Fighting for Socialism in a Backward Liberal Democracy



Friends around the world and here in the United States often ask why the CPUSA does not push a vote for its own candidates, or others on the left, instead of emphasizing the need to back Democrats so as to defeat the Republican ultra right.

We sometimes have supported left candidates, and no doubt will do so in the future, circumstances being propitious. However, we are not now at the point that we can do this wholesale, especially at the national level.

Why? Basically, because the electoral system in the United States is backward in ways that prevent smaller parties and progressive independent candidates for federal and most state offices from getting a toehold.

First and foremost, U.S. law, at the federal and, for the most part, the state levels, allows the rich and the corporations to spend huge amounts of money to buy elections. This has always been the case, but the 2011 “Citizens United” decision of the Supreme Court has worsened the situation by declaring corporations to be political “persons” entitled to rights of freedom of expression. So to limit the ability of corporations to spend money on electoral propaganda is now a violation of their constitutional rights!   The left can not compete with the corporations in political fundraising, and can only outweigh this advantage by doing a fantastic job in organizing working class people at the base. We are trying, but not there yet. 

Secondly, for the presidency, the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate and the 435 in the House of Representatives, as well as most state elections, there is no provision for run-off elections in the event that no candidate gets 50% of the vote. The practical effect of this is that a vote for a long-shot candidate, such as a socialist or a communist, may objectively help the worst, most reactionary of the candidates of the two big bourgeois parties, at present generally the Republicans.

In many other countries, elections for president and other offices include multiple viable parties and candidates in a “first round” general election.  If nobody gets 50% of the vote (or sometimes, some other percentage), then there is a second round. Those parties who don't make it past the first round then have some leverage: They can decide whether to urge their members to support one or the other of the candidates in the run off, even negotiating agreements for concessions from the candidates they eventually support. As well as leverage in the immediate electoral context, left wing parties can use this state of affairs to build up their visibility and strength. No such mechanism exists at the level of federal elections in the United States, or most state elections.

Thirdly, many countries have proportional representation systems in their legislative elections, but the United States does not.    In such systems, besides legislative seats gained in individual constituency districts, parties are awarded extra seats to help make their representation in the legislature more nearly congruent with the overall votes totals they received nationally. So in Mexico, for example, in the 500 seat Chamber of Deputies, 300 deputies are elected from single member districts, and then another 200 are distributed to the parties according to a proportional representation formula. Since the United States lacks proportional representation, it is perfectly possible that a party which receives only 51% of the popular vote would have all of the seats in both House and Senate, while one that receives 49% ends up with none. That has never actually happened, but the lack of proportional representation is another factor that has prevented smaller parties on the left from getting a toehold in national and state legislative bodies. 

Fourthly, for most elected positions in the United States, candidates have to present petitions with a certain number of citizen signatures before their names can appear on the ballot. This requires hard work by either volunteers or paid staff. The small scale parties of the left do not have the money to pay petition circulators, while the major bourgeois parties do. In many cases the required number of signatures for established major parties is much lower than for new parties or for independent candidates.

In addition: Voters in the United States do not vote directly for the president, but for electors pledged to support the presidential candidates in the Electoral College vote which occurs shortly after the general election. How the Electors elected to the Electoral College vote varies from state to state, but usually the entire state delegation to the College gives all its votes to the candidate who won the majority of electors from that state. Again, this favors the big, established parties. 

Another issue is the composition of the federal Senate. Because every state gets two senators no matter what its population, small states have historically had a disproportional influence in legislative decisions. This has often worked to favor the right, though not always.  And the 600,000 residents of Washington D.C., the nation's capital, who have generally trended leftward in their voting patterns, have no voting representation in Congress at all.

And now, the right wing Republicans are engaged in a major effort to block poor and minority working class people, who trend leftward, from voting at all. They are getting state legislatures to pass laws requiring all voters to present a government-issued identification document with a photo at the time they go to vote. In most cases, this means a driver's license or a passport, documents which poor people are less likely to have (there is no universal government identification document in the United States). If prospective voters do not have such documents, the state governments supposedly will issue identification cards to them, but this is made difficult by various maneuvers. 

All of these things work together to favor the ruling class interests and the political right, as well as effectively shutting out the communist and socialist left from election to office, except sometimes at local levels. If we hold to a Marxist interpretation of politics, the fact that “democracy” in the United States is rigged in favor of the ruling class should not surprise any of us. 

Left candidates at the national level are, therefore, engaged in a politics of protest, of agitation, of mass political education, and are not likely, in the foreseeable future, to win office, let alone contest state power. Such protest campaigns have their place, but we also can not ignore what goes on between the Republican and Democratic parties. We do not agree with the position that it makes no difference whether the Republicans or Democrats win the elections, including the national election coming up in 2012. 

Although both major parties represent interests of segments of the ruling class, there are differences in their positions which are important to working class interests.

To give just one example, the Democrats (or most of them) and the Republicans differ on their stance toward the labor unions. The current crop of Republican politicians seems determined to utterly crush the labor unions and eliminate all on the job rights for American workers. The Democrats, with exceptions, rely on support from the labor unions for votes and contributions, and so are reluctant to antagonize them. Though the actions of Democrats in power has been far from what the unions have demanded, there is enough of a difference to make it important that the Republicans not gain power, and the Democrats, with all their faults, are the only force that, in the short term, can prevent this. This is of supreme importance to the left, because labor and other working class struggles are the context in which the left develops and builds its strength. 

The Communist Party USA grew to be a significant political force in the 1930s and 1940s because it was rooted in the efforts to organize unorganized workers and in other working-class mass struggles. Our very active opposition to racism and fascism were also important factors in the growth of our party. However, in the “McCarthyism” period after the Second World War, the ruling class launched a campaign of repression against our party, especially in organized labor.  Eleven unions which had communist or left leadership were pushed out of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which communists had helped to organize, after Congress passed the Taft-Hartley law which forbade unions from allowing communists to serve as officers. All but two of these left-led unions (the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers Union, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union) were destroyed. The CIO then merged with the conservative, craft dominated American Federation of Labor (AFL) to form the AFL-CIO, under reactionary leadership. Only after the AFL-CIO internal elections of 1994 did this begin to change. 

Our party, and the left, can not grow and advance if the working class and its organizations are bludgeoned to the point that they are continually on the defensive and losing strength. This is precisely what the Republicans ultra-right is trying to do.

Our electoral policy is based on this, as well as the overall extreme nature of the current leadership of the Republican Party: Racist, militaristic, anti-worker, anti-poor, anti-youth, anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti gay and lesbian, and anti-democratic.

The current crisis is showing the world, including the working people of the United States, that capitalism can not solve the problems it has itself created, and thus has no future. The structural crisis of capitalism now includes not only the irreconcilable clash between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, but also the exhaustion by capital of the world's energy and other resources, as well as the environmental crisis. 

When the toiling people of the whole world, including the United States, come to understand this, we can achieve political breakthroughs we have not been able to achieve before. We consider the workers' uprisings in Wisconsin and Ohio, and especially the wonderful “Occupy” movement, to be major positive developments in the development of this understanding.

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  • this article failed to teach me that I already don't know.
    What most people do not know is for true positive change to become a realization, war must ensue. Which means people like you and me to be willing to die for the cause. Are you personally ready to die for the cause? I didn't think so. Until America is ready for it, nothing will change for the better. Now to define ready. Much worse must happen before any talk of "war" emerges. The "occupying" was, and is merely a flinch. Nothing more.

    Posted by Deb Miller, 01/07/2012 7:03pm (9 years ago)

  • Obama should nationalize CNN, FOX news, ABC, CBS, NBC, UNIVISION and TELEMUNDO. Specially UNIVISION, that channel should be accused of STUPIDITY of THE DON FRANCISCO SHOWS, defamation, libel and slander against the government of Venezuela. You know what UNIVISION said the other day in a show called "The Iranian Menace"? that the Venezuelan Government is building nuclear bombs. In that show they had Ileana Rhos a Republican Party congress representative of the state of Florida. She is a hardcore anti-Castro activist, and she supports Posada Carriles, the terrorist who killed 76 people in airline in the 1980s. If I was a US government lawyer I would accuse UNIVISION for defamation !!!!!!!!

    Posted by Marxist Chavizta, 01/02/2012 2:00am (9 years ago)

  • Thanks for the comments. The way out of this impasse is indeed to organize, educate, mobilize the working class base.
    As for asking for something from the Democrats in exchange for support, this is done in fact within the context of our mass alliances, in which, in addition to concentrating our main fire on the Republicans, we also make demands of the Democrats. Sometimes they keep their promises, sometimes not; we can't rely on that overmuch.
    At the local level (city, town and county elected positions) we have run candidates and will continue to do so, more often under a united front party designation than under our own name, depending on what promises best results and what contributes most to unity of the left and left-center. Also, in some local jurisdictions in the USA, candidates run without party label, and/or there are runoff elections if no candidate gets 50% of the vote plus one vote. Those are places in which we and others on the left can make some modest advances. My article was focused on national politics though: The presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Generally, the issue comes up when people ask us why we don't run our own candidates for these national offices.

    Posted by Emile Schepers, 12/26/2011 9:06am (9 years ago)

  • Excellent work! We can use this in our CollectiveStudy group on electoral policies.
    --jim lane

    Posted by jim lane, 12/21/2011 5:52pm (9 years ago)

  • in understand better the situation, and now i can explain why you never propose cp candidates.

    But i have none the less, some remark to do.

    Even keeping this tactic, why don't you push for some small change in a very local level. For example, a campaign for introduction of proportional representation in a small county. Just to show people there can be a different form of democracy.

    Or, for example, asking something in exchange to democrats for the support you gave them (and all the other progressive parties and movements). Or,again, the request that in some place in Usa, where it has always been elected a republican and democrats has no chances to win, that a progressive candidate would be candidate without the democratic candidate.

    Posted by LB, 12/21/2011 6:01am (9 years ago)

  • The "most important step" is organizing, educating, and mobilizing the biggest number of voters possible in the 6 November 2012 elections, in the wake of the right denying the ballot millions and millions of voters, across the nation.
    The work of many progressives, like that of congressperson John Conyers on problems of electoral democracy in our present system, is very helpful in giving the federal, state governments and working class a more democratic, and thereby working class content.
    Socialism is the democratically controlled marshalling of resources for the working people. The working people may not have heard this action called socialism, but they are certainly in favor of this action.
    We (the communists) and the workers, have been fighting for this for decades and decades, despite the lies and deceptions of the rulers.
    We continue today, with "a new birth of freedom" especially with the information of the binary age.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 12/14/2011 2:00pm (9 years ago)

  • This is very good, but the most important step needs attention: Even if we cast ballots for some Democrats, we need to be building our own independent organizations that marshal those votes. I highly recommend working to expand groups like Progressive Democrats of America, organizing strongholds for it in all 435 Congressional Districts, multiplying its 70.000+ members by a factor of 10, and electing its candidates to Congress to expand the Congressional Progressive Caucus. PDA is an independent PAC, and while it works in the orbit of the Democratic Party, it has its own progressive platform, and its growing clout belongs to it. Simply voting against the GOP is not going to advance us in terms of our own strength.

    Posted by Carl Davidson, 12/14/2011 9:42am (9 years ago)

  • The strength of the Communist Party USA, as your article explains, is that it continues to uphold the principles found in section II and IV of the Manifesto: that workers are fundamental and any organization that supports their interests first, Communists see as allies. Pragmatically, it is the democrats in our two party system.

    Posted by David, 12/13/2011 5:14pm (9 years ago)

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