By NICK BAKER
Twenty Democrats faced off during two nationally televised “debates” last month, each armed with a few stock phrases they hoped would instantly boost their poll ratings and associated capacity to win additional hundreds of millions of dollars sufficient to defeat Donald Trump for the presidency. The combined 2020 presidential election expenditures are expected to exceed the record $6.7 billion spent in 2016.
The competing Democrats all began their campaigns with the unstated premise that the racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-working-class, crisis-ridden, environment-destroying, imperialist, capitalist system can be tweaked a bit to improve the lives of millions by replacing the crudely reactionary Donald Trump with one of their own.
Bernie Sanders set the tone and parameters of the contest months earlier with his pledge to support whichever of the contestants emerged victorious at the end of the primary season—that is, anyone but Trump. Sanders, robbed of a victory in 2016 when Hillary Clinton’s team, which then controlled the Democratic Party apparatus and finances, stacked the deck against him, nevertheless dutifully followed the rules and went to the Democratic Party Convention podium to endorse her campaign.
Capitalism cannot be reformed
In sharp contrast, Socialist Action’s 2020 presidential election campaign is based on the stated premise that rapacious capitalism cannot be reformed, that its history of endless wars, environmental devastation, economic crises and human degradation is inherent in the functioning of the system itself. “That system,” said Jeff Mackler, Socialist Action’s 2020 presidential candidate, “cannot be reformed. It must be fundamentally replaced by the collective action of the majority of the nation’s working masses in the course of a socialist revolution. Our priority is building every social struggle that challenges capitalism’s innate drive to profit regardless of the cost in human lives and social wellbeing.
“We will win in this consciously orchestrated period of pseudo-democracy, in which billionaires compete against each other, not at the rigged ballot boxes and debates controlled by the parties of the one percent and their liberal cheerleaders today rushing to mobilize their constituencies to “Defeat Trump” in 2020, but rather by winning the hearts, minds, and direct participation of working people in the vital struggles that affect them directly.”
Socialist Action at the Left Forum
Mackler’s assertions above were sharply disputed during the course of a June 30 Socialist Action-sponsored Left Form panel debate at Long Island University’s campus in Brooklyn, N.Y., entitled “How Will the Left Vote in the Presidential Election?” Socialist Action supporters distributed thousands of campaign flyers during the course of the weekend conference. Mackler’s panel opponents were Manhattan Green Party Chair and WBAI co-host of “La Voz Latina” Daniel Vila, and South Florida Bernie Sanders organizer and co-chair of 350 South Florida Jack Lieberman. Vila argued that Green Party election campaigns could pressure the Democrats to make important reforms.
Lieberman said that a Sanders victory, if not a victory for any Democrat, was critical to stopping the “fascist-minded Trump” and his mass following of “right-wing nationalists and racist bigots.” Sanders’ election, he implied, would represent a bulwark of continued [capitalist] stability as opposed to the fascist barbarism promoted by Trump!
With regard to literally every presidential election contest over the past 70 years and longer, liberal capitalist apologists have argued that only a Democratic Party victory could prevent the rise to power of the “fascist Republicans.” In classical “lesser evil” style, Daniel Vila defended a widely circulated Green Party position paper at the Left Forum entitled “Cut the War Budget for a Green New Deal,” which stated, “The U.S. military budget is 3 times that of Russia and China’s combined and therefore can be cut in half without sacrificing national security” (emphasis in original).
Mackler countered by calling for a 100 percent cut in the trillion-dollar annual U.S. military budget. He added, “There are no U.S. ‘national security interests’ that Socialist Action defends. These are nothing less than U.S. capitalism’s justification for endless wars for oil and other resources, witch-hunting assaults on its most effective critics, and ongoing persecution of immigrants who are forced to flee their own countries that have been systematically exploited and decimated by the U.S. imperial policies of the corporate elite.”
Mackler was also a panelist or active participant in the discussions at Left Forum panels on the Ukraine and on Venezuela, both sponsored by the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC). The Ukraine panel featured several speakers who had recently visited Ukraine and who were engaged in various efforts to defend Odessa Ukrainians and others who have been subjected to the violence, murder, and persecution emanating from the U.S.-backed 2014 fascist-led coup government.
In addition to Mackler, panelists included UNAC National Co-coordinator Joe Lombardo and Pippa Bartolotti, both having recently visited Odessa as part of an international solidarity delegation, Ukrainian activist Maria Zakharova and Phil Wilyato, who has headed the annual U.S. solidarity efforts to commemorate the fascist attacks and murder of 43 Ukrainian dissidents who opposed the fascist-led coup. The panel gave a view of the terror unleashed by government-promoted armed fascist forces. “In Ukraine today,” Zakharova reported, oppositionists have every reason to fear for their lives. In the face of armed fascist gangs they have no alternative than to operate underground.”
UNAC’s Venezuela panel, among the largest at the Left Forum, attracted over 60 antiwar activists and featured participants in a recent U.S. fact-finding delegation to Venezuela, as well as Kevin Zeese, a central leader of the Embassy Protection Coalition that for 34 days and at the request of the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro defended the Washington, D.C. embassy against the U.S. government and right-wing Venezuelans who insisted that the U.S.-anointed Juan Guaido was the “legitimate” president of Venezuela. Zeese and three other embassy protectors were subsequently arrested and face felony charges of “interfering with government functioning” that carry heavy fines and potential imprisonment.
Bahman Azad, a leader of the recent U.S. delegation to Venezuela and the U.S. Peace Council, announced the formation of a Committee to Defend the Venezuelan Embassy Protectors. Jeff Mackler is among the 21 defense committee initiators. A surprise participant at this panel was Venezuela’s representative to the UN mission in New York, Daniela Rodriquez, who reviewed the plight of the Venezuelan people as they courageously face the U.S. embargo, sanctions, and U.S.-orchestrated coup attempts.
Mackler, a member of UNAC’s national administrative committee, and based in the San Francisco Bay Area, proposed a West Coast fall fundraising tour of Zeese and other embassy protectors. Zeese heartily agreed, as did Rodriquez, who explained that her participation had to be via SKYPE because U.S. restrictions, as with those imposed on Cuba’s UN diplomats, bar Venezuelan officials from travel outside a 25-mile radius from New York City.
Socialists banned from election debates
While today’s polls, conducted by organizations ranging from the Pew Organization to Gallop and the New York Times, indicate increasing popular support to socialist ideas—a majority in regard to youth under 30 years old—socialists are routinely banned from nationally-televised debates as the corporate pollsters list only candidates of their own parties as choices offered to those being polled.
The “equal time” laws of the 1970s—wrested from the government by the massive civil rights, anti-Vietnam War, and free speech movements—have long ago been obliterated, along with the fiction that the major media were unbiased and open to multiple viewpoints. Today’s media, ever fearful of mass movements that expose government lies, with few exceptions publish only “news,” often filtered through government channels, including the FBI and CIA, that they deem “fit to print.” The same holds for the myriad of NGO-backed or Democratic Party-funded social and political organizations.
Last month, for example, the Poor People’s Campaign, headed by the Rev. William Barber, sponsored a Washington, D.C., “non-partisan” presidential debate where a dozen competing Democrats were invited. Socialist Action’s Jeff Mackler applied for inclusion in this event, and especially so since it was billed to press forward the Poor Peoples’ Campaign priorities for social justice and against ever-increasing military expenditures. But Mackler was excluded, as he was from Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! radio program, which periodically features Democratic Party advocates and supporters.
Mackler appears on Election 2020
A rare exception to the exclusion of socialists from public debates was Mackler’s July 26 one-hour podcast presentation on “Election 2020: Meet the Candidates,” billed by its libertarian host Paul Duddridge as the “fastest growing 2020 candidates podcast in the U.S.” (https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/2020-election-meet-the-candidates/id1456951992).
Duddridge, a pro-capitalist, free-trade, “economic nationalist,” advocate of no government interference in any aspect of human endeavor, and a Trump supporter who believes that the president exemplifies these qualities, features on his podcasts dissident Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarian Party members, with whom he jousts to present his ideas in defense of “free market” capitalism as opposed to the “socialism” that he sees encroaching on “freedom” in present day America. Mackler’s debate with Duddridge, edited by Duddridge to highlight his own views and undercut Mackler’s, is noteworthy not because it is likely to reach a broad audience but rather because it provided a limited opportunity for a socialist to express some fundamental revolutionary propositions.
At the conclusion of the debate, Duddridge asked rhetorically, “What would you do on your first day in office as president of the U.S.?” Mackler responded: “I would empty the prisons where the U.S. incarcerates the largest number and percentage of its population of any nation. Ninety percent of those imprisoned are there for non-violent crimes driven by a capitalist system that deprives the poor and oppressed of any opportunity to live decent lives. I would provide quality health care for those in need of it—Rehabilitation not Mass Incarceration! I would close all 1100 U.S. military bases around the world and spend the trillion-dollar annual war budget to rebuild our schools and public education.
“I would immediately institute free socialized medicine for everyone. I would fundamentally change the present transportation system, quickly ban fossil fuel production by nationalizing the energy industry and placing it under workers’ control to organize a just transition to a sustainable fossil free society, reforest the earth, ban all restrictive racist voting laws, end all discrimination against LGBTQI people, end all discrimination against transgender people, end all discrimination based on sex and gender preferences, institute a woman’s right to free abortion on demand, support the right to self-determination of all oppressed people to be free from imperialist wars and intervention, eliminate heinous mortgages imposed on working people, cancel all student debt, nationalize all banks and major corporation under workers’ control, provide free quality food for all in needs and thus begin the revolutionary transformation of capitalism to a socialist society where the full satisfaction human needs, not capitalist profits are first and foremost among our priorities.”
A surprised Duddridge replied, “And what will you do on Day Two?”