The Democratic Party

One of the most important points in the WIL program is the need for the working class and its unions to break with the capitalist Democratic Party.  The Democratic Party will always defend the interests of big business before it does anything to help the working class. That many people had or still have illusions in them is understandable.  But their track record speaks for itself, and after decades of betrayals and set-backs, the time is more than ripe for such a break.  But the union bureaucrats have no interest in such a break – they are very happy with their cushy jobs and ties with the Democrats.  However, more and more, the working class as a whole and the trade union rank and file in particular are realizing that these folks' interests and their own simply do not coincide. It is therefore imperative that we dispel any and all illusions in the Democrats' ability to improve the condition of the working class.   We workers can rely only on our own forces, strength, methods, and organizations to improve our lives and those of our families and loved ones.

It often appears that in our “two party system”, the pendulum swings endlessly back and forth between the “right” Republicans, and the “left” Democrats. On the surface this seems true – without any real alternatives, many votes are often votes "against" one party to the benefit of the other party who actually has a chance to win. But this is not a simple, mechanical process. This process does not proceed linearly, but is affected by all sorts of factors – the economy, the media, the world situation, etc. The fortunes and leadership of the capitalist parties are in the final analysis a reflection of the conditions of the capitalist system itself. When capitalism in the US was still a mighty force for the development of the means of production, the Republicans gave us Abraham Lincoln. When after WWII the US was the master of the capitalist world, riding the greatest economic boom in history, the Democrats produced John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. True, these men were defenders of capitalism just as their counterparts are today, but these were men of a certain resolve, vision, and character (at least from their class point of view), who could at least run their own system. A far cry from the semi-literate Bush and the incompetent Gore! The quality of the political leadership of the ruling class is a reflection of the quality of their declining system – corrupt, ignorant, lazy, and lackluster.

As we explained in US Perspectives 2002: “Disillusionment with the two bourgeois parties is evidenced by the dismal voter turnout and the nearly identical poll results of the last presidential election, when neither party was able to distinguish itself enough to gain the vote of a clear majority of the population… Had Al Gore simply promised to raise the minimum wage, repeal anti-worker legislation, implement a nationalized health care system, massively fund public education, etc. he would have won the overwhelming support of workers across America. But he was unable to do any of this, tied as he is to the capitalist class. Instead he parroted the positions of George W. Bush, and ended up losing the election through a combination of stupidity and less than democratic ballot counting and behind the scenes maneuvers, losing even in states where he should have won hands down.”

Millions of people have literally ceased to be seriously counted as potential voters, as the hue and cry about third-party candidates like Nader “stealing votes” shows. When Democrats and Republicans lose elections, they often blame third-party candidates for "taking away votes from them". No matter that there are millions of other eligible voters from which to gain support – they see the election as an effort to win a majority out of just 40-50 percent of the population. This shows that the vast majority of the population does not see a real alternative, and that when the media talks about “the issues which concern voters”, they are speaking only of a small segment of society – generally the better-off layers who have the time and money to worry about this sort of thing.

Along with the homogenization of the two main capitalist parties, which on all fundamental issues are in agreement, there is an increasing polarization in society generally between those who believe in the system, and feel that the traditional parties can make a difference in their lives, and those who increasingly feel disenfranchised, marginalized, and disillusioned with the entire system. It is just a fraction of the 40-50 percent of the eligible electorate who vote which is deciding who will control the government.

As Marxists we have no illusions whatsoever in the Democratic Party which presents itself as the “kinder gentler” face of US capitalism. They are tied hand and foot to the capitalist class, and will never represent the interests of working people. They may put up resistance on various issues of minor importance, but they will never in a million years side against capital in favor of the working class. They operate entirely within the boundaries of bourgeois democracy – that is, democracy for the rich and powerful. This so-called "center of the road" is in fact a toll road controlled by the capitalist class. Ultimately they wholeheartedly endorse the capitalist system, and serve only to deceive the masses with the illusion that things can improve under this economic system. The Democrats have moved so far to the “center” (not that they were ever very far to the left), that they are indistinguishable from their supposed ideological opponents. Even ultra-Democrat James Carvel maintains that during the 2002 campaign, they did not differentiate themselves from the Republicans in any way. If you are one of the few people who actually voted, why bother voting for the “opposition” when their politics are virtually the same as those already in power? As the saying goes, why change horses in midstream? Both are for the “war on terror” and Iraq, are marionettes of the capitalist class and support corporate welfare with no mention of universal healthcare, etc. Bush is doing a fine job at pursuing the war (a lot of bellicose talk with few casualties as of yet), so why not let him and his party get on with it and see how things go?

However, despite their current ineptitude, and the fact that the masses in effect rejected them in the 2002 election, the Democrats remain a powerful tool for the ruling class. In the absence of a traditional mass party of labor, the ruling class will try to use the Democrats and their historic connection with the AFL-CIO to derail any movement of the workers. At the present time, however, it appears that the ruling class prefers to use the much more overtly aggressive policies of Bush and his clique. But this will not last for very long. What the ruling class fails to take into consideration at this point is the fact that the American working class is still fresh and undefeated – they will move at a certain stage. There is tremendous discontent beneath the surface. This is what they did with Bill Clinton, when dissatisfaction with the Reagan years was growing. It is true that historically, due to pressure from the masses and on the basis of the post-war economic boom the Democrats were forced to grant some concessions to the working class. They lived off this reputation for decades, but their true face has now been shown, with Clinton passing some of the most anti-working class legislation in decades. He did the dirty work for the capitalist class – albeit with a charming smile on his face. Although their reputation is now in a shambles, their fortunes will be revived for a time at a certain stage when the capitalists can no longer rule openly through Bush and co.

In what is essentially a one party system with two different faces, it is inevitable that there will be a swing back to the Democrats in the future. But that won't last long either. Lenin was fond of saying that “life teaches”. Most people do not learn from books or theory, but from the school of hard knocks. And there are plenty of hard knocks in store for the working class as long as capitalism is allowed to continue. In the convulsive period which we have entered on a world scale, there are massive shocks and changes being prepared, especially in the heart of world capitalism. The monotonous swinging back and forth between the two parties is coming to an end. Sudden, sharp changes are on the order of the day.

Most working people do not like Bush and the Republicans, but they don't like what the Democrats have to offer either. Millions do not really believe the old “worker friendly” lie any longer, and expressed their discontent by staying away from the polls in 2002. But all the same, Democrats ended with half the governorships, including those in the large industrial states of Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania. They also held onto the governorship in California, the nation’s most populous state, despite polls showing Gov. Gray Davis was highly unpopular. This shows that in many urban areas, despite the continued betrayals of the Democrats, the masses are still not about to let the Bush clique gain more power. It is interesting also to recall the example of Jesse Ventura's gubernatorial victory in Minnesota in 1998. When presented with what at least on the surface appeared to be a real change from the run of the mill “Republicrat” candidates, voter turnout was over 60 percent, and he won in what was then an astonishing upset. So the question we must ask ourselves is, what kind of alternative are working people looking for?

Clearly, the working class is looking for a class solution to their problems. What is needed then is a clear lead – a class analysis of the problems facing working people, and a concrete plan of action. The trade union leadership does not help the situation at all by clinging to their traditional support of the Democrats, and some unions have even supported the Republicans! In the struggle between the PMA and the ILWU dockworkers, the only political guidance the workers were given by their “leaders” was to vote Democrat! Never mind that California Democrat Diane Feinstein was actually encouraging Bush to invoke the anti-worker Taft-Hartley Act against the locked-out workers (note – they were not even on strike but had been locked out by the bosses). Why? Because her husband is in the shipping business. What working people need is a clear class alternative which unambiguously poses the question of workers' democratic control over the running of society – let those who produce the wealth, democratically decide what to do with that wealth. What is needed is a mass party of labor armed with a program for the socialist transformation of society.

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