....What is the stance of revolutionaries toward the Democratic and Republican parties? This is not a matter of tactics but a more fundamental question of strategy. It begins not with elections but with the historic line of march of the working class. Wars of plunder, exploitation, racist oppression, the second-class status of women, the destruction of the environment, and other social ills are all inherent to capitalism—they cannot simply be reformed out of existence. Working people must lead a socialist revolution to eliminate capitalism: a struggle by millions to take power out of the hands of the ruling capitalist class, establish a government of workers and farmers, and create a different kind of state—a workers state.
In this epoch of imperialism that has existed worldwide since the 1890s, as V.I. Lenin explained in Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, there is no progressive wing of the capitalist class in the United States or any other country. Today, as capitalism slides toward a worldwide economic catastrophe because of its built-in contradictions, the ruling class as a whole is driven to try to reverse the long-term decline of its system. To do so they have no choice but to launch increasingly brutal assaults on the living standards and rights of working people at home, while unleashing wars of conquest abroad. The U.S. government serves as the executive body for this capitalist class. No matter who occupies the presidency, whether a Democrat or a Republican, their job is to continue to enforce the interests of the real, unelected rulers.
The capitalist ruling families have two parties who work in cahoots with each other to try to hoodwink working people into thinking they have a democratic choice. The outstanding revolutionary leader Malcolm X explained well the dead-end trap of backing either capitalist party. In the 1964 presidential elections, when liberals and most radicals supported “peace” candidate Lyndon B. Johnson against Republican Barry Goldwater, Malcolm noted that “the shrewd capitalists, the shrewd imperialists, knew that the only way people would run towards the fox [Johnson] would be if you showed them the wolf.” At that very moment, he noted, Johnson “had troops invading the Congo and South Vietnam!” Once elected, of course, Johnson brutally escalated the imperialist war against Vietnam.
Just as working people need to organize independently of the bosses in the economic arena by forming trade unions—rejecting company “unions”—our class must organize independently of the bosses in the political arena. An “all-people’s front” based on supporting the Democratic Party is like a company union on a political level.
This stance is based on the approach revolutionary socialists have always taken in the United States—since Karl Marx and Frederick Engels collaborated with the young communist movement in the late 1800s, arguing for the building of an independent working-class political party. “Where the working class is not yet far enough advanced in its organization to undertake a decisive campaign against the collective power, i.e., the political power, of the ruling classes, it must at any rate be trained for this by continual agitation against this power and by a hostile attitude toward the policies of the ruling classes. Otherwise it remains a plaything in their hands,” wrote Marx in a Nov. 23, 1871, letter to Friedrich Bolte, a communist working-class leader in New York. Lenin continued along these lines, explaining in a Nov. 9, 1912, article on the U.S. elections that year, “This so-called bipartisan system prevailing in America and Britain has been one of the most powerful means of preventing the rise of an independent working-class, i.e., genuinely socialist, party.” The U.S. Communist Party in its early years rejected supporting any capitalist party. And since its founding in 1938, the Socialist Workers Party, following this political continuity, has maintained the perspective of independent working-class political action. I urge Brinton and other readers to study these rich lessons in the two-volume Revolutionary Continuity: Marxist Leadership in the U.S. by Farrell Dobbs; Labor’s Giant Step: The First Twenty Years of the CIO, 1936-55 by Art Preis; andThe Changing Face of U.S. Politics by Jack Barnes.
Brinton says, “I certainly agree that the Democratic Party is both reactionary and a party of capitalism.” He says that workers “are becoming increasingly dissatisfied,” but that the majority are “sticking with the Democratic Party.” Therefore, he argues, a “tactic” of supporting the Democratic Party in the elections is necessary for workers to “have their own political experience” and for communists not to be isolated from the masses.
To the contrary. The “political experience” of remaining tied to the Democratic wing of the exploiters’ party has been a trap for working people. What our class needs is not dependence on the bosses but a truthful explanation and a political course that raises its class consciousness and trust in its own forces.
In reality, it’s the capitalist minority that needs the support of working people, not the other way around (in fact, the majority of working people simply don’t vote, because they don’t see much difference in choosing between one or the other big-business party). The so-called all-people’s coalition is “a coalition between the owners of American industry and finance, and…the professional ward-heelers and politicians who keep the [Democratic] party machinery oiled, and, on the other hand, the various trade union bureaucrats and leaders of protest movements in American society, whose job it is to bring out the ranks of the coalition at voting time to guarantee the continuance of the rule of this party as opposed to the Republican Party,” said Jack Barnes in a 1965 debate with social democrat Stanley Aronowitz, published in the Pathfinder book The Lesser Evil? Debates on the Democratic Party and Independent Working-Class Politics. Barnes added that when dissatisfaction among working people toward Democratic politicians and the bipartisan system grows, “it’s those boys who whip things into shape, who go to the workers, to the Negroes, to the socialists, and say, ‘Look, it’s in your class interests, it’s in your interests as socialists, to come out and vote from this group, as a tactic’—in order, of course, to defeat the ‘greater evil.’”
This is the same argument the Communist Party USA has promoted since the 1930s, after the party became Stalinized and abandoned Lenin’s revolutionary course. And this election year, once again, we are warned by Stalinist, social democratic, and centrist groups that the Republican wolf, George W. Bush, is akin to “fascism” and that we should go running toward the Democratic fox—John Kerry or whoever gets nominated.
Explaining this revolutionary course is the opposite of sectarian isolation. Precisely because of the dissatisfaction among many workers that Brinton points to, there are greater opportunities than ever for communist workers to discuss a class-struggle perspective with fellow working-class militants as we join with them in battles against the bosses and other social struggles.
Working people and youth do have a clear class choice in the elections—the Socialist Workers candidates, who put forward a revolutionary working-class alternative to the twin capitalist parties of imperialist war, exploitation, racism, and depression. They will be campaigning over the coming months at union picket lines, factory gates, campuses, on the job, at labor and political actions. Joining with campaigners for the socialist alternative is one of the most effective ways to get a broader hearing for a working-class political perspective and to build a party that will be capable of leading workers and farmers to make a revolution in the United States and join the worldwide struggle for socialism.