USA: break with the Democrats! A resolution presented to Phoenix DSA

The following resolution was proposed last month by IMT supporters in the Phoenix Democratic Socialists of America. In it, they argue against so-called lesser evilism, for an immediate and total break with the Democrats, and for a mass working-class socialist party. In the context of the ongoing electoral chaos, the arguments presented are more relevant than ever.

The 2020 election unfolded during a severe crisis of American capitalism. The political legitimacy of both the Democrats and Republicans, as well as governing institutions such as the presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court are being deeply questioned by more people than ever before, at least since the days of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

The stubborn fact that continues to assert itself in one electoral cycle after another is the following: the vast majority of the population is working class but we do not yet have a mass political party of our own. Last summer, a historic flood of struggle overflowed the banks in over 2,000 cities and towns after the extrajudicial murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, but this movement has no political expression of its own.

The major task facing workers and the socialists today is how to build a party of the working class. Many on the left have supported working in the Democratic Party, viewing it as the “lesser evil” and arguing that socialists should “use” the Democratic Party ballot line. This includes Bernie Sanders’s recent campaigns and “the Squad.”

The tenuous result of the 2020 election proves that lesser evilism is a dead end. The IMT has argued for a clean break from the Democrats and for independent class politics as the only way to build a foundation for what could eventually become a mass socialist party. The only way to build a strong and vibrant left is to cut all ties from the parties of the ruling class. We believe that DSA and others on the left should seriously discuss the following questions:

  • Biden appears to have just barely squeaked by and faces the prospect of a “lame duck” presidency. Even if he makes this or that cosmetic change, he is a staunch defender of capitalism and will eventually be compelled by the crisis to attack the workers. In what way has supporting him helped increase working-class consciousness, confidence, and unity? How has this helped lay the basis for an independent socialist party?
  • How can the left and the labor movement build a viable alternative to the major capitalist parties, both of which have been moving ever further to the right over the past few decades?
  • How has the connection with the Democrats been an obstacle to winning over those workers who voted for Trump because they did not see the “lesser evil” as representing their interests? How can these workers be broken on a class basis from both of the bosses’ parties?

It is in this context that Socialist Revolution is republishing the following resolution presented in the Phoenix chapter of the DSA. This resolution was written and sponsored by Marxist members of the DSA who support the ideas of the IMT. It was approved in a non-binding vote by a small majority of those attending the chapter meeting that discussed it. The purpose of the resolution is to start a discussion in the Phoenix chapter and prepare the way for a broader discussion of these questions in the DSA and on the broader left. We think the results of the presidential election strongly underline the correctness of the approach outlined below—the only future for the left is to take a class-independent approach to politics.

If you would like to discuss this resolution with us or raise something similar in your chapter you can contact us online or at info@socialistrevolution.org.

Resolution: For a Genuinely Class-Independent Strategy in the 2020 Presidential Elections

Sponsor(s): Nick Brancaccio, Robert T. Wilson, Cody Tamburin, Jonathon Dupuie, Erica Low, Thomas Vogel, Teri Nickle, Devan Clyde et al.

WHEREAS, the 2020 election is playing out against a backdrop of unprecedented crisis, polarization, and rapid changes in the consciousness of millions. Polls show that the mood in society is shifting undeniably leftward. 59% of 18–39 year olds would rather live under socialism, while 20% of the general population has drawn the significant conclusion that “no form of capitalism is capable of producing the kind of world we want for the next generation,”

WHEREAS, socialists must understand the revolutionary implications of this situation, as we look ahead at the turbulent decade ahead of us. If DSA is going to play a role in bringing the working class to power and transforming society in our lifetime, we must not confine our attention merely to the next moment in the election cycle,

WHEREAS, the many crises gripping society—the pandemic, economic collapse, climate change, housing, and unprecedented inequality—are not the result of a virus or the Donald Trump administration. This “world on fire” is a product of the historic impasse of the capitalist system, and the working class is the only force that can bring society out of this blind alley, by establishing a workers’ government and democratically planning the economy,

WHEREAS, the task of socialists is to help the working class become conscious of its collective power and its historic role in transforming society. From a “long view” of history, the urgent task is not to settle for the “lesser evil” in November, but to provide the working class with its own class-independent political vehicle as expediently as possible. DSA has the numbers, visibility, and resources to play a role in this,

WHEREAS, for lack of an alternative, layers of the working class have historically held illusions in the Democratic Party, which presents the 2020 presidential election as an existential threat for working and middle-class Americans,

WHEREAS, both major candidates for the 2020 presidential election—Donald Trump and Joe Biden, who are both representatives of the capitalist ruling class—will be compelled to impose austerity and repression on the working class during this crisis. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans offer a so-called “lesser evil” for American or international workers,

WHEREAS, more particularly, Joe Biden has always been an opponent of the working class. He supported racial segregation in the 1960s and 70s, was the architect of the 1994 Crime Bill, and was complicit in the Obama administration’s mass deportations on the Southwest border and drone strikes abroad. We can anticipate more of the same from Biden/Harris campaign platform:

  • Both candidates propose federal grants to expand the local and state policing apparatus at a time when national DSA backs the #8toAbolition campaign and the national slogans to defund the police and abolish the police. Joe Biden proposes that police departments receive $300 million in investment, in order to adopt a use of force standard, purchase body cameras, and hire a more diverse police force.
  • Both candidates are opposed to Medicare for All (i.e., single-payer health insurance). Although they have differing positions on the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, etc., neither puts forward a working-class solution.
  • Neither candidate has a plan to confront the COVID-19 pandemic, the devastation of which is primarily a product of capitalism with its for-profit health sector, and the overwhelming pressure of the market to defy effective stay-at-home measures.
  • Neither candidate has a plan for confronting any of the other crises facing society: from an overhaul of energy to address climate change, to the looming eviction wave, to the crushing weight of household and student debt, to the Great-Depression level unemployment.

WHEREAS, DSA now has 70,000 members, which makes it the largest socialist organization in the United States since the Communist Party of the United States in the 1950s. Although DSA may not be able to build a mass party by itself, it can play an important role in spreading socialist ideas and in the campaign to establish a mass class-independent political alternative to the Republican and Democratic Parties, both of which have proven countless times to be opposed to the interests of the working class,

WHEREAS, the dominant electoral strategy in DSA is the so-called “dirty break,” by which openly socialist candidates use the Democratic Party ballot line in order to contest elections. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “the Squad,” and the six DSA members who will be elected in November to the NY State legislature are pointed to as the basis for a potential socialist caucus,

WHEREAS, while the supposed goal of the “dirty break” is to lay the foundation for some form of mass socialist party in the indefinite future, its practical perspectives are limited to the short-term goals of winning elections and passing minor reforms. It reinforces the illusion that the working class can achieve its objectives via an institution controlled by the capitalist class, or at least that socialists can be agnostic on the question of the ballot line The aforementioned examples limit the DSA’s horizons to horse-trading within the limits of the status quo. As a result, the future mass socialist party becomes a horizonalist goal, something to be accomplished in the far distant future with no clear strategy to connect today to tomorrow. It is divorced from the objective needs of the American working class, which requires its own class-independent political organization to express its class interests,

WHEREAS, the role of socialists today is to explain that real change will come only through a workers’ government and socialist policies that transcend capitalism. DSA must explain that even if the Democrats get back into power, things will not get fundamentally better for the workers—and that we need an immediate break with any and all capitalist parties. Since most DSA candidates are running as Democrats, and the DSA is endorsing other Democrats, we risk sowing further illusions in the Democratic Party. If DSA-backed candidates ran independently and put these ideas forward, they might not win in 2020, but they would pave the way for more support and eventual victories on a principled basis later on. The most important thing at this stage is not to win an election, but to use campaigns to build DSA and develop serious links with the advanced workers, while educating a broader layer which will draw these conclusions in the future,

WHEREAS, if DSA were to adopt a class-intransigent strategy and break immediately from the Democratic Party, big gains would be possible for DSA, especially once the Democrats are back in power and running the government for big business. But DSA can make those gains only if it is seen as something different and independent from the Democrats, not as an extension of them (i.e., indistinguishable from its left-liberal wing). If DSA continues its ties with the Democrats, it will pay a political price for this,

BE IT RESOLVED THAT:

I. Phoenix DSA will not endorse candidates from either the Republican or Democratic Party, whether or not such candidates campaign on one or more socialist or progressive demands, such as but not limited to Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, or the Fight for Fifteen. Instead, in proportion with the chapter’s resources and strength, we will seek to promote and campaign for local and municipal candidates who run as independent socialists and pledge that if elected, they will accept only the wage of an average worker, donating the rest back into the movement.

A. The chapter will consider endorsing candidates who both pass an initial litmus test of policy positions, decided democratically by the general chapter and readopted at least annually, and only if they run independently of the major capitalist parties’ ballots.

1. After the initial endorsement, such a candidate must continue to be democratically accountable to the Phoenix DSA chapter if they wish to retain the endorsement, e.g., how they conduct their electoral campaign, what platform policies they make, and which other politicians they publicly endorse.

2. An endorsed candidate must use their political campaign as a platform to promote the chapter’s vision for a socialist transformation of society and the objective need for a workers’ government, in order to continue building DSA’s strength and the future basis for a mass socialist party. They must expose the limitations of both major capitalist parties to address the crisis of capitalism and the needs of the working class.

3. In the event that an endorsed candidate wins public office, they will continue to use this new position to agitate for a socialist transformation of society, etc. They will make proposals that address the real needs of workers, using this as an organizing tool. They will refer all political questions and legislative opportunities to the chapter and its democratically elected bodies.

B. If a candidate outside of DSA seeks the Phoenix chapter’s endorsement and their platform otherwise passes our political litmus test, we will encourage them to break with the Republicans and Democrats and run as an independent socialist pledged to accept the average workers wage if elected. Only then will we consider an endorsement.

II. The Phoenix DSA Chapter calls on the DSA National Political Committee (NPC) to organize local, regional, and national discussions on an immediate break with all capitalist parties and how to promote the formation of a mass socialist party in the United States, in preparation for a programmatic discussion on the question at the upcoming 2021 National DSA Convention.

A. These discussions should consider, but not be limited to:

1. How DSA can contribute to a national campaign to speak at union halls, workplaces, universities, and in neighborhoods on the need for a mass socialist party, and which other organizations could collaborate with us in this effort.

2. Which chapters are strategically and materially prepared to organize their own electoral campaigns without pre-established ballot access from the capitalist parties, where DSA has built a strong base among workers to wage a struggle against the Republicans and Democrats not only on an electoral but also a political line.

a) In addition, how resources can be centralized to maximize these opportunities in strategic chapters with the help of the entire apparatus.

3. How our trade union members in the AFL-CIO and other labor affiliations can campaign to put pressure on their leadership, so that the unions also break immediately from the Democratic Party. This can help to reinvigorate the labor movement, which is dominated by leaders who accept liberal Democratic politics.

4. How YDSA members can mobilize both university and high school students into student societies for a mass socialist party, so that we can make the most of the radicalizing layers of new voters. These students can be a key group to connect with young workers.

5. What lessons we can draw from the historical formations of mass workers’ parties like the British Labour Party, the German Social Democratic Party, the Socialist Party of America, and the Labor Party of the 1990s, as well as the recent explosions of movements like Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, and the Corbyn movement in Britain.

6. How DSA can prepare its own membership through political education and consolidation in Marxist theory in order to play a leading role in the political struggle against the major capitalist parties.

B. Local and regional discussions should be followed with a national discussion before the convention, attended by democratically elected delegates from every chapter.

1. These delegates should be empowered to draft a set of theses on a class-independent electoral strategy to present to the NPC and the national membership. These theses would then be considered for adoption by the 2021 National DSA Convention.

C. Phoenix DSA, moreover, commits to developing and submitting a resolution for the 2021 National Convention to the same effect of what already has been described in section II of this resolution, if the NPC does not organize local, regional, and national discussions on this topic in anticipation of the Convention.

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