It’s time to build a left-wing, anti-corporate, pro-worker party for workers and youth
We’re gonna call the race between Obama and Romney early. That’s right, we already know who’s going to win. Corporate America. Today, it’s more obvious than ever that Wall Street owns both political parties, lock, stock and barrel. But every four years we get sucked into the media-frenzied circus of presidential elections, complete with the superficial analysis of talking heads, an endless barrage of TV ads that lack any real substance, and mountains of corporate cash behind the scenes managing it all.
The “hope” and “change” of the last election cycle seems like something from a bygone era, all the euphoric optimism and excitement which surrounded the 2008 Obama campaign replaced by bitter frustration, frightening economic uncertainty, anger, general pessimism, and loss of faith in the political establishment.
Nevertheless, millions of working people and youth in this country will see the prospect of a Romney presidency as a terrifying possibility and feel pressured to vote Obama, seen as a lesser of two evils, in order to stop the Republicans. Romney’s pick for VP [vice president], Tea Party congressman Paul Ryan, compounds these fears a hundred times over. But will backing Obama really make an important difference for the millions being squeezed by an enduring economic crisis? Will the Democrats really block the Republican agenda?
Obama, the Other Candidate for the Wealthy
Actions speak louder than words. We have to look beyond the rhetoric and personalities and undercover the actual policies. There’s a reason why Obama has made a complete departure from the inspiring rhetoric of 2008 and resorted to attacking Mitt Romney. He has absolutely no record to run on. In fact, the only reason Romney, a money-grubbing, out-of-touch millionaire corporate hack that even most Republicans don’t really like, has a chance of winning is because the Obama administration has done little to improve the conditions of ordinary working people and broken virtually all of the key campaign promises of 2008.
In the 2008 elections, Obama tapped into the anger at the failed Bush years and promised real change. The truth, however, is that on all major political issues his policies look a lot like those of his predecessors. Bush initiated the biggest corporate theft of public funds in U.S. history, more commonly known as the bank bailouts, and Obama continued them without blinking. Real financial regulation? Not a chance. The banks under Obama are still raking in billions using the same dirty tricks as always. Corporate America is sitting on an estimated $2.1 trillion in cash reserves and other liquid assets and won’t invest because it’s not profitable. But Obama turned a blind eye and instead extended the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich.
Obama promised to bring a swift end to Bush’s imperialist adventures in the Middle East. Instead we got an escalation in Afghanistan, employing the use of flying drones which have indiscriminately killed civilians, including women and children. Obama promised universal health care, but his health care plan is just another corporate handout to insurance companies and pharmaceuticals and will only force people to buy overpriced and inadequate private health care.
His education policy is like Bush’s No Child Left Behind on steroids, with a major push on union-busting charter schools and high-stakes testing. Obama promised to support the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would make it easier for workers to organize unions and fight for their rights. Instead Obama engineered the GM bailout, which demanded drastic cuts to workers’ wages and benefits.
In many ways, the Obama administration has carried out what used to be considered a Republican agenda. No wonder the Republicans have gone off the deep end – the Democrats have occupied all their turf!
All the while, the super-rich have grabbed the lion’s share of the wealth. Heirs of the Walton family, the owners of Walmart, alone now own more wealth than the entire bottom 40% of families in this country. That’s completely insane! Millions of these families are drowning in mortgage debt and facing foreclosure. Unemployment remains persistently high. Thirty-six million Americans are saddled with over $1 trillion in student loan debt, which paid for an education that promised a way out but hasn’t delivered much more than a couch in their parents’ basement. Working people are losing ground, our future is slipping away, and Obama’s hardly lifted a finger to help while the rich are laughing all the way to the bank.
Two Corporate Parties
So now, four years later, can anything Obama says during the election campaign be trusted? The differences between the Democrats and Republicans – and they do exist – have more to do with disagreements between the ruling elite on how to rule. Romney just represents a more naked, unabashed rule of the capitalist class. Obama offers popular rhetoric, which he again began to promote once this new election cycle began, about taxing the rich, supporting LGBT rights, and other token gestures. But he still offers no fundamental alternative to Romney. They both represent the main interests of the capitalist class and defend this rotten system of capitalism as a whole.
The ruling elite and corporate America are funneling record millions into the 2012 elections, ensuring that corporate America will rule no matter which party is in office. As of June 30, the Obama campaign had spent a mind-boggling $400 million, vastly outspending the Romney camp. Obama’s top contributors are from finance, insurance, real estate, lawyers and lobbyists. But Romney’s fundraising edge grew over the summer, bringing in over $100 million in July alone.
In 2008, Obama received more campaign contributions from Big Business than John McCain in a number of sectors, including Wall Street and the health care industry. Wall Street and wealthy donors have always been the main backers of both political parties but the recent Citizens United court ruling, allowing unlimited spending in elections, has removed the last veil, revealing a political process completely dominated by the capitalist class.
We Need a Political Alternative for the 99%
It’s time to build a left-wing, anti-corporate, pro-worker party for workers and youth that will be completely independent of corporate cash and influence. The Occupy movement brilliantly exposed the ruthless, unaccountable power of Wall Street and the 1%, and the corporate character of both parties. We need to build on this and build a movement that ends Wall Street and corporate America’s domination of our political and economic system. This also means challenging the capitalist system that funnels all the wealth into the hands of the rich elite at the expense of workers and the environment. A new political party that is funded and democratically controlled by working people and the poor is necessary to organize a working-class alternative to Wall Street and big business.
We also need to fight for a real alternative to this failing capitalist system. We believe democratic socialism, which would replace the for-profit economy with one where the banks and major corporations are publicly owned and democratically planned for the interests of society as a whole, is that real alternative for the 99%.
With the main levers of the economy publicly owned, we could invest in a massive jobs program to put millions to work building renewable energy infrastructure. With the wealth of society in the hands of the 99%, we could easily provide high-quality education, health care and housing for all. But we won’t hear a word about this from either candidate or the corporate media. That’s why we desperately need our own political voice.
Vote Left in 2012
To further the movement during elections, we should get behind the strongest left-wing, pro-worker, independent challenge to corporate America and its two parties. Ideally, we would unite behind a single left-wing campaign, sending the strongest possible message that we are fed up with corporate politics. In the absence of a united left campaign in 2012, Socialist Alternative still argues for registering the strongest number of votes for a left independent challenge.
Jill Stein of the Green Party, though not well known, is running a credible campaign and will likely appear on at least 40 state ballots. She supports a Green New Deal jobs program, ending the wars, cancelling student debt, and a single-payer health care system, together with many other progressive reforms. Despite the failure of the Green Party to see capitalism as a central problem, Socialist Alternative has endorsed her campaign as probably the strongest national campaign. We support other left, independent candidates running at a local and state level, including Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant, running for state legislature in Washington State.
At the time of writing, Roseanne Barr, well-known as a stand-up comedian and for her TV role as a working-class mom on the show Roseanne, has just been endorsed by the Peace and Freedom Party in California. She and her running mate, Cindy Sheehan, have both spoken in favor of socialist change. If this campaign develops into a serious and credible challenge to the corporate establishment, it may capture the most attention from workers and youth looking for an alternative, despite the fact that the campaign may not appear on the ballot in many states. If so, it could be a further step in striking a blow at the dominance of the two corporate parties over U.S. politics. Former mayor of Salt Lake City, Rocky Anderson, is also running for President on his newly formed Justice Party ticket. As part of registering the strongest possible left challenge to the corporate two-party system, we support the efforts of both these campaigns as well.
Voting for an independent challenge isn’t a wasted vote, as many liberal Democrats will claim. It’s an important statement that your vote has not been bought by the two corporate parties. It’s also the first step in building a political alternative to the two major parties. There is unprecedented anger at both political parties and a hunger for an alternative that could be tapped into. A Washington Post-ABC poll taken earlier this year showed that two-thirds of Americans would support an independent candidate and nearly half support the idea of a third party. There’s more of an opportunity than ever to begin to build a new party for workers and youth.
As scary as the Republicans are, we should really be afraid of the corporate agenda of both political parties, as they both spell disaster for ordinary working people. We can have no faith in the Democrats, who have proven utterly incapable of standing up to the Republicans even when they’re in office. Instead, we need to support left, independent candidates who will continue to expose the power of Wall Street and build a powerful movement against corporate America and capitalism.
Should You Vote for the Lesser Evil?
This article is formatted as an argument between a “lesser-evilist” Democratic Party voter (in bold) and a Socialist Alternative member (in regular text).
Q: “Progressives have to be strategic, not ideological purists. Though not ideal, we need to vote for Democrats because they are more progressive than Republicans and can implement reforms that move us in a positive direction.”
The Democratic Party hasn’t been delivering reforms. Promises aside, all the recent Democratic administrations have marched the country down a path of right-wing corporatism, imperialism and environmental devastation.
Obama is no exception. He received record-setting levels of campaign contributions from banks and big business in 2008, and it is their interests he has represented, supporting the Wall Street bailouts while leaving working people and the poor to fend for themselves. His 2011 bipartisan budget deal represented the largest-ever drop in U.S. domestic spending, seriously impacting education, health, and labor.
Obama has increased military spending, intensified the war in Afghanistan, and carried out more drone strikes than ever before in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia (countries the U.S. is not even at war with).
He opened the eastern and Arctic coasts for offshore oil drilling while expanding fossil fuel production, fracking and nuclear power. He gave the thumbs-up on the initial phases of the Keystone XL pipeline, putting off the final decision until 2013, safely after the elections.
Guantanamo? Still open. Card-check system for union registration? Scrapped and forgotten, along with the rest of the Employee Free Choice Act. Transparency? Obama has punished more government whistleblowers than any president in history.
Q: “Obama can’t take all the blame; he’s boxed in by Republicans and the corporate establishment. That’s why progressives need to have a dual-pronged strategy of electing Democrats while working to change the party for the better.”
True enough that there’s plenty of blame to go around. But the fact is none of the major reforms throughout U.S. history have been won through a strategy of supporting Democrats; on the contrary, the Democratic Party has consistently been an obstacle to far-reaching reforms, selling out social movements at the first available opportunity and putting corporate interests first.
For example, supposed “friend of labor” Franklin Delano Roosevelt not only spoke out openly against public employee unions’ right to strike, calling it “unthinkable and intolerable,” but actively participated in violent strikebreaking against private-sector workers using federal troops.
There is a similar story for every other major reform: women’s suffrage, the weekend, the eight-hour day, civil rights, and so on – every one of these was won in the context of a politically independent mass struggle imbued with a strong current of revolutionary activism. These struggles were won not by working with the Democrats, but by creating a situation where the politicians of the ruling class recognized that they had to grant concessions to avoid an all-out revolt.
Q: “If you’re serious about racial equality and LGBT and women’s rights, then a pragmatic vote for the Democrats is necessary to keep out the sexist, racist, homophobic Republicans.”
A serious approach to these issues means the point is not just to defeat the Republicans as individuals, but to defeat the whole right-wing, divide-and-rule corporate agenda that epitomizes the Republicans – something at which the Democratic Party is notoriously ineffective. The right-wing agenda has continued in full force under Obama’s administration.
The right has gained strength because the Democrats have failed to offer a real solution to the economic crisis, which has left open the space for the rise of right-wing populism with all its bigoted scapegoating. The only effective counter to the far right is for the left to build its own independent fighting force that articulates a class-based solution, uniting across race, sexuality, gender, and nationality to fight the real enemy – the big banks and corporations and their system of capitalism.
Let’s be concrete: Has racial equality improved since Obama took office? Quite the opposite: Unemployment in the black community has increased faster than for any other racial group, while the racist “War on Drugs” and the mass incarceration of African Americans have raged on unimpeded. Meanwhile, Obama has deported immigrants at a faster rate than any U.S. president in history.
On women’s rights, the Democrats have proven to be singularly unsuccessful at stopping the faster-than-ever right-wing assault across the country. A record-setting 135 attacks on women’s rights passed in 36 states in 2011 alone.
On LGBT rights, Obama’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was certainly positive, but this was a reform hard-won through popular pressure from below, including the 200,000- strong National Equality March in October 2009, which went much further to demand full, federally mandated, legal equality. Obama merely tried to appease the movement in the most convenient way possible – by repealing an untenable policy that 75% of Americans opposed and that he could use to shore up his progressive credentials just after selling out on the issue of tax cuts.
Similarly, Obama has given lip service to support for gay marriage as an election-season press stunt, but from the other side of his mouth has parroted the right-wing “states’ rights” excuse to avoid fighting for it.
Q: “The stakes are too high this time. War with Iran, stacking the Supreme Court, demolishing unions with ‘right-to-work’ legislation, privatizing social security… Romney and Ryan would do lasting, irreversible damage to our society.”
Stopping the right wing is an urgent necessity, and progressives must do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal. But history has shown that, in terms of actual policy, the balance of class forces and social movements in society is much more decisive than who is sitting in office.
For example, compare the Nixon administration to the Clinton administration.
Richard Nixon, a Republican, carried out what today would be considered an extremely liberal set of policies. He established the EPA and OSHA to federally protect the environment and workers’ safety, ended U.S. combat operations in Vietnam, expanded Affirmative Action and the federal welfare program, and enforced desegregation in public schools.
The Democrat Clinton, on the other hand, bombed the Balkans, got NAFTA passed, dismantled the federal welfare program, cracked down on undocumented workers, and signed the anti-gay Defense Of Marriage Act into law.
Clearly, this wasn’t because the infamously corrupt Nixon was such a good guy compared to Clinton. It’s because the political climate and the balance of class forces was different, largely due to the huge struggles taking place in Nixon’s day against the Vietnam War and for civil rights. Clinton’s presidency, immediately following the fall of the USSR, occurred during one of the all-time low points of social struggle.
So that is why it is crucial to make electoral choices that will help build the strongest social movements. Support for the Democrats often spells death for progressive movements because the logic of selling the lesser-evil candidate to the public during election season means covering up or justifying their betrayals and putting protests on hiatus to avoid embarrassing them.
That is why it is vital to build an all-out fight against the ongoing bipartisan rightward shift by posing a clear alternative that people can rally to.
It is precisely because the stakes are so high that we need to do this now.
Q: “Independent and third-party candidates have no chance of winning; why should I throw away my vote?”
It’s worth asking oneself why anti-corporate challengers don’t stand a chance in the current system. One major reason is because the domination of corporate cash stacks the deck against them from the beginning – all the more reason not to vote for the parties who maintain this status quo.
But the biggest reason is that the very social movement organizations that do have the collective power and resources to overcome these obstacles and build such a challenge into a viable force have failed to do so. Why? Because they are still tied to the Democrats.
In 2008, the union movement alone gave $400 million to Obama and the Democrats, a figure which they aim to top this year. What’s more, the AFL-CIO is unleashing 400,000 volunteers this year to get out the vote for Obama. This is easily enough to build a credible third party that represents workers’ interests and takes no corporate money.
The space is there. There are issues with majority support that neither party actually fights for, like single-payer health care, taxing the rich, slashing military spending, and a real jobs program. A whopping 72% of Americans say if there was a third party that represented them on most issues, they would consider voting for it. 22% say they definitely would vote for it (ABC News/ Washington Post, 1/12-15/12).
If a party based out of the progressive social movements and representing the interests of the working-class majority were created, it would fundamentally change the political landscape in this country and massively strengthen these movements. The effect would reverberate far beyond the numeric vote totals alone.
In Canada, for instance, single-payer health care was won through a combination of a bottom-up workers’ struggle and a strong electoral challenge by the anti-corporate, left-reformist New Democratic Party (NDP), which made single-payer health care their key platform issue. Despite never entering government, the NDP was able to get publicly funded insurance in every province of Canada by getting enough votes to frighten the other parties into implementing their key demand.
Far from being a waste, political independence from the corporate parties is the more effective strategy in both the long and short term – both in terms of movements building their own challenge for power and in terms of putting pressure on the ruling institutions.
As Lawrence O’Donnell, former staff director for the Senate Finance Committee and current MSNBC pundit, put it back in 2006: “If you don’t show them that you are capable of not voting for them, they don’t have to listen to you. I promise you that. I worked within the Democratic Party. I didn’t listen or have to listen to anything on the left … because the left had nowhere to go.”