Solidarity and the 2020 presidential election

Solidarity Green Party Working Group

October 2, 2020

Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs
Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs

As reported in Solidarity’s Election Poll, a Solidarity internal poll found that 47% of respondents supported voting for Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker running as Greens in the 2020 presidential election, 27% supported voting for Hawkins and Walker where the Democrats are assured of winning and for Joe Biden in “swing states,” 21% supported voting for Biden everywhere (motivated as “Dump Trump, fight Biden”), and 5% provided comments but selected none of the three options.

The poll had many problems, including confusing procedures, inadequate communication, a lower response rate than we should have had, and the tendentious wording of the third option. But correcting these wouldn’t have changed the overall results: Nearly half our members advocate voting for a corporate Democrat for president in 2020 in some or all states.

How did Solidarity, a revolutionary socialist organization founded on the principle of working-class political independence, get to this point? And not just Solidarity. How did the revolutionary socialist movement get to this point? We ask the question not to recriminate but to discern a way forward.

Independent working-class political action

Solidarity was founded in 1986, at a time of retreat by the working class and the left. The name of Solidarity’s magazine, Against the Current, summarized the new organization’s self-conception: to be in the stream, but swimming or at least standing against the prevailing political current.

Not just against the current of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and the Republicans, who led the neoliberal counteroffensive of the time, but also against the current of Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis and the Democrats, who capitulated to it. And against the current of Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition, who couldn’t bring themselves to break off from the Democrats.

Solidarity wasn’t sectarian toward the Rainbow Coalition. It recognized that the Jackson’s platform and the aspirations of his supporters went beyond the two-party system, even if Jackson himself refused to go beyond it. Solidarity said, in effect, “If Jesse Jackson runs as an independent, we’ll support him. If he runs as a Democrat, as part of the system, no.”

Stalinists, including Maoists, and social-democrats had supported “lesser-evil” Democrats for years. But revolutionary socialists refused to do so. Solidarity’s 1986 “Basis of Political Agreement” was crystal clear on the two-party system:

The capitalist parties, especially the Republican and Democratic parties, are fundamentally anti-working class, racist and sexist. We oppose any form of participation in or support for these parties. We call for the working class and its allies to form a new, independent political party that fights for their needs.

Thirty years of struggle

The thirty years after Solidarity’s founding were difficult. The working class mostly retreated. Struggles, although inspiring, were isolated and episodic. Revolutionary socialists found it harder and harder to swim against the current. The pull of the Democratic Party was immense, although it could still be resisted as long as the Democrats pursued openly neoliberal and imperialist polices.

Among revolutionary socialists the resistance began to give way with the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign. The campaign’s success showed the revival of a New Deal wing of the Democratic Party. Very positive in itself, an opportunity. But also a danger, if revolutionary socialists became confused about their role as proponents of working-class political independence and opponents of the Democratic Party.

The growth of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) after Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton and, even more, after Clinton lost to Donald Trump was very positive, an opportunity. But also a danger. Work in DSA, the historic bastion of social-democracy in the US, still required swimming against the current.

The tension became more than much of the revolutionary movement could bear. The International Socialist Organization (ISO) collapsed. Many revolutionary socialists moved into the Sanders orbit. And, when the 2020 Sanders campaign morphed into the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Forces, moved into lesser-evil support for Biden.

Trump

Left advocates of voting for Biden generally give Trump as the reason. Trump is indeed a menace. His views may be no worse than those of Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. But he is self-indulgent, chaotic and demagogic far beyond what they allowed themselves. His appeals to white chauvinism are effective with segments of the population, especially older white men. They bamboozle some white workers, who have real grievances but misdirect their anger.

If the U.S. were on the brink of fascism or military dictatorship and a vote for Biden were the last line of defense, perhaps advocating it could be justified. Although it wouldn’t achieve much. It would be like throwing a handkerchief at a charging bear. But the U.S. isn’t on the brink of fascism or military dictatorship. We’re at a highly polarized moment in the alternating administrations of the two-party system.

Covid-19, the economic collapse, the growth of racism, misogyny and xenophobia, authoritarianism, and climate change threaten human survival. But to advocate a lesser-evil vote for Democrats obscures the way out — independent political action by the working class — as many Solidarity statements have eloquently explained.

Green Party

Some left advocates of voting for Biden, at least in contested states, point to the limitations of the Greens. The Green Party isn’t a mass working-class party and may never become one. The struggle for working-class political independence may flow through other channels. But for now the Green Party is the only sizable left opposition to the Democratic Party.

If the 1996 Labor Party had decided to compete with the Democrats, the situation might be different. If DSA were to decide to compete with the Democrats, the situation might be different. But for now, the Greens are the only political party to the left of the Democratic Party. And Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker, both long-time working-class activists, are the only way to cast a protest vote against the duopoly in the 2020 presidential election.

Movement activity and electoral activity

Some activists want to ignore the 2020 presidential election and “concentrate on the movements,” this year’s version of an old debate among revolutionaries. Certainly movement activity is more important than electoral activity. But they’re not mutually exclusive. Elections are a time when workers are thinking about politics, particularly presidential elections, particularly this presidential election.

The 2020 presidential election should be a teaching moment for revolutionary socialists. The Democratic Party sunk the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders. Commitment to the two-party system led Sanders to embrace Joe Biden. At the Democratic National Convention AOC was given 60 seconds to represent the Democratic left. She took 96 seconds, but the insult shows the place of the left in the party.

Surely, we can continue our movement activity and expose the Democrats at the same time. We may fear that we’ll be isolated if we speak up, but that isn’t the case. Consistent activity combined with consistent opposition to the corporate parties can win us respect in the movements and in movement-related organizations, including DSA. Our purpose is both to be in the stream and to swim against the current.

If we’re silent, others will do the teaching. This year, once again, the Democratic Party has drawn in not just the unions but also antiracist organizations like those of the Black Lives Matter Movement and environmentalist organizations like the Sunrise Movement. Even though the Democrats reject their demands.

Silence about the election would confirm the impression that there is no alternative to the capitalist duopoly. Advocating a vote for Hawkins and Walker points toward an alternative, even if for now it’s just a protest.

The two-party alternation

Six months from now, most likely, the lesser-evil swindle will be a done deal. Much could change, but polls suggest that the Democrats will have the presidency and majorities in the House and possibly the Senate.

We know how a Democratic Party sweep would play out. The Democrats had the presidency and majorities in the House and Senate in 1992 and 2008. They blew their opportunity or, more exactly, they sabotaged it. They failed to deliver. Their base fell away. They lost their majorities in Congress. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama managed to get reelected, but the presidency cycled back to the Republicans when their terms were up.

If the Republicans keep the Senate, the immediate gridlock would block even another limited reform like the Affordable Care Act.

The alternation of Democratic and Republican administrations traces not a circle but a downward spiral toward barbarism. The capitalists use the duopoly to block solutions to the problems their system creates. This is ultimately self-destructive, since the barbarism will engulf them too. But capitalism is not a rational system.

The only way out is for the working class to assert its power. Revolutionary socialists know this. But Trump’s snarling has led many to advocate voting for the lesser evil “this time,” even though that undercuts their ability to educate the working class about the need to act independently in the electoral arena, as well as on the picket lines and in the streets.

Fight and learn

It seems a shame that revolutionary socialists should have to relearn this lesson, when the working class needs our clarity so much. But it’s not possible to wave a magic wand and change the situation. This is an experience the working class and the left will have to go through. Fighting side-by-side against what comes, perhaps we can finally learn to break the cycle, the downward spiral, of the capitalists’ two-party system.

This article was posted to the Solidarity members email list on August 25, 2020.

Comments
  • Willy says:

    Dear us comrades

    Away from the us, i cannot see any fundamental break from independence, unity of action, overtaking if the us revolutionary marxists
    Vote for biden in the swing states, howie elsewhere
    Organize independently the working class (se rochrster afl cio) and allied( black lives matter, etc) to take on the streets, poll stations, picket lines on nov 3 evening on class based independent action

    By the way the revoltionnary marxist left would have on a better foot campaigning for bernie on an independent foot, to move on into blm and now in self defence against barrett and trump

    Again best frm afar

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