The Class Line in Elections Is the Principled Issue
In this series, Left Voice amplifies the voices of candidates who have undertaken the bold task of running as socialists. This time we interviewed presidential candidate for Socialist Action, Jeff Mackler.
October 17, 2016
Photo: Socialist Action Website
This election season, the vast majority of voters see only two options—Clinton or Trump. The mainstream media continually bombards us with the latest news about these candidates, but rarely sheds light on alternatives to the Republican and Democratic Parties.
To most Americans, little is known about the individuals campaigning as socialists for the 2016 presidential elections. These candidates share a belief that socialism is the only viable alternative—the only solution to our social and economic problems. What they have in common is a repudiation of the political system run by and for the wealthy, of capitalism in general and ruling-class domination through the Republican and Democratic Parties.
We interviewed Jeff Mackler, National Secretary and presidential candidate for Socialist Action.
How did you become a part of the socialist movement?
As a participant in the early civil rights movement in the late fifties and early sixties, where I was arrested some nine times in various sit-ins and mass marches and as an opponent of the McCarthy era witchhunt, where I was arrested again in a protest inside a hearing of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, I came in contact with the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party and its youth group, the Young Socialist Alliance. These groups introduced me to the fundamentals of working class politics and, in the process, convinced me that society’s social and political evils were inherent in the capitalist system. From there it was easy to conclude that the “system” had to be changed in all its manifestations and this required the organization of the vast majority to fight for socialism.
Why have you decided to run in the 2016 presidential election? What do you hope to accomplish through your campaign?
The worldwide economic crisis that began with the 2008 crash ushered in an era of concerted attacks on the broad working class and, indeed, on the oppressed and exploited everywhere on earth. Capitalism has proven to unprecedented millions that all its evils –racism, sexism, homophobia, union busting, destruction of social services, mass incarceration of Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans and global warming-environmental destruction that threaten life on earth itself – are inherent in the system itself. Thus, we are witness to fundamental changes in political consciousness and a massive new interest in socialist ideas. Every poll demonstrates that youth especially, as well as the broad population, are open to socialist ideas more than ever. In fact, the Bernie Sanders candidacy was qualitatively more a carefully-orchestrated sheepherding decision of the Democrats themselves than it was a decision of a life-long capitalist politician to challenge the Democratic Party.
Socialist Action decided to enter the electoral arena with our presidential campaign to win the hearts, minds and ranks of this new layer of radicalizing youth and, above all, to channel their energy into the emerging social and political mass movements whose collective power is the prerequisite to challenging the system itself. Indeed, we will win this election if we help build the power of mass movements organized independently of and against the parties of capital, and, in the process build our revolutionary party of the working class.
What would you say is the biggest political difference between your campaign and that of the two mainstream capitalist parties? How does your electoral program and campaign differ from Bernie Sanders who claims to be a socialist?
Our campaign seeks to promote the interests of and to assist in the organization of the working class for abolition of capitalism. The twin parties of capitalism, Democrats and Republicans alike, including Sanders, are the key institutions to defend and advance the interest of the tiny ruling class elite. Bernie Sanders is nothing more than a conscious advocate of ruling class politics, assigned to use the language of social change to strengthen the Democratic Party. He is yet another “lesser evil” advanced and promoted by a crisis-ridden capitalism to once again channel massive social discontent into what we have always called the graveyard of all social movements, the Democratic Party.
Why are independent candidates, including socialists, left out of the debates and the mainstream media?
Capitalist elections have always been in the exclusive purview of the billionaire, if not trillionaire elite, who, every four years, allow the electorate to choose between one party of the ruling class or the other. Elections are exclusively in their domain, from the selection of candidates, to the laws that essentially exclude socialists from the ballot, to the corporate media that exercises a near total monopoly on what ideas are covered, to the counting of ballots. The elections today are increasingly limited to a tiny section of the population, with some 50 percent of eligible voters choosing not to participate and another 50 percent of registered voters, not voting. Additionally, various racist and related anti-democratic laws consciously exclude those most likely to support anti-capitalist, labor and socialist candidates.
In 2006, when I challenged a California law that excluded me from listing my party’s name on the ballot, I was fined $243,000 by a corrupt court system operates to protect the interests of the ruling class parties.
How does your campaign relate to the working class, the labor movement and social movements? What existing social movements are especially important and of interest to you and your organization?
Our campaign is consciously designed to reach the broadest layers of working people and the oppressed as possible. My Vice Presidential running mate Karen Schraufnagel and I have spoken across the country at innumerable public forums, debates and rallies to advance our socialist ideas and to promote the critical social movements of today. We seek to build and re-build a fighting labor movement constructed on the foundations of a massively expanded, democratic and class struggle trade unions. We seek to advance the struggles of Blacks, Latinos and other oppressed nationalities. We are for the formation of a mass Labor Party based a democratic, massively expanded and fighting trade union movement to compliment labor’s struggles at the point of production. We are champions of and active participants and leaders of the climate crisis and antiwar movement and fighters for class struggle policies in the union in contrast to the largely class collaborationist policies of the present trade union mis-leaders. Our comrades across the country have always been active participants in all these struggles and all others where the oppressed and exploited move to organize independently of and against the policies and institutions of capitalism. Capitalist elections are merely a limited tactic to reach new layers of radicalizing workers and youth.
How would you build/encourage unity-in-action among socialist groups and working class organizations around common demands? What possibility do you see for common electoral activity on the left in the future?
Socialist Action’s middle name is the united front, where we can achieve unity in action, in independent mass actions, based on principled demands, including the defense of working people on the picket line, to mass antiwar and environmental mobilizations. We are active fighters in the struggles initiated by Black Lives Matter who demand an end to police murder, mass incarceration and the racist, slave labor prison-industrial system. In the electoral arena, on the other hand, we are harsh critics of all socialist organizations that support in any form the candidates and parties of capitalism. Tragically, today, we are witness to a broad capitulation of most all of the socialist left to capitalist lesser evil politics, ether in the form of support to Sanders or to “lesser evil” Hillary Clinton or to the middle class Green Party of Jill Stein that advocated that lifelong capitalist politician Sanders run as a Green Party candidate for president. For Socialist Action, the class line in elections is the principled issue in all our politics. We reject any form of unity in the electoral arena with any party on the other side of this class line. We reject any electoral support to capitalist or pro-capitalist parties, Greens included. Sadly, today’s efforts at seeking a “socialist convergence” are promoted by almost all of the “socialist” left that advocate support to Sanders, the Greens and/or the Democrats. This single and tragic fact makes any serious convergence in the electoral arena impossible.
There are a handful of socialists running independently from Republicans and Democrats. How would you convince the readers of Left Voice to vote for you?
To our knowledge virtually all other socialist groups have called for of a vote for either Sanders, the Greens or the Democratic Party. The Workers World and the Party for Socialism and Liberation called for a Sanders vote in the Democratic Party primaries. The International Socialist Organization regularly supports the pro-capitalist reformist Green Party, as does Solidarity. Socialist Alternative tragically abandoned its socialist perspectives when it spent the electoral cycle promoting Democrat Sanders, who, they incredibility posed as the candidate leading a “political revolution” inside the nation ‘s leading capitalist party. They initiated the “Movement 4 Bernie” campaign where they collected 120,000 signatures urging Sanders to run as Green while in the same petition urging those who were reluctant to do so, to vote for Sanders in “safe states” only, impliedly urging a vote for Democrat Clinton in all the others. The only exception worth noting today is the campaign of the Socialist Party, which has rejected support to capitalist candidates in all their variations. We urge a vote for the SP as well as for Socialist Action. Were it possible today to run a serious campaign with a number of socialist groups that would fundamentally pose the question of independent working class power, we would be the first to do so. Unfortunately, the state of the socialist left in the U.S. and more often than not worldwide, is at a low ebb and thus incapable of posing a fighting working class alternative in the electoral arena. There is a great gap or contradiction between the unprecedented anger and hatred of working people for the massive austerity measures imposed on them in the crystallization of this discontent in fighting formations in the broad political and electoral domain. This limits U.S. socialists to largely propaganda electoral political efforts coupled with steady work in all social movements. Preparing today for that moment, soon, we believe, when the present relative passivity turns to massive social struggles is our primary focus.
Can you share some comments on the history and origins of your organization?
Socialist Action is 33 years old. Our origins are in the Socialist Workers Party, founded by James P. Cannon when the Trotskyist-led Left Opposition was expelled from the Stalinized Communist Parties in the U.S. and worldwide in 1928. We consider ourselves to be continuity with the best traditions of the SWP before the tragic abandonment of its historic revolutionary socialist program and working class traditions.
Why is voting for independent socialist candidates important? Should socialists consider supporting the Green Party’s Jill Stein?
As I mentioned, we do not consider Jill Stein or her Green Party either independent, socialist or based on the perspective of organizing for working class for power. The Greens are a middle class reformist party that since its formation, and today, has practiced an “inside-outside” the Democratic Party policy. Stein urged a vote for Sanders in the California Democratic Party primaries and urged a spot for Sanders on her Green Party ticket as if Sanders’ lifelong record in ruling class politics and parties could be transformed by a ballot switch. A vote for Socialist Action is a vote for the independent organization of working class power, for a definitive break with the capitalist system, for the construction of powerful social movements that are aimed at challenging capitalism at its roots.
US imperialism continues to kill abroad, whether under a Democratic or Republican President. What are your proposals for US foreign policy - what does it mean to be anti-imperialist in the U.S.?
Socialist Action stands for the immediate and total withdrawal of all U.S. troops everywhere in the world. We oppose any and all U.S. wars. We are for the immediate abolition of the entire trillion dollar military budget, for the closing of all 1,100 foreign U.S. military base and the thousand bases inside this country. U.S. imperialism is nothing less that the international expression of the interests of the U.S. ruling class. We stand against all U.S. wars, whether they be wars of intervention and occupation, so-called humanitarian wars, drone wars, privatized death squad wars or sanction and embargo wars. We are unconditional supporters of the right of oppressed nations to self-determination, regardless of the leaderships of these nations – dictatorships, nationalist regimes, etc. This historic right to self-determination of poor nations means in essence that the responsibility of the masses of oppressed nations to decide their future rests only with the people themselves and never with the U.S. or any other imperialist would-be cops of the world. In all these poor and oppressed nations we are for the defeat of all U.S. and U.S- backed forces and for the immediate and total withdrawal of U.S. troops and an end to all forms of related U.S. intervention.
[Jeff Mackler is the Socialist Action candidate for the U.S. presidency. He will be speaking at “The Solution is Socialism” conference on Oct. 22 at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, CT, 9am to 5 pm, sponsored by Youth for Socialist Action. See SocialistAction.org for details].
Interviewed by Moisés Delgado