I agree with Rand Wilson and Peter Olney’s argument in Bernie Is Right: Unite to Dump Trump as far as it goes. But I think the entire GOP, not just Trump, represents a threat to democracy as we know it. So, we need to expand our framework and focus on beating Republicans, not Trump, making it clear that our support is for the Democratic Party, not Biden. And make no mistake; if we fail in November 2020, the GOP is determined that we will not be given a second chance. Further, I argue that we need to have a strategy that sees beyond the current Democratic Party.
GOP aims to go back to Jim Crow
Trump and the GOP aim to destroy the social institutions that were created in response to peoples’ needs. They aim to eliminate Obamacare and Medicare. They wish to privatize the school system. They are working to destroy the postal system. They would eliminate all public regulation of private industry. They are working to eliminate public accountability of elected officials and their appointees. They are doing what they can to eliminate labor unions.
Left unopposed they would return the country to the era of child labor with no social security, no public health care, no public schools and no safety net, with the fossil fuel industry unregulated and white supremacy strengthened. The GOP wants to bring the U.S. back to the years before the New Deal, to the era of the Robber Barons and Jim Crow.
There is no meaningful difference between Trump and the GOP. To make a distinction between Trump and the GOP plays into their hands. Trump can focus attention on his behavior, lies and distractions, while the GOP carries out an agreed plan in the absence of media scrutiny. The problem of focusing just on Trump can be seen best in the television programming of CNN and MSNBC. It consists of wall to wall coverage of Trump’s actions and little to no coverage of the daily effects of GOP policies on the lives of working people in this country.
By focusing on Trump, we focus on behaviors rather than policies and we focus on the President and not the Party that is with him every step of the way. The GOP’s march to autocratic rule and the destruction of social institutions marks a qualitative change in government and a step toward fascism.
Win the White House and both houses of Congress
Our 2020 goal is not simply to replace Trump with Biden; it is to replace the GOP in the White House and win Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. By framing the struggle in this way we accomplish several things. We focus on policies, not personalities. We make a distinction between the two parties based on political issues. We don’t allow the GOP to use Trump as a shield. We don’t allow Biden to define the Democratic Party. We do not have to defend every act of Biden’s, past or present.
We recognize that the Democratic Party includes views far in advance of Biden’s. It includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ro Khanna, Rashida Talib, Ilhan Omar Pramila Jayapal and Jaamal Bowman. These are the people who, together with Bernie Sanders, are leading the fight for M4A, the Green New Deal, a $15 minimum wage, against institutional racism, against voter suppression, for immigration reform, for student loan forgiveness, for mail-in ballots for all, for ranked choice voting, and housing for all. Putting the Democratic Party back in power brings these people closer to institutional power.
Further, the present Democratic campaign is so weak, so lacking in ideas and the power to inspire that there is a real possibility that the Democrats will lose in November. (Remember that even in deep blue Massachusetts, a weak candidate and tepid Party effort resulted in the election of Scott Brown as a GOP Senator!) The likelihood is that without the ideas, energy and enthusiasm of the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party many young people, many people of color, and many working-class people will not vote. We can participate in this campaign as advocates for the Democratic Party knowing that we are likely to be essential for its victory over the GOP.
Thinking beyond November, we need to see our role within the Democratic Party as that of political revolutionaries. Bernie has always said this. Left progressives (Our Revolutionaries, DSA members, and communards of any stripe) who are politically active within the Democratic Party need to struggle against the continued domination of the current leadership. This leadership can be characterized as “neo-liberal”, as elites, as the corporate wing of the Party, or as members of the Professional-Managerial Class (PMC). The Democratic Party is broad enough to include both working class forces and the PMC, but it will not advance a consistent pro-working-class agenda until its leadership includes working-class people and people of color and it cuts loose from the bonds of corporate money.
Because the struggle to transform the leadership of the Democratic Party may not succeed it is necessary to have a parallel strategy to form an alternative party in the future. The biggest challenge to the success of a new party strategy is the entrenched two-party system. Under this system left third parties are always going to be spoilers, taking votes from the Democrats and allowing the GOP to win with a plurality.
To change this, we need to be successful advocates of ranked choice voting. Winning ranked choice voting will advance democracy in all elections and make it dramatically easier to participate as independent party adherents in the future. At the local level the struggle against PMC dominance means getting money out of politics; refusing to support candidates who accept money from PACs, developers and real estate dealers.
Since relaunching in 2017, Organizing Upgrade has served as a key forum for left organizers to engage in strategic dialogue. We bring organizers together across our movements to analyze the landscape and identify key points of alignment, debate, and intervention. Our editorial collective is an all-volunteer team.
This summer, we are launching a fundraising campaign with the goal of raising at least $20,000 to improve our website for readers, purchase technology to expand our audio-visual offerings (including a new podcast series coming soon!), and to expand our reach to bring new organizers into our community. As we face a series of profound and on-going crises, we believe that now more than ever, our mission of creating space for strategic dialogue is essential.
Timing is everything
Until we have ranked choice voting we must recognize that the need for a truly progressive party does not mean that it is always the right time to create one. We have to recognize each historical moment. Think about these decision points:
*Germany 1932: Communist and Social Democratic Parties fail to form a united front to stop Hitler at a time when Nazis were supported by only 33% of voters.
*U.S. 1948: The Progressive Party, with former VP Henry Wallace as candidate, gets less than 3% of vote, even trailing Dixiecrats as a third party.
*U.S. 1965-72: New Left, Black Power and Women’s Movement all arise, yet McGovern is crushed in 1972 with no substantial organized left organization surviving.
*U.S. 2000: Nader runs as a Green Party candidate against Al Gore and George Bush (plus Supreme Court), getting less than 3% of vote and arguably facilitates Gore’s defeat.
*U.S. 2008-16: Tea Party slowly transforms the GOP and prepares for Trump.
*U.S. March 2020: Democratic voters in South Carolina and Michigan overwhelmingly support Biden, not Sanders.*
*U.S. June 2020: Voters in the New York Democratic Primary elect progressive, Bernie-supported, non-corporate candidates.
Importance of local races
One step that local organizations can take is to identify and strengthen the political profiles of candidate who can compete in local elections. This is an important lesson from the Incorruptibles (a successful left political group that began in California about ten years ago).
We must go beyond what has been the standard model for electing good candidates. That model is to get a bunch of like-minded people together; wait until candidates declare they are running; choose the best of the candidates; work hard to get them elected; and when they do something you don’t like, get angry.
An alternative and better strategy starts with a coalition of like-minded activists and identifies potential candidates from within the group. “The more that candidates are allowed to pre-identify and grow before a race, the more success groups and slates have in getting wins… (training) members in leadership skills and (helping) each candidate with their campaign… allows (the selection of) potential candidates who already have a proven track record of aligning with (your) policy goals, and to work with them as they consider a run for office.”
Local progressive groups should implement this model to prepare for elections in 2021 and beyond.
We must avoid a scenario in which annual crises repeatedly delay an advance to a Party with leaders who are working class, female and people of color. The political revolution needs its own party. That should not be debatable. To succeed we have to precisely characterize the current political situation and let this guide us to acts that advance our agenda and avoid those that are meaningless “acts of conscience” and political purity.