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 Lamont Lilly, vice-presidential candidate for the Workers’ World Party.
How did you become a part of the socialist movement?
Well, my very first political organization was the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association) founded by the late Marcus Garvey. Even though I wasn’t very serious about much of anything at the time, I was always concerned about the conditions of the Black community. I was living racism every day. I grew up in borderline poverty, and was very conscious of these conditions. My father’s side of the family were mostly farmers; my mother’s side, mostly factory workers. I’m also from North Carolina, which means that even in the 1980’s, we were still growing up in the Jim Crow South.
I eventually found Malcolm X during my undergraduate studies at North Carolina Central University, and was most intrigued by his personal and political development, particularly after his departure from the Nation of Islam. Through his travels and continued quest for learning and growth, this was the same Malcolm X who had become an internationalist, an anti-capitalist, and who was just beginning to speak on Women’s Liberation. Malcolm X led me directly to the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. From then on, it was Revolutionary Socialism all the way, Marxist-Leninism.
Initially, I was a little hesitant about studying all of these “old white guys.” But the more I studied Kwame Nkrumah, Huey P. Newton, Ho Chi Minh and Angela Davis’s old works, the more I kept finding Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. I’ll always subscribe to Pan-Africanism, as well as Marxist-Leninism. I joined Workers World Party in 2012 and have been here ever since – working, learning and still growing.
Why have you decided to run in the 2016 presidential election? What do you hope to most accomplish through your campaign?
Workers World Party has run candidates in the bourgeois elections since 1980, if I’m not mistaken. We’ve always used the elections to speak directly to the failures of the two-party system. We know the U.S. presidential elections are rigged. The elections in the U.S. are dominated by corporations and the ruling elite, and so is the mass media, which in large part is used to shape public opinion.
Running our own revolutionary candidates has been a platform however, that the oppressed and working class have been able to point to as a living example that there is indeed, an alternative, an alternative that speaks directly to the needs and conditions of the people.
By running candidates who speak to directly to the issues of racism and white supremacy, poverty and class struggle, imperialism and the military industrial complex, the main goal is to continue raising consciousness. From sexism to food justice, to mass incarceration, we’re discussing all of these issues through a very practical and material fashion. And people are listening, especially via social media.
More than any presidential election I have ever seen, I think people are beginning to see for themselves just how much of an illusion the two-party system really is.
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?
We’re not Democrats. We’re not Republicans. And we’re not “social democrats” who seek to reform capitalism through some kinder, gentler lens. We believe that the systems of capitalism, white supremacy, imperialism and patriarchy have to be dismantled for liberation to truly exist in a mass tangible form. Israel is a neo-imperialist state. Period! It was carved out and created in 1948. Bernie Sanders won’t tell you that.
We don’t subscribe to “capitalist reform.” And we don’t subscribe to reforming the police either. We believe that the Earth’s natural resources and the means of production belong to the people, not to multinational corporations. Water is life, not a business. We tell people straight up, the pentagon doesn’t keep us safe. It’s an instrument of global domination. Your mainstream capitalist parties are working quite diligently to preserve this domination. We want an end to capitalism, and are working just as diligently to replace it with socialism.
Why are independent candidates, including socialists, left out of the debates and the mainstream media?
I think we should understand that the mainstream media is owned and operated by the ruling elite. I believe it’s down to six corporations now that own more than 95% of all media outlets in the U.S., that’s radio, television and print media. They also own the “social media” outlets. That’s a lot of fucking of power. And they use this power to control the minds of the masses. It’s these same sources that tell people what to eat, what car to drive, what to think and what to buy.
If those same media sources were to open the modes of communication for candidates like Monica Moorehead and myself, they know damn well that their control and manipulation of the masses would cease to exist.
Because of its corporate control here in the U.S., mainstream media doesn’t promote justice and liberation. It promotes consumerism, greed and exploitation. Our message is the exact antithesis of such non-sense. But then again, free minds would not support an oligarchy. That’s why people typically don’t get a chance to see revolutionary socialist candidates on CNN. The truth might be told, and that wouldn’t benefit the ruling class or their corporations.
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?
Workers World Party and our 2016 campaign identifies very closely with several movements. Part of the reason that we’re running two revolutionary Black candidates is to stand in full solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement. We want an end to the war on Black lives, worldwide. We fully understand however, that such a noble pursuit begins right here in the U.S., the very home of chattel slavery. We also understand that the Fight for $15 and a Union is just as important to the overall struggle. A livable wage and decent job is paramount in providing for people’s needs. One of our comrades is a key organizer in the current dining workers strike at Harvard University.
Last month, I and several other Workers World Party comrades were able to travel to Standing Rock, North Dakota in solidarity with the Native and Indigenous struggle there. We’re talking about a people who have resisted white settler colonialism for over 400 years now. The North Dakota Access Pipeline is just a fraction of what’s happening there. But the Indigenous Movement at Standing Rock is no different than our support for Palestine. Again, what we’re really talking about is the right to sovereignty, self-determination and the ability to live and breathe without capitalism exploiting every piece of positive energy in its path. What we’re also talking about here is cultural autonomy and the right to self-defense.
We’ve also had several comrades, front and center, in the struggle against North Carolina’s repressive HB2 Bill. There’s no “people’s liberation” without Queer and Trans liberation. And our campaign manager, Teresa Gutierrez is a leading national organizer in the Latinx Movement and the fight against ICE and deportations.
It’s so important to have all of these struggles represented with vigor, compassion and understanding. There’s a very important intersection here that must be oriented with great care and sincerity. Mass Solidarity is the only way that the oppressed and the working class are going to gain liberation. To overthrow capitalism, we’re going to need all of these movements, which is why we’re in them…knee deep! We don’t just “speak” to the working class; we’re a part of the working class.
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?
That’s a tough question, and a very pertinent one as well. Because if Left forces don’t do something soon to organize some real power and political leverage on a national and international scale, the working class is going to be in some real trouble. It is not that the ruling elite are stronger and wiser; they’ve simply out organized us. When it comes to money, profit and the pursuit of power, the elite set their differences aside for the sake of more power and domination.
Those of us on the Left are still beefing over things that happened 20, 30 and 40 years ago. We have to set our egos to the side, and put the people’s needs first. We have to stop trying to prove who’s more intelligent and just do the work. All of these fancy conferences in hotels and shit, that’s not helping the working poor, doesn’t even touch the proletariat. What good is quoting Marx if you’re scared to knock on some doors in the ghetto?
We have to set differences aside, point blank. We have to LISTEN to each other and stop trying to prove points. I’ve been in these Left spaces and it’s a shame. Some of us treat each other worse than the oppressor does. We can’t build a people’s movement like that. We have to have love for each other, respect and solidarity.
I think socialist unity is very possible, especially with a new generation of millennials who are picking up the mantle. The youth are really learning to work together, of all nationalities, genders and religions. I’m hopeful that 2016 is just the beginning.
We have to keep in mind that the word Socialism was introduced to a whole new generation, for the first time this year. Such a phenomenon will create ripples for years to come. Only time will tell, which is exactly why we have to stay vigilant and keep working, and keep serving, and keep teaching. Right on!
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?
Personally, I tend not to try to convince anyone to do anything. I let my actions do the talking. And I think Workers World Party does the same thing, as an organization. We’re not really the “rah, rah” type. That’s what politicians do – go around and try to convince people.
I’m a firm believer that as revolutionaries, if you do the work, people will eventually come to respect you and acknowledge your sincerity. If the people don’t know you, and you have to go around and “convince” people, that means you need to keep working, and keep building.
We have to earn the people’s respect, not convince them. Even as socialist candidates and third parties, we have to earn the people’s respect. That means cut the lip, and show and prove!
Can you share some comments on the history and origins of your organization?
Workers world party was founded in 1959 by a comrade named Sam Marcy. Formerly of the Socialist Workers Party, Marcy led a small group of dedicated cadre who shared similar views
on the right to self-determination, the Chinese Revolution and support of the Progressive Party in the late 40’s and early 50’s.
That perspective laid the groundwork for both international and working class solidarity would come to be respected worldwide, and a working relationship with the kind of organizations other tendencies were much more hesitant in supporting, from Mao Zedong to Robert F. Williams.
Workers World Party and its affiliate, Youth Against War and Fascism (YAWF) were working with and defending the Black Panther Party 50 years ago when they weren’t so beloved as they are now. Now, it’s safe to love the Black Panthers. Fifty years ago, it wasn’t.
We supported AIM (American Indian Movement), the Young Lords and defended the Weather Underground, and were early advocates of LGBTQ rights when that wasn’t so popular either. Several of our comrades were actually there during the Stonewall Rebellion and were active participants. Our dear comrade, Leslie Feinberg was a pioneer in this struggle.
Internationally speaking, we are anti-imperialists and have always respected other nation’s right to sovereignty and independence. We defended Cuba from day one, and still do – same as Libya and Venezuela.
As other left tendencies have actively sought to downplay the National Question, white supremacy and the issue of gender equity, Workers World Party has always actively sought to address such contradictions at the forefront – not only in theory, but in practice and direct action.
Of course class consciousness is a central component, but so is race and patriarchy. We’ve always held this line. This is the history we stand on. Principled! Humble, but proud.
Why is voting for independent socialist candidates important? Should socialists consider supporting the Green Party’s Jill Stein?
As members of the working class, it’s so important that we vote intelligently, with our own hearts and minds. This “lesser of two evils” narrative is old and played out now. People know damn well that neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton represent the interests of poor, Black, Brown or working people. Voting for Socialist candidates isn’t just a “protest vote.” It’s an expression that some better is very possible. It’s a refusal to go along with what the ruling class is trying to force feed us.
I just hate how Hillary Clinton has thoroughly exploited the “Mothers of the Movement.” Where was Hillary when their sons and daughters were getting gunned down by the police? She was nowhere to be found. Wow…it’s sickening!
In reference to socialists supporting Jill Stein and the Green Party, I can’t tell people who to support. I honestly don’t know Jill Stein; I’ve never worked with Jill in the movement. I do however, know Ajamu Baraka. We were in Lebanon and Syria together last year with Cynthia McKinney and Ramsey Clark. We’re also both members of Black Left Unity Network.
I will say this, as long as people are beginning to think OUTSIDE of the two-party system of just Democrats and Republicans, I’m okay with that. I would also think it to be quite arrogant to expect the masses to go from 0 to 60 without some period of political transition. It’s so important to meet the people where they are. If people are taking leaps and voting “Green” in 2016, that’s a good start. A start, not a finish, though. On the other hand, I also expect revolutionaries to vote like revolutionaries. Simple as that.
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.?
As a former veteran of the U.S. Army, the first thing that really alarms me is that the United States government has over 1,000 military bases spread out around the fucking world. Over 1,000! That’s insane! Just think about that for a minute…from Panama, to South Korea, to Kaiserslautern, Germany. We’re talking about spouses, mothers and fathers who should be at home with their families. Instead, they’re off in some foreign country acting as agents of the empire, occupying and terrorizing people who haven’t done anything to them. That’s not being a “soldier” that’s being a bully.
That was my father during Desert Storm in 1991 & ’92. That was me at one time, allowing my mind and body to be exploited for the oligarchy and their multinational corporations. First thing first, shut those damn bases down! And get those people home to their families. We’re not spreading democracy; we’re spreading hypocrisy and destabilization. The U.S. Pentagon needs to be shut down, period! It’s the epicenter of global imperialism. Shut it down!
As members of Workers World Party we believe in all nations’ right to sovereignty, and oppressed nations’ right to self-determination. Whether it’s Puerto Rico, Egypt or North Korea, we don’t have the right to be there. We don’t have the human right to fly in and tell other governments what to do and how to do it. What moral ground does the U.S. have to tell other nations what to do? With all this poverty, police terror and genocide here on this soil? Man, please! If United States respected other nations’ culture and right to autonomy, we wouldn’t have half the global conflicts we have right now.
Much of this chaos and violence around the globe is in large part due to the meddling of the U.S. and the European Imperial powers. That’s why it’s so critical to understand the plight of other oppressed nations. We have to stop worrying about our differences and build on what we have in common. Many of us have a common oppressor. It would behoove us to start right there. All power to the people!