Sunday, October 03, 2004

Exchange: Building Alternatives While Voting for Kerry?

Voting for Kerry & Changing the System?

by John Reimann

02 Oct 2004

Is it possible to vote for Kerry while also organizing against the system?

I recently had a conversation with a friend about voting for Kerry. My friend completely agreed that Kerry was nothing to get excited about. She agreed that he was nothing but the lesser evil. She even agreed that we need to build a movement to change the system. But she said that this was not "mutually exclusive" with voting for Kerry.

My friend hits exactly on the main point - whether voting for the Democrats and building an independent movement of the working class are "mutually exclusive" or not. This is exactly the issue, and I believe that all of history shows that they are mutually exclusive. Look what happened to the civil rights movement. At one point, it was forced to conclude that it needed to have a presence in politics. One of the things that developed out of this conclusion was the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). This was sort of a hybrid - partly oriented towards the Democrats and partly towards political independence. When it could not find a way to build an independent party, and when the movement as a whole could not find this, then this movement got swept up into Democratic politics. Thus the career of such former civil rights workers as Julian Bond in Atlanta. What happened was that the movement was demobilized, taken out of the streets and into the backrooms of politicians, where it was sold out and died.

Look at the labor movement today. It is clear that a major motivation of the union leaders is to stay in line with the liberal Democrats.

In other words, it is not possible to build an independent movement of workers over the longer haul without also having as one of the goals workers' candidates and a workers mass party. Some people say, "yes, yes, I agree. But since we don't have such a party or candidates now, I'm going to vote for the Democrat until the alternative comes along."

This is exactly the problem - the alternative will not just "come along"; we have to fight for and build the alternative. "Yes," they say, "but in the meantime I'm going to vote for Kerry (or whoever)."

But if we are serious about organizing and about what we are doing, then if you vote for Kerry and the Democrats, then at election time you must campaign for others to vote for them. The history of the last 50 years has proven nothing if it hasn't proven that it's impossible to build an independent movement while also campaigning for and voting for the Democrats.

So if a person has no plans to be active in building a fighting, independent movement in the streets, the working class communities, the work places and in the unions - if they have no plans to do this - then there is not much reason not to vote for the lesser evil and postpone the date when we will all be pushed over the cliff. But if one wants to reverse directions, and organize a fight for a better world, then voting for (and campaigning for) one of the candidates of big business is not possible.

Re: Voting for Kerry?

by Carl Davidson
02 Oct 2004

Eugene Debs started off by doing both, running as a Dem and supporting a few Dems at first and building his Socialist Party along the way. Same with the Populists in earlier years.

But the ruling class of the time struck back by, among other things, passing laws against fusion candidates and for winner-take-all primaries, not to mention the "white" primaries in the South.

If you want a serious progressive party, you have to achieve a number of precursors to it:

1. Get rid of the "winner take all" primary system,
2. Win the right to fusion candidates,
3. Get preferential balloting and instant runoff.

These are not weird ideas. They exist, in one form or another, in every industrial bourgeois democracy in the world. It's the U.S. system that's weird, out of step, and thus without multiple parties.

Some people even think the "two-party" system is embedded in the US Constitution, which it's not; but it is embedded in existing state statutes, which have to be overturned to expand democracy.

The problem is that so many of the folks who want a third party (really a first or second party) are not to be found in the non-election season when these reforms have to be fought for, state by state.

You're right to point out all the progressive groupings working in the orbit of the Dems, but you can't break up the tacit alliance between them and the DLC 'corporate caucus' without winning the above-mentioned structural reforms.

It's a simple, but hard-to-achieve truth. But it doesn't do any good the flagellate other progressives for exercising their only realistic options, while remaining passive on electoral law reform campaigns.

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