Thursday October 28 2004

Floating voters

With less than a week of campaigning to go, it seems all the pollsters agree that the Bush-Kerry contest is too close to call. We are told the fate of the election rests in the hands of a voter category assiduously courted by both candidates: the legions of the undecided. Sadly the US left could collectively be lumped in with this group. Socialists serious enough to mount a challenge for the White House are hopelessly divided, but so are those who have chosen to endorse others.

The International Socialist Organization (www.internationalsocialist.org) is the wayward offspring of our Socialist Workers Party, having parted company with the London mother ship over the ‘correct’ orientation to the anti-capitalist milieu. On the presidential election the comrades have produced the web book The Democrats and the politics of lesser evilism. In this piece Lance Selfa performs an uncontentious analysis of the Democrats, labelling them America’s second capitalist party, amongst other familiar epithets. The final chapter, ‘Why is there no alternative?’, looks at the records of the Socialist Party up until the 1920s, the Communist Party into the 60s, and the new left. Selfa rightly concludes that “the Democratic Party has acted as one of the chief obstacles to the building of a socialist movement”. He continues: “Once socialists reject the Democratic Party, they must pose a clear socialist alternative.”

So which socialist alternative is the ISO backing in this election? Like their estranged SWP relatives, opportunism has triumphed over principle. Ralph Nader will be getting their support (critical, of course). Apparently “he was wrong to accept the endorsement of the rightwing Reform Party”, but “Nader and Camejo represent a genuine alternative to politics as usual”. What was that about the need to “pose a clear socialist alternative”?

Despite the oft-declared clear red water between the Socialist Party and the SWP here in Britain, the SP’s US clone, Socialist Alternative, has just as happily jumped on the Nader bandwagon (www.socialistalternative.org). Writing in Justice (October-November), Canyon Lalama argues that the forces Nader’s candidacy has brought into play need to be organised into a new third party. The comrade then moves on to criticise Nader for allowing his 2000 campaign momentum to be dissipated, when he should have taken the initiative of founding a new organisation. However, as is usually the case with Nader supporters, there is no reflection on the reasons why he is fighting the elections, or what his political objectives are. I think the comrades ought to take a closer look at his website before sowing any more illusions in the man and his campaign.

The Maoists of the Progressive Labor Party (www.plp.org) are, like the ISO, another relatively sizeable organisation that will not be fighting the elections under any kind of socialist banner. In its colourfully named pamphlet Don’t vote, revolt: election circus masks class dictatorship, the anonymous author does a good job of arguing how war is a structural outcome of the imperialist system and exposes the Democrats’ hideous record in this regard. But on the election itself it really has nothing to say other than Kerry and Bush are equally nasty. The PLP paper Challenge argues that neither the Republicans and Democrats, nor the cynicism of not voting will solve working class problems (so why are they calling on their supporters to engage in a deliberately cynical act?). The nameless writer concludes: “We need communism, nothing less” (November 3). And what is the best way of achieving it? “… we must build the PLP now”, of course! The words ‘ultra-left stupidity’ and ‘childish sectarianism’ spring to mind.

It seems the only group willing to lend other socialists a hand is the distinctly new left and feminist Freedom Socialist Party (www.socialism.com). In their Freedom Socialist (October-November) the comrades recommend Roger Calero and Arrin Hawkins of the SWP ticket. The FSP criticise them for their go-it-alone campaign and extreme economism, but they score points on workers’ control and withdrawal from Iraq. Where the SWP are not standing it calls for a critical Workers World Party vote, despite the WWP “record of opportunist manoeuvres and destructive competitiveness”.

The FSP rejects calling for a Socialist Party vote on the grounds that its candidate, Walt Brown, backs US troops in Afghanistan and is opposed to abortion. In my opinion they are mistaken. The comrades’ lapse into personality politics not only misses how Walt Brown’s soft positions are balanced by the revolutionary politics of his running mate, Mary-Alice Herbert; but also overlooks how a strong showing for the SPUSA can offer a real way out of the American left’s sect impasse. That is why US socialists should be campaigning and voting for this ticket.

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