Use election to build socialist politics

Submitted by AWL on 20 October, 2020 - 5:01 Author: Daniel Randall
Howie Hawkins

Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins.

• See here for other articles debating the US election, Trump, etc.

Much of the debate amongst Workers’ Liberty members about the US election has focused on the question of whether Donald Trump, and the movement around him, can meaningfully be described as “fascist”.

Whilst this question has an analytical significance (personally I think “proto-fascist” is a more accurate description), it does not, in and of itself, settle the matter of how we think the class-struggle left should orient in the election. One might think Trump is a fascist, and think it’s even more important to focus on building a working-class alternative to the Democrats and Republicans, the two parties of capital. Conversely, one might think Trump isn’t a fascist but still think advocating a vote for Biden is the only option for the left in the circumstances. So some broader analysis is required beyond the question of whether Trump is a fascist.

What is under debate here is not whether Trump, and Trumpism, are egregiously reactionary. Nor is the question of whether Biden and the Democrats represent a “lesser evil” under debate. Undoubtedly they do, and a significantly “lesser” one than that. But we have a responsibility to do more than express a preference between two variants of ruling-class politics. We have a responsibility to advocate an independent politics for our own class.

There is a respect-worthy argument to be made, from a class-struggle socialist point of view, for supporting a Biden vote. That argument, roughly, runs as follows: the imperative to remove Trump from the presidency overrides all other immediate concerns. We acknowledge a Biden vote as the immediately available means of removing Trump from office, but see this as something to be lamented rather than celebrated. Therefore we will making propaganda about the nature of the Democrats as a party of capital, the need for an independent workers’ party, and criticisms of Biden and his programme the leading edge of our intervention, as these are essential elements of our political analysis that no-one else is going to make.

That is not, on the whole, the position comrades inside Workers’ Liberty arguing for a Biden vote have advanced. Instead, a Biden vote is presented as the only possibly way of “relating to the vast majority of class conscious workers” (Jim Denham, “Not just hope, action”, Solidarity 566, 7 October), or, worse, located in an argument for a thoroughgoing orientation to the Democrats (Thomas Carolan, “A socialist vote for Biden”, Solidarity 566, 7 October).

If “the vast majority of class conscious workers” are already convinced to vote Biden as the only means to remove Trump, they don’t need us to affirm that for them. You might not have an alternative to advocate, you might not want to argue that they  shouldn’t vote Biden, but even if you think they’re right to vote Biden to stop Trump, the main job of the revolutionary left is to try to  develop their consciousness, not make a virtue of its existing limitations.

We might be sympathetic to the sentiments of voters who see the election as a “referendum on Trumpism”, but part of our job is to explain what is limited in that view. The election is not any such thing; neither Trump nor Trumpism will be vanquished as social forces on 4 November, and the social conditions that generated them will remain very much intact. Socialists have a responsibility to use the election to build up organisation around the socialist politics we believe necessary to change that.

Jim Denham acknowledges as much when he says “our job is to educate advanced workers and other progressive forces in the need for [an independent workers’ party]”, but doesn’t try to resolve the obvious contradiction posed by attempting to do this job at the same time as going along with its opposite premise – that supporting a bourgeois lesser-evil is the best our class can hope for.

Accommodating to lesser-evilism in US politics is a serious political retreat. I understand and respect the assessment of comrades who have concluded that it is a retreat made inevitable and necessary by profoundly adverse circumstances. I have less respect for the arguments of those comrades dressing up that retreat as if it’s an heroic act of anti-fascist valour. The Green Party campaign of Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker will not, in and of itself, lay the foundations of a future independent workers’ party. It is already a limited instrument.

But an independent campaign on the basis of explicitly socialist politics ought to give the left a concrete means of expressing its platform directly. If our message is that class-struggle socialist politics and independent working-class organisation are necessary to defeat not only Trump but his movement, it provides a means of organising around that message in the election itself, rather than having to say, “those things are for the future – for now, vote for the lesser evil.”

Very possibly the left in the US will not be able to realise the potential for strengthening organisation around socialist politics that the Hawkins/Walker campaign represents; that should not stop us from expressing those potentials as we see them. And even if my judgement is wrong about that, and those potentials are even more limited than they appear, that does not by itself justify a “vote Biden” position.

The Hawkins/Walker campaign being marginal does not somehow transmute the Democrats, or cancel out traditional objections to lesser-evilism.


Submitted by John Mcgrath (not verified) on Tue, 27/10/2020 - 10:11

I agree with this entirely. The only carve out, perhaps, might be to mention that in maybe 40 states, a vote for a republican or Democrat makes very little difference: New York and Massachusetts will 100% vote “blue” and the same could be said with some degree of certainty of say Mississippi or Wyoming voting for the GOP candidate. My belief is that leftists should advocate for Howie H. in these states. The states in which the election is often decided (Ohio, Florida, NH, etc.), in my view, leftists should vote for Biden. Unfortunately Howie H has not received any media attention and the Green Party is not even on the ballot in over a dozen states. He is a far more desirable candidate then Jill stein for leftists for a number of reasons but he has received a fraction of the media attention (And she was largely ignored or disparaged in 2016) and is projected to receive fewer votes then the Green Party candidates in past elections (despite being, in my view, the most complete or comprehensive candidate to ever lead the Green Party). This is unfortunate but “understandable” for reasons laid out in the article. I hate tactical voting and nuanced support, but this is the position I find myself in every four years. Thanks for the article; a good read

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