Bill Fletcher and Carl Davidson this week published a lengthy defense of voting for Barack Obama as a bulwark against the rising tide of racist reactionary politics that will surely guarantee that a Mitt Romney presidency will sink to even greater depths of social regression.
“The central lesson we draw from the last four years has less to do with the Obama administration and more to do with the degree of effective organization of social movements and their relationship to the White House, Congress and other centers of power. The failure to put significant pressure on the Obama administration — combined with the lack of attention to the development of an independent progressive strategy, program and organizational base–has created a situation whereby frustration with a neo-liberal Democratic president could lead to a major demobilization. At bottom this means further rightward drift and the entry into power of the forces of irrationalism.”
One of the thrusts of the article, though not its central point, is that voting for a third party candidate in November is a waste of time. This is the same old song we’ve heard from the near left for decades, to wit, there’s nothing to be gained by organizing a political party outside the two-party bloc. Will there ever be a moment when such a formation should be created? I suspect not for Fletcher & Davidson.
I entirely agree with the general analysis of the problems of the far right-wing’s horrendous designs as laid out by Fletcher & Davidson, as a near-left Communist myself. However, their contention that nothing can be gained by organizing a third party is simply ridiculous. The last time our nation really made a leap forward, the Civil War and abolition of slavery, it was the success of a third party, the Republicans, that made all the difference.
The leading third party on the near left today is the Green Party. Jill Stein is running a surprisingly militant campaign, even getting herself arrested for a sit-down protest inside a major bank. While I would wish that the GP were more solidly anti-capitalist – which seems to me a logical conclusion for a progressive Green philosophy to reach – I couldn’t be more pleased that Stein will be the leading voice for political independence on the left today.
However, I will not personally be voting for Stein, if I have my druthers. In July I joined the venerable if quite tiny Socialist Party USA as a calculated wager that over the next decade the anti-capitalist sentiments in the US will reach a critical point and they’ll need an electorally-oriented vehicle to represent that upsurge. I invite every Socialist or Communist in the US to consider joining SPUSA today and leave behind sectarian and compromise politics forever.
Socialists like Fletcher & Davidson today participate in member organizations that do good work supporting social movements across the nation. I am not calling for dissolving such organizations, but all but a very few tiny Socialist organizations attempt to even enter the electoral arena. At the moment, only the SPUSA has the potential to reach a mass audience as they are explicitly organized as an open, multi-tendency political party that rejects rigid ideologies and incorporates the best of modern social movements such as feminism, ecology, and radical democracy. There is a lot of work to be done, most obviously on organizing among Black, Latino, and working-class voters. This is why we need all hands on deck for a full-court press to ensure that there is a healthy Socialist Party in 2016 and beyond.
Go ahead and vote for Obama, the SPUSA probably won’t have a ballot line in your state this year. If you are so fortunate, write-in Stewart Alexander and Alex Mendoza. Or Roseanne Barr, Jill Stein, or Rocky Anderson, if they are more your cup of tea. Building a healthy anti-capitalist third party will take continued advances on the terrain that the Green Party is clearing to the left of the Democrats. I look forward to the day that the Green and Socialist Party are the major parties and the Democrats and Republicans are reduced to holding bake sales for fundraisers.
What about a “safe states” strategy as proposed by Noam Chomsky and others, where the left is encouraged to vote third party, if and only if there’s little chance that Obama would lose your state? As a Chicago resident, I definitely qualify under that strategy. However, in four more years, the choices may not be so clear-cut. At some point, a moment where push comes to shove will happen for the left and we may have to risk losing some ground from the Democratic to the Republican Party in order to maintain our forward momentum as Socialists and Communists. Election spoilage isn’t our biggest worry, however. The 2000 election wasn’t about how many ballots were cast for Al Gore or George Bush, but who was in control of the Supreme Court and what a fair election system actually would look like.
The Socialist Party of tomorrow will need to work on a complex agenda of calling for weighted or instant run-off voting, proportional representation, as well as abolishing the Electoral College and reforming the Supreme Court so that it isn’t held hostage to the Party that has held the most power the longest. Democracy is about government that acts in the best interests of the entire population and especially protecting vulnerable minorities. As the US becomes more multicultural in the next decades, the empowerment of those interests will call for something other than simple ballot counting as our core form of democratic participation. For radical democracy to have a future, it must have a present, and a political party independent of the capitalist class is an urgent necessity.