2020 elections

Review of forum on socialist orientation towards 2024 elections

Last Sunday (Sept. 17) a forum was held on how socialists should orient towards the 2024 elections. I was one of the panelists. The following is what I presented, followed by some of the other points of view. At the bottom of this I have added a full video of the forum, for those who care to watch it :

Trump’s presidency was qualitatively different from any previous Republican, and today he is a real threat to democratic rights in America in a way that no Republican candidate has been before. The differences between the Trump candidacy and Democratic Party candidates are fundamental. This marks a real change and it is why socialists’ approach to this election must be different from what it was in the past – because the situation is different. We must support a vote for the Democratic candidate, but that does not mean we rely on the Democrats to stop the QAnon influenced Republicans.

That was the crux of my argument as a speaker in that forum. To develop that further:

Many socialists fear that advocating voting for Biden necessarily means we will become prey to Democratic Party style politics and forget all about the importance of the working class as its own independent force. As this video of my campaign shows, my campaign for Oakland mayor in 2022 proved that is not necessarily true. 

In the past, the differences between the Republican and Democratic Party candidates were overshadowed by the importance of demanding that the US labor leadership break from the Democrats and lead in the building of a Labor Party (or, today, a mass working class party). As part of that demand, we refused to join in the call to vote for the Democrats. That was correct at that time.

But that was then. This is now. The QAnon influenced Republicans of today are not the party of yesterday, nor is Trump simply a repeat of Reagan, either Bush, etc.

Wakeup call
The election of Trump in 2016 should have been a wakeup call that something huge had changed in the United States. Processes that had been under way for decades have burst to the surface.

The Minneapolis Teamsters strike of 1934. The entire union leadership has conducted a war to wipe out the collective memory of these struggles.

First is the 75 year war on all the best traditions of the U.S. working class – the militant traditions of the 1930s and the socialist traditions. This war has been carried out by every single wing of the US labor leadership, including the “progressive” union leaders. It is pure idealism to think that this war would be without effect.

Second is the 50 year attack on workers’ standard of living. This attack utilized the “globalization” of capitalism to massively cut jobs and reduce wages, especially in the industrial arena. The capitalist politicians and the mainstream capitalist media told workers that the benefits of globalization were right around the corner. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” was the refrain.

As it became clear that that was not going to happen, anger and frustration inevitably bursted to the surface. But because of the role of all wings of the labor leadership (plus the role of the nonprofiteers), that anger burst forth as reaction. One aspect of that reaction was the refusal of tens of millions of people to believe anything that the mainstream capitalist media said if what they said was contrary to what people wanted to hear. The news is “fake”; it tells outright lies about actual facts, vs. opinions. (Ironically, many on the left have also fallen prey to this conspiratorialist thinking.) The result is that the capitalist class has experienced an unprecedented degree of weakening in its ability to influence the ideas of tens of millions of Americans, including tens of millions of workers.

This combined with the crisis of confusion in the U.S. working class has created a huge void, a vacuum, in U.S. politics. Into that void has stepped:

Trump and the MAGA revolt: The anger burst through in the form of reaction rather than class struggle.

  • Ultra nationalism
  • Bigotry of all sorts
  • anti-science mysticism
  • intentional self delusion
  • Political and terrorist violence and hysteria

All of this is what Trump and the QAnon influenced Republican Party – which Trump has taken over – represent.

Some deny that any significant section of the U.S. working class supports Trump, or if workers do they are mainly the labor “aristocracy”. We must not bury our heads in the sand with this cheerful illusion.

As Oaklandsocialist discussed here, no major wing of the U.S. capitalist class supported Trump.  His presidency was proof of the extreme weakening of the grip the US capitalist class has experienced. It bore all the hallmarks of a one-person dictatorship, AKA “bonapartism”. During his term in office, Trump:

  • Ended negotiations for a trans Pacific trade deal, which was dearly beloved by all wings of the US capitalist class
  • Continually attacked the most important US military alliance – NATO.
  • Sided with Putin against his own intelligence and security apparatus.

Trump also took major steps to divide and weaken the US working class by his racist and nationalist rhetoric. Such steps were unnecessary for US capitalism since there was no serious threat of a united and independent working class movement. They further destabilized the U.S. political situation.

As Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mike Milley is the military-industrial complex personified. He helped put the brakes on Trump’s wilder ambitions.

We saw that in the fact it was not the working class that stopped Trump’s drive for complete personal power. It was the US military tops! Twice Trump wanted to declare martial law and bring the troops out onto the streets. The first was in the face of the mass protests against the murder of George Floyd. The second was after he lost the 2020 elections. The military command made clear that they would disobey such an order so Trump had to back down. The military department of the U.S. government was carrying out the wishes of all wings of the U.S. capitalist class.

Since Trump has been out of office, he has tightened his grip on the Republican Party and has become even more extreme. We can see that today in the form of a likely federal government shutdown which, unlike previous ones, has nothing to do with policy differences. It’s simply that, as the Wall St. Journal editors put it, too many Republicans are dedicated to “blowing things up and counting their Tik Tok followers.”

Some stress the sins of the Democrats. They are right. These are the “sins” or crimes of capitalism under any form of capitalist rule, including the democratic (small “d”) form. But there is one issue: The sins under one-person would be far greater and it would be far more difficult for workers to organize against those sins.

For all these reasons, we cannot respond to the upcoming election as we have in an era now gone by. The most important task of the US working class is to stop Trump and his party. That is not exclusive to the elections, but the elections must be included in that task. That is why it is a huge mistake not to oppose the election of Trump in every way, including on the ballot. The only candidate who legitimately stands a chance of beating Trump is Biden.

Cornel West. He will confirm all the prejudices against the left and will strengthen the Putinized “left”.

Green Party and Cornel West
Some support the Green Party’s nearly certain candidate, Cornel West. His candidacy will likely tend to divide the anti-Trump vote. In 2016, the Green Party’s candidate, Jill Stein, pictured Trump as the lesser evil “peace candidate”. West is already doing that. Even if his voters would not have voted for Biden, West’s campaign will strengthen the anti-Biden sentiment not the anti-Trump sentiment.

He is a fraud at best. For example:

  • West co authored an op-ed in the Wall St. Journal praising the “education reforms” of Ron DeSantis.
  • His campaign includes rhetoric that is better suited for a Sunday morning sermon than a political commentary. “The condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak, an unremitting concern for universal justice,” West says. “And as I’ve said, justice is what love looks like in public. Deep democracy is what justice looks like in practice, what love feels like in private. Co-mingled with love, justice involves tenderness — embraces, and doesn’t run from the suffering of the other. That’s love supreme.” Such gobbledygook will confirm every prejudice many workers have against the left.
  • West will strengthen the Putin apologists, including those who are financed by the tens of millions of dollars from Roy Singham and Alexander Ionov. No internationalist, nobody who has the slightest concern for the people of Ukraine, Syria – or even Russia and China for that matter – can possibly support this fast buck artist who is running simply to add value to his brand name, not to build a movement of workers and youth.

The central task is to stop the QAnon influenced Republicans. In the last analysis, they can only be stopped by a mass mobilization of workers and working class youth in the streets, in the working class communities and schools coupled with a rank & file rebellion against all wings of the union bureaucracy. Such a movement gives rise to the possibility of a mass working class party developing. Socialists should analyze how, through what channels, such a movement can develop. We should nurture the slightest tendencies in that direction as the only means of really stopping the QAnon influenced Republicans. But the task of stopping this dangerous tendency must be reflected on the ballot. That can only be done by voting for the only candidate who stands a chance of beating him – Joe Biden.

To this view several raised different arguments.

Nancy Kato of the Freedom Socialist Party simply condemned the Democrats and posed it as a matter of principle to never vote for or support a capitalist politician. She and others who take this position should explain, then, why socialists put their lives on the line to defend a capitalist government in Spain during the Spanish Civil war (1936-39). How she advocated voting was not clarified.

Green Party supporter Howie Hawkins claimed that West’s position on Ukraine was “evolving”. That is only true if Hawkins meant evolving towards even stronger commitment to the pro-Putin “left”. Hawkins also claimed that West’s campaign will strengthen Biden. He gave the example of the campaign of Henry Wallace of 1948. According to Hawkins, Wallace pushed Harry Truman to the left and thereby increased Truman’s popularity. In fact, what happened was that the union leadership mobilized mightily for Truman and that is what enabled him to win. Hawkins denied that the Green Party is purely an electoral party, similar to the Democrats, and that it plays no role in helping mobilize workers and youth in the streets. He is wrong about that. The Green Party will never be a working class party. In fact, it is an obstacle to that.

David Walters in many ways repeated the views of Nancy Kato, but he added that he cannot morally oppose those workers who will vote for Biden. As with Kato, it was not clear how does recommend voting.

Others who participated in the discussion raised all the old arguments against voting for Biden. One claimed that the differences between Biden and Trump are “negligible” or the difference between Trump and previous Republicans. That is like saying there is no difference between capitalist democracy and one person dictatorship. Another raised the specter of supporting Biden inevitably leading to being “coopted” by the Democratic Party. But my campaign for Oakland mayor proved that is not necessarily true. Another claimed, incredibly, that the US capitalist class does not rule through democratic means. Of course, all capitalist democracies are deeply flawed, but to claim that the US is not such a democracy really just fosters illusions in what capitalist democracy really is. The conclusion that must be drawn from this claim is that a Trump one-person dictatorship would not be much of a change. I hope we never get to find out. 

Significantly, none of these speakers commented on the union bureaucracy’s 75 year war on all the best traditions of the U.S. working class and what effect that war has had.

The best contributions were from some fellow members of the Ukraine Socialist Solidarity Campaign. Speaking on their own behalf (rather than on behalf of the Campaign), two of them emphasized that no true internationalist can support Cornel West, given that West plays to the pro-Putin “left” and supports the smashing of the Syrian and Ukrainian working class and democratic rights in general in those countries. A third pointed out that even Karl Marx himself had advocated voting for capitalist parties at times. Points well taken. (It should also be pointed out that two of those who spoke against voting for Biden are also members of the Campaign and that our group takes no official position on this issue.)

Overall the presentations and discussion showed that it is not only the U.S. working class that is in crisis. So is the socialist left. Up until now, in the main it has shown itself to be unable to see that a new situation has arisen in the United States and, in fact, in the world. It insists on applying an analysis of the past to the present. It sees tactics and slogans of the past as being matters of principle rather than a response to a particular situation. (We are not even including here those who claim to be on the left but who in fact support Russian and Chinese imperialism.) If this socialist left contributes either directly or indirectly to the election of Trump, it will condemn itself to irrelevancy at best. Hopefully, some will reconsider as the election approaches and as the stakes are made even more clear.


3 replies »

  1. I agree 100% with what Comrade John had to say. I make the following suggestion. For those socialists who do not want to be “coopted” by Democrats by openly advocating a vote for Biden but who DO believe Trump is a qualitatively different threat —- how about campaigns to alert the working class (particularly union members) to the dangers a Trump presidency poses to THEIR future. Attacks on the black lives matter movement, attacks on women’s reproductive rights, attacks on the right to protest in general will ultimately become attacks on the right to organize, on the right to strike. Trump has made LOTS of noise about how “bad” union leadership is. How far away will be an attack that is more than noise — efforts to stop organizing (the UAW needs to organize the battery plants — will Trump be supportive of that effort — the question answers itself) are in the cards should Trump take over the presidency. Remember who he appointed to the NLRB — remember that it has been the Biden Labor Department which has come up with an effort to put TEETH into punishing unfair labor practices.

    EVERY ONE OF THESE POINTS can be made without going out of one’s way to advocate voting for Biden.

    Yes, there is a danger that some anti-Trump arguments will lead to people switching to West — but in the context of unions, building a set of anti-Trump arguments will help the leadership make the case for a Biden vote so that the activists who fear being contaminated by Democrats need not get their hands dirty — while doing some good in exposing Trump.

    (I however, believe that socialists should work very hard and honestly to elect Biden — I make this suggestion as a partial compromise with those socialists who cannot imagine working for ANY democrat ….)

    • Thanks to Mike Meeropol for his comment. I hope it sparks off a wider discussion. Those genuine socialists (as opposed to the Putinized “socialists”, for whom a serious discussion is hopeless) desperately need to clarify their view of this election. I think we cannot avoid directly grappling with the issue of what to do with our ballot. We have to be clear on this while at the same time we need clarity on how a movement in the streets is what will really throw MAGAism back. Incidentally, at the same time we cannot shrink from explaining the disastrous role of the union leadership in discouraging exactly such a movement.

  2. I have been a socialist since my teens (I’m 68 now) and I can’t remember a time when a discussion about the US presidential elections had more importance than it does now. For decades we were told that the Democrats were the “lesser of two evils”, now that statement is actually true. The challenge that socialists and leftists of any kind face is how to have this discussion with the young people who are activists, in the environmental movement, BIPOC justice and equality movements, LGBTQ and more. There’s no doubt in my mind that Putin, and the other international forces of reaction are already working stealthily behind the scenes on social media to support West’s campaign, masquerading as lefter than thou. There’s nothing we can do about that-but we can and must continue to develop a clear, principled and internationalist perspective about the 2024 elections. Rosa Luxembourg wrote about why workers must vote in bourgeois elections and why the protection of bourgeois democratic rights is always in the interest of the working class. That, and more, is what is at stake in the 2024 US presidential elections as the outcome of that election will go far beyond the borders of the US.

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