Much of the United States Left is in the midst of an oddly-timed embrace of lesser evilism. They are calling for socialists to support Biden at the very moment Trump’s campaign seems in crisis and headed for defeat.
Nevertheless, key figures on the US Left, including long-time supporters of independent politics, are pushing the new socialist movement not just to vote for Biden, but to actively campaign for him. To be clear, our argument is not about what comrades do during the time it takes to cast a ballot. What we oppose is the new socialist Left, especially the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), spending its time, money, and energy, campaigning for Biden.
We also oppose social movements and unions working for a candidate that stands against all our demands, from defunding the police, to Medicare for All, and the Green New Deal. We should not front for “the lesser of two rapists,” who promises to restore the norms of the Obama administration — wars, austerity, privatisation, hostility to unions, mass deportations, and continued violence against people of colour.
In election after election, each “the most important of our lifetime,” the Left has repeatedly surrendered its political independence to campaign for one or another Democrat to stop a clearly more right-wing Republican.
We have stopped organising mass struggle, ceased educating activists about the need for political independence, and moderated our demands to promote a capitalist party. Once in power, that same party reneges on its promises of reform, launching new attacks on the working class and oppressed.
Even worse, once we have subordinated ourselves to the Democrats, we have left a political vacuum for the Republicans, who are not scared to fight for their politics. They take advantage of disappointment with Democrats to reelect Republicans, moving the government further to the right.
Falling into this disastrous cycle today would be catastrophic, as the Trumpite Republican Party, especially its far-right base, is more radical, more nationalist, and far more dangerous than ever before.
In Germany, the Social Democratic Party sacrificed its class independence in order to support General Paul Von Hindenburg in the 1932 election. The Social Democrats backed Hindenburg to stop Hitler from winning the presidency, only to see Hindenburg turn around and appoint Hitler Chancellor.
Lesser evilism paved the way to the greatest defeat for working people in history. The working class parties — the Social Democratic and the Communist parties — could have formed a united front, electorally and in the streets, to challenge both Hindenburg and Hitler.
In other words, if they had rejected lesser evilism they might have stopped both the lesser and greater evil.
In Spain, the Communist Party abandoned class independence and the fight for revolution to support a popular front with bourgeois parties, in order to defend the republic against Franco’s military uprising. Then, in order to keep the peace with their capitalist allies, the popular front government rejected demands for land reform, workers control of production, and Moroccan independence.
These policies demoralised the forces that had defeated Franco’s troops in the first months of the civil war, paving the way for Franco’s victory, and bloody repression of the working class and peasantry.
In 1964, Johnson portrayed Goldwater as an irresponsible war-monger, ready to escalate the war in Vietnam — which Johnson himself did with a vengeance after his election. His ally, Daley, the Democratic mayor in Chicago, had no problem unleashing a police riot against anti-war demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
On the presidential campaign trail, Bill Clinton promised to block the North American Free Trade Act, which garnered him the endorsement of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial organisations. Once in office, Clinton signed NAFTA, undermining unions and working conditions in both the U.S. and Mexico.
Barack Obama promised progressive immigration reform during his first presidential campaign, winning him the support of immigrant rights activists who had just organised nationwide strikes and demonstrations on “the day without an immigrant.” As president, Obama became the “Deporter-in-chief,” expelling more immigrants than any other president in US history.
Independent mass struggles are decisive for winning reforms regardless of who is in office. They are also the main vehicle to defeat the Right. Supporting the Democrats as a lesser evil, however, has compromised those struggles in the past and will do so again today, creating space for the growth of the far right.
The Democrats and their policies have been the petri dish for the growth of the Trumpite Right. For the past three decades, the Democrats worked with the Republicans to push through the neoliberal restructuring of capitalism, generating class and social inequalities not seen since the Robber Baron era.
Obama’s response to the Great Recession made those conditions worse; he bailed out banks and corporations, and imposed austerity on workers and the poor, leading to an epidemic of diseases of despair like opioid addiction. The neoliberalism of the Democrats alienated workers, oppressed people, and downwardly mobile sections of the middle class — opening the door not only for the socialist Left, but also the nationalist far right.
Trump bolted through that door; combining opposition to the establishment with racism, xenophobia, and misogyny; offering reactionary solutions to real problems. He galvanised mostly the middle class, but also a section of desperate workers, to ride to victory in the slaveholders’ Electoral College.
The left will not defeat Trump or Trumpism by supporting Biden and the Democratic Party. The Right will grow no matter what the outcome of the election. If Trump wins, which looks increasingly unlikely, he will embolden the Right as he has done throughout his term.
If Biden wins, he will not stop the Right. Despite Bernie Sanders’ claims, Biden is not promising progressive reforms that would rip up the roots of the Right. Instead, he intends to create a government of national unity that restores the neoliberal consensus and rehabilitates U.S. imperialism to project its power throughout the world, especially against China.
Those policies will enflame grievances that Trump — or even more reactionary figures — will exploit, to build right wing electoral campaigns and armed fascist gangs. Already, the Republican Right are plotting subterfuge to paralyse an incoming Biden administration.
The main danger in such a situation is that the Left will not only give Biden a honeymoon, but defend him against Republican attacks, further marginalising itself as an alternative to the two capitalist parties. That will leave the Right as the only opposition to a neoliberal regime.
The tragic dynamic of this long election cycle underscores the importance of opposing lesser evilism.
The Left began with unrealistic expectations that Sanders could win the nomination and push the Democrats in a progressive direction.
Predictably, the capitalist establishment united to defeat Sanders more easily than it did in 2016, and held him to his pledge to campaign for the Democratic nominee. Most of the Left have followed him to support Biden.
It is particularly tragic to see DSA leaders issue a statement calling for members to campaign against Trump (i.e. for Biden), in violation of the “Bernie or Bust” resolution passed at our last convention. While their organising for Biden will have no impact on the election, it will encourage a new generation of socialists to adopt the self-defeating politics of lesser evilism.
They and others on the Left justify their decision on the basis that Trump is a fascist who poses a unique danger to democracy. They argue in this “exceptional case” that the Left should abandon its opposition to the Democrats to defeat a potential autocrat in the White House.
Trump may aspire to be a Mussolini and rule without the usual limits of capitalist democracy. However, most Republican elected officials, the state bureaucracy, Pentagon, CIA, FBI, as well as the majority of the capitalist class, do not support the imposition of a dictatorship.
The real fascist danger is in the streets. While the far right and fascist militias are a growing threat — as the plot by a Michigan militia plot to kidnap the state governor proves — fortunately, they are still internally divided and relatively small in number.
After an all-out national mobilisation to Portland, Oregon, the Proud Boys managed to assemble only 200 people. We can defeat their ilk not by relying on Biden’s deployment of the FBI — which has always targeted the Left — but by building mass mobilisations to confront them and drive them off the streets.
In order for the new socialist Left to survive, grow, and build a real alternative to the two parties of capital, we need to break with the disastrous legacy of lesser evilism. We encourage socialists not to waste their time campaigning for Biden and his party, no matter what they do at the voting booth, or on their ballot.
We must prioritise building class and social struggles, beginning by defending the right to vote and the election outcome by taking to the streets — something Democrats will oppose, urging reliance on the courts and Congress, instead. And we need to prepare now to confront the continued capitalist offensive that a Biden administration will lead in the coming months and years.
• Abridged, with thanks, from the online magazine Tempest