Is Dennis Kucinich an Alternative for U.S. Workers?

Dennis Kucinich

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Millions of U.S. workers and youth have come to reject the inhuman conditions the crisis of capitalism is producing: the War on Iraq, the Katrina disaster, attacks on immigrants, stagnant wages, cuts in social services, the health care crisis, and on and on. On the basis of events, consciousness is changing, starting with the most advanced and active layer of the workers and youth, and is increasingly directed toward a break with the capitalist system and its representatives.

It is in this context that Dennis Kucinich, a six time congressional incumbent from Ohio, who is now in his second run for U.S. president, has generated interest among those disaffected with the “business as usual” politicians. Kucinich presents himself as a “progressive alternative”, and to his credit he stands out favorably on many issues when compared to the rest of the mainstream candidates. He has been a vocal and consistent opponent of the War on Iraq from the very outset, calling for a full withdrawal of U.S. troops. He has said that if he wins the presidency, his “first acts in office will be to cancel NAFTA and the WTO”. He is also the only presidential candidate who openly opposes for-profit health care in favor of a national single-payer system.

But how does Kucinich propose that these issues be addressed, on what class basis? Is he in favor of working class independence and the formation of a party of, by, and for working people, or does he restrict the debate to working within the narrow limits of the Democratic Party? What position should workers and youth take when it comes to Kucinich?

DFL LogoKucinich’s main campaign message is not to break with the two party system, the system of two corporate parties with virtually identical interests. Rather, his message is focused on the need to “fix the system”. And how does he suggest that this be done? By calling on everyone to “gather under one big tent”, i.e. to come under the sway of the Democratic Party, not to break from but to come closer to the bosses’ political party.

When asked if he would possibly run as an independent if he failed to win the Democratic nomination for President, he said: “I’m a Democrat. I’m attracting people to vote – disaffected Democrats, Greens, Libertarians.”

This is exactly what happened during the 2004 elections, when the Democrats used a “bait and switch” tactic to draw in anti-war voters with candidates like Dean and Kucinich, only to be told they would have to accept the “lesser evil” and pro-war John Kerry. After bowing out of the 2004 race and giving support to Kerry, Kucinich said: “If there is room for me in the party and the Kerry-Edwards campaign, there is certainly room for Ralph Nader and for his supporters.”

One can understand the sincere desire for “unity” among those who oppose Bush and his policies. But Kucinich’s insistence on perpetuating the illusion that the Democratic Party can offer a way forward for workers and youth is in fact a major stumbling block on the road to real political and consequently, social change. Kucinich isn’t simply advocating “progressive reforms” – he is actively working to prevent any viable alternatives to the two bosses’ parties. As he put it: “The Democratic Party created third parties by running to the middle. What I’m trying to do is to go back to the big tent so that everyone who felt alienated could come back through my candidacy.”

And again: “Trust in the Democratic Party is on the line. What does it say if only one month after the voters gave us control of Congress on the issue of Iraq, that we turn around and say we will keep funding the war? What kind of credibility will our party have if we say we are opposed to the war, but continue to fund it? … There is still time to rescue the people’s confidence in the Democratic Party and their trust in government.”

FDRIt must be remembered that the Democratic Party is not, nor has it ever been a workers’ party. Many believe that the FDR years changed this, however, as Kucinich campaign chairperson Dick Distlehorst pointed out to an audience of Kucinich supporters: “Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal saved capitalism from ruin and Dennis Kucinich can do the same thing now for the same reasons. Kucinich has the ideas, programs and platforms to save capitalism from our own excesses.” In fact, point number seven of Kucinich’s campaign platform is “Saving Capitalism.”

Any hope of reforming the Democratic Party or of creating a “kinder, gentler” capitalism is utopian at best. Even with his modest reformist ideas, Kucinich would never be allowed to lead the Democratic Party. The fate of the even more “moderate” Howard Dean within the Party is instructive to those who would seek to reform the Democrats. Rather, the party tops keep Kucinich and those like him in their purposeful place: to keep discontent within “safe” channels in order to prevent a rupture with the two-party system, to prevent the creation of a class-independent party of labor in the U.S.

Because it is not enough to simply moralize for the “benefit” of working people; it is vital that workers act independently as a class in defending our own interests. If Kucinich truly wanted to defend the interests of working people, he would break completely with the Democrats, and join with working people and the labor movement to build a party that represents our interests.

Simply put, the Democrats are a party of big business, and they cannot defend both our interests and the interests of the corporations at the same time. On all fundamentals, they are virtually indistinguishable from the Republicans. For example, the Democratic Party Platform, adopted in 2004 by the DNC, starts off with: “Defeating Terrorism,” and continues with points such as “Strengthening Our Military” and “Strengthening Home Land Security”. This virtually mirrors the Republican Party platform. It reflects the interests of the party tops and was not debated by the “rank and file”, which has zero influence or control over the party. Those with the real influence are those that contribute millions of dollars in campaign donations.

UN ForcesOn the question of the Iraq War, Kucinich has called for an immediate troop withdrawal and has consistently voted against war budgets. But at the same time he has contradictorily called for “Iraqi sovereignty” while wanting to replace U.S. troops with troops from the U.N. In his own words: “I will bring our troops home quickly. I have a plan to work with the United Nations to replace U.S. troops with U.N. peacekeepers.”

But this “solution” merely substitutes one occupying force for another. The U.N. is not an impartial body where all nations are equal. It is a body controlled by the big powers, above all, the United States. In fact, the replacement of U.S. by U.N. troops would be one of the better possible outcomes for U.S. imperialism as the war is already a total loss. Outsourcing the occupation to a number of other nations would help to lessen the weight of the calamity from Washington. The presence of troops in blue helmets instead of in camouflage helmets would not solve any of the massive problems facing the Iraqi people. During the twelve year period between the first Gulf War and current war in Iraq, the U.N. oversaw and supported routine aerial bombardments and a starvation embargo that led to the deaths of literally millions of children. Now Kucinich is calling on this imperialist body to play a “progressive” role.

Although he has called for a “Department of Peace,” Kucinich has also said he “Supports a strong and efficient military.” He “believes that the current practice of procuring ever more costly weapons has the effect of weakening military readiness. As the cost of new weapons systems rise, the cost of merely replacing aging weapons with new ones becomes prohibitively expensive. As a result, U.S. military forces shrink, while they become at the same time more expensive to maintain and more prone to failure.”

And although he has been vocal about his opposition to the Iraq war, he did in fact vote for the Authorization for Use of Military Force, a joint resolution passed by both houses giving Bush the authority to use “necessary and appropriate force” against whomever he determined had “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the September 11th terror attacks. As much as he may now want to deny it, Kucinich, the “peace candidate”, voted for the war in Afghanistan and played his part in making it happen.

Also indicative of Kucinich’s liberal bourgeois world view is the position he has taken on abortion. As a Congressman, he held one of the most anti-choice voting records. He voted to criminalize partial birth abortions, to deny U.S. servicewomen the right even to pay for their own abortions overseas, to prevent the District of Columbia from funding abortions for poor women with non-federal dollars, and even against health coverage of basic contraception for federal employees. In 1996 he stated that he “did not support the substance of Roe v. Wade.” Now that he is running for office as a “progressive”, he has changed many of his anti-choice positions, yet is still against access to abortion services for low income working women as he is against federal funding of abortion procedures.

People can change. It is not outside the realm of possibilities that Kucinich, if not aware already, could come to realize the reactionary role he plays in helping to keep workers tied to the Democratic Party. It may be that he has the best of intentions, and his many supporters are certainly sincere. But good intentions are not enough. The main points that Kucinich speaks in favor of that are of interest to working people simply illustrate that working people urgently need our own political party.


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