The Wall St. Journal editors didn’t mince their words: “Republicans are chortling after Tuesday’s primary defeat of New York Democratic Congressional baron Joseph Crowley by Sandernista Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but they might want to hold the Schadenfreude [pleasure from somebody else’s misfortune],” they wrote. “Republicans want to believe that a sharp left turn makes Democrats less electable. But that’s what the British Tories thought when the socialist Jeremy Corbyn became the Labour Party leader, and he nearly won last year’s election that was supposed to be a Tory landslide.”
This is their conclusion from the victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York City primary this week. She ran against one of the top Democrats in the House of Representatives – Joe Crowley – and got 57% of the vote. Her program included Medicare for all, a guaranteed job for all, and ending ICE.
After getting a degree in economics and international relations from Boston University, Ocasio-Cortez worked for a time bar tending. In 2012, she got involved in the Sunshine Bronx Business Incubator which was a city run hub meant to help young entrepreneurs get their start-up businesses off the ground. Ocasio-Cortez’s project was a book publishing company. As she said at the time, “the Bronx is somewhere to invest.” She also worked for the non-profit National Hispanic Institute. She got her start in politics while at BU, where she worked for Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy. However, her real involvement came when Sanders ran for president in 2016. Ocasio-Cortez is also a member of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
Meaning of Ocasio-Cortez victory
As the Wall St. Journal editors recognize, Ocasio-Cortez’s victory shows the strong discontent that exists. It shows the potential for radical change. The question for the working class movement is whether the direction that Ocasio-Cortez takes can produce that change. To answer that, we have to start by looking at the objective situation:
As we have said many times, there is a crisis in the US working class. That crisis is exemplified by the fact that Trump’s approval ratings remain between 45-47% (depending on the poll you’re reading). This means that tens of millions of US workers support this lying, two-bit huckster billionaire. Even though they might not like his separating immigrant children from their parents, these tens of millions of workers still approve of Trump in general!
The reason for this is that they do not see the working class as an independent force in society. And the reason for that is the absence of even the beginnings of a mass working class political party. Through such a party, workers would start to see all issues as being ones for the working class to resolve.
So, it is in light of this issue that Ocasio-Cortez’s victory should be considered. Does it move us closer to the establishment of a working class party?
Ocasio-Cortez’s victory shows that it’s not true that the Democratic Party cannot shift to the “left”. As the WSJ editors put it, “Her victory over a party leader will scare other Democrats who will want to avoid their own primary challengers if they aren’t sufficiently socialist or anti-Trump.” This is the same phenomenon we are seeing in the Republican Party, where many of their members are shifting further to the right in order to avoid primary defeats.
Or, as an article in the New York Times explained, “The liberal base is fired up, showing up at the polls, and may be ignored only at great political risk…. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s victory is a vivid sign of the changing of the guard.”
In other words, the “progressive”/liberal wing of the Democratic Party will be thrusted forward a little bit more; it will be used to try to capture this “fired up” mood from below. It won’t happen without struggle – even turmoil possibly – within the Democratic Party, but happen it will.
What won’t happen through the Democrats, though, is Medicare for all, jobs for all, or the abolition of ICE. The role of the “progressive” wing of the Democrats is to simply “keep hope alive” as Jesse Jackson used to put it. The “progressive” wing will be used to continually dangle the carrot just out of reach. (For the clearest example of how this trick works, see this article about how NAFTA was passed.)
In this way, the discontent will be lured into a side channel where it will tend to stagnate.
Ocasio-Cortez, despite whatever fine intentions she may have, is a prime example of this. She has made it clear that her intent is to reform the Democratic Party. “Not all Democrats are the same,” she said. “The Democratic Party should be about… first and foremost, accountability from the working-class people.” In other words, she is intent on reforming this party of the owners of capital.
Ocasio-Cortez was endorsed by DSA at both the local and the national level. Her election will strengthen the ties between the DSA leadership and the Democrats, especially the liberal wing of that party.
Ocasio-Cortez’s victory proves that it’s possible to successfully run candidates at the local level who oppose the established capitalist powers. With some 30,000 members, DSA should be doing just that. They should be running candidates for local office who identify themselves as working class representatives. Such candidates should link up the local issues with the necessity of building a mass, working class political party. They can easily explain how the local politicians are simply the representatives of the real estate developers and other capitalists.
The problem is that as Ocasio-Cortez herself has shown, this can’t be done while supporting some Democrats – any Democrats – at the same time. That may be a bitter pill to swallow, but swallow it we must.