Today the Democratic Party elected Tom Perez as Chair. Perez represents the center-right of an already right-wing party that falsely represents the “Left” of American society.
To be clear, it doesn’t mean much even if the Democratic party had elected Keith Ellison (the nominal progressive). The Democratic Party is a capitalist party that cannot be reformed. It’s been tried many times, and it never works. To make the party genuinely working class would be to revolutionize the party itself, and that’s not fundamentally different from just starting a new party.
And there seems to be a call for just that: A new labor party, or a progressive party, or something along those lines. There are two problems with this line of thinking. The first is that there are already plenty of parties and organizations that, while not as prominent as the democratic party, already have their own momentum and their own infrastructure. The Socialist Party USA is a great example, and along with the Democratic Socialists of America (admittedly a more reformist organization) have been growing at a prodigious rate since the last election. Other socialist organizations like the International Socialist Organization have expanded as well. There are also plenty of less institutional, more grassroots organizations already on the ground.
But there’s a more important reason to be wary of calls for a new party: It embodies a way of thinking about progressive change that is historically ignorant. Those calling for a new party seem to want to replace the Democratic Party – about 50% of the political power in this country – with a party of comparable size and power, but with genuine progressive values. They seem to think we can simply cut out the Democratic Party structure and replace it with a Progressive Party structure, and inherit the power and position the Democratic Party has. But this still places too much trust in the institutions of our society to fight for progressive change; the real history of our country is that progressive change almost invariably comes after a protracted, violent struggle by many more-or-less loosely organized and networked activist organizations. For example, the Wikipedia page for “African-America Civil Rights Movement” yields 18 individual organizations involved in the fight for civil rights (I imagine there were many more). This is the way that progressive change happens: from below, from the people and their own independently organized efforts; not from above, from institutionalized power.