Category Archives: "Third" Party

The Case for a New Third Party in America

In the late 1850s, the United States experienced a political realignment when the Whig Party disbanded and many of its members including Abraham Lincoln joined the nascent Republican Party because of the betrayal of the Whig leadership over the issue of slavery and its extension.

American politics may be poised for a similar realignment today as popular disaffection with the two major parties and their domination by corporate money and interests increases. Polls show that 57 percent of Americans want a major new party, including 71 percent of millennials.

The reason for these figures are not hard to discern: from climate change, to rising cost of education, to a lack of a universal health care system to a policy of endless war, the Washington ruling elite has failed its citizenry.

A Princeton and Northwestern University study found that there is no correlation between public preferences, expressed in opinion polls, and the decisions made in Congress let alone by the Executive Branch. The study concluded that the “preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

The Movement for a People’s Party (MPP) was founded in 2017 and has begun to attract a considerable following in an attempt to reverse the trend towards oligarchy.

Party founder Nick Brana, who in 2016 served as national outreach director for Bernie Sanders, stated in an interview that “we are now at a historic moment just like in 1852 when the Whig elites went against their base when they adopted a pro-slavery position that led to the formation of the Republican Party. Similarly today, the Democratic Party has abandoned its working class base, creating a fissure between the party and the people, that necessitates the foundation of a new party.”

Brana points to the rapid formation of new political parties in Mexico and Europe in the midst of wide-scale disaffection with neoliberal policies as a model for the United States.

He sees the Green Party as equivalent to the Free-Soilers and other 19th century parties which set the groundwork for more successful parties like the Socialists and Populists at the turn of the 20th century.

These latter parties amassed large followings not only in urban centers like New York but also in the Southwest among farmers by promoting the regulation or break up of Wall Street banks that had plunged them into debt by selling them usurious loans.

According to Brana, the Green Party today is too wedded to an electoral strategy and runs candidates who do not have a strong local connection to the communities in which they are running.

The MPPs strategy is different in that it is focused on grass-roots organizing.

Its members have rallied for climate justice with Zero Hour, demonstrated for peace at the women’s march on the Pentagon, boycotted Driscoll’s batteries on behalf of exploited farmworkers, picketed with striking teachers and hotel employees, promoted the public banking movement, participated in civil disobedience with the poor people’s campaign, and helped institute ranked choice voting in Maine.

MPP political director Carol Ehrle, a former journalist and media relations specialist, stated that the MPP was focused on establishing coalitions with progressive and non-profit organizations and labor unions like the AFL-CIO whose executive council endorsed MPP. In 2017, the AFL-CIO passed a resolution stating that “whether candidates are elected from the Republican or Democratic Party, the interests of Wall Street [over working people and labor] have been protected” and that “the time has passed when we can passively settle for the lesser of two evils politics.”

In his 2016 book Bernie and the Sandernistas, Jeffrey St. Clair, editor of Counterpunch website, criticized Bernie Sanders, the left-wing Democratic Party stalwart, for being a fake revolutionary who failed to speak out enough against U.S. foreign policy and directed his followers into the counter-revolutionary fold of the Democratic Party.

According to St. Clair, during the 2016 presidential campaign Sanders should have done precisely with the MPP is now doing – mobilize his followers to support civil disobedience and direct-action protests and link up with those directly challenging corporate power.

The MPP on its website is calling for a new economic bill of rights that would guarantee employment, food, clothing, leisure, a living wage, housing, healthcare, social security, education and freedom from monopolies and unfair competition to every American.

Based on the model of FDR’s New Deal, it wants to set up a massive public works program that will help generate full employment and revitalize America’s infrastructure.

Other planks call for free Medicaire for all, free public college and quality education, the abolishment of free-trade agreements that benefit large corporations, a fair tax code that increases inheritance taxes and tax on the wealthy, banning offshore oil drilling and fracking, improvement of public transportation, sustainable agriculture and strong legislation that supports labor unions and workplace democracy, including through encouragement of workers cooperatives.

A skeptic would suggest that these latter measures are unfeasible in the American system and that some of the measures are being advanced by the Democratic Party.

Public opinion polls show, however, that most of these measures are widely supported by the electorate, while the Democratic Party leadership remains wedded to large corporations.

The frontrunner in the 2020 Party primary, Joe Biden stated that the “rich and powerful” are not a problem and has a long record of supporting corporate friendly legislation. Many of the other contenders also have dubious backgrounds, including Kamala Harris who upheld the death penalty in the state of California as a District Attorney and covered up for prosecutorial misconduct.

If a third party should emerge anywhere, Oklahoma, the state where I live, is a prime target. Over a decade of austerity policies have decimated public and higher education and cut basic services there to third world levels. A Guardian article in 2017 described a dire situation where a teacher was seen panhandling to buy supplies for her classroom, county jails were dangerously overcrowded and riddled with abuse, and families had to wait ten years just to get on a wait list to obtain state support for caring for a disabled child – all while nearly one in four children struggled with hunger.

The state legislature in the face of this crisis remained fixated on sustaining low tax rates for the oil corporations which fund its representatives. Fracking pioneer Harold Hamm, the 43rd wealthiest man on the planet, is a prime donor of the state’s Republican Party, while the Democrats receive substantial funding from oil industry billionaire, George Kaiser, a self-professed “red state robber baron” who helped turn the state into his own private tax haven.

Historian Richard Hofstadter compares third parties in American history to bees who sting and then die. Their sting is nevertheless sharply felt, even if for a fleeting moment, along with their buzz.

The MPP is a promising new organization which could yield a major impact. The time is indeed ripe for a new third party to blossom and there is no time to lose.

In 2020 Once Again, the Urgent Task: Making the Election a Struggle for Peace and Economic Security

If 2016 election taught us anything, it is that the U.S. working class is searching for alternatives to the two major parties, both of which they find unresponsive to their grievances and needs. By 2016, the working class, as well as young people, had become thoroughly dissatisfied by those representing the two establishment parties. This sentiment paved the way for Donald Trump to take over the GOP and for Bernie Sanders to come close to defeating the center-right, neo-liberal wing of the Democratic Party, symbolized by Hillary Clinton. What’s the road ahead?

In Desmond Greaves’ biography of Irish socialist leader James Connolly (1868-1916), Greaves quotes John Leslie, Connolly’s friend and comrade, as saying that “…the progress of Ireland depends on the independent organization of the working class.”

Such advice has gone unheeded by most of the U.S. Left, including trade union and progressive forces that remain tied to the program and candidates of the Democratic Party. I suggest a paraphrase of Leslie’s idea as a means to chart a course that could break the predictable pendulum swing from the GOP to the Democrats: “The political future of the United States depends on the independent organization of the working class.” The task then is to act to promote and organize such a political force.

To date, even though opportunities have been ripe for at least a decade, labor, progressive, civil rights and peace organizations have been unwilling, unable and/or uncertain as to how to act on such advice. Clearly the working class, in all its ethnic and national diversity, has been ready. Trump and Sanders, although through much different lenses, saw this and demonstrated the possibilities. The GOP establishment was forced to yield to those who gathered at his record-breaking rallies during the primary, while the Democratic Party’s rigged nominating system doomed Sanders.

Working class grievances…or deplorables?

This is the background analysis that sets the context for this article. Without a change in strategy it is reasonable to predict the future will be more of the same or worse. The mass of the American working class is fed up with politics as usual. For the time being a significant portion of the working class, mostly among white workers, finds Trump’s anti-establishment, working-class rhetoric appealing, even though many might reject to his xenophobic and racist rhetoric.

On the other hand, the Democratic Party has shown it is incapable, and I think unwilling, to make its case to the “deplorables,” as Hillary so casually named Trump supporters, thus contributing to her own defeat.

So, what do the “deplorables” want?  What are their grievances? Their needs?  Number one is economic security. Two is respect for working class work that produces the necessities of life and more. Neither major party, nor Trump, will deliver what the working class needs: a political vehicle that does not just represent them but is their own.

For many, this need is not well thought out but is a visceral reaction to political events. Election after election they have hired one or the other party with their votes but find both wanting. When both Sanders and Trump called the system “rigged,” it affirmed a conclusion drawn long ago by the working class.

The historical marker that began the working class break with the two parties is the betrayal by Bill Clinton, who promised labor unions during his 1992 campaign he would not support NAFTA. The GOP under H.W. Bush led the NAFTA negotiations, but Clinton and Al Gore backed by Big Business were hired to push it through Congress.

During the campaign, labor union leaders pressed their members to break from the GOP’s Reagan era and give the “progressive,” pro-labor nominee from Arkansas a chance. I recall having lunch with a local trade union leader in my home state of Minnesota just 100 days into the Clinton presidency, when he said it was already clear labor had been betrayed.

Labor and progressive organizations next challenge was to promote Barack Obama to their constituencies after he defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary. It turned into a replay of 1992. Obama sidelined labor’s number one pitch to convince its members, his pledge to support the Employee Free Choice Act that would make union organizing easier. And Obama, like Bill Clinton, soon after being elected embraced free trade pacts that labor unions opposed.

NAFTA came back to haunt Hillary Clinton in 2016. She lost key states she needed where NAFTA and other free-trade agreements had arguably done significant damage to living standards: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Trump hammered away at Clinton’s support for job-killing free trade agreements and her dismissal of the “deplorables,” taken to mean white workers who supported Trump. No doubt there is very real problem of racism among white Americans, working and middle class, but such a characterization further alienated white workers from the Democratic Party.

So, what can be done?

Prepare to endorse and run candidates, inside or outside the Democratic Party, on an independent working-class political program and a plan for peace. It is not difficult to mount a campaign for a House seat. More difficult is in identifying and recruiting a good candidate. Commit to running through the General Election, not just a primary bid. Such challenges could cause some centrist Democrats to lose to GOP candidates. Liberals who cling to the Democratic Party will criticize this as what they consider spoiler candidates; however, workers and youth will see the challengers as a breath of fresh political air. In the long run, Leslie’s message of working class independence from bourgeois parties is what history shows is a proven path to progressive and even revolutionary change. Every year this task is postponed or avoided means capitalists are more likely to employ more reactionary political and military solutions to the still unresolved capitalist economic crisis that began in 2008.

Left political analyses, like this article, often end without developing concrete steps to implement a program of action. As such, this next section poses practical steps that could be taken by individuals or by ad hoc groups, with or without a formal political organization to work through. Think of it as agitation and organizing to recruit masses of people to join the struggle.

First, a program is needed that fits the historical circumstances, that addresses the real problems people face and one that is possible to achieve with a shift in the balance of power.

In a Washington Post opinion piece in November 2018, Bernie Sanders outlined a 10-point domestic program similar to what he ran on in 2016 campaign. A program, we should recall, that inspired millions of working-class voters to join his campaign. His plan, if it were to be implemented, would greatly reduce the economic strain of working-class families. It includes single-payer health insurance, free post-secondary education, expanded social security benefits, immigration reform and increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. In addition to enhancing economic security, such a program of shared benefits and reforms could also lead to a lessening of racism and xenophobia, as shared social benefits reduce the competition among workers that capitalism cultivates to divide and rule.

The missing ingredient

What is sorely lacking in Sanders’ program, however, is a plan for peace. Americans are tired of war. His program avoids the elephant in the room: the military budget and U.S. imperialist aggression. As we saw in 2014, 2016 and 2018, nearly all Democratic candidates avoided taking critical positions against U.S. foreign policies, even those few who may have been inclined. Such a critical perspective and program for peace will need to come from outside the two parties. There can be no meaningful struggle for a domestic economic program if the war budget is not addressed.

In late November, a group of over 100 U.S. activists, writers and scholars published an open letter to Sanders imploring him to speak out against U.S. militarism abroad and the growing Pentagon budget. In it they said, “A public policy that avoids mentioning its existence is not a public policy at all.”

Since then Sanders has made some overtures but he still appears reticent to more aggressively challenge the bi-partisan agreements on foreign policy. In this writer’s opinion such a challenge could have been his winning card in 2016.1 There are three possibilities for his reticence. He is either opposed to taking on the issue as he thinks it may detract from his chances to win; he acquiesces to the status quo out of fear of reprisal; or, as at least some of his voting record shows, he supports some of the aggressive economic and military policies.2 However, it is possible  he could be pushed to risk a break and embrace an eleventh point: a plan for peace. Even if he cannot be moved, his candidacy presents a public venue in which to agitate for placing war and peace on the 2020 agenda more broadly.

The degree to which this is possible will depend on whether or not peace organizations and social justice activists can bring to the surface the latent widespread opposition to the U.S. foreign policy among the working class and youth.3 Sanders and candidates at other state and federal levels can be moved by a mass show of support for a change in foreign policy and a plan for peace. There is no other way.

Action and organizing ideas

Consider how Sanders domestic program, plus a plan for peace, might be injected into the 2020 election, particularly in congressional districts and races. The object is to appeal directly to voters to create a groundswell of support so candidates for the House and Senate cannot avoid speaking to the question of war and peace. This is the means to both expose the often-unstated positions of those who support the status quo as well as to create the political conditions for those opposed to U.S. foreign polices to speak out. It’s also the first step to determine whether or not it is possible to run challengers on a peace program. It means agitating for Sanders’ 10 points and a peace program via independent organizing efforts, with priority given to organizing among the working class and youth. Some practical ideas follow.

  1. Even a simple individual action could become a spark. For example, mail a copy of Sanders’ domestic program along with a personal letter pointing out Sanders’ omission of a plan for peace. At the same time, send a copy to a few friends and to local political reporters. Ask others to do the same. To have an impact requires perhaps 1,000 letters. This figure is an intuitive guess of the minimum number required to break through the media and spark an open public debate. It is doable in many districts.
  2. Consider developing an ad hoc flier with Sanders 10-point program or some version of it, along with a message for a change in foreign policy. Distribute it at factories and workplaces, neighborhoods and campuses. Sign it, perhaps, “Ad hoc committee for peace and economic security.” Or, “Citizens for peace and social renewal” or just “Concerned Citizens.” Mass distribution of the message and the program is the key to organizing.
  3. Plan district forums in your neighborhood, city and district. Invite elected officials and candidates to speak to the peace and economic program.
  4. Ask your labor union, civic, or advocacy group to endorse Sanders’ program and a plan for peace.

We could go on, but what the points illustrate are grassroots organizing independent of the two-parties and their candidates. It is not about lobbying officials or candidates. It is not about holding small protests or occupying a congressional office. It is about creating the political consciousness on which candidates can challenge those unwilling to lead a fight for peace and economic security.

Is it possible? Will people respond?  It is overly optimistic? I would say the answers would be: Yes, maybe and perhaps. Still, we need to start someplace. We need to look at the process as one where we learn from trial and error. No trial, no error, no learning, no movement. The past will be repeated.  For a different outcome, we need a different approach that, as Leslie reminds us, is that which promotes “the independent organization of the working class.”

What labor and progressives often now find themselves doing is organizing the working class to support a candidate of two parties, typically Democrats. Typically, they support imperialist foreign policies, even though they may be better on some other issues. Most don’t even support health care for all. Uncritical support must end or there will be no opening for more robust public debate. An accommodating strategy can only lead to more discontent and cynicism among Americans. As such, unintentionally, it can lay the psychological ground on fascist thinking that grows during prolonged periods of crisis and instability.

If neither party’s program will resolve the crisis and address the grievances, then an independent program and organizing is the only means to channel the discontent and cynicism into productive struggles. To replace xenophobia with a sense of solidarity with workers across our borders. To forge solidarity for social and economic uplift within our borders across our diverse, multi-national working class and youth.

Without an independent program there will be no independent organization of the working class. There will be no opposition to the two parties of capitalism. There will be no basis for productive alliances with the most progressive elected officials in forging a struggle for peace and economic security. There will be no independent candidates to challenge the centrists. No independent political party of the working class will arise. These are the dead-end results of subsuming struggles within the orbit of the two-party system. If independent political action is taken now, in the first half of 2019, a breakthrough may be possible in the 2020 election.

  1. See my article, “Missing Ingredient in the Sanders Revolution,” January 2016, published in the Adonde Press pamphlet, The 2016 Election: Analysis, Lessons and the Tasks Ahead, December 2017 at adondepress.org.

  2. See my article, “Evaluating the Candidacy of Bernie Sanders,” July 2015, published in the above-named pamphlet. NOTE: Readers may find Sanders, September 2017, foreign policy address at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri a helpful insight into his thinking. My first thought was to wonder why he chose Westminster to deliver his address, the site of Winston Churchill’s infamous 1946 speech that set the stage for the long and bloody Cold War. Setting this question aside, I wrote, shortly after his speech that “No other prominent American politician in decades has offered such a wide-ranging critique of U.S. foreign policy. However, the aspects of Bernie’s speech that create openings for peace education and organizing, will fall flat without challenging Sanders’ shortcomings and contradictions. At times, like when he addresses the conflict with Russia, he projects a misleading and dangerous narrative. In this respect, to call his address an anti-war speech, as some suggest, is to overlook its weaknesses. Foremost in this respect is his reluctance to offer Americans a plan for peace.”
  3. See my 2015 book, Which Way Forward? for data and evidence. As well as articles on the 2016 election in my 2017 pamphlet, The 2016 Election: Analysis, Lessons and Tasks Ahead.

Upcoming Opportunities for the Movement

There will be important opportunities in the next few years to advance the movement for economic, racial and environmental justice as well as peace. This article will focus on three opportunities: the 2020 elections, the decline of US empire and an economic slowdown.

The movement is in a stronger position than it has been in for years. The current movement took off during Occupy in 2011. Occupy’s headline was “We Are The 99%,” which emphasized inequality and money corrupting government. Occupy included every major front of struggle, e.g., economic insecurity, racial injustice, climate change, massive debt, never-ending wars, the crisis of capitalism and more.

Since then, the movement has grown and matured. We have majority support on many issues, have more experience and are organized to take advantage of upcoming opportunities.

The 2020 Elections: Focus on the Issues

Although the movement is independent of elections, the 2020 elections will present numerous opportunities to build a national consensus on issues. Our actions over the next two years can shape the election narrative.

The movement has already impacted the electoral process. Senator Sanders ran a more successful campaign than expected by focusing on movement issues, e.g., inequality, improved Medicare for all and free college. The movement created an environment where new Members of Congress such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.), won campaigning on our issues.

The media and political parties will make the elections a beauty contest about personalities to avoid the issues. We must keep issues front and center, including confronting candidates, even seeming allies, to demand they represent us. Doing so will build national consensus so our issues cannot be ignored no matter who is elected.

The movement should not be limited by ‘political realities.’ We need to demand what is necessary, a People’s Agenda, to solve the crises the nation and planet face.

Since the 2016 election, our issues have grown in popularity. Democratic candidates must support improved Medicare for all if they want to be the nominee as 85% of Democrats support it. Support is strong among independent voters, the largest bloc, and now a majority of Republican voters support Medicare for all.

Take action: Demand transparency for the new National Improved Medicare for All bill.

Similarly, the Green New Deal, which has been raised by Greens since 2006, has now entered the Democratic Party dialogue, although Democratic leadership is fighting it. The Green Party version of the proposal requires a rapid transition to a clean energy economy, living wage jobs, public ownership, cutting the budget of the biggest polluter, the military, and building the social safety net. The Democratic Party version will not push for these system-wide changes.

Dramatic changes are needed in multiple federal agencies to confront climate change. Thanks to Beyond Extreme Energy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is being forced to consider the climate impact of new energy infrastructure. The FERC must prioritize wind, solar, tidal and other clean energy sources while restricting oil and gas, coal and nuclear. FERC either needs to be part of the energy transformation or be disbanded.

Likewise, the corporate take-over of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Interior Department needs to be reversed. Recent reports indicate urgent and aggressive action is needed. Obama’s “all of the above” approach and business as usual won’t suffice. People who have taken action on climate change should lead those agencies.

The economy is a deciding factor in elections. Do people feel economically secure, are their salaries increasing, do their children have opportunities? A popular position for candidates to take is ending corporate trade. Candidates need to pledge to remake trade so it puts people and planet before big business.

Take action: An opportunity to remake trade is stopping Trump’s NAFTA II.

Workers have been under attack for decades by both Wall Street-funded parties. The movement should use the coming elections to push for a national jobs program, a living wage higher than $15 an hour, and a basic income for all. The right to organize unions must be restored and laws are needed to encourage worker-ownership through cooperatives so workers share in the profits they create and participate in decision-making for their workplace.

Demand a Responsible End to US Empire

Current US foreign policy is expensive, destructive and creates chaos around the world. Movement building to end US militarism and never-ending war are needed.

The national security strategy of the US is great power conflict, i.e. conflict with Russia and China. Obama’s Asian Pivot has evolved into aggressive actions under Trump, along with counterproductive tariffs that threaten the global economy. Russia has become the scapegoat for many problems in the US, such as Clinton’s failed election. The US is lining Russia’s border with NATO military bases while threatening to escalate the conflict in Ukraine and starting a nuclear arms race.

A radical shift is needed with Russia and China. Detente with Russia is needed in order to end the arms race, stop military belligerence and remove bases from their border. The US should develop a win-win relationship with China. If the two largest economies can work together, they can ameliorate many global problems, e.g. poverty, the climate crisis and economic insecurity.

The withdrawal of troops from Syria and Afghanistan needs to be pushed. The movement should demand a full withdrawal including ground troops, Air Force, contractors, and the CIA and a stop to the funding of proxy forces. This should be followed by a full withdrawal from Iraq. Rather than war with Iran, the US should end the Middle East quagmire, which has trapped the US this entire century.

In Latin America, the US has been very destructive. Central American governments in the US orbit are wracked with poverty, misery, and violence causing many to flee north toward the US. Brazil, which had been moving in a positive direction, now has an extreme right-wing government supported by the US.

The economic war, attempted coups and assassinations and military threats on Venezuela are destructive. Russia has sent troops to Venezuela and is considering sending more to counter US threats. The US should be seeking a partnership with Venezuela, not domination.

Economic sanctions are now being used against Nicaragua, one of the poorest countries in our hemisphere, after a violent US-supported uprising organized with oligarchs, US-funded NGOs and the Catholic Church. The attack on Nicaragua reignites the Contra War of the Reagan era, targeting a government that resists US domination.

The US is expanding militarism in Latin America by bringing NATO to Colombia. Under their right-wing government, there is extreme violence against labor, environmentalists and Afro-Colombians as well as constant threats to its neighbor, Venezuela. The US relationship with Colombia is a source of instability in the region and needs to transform into a relationship of stability and de-militarization.

Africa is becoming a 21st Century battleground. The US is militarizing Africa through AFRICOM while China is pursuing a win-win economic strategy in Africa. US-China competition in Africa could become another quagmire, i.e. draining US resources while causing destruction and chaos for Africa.

Take action: Support Black Alliance for Peace’s call for US out of Africa.

Closing US and NATO foreign bases is a key step to ending empire. On April 4, when NATO holds its 70th-anniversary meeting in Washington, DC, on the same day as the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death and his Beyond Vietnam speech, people are organizing in response. There will be a major march on the Saturday before and events throughout the week calling for an end to NATO, as well as highlighting the triple evils King emphasized: militarism, racism and consumerism caused by capitalism. We can create a movement of movements event and change the political dialogue in the US.

These issues show a failing empire They are opportunities to change the course of US foreign policy. Working with people across the country, Popular Resistance will help build the peace movement through regional Peace Congresses in 2019 and a national Peace Congress in 2020. Contact us at gro.ecnatsiserralupopnull@ofni if you want to participate in these.

Opportunities for Economic Transformation

The weak stock market in December portends an economic slowdown or collapse worse than 2008. There are other troubling signs, e.g. high government, business, and personal, including student, debt, a fragile international economy, tariff wars and sanctions that create international economic confusion, among others. Further, the US is overdue for a “correction,” recession or worse. Even with the Republican tax cut that caused large buy-backs of stock to grow the stock market, the market is now faltering.

The fundamentals of the US economy have been flawed for years. The wealth divide has been expanding, leaving most people in the US economically insecure, since ‘trickle down economics’ began under Reagan. Corporate trade agreements since Clinton have hollowed out the Midwest economy leaving fly-over states insecure. Urban areas have been neglected leaving primarily communities of color impoverished. Abusive police and mass incarceration have been used to prevent justified uprisings. Military spending takes more than 60% of federal discretionary spending while the social safety net has been shredded.

Unlike 2008, the movement is positioned to push for changes in the economy. An economic downturn will weaken those in power as they will be justifiably blamed. The president, who campaigned on the economic insecurity of workers and the middle class, has governed on behalf of the wealthy. The economic downturn will impact him more than Mueller or the 16 other Trump investigations.

An economic slump will be an opportunity for the movement to push for a new economy. Our It’s Our Economy project puts forward a vision for a new economy based on economic democracy that empowers people through worker-owned businesses, a national jobs program, guaranteed basic income and more.

Economic democracy includes public programs that serve the public interest, e.g., public banks that work with community banks and credit unions to meet the necessities of the people, not serve investors. It includes public utilities and democratized energy production so every home and business is an energy producer spreading the profits, rather than funneling them to concentrated corporations.

Economic democracy also includes confronting issues of communication, equal access to a free and open internet, i.e., net neutrality and high-speed Internet in rural and poor communities. The expanding censorship of social media must be confronted through extending freedom of speech and press along with privacy protections.

If the movement continues to build power and put forward transformational programs such as those outlined above, the next two years will be the beginning of a decade of positive change. We need to prepare now. Over this holiday, we encourage you to listen to this interview with Kali Akuno for more wisdom on how to make transformation a reality.

How the Rats Revolt: “Ratting Out” Democrats’ Electoral Extortion

Introduction: The Rat as a Compelling Symbol of Needed Revolt

In his recent Truthdig piece,  “The Rats Revolt“, journalist Chris Hedges discusses a fable for activists just published by legendary political dissident Ralph Nader. I haven’t read Nader’s book, but it’s enough for organizers like me to know that two of the left’s leading public intellectuals are united in calling for revolt. And (since symbols are vital to movements) that they’ve given us a highly effective symbol for organizing current revolt: the rat.

With crucial strategy to discuss, it would waste precious time to dwell long on movement symbolism here. But, besides its adoption by leftist opinion leaders like Hedges and Nader, the rat splendidly serves the purposes of organizing revolt. In the face of onrushing climate apocalypse, we are all rats on a sinking ship. And to the elites blithely ignoring climate apocalypse—partying on the Titanic—we who care deeply about the matter are clearly noxious vermin; the brutal treatment of the Standing Rock water protectors as terrorists (championed by Republican pols with scarcely a murmur of protest by Democrats) is both telling and typical. My family’s experience resisting fracking under PA’s Democratic governor Rendell (Virginia Cody is my wife) was parallel.

But—provided the revolt movement chooses appropriate action—there’s a positive, active side to the rat symbol; it needn’t just represent passive victimhood. Indeed, my case here is that Democrats are engaged in mafia-like behavior—electoral extortion—that demands “ratting out.” Finally, it’s appropriate in view of rats’ historical role in transmitting the bubonic plague, since the movement strategy I propose here is heavily focused on plaguing Democrats.

Revolt Basis: Democrats Criminally Extort Votes against Climate Justice

Say what? Why plague Democrats, with a president as horrible as Trump in charge and ruling Republicans arguably turning ever more fascist?  Indeed, hasn’t Noam Chomsky himself, an icon to most leftists, branded today’s Republican Party “the most dangerous organization in human history“? So what’s up with organizing a mass revolt against Democrats? Isn’t it insane to elect the most dangerous organization in human history?

First off, I’m not saying we should vote Republican, or even run the risk of electing Republicans by voting for third parties. Far from it! Asserting we should vote Republican, or even risk Republicans winning, would contradict my fundamental assertion that Democrats extort our votes. Anyone who takes Chomsky’s assertion that Republicans are the most dangerous organization in human history seriously—and no one takes it more seriously than climate justice activists like me—is poised to understand how Democrats exploit the threat of brutal Republican misrule as a turbocharged tool of electoral extortion.

If Democrats didn’t make a rationally compelling threat, they wouldn’t be practicing extortion. Just as the mob makes a rationally compelling threat: they provably can and will kill your whole family. That Democrats make their totally rational threat unsuccessfully is suggestive evidence of just how loathsome voters find today’s Democrats. Even more so, it’s compelling evidence that U.S. voters on neither the right nor the left are terribly rational. The left, in particular, has shown a piss-poor grasp of Chomsky’s logic.

Anyone acquainted with Chomsky’s dry, matter-of-fact speaking style should realize that he’s not given to emotionally charged hyperbole. In fact, I seem to recall that he adopts that style deliberately, wishing to persuade by facts and logic rather than emotional appeals. So when he makes an assertion as outrageous sounding as calling Republicans the most dangerous organization in human history—and openly acknowledges how outrageous his assertion sounds—he’s basing it on the scientific logic of climate apocalypse, a logic regrettably almost totally absent from U.S. political discourse.

With an unprecedented climate fiasco menacing our species—perhaps to the point of extinction—a Republican Party not merely rejecting climate science, but proactively attacking it as a dangerous conspiracy, is logically humanity’s most dangerous enemy ever. Which is why leftists must choke back our vomit and vote for Democrats. But we hardly need to stop there. We should torture Democrats with righteous wrath for strong-arming us into voting for their own loathsome party. A party with no room whatsoever for climate justice.

By voting for Democrats, we’re voting for a party that overwhelmingly supports fracking and militarism—the first a direct, and the second an indirect, assault on the prerequisites of emergency climate action, as ably laid out by Naomi Klein in This Changes Everything. If leftists needed a scathing indictment of Democrats and their policies, the latest IPCC report is clearly that indictment. Anyone secretly hell-bent on promoting human extinction need not look crazy by backing Republicans; Democrats’ policy commitments will work just fine. But in a political system with only two viable parties, Republicans are demonstrably far worse, beyond appeal to reason (just like any other mob enforcer). For any reasonable person concerned about climate, Democrats’ electoral extortion must succeed. And must be repaid with bitter resentment. That’s what movement organizing—and the time between elections—is for.

So, the logic of U.S. politics cries out specifically for a Rats’ Revolt, one devoted to “ratting out” Democrats for their anti-climate electoral extortion. Moreover, the notion of “ratting out” couldn’t be more appropriate to the nature of Democrats’ extortion. After all, ratting out mob higher-ups to the feds is a disloyal act of revenge or self-protection (both apply here) undertaken by fellow members of the mob. Perhaps those future “rats” were even coerced into the mob under threat of force and therefore owe the mob no real loyalty. Such is the case for all climate justice voters strong-armed into voting Democrat—coerced into the Democrat mob—under the rationally unthinkable threat of Republican rule. Climate justice voters in our hearts, we would—in a genuine democracy—vote for a climate justice party like Greens in a heartbeat. We owe neither love nor loyalty to a Democratic Party that holds our votes hostage—in fact, we hate it—but we will never be safe or free until we “rat out” Democrats’ electoral extortion racket. And torture Democrats—the ones we were coerced into electing—into providing effective remedies.

Making U.S. Elections Safe for Democracy

Democrats clearly have a vested interest in quashing democracy through electoral extortion. And their pretenses of wishing to protect us from Republican fascism and insanity are the purest hypocritical lip service. For there’s a vastly more effective method of sparing us Republican barbarity than demanding we vote for Democrats. It’s called ranked choice voting, and if Democrats really gave a damn about protecting us from Republicans, they’d be tripping over one another to sponsor bills to make it U.S. electoral law.

While I don’t have space here to discuss ranked choice voting in detail (all people who cherish democracy should use the link above to inform themselves), ranked choice voting would forcefully close the curtain on Democratic Party extortion. Every climate justice voter who wished to vote third party—right now, that should mean every climate justice voter—could safely vote, say, for the Green Party candidate and list the Democrat as a second choice. If the Green candidate didn’t win enough first-place votes to stay in the race, the Green voters’ votes would then go to the Democratic candidate. In that way, voting Green would not automatically entail taking a vote away from Democrats. Prospective Green voters would no longer face a compelling dilemma of conscience when voting for their (vastly) preferred party. And climate justice activists like me could—in good conscience—throw all energies into working to build Greens (or the most promising climate justice party). And Democrats would be faced with serious competition from the environmentally and socially conscious left. The same sort of competition that forced 1930s Democrats to embrace the New Deal.

Coercing Democrats to embrace ranked choice voting would open the door to further reforms crucial to “making U.S. elections safe for democracy.” I speak of the hurdles deliberately placed to keep third parties from appealing to voters, whether it be ridiculous barriers to ballot access or scandalous exclusion from major media debates. Currently, both Democrats and Republican show their “mafia” thuggishness by reveling in these anti-democratic practices. With Republicans, this should be no surprise, since fascistic anti-democracy thuggishness is actually a large part of GOP appeal. Whereas Democrats have zero rational grounds for anti-democratically suppressing progressive third parties—except, of course, the threadbare argument of risking electing Republicans. A risk easily removed by enacting ranked choice voting. Democrats’ flagrant resistance to ranked choice voting, like their persistence in third-party-suppressing practices, makes an utter mockery of the party name.

But Democrats’ role models in strong-armed extortion—the mafia—never showed much interest in democracy either.

Conclusion

In this article, I indicated why leftist activists—especially climate justice activists—should take up Chris Hedges’ and Ralph Nader’s call to start a “Rats’ Revolt.” I also sketched the organizing theme and overall strategy for such a revolt. In my next piece, “Chuck Schumer, Democrats’ Low-Profile Teflon Don,” I’ll illustrate the needed tactics for executing our strategy of “ratting on” and “plaguing” Democrats who extort our votes.

The Breakdown of the American Two-Party System

Trump’s hyper-nationalist propaganda strikes a cultural chord steeped in the myth that capitalism is the economic bulwark of freedom. Yet reality is not as malleable as myth. In fact, capitalism has led to unsustainable economic and social inequalities as well as the degradation of ecosystems and global warming. Faced with these crises, the U.S. two-party system is politically bankrupt, its instability marked by raw political nerves, belligerence and elected office-holding obsession by Washington’s power brokers.

The Republican Party is in a corner. The party is pleased that Trump has reduced corporate taxes and taxes on wealthy Americans as well as deregulated corporate behavior and weakened environmental protections. While many Republican Party leaders and Wall Street executives may be concerned with Trump’s hyper-nationalist rhetoric and obsession with trade wars, they seem very satisfied with the gains the president has handed to them.

And, now, Republican leaders want to cut social programs to balance the budget that the party’s tax policies helped worsen. But the future of Republicans is bleak. Trump has effectively hijacked the Republican Party and many Republicans are concerned that the Faustian bargain they have struck with the president may ultimately weaken their party. They can only hope that multiple Democratic candidates and raucous Democratic in-fighting will divide them and allow Republicans to keep control of the House and Senate and win the presidency in 2020.

Indeed, the Democratic Party is splitting. As the corporate class and the wealthiest dig in under Trump, the Democrats seem alternately flummoxed and impotent. Since the late 1980s the party has moved rightward and been effectively relegated to a “loyal opposition” role by emerging populist politics. The party’s weakness is obvious: it offers no clear alternative political vision. Democratic leaders speak only in generalities about important issues including health care, minimum wage, regressive taxes, military expenditures and others. Mainstream news reporters and analysts often wonder where the Democratic leadership is in these politically tumultuous times.

The Democratic national platform may specify goals but the party leaders are not willing to speak out about specific political alternatives. They fear alienating independent and fringe voters. They are particularly sensitive to being seen as “tax-and-spend liberals,” as purveyors of “creeping socialism,” as “soft on violent crime,” or as “welcoming immigrants.” As the Democrats did in the 2016 presidential campaign, the Democratic Party hides and waits for Trump to shoot himself in the foot. Its “progressive” leaders, moreover, struggle to get footing in superficial personality politics of Washington.

The time is ripe for a progressive third party to build a following. As the Democratic Party falters in finding its bearings and the Republican Party threatens to weaken social programs, young people are ready to pursue leftist alternatives. They do not fear socialism as many older voters do. The “anti-establishment” 2016 primary vote is a clear indication that the nation is ready for progressive politics. Trump, Cruz and Sanders (generally anti-establishment advocates) won approximately 27,000,000 primary votes while Clinton, Bush, Rubio, and Kasich (generally establishment advocates) won about 22,000,000 primary votes. This statistical comparison is even more compelling because both parties at the national level preferred establishment candidates over populist ones. That is, until Trump outmaneuvered the Republicans. Still, the Democratic Party was so harnessed to Clinton that it defeated its own populist candidate.

Savvy political strategists know that the history of capitalism is peppered with anti-democratic actions. Global capitalism has allowed an international corporate class to acquire tremendous political power across nations. Wealth has been concentrated to unprecedented levels. It is, furthermore, the principal marker indicating who controls the reins of government in any nation.  In the U.S., according to the New York Times, the richest 1 percent now controls more wealth than the bottom 90 percent of Americans.

Yet it is the bottom 90 percent that holds over 70 percent of the private debt and is the most vulnerable to global economic volatility and to the massive storms, tide surges and wildfires accompanying climate change. Public regulation of wealth distribution and the health of ecosystems is the only way to manage these crises. Progressive Americans must get behind a third party with a strong left politic in order to appeal to those who have been most hurt by global capitalism. Only then, can the nation chart a more promising political course.

Greater Of Two Evils: Why The Democratic Party Is Worse Than The Republican Party For 85% Of The U.S. Population

How to conceive of the two-party system

Lesser of two evils

Among liberals and the different types of socialists, when the subject of the Democratic Party comes up, there are at least two variations. One is the familiar liberal argument that the Democratic Party is the “lesser of two evils”. For them, the Republican Party is the source of most, if not all, problems while the Democratic Party is presented as shortsighted, weak and/or incompetent bumblers. Among some of the more compromising members of the Green Party, the lesser of two evils manifests itself when it implores its voters to “vote in safe states”.

There are a number of reasons why I will claim that the Democratic Party is not the lesser of two evils. But for now, I want to point out that the lesser of two evils has at its foundation a political spectrum which is organized linearly with conservatives and fascists on the right. Along the left there are liberals, followed by social democrats, state socialists, and anarchists on the extreme left. All the forces moving from liberals leftward is broadly categorized as “progressive.” What this implies is that there are only quantitative  differences between being a liberal and being any kind of socialist. In this scenario, being a liberal is somehow closer to being a socialist than being a liberal is to a being a conservative. However, there is an elephant in the room, and the elephant is capitalism.

What unites all socialists — social democrats, Maoists, Trotskyists, council communists and anarchists — is opposition to capitalism. What divides us from liberals, whether they are inside or outside the Democratic Party, is that liberals are for capitalism. In relation to the economic system, liberals are closer to conservatives than they are to socialists of any kind. So, the “lesser of two evils “argument is based on the expectation that socialists will ignore the capitalist economic system and make believe that capitalism is somehow progressive. It might have been possible to argue this case 60 years ago, but today capitalism makes its profits on war, slave prison labor and fictitious capital. Characterizing this as “progress” is ludicrous.

The parties are interchangeable

Most anarchists and various varieties of Leninists claim there is no difference between the parties. They say that capitalists control both parties and it is fruitless to make any distinctions. I agree they are both capitalist parties, but what most socialists fail to do is point out that, in addition to protecting the interests of capitalists as Republicans do, the Democratic Party: a) presents itself as representing the middle and lower classes; and b) stands in the way of the formation of a real opposition to the elites.

The second reason I disagree with the idea that the two parties are simply interchangeable is that it fails to make a distinction between the interests of the ruling and upper classes (Republicans) on the one hand, and the upper middle class (mostly Democrats) on the other. There are real class differences between elites that should not dissolved.

The Democrats are the greater of two evils

The argument I will make in this article is that the Democratic Party is worse than the Republican Party for about 85% of the population. I make this argument as a Council Communist, and my argument in no way implies voting for Republicans, Greens or even voting at all. Before giving you my reasons for why the Democratic Party is worse for most people I want to give you a sense of how I came up with the figure of 85% .

Old money vs new money and the class composition in the United States

Sociologists have some disagreements over how many classes there are in the United States and what occupations cover what social classes. While some might have a bone to pick about my percentages, I am confident that I am at least in the ballpark. The ruling class constitutes the 1% (or less) of the population and the upper class another 5%. What these classes have in common is that they all live off finance capital and do not have to work. This is what has been called “old money”. This old money had its investments in extractive industries like oil, mining and the war industry. This is the stronghold of the Republican Party.

The upper middle classes consist of doctors, lawyers, architects, and senior managers who make a lot of money, but have to work long hours. It also includes scientists, engineers as well as media professionals such as news commentators, magazine and newspaper editors, college administrators and religious authorities. Yet there are tensions between the elites and the upper middle class. The upper middle class represents “new money” and makes their profits from scientific innovation, the electronics industry, including computers and the Internet, among other avenues. This class constitutes roughly 10% of the population. The upper middle class is the stronghold of the Democratic Party.

A number of economists from Thomas Piketty to Richard Wolff have argued that for these social classes there has been an “economic recovery” since the crash of 2008. For all other classes there has been decline. The role of the Democratic Party is:

  1. To represent the actual interests of the upper middle class; and,
  2. To make believe it is a spokesperson for the other 85%.

Far be it for me to say that the Republicans and Democrats represent the same thing. There is real class struggle between the interests of the ruling class and the upper class on the one hand and the upper middle class on the other. My point is that for 85% of the population these differences between elites are irrelevant. What the top three classes have in common is a life and death commitment to capitalism – and this commitment is vastly more important than where the sources of their profits come from.

Who are these remaining 85%? Poor people, whether they are employed or not, constitute about 20% of the population. When they are working this includes unskilled work which simply means no previous training is required. Working class people — blue and white collar — represent about 40% of the population. This includes carpenters, welders, electricians, technical workers, secretaries, computer programmers, and X-ray technicians. Middle class people — high school, grammar school teachers, registered nurses, librarians, corporate middle management, and small mom-and-pop storeowners — are about 25% of the population. Most poor people don’t vote and in a way, they are smart because they understand that the Democratic Party can do nothing for them. While many working-class people don’t vote, highly skilled working class people do vote, and many will vote Democrat. Middle classes are also more likely to vote Democrat with the exception of small business owners. In fact, research by labor theorist Kim Moody into the voting patterns of the last election showed that a high percentage of this petty bourgeois voted for Trump.

The Democratic Party has nothing to offer the middle class

When I was growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, my father worked as a free-lance commercial artist about 40 hours per week. My mother stayed home and raised my sister and I. One income could cover all of us. My parents sent me to Catholic grammar schools and high schools, which were not very expensive, but they had to save their money to do it. They helped pay for part of my college education after I dropped out and then came back. They helped my partner and I with a down payment on a house in Oakland, CA. Today both parents in a middle-class family need to work and the work-week for middle class workers is at least 10 hours longer. As for savings, if a middle-class family buys a home, it is much more difficult to save for their children’s education.

In 1970 I was living in Denver, Colorado and had my own studio apartment for $70/month. I worked 20 hours a week at the library as a page and could afford to go to community college part-time. Twenty years later I tried to communicate this to my stepdaughter who was 20 years old and then compared it to her experience. She was working full-time as a waitress, had to live with two other people and could only afford to take a couple of classes without going into debt. Reluctantly and seemingly defeated she had to return home to live if she were to ever graduate from a community college. The Democrats did nothing to stem the tide of the decline of the middle class. Working class and middle class people may continue to vote for Democrats, but that doesn’t mean Democrats are delivering the goods. It just means these classes don’t want to face that:

  1. a) They have no representation; and,
  2. b) There is no alternative party and they do not live in a democracy.

Now on to why I believe the Democratic Party is worse that the Republican party for this 85% of the population.

The Democratic Party has nothing to do with being liberal

Most people who support the Democratic Party don’t really consider the party as it actually is, but how they imagine is should be according either to political science classes they’ve picked up in high school or college or from what they have picked up unconsciously through conversations. They have also gotten this from Democratic Party members themselves who talk about liberal values while in practice acting like conservatives. These voters think the Democratic Party is liberal. What do I mean by liberal? The term liberal has a long political history which I have traced elsewhere1 but let’s limit the term to what I call “New Deal Liberals”.

These New Deal liberals think that the state should provide essential services like pensions, food stamps, natural disaster relief as well as road and bridge construction. They also think the state should intervene to minimize some of the worst aspects of capitalism such as child wage work or sex slavery. These liberals think that Democrats should support the development of unions to protect the working class. This class deserves an adequate wage and decent working conditions. They also think — as it is in the American dream — that in order to justify their existence, capitalists should make profit from the production of real goods and services. These liberals think that the Democratic Party should support the development of science and research to create an easier life so that the standard of living for the American population should go up from generation to generation. These are the values of New Deal liberals. If the Democratic Party acted as if it supported these things, I could understand why liberals would say voting for the Democratic Party is the lesser of two evils. The problem is that these New Deal liberals are trapped in a 50-year time warp when the last real liberal Democratic president was Lyndon Johnson. The Democratic Party hasn’t been liberal in 50 years. This is one reason why the program of New Deal liberal Bernie Sanders had been so popular.

It does not take a Marxist to argue that the United States has been in economic decline since the mid 1970’s. It won’t do to blame the Republicans alone for this 50-year degeneration. The Democratic Party has had presidents between 1976 and 1980, in addition to eight years of Clinton, as well as eight years of Obama. They have had twenty years’ worth of chances to put into practice liberal values and they have failed miserably. Under the Democratic Party:

  • The standard of living is considerably below the standard of living 50 years ago.
  • The minimum wage bought more in 1967 than it does today.
  • The standard of living for all racial minorities has declined since the 1970’s.
  • Unions, which protected the working class, have dwindled to barely 10%.
  • With the possible exception of Dennis Kucinich, no Democrat is prepared to commit to building infrastructure as a foundation for a modern civilization.
  • The proportion of wealth claimed by finance capital has dwarfed investment in industrial capital compared to fifty years ago.
  • The Democrats have signed off on all imperialist wars for the last 50 years.
  • Science has lost respectability in the United States as it fights a battle against fundamentalism. Do Democrats come out unapologetically for science and challenge the fundamentalists and the New Agers? There are more people in the US who believe in astrology than they did in the Middle Ages. Does the Democratic Party, in the name of its claimed roots in the Enlightenment, rescue the public from these follies? Hardly.

Please tell me in what sense is this party liberal?

The Democratic Party is not an oppositional party: the Republicans play hardball; the Democrats play badminton

It is right about this time that a liberal defending the Democratic Party would chime in and say something about the Supreme Court. The line is “If we don’t get so and so elected, then the evil right-wing judge will get appointed and Roe vs Wade will be threatened.” This line has been trotted out for the last 45 years. What it conveniently ignores is that the Democratic Party has been in power for at least 40% of the time, whether in the executive or any other branch. It has had forty years to load the Supreme Court with rabid liberals so as to bury the right-to-lifers when they had the chance. An oppositional party would have done this. The Democratic Party has not.

Trump has been on a tear destroying what was left of US international diplomatic relations put into place by Kissinger and Brzezinski. His “policies” are consistently right wing “interventions”, whether they succeed or not. At the same time, domestically Trump has been consistently right wing on every issue from public schools, to immigrants to social programs. What he has done has destabilized international and domestic relations. Conservatives have been doing this kind of thing for 50 years, but with more diplomacy. If the Democratic Party were really an oppositional party, I would expect to find liberal interventions that are roughly the reverse of what Trump and the conservatives have done. There have been no such interventions.

Examples of what an oppositional party would look like

Under an oppositional Democratic regime we would have found a normalization of trade relations with Cuba. There would be scientists and engineers sent to Haiti to build and repair roads and bridges destroyed by natural disasters. There would be normalization of relations with Venezuela and bonds built with the social democratic parties of the Latin American left. Domestically the minimum wage would be restored to at least the standard of 50 years ago. After all, statistics show “productivity” has gone up in the late 50 years. Why wouldn’t the standard of living improve? Social Security and pensions would be regularly upgraded to keep up with the cost of inflation. Bridge and road repair would have been undertaken and low-cost housing would be built. A real liberal president might be so bold as to deploy US soldiers to build them since most them would no longer be employed overseas. They might also have put forward bills implementing a mass transit system, one that is as good as those of Europe or Japan. Has the Democratic Party done any of these things?

This is “opposition”?

Internationally the Democratic Party’s policies have been indistinguishable from the Republicans. Obama did try to normalize relations with Cuba but that was in the service of the potential for foreign investment, not out of any respect for the social project of building the socialism Cuba was engaged in. The US Democratic regimes have done nothing for Haiti. Its attitude towards the Latin American “pink tide” has been hostile while supporting neo-liberal restoration whenever and wherever possible.

Domestic Democratic regimes have done nothing to stem the tide of longer work hours and marginalization of workers as well as the temporary and part-time nature of work. Social Security and pensions have not kept up with the cost of inflation. The Democratic Party has had 20 years to repair the bridges, the roads and the sewer systems and what has it done? The Democrats had 20 years to build low-cost housing and get most, if not all, the homeless off the streets. What have Democrats done? Like the Republicans, the Democrats have professed to have no money for infrastructure, low cost housing or improving mass transit. Like the Republicans they have gone along in blocking Universal Health Care that virtually every other industrialized country possesses. But just like the Republicans they suddenly have plenty of money when it comes to funding seven wars and building the prison industrial complex. Time and again Democratic politicians have ratified increasing the military budget despite the fact that it has no state enemies like the Soviet Union.

In 2008 capitalism had another one of its crisis moments. Marxists and non-Marxist economists agree that the banks were the problem. The Democrats, with that classy “first African American president” did not implement a single Keynesian intervention to reign in the banks. No banker has even gone to jail. What a real Democratic opposition would have done is to tell the banks something like, “look, the public has bailed you out this time, but in return for this collective generosity, we require that you make your profits from undertaking all the infrastructural work that needs to be done, like building a 21st century mass transit system and investing some of your profits in low cost housing.” This is what an oppositional party would do. Notice none of this has anything to do with socialism. It’s straight New Deal liberalism.

In sum, over the last 45 years have you ever seen a consistent left liberal intervention by Democrats that would be the equivalent of what Trump is doing now or any conservative regime has done in the last 50 years in any of these areas? Has Carter, Clinton I or Obama done anything equivalent in their 20 years of formal power that Republicans have done in their 30 years? No, because if they ever dreamed of doing such a thing the Republicans would have them driven from office as communists. When was the last time a Democratic candidate drove a Republican from office by calling them a fascist? The truth of the matter is that the Republicans play hardball while the Democrats play badminton.

The second reason the Democratic Party is not an oppositional party is because “opposition” is a relative term. The lesser of two evils scenario works with the assumption that parties are partisan: all Republicans vote in block and all Democrats vote in block. This, however, is more the exception than the rule. Most times some Republicans support Democratic policies and most times some Democrats support Republican measures. Many Republican policies would not have been passed had the Democrats really been an oppositional party. In 2004, when Ralph Nader ran for president, he was raked over the coals for “spoiling” the elections. Yet as later research proves, more people who were registered Democrat voted for Republicans than the total number of people who voted for the Green Party.

The Democratic Party is a party of the elites

Those politicians and media critics who inhabit the nether worlds between left liberal and social democracy such as Robert Reich, Bernie Sanders, Cornell West are tenacious in their search for the “soul” of the Democratic Party. They insist on dividing Democrats into conservative and liberals. The latest version is to call right-wing Democrats “corporate” Democrats as compared to some other kind of Democrat labelled “progressive”. The implication is that it is possible not to be bought hook line and sinker by corporations if you are in the Democratic Party. I am skeptical that any person can run as a Democrat candidate, win an election and not make some compromises with corporations even at a local level. I am cynical this can be done at a state or national level. Corporations are ruling class organizations and they own both parties. There is a reason why Martin Luther King, Malcolm X never joined the Democratic Party.

If the last Democratic primaries in which Clinton II was handed the nomination over Bernie Sanders was not enough to make you leave the party, the World Socialist Website published two major articles on how the CIA is running its own candidates as Democrats this year. When a world terrorist organization runs candidates under a liberal banner, isn’t that enough to convince you that the Democratic Party is a party of the elites?

Earlier I stated that the upper middle class represents the Democratic Party and the upper class and the ruling class represent the Republican Party. While each may have inter-class differences it is essential for all three social classes that their struggle be seen by the 85% as something this 85% has a stake in. It is important for the ruling class and the upper class that there is a party that appears to represent the unwashed masses (the Democrats). The ruling class and the upper class need the Democratic Party even if they have differences with the upper middle class, whom the Democrats represent. They need the Democratic Party to help create the illusion that voting is an expression of democracy. But the Democratic Party has as much to do with democracy as the Republican Party has to do with republicanism.

The Democratic Party’s presence is an obstacle to building a real opposition to elites

By far the greatest reason the Democratic Party is worse than the Republican Party is the way in which the presence of the Democratic Party drains energy from developing a real opposition to the elites and the upper middle class.

The Democratic Party attacks the Green Party far more than it attacks Republicans

While the Democratic Party plays badminton with Republicans, it plays hardball with third parties, specifically the Green Party. It does everything it can to keep the Greens off the stage during the debates and makes things difficult when the Greens try to get on the ballot. After the last election, Jill Stein was accused of conspiring with the Russians to undermine the Democrats.

If the Democratic Party was a real liberal party, if it was a real opposition party, if it was a party of the “working people” rather than the elites, it would welcome the Green Party into the debates. With magnanimously liberal self-confidence it would say “the more the merrier. May all parties of the left debate.” It would welcome the Greens or any other left party to register in all 50 states and simply prove its program superior.

The wasted time, energy and loss of collective creativity of non-elites

About 10% of the 40% of working class people are in unions. Think of how much in the way of union dues, energy and time was lost over the last 50 years trying to elect Democratic candidates who did little or nothing for those same unions. All that money, energy and time could have been spent in either deepening the militancy of existing unions or organizing the other 30% of workers into unions.

Think of all untapped creative political activity of working class people who are not in unions that was wasted in being enthusiastic and fanatical about sports teams because they see no hope or interest in being part of a political community. Instead of being on talk show discussion groups on Monday morning talking about what the Broncos should have done or could have done on Sunday, think of the power they could have if instead they spent their time strategizing about how to coordinate their strike efforts.

Think of all the immigrants and refugees in this country working at skilled and semi-skilled jobs that have wasted what little time they had standing in line trying to get Democratic Party politicians elected. That time could have been spent on more “May Days Without An Immigrant” as happened thirteen years ago

Think of all the middle class African Americans whose standards of living have declined over the last 45 years who wasted their vote on Democrats and put their faith in the Black Caucus. Think of the wasted time, effort and energy of all middle class people who often actively campaign and contribute money to the Democratic Party that could have been spent on either building a real liberal party or better yet, a mass socialist party.

For many years, the false promise that the Democratic Party just might be a party of the working people has stood in the way of the largest socialist organization in the United States from building a mass working class party. Social Democrats in the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) who should have known better continue to blur the line between a real socialist like Eugene Debs and left liberals like Bernie Sanders. With 33,000 members there are still factions of DSA that will not break with the Democrats.

Are there real differences between the neo-liberal Democrats and the neo-conservative Republicans? Are there differences between Soros and the Koch brothers? Yes, but these differences are not, as Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Claire have said, “a dimes worth of difference”, especially compared to what the presence of the Democratic party has done for 50 years to 85% of the population. Their fake opposition has stood in the way of building a mass left political party.

The Democratic Party is a parasite on social movements

Can you remember a time when the Democratic Party had an innovative program of their own that was clearly separate from the Republicans yet distinct from any left wing social movements?

I can’t. What I have seen is a Democratic party that does nothing but sniff out the flesh and blood of social movements and vampirize them. I have no use for identity politics, but I can remember a time when the Democratic Party wanted nothing to do with it. Now it runs candidates based on identity politics. Black Lives Matter is now part of the Ford Foundation, a Democratic Party think tank. The Occupy Movement term “occupy” was taken as a name for a Facebook page sympathetic to the Democrats, Occupy Democrats, as if the Democratic Party could be occupied. The Democratic Party, which did nothing for feminism while it was attacked and marginalized by the right wing since the 1980’s, has suddenly “discovered” feminism in the Pink Pussy cats. This is an upper middle class party that sings “We Shall Overcome” fifty years too late.

What should be done?

Rather than focusing on the evil Republican Party, which makes the Democrats seem merely wishy-washy or inept, the policies of the Democratic Party should be attacked relentlessly while paying little attention to Republicans. In the election years, the Green Party should abandon its strategy of soliciting votes in “safe states”. Instead, the Greens should challenge those who claim to be “left-wing” Democrats to get out of the party as a condition for being voted for. In my opinion, there needs to be an all-out war on the Democratic Party as a necessary step to building a mass party. The goal of such a party should not be to win elections, but to use public opportunities as a platform for deepening, spreading and coordinating the commonalities of the interests of the poor, working class and middle class people.

  1. Counterpunch, “Left Liberals Have No Party”

Electoral Politics in America, Noam Chomsky, and the Core Commitments of the Enlightenment

Noam Chomsky

John Halle is the Director of Studies in Music Theory and Practice at Bard College. He joined the faculty of Bard after serving for seven years in the music department at Yale University. As an active composer and theorist, his scholarship focuses on connections between the mental representation of language and music. Halle is also known for his political writings and collaboration with Noam Chomsky. Along with Chomsky, he co-authored, An Eight Point Brief for LEV (Lesser Evil Voting), a widely read essay, in the summer of 2016. [See also “An Eight Point Brief for Voting to Avoid Corporate Evil.”]

In this interview, John Halle explains the need to engage in electoral politics while maintaining a high level of skepticism for the paternalistic elites found in both dominant political parties. Further, Halle makes observations of how those on the left can more adequately reevaluate their relationship with activism, protest and revolution. Halle explains how this all can fit into creating a viable and workable policy agenda that can be moved forward until legitimate alternatives are presented. Many of these ideas culminate from his writings with Chomsky.

Daniel Falcone: Should people be more engaged in electoral politics now with the Trump Administration in office? Many have been reluctant to do so in the past. Here, I’m basically expressing the need to strategically vote against Republicans. What are your thoughts?

John Halle: Yes, the Trump Administration should have created an atmosphere and necessity for people to engage in electoral politics even if they may have been reluctant to do so in the past. Consider the catastrophe we are dealing with now: 1) a resurgent, nativist, proto-fascist far right, 2) the EPA and departments of Interior and Energy under control of climate change denialists, 3) the chipping away of an already harshly austere safety net, 4) a budget which will still further tilt the balance of taxation in favor of the super-rich while imposing increased burdens on the poor, 5) the elimination of the CFPB increasing the likelihood of a financial crisis, 6) the crazed foreign policy saber rattling, possibly resulting in a nuclear confrontation. All of this was predictable and predicted. Unfortunately, many of those who were in a position to head it off chose not to listen.

Of course, part of the reason why the lesser evil vote was required was due to particularly unsatisfactory choices during this election cycle. But obtaining candidates worth voting for and not merely against requires going beyond protest to designing and implementing a specific strategy. Elements of the left for many took for granted John Holloway’s formulation to “change the world without taking power.” Insofar as the Clinton and Trump forced choice was a consequence of this kind of “above it all passivity,” which the academic left is particularly susceptible to, my hope would be that this atmosphere has changed. I’m not convinced however, certain promising tendencies aside, that it has.

DF: Can you give me your take on the recent “controversy” whereby Noam Chomsky criticized antifa and then faced some pretty irrational critiques in the aftermath? What was exactly taking place here?

JH: Chomsky’s criticism of antifa is no more than a reassertion of core commitments which go back decades, in his case, to traditional enlightenment views on basic civil and human rights, non-violence, and free speech. I agree with the characterization of the responses to him as “irrational” though even when superficially rational, they often demonstrate a profound unfamiliarity with the position they claim to be criticizing, or explicitly repudiating through their form of “activism.”

Why is this, the case? It is a complex question. I’d point to a couple of factors in attempting to answer it: 1) support of civil liberties and pragmatic commitment to non-violence, while more influential then was not necessarily dominant during the sixties. In particular, as Chomsky has noted, the Weather Underground and their many sympathizers adopted assumptions and rhetoric close, if not identical to, that of antifa. Chomsky argued against them back then and was denounced as a “liberal” and “sellout” for doing so. Given that many of Weather’s leaders, e.g. Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, remain in circulation, and are lionized as wise elders on programs like Democracy Now!, it stands to reason that their rejection of civil rights and non-violence have credibility among the left. They played a major role in destroying the anti-war movement and it’s apparent to most movement veterans. But this understanding has apparently not made it across the generational divide.

A second factor applies to antifa activists who, as referenced in the first question, either acted on or argued for the “Bernie or Bust” and “Never Hillary” position. As this was based on what can only be called delusions, e.g. that Trump was the “Peace Candidate,” compared to the “warmonger” Clinton, and that he would “take on Wall Street;” or that, at worst, he would “be only a little different.” It’s understandable that they want to obscure their own complicity through high dudgeon rhetoric and theatrical displays of cartoon violence (e.g. “Nazi punching”).

Of course, as Chomsky has argued, this reaction is likely to foment rather than inhibit the growth of the far right. But it is not clear to me or to Chomsky that the consequences of their actions, is their primary concern. For them it seems rather that activism functions primarily as a form of personal self-expression for which the likely consequences are secondary, as it was for the Weather Underground. Some, most notably Mark Rudd, are now willing to admit this.

DF: It seems in many instances that since the two dominant parties have been close to identical in several ways for so long that activists are still holding onto this concept even when it appears that the current GOP doesn’t represent a political party. Can you comment on this?

JH: Even when the differences appear slight, as has sometimes been the case, small differences can often have a major impact on the quality of life of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged sectors of the population. On these grounds it’s hard to see the justification for not achieving the “least-worst outcome.” That said, since the Bush II administration, the Republican Party has become “the most dangerous organization in human history.” As such, the logic for preventing them from assuming power has been overwhelming, so it hardly seems necessary to make the lesser evil argument, though no doubt it will still be required.

It should be mentioned that the above assumes a particular view of electoral politics, namely as an act in which one engages, or not, with more or less predictable consequences. The position which Chomsky and I took was that on these grounds, it and we, should be judged on what these consequences are on others.

As referenced above, much of the left takes a contrary view, regarding elections as a form of bearing moral witness. According to this logic, advocated by Chris Hedges and David Swanson among others, the lesser of two evils is still evil. Making a choice between them thereby constitutes “complicity with evil.”

We believe this view is mistaken for reasons suggested in the piece and likely had disastrous consequences.

DF: Can you comment on the concepts of lesser than evil voting and strategic voting. I would personally like to engage in electoral politics and always keep activist type work primary. At the same time I realize it need not be a zero sum game. Do you consider the left having difficulty with the zero sum game?

JH: My experience as a local official was that electoral politics served as a positive sum game in several respects. One is that holding office carries with it the ability to communicate with constituents. Doing so establishes connections with those outside of the normal activist networks which engage only a small fraction of the population. Mobilizing many of those who would not be otherwise inclined to do so enabled more people to participate in the “activist type work” necessary to advance a left agenda.

Related to this, winning office confers credibility not just on the candidate but on the candidate’s agenda. Conversely, losing campaigns, particularly unserious “symbolic” candidacies are regarded (to some degree correctly) as a reflection of the lack of a constituency for the agenda. For this reason, I’ve long held the view the left should invest in winning campaigns and what is required. Fortunately, in the wake of the Sanders campaign and in the post Sanders mobilization I find I don’t have to make the argument anymore, or at least when I do I’m not talking to a wall.

DF: What are your thoughts on third parties? Is this a feasible option or can any party, become totally transformed from within? How important is it (if it is) to work within the system when it is so failed?

JH: Having won office twice as a third party local official, I’m favorable to them. At the same time I agree with NNU’s Michael Lighty that parties should not be fetishized. They should be seen as a tactic to achieve concrete political ends, not as an end in themselves. That the two can conflict should be apparent from the example of the European Greens who once in office became junior partners in the imposition of neoliberal austerity, their leader Joschka Fisher, signing off on the bombing of Kosovo. Odd that many leftists here profess faith that Jill Stein would be better. But on what grounds should she be believed more than any other lying politician? Confronting Greens with this invariably elicits an embarrassed, silence or a stream of obscenities.

The proper role for political parties is as a tool to advance a policy agenda. Ideally, candidates should both derive from movements and there should be mechanisms to ensure that they are responsive to them. Insofar as building a party is done at the expense of that, that’s a recipe for failure.