Politics Opinion

A Joe Biden victory is important for progressive politics

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Progressives have no choice but to elect Joe Biden in the U.S. Presidential Election, despite some on the Left saying that they won’t support him, writes Dr Martin Hirst.

THERE ARE LEGITIMATE reasons to be very critical of Presidential candidate Joe Biden and the Democrat establishment he represents, but do they outweigh the consequences of letting President Donald Trump win another four years in the White House?

I don’t think there’s really much of a choice. It’s either Biden or Trump and choosing Trump is literally a death wish.

One of the most articulate Biden critics is self-described “rogue journalist” Caitlin Johnstone who regularly publishes on Medium. I’ve also had friends argue with me on Twitter over this issue and it’s been fascinating to see how committed socialists are willing to another Trump term rather than urge a vote for Biden.

I did a very unscientific poll on Twitter but the result is pretty clear. Most people think voting for Biden is the right thing to do whether for policy reasons (such as health care) or just because getting rid of Trump is the key issue.


Historical precedent?

I won’t go into a long historical polemic on Schactman versus Trotsky, though you can certainly read their discussion for yourself. All that I will say on the historical comparison front is that decrying Biden’s many sins and arguing that there is virtually no difference between him and Trump is redolent of “Third Period” Stalinism when the communist parties in Western nations were instructed by Moscow to attack social democrats as “social fascists”.

This was during the period when Stalin and Hitler had a non-aggression treaty prior to the outbreak of World War Two. It was disastrous for the Left at that time and likely contributed to the collapse of the mass communist parties immediately after the war.

The situation is obviously different today. There are no mass socialist or communist parties that can actually influence the course of history. It is also probably wrong to characterise Trump as an out-and-out fascist. I think this analysis by Dylan Riley in New Left Review comes closest to a sensible position.

Trump is an authoritarian populist, but he is really a man without principles or any real political positions of his own. In 2018, Dylan Riley described Trump very well as a patrimonial misfit who uses patronage to staff his regime.

Trump is a patrimonial authoritarian who has sown chaos in Washington and used the American Government to crassly promote his own familial interests. He is a cypher upon which are inscribed the politics of those close to him at any given time.

Importantly, Trump does not have a political organisation that can help to install an out-and-out fascist machine of state. At least not yet.

In 2020, it is clear that Trump has moved further to the Right in order to cling onto his base supporters. In this election cycle – and in response to the resurgence of Black Lives Matter – Trump has amplified his authoritarian language and made explicit comments about preventing the spread of “socialism” across America.

Trump doesn’t understand any of the intellectual meaning of his words, but he does know it elicits a huge cheer at his rallies. However, America is not heading down any viable path towards socialism any time soon.

Revolution is not around the corner and no amount of wishful thinking by the American Left will bring it any closer.

The American Left is tiny and confused

The American Left has suffered a series of disastrous splits over the last few years. In 2019, the International Socialist Organisation (ISO), one of the main groups, dissolved itself in a wave of recriminations about sexism and an alleged sexual assault in its ranks. In the wake of the ISO’s collapse, there are only small groups remaining who align with the international socialist tendency. The most significant is the Seattle-based group, Socialist Alternative.

The largest socialist grouping is the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). While numbers fluctuate and paper membership is no indication of real strength, the DSA claims around 70,000 members and appears to be growing. But the DSA only has around 20,000 dues-paying cadre and its political orientation is confusing, ranging from airy-fairy green idealism on one end through to orthodox socialism at the other.

In a terse tweet earlier this year, the DSA said it would not endorse Joe Biden.

In an article in Jacobin – a progressive magazine with ties to the DSA – a leading party member, Andrew Sernatinger, wrote that not endorsing Biden disrupts the business-as-usual approach that provides a progressive cover to corporate Democrats like Biden:

‘The choices in this election are not good ones, at least as they’re presented (Trump or Biden). The position DSA took is this: as an organisation, we will not legitimise Joe Biden or any of the other candidates put forward by the Democratic Party establishment.’

But how is this now being translated on the ground by DSA members? From my reading of the DSA’s publicly available materials – newsletters and bulletins from the leadership group – it seems that the party will be helping to mobilise a vote against Trump. This can only really mean encouraging a vote for Joe Biden. Any other strategy doesn’t make sense if you want to see Trump lose.

The DSA is very strong on endorsing candidates in what the Americans call downballot races which are often timed to coincide with the presidential vote. Several DSA chapters have published detailed guides for their local campaigns.

This can get a bit confusing. For example. the San Diego chapter has not endorsed a candidate for president, but it appears to be canvassing a vote for either Greens candidate Howie Hawkins or socialist candidate Gloria La Riva.

My problem with this is that neither Hawkins nor La Riva can win, so voting for them is an effective vote for Trump in a “winner takes all” contest.

The argument presented for not encouraging a vote for Joe Biden is pretty straightforward and essentially turns on the idea that it is disorienting and misleading because Biden and the Democrats are anti-worker, war-mongering neoliberals who are no different from the Republicans:

‘When a reformist party joins or openly advocates an alliance with the bourgeoisie, or presents a program that makes no pretense of defending working-class interests, electoral support will only hinder the efforts of the working class to organize separately in its own interests.’

Essentially, this is correct. The Democrats and the Republicans are both parties of capitalism committed to private enterprise at home and U.S. interventions abroad to maintain global dominance.

Unlike social-democratic Labor parties in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, for example, the Democrats are explicitly a party of the ruling class, albeit one that is prepared to make some accommodations with worker organisations like trade unions.

However, I think it is possible to vote for Biden without actually endorsing him or his policies. In my view, this is a reasonable position given the alternative.

For me, taking an abstentionist position on this vote means not standing with anti-Trump voters in this election and it is a tactical mistake.

It’s still two weeks until election day, but already millions have cast early votes and in many working class areas there have been huge lines outside polling booths — some people have waited 12 hours to cast a vote.

The turnout is unprecedented and signals a strong desire among working-class people to get rid of Trump. I think standing on the sidelines telling these people that their vote doesn’t matter is foolish and insulting.

Republican efforts to prevent people from voting and suppressing the votes of poor Whites, Latinos and Black Americans have gone into overdrive in the past few months.

Despite the intimidation and attempts to stop minority voting (which historically favours the Democrats), it seems that there is a genuine mood across America to see Trump defeated.

These voters are the people who will actually help to rebuild the Left in America and they are the elements of the working class most likely to be open to socialist ideas.

In fact, it is not too far-fetched to say that “socialism” is on the ballot in this presidential race. Not because Joe Biden and the Democrat establishment are socialists, but because Trump has made it an election built around his dangerous anti-Left rhetoric.

Trump might not be a textbook fascist yet, but he has plenty of people around him who wouldn’t mind if he was and his anti-socialist demagoguery is pushing in that direction.

Trump is also attempting to build his own brigades of loyal foot soldiers from the various White supremacist militias (home-grown terrorists) who have rallied to his side over the last four years. If he succeeds, the American Left will be hunted down, gunned down and driven off the political map.

In my view, the most important political imperative right now in America is to stop Trump from consolidating his hold over the apparatus of government before it’s too late.

Dr Martin Hirst is an Independent Australia columnist, a journalist, author and academic. You can follow him on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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