Posted October 2, 2020
In this election year, the anti-capitalist left needs, and some coalitions are already conducting, an activist Dump Trump, Fight and Force Biden (DTFB) organizing strategy. It could oust Trump and drive back his forces, expose Biden and the Democratic Party, and force a Biden Administration to enact and fund a set of non-reformist reforms, envisioned in radical versions of the Green New Deal and Health Care for All, and in the Movement for Black Lives program. DTFB organizing could also contribute to building the left and social movements, provide the foundations for an independent left political party, and give a glimpse of a better, radically democratic and sustainable world. Too good to be true? Keep reading.
Can We In Good Conscience Vote for Biden?
Presidential elections offer a moment when people who are generally checked out of politics, begin to tune in. We should not squander this opportunity. In so far as COVID-19 allows normal election activities — canvassing, phone-banking, leaflet drops, tabling at events, holding forums, rallies and marches — we can do these in a way that forwards a left agenda. Poor people’s community organizations and social justice organizations have grown exponentially over the last ten years. Several are developing the Dump Trump, Fight Biden strategy (for example, The Frontline, Durham for All, and Reclaim Philadelphia). The socialist left can be in the mix, organizing with and alongside them.
In conversations and leaflets we would disseminate our message, explaining why dump Trump, why it is necessary to vote for Biden, how we can fight and force a Biden presidency to go far beyond his tepid program and his own horrible record on domestic and international issues.
It is true, that advocates for voting for the lesser evil have consistently exaggerated the differences between the Democratic and Republican candidates. However, others have made what I believe is a convincing case as to why the 2020 election is different (for example, Noam Chomsky and Barbara Ransby) and I will not belabor that here.
But just to be clear: everything said about Biden by those who argue against voting for him is true. These truths however, in this moment, don’t carry the day, if you believe, as I do, that Trump has to be stopped in his tracks, repudiated, to decisively interrupt the downward spiral toward a white supremacist autocracy. And a strategic vote for Biden makes sense since his administration will be forced to bargain with “progressive” Democrats in the Congress, and it should be possible to win significant programs, call them non-reformist or revolutionary reforms.
The DTFB Program of Revolutionary Reforms
We don’t have to wait until after the election to fight for a package of “non-reformist” reforms. By non-reformist reforms I mean programs and policies that:
- Demonstrate the virtues of radically democratic organizations and social relations which prove that “Every Cook Can Govern” – for example, worker-owned and controlled co-ops, democratically-run teams to treat chronic diseases, participatory budgeting in local government.
- Honor and reward the skills and contributions of those in non-elite, professional, college diploma- requiring work.
- Significantly shift political power downward and outward and Increase social organization and power at the base of our society.
- Provide a solid social safety net that increases the confidence and fighting power of the working class.
- Challenge all hierarchy including based on race, gender, class, sexual orientation, ability, and spiritual practice.
We can be clear that Joe Biden and his corporate party Democrats will continue, whatever campaign promises they make, to serve corporate elites, attempt to stabilize their faltering system, and reinforce their control. But they can be pushed, they can be moved, they can be confronted by the movements we build and by the progressive Green New Deal contingent in the Democratic Party.
Defeating Trump — and mobilizing to defend that electoral victory as we surely will have to — can build popular energy to organize for more wins. So it is very important that as we organize this vote against Trump we also organize for a program and vision that excites people, encouraging them to join the many different movements that are working to win these demands.
The Community Energy Example
Let’s take one example, fundamental to all societies, the energy system and the potential to replace today’s Investor Owned Utilities (the IOUs), one of the pillars of capitalist domination, with its challenger in the U.S. today, a confederation of public, democratically run “Community Energy” utilities, envisioned in the radical versions of the Green New Deal.
Winning considerable support and appropriations for Community Energy is no pipe dream. If Biden wins, there will be congressional movement on climate change, with adaptation/mitigation programs a major item in the stimulus and worker/renter protection package they will be forced to enact. To be sure, most of this will be payouts to corporate interests, perhaps increased funding by the Department of Energy to the coal companies for research and pilot projects for carbon sequestration.
But with determined organizing, the left could win significant support to advance “Just Transition” programs for workers and communities including the Community Energy model.
California now has over 40 long established publicly-owned utilities, including in Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco and also over 20 “Community Choice” utilities. These latter were created and run over the last ten years by cities, counties, and multi-county partnerships by seizing from their corporate Investor Owned Utility, pursuant to California law, the responsibility to supply electricity to the public in their areas. These public utilities and Community Choice Programs, all together, now serve over half of California energy customers and are building out mostly local sun and wind installations, many small and neighborhood sized, some quite large “utility” scale, producing electricity near the point of use and only requiring some upgrade of today’s electric grid.
Compare this to the Investor Owned Utility system that almost entirely relies on huge remote coal and gas plants, these being very slowly replaced by huge remote sun and wind plantations, with the whole ensemble of remote generating plants connected to users by high volume, high security, very expensive grids that traverse forests, rivers, and farmlands. These grids are of course only as reliable as their most vulnerable wires and pylons whose failures in storms and high winds have been responsible for hundreds of deaths and close to $40 billion in damages in the 2018 and 2019 California wildfires. As to 2020 the wildfire, some have already been attributed to down wires, and the loss of life and damage have yet to be computed.
Compared to the IOU model, the Community Energy system is quick to build and easy to repair by local workers, less environmentally risky, and far less expensive, using proven off the shelf technologies whose costs are continuously decreasing. Further, the Community Energy utilities work with and support local movements in transportation, housing, urban form, agriculture, and climate justice to reconstruct our cities and suburbs as well as build a culture of energy conservation and use reduction. And all are experimenting with democratic structures, quite complex in a confederated system of huge size. These visionary (and practical!) models exemplify the kind of social collaboration and democratic social ownership that is central to our vision of socialism.
Every movement now organizing has within it some “practical visionary” ideas for more deeply democratic, participatory, just and environmentally sustainable ways of living. In policing: the “defund police, reimagine public safety” movement features democratically organized community institutions. As to the economy the Evergreen Project, Cooperation Jackson, and the worker cooperative movement offer inspiration. Models of horizontally organized health care delivery and education are being replicated across the country. Then there’s social housing and also recent advances in public banking in California which are also being considered around the country. And participatory budgeting programs, though with little actual money to be distributed, are operating in some cities.
Considering the current balance of forces – a still pretty marginal left, a disorganized and divided working class, powerful capital – and the magnitude of our crises, these models may appear either palliatives with little importance or steps far beyond what people are ready for. Still, they represent important necessary preparatory work for what could be a new stage in the battle, as increasingly destructive and life threatening events (pandemics, climate destruction, economic collapse) combine to spur new levels of action — just as George Floyd’s murder finally brought hundreds of thousands into the streets. Projects in democratic living provide the models and building blocks for the coming necessary social and economic reconstruction.
The DTFB Strategy – Movement and Party Building
Critics of electoral strategies and programs that advocate voting for the lesser evil (rather than for an independent left party candidate) contend (1) that electoral work, except for the independent left party, detracts from struggles to build the movements from below that that have always been necessary to winning anything significant, and (2) that any support or work for the Democratic Party candidate is at the expense of building, slowly to be sure, the powerful left party we need.
These contentions should be laid to rest. First, the electoral work being suggested here does not suck effort from movement building. It is in fact complementary and reinforcing. The canvassing, forums, leaflets, and the rest in DTFB do not glorify the lesser evil but critique Biden, and they prepare for a campaign to force the Biden administration to fund the Green New Deal and Black Lives Matter programs that the movements are fighting for.
A great majority of those now organizing pursuant to a DTFB strategy are also movement activists and bringing the DTFB message to movement organizations, thus radicalizing them. The DTFB encourages coalition-building, bringing together single-issue organizations around a common target and a comprehensive program.
Second, of course we do need a powerful party. But how to create the conditions for its development? In the U.S., with its great barriers to third party success, the DTFB strategy may well be among the most effective ways to build that national party. Because, in bringing the movements and left together and creating activist bases across the country, we create the embryo and foundations of that party.
For the last many election years we have argued among ourselves about who to vote for – either an independent left party candidate or for the lesser evil, maybe just in the swing states. But except for the few of who live where the Greens or other independent left parties are campaigning, most of us remain for that excruciating election period on the sidelines, excoriating both capitalist parties and fearing for the outcome.
And as we mostly stand on the sidelines, the DP is recruiting for its ground campaign, especially phone banking to identify Biden voters and then Get Out The Vote. The recruits include:
- Thousands from its base who still believe in the party, that it fights for working people, does its best.
- Thousands from the unions, especially teachers, nurses, and other public workers whose leaderships “suggest” that union staff and activists get involved.
- Thousands from the environmental, social justice, women’s movements, and others that rely on the DP to protect them in legislative combat even as they recognize that the party often disappoints them.
- Uncounted numbers of radicalized young people new to politics but wanting to get engaged.
- Even young anti-capitalists who have gravitated into our orbit are tempted to take jobs or get involved in working for the Dems.
These volunteers are fed the scripts authorized by the Party. They’re subjected to DP pep talks, and participate in rallies. They have fun and meet friends at after work beer parties. Becoming integrated into the Party, they come to believe the propaganda they sell, and are motivated to work to return the Party to former glories.
If we had been active, mounted a challenge, many of those activists would have entered our ranks and come to appreciate our vision, the feasibility of our goals, and the necessity of achieving them.
Socialist commitments may begin with recognition of the evils of capitalism, often in bitter experience. But long-term commitment to socialist democracy, to continued work and struggle through thick and thin, that requires the confidence and inspiration that comes with knowledge of the necessity and possibility of building a better, democratic, and sustainable new world. DTFB organizing strategy offers a glimpse of that better possible world, through realizable alternatives, that could greatly improve life for so many and meet the challenge of our times.
Bill Resnick is a member of Solidarity. He hosts “The Old Mole Variety Hour” on KBOO radio in Portland, Oregon. He has published in the Columbia Law Review, Socialist Review, Against the Current, the Portland Alliance and the Portland Oregonian.