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The Socialist Case against Marianne Williamson

Some leftists argue that we should take Marianne Williamson’s presidential candidacy seriously. But she’s no socialist — and we should not support capitalist parties.

Otto Fors

June 27, 2023
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Self-help author Marianne Williamson speaks to the crowd as she launches her 2024 presidential campaign in Washington, Saturday, March 4, 2023. The 70-year-old onetime spiritual adviser to Oprah Winfrey became the first Democrat to formally challenge President Joe Biden for the 2024 nomination.
Image: Jose Luis Magana/AP

The United States’ absurdly long presidential campaign cycle has begun. Although the election is 17 months away, several politicians have already announced they’re challenging incumbent Joe Biden for the presidency. A familiar figure was the first Democrat to throw her hat in the ring: Marianne Williamson. 

Since announcing her candidacy in late February, Williamson’s popularity has grown among young people in particular. “Marianne Mania” hit TikTok, with the best-selling author racking up millions of views on her videos and spurring fan accounts, and an early poll suggested that she’s the preferred candidate of 20 percent of voters under 30. 

It’s not hard to understand Williamson’s appeal. Amid historic inflation, high living costs, and dim economic prospects, Biden’s approval rating is at a record low. Young people in particular feel betrayed by his administration’s broken promises around student debt cancellation, climate change mitigation, and reproductive rights. Meanwhile, Williamson rails against poverty, climate change, corruption, and the way our “fundamentally unjust system” fails working people. 

Far more perplexing than Williamson’s popularity among Generation Z is her embrace by parts of the Left. In an article in Jacobin, Liza Featherstone argued that we should “take Marianne Williamson and her politics seriously.” Current Affairs editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson wrote the same, urging voters to “keep an open mind” and calling her vision for the U.S. “inspiring.” 

But this approach is wrong: it’s a mistake to see Marianne Williamson as a leftist candidate, and socialists cannot support yet another “lesser evil” Democrat. Mobilizing to support Marianne Williamson actively undermines the work we need to do to build a truly independent, working-class alternative to both parties of capital. 

No Lesser Evil in a Capitalist Party

Leftists like Featherstone and Robinson argue that Marianne Williamson deserves our support due to her progressive policy proposals. After all, her platform calls for single payer healthcare, strengthening labor rights, halting new fossil fuel projects, and tuition-free public college. She has opportunistically embraced these positions to try to occupy the “Bernie Sanders lane” in 2024 and distance herself from past controversies, like promoting anti-vaccine theories, and making statements minimizing AIDS and depression.

But her policies are far from socialist. In her interview with Featherstone, Williamson claims that “Nordic-style capitalism would be a huge improvement on our current situation.” She views pro-labor policies as a way to save capitalism and advocates public-private partnerships for issues like housing and healthcare. According to Williamson, “there are benefits to capitalism.” 

On some proposals, like a mere $15 minimum wage by 2025, Williamson is even behind the curve of what many progressives are demanding in light of inflation and a high cost of living. And completely absent from her platform are other key issues that leftists have fought for in recent years, such as police and prison abolition and free abortion on demand.

While she may call contemporary U.S. capitalism “fundamentally unjust” and “sociopathic,” Marianne Williamson’s goal is ultimately to save and reform the system — not to dismantle it. 

Just as they did when supporting Sanders, leftists who support Williamson are also turning a blind eye to imperialism and the international working class. Williamson calls for “robust and equal support” for both Israel and Palestine (in other words, equal support for the occupier and the occupied), and supports Biden’s policies in Ukraine, including sending weapons, which we have previously written, leads only to further death and destruction in the region while bolstering U.S. and NATO interests. 

And although Williamson calls for the establishment of a Department of Peace, she’s unequivocally pro-military, arguing:

We have the finest military force in the world, however, we can no longer rely on force alone to rid ourselves of international enemies. The planet has become too small for that, and in so doing, we overburden our military by asking them to compensate for the other work that we choose not to do. We are less effective, and less secure, because of that.

Any crumbs that Democratic presidents throw U.S. workers are off the backs of the international working class and the profits generated from the imperialist machine, whether through militarily or financially subjugating imperialized nations. Far from being a secondary issue that we can ignore, imperialism is inextricably tied to capitalism. Socialists must steadfastly and uncompromisingly oppose it, whether it comes from the Right or from ostensibly progressive figures like Williamson. 

Leftists supporting Marianne Williamson are following the logic of lesser evilism: she may not be the ideal candidate, nevermind a socialist candidate, but she’s better than Biden. However, not only does this argument ignore the ways that her policies fall far short of leftist demands — it completely ignores the class content of the Democratic party line. Democrats are a party of, by, and for capitalists. Despite its lip service to progressive causes, the party’s purpose is to uphold the racist, imperialist, capitalist system that hyper-exploits the working class here and abroad. 

We only need to look at the dismal record of the progressive “Squad” in the House of Representatives to see where support for Democrats leads leftists. These politicians, backed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), billed themselves as being part of a new era of politics, garnering the support of leftist groups and young people in particular who were understandably disillusioned with establishment Democrats. But in the years since the Squad members were elected, they have fallen in line behind politicians like Biden, voting in favor of military budget increases, weapons for the apartheid state of Israel, and crushing the rail workers’ strike. 

Far from fighting for workers, politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have, time and time again, rubber stamped the regime’s racist, imperialist, anti-worker politics. This is the inevitable result of working within a capitalist party like the Democratic Party. As Kim Moody outlines in Breaking the Impasse:

… what is required of AOC and other dissidents is not a surrender of ideas or left identity, but conformity to the norms, protocol, and discipline of the Democratic Caucus which have long been sufficient to incorporate dissidents and preclude radical legislation. 

This is why, for all of Marianne Williamson’s compelling denunciations of Biden, establishment Democrats, and neoliberalism, she would ultimately fall in line behind these very forces. In this sense, Williamson is no lesser evil — she will, like Sanders and the Squad before her, funnel leftists into a party that is the enemy of the working class. She is promoting the illusion that a kinder, gentler capitalism is possible by voting the right Democrats into office. In the context of increased geopolitical tensions and the threat of greater economic crisis and climate change, this illusion is not only wrong-headed, but dangerous for leftists to buy into.

Pushing Biden Left?

To be clear, Marianne Williamson has virtually no chance of winning the Democratic nomination, regardless of whether socialists back her campaign. There are no plans to even hold debates between the Democratic candidates, and U.S. elections are highly undemocratic at both the state and federal levels, quashing opposition and corrupted by vast sums of money. The Democratic Party will go to great lengths to prevent any serious contender; it will clear the field for Biden in 2024, just as it did in 2020, and just as it did for Hilary Clinton in 2016.

Nonetheless — some leftists might reason — Williamson’s candidacy, if taken seriously, will push Biden left. Just as Sanders’s campaigns in 2016 and 2020 to the left of Clinton and Joe Biden did, to some extent, force these two politicians to take up progressive issues like student debt cancellation, giving Williamson a national platform could, the logic goes, force Biden to adopt progressive policies.

But over two years into the Biden administration, we see that his record does not align with even the mildest progressive measures that his 2020 campaign promised, let alone any policies proposed by Sanders. Instead, Biden made progressive promises to attract voters to his left and de-fang movements critical of the Democrats, all before breaking them, time and time again. Even if Williamson’s candidacy forces Biden to make certain overtures to the Left, we should be under no illusions that he would take up these policies, and under no illusions that the Democratic Party would stop acting alongside Republicans in the interest of capital. 

In fact, for all the browbeating to “vote blue” that leftists endured in 2020, neither the Biden presidency nor two years of a Democratic-controlled congress have stopped the Right or put Trumpism to rest. This is because Democratic Party does not present an alternative: as the U.S. working class faces rising living costs and crumbling infrastructure, the Democrats promise business as usual, and Biden’s presidency has largely focused on restoring faith in the country’s decaying institutions while implementing austerity and maintaining many of President Trump’s policies. For this reason, it’s not the case that a “better” Democrat, whether Marianne Williamson or Bernie Sanders, could halt the rise of reactionary forces. It’s this capitalist, imperialist party itself that paves the way for the Far Right. 

A Class-Independent Way Forward

Marianne Williamson isn’t going to be the Democratic nominee, and her program is nowhere near enough for the working class and oppressed. Putting energy into her campaign isn’t just misguided — it’s an obstacle to building an international socialist movement, and to the important work that we need to do toward creating an independent, working-class party.

Instead of scouring the field of Democratic candidates every two to four years to find the lesser evil and chaining ourselves to a party of the bosses, we need to build a party that fights capitalism, imperialism, and oppression in all its forms. Left Voice is putting forward a network to try to build a political alternative: a party that fights for socialism and for the rights of all exploited and oppressed. The millions of young people who have mobilized as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, who are unionizing their workplaces at companies like Starbucks, who are organizing against climate destruction, and who are fighting for reproductive and queer rights show that people across the U.S. are coming to the conclusion that the Democrats aren’t on our side. Let’s harness this energy to build a movement for socialism instead. 

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Otto Fors

Otto is a college professor in the New York area.

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