For the first time in my life, in fifty years of voting in America, I am voting for a Democratic Party presidential candidate and urge others to do so as well. As an activist on the left, a writer on politics in various publications, and an editor of New Politics, I feel that I must publicly acknowledge that I have changed my position on this question and explain why I recently signed a letter advocating a vote for Joseph Biden.
I became an activist in the 1960s in the movement against the U.S. war in Vietnam. Our enemy was the Democratic Party of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson which was carrying out the war. The reactionary Republican Party was of course beyond consideration. I cast my first presidential vote in California in 1968 for Eldridge Cleaver, the Black Panther leader who was the candidate of the Peace and Freedom Party, an attempt to give political expression to the two great social movements of that era: civil rights and opposition to war. Like many others at that time, I became convinced that the Republican and Democratic parties were both dominated by the capitalist class, both parties of racism at home and imperialism abroad. I still believe that to be the case.
In my part of the left, we took the position that we stood for what we called “independent political action,” that is for supporting candidates and parties to the left of the Democrats that were independent of the capitalist class. So I supported and voted for years for the Green Party and supported the Labor Party when it was founded in 1996, though unfortunately it never found the courage to run candidates against the Democrats. I helped Medea Benjamin with her Green Party campaign for governor of California in 2000 and I voted for Ralph Nader in that same year when he was accused of being a spoiler leading to the defeat of Democrat Al Gore and the election George W. Bush. In 2010 the Socialist Party, having won a ballot access lawsuit asked me to stand as its candidate in Ohio for the U.S. Senate, which I did to propagandize for socialism.
When Bernie Sanders declared himself a “democratic socialist” candidate for president in 2015, I worked for his election, while maintaining my Green Party registration. When Sanders ran again in 2019 I was opposed to supporting him because I believed his campaign would not have the impact it had had in 2015-16 (which turned out to be true) and because I believed he and his supporters had become more integrated into the Democratic Party (which is debatable). I regret none of those former positions I have taken nor do I repudiate the logic that led me to take them.
The Democratic Party remains a capitalist and imperialist party. I do not believe that reformers can have much impact on its general policies and direction, and I certainly do not believe that it can be taken over by the left. Joseph Biden is a repugnant candidate, as Branko Marcetic detailed in his book Yesterday’s Man. He helped the Democratic Party to carry out the neoliberal turn from the working class to the professional classes, and he supported the racist and imperial policies of the Clinton and Obama presidencies. I am not a political supporter of either the Democratic Party nor of its candidate Joe Biden, but I urge a vote for him on narrow and pragmatic grounds: to prevent Trump from having a second term.
I have come to the conclusion that this election—with the possibility of massive electoral fraud, the likely refusal of Trump, should he lose, to leave the White House, and a possible coup d’état—is quite different from anything in my life time or in American history. All the major media institutions, TV, press, and social media, are discussing the possibility of a rightwing seizure of power by Trump. I am not urging a vote for the Democratic Party because it necessarily can or will stop a coup. I do NOT believe that the Democratic Party is a bulwark against an authoritarian or fascist coup. But I do believe that a large vote for Biden everywhere, even in safe states where one might vote for the Green Party, makes it more difficult for Trump to justify to the Republican Party, to his base, and to the American people that he has the right to stay in office. I do not wish to make it easier for Trump to move ahead by claiming he won the election if he did not. Voting for Biden certainly does not represent in any way on my part a commitment to the Democratic Party or its candidates in the future. But this time I will vote for Biden.
Unfortunately, much as I admire Howie Hawkins, I see no way that voting for the Green Party will do anything but make it easier for Trump to win or to claim victory and fight to stay in office, to become a dictator. I am not convinced that there is a strong connection between voting Green and building social movements, in fact, I think there is little connection. I do not believe that voting Green will somehow have an impact on the political consciousness of many Americans, since the current crises push everything else to the margins. I understand that some will want to vote Green to demonstrate to themselves their continued commitment to the left, but I think that is better done by stopping Trump for now—if we can—while also working to build the movements we need to overcome Biden’s administration and policies.
I wish I could vote for the Green Party, a labor party, a socialist party, or some other progressive party on the left that represented a mass movement. Unfortunately there is no such alternative. It has not been easy for me to arrive at this position or to publicly advocate it. But I have and I am. I urge all voters to vote for Biden to stop Trump’s reelection. As I said, I regret having to make this decision, but I would regret even more a second term for Trump.
Dan, I would like to take issue with one of your key arguments: “I do believe that a large vote for Biden everywhere, even in safe states where one might vote for the Green Party, makes it more difficult for Trump to justify to the Republican Party, to his base, and to the American people that he has the right to stay in office.” First, given the extent of the polarization in US society today, I don’t believe that 80% votes for Biden in big cities in states like New York and California will undermine support for Trump in his core base. On the contrary, if anything, it will strengthen their commitment to save America from the nonwhite/alien hordes. Second, I think this argument overstates the importance of voting, when the key to making Republican state officials and conservative judges hesitate to facilitate election theft will be mobilization in the streets. Third, people who vote for Biden are likely to line up behind Biden in a post-Election Day struggle; whereas I’m afraid that Biden’s whole history and mindset will incline him to settle for a post-election compromise as rotten as the 1877 compromise that ended Radical Reconstruction. For all these reasons, organizing independently of the Democrats is absolutely vital, and voting Green at least in safe states is part of that independent strategy.
I have asked this question on Marxmail and I’ll pose it here, too. Why not both? Why not vote for Biden, privately if you must, for all the reasons Dan says, and mobilize in the streets? Do you think that a second Trump term forces America into a sort of judgment day? Accelerationism from the left?
First, if the aim is to stop Trump’s re-election, there is no convincing reason to vote for Biden in safe Biden states or safe Trump states, for the reasons I gave in my first comment. Second, voting is rarely a purely private act; it is part of people’s relations with their friends and social milieu. And in practice, as we’re seeing all around us, most of Biden’s left voters are getting caught up in a flood of apology for him that will make independent mobilization much more difficult.
Very sad to see such a statement from such a prominent political activist. Given realities I would agree that the political impact of voting for the Green Party should not be exaggerated. However to advocate voting for a rancid bourgeois politician in order to prevent a coup d’état borders on the hallucinatory. I do not feel that the American social structure has reached such a point of fragility that they require such a Bonapartist solution to maintain stability. Trump’s project in my opinion appears to be of his own making and does not appear in any way to represent a consensus of the American bourgeoise. In fact one could say that an important part of the state political apparatus along with some segments of the billionaire class are vehemently opposed to Trump, including some sections of the military. It is hard to see how the vote totals of potential Green Party voters are going to impact in any meaningful way upon the decisions of the anti-Trump state factions to oppose a Trump takeover. In any case if we have reached a point where the American bourgeoisie and state apparatus are willing to sacrifice the foundations of class rule that have served them well over the past two and a half centuries for those of a narcissistic incompetent then we are truly in dangerous times for which debating about a vote for Biden borders on the frivolous and irrelevant.
There are many Democrats who would love to see a larger move to the left. But they are generally people who value results over hollow gestures. A Bernie Sanders, or a third party cannot attract enough support to win elections. Just too much inertia in the system. But working within the Democratic Party, over the passing of years, will move the country towards a more humane and Democratic Socialism position. Enabling the Republican Party to win will never accomplish anything other than a Dictatorship of the 1%. Vote Blue!!
I agree wholeheartedly with your position and thank you for writing this open letter. Hope it influences folks in DSA and beyond to get off the fence and join the movement to Dump Trump as a precondition for creating a more favorable terrain for the left and labor. Thanks
Just saw this debate. ON my Facebook page:
FURTHER THOUGHTS ON THE FORTHCOMING AMERICAN ELECTION.
The coming US election has highlighted the importance of historical comparisons and, in particular, how we can benefit strategically and tactically in the uses and abuses of history.
Here are some of my thoughts which I will expand in the future:
1) The historical period which witnessed the emergence of classical fascism, that is, Italian fascism in the early 1920s, and German fascism in the 1920s and early 1930s, is significantly different to the historical period today.
I would argue that Trump does not have the mass base of Brown or Black Shirts and petit-bourgeoisie prepared to do battles on the streets as Hitler or Mussolini had.
2) Should Trump win, a scenario that is now becoming increasingly improbable, he would rule in a very authoritarian manner. Would Trump be able to implement a vicious dictatorship: certainly more vicious repression domestically than hitherto, but similar to his past indecisiveness–unlike the Bushes, Obama, Clintons–in waging imperial wars of annihilation of other countries.
3) In the past, I have argued that Trump represents a very sinister and extreme danger to the American people. My position has not shifted.
Apropos my past and current position on this question, I would argue perhaps in opposition to some of the analysts I forwarded, that in any present and immediate situation, autonomy of the political actors and historical contingency play often a very significant and decisive role.
The autonomy of the political actors and historical contingency are, nonetheless, played out within a social and economic field and this field plays a very significant role in future political outcomes.
Trump does not have the the support of the key sections of the American ruling class. He has the support of Murdoch and the Koch brothers, but not Bezos, Gates, Zuckerberg, Buffett, Musk, Bloomberg, the Pentagon and other big capitalist players.
This puts Trump at great disadvantage because these big hitters do not see his vision for future America as corresponding to their own. The Gates, Zuckerbergs, etc., are deeply committed to the current international neoliberal capitalist order and they will utilise all their resources to destroy Trump and his cabal. And this would happen in the highly improbable future scenario if Trump won the forthcoming US election.
4) I am, nonetheless, extremely sceptical about Biden. This is a politician who has a very problematic and repressive domestic record and is associated with the imperial- adventurism section of the Democratic Party Establishment.
5) I conclude: Vigilance and distrust of any member of the ruling class is paramount in this and any other situation, as is vigilance against being hoodwinked by the bourgeois neoliberal Establishment, including The Guardian, to participate in the demoblisation of the radicalisation that is occurring around the BLM and opposition to neoliberalism.
What the Left needs to do is to support the BLM and the radicalisation occurring as a consequence of that momentous movement. My hope is that this radicalisation will lead to greater future social change that was visible in the opposition to the Vietnam War and the social movements that arose in the Sixities and early Seventies.
Putting any hope in any bourgeois politician is a strategy of suicide for the Left.
And this a couple of days ago:
THOUGHTS ABOUT THE FORTHCOMING AMERICAN ELECTION
I have had a discussion with a few friends on the forthcoming US election and thought I would share it:
I post two short assessments regarding the US election–John Meham’s and Tariq Ali’s
Here are my thoughts:
1) I have followed and read Chomsky’s writings and political analysis since the Vietnam War days. I consider Chomsky a political analyst with very few rivals in the contemporary world.
Chomsky comes from an anarchist tradition of Rudolf Rocker and the Spanish POUM and the analytical philosophical tradition begun by Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein. These traditions, together with Chomsky’s creative application of these traditions, have been the wellspring of his pellucid analysis.
Chomsky in the article I sent yesterday argues very cogently about the dangers of Trump being re-elected. In my view, the current American polity, with necessary permutations, can be compared to the immediate period before the fascist takeovers in Italy by Mussolini and Hitler in Germany. Of course, we don’t know what America would look like should Trump win the coming election, but it’s safe to bet that it would be an extremely authoritarian government.
2) Nonetheless, what I find problematic with Chomsky’s Weltanschauung is precisely the philosophical tradition that he identifies with and practices.
I have trained in that tradition during my university studies and still find this tradition very valuable. But I am also quite critical of it, because while it analyses and deconstructs conventional nonsense and charlatanism in all its forms, it fails to provide a concrete strategy for realistic alternatives.
3) And this is where Chomsky’s limitations are apparent in the article I sent yesterday, and are the essence of Chomsky’s empirical strategy. Apart from calling for activism, Chomsky, has no realistic strategy for social change in the United States.
4) The social movements that have sprung up in the US since the Vietnam War have to be analysed critically. Most have been neutralised by the Democratic Party Establishment: this Establishment will have greater difficulties in the future in neutralising the Black Lives Matter movement.
5) This, naturally, brings us into a reflection of what is the American political system and whether it’s reformable.
The United States as a political system is, in essence, a continuation of the slave-holders democracy established in the extremely limited American Revolution of the 18th Century. The constitution this revolution established gives a very limited democracy to the mass of its constituents. To cite two examples: the Supreme Court currently may become the instrument for criminalising abortion and the Electoral College may become the instrument to get Trump ‘elected’.
6) Tariq Ali is coming from a Leninist-Trotskyist tradition reinforced by eco-socialist perspectives. This tradition rejects the possibility that American capitalism and its political parties and institutions can be reformed. It is a tradition that in its realism is the only option for meaningful eco-socialist social change.
7) This brings me to Varoufakis and the Syriza experiment.
I went to the film, Adults in the Room, and the discussion with Varoufakis in February here in Melbourne. After the film, I asked Varoufakis why Syriza did not devise a realistic strategy for breaking away from neoliberalism– to begin with print its own currency, the drahma–and why it failed to prepare for the attack, and intended demise by the Troika, of Syriza, which after all, simply wanted to bring in only social-democratic reforms against the neoliberal scourge. Varoufakis had no answer on that February night, but what clearly emerged from the Syriza experiment was that any trust in bourgeois institutions like the EU or bourgeois foxes like the German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, is a form of political naivety and infantalism.
In fact, I discussed the Syriza experiment with Tariq Ali over dinner when he was here in Melbourne for the Writers Festival in September 2015. Varoufakis had just resigned and Schauble and the Troika were engaging in utmost humiliation and utmost economic sadism towards the Greek people.
I recall asking Tariq: “Why do do you think the Syriza government capitulated to the Troika and failed to carry through the referendum”?
Tariq’s clear and incisive answer confirmed my thoughts: Tsipras lost nerve in the confrontation with Schauble and the rest of the Troika cabal. This was brought into clear relief in the Costas-Gavras film, Adults in the Room, and the naivety of Varoufakis trying to negotiate with the ultra-dogmatic, ruthless, neoliberal capitalist politician like Schauble.
8) What, then, can we conclude about the current political experiment of the Left in Greece and the possibilities its lessons bring to social change in the United States and other countries in the world.
We are currently living in a period of extreme reaction with far-right governments in power in quite a few countries. The neo-fascist Right is facilitated by the neoliberal hegemony. The counterpoint and opposition to this Brown Plague is in supporting and building large social movements like BLM, but this is not enough. The Left has to make a sober assessment and devise a realistic strategy for a social transition beyond capitalism that will result in an eco- socialist polity governed by direct or participatory democracy. This is the quintessential question to be considered today after the defeat of Trump by the American and world Left.
John-Janusz, 10 October 2020
John Meeham: English philosopher:
Tariq Ali on “evil” Donald Trump : “Is he more ‘evil’ than Bush who invaded Iraq and was responsible for the deatyhs of over a million Iraqis and 5 million refugees. Is that ‘better’ than white supremacy.I guess it depends where you live. And Reagan (Clinton and Obama’s favourite)? He launched the contra war and was responsible for numerous deaths in central America. He was the death-squad President! And was a white supremacist, just like Nixon before him. Why do so many US left-liberals forget their history so quickly?” If you vote in the USA, support the Howie Hawkins / Angela Walker Green eco-socialist campaign
Tariq Ali:The ‘debate’, appalling but predictable. Both of them awful and IF Biden loses every liberal finger should be pointed at Obama and his DNC since virtually every other Democrat contender was better than this guy. Trump saying that he saved taxes thanks to Obama/Biden tax laws just about says it all. A classic case of a defective democracy infected by a capitalist cancer. I know its ‘lesser evil’ time again but impossible to support Biden, not even as a rope supports a hanging man.
I guess Trump can claim one victory against the left: the death of a 60 year commitment to independent political action by New Politics magazine.