[Marxism] Voting by the U.S. Left--and the main stategicgoalof2004

Marvin Gandall marvgandall at rogers.com
Thu Feb 26 09:55:34 MST 2004

Mark Lause wrote (Wednesday, February 25, 2004 10:14 AM):

> I'd be pleasantly surprised if Marv or anyone else can offer some
> coherent arguments as to why they think the Democratic Party is either
> salvageable or why they think the Democratic Party can do anything for
> the working people...other than not being Republican.
> ...but let's not hold our breaths.
I don't know why you think I'd shy away from trying to answer your
concern, Mark. I haven't anywhere said or implied that the Democratic
party is "salvageable" - ie. that it harbours the potential to radically
change power and property. If fact, I've said in several posts just the
opposite: that in a deep social crisis, it would develop a left wing and
that, if the crisis progressed far enough, the left would split and form
the basis of a new mass-based third party. In fact, the left might not
even split first; the right wing of the British Labour party split in
the early 80's when it became alarmed about the capture of the party by
the "Bennite" left.

I'm aware of the conservative nature of the DP's current leadership and
policies, and behaviour while in office. I see social democratic parties
the same way.

If I don't appear to be sufficiently agitated, it's because I view the
leadership of the Kerrys and Blairs and Shroeders - and the programs
they stand on - as an expression of the period and the stability of the
system. The commonplace denunciations of their "perfidy" - which come
from more than a few disillusioned liberals as well as angry radicals -
borrows more from the worldview and vocabulary of morality and religion
which defines personalities and struggles in terms of "good" and "evil"
than from materialism.

What interests me most about these parties - as I also thought I'd made
pretty clear in previous posts - is not their leaders and programs, but
their trade union and social movement base. If the labour,
environmental, antiwar, black, Latino, womens' and other movement
activists and the constituencies they represent weren't in the
Democratic party, I'd have no more interest in the DP than the other
parties, and wouldn't think it necessary to raise the subject on the

To avoid further misunderstanding, let me also say that I accept there's
not much political difference between the Democratic presidential
contenders and Bush - although there are obvious differences of
character, understanding, and ability. Even President Kucinich (and, if
I may so, President Camejo) would have to govern within the parameters
set by the bond markets and the "bipartisan consensus" in economics and
foreign policy - or they would never be allowed to govern. It's equally
likely that a second term Bush, the adventure in Iraq having gone awry,
will govern like a Democratic multilateralist in foreign policy, and
that a President Kerry, faced with a soaring deficit, will attack
spending programs with a vigour indistinguishable from the Republicans.

But the constraints on each are not only at the top - although in this
period these are decisive. Kerry would also have to take the Democratic
party membership into account in the same way Bush is tethered to his
rural, conservative Republican base. I'd be very surprised if the trade
union and social movement activists passively accept the deep cutbacks
which Alan Greenspan signalled only yesterday are coming. I think they'd
be much less inclined to accept them from a Democratic president who has
raised their expectations in the full flush of an election victory, than
they would in a demoralized state from a Republican party over which
they don't have any possibility of influencing, beyond demonstrations. I
know others would say these movements would be more easily "coopted" by
a Democratic president, and I woudn't discount that possibility, but I
don't lean towards it.

We can't know for certain how deep the cuts will be and how strong a
response they will evoke among the Democratic ranks, but it does point
to why I think serious divisions will appear in the Democratic and
social-democratic parties if there is a sharp enough deterioration in
the living standards of their members.

The Kerrys, Blairs and Schroeders - and the policies they represent -
are suitable to a system which is still delivering growth, albeit at
times sluggish, and where official unemployment hovers around 5%, albeit
masking the hidden unemployed. Their telegenic personalities and
administrative skills would be less suitable, however, to a period when
the tasks would be the opposite: when radical measures would be required
to confront a failing capitalist system, where growth, jobs, prices, and
incomes were all falling.

Such a scenario, of course, would be reminiscent of the Great
Depression. That was the last time we witnessed the growth of left-wing
tendencies in the unions and the Democratic party and the parallel
growth of left-wing parties and groups outside of it. The postwar
economic upturn put paid to these developments, and world capitalism has
enjoyed a long boom since then, although it hasn't, of course,
eliminated the inequalities and business cycles which are inherent in
it. I think all of our analyses should begin with an understanding of
the present period, rather than the - frankly, outdated - analyses,
programs, and overheated expectations which originated in a period of
worldwide economic depression, labour militancy, and the certain
prospect of a world war.

That, for me, implies acting with a certain degree of prudence,
humility, tolerance, self-discipline, and flexibility in this period -
something which admittedly doesn't come easily to people with our kinds
of temperment. Translated into political terms, it means resisting the
temptation, mostly born of anger, to engage in a frontal assault on the
organizations currently favoured by working people.

I can understand people simply not wanting to make the personal
compromises necessary to engage in electoral politics on behalf of the
Democrats. I find it difficult to bestir myself for the NDP for the same
reasons, and I don't even have to wrestle with a political past, which
in this case enobles my kind of activity on grounds the NDP is a "class

But abstaining from participation in the Democratic party in the absence
of an active left within it is something quite apart from what are, IMO,
futile, strident and counter-productive attacks on the DP in the manner
of some of the postings on this list which many union and social
movement activists would understand as attacks directed against

I know this from personal experience, and I'm sure so do many others. It
's not as if we haven't had experience with this "style" of
intervention. We've been employing it at plant gates and in front of
convention halls and inside unions and the political parties favoured by
the workers for years. At least I have - in all of these settings. And
while I wasn't expecting a massive outpouring of support for my
criticisms of the union and party leadership and advocacy of an
alternative program, I was expecting at least enough of a response to
provide confirmation that the approach was an relevant one.

I don't think my failings were personal ones; when I restricted myself
to purely trade union issues or the practical ones of how to strengthen
the NDP against the parties to its right - matters which weren't
perceived as threatening or "beside the point" to the activists - I
could generally count on a sympathetic hearing. After a while, I began
to draw political conclusions from this activity, some of which I've
tried to lay out here.

Perhaps others have had better results with a broad ax approach. I'd be
interested in hearing about them.

Marv Gandall

More information about the Marxism mailing list