Midterm​ ​Elections: Voter Consciousness​ and the Need for a Labor Party

We republish below the transcript of a speech delivered by​ WIL member Martin Michaels ​on ​November 1 in Minneapolis, MN​,​ at the March Against​ ​Corruption.​ ​

mmI’d like to thank the organizers, the speakers, and the participants in today’s March Against Corruption. My name is Martin Michaels and I’m a​ member of the Workers International League, a socialist tendency in the labor movement active across the US.

It’s a pleasure to be here at this most important time to speak about corruption, or that which we perceive as the rampant corruption that exists in today’s society.

I’d like to open with a well-known saying popularized in the antiwar community that simply goes, “I’m already against the next war.” I like it because it offers keen insight into the tragic inevitability of imperialistic atrocities committed in the name of liberty and national security. Its logic can easily be applied to the inevitability of financial crises, the excesses, contradictions, and what some might simply call “corruption” that exists today under capitalism.

In this sense, one could easily say, “I’m already against the next financial collapse . . . I’m already against the next Bernie Madoff . . . I’m already against the next sub prime mortgage crisis . . . the next bailout for Wall Street . . . you name the issue and it’s most certainly applicable.

History of course repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. This repetition and inevitability of events speaks to the avarice and abhorrent behavior in the name of profit that is inbuilt into​ capitalism itself—behavior that is not merely an externality or​ distasteful byproduct that can be wiped away with the right​ combination of legislative reform.

The malaise that generally grips the United States today is testament to this fact. As we enter midterm elections this week, Congress has an impressive 14% approval rating—up from 9% around the time of the government shutdown. As I tell my friends, I think root canals and Minnesota winters enjoy higher approval ratings!

President Obama, who was arguably the furthest left Democrat in the Senate before being elected, has shown his true colors by bombing no fewer than 7 countries during his two terms while expanding the Bush administration’s extrajudicial drone campaign. Closer to home, the President has given his unequivocal support for NSA spying and has clearly placed the interests of Wall St. over Main St. in his backing austerity and bailouts for financial institutions that caused a​ financial calamity roughly 70 times larger in scale than the Savings​ and Loan crisis of the early 1990’s, a crisis which, by the way, has​ not led to a single major arrest or jail sentence (to the best of my​ knowledge). A man well-deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize, indeed!

We’re told every day that recovery is in full swing; that the worst of 2008 is long behind us. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Dow Jones Industrial average reaches new highs and Fortune 500 CEOs​ earn, on average $12 million/year (not including extra perks like bonuses, stock options, paid retreats, etc.) (AFL-CIO stats). This pay is obscene given the fact that many of the people who work in fast food restaurants, pick vegetables, clean offices, and make the​ wonderful products and services that we enjoy are living in poverty, often times forced to use food stamps and other forms of government assistance just to scrape by.

Even the so-called future white collar workers face major​ ​difficulties. With dimming job prospects, students have accumulated​ more than $1 trillion in debt just to get a college education and have​ a shot at getting a job. After graduation, many are working part-time,​ or minimum wage jobs, unable to find a position in their field that​ pays remotely a living wage.

Many have illusions that Hillary Clinton or perhaps Elizabeth Warren can do what President Obama has clearly been unable to do. Rest assured, these candidates may have lofty rhetoric, but like their​ predecessors they will encounter the barriers and irreconcilable class contradictions that more often than not put the interests of the average American at odds with the attitudes and legislation of Congress and the Presidency.

In a battle between boss and worker, rich and poor, Congress, as it’s presently constituted, will take the side of the rich. Simply follow the money of donors and you will have a clear idea as to who has the ear of politicians on both sides of the aisle.

In this sense, we have to be clear—the Democratic and Republican “parties” are neither democratic, nor are they actually political parties; they are fundraising machines principally supported by and run in the interest of corporations and wealthy individuals.

At every turn, rather than curtailing runaway campaign spending, the Supreme Court has consistently sought to expand free spending, essentially creating an auction block where candidates are bought and sold to the highest bidder.

Contrary to popular opinion, legalized bribery has been the order of the day for quite some time. Back in 1886, SCOTUS established a dreaded precedent in its Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railway decision, supporting the absurd notion that “corporations are people”—more than 128 years before the now-infamous Citizens United​ decision.

Along the way there has been Buckley v. Valeo (1976), which declared that money is speech, and more recently this year, the McCuthchen V. FEC decision that eliminated limits on individual donations to political campaigns.

The auction house is clearly open, and both the Democrats and Republicans are lining up for their share. This isn’t surprising given a cursory glance at the state under capitalism, as it arose in the interests of the bourgeoisie to protect private property. The​ judiciary, the police, army, prisons, and yes, the Congress​ historically arose to protect the interests of the ruling class,​ making the working class subordinate to the vagaries of the​ bourgeoisie.

The state is not, as some suggest (and as outward appearances) may seem—an impartial mechanism, or arbiter, used to run society, for the improvement of society. It’s with this understanding that we​ should dismiss spurious claims to ending “crony capitalism” or to​ creating a more benevolent form of capitalism. It’s an impossibility​ given the inseparable wedding of capitalism to the state and all the​ mechanisms that allow it to continue, unfettered.

Knowing this, we should not have illusions in any particular​ candidate, nor any party subservient to Wall Street. Toward that end,​ the 2014 midterm elections promise to be an auction not unlike​ previous ones where the Koch Brothers, members of ALEC, and others​ operating​ under the guise of Political Action Committee (PAC) advocacy​ will​ ​launch their best efforts to buy legislators—many of whom have​ already declared their open support for voter ID laws, right to work​ legislation, the privatization of public schools, austerity, and other​ policies that undermine workers rights.

Think about the insanity of our electoral system. As 50 million​ Americans live in poverty, nearly $1 billion has already been spent to support candidates running in House races and nearly $500 million spent on Senate races (Center for Responsive Politics). Remember, this​ is a midterm election when donors and voters are typically less interested than during a Presidential election.

Needless to say, this clearly subverts the voices of the average American to the interests of corporations and wealthy individuals.

Things, however, are not hopeless. Far from it. I would not be here speaking today, nor would I be politically active, if I didn’t think that we, the people, had the power to dramatically change the status quo.

The salient question of course is, “Where do we go from here?”

Campaign finance reform proposed by groups like Move To Amend are​ outwardly promising, but any reform that seeks to limit campaign spending across the board will inherently be reactionary because of the same spending limits it places on the labor movement, the only movement capable of changing the course of U.S. politics.

Although unionization rates are near an all-time low at roughly 11 percent (USBLS), unions with their resources, organization, and 12 million strong membership and network of support would pose a formidable challenge to the two parties of big business. It’s time for labor to break from the Democrats and begin to build an independent labor party that will fight for the interests of the working class.

Some will say that this is implausible, that the two-party system is ironclad and no third party could ever pose a challenge to the two property parties. Millions will continue to vote for the Democrats and Republicans this year and in 2016. How can we expect anything to possibly change?

Indeed, public consciousness often lags behind material conditions, but when it catches up, it catches up with a bang. In the not-so-distant past we’ve seen the rise of Occupy Wall Street, labor struggles in Wisconsin against Act 10, the Chicago Teachers strike, Moral Mondays, and the burgeoning fast food strikes that all demonstrate it’s not only possible, it’s absolutely necessary for the working class to undertake this kind of action.

Support for a third party has never been higher. 58% of Americans say that there is a need for a viable third party, according to a Gallup Poll released in September. We’ve already seen this sentiment express​ itself in small but noticeable ways. Independent, labor-supported​ candidates nearly swept the city council elections in Lorain County,​ Ohio, last year, winning 24 of 26 seats. Meanwhile, socialist candidates are making serious inroads in local elections across the country.

Clearly, it’s not some abstract theory that’s only possible on paper. Running independent, labor-supported candidates is happening, and the​ list of victories grows longer with each passing election cycle.

A labor party of course is not a panacea in and of itself, and I believe that we must commit ourselves to struggling for democratic socialism where workers own and democratically decide the direction of​ society through a planned economy. Onward to a mass party of labor!​ ​Onward to socialism!

If you agree with these ideas I encourage you to join the Workers International League.​ Please stop by our table, we’d like to meet you and continue the​ discussion. Thanks again for attending.

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