A critique of “lesser-evil” politics
By NICK BAKER
Right-wing columnist George Will recently wrote that in American elections “the question is not whether elites shall rule, but which elites shall, so the perennial political problem is to get popular consent to worthy elites.” This is the American capitalist electoral strategy in a nutshell, stated openly in Will’s syndicated column published in hundreds of newspapers. Over 100 years ago Russian revolutionary V.I. Lenin said that in a capitalist democracy “the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in parliament.” George Will says Lenin was right.
While the Democratic Party forces today coalesce to push former Vice President Joe Biden to the fore, many—including most vociferously Senator Bernie Sanders—are proclaiming the importance of backing whomever emerges as the Democrat’s presidential candidate. Sanders railing against the “billionaire class” and the “billionaire Washington establishment” notwithstanding, billionaire Michael Bloomberg was included in his pledge!
In January, Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Leslie Cagan, Norman Solomon, and other prominent writers and activists published an open letter to the Green Party denouncing its decision not to follow a “safe state” strategy in the November election. Traditionally, the Greens tell their supporters to vote Green in “safe states” that are already guaranteed to go to either the Democrat or Republican, but to vote Democrat in “contested states,” where votes for a Green candidate could prevent the Democrat from beating the Republican. The letter proclaims the “special danger of Trump” and chastises Greens for the “price that millions and even billions of people will pay for Trump winning” if they “spoil” it for the Democrats.
The writers say, “We are told, ‘Greens want to get Trump out as much as anybody’ but how can that be if Greens would vote for a Green candidate, and not for Sanders, Warren, or any Democrat in a contested state knowing that doing so could mean Trump’s victory?” [emphasis added]. I suppose you would call this “Trump-shaming.”
For Chomsky, this simply continues his election-year tradition of telling people that the moral choice is to vote for the Democrat as the “lesser evil.” In an interview on the Al Jazeera television network’s show UpFront in January 2016, Chomsky said that this strategy is “exactly what I’ve said in every previous election,” when he announced that he would “absolutely” vote for Hillary Clinton, already the presumptive nominee at that time, against whoever became the Republican candidate.
When asked by the interviewer, Mehdi Hasan, to describe the difference between Clinton and the yet-unsettled Republican nominee of either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, Chomsky cited Cruz’s desire to carpet bomb Syria and the horrors of carpet bombing. Clinton, who throughout the campaign called for a massive increase in U.S. troops and bombs in Syria and a “no-fly” zone (where only the U.S. could fly), was therefore Noam Chomsky’s moral choice, apparently because Clinton didn’t go as far as carpet bombing. When Donald Trump became the Republican nominee, the New York Times ran an article saying that of the two, it was Clinton who was the hawk on Syria, not Trump.
So long as the two parties of capitalism are not literally identical, Chomsky says that you should vote for the “lesser evil,” as he did in 2016, 2012, 2008, 2004, 2000!
The Left Sinks into the Bernie Campaign
Many on the left insist that Sanders is unlike Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton – neoliberals who unfailingly subordinated workers’ interests to capitalist profit.
But Bernie Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist. Some of his supporters insist that he’s not a Democrat at all, claiming he’s an “Independent.” Yet Sanders is financially backed by the Democratic Party, is a prolific fundraiser for the Democratic Party, and a member of the Senate Democratic Caucus. The Democratic Party has prevented party members from running against “Independent” Bernie in Vermont. An analysis of Sanders’s congressional votes done in the 90’s showed that he had a 95 percent Democratic Party voting record—well above the 80% rating of the average Democrat at that time.
Sanders is a capitalist candidate full stop. As we demonstrated in our earlier analysis of his campaign platform and deeds (See “Anatomy of Bernie Sanders’ Socialism,” December 2019), his politics are nothing more than warmed-over New Deal liberalism.
Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal, while a genuine improvement in health care access for American workers, would do little more than socialize the costs of health care while leaving in place the private, for-profit hospitals and the extortionary pharmaceutical monopolies where massive profits and price-gouging will remain the rule.
Sanders’ answers to a recent New York Times questionnaire are revealing. Asked if he would “consider military force for a humanitarian intervention” [emphasis added], Sanders gave the answer of every ruling class candidate: “Yes.”
Claims of “humanitarian intervention” have been the ruling class stock-in-trade in every imperialist war in history. The current U.S. imperialist wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, are all wars of “humanitarian intervention,” along with the U.S.’s attempted coup and economic warfare in Venezuela, its embargo of Cuba, and its endless threats against China, Iran, and North Korea. Obama destroyed Libya on the basis of a “humanitarian intervention.” Going back over 120 years, the U.S. has justified its invasions of Cuba, Haiti, Korea, Vietnam, etc. on the basis of “humanitarian intervention.”
Sanders response to next NYT question, “Would you consider military force to pre-empt an Iranian or North Korean nuclear or missile test?, was similarly revealing.” Sanders answered “Yes” again.
Is the Sanders campaign a movement to build socialism?
Many Sanders supporters insist that his campaign can be the beginning of a movement. We hear this more and more from the segment of his supporters who identify as socialists and who state plainly their belief that socialism is the only way to that goal, that is, a just society ruled by the working masses in their own name and in their own interests, for the benefit of all, not the profits of the few. These “socialists” often acknowledge that Sanders himself is not actually a socialist. But, they assert, his campaign is or can be the beginning of a movement, inside the Democratic Party – or inside the so-called leftwing of the Democratic Party – to build working class power and eventually socialism in America.
In truth, Bernie Sanders is a capitalist politician operating in a ruling class party tightly controlled by the ruling rich and always operating in the interests of capitalism. It is the party that has absorbed so many activists from the civil rights movement, the Black liberation movement, the women’s liberation movement, the LGBTQI liberation movement – turning those activists away from their movement goals while often integrating them into the very structures of the capitalist system.
That’s why the Democratic Party is known as the “graveyard of social movements.” It aims and operates to take promising social movements out of the streets and into the voting booth, into bourgeois elections – the preferred arena of the ruling class where the wealthy elite write the rules themselves and choose whether or not to enforce them, according to whatever best serves their interests. All roads inside the Democratic Party lead to the same place: the continued domination of the capitalist exploiters.
Socialist supporters of Sanders will soon learn what the class line means. The Democratic Party is on one side of it and the interests of the working class are on the other. There is no movement for working class power that can be built alongside the exploiters of working class labor. There is no socialist internationalism that can be built inside the party of imperialist war. There is no anti-capitalism in the party of billionaires. There is no revolution in the party of the one percent.
If the Democrats ran Lenin himself, we wouldn’t vote for him. Because the Democratic Party is an instrument of the ruling rich who control it, fund it, guide its every move, and whose interests it serves perfectly. Socialism can only arise from independent organizations of the working class, acting in its own interests. Vote Socialist Action in 2020! Join us!