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The 2012 presidential election: In the midst of economic hard times, hope is in the people’s struggles, change is in the streets

By Freedom Road Socialist Organization |
August 12, 2012
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Three years after the recession officially ended, economic hard times continue. Financial ruin haunts many working people. One in three children live in families where neither parent has full-time year round employment. Outrageously, bankers are still taking bonuses after taxpayer-financed bailouts. The wealthy 1% are living in luxury, while working people struggle to make ends meet, find work, and survive. The U.S. economy is stagnant at best and threatened by the growing economic crisis in Europe. People are frustrated by the economic crisis and rightfully angry with politicians of both parties.

However, there is great hope in the rising struggles of the past ten years. First came the anti-war movement that rose up to oppose Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then on May Day 2006, the immigrant rights mega-marches made history, with millions of Chicano, Mexicano, Central American and other immigrants marching in the streets of cities across the country. Students who participated in both movements began demanding educational rights on campuses, opposing rising tuition costs and mounting student debt. African-Americans turned out in their greatest numbers ever to vote for and celebrate the election of Barack Obama in 2008, while the nationwide movement against police brutality and police misconduct reached new levels with a campaign demanding justice for Trayvon Martin. Workers in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states rallied to oppose Republican attacks on government workers and labor unions. Inspired by the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street Movement rose up to place the blame for the economic crisis squarely on the richest 1% and demand democratic reforms. Occupy captured the support of the masses until it was driven from the streets by waves of nationally coordinated police repression.

Taken together, these movements - representing diverse sectors and oppressed masses of our country - are threatening to the small class of rich people who dominate the economy and dictate to the politicians. The rich live in fear of the power of the people and are unleashing the police, FBI and courts as political repression grows. We must remain firm in knowing that building on these people’s struggles is the only way to make the fundamental changes that voting never has and never will be able to make.

Parties of the 1% to meet

It is in this context that the Democrats and the Republicans, both parties of the 1%, are holding conventions and nominating their candidates for the Nov. 6 elections. We are calling for people to build the people’s struggles and protest in the streets. If you want peace and justice, if you want a job, healthcare, education and equality, then join us at the Republican National Convention on Monday, August 27, in Tampa, Florida. A few days later more will join the March on the Wall Street South during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Elections come and go, parties change places, but the people’s movements - especially the strategic alliance of the working class movement and the national movements of African-American, Chicanos, and other oppressed nationalities, can bring not just reforms, but radical change that no bought and paid for politician can deliver.

The greater of two evils

President Obama is leading in most polls over Republican Mitt Romney and analysts tend to have Obama winning the election. In the American two-party system, the candidate with the most money is the winner almost all the time and Wall Street is the winner, every time. Obama’s Wall Street appointments like Timothy Geithner, even after the 2008 financial crisis, show this to be true.

However, this doesn’t mean that there is no impact on objective conditions in the people’s struggles and the condition of people’s everyday lives, depending upon who is in the White House. At times, people’s movements are more active when there is a sense that achieving reform is possible. It is a fact that Romney and the Republicans are aggressively reactionary as compared to Obama and the Democrats. Governor Walkers’ Wisconsin or Governor Scott’s Florida are proof of that.

The Republicans are the greater of two evils. They represent the most reactionary and racist section of the capitalist class - the millionaires and billionaires who rule this country. Romney panders to the anti-women, anti-gay and racist base of the Republican Party on social issues. Mitt Romney wants more military spending, more war, and more U.S. occupations, especially in the Middle East. Romney wants to privatize government services or just cut them altogether, to downsize and put more people out of work like he did at Bain Capital.

Four years of Obama, young people spurned, movements repressed

When McCain went down in flames, a big factor was the youth vote. Those between 18 and 29 who did vote went big for Obama. This now creates a dilemma for President Obama in the 2012 election, because he did not deliver what the youth were promised. While Democratic Party leaders point to the Republican majority blocking Obama initiatives in the House of Representatives, we remember the Democrats had majorities in both the House and the Senate when President Obama took office.

Taking stock, it is clear that while the U.S. occupation of Iraq ended, the war in Afghanistan continues and U.S. attacks on other countries in the Middle East continue to grow. Guantanamo’s torture prison is still open, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) now allows for military detention of U.S. citizens, and immigrants are being deported at a faster rate than under the Bush administration, with no progress in Congress on legalization. Union card check, making it easier for workers to organize into unions was dropped immediately after the election, and the healthcare law mainly benefits health insurance corporations and drug companies, not patients.

Student and youth activists and leaders are angry about the U.S. government’s treatment of Occupy Wall Street and the clearing of the parks and public spaces. This came after the police repression unleashed at the 2008 Republican National Convention, followed by the FBI raids of RNC protest organizers and anti-war activists’ homes on Sept. 24, 2010. The whole movement is angry about the spreading use of violent police tactics to intimidate and physically hurt demonstrators, as we saw at the anti-NATO protest in Chicago this year. More and more, the government’s use of raids, subpoenas and courts to criminalize political activism and label it as ‘terrorism’ is driving activists away from the Democrats and electoral politics.

What to do?

We know that many activists in unions, the African-American, Chicano and other oppressed nationality movements, and sections of anti-war protesters and immigrant rights activists are likely to continue to vote for the lesser of two evils. However, we think the conditions are right in this electoral cycle to emphasize instead the nature of the two party, one ruling class system and talk about why what we have is not democracy and not good enough. We do think it is still important for progressives to go to the polls to oppose concrete attacks on democratic rights, such as Voter ID and anti-gay amendments. In terms of voting in the presidential election, it is better to vote against Romney, especially in swing states. In other states like California, the Republicans are unlikely to win. In these cases, it would be positive to have a strong third party vote total.

Our main message is that no matter how hopeful we are for change to come through electoral politics, this is not the venue for real change. Citizens United, and its ruling that corporations are free to openly buy the allegiance of politicians, makes more clear what has always been true: those who have the gold, make the rules. During this particular election cycle progressives should emphasize and talk about the problems inherent in the system, while placing demands on politicians from both parties. Our faith and our future are in the people’s struggle, not the ballot box.


Tom Burke wrote 4 years 10 weeks ago

Distiller rebuttal

Distiller's quip was funny, but missed the point. Ten word rebuttal:

Hope is in the movements, change is in the streets.

Union Thug wrote 4 years 10 weeks ago

Exposing Opportunists

Brad's made a lot of good points. I'd only add by saying that this next period of building the people's movements in the US will take the form of progressive and revolutionary forces banding together to do battle with the opportunist and reformist forces in our ranks. A Romney victory is a step backwards, but not in terms of policy, which would imply that the Democrats are substantially more progressive. If Romney is the next President on November 6th, the people's movements will undoubtedly swell with an influx of opportunists joining up with genuine progressive forces to hijack movements and incorporate them into the Democratic Party. If Obama wins a second term, progressives in the labor movement, the immigrants movement, the black national movement, and the student movement can correctly identify and demarcate themselves from the opportunist elements from the Democratic Party and other liberal groups.

To a certain extent, this happened under Obama's first term, but the looming possibility that the first black President might be voted out of office by the racist, reactionaries in the Republican Party prevented a full-scale ideological battle with the opportunist elements (the banding together of labor and the Democrats in states like Wisconsin). If we agree that Obama will continue austerity, escalate imperialist aggression abroad and political repression at home, etc. then progressives have to see the next four years of an Obama administration as a chance to wage an ideological struggle against the Democrats in power and build the ranks of the people's movements. We will need to form progressive caucuses in these movements to battle the opportunist leadership and draw in the advanced elements from these struggles by hammering the Administration on its reactionary policies without the boogeyman of Obama losing a re-election campaign to hamper these efforts.

If Romney is elected, expect four years of opportunists in the labor bureaucracy and the liberal leadership of other people's movements saying, "We just need to take back the White House." The buck stops in a second term for Obama and these snakes have to answer for their opportunism to the people. Members are already disaffected, but the politically advanced element in these movements hold out hope that Obama will run to the left when he wins a second term, unchained from the threat of re-election. Quite the contrary, history shows that Democrats run to the right in their second terms. We build the movement faster when we can expose the Democrats and their running dogs.

b rad wrote 4 years 10 weeks ago

In reply to Louis Proyect

This is in response to Louis Proyect’s comment. First, Louis, what do you think communists and other progressive people should do in this election and why? I’m curious to hear your assessment, not just a 1-sentence critique of Freedom Road’s assessment.

In response to the statement, “The Republicans are the greater of two evils,” Louis Proyect says, "This has been true of every election going back to Goldwater versus LBJ. It is sad to see erstwhile Maoists recycling the arguments I heard from the CPUSA and SDS in 1964.

Well, there's the question of the facts, and the question of what communists and other progressive people should do in the context of those facts.

I'm comfortable saying that on the whole in 2012, the Republicans are in fact more reactionary than the Democrats (within the highly constricted range of acceptable bourgeois politics, understanding that the two parties are united on the aggressive defense of capital and empire). The thrust of the Republican campaign is explicitly racist, misogynist and backward-looking and aims to whip up and put into motion very backward forces in the society. I think that's hard to dispute (for example just yesterday I read that "Joe the Plumber" from 2008 is back in the news saying that the US should start systematically shooting immigrants trying to cross the border, and the stuff they whip up will surely get much uglier by November). The Democrats mostly play to a different social base, so their campaign and the forces they encourage are on the whole more progressive, though the policies they implement once in power are also quite reactionary (increasing numbers of mass deportations, Afghanistan, drone strikes, etc), with some exceptions on social issues where they differ from the Republicans (and even there they only take limited progressive actions when pushed by an independent movement) and on economic issues where they differ in degree not on direction (i.e. how much austerity and how fast, or how many public sector cuts & how fast).

That leads to the question of what communists and other progressive people should do given the fact that it's a rigged system where two bourgeois parties contend, the rules of the game are sharply stacked against third party efforts and make them monumentally difficult to build, and one of the two bourgeois parties is more openly reactionary than the other and unleashes a mass base of racist reaction as part of its campaign strategy.

Reading this editorial, and also looking at FRSO's position in prior elections, I think it's clear that Freedom Road's approach to elections is not same as the CPUSA or DSA (in other words FRSO doesn't campaign for or promote illusions in Democrats, and FRSO decides in each cycle who to vote for based on the particulars of the situation). Given that for a generation the Republicans have overall been a greater evil of the two bourgeois parties, FRSO doesn’t take that to mean that at all times it’s necessary to vote for the ‘lesser of two evils’. It depends on where the movement is at, where mass sentiment is at, and what's at play in each particular election. For example in 2000 FRSO supported voting for Nader/Green Party. And both in 2008 and in this statement on the 2012 election, a vote to defeat Romney is encouraged in close states, and a Third Party vote is encouraged in states that are solidly one way or the other between the Democrats & Republicans. That probably won’t satisfy those who blow a gasket over the tactical decision to vote for a Democrat in particular cases. But I hope you can recognize that it's not the same position as those who argue that there's always a duty to campaign for and vote for the lesser of two evils.

I think this editorial is a solid assessment of the concrete conditions we face right now in this election cycle, with good and practical advice for progressive people about what to focus on with the goal of moving the largest number of people possible forward in their political thinking and practice and creating better conditions for our movements going forward. The main point is that the change we need -- changing economic and political systems -- can't come from the ballot box. Short of that, four years of the Obama presidency has reaffirmed that even winning the most limited and tepid reforms will only come from the masses in independent motion, not from reliance on Democrats in power. The recent victory of immigrant youth in winning deferred action on deportations after 3 1/2 years of Obama administration inaction on immigration is a clear case in point. So our main focus should be on convincing larger numbers of people that our power to make change comes from building the movements at the grassroots and in the streets.

In the context of Occupy and of growing repression under the Democrats, the time is better than ever to get a mass audience to listen and to unite with the sentiment that both parties are bought and paid for by the rich -- and that we need something different. That said, either Romney or Obama is gonna win this election, and unfortunately none of the Third Party efforts seem likely to galvanize large numbers or significant social forces this year. Hence the call for an anti-Romney vote in close states with a Third Party vote in in states that aren’t close, since even though none of the Third Party efforts seems likely to gain serious traction, it would be better for them to get more votes rather than fewer.

Unfortunately there are several contending progressive Third Party efforts, none of which has attracted a critical mass or has a social base behind it that would make a real impact likely. I haven't heard anybody argue that any of them have a chance to hit anywhere near the 5% mark (Nader got 2.7% in 2000, his peak year). With the first Black president up for re-election and the Republicans running an explicitly racist campaign, the Black community will vote again 90-95% for Obama and most non-activist progressives who are sickened by the racist and misogynist Republican freakshow will be likely to do so too. I can't conceive of anything that could happen between now and November to move any section of the Black community (outside very small circles of organized forces) to switch their vote from Obama to Jill Stein, Roseanne Barr, Rocky Anderson, Peta Lindsay, or any other candidate to the left of the Democrats. And frankly any progressive Third Party effort in this country with no Black support or base is a non-starter.

Given this situation, I think the call for (1) mass exposure of the two parties as both parties of the rich, and encouraging people to organize independently of them because the change we need comes from the streets not the ballot box, (2) hoping for a defeat of Romney without spreading illusions about the Democrats, while doing what's possible to support the disparate and small progressive Third Party efforts, seems like a good approach in this election cycle. But I'm certainly open to hearing other points of view.

Distiller wrote 4 years 10 weeks ago

6 words

Swing state: Obama. Otherwise: protest vote.

Louis Proyect wrote 4 years 10 weeks ago

Greater evil

The Republicans are the greater of two evils.


This has been true of every election going back to Goldwater versus LBJ. It is sad to see erstwhile Maoists recycling the arguments I heard from the CPUSA and SDS in 1964.

theredstardelight wrote 4 years 10 weeks ago

Great article

This is a great article that outlines how the left should engage in this election cycle.

Rich wrote 4 years 10 weeks ago

Exciting to Read

Amazing piece, now it's time for all of us organizers and progressives to put it into practice.

Anonymous wrote 4 years 11 weeks ago

some things

I like the general sentiment of the article but it seems a bit unnecessarily 'wordy'. Some key examples would be

"Outrageously, bankers are still taking bonuses after taxpayer-financed bailouts." the thing about "taxpayers" is it either can mean Citizens who pay income tax or literally anybody who has ever bought anything in America (sales tax).

"It is in this context that the Democrats and the Republicans, both parties of the 1%, are holding conventions and nominating their candidates for the Nov. 6 elections." Using the term 1% without specific reference to #Occupy Wall St.'s populist class analysis (in that paragraph at least) seems unnecessary and not to-the-point, as they are both parties not ONLY of the 1% but of all breeds of capitalists and more importantly, American capitalism as a whole.

"radical change that no bought and paid for politician can deliver." -- If it is the workers and oppressed that bring change as we take to the streets, then really NO politician at all under this system can bring about radical change.

- just some constructive criticism from a friendly face.