The 2018 midterm elections are already upon us and 2020 will be here before we know it. Although the left and labor leaders seem to have blanked 2016 from their memories, the takeaways from that earthshaking political cycle are clear: 1) People are fed up with the status quo; 2) Interest in socialism is skyrocketing; 3) You can’t fight evil with more evil. How can we combine all of this to fight and defeat Trump and everything he represents?
The Democrats’ failure to beat Trump the first time around was a resounding condemnation of their bankruptcy and a clear indication of their weakening grip on the minds of millions. Sanders’s insurgent campaign was a historic opening and missed opportunity to build a new first party, and we must draw the necessary conclusions. Because the fight to break the stranglehold of the two-party system is far from over. Poll after poll shows that the youth are abandoning the Democrats in droves and looking for an alternative. But they need an audacious lead that veers sharply away from the well-worn path of defeatist reformism.
The Democrats cannot decisively defeat Trumpism because they are part and parcel of the status quo. Even if they manage to eke out a victory because they are slightly less hated than Trump, where does that leave the workers and youth? Right back at square one, without a party of our own, still enduring the exploitation and oppression of capitalism. Fomenting illusions in a capitalist party, no matter how “temporary,” is to sow confusion at best. At worst, it is to deliver the workers bound and gagged to the Altar of Mammon. It is not for nothing that the Democrats are known as the graveyard where all progressive movements go to die.
The Democrats are a former slaveholders’ party morphed into the liberal capitalist party of Wall Street. They control most of the major cities in the US, along with their police, including the notoriously racist and reactionary NYPD, Chicago PD, LAPD, and others. As Malcolm X knew all-too-well, “The Liberal is more deceitful, more hypocritical, than the Conservative.” He preferred those who were open about their reactionary politics to those who hide behind saccharine smiles and cynical promises.
We must differentiate between the honest anti-Trump sentiment of millions and the cynical manipulations of the Democrats to harness that anger in their own interests. But this can be achieved without conceding an iota of confidence in that party! In what alternate universe is it “tactical” or “strategic” to subsume the interests of the workers to the interests of those who live off our unpaid labor? The working class can rely only on its own forces and organizations in the struggle to change society. Trying to fight the capitalists with their own bought-and-paid-for party is like asking the enemy general where you should line up your troops.
Political parties and a state designed to defend the interests of the capitalists cannot represent the interests of the workers. V.I. Lenin was merciless in his criticism of those who gave left cover to the capitalists: “There are none so deaf as those who will not hear. And the very thing the opportunists of present-day Social-Democracy do not want to hear about is the destruction of state power, the amputation of the parasitic excrescence.”
The pressures of capitalist society bear down mercilessly on us all. But instead of impressionistically reacting to events and drifting aimlessly towards the shore of capitulation, a leadership worthy of the name must anticipate the broad course of the struggle, stand firm against these pressures, and cut through the fog of distractions. This can only be achieved if we are grounded in Marxist theory and filled with confidence in our class.
Capitalist austerity aims to drive us back to the conditions of 100 years ago. But similar conditions inevitably lead to similar responses. As tens of thousands of workers from Kentucky to Oklahoma, Arizona to California have shown, the only way to fight back is to organize and mobilize. These inspiring movements are just the beginning of the beginning of a reversal of decades of stagnation and inaction. But a willingness to fight is not enough to take on the entire capitalist system. If the current crop of labor leaders refuses to break with the capitalists in the workplace and the voting booth, they will eventually be pushed aside by leaders who will.
“Anyone but Trump” is lesser evilism by another name. A break from the failed policies of the past is long overdue. In Dante’s Inferno, the words “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here” are engraved above the Gates of Hell. The same can be said of the Democratic Party. “For or against” a decisive break from the party of the Clintons, Obamas, and Pelosis is a litmus test and line in the sand for the left. Neither capitalism nor the two-party system can be reformed—they must be rendered obsolete by the working class fighting for revolution through a mass socialist party.