The recent midterm elections witnessed the lowest voter turnout since 1942. Most working-class people are completely disillusioned with the institutions of government – and indeed with all establishment institutions. They see little way of achieving meaningful change that will benefit them through the electoral arena. People see that both Republican and Democratic politicians are closely tied to corporate interests, and they look in horror at the torrent of corporate cash that dominates national elections.
What do socialists say about elections? We believe that the voice of the 99% needs to be heard in an electoral arena that is dominated by the two corporate-controlled parties. We support running working-class and socialist candidates so that the arguments of big business can be challenged and debated and policies that benefit working-class people can be so popularized. However, we feel strongly that voting for the “lesser evil” of the two corporate parties winds up leaving the political and social structure that creates such rotten choices unchallenged.
On almost every conceivable issue the American people are broadly to the left of both the Republicans and the Democrats. Because we have not seen a strong independent challenge to these policies from the left, a big section of the population is effectively disenfranchised.
From the rise of the industrial unions in the 1930s to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, real victories for working people and the poor were achieved first and foremost through social struggle. But the failure to build a genuine party of the working class in the U.S. contributed directly to the ease with which so many of the gains were rolled back by the capitalist establishment, as well as the difficulty of mounting a serious challenge to neoliberal austerity policies today.
Last year, Kshama Sawant was elected the first socialist councilmember in Seattle in over 100 years, receiving 95,000 votes for a program stressing the demand for a $15 minimum wage. Kshama and Socialist Alternative then launched 15 Now, a grassroots campaign that, six months later, won the first citywide $15 minimum wage.
Of course forcing the Seattle City Council to adopt a progressive measure is not the same as forcing the U.S. Congress. However, this local development shows in outline what is needed: nationally, independent working-class struggle linked to the building of a new political force that represents the interests of the 99%.
A new party – including trade unionists, young people, and activists in the struggles for racial justice, immigrant rights, women’s rights, and against climate change – will galvanize opposition to the capitalist establishment and provide an invaluable forum to discuss and debate the way forward to achieve fundamental change. Socialists will form an increasingly powerful current in such a party as working people draw the conclusions from their experience of social struggle that, if we want to create a decent, sustainable life for all, it is not enough to reform capitalism. The entire system must be removed root and branch.