Politics isn’t a morality play

In times like these some might ask: does a strategic focus on defeating right-wing extremism continue to make sense? I think so, and here’s why.

The main (not the only) obstacle to social progress remains the right wing and its corporate backers who dominate the Republican Party. This bunch casts a reactionary shadow over the whole political process.

Its overarching goal in next year’s election is to regain control of all three branches of the federal government. That would set the stage for a period of extreme right-wing onslaught like we haven’t yet seen.

In the bull’s-eye would be every democratic right, economic protection and people’s organization.

In Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, when right-wing Republicans took control of the levers of power in 2010, they immediately and ruthlessly rolled back rights, eliminated social programs and attacked the trade union movement.

That gives us a glimpse of what the Republican Party would do if it regrabs command of the federal government next year.

By contrast, the decisive defeat of the right would weaken Wall Street and the entire corporate class. It would give leverage and momentum to the people’s movement and open up the possibility of an era that puts people and nature before profits.

In other words, the defeat of the right at the polls next year is not simply to the advantage of the Democratic Party; it could also change the balance of power in favor of the labor-led people’s movement. To affirm one doesn’t deny the validity of the other.

This election, then, is not about choosing a lesser evil. Politics is not a morality play and the Obama administration and Democrats are not evil. It’s about our nation’s future: are we going to move in a progressive-democratic direction or a right-wing anti-democratic authoritarian direction?

Thus, the labor-led people’s coalition must make every phase of the election process a number one priority.

Not everyone shares this view. Some think the Democrats are as bad as the Republicans. Others go further and say the Democrats are worse because they create popular illusions that change is possible within the two-party system. Still others say the electoral process is so compromised by corporate money that participating in it is a fool’s errand. And finally there are advocates for a third-party presidential candidate in this election.

I can understand these sentiments, but only up to a point. In the end, neither objective conditions nor common sense support non-participation in the elections or a third-party candidacy in 2012.

Millions of Americans go to the polls in spite of their misgivings. They are invested in the electoral process. And the Democratic Party remains the vehicle of reform for tens of millions, the majority of whom are working and oppressed people.

Labor will throw itself into the campaign to elect Democrats, moderate as well as progressives, although – and importantly – from its own organizational base.

Much the same can be said about the racially and nationally oppressed. Ditto the women’s and seniors’ movements. The majority of youth will also take part in the elections, and like four years ago, on the side of President Obama and the Democrats.

A third-party presidential candidate would only help the extreme right.

The two parties of the capitalist class have similarities. That is undeniable. But differences also exist at the level of policy, which can be widened under the impact of a powerful people’s movement, as they were in earlier historical periods.

The past three years have been frustrating to be sure; much the same could be said about the past three decades. But frustration and impatience are a poor excuse for a strategic and tactical policy in relation to the coming elections and politics generally.

Only a very sober and objective analysis should guide our thinking and actions. It is easy to imagine any number of electoral strategies, but the question is: which one is rooted in current realities and advances class and democratic struggles – which one fits this particular moment?

I wish the movement were not only ready to form an independent labor-based people’s party, but also to help elect a consistently anti-corporate government, which under certain conditions could open up a path to socialist transformation.

But I don’t believe that we are at that stage of struggle yet. And wish as we might, we won’t be until our movement is broader, deeper and more conscious of its tasks and objectives.

In the meantime, there is work to be done.

Photo: League of Women Voters California // CC 2.0


Sam Webb
Sam Webb

Sam Webb is a long-time writer living in New York. Earlier, he was active in the labor movement in his home state of Maine.