Keeping the Class Line in the Socialist Electoral Alliance

Editorial, September 2014

The ballot box: an arena of class struggle

The Socialist Electoral Alliance, founded in August by the Campaign for a United Socialist Party with the participation of various anti-capitalists including Red Party members, stands now at a fork in the road. So far, the Alliance has served as a forum for socialists to share and hash out tactics on some of the various independent Left campaigns dotting the country – most significantly when Jorge Mujica of the Chicago Socialist Campaign gave an in-depth view, during the founding meeting, of the energetic on-the-ground work he and his comrades are doing to connect with and organize working people in the Windy City. But the comrades correctly realize that another talking shop is not what the Left needs, and consequently the SEA is taking its first steps toward becoming a real force in its own right. So if the Alliance stands for socialist unity, the vital question is: what kind of unity do we need, and with whom do we need it?

Every political organization, whether it’s a party, pre-party formation or coalition, represents the interests of one or more social classes. The Democratic and Republican parties represent the capitalist class, with the Democrats skewed more toward industrial Capital and the GOP toward finance Capital. To use a foreign example, Germany’s Alliance 90 / Greens represents a section of the liberal petty-bourgeoisie (middle class.) The aim of socialist political formations is to represent working class interests.

An organization’s class character isn’t necessarily determined by the breakdown of its membership figures, but rather by who controls the organization and what politics it advances. With the aim of cementing the Socialist Electoral Alliance’s class character as one that represents working class and oppressed peoples’ interests, Red Party member Gabriel Pierre advanced a proposal for defining under what circumstances the Alliance would support candidates for office. The proposal was:

  1. A candidate should have a worker-oriented platform – it needs to name the working class as the central force in positive social change and have specific pro-worker planks (such as the $15 minimum wage, proportional representation or defending women’s rights of reproductive self-control)
  2. A candidate should defend internationalism as the method of cross-border class solidarity – national chauvinism, like anti-immigrant demagoguery or support for imperialist war, needs to be rejected
  3. A candidate should have political independence from the two main parties of Big Business – running as a Democrat, or being vague about whether one is tied to the Democratic Party, only stunts the development of independent class politics by wedding genuine left-wing forces to the party famously described as ‘the graveyard of social movements’

The first condition received broad support, but the second and third were contested. On internationalism, a concern was raised that it would lead to dogmatism or sectarianism: Saturn Concentric, the de facto SEA convener, used the example of the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel as his example. What if one candidate supports BDS as a solidarity tactic and another opposes it? Then the Alliance, he says, would have to endorse one or the other and thus end up becoming another Left sect with a strict litmus test for participation.

Leaving aside the fact that debating, deciding upon and, yes, enforcing tactics is a good thing, the condition as written does not mandate any particular tactics that SEA-backed candidates must adhere to. Tactics are, after all, flexible: a demand that is appropriate in one context may be pitifully timid or wildly ultra-left in another. The condition merely states that the SEA should only get behind those who are committed to internationalism as a core principle of independent political action – the idea that we have more in common with a worker in Mexico or Russia than we do with millionaire and billionaire exploiters who happen to be fellow Americans.

Within that framework there can and should be intensive and ongoing debate, leading to real decisions to be tested in practice, about what tactics are most appropriate to advance our class. Anything truly beyond the pale would be sussed out by the group – something like “Expel the job-stealing immigrants”1 clearly goes against the principle, whereas whether (or to what degree) to support BDS leaves room for nuance and continuing debate.2

As for the third stipulation, comrade Concentric (among others) fears this would “cut us off” from otherwise left-minded people who still have illusions in the Democrats – that it would put supporters of self-described socialist Senator Bernie Sanders and the late Jackson, Mississippi mayor Chokwe Lumumba outside of the Alliance’s reach. Here we need to make an important distinction. Would refusal to endorse Democrats lock us out of supporting the party of imperialist war, austerity, police militarization and anti-immigrant hysteria? Yes – and that’s precisely the point.

Despite its name, the Democratic Party is not democratically structured (even in theory) in the way a labor union is. A bureaucratic, conciliatory or outright anti-worker union leadership can be booted out and replaced – not so with the Democrats, who are directly administered by their paymasters in the 1%. Even outliers in and around the party, like the above-mentioned Senator Sanders and late Mayor Lumumba, have rapidly abandoned their meaningfully progressive positions in order to remain part of the political establishment.3

There are many well-intentioned radical and radicalizing workers and youth who either grudgingly vote Democratic as the ‘lesser evil’ or, lacking an understanding of the party’s institutional role in governing American capitalism, believe it can be changed from within into a people’s party. Our task as socialists is not to pander to that sentiment but explain how the present situation can be overcome. Yes, the deck is stacked against the majority of the population in several ways – the 1% has its super-rich donors, its lobbyists, its faithful mass media and its undemocratic “winner-takes-all” election system.

But the solution is not to hitch our wagon to the “lesser evil” (even this dubious honor is increasingly doubtful) but to pose an alternative: overcoming the sectarianism of the Marxist left, combining coordinated and conscious socialist intervention in on-the-ground struggles with coordinated and conscious socialist intervention in elections as revolutionary oppositionists.

Democratic politicians only involve themselves in mass protests, strikes and other forms of collective action to divert it toward rocky shores – a brief look at Ferguson or Wisconsin will tell us all we need to know about their ‘solidarity.’ By drawing a clear line between itself and the liberal wing of Capital, the Socialist Electoral Alliance will not cut itself off from well-meaning supporters of Bernie Sanders et cetera but rather will be offering them a principled alternative. Rather than being dogmatic, these three conditions are the only soil in which the Alliance will be able to grow as a positive trend on the Left.

Notes:

  1. See http://red-party.com/immigration-no-more-pathway-to-citizenship/
  2. For a critical look at certain aspects of the BDS campaign, see the August editorial: http://red-party.com/what-way-forward-for-palestine-solidarity/
  3. Sanders’ failure to act as a genuine pro-worker opposition in Congress is detailed by Paul Street here: http://www.libertyunionparty.org/?p=391 . Eljeer Hawkins notes, among other things, that one of Mayor Lumumba’s first acts in Jackson City Hall was to pass a regressive water tax on working people: http://www.socialistalternative.org/2013/12/12/the-election-victory-of-chokwe-lumumba-part-one-of-two/

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