The Socialist View of the 2008 Election

[by Jeff Mackler]

The two-party shell game of U.S. capitalist politics is now in full swing, with an impressive cast of characters lining up to support Obama, as they did with John Kerry. Some are helping to prettify his image and others proclaiming for the umpteenth time in history that “lesser evilism” is a viable political option.

The cast of progressives who call for a vote for “lesser evil” Obama today—as they did for Kerry and other liberal Democrats running against the “evil” Republicans in the past—include Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Danny Glover, Amiri Baraka, Harry Belefonte, and a host of others. We will return to their reasoning in an accompanying article (p. 6).

For revolutionary socialists the issue in capitalist elections is not program alone. Neither does it concern the individual character or personality of candidates or the candidates they run against. Indeed, there is but one issue that concerns us when it comes to electoral politics. We call it class independence, or better, working-class independence.

Behind this concept is a political principle that has always stood at the center of revolutionary Marxism and socialist politics. This is the view that only the working class can liberate itself from the evils of capitalist exploitation and oppression. “No savior from on high delivers,” as the chorus to the “Internationale,” the anthem of the world’s working class, proclaims. The 1871 “savior” reference was to the religious variety, Jesus Christ; today it refers to the parties and candidates of capital, in whatever guise they come.

Political parties throughout history are associations of individuals and groups organized to defend specific class interests. They seek political power to best defend and advance these interests. The Democrats and Republicans are qualitatively less the parties of the leaders who head their tickets than the social forces behind them. Elections pose the question as to which class will rule society.

The decisive forces behind the Democrats and Republicans are, without exception, the ruling rich of the U.S., individuals who control wealth and private property valued in the trillions of dollars. These are the ruling-class few who control the major banks and corporations of the country—most all of them. In decades past they were referred to as “America’s Sixty Families.” Their number has not qualitatively increased, and their family names are still familiar: Morgan, Rockefeller, Dupont, Geddes, Vanderbilt, Mellon, Gould, Whitney, etc.

These, and a few score more, are the few who select and control Congress, who rule or ruin any elected official who believes or acts contrary to their interests

These are the few who decide on wars and assassinations, who own and control, through an intricate series of interlocking boards of directors, virtually all banks and corporations, not to mention the media. These are the same few who own or control vast portions of the natural resources of nations other than the United States.

They can choose a dullard or genius as their presidential candidate, a movie actor or anti-Semite, a Southern bigot turned liberal human rights advocate, or a Black man with liberal credentials in his youth. Once in a while, they even choose one of their own, one of the “idle rich” whose ego delights in the direct exercise of state power for their class.

The electoral shell game or charade is carefully orchestrated. Well over a billion dollars is spent on the effort. It begins with the primary process, wherein each party “selects” its candidate. The Democrats began with roughly 10, as they did in 2004. Their well-chosen cast of players included liberals and conservatives, women and men, Blacks and whites, “leftists” like Kucinich, populists like Edwards, women like Clinton, “family values” advocates, and more.

The idea is to convince a wary public that it is their choice, that the contrasting ideas presented are important, that at least some of the candidates have character, and that they are tough, honest, experienced, and capable of leading the country. And most important, the aim is to convince the vast majority that the result would be “change,” or a new “Great Society”—in short, relief from the present misery and a path to a better future.

Socialists counter that the better life offered by the ruling class’s periodic standard bearers cannot be achieved in the framework of capitalism. And, in fact, all the evils and injustices that so many recognize as a reality in today’s world—racism, poverty, endless war, global warming, sexism, massive attacks on health care, education, pensions, jobs, mortgage foreclosures, and more—are inherent in the capitalist system itself.

Socialists therefore, whenever possible in the electoral arena, and in everyday practice, pose a working-class alternative to the rule of the minority capitalist elite. We are advocates of real majority rule, rule by the masses themselves, through their own institutions, in their own name and in their own interests.

We counterpose to the present system of private ownership of the means of production and control of the nation’s wealth, a system of democratic and collective ownership, in which all critical decisions are made by the vast majority based on the fulfillment of human needs as opposed to private profit, the latter having been eliminated with the abolition of capitalism.

The state we seek to bring into being will be a new society based on the fullest democracy in all spheres of human endeavor, where war and poverty are no longer required to ensure minority rule and plunder, where the full potential of everyone can and will be realized in the framework of a world of plenty—a socialist society free from oppression and exploitation.

Again, elections in essence pose the issue of power, of which class shall rule, the minority capitalists or the majority of workers and their allies among the oppressed. The historic socialist rejection of political support of any kind to the parties and candidates of capital is embedded in the core program and every activity of the socialist movement.

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