After 50 years of never voting for any “lesser evil” Democrat, I voted for Joe Biden the other day. I waited for weeks to fill in the little circle by his name. I joked that I was hoping for an earthquake that would destroy my home and bury my ballot in the rubble so that I wouldn’t have to decide. But I finally did so. After reading all the arguments on why I should not vote for the “lesser evil” again this time, I’m more convinced than ever that I did the right thing. Here’s why I think I’ve been right for the last 50 years (including not supporting Bernie Sanders) and why I think I was right this time:
Trump, Vigilantes & One Man Rule
If Trump gets back in, it will be an enormous boost to the violent far right vigilante groups and individuals. Also, if he gets back in it will be through stealing the election, including suppressing the right to vote of black and Latino voters. He would also use his return to office to further his efforts to take personal control over one wing of the government after another.
In other words, it would be a major step towards one-person rule in place of democracy. Yes, democracy under capitalism is extremely limited and has all sorts of crimes to answer for, but it is better than one person dictatorship (also known as Bonapartism) for sure. That’s not exactly the same as fascism, but it’s bad enough.
The Boy Who Cried “Wolf!”
Some point out that similar claims have been made about past Republican presidents – Nixon, Reagan, and Bush for example. It was done then to stampede people into accepting the “lesser evil”. But just because that was false then doesn’t make it false now. I am reminded of the story of the boy who cried “Wolf!” He kept falsely sounding that alarm to get people to turn out. Eventually the wolf did come but everybody ignored his warning. That is the real moral of the story. Just as it was wrong to falsely cry “wolf” all those previous years, it is just as wrong to deny the very real presence of the wolf today.
Those who rest on the past false claims about different Republicans in effect are denying the very real differences, the very real dangers this time – dangers that we have never faced on this scale. It’s true that black people faced these same dangers in the South for over 100 years, but now this is being generalized and it is beyond just the South. Not only that, but the hysterical denialism of science poses a threat to the entire planet.
Voting in the past was different
How about the past? Was it right to refuse to accept voting for the “lesser evil” call then? That can only be understood by considering the overall political situation in the United States.
The key is that the US working class has never had its own political party – a mass working class party. That has been both a result of and a cause for workers – good union fighters – not to see how the struggle against the boss on the job has to be carried out in society as a whole. The boss – the capitalist – doesn’t stop fighting for her or his interests outside of their particular company. They do so on every issue – foreign policy, the environment, bigotry and oppression… You name it. Those workers with some sense of decency and rationality will oppose white supremacy or global climate destruction, but it’s not seen as issues for the working class, as a class, to take up. The presence of a mass working class party would change that.
That’s why for over 100 years that has been the central question in US politics.
In the absence of any serious campaign for a working class party, the struggles against capitalist oppression have gotten sucked into the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, where they got confused and faded away, leaving little in their wake. That’s what happened to the struggle against the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, environmental struggles. This absence is also the cause of major confusion within the present movements.
Democrats: “If you don’t vote, don’t complain”
The position of the Democratic Party is that politics boils down to little but voting every few years. “If you don’t vote, don’t complain,” is their mantra. That is true for all wings of that party, including the Bernie Sanders/liberal wing. During the federal government shutdown of 2018-19, the president of the flight attendants union, Sara Nelson, called for a national general strike. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, circulated an online petition aimed at the senate leader Mitch McConnell. The “not me, us” slogan never meant anything more than mobilizing people to campaign for a vote for Sanders and similar Democrats. Whatever small reforms they might be able to accomplish, whatever amount of popularizing of “left” ideas they might be able to brag about – these are all completely dwarfed by their overall role, which is to divert any movement away from working class independence and into the Democratic Party. It would be impossible to accomplish this without this wing of the Democrats, Bernie Sanders and all.
The view that politics is nothing but voting every few years has been absorbed by all who support the Democrats. That includes, disastrously, the union leadership, which represents the Democrats (and the bosses) inside the unions.
The result has been that in almost all the protests, for example the Black Lives Matter protests, the unions have been missing in action. The leadership has followed the dictates of the Democratic Party: “Don’t mobilize workers to struggle in the streets around political issues.” I was in Ferguson shortly after Michael Brown was killed. It seemed the entire black community was out in the streets. What an exhilarating experience! But there was zero union presence. I met a member of the United Auto Workers. He told me that his union leaders had told him, “this is not our battle”. Why? Because (1) the Democrats support the police and (2) in any case they don’t support that sort of mass mobilization. So the unions have to follow suit, according to the leadership.
It’s not true, by the way, that there is no difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. Were it not for Obamacare, for example, hundreds of thousands of people in the US would not be covered for previous conditions. But those differences between the two capitalist parties pale in comparison to what would result if there were even the beginnings of a mass working class party. Despite Obamacare, we see hospitals completely unprepared to deal with a health emergency like Covid 19. The reason is that they have been consolidating and closing down for decades now. The result is that the US has the lowest number of hospital beds per person of any country in the industrialized world. (Bernie Sanders Medicare for All would do absolutely nothing to change this situation; what’s needed is socialized medicine.)
Given the constellation of forces, any concession to supporting any Democrat inevitably meant getting sucked into the Democratic Party sinkhole. That’s why it was always more important to oppose supporting any Democrat. It was right to focus on calling for building a mass working class party and to explain exactly what steps can be taken here and now in order to move in that direction. The whole idea that we should vote for the “lesser evil” has been like a gateway drug.
Was it right not to vote for Clinton in 2016? Maybe knowing what we know now an argument could be made for that. But at that time it was almost inconceivable that Trump would “accomplish” what he has accomplished.
Some say, “okay, vote for Biden but only in the swing states.” That is a concession that this time the principle against voting for the “lesser evil Democrat” doesn’t apply. If it’s okay to vote for Biden in Pennsylvania, then why not California? After all, the fact that Hillary Clinton got more votes than Trump did somewhat weaken Trump’s credibility.
Others say vote for Howie Hawkins of the Green Party. They reason that every vote for that party boosts it as an alternative to the Democrats. The Green Party are a “middle class” party that never will develop into anything significant except under one condition: It’s possible that if a powerful movement for a working class party gets under way that some capitalists will boost the Green Party as a diversion. Other than that, the Greens are a hopeless mess and it would actually be better if they disappeared. They never will attract any sizable sector of workers.
The best way to stop Trump’s plans is to build an independent working class movement in the streets. Within that movement, socialists should campaign for a working class program and for local coordinating committees to be set up on a democratic basis. These would carry on the struggle after November 3 and after January 20 (inauguration date), no matter who is the next president.
Inevitably, there would be a trend within such a movement to link up with the Democrats. Many workers and youth would support that idea, at least to link up with the liberal wing of that party. It would be the task of socialists within that movement to work to counter that tendency. How Trump and Trumpism arose plus the entire momentum of such a movement would be with us.
Socialists should work to help the rank and file inside the unions build organized opposition caucuses in order to make their unions really fight for the members on the job and for all workers in society as a whole. Such caucuses would not only work through the official union channels, but also actually take action up to and including shutting down jobs, where and when they have the power and the mood is right. These caucuses can and should also campaign to get their unions to join and build the resistance to Trump and Trumpism in the streets.
It is ironic that most of those who oppose voting for the “lesser evil” won’t actually work to help workers build such caucuses. That plus they don’t explain how the unions can and should mobilize millions of workers in the streets. In other words, while they oppose the Democrats in words, in actual practice they don’t actually organize to oppose the Democrats’ representatives inside the unions.
Voting for Biden is not the same as voting for a lesser evil Democrat in the past. That’s because the situation is so different. Nor does it change the need for nor undermine building an independent working class campaign to stop Trump and Trumpism. But if we are going to build such a campaign – a working class campaign against Trump – then there is no contradiction to at the end of the day voting for the only candidate who can replace him. In fact, it is entirely logical.