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A Socialist Agenda for the 2020 Elections

How working people and the broad Left respond to this election and how we prepare for the battles ahead will have long-lasting effects on our prospects under a Trump or Biden presidency.

Left Voice

October 24, 2020
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With just ten days left before the presidential election, people are justifiably anxious about the continued unpredictability and volatility of the political situation in the United States. For months, President Trump has been stoking the anger and frustrations of his right wing base; encouraging violent militias like the Proud Boys to to “stand by,” and preparing what his son (Trump Jr.) has called an “army of poll watchers” to intimidate Black and Brown voters in swing states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. He has argued that mail-in ballots cannot be trusted, has refused to say that he will agree to a peaceful transfer of power, and has hinted repeatedly that he may contest the results of the elections. While the threat of a right-wing coup remains unlikely — the far right, after all, are far smaller than they appear in the media —  Trump’s racist rhetoric and his thinly-veiled calls for harassment and violence around the election are disturbing and particularly dangerous for the most oppressed and marginalized in the country who are often the targets of his attacks.

While the threat of such violence is nothing new, it has intensified considerably since Trump’s election, and even more so since the uprisings against police brutality that began after the killing of George Floyd in late May. Since then, far-right militias have killed or injured dozens of Black Lives Matter protesters, and less than two weeks ago, the FBI foiled a right-wing plan to kidnap the Governor of Michigan because of the state’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic. While these remain isolated events, in a country of more than 300 million people, they are nonetheless emblematic of a social unraveling that is part of a broader crisis of legitimacy facing the U.S. government, a crisis that did not begin with, and will not end with, President Trump. 

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party, which has a good chance of winning this election, is preparing to take back the White House and possibly the Senate in order to shore up and intensify U.S. imperialism. A Biden government will be charged with continuing the imperialist offensive, imposing the anti-worker austerity that the capitalists require, and keeping the justice system and police departments intact. Biden has a chance to win in part because of the electoral deviation of the BLM movement, which, due to the inaction of the union bureaucracy, has not managed to break the wheels of the bipartisan regime in America. The Democratic Party is playing its historic role: containing and co-opting social movements in order to continue governing for those at the top. 

The Democratic Party and Biden have promised to “restore the soul of America.” But the fact is that they are just as responsible as Trump for the mess that we are in now. As the willing abettors of decades of neoliberalism, the Democratic Party helped lay the groundwork for the 2008 economic crisis and then followed it up with massive bailouts for corporations and banks while imposing brutal austerity on working people. Since beginning their campaign, Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris have done everything they can to co-opt, contain, and undermine the growing enthusiasm for socialist ideas and the movements against police brutality and for Black lives. They have come out against Medicare for All, against the defunding of the police, and against the movement to ban fracking among other popular demands. By encouraging discontented Americans to put their energy into Biden’s anti-socialist law and order campaign to defeat Trump, the Democrats show themselves to be the graveyard of social movements.

It is clear that, despite their claims, neither party has any solutions for how to address the multitude of interconnected crises facing the United States. As we have argued before on Left Voice, the U.S. has been showing signs of what the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci called “organic crisis” since at least the 2008 recession. The failure of the neoliberal order, with its punishing austerity, paved the way for the victory of Donald Trump, whose administration has since contributed to the further political and economic destabilization of the country. The President’s aggressive policy toward major trade partners such as China, his failed response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the destruction of an already fragile and listless economy, and the prospect of a potentially endless recession are all evidence of a crisis for which the upcoming elections offer no meaningful solutions. Whether the Democrats take back the senate or not and whether Joe Biden wins or Donald Trump is re-elected, this crisis will only continue to deepen. 

How working people and the broad Left respond to this election and how we prepare for the battles ahead will have long-lasting effects on our prospects under a Trump or Biden presidency. Towards that end it is imperative that we not only defend our democratic rights, however limited they happen to be at this moment, but that we also demand the expansion of democratic rights for the working class, and that we most importantly break with both parties of capital in order to form an independent working-class party for socialism.

No Support for Capitalist, Imperialist Parties 

The Democrats and Republicans are the twin parties of racist, imperialist capitalism. Despite differing rhetoric, both are the parties of mass incarceration and hyper-policing. As we speak, Joe Biden and Donald Trump are jockeying for who is the law and order candidate. The answer is both of them. Both the Democrats and Republicans repressed BLM activists, both govern in cities that give cops the right to kill Black people with impunity. 

You might be interested in: The Democrats and Republicans Are Racist Parties of Capital

They are both parties of capital, funded by big corporations who expect something in return. The energy and construction sectors are especially big donors to Trump, while Joe Biden is vastly favored by Wall Street and the technology sector.

And both are imperialist parties. This is no small detail. These parties have made bombs rain down on communities in the middle east. Both of these parties are responsible for the border wall, for child separations and for deportations of hundreds of thousands of people to dangerous conditions in their home countries. Both of these parties are responsible for sanctions and foreign debt that keep a strangle-hold on the economies of the global south. 

And so, as Left Voice, we reject the logic of lesser evilism, which can result in nothing but evil: bombs, mass incarceration, deportation, and austerity. We believe socialists should not give their time, their support, or their vote to our oppressors. 

This is true in every election, including this one. Yet, many on the left have argued that this is an exceptional moment — one in which democracy is being challenged and so we should vote for Joe Biden as a vote against Trump and for democracy. This is a big mistake: the Democrats won’t stop the rise of the right or Trump’s election rigging. Their goal is to return to the “normalcy” that brought us Donald Trump. 

Socialists on Class-Independent Platforms 

Far from abstentionists, we believe that socialists should run in elections in order both to  popularize socialist ideas and counterpose our program to that of the capitalists. This is an unprecedented moment of politicization among the working class, and thus an unprecedented moment for socialists to advance class consciousness. The ballot line is a central way socialists should do that — by agitating among the working class and the oppressed. The bosses have their own party and representatives, the working class should have their own on their own ballot line. We believe that all working people, including those involved in the Black Lives Matter movement and other movements for social and racial justice, deserve independent political representation that isn’t led by racists jockeying for the White House. In this sense, Left Voice supports socialists running candidates on class independent platforms. 

You might be interested in: Revolution at the Ballot Box? Socialism and Elections

Getting ballot access for socialists isn’t an easy thing to do because of the undemocratic nature of U.S. elections. And so, we support ballot access for all socialists and progressive activists running on an independent ballot line, and believe that socialists should put effort into both getting on ballots, as well as changing the undemocratic rules that create barriers to Left participation in the elections. Likewise, we believe that they should have access to nationally televised debates. 

The Green Party, a multi-class party, cannot do the most important work needed for socialists in an election cycle — to highlight the class character of parties and argue that the working class needs its own representation. A party that is not explicitly and exclusively a working class party — regardless of who is at the top of the ticket — cannot do the work of encouraging people to break with the two party system as well as the class character of those parties. Likewise, we do not support the PSL candidate, Gloria LaRiva, who, while running on the PSL ballot line in the U.S., supports capitalist politicians abroad. That’s why, although we support ballot access for the Greens and the PSL, we don’t support them in the elections. 

In Defense of Democratic Rights 

If the right to vote is under attack, the role of socialists must be to defend it. This means demanding that every last vote is counted, and that the election be decided by the people, not by the Supreme Court, as it was in 2000. It means opposing right-wing poll watchers meant to intimidate voters — especially voters of color. And it means opposing Republican maneuvers to keep people from the polls — like the closing of polling stations in Georgia, Florida’s poll tax for formerly incarcerated people, or the abysmally insufficient number of polling stations in states like Texas, which has only one polling place per municipality. 

Leftists and socialists alike must defend the fundamental right to vote that underpins every democracy. This means not only organizing working people to defend polling places against the intimidation tactics of right-wing militias, but also preparing working people and their organizations for the kinds of mass demonstrations and strikes necessary to defeat any attempts by the Trump administration to contest the election results, and to ensure that every vote is counted. 

You might be interested in: U.S. Democracy Is Not Very Democratic

But a defense of democratic rights goes beyond the new right-wing attacks. Despite all of the rhetoric and mythology that surrounds the founding of the United States as the first modern democracy, it remains one of the least democratic governments among industrial nations. According to the Democracy Index, the U.S. is now a “flawed democracy” and ranks 25th among world nations, far behind many European countries and several Latin American countries including Costa Rica, Chile, and Uruguay. This is in large part a product of the fact that the United States was founded as a slavocracy and that the maintenance of slaves as private property and the control of impoverished workers and small farmers required a restrictive form of democracy that ensured that the power of landed elites and slaveholders, and later capital, would always dominate. The Electoral College and the Senate are perhaps the two most egregious examples of this form of limited democracy, since they both violate the principle of political equality, or one person, one vote. 

However, “the first past the post” method of selecting the President and Congress means that members of congress, and even the President, can be, and frequently are, chosen by a mere plurality of votes cast. This in turn inhibits meaningful political change and leads to a two party system of capital in which the interests of working people are tightly managed within a very narrow band of possibilities. 

This election cycle should be an opportunity to speak out against just how undemocratic U.S. democracy is — to demand an end to the electoral college, to demand space for multiple parties, to lower the voting age, for the day off on election day, and more. 

You might be interested in: Fight Racism, Imperialism, and the Current Crises: A Program to Unify the Exploited and Oppressed 

A Party of Our Own 

We reject the idea that has become popular among sectors of the left that winning elections means “building power” — especially as it pertains to working within bourgeois parties like the Democratic Party. The idea that socialists can use a bourgeois ballot line to win specific reforms or to gain visibility merely muddies the waters of class independence and sows illusions in bourgeois parties as “vehicles for change.” Rather than building power, it undermines the idea that the working class can pose its own solutions to the problems it faces and that bourgeois electoral politics are drivers of change. 

But that doesn’t mean we don’t see a role for socialists in elections. Bourgeois elections will always be the primary terrain of the bourgeoisie, but we can use elections to build the class consciousness and power of the working class; to strengthen workers struggles and social movements, to speak out against the Democrats and Republicans and argue that workers need our own party — a socialist party that fights against all forms of oppression and exploitation and that is uncompromisingly independent, anti-imperialist, and internationalist. 

Beyond the limits of a strictly electoral party, this revolutionary party’s task should indeed be to build power — but to build the power of working class and oppressed people through class struggle, struggle in the streets, and yes, even running in elections. The goal of such a party will not be to win elections and institute socialism or socialist reforms, as there is no electoral road to socialism, but to build the strength of the working class towards revolution.

Nothing Short of Revolution 

We must fight for reforms within capitalism, but ending the exploitation and oppression that plague working-class people, people of color, queer folks, women, people with disabilities, and all oppressed people will not end within the framework of capitalism. The ultimate goal of forming a party is not to get a lot of votes, to have a lot of members, or even to better resist capitalism — it is to crush the capitalist system. We cannot reform our way out of capitalism, or elect our way out of the system of misery and exploitation the world over. And so, we fight for nothing short of the overthrow of capitalism and all its oppressive social relations. We fight for a real democracy, of the working class and oppressed people democratically deciding all aspects of our lives, with production in the service of human needs and the environment, not the profits of corporations.

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Left Voice

Militant journalism, revolutionary politics.

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