A socialist vote for Biden

Submitted by AWL on 6 October, 2020 - 6:58 Author: Thomas Carolan
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

• See here for other articles debating the US election, Trump, etc.

Trump’s defeat in the election is, as of now, likely. It is by no means certain. A lot can happen in the coming weeks.

It is of fundamental importance to the US working class that he does not win.

The US left is divided. Some see it as overriding principle not to back Biden — they tend to favour a vote for the Green Party presidential candidate, Howie Hawkins, who is a socialist. Others work within the very big tent around the Democratic Party for Biden’s election.

But if Biden does not win, Trump will win. If by some freak the Green Party candidate were to win enough votes to lose Biden the election and let Trump in for another four years, it would be a catastrophe for American bourgeois democracy and the American working class.

The US Trotskyist tradition has been never to vote Democrat, not even if there is no available or substantial working-class party to counterpose.

Tradition is important. But tradition can become superstition. For Marxists the truth is always concrete. Working-class political independence is irreplaceably programme, analysis, responses to events. What it means in terms of organisation should be worked out concretely.

Simply to say that the Democratic Party is a bourgeois party, as it certainly is, is insufficiently concrete. It is nonetheless now the party in which the US labour movement involves itself and where we see the great advance embodied in Sanders’ campaign taking place.

Working-class political independence is our sine qua non, but being with the workers in order to help them develop in their understanding and politics is also pretty close to the top of our list of the basic things. Isn’t it?

We, after Lenin, say that the Labour Party is a bourgeois workers’ party. We work within it, because that, politically, is where the labour movement and the advanced workers are. It does, of course, draw people to mindless routine activities, to careerism, to the right. We nevertheless are involved in it. If we are strong enough to resist the pressures, it is possible to do our work there promoting working-class political independence.


In the Blair-Brown years that largely ceased to be true, and we modified our analysis and relations with Labour. We came close to saying it was just a bourgeois party, and not wrongly. But we never withdrew completely, nor stopped voting Labour against the Tories and Lib-Dems.

We modified our assessment in 2010 and then again with the Corbyn surge.

The Democratic party is a bourgeois, not a bourgeois workers’, party. But saying that is not concrete enough. It is the party in which the labour movement involves itself, and right now the party the labour movement looks to, to stop Trump.

Bernie Sanders — who continues to sit as an Independent, not Democrat, senator — and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have demonstrated what can be done now for socialism with the Democratic Party, and that it can be done while maintaining open and independent socialist politics.

The Green Party is more left-wing, but no more a workers’ party than the Democratic Party — in terms of sociological support and involvement, maybe less. And voting Biden to stop Trump is not in principle qualitatively different from getting involved with the Democratic Party enough to actively support Bernie Sanders’ bid for the nomination.

Quite plainly a lot of the working-class and trade-union forces that will create the future independent workers’ party are in and around the Democratic Party.

The dynamic working-class forces against Trump in the election and whatever comes after it are supporting or involved in the Biden campaign. That’s where socialists should be too — with them in the common immediate fight while advocating distinct socialist ideas, gaining the best possibility of influencing them when they are disappointed in Biden and the Democrats in Congress. Backing the Green Party is only a variant of sectarianism, at one remove.

Working-class political independence from all the parties and personalities of capitalist politics is fundamental to Marxist socialism. That is not the same thing as small socialist groups remaining aloof from the workers and socialists who look to the Democrats in the election to break the power of Trump and the Republicans in the Senate.


Small group organisational self-distancing is not the same thing as political independence. At best it is a token of it. Meanwhile, there is the working class, needing to orient itself in an urgent situation... Our responsibility is to tell workers, even if only half a dozen of them are listening, what their real situation is and what best to do about it.

A parallel seems to exist between how the Labour Party separated from the Liberal Party in Britain, and how a working-class party may emerge in the USA out of the Democratic Party.

There was a long period of intertwining and overlapping, with Labour MPs elected as part of the Liberal Party, the so-called Lib-Labs. Even after the formation of the Labour Party in 1900, a block of miners’ union MPs remained part of the Liberal Party until 1909-10. [1]

Seeking for exact parallels would be idle. What matters is that socialists are free to do their fundamental educational activity, including education on the lessons of Trotsky’s 1934 Action Program for the reform of bourgeois democracy in the USA, and to organise workers for socialism.

Socialists can work openly and independently around the Democrats, can’t they? Making an absolute principle of never working in or voting for a bourgeois party does not in these circumstances make sense to me. The simple fact is that politics in the USA is immensely backward, almost a land that time forgot.

The experience of Max Shachtman moving to the right once in the Democratic Party inhibits some American socialists still. But while his political evolution may have had special scope to develop in the Democratic Party, it surely was not caused by it.

I can think of another aspect of Shachtman’s experience that bears on this discussion. The Workers Party and the ISL proclaimed that the Communist Parties were not working-class parties. I’ll vote for that proposition with both hands. But it is not enough to say that. A large number of Communists wanted to be socialist, thought they were socialists, sided with the workers outside the Stalinist countries, and sometimes, in Hungary, for instance, with workers within the Stalinist states.

To go from the justified characterisation — not workers’ but totalitarian parties — to a conclusion of shunning all cooperation with Communist Party members was simply too abstract. It missed out on important aspects of the reality.

1. A number of working-class “Radical Clubs” previously linked to the Liberal Party joined the Democratic Federation, the first British Marxist organisation, when it was set up in 1881, in protest against the Liberal Party having failed to push through reforms to the land system in Ireland and instead bringing in a Coercion Act to cow the Irish, the justice of whose claims the government had admitted. The DF renamed itself Social Democratic Federation in 1884. Most of the Radical Clubs disaffiliated that same year in protest against SDF support for a Home Rule candidate against a Liberal one.

Trotsky on democracy

Trotsky sketched an approach to fighting for democracy even within the limits of capitalism in his Action Programme for France of 1934:

Down with the Senate, which is elected by limited suffrage and which renders the power of universal suffrage a mere illusion! Down with the presidency of the republic, which serves as a hidden point of concentration for the forces of militarism and reaction!

A single assembly must combine the legislative and executive powers. Members would be elected for two years, by universal suffrage at eighteen years of age, with no discrimination of sex or nationality. Deputies would be elected on the basis of local assemblies, constantly revocable by their constituents, and would receive the salary of a skilled worker.

This is the only measure that would lead the masses forward instead of pushing them backward. A more generous democracy would facilitate the struggle for workers’ power.

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