For at least as long as the 80-years I’ve been alive and, frankly, much longer than that, socialists have been arguing with liberals and progressives and “left-leaning” voters, over whether it makes more sense to elect a decidedly imperfect, but “lesser evil” Democratic Party candidate, than a “more evil” Republican Party candidate. Socialists have long argued that such a political strategy ultimately leaves we the people insufficiently better off to justify doing so; and that, instead, we should bite the bullet and get about the business of organizing a true “peoples’ party”, a “socialist party,” even though that may prove hard to realize in the “short run”; and even though in the meanwhile, the worst off among “we the people” will suffer more than they might have if the “lesser evil” candidate, albeit a capitalist one, had been elected. (And that sad fact bothers all of the socialists I know.)
I am one of those socialists who believe we must abandon lesser evils politics. As a socialist, I simply mean that I want
- a governmental system where it’s the government and not corporations that have the final say on what is produced and how it is produced;
- a system where the bottom line is not profits, but production that benefits the people and does not add to the death of the planet;
- a government run single-payer health care plan for all;
- a true “living wage” for all, with the government the employer of last resort;
- an election system where the winner is not the candidate with the best financial backing, but the candidate with the best ideas;
- free higher education and sufficient financing for lower public school education;
- a preponderance of companies run as workers’ collectives, which have been shown to be as, or more, efficient than privately run companies;
- a government where all can be housed, no matter their financial status.
And so forth.
What I hope to do with this essay is lay out a convincing case for abandoning the two capitalist parties and getting about the business of forming a new, socialist or “peoples” party, that can sooner rather than later take over control of governance in America. (Now that Donald Trump is president and the Congress is as rightwing as it’s been since the days of Newt Gingrich, those who argue “lesser evils” politics is the way to go would seem to have an even stronger, more persuasive, if still incorrect argument for their position. But I would be writing this essay, making the same arguments, even if Hilary Clinton was president and the Congress was comprised mostly of Democratic Party members.)
While we socialists have been making the argument against lesser evil politics for decades, with only modest success, today things have profoundly changed; have presented us with a new, undeniable reality.
Here, now, is my argument; the case for my political viewpoint. While we socialists have been making the argument against lesser evil politics for decades, with only modest success, today things have profoundly changed; have presented us with a new, undeniable reality. That new reality is that today the planet’s climate has changed as a consequence of capitalism’s long-standing assault on the Earth’s environment. More to the point, the planet’s climate has now changed to the point where I believe the only choice left to us is socialism or barbarism. Either we, in the very near future defeat capitalism, or the sustainability of our planet will be lost forever; “lost”, in terms of the feasibility of humans, and other species, living anything remotely resembling a decent life. (See: Joel Kovel, Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World.)
Yes, what a capitalist system has done to the environment now makes it absolutely imperative that capitalism be defeated and replaced with socialist governance. (And not just in the United States, but worldwide.) I’m speaking, of course, of the role that human industrial production plays in the release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere in a capitalist world.
Why does this change the “lesser evil” equation? Because, a capitalist America will never allow the regulation of production to the extent needed to stop the accelerating march of climate change. Oh, maybe…and it’s an awfully big “maybe”…if we had discovered what was happening visa vise climate change 100 years ago, and had begun then to take dramatic action to change our reliance on fossil fuels, long before we had passed way beyond the “tipping point,” then maybe (frankly, I truly think even this is a daydream) one could still argue for lesser evil politics under a capitalist system; argue that we had enough time; rationally argue that 100 years gave us a reasonable hope of regulating and persuading the capitalists to do what needs doing to save the planet and the viability of life on the planet.
But that is not where we are at. It is not 100 years ago. It is 2018 and there is no convincing evidence one can point to that the capitalist world is prepared to make, or under a capitalist system can be madeto make, the herculean changes in how it does business, how it produces the products it produces and sells, that can offer us more than a slower death of our planet. And I’m talking in terms of a few generations-long “slower death”. But even if the tinkering about, and the far-too-little-too-late changes now being made and now contemplated and hoped for down the road, were to add 100 or 200 years to the sustainability of planet Earth, all we would have gained is a slower yet, but still certain, death; a slower but still certain descent into barbarism and unimaginable human suffering; a certain descent into a world not worth living in. (And in any event it would still be the case that under lesser evil capitalism millions would continue to live wretched lives and imperialist wars would continue to be fought, the rich would get richer and the poor poorer, etc., all in the name of domination and more profits.)
And “tinkering about” with embarrassingly modest and totally inadequate efforts to slow the rate of climate change is the best we can hope for under capitalism. Even if somehow the capitalists who run our country and this world were to finally “come to their senses”, based upon all the evidence we’ve seen so far, it would not alter, in any meaningful way, planet Earth’s steady, if slower, death slide. The Paris Accords? Even if fully implemented they would be no more meaningful than applying a band aid to a bullet wound in the heart.
It’s true that a handful of more “enlightened” companies have initiated measures of some worth aimed at reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. But even if this were true tenfold, it would still represent a drop in the bucket. And consider this recent finding: A Stanford University poll, involving nearly 700 “elite technology entrepreneurs” found that a large majority favor Democratic Party positions on social services, higher taxes, and trade and immigration policies opposed by president Trump. But the study also found that these same tech elites are onboard with a central objective of the Trump Administration: an aggressive rollback of regulations across virtually every domain, including the environment.
What is also true, and further validates my argument, is that, as Noam Chomsky contends, we are also past the “tipping point” where nuclear proliferation and the likelihood of nuclear meltdown are concerned. More nations are obtaining nuclear weapons. More “rogue states and operatives” will come into possession of at least small-grade nuclear weapons. And the highly profitable nuclear arms industry will continue to push for more and newer nuclear weapons to be added to our arsenal. Already, the United States is preparing to spend billions on producing more modern nuclear weapons, including so-called “tactical” nuclear weapons which pose an even greater danger of use than the more massive ones. This, in turn, makes more likely the use of the more massive ones, as well. Bottom line, a capitalist government is a government under which it’s capitalist munitions makers will always fight for, and win, new orders for more nukes and the additional profits that flow from their production and sale to other governments.
As a socialist, I don’t vote for any capitalist politicians. (I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.) As elections approach, in order to explain my position to my more liberal friends, I sometimes say: “Look, imaging there are two boats out in the middle of a big lake. One is the boat of the capitalist Democratic Party, and the other is the boat of the capitalist Republican Party. And surely we can agree that both of these boats have holes in them, policy wise; that they are both leaky boats. And I will even admit that the Republican Party boat is a leakier boat than the Democratic Party boat. But don’t you have to admit that if we stay in either boat for too long, we will sink, we will drown? Oh, I admit we will drown later in the Democratic Party boat. But drown we still will. And, so, isn’t it time, truly past time, to get out of the capitalist Democratic Party boat and work for some way to save us and save our planet from the climate change that will all too soon find us living in a state of barbarism?”
Of course, in response to the above, my liberal or progressive friends sometimes respond, “Well, Jim, then I think the thing to do is to get rid of those holes in the Democratic Party’s boat; to plug the holes; to take over the party and make it the kind of party that, policy wise, believes in much of what you believe in, Jim.”
My response to that argument: “Hell, for at least the last 80 years progressives and democratic socialists have been trying to take over the capitalist Democratic Party; trying to take it over and patch up those holes. And for at least the past 80-years, they’ve failed. What makes you think that today, when the Democratic Party is more in the pocket of corporate America than ever, you can do today what you couldn’t do before? Today, Democrats as well as Republicans, depend in large measure on corporate financing if, when they run for office, they are to have any chance of defeating Republican candidates, who are also the beneficiaries of big corporate campaign contributions; all now virtually unlimited as a result of Citizens United. And no candidate continues to get those campaign contributions who sets out to reign in Corporate America, or its friends in high places. Naomi Klein is correct. We no longer live in a democracy; we live in a corporate oligarchy. So we should stop behaving like Einstein’s hypothetical scientist who keeps trying to solve the problem before her by employing over and over again the same failed solution she’s tried 50 times before, hoping the failed solution will miraculously work the 51st time she tries it. Einstein says of that scientist, ‘she’s either stupid or crazy.’”
Now, if it were certain that a socialist revolution in America is simply not in the cards, if it were impossible to ever achieve, then, of course, it would be rational or logical to vote for the lesser evil candidate. After all, what choice would we then have? In an imperfect world we can’t forego the achievable imperfect for a perfect that is beyond our reach.
However, far from being certain that a socialist revolution in America is not possible, I believe history and recent developments make it clear that a socialist revolution in America is possible. But for the sake of argument I will grant that, at least once upon a time in America, it appeared to be impossible. The demonization of the Soviet Union; the demise of anything close to real socialism in the Soviet Union/Russia; the demonization of the Cuban revolution; McCarthyism and the “red scare”; the historic great difficulties facing any third-party effort in America; the capitalist media; all of that, and more served the capitalists interests and allowed them to make a socialist revolution appear as a pie-in-the-sky dream of socialists, and, in any event, as a consequence of the above, it was opposed by the majority of the American people, including the working class.
But where the idea of socialism in America is concerned, things have changed greatly in recent years. Things have changed that both alter the odds on achieving a viable, competitive socialist party, and the Earth’s climate has also now changed to the point where it is imperative to end capitalism’s unceasing destruction of the planet, and the threat of nuclear destruction that grows graver every year. That is, it’s now clear that if the Earth, and its people and other living things are to survive, it’s imperative to end capitalism and replace it with some form of socialist governance.
But something else has dramatically changed, as well. “Socialism” is no longer a dirty word. It is no longer disdained by the people of America. Now, a majority of all young people in America, those between 19-29 years of age, think socialism would be a better system for America than capitalism. And a majority of those who consider themselves “Democratic Party voters” also think socialism would be a better system than capitalism. (How this has come about is not the focus or concern of this essay.) And socialist, and democratic socialist candidates have now started winning elections. The Bernie Sanders social democratic-influenced campaign might have won the Democratic Party nomination for president had the Party not had the fix in for Clinton. Even now some public opinion polls suggest Sanders could beat Trump in the next election. And with that strong showing in the last election behind us, were Sanders to get about the business of forming a new party, a “peoples’ Party” with an essentially socialist program, today it would be possible to get on the ballot in all states. And as such a party grew it could begin to realistically compete in all Congressional and state races.
I’m not arguing that it would be easy. Or that victory would necessarily occur the first time such a party ran for office. It might still be a long struggle. Certainly, the capitalist forces would resist it with every trick in the book. Laws governing how a new party secured ballot status might be altered to make it harder yet for third parties. The role of big money in elections would be far, far greater. Obstacles to voting might well proliferate and become harder to overcome. The odds might be against it. The entire venture might well fail.
As I said earlier, with Trump and company now running the government as the lackeys of corporate America, the lesser evil argument is no doubt even more appealing, making it harder for good people to give up the possible short-run gains (or slower death), that an Elizabeth Warren may represent; harder, certainly, than getting about the business of forming a viable socialist alternative. I know that it is hard for Americans, in this fast food, fast internet and fast car nation, to take a long view, prepare for a much longer campaign than one aimed at merely electing the better of two capitalist candidates for office. Hard to give up the possibility of lessening the suffering of some people in the here and now in order to save billions more in what looks like the very long run.
Remember, too, that now that it is the corporate oligarchy that rules our nation, we’ve reached a point where today it is very debatable how many people are still suffering less in the short run under lesser evil politics, anyway.
In concluding my argument, I truly believe we must give up this short sighted, short range, ultimately dead end political strategy. Otherwise, we face either nuclear destruction, and/or the certain prospect of climate change reaching the point where billions of our sisters and brothers will ultimately suffer, if they can even stay alive on our planet 50, or 100 or 500 years from now. And either of those twin catastrophes will dwarf the suffering of those under the more evil capitalists that are elected in the here and now. In just the last two years the United Nations estimates that somewhere between 150 and 200 million people died as a result of climate change. And, as any honest climate scientist will tell you, if we don’t change direction and change it fast, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
So, as Lenin would ask, “What is to be done?” If I am right, how do we in the socialist movement convince our sisters and brothers of the correctness of this argument, and recruit them to join us on behalf of a well-thought-out struggle to defeat capitalism and put in its place socialist governance? This, I submit, is the most critical struggle of our, or any, time. It is literally the struggle for the life of our planet and all the life on it. Failure is unthinkable.
Here, in broad strokes, is what I suggest is the way forward, the way to finally, and reasonably fast, have in place a new peoples party, a new socialist party, that can contend for power, and win it:
- It must be a new socialist party because I do not think the current socialist parties and sects can or will do what needs doing. This is not because these parties and sects have the wrong politics. They have excellent politics, and I greatly admire these parties and sects and the heroic work they do. But what I have sadly concluded is that they don’t have the capacity to unite, to form a single socialist or peoples’ party. They are too doctrinaire and too often in competition with each other. Too wedded to their specific brand of socialism, to their particular Marxist analyst, and to their specific analysis of what needs to be done, and how it is to be done. Of course, I would hope some of their members would join in putting together this new and broad-based socialist party. Why? Because I do not see it as being in competition with the existing socialist parties and sects; and because they would be people with a sound socialist perspective who could be immensely helpful in organizing the kind of broader, more inclusive socialist party that I am envisioning.
- There should first be a national convention open to all who identify as socialists, whatever their current party or organizational affinities may be, that comes to agreement on the generalized, over-all political platform of this new party. To be a member of this new party one must, at a minimum, decry the idea of voting for capitalist politicians, and subscribe to the agreed upon basic platform of the party.
- This new party must have a truly socialist political platform; the broad platform points of which would be determined at its founding convention.
- Its first forays into electoral politics should be at the local level and under the auspices of local chapters of this new party.
- This hugely ambitious undertaking should, ideally, be launched by a national call from some well-respected socialist thinkers, socialist political activists, and, to the degree possible, by some who have either run for office as a socialist in the past, or run with a socialist program, and who have garnered some public recognition for their writings, or activism, or past runs for public office. In short, they should be a diverse group of men and women whose call for a founding convention of a new socialist party would generate some media coverage and have credibility with those who agree a new socialist party is needed, and who would respond to their call by attending the party’s founding convention.
Ideally, this project should be launched as soon as possible after this November’s elections.
This is, of course, an extremely ambitious undertaking; but perhaps not as ambitious, or difficult, as might at first be imagined. Things do, indeed, change, and have changed radically in recent times. The possibility of bringing about what I propose is certainly more within our reach today than it was 50, or even 20 years ago. And besides, if I am right; if the future of life on planet Earth really does depend on ending capitalist rule and ending it soon enough to leave us with a realistic hope of avoiding the otherwise certain vast destruction and death and barbarism that otherwise awaits human kind, and the other living creatures on our planet, what choice do we have?
If I am right, if we and our planet are essentially doomed unless we take this action, or something akin to it, how can we not at least make the effort? Arundhati Roy says, speaking of the power of the capitalist corporations, that “They be few, but we be many.” John Reade, author of Ten Days That Shock the World wrote that, “There are still ideas worth fighting for, and worth dying for.” Surely the idea of fighting to save ourselves and our progeny and the very planet we live on, is one of those ideas.
The call to action I am advocating must be sent out by those who are prepared to spread it as far and wide as they can, in the hope that it will cause enough people to take up the challenge of doing what their call urges must be done.
Lastly, if you who read this think I am right. Or, if you think, at the very least, that what I have proposed, or something very much like it, is the answer, then let me know that, and your thoughts about it, by contacting me at: email@example.com. Over and over again, history has shown that when enough people have had enough; when they take up the challenge, and together, plan, organize and fight for what they need, anything is possible. Indeed, history itself is on our side!
Jim Lafferty is the Executive Director Emeritus of the National Lawyers Guild in Los Angeles; and the host of The Lawyers Guild Show on KPFK.