How left responded to '84 elections
Socialist Workers Party called for break with capitalist politics
BY PETER THIERJUNG
A significant feature of the 1984 presidential elections was the fact that most organizations and publications that consider themselves socialist or communist backed capitalist candidate Walter Mondale. Some groups did so openly, while others did so under the slogan "Defeat Reagan." The Socialist Workers Party ran the only campaign calling for independent working-class political action in the elections, putting forward the socialist perspective of struggle to replace the capitalist U.S. government with a workers and farmers government.
A review of the positions put forward by some left groups on the elections is useful in highlighting a few key lessons of this campaign.
The Guardian, a radical newsweekly published in New York, departed from past practice and for the first time in a presidential campaign openly urged a vote for the Democrats. In endorsing Mondale, the August 8 Guardian argued that, "A defeat for the reactionaries in November can offer" an important breathing space to the left and progressive forces in the U.S. and, perhaps more importantly, to the liberation movements and anti-imperialist countries around the world."
When Mondale came out just a few weeks later endorsing the U.S. invasion of Grenada and threatening to "quarantine" Nicaragua, the Guardian squirmed a bit, but didn't back down one inch from urging a big vote for Mondale .
Workers World Party
The Workers World Party campaigned vigorously for capitalist candidate Jesse Jackson. When Jackson lost the Democratic Party nomination to Mondale, Workers World decided to step up its own campaign of Larry Holmes for president and Gloria La Riva for vice-president, rather than endorse Mondale.
This represented no break from capitalist politics, however. The September 6 issue of the party's paper Workers World, reporting on Jackson's endorsement of Mondale, insisted that it had been correct to support Jackson's Democratic Party campaign and that the task was now to "build an even stronger independent working class movement to carry on the legacy of the Rainbow Coalition." According to the paper, "The candidacy of Jesse Jackson, particularly during the Democratic primaries, was objectively an independent campaign that exposed and challenged the racist structure and rules of the anti-poor, anti-worker bourgeois Democratic Party."
The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has always supported Democratic candidates. This is in line with its outlook of accepting the framework of U.S. imperialism and seeking merely to reform it.
Declaring that ''We are Americans and democratic socialists and Democrats," the DSA endorsed the Mondale-Ferraro ticket saying, "They.... have the potential to create a liberal and humane administration infinitely superior to Ronald Reagan's on every count."
Advising the Democratic Party on how to win the election, Michael Harrington, a central leader of the DSA, pointed to the example of Harry Truman, who as Democratic president ordered the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Writing in the May-June issue of Democratic Left, the DSA newsletter, Harrington said: "Think of Truman again. He is not my hero ... but we can sure learn from him. He talked tough facts in 1948. He talked to workers and blacks and farmers; he mobilized . . . . And he won. And we can win in 1984, but only if we are at least as much a bunch of hell raisers as he and his friends."
The Communist Party (CP) ran its own candidates, Gus Hall and Angela Davis, for president and vice-president. While not formally endorsing the Democratic ticket, the clear message of the Hall-Davis campaign was to defeat Reagan by electing Mondale. This is not a new position for the CP; it has backed liberal capitalist candidates for half a century.
"For the period of the 1984 elections," Gus Hall told a CP central committee meeting last June, "all our creative energies must be focused on defeating Reaganism." "The reality," Hall was quoted as saying in the June 21 Daily World, the CP paper, "is that the electable candidate against Reagan is the lesser evil." He explained that the CP should only criticize Mondale if it would help strengthen the Democratic campaign. "Our party will express its differences and criticisms of the Democratic candidate when we think that will add to the struggle against Reaganism."
As the polls began to more and more confirm that Reagan had a strong lead over Mondale, the CP campaign took on a shrill pitch. It argued that U.S. capitalism is rapidly moving toward fascism under Reagan and that unity of all "anti-Reagan" forces was desperately needed to prevent another Republican term in office.
An editorial titled "Fascist odor" in the October 6 issue of the People's World, the CP's West Coast weekly, conveyed this view: "We do not use the term 'fascism' lightly. It is not just the normal, oppressive, exploitative, and brutal rule of capital that has characterized this system since its advent 200 years ago. It is rule by a special sector of that capital, the very sector which put Ronald Reagan in the White House and in whose interests he presently serves. It can happen here. It is a clear and present danger, and good reason to make sure the Oval Office has a new resident after Nov. 6."
The U.S. capitalist class will certainly prove capable of attempting to impose fascist rule, but that is not what is happening today.
The CP portrays Reagan as representing a "fascist" wing in order to cover up the fact that there is bipartisan support for the employers' policies of war, racism, and attacks on democratic rights. Mondale would have driven this antilabor offensive forward had he been elected, just as Reagan has done. Both represent the same fundamental class interests - the opposite of the interests of workers and working farmers. The U.S. rulers will step up their assault on working people here and abroad. Big class battles are going to erupt. But the best way to prepare working people for these battles is to tell them the unvarnished truth about the Republican and Democratic parties. The CP candidates have done the opposite. Let's take a few examples.
Fight against imperialist war
Throughout the campaign, Hall and Davis argued that nuclear war could well be the result of another four years of Reagan, while the world would be safer with Mondale in office.
As part of prettifying the imperialist policies of the
Democrats, the CP- endorsed their call for a bilateral freeze on nuclear
weapons production in the United States and the Soviet Union. This stance blurs
the real source of war - U.S. imperialism and its twin parties - and implies
the Soviet Union shares some responsibility for the nuclear arms buildup, for
which Washington alone is to blame.
The CP's support for Mondale led it to downplay the current war against Nicaragua and El Salvador being carried out with the support of Democrats and Republicans alike . It is precisely in such shooting wars that the danger of Washington using its nuclear arsenal is posed. But rather than expose the bipartisan character of the war drive, the CP told working people that voting Reagan out of office was the best way to guarantee peace. As Davis put it in an interview in the July 12 Daily World, "the most immediate priority of all in the peace movement, of all who are threatened by nuclear conflagration, is the defeat of Reagan and his pathologically anti-Communist Administration."
Adaptation to the Democrats on the war question has led the CP to bend also to the chauvinist propaganda campaigns of both capitalist parties. For example, the October 24 Daily World gave favorable coverage to AFL-CIO Pres. Lane Kirkland's recent tour to garner votes for Mondale. The paper quoted uncritically Kirkland's anti-imports patriotic line, reporting that the AFL-CIO bureaucrat attacked Reagan as "a man who appeals to patriotism for the benefit of those business and banking interests who would sell their own country out - people who don't care what flag flies over their plants or shops or ships." The CP has even gone so far as to print issues of the Daily World in red, white, and blue.
Over the last few months, women's right to legal abortion has come under attack from right-wing groups, the Catholic Church hierarchy, and Democratic and Republican politicians; While claiming she will uphold legal abortion as long as it is the law of the land, Democratic vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro has emphasized her personal and religious view that abortion is murder. Explaining why she has voted for some Medicaid funding for abortions, Ferraro said, "The cost of putting an unwanted child through the system far outweighs the cost of funding an abortion on demand." This is the line of the racist, population-control forces.
What has been the CP's response to Ferraro's reactionary views on abortion rights? A September 21 column in the Daily World rushed to defend her! "Ms. Ferraro's position on abortions is a principled, democratic position," it said.
The Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialist Alliance approached the 1984 elections from a completely different standpoint than the other groups on the U.S. left.
The SWP ran 56 candidates for local office in 26 states. Its candidate for president was Mel Mason; for vice-president, Andrea Gonzalez.
The fight against imperialist war was at the center of the Mason-Gonzalez campaign as they visited plant gates, union halls, picket lines, farming areas, and working-class, Black, and Latino neighborhoods across the country. They talked to working people about the gains workers and peasants have won in Nicaragua and Cuba, and stressed the important role the labor movement must play in opposing U.S. intervention in Central· America and the Caribbean.
The socialists called for international working-class solidarity with others fighting for their rights, from the striking British coal miners, to Puerto Ricans demanding independence, to Blacks struggling against South Africa's apartheid, to the workers and farmers of Vietnam and Kampuchea .
Mason and Gonzalez opposed the reactionary anti-imports, protectionist schemes used to falsely label workers in other countries as the source of unemployment in the United States, rather than the U.S, employers ..
The SWP ticket was the only one that consistently defended abortion rights. Mason and Gonzalez demanded repeal of all laws restricting the right to safe, legal abortion. They called for restoring- and expanding - government funds for women who want abortions and cannot afford them.
The socialists explained that the problems of war, attacks on Black and women's rights, farm foreclosures, and union-busting cannot be solved at the ballot box. They explained the need for working people to reject the Democratic and Republican parties- the twin parties of war, exploitation, racism, and sexism. What ·is needed, they said, is independent working-class political action that can organize and mobilize the victims of class exploitation to overturn capitalist rule and establish a workers and farmers government.
Mason and Gonzalez called for a labor party based on a fighting, democratic trade union movement that will champion the interests of workers, farmers, Blacks, Latinos, women, and other ' victims of capitalism. They also called for the formation of an independent Black political party, which would not only be an advance for Blacks, but also help inspire and hasten the development of a labor party. The goal of the labor party, they explained, will be to lead the struggle for a workers and farmers government in the United States that will use the vast resources and technology of this country to aid in eliminating hunger, poverty and disease all over the globe. This government will abolish capitalism in the United States and join the worldwide struggle for socialism.
Peter Thierjung is national secretary of the Young Socialist Alliance and was a youth coordinator of the Mason/Gonzalez campaign .
November 16, 1984