Why Socialists must back Democrats in November elections
Many progressives and socialists will back a Democratic candidate like Andrew Gillum who is running for governor of Florida. | Lynne Sladky/AP

Since the election in 1980 of Ronald Reagan and especially with the subsequent consolidation of control over the Republican Party by right-wing extremism, the main challenge for the progressive and socialist movement has been to build a broad democratic coalition to defeat this threat to living standards, democratic rights, peace and the environment.

The immediate battle is the November elections in which left forces must accept the reality that the only electoral vehicle capable of defeating the extremists is the Democratic Party. Therefore, there is no question but that every effort must be made to elect the Democratic candidates. Third party candidates, especially the Greens, serve only to divert activists and siphon their votes and resources away from the main task of stopping the right.

Of course, while there is temporary agreement about the desired outcome of the elections, Democrats, in most cases, and progressives and socialists have different long-range goals.

For the leaders of the Democratic Party, the aim is to replace the Republicans and take power.

Once in power they will seek to preserve and strengthen the capitalist system, while possibly, if pressed, make concessions to the working class. There are also insurgent candidates, following the lead of Bernie Sanders, who have little or no concern about preserving corporate power, and, in fact, hold anti-monopoly positions. They are a small but energetic group and their positions accord much more closely with the feelings of the great majority of voters than do the corporate Democratic forces, who still control that party. The insurgent candidates must have special support of socialists because they are helping to build the long-range movement for fundamental change.

But, in general, the support for Democratic Party candidates must be conducted in a way that preserves independence and prevents the dissolution of socialists into the Democratic Party.

The attitude of opponents of the capitalist system was expressed clearly by Gus Hall, former General Secretary of the Communist Party, in his report to the party’s 19th National Convention in 1969:

“The fight against state monopoly capitalism, in general, must always be conducted from the viewpoint of strengthening the forces of the ultimately necessary socialist revolution, and never from the viewpoint of stabilizing the system.”

In other words, while socialists and all Democrats agree for the moment on the need to defeat the Republicans in November, the aim of socialists is to weaken, not stabilize, corporate power. This means acting in a way that preserves the independent goals, aims and organization of the movement for socialism and strengthens and builds the broad grassroots anti-monopoly alliance.

Friederich Engels, speaking to the International Workingmen’s Association (First International) in 1871 made the same point:

“The workers’ party must never be the tag tail of any bourgeois party; it must be independent and have its goal and its own policy.

“The political freedoms, the right of assembly and association and the freedom of the press —those are our weapons. Are we to sit back and abstain while somebody tries to rob us of them? It is said that a political act on our part implies that we accept the existing state of affairs. On the contrary, so long as this state of affairs offers us the means of protesting against it, our use of these means does not signify that we recognize the existing order.”

Socialists seek the best possible outcome for working people in any struggle, electoral or otherwise. As stated in the Communist Manifesto, they “fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interest of the working class…”

“But,” it continues, “in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.”

This is not always easy, but it is always necessary. To quote Gus Hall again:

“The fight for socialism develops within the heart of the democratic struggles. The two are inseparable. The task before us is that of mastering the art of making socialism a real, living issue within the context of the democratic struggles.” (The Struggle Against Imperialism: The Common Task of the Communists and All Revolutionary Forces, 1969).

This was also the view of the great Russian revolutionary, V.I. Lenin who repeatedly stressed that

“Bourgeois democracy …is invaluable in educating the proletariat and training it for the struggle, but, he added, it is always narrow, hypocritical, spurious and false; it always remains democracy for the rich and a swindle for the poor.” (The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky).

Faced with the actual rise and spreading menace of fascism, Georgi Dimitrov stressed the same point in 1935 in his historic report to the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International (Against Fascism and War, International Publishers, 1986).To be successful, the anti-fascist coalition, he said, must be led by the working class and include all democratic forces including left social democrats who reject anti- Communism, and are ready to work with the Communist Party. This coalition cannot succeed unless it rejects the class collaborationist policies of social democrats.

We can see this class-collaborationist tendency in at least one of the insurgent “democratic socialist” candidates who have emerged. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a member of Democratic Socialists of America, served as an intern under Sen. Teddy Kennedy. Shortly after being elected, she said in an interview that she does not take the side of the Palestinians in their struggle for freedom from Israeli occupation and oppression. She favors neutrality, in clear violation of the socialist principle of working-class internationalism. She underscored this in a recent tweet, hailing Sen John McCain for a life of “unparalleled service to our country.” McCain wantonly and intentionally bombed and murdered countless innocent Vietnamese civilians before being shot down.

Far greater service to our country was performed by Muhammad Ali, the Fort Hood Three and thousands of draft card burners who refused to take part in a racist, genocidal and imperialist war of aggression against the people of Vietnam.

So, the bottom line is: Yes, progressives and socialists must join with corporate liberals to elect the Democratic candidates this November, but they must have no illusions about the Democratic Party or promote the idea of a permanent alliance. The Democratic Party remains a party of monopoly capitalism-imperialism. Its leaders openly oppose socialism in any form — democratic or scientific. It is not and has no intention to be the vehicle for the liberation of the working class from exploitation and oppression. That mission belongs to the Communist Party, the revolutionary party of the working class that is guided by the science of Marxism-Leninism.


Rick Nagin
Rick Nagin

Rick Nagin has written for People's World and its predecessors since 1970. He has been active for many years in Cleveland politics and the labor movement.