Rocky Anderson’s Justice Party: A Third Party Alternative?

From 2000 to 2008, Rocky Anderson served two terms as Mayor of Salt Lake City in Utah. A lawyer by profession, Anderson first ran for political office in 1996, as the Democratic nominee for Congress in Utah’s Second Congressional District. He lost the election, winning only 42.4% of the vote, while the Republican candidate, Merrill Cook, won with 55%.

In 1999, Anderson ran for mayor of Salt Lake City, the capital city of one of the most conservative states in the nation, and he won with 60% of the vote. As mayor, Anderson would go on to lead Salt Lake City through the 2002 Olympics. Rocky Anderson and Mitt Romney, who at the time was the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (for the Olympics), formed a working relationship. In 2002, Anderson, the man who would call for the impeachment of George W. Bush on the grounds that he had committed war crimes, endorsed Mitt Romney’s gubernatorial bid in Massachusetts. The following year, Anderson endorsed Romney’s re-election campaign. In other words, he is far from being a long-standing “lefty.”

In August of 2011, amongst speculation that Anderson would be making another run for Congress, the former mayor came out publicly against the Democratic Party and President Obama. Citing the Democrats’ failure to “stand strong” on Iraq, torture, defense spending, health care reform, energy policy, the climate crisis, or the debt ceiling, Anderson made it quite clear that he felt that the Democrats were failing to stand up for “liberal principles.”

It was this perceived failure of the Democratic Party that encouraged Anderson to start what he would call the “Justice Party,” with the promise that it would not be “liberal” only in theory, but “liberal” in deed and manner.

As Marxists we seek to analyze and understand the world as precisely as possible. What matters most to Marxists is the content of a political platform, not the label. Words such as “liberal” and “progressive,” are well and good, but they do not have the same meaning as “socialist,” and have even less to do with “revolutionary socialism.” To espouse “liberal” policies is in practice to be a proponent of the allegedly “kinder, gentler” wing of pro-capitalist politics, the other wing being “conservative.”

Until recently, the Justice Party existed mostly as an idea with a website and a few fully invested volunteers. However, over the last couple of months it has put itself into a position to potentially wage an actual political campaign. The Justice Party has gotten itself on the ballot in Utah and Mississippi so far, and Anderson will be on the ballot in Oregon as the Oregon Progressive Party nominee. It was recently announced in the Justice Party’s newsletter that Anderson had won the primary for the California Peace and Freedom Party, but in the end, that party endorsed Roseanne Barr for president.

According to their most up-to-date Charter and Bylaws, the Justice Party is “hereby formed in accordance with applicable U.S. law and the following Bylaws as a vehicle through which human beings who are both dedicated to the principles of social, economic and environmental justice, and capable of providing leadership in these troubled times may fulfill their duty to humankind.”

In addition, while perusing the Justice Party’s website, one is assured that the Justice Party stands for “real change.” This all sounds nice on paper. But what the charter is vague about is exactly which political policies they will implement in order to fulfill their “duty to humankind.”

The Justice Party is in favor of many positive and appealing things, some of which are broadly in accordance with the WIL’s Program. For example, our program states that we seek to “fully fund and expand our public schools, colleges and universities… End corporate encroachment into the classroom. End tuition fees and forgive student loans. For living grants and life-long learning for all.” For its part, the Justice Party calls for a free four-year college education for all and has a campaign for “college debt independence.”

Nonetheless, the program of the Justice Party is seriously lacking in other important areas. In accordance with Anderson’s “liberal principles,” the Justice Party doesn’t dare touch the issue of the capitalist system itself. The Justice Party addresses many of the symptoms of capitalism, but doesn’t have a correct analysis explaining the root cause of these symptoms. As a result, it is unable to address even the symptoms effectively, let alone the underlying disease.

Given all of this, many socialists might dismiss the Justice Party altogether. However, we should not lose sight of what Anderson’s desertion from the Democratic Party represents. It is clear that Anderson thought he could tap into a layer of discontent that is simmering beneath the surface of society. But the truth is always concrete: is the Justice Party resonating with workers and drawing new sections of the working class into political action, or at the very least, pulling them away from the Republicans and the Democrats?

As of now, the verdict on this front is not so positive. The Justice Party does not have any significant level of support among the population at large, and certainly not from organized labor. This doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon. In effect, the Justice Party is mostly made up of disillusioned Democrats and some well-meaning social and environmental activists.  

Perhaps more important than Anderson himself or the program he defends is the symptomatic relevance of the emergence of the Justice Party at this historical juncture. We should congratulate the Justice Party and those who are attracted to their positions for recognizing many of the real problems that face workers and youth. But it would be a shame if the conversation ended there.

As Marxists we need to patiently explain the need for a socialist solution to the crisis of capitalism, and fight within our unions for a real alternative: a mass labor party built by the organized labor movement itself. Such a party could actually challenge the domination of U.S. politics by the Republicans and Democrats and would welcome the best elements of those who are attracted to the Justice Party.


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