Lost Opportunities: the ISO, the Sawant Campaign, and the 2012 Elections

by Ty Moore and Philip Locker (Socialist Alternative) on January 7, 2013

Originally posted at Socialist Alternative.

We are republishing below a letter from the International Socialist Organization (ISO) to Socialist Alternative (SA) regarding our request, and their refusal, to endorse our candidate, Kshama Sawant, who was challenging the most powerful legislator in Washington state, Democratic Speaker of the House Frank Chopp. Running as a Socialist Alternative candidate, Kshama Sawant received 29% and over 20,000 votes in her Seattle district.

This historic result demonstrated the significant vacuum to the left of the Democrats for working-class forces and the left. With Obama’s re-election and major struggles of workers and young people on the agenda, this space will grow substantially in the coming period. In Seattle and nationally, Socialist Alternative is approaching groups and individuals on the left to discuss the pressing need to work together to run independent left and working-class candidates in the 2013 elections and beyond to help prepare the way for a broad political party of workers and young people.

Starting in July 2012, we approached leading Seattle ISO members on a number of occasions asking for their endorsement of the Sawant campaign and inviting discussion. After these requests were ignored, we sent two emails in October to the Seattle and national ISO asking if they would support the Sawant campaign. Their reply, printed below, outlines their reasons for not doing so.

These issues have also been publicly debated on The North Star blog, where ISO supporters repeat the arguments made in their letter to us. We believe the issues raised in this debate are politically important if the potential for socialists to rapidly grow in the new situation opening up in the U.S. is to be realized. Discussion and debate on the left, if done in an honest and constructive manner, can help clarify important political issues regarding analysis, strategy, and tactics to most effectively build the workers’ movement. In this light, we decided to more fully explain our views in response to the points raised by the ISO.

 


 

The Political Situation Facing the Left in 2012

In our view, the U.S. left largely missed a major opportunity to intervene in the 2012 elections. Five years into an economic crisis, with millions disillusioned in Obama and the Democrats, in the wake of Occupy and the global revolt of 2011, we argued throughout 2012 for the left to seize the moment and begin seriously building a political opposition to the two corporate parties.

Our decision to run a vigorous campaign in Seattle for the Washington State House in 2012 was based on a concrete analysis of the situation in 2012. We understood that due to the presidential elections and the level of consciousness in the U.S. it was overwhelmingly likely that mass struggles would be limited in 2012 and that the main arena would, unfortunately, be in the electoral field. We also believed there was an opening for left-wing challenges to the Democrats to give voice to the Occupy mood in 2012.

We ran as an attempt to test our perspectives in practice and, if proven right, provide an example of what is possible for socialists and wider working-class forces in this new period. We also believed running would be an effective way to popularize socialist and working-class politics and build the socialist movement.

At the same time, we recognized that the majority of progressive workers and ordinary people would in the end vote for Obama and the Democrats. But unlike in 2008, this election would not be dominated by excitement and illusions in Obama – though these still exist for some – and would instead be characterized by a fear of the Republicans and a desire to keep them out.

While adopting a friendly approach to working people who supported Democrats as a “lesser evil,” the left had an obligation to explain the big business character of Obama and the Democratic Party. Our task was to popularize the need to break from the Democrats and build independent working-class politics. At the same time, among an important minority of workers and youth already opposed to both parties, there was a real opportunity to mobilize and politically sharpen this mood.

By standing independent working-class candidates in the elections, we argued the left would be able to intervene in the widespread debates and discussions dominating U.S. politics in 2012, popularize class politics, and strengthen left-wing forces for the social struggles to come after the election.

But nothing is automatic in politics. The objective potential for left and working-class challenges to the Democrats won’t be realized unless serious forces take the initiative and run credible campaigns in elections as a key component part of building mass movements from below. If the working class and the left fail to step into this vacuum, it will allow right-wing populists like the Tea Party, libertarians like Ron Paul and Gary Johnson, and racist anti-immigrant forces to tap into the anger at the establishment and mobilize some of it behind their pro-capitalist and anti-worker agenda.

Unfortunately, the leaders of the labor movement and other social movements continued their bankrupt policy of supporting the Democrats in 2012, as did most of the official progressive left. Yet the radical left also failed to provide a serious lead. With some exceptions, most of the left stood aside and did not present a concrete political alternative to supporting the Democrats, or ran marginal and ineffective campaigns for president.

Differing Electoral Strategies

Over the summer, we appealed for endorsements for Sawant from numerous left organizations in Seattle, prominent individuals, unions, and community groups. The result was an impressive list of endorsements, including from CWA Local 37083 (and ATU Local 587 in the primary election), Seattle’s second most influential newspaper (The Stranger), Jill Stein, Cindy Sheehan, Matt Gonzalez (the former Green Party president of the San Francisco city council who almost was elected mayor of San Francisco as a Green in 2003), many prominent Washington state labor and left-wing activists, as well as the Freedom Socialist Party.

However, when we approached leading Seattle ISO members about the potential for the Sawant campaign to strike a blow against the Democrats and help open up the space for broader left-wing political challenges in Seattle and asked for their support, they were not willing to seriously discuss it. In October, we wrote emails to the Seattle and National ISO again asking if they would support the Sawant campaign and work with us to stimulate a debate on the need to break with the Democrats in Seattle’s labor movement.

Writing for the ISO’s National Steering Committee on November 1, Shaun Harkin’s letter explained the ISO’s main political objection to endorsing the Sawant campaign:

“This year, typically, there are many small socialist organizations who are running election candidates that we are aware of: SA, PSL, SWP, SEP, FSP, SP etc. All of whom are requesting support on the basis that they represent the alternative to the two-corporate parties. Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases these campaigns are geared towards straightforward party-building, have an exceptional weak social base and have little connection to the creation of a genuine broader left alternative based on collaboration.”

In the November general election, Sawant won a historic 29% with over 20,000 votes. This is the highest vote we are aware of for a socialist candidate in a significant race in the U.S. since at least the collapse of Stalinism.

The other socialist election campaigns the ISO mentions along with Sawant were without exception running for president in 2012 and clearly were not credible efforts. The contrast between the two is illustrated by the fact that in a single district of 100,000 voters more people cast ballots for Sawant than the total national vote of all these socialist presidential campaigns put together.

The potential for the Sawant campaign to make an electoral breakthrough was not in doubt when we wrote the ISO before the November election. We had already received prominent endorsements – including Seattle unions – and in the August primary won over 9% of the vote against Democrat Jamie Pederson in position 1 and over 11% of the vote in position 2 as a write-in candidate against Democratic Speaker of the House Frank Chopp.

Even after the far more substantial election results in November, which were a historic development for the left and socialists across the country, we have seen no articles on the ISO’s website commenting on the Sawant campaign, in contrast to the coverage it has received in the Huffington PostTruth OutBlack Agenda Report, the Seattle Times, and a number of left journals and blogs.

The divergence of results between our campaign in Seattle and the myriad of socialist presidential campaigns reflects a divergence of political ideas and methods. While running limited socialist campaigns for educational purposes can play a role under certain conditions, in general we believe it is counter-productive for multiple small socialist groups, with no proven capacity to appeal to wider layers of the working class, to run competing election campaigns for the same office.

Instead, we have urged unity behind the strongest left electoral challenge as a means of striking the biggest possible blow against the two capitalist parties and preparing the ground for building a broad new workers’ party. For this reason, we supported Ralph Nader’s presidential campaigns in 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008, and Jill Stein’s campaign this year.

We disagree with those on the left who refuse to support any party or candidate unless they identify as socialist or anti-capitalist. Our support, on an independent basis, for Nader and Jill Stein in no way prevented us from boldly raising the need for socialism. But socialists need to recognize that, alongside building mass struggles in our communities and workplaces, the central strategic task for the U.S. working class at this stage is to create a mass political vehicle of its own capable of challenging big business.

Such a development, as Marx and Engels argued, would represent an historic advance for the working class in terms of bringing together fighting workers and youth in a common organization that would provide an arena for common struggle, discussion, and debate and greatly strengthen the consciousness and organization of the working class. This would provide unprecedented opportunities for socialist ideas to take root in significant sections of the U.S. working class.

Of course, a mass workers’ party will not be born overnight but will emerge out of the experience of the class struggle, as movements bump up against the political limits of workplace and street protests on the one hand and single-issue lobbying efforts on the other. In fits and starts, often through local initiatives in the first instances, political challenges to the two-party system will become a growing feature of U.S. politics in the coming years.

In most cases, especially where such political challenges emerge from community and workplace struggles, they will not at first adopt a socialist or even an anti-capitalist program and can have quite limited politics. Yet where workers and community struggles move to politically challenge the Democratic and Republican parties, where they are moving to the left, socialists should intervene by offering them support while building a distinct socialist wing within these movements and explaining the need to go further and challenge capitalism.

Flowing from this perspective, we never presented our campaign or organization as “THE alternative to the two corporate parties” as the ISO’s letter implies. Similarly, our goals were never narrowly “geared towards straightforward party-building.”

From the beginning, we explained we were running to provide an example of what was necessary and possible for the left in the 2012 election. We aimed to use our campaign to inspire confidence in others and open up the space for an urgent discussion on running more independent candidates as a step towards more powerful political challenges to the 1% and capitalism. We presented our campaign as an example of how the Occupy movement and activists could channel mass anger at Wall Street in 2012 as the election debates became the centerpiece of political discussion in society (see our “Imagine 200 Occupy Candidates” video and article).

We also used the campaign to popularize socialist ideas to a much wider audience than is normally possible, including in the mass media. In public debates, Frank Chopp was forced to answer our arguments for public ownership and workers democratic control of Microsoft, Boeing, Amazon, other big corporations, and the banks, as well as defend the Democrats record of brutal austerity and tax breaks for the super-rich.

Of course, any self-respecting political trend will take advantage of opportunities to build their organization as a means for fighting for their ideas, and we are not ashamed of our successes building our organization through this campaign. In our view, building a strong socialist movement is vital as a tool to assist wider movements that will emerge to develop the necessary program and strategy to win.

But this in no way stood in opposition to campaigning for and helping to build broader movements of working people and oppressed groups. Guided by this perspective, “party-building” is not, as is often alleged, synonymous with “sectarianism.” While we openly appealed to our supporters to join Socialist Alternative, we consistently raised the need for a broader mass workers party. As a step in this direction, we have also used the success of our campaign to argue for building a broad slate of independent left-wing candidates against the Democrats’ one-party rule in Seattle in the mayoral and city council races in 2013.

The ISO’s Election Analysis

It appears to us that the dismissive attitude of the ISO to the Sawant campaign flowed from their very different analysis and perspectives for the 2012 election, as well as a sectarian hostility to collaborating with SA. The material on socialistworker.org had a one-sided, negative emphasis on the situation facing independent left challenges in 2012 – including Jill Stein’s presidential campaign – dismissing them all as “shoestring efforts” with little support.

While the country was feverishly debating the election, a leading member of the ISO, Lance Selfa, echoed the anti-political, ultra-left mood of many Occupy activists, writing on socialistworker.org:

“When it comes to candidates, though, I think voting is a secondary consideration this year. If you want to register a protest against the two-party duopoly on Election Day, you could vote for Stein or Barr or a socialist candidate. But these are all shoestring efforts that don’t have much behind them. They don’t have the ‘movement’ backing that the recent campaigns of Ralph Nader have, especially his 2000 Green Party candidacy … Nothing similar exists today. So we need to spend our time building on the lessons of the upsurge of struggle of the last two years.”  (Emphasis added.)

There is no doubt that the options available to vote for on the left were quite weak in 2012. But to say, “If you want to register a protest … you could vote for Stein or Barr or a socialist candidate” is to evade the issues. The election was for a large part of 2012 the dominant issue for most politically conscious workers and youth. Socialists have an obligation to take a stand, a position, and argue for what we believe is necessary even if the conditions are not the most favorable.

Given the massive pressure on left activists to support Obama and the Democrats, such a vague position amounts to avoiding taking a clear stand against this destructive pressure. It is not enough to simply expose the corporate character of the Democrats. A clear alternative must be explained. In an election that working people are following, it is far preferable to concretize one’s opposition to the Democrats by promoting an electoral alternative, who workers should vote for.

As far as we are aware, the ISO did not work to change this unfavorable situation by supporting or helping to build more viable, stronger left-wing challenges. Even on the level of general propaganda, it is very hard to find in the ISO’s material in 2012 discussion on the need and immediate possibilities to build a left, working-class political challenge to the two corporate parties.

Much of the ISO’s material emphasizes the need to build struggles, counterpoising this to the “secondary consideration” of elections. Socialist Alternative opposes an “electoralist” approach. For us, the decisive question is what will serve the interests of the class struggle and advance the consciousness and organization of the working class, whether that is through “extra-parliamentary” means or by running in capitalist elections.

For example, in Wisconsin in 2011 we argued against the strategy of the labor leaders – and unfortunately most of the left who trailed behind them – to channel the mass struggle against Scott Walker’s union-busting into electoral channels and the Democratic Party via a recall campaign. Our position was that in February-March 2011 the massive movement in the streets had the potential to rapidly defeat Walker by taking decisive measures, starting with a one-day public sector general strike as many workers were calling for already.

Yet it is one-sided to simply emphasize struggles without providing a clear strategy for how social movements can build a political expression – especially at a time when the situation is dominated by discussion on political elections as it was for much of 2012! We consistently point to the need for mass movements in the workplaces and communities as the key to social change, but link that with the necessity of uniting social movements into a broader political challenge to corporate rule and capitalism.

In the ISO’s letter to us, they wrote: “In fact, SA’s website offers up an analysis of the 2012 that critiques other alternative candidates such as Jill Stein of the Green Party for not having enough of a base in social movements and the working class.”

You would never guess from what the ISO wrote here that Socialist Alternative, in fact, endorsed Jill Stein and offered her campaign support across the country, including organizing a large joint election rally with the Green Party in Seattle. We did not hide our political differences with the Green Party and Stein, and we openly acknowledged the weaknesses of Stein’s campaign, including her lack of name recognition and the Green Party’s inadequate resources, which meant the campaign would not be able to take full advantage of the opening that existed.

However, while it did not have the strength of Nader’s campaigns, it was the best option available to register a left-wing protest vote in the context of the 2012 presidential race, given the failure of a stronger left or working-class candidate to step forward. Despite these weaknesses, we think Stein ran a commendable campaign that helped raise debate in 2012 about breaking from the Democrats and building a left political alternative.

The Chicago Teachers Union

The experience of the Chicago teachers provides another example of what could be possible. Undoubtedly, the socialists and the ISO in the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) played an important role in the success of this very important strike. In light of the role of the Democratic Party, nationally and in Chicago, in leading the attack on teachers’ unions, the strike drove a wedge between thousands of the best union activists in Chicago and the empty politics of “lesser-evilism.”

But given the leading position of the ISO within the CTU, it is unfortunate they did not mount a real public campaign – conducted in a friendly, explanatory manner – on the need for CTU to initiate slates of independent labor/community candidates to challenge the Democratic Party machine in Chicago in upcoming city, state, and even federal races. Nowhere was this idea even raised in the extensive commentary on the strike carried in socialistworker.org.

An electoral campaign by the CTU, independent of the Democrats and running on a left-wing, pro-education, pro-union platform, would represent a major step forward. We understand that many members of the CTU may support the Democrats and not, at this stage, agree to run independent working-class candidates. But events will continue to weaken these illusions and strengthen the openings for independent political action. Socialists need to take a lead and argue for what is necessary by making the case today and prepare the way for future developments.

The Experience of the Labor Party in the 1990s

Shaun Harkin also wrote:

“The ISO is interested in genuine collaboration amongst left and progressive organizations and forces. As case in point here are several examples on the electoral front your organization would be familiar with: we were active supporters of the effort to build and launch the Labor Party in the US in the 1990s; we actively supported and campaigned for Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo in their campaigns in 2000 and 2004; we were part of a broad coalition of left organizations supporting Dan La Botz as Ohio’s Socialist Party candidate for US Senate in 2010; we spearheaded the organization of a broad Socialist Contingent at the 2009 AFL-CIO sponsored rally in Washington, DC in which Socialist Alternative participated.”

We are aware of these examples, with the exception of the statement that the ISO was “active supporters of the effort to build and launch the Labor Party in the US in the 1990s.” Our organization played a very active, often leading role in the Labor Party throughout the 1990s. We were not aware of the ISO playing a role of supporting or building the Labor Party or its launch. In fact, in discussions with ISO members at the time, we were told a number of positions, ranging from the ISO wanting to build a revolutionary party and not wanting to help build a competing reformist party, to the ISO saying they were still discussing the issue and had not yet arrived at a position.

Procedural Questions

The ISO letter to us, and especially the comments on The North Star website, focused a lot of attention on our allegedly mistaken methods of contacting them to ask for an endorsement. Their letter to us states:

“An email sent two weeks before an election to the national leadership of the ISO, and not even directly, is not a serious effort at collaboration. You and SA’s elected leadership, as a national organization and part of an international tendency, would and should know this quite well. It’s not even a gesture in such a direction.”

The reality is that starting in July we verbally approached leading Seattle ISO members on a number of occasions asking for an endorsement and inviting discussion. Only after these requests were ignored did we send two emails to the ISO, the first on October 15, three weeks prior to the election. Both emails were sent to the local and national ISO email addresses. So we do not see what is “not direct” about these methods of contacting the ISO.

The aim of this article is to help clarify important political issues facing serious socialists and activists who are looking for a strategy to fight back. The crisis of capitalism is preparing unprecedented social upheavals, and in this context we share the desire of many politically active workers and youth for more effective and united action on the left.

This is why we have initiated a dialogue in Seattle and elsewhere about running broad left slates of candidates in 2013 and beyond to prepare the ground for bigger developments down the road. Genuine unity and collaboration requires an understanding on where agreement exists, as well as clarity, open discussion, and debate about disagreements. We hope members of the ISO and other serious activists will view this article in that spirit.

 


 

Below we republish a Nov. 1 letter from Shaun Harkin, writing for the ISO’s Steering Committee, explaining their reasons for not endorsing the Sawant campaign.

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Shaun Harkin
Date: Nov 1, 2012 11:47 AM
Subject: Response to Endorsement Request for Sawant Election Campaign
To: Patrick Ayers
Cc: <[email protected]>
Dear Patrick (SA National CCed)

This is to acknowledge receipt of your correspondence dated October 15th (and now a follow-up letter we have just received dated October 29th).

ISO members, as you know, won’t be voting for Democratic Party candidates in any election and are encouraged to vote for genuine ant-corporate third party alternatives.

This year, typically, there are many small socialist organizations who are running election candidates that we are aware of: SA, PSL, SWP, SEP, FSP, SP etc. All of whom are requesting support on the basis that they represent the alternative to the two-corporate parties. Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases these campaigns are geared towards straightforward party-building, have an exceptional weak social base and have little connection to the creation of a genuine broader left alternative based on collaboration.

In fact, SA’s website offers up an analysis of the 2012 that critiques other alternative candidates such as Jill Stein of the Green Party for not having enough of a base in social movements and the working class. This makes one wonder as to SA’s conception of itself and the sounding board it draws upon for insight.

The ISO is interested in genuine collaboration amongst left and progressive organizations and forces. As case in point here are several examples on the electoral front your organization would be familiar with: we were active supporters of the effort to build and launch the Labor Party in the US in the 1990s; we actively supported and campaigned for Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo in their campaigns in 2000 and 2004; we were part of a broad coalition of left organizations supporting Dan La Botz as Ohio’s Socialist Party candidate for US Senate in 2010; we spearheaded the organization of a broad Socialist Contingent at the 2009 AFL-CIO sponsored rally in Washington, DC in which Socialist Alternative participated.

An email sent two weeks before an election to the national leadership of the ISO, and not even directly, is not a serious effort at collaboration. You and SA’s elected leadership, as a national organization and part of an international tendency, would and should know this quite well. It’s not even a gesture in such a direction. In fact, we know of no occasions when SA members, national or otherwise, have contacted the ISO’s national leadership to discuss collaboration in any electoral or social struggle effort. This kind of nonconstructive behaviour serves to reinforce rather than overcome sectarianism which is of benefit to no one.

Signed.
Shaun Harkin
For ISO Steering Committee

  • RedPleb

    “An electoral campaign by the CTU, independent of the Democrats and running on a left-wing, pro-education, pro-union platform, would represent a major step forward.”

    You do realize how much of a practical impossibility that would have been? To take a union of tens of thousands, right after a major strike action, and within a single month turn it around to launch a electoral campaign? Even if ISO members had absolute dictatorial control control over CTU and could make it turn on a dime in a blink of an eye (which they don’t and they can’t), that would still be a logistical impossibility.

    “The reality is that starting in July we verbally approached leading Seattle ISO members on a number of occasions asking for an endorsement and inviting discussion.”

    Yeah, you are admitting to it right there. That is NOT a serious or professional way to ask endorsement from another Socialist group, in any situation. That’s how you ask a friend to help you move into a new apartment, not how you ask a national organization to orient themselves towards you and have them invest their own resources and time into someone else’s project.

    I’m all for taking the proper lessons from this situation on building a electoral alliance the RIGHT way next time around. But you also have to realize that even the ISO did endorse the Sawant campaign at the 11th hour, it wouldn’t really have been the silver bullet that would have ensured victory.

    • Gumby

      Talking with Seattle ISO members about being involved in something doesn’t strike me as unserious or unprofessional. Why not talk with the local organization, the people you know and have done something with before hopefully. Aren’t branches supposed to be semi-autonomous anyways, free to decide their own campaigns locally? Besides the Seattle ISO I assume contacted national to tell them anyways, so why so much hay. I think this seems like a really bureaucratic way of refusing to support something. Yea maybe SA could have asked earlier but because of the barriers between left groups by the nature of their competition with each other the collaborative instincts of activists are stymied. A late attempt to break though that is better than none at all. I wish that the ISO could have broken through their own thought barriers to meet this effort half way. Something small would have gone a long way to better relations. An email announcement, republishing an article or mentioning Kshama Sawant’s name once in an article, really anything that takes no effort is inexcusably absent from the ISO actions.

      • Gumby

        Actually upon finishing the article I see that SA first asked the ISO about supporting that campaign in July which seems plenty early to me.

        • RedPleb

          We are a talking about a political endorsement of one group to another, not some local movement work around a given issue. That does require something a little more serious then “verbally approaching” someone. But that July-October window of time works both ways, what were the SA doing then? No doubt after being “verbally approached” the Seattle branch would have a least told them that they the local branch don’t have the authority or mandate from the national membership to make such of decision on behalf of the whole organization, that SA needed to contact the national office. What took them so long?

          But you’re missing another point here. There are dozens of socialist and other left groups in the US. Dozens! And a good percentage of them run candidates, and not all in farcical presidential campaigns, but local campaigns as well. SPUSA especially. The ISO endorsed none of them in 2012 (including not Jill Stein, despite what the above article implies). The Sawant campaign was a fascinating and exciting fluke, but it could have just as easily ended like all the rest, with no positive results at all. That letter from before the election was coming from that assumption informed by the past history of such election campaigns in the US, that it’ll be just another waste of time and it makes no sense to muddy ourselves in it. In 2014 things could be different.

          But as I said on another thread awhile back. All this whining that we didn’t want to come to your shindig is of little avail in terms of the results. Even if the ISO had endorsed the campaign back in July, the results would have probably been the same. This shouldn’t be characterized as a “lost opportunity”. We are not the scapegoat of all the lefts problem, we not that important.

          • http://www.SocialistAlternative.org Philip Locker

            @RedPleb

            When we approached leading members of the ISO in Seattle to request they endorse the Sawant campaign and work with us to push for a debate on the issue in the Seattle Teachers union, where the ISO has members with a prominent position, we were not told that they did not “have the authority or mandate from the national membership to make such of decision on behalf of the whole organization, that SA needed to contact the national office.” Instead, they said told they would discuss it.

            After a few weeks, we asked again. And again was told, we have not discussed it yet. After a few more weeks we asked again, and was told they were not going to discuss it and would not be endorsing Sawant.

            On the lost opportunity: Our statement does not say that if the ISO had supported the Sawant campaign we would have won, or it would have made a major difference in the results! We are pointing out it reflected a sectarian and mistaken political approach, and that all forces who agree on the need to build a left alternative to the Democrats should collaborate where there are credible campaigns being waged (i.e. were not talking about the marginal socialist presidential campaigns), which will help strengthen these efforts.

            It was not a mystery when we approached the ISO that the Sawant campaign was qualitatively different from the various Socialist presidential campaigns. Over the summer we won the endorsement of ATU 587, and in the fall a CWA local. We had the endorsement of the second most influential newspaper in Seattle, the Stranger. We won 11% of the vote against Frank Chopp in the August primary as a write in candidate. We had received extensive news coverage in Seattle. So our result in November – while definitely at the high end of our expectations – was not some shot out of the blue! In fact, in my conversations with ISO members over the summer I made the point that we thought we had the chance to win the highest vote ever for an independent left candidate in Seattle’s history – a assessment which proved 100% correct.

          • AT

            Red Pleb: “The Sawant campaign was a fascinating and exciting fluke, but it could have just as easily ended like all the rest, with no positive results at all.”

            It would have been impossible for the Sawant campaign to end like the other left challenges to the Wall St. parties because of the very different political conditions that existed locally, and the subjective factor of us seizing these favorable conditions. If the campaign could have just as easily been a flop, the historic results we did achieve (see our website stopthechopp.org) would not have been so far above the results of the other campaigns, and beyond many of our expectations.

            Red Pleb: “Even if the ISO had endorsed the campaign back in July, the results would have probably been the same. This shouldn’t be characterized as a ‘lost opportunity’. We are not the scapegoat of all the lefts problem, we not that important.”

            It is absolutely true that ISO shouldn’t be scapegoated for the left’s problems, but the ISO is important as one of the largest socialist organizations with roots in many communities, and therefore should take part with other left groups in resolving the left’s problems–like our chronic inability to genuinely collaborate with one another, especially when other groups are reaching out to it as Socialist Alternative did. We also had no illusion that ISO was the silver bullet of victory for the Sawant campaign. The point of reaching out to ISO wasn’t to win a campaign, but to start real left unity work and spur a debate on the left of how we should approach capitalist elections.

          • redfred

            Even if what you are saying is right, all of it, a little bit of good will in return would have gone a long way, and helped in the future, long-term. Socialist groups need to work together, the ISO is too competitive, too dismissive of those who they should be in solidarity with, that is even clear by the bitter tone of RedPleb’s post.

    • Ty Moore

      RedPleb misreads our argument about the Chicago Teachers Union initiative. If you read the sentence quoted by RedPleb in context it is clear we were not arguing that the ISO should have demanded the Chicago Teachers Union immediately, following their strike, mount an electoral challenge in the 2012 elections. Rather, we said:

      “But given the leading position of the ISO within the CTU, it is unfortunate they did not mount a real public campaign – conducted in a friendly, explanatory manner – on the need for CTU to initiate slates of independent labor/community candidates to challenge the Democratic Party machine in Chicago in upcoming city, state, and even federal races. Nowhere was this idea even raised in the extensive commentary on the strike carried in socialistworker.org.”

      The issue is about which direction socialists point, about the political lead we offer to the more serious, conscious union activists. During the strike, and in the weeks before and after, the entire U.S. left was watching CTU, and the leadership of CORE, for inspiration and direction. It was known that the ISO played an important role in the leadership of CTU, and so the articles on SocialistWorker.org were widely circulated and scrutinized. What lessons and political strategy were offered to take the labor movement forward? Our frustration was that, with the strike clearly exposing the Democrats as a party of Wall Street privatizers, there was no real initiative, much less arguments in the ISO’s material about how the unions (and wider progressive forces) could link their economic struggle to a clear political strategy to challenge big business and the 1%.

  • http://pugetsoundsocialists.org Steve Leigh

    [moderator note: I am copying and pasting this comment just left under the article "Sawant, Stein, and Post-2012 Left Strategy"; it seems more appropriate here]

    I am a member of the ISO in Seattle. I and several members of the ISO here were ” approached” by SA members to endorse Sawant. What was this ” approach”? When a member of theirs happened to run into one of us , they would ask ” Are you going to endorse the Sawant campaign?” There was never even an email or phone call to say ” Can we set up a meeting to talk about why you should endorse the Sawant campaign?”. This is a common practice of SA. They imply that they are involved in trying to set up a broad campaign of some sort. In reality, all the details have been worked out by them in advance. After that, they try to get others on the left to endorse their initiative and imply that they are sectarian if they don’t. I always got the impression that the real reason for the question was to be able to ” expose” the ISO as being sectarian if we didn’t endorse the SA campaign. I believe that the SA article is another example of this.If they had been serious about getting an ISO endorsement , they would have made a proposal to the ISO. Those supporting the Sawant campaign could argue that it shouldn’t take a formal proposal. However, if an endorsement is wanted and the potential endorser is reluctant, and you are really serious , you will make the effort. In fact, there was never a serious proposal to the ISO until the letter to our national steering committee, which was too close to the election to even consider. SA should know that the ISO is a NATIONAL organization. A serious proposal should be sent to the ISO national office, not just to a local branch. SA rarely is involved in legitimate coalition building—i.e. trying to build a broad meeting around an issue and leaving it up to those participating to shape the coalition democratically. So why didn’t the ISO endorse?—the letter from our National Steering Committee explains it well. There are other reasons as well: In spite of its protestation to the contrary, SA has an electoralist orientation. In the abstract, there is no reason not to be engaged in struggle AND in elections. However , in the concrete reality of a small revolutionary left today, engaging seriously in an election pulls necessary resources away from struggle. As Engels said ” One real step forward in the movement is worth a thousand programs” . SA during the Fall spent virtually all its resources on the election, and therefore put virtually no work into movement struggles, except to show up at rallies to promote the Sawant campaign. The Seattle ISO was engaged in several important struggles , which we felt were more important than any election campaign. We decided to prioritize those. Given our perspective on the election, an endorsement would have been only on paper. The role of elections in building for socialist revolution is a long and important discussion. In short, struggle , especially class struggle is the basis of winning reforms as well as building in the long run for revolution. Elections can aid in the struggle —but our relation to elections must always be based on an assessment of how they will impact struggle. This assessment must always be concrete, and not just based on abstract principles . To dismiss the ISO position on the Sawant campaign as silly or sectarian etc. ignores this theoretically important question. Just as importantly, it ignores the important concrete application of the general principles of socialists and elections. Given the weakness of left-wing struggle in the U.S. today, the priority of socialists today should be on building actual struggle on the ground. The electoral expressions of that struggle need to be seen as just that—-not a substitute for the struggle itself.

    • Gumby

      I don’t understand. Did ISO members not tell SA that they would discuss it as Phillip says above? Saying that a discussion would occur gives the impression that it was actually being considered rather than that it required a formal proposal. If a formal proposal was required why didn’t anyone from the ISO say that directly to the SA folks when they talked? Also did the local ISO members talk with the national ISO about this invitation? If not, why not? If so, why no response to SA members? It doesn’t seem like very good communication to me.

    • Jess Spear

      “Given the weakness of left-wing struggle in the U.S. today, the priority of socialists today should be on building actual struggle on the ground.”

      But, what are socialists to do when the majority of the population looks to elections for change? (Especially during a period of economic crisis and both parties discredited, causing people to look for alternatives.)

      “our relation to elections must always be based on an assessment of how they will impact struggle.”

      One of the main barriers to struggle is the Democratic Party—known as the “graveyard of movements.” Millions of left-wing people vote Democratic because they have illusions in them, feel they are truly the lesser evil, and ultimately see no other political alternative. Also, many activists (I would argue the majority) engage in struggle in the streets, but then vote for the Democrats. It is the task of socialists to expose the Democrats as a big business party and explain the need for a mass workers party to represent the interests of the 99%. Running (or supporting) a local campaign that challenges the Democrats gives Socialists the opportunity to both explain the need to break with the Democrats and show that it is possible.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      “I am a member of the ISO in Seattle. I and several members of the ISO here were ‘approached’ by SA members to endorse Sawant. What was this ‘approach’? When a member of theirs happened to run into one of us , they would ask ‘Are you going to endorse the Sawant campaign?’ There was never even an email or phone call to say ‘Can we set up a meeting to talk about why you should endorse the Sawant campaign?’.”

      If the ISO were serious and open to it, ISO members would have asked them in response, “Can we set up a meeting to talk about it?”

      “This is a common practice of SA. They imply that they are involved in trying to set up a broad campaign of some sort. In reality, all the details have been worked out by them in advance. After that, they try to get others on the left to endorse their initiative and imply that they are sectarian if they don’t.”

      So it’s a bit like the ISO’s Campaign to End the Death Penalty — a worthy effort that does good work but remains a one-organization united front nonetheless.

      What’s the problem then?

      “I always got the impression that the real reason for the question was to be able to ‘expose’ the ISO as being sectarian if we didn’t endorse the SA campaign.”

      The ISO could have nipped that one in the bud by saying “yes” instead of “no.” That would be the obvious course of action if the ISO really feared that Socialist Alternative was laying a trap for ya’ll.

      “SA should know that the ISO is a NATIONAL organization. A serious proposal should be sent to the ISO national office, not just to a local branch.”

      So local ISO branches don’t have local autonomy? Every major local decision runs through the national office?

      “SA during the Fall spent virtually all its resources on the election, and therefore put virtually no work into movement struggles, except to show up at rallies to promote the Sawant campaign. The Seattle ISO was engaged in several important struggles , which we felt were more important than any election campaign. We decided to prioritize those.”

      Did any of those struggles win? Is there any concrete gain you can point to that vindicates the “struggles not elections” semi-anarchist argument you’ve made?

      “Given our perspective on the election,
      an endorsement would have been only on paper.”

      Every little bit helps when you’re running what Selfa described as a “shoestring campaign,” especially since Socialist Worker is a widely read online paper.

      “To dismiss the ISO position on the Sawant campaign as silly or sectarian etc. ignores this theoretically important question.”

      Theoretical questions aren’t going to break the Democratic Party’s monopoly over left politics, only fighting and beating them at the ballot box will.

      The sheer number of weak evasions and shifting excuses for the ISO’s refusal to endorse or even mention the Sawant campaign in its online newspaper presented in this thread is astounding.

      What is so hard about saying, “we made a mistake” and explaining the hows and whys?

      • redfred

        Arrogance, Pham, arrogance.

        I also thought that the below statement was ludicrious:
        “I always got the impression that the real reason for the question was to be able to ‘expose’ the ISO as being sectarian if we didn’t endorse the SA campaign.”

        I mean, really? Why not just look at the merits, the ISO is coming off really nasty and petty here, why are you all always so fucking hostile? I am a socialist not involved in any socialist groups, but SA seems to me to be the more sensible and they are trying to work with others.

    • Patrick A.

      Steve’s comments I think show that no matter what method SA used to contact the ISO, it is unlikely they would have endorsed us. As he says, “”There are other reasons [the ISO did not endorse besides the methods of communication] as well”

      In fact the main reasons the ISO did not endorse was not because of methods of communication but because of politics and their hostility to SA. Steve continues, “SA has an electoralist orientation. In the abstract, there is no reason not to be engaged in struggle AND in elections. However , in the concrete reality of a small revolutionary left today, engaging seriously in an election pulls necessary resources away from struggle. As Engels said ‘One real step forward in the movement is worth a thousand programs’”

      This is totally confused. Are you seriously implying that the 20,000 votes Socialist Alternative got in the election in Seattle was NOT “a step forward” and a “waste of resources”? If you were true to the Engels quote you would have drawn the conclusion it was a mistake that you yourself did not take the initiative to get behind the Sawant campaign.

      This gets right to the original point: the Left missed a huge opportunity to take advantage of the historic openings and a ready-made audience of millions feverishly discussing the elections. Had the left run 200 candidates as Socialist Alternative argued, the left would be in a stronger position today for building struggles.

      Steve’s charge that SA was “electoralist” is absurd. It is more of a reflection of his hostility to Socialist Alternative than a real scientific application of the term.

      The 30% Socialist Alternative got in Seattle in the first election campaign we ever ran was not a result of “electoralism”, nor was it simply a “fluke.” It was a product of 1) historic openings 2) a correct estimation by SA 3) bold initiative.

      I think the conclusion we need to draw from SA’s experience is the need for more bold electoral initiatives in the future – and it is fantastic use of our “tiny resources” in the conditions of a presidential election year. But you find this conclusion anywhere on socialistworker.org.

      • Gumby

        Yea it’s really silly that so much of the crappy argument the ISO gives for not endorsing is about how they were contacted, even to the point of being dishonest about it, when there was clearly other important POLITICAL differences. It’s actually kind of pathetic. If the ISO wanted to do it’s own thing rather than support something awesome in even the most miniscule way they should have just said that rather than being all fucking dodgy about how they will ‘discuss it’ or whatever. Communication is important for social creatures and this is no less true in politics. In genuine seriousness ISO, please try to be better at in the future.

      • redfred

        “In fact the main reasons the ISO did not endorse was not because of methods of communication but because of politics and their hostility to SA.”

        That is crystal clear based on their hostile responses both in their letter and their comments on here.

    • AT

      “This is a common practice of SA. They imply that they are involved in trying to set up a broad campaign of some sort. In reality, all the details have been worked out by them in advance. After that, they try to get others on the left to endorse their initiative and imply that they are sectarian if they don’t.”

      Socialist Alternative is determined to improve our work with other left/progressive groups, which is why in our numerous internal discussions over our call for forming a slate of Occupy candidates in the Seattle mayor/city council elections in 2013, we advocate for groups who join us in this effort to have autonomy over their race/candidate/program. Of course debates/discussions/negotiations will still have a place in this “coalition” or whatever you want to call the effort. We expect others to argue for their ideas just as we will, but Socialist Alternative does not seek to maintain control or override groups’ autonomy.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      I propose that the Seattle ISO send people to this coalition-building meeting next week and participate in this effort to oust Democrats from local office:
      https://www.facebook.com/events/542617479091363/

      Here’s hoping for some genuine collaboration.

      • David Berger

        Given that the meeting is billed as “Speaking Tour – Socialist Won Historic Vote – Building an Alternative!”, this hardly looks like a “Coalition-building meeting. And, by the way, since when is “oust[ing] the Democrats from local office” the kind of proposal that revolutionary Marxists can get behind?

        • Brandy Baker

          The sanctimony, nitpicking, and childishness of the ISO knows no bounds.

          • David Berger

            Hard to tell what to make of this: direct statement, irony?

            Just for the record, I am not a member of the ISO, Solidarity or any established left group. I am, however, an active member of the Labor Outreach Committee of Occupy Wall Street.

            • Brandy Baker

              Thank you for your reply, David. I apologize, I thought that this was more dismissive, arrogant snark from the ISO, an attitude from them that got old a long time ago.

              Elections, as much as we hate the capitalist machine, is where people pay the most attention to US politics. This is where we are, and I don’t think that involvement in elections cancels out other work, it enriches it.

              • David Berger

                And thank you.

                As to the ISO, I have had a lot of good experiences with them in Occupy Wall Street. They, Socialist Action and Solidarity have worked within OWS since, actually, before the beginning. There is much to criticize about the ISO, but that criticism should be based on actual work. ‘Nuff said.

                As to elections, my experience is that an election is a black hole. It absorbs enormous amounts of energy. Unless an election campaign is actively and consciously linked to other efforts, especially labor work, it’s not worth it. Concretely, I would like to know what benefit were derived from the Sawant Campaign. Even if Sawant became an effective speaker for socialism after the election it would have been worthwhile.

                One more point: I am very concerned that some people here at North Star are flirting with the Democratic Party. Some things that Pham wrote, which I have asked him to clarify, seem to indicate this. As far as I’m concerned, one of the borders between revolutionary socialism and social democracy is the DP. No socialist worth their salt should be within pissing distance of that rat’s nest.

                • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

                  You’re so concerned about who is allegedly flirting with the Democratic Party while defending an organization that refused to give said party a black eye when the opportunity arose. Your priorities are bass ackwards. Only Frank Chopp benefited from their sectarianism.

                  • David Berger

                    From Pham Binh: You’re so concerned about who is allegedly flirting with the Democratic Party

                    David Berger: You bet your ass I am. I am concerned that people around here are soft on the Democrats. You have still not answered my question: Do you believe that it is ever a permissible tactic for socialists to run candidates in a Democratic Party primary or to back a Democratic Party candidate?

                    How about an answer to that question?

                    From Pham Binh: while defending an organization that refused to give said party a black eye when the opportunity arose.

                    David Berger: I presume that the “black eye” you’re referring to is the Sawant Campaign. Well, the truth is that I have never defended the ISO’s action in that regard. In fact, the ISO just might have been wrong. However, I have criticized SA’s approach to the ISO, and I certainly have criticized the SA’s approach to electoral action and yours.

                    From Pham Binh: Your priorities are bass ackwards.

                    David Berger: I would still like to know your answer to my standard question to you: Do you believe that it is ever a permissible tactic for socialists to run candidates in a Democratic Party primary or to back a Democratic Party candidate?

                    From Pham Binh: Only Frank Chopp benefited from their sectarianism.

                    David Berger: Right. Chopp was re-elected because the ISO failed to support Sawant. Frankly, Pham, I wonder if you believe your own rhetoric.

                    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

                      Refusing to endorse a socialist against a Democrat in a one-on-one race — it doesn’t get any softer than that.

                  • Brandy Baker

                    Pham, What is he talking about when he keeps insisting that you support working with the Democrats?

                    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

                      God only knows. Elsewhere I’ve argued that Democratic primary efforts are a way to “a way to keep us on the plantation.” He likes to chase political phantoms, it seems. It’s antics like this that led him to get banned from Revleft, a real feat considering how many trolls there are there.

                    • Brandy Baker

                      I’ve seen former third party people on the liberal left who run in Democratic Party primaries out of frustration with the third party movements and their low numbers. It is over even before it begins, and that is even if you have large wads of money.

                      Even if you run as an Independent/third party candidate, it takes a lot of personal courage and truly knowing where you stand politically to run as a candidate. The Democratic Party machine has done a great job of making critiquing the power structures look impolite, you are treated as the rude heckler in the room if you tell the truth in a debate, even if you are on the panel! I have seen too many shaky Greens capitulate at the presence of a hello, a handshake, and a smile from a Democratic Party officeholder.

                      So that is what you are up against in a Dem primary.

                • Brandy Baker

                  You’re a little naive when it comes to the ISO, IMO, there is more than the actual work, but I don’t really feel the need to convince you, I am only responding to ask the question: who on here wants to work with the Dems? I haven’t seen this.

                  • David Berger

                    It is my opinion that Pham Binh is flirting with the Dems, in him mind at least. I have asked him this question half a dozen times. And he refuses to answer.

                    “Do you believe that it is ever a permissible tactic for socialists to run candidates in a Democratic Party primary or to back a Democratic Party candidate?”

                    His last answer referred to “haranguing people over abstract hypotheticals.” This is bullshit and evasion. A simple “yes” or “no” is called for. In my opinion, his waffling indicates that his answer is “yes.” Also, the following quote, from this thread, also clearly indicates that a DP support is permissible for him:

                    “Since Rahm has the Democratic nomination for mayor on lock in Chicago, I think it might be possible for CTU activists to lay the basis for some kind of run against him (depending on what the Republicans do, the strength of the Green Party, and other tactical questions) or his close allies on the city council.”

                    If “Rahm” didn’t have the lock on the DP nomination, it’s clear to me that Pham would be willing to back another candidate in the DP primary.

                    • Brandy Baker

                      It could be read that way, or it could be read that because Rahm is in the race, CTU activists should extend their political fight to the electoral arena since Rahm is a neo-liberal piece of trash that came from a presidential administration that has done nothing but further the Bush Administration’s assault on teachers, and as Mayor, he would continue this assault on the local level.

          • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

            I can see why you mistook him for being a member. He seems to share their essentially anarchist, abstentionist position on bourgeois elections.

            • David Berger

              I suggest, Pham, that before you characterize my politics you find out what they are. I am not an abstentionist in bourgeois elections (nor is the ISO for that matter). I have been involved, for good or ill, in electoral campaigns for many years.

              That being said, I regard electoral activity as a possible tactic in this period but certainly not one I would put much stress on. It remains to be seen how much can be built on the Sawant Campaign. My approach right now is in labor struggles, union and nonunio, and rank-and-file struggles within unions. This doesn’t leave much time for electoral action.

              Now, let me pose you a question, Pham, which you have failed to answer before. Do you believe that it is ever a permissible tactic for socialists to run candidates in a Democratic Party primary or to back a Democratic Party candidate?

              • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

                In theory you are not in favor of abstaining from bourgeois elections but when practical opportunities arise to mount such a challenge you’ve opposed them repeatedly all over this site. Without combining rank-and-file and electoral-legislative action (as Lenin advocated for the whole of his career), we’re on the fast track to nowhere. All the tremendous rank-and-file organizing done by groups like the International Socialists (and RCP, and many others) in the 1970s added up to naught in the long run in part because such work was one-sided, not coupled with building a meaningful and sufficiently broad third party to contest capitalist control of the state machine at the local, state, and federal levels. I don’t know how many more free trade agreements and union-exterminating “right to work” laws have to pass over our objections and protests before we get it through our heads that 60s protest politics isn’t going to cut it anymore.

                • David Berger

                  From Pham Binh: In theory you are not in favor of abstaining from bourgeois elections but when practical opportunities arise to mount such a challenge you’ve opposed them repeatedly all over this site.

                  David Berger: As far as I know, the only controversy I’ve been involved in concerning an election is this one. Correct me if I’m wrong. My point is, however, that I don’t think that electoral campaigns are a particularly useful strategy right now.

                  From Pham Binh: Without combining rank-and-file and electoral-legislative action (as Lenin advocated for the whole of his career), we’re on the fast track to nowhere.

                  David Berger: Why? Because you say so? As to Lenin, as far as i recall the participation of the Bolsheviks in the Duma was for the purpose of propaganda and building the revolutionary opposition. You have said elsewhere that through electoral campaigns and victories, the power of the ruling class can be weakened directly through a use of their own state against them. That wasn’t Lenin’s position at all.

                  From Pham Binh: All the tremendous rank-and-file organizing done by groups like the International Socialists (and RCP, and many others) in the 1970s

                  David Berger: It was tremendous. I was a member of the IS and was part of this effort.
                  From Pham Binh: added up to naught in the long run

                  David Berger: I guess you think that the survival of some of the caucuses the IS built, such as in the Teamsters Union, the ISO itself, Solidarity and Labor Notes is “naught.” I think that people in the Chicago teachers union would disagree.

                  From Pham Binh: in part because such work was one-sided, not coupled with building a meaningful and sufficiently broad third party to contest capitalist control of the state machine at the local, state, and federal levels.

                  David Berger: Wow! Do you really think that building such a party was possible in the 70′s, 80′s, 90′s and 00′s was possible. And the fact that it didn’t happen was a result of mistakes by the ISO?

                  Do you really think that during a time of conservative hegemony it was possible to “contest capitalist control”?

                  From Pham Binh: I don’t know how many more free trade agreements and union-exterminating “right to work” laws have to pass over our objections and protests before we get it through our heads that 60s protest politics isn’t going to cut it anymore.

                  David Berger: Considering that the intense, pro-labor politics of groups like the ISO (Solidarity and Socialist Action) arose in a dialectical relationship to “60s protest politics,” I would say that you are blowing smoke.

                  And, I note, that you have consistently ignored the following. So how about an answer?

                  “Now, let me pose you a question, Pham, which you have failed to answer before. Do you believe that it is ever a permissible tactic for socialists to run candidates in a Democratic Party primary or to back a Democratic Party candidate?”

                  • Patrick A.

                    Hey David,
                    While it remains to be seen what can be built from the Sawant campaign (and the CTU strike, and Occupy, and every other action that didn’t lead straight to revolution), my question to you and everybody else who questions “What did the Sawant campaign accomplish” in full knowledge of that fact that the campaign got 20,000 votes and made a big impact among an even wider layer of the population: What should Socialist Alternative done instead in 2012?

                    • David Berger

                      From Patrick A.: While it remains to be seen what can be built from the Sawant campaign (and the CTU strike, and Occupy, and every other action that didn’t lead straight to revolution), my question to you and everybody else who questions “What did the Sawant campaign accomplish”

                      David Berger: Okay, that’s a fair question.

                      From Patrick A.: in full knowledge of that fact that the campaign got 20,000 votes

                      David Berger: That’s a statement of fact that we all agree on.

                      From Patrick A.: and made a big impact among an even wider layer of the population:

                      David Berger: That’s a statement of fact that isn’t agreed on. An “impact” in this context means some kind of change.

                      What change[s] took place as a result of the Sawant Campaign? Did people’s material condition change, as after a successful strike? Obviously not.

                      Then are people now more willing to take some kind of radical action than before, labor, electoral, “community” or otherwise? That is not demonstrated. That would have been the purpose of the campaign, but whether or not it accomplished this purpose remains to be seen.

                      From Patrick A.: What should Socialist Alternative done instead in 2012?

                      David Berger: That’s a complex question. In my opinion, not being a member of SA or in Seattle, it’s hard to say. My approach is labor, labor and more labor. That, however, is not the approach of the SA. I don’t think that the campaign was necessarily wrong. It’s an open question based on its results.

            • David Berger

              From Pham Binh: Refusing to endorse a socialist against a Democrat in a one-on-one race — it doesn’t get any softer than that.

              David Berger: No you’re being out-and-out dishonest. Basically, you are accusing the ISO of being soft on the Democrats because they didn’t endorse Sawant.

              And, of course, you are still refusing to answer my question: “Do you believe that it is ever a permissible tactic for socialists to run candidates in a Democratic Party primary or to back a Democratic Party candidate?”

              It is a reasonable assumption, and correct me if I’m wrong, that you are in favor of running candidates in DP primaries and/or supporting DP candidates. Make me wrong.

              • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

                What is dishonest are the ISO’s “dog ate my homework” excuses for not endorsing let alone lending a hand to deal the Democrats a black eye.

                • David Berger

                  From Pham Binh: What is dishonest are the ISO’s “dog ate my homework” excuses for not endorsing let alone lending a hand to deal the Democrats a black eye.

                  David Berger: Here’s what’s dishonest:

                  (1) You are basically saying that the ISO is soft on the Democrats because, in a situation of much complexity, poor communication and different political priorities, they failed to support Sawant.

                  (2) You are implying that somehow there was a significant impact in favor of the Democrats because of the ISO’s failure to support Sawant.

                  (3) Most of all, Pham, you are being dishonest because you are failing to reveal your own attitude towards the Democratic Party. So, one more time, the fifth or sixth, I believe:

                  “Do you believe that it is ever a permissible tactic for socialists to run candidates in a Democratic Party primary or to back a Democratic Party candidate?”

                  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

                    “Much complexity”? They repeatedly asked the ISO for an endorsement. For months. In person. By email. Through Seattle. Through Chicago. And what did they get? Nothing but a bunch of pathetic excuses and evasions dressed up as principled politics, a shameful disgrace, and not anything worth defending. Pretty simple really.

                    • David Berger

                      Actually, if you read the posts on this website, from ISO and non-ISO people, it was rather complex. but don’t ever miss a chance to knock the ISO.

                      Now, to serious politics: How about an answer. Hint: I’m not going to quit posting this until you answer.

                      “Do you believe that it is ever a permissible tactic for socialists to run candidates in a Democratic Party primary or to back a Democratic Party candidate?”

                    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

                      Criticizing a political error hardly constitutes “knocking” or “bashing” and “serious politics” does not involve haranguing people over abstract hypotheticals.

        • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

          Coalitions are built when one group has an idea or proposal and then begins to organize in conjunction with other individuals (in this case, J. Glenn Evans who is on the Justice Party’s Washington steering committee) and groups who agree or are close to agreeing.

          Must I explain everything to you?

          • David Berger

            My question is, why are you using categories from bourgeois sociology to describe the strategy and tactics of revolutionary marxist organizations and individuals? Do you really think that terms like “coalition,” “build,” “group,” “idea,” “proposal,” “organize,” etc,” can be tossed around in the manner that you do and be used to come up with something useful?

            How well, I might ask, did you do this kind of sloppiness in your work in the Class War Camp of Occupy Wall Street? I don’t notice that you managed to put together any kind of meaningful “coalition.”

            • Patrick A.

              Replying to David above.

              The anarchists argue that elections don’t bring about material change. But, that should not be the approach of socialists. 20,000 votes for a socialist is actually quite a “change” in Seattle and nationally. Additionally, it was a visible, material expression in 2012 of the anger at corporate politics, the Democrats, and Frank Chopp. As far as I know, there was no other protest in Seattle of 20,000 people in 2012. We plan on exploiting this actual, material development all year long and invite others to do the same. It’s a concrete fact you can point to. It’s a marker. So what “impact” does this make beyond the 20,000 votes? It impacts consciousness. If raises confidence about building left wing challenges to the Democrats. It has opened a space to seriously discuss running more candidates in Seattle – and nationally. It did not lead directly to revolution, vindicating the anarchists. It did not directly to a mass workers party, vindicating the cynics. And it did not lead to the only change you and other abstentionist are willing to consider: economic improvement for workers. But by that measure we are probably better off supporting Democrats this year than trying to inspire confidence in people to build the socialist movement and build a left alternative.

  • doug nielson

    The Seattle ISO supported the Green Party’s statewide candidate Aaron Dixon in 2006. He got 21,254 votes or 1%.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Dixon

    • http://www.SocialistAlternative.org Philip Locker

      Good point. Unfortunately, this campaign had a very limited impact, despite having a much more limited program. However, Socialist Alternative called for a vote for Dixon and participated in the campaign, did some door knocking, etc. Another thing to note is that the Seattle Green Party endorsed Sawant in 2012, along with the FSP, and both actively helped build the campaign, in contrast to the ISO’s claims that there was no point in any other organization being involved besides Socialist Alternative.

  • AT

    –“Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases these campaigns are geared towards straightforward party-building, have an exceptional weak social base and have little connection to the creation of a genuine broader left alternative based on collaboration.”

    So the ISO is accusing us of not being serious about collaboration by not collaborating with us themselves?

    Myself along with other members of Socialist Alternative attended an ISO-sponsored event on the CTU strike. Upon finding out I was in SA, quite a few ISO members told me they didn’t understand why we were running an election when we should be focused on movements like CTU. Although the question of where to invest resources is vital, in the final analysis this is not always a zero-sum game. The Sawant campaign used our media access and the community attention the campaign was receiving to publicize and support the CTU strike (as well as the local strikes of Waste Management and Davis Wire workers, where we joined the picket lines). We capitalized on our access, access that groups like the ISO did not have at the time or to the extent that we did. The ISO, on the other hand, was in a better position than us to make a heavy and direct impact in the course of the CTU struggle because of their reach in CORE and the teachers unions. We did what we could to support the movement, but the area we were able to significantly impact was electoral politics in Seattle, and even beyond Seattle to a significant extent. So the groups focusing on these different (but not mutually exclusive) movements, wherever they exist and wherever said group’s influence can be strongest, should SUPPORT ONE ANOTHER. Even almost mindless actions like a mention in an article or a paper endorsement can have an impact, especially when the so much is already stacked against anti-corporate, independent candidates in US elections.

    –“If you want to register a protest against the two-party duopoly on Election Day, you could vote for Stein or Barr or a socialist candidate. But these are all shoestring efforts that don’t have much behind them.”

    This was the whole problem, that groups like ISO with much broader influence and more resources than Socialist Alternative did not help us build credible electoral challenges to make them a force to be reckoned with, and yet the ISO criticizes these campaigns for not being viable challenges to the corporate duopoly. The left challenges that had real potential were weak because they were de-emphasized, not because the opportunity didn’t exist to actualize this potential.

  • Aaron Aarons

    How can there be a discussion about general left strategy and tactics in the United States of America without any mention whatsoever of imperialism or militarism? I’m not talking about strategy and tactics in relation to a strike, a case of police violence, or something similarly narrow, although even in those cases it would be proper to bring up those issues, at least in a propagandistic, if not agitational, manner. But a campaign to build a left alternative to the imperialist Democratic Party without even mentioning imperialism and its derivatives is a blatant capitulation to USian national chauvinism.

    (Those interested can do a search, via google or any other search engine, for ‘site:votesawant.org’ together with any variation of the words ‘military’ or ‘imperial’. Let us know if you find anything. I didn’t!)

    BTW, I’m surprised that the ISO has not raised this issue in this discussion, if only to score points!

    • http://www.socialistalternative.org Tim Larkin

      Aaron,
      If you are interested in militarism and imperialism, you should look at Socialist Alternative’s national website, http://www.socialistalternative.org or the website of the international, http://www.socialistworld.net.

      The point you make would come off as a non-sequiter in a state level election. I’m reminded of the American SWP running for Boston City Council, with a point on their program that said defend North Korea’s right to nuclear weapons. They were dismissed as a group of crazies who weren’t interested in issues that concerned the local community.

      • Aaron Aarons

        Your bringing up a vague reference to what one U.S. group did in one local election campaign (what year?), together with an equally vague assertion of how unspecified persons reacted to that groups vaguely-described action, is not a serious answer to my point. I would argue that, if you can’t find a credible way to bring up the most basic task facing the U.S. left — the fight against U.S. imperialism — in an election campaign, you shouldn’t be wasting time and resources on such a campaign.

        Also, there is no reference to any environmental-ecological issue with one exception: Climate change is mentioned in support of mass transit in connection with the support the campaign received from a transit workers union. Not a bad thing in itself, but still within the limits of economism. And what isn’t ‘economist’ in the campaign is mostly support for the needs or desires of various constituencies: women, LGBT folks, etc.. The only partial exception I found is the support for undocumented workers. I say ‘partial exception’ because undocumented workers have relatives and friends who vote.

        Even though Socialist Alternative has good positions on many broader issues, this kind of campaign, while it has positive aspects, can easily lead to the building of, if anything, a reformist left party that actively, or at least passively, supports imperialism.

        • http://www.socialistalternative.org Tim Larkin

          Did you look at the two web sites I posted above?

        • http://www.socialistalternative.org Tim Larkin

          “the campaign is mostly support for the needs or desires of various constituencies: women, LGBT folks, etc..”

          If you seek to represent the workers in a district, you need to support their needs and desires. Aaron, I think you are putting forward an ultra-left position.

          • Aaron Aarons

            The point of a communist/revolutionary-socialist electoral campaign is NOT to “seek to represent the workers in a district”, but to win workers and others to a communist/revolutionary-socialist political perspective. Except in periods of major radicalization, that will usually mean going against the present desires of the majority of the voters in a district.

            Putting the goal of winning an election before the goal of radicalizing sectors of the population is an opportunist position.

            • David Berger

              Sorry to be so late on this reply, but let me state that this is ultra-leftism.

              Aaron Aarons says:

              “the most basic task facing the U.S. left — the fight against U.S. imperialism”

              “I would argue that, if you can’t find a credible way to bring up the most basic task facing the U.S. left — the fight against U.S. imperialism — in an election campaign, you shouldn’t be wasting time and resources on such a campaign”

              “The point of a communist/revolutionary-socialist electoral campaign is NOT to “seek to represent the workers in a district”, but to win workers and others to a communist/revolutionary-socialist political perspective.”

              While these statements may be formally correct, and great for sectarian rhetoric, Tim Larkins’s point is well taken:

              “[T]he American SWP running for Boston City Council, with a point on their program that said defend North Korea’s right to nuclear weapons. They were dismissed as a group of crazies who weren’t interested in issues that concerned the local community.”

              In an electoral campaign, we have to steer between the two evils of Scylla (ultra-leftism) and Charybdis (social democracy). There is an “art” to doing this, which is probably best described, as a method, in the Transitional Program:

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transitional_Program

              It’s a shame that in over 70 years, no one has been able to produce a better exposition of the transitional method.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Between_Scylla_and_Charybdis

              Both are alive and well.

              • Aaron Aarons

                (Sorry for the delayed response. I have a tendency — probably ADD, but not ADHD — to forget about things that I’m working on until I come across something that reminds me about it.)

                Thanks, David, for acknowledging that my “statements may be formally correct”, but you are implying, without saying how, that they are incorrect in some other, informal(?) way.

                The Transitional Program, invoked above as a counter to my “ultra-leftism” in insisting that a socialist electoral campaign, particularly in the world’s primary imperialist power, should include an attack on imperialism, contains the words “imperialist” and “imperialism” 25 times! Moreover, how the SWP may have mis-handled the issue (No quote or citation is provided!) in some Boston City Council election is irrelevant to the discussion, although a generalization that

                They were dismissed as a group of crazies who weren’t interested in issues that concerned the local community.

                is pure demagoguery, even if some of their rival sects did express such an opinion. And, even if they were “a group of crazies” and “weren’t interested in issues that concerned the local community”, those two facts are independent of each other. (One can be, e.g., both “crazy” and “interested in issues that concerned the local community”, or, alternatively, both “sane” and not “interested in issues that concerned the local community”.)

        • Jess Spear

          “Also, there is no reference to any environmental-ecological issue with one exception: Climate change is mentioned in support of mass transit in connection with the support the campaign received from a transit workers union.”

          This is false.

          Socialist Alternative’s platform for the election campaign, printed on leaflets and listed on the campaign website, states that we support:

          - A state and federal jobs program to provide living-wage jobs for all and rebuild our economy with green technology. (This is the first demand on the platform)
          - Massive public investment in renewable energy and efficiency technologies to urgently replace fossil fuels. No to the coal terminals! No to nuclear energy!

          http://votesawant.org/issues/

          Furthermore, in every issue of our newspaper and on our website under we state that we stand for:

          Environmental Sustainability
          - Fight global warming – Massive public investment in renewable energy and efficiency technologies to rapidly replace fossil fuels.
          - A major expansion of public transportation to provide low fare, high-speed, and accessible mass transit.
          - Public ownership of the big energy companies. All workers in polluting industries should be guaranteed re-training and new living-wage jobs in socially-useful green production.

          Regarding our campaign “lead[ing] to the building of, if anything, a reformist left party that actively, or at least passively, supports imperialism.”

          I doubt any “reformist” party would put this on this platform:

          - Break the power of Wall Street and Corporate America! Take the giant corporations that dominate Washington state such as Boeing, Microsoft, and Amazon, into public ownership under democratic workers’ control to be run for public good, not private profit.

          • Aaron Aarons

            I did not search your group’s newspaper or web site, but only the campaign site, since I am dealing with this particular campaign, and not your group’s entire work.

            The two points you quote from the platform:

            - A state and federal jobs program to provide living-wage jobs for all and rebuild our economy with green technology. (This is the first demand on the platform)
            - Massive public investment in renewable energy and efficiency technologies to urgently replace fossil fuels. No to the coal terminals! No to nuclear energy!

            are reformist, and, especially without any explanation, reinforce the illusion that the ecological crisis can be stopped and reversed under capitalism.

            Moreover, the slogan:

            Take the giant corporations that dominate Washington state such as Boeing, Microsoft, and Amazon, into public ownership under democratic workers’ control to be run for public good, not private profit.

            is not a call for expropriation, but implicitly for a buyout of these parasitic corporations. (Microsoft, in particular, only exists thanks to repressive intellectual property laws and would become worthless if free, open-source software were encouraged. So paying any compensation for it would be another bailout.)

            Boeing is the one corporation mentioned with real value, and it should be expropriated and all its military production stopped. But there is apparently no mention by the campaign of the military aspect of Boeing’s activity, worth billions of dollars annually. Nor is there any reference to the recent militant campaign against the Stryker military vehicles shipped from and returned to the port of Olympia. These omissions just reinforce the impression that the Sawant campaign was pandering to the narrow, parochial interests of its potential voters, many of whom might not warm to an attack on the military budget that funds their jobs.

            Despite all this, I think the Sawant campaign should have been critically supported by other socialist groups.

            • Joe Smith

              Any experience in serious politics as Marxists shows us that one campaign by itself, be it in the electoral arena or a struggle on the streets, is not going to be able to make the full case for socialist transformation. So nitpicking and dismissing a highly successful, openly socialist campaign is a dilettante-ish approach. The goal is to be able to push the consciousness forward in the most logical and convincing way possible, taking into account where people are at the moment. This is not political opportunism, but a recognition of ground realities.

              Through the campaign, SA was able to reach wider audiences than any other ongoing political campaign in Seattle last year. The need to decisively break from the two parties of big business, the need for a mass working class party, and the need to build independent politics was brought up again and again during the campaign’s public appearances. The campaign was unequivocal and relentless about the need to break from the Democratic Party, which is more than we have ever seen ISO members willing to do, either in their public appearances or in their written material. Only yesterday, we ran into two activists who attended the ISO meeting in Seattle recently, and who were somewhat confused by how uncritical of the Democrats the ISO was, and for a moment they thought they were at a Democratic Party supporters meeting, not a meeting of socialists.

              I am not sure why you think that the statement “Take the giant corporations that dominate Washington state …” is not a call for expropriation. That is precisely what it is, and that is precisely how it was received by the media and by the campaign’s public audiences. In fact, that is why it was the most discussed and most controversial question emerging from our campaign platform, and it gave us an opportunity to talk about the need to break from capitalism, and what a worker-owned democratic economy would look like. How is it reformist to raise the sights of the American working class today to an understanding of a socialist economy?

              On the whole, though, I agree with Ty Moore’s comment below. Let’s focus on what we can do going forward in 2013 and beyond. The economic crisis will drag on. Sections of the working class are showing signs of awakening to the possibility of struggle. Youth unemployment is skyrocketing, and wider layers are looking for political answers. There is clearly a space opening up for the socialists and socialist ideas. If we don’t seize this opportunity, it will be lost to other forces, some new incarnation of the right.

  • http://thespanishprisoner.wordpress.com/ Austin

    Steve Leigh: “SA should know that the ISO is a NATIONAL organization. A serious proposal should be sent to the ISO national office, not just to a local branch.”

    Although I respect Steve Leigh, I think his comment is a little misleading. I was in the ISO for a very long time, and I remember that the local branches are expected to be willing to take the initiative in some matters. It is simply not the case that everything is done through the national office.

    • David Berger

      However, the decision to endorse a candidate and participate in an election campaign is a question for the national leadership, not the local branch.

      • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

        Where does it say that in the ISO’s rules and procedures? Or are you just making that up?

        • redfred

          Pham: the ISO would never, ever, ever allow a local branch to make a decision about the question of electoral work. The local branches are democratic, they can decide which event to attend to have a paper sale, local logistics, but in the big picture, they have so little decision-making power.

          That comes from Chicago.

  • Ty Moore

    Its totally understandable that endorsing a candidate is something the ISO would want to decide through their nationally elected bodies. In SA such decisions would typically be taken in dialogue and ideally consensus between local branches and the national elected leadership. Normally, when a local campaign, including local election campaigns, approach SA for endorsements at a local level (which 19 out of 20 times is done verbally to whichever local member is the campaign folks are in closest touch with, or with a quick informal email), we discuss it in our local branch and decide wether its something necessary to consult our national leadership about. If we want them to write up a formal endorsement request to clarify more what they are asking of us, we simply ask. Does the ISO do things differently than this?

    Whats most stunning and strange is how much this thread is dominated by these questions of etiquette and formalities, rather than the substantive political questions involved! It seems clear from Harkin’s letter and Steve’s comments that, even if SA had gone through all the “correct” channels to make our request for endorsement that the ISO would have still declined.

    If this discussion is going to continue, lets talk about the opportunities going forward for the left in 2013 and beyond, or how socialists should raise the need for political independence within the trade unions (like the Chicago Teachers Union), or what the relationship between electoral work and movement building should look like, etc. These are useful discussions that, even where we respectfully disagree, can play an educational role for the wider left.

    • admin

      If this discussion is going to continue, lets talk about the opportunities going forward for the left in 2013 and beyond, or how socialists should raise the need for political independence within the trade unions (like the Chicago Teachers Union), or what the relationship between electoral work and movement building should look like, etc. These are useful discussions that, even where we respectfully disagree, can play an educational role for the wider left.

      Members of the ISO, SA, and any individuals who are interested can submit contributions to The North Star.

  • David Berger

    Since you were in the ISO, you should know about the logistics of this kind of decision. I am using reason. The decision to back a candidate is a major decision.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      Right. I checked my old handbooks and there’s nothing written in any of them to indicate that a local campaign, whether for elected office or higher wages, needs to go through the national office, hence my question. In my seven years, two of which when I was the convenor (or “lead organizer”) of a branch, we never went through the national leadership to make local decisions.

      I think you are correct if the question was a statewide or a national race since both are beyond the purview of local branch organizing.

      • redfred

        I am an ex-member and no electoral activity, no matter how local the office, could ever be decided by a branch. See my response above.

  • Dan D.

    On the CTU and the Democrats, Jacobin Magazine’s new issue has an article by Micah Uetricht which goes over territory about labor’s relationship to the Democratic Party that many of you will be familiar with. But what is of interest for this discussion here is its concluding paragraphs (pasted below), which I think are correct.

    ““Unions can’t afford to just say that we’re not going to play electoral politics because all of these choices are bad choices,” [Jesse] Sharkey said. “There’s a whole culture on the Left of people abstaining from the political realm. But we can’t simply take our ball and go home. That’s not realistic.”

    Radicals often fetishize a clean break with the party, as if the ideological purity of such a stance could somehow make up for the loss of power it would entail. That kind of break is impossible. Knowing their leadership refused to engage with Democrats out of a principled stance against the party’s true class interests would do little to console union members watching their pensions gutted or their workplaces shuttered — those members want to see lobbying, horse-trading, backroom dealmaking, traditional bourgeois politicking, and would likely revolt against any leadership that refused to do so.

    What is possible, and what is necessary, if labor and the broader left ever stand a chance of reversing the rightward shift of the Democrats and mounting an effective pushback against neoliberalism more broadly, is a shift in what that political engagement looks like, towards an increasingly confrontational stance with the sections of the Democratic Party now on the attack against unions and the public sphere.

    That stance must be centered around labor’s ability and willingness to engage in mass action like strikes, rather the perpetual hope that the Democrats will someday return to labor’s corner through a continual moving of the goalposts rightward as national teachers unions and the broader labor movement have done.

    The Chicago Teachers Union accomplished this in their 2012 strike. They identified who their allies and who their enemies were within the party; they forced the hand of those enemies in the streets with 30,000 striking teachers, and they approached their allies from a new posture of power, with the threat of mass mobilization against those allies an unspoken but ever-present possibility.

    It is the possibility of a labor movement that views its interactions with the Democratic Party with clear eyes and from a position of mass action-based power that stands a chance to beat back the party’s openly neoliberal wing, on education reform and elsewhere. Such a position can open up the space for unions to not simply respond to attacks, but to push its own positive agenda, on its own terms.”

    • David Berger

      The only clear-eyed relationship with the Democrats is a clear break.

    • Ben Campbell

      Dan,

      This article, like nearly all of the political analysis in Jacobin, is standard DSA Democratic Party apologism. For instance, the paragraph immediately preceding what you have quoted is:

      “Possibilities for labor to part with the Democrats feel almost impossible today, or at least in the near future. The relationship between the two is too well-cemented, the tradition of dead generations of labor weighing so heavily on the living. The political formations to the left of the Democrats are in too great of disarray. And the stakes at the national and local legislative levels are far too high for unions to bow out of.”

      While it is true that the “political formations to the left of the Democrats are in disarray”, that simply makes clear the task at present: to create credible political formations to the left of the Democrats – not to capitulate to the Democrats, by dismissing or otherwise ignoring the possibility of an independent left. This has nothing to do with “fetishizing” a political alternative, but is simply an acknowledgement of what the Democratic Party is and how it operates to serve capital. The idea that we could make the Democrats a progressive force by gradually replacing its office-holders is extraordinarily naive and completely lacking in any structural analysis of how the party, like capitalism itself, operates to serve capital regardless of the intentions of its members. The characterization of the Democratic Party as containing a “neoliberal wing” is mistaken; the Democratic Party is a neoliberal institution through and through. The only hope for “reversing the rightward shift of the Democrats” would be a threat to the Democratic Party as an institution.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      It’s the difference between “break with the Democratic Party” and “break the Democratic Party.” The former is preachy and propagandist, the latter is strategic and practice oriented.

      I agree that a “clean break” is never going to happen on a mass scale; it’s worth remembering that Eugene Debs was a Democratic state legislator in Illinois for years before he joined the Socialist Party. I can’t imagine he’d join us today, given the dysfunctional state of the socialist left. And anyone who thinks that a third party “clean break” with the Democrats will emerge when the level of struggle becomes high or intense enough needs to ditch the magical thinking study the 1930s and 1960s closely because that notion has already been proven false twice in the past century.

      Since Rahm has the Democratic nomination for mayor on lock in Chicago, I think it might be possible for CTU activists to lay the basis for some kind of run against him (depending on what the Republicans do, the strength of the Green Party, and other tactical questions) or his close allies on the city council.

      • John Halle

        There is no doubt that Karen Lewis, if she chose to do so, could run a credible third party race for Mayor of Chicago. Her doing so would make huge waves and would immediately bootstrap whatever party she ran with (presumably based in dissident labor organizations such as the CTU) into the national spotlight-to be quickly followed by other attempts at winning office in other localities. My impression is that the main factor holding her back is, simply, that she doesn’t want to do it-she wants to go back to teaching high school chemistry. Sad, but something which we all should be able to sympathize with.

    • Aaron Aarons

      “There’s a whole culture on the Left of people abstaining from the political realm.”

      The Left consists of people who are, by definition, active in “the political realm”. It’s the capitalist electoral realm that people on the Left often, and usually correctly, abstain from.

  • Dan D.

    Also, the more interesting question here is not what the ISO’s position on the Sawant campaign was. We all know that groups on the far left in the U.S. (and globally) have difficulties working with one another, whether because of political disagreements, different perspectives, or more mundane factors like the absence of good channels of communication and the absence of trust. The more interesting question is: What did this campaign accomplish? What does it point to for the future? 29 percent of the vote is great. But in and of itself it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Are struggles in Seattle now placed on a better footing, thanks to the Sawant campaign? Did it raise the expectations of workers and youth in Seattle and provide a basis for future struggles? What might a local slate of candidates in 2013 accomplish? Answering these questions in the most concrete ways possible will provide the best means for the left to collectively assess the success of this campaign, don’t you think?
    So while I agree with Ty’s point that: “If this discussion is going to continue, lets talk about the opportunities going forward for the left in 2013 and beyond, or how socialists should raise the need for political independence within the trade unions (like the Chicago Teachers Union), or what the relationship between electoral work and movement building should look like, etc.” – I think that that could easily devolve into an abstract discussion that’s not grounded in the concrete reality we face today. So I think there’s a lot more to hear about the Sawant campaign – and about the dilemmas facing radical union leaders or social movement leaders thinking about breaking with the Democratic Party – that could act as the basis for a serious strategic discussion.
    On that note, I would urge everyone to read Mark Dudzic and Katherine Isaacs’ piece, “Labor Party Time? Not Yet”, which Binh has posted here: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=4188
    You can see the full discussion of their piece, with responses from a number of other Labor Party activists, here: http://www.thelaborparty.org/blog/

  • David Berger

    Okay, Pham, thanks for finally being honest about what your strategy is: entry into the Demicratic Party.

    • Ben Campbell

      Come on David, Pham said nothing of the sort. Also, please note that these type of hyperbolic one-liners do not advance the conversation, and in fact violate the commenting policy. In the future this type of “one-liner” comment will not be approved. Engage substantively.

      • David Berger

        You’re dreaming Ben, or he’s so imprecise that the conclusion is a logical one.

        From Pham Binh: It’s the difference between “break with the Democratic Party” and “break the Democratic Party.”

        David Berger: Uhh, there’s a lot of leeway in these two phrases. It’s entirely permissible to see the latter as a formula for “boring from withing.”

        From Pham Binh: The former is preachy and propagandist, the latter is strategic and practice oriented.

        David Berger: Actually, the former is clear, and the latter is muddy. You’re playing semantic games.

        From Pham Binh: I agree that a “clean break” is never going to happen on a mass scale;

        David Berger: Does this mean that you’re willing to work within the DP or not?

        From Pham Binh: it’s worth remembering that Eugene Debs was a Democratic state legislator in Illinois for years before he joined the Socialist Party.

        David Berger: This is just plain dishonest. Once Debs joined the SP , he left the Democrats behind. “They repaid him by putting him in prison.

        From Pham Binh: I can’t imagine he’d join us today, given the dysfunctional state of the socialist left.

        David Berger: And what’s your solution to this “dysfunction”?

        From Pham Binh: And anyone who thinks that a third party “clean break” with the Democrats will emerge when the level of struggle becomes high or intense enough needs to ditch the magical thinking study the 1930s and 1960s closely because that notion has already been proven false twice in the past century.

        David Berger: Rhetoric. Playing with the term “clean break,” instead of dealing with the politics of the situation.

        From Pham Binh: Since Rahm has the Democratic nomination for mayor on lock in Chicago

        David Berger: This is a clear statement that if Rahm did not have the lock on the Democratic nomination, it would be a legitimate tactic to run a candidate in the primaries. This is entrism into the DP.

        From Pham Binh: I think it might be possible for CTU activists to lay the basis for some kind of run against him (depending on what the Republicans do, the strength of the Green Party, and other tactical questions) or his close allies on the city council.

        David Berger: This reeks of bourgeois party politics. Who gives a fuck what the Republicans do?

  • http://highlandercenter.org/ Christian

    I think the problem with many “lenninist” organizations is that we are taught the whole point of politics is about being right. What you get from the saga of Tony Cliff or Deutscher’s Trotsky is the battle to be “right” when other people are deliberately or unconsciously misleading themselves and others.

    Have you ever worked next to someone who was convinced they were always right, that they always did the job correctly, and they even tried to micromanage you? People convinced they are right and wanting you to know it are the most obnoxious people there are. Yet in Lenninist organizations that is what we train ourselves to be.

    I consider this a great tragedy. It doesn’t matter who is right, at all. The point point of a revolution or a social movement is that ordinary people come together, say, “hey, this is really messed up”, and they ask themselves what they can do to come together and change it. People/ workers/ “the vanguard”/ militants/ students, etc… having the genuine skills of patience, collaboration, and self organization is something a million times more valuable than any correct “line” or policy deduced by an organization. In fact, I would wager that being able to interact with strangers, coworkers, and people in your community, being able to have political conversations, work together, and get along makes you worth more as a person in the long run than is the ability to show up at a meeting every week with the same 10-25 people to talk about the same stuff you talk about every week.

    If we had democratic skills it would be pretty easy to be the ISO and say, “Woah, that campaign was really notable. We should have taken those people more seriously when they were talking to us earlier. Good for them and their success, and maybe we can work together in the future!” Even a paper endorsement would have been good if indeed Socialist Alternative only formally asked the ISO a few weeks before the election.

    But people can’t even admit that. And why is it? Guess what, most people don’t care about what the Socialist Alternative or what the ISO is. It doesn’t matter who is right. People right now will be drawn to people who can work together to make progress on important issues in a collaborative way. Was there any “line” or party that led Occupy Sandy? Did the right organizations call each other with enough weeks before the hurricane to form it correctly? No. Of course not.

    Here as elsewhere I’ll recommend people quit trying to be right all the time and learn instead how to be a humble, effective, and collaborative communicator.

    • redfred

      All good points: all of that right-fighting makes them rigid and difficult when it is not necessary to be so.

  • redfred

    “An email sent two weeks before an election to the national leadership of the ISO, and not even directly, is not a serious effort at collaboration. You and SA’s elected leadership, as a national organization and part of an international tendency, would and should know this quite well. It’s not even a gesture in such a direction. In fact, we know of no occasions when SA members, national or otherwise, have contacted the ISO’s national leadership to discuss collaboration in any electoral or social struggle effort. This kind of nonconstructive behaviour serves to reinforce rather than overcome sectarianism which is of benefit to no one.”

    Ouch, this is just flat out mean-spirited. So they contacted late and had never contacted them before. Okay,

    1.) Groups are made of humans, who make mistakes.

    2.) Why not start off fresh and new.

    It is just mean and petty, but the ISO can be really, really mean to people and this is not the first time.

  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

    The ISO’s Alan Maass responds in Socialist Worker to Socialist Alternative:
    http://socialistworker.org/2013/01/17/the-left-and-the-vote-in-2012

    Pretty sad that this is their first mention of the fact that a revolutionary socialist got 20,000 votes in 2012.

  • David Berger

    Pham, let’s take a look at your shenanigans

    From Brandy Baker: Pham, What is he talking about when he keeps insisting that you support working with the Democrats?

    From Pham Binh: God only knows.

    David Berger: God and a few other people who read what you write.

    From Pham Binh: Elsewhere I’ve argued that Democratic primary efforts are a way to “a way to keep us on the plantation.”

    David Berger: You did, indeed, argue exactly that in those words. However, in a comment to that post you wrote:

    From Pham Binh: Working Families Party (WFP) is not simply a front group for the Democratic Party. They are a very partial and highly inconsistent break with the Democrats; their purpose is take advantage of New York state’s fusion voting rule to promote candidates they view as progressive.”

    David Berger: New York has a long history of phony labor parties whose purpose it is to keep people in bed with the Democrats. The Liberal Party was such, as was the short-lived Brotherhood Party. even the American Labor Party, which ran some independent candidates, often backed Democrats. The WFP is a DP front. And you are flirting with it, which means, if you persist, you will be supporting candidates likely supported by the Democrats. And, of course, you will be working with a party that supported that well-known Marxist revolutionary Andrew Cuomo. Plus, of course, the WFP endorsed Barack Obama.

    Here’s part of wikipedia’s take on the WFP:

    Like other minor parties in the state, the WFP benefits from New York’s electoral fusion laws that allow cross-endorsement of a single candidate by multiple parties. This allows sympathetic voters to support a minor party without feeling like they are “wasting” their vote. Usually, the WFP endorses the Democratic Party candidate, but it has occasionally endorsed Republican Party candidates in Westchester, Nassau, and Erie counties, often as a strategy for spurring bi-partisan action on its policy priorities. The party’s sometime-position at the balance of electoral power and the threat of Republican endorsement has allowed it to influence the politics of local Democratic candidates and the state Democratic party. The support of the WFP is sometimes quite important in Democratic primaries, especially in areas where the WFP has a lot of volunteers, such as Binghamton.

    In unusual cases, the WFP has put forward its own candidates. In the chaotic situation following the assassination of New York City councilman James E. Davis by political rival Othniel Askew, the slain councilman’s brother Geoffrey Davis was chosen to succeed him in the Democratic primary. As it became clear that Geoffrey Davis lacked his late brother’s political experience, fellow Democrat Letitia James decided to challenge him in the general election on the WFP ticket and won Brooklyn’s 35th City Council district as the first third-party candidate elected there in 30 years. In 2003, the WFP had candidates in over 500 races throughout New York State, the majority of them cross-endorsed. As of April 1, 2010, the Working Families Party had 35,753 enrolled members [1], who are eligible to vote in party primaries, 0.34% of registered voters statewide.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_Families_Party

    From Pham Binh: He likes to chase political phantoms, it seems.

    David Berger: Actually, that’s your game, Pham. For months you tried to convince people that the Class War Camp, a political phantom if there ever was one, was a real part of Occupy Wall Street when its last organized meeting was in April of 2012.

    And you called my “phantom,” the Labor Outreach Committee a “red ghetto.” It’s next meeting is Tuesday, January 28, 2012, 6:30 PM, in the atrium at 60 Wall Street. The agenda will include the Golden Farms picket line, support for the striking NYC school bus drivers, other labor work and the Sandy Summit. All are invited.

    From Pham Binh: It’s antics like this that led him to get banned from Revleft, a real feat considering how many trolls there are there.

    David Berger: Why don’t you just echo the stalinist charge that I’m a cop and get it over with? I was banned from revleft for opposing maoist lies about Nepal, opposing the insurrectionary anarchist line on Occupy Wall Street (and actually participating) and helping to expose that one of the leaders of the site was running as a Democrat in a local election in Shreveport, LA.

    Shame on you for still posting at a nest of shit snakes like that:

    http://www.revleft.com/vb/search.php?searchid=5015954

    • Brandy Baker

      David Berger, I want whatever uppers you are on, seriously, I need some more energy. I am too lazy to work this hard making points in my blog postings.

      I still don’t think that Pham’s post about WFP means that he supports Democrats, maybe he didn’t fully realize what WFP is, but that is no crime. I would elaborate, but the laziness is really kicking in.

      • David Berger

        From Brandy Baker: David Berger, I want whatever uppers you are on, seriously, I need some more energy. I am too lazy to work this hard making points in my blog postings.

        David Berger: As we used to say in 60s, I am high on life!

        From Brandy Baker: I still don’t think that Pham’s post about WFP means that he supports Democrats

        David Berger: It’s not a matter that he supports Democrats. What he’s doing is keeping the door open to support a Democrat.

        From Brandy Baker: maybe he didn’t fully realize what WFP is, but that is no crime.

        David Berger: Pham is very knowledgeable. He knows exactly what the Working Families Party is, and what it does, including the fact that it supports Democrats.

        From Brandy Baker: I would elaborate, but the laziness is really kicking in.

        David Berger: Get some sleep, young’n.

  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh
    • Dan D.

      Yes. To my knowledge this campaign would be run *within* the Democratic Party, which runs counter to the prescription in the original article from Socialist Alternative which calls for “an electoral campaign by the CTU, independent of the Democrats and running on a left-wing, pro-education, pro-union platform.” In my mind the CTU strategy is better at this point in time. Thoughts?

      • Patrick A.

        Hey Dan, can you explain why you think that?

    • David Berger

      Assuming that (1) Lewis runs against Emmanuel in the DP primary; and (2) she loses; (3) will she then supp0rt Emmanuel?; or (4) if she wins, will she expect Emmanuel and the DP machine to support her?

      Why not avoid the party of Rahm Emmanuel entirely and run as an independent?

      • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

        Because what is obsolete for us is not obsolete for the masses said a wise man.

        • David Berger

          So let me ask you straight, if Lewis runs against Emmanuel and loses, would you advocate (a) her then running as an independent; or (b) supporting Emmanuel.

          If (a), then how do you avoid the obvious, and true, accusation of opportunism, disloyalty and hypocrisy, not from the Left but from large numbers of loyal Democrats who you were trying to reach?

          • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

            I see no evidence that Lewis herself is going to run against Emmanuel, although she would be the best candidate against him.

            A, of course. There’s nothing dishonest in running as an independent after losing a primary, unless of course the candidate in question pursued a Trotskyist entryist strategy from the outset. Lewis is no Trot entryist.

            • David Berger

              So let me ask you straight, if Lewis runs against Emmanuel and loses, would you advocate (a) her then running as an independent; or (b) supporting Emmanuel.

              If (a), then how do you avoid the obvious, and true, accusation of opportunism, disloyalty and hypocrisy, not from the Left but from large numbers of loyal Democrats who you were trying to reach?

  • David Berger

    Pham Binh: I see no evidence that Lewis herself is going to run against Emmanuel, although she would be the best candidate against him.

    David Berger: I took my lead from one of the posts. Sorry about that.

    Pham Binh: A, of course. There’s nothing dishonest in running as an independent after losing a primary

    David Berger: I beg to differ. I think it would seen as crass opportunism during the primary itself. The obvious question would be, and it’s a good one, “If you’re not going to honor the results of the primary, and support the winner, why are you in a DP primary?”

    Pham Binh: unless of course the candidate in question pursued a Trotskyist entryist strategy from the outset.

    David Berger: What is a Trotskyist entryist strategy for the DP? What Troskyist group ever pursued such a strategy for the DP? So why call it Trotskyist? Are you trying to legitimize this strategy?

    Pham Binh: Lewis is no Trot entryist.

    David Berger: No shit, Sherlock.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      A CTU candidate who runs in the primary to oust Rahmbo, loses, and then runs in the general to oust Rahmbo is guilty of being politically honest and consistent, the exact opposite of crass opportunism. As usual, your objections are completely unfounded.

  • Dan D.

    In response to Pat – I think that the CTU strategy is the best right now because I think it’s more realistic. I have no contacts in the union, so I don’t know, but my logic is based on the following set of hypotheses (which are just hypotheses, all open for debate and correction):
    - Running as independents might make the CTU leadership open to easier attacks from their opponents in the union by driving a wedge between members.
    - It might also make it harder for them to build community support.
    - If the structures of the Democratic Party can be used by the CTU to raise their vision for a different Chicago and mobilize people into action around it, then that’s great. I don’t think it creates illusions in the Democratic Party. I think if the corporate domination of our political system is going to be challenged, then it requires serious organizations with serious support on the ground. The CTU is a serious social force, and in that sense any electoral campaign they run would be different than anything run by any left groups (which also means that there are different calculations involved, I suppose, though whether that’s a justification for anything I’m not sure).
    - I think this might lay the basis for future independent campaigns, if such a campaign proves desirable or realistic, more than a premature launch of an independent campaign would.
    - Finally (in a point that I hope you’ll take independently of the others), I’m increasingly skeptical of independent left campaigns in general given the structure of the U.S. political system. I imagine your experience recently has been otherwise, which would be good to hear more about.
    Anyway, to make these points effectively would require a real understanding of the forces in Chicago politics and the different wings of the Chicago Democratic Party. I have no understanding of these, so this post is entirely speculative. But in terms of the tasks of socialists, it would seem to me that the most important ones would be to really size up the situation from a strategic perspective and develop tactics from there, rather than thinking that the main task of socialists is programmatic (denouncing the Dems and calling for independent candidates to run).
    Again, I’m open to debating all of this, especially since there don’t seem to be any easy answers to these questions.
    One minor point in response to David Berger (though again, as Binh points out, the scenario seems unlikely to happen overall): Lewis could run against Emmanuel in the primary and then drop out. She doesn’t have to run as an independent or throw her support behind him. The main point of the campaign might just be to give Emmanuel a headache and strengthen the CTU and other left forces in Chicago – an excuse to knock on doors, etc. That may not be the ideal strategy – taking the contest past the primaries would of course be better – but that seems like it would depend on resources, the attitude of CTU members, Lewis’s own attitude, etc. etc.

    • PatrickSMcNally

      “given the structure of the U.S. political system”

      This is a false idealization of European parliamentary systems. The drive for austerity is going on there too and has not in any way been stopped by the Socialist Party of France or any other nominally “socialist” parties on the continent. In the USA, because of the form of our electoral system, the Democrats came to play the role which Labour played in Britain. But that is mostly just a formal difference. Tony Blair raised the champagne glass to Margaret Thatcher at the same time that Barack Obama was wishing “get well” to George H.-W. Bush. The problem of building a socialist party which is not just a recycling of Ebert & Noske exists independently of the structure of US elections.

      • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

        So a winner-take-all and a proportional representation system are basically the same. Wonderful.

        • David Berger (RED DAVE)

          PHAM BINH: So a winner-take-all and a proportional representation system are basically the same. Wonderful.

          DAVID BERGER: Well … considering that both of them serve the purpose of running the capitalist system, there ain’t a whole lot of difference.

          (Prediction: Pham Binh will bring up proportional representation in the NYC Council in the 1930s when, gasp, two Communists were elected and socialism was brought into the world.)

          • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

            Socialism? I think you mean rent control and cheap public transit. I guess you don’t mind paying through the nose for both since putting leftists on the city council would be “running capitalism”.

            • David Berger (RED DAVE)

              PHAM BINH: Socialism? I think you mean rent control and cheap public transit.

              DAVID BERGER: no, I mean being good stewards for capitalism for the capitalist class and claiming to be striving for socialism.

              PHAM BINH: I guess you don’t mind paying through the nose for both since putting leftists on the city council would be “running capitalism”.

              DAVID BERGER: I prefer not to lie and pretend that “sewer socialism” has anything to do with the transformation of capitalism to socialism. I also prefer not to lie and pretend that significant reforms are possible at this stage of the game. (I also prefer not to engage in phony comparisons between Venezuela and the USA.)

              • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

                Rent control in NYC is not possible at this stage of the game, eh? lol

                • David Berger

                  PHAM BINH: Rent control in NYC is not possible at this stage of the game, eh? lol

                  DAVID BERGER: Whether it’s possible or not is not the issue. And by the way, I don’t think it is possible. To achieve rent control i NYC would require a movement so powerful that we might as well get it over with and get rid of capitalism once and for all.

                  The real issue is (1) whether or not socialists should be considering the achievement of “reforms” and good stewardship under capitalism to be their goals and (2) whether or not to run candidates in the Democratic Party to achieve those goals (and the goal of building up the Left). The Democrats will support rent control sometime after the Atlantic Ocean dries up.

                  The achievement of rent control (destroyed by the Democrats and Republicans around 1981, proportional representation (destroyed in NYC by the Democrats and Republicans in, I believe, the lat 1940s), etc., is possible but extremely unlikely. However, do you really think that this would be a significant blow to the powers-that-be? I rather think, based on your rhetoric, that the achievement of such reforms is worth an alliance with capitalist politicians.

                  PHAM BINH: If you want to see how parliament can be used by the little guy against the big buy, look at Venezuela.

                  DAVID BERGER: Sometimes I think that people around here tell more lies about Chavismo that stalinists used to tell about Russia. Rhetoric aside, if we consider Chavismo’s effect on poverty to be a good benchmark let’s consider some figures: In 1987, the poorest 20% of Venezuelans received 4.7% of the national income, and the wealthies 20% received 50.6% In 2011, the respective figures were 5.7% and 44.8%.

                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Venezuela

                  If you think that this is somehow beating up “the big buy [sic],” you need to learn how to count again.

                  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

                    Proportion of national income tells you nothing about whether people are making enough to pay the rent and eat. Try the poverty rate and get back to me.

                    • David Berger (RED DAVE)

                      Why don’t you demonstrate that the lack of a structural change in income distribution “tells you nothing.” One more time, you are confusing a liberal reform program with a socialist program.

                      Frankly, I don’t think you know the difference.

        • PatrickSMcNally

          By and large, yes, they are pretty much the same. If you don’t agree then perhaps you could share with us details of how you see the fight against austerity-budgets going on in Europe & Japan in ways that would suggest something helpful that is related to this issue of winner-take-all versus proportional representation. I myself have not been able to find very much of a difference, and where differences can be found they usually have better explanations than this. But let’s hear what you have to offer about how parliamentary capitalism works for the little guy.

          • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

            You’re mixing up a variety of issues: different forms of bourgeois democracy and austerity. If you want to see how parliament can be used by the little guy against the big buy, look at Venezuela. Or Bolivia. Or Ecuador. The first two of those three have proportional representation.

            • PatrickSMcNally

              You’re mixing up First World & Third World. Nothing in Latin America has much pertinence to the USA as an example to be followed. The game is completely different there.

              • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

                Geography is a poor substitute for concrete political analysis. Quite a few socialists relied on such “arguments” after the Russian revolution of 1917 to justify their narrow national outlook. It’s sad to see that spirit lives on.

                • PatrickSMcNally

                  Geography is not the issue however. Stages of socio-economic development are. Latin America in the last decade or so has largely broken awau from the Monroe Doctrine. One benefit of Bush was that by wrapping the USA up in a war in Iraq he made it very difficult for the US to intervene in Latin America during a crucial decade. Now it’s probably too late. Latin America will increasingly appear as independent bourgeois nation-states which are following their own path.

                  The USA is a decaying imperial state. This creates a very different claimate here and imposes conditions on what can be done. Within Latin America some social democratic slogans have the capacity to win over support from key sectors of the national bourgeoisie which seeks a better, more rounded, economic development. In the USA the response of the bourgeoisie to social democratic programs is fundamentally different, and is determined by the nature of decaying imperialism. That is why any relevant comparisons need to focus on First World nations when judging what can be done through a parliamentary system.

            • Aaron Aarons

              Venezuela, as far as I can determine, did not have proportional representation until after Chavez came to power.

              Bolivia did, apparently, have PR for a long time. But Morales came to power via a presidential election in December, 2005, in which he received an absolute majority of the vote — something unprecedented in Bolivian presidential elections!

              If you, Pham Binh, think that proportional representation played a role in the coming to office (power?) of leftists in either of these countries, please provide some evidence.

              • David Berger (RED DAVE)

                Here is, I think, a balanced assessment of proportional representation in the USA. First of all, it wasn’t a very big deal: it really changed nothing. Secondly, the Democrats and Republicans strove to get rid of it.

                https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/polit/damy/articles/Brief%20History%20of%20PR.htm

                • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

                  If it changed nothing, why did they fight to get rid of it?

                  If Chavez did nothing useful for the masses, why did they try to oust him in a coup?

                  • Aaron Aarons

                    Why do you bring up Chavez again in a discussion of proportional representation? How about answering the question I asked you just above?

                  • David Berger (RED DAVE)

                    PHAM BINH: If it changed nothing, why did they fight to get rid of it?

                    DAVID BERGER: The Democrats used front groups such as the ALP and even the CPA to govern and control the working class at various times. When such were no longer needed, they were disgarded.

                    PHAM BINH: If Chavez did nothing useful for the masses, why did they try to oust him in a coup?

                    DAVID BERGER: Chavez and his party have performed the admirable function of making no structural changes to Venezuelan capitalism, the capitalist ruling class runs the show, and stopping real revolutionary action. However, not all the Venezuelan ruling class agrees with the concessions he has made to do this.

                    Let me point out that the presence of Chavez in this discussion is because you are using him and the movement he headed, and its accomplishments, to justify entering the Democratic Party.

                    You really believe, or pretend to believe, that reformists in the bourgeois parties and government can win, at this stage of the game, significant victories for the working class and open the way to socialism.

                    Lots of luck with that. Maybe you should conduct a seance and have a talk with the ghosts of Shactman and Harrington.

  • David Berger (RED DAVE)

    Just a quicky:

    DAN D.: One minor point in response to David Berger (though again, as Binh points out, the scenario seems unlikely to happen overall): Lewis could run against Emmanuel in the primary and then drop out.

    DAVID BERGER: Yes, she “could” but you are ignoring the consequences. Sure she could. She “could” also jump into Lake Michigan on New Years Day. That doesn’t make it a good idea. But she “could.”

    DAN D.: She doesn’t have to run as an independent or throw her support behind him.

    DAVID BERGER: Yes, she doesn’t “have to.” But what are the consequences? All you are doing is blithely stating possibilities without evaluating them. What would be the consequences of running the DP primary and then losing? She would completely be open to charges of “wrecking,” “opportunism,” etc. To say nothing of the enormous amount of resources required to run a primary campaign.

    DAN D.: The main point of the campaign might just be to give Emmanuel a headache

    DAVID BERGER: I assume that’s a joke and not a socialist judgment of the prupose of such a campaign.

    DAN D.: and strengthen the CTU and other left forces in Chicago – an excuse to knock on doors, etc.

    DAVID BERGER: Or it just might be a total waste of resources, burn people out and demoralize them. Also, what you are saying, as a leftist, is that it’s okay to run in one of the two major capitalist parties. Think about that.

    DAN D.: That may not be the ideal strategy

    DAVID BERGER: That’s an understatement if I ever heard one.

    DAN D.: taking the contest past the primaries would of course be better

    DAVID BERGER: Not clear what you mean. Do you mean that after the tremendous effort of running a primary campaign, then bolting the DP, getting an independent candidate on the ballot and running another campaign?

    DAN D.: but that seems like it would depend on resources, the attitude of CTU members, Lewis’s own attitude, etc. etc.

    DAVID BERGER: All this is is, one more time, betting on the Democratic Party as a vehicle for the Left. Why not? It’s always failed before. Remember that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different outcome each time.

    • Dan D.

      David, that same definition of insanity could apply to the socialist left’s call to break from the Democrats, so it’s not helpful. The difference between the two positions is based on an analysis of the Democratic Party and on an analysis of the possibility for building an independent party given the current constellation of forces and the structure of the U.S. political system.
      Patrick M: Nothing I’m saying implies that the structures in Europe offer any surefire way of stopping austerity. But the institutions of the political system have to be taken account, not just ignored.

      • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

        Winner-take-all generally produces two-party systems while proportional representation tends to produce multi-party systems. “They’re all capitalism” is the laziest and most shallow political “analysis” possible.

        • PatrickSMcNally

          There are cleaarly formal technical differences which would need to be planned for depending upon the context in which one operated. But what is the most lazy and shallow game is when so-called “socialists” attempt to justify campaigning for Democrats by asserting that things would be different if only we had a parliamentary system such as prevails across much of Europe. It can be assumed that people who talk that way would end up supporting some austerity-socialist in France if they were living there. They would then justify the vote by pointing to some Right-wing nationalist groups and maintaining that this is why we must campaign for the austerity-socialists. It’s a pattern which has been in force for a long time now.

          • Aaron Aarons

            In the French presidential election of 2002, most of the ‘left’ in France called for a vote for the right-winger, Jacques Chirac, in the second round against the far-righist Jean-Marie Le Pen, rather than for a boycott of that runoff. Thanks to this ‘left’ support, Chirac won with 82% of the vote, thus putting him in a stronger position politically than he would have been in otherwise.

  • Brook Oram

    Proportional representation makes a big difference for the radical left, and yes in Europe it has created a platform to argue anti-austerity and revolutionary politics far more effectively at the national level than in the US.

    It creates a much lower bar for entry into the national political conversation, in many countries offering incentives to small parties such as guaranteed airtime and funding after breaking a quite modest threshold. While no country has managed to totally smash austerity, in Denmark/Portugal/France they have made far more progress forging the tools with which to do so than we have managed to in the states.

    In each of those countries, due to no small measure to the favorable electoral terrain, anticapitalist arguments are presented prominently and frequently on a regular basis through their national equivalents of CSPAN/theDailyShow/NYtimes. For instance, Olivier Besancenot is on Le Grand Journal (equivalent to US Daily Show, very massive viewership) on a more or less monthly basis and his arguments have a reach US leftists could only dream about.

    Of course the political configuration capitalism takes on makes a tremendous difference for the possibility and practice of radical left politics. The form capital’s political domination takes – whether in variations of bourgeois democracy, conservative authoritarianism, or fascism, presents the left with concomitantly different challenges and opportunities.

    • Patrick A.

      Does anyone know how the primary system works for city elections in Chicago? Are the city elections partisan? The only thing I know is that the election is not until 2015, which gives the CTU leadership some time to make the case for an independent run with their membership and the public if they are willing. Maybe they won’t get the support for it, but we’ll never win any struggle if we don’t try.

      • Aaron Aarons

        The Chicago Mayoral elections are officially non-partisan, with a runoff between the top two if nobody gets over 50% of the votes cast. So there is no Democratic Party primary to run in, and no implied commitment of any kind for a losing left candidate to support anybody in a runoff.

        It only requires 12,500 valid signatures on a nominating petition to get on the ballot, so an organization like the CTU should have no trouble getting a candidate on the ballot.

        But what will be the political program of such a campaign?

    • PatrickSMcNally

      Figures like Besancenot & Le Pen can both get easier access time in France. If a parliamentary system were put in place here in the US tomorrow, the first thing that would happen would be that white nationalists would form their own party apart from the Republicans. It’s not that I’m really concerned that the Ku Klux Klan is ever going to come into high office, no way. But what would start to occur very quickly is that someone like Mitt Romney would very quickly appear as a moderate who had simply made a load of crackpot statements during the election as a way of appeasing certain portions of the electorate. What would likely follow would be that Hillary Clinton would advocate a coalition with Romney as a way of containing the extremists who had broken from the Republican Party. There would be many such rearrangements.

      But the record in France and elsewhere suggests that the main push towards austerity would continue. That doesn’t mean that it would necessarily be a bad thing to have proportional representation introduced. But this issue falls in the category with something like the military allowing people to be openly gay. I certainly endorse the idea that gay people who have chosen to join the military should have the right to be open about their sexual tastes. But it’s not really a monumental issue in my book. If a referendum were put forward for enacting proportional representation then I expect that most Leftists would support it. But this not by any stretch a key issue in determining why politics has followed the path which it has. That is rather a covering argument invoked by people who are already leaning towards defaulting into the Democratic Party.

  • Arthur

    I haven’t been following this thread, but re Proportional Representation:

    1. Without it, discussions about participation in elections are merely about stunts.

    2. It enables both left and right “extremes” to be represented.

    3. Historically countries that established elected legislatures after revolutions adopted PR as the only plausible approach to representing the various tendencies. Anglosphere countries that had parliament based on geographical constituencies long before they had democracy have remained stuck with the status quo. (Except New Zealand partially switched to PR).

    4. A consequence used to be that in countries with PR the center parties were almost always in office, forming coalitions with parties to their right or left depending on electoral swings, wheras in Britain there was an alternation between left and right parties in office.

    5. More recently there has been convergence of “center left” and “center right” parties so they are basically different factions of a center party permanently in power as in the PR countries.

    6. The US system with an elected King and an independent Congress dating back to miconceptions about the British system they were fighting in the war of indepence is fairly unique. But my impression as an outsider is that the exagerated bitterness between the two parties reflects the same lack of any principled differences between them with an actual struggle for office between them as in other Anglosphere countries.

    6. Disillusionment with the center always being in office is becoming pretty widespread in both PR and Anglosphere countries.

    7. PR should be a point of agreement and mobilization with very widespread support in non-PR countries. But its obvious from the countries that already have PR that its only a means of opening up wider debate, not a solution to anything beyond that.

  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

    Glad to the ISO on board with running a CTU candidate against Emmanuel in the general:
    http://socialistworker.org/2013/06/05/teachers-vs-the-chicago-bully

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