Why Big-Business Press Joined Reformist Left in Hailing Primary “Earthquake”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the Rescue of the Democratic Party
Kansas congressional candidate James Thompson with "democratic socialists" Senator Bernie Sanders and congressional nominee Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Wichita, July 20. One calls to “abolish I.C.E..” the others don't, but they all are for “secure borders.” And they all run for office in the Democratic Party of imperialist war, racist repression and mass deportations.
The Democratic primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over ten-term incumbent Joseph Crowley in New York’s 14th Congressional District has become one of the hottest political topics of the year. It’s “the age of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” announced CNN on June 26 when the 28-year-old member of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) routed Crowley, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. In the solidly Democratic district made up of parts of the Bronx and Queens, her election to Congress is virtually assured.
The primary victory by “AOC,” as many took to calling Ocasio-Cortez, was hyped as a “political earthquake” by media from left to right. The gutter-press New York Post tried to whip up a scare (and raise sales) by headlining “Red Alert.” Yet bastions of the big-business press were very far from treating her win as a threat. In a glowing statement by its editorial board, the New York Times (“What Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Victory Means,” 28 June) called it “a vivid sign of the changing of the guard” in the Democratic Party, as “the liberal base is fired up” and “many newly motivated women and other activists around the country” prepare to take on Republicans at the polls this November. “Many voters are ready for something different. Politicians across the country should take note,” the editorial proclaimed.
The Times editors were far from alone in hailing the news.
- “Ocasio-Cortez Just Did Democrats a Big Favor,” noted the Washington Post (27 June).
- The “thrilling upset victory” of Ocasio-Cortez is a “Big Deal,” declared New York magazine (27 June).
- “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Insurgent Triumph,” headlined The Nation (30 July).
Something is going on here, and would-be leftists would do well to think through what it means. Even the most starry-eyed can’t possibly believe that the likes of the New York Times and Washington Post – pillars of imperialist liberalism for generations – have suddenly gone “socialist.” Instead, the wave of glowing coverage reflects a view articulated by The Guardian (27 June): “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez represents the future of the Democratic party.” If sectors of the bourgeoisie hail this as very good news indeed, it is because they have become increasingly worried that the future of this racist, imperialist party, widely discredited among youth and even sectors of its traditional base, is in question.
So what is this “political earthquake” about? Far from seeking to bury the world’s oldest capitalist party, the “democratic socialists” hailed by the Times seek to rescue, rebuild and refurbish it. That has always been the reason for existence of the Democratic (Party) Socialists of America, which Ocasio-Cortez joined after the DSA endorsed her campaign. This is the opposite of genuine socialism as put forward by Karl Marx, who stressed that the word can only be a deception unless it is based on the fight to win the political independence of the working class. For the workers and oppressed in the U.S., the most urgent and central task is a systematic and thorough break from the bosses’ Democratic Party, which chains them to the politics and institutions of the capitalist order.
That a panoply of reformist “socialists” were in tune with the Times underscores why revolutionary Marxists call them pseudo-socialists. The DSA hailed “AOC”’s primary win in a June 27 statement titled “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, The Political Revolution Continues!” harking back to the Bernie Sanders campaign that spurred the group’s rapid growth. For its part, the hipster social-democrats of Jacobin magazine (3 July) claimed: “On June 26, 2018, everything changed for the socialist movement in the United States” when the “insurgent race” of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “catapulted the politics of democratic socialism onto the national stage.”
Groups purportedly to the DSA’s left joined in the jubilation.
- Socialist Alternative (2 July), which has dived headlong into Bernie Sanders’ Democratic “political revolution,” hailed the “political earthquake” and bragged about having “worked with the Ocasio-Cortez campaign to deal a heavy defeat to Crowley and his corrupt backers.”
- “Any socialist with a political pulse should be ecstatic about the victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” wrote leaders of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), even as they reminded readers that “The Democrats are a capitalist party” (Socialist Worker, 11 July). The article, titled “How far can the left go in the Democratic Party?” is part of a roiling public debate in the ISO.
- Workers World (1 July) greeted the “amazing upset,” saying “Ocasio-Cortez will have the opportunity to really shake things up.” “We cannot predict how all this will play out,” but “She could be part of the process of people understanding why they need to mobilize independently of the system’s political machinery.”
So these reformists join in building illusions in the capitalist-imperialist Democratic Party which under liberal president Barack Obama was running the imperialist U.S. war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, deporting millions of immigrants (more than any U.S. government in history), the party that is now rattling sabers over “Russiagate” and calls Trump soft on North Korea. Meanwhile, on the home front Democratic mayors preside over the racist police murder of hundreds of black people yearly, They just debate over “how far can they go” in this blatant class collaboration.
As the DSA held its national convention a year ago, The Internationalist explained the real political function of “Democratic (Party) Socialism” in an article distributed outside (in response to which DSA honchos called the cops on our comrades).
“The DSA helps the Democrats use youth revolted by the status quo to yet again shore up that status quo by putting their liberal illusions in ‘democracy’ in the service of the political system of imperialist rule. The DSA ‘left’ does its bit with double-talk, fostering confusion and drowning any question of class principle in a soup of ‘flexible tactics,’ with Jacobin adding a dollop of sophistication to the social-democratic broth. And behind them jogs a crowd of pseudo-socialists hoping to catch up with the DSA after losing out in the contest to see who could best tail after ‘Bernie’ and his ‘political revolution’ for Democratic renewal. By pushing the Sanders ‘revolution,’ they all helped the U.S. political system fulfill one of its central functions in a period of turmoil.”
–“The ABCs of the DSA” (4 August 2017), reprinted in The Internationalist No. 50, Winter 2017. This is also the lead article in a 70-page Internationalist pamphlet available from Mundial Publications (see our web site www.internationalist.org for information about how to order).
Members of the DSA “left,” together with their myriad camp followers in other groups, claimed that our critique was just a symptom of our supposed sectarian aversion to recognizing “new realities.” The influx of new members, they insisted, was radicalizing the DSA in a process that would push it away from and eventually out of the Democratic Party. The scientific Marxist term for this is: bullshit. As shown by the Ocasio-Cortez campaign, and the response to her primary victory, the DSA and its new members are moving further into the Democratic Party. And this, in turn, helps push the fake-left groups cheering them on further to the right, as they seek ever deeper unity with the mainstream social democrats.
“Girl from the Bronx” Becomes a “Political Rock Star”
In the days and weeks following her victory, everyone wanted to know Alexandria Oasio-Cortez’s story. Where did she come from? How did she topple a powerful Democratic Party boss? What did “democratic socialism” mean to her? With her primary win, “The future of the Democratic Party is suddenly more clear,” wrote Rolling Stone (27 June). So how did it come about that “An Instant Political Superstar Is Born in a New York Primary,” as the New York Times (28 June) headlined its front-page story?
Her campaign video, made by Means of Production, a Detroit-based media company with ties to the DSA, portrays her as a veritable David going up against the Democratic Party “establishment” Goliath. “Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office,” says Ocasio-Cortez over a montage of her campaigning in immigrant and working-class neighborhoods. The marketing is flawless – a “champion” for the struggling, working-class New Yorker, ascended from among their own ranks, here to turn the Democratic Party around.
Donald Trump won’t know “how to deal with a girl from the Bronx,” she told talk show host Stephen Colbert. Maureen Dowd of the Times picked up the theme in a column titled “Local Girl Makes Good” (30 June), calling her win “a line straight out of a J. Lo Cinderella movie.” Scores of articles recount how until a few months ago she was tending bar at a Mexican restaurant near Union Square. Presented as the millennial everywoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is relatable to a generation of youth with college degrees stuck in low-wage, part-time jobs.
While crafting an image of someone who reluctantly chose to run for office – an outsider answering the call of duty – in fact Ocasio-Cortez is firmly rooted in Democratic politics. She phone-banked for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, and helped found the Bronx headquarters for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential run. After some Sanders staffers set up a political action committee called Brand New Congress, Ocasio-Cortez was among those they solicited to run for office. She was also one of 38 candidates endorsed by another liberal pressure group, Justice Democrats. And this goes back a number of years.
As a feature article in the New Yorker (23 July) by David Remnick explains, she worked in Edward Kennedy’s Boston office while attending university, “dealing with constituent concerns, including immigrant issues.” Today, her “ideological lodestar” is Bernie Sanders, the New Yorker editor notes. “When I asked her about her political heroes ... there was no mention of anyone in the Marxist pantheon. She named Robert F. Kennedy. In college, reading his speeches – ‘that was my jam,’ she said.” (RFK is the guy who bugged Martin Luther King’s phones, waged a union-busting campaign against the Teamsters, and tried to wipe out the Cuban Revolution with big brother JFK, from the Bay of Pigs to threatening to blow up the world in the Cuban Missile Crisis, to launching endless attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro.)
So what about “socialism”? The New Yorker feature is titled “Left Wing of the Possible,” after the mantra of DSA founder Michael Harrington, who “sought to push the Democratic Party left,” as Remnick writes, adding approvingly: “‘The left wing of the possible’ reflects how Ocasio-Cortez practices politics.” Remnick quotes Saikat Chakrabarti of the Justice Democrats, one of AOC’s closest advisers, quipping that “the right did us a service by calling Obama a socialist.... What people call socialism these days is Eisenhower Republicanism!”
On Twitter the day after the primary, AOC (@Ocasio2018) accused today’s GOP of being “weak on crime … weak on national security … weak on family values.” Unlike some fans on the left, Ocasio-Cortez makes no pretense of heading toward a break from the Democratic Party – she is up-front about the goal of reforming and renewing it as a centerpiece of her campaign. In a series of tweets on June 19, she emphasized: “We need to talk about the future of the Democratic Party.... WE have to ELECT a new Democratic Party.... We need to change the Democratic Party because that is what we CAN change.”
A key plank in her primary platform was the call for a “Green New Deal,” together with standard Democratic calls for gun control, “curbing” Wall Street by restoring the Glass-Stegall Act, to “reform our [sic] criminal justice system to be safer for everyone,” etc. This was augmented by Sanders-style calls (with echoes of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson-style Democratic Party liberalism) for Medicare for all, higher education or trade school for all, and a “federal jobs guarantee.”
None of this represents the slightest challenge to the capitalist state or property relations, yet they have been cited as evidence of alleged radicalism, together with Ocasio-Cortez’s call to “abolish” the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Just how “radical” that call really is can be seen by her official platform’s explanation (ocasio2018.com) that “Unlike prior immigration enforcement under the INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service], ICE operates outside the scope of the Department of Justice and is unaccountable to our nation’s standards of due process.” Interviewed on NPR the day after her primary win, she said “we need to have a secure border,” stating: “We need to make sure that people are, in fact, documented.” (See “Smash the I.C.E. Gestapo with Workers Revolution,” The Internationalist, 14 July.)
And it’s not only establishment Democrats, even some moderate Republicans are clear-eyed about Ocasio-Cortez: “Worried About Socialism Coming to America? Calm Down,” headlined a Bloomberg (2 July) opinion piece on AOC:
“[T]he new socialist movement doesn’t look that different from a standard progressive Democratic agenda. The big new ideas are single-payer health care and a federal job guarantee. These are expensive programs that will be difficult to implement correctly, but both could lead to higher economic output as well as greater quality of life for the poor and working class. In other words, the new socialist movement may turn out to be more about evolution than revolution.”
Investors need not worry, Bloomberg reassures them, the “evolution” will be good for business! For sectors of the bourgeoisie worried about the Democratic Party being widely discredited, particularly among youth, this is a “breath of fresh air” indeed.
Behind the pervasive enthusiasm among establishment liberals for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Democratic primary victory there are cold political calculations. It’s all about the midterm elections. This is also true of so-called “women’s marches,” pro-gun control youth “anti-violence” marches and the Democrat-dominated national protests over the Trump administration’s family separation policy of snatching immigrant children from their parents at the border. All of these have been orchestrated by NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that are front groups of the Democratic Party, including moveon.org, riseandresist.org, womensmarch.com, marchforourlives.com, etc.
The Democrats are well aware that to win back the House of Representatives, and possibly even the Senate, they will have to bring out millions of young voters in November. Yet the “millennial” youth in their late ’20s who overwhelmingly despise Trump, are also deeply disaffected with the electoral process and the Democratic Party in particular. Some 50% of eligible millennials voted in 2008, due to enthusiasm for Democratic Barack Obama, the first black president in U.S. history. But as disenchantment with Obama set in, the youth vote dropped to less than 20% in the 2014 midterms. And millennials are now the largest age cohort.
To overcome this, the Democratic Party number crunchers know that they have to counter youth disaffection with establishment politics. They are also aware of the several polls that show that a majority of young people say they prefer socialism to capitalism. While this sends shivers down the spines of Fox News, Glenn Beck and sundry right-wingers, as well as “centrist” Democrats of the Cllinton ilk, more far-seeing liberals look beyond the label to see that the actual content of what Ocasio-Cortez and the DSA are calling for doesn’t go beyond old-line “progressive” Democratic politics. Spicing it up a little with the word “socialism” may up its millennial market appeal.
“No, Ocasio-Cortez Is Not Launching a Socialist Revolution,” headlined Politico (27 June) – and by “socialist revolution” it means “purging the corporatist Democrats out of the party establishment.” Instead, “the Democratic Party’s ‘big tent’ just got a little bigger.” House minority leader Nancy Pelosi’s initial reaction to Ocasio-Cortez’s victory was dismissive, saying it was just about “one district.” The next day, on CNN, Ocasio-Cortez said “we’re in the middle of a movement in this country … it’s not just one district.” But this “movement” is to the polls, to vote for the Democrats.
In another widely quoted interview, in which she said “democratic socialism” is something she “doesn’t lead with,” Ocasio-Cortez explained the strategy: “We need to be identifying our safest seat, and using those seats to advance the most ambitious vision possible that the Democratic Party wants to espouse.” So challenge old-guard Dems only where the Democratic nominee is assured of winning. The interview was published in the social-democratic magazine In These Times (25 June), which in a prior piece (“Signs of a Democratic Spring,” 14 May), profiled a dozen candidacies resulting from “a long-germinating rebellion within the Democratic Party that ... might just save the withered institution from itself.”
The point that “new blood is urgently needed” in the Democratic Party was central to the Washington Post (27 June) column “Ocasio-Cortez Just Did Democrats a Big Favor,” which argued that her primary victory “gives the Democrats a vital chance to own the emerging electorate of young, female, nonwhite and progressive voters. This coalition can beat Trump in 2020....” It’s noteworthy that, following the fashion among many liberals right now, this essentially writes off white male workers, many of whom voted for Barack Obama but went for Trump in large part because they were fed up with the economic policies of the “free trade” establishment Democrats and Republicans that threatened their livelihoods.
Pillars of the Democratic establishment signaled that they were getting the “new blood needed” message loud and clear, even if some recalcitrant Clintonites played deaf. None other than Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez – a particular nemesis of “Berniecrats” – proclaimed that Ocasio-Cortez “represents the future of our party.” The phrase has become a mantra. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, congratulated Ocasio-Cortez for her primary win (as Pelosi eventually did as well), and endorsed key aspects of Ocasio-Cortez’s platform including abolishing I.C.E.
As the Huffington Post (4 July) reported. “establishment Democrats are now knocking on her door. A little over a week since her upset of Joe Crowley… Ocasio-Cortez finds herself as an unlikely kingmaker. She’s used her newfound power to boost the political fortune of a slew of candidates….” AOC hit the campaign trail in the Midwest, rallying Democrats from Kansas and Missouri to Michigan, and the fundraising circuit on the West Coast. And back in New York, Cynthia Nixon, the actor and de Blasio ally challenging Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo, has begun calling herself a democratic socialist (see box below).
As the Guardian noted, “progressives argue that they must ‘expand the electorate’ by bringing new voters into the political system – as did Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders.” The “democratic socialism” ploy is all part of a get-out-the-vote operation.
Tripping Over DSA Coattails – ISO Headed for Split?
Ocasio-Cortez’s big primary win and massive media prominence have deepened the dilemmas that Bernie Sanders’ “political revolution” posed for the opportunist left. Pushed and pulled to be more and more “Democratic” and less and less “socialist,” they’re scrambling to figure out how best to enthuse over “AOC” but still justify their own existence, as the DSA registered yet another growth spurt after her victory. For these currents, after all, nothing succeeds like success – even if it’s “success” in building the illusions and mechanisms for rebranding and rejuvenating the imperialist Democratic Party.
While cynically pretending, mainly for internal purposes, to have something in common with Leninism and Trotskyism, groups like Socialist Alternative (SAlt) and the International Socialist Organization (ISO) gush over the DSA’s growth and “successes,” rightly seeing themselves as part of a social-democratic confraternity. But grabbing a piece of the action won’t be so easy.
So they seek to maneuver. While proudly proclaiming that it joined with the DSA to campaign for Ocasio-Cortez, SAlt faces more internal turmoil as it inevitably confronts the question: “All the way with the DSA?” Its July 2 article states: “After the exhilarating victory of Ocasio-Cortez, it is possible to go further and call on Ocasio-Cortez, Cynthia Nixon, the Working Families Party, the National Nurses United, DSA, and others to begin discussing the launching of a new mass membership organization” on a “radical program,” which “rejects corporate cash” and “runs candidates against the Democratic Party establishment and independent of them.” To be sure, “independent” of the “establishment,” but not of the Democratic Party itself.
An alternate reformist fantasy scenario is promoted by the International Marxist Tendency, which writes (Socialist Revolution, 1 July): “If Ocasio-Cortez operated in Congress as an independent socialist, she could call for nationalization of the Fortune 500 companies to be placed under workers’ control in order to provide the resources for full employment and a genuine living wage, healthcare, education, and housing for all,” and so forth and so on. You bet – and if donkeys could fly, their wings might generate enough wind power to provide the energy for printing a million more ridiculous appeals for capitalist politicians to please introduce “socialism” through the bourgeois state.
The International Socialist Organization – which joined SAlt in hailing Sanders’ “socialism,” while seeking a formal degree of separation by not openly endorsing his campaign – has now broken out in full-on crisis over the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez “phenom.” One Socialist Worker article after another trumpets deepening collaboration with “our comrades in the DSA.” Even those arguing against jumping with both feet into Democratic primary campaigns hail the DSA’s “explosive growth” as “a terrific development for the U.S. left,” as ISO spokesman Danny Katch put it (“What’s the Path to Working-Class Power?” 27 July). But beneath the cheering lurks the question of whether the social-democratic ISO can stay afloat while seeking to ride the DSA tide.
In the wake of Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory, a wave of anguished ISOers have taken to socialistworker.org, calling on the organization to cast aside formal reservations and obstacles to carrying out the logic of their commonly proclaimed enthusiasm for Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez and the DSA putting “socialism in the air.” One declared: “Bernie Sanders decisively helped to re-popularize socialism by running for president as a Democrat, several others have since done the same at other levels of government, and a political entity, the DSA has given that ferment an organizational expression....” (Dorian B., “Confronting the Question of Socialist Electoral Strategy Today,” Socialist Worker, 3 July).
Pointing to the contradictions in the ISO’s policy of showering Democratic Party “socialists” with praise, while maintaining that the ISO itself should not call to vote for them (even as it supports minor bourgeois parties like the Greens), the writer states: “As thousands mobilize to elect socialists … will we argue not to vote for or support them when they run as Democrats, even while they are contributing positively to the growth of our [sic] common struggle and to the building of socialist organizations which have struggled to get off the ground for nearly three generations?” Voting for and supporting such candidates of the imperialist Democratic Party, is “not a question of principle or of our basic political program,” says the author.
Another piece begins: “On the day after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning victory, the internet lit up with leftist joy. Twelve hundred people joined DSA.” The authors proceed to describe the call by some DSAers to “use the Democratic Party as a launching pad to cohere a mass base for socialism” (sic), which “could eventually break away into independent political activity.” They state: “At least for now, those comrades appear to be correct” – after all, “DSA now has over 40,000 members” (Jason Farber and Zach Zill, “What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About the Democratic Party,” Socialist Worker, 3 July). Well, that clinches it for sure! QED.
In the lingo of some DSAers around Jacobin, this supposed strategy is known as a “dirty break,” as distinguished from a clean break with the Democrats. In a piece titled “Breaking Clean or Dirty?” (Socialist Worker, 17 July), ISOer Owen Hill claims that “the debate between dirty and clean break is not a debate on the grounds of principle.” In reality, the whole “dirty break” business is a political rationalization, an oh-so-cute and clever way of saying: run in the Democratic Party now, talk about someday ceasing to do so in the sweet by and by.
Yet another long-time ISOer, Hadas Thier (“New Conditions Give Rise to New Opportunities,” Socialist Worker, 23 July), writes that “we need to reassess our past arguments” and “assess each electoral opportunity on the basis of the opportunities it affords us.” She sums up: “Endorsing a candidate who we know cannot, through their election, change the Democratic Party, let alone the system, may be a contradictory position. But so, too, is to argue that we think the election of a candidate represents a step forward for our side, but not one which we will support.” Instead of “seeking to shield our members or collaborators from contradictions, we should work alongside them” – all of which amounts to a call for the ISO to go with the flow and embrace a less “contradictory” form of tailing the Democrats.
Weighing in on essentially the same lines is Paul Le Blanc, who writes (Socialist Worker, 4 July): “I am deeply impressed with the remarkable growth, leftward movement and electoral successes of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).” A former member of the Socialist Workers Party who has become a “theoretical” heavy in the ISO, Le Blanc advises those seeking “a strategy for building socialism through the Democratic Party” to adopt an “overarching political program” along the lines of “the detailed Freedom Budget for All Americans, put forward in 1966 by A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Michael Harrington, Martin Luther King Jr. and others.” And what became of that doomed effort (the brainchild of Max Shachtman’s Realignment faction in Norman Thomas’ “State Department Socialist” Party) to push the Democrats to the left?
Meanwhile, some in the ISO leadership try to hold on to the line that, while enthusing over Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez is great, openly calling to vote for Democratic candidates is going too far. They hew to the group’s traditional stance of support for minor bourgeois parties and politicians, like immigrant-bashing millionaire Ralph Nader. Prominent ISOers have run as Green Party candidates. One such leader is Todd Chretien, who in 2006 ran for senator on the Green Party ballot line. In a response to Thier, Chretien asks (Socialist Worker, 26 July):
“If Nader, an idiosyncratic figure who was vilified by the Democrats, could win nearly 3 million votes, couldn’t Bernie do as well or better, even while running as an independent? Couldn’t DSA candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jovanka Beckles and Julia Salazar make sustained inroads at the local level running independents? Of course they could. But here’s the kicker: They probably couldn’t win in the short term.” [emphasis in original]
A curious aspect of Chretien’s piece is his statement: “I want to flag an assumption that we all share that may not be apparent to SW readers who are not members of the ISO”: “We are committed to a democratic centralist method of organization.” Well, yes, that certainly wouldn’t be apparent to readers watching an existential dispute in the ISO raging on its public website. Though couched in sugary assurances that all are basically on the same page – namely, they are all opportunists, just looking for the right angle – the controversy could presage a hemorrhage of members, perhaps a split. Whatever, things certainly aren’t looking good for the ISO.
To understand this whole debate and the general commotion in the opportunist milieu, it’s necessary to understand their mindset. First of all, varrious of these social-democratic groups (DSA, ISO, SAlt, IMT) in fact have programs that differ very little with each other, with laundry lists of reforms to the unreformable capitalist state. More fundamentally, they see these developments on the left-right axis of bourgeois politics. Trump is right-wing, the Clintons are center, Obama is a tad to the left, Sanders a bit more, Ocasio-Cortez and the DSA a bit more. It’s all a continuum according to that outlook, and for them, any movement to the left, however illusory, is positive. So they try to pressure the DSA to the left, while the DSA pressures the mainline Democrats … and in the process they all move to the right.
Revolutionary Marxists have a fundamentally different – and counterposed – view, from a class perspective. Liberals, even left liberals, are no less enemies of the working class than right-wing conservatives. Who carried out the post-World War II purge of the “reds” that built the labor movement? It wasn’t McCarthyite witch-hunters but liberal Democrats who led the charge. Who are the mayors who are the bosses of the racist killer cops in the big cities of the U.S.? Almost all Democrats. Who brought you the war on Vietnam? Democrats JFK and LBJ. And now we have the latest crop of “democratic socialists” recruiting young people to vote for the party of Obama (the “deporter-in-chief”) and Clinton (who is banging the war drums over North Korea and Syria).
Marxists understand that society is based on a division among classes with irreconcilable differences. Far from a move in the right direction, trying to give a bourgeois party a more “left” face is the opposite of a proletarian strategy, as it seeks to bolster the image and credibility of this party of the class enemy. It strengthens the barriers to the working class breaking from capitalist politics and building its own revolutionary workers party, independent of and fighting against all bourgeois parties. Bolshevik leaders Lenin and Trotsky told the truth sharply and clearly: the proponents of social democracy (a/k/a “democratic socialism”) are professional betrayers of the fight for socialist revolution.
The social democratic groups are in the business of selling the idea that capitalism can be reformed, propping up this decrepit system which is already in terminal decay and is destroying past gains left and right. That business (a dirty one, to be sure) requires reliance on government parties – in the U.S., the Democrats first and foremost – that have their hands on the levers of the state power upholding the existing social order. Whether they wholeheartedly endorse Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez and others engaged in refurbishing and rejuvenating the Democratic Party, or fawn over their gains while offering soft criticisms, the opportunist left is helping build the imperialist Democratic Party of war, racist repression and mass deportations. ■
DSA Endorses de Blasio Democrat Cynthia Nixon
On July 29, the New York City Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) endorsed Democratic Party primary candidates Cynthia Nixon for governor and New York City councilman Jumaane Williams for lieutenant governor. Both have been endorsed by the Working Families Party, a satellite of the Democrats to garner votes from disaffected liberals. The Sex and the City actor has for several years been a political activist closely associated with Democratic mayor Bill de Blasio and his brand of “progressive” capitalist politics. Nixon announced her candidacy in March portraying herself as a “real Democrat” who is challenging NY governor (and de Blasio nemesis) Andrew Cuomo for governing like a Republican. As the Democratic primary campaign heats up, and with Nixon trailing far behind Cuomo in the polls, she has tried to give her campaign some pizzazz by linking up with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the rising Democratic star and DSA member. The two endorsed each other’s campaigns at a “get-out-the-vote” event the night before the June 26 Congressional primary where Ocasio-Cortez scored an upset victory.
Then on the eve of a July 11 DSA candidates forum, Nixon sent an e-mail in which she wrote (rather equivocally) that if being a democratic socialist meant being for Medicare for all, housing for all, and funding for public education “then count me in,” adding: “call it democracy or call it democratic socialism,” there has to be a “better distribution of wealth.” Of course, what this amounts to is a standard liberal Democratic platform. The proposal to endorse Nixon set off commotion in the ranks of the New York DSA, with a letter signed by over 100 members and half the chapters opposing it. The opponents questioned endorsing “a candidate who is not committed to democratic socialism,” and noted that Williams had accepted campaign donations from real estate interests and prison guards “unions.” What they did not challenge is the policy of supporting candidates of this capitalist party, the Democrats, which has been the defining characteristic of the Democratic (Party) Socialists of America since its inception. So after an on-line membership poll showed a majority for it, the NYC DSA leadership endorsed Nixon.
The Nixon endorsement is a prime example of how the pressures of bourgeois electoral politics work to pull would-be sort-of leftists to the right. An article in Splinter (27 July), the internet news and opinion site owned by Univision, quoted Chris Maisano of the Brooklyn DSA in favor of endorsing Nixon “as support for a larger political dynamic that’s putting ideas of socialism and class struggle right at the heart of mainstream political discourse.” Yet in the lead-up to the DSA national convention last year, where he was elected to the National Political Committee, Maisano was one of the main voices questioning participation in the “electoral process” via the Democratic Party (see In These Times, 20 April 2017). Now he and his cohorts have “Learned to Love Cynthia Nixon and Electoral Politics” (New Yorker, 2 August).
Meanwhile, in its recounting of the DSA tiff over endorsing Cynthia Nixon, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) opined that “the Nixon-Williams campaign represents a progressive challenge within the Democratic Party” and that “Nixon’s campaign is a breath of fresh air for New Yorkers disgusted by attacks on public education, a deteriorating subway system and years of political corruption” (Socialist Worker, 2 August).1 Yet Nixon (net worth estimated at $60 million) has called for MTA subway and bus workers to “make sacrifices,” saying that “the unions have to understand … with the deals that they have now you can’t hope to make improvements to the trains in a fiscally responsible way” (Labor Press, 2 April). And in 2008 she tried to keep the elite Center School (which her kids attended) on the Upper West Side from being moved out of the building of the coveted PS 199, cynically spinning her defense of exclusivity as “anti-segregation.”2
The ISO’s criticizes Nixon for saying she would drop out if Cuomo wins the Democratic gubernatorial primary, while they are plugging for the minor league capitalist Green Party (whose lieutenant governor candidate, Jia Lee, is a DSA member). Whether it’s the ISO’s “breath of fresh air” class-collaborationism or the DSA’s embrace of liberal Democrats willing to mouth the words “democratic socialism,” the social democrats act as a service corps for the bourgeoisie, funneling discontent into the safe channels of capitalist electoral politics. Trotskyists, in contrast, stand on the elementary Marxist principle of class independence from all bourgeois politicians and parties, calling to break from the Democrats (and Republicans, and Greens, and WFP) to build a revolutionary workers party. It’s either-or. ■
- 1. “Breath of fresh air” is the ISO’s standard way of giving backhanded support to bourgeois politicians. See our compilation, “ISO: ‘Fresh Air Fiends’ of Class Collaboration,” The Internationalist, December 2015.
- 2. For more on the fight to de-segregate Upper West Side schools, see “Free Market Racism: Segregated Schools, Gentrified Neighborhoods” in Marxism & Education No. 5 (March 2018), journal of the Class Struggle Education Workers.