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Don’t Vote Uncommitted — Commit to Breaking with the Democrats

Tapping into deep anger with President Biden, the left wing of the Democratic Party is urging Michigan voters to vote “uncommitted” in the primary election. But this strategy funnels progressives’ energy back into the Democratic party when we need political independence from the parties supporting the genocide in Gaza.

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Three activists stand together while one activist holds up an "uncommitted" sign with the word "vote" written on it many times. In the left side of the picture another activist holds a sign that says "abandon Genocide Joe"
Photo Credit: JIM WEST/ZUMA PRESS

As the genocide of Palestinians continues unabated, with the support of “Genocide Joe” Biden and the majority of the Democratic Party, a movement fighting for a free Palestine has taken on historic proportions in the United States and around the world. Broad sectors of society, from student groups to the largest unions in the world, have released statements calling for a ceasefire. A poll in December showed that two thirds of Americans and 80 percent of Democrats want a ceasefire, and that has likely only increased since. Over the last months, there have been thousands upon thousands of call-in campaigns, marches, rallies, teach-ins, and petitions. 

Yet, the U.S.’s strategic alliance with Israel and funding for the genocidal Zionist state continues unmoved. This historic wave of social protest has come up against the high, reinforced concrete walls of the bipartisan regime, revealing the limits of capitalist democracy. In this context an unprecedented campaign that began by rallying energy among Michigan progressives to vote in the Democratic Primary, but to pressure Biden by voting “uncommitted,” is gaining traction nationwide.

As Michigan Goes, So Goes the Nation.

Michigan has long been a key battleground state in presidential elections. This year is no different. Trump won the state in 2016, and Biden won it in 2020. To underscore its significance in this election, polling averages show that Biden is behind Trump by just 1.9 percent nationally and 5.1 percent in Michigan, making it a tight race.

While it is true that Biden has key allies in Michigan, he also faces push-back from popular figures, like Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and former Congressman Andy Levin. Both have called for Democratic primary voters to vote uncommitted in response to Biden’s continual support for the military offensive and failure to support calls for a ceasefire. 

What gives weight to this campaign outside of the support it is receiving from progressive Democrats is Michigan’s large Arab American population and the movement in solidarity with Palestine. When Biden’s aides came to Michigan, many Arab leaders refused to meet with them. These leaders have been vocal for months about their refusal to vote for him unless he backs a ceasefire deal, opening up a crisis for the Democrats that jeopardizes their chances of winning in the 2024 elections.

But there are some strategic contradictions with the threat to withhold primary votes, and the Vote Uncommitted campaign. For starters, after almost five months of an air and ground offensive, Gaza has been effectively razed to the ground, and its population dispossessed. Once more, Netayahu and his coalition government do not seem poised to accept any long-term or substantive ceasefire deal, and have shown no signs of completely pulling out of Gaza. In this context, a simple ceasefire is not enough to reverse and recuperate the damage inflicted on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The Vote Uncommitted campaign doesn’t raise a way to address these issues. 

Further, by his own account, Andy Levin is supporting the Vote Uncommitted campaign not to ruin Biden’s chance of winning the election, but to “save the President.” To Levin, a vote for Biden is a vote to save democracy against the threat of Trump. Herein lies another problem with the Vote Uncommitted campaign: it is a ploy for left-wing Democrats to funnel people back into the Democratic Party, which as an organization has shown its unswerving commitment to Israel. Their perspective has dominated the news outlets, which strengthens the symbolic character of the campaign and the potential weight it carries to benefit the Democratic Party. It also is a clear counter to the movement in the streets, and a compelling way to co-opt the movement back into the parties of capital.

Some activists who are pushing the vote uncommitted campaign have no real interest in voting for Biden, even during the general elections. To them, this is just one creative way to “put pressure” on Biden. What activists must realize is that the problem with the strategy of merely putting pressure on Biden in the primary is that it doesn’t fight by using the collective power of the working class and oppressed on our terms, but on the terrain of the Democratic Party, contributing to its legitimization. The power of the mass mobilizations, the blockade of weapons shipments by workers, and building occupations by students, is in that these actions display the collective power of the movement. In particular, the temporary blockades by workers showed how strategic the working class is in making the economy – and even the war – run, since it is their labor that ensures things get where they need to go. 

Overall, the problem with putting focus on the Vote Uncommitted campaign is that it takes the movement out of the streets, schools, and workplaces. Ironically, it shifts away from the idea that Genocide Joe is our enemy, to the idea that we could consider committing to him. Instead, we need to be clear: we are not committed to Genocide Joe and other enemies of the movement for Palestine. We need to build an independent political force that can take power, not simply pressure those who have it. 

The Power To Liberate Palestine Starts From Political Independence

The Vote Uncommitted campaign is in many ways a bold act. We’re told each year that there is no alternative to sticking with the Democrats. But the truth is we can only build our power when we break with the Democrats and all the parties of capitalism. We need only look at recent struggles to draw that conclusion. From the UAW strike to Black Lives Matter, these powerful struggles made an important impact — and some important gains — but were unable to realize some of their main demands. Worse still, they both ended up capitulating to Biden and the Democrats, the source of many of their problems (for example, Biden supported NAFTA and backed the 1994 Crime Bill). While in many ways progressive, the Vote Uncommitted campaign fails to break with the Democratic Party, so it ends up stoking hopes in a strategy that will only lead to despair and is not a way forward for a free Palestine. 

To be clear, Biden and the Democrats aren’t the sole enemy of Palestine. Republicans support even more draconian bills and laws than the Democrats. Worse still, Trump is a huge Netanyahu supporter; not only did he move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, he also removed restrictions that allowed for the further expansion of settlements. Netanyahu might be open to a very limited form of a ceasefire that doesn’t demand much of him in order to bide his time for a potential Trump presidency, where he can negotiate better conditions for his total war against Palestine. For example, the current U.S. ceasefire proposal to the UN Security Council would only start “as soon as is practicable” and is focused on releasing hostages held by Hamas, allowing aid into Gaza, and prohibits Israel from invading Rafah, but does not require Israel to pull out of Gaza.

This poses in concrete terms the need for a political alternative. It is possible to build that alternative, but we have to change the way we think about political parties and about political power in order to achieve it. Firstly, a socialist political party of the working class and oppressed knows that our power is in the streets, our workplaces, communities, and places of study, and not the halls of Congress. Such a party would focus on building working-class struggle domestically and internationally, and in addition to elections would utilize methods such as protests, strikes, sit-ins, blockades, and boycotts to fight imperialism and disrupt the Israeli war machine. This contrasts with the goals of the Democratic Party, which are to maintain capitalist stability and US imperialism. 

A concrete example of this is the Workers Left Front (FIT in Spanish) in Argentina, an electoral alliance of revolutionary socialists running on a political program of class independence and socialism. This is very different from the DSA’s strategy of taking over or influencing the Democratic Party. The Workers Left Front used their elected officials in the national government to denounce far-right libertarian president Javier Milei, and call on people to mobilize to oppose a reactionary omnibus bill he was proposing in the congress. Knowing that simply denouncing Milei in congress was not enough, these representatives of the workers and oppressed joined the protests in the streets, putting themselves in the frontlines and directly challenging the police and their repression of the protests outside of congress. 

At the same time, the Socialist Workers Party in Argentina (PTS in Spanish), which is one of the main parties in the Workers Left Front and a sister organization of Left Voice, mobilized healthcare workers to attend the protests and act as medics for those wounded by the police. They also helped build neighborhood assemblies and mobilized workers and students alongside other socialist and social movement organizations. As a result, they were able to defeat the omnibus bill and win an important victory over Milei. 

The goal of the Workers Left Front is to give workers and the oppressed political representation independent of the capitalist parties. A working class party that fights for socialism in the U.S. would have the same goal. By ensuring that our organizations have political continuity and don’t get swallowed up by the two major parties of capital, it would also act as a beachhead for a movement which can more effectively fight the ascending Far Right. The Vote Uncommitted campaign is a concerted attempt by a sector of the Democratic Party to recoup progressives’ who are opposed to Biden’s continued support for the Israeli military offensive back into the Democratic Party, at a time when what is needed is a commitment to crafting a viable politically independent alternative. 

Consolidating Lessons from the Movement

Although the energy in the streets has waned recently, the crisis has only worsened as the genocide is ongoing and Rafah is under threat of military action. After five months, the movement is seeking a way forward. It is essential to develop a strategic perspective that rejects the two-state solution and fights for a free Palestine, from the river to the sea. To this end, the movement must create spaces to discuss how to build political independence and should organize meetings and assemblies now to begin this important process. The movement needs organizations that represent the movement from the bottom up, based on the self-organization of workers and community members. These will be the basis of political independence that will be the essential foundations to support the creation of a working class party that can form a real alternative to the Democrats and Republicans.

In Michigan, Detroit Will Breathe (DWB), an anti-racist organization formed in the heat of the George Floyd rebellion, has made solidarity with Palestine a defining feature of our politics. DWB is hosting a mass meeting on March 2 to discuss where the movement is going, and relate our experiences of repression of the movement in 2020 to that faced by the movement in solidarity with Palestine, and what it means to have a political response that can address that repression. 

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