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The Way to Fight Genocide is Class Independence, Not Voting Blank

New Yorkers are being encouraged to “Leave It Blank” for the Democratic primary on Tuesday, following the Vote Uncommitted campaign in Michigan. But we need to fight for class independence, not to funnel people back into the Democratic Party.

Molly Rosenzweig

April 1, 2024
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Protesters in Michigan urge voters to vote "uncommitted" in the primary (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP)

New Yorkers will take to the polls on April 2 for the Democratic primary.  Many  groups on the left are encouraging people to “vote blank” in the New York Democratic primary against “Genocide Joe” Biden, following in the footsteps of the Vote Uncommitted campaign in Michigan and other states. While challenging the unconditional support for Biden as a supposedly “lesser evil” candidate is certainly progressive, this strategy ultimately serves to uphold that logic, as it drives people back into the arms of the Democratic Party and feeds illusions that we can vote our way out of the genocide underway in Palestine. The way forward is class independence, organizing independently of both capitalist parties in our workplaces, on campuses, and in the streets.

“Genocide Joe” is increasingly unpopular, and his low approval ratings are especially stark among Arab American and young voters. The large Arab American population in swing-state Michigan is one reason why Democrats are concerned about the election. In 2020, Biden only won Michigan by about 540,000 votes, and Trump in 2016 only won the state by about 11,000 votes. Thus, the Democrats are desperately searching for a way to bring these disaffected voters back into the fold. A late February poll shows that 67 percent of voters want a permanent ceasefire regardless of party affiliation and a majority of Biden voters oppose weapons shipments to Israel. Furthermore, Biden’s image has been damaged by the resignation of three officials from his administration and the refusal of Arab-American leaders in Michigan to meet with Biden’s campaign manager. 

The Leave it Blank NY campaign is explicitly a pressure campaign on Biden, stating, “New Yorkers have a chance to send a strong message that Democratic voters care about Palestine and contribute to the nationwide effort to pressure the President and the party to change course and push for a ceasefire.” [emphasis added]. Many prominent figures and media are explicitly calling Vote Uncommitted and Leave It Blank pressure campaigns on Biden, as Medhi Hasan laid out on Pod Save America — a podcast of former Obama-administration officials. While the impulse is progressive, this strategy misses the point. 

Israel is the outpost of U.S. and Western imperialism in the Middle East. The bipartisan regime — including Biden himself — is pro-Israel for material and geopolitical reasons, not merely because of ideological and personal commitments. Biden explicitly said in a 1986 speech:

Were there not an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interest in the region. The United States would have to go out and invent an Israel. [emphasis added]

“Genocide Joe” has been very blatant about his support of Israel throughout his political career. But it’s not merely a problem of Biden himself or the  “establishment” wing of the Democratic party. Rather, it’s crucial to understand that the Democrats (and Republicans) are a party of and for the capitalists. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party exists to funnel progressive and social movements back into its arms and away from self-organization of workers and the oppressed. That is because our collective power threatens the capitalists, whom the bipartisan regime serves to protect. The imperialist nature of the state cannot be solved just by electing the “right” person to office. 

These pressure campaigns are a way for the Democratic Party and nonprofits to co-opt the movement for Palestine, especially in a presidential election year. This is nothing new. After all, the Democratic Party is “the graveyard of social movements.” In 2020, the Democrats were able to co-opt the Black Lives Matter movement into voting for Biden. In 2018, the Women’s March undertook a “power to the polls” campaign for the midterm election.  In 2022, Planned Parenthood and other nonprofits funneled discontent and anger about the Dobbs decision’s attacks on bodily autonomy into voting for the Democrats. Voting for Democrats is not using our collective power as workers and oppressed to organize against the U.S.-backed Israeli genocide on Palestinians. It takes the powerful movement of the past nearly six months out of the streets, our workplaces, and campuses  and funnels it back into the ballot box. 

In the censure of Rashida Tlaib, the Democrats have shown that they will do anything to “punish” those who don’t fall in line behind Israel or go beyond very tepid criticisms. When Democrats have launched mild criticisms of Israel’s genocide in response to growing popular opposition, they make sure to signal that they still support Israel, that they themselves are Zionists, and that “Israel has a right to defend itself.” Chuck Shumers’ recent speech is a great example of this. Even as he criticized Netanyahu, he made sure to mention the attacks of October 7 before even mentioning Israel’s war on the Palestinians — and he certainly didn’t characterize it as a genocide. This speech and similar statements by Democrats in recent days gives illusions that Netanyahu himself is the problem, not the whole settler-colonial project of Zionism. Even Andy Levin, who was part of the Vote Uncommitted campaign in Michigan, is a liberal Zionist and said that the campaign was a way to help Biden win. Liberal Zionists propose a two-state solution and are critical of settlers in the post-1967 occupied lands, without recognizing that the whole project of Zionism is the problem, with all the violence and displacement that it entails, even before 1948.

Biden and the Democrats are aligning themselves to this framing as they posture themselves more and more against Netanyahu, with Harris and Biden (in his recent State of the Union speech) now calling for a 6-week ceasefire. Biden says he is working to sway Netanyahu behind the scenes, while at the same time sending weapons to Israel every 36 hours. Biden also wants to avoid further entanglement in the Middle East, as his desired focus is on containing China’s growing influence. 

Republicans and Trump offer nothing progressive for the working class, much less for the people of Palestine. But this doesn’t mean we should vote for Biden. The reason Biden is even posturing toward a “ceasefire” shows the strength of the movement in the streets and on college campuses. But these shifts do not fundamentally change the United States’ unyielding support for the state of Israel and its genocidal campaign in Palestine. Let’s not forget that this rhetorical shift comes after Israel has almost fully destroyed Gaza, with more than 32,000 killed by the Zionist state.

Lesser-evilism is explicit in the strategy of Leave It Blank NY, who say it is necessary to give Biden a wake-up call “precisely because of how much is at stake in November.” Trump and the Far Right are a genuine threat and people have legitimate fears of a second Trump term. But the way to fight Trump and the far right is self-organization, independent of capitalists and their parties — not voting for Democrats. 

The last eight years have been proof enough of this failed strategy. During Biden’s presidency, not only have we lost the limited protections of Roe, but the Far Right has made many advances, such as the countless bills attacking trans adults and children, workers’ rights, and more. Meanwhile, Biden has moved to the right on many issues, including immigration and militarization of the Southern border. While the lesser-evil push for Biden may have kept Trump from office in 2020, it still has not defeated Trumpism.

The Vote Blank campaign undoubtedly reflects a progressive phenomenon; it creates political problems for Biden and expresses the generalized disgust towards his complicity in genocide, which may lead many to refuse to vote for him in November. However, it ultimately remains a symbolic gesture because it doesn’t build working-class power, instead sowing illusions that U.S. foreign policy can be fundamentally influenced at the ballot box. Encouraging working people to take such actions, as NYC DSA, PSL, and Socialist Alternative are doing, only creates confusion among the working class about where our real power lies. 

We cannot be fooled into believing that Biden will change course on Israel simply because Democratic voters in a deeply blue state raise a symbolic objection to his support for the genocide in Gaza. Biden is bound by and enthusiastically supports more than 75 years of U.S. imperialist support for Israel. That can only be broken by a movement that is capable of forcing a crisis by directly confronting the regime and U.S. capitalism, using our power as workers — the source of capitalists’ profits — to shut it down. While rejecting Biden’s complicity to Israel’s atrocities reflects growing dissatisfaction with a bipartisan regime that only represents the bloody interests of the ruling class at the expense of the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in the United States and across the world, campaigns to push him to the left are not our best option: we must organize independently of the Democrats and build a  working-class party with a socialist program to organize in our workplaces and in the streets against the genocide in Gaza.

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