Max Elbaum

Socialist Strategy and the Biden Debate

Socialist Strategy and the Biden Debate
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By Max Elbaum

The COVID-19 pandemic and the uprising to defend Black lives have cast a spotlight on a level of deep-rooted inequality, ruling class degeneration, and public-health-be-damned behavior that makes the U.S. unique even among capitalist countries. My next column will examine the sources of these pathologies in a nation founded on racial slavery and genocide that has now entered the stage of its imperial decline.

But first I want to join a debate that was riveting parts of the left before COVID-19 hit and George Floyd was murdered. Partly because important lessons from the early forms it took are in danger of being lost; and partly because the discussion is still raging, and the stakes are high:

Should anti-capitalists urge a vote for Joe Biden to defeat Donald Trump in November 2020 or not?

CENTRAL POLARIZATON SHAPING THE MOMENT

Engaging this question head-on can do more than clarify the next five months’ action priorities, important as those are. It can illuminate issues of political strategy that go deeper than the tired “same debate every four years” ritual. And focusing on strategic questions is the best antidote to the tendencies toward call-out personal attacks, sectarian point-scoring, and general hectoring that sap morale and alienate potential allies.

Cutting to the strategic heart of the Biden debate means looking at these questions:

What does living in the era of neoliberal capitalism tell us – and not tell us – about the alignment of social forces in the U.S today? What is the central polarization – the main axis of struggle – around which the biggest current battles revolve?

How does white supremacy interweave with capitalist exploitation to shape that polarization?

What is the relationship of battles for democratic rights to the fight for working class power?

How does a left that is just beginning to climb out of the margins go from weak to strong, especially given the unique U.S. winner-take-all, two-party system?

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In addressing these questions, this longer-than-usual column will present arguments for the following proposition:

The central polarization in the country today is between a Trumpist bloc driving toward  authoritarian rule vs. a majority opposition that, for all the vacillations and differences within it, is defending the democratic space that movements for justice, peace and radical change require to advance. Race and racism lie at the heart of this polarization.

This has been the case ever since Trump was elected. But the administration’s response to the pandemic and the uprising has made it even clearer. The 2020 election will determine which force will hold governing power: a reactionary bloc anchored in white supremacy or an administration that can be influenced by a progressive current powered by the fight for racial justice.

A crucial way to maximize chances of the latter prevailing, as well as to build the strength and influence of the left itself, is for us to become an independent yet resolute force engaging this electoral battle. Our goal should be turning out the largest possible working class and people of color vote for Biden with the message that removing white nationalism from political power is an indispensable step in the long- term battle for transformative change.

DIFFERENCES OBSCURED DURING BERNIE’S CAMPAIGN

Differences over the strategic questions posed above are longstanding on the left. But they exploded with tremendous intensity immediately after Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign.

This was mainly because key strategic differences were obscured and largely unacknowledged while Elizabeth Warren’s and Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns were in full swing.

Bernie’s was the larger and more sustained effort. Most Bernie supporters backed his candidacy because they were enthusiastic about the programs he advocated and his “not me, us” approach.

But for socialists who backed Bernie, there was an additional factor. Bernie’s effort was seen as providing a vehicle for building a durable working-class movement against capitalism. What was not faced squarely was that on the level of socialist strategy, Bernie was sending two different – in fact, contradictory – signals.

One suggested his was a campaign against the billionaire class as a whole, and that the establishments of both parties were equally beholden to the 1%. While Bernie contended for the Democratic Party nomination, he was an “independent” and self-identified democratic socialist, so this could be interpreted as a strictly tactical and temporary choice. This signal implied that the main axis of U.S. struggle was workers vs. capital, and it led some to view Bernie’s campaign constituted a direct steppingstone to building a non-Democratic Party force that would unify workers and wage class struggle against the entire neoliberal ruling class.

But a different signal was sent by Bernie consistently calling Trump “the most dangerous President in modern American history” and stating from day one that he would support whomever won the Democratic nomination. Bernie and Bernie-connected groups like Our Revolution worked to build their independent clout, but also fought to maximize progressive strength within the structures of the Democratic Party. This approach signaled that the campaign regarded the main polarization in the country as the ultra-reactionary bloc behind Trump vs. a broad front in defense of democratic rights, within which the Bernie movement would set a working-class pole. The 2020 Democratic Party was the electoral vehicle for that anti-Trumpist front, and Bernie would maintain a unity-and-struggle relationship with all other political trends within it.

When Bernie’s campaign was growing, socialists largely ignored this important difference. Occasional conflicts did take place, for example the debate over how to relate to those radicals who believed Elizabeth Warren was more attuned to issues of racial and gender justice than Bernie, and/or that she had the best chance of uniting the anti-Trump front under a progressive banner. Bernie-backing socialists whose priority was defeating Trumpism advocated close cooperation with Warren supporters. But the other wing of socialist Bernie proponents were critical if not outright hostile. This produced a sharp debate that receded only because Warren’s campaign stalled and Bernie’s surged in February.

POST-BERNIE EXPLOSION

Then, right on the heels of Bernie’s Nevada-fueled surge, the South Carolina, Super Tuesday, and Michigan primary results knocked him out of the running. A few weeks later Bernie suspended his campaign, endorsed Biden, and announced he and the former Vice-President would set up a number of task forces to institutionalize a working relationship that would extend through the general election campaign into a Biden administration.

These steps – and then the task forces coming into being – were unmistakable signs that Bernie’s strategy was to fight for the influence of working-class-oriented programs within a cross-class anti-Trump front.

With the end of Bernie’s campaign and no more ambiguity about his stance, the suppressed strategic differences on the left rocketed to the fore.

While facing many challenges, radical supporters of Sanders, Warren or neither whose strategy was to fight for left influence within an anti-Trump front had a clear path forward. Engage urgent COVID-19 battles and start gearing up for the general. Craft the specifics of an anti-Trump message. Scale up infrastructure so that further efforts build independent organizational clout rather than getting subsumed in the official Biden campaign. Support progressive and socialist down-ballot candidates. Plunge into the host of grassroots labor, tenant, criminal justice, immigrant rights and voting rights battles that are key to expanding progressive influence inside and outside the Democratic Party. And after the uprising focused on anti-Black racism took off, go all-in behind it and the pivotal role  being played by the Movement for Black Lives.

THE ‘NEVER BIDEN’ CAMP

For those who favor the Bernie movement transitioning into a purely working-class force fighting equally against both the GOP and Democratic Party establishments, the transition post-Bernie is tougher.

The course with the most logical and political consistency is to take immediate steps toward creation of a third party. But Bernie, most of the apparatus of his campaign, the Squad, and most Warren supporters – not to mention almost the entire labor movement and big majorities in communities of color – are signaling they will back Biden. It is hardly appealing to shift almost overnight from a surging movement of millions to a project weaker by several orders of magnitude.

Nevertheless, for most who believe that the central axis of struggle must remain worker-vs. capitalist and the left’s main task is to always promote a break with Democratic and Republican establishments, backing Biden, even without a formal endorsement, is a bridge too far. So the dominant voices in this camp are left with a mainly what not to do approach to the 2020 presidential contest: socialist organizations should not get behind Biden or call for collective action to defeat Trump. Instead they recommend supporting socialist candidates in down ballot races and working in non-electoral struggles that build workers’ power.

This “Never Biden” position (in the form of ‘Bernie or Bust’) was adopted by DSA at its 2019 Convention. As a result, the largest organization on the socialist left is without a positive national strategy for engaging in the 2020 contest. Rather than taking a course parallel to Bernie’s, as a national organization DSA has positioned itself on the margins of the central political fight of the year.

Given the big tent character of DSA and the wide range of views within it, what specific chapters and individual members will do varies widely. Those of us outside DSA need to respect the organization’s choice and recognize that most of what its members will do over the next five months will contribute positively to social change. But it is simply stating a fact that no revolutionary organization has ever grown into a powerful, much less dominant, force in any country without implementing a strategy that engages the main battle in nationwide politics, whether that fight is primarily electoral, mainly armed conflict, or anything in between.

WORKERS VS. NEO-LIBERAL CAPITALISTS  

These differences within U.S. radicalism do not stem from any difference in the depth of anyone’s commitment to social transformation. Rather they reflect opposing assessments of what constitutes the central axis of political polarization in the U.S, today and therefore the most appropriate socialist strategy.

There is consensus on the left that we are currently living under capitalism in its neoliberal form. For the “Never Biden” tendency, that translates into seeing the workers vs. neoliberal capitalist conflict as the central axis around which socialists need to draw not just ideological but immediate electoral and non-electoral action lines. Any view other than this is seen as diluting socialist principle.

For decades, most who held this view argued that it mandated staying 100% out of the Democratic Party. In the wake of the 2016 Sanders campaign, and especially in 2019-2020, a large cohort abandoned this position (to cries of betrayal by their former co-thinkers}. Those who shifted decided that because of the constraints of the two-party system, it was acceptable to contend for a place on the Democratic ballot line, but only if insurgent candidates ran as socialists. Backing non-socialists in primaries or general elections, or engagement in any structure affiliated with the Democratic Party, was still forbidden.

There is a logic to this view. And it has particular appeal to people radicalized since the 2008 financial crisis. That event and the resulting economic downturn turned a large proportion of educated youth into a debt-ridden, downwardly mobile cohort.

WHITE SUPREMACY AT THE PIVOT

Appealing as it is, however, this perspective mis-assesses the lineup of forces in the country’s current polarization.

The left might wish for (and work toward making) the central dividing line in U.S. politics between a multi-racial, intergenerational and all-round inclusive working class vs. an alignment of big capital, chunks of the middle class and a small layer of ideologically corrupted or outright bought workers. But that is not the reality today and it very rarely has been in the past.

Today’s which-side-are-you-on dividing line is between a racist authoritarian bloc led by Donald Trump vs. a larger but much more heterogeneous array of forces that, from different angles, regard Trumpism as a dire threat to their rights and interests.

Both the Trump and anti-Trump camps are multi-class alliances. Both contain advocates of neoliberal economics. The conflict between them is nonetheless quite sharp. The dividing line is the system of white supremacy. This racist material relation is not an “add-on” that piles oppression on top of exploitation for certain groups of workers. Rather, it is integral to and interwoven with relations of exploitation in ways that have decisively shaped political conflict in the U.S. since its origins in 1619.

Trumpism rose to power in the wake of a 50-year backlash against the gains made by 1960s movements, the overthrow of legal Jim Crow and passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act most of all. Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” and then Reagan’s dog-whistle racism laid the groundwork for the openly racist “birther” campaign that transformed Trump from a reality-TV host into a formidable presidential candidate. Since 2016 Trump has gained complete control of the Republican Party. Former top GOP strategist Avik Roy put it concisely: the GOP is a party whose center of gravity is white nationalism. Anti-feminism and homophobia are incorporated into this toxic brew, and all who are not on board have been purged or cowed into acquiescence.

In a mirror image of the way the Black-led Civil Rights struggle expanded democratic rights and yielded economic gains for all workers and oppressed constituencies, racism lay at the cutting edge of the neoliberal era’s assault on the working class as a whole. It lies at Trumpism’s core, and has driven us to this moment when racial polarization, urban-rural polarization, partisan political and even basic information-source divisions now thoroughly overlap.

The differential impact of COVID-19 across the color line and the uprising to defend Black lives have both intensified this central polarization and underscored the way racism stands at its pivot. The country is now more sharply polarized than it has been since the Civil War.

This is the reason why Trumpism, which attacks the living standards and political strength of the U.S. working class, has been able to glue large numbers of white workers to its key social base in the capitalist class and middle strata. It is why the vast majority of people of color and other democratic minded people of all classes are arrayed against Trump. All workers have suffered intensified hardships since the 2008 financial crisis, but there is a deep racial chasm in the working class’ political response.

DRIVE TOWARD AUTHORITARIAN RULE

Going hand-in-hand with the Trumpism’s deployment of “strategic racism” is its drive toward authoritarian rule.

While Trump’s unhinged egomania contributes to this malady, authoritarianism’s main driver is the corporate core of Trumpism – the fossil fuel industry, military industrial complex, and a cohort of right-wing billionaires. These heavyweights calculate that they need to dispense with the previous norms of U.S. democracy to advance their agenda.

Their calculation is based mainly on two things:

The first is demographic change: the steadily rising proportion of people of color in the U.S. means expansion of the population that is most resistant to their increase-poverty-and-inequality program.

The second is the stagnation of the neoliberal model, which since 2008 has lost its capacity to even minimally share the fruits of economic growth and requires ever-harsher austerity for workers and the middle classes to keep going at all.

Faced with a rising proportion of people of color, a downwardly mobile young generation that is turning left, and increasing resistance to climate change denialism, top GOP leaders including Trump himself are on record stating they want to prevent a one person, one vote society.

The results include intensifying voter suppression, stacking the federal judiciary, purging all but Trump loyalists from all decision-making positions in the federal bureaucracy, and cultivating ties with openly fascist militias.

In response to COVID-19, heightened attacks on science and basic facts have been added to Trumpism’s racist (“China virus”) playbook. In response to the massive protests that followed the murder of George Floyd, Trumpists call for “dominating the battlespace” and the President tweets that Black Lives Matter is a “symbol of hate” and  threatens mass murder (“when the looting starts, the shooting starts“).

These steps have gone past the rules-of-the-game that had been accepted by Republicans and Democrats since McCarthyism ended. Even the mild concessions to communities of color that the Democratic Party-wing of capital was willing to make are seen as a prelude “to pull down our whole culture: the American founding, western civilization and everything that sprang from it.” In the last few weeks Trump has gone all-in to defend-the-heritage-of-the-Confederacy mode, bringing to mind W.E.B. Du Bois’ observations about the parallels between the “white supremacism” of Jim Crow America and fascism.

INTRA-RULING CLASS CONFLICT

Trump’s escalations have produced a leap in intensity of intra-ruling class conflict. Previous “norms” served the U.S. ruling class well, especially facilitating their capacity to project “soft power” globally. No surprise that many in the elite see dispensing with them as a huge mistake. Similarly, important wings of capital think climate change and COVID-19 are real, science is important, and conspiracy theories are destabilizing and dangerous.

Plus being the target of “lock ’em up’ threats while Trump takes personal control of the Justice Department raises the stakes.

So, for a mix of reasons that include personal survival and partisan advantage as well as a certain conception of their class interest, a wing of the ruling class is opposed to Trump assuming “total authority.” They call for a return to a “reality based” politics where facts and science matter, and press for an end to gerrymandering and for voting rights protection.

These are not “bourgeois” issues irrelevant to socialists. Preservation and expansion of democratic space is crucial if the working class and all those damaged by capitalism are to have the most favorable conditions to organize for power.

This crucial point is obscured, and the danger of Trumpism is badly under-estimated, by a framework that minimizes the differences between the Trump and corporate Democrat camps because both can be said to espouse versions of neoliberalism.

PULLED INTO THE VORTEX

The intensity of the Trump/GOP vs. anti-Trump polarization pulls everything into its vortex. Issues from climate change to public health, where opinion once was spread across party lines, have become thoroughly partisan. Even amid a pandemic that thrusts the need for science-based government action center-stage, the GOP base is sticking with an administration that is spreading conspiracy theories, doubling down on privatization, repealing environmental regulations, and giving employers immunity to jeopardize the health of their employees,

Democratic opinion has shifted in the other direction. Polling shows a markedly leftward shift among Democratic voters on issues related to anti-Blackness and immigration, especially since the Black Lives Matter uprising. Support for Medicare for All and a Green New Deal has skyrocketed.

Even on issues where resistance to change is strongest, a shift is underway. On foreign policy (long the holy of holies for bipartisan cooperation) there is now a body of stalwart antiwar congresspeople with stable popular support. On perhaps the toughest issue of all – the Party’s lockstep support for Israel – there is progress, with Israel’s apologists expressing horror that the issue is “becoming politicized” as backing for Palestinian rights grows steadily in the Democratic base.

Responses to the pandemic have likewise bent to the gravitational force of the Trump-anti-Trump dynamic. Stances toward “reopening”; toward who is responsible for the staggering health and economic toll; toward mask-wearing or even whether the pandemic is a serious problem at all, fall along partisan lines.

The immense force of the country’s central polarization also explains why Biden beat Bernie and Warren so decisively in the primaries. The left was outgunned in this fight. We did not yet have the base or infrastructure to prevail. But it was the “electability” factor that accounts for the scale of Biden’s win. Many on the left regarded “electability” as a red herring deployed by the corporate media to block the left. The anti-left “commentariat” did play it up, but it resonated deeply with many voters, including in constituencies that would benefit far more from Bernie’s program than Biden’s.

Why? Because these voters saw the central task in 2020 as getting Trump out of power. They wanted to see the broadest possible front arrayed against him in November. We may not agree that Biden, rather than Bernie or Warren, is the best candidate around which to build such a front. But voters’ who saw Biden as most likely to succeed cannot simply be dismissed by a left that aims for majority support.

IMPLICATIONS FOR LEFT STRATEGY

Grasping the centrality of the Trump anti-Trump polarization, and the fact that white supremacy is at its pivot, is the key to accurately assessing the moment and the left’s key tasks:

  1. We are in a “democratic moment” that can open the door to deep-going change. In immediate practical terms, the issue facing the U.S. in this election and all the battles swirling around it is how much democratic space we will have in 2021 and after. Preserving maximum democratic space is important in itself. In addition, the pandemic and uprising have all but closed off the possibility of returning to the “old normal” and there is a new level of mass support for far-reaching change which includes a surge of support for socialism. This combination has already forced Biden to shift his mantra from “return to normalcy” to promising “sweeping economic change” and means there is a huge opportunity for social movements to take advantage of wider democratic space to press for structural change and win important victories.
  1. Throwing ourselves into the anti-Trump coalition is the best route for both ousting Trump and building the strength of progressive movements and the socialist left. This course propels us to broad interaction with working class and people of color constituencies, enabling us to learn more about their thinking and to expand our ranks. It is a path to building closer alliances with the range of labor, racial justice, climate justice, gender justice, immigrant rights, LGBTQ, tenant rights, public health and other organizations that will be going all out to beat Trump in November. And it gives us a chance to significantly reduce the number of Bernie supporters who do not vote for Biden (an alarming 25% in 2016).

(There are leftists who acknowledge that the central axis of battle in the country is Trump-anti-Trump, or at least that everyone would be far better off if Trump is defeated,  but argue that socialists should still abstain from the electoral battle against Trump. Rather, we should focus on other battles to build up left power. That kind of orientation might be practical in the short term for a small organization. But on the level of strategy it substitutes the voluntarist notion that the left can set the agenda and timetable for mass struggle for a materialist perspective that recognizes that underlying trends and political forces far more powerful than ourselves set the conditions that we must deal with. In doing so it fosters a stronghold, “if you build it, they will come” approach to politics that would consign the left to the margins as the struggles of millions pass us by.)

  1. Build the independent strength of left and socialist organizations in the course of the election campaign – Our Revolution, Working Families Party, state-based power-building organizations, organizations in the Left Inside-Outside project, sections of DSA that participate in the anti-Trump front. This task means more than persuading and turning out voters. It means being part of campaigns against voter suppression between now and the election, taking part in voter protection efforts on election day, and making specific preparations for mass action to defend the election results in case Trump loses but refuses to accept the result. It also means participating in a mix of down-ballot races and non-electoral actions essential to defending the health, rights and economic interests of workers and all who are vulnerable – an especially urgent task right now with infections soaring and the benefits that have been keeping millions afloat about to run out.

Each specific organization has limited resources and is positioned in different locations and sectors. Choices must be made about specific action priorities. Within a common strategy there will be different tactical approaches.

“BEAT TRUMP” OR “NEVER BIDEN”

I will close with a contrast between the messages the “Beat Trump” and “Never Biden” strategies each send to one of the constituencies most important for the left to be rooted in if we are to become a powerful driver of transformative change.

The majority of African Americans in the U.S. live in the South (the 11 states of the former Confederacy plus Oklahoma, Kentucky, Maryland, West Virginia, and Delaware.) This is the sector of the U.S. population that has the strongest collective memory of both Jim Crow and the bitter and bloody struggle of the Civil Rights Movement to overthrow it. The shadow of that history, of lynching and racist violence by state authorities and non-state actors, hangs heavy over the region as a seemingly constant stream of murders from Trayvon Martin to Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor keeps reminding us. State governments in the South are among the most pro-military, anti-union, and anti-reproductive rights in the country.

There are notable differences in political outlook along generational and other lines in this sector: like other communities African Americans in the South are far from monolithic. But unity in defense of the gains made in the 1960s remains a powerful factor. Further, state-level campaigns like Stacy Abrams in Georgia and Andrew Gillum in Florida in 2018, Charles Booker in Kentucky in 2020, as well as numerous local contests, have not only energized almost all sectors of the community, but positioned it as the anchor of a growing multi-racial alignment.

In the wake of Trump’s criminal and racist response to both the pandemic and uprising, it is possible that Georgia and Texas may become battleground states; prospects to beat Trump in Virginia, North Carolina and Florida have improved; and new possibilities for gains in down-ballot races have opened up in in every southern state. Southern activists, especially southern Black activists, have increased the volume on the longstanding call for both the Democratic Party and the progressive eco-system to wake up to the importance of the South and devote real resources to bolstering organizations rooted there. There is every indication that African Americans in the South will be in the forefront of the efforts to build a multi-racial electoral coalition to beat Trump in November and make sure that every vote is protected and counted.

Leaving aside for a moment how it will affect vote tallies on November 3, which of the following messages is likely to build the strength of the socialist movement in this crucial constituency?

*”We will throw our organization strength into the electoral battle to defeat Trump and prevent a return to Jim Crow, and push from there for this country to become a genuine multi-racial democracy under the leadership of the working class.”

or

*There is not enough difference between the contenders for the presidency to make it worth our while to take part in electoral fight to beat Trump. Instead, we will focus on building our own strength on our own timetable and engage in presidential politics when we decide there is a socialist candidate more deserving of our time and energy.”

Those who send the second message may build a force which defends radical ideas and contributes to important fights.

But the left forces whose strategy translates into sending the first message have much better prospects to grow their ranks and expand their influence, power and coalition relationships.

Beyond that, they will be dealing a blow to the ‘permanent opposition’ mentality that has so often stunted the vision of U.S. radicals – embracing instead the revolutionary idea that our goal is to be part of, and then ultimately lead, a coalition that governs and transforms the whole country.

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37 Comments

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  • James Early
    James Early July 6, 2020 at 5:29 pm

    Thanks Max for this important -instructive realpolitik analysis that requires further identification and explanation of the less than progressive components of the popular Anti-Trump Front including sectors of the Black electorate and Black Democratic Party politicians who consciously align with pursuit of a fair and equitable stake in neoliberal capitalism and uphold a staunch anti-Left and certainly anti socialist line (demonstrably against the Sanders, AOCs, the Ellisons) that should not be underestimated (should be identified as an ongoing post-Trump factor already in play) in the common “call for collective action to defeat Trump.”, which should not be categorized as voting “for Biden”. In attention to the fact that “Biden-strategic alliances” to defeat Trump constitutes the other “in the popular front division” we must understand and prepare to battle with in the Post -Trump period when Biden generally aligns closely with moderate Republicans and far-right Republicans on international policy—and will train his rejection and Establishment Party maneuvers against the insurgent social democracy policy makers. Ordinary working people can understand and navigate those complexities, and we should be careful to not avoid or simplify them for fear they won’t check the Biden box to defeat Trump.

    • Howard Switzer
      Howard Switzer July 9, 2020 at 2:54 am

      Right John, it is consciously returning to the politics that brought us Trump but in fast worsening condition. We are facing a protracted depression, the mask is melting and we have a corrupt and dysfunctional government incapable of an effective response. The conditions for revolution are being met. The sovereign solution has been in the wings since the founding of the nation, time the power of debt-free public equity money was unfurled and the current system built on usury is put to a final end. That will eliminate the largest creator of economic hardship, poverty and inequity the world has ever known. We will need to learn how to collaborate within a system that actively even violently discourages collaboration.

      • waltinseattle
        waltinseattle July 26, 2020 at 9:01 pm

        theres z good model. its not from whites of any splinters. its nog black. its indigenous. Some find their analysis more usefull oversll than continued spats of left or right bug all chained and shackled by western traditions. thats includes neoliberdlixm, capitalism and most “socialisms.” wrong questions give wrong answers.

  • Jack Kurzweil
    Jack Kurzweil July 6, 2020 at 6:03 pm

    Max, An excellent analysis and article. I have hardly a thing to add. Having, in my youth, done a lot of backpacking in rugged terrain, I learned that one must distinguish between the destination and the path. Failure to do so can leave you in difficulty. With your permission, I plan to circulate you article widely. All the best and many thanks, Jack

  • sister soami
    sister soami July 6, 2020 at 8:07 pm

    Many thanks for your thoughtful, lucid insights and am sharing.

  • David Schwartzman
    David Schwartzman July 6, 2020 at 9:33 pm

    Thanks Max for a very thoughtful analysis, particularly on the necessity of defeating the most blatant white supremacist since Woodrow Wilson, Donald Trump. But I find no mention of the fact that an ecosocialist working class Presidential ticket will be on the ballot in many states, the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker (https://howiehawkins.us).

    So here are my proposed goals for the 2020 Presidential Election from the perspective of a Green Party activist:
    1) Trump must be defeated, another 4 years of his Presidency would be a catastrophe with respect to climate and environmental justice, and of course the chances of us getting DC Statehood any time soon.
I need not elaborate further regarding Trump’s empowerment of blatant white supremacy, xenophobia, misogyny, fascist minded demagoguery and just plain stupidity.
    2) Biden, or whoever might still replace him as the Dem’s candidate must be systematically critiqued, especially with regard to the Democratic Party’s imperialist and militarist foreign policy. Our likely Presidential candidate Howie Hawkins will do this well and champion an ecosocialist Green New Deal (GND), an imperative message confronting the climate crisis and connecting this challenge to economic, social and environmental justice. Democrats should recognize that this GND first entered U.S. political discourse during Howie Hawkins’ 2010 GP campaign for New York Governor, again championed by Jill Stein, the GP’s candidate for President, in her 2012 and 2016 campaigns, laying the foundation for New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Congressional Resolution, followed by Bernie’s even better GND program which addressed the need for cuts in the military budget and as well as challenge the power of the military industrial complex . And now there is a concrete plan put forward in the House, which can serve as a basis for a ferocious class struggle to implement a just GND coming out this current social and economic crisis.
    3) Now it appears that the only way Trump could be reselected by the Electoral College is by voter suppression. The Green Party must put the struggle against voter suppression as a top priority, to defeat Trump and restore some democracy in our country.
    4) We must open a respectful dialogue with Democratic voters, especially African-American and Latino and even Trump supporters in 2016 who voted for Obama before Trump. Voters’ choice should be respected whether they live in a swing state or not. It is obvious that while the Democratic candidate for President will likely win big regarding the popular vote, swing states will decide whether Trump is defeated because of the Electoral College. I live in DC and will vote for our soon to be nominated GP candidate Howie Hawkins since any Democrat on the ballot will win DC’s three electoral votes.

    Now more than ever, white supremacy must be pulled down from its pedestal, Robert E Lee and all slaveowners DOWN, John Brown, Harriet Tubman, Sitting Bull, Paul Robeson, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, Claudia Jones UP! DC statehood in 2021!

    David Schwartzman
    Activist in the DC Statehood Green Party and member of the GP’s International Committee
    http://theearthisnotforsale.org

  • Imani Countess
    Imani Countess July 6, 2020 at 11:16 pm

    Max, thank you for this important article. I am sharing as widely as possible!

  • Larry Robbin
    Larry Robbin July 6, 2020 at 11:37 pm

    Thanks Max. I have followed your analysis for over 40 years (we met back in Milwaukee) and while I don’t always agree with it, I do consider you to be a very strong and informative voice on these complicated topics. I echo your comments. I think Cornel West summed it up best. “Biden will be a disaster, but Trump will be a catastrophe!” Trump has gone beyond being part of a political party. His “movement” is now a cult and if he gets four more years it will be Trump on super steroids. I have very low to no expectations for Biden making any real change, but this is one time that it is better to have a sane neoliberal in office than the insane facist leader of a cult.

  • Richard Ochs
    Richard Ochs July 7, 2020 at 5:19 am

    There is no way socialists can ever eventually lead an anti-Trump or anti-authoritarian movement within the Democratic Party because the the corporate MIC has a stranglehold on the Democratic Party which can never be broken from within. The Full Spectrum Dominance doctrine, which is also aimed at domestic “enemies”, is fully operational in the Democratic Party and is a hidden authoritarianism which Trump applies openly. Trump’s authoritarianism is being destroyed in the streets. He is losing in the streets. His thugs are losing the battle. Our marches are winning. The Green Party and DSA are our ideological broadcasters which should not be subsumed or diminished by supporting Democrats. Our truths cannot be broadcast within the Democratic Party. Without truth, we have nothing. Trump is a paper tiger. He is all talk. When he tries to do something bad, he loses. We are getting immigrants freed from ICE prisons. He is getting military push back. His support is diminishing. We just have to keep up the pressure. Our battleground is in the streets, not in the voting booth. When we are martyred, our numbers grow exponentially. Have faith in our independence. It is already paying off and will gain more in the future.

    • David Schwartzman
      David Schwartzman July 7, 2020 at 5:56 pm

      Comrade Richard,

      Like you I am a Green Party activist, and strong Hawkins/Walker supporter. But as a Green and DSA member I support an inside/outside strategy and value the efforts of socialists who work and get elected as Democrats. Kudos to those left-wingers who recently won Democratic Primaries. Bernie’s run for President surely boosted democratic socialism and a Green New Deal among the U.S. electorate. Let’s respect each others efforts, learn from each other and work for a strong convergence emerging out of the current deep crisis.

      Cheers,
      David

      • Max Elbaum
        Max Elbaum July 12, 2020 at 5:25 pm

        David – Thanks for taking the time to respond to my article.
        I’m all for left voices being heard in this election season on every issue, certainly including climate change. We need to work in a way that both builds the strength of the left, pushes the Biden camp leftwards, and maximizes chances of beating not just Trump but all of his GOP enablers as well. We need to be ready to come out in large numbers to protect the vote election night and after and use the momentum from that mass action to build further after January. My views on this overall approach and why I think it can result in substantial progress toward radical change can be found in an earlier column, Big Changes Ahead: Let’s Be the Whirlwind.
        You seem to agree that these are all crucial tasks. Where we disagree is on the role of a Green Presidential campaign in relation to them. I don’t see that approach as contributing positively to what we want to accomplish. Even if the Green Presidential candidate makes statements that Trump is worse than Biden (those kinds of statements were not forthcoming from the Greens in the 2016 contest between Trump and Clinton and many Greens resist that stance for 2020) in operational terms the Greens are still calling for people not to vote against the only candidate who can defeat him. This has consequences in swing states, which you concede are crucial to the outcome, but also for our leverage overall if we are faced with Trump refusing to concede. It divides the anti-Trump front instead of building its strength.
        And it’s not like there aren’t other and better ways to thrust left perspectives – including eco-socialism – into the national debate and build the independent strength of the left. Over the last five years the left has built a significant number of organizations that are not averse to fighting on the terrain of the Democratic Party have built a measure of political clout and maintain their independent initiative and radical agenda. These include Our revolution, the Working Families Party, numerous state-based power-building organizations such as New Florida Majority, LUCHA in Arizona or Pennsylvania Stands Up, on top of the host of organizations fighting on specific issues. And in the wake of the uprising to defend Black lives the Movement for Black Lives and its closest partners and allies have made great progress in reshaping the national conversation not just about anti-Blackness but the overall inequities in U.S. society.
        All these have a much larger base among workers and communities of color than the Greens. In my view, building the strength of these forces in the course of fighting to defeat Trump is the way to meet the big challenges of this unprecedented moment.

        • David Schwartzman
          David Schwartzman July 12, 2020 at 6:44 pm

          Comrade Max,

          We first met at my Howard University campus event shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union and you published my essay “Towards a sustainable socialist strategy” in Crossroads (1991). I recognize you as the political marathon runner so I highly appreciate your essay and responses.

          Yesterday, as a delegate to the Green Party Nominating Convention I joined three other delegates from DC in voting for Howie Hawkins/Angela Walker, our choice for President/VP.
          As working class ecosocialist candidates I will vigorously support them. My older son Peter, a delegate from Illinois (and office holder in Galesburg) and I posted the following message to the participants of this convention:
          “Kudos to Howie Hawkins/Angela Walker! Building our Green Party, boosting the vote for Hawkins/Walker and defeating Trump are consistent and imperative goals. Trump is the most blatant white supremacist President since Woodrow Wilson. White supremacy must be strongly rejected in this election! We should join the struggle against voter suppression mainly directed against the Black and Brown electorate, likely the only way Trump will be reselected by the white supremacist Electoral College. Biden must be challenged especially for his imperialist regime change agenda, and Hawkins/Walker are committed to do this very well. Prepare for ferocious class struggle for an ecosocialist Green New Deal now and after November.” (please note that Biden recently supported fracking which is a climate killer because of the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere).

          Our message to progressives/socialists supporting Democrats: fighting voter suppression should include joining us in the struggle against voter suppression of our party, otherwise you will be accomplices of Biden/DNC in their long efforts to marginalize and demonize our Party, falsely blaming it for the defeats of Gore and Clinton instead of critiquing the Democratic Party’s own failures and neoliberal policies. With regard to the struggle against voter suppression, please recall Jill Stein’s initiative, supported by rank and file Democrats after the 2016 election.
I remain convinced that a left/ecosocialist voice must be heard in this Presidential election. Yes, I acknowledge the important role of progressive/left organizations in this political moment but they cannot effectively replace an actual candidate challenging the two parties dominated by the Wall Street imperialist camp, so that the U.S. electorate will be able to compare platforms and a vision for the future. And it is no surprise that the Democratic Party and allied organizations have a much larger base among workers and communities of color than the Greens, given the history and very difficult conditions for a left electoral party to succeed in the context of prohibitive election laws discriminating against third parties.

          Since the BLM upsurge it is now obvious to most in this nation and globally that Trump is the leader of white supremacy. Of course I respect the choice of Black and Brown voters who will support Biden. Trump’s defeat is imperative, especially for the residents of DC, as we look forward to DC Statehood in 2021, a goal long supported by the Green Party. With the passage of the House bill for DC Statehood, a Democratic victory for Biden and control of the Congress will very likely result in achieving this goal since it is of obvious advantage to the Democratic Party in the short run.

          I will only leave you with two major contributions of Howie and the Green Party (Jill Stein’s
two runs for President), the ecosocialist GND which has reached millions of the electorate since Howie ran for NYS Governor in 2010, and prepared the way for the
launching of AOC’s GND Resolution, Bernie’s improved version and now the House plan for a GND.
 The second is Howie’s promotion of a fracking ban, paid family leave and $15/hour minimum wage in his run for Governor in 2014, getting 4.8% of the vote,
more than the WFP, followed by Cuomo’s adoption of these demands.
I submit that this year the Hawkins/Walker challenge from the left could potentially result in analogous concessions from a Biden victory. Given the BLM mass upsurge we should look forward to a stronger movement to implement a truly just and effective GND as well.

          I stand by what Cornel West said in 2016, Trump is a catastrophe, Clinton is a disaster, while supporting Jill Stein. 
2020: Trump is a catastrophe, Biden is a disaster which is highly preferable to a catastrophe. I suspect a left party convergence is a real prospect in the near future from those working
in the inside and the outside. Green Party, Socialist Alternative, Our Revolution etc. Lets keep talking.

          A luta continua
          David

  • Henry Hitz
    Henry Hitz July 7, 2020 at 7:40 am

    Thanks Max! I’ve been trying to write this article for some weeks now. Thanks for saving me the trouble. And I love how comradely you critique our friends in the Neverbiden camp!

  • Maureen Saari Wildman
    Maureen Saari Wildman July 7, 2020 at 12:59 pm

    I am thrilled to share your perspective as a means of awakening and unifying many well intentioned and deeply concerned citizens.

  • mark masaoka
    mark masaoka July 7, 2020 at 9:56 pm

    Max Elbaum’s “Socialist Strategy and the Biden Debate” seriously misreads DSA’s position on the coming election. DSA’s “Not to Endorse” position is not the same as “Never Biden” which is the equivalent of “Don’t Vote for Biden”. In my old UAW local, we sometimes voted not to endorse in certain races which did not mean opposing candidates, or discouraging members from individually giving support.

    How a national political organization approaches a Presidential election is far more complex that an individual deciding whom to vote for. It considers levels of political agreement and the allocation of finite time and resources. For DSA, defeating Trump and right-wing populism is an integral part of building the mass movements fighting for radical progressive and socialist programs. To that end DSA is engaging voters in political conversations and building turnout for hundreds of down ballot candidates mostly on the Democratic ballot line and ballot propositions. For organizations to endorse a candidate’s campaign however, presumes promoting that candidate’s positions and toning down differences they may have. For elected officials like Bernie Sanders and AOC, who have to corral votes in Congress, they have other factors to weigh.

    While Biden is vastly preferable to Trump, on DSA’s core issues of universal health care/Medicare for All, Green New Deal, Free College Education, Prison Abolition, Tax the Rich, End Deportations and No Imperialist Wars, Biden’s past is problematic and he speaks only of modest steps that go beyond Obama era policies. Most of DSA’s 70,000 members joined because of our work on these issues and for candidates like Sanders who championed most of them.

    As Bhaskar Sunkara, Jacobin editor, writes in a New York Times op ed (5/28), DSA is having “to walk a perilous tightrope—(risking) teetering off into the abyss of conventional politics on one side or falling to sectarian irrelevancy on the other.” DSA stays true to their issues and base while contributing to Trump’s defeat which means a Biden win. For the millions who are disappointed and disgusted with the Democratic and Republican Party establishments, DSA offers a left progressive alternative to right wing populism.

    How much harm does DSA’s non endorsement do to the Biden effort? Mainstream Democratic Party operatives are relieved to see an acceptable co-existence with this. A Democratic Strategist letter writes

    “The Democratic Strategist is therefore pleased to be able to highlight the following New York Times Op-Ed column by Bhaskar Sunkara, the editor of Jacobin Magazine and a leading thinker in the Sanders/Socialist movement:

    “The title of Sunkara’s column is: ‘You’ve Probably Heard Socialists Won’t Vote for Biden: We may not like him, but we don’t want Trump to win.’

    “Sunkara presents a very clear argument in support of Biden’s candidacy while simultaneously emphasizing the Left’s deep and continuing differences with the Democratic “establishment” and their intention to continue energetically advocating for their ideas and programs during a Biden administration.

    “We believe Sunkara speaks for the very large majority of Bernie Sanders supporters and that Democrats should pay attention to his intelligent and thoughtful statement of the left perspective instead of to the many superficial or malicious commentators who promote divisive stories of ‘Civil War Among Dems.’”

    Signed, Mark Masaoka, Delegate to DSA 2019 Convention, Los Angeles Chapter

    • Max Elbaum
      Max Elbaum July 8, 2020 at 10:15 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to respond to my article.

      I disagree with your claim that my article equates DSA’s no-endorsement position with a “Don’t Vote for Biden” position. My article states that DSA’s stance is that as a national organization it will not back Biden, but that “given the big tent character of DSA and the wide range of views within it, what specific chapters and individual members will do varies widely.” My piece also does not make formal endorsement of a candidate the acid test of a group’s stance; it rather poses the issue as collective action “with or without a formal endorsement.”

      I think you are overstating things when you argue that DSA as a national group sees beating Trump as an integral part of its work. In fact, the organization has conspicuously declined to make any such collective statement. This is why I argue that DSA “has positioned itself on the margins of the central political fight of the year.”

      When a proposal was offered to the national leadership to “ask members in swing states to consider voting for Biden” (not to endorse or vote for him, but just to consider the proposition), it was voted down 13-4. And the fact that it was even raised for discussion was criticized by the original author of the 2019 “Bernie or Bust” resolution as a violation of democracy within the organization.

      Further, various DSA members have suggested that a DSA statement could be made similar to the one Atlanta DSA issued during Stacy Abrams’ campaign for governor:

      “For many reasons, we cannot endorse Abrams ourselves, but neither can we stand aside while our friends and allies fight for something they know will make their lives better. We voted to encourage our members, if they feel so moved, to stand up and fight in this election cycle.”

      No statement along those lines has been issued. Neither has DSA as an organization issued a statement making the points that Bhaskar Sunkara offered (and you cite) as reasons why Biden is a better choice than Trump.

      I think this is because there are influential tendencies within DSA who believe that a statement that beating Trump is of importance to socialists when an “establishment Democrat” is his major party opponent is an inappropriate conciliation of neoliberal capitalists. It is that view, held by some socialists both inside and outside of DSA, that is the main target of my article’s critique.

      Of course, there are many complexities in an organization deciding on how to engage in an election and allocate its resources. And there are many ways to contribute to beating Trump besides endorsing Biden and throwing all resources into the presidential contest.

      I think it’s great that many DSA chapters and individual members are working hard for progressive and socialist down- ballot candidates and talking with voters about the dangers of Trump and right-wing populism. As my article said, “most of what its members will do over the next five months will contribute positively to social change.” I look forward to working with you and all in DSA in numerous fights over the coming years, whatever the outcome of the 2020 election.

      But for all that, I think it is a mistake that DSA as a national organization does not go on record in some way encouraging its members, friends and supporters to cast their ballots in November against Donald Trump in the only meaningful way, i.e. to vote for Biden. Failure to do so prevents the largest socialist organization in the country from moving central to the main fight in the country today and is an obstacle to the important attempt to drastically reduce the 25% of Bernie voters who did not vote for Clinton in 2016.

      • David Schwartzman
        David Schwartzman July 10, 2020 at 8:54 pm

        Max,

        How about responding to my comments ?
        Tomorrow, as a delegate I will be voting for the Hawkins/Walker ticket, which will very likely going to be chosen by the Green Party. This is a reality that should not be ignored.
        Neither should the fact that tipping points to climate catastrophe are growing ever closer,
        and why it is imperative that the voice for an ecosocialist Green New Deal must be heard in this election.
        This electoral initiative is consistent with defeating Trump coupled with fighting voter suppression.
        The left in this election must not be taken for granted, as we prepare for the post November challenges.

        Cheers,
        David

  • Brandon Rey Ramirez
    Brandon Rey Ramirez July 8, 2020 at 7:09 pm

    Appreciative of Max’s time and assessment of this moment.

    Many influential voices on the Left have been skeptical of Bernie and critical of any kind of electoral work that engaged with the Democratic Party. Often citing an (incomplete) Marxist analysis, there’s an rejection of any strategy that prioritizes racial oppression as a primary dividing line – but as Max points out, Racial Capitalism has been weaponized by the pro-Trump authoritarians. It’s also what has allowed for pushing the Overton window on issues like Defunding the Police. This is not at all diminishing the hard fought local organizing and strategy by Black Lives Matter, especially against Democratic Mayors and City Councils, but the popular support is a demonstration of the multi-class coalitions we’ll need to develop in order to dismantle White Supremacy. We will need strong national organizations in order to uproot Racial Capitalism and that will require engaging with mass movements and mass politics.

  • Elizabeth Burton
    Elizabeth Burton July 9, 2020 at 4:19 pm

    The problem with this analysis is that it’s not based on actual evidence the Democrats do and will continue to defend the democratic space. I’ve seen no evidence of it. Rather, I’ve seen them engage in the same kind of blatant minority voter suppression as the GOP, and observed the machine’s gears grinding at full speed to put an abrupt end to the Sanders campaign. I’ve heard nothing but noble platitudes and symbolic pearl-clutching over anything the Trump administration has done or proposes. We now know several of them (or their immediate family members) benefited from the PPP loan program while refusing to even consider a monthly UBI for suffering working people.

    Joe Biden’s history is based on lies. I have absolutely no reason to believe the Democrats will be any better than any other corporate-owned crop of politicians when it comes to addressing the needs of the working class and the planet, and I was a Democrat for 51 years.

    Talk is cheap, and no party knows that better than the Democrats. They literally have no platform other than “not Trump”, and Biden himself was recorded twice assuring his plutocratic donors “nothing will fundamentally change”. More important, few of us in the trenches even believe he’ll even be the President, should the party manage to pull enough anti-Trump Republicans to put him over the top. His incapacity is clear to anyone not blinded by Trump derangement syndrome; and most of us assume the final VP nominee will serve out most of his term.

    “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” We were conned in 2008 with “hope and change” that ended up being “business as usual”. I’ve seen nothing since to suggest the Democrats have had a road-to-Damascus moment and have done a 180 from their steady march to the right. You won’t convince anyone who understands the political system we live in a vote for Biden is somehow going to make things better. The Democrats, after all, not only voted to renew the PATRIOT Act and gave the CIA carte blanche to spew propaganda inside US boundaries but have expanded their hated Donald’s surveillance powers.

    I’m not buying what they’re selling again. Enough is enough.

  • Jane Armbruster
    Jane Armbruster July 9, 2020 at 7:36 pm

    Thank you, Max. This essay provides a coherent look at the current balance of forces in the U.S., and hence a rationale for voting for Biden. Trump and Trumpism must be defeated. Otherwise, democratic space that remains for challenging neoliberal capitalism is likely to disappear, and our work toward a just society will become more difficult than it needs to be.

  • Peter Lehmann
    Peter Lehmann July 10, 2020 at 12:56 am

    Lenin in his book State and Revolution has this to say about the prospects of the working class coming to power by means of engaging with an existing bourgeois democratic government.

    “The omnipotence of “wealth” is thus more secure in a democratic republic, since it does not depend on the poor political shell of capitalism. A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and therefore, once capital has gained control (through the Palchinskys, Chernovs, Tseretelis and Co.) of this very best shell, it establishes its power so securely, so firmly that no change, either of persons, or institutions, or parties in the bourgeois republic can shake it. “

  • Sally McMullen
    Sally McMullen July 10, 2020 at 11:28 pm

    Max, I have been waiting for this article. I agree with your analysis. The heart of the matter for me is that electing Biden gives us space to continue working toward our socialist goals, as you succinctly stated. And, like you pointed out, helping Biden win unites us with a huge sector of the population. Granted it only unites us in defeating Trump, but that is a big something. To me DSA’s stated position is lofty in its dedication to ideals but unrealistic in strategizing on how to win the fight. I’ve been hearing policital analists as well as DSA members state they can’t vote for Biden because of the pro-incarceration bills, etc., that he passed. I agree totally with their sentiments that many of his policies were abhorrent. However, that doesn’t deter me from being rational in the current situation. I’ve also heard some “radical” analysts declare they are NOT voting for president because they are in “safe” states. I don’t think any state is “safe”. Plus, I think every vote against Trump is important to show that he was defeated by the widest margin possible — both for giving a signal to his supporters that they are way outnumbered (especially the gun slingers) AND giving Trump a clear signal that he has to leave. Which signal he may need badly. And which signal the police/military may need badly. I hang with the DSA sometimes although I’m not an official member (because very hard to get to their meetings) but I do not find that the members I hang with favor the national DSA policy. I hope they are in the majority! Another point you made that I totally agree with is that a movement can’t move ahead unless there is space — and timing. I’m thinking of Che going to Bolivia — bad timing. Brilliant man, totally dedicated, but bad timing! Finally, I’m seeing that while issues/actions for eliminating racism are moving forward, as they should, and not fast enough, the anti-racist message is not being coupled with the anti-capitalist message. One thing I got from a recent socialist analysis is that “we” need to capture the narrative. We have not captured the narrative and I think more could be done at this moment to do that by coupling the two issues together in order to have as broad an appeal as possible. Trump et al have captured the narrative. They’ve convinced people to vote against their own interests. Nothing new about about that. However, their narrative is getting stronger while ours is getting drowned out — which is another reason WE HAVE TO HAVE MORE SPACE. Thanks!

  • Steve Downs
    Steve Downs July 12, 2020 at 5:33 pm

    I appreciate Max Elbaum’s piece both for its clear presentation of the issues facing the anti-capitalist left with respect to this year’s election and the comradely way in which he presents and discusses different perspectives. This is a textbook example of “respectfully disagreeing”. I also appreciate that Max is honest enough to leave in a line that undercuts his own conclusion that the anti-capitalist left should “throw ourselves into the anti-Trump coalition” and get out the vote for Biden.

    He writes, “racism lay at the cutting edge of the neoliberal era’s assault on the working-class as a whole.” Surely we can find a better way to oppose the “racist authoritarian bloc led by Donald Trump” than to give even grudging support to Joe Biden, who is practically an avatar of neoliberalism. Fortunately, Max’s thoughtful piece shows ways to do this.

    The mass mobilizations that started with Trump’s inauguration – such as, but not limited to, the Women’s Marches, the mobilizations in support of immigrants, the teachers strikes and, especially, the mass outpouring in defense of Black lives and opposition to white supremacy — have been key to checking Trump and the right-wing and to building the commitment to get him out of office. Doing what we can to support such mobilizations will continue to stand the left in good stead.

    And, as Max argues, it is critically important that the left be involved in the defense of the right to vote. This includes, “being part of campaigns against voter suppression between now and the election, taking part in voter protection efforts on election day, and making specific preparations for mass action to defend the election results in case Trump loses but refuses to accept the result.” We must do this whether we call for a vote for Biden or not.

    From a strictly practical point of view, many of us, like me, live in states Biden will win handily. Any additional votes the left might bring to him in these states will not offset votes for Trump in the states he carries. In the deep blue states, any votes we bring to Biden will be wasted votes. The effort and energy we put into building mobilizations against the right-wing agenda and/or in defense of democratic rights in both red and blue states will not be wasted. And they will help to defeat Trump and his bloc.

    • David Schwartzman
      David Schwartzman July 13, 2020 at 1:01 pm

      Steve, you say “From a strictly practical point of view, many of us, like me, live in states Biden will win handily. Any additional votes the left might bring to him in these states will not offset votes for Trump in the states he carries. In the deep blue states, any votes we bring to Biden will be wasted votes.” So why waste these votes when you can cast your ballot for Hawkins/Walker and boost a working class ecosocialist ticket putting forward a vision you likely share?

      Besides the reasons I have already shared, our Presidential ticket needs to be on the ballot line of many states to insure ballot status for local Green candidates. We are urged to run locally but not for President, but the two are connected in party building.

      • Steve Downs
        Steve Downs July 13, 2020 at 2:20 pm

        David,

        I will be voting for Hawkins/Walker. However, I don’t believe that vote will in any way contribute to the necessary goal of getting Trump out of office. Supporting the mass actions in the streets and working to protect the right to vote and for all votes to be counted, imo, will.

        • Max Elbaum
          Max Elbaum July 13, 2020 at 11:37 pm

          Steve:
          Thanks for taking the time to respond to my article. And I appreciate the kind words about the piece taking a constructive and comradely approach to political debate.
          I don’t agree that Biden’s advocacy of neoliberalism mandates non-support of voting for him to beat Trump in November. It appears that you agree it is necessary to defeat the racist authoritarian bloc led by Trump, you are just searching for “a better way” to do that. The things you suggest – mass non-electoral action, fighting voter suppression – are all important and were note in my article. But omitting the call to vote for Trump’s opponent from the mix is sidestepping the issue at hand. Only combined with a defeat of Trump at the polls can these other forms of struggle remove the current occupant of the White House from power.
          You implicitly accept this as a fact with your argument about alleged wasted votes in “safe states.” It is noteworthy that you omit mention of swing states in that part of your message, where the argument that Trump’s defeat is important but “other ways” should be found than voting for Biden is weak if not downright illogical. But even beyond that, I do not agree with the assertion that votes for Biden in ‘safe states’ are wasted. Trump is been systematically laying the groundwork to contest the election, and the size of the popular vote against him will be an important factor in determining how much leverage our side has when we go into the streets on election night. The larger the vote against Trump, the more likely we are to get large numbers of people into the streets and to stay there to protect the result; and the more difficult it will be for election officials, judges, state legislators and congresspeople to steal the election.
          Finally, alliances shift all the time. Strategies for change are most effective when they identify and target the main enemy at a given stage of struggle and work to weaken and isolate that enemy by building the broadest possible alliance against it. That’s the route not only to creating more favorable terrain for further struggle but for building the left itself. The way the current battle-lines are shaping up, Trump and the GOP are the headquarters of racism and reaction, and Biden is part of the front against that. Moreover, he is seen as such by the overwhelming majority of the people in communities of color, the labor movement and other constituencies that the left must sink roots in if we are to get out of the margins. The message best suited to expanding the left’s base as well as creating more favorable terrain for the years 2021 and after is:
          Vote for Biden to defeat Trump; build our own organizations in the process; get into the streets to protect the election starting the night of November 3, and keep pushing our program of radical change via protest, mass action and electing more progressives and socialists when a new administration takes office.

        • David Schwartzman
          David Schwartzman July 14, 2020 at 8:31 pm

          Steve, I second your last response to Max on this issue. The Hawkins/Walker campaign could make a contribution to defeating Trump by emphasizing its importance in its messaging, helping to strengthen the struggle against voter suppression and showing respect for Biden supporters, especially Black and Brown, who make this choice to defeat Trump.

  • Steve Downs
    Steve Downs July 14, 2020 at 8:12 pm

    Max,

    Since I agree with you about the importance of removing Trump from office, if I lived in MI or AZ (just as examples), I would probably vote for Biden. Since I disagree with you that voting for Biden this year is the universal prescription for the left, and I don’t live in a swing state, I will be voting for Hawkins – and doing what I can against voter suppression and to make sure the results of the election are respected.

    I’m not making any prediction about what will happen in the days and weeks following Election Day, but I think that even those on the left who don’t vote for Biden will join you and others who did vote for him in the streets to prevent the election from being stolen.

    There is certainly a conversation to be had about what is gained and lost by the left through participation in broad, cross-class alliances. As part of that conversation, I hope we can consider whether the fact that much of the left remained tied to the neoliberals in the Democratic Party for decades – always in the name of maintaining a broad front against reaction – weakened the left and contributed to Trump’s victory in 2016.

  • Carl Redwood
    Carl Redwood July 17, 2020 at 7:02 pm

    Because someone or group supports Biden vs Trump does not mean they oppose white supremacy / racial capitalism. Or maybe I misunderstood the point that the dividing line is the system of white supremacy. Is this the dividing line within the anti-Trump multi class alliance?

    • Max Elbaum
      Max Elbaum July 17, 2020 at 11:57 pm

      Thanks for raising that issue Carl. I don’t assess the main which-side-are-you on dividing line based on adding up the views of individuals. There are people who will vote against Trump who are racist, and people who will vote for Trump who are not haters (though they are giving racism a pass by doing so) To me it’s a matter of the main agenda of the contending sides and the character of the overall coalition each has assembled. The Trumpist bloc appeals to and fans racism ideologically, has reinforced white supremacy in its policies and welcomes within their ranks overt armed white nationalists. White nationalism is its center of gravity. The opposition coalition, even with an unreliable candidate at the head, has been opposed to most of Trump’s racist policies, has an agenda that on voting rights and numerous other issues challenges or weakens white supremacy, and is subject to the influence of (and already has been influenced by) movements against racism with a militant cohort of African Americans in the lead. Beating Trump electorally will not knock out white supremacy, but it will remove from executive power the command post and hub of the racist offensive underway, which will be a big step in the right direction and open up opportunities to make many more gains.

      • JIMMY D BRASH
        JIMMY D BRASH September 20, 2020 at 12:55 am

        The Biden campaign is openly reaching out to disillusioned Republicans. Some big-time anti-Trump Republicans were even speakers at this year’s DNC. Regardless of what’s happening in the streets, the Biden administration will move further to the right or to the “new middle” on most issues. There will be a few Republicans in his cabinet to show “unity” and to promote a return to the pre-Trump status quo or “normal.” It was that status quo – 40 years of neoliberalism – that brought us, Trump. The disorganized & dysfunctional American Left falls in line every election cycle behind the Dems’ austerity candidate AND gets almost zilch every time.
        The Dems are suing to get Hawkins/Walker off the ballot in several states. The Dems have been the biggest obstacle to Ranked Choice Voting & Instant Runoff Voting. Joining a Biden led coalition to rid ourselves of Trump, doesn’t open the door for building independent political action, it suffocates it. Either building an alternative to the duopoly is possible or it isn’t. If it isn’t let’s be honest and accept that along with accepting that reformed capitalism is the best we can ever hope for. Otherwise, we should vote for the green party ticket or leave POTUS blank and focus on down-ballot candidates.
        Can’t keep voting for what we don’t want and expect different results.

  • Donna C Carter
    Donna C Carter July 18, 2020 at 9:03 pm

    All of Max’s and the many commentators bring forth many aspects of building a national coalition to defeating Trump. The election is only a few months away! The coalition you talk about has a very limited time to congeal.
    A huge effort. In the meantime, his defeat is still not a sure thing by any means. Probably, the most critical aspect in addition to consolidating the coalition is the voters rights fight. We can advance the building of the anti-Trump election movement but without access to the vote, our efforts may go for naught. Maybe, I have missed it but if not we still need a coalition with a complete strategy to secure the vote.

  • Louis N Proyect
    Louis N Proyect September 19, 2020 at 11:56 am

    I have no idea why you people are pretending to be building a revolutionary movement. Like the DSA and the CPUSA, you are basically the extreme left-wing of the Democratic Party and you arguments for voting for Biden are the same that Gus Hall used for voting for LBJ in 1964. The more things change, the more they stay the same I guess.

    • JIMMY D BRASH
      JIMMY D BRASH September 20, 2020 at 1:01 am

      I think these folks are unconsciously intellectually dishonest. Say what you will about Ralph Nader, but he has always been honest about being a reformer. These folks just want European social democracy, which I admit would be a step up from what we currently have. I just wish they were honest about it and stopped all the chatter about revolution.

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