Gramsci founded the newspaper L’Ordine Nuovo with the purpose of elevating debates among Italian Marxists and socialist workers. Whereas Angelo Tasca wanted to focus more on Marxist economics and ideological debates, Gramsci fought inside the editorial board for an orientation toward the most advanced workers leading the factory committees in the industrial areas of northern Italy. He associated the factory committees with the soviets which only a few years earlier had played a decisive role during the Russian Revolution. Soon he and other editors were invited to speak at different factories and L’Ordine Nuovo became the newspaper of the factory committees.

There are examples of this dialectical relationship between the press and political projects throughout the twentieth century. Most recently, there emerged Público, a Spanish newspaper directly linked to Podemos, which played a prominent role in the party’s development, lifting its candidates’ profiles and broadcasting their ideas. Closer to home, Jacobin is another example of how a publication can serve as a platform to launch a political project or shape a growing movement with its ideas and politics. Jacobin has carved out a space on the US Left and managed to give shape to the pro-Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), adopting an “inside-outside” strategy vis-à-vis the Democratic Party.

Mainstream media too are in their own way “political parties” that have an agenda, a program. Take the New York Times or the Washington Post. Even when they purport to give space to a variety of opinions (and they do on questions of secondary importance), their editorial line is clear, as is the agenda they push on all important political questions.

Everyone working for Left Voice is a revolutionary militant. We are all strongly committed to the fight for socialism. And we have a relatively concrete vision of social change. For one, we know it will take a revolution to achieve socialism. There is no lack of examples of failed attempts to overcome capitalism by the electoral route. We are talking about a social revolution in which the masses take their destiny into their own hands, not a “political revolution” in the superstructures of power in which most people are spectators or, at best, passive supporters.

But revolutions, unlike mass uprisings, do not happen spontaneously. When the masses rise up without an orientation or political direction, the revolutionary process gets blunted, co-opted, or crushed. In those circumstances, the lead role is reserved for the revolutionary party, one with seasoned militants who know what they are doing, a party that is rooted in workplaces, in unions, in fighting students’ and women’s organizations, to such a degree that it can take the pulse of the masses and mobilize the armies of the oppressed in moments of unrest, turmoil, and open confrontation—in other words, a party that can provide leadership.

The question is how to build this political tool, a revolutionary organization that can play a decisive role at the right moment. The reality is that there is no magic formula. For now, we want a publication that is read by the whole US Left, by hundreds of thousands. We are slowly achieving this goal. As we go, publishing more articles and gathering collaborators, sympathizers, and readers, we develop our positions and our program; we test our understanding of current politics, we learn from exchanges with others on the Left, from our guest writers, and so on.

We take the work we do for Left Voice as part of the necessary groundwork for building a revolutionary organization. This is our guiding principle.

Left Voice is part of an international media network that produces daily content in twelve countries and in eight languages. La Izquierda Diario is the name of the network in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and other Spanish-speaking countries. In France, Révolution Permanente has created a space for itself among the left activism of the Nuit Débout and, more recently, the radical left elements of the Yellow Vests.

We created the Izquierda Diario network in 2013 because we are convinced that the revolutionary left has something important to say. Today, our website in Argentina reaches three million people a month. In Brazil we have two million visits a month, and in France over one million. Recently in Chile we reached two million visits with our coverage of the massive mobilizations against the government of Sebastián Piñera. Contradicting the assumption that revolutionary ideas are marginal today, we created a news network to reach millions among the youth and the working class, disseminating our politics and helping radicalize more people. Moreover, our network is international because we are an internationalist political project. In all countries outside the United States, there is a political organization behind the publication, one that is a member of the Trotskyist Fraction for the Fourth International.

Marx wrote, “to be able to fight at all, the working class must organize itself at home as a class … its own country is the immediate arena of its struggle.” As he went on to explain, however, this struggle is only national in “form,” not in “substance.” This means one must be a socialist both in domestic affairs and in foreign policy. In the US context, this means being anti-imperialist.

We cannot aspire to liberate the American working class while its government oppresses other countries. This is why one of the most problematic aspects of the new “Democratic insurgency” is its nationalism. The DSA, for its part, has effectively justified this nationalism by supporting Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez despite their nationalist shortcomings. The basic idea can be summarized as follows: If we want Medicare for All, we have to turn a blind eye to these politicians’ foreign policy.

But we cannot brush aside the fact that, just a few months ago, the US government attempted a coup d’état in Venezuela, and that it is now forcing Mexico to keep migrants in its territory at any cost while it builds concentration camps within its own borders. We cannot ignore that US intervention in Puerto Rico perpetuates the suffering of the territory’s people and secures US colonial rule. As Marx put it, “A nation that enslaves another forges its own chains.”

So we take it upon ourselves to influence young people and workers who are turning to the left to embrace an anti-imperialist perspective. It is a strategic task, because if the peoples oppressed by the United States want to liberate themselves, they must have a strong ally in the belly of the beast. That is why when the Trump administration made its move in Venezuela, we published numerous articles against the US intervention, and we did not spare Sanders and AOC any critique for failing to strongly oppose the coup and feeding into Trump’s rhetoric of US “humanitarian aid,” which was only a maneuver to strengthen Juan Guadió’s opposition.

Another characteristic of Left Voice, one which we share with all members of our international media network, is the struggle for class independence. We believe that the working class and its allies (the urban poor, the peasants in the Global South, and indigenous peoples worldwide) have a common international enemy in the institutions that underpin the capitalist state: the bosses and their political parties, the police, and the union bureaucracy. We, the working class, need our own political organizations, our own newspapers, our own program.

That is why we do not vote for Democrats or Republicans, and in the countries where we have an electoral presence, we refuse to give any support to ruling-class parties.

In the labor movement we fight to unionize new sectors, and for workers to organize democratically so that their organizations are tools of struggle. The fight against the union bureaucracy is a central piece of our struggle for workers’ power. In every country in the world, the union bureaucracy is in the pocket of some capitalist party and helps to control the working class by dampening its more radical elements, stifling dissent as an internal police of the labor movement and binding it to bourgeois political representation. When nurses in New York had to confront their union leadership in order to fight for better conditions for themselves and their patients, we were there to amplify their struggle. You will find in our pages the voices of militant rank-and-file workers fighting our class enemies, the bosses, and the union bureaucracy.

Furthermore, Left Voice is committed to fighting all forms of oppression. We cannot focus on economic demands and postpone the struggle against racial and gender oppression until socialism comes—they will not automatically wither away with the seizure of power. We must fight all kinds of oppression here and now. We think socialists have a role to play in influencing the youth and the working class with an intransigent anti-racist and anti-sexist perspective. Fighting oppression fosters workers’ solidarity and strengthens working-class hegemony—that is, the idea that it is the working class alone that can provide a solution to all major social ills under capitalism. The fight against oppression and capitalist exploitation go hand in hand.

It is these ideas that we want to express in Left Voice. We value theory because as Lenin admits “without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement,” but we are not a publication composed of intellectuals—we are revolutionary militants: workers, students, migrants, women, LGBT comrades, and people of color. We want to open our publication to more and more people who want to denounce the barbarism of capitalism and the institutions of the capitalist state such as the police and their brutality, to fight race and gender oppression, and to defend an anti-imperialist perspective.

The US Left finds itself at a unique moment. There is a rebirth of socialism, with hundreds of thousands of people joining the movement. The dominant current within it, no doubt, is reformism, and the revolutionary left has reached its nadir in recent history. There is no actual revolutionary socialist organization today in the United States, only small sects or eclectic, big-tent organizations that encompass communists, anarchists, Stalinists, and left reformists. These kinds of organizations have no future. When push comes to shove, their members will realize they have fewer agreements than they thought, and the organization will come apart.

By the same token, the DSA is on a clear path toward being absorbed by the Democratic Party. This does not look auspicious for the US Left. But we see this phenomenon dialectically: the rise of reformism will bring about, after the younger generation of socialists experience the failures of reformism, a new revolutionary socialist movement. We do not yet know how the new revolutionary left will emerge, but we want to be part of it. We want to debate with revolutionaries and socialists moving to the left about how to move forward, and we want to collaborate, to be part of the new revolutionary left that will emerge.

In What Is to Be Done?, Lenin laid out guiding principles for building a revolutionary organization that could rise to the occasion when the right moment came. In the lead-up to its second congress, the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party was in a state of disorientation and atomization, in which what Lenin called “artisanal methods” (lack of training, economism, disregard for theory) were pervasive. Lenin argued for building an organization of professional revolutionaries. It is telling that his main prescription for revolutionaries was to create a publication for all Russia.

He envisioned that Iskra would serve several purposes. It would help cohere different regions, put them on the same page, allow the sharing of political perspectives, and unite the fight against czarism. At the same time, it would play a role in the political education of the party cadre. Most importantly, however, Lenin saw the newspaper as a collective organizer.

The publication could help organize political activities, set priorities, and help the people working on it stay on top of the political situation. Lenin spoke of the press as the scaffolding which provides a structure for building a political organization.

It is with this framework in mind that we speak of Left Voice as a militant project. It has been our experience that a publication can open meaningful conversations with contributors and lead to common ground, or, conversely, to the realization that we have irreconcilable differences.

Through this process, we get closer to accomplishing Left Voice’s main goal: to build a current of ideas, a platform where like-minded revolutionaries can connect and discuss the important questions of the day: how to fight US imperialism; how to revolutionize our unions, wresting them from the hands of the union bureaucracy; how to fight racism and sexism in our lives, workplaces, and schools; and how to build the political tool that will put an end to capitalism.

This article was originally published in Issue #5 of Left Voice Magazine.

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