Does it matter which party wins?


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 disappointed too 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 some congressional Democrats and members of the administration.

Everything can't be explained away by the objective context, however. 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 - though not the labor movement nor 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. And 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 increasingly in an independent fashion.

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

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 hit 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 that we don't agree on.

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 keenly aware of 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: Night-thing CC 2.0 


Post your comment

Comments are moderated. See guidelines here.


  • I appreciate your candor on this subject, and you make several good points. However, I do have to ask: When will it be a good time? When does that third party get a chance to be born?

    I am among those whose frustration with the Democrats recently led me to acknowledge that I am, at the heart, a Socialist, and I wear that badge with honor. And while I won't go so far as to say that there are no differences between the Republicans and Democrats, I do wonder if the differences are all that significant. You point out that you have no illusions about either party, and you clearly believe that a Republican victory in 2012 would yield a much, much worse result than if the Dems win (and I agree with you in certain respects). But I do recall that the free rein given to Wall Street capitalists that resulted in this terrible economy came from Dem and GOP congressmen, together. The wars we are pumping billions and billions of dollars into were not ones where one party or the other was dragged into. Electing the Dems back into power might -- *might* -- improve things, but the lack of backbone and dedication to the workers by that party leave me skeptical as to how well they will actually address issues important to us.

    Which leads me back to the original question. I understand you don't want to lose to the Republicans. But when will we *ever* be in a position where that won't be a risk, once true liberals and progressives remove their support from the Dems?

    Throughout American history, political parties have emerged, forged around a set of values and put forward by their supporters. Some didn't do well at all, and evaporated as swiftly as they came. Others, such as the Republicans, began as a protest party. And we see how well they've done for themselves. If we are waiting until the point where we know we will win it all before we put a new party together, then we'll never even get started.

    Finally, I find it offensive (in the rhetorical, not the emotional sense) to suggest that my vote be given to one candidate because I'm more afraid of his opponent than I am of him. "Vote for me, or the other guy will ruin everything!" I understand when you say you want no part of the kind of America that the Republicans are envisioning. But I also know that it's not due to intellectual discussions with rhetorical flourishes that people rise up to take control of their society. They do it because they feel they must, and that's usually in response to pain. While I'd love it if my fellow Americans would simply wake up, I suspect it will only be when the pain of leaving things the way they are becomes too painful to bear, that we will see real action from them.

    Posted by Robert James, 06/29/2011 6:38pm (5 years ago)

  • You write that the election of Barack Obama "gave space to struggle for a people's agenda." But that is just not true. It actually collapsed this space - whereas when Bush was president a hundred thousand protested the wars, today we are very lucky if ten thousand come out. Committees that had demanded HR 676 under Bush simply didn't meet during the health care crisis.

    Popular struggle is alive today because of BIPARTISAN attacks on workers' right to organize. Across the country whichever party is in power is attacking workers - or as is the case in New Jersey, crossing the aisle to help the process along.

    In 2012, as Eugene Debs said a hundred years earlier, I would rather vote for what I want and not get it, than vote for what I do not want - and get it.

    Posted by Wayne, 06/29/2011 6:33pm (5 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments