Dan La Botz is a well-known US socialist activist, a member of the Solidarity group. In next month's elections he will be standing for the Senate in the US state of Ohio. For more on his campaign, see danlabotz.com.
How did you decide to run?
I had been following and writing about the economic crisis for about two years and it was clear to me this was no ordinary recession but really a depression. Then the Tea Party appeared presenting a right-wing interpretation of events. And they attacked Barack Obama, accusing him of being a socialist. These three things to me - the crisis, the Tea Party, and the debate over socialism - made it seem to me a propitious moment for a socialist campaign for office. Socialist Party members had asked me if I would be interested in being their Senate candidate, but I also considered the Green Party in which some socialists are active. I felt that I would be more comfortable as a Socialist Party candidate where I could really point out the necessity of building a socialist alternative.
What are the main issues you're running on?
I have been running on three main issues: providing jobs for all, dealing with the environmental crisis, and ending U.S. involvement in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. I argue that when private enterprise has failed the government and the people have to act. I suggest that idle plants should be put to work under the control of unions, workers, consumers and with the advice of the environmental and social justice movements. I call for an end to the use of coal and the end of mountain top removal coal-mining techniques, while providing incomes to coal miners and power plant workers. I argue for getting all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq now and stopping the drone bombing of Pakistan. Of course, I also talk about the rights issues and the scapegoating of African Americans, Latino immigrants, Muslims, and school teachers.
How has it gone so far? What kind of reception have you had? Who's involved in the campaign? What kind of labour movement/trade union backing have you had?
This is the first Socialist Party race in Ohio for the US Senate since the 1930s. The Socialist Party had very little organization in Ohio when I began in January of 2010 and unfortunately there have been no great labor or social movements taking place in this state. So we began with the idea of using the campaign to educate people about socialism, to build an organization of supporters of a socialist campaign, and to build networks of activists. We have tried to find our initial organizers among those on the revolutionary left, members of the Socialist Party, of Solidarity, and of the International Socialist Organization, all three of which have endorsed the campaign. We have also had support from leaders, chapters, and activists in the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and informally from members of the Ohio State Labor Party, a section of the Labor Party originally inspired by Tony Mazzochi in 1996.
I should explain that this Labor Party began with the participation of several major unions and many left organizations - but it basically soon decided that it would not run candidates to avoid conflict with labor union officials who by-and-large support the Democratic Party. The Labor Party pledged to be involved in labor union and activist work, but it had no candidates (with one or two local exceptions). Consequently it did not represent a real political party and over time its union and left supporters drifted away. The Green Party's Ralph Nader campaign [for president in 2000 and 2004] was obviously far more compelling than anything the Labor Party might do.
We have also had support from some individual Green Party members. In different parts of the state peace activists, labor union activists, and students have supported the campaign.
Throughout the United States the labor unions with very few exceptions are absolutely tied to the Democratic Party. Despite my long record as a labor union reformer and activist - or perhaps in part because of that record - I have been unable to get a hearing before local labor unions or federations. The AFL-CIO and Change to Win [the two national union federations] are both committed to the Democrats. All of the local union leaderships rushed to endorse Democrats early and are committed to electing them. Virtually the only exception to this in the US is the United Electrical Workers Union (UE) which has virtually no presence in Ohio.
What kind of achievements are you expecting or hoping for, votes-wise and otherwise?
We have spoken to thousands of people in the state, had our platform and positions published in many newspapers and received radio and television coverage of the campaign. We brought a Federal Election Commission complaint to protest our exclusion from the debates organized by the newspapers and television stations in the state. While we hope to receive thousands of votes, we will also measure the success of this campaign by our own goals of carrying out an educational campaign, building networks of activists, and creating a small socialist movement in Ohio.
Are there many other socialist candidates in these elections? What are you advocating workers do where there's no socialist standing?
There are a few other socialist candidates running in the United States under various party labels: Socialist Party, Green Party, Peace and Freedom Party and perhaps others. Where there are no socialist parties or candidates, I would suggest that people vote for the Green Party candidates or for progressive independent candidates on the left. I believe that a future working-class party in the United States will come out of a workers' movement, an upheaval from below, but in the meantime the electoral parties on the left (Green, P&F, LP, Socialist, etc) serve an important role in raising radical platforms, in staking out a position to the left of the Democrats, and in allowing voters to register and us to measure the weight of the far left in U.S politics. While none of these parties today has reached the status of a mass working-class party, we can play an important role as the catalysts of a future workers' party in the United States.
What's your take on the election more generally? I've read Solidarity articles anticipating a swing to the right in voting patterns, because of disillusionment with Obama and a right-wing offensive.
The right wing of the Republican Party has helped to finance and organize the Tea Party movement and through both that movement and that party will benefit from the disillusionment of many with Obama. At the same time, we should not overlook the fact that polls by Gallup, Pew and Rasmussen show that about a third of American voters, especially young voters, are favorably disposed toward socialism. So what we are seeing is a polarization of the country, as part moves to the right and another part moves toward the left, with many left in the middle. The problem is that the level of class struggle is at an historic low point both in the labor unions and the social movements.
You're a member of Solidarity, but standing for the Socialist Party. Can you say more about that?
I am a member of Solidarity, but our organization has little or no experience up to now with electoral campaigns. The Socialist Party which offered the opportunity to run on their ticket has both the historic name of Eugene V. Debs and Norman Thomas, enormously popular socialist leaders, and the experience of being involved in electoral campaigns. The Socialist Party principles and platform are excellent documents and that I could whole-heartedly endorse, so I felt quite comfortable in also joining the SP and running on the SP ticket. The SP national staff have been very supportive and helpful in the campaign, as have the party's members.
What next, after the election?
We plan to continue to work to build activist and socialist networks in Ohio and to be involved in the movements which we have supported for years in Ohio, in the United States, and in international solidarity.
What can socialists in other countries do to support your campaign?
Socialists in other countries can let their compatriots and others around the world know that in the United States there are those who stand against American imperialism, militarism and war. We want to be known as the party, the candidate and the campaign of international working-class solidarity.