Jason Pramas’s November 27th op-ed “Temporary Radicals? Disaffected Dems Need to Stay in the Streets” looks at the new wave of protests following Trump’s election.
Pramas gets a lot of things right, but his conclusion is flat wrong. The left should abandon the Democratic Party, not (once again) try to transform it from within.
The election of Trump was a shock to many, including this revolutionary socialist. After the seeming implosion of his campaign in the final weeks of the election, few thought the billionaire bigot Trump would pull out a win.
In part, we have our undemocratic government to thank for it. The Electoral College, an institution designed to limit real democracy and ensure the power of slave states, handed the election to Trump. This is despite Clinton winning two million more votes.
Yet the Democrats deserve blame as well. “America is Already Great” could never be a winning slogan. But even if the slogan and the candidate spouting it were different, the results would likely be the same.
We are, after all, coming out of the Obama “Hope and Change” era. This same party has overseen attacks on auto workers and teachers, the unaddressed destruction of Black life and wealth, more fracking and pipelines, more wars, and more deportations.
Some may say the problem is “corporate Democrats”, but this is a capitalist party through and through. It’s running capitalism in a period of economic crisis – and attempting to solve this crisis on the backs of the working class and the poor, while lowering expectations and disciplining social movements.
Sections of the party, like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, act as its left-wing – but they ultimately serve to put red bunting on a money-green party. After the Democratic nomination, not even Clinton’s leaked Wall Street speeches could spark Sanders’s ire against her.
Throughout its history, the Democratic Party has perfected the art of absorbing the rhetoric of social movements while stewarding the system – whether through slavery and Jim Crow, every major war in the 20th century, welfare reform, or repressing unions from Ludlow Colorado to Little Steel.
The experience of the immigrant rights movement in 2006 is instructive. Immigrants faced a right-wing Republican Congress and Rep. James Sensenbrenner’s proposed law that would have classified undocumented immigrants as “aggravated felons”.
In response, millions of immigrants mobilized mass strikes and walkouts. “Day without an Immigrant” protests shut down farms, factories, markets, and restaurants.
But the dominant voices in the movement saw the Democrats as allies. Their slogan was “Today we protest, tomorrow we vote.” In this way, the movement’s “Si se puede” became Obama’s “Yes We Can” – and once in power, Obama has deported more immigrants than any U.S. president in history.
In the immediate aftermath of this election, the Democrats (including Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders) have told us we should “give Trump a chance” and are willing to work with him on certain issues. In the words of late Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, for Democrats “It doesn’t so much matter who wins. The important thing is the legitimacy of the system.”
Even if the Democrats become rhetorically more combative in the coming months, at its core this party is committed to the same system that has led to the crises facing the working class, oppressed people, and our very planet. Hitching our hopes to this party fundamentally changing would be a disaster.
With the mass protests against Trump, the influx of newly activated ordinary people, including those who may start as Clinton supporters and Democrats, is a great thing. We should build the grassroots resistance as broad as possible, and we shouldn’t set up any radical litmus test for people getting involved. Everyone who’s disgusted by Trump should mobilize to Washington, D.C. on January 20th and 21st to protest his inauguration.
But to cohere this new generation of activists to take on the right-wing and the system that spawns it, we need to build a party of hardened militants guided by socialist politics. And as we march beside the disaffected masses, we need to convince them to see the Democrats as an obstacle, not an ally, in the fight for a better world.