Does It Matter Which Party Wins?

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It is obvious that there is a growing feeling of frustration and even anger among supporters of the Democratic Party with its performance over the past two years.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, speaking for the labor movement, strongly expressed this unhappiness in some recent speeches.

I am also disappointed with some aspects of the Obama administration's domestic and foreign policy.

But I don't forget that this administration governs in a very hostile political environment in which the right is laboring overtime to wreck its initiatives at every step of the way.

In addition, there are the structural pressures of governing in a capitalist economy and state.

Then there are conservative pressures coming from congressional Democrats and members of the administration.

However, everything can't be explained away by the objective context. The president and his administration can be faulted for a number of policy decisions.

But the main question from a strategic point of view is this: Does it make any difference, from the standpoint of the class and democratic struggles, which party gains political ascendency?

Some – not the labor movement or other mass organizations of the American people – say no, it doesn't.

Some even go a step further and say a Democratic victory creates popular illusions, which in turn weaken the people's struggles. And the only way out of this vise is to form a third party now.

Communists don't agree with either one of these views. In our view, the differences between the two parties of capitalism are of consequence to class and democratic struggles.

Neither party is anti-capitalist, but they aren't identical either. Differences exist at the levels of policy and social composition. Despite the many frustrations of the past two years, the election of Barack Obama was historic and gave space to struggle for a people's agenda.

If, on the other hand, the Republicans had been victorious in 2008 the character of class and democratic struggles would have unfolded very differently. Our movement would have been on the defensive from Day One, the Democrats would be running for cover, and the Republicans would have an unfettered hand in their efforts to liquidate the welfare state, roll back the rights revolution of the 1930s and 1960s, and crush the people's movement - labor in the first place.

As for the wisdom of a third party, we have always advocated the formation of an independent people's party at the core of which are the working class and labor, racially and nationally oppressed people, women, youth, immigrants, seniors, gay and straight, etc. It is essential for any deep-going social change. But its realization depends on more than our desire, more than our political-ideological attitude. Millions who have to be at the core of this party still operate under the umbrella of the Democratic Party, albeit in an increasingly independent fashion.

Moreover, to separate ourselves at this moment from these forces would be contrary to our strategic policy of building maximum unity against rightwing extremism now and in next year's election.

Now that doesn't mean that we give up our advocacy of an independent people's party, but we also understand that its formation is dictated by concrete political realities and strategic necessities. Nor does it mean that we push the mute button when the Obama administration takes positions that we don't agree with. Just as we show no hesitation in supporting, and fighting for, the administration's progressive initiatives, we should have no compunction about taking issue with the administration when it takes positions with which we don't agree.

Which is what we have done.

When someone says we are not critical of the administration, what they usually mean is that our criticism isn't as sweeping and categorical as they would like.

We make criticisms, but we do it in a certain context and with a certain strategic objective in mind. We are keen to the fact that the agenda of the far right is to bring this administration and country to its knees, with a heavy dose of racism, lies and economic sabotage, setting the stage for a full-blown return to power of the most reactionary, racist, anti-labor, anti-women, homophobic and militarist grouping in U.S. politics.

We want no part of that. We don't have any illusions about the Democratic Party, but we don't have any illusions about the Republican Party either.

Furthermore, we are also aware of the undeniable fact that no other party besides the Democratic Party stands a chance of beating the GOP next year.

Photo by PeoplesWorld.org/cc by 2.0/Flickr

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  • My comments come long after this was written, but they as well as Webb's views remain valid. The left cannot wish into existence the "correct" timing of a mass progressive third party. Until masses of people are convinced of the necessity of such a third party, it is philosophically idealist to think otherwise.

    Furthermore, few people who are hurting under the present system think it makes no difference which party wins elections, so I think it is a bit pompous for these critics to tell poorer people to stop their "self-delusion".

    Posted by Michael Arney, 01/29/2014 1:52am (3 years ago)

  • I think that CPUSA should come out of the bad dreams in painting the Obama administration as a better one thqn Republican one. Obama is the worst president the US ever had in many aspects especially in his double talks: he supported Palaestinians in his speech in the UN last year, but he is now threatenig veto against Palestinians, his quantitative easing was just throwing good money to bad criminal bankers, financial terrorists, if I use the terminology of Max Keiser of Russian Today, which transfered trillion of dollars to the financial terrorists from poor ordinary Americans (just look his economic advisers, all crooks instead of selecting better ones such as Stiglitz or Krugman), now Obama is a criminal assasin, Bush arrested and put them in jails, though the jails are criminally bad, but Obama kills them if he suspects, just neglecting the basis of criminal law; innocent unless proven other wise. If the CPUSA continues its blind support of the so-called "Democratic Party", it will lose any support by American people.
    In old days, the CPUSA had its own presidential candidate, this is the correct political strategy. Generally speaking, any communist party should have their own candidates like Russian communist party and Japanese communist party. Of course, if a candiate is really excellent one like Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, it is a good strategy to support her. as Argentinian party has selected.

    Posted by kotoko, 10/02/2011 10:23pm (5 years ago)

  • The question at this time is not primarily whether there should be a third party,though a third party is a useful goal. U.S. politics takes place within the two party system with more progressive Americans usually voting or active in favor of the Democratic party. It is therefore reasonable and even incumbent upon communists to engage people at that level. But to ignore the obvious symbiotic relationship of the two parties as they both advance in good cop-bad cop fashion the reactionary agenda of the financial interests is utter folly!
    Lenin's approach, rather different than Sam webb's, as explained in 'Left Wing Communism',disdains the socialist pretensions of the British Labor Party. But he recognized that the majority of British workers mistakenly believed the Labor party was on its side. However he urged the kind of support that guided people to more advanced positions and exposed the Labor party as a capitalist tool. 'We support them like a rope supports a hanged man',wrote Lenin. Lenin, throughout his political life fought against tail-ending bourgeois parties and their labor unions. But then Lenin was a communist.

    Posted by John Mackoviak, 08/15/2011 12:07am (5 years ago)

  • Votes for the "lesser evil Democrats" have become so evil, as to become intolerable. Time for the left to come together to discuss a common agenda and stay organize and not disband. The Democrats don't merely "disappoint," they evoke ANGER and DISGUST.
    The Global connection to that emotion is ready to unite and resist. "People of the World Unite!"

    Posted by M., 08/10/2011 8:37pm (5 years ago)

  • The only reasons for a third party would be 1) To represent an alternative platform and put forward a candidate that could appeal to the broad middle and beat both the Democratic and Republican standard-bearers, or 2) To form a group cohesive enough and well-funded enough to subsist from election to election, that could act as "king-maker" by swinging the election and extracting iron-clad assurances from the winner. (It would have to stick around for more than one cycle, or they'd be no accountability for broken promises.) The latter would be sort of like a parliamentary ruling coalition situation, but the party would not have to itself field a presidential candidate or cover all the other levels (congressional, etc.). Greens, Nader, etc. have never been strong enough to have that kind of leverage, but maybe it's time...

    Posted by Alexander Patico, 08/10/2011 5:18pm (5 years ago)

  • You tell us that you are for a third party, but by supporting the Democrats, you are not supporting third party. You say there is not a strong base for one yet. But you have to start somewhere yet you continue to make excuses, so instead of starting one and enticing others to join and make it a strong independent party, you sit on the sidelines waiting for someone else to do the work and then you intend on sweeping in. And yes I'm proud to say I hate democrats as much as Republicans. Mainly because they are DEMOCRATS not Communists. They either do not keep with our, the people's agenda, or they are too afraid to be open that they are Communists. So they are either are enemy or cowards. And if you simply support them because they are not Republicans and are trying to unite the left. Well when you unite with others you lose something of yourselves, independence. You don't want this country on its knees, but siding with the Democrats brings us to our knees. I am all for strategy, but I will never sacrifice our goals for short-term success. It is all or nothing. Frankly I believe you side with the Democrats so you can rejoice in their success but when they fail you alienate yourselves from them. And for your argument we are not strong enough not big enough. Our defense is one name: Lenin. He and his party refused to unite with those who were not supportive of his cause. And indeed he lacked a strong base at times his party numbered a dozen or less. Yet he persevered he fought against those who were not bolsheviks or communist and he was victorious. Thus proving might does not always make right and right does make might. But you probably already know this. Which means that you are not ignorant but afraid. You are afraid of the Right-wing success, but I embrace it every victory of theirs strengthens my resolve, confirms that we are in the right, and they in the wrong. And for each of their victories more people realize this as well so instead of weakening our Cause they give it and us new life. Fortune favors the bold. Be bold, for once.

    Posted by Winston Smith, 08/09/2011 4:15pm (5 years ago)

  • Isn't defending President Obama or other Democrats a distraction from the more important task of being part of organizing the entire left into a true people's movement?

    If our objective for the foreseeable future is merely to thwart the Republican party by supporting the Democrats, then what point is there really in being part of a separate political party? There are, in fact, serious disadvantages:

    Any candidate who is fielded as a "communist" (or even "socialist") will have an uphill battle just to get people past the terminology. Someone running as a liberal Democrat would have much more purchase.

    Even leftist groups have baggage with the "communist" label - "Why do you want a dictatorship?" is a serious question that I've had to address in conversations with other leftists.

    If I volunteered for a local or state-wide campaign then they would most likely kick me out as soon as they found out I am associated with the CPUSA. It's not really an asset if the press or your opponent can say "her campaign has been infiltrated by commies."

    FDR didn't "challenge" organized money, he saved it. He saved it by putting people to work, and by setting up some safety net programs. He had to in part because of the strength of unions and socialist/communist political parties. People were beginning to think (horrors) that there might actually be an alternative to capitalism. Obama saved organized money too, but simply by giving them more money. There is no strength in unions or leftist political parties to encourage him to do otherwise.

    One of the central pillars of this system is the media-industrial complex. From Fox news to movies to books, in subtle and not-subtle ways we are manipulated. The fact that we are "given a choice" in the elections is part of the manipulation. The air force jets that stream over a football stadium on game day are part of the manipulation. Any real change must address how capital controls information. Are we doing that? How do we do it? Where do we even start?

    I guess my point is to express frustration and hopelessness about the entire endeavor.

    Posted by Erich, 08/09/2011 2:52pm (5 years ago)

  • Does being "left" mean only running losing candidates?

    Posted by la rosa, 08/09/2011 1:50pm (5 years ago)

  • Unless there is pressure on the Democratic Party from the left, which means vigorous opposition and independent political action, it will continue to careen (or should I say "career"?) to the right.

    It's really quite embarrassing that the CPUSA is unable to raise even a modicum of objection to Obama's "Sensible Republican" policies, which include status quo on taxes, no repair of Social Security financing by making all income subject to withholding, an expansion of imperial wars abroad, an extension of the current corrupt insurance-based health care system, a continuation of the secrecy and illegality of the "security state," no reinstitution of the rule of law by closing Guantanamo and the elimination of illegal prisons abroad, no legitimate federal economic offensives developing alternative energy sources (as promised), ad infinitum.

    Seriously, I'm a former member of Mike Harrington's Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, and even participatory Democratic Party-oriented SDs are to the CPUSA's left on these things today.

    You want to repair the Democratic Party? Run a candidate and promote radical ideas on the campaign trail. Push the unprincipled centrist Obama to the left by the force of debate.

    Posted by Tim Davenport, 08/09/2011 12:26pm (5 years ago)

  • @BarbBF, did you not read the article? We cannot be single issue minded, we have to look at the whole picture. "We make criticisms, but we do it in a certain context and with a certain STRATEGIC OBJECTIVE in mind. We are keen to the fact that the agenda of the far right is to bring this administration and country to its knees, with a heavy dose of racism, lies and economic sabotage, setting the stage for a full-blown return to power of the most reactionary, racist, anti-labor, anti-women, homophobic and militarist grouping in U.S. politics.

    We want no part of that. We don't have any illusions about the Democratic Party, but we don't have any illusions about the Republican Party either.

    Posted by SANA, 08/09/2011 12:15pm (5 years ago)

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