The campaign to elect Socialist Action candidate Fred Linck to the U.S. Senate is gaining steam. At press time, supporters have gathered over 2500 signatures to get him on the November ballot in Connecticut. On June 2, supporters collected 440 signatures at the Puerto Rican Day Parade in Hartford, Conn. Especially popular was the demand for reparations to Puerto Rico. Demands to jail killer cops and stop all deportations also received strong support
On June 3, Fred Linck spoke at the Left Forum in New York on a panel entitled, “The Way Forward for Independent Left Electoral Politics.” His remarks are below.
Over the past decade, interest in socialist ideas and support for socialism has grown dramatically, especially among young people. And now we are beginning to see growing combativity in workplaces. More workers are joining unions; teachers are demonstrating the power of strikes on the national stage.
The choices we in the organized left make about elections matter to these and many other developments of historic significance. At stake are the movements growing today; at stake is the future of the socialist movement. When it comes to these questions, we must be clear, we must not confuse the workers who are just now gathering up the confidence to fight back.
Class is central to politics. And it must be central to our orientation towards parties and elections.
Think about the drive to organize a union. How well would a union drive go if you invited management to meetings? If you gave them votes? If you let them chair? And then if you gave people who came to union meetings a vote based on how much money they could contribute? And then if you put the bosses and owners in charge of running the meetings? How many unions could you organize with this kind of approach?
Obviously, this would make union organizing impossible. When workers organize unions they keep everything secret from management for as long as possible. No one in their right mind even brings up unions in front of bosses. This is because the interests of workers and bosses are in direct opposition to each other. And for the same reasons, working people cannot collaborate with their bosses when organizing on the job; they cannot collaborate with their bosses when they organize politically, either.
Let’s think more about why this is. We live in a peculiar historical situation. The majority of people on this earth, and the vast, overwhelming majority of people in this country, cannot access the basic elements of nature we need to live without working for someone else. We work all our lives and generally end up with nothing at our deaths. Working harder does not make us wealthier. But it does enrich our employers. Workers in this country are working much harder now, and for longer hours than 40 years ago, and are, in fact poorer. The rich are, in fact richer.
Production is carried out socially, and on the largest social scale ever witnessed on planet earth. Yet the means of production are owned by individuals. Every year production involves more people and becomes more globally interconnected, and at the same time, the number of people owning the whole operation becomes smaller and smaller. One recent major study found that just a few thousand companies control 80% of the economy, worldwide.
Parties manage the capitalist state
This peculiar arrangement does not spontaneously reproduce itself like a force of nature. It is not some fundamental expression of humanity. It came into being at most only a few hundred years ago. It can only be maintained, reproduced, and regulated with the aid of a state apparatus—with armies, police, prisons, and courts.
This state apparatus is no more neutral in our society than is the management hierarchy of a workplace. Without these armies, police, prisons, courts, and other instruments of coercion, the whole situation we find ourselves in, in which we have to go to work to live, would not exist. Billions of people don’t work for the benefit of a tiny handful for no reason.
This state apparatus is managed by parties. Their whole existence is based on being the best managers of this state and the best at convincing people that it is acting in their interests. In the U.S., the Republican and Democratic Parties run almost everything. Of course, both of these parties would not like you to view them as hardened instruments of giant corporations. Their job is to make the interests and policies of big business look like the interests of everyone.
They would like you to think they’re just a bunch of ordinary folks. Especially when working people start to get political. When working people start to radicalize, the Democrats send some of their people around, telling everyone that the Democratic Party is just an empty car, waiting for someone to step in and take over.
Then we have the truly unfortunate fact that many in the socialist movement are now saying that the Democratic Party is just a ballot line. But this is a party that manages the largest and bloodiest imperialist power in human history. An organization capable of managing such a brutal hierarchy, that effectively serves the interests of the most powerful economic forces on earth, is not an organization that will allow itself to be taken over from the inside.
Of course, if you want to change a party from the inside, then you need credibility in that party, and to do this you need to build the party. You have to support its candidates against opposing parties. You have to defend its policies from critics. And, as an outside political force that declares itself hostile to the central interests of the party, you can still be blacklisted, hounded, and expelled, despite maintaining perfect loyalty.
This is exactly what happens when workers’ parties try to enter the Democratic Party. They change their own program and activity to suit that of the Democrats. Then they are marginalized and even expelled.
With few exceptions, the Communist Party gave more loyalty to the Democrats in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s than any other leftist grouping in the United States. It supported Roosevelt’s war aims, it supported internment of Japanese Americans, it organized in support of a no-strike pledge during World War II and even in favor of Roosevelt’s plan to conscript labor. The latter actions were opposed even by the conservative trade-union bureaucracy.
But when the Democrats no longer needed their support, they joined the Republicans in putting CP members on trial, and waged an all-out offensive on their movement, from workplaces to entertainment to unions. The results of Communist Party support for Democrats should have settled this question decades ago. Other attempts have been made before and since then, and all have produced defeats for the working class.
This last year provides us with an important reminder of the need for independent working-class leadership. The day after Trump was inaugurated, four million people hit the streets. A week later, tens of thousands stormed the airports to stop the Muslim ban, and they forced a Bush-appointed judge to put the ban on hold.
And yet for months, all the Democrats have done is to channel people into legislative sessions and into an anti-Russia campaign. And in so doing, they are inching people off the streets and into support for another of capital’s representatives. But nonetheless, the class struggle refuses to end. And now teachers are striking in numbers not seen since the 1970s, if ever.
Workers need their own party
To fight on the political field, workers have to have their own political party. Before the creation of such a mass party, what can socialists do in election season? We can run our own candidates. What is the purpose of such campaigns? What does success look like? What does winning look like?
This is a society where the center of power lies in the private ownership of property and production, and in the vast unelected bureaucracy of the state machinery, and in the armed bodies of the police and the military, directed by the leadership of officers and generals. Taking seats in some of the few elected offices does not neatly translate into taking power.
For the working class, taking power from their exploiters is a far more comprehensive and challenging process than simply signing petitions and winning votes can encompass. The class struggle takes place on many fronts, though, and the electoral arena—even that arena set up and managed by the capitalist class—is one such front.
What a socialist campaign can achieve
An electoral campaign offers socialists the opportunity to advance the political consciousness and sophistication of working people. It is an opportunity to counter-pose socialist politics against those of the capitalist parties, to expose the class nature of their parties, and the class nature of society—and most of all, the class nature of the state, and its essential role in the rule of capital. Elections are about who should rule. Socialists can use them to pose the question of which class should rule.
Socialist electoral campaigning opens an opportunity to discuss how to organize as a class rather than as a series of isolated interest groups. And by this we have no desire to displace the many grievances and struggles of the oppressed with a crude class category. To the absolute and unequivocal contrary: Our perspective is to oppose all the many forms of oppression and exploitation that make up this social order, to expose them, to demand their abolition, to show how each one is part of the many-headed hydra of capitalism and how it plays its own vital role maintaining capitalism’s existence, and to paint a vision of how the many movements against these evils can join together to overthrow the social order that maintains them.
An electoral campaign is an opportunity to clarify who the enemy is and who the enemy is not. The enemy is the capitalist class and all its institutions and organizations—including its parties. The enemy is not working people of other countries, or from other countries.
At a time when workers—West Virginia teachers—can win a 19% raise across an entire state by their own strike action, it should be clear that what workers need is not some savior in a high place. What they need is the political consciousness required for uniting, expanding, and deepening their struggles.
And at a time when more young people are googling “socialism” and “Marx” every day, the value of explaining socialist ideas to a mass audience could not be clearer.
As the early 20th-century revolutionary socialist leader James P. Cannon put it: “However one may think socialism is going to come to the United States, one thing is sure—it’s not going to be smuggled in. … The cause of socialism can be advanced only by counter-posing it directly to capitalism—simply, honestly, and directly.”