This is a completely revised, second edition of a pamphlet initially published in 2010 under the name
“Challenging the Two-Party System Can a Left Alternative to Corporate Politics Be Built?”
The 2012 elections are taking place under very different conditions from 2008. Gone is the euphoria for candidate Barack Obama. Far from transforming America, as so many had hoped, Obama is presiding over an America still staggering from the economic collapse of 2008, where poverty and long-term unemployment still ravage the lives of tens of millions.
Three years of failed promises have stripped away the gloss, revealing a presidency wedded to corporate politics. Yet the November 2010 elections saw a resurgent Republican Party driven on by the right-wing Tea Party phenomenon. How should progressive workers and young people approach the elections in 2012?
2011 was an extraordinary year. Decades of pain inflicted on working-class people and the poor found expression in a new social movement against the ruling elite – Occupy Wall Street. Occupy had to overcome a number of obstacles, including being shut out by the corporate media and police violence.
Now in 2012, an election year, new questions are posed. How can Occupy keep the movement against Wall Street and Corporate America thriving? How do we resist the barrage of pressure from the liberal establishment that all progressives need to focus on electing Democrats?
Presidential election years – occurring with a myriad of state and local elections – are a unique time in the U.S., when tens and hundreds of millions of Americans tune in to politics. Because of the level of prominence it has achieved, Occupy is in a unique position to speak in the name of those shut out of U.S. politics – the 99%. If Occupy candidates had run in this election year, they would have had the credibility to bring an anti-corporate message into the homes of tens of millions of Americans to challenge the agenda of the two corporate parties.
The two major parties are in a state of unprecedented crisis. They have been exposed for their blatant pandering to the corporate elite, the 1%. Successive bank bailouts, continued high unemployment, a deepening foreclosure crisis, a legacy of wars, and failure to protect the planet have all created a mood of anger. Issue after issue has piled up to the point that young people and working people see politicians catering to the corporate interests that dominate Washington, D.C.
In a December 2011 Pew Research poll, 77% of respondents said too much power is in the hands of a few rich people and corporations. 61% of Americans now say the economic system in this country unfairly favors the wealthy. Also, two-thirds think most members of Congress should be replaced (www.scribd.com/doc/75809246/Congress-and-Economy-Anti-Incumbent-Views-Pew). However, in 2012 people are faced with the same old choice of two candidates funded by corporate money trying to slice and dice the electorate to find a way to win.
By popularizing the huge divide between the 1% and the 99%, Occupy has identified the essential class division in U.S. society. The enemy has been identified – and they don’t live on Main Street. Struggle against Wall Street and the big corporations has been legitimized. A Pew Research poll in January 2012 showed that, by a 44% to 35% margin, more Americans support the Occupy Wall Street movement than oppose it.
The question in 2012 is, how best can we continue to build this movement against Corporate America and the 1%? How can we best mobilize the 99% to bring more people into the streets to actively support our movement? How can the movement start to address the real problems facing young people and workers and start to win concrete victories? In particular, how do we face up to the challenges posed by the 2012 elections and future ones?
In 2012, Occupy activists in many cities have already begun to answer some of these questions. In Oakland, Occupy has linked up with the most combative sections of labor and workers to fight for workers’ rights. In other cities, Occupy has campaigned to defend public education and raised the important demand to cancel student debt. In Minneapolis and some other cities, Occupy has reached out towards other activists and the public to build successful protests and an ongoing movement to demand an end to foreclosures.
Socialist Alternative, which has published this pamphlet, supports all these initiatives and has been closely involved in the Occupy struggle across the country, most notably in the Occupy Homes campaign in Minneapolis. We believe the key task for Occupy is to build a powerful mass movement. This means building support among the public and developing a growing pool of experienced and educated activists who can sustain an ongoing movement. It is powerful social and political movements that can force the elite 1% – the capitalist class – to give concessions.
As part of building a fighting mass movement against big business, we need to challenge the 1% in the arena of elections. There are millions of people who support Occupy and who are ready to step up and support a political alternative to the 1% if a credible lead is given. Considering how discredited the two main parties are, a huge potential exists for Occupy to expose these parties and put forward its alternative.
Unfortunately, while Occupy has brought the struggle against the 1% onto the agenda and has managed to organize a broad layer of activists and win support from tens of millions more, it has been greatly weakened in 2012 by failing to advance a clear political alternative for the 2012 elections beyond organizing struggles.
We have argued that Occupy activists, along with other activists on the left and in unions, need to step up and challenge the 1% in the electoral arena in 2012. If a sizeable section of the Occupy movement and the left took this step, they could provide an important beginning for a left alternative to corporate politics. For example, Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant is running for state legislature in Washington State against Democratic Party Speaker of the House Frank Chopp. Challenging the Democrats in this election has opened up a debate about the role of the Democrats in pushing a pro-corporate agenda, and has popularized the need to fight back not only against cuts but against the whole capitalist system.
If well-known left figures and labor and community organizations joined the effort, they would have the authority to speak to tens of millions. With enough public and active support, they could break through the usual media blackout (as Occupy succeeded in doing in the fall of 2011) of progressive candidates and force big business to open up the presidential debates to them or face a wave of protests. This would do more than anything else to concretely expose the undemocratic nature of this “democracy” to millions of ordinary people in the U.S.
Instead, we face two powerful trends. We see most liberal commentators and many left organizations, including the labor unions, women’s rights organizations, and even many who were part of Occupy, trying to divert activists into supporting the big business politics of Obama and the Democratic Party in order to defeat the right. On the other hand, there is a strong tendency among many radical Occupy activists to attempt to counter this by calling for a boycott of the elections.
While we agree on the need to combat the right, we don’t agree that voting for Democrats will achieve that. We also oppose the corporate-dominated two-party system, and we can understand why some people would want to abstain from the whole political system. Unfortunately, that will not stop corporate interests and the 1% continuing to use the political system to further their aims, whether it is Scott Walker and Republicans who led the charge in gutting social programs and attacking workers in Wisconsin, or Frank Chopp and Democrats who have shredded social programs in Washington state.
In this pamphlet, we will address these and other vital political issues, arguing for a dynamic approach of combining mass struggles with running independent left-wing, working-class candidates. But most of all, to truly break the power of Wall Street and the 1% will require abolishing the underlying capitalist system and replacing it with a new society based on solidarity and genuine democratic control over the economy and society as a whole, which are the ideas of socialism.