Jesse Jackson and political independence
A contribution to 'Guardian' discussion on electoral strategy
The Militant June l5, 1984
The following article by Laura Garza, a national youth coordinator for the Socialist Workers Party 1984 presidential campaign of Mel Mason and Andrea Gonzaiez, was submitted to the Guardian's "Opinion and Analysis" page last March. It was written in reply to an "Opinion and Analysis" contribution in the March 7 Guardian by Elissa Clarke and David Finkel, members of the editorial board of the International Socialists' magazine Changes.
The Guardian, a radical weekly published in New York, has been campaigning for Democratic presidential aspirant Jesse Jackson. In their article, Clarke and Finkel wrote, "We believe Jackson would be most responsive to the real, immediate and historic needs and to the mass sentiments of his base if he ran for President as an independent. And we believe activists should advocate that he do this ....
"Those . . . who could be convinced that Jackson's campaign represents an historic opportunity tragically wasted because it remains locked within the Democratic Party are the potential core of a new movement serious about independent political action."
Garza's reply has not yet appeared in the Guardian.
BY LAURA GARZA
How to respond to the candidacy of Democratic presidential hopeful Jesse Jackson has been the subject of much debate on the left. In an article in the March 7 Guardian, International Socialists Elissa Clarke and David Finkel assert the only obstacle to socialists supporting Jackson's campaign is that he is running in the Democratic Party. The task, then, is to urge him to break with the Democratic Party.
While I agree that Jackson's adherence to the Democratic Party does not advance the struggle of Blacks and other working people, that is not the only thing wrong with his campaign.
A socialist view of the elections should begin by explaining that capitalism is the source of our problems and both the Democratic and Republican parties are tools of the ruling rich. It is only by charting a course independent of the ruling rich and their parties that working people can develop a mass struggle to overturn capitalist political rule, and establish their own government.
What is independent political action?
While Clarke and Finkel indicate they are for breaking from the Democrats and Republicans, they begin with the mistaken foundation of believing that Jackson and his program are somehow fundamentally different from the other Democratic candidates and from the Democratic Party itself. They reduce independent politics to being, simply, organizationally independent of the two dominant capitalist parties.
But to have any meaning, independent political action has to be independent of capitalist politics. It has to be independent, working-class political action, based on a program that advances the interests and demands of the working class and its allies. Jackson, his program, and his party all fail this test. Jackson's positions cannot be separated from his candidacy in the Democratic Party because they have the same basis - support for the capitalist system. He believes the way to solve our problems is for us to "renegotiate" with the racists and bosses who run this society, not to get rid of this system. His entire program is one of reforming U.S. capitalism.
When Jackson says that our problems can be addressed and solved within this capitalist system, he misleads Blacks, women, workers, and others to believe that we have a stake in defending it.
That is why Jackson points out that he, like his Democratic Party opponents, is for a "strong defense." He has tactical differences about how much is needed to maintain the domination of imperialism. Cut the waste out of the Pentagon budget, he says; station only 150,000 troops in Europe; but keep the budget and the troops, and the imperialist system they defend.
At a time when the bosses are on a union-busting offensive, Jackson offers as his example of "taking on" corporate America the deal he worked out with Burger King, where Jackson advocates they get a tax incentive for buying cucumbers and building a plant in Alabama.
His answer to the economic crisis is to step up U.S. business' competitiveness in the international market. But it is precisely this same "foreign competition" hype that is the club used by the bosses to impose worse conditions on us and bust our unions.
Jackson's perspective of appealing to "progressive" companies will not blunt the offensive of the bosses and their government. They are driven to attack our rights and living standards to defend their profits.
And insofar as Jackson is able to win to his view people who want to fight back against these attacks, he misleads and misdirects their desire to struggle in their own interests.
A mass movement?
Many argue Jackson is leading a movement and a "rainbow coalition" can be built and advanced through support to his candidacy.
First, there is a difference between a mass movement and a mass meeting of people who come to hear Jackson, are told to register as Democrats, work on his campaign, and then go home.
A mass movement, such as the civil rights movement, has its own set of demands, which it fights uncompromisingly for, not tied or beholden to a particular party or someone else's interests. Its strength is based on mobilizing people in action to fight for their own interests, and that is what is needed now to counter the war drive, the rise in racist attacks, the capitalist economic offensive, etc.
Second, the idea of a coalition linking the interests and needs of workers, oppressed nationalities, and women is a powerful and important one. But it would have to be a fighting alliance based on the fact that there are common interests, and this cannot be built in either of the capitalist parties. Jackson, in fact, counterposes his campaign to building an independent movement.
The idea of a coalition uniting those with common interests and a common enemy, in struggle, has been subsumed into a get-out-the-vote apparatus for Jackson, and uniting into an electoral bloc in the Democratic Party.
Many believe we must be a part of this because we cannot stand aside from an important discussion among Blacks about how to advance their interests politically. This discussion is of concern to all working people, many of whom look to the Black community for leadership because of its legacy of struggle, and its successes, most importantly the civil rights movement.
But the Jackson campaign is not a continuation of the legacy of struggle, of Blacks leading the oppressed to fight in their own interest. It is the opposite, relying on working with your class enemies. Socialists should point out that it was mobilizations independent of relying on capitalist parties that won workers historic gains. Moreover, there is a rich history of struggle to form an independent Black political party in the United States and we should point to this road as a way forward.
An independent Black party would be an example for the whole working class and would advance the discussion needed to form a labor party. To defend the interests of Blacks, women, Latinos, and all workers we need a party of our own, a labor party, based on a fighting trade-union movement.
Socialists should point out that there is a connection between the war against the workers and farmers of Central America and the attacks on workers and farmers here. We should explain there are classes in society and our problems can't be solved until society is run in the interests of a different class - the working class.
The problem with supporting Jackson is not only, as Clarke and Finkel say, that you will end up supporting Mondale later, the problem is supporting Jackson now. Jackson's campaign, like all the other capitalist candidates, keeps the discussion of solutions to our problems within the framework of capitalist politics and solutions. The effect of the support given by much of the left to Jackson is that the source of our problems - capitalism - doesn't get discussed and exposed.
The Socialist Workers Party and the Young Socialist Alliance have taken advantage of the interest in the elections to discuss socialist ideas and solutions. Through the SWP campaign of Mel Mason for president and Andrea Gonzalez for vice-president, we have raised the idea that workers and farmers should run the government, in their own interests. We have defended the revolutionary gains of the Cubans, Nicaraguans, Grenadians, and Salvadorans. We have spoken for the abolition of the entire war budget and the reallocation of this massive wealth for social and economic development here and abroad.
The response we have gotten shows people are willing to listen to those who tell the truth and advance socialist ideas.
Anyone interested in these ideas and the Mason-Gonzalez campaign can write to Socialist Workers Presidential Campaign, 14 Charles Lane, New York, N.Y. 10014. Telephone: (212) 675-3820.