The blog of Eric Lee - web design and internet consulting for the trade union movement.

US elections: Reply to article in "Solidarity"

To write, as Sacha Ismail does, that U.S. "Republicans and Democrats are ... almost identical in policy terms" betrays either a startling ignorance of American politics or a form of ultra-leftism.

In either case, he gets it wrong about the parties in general and about the differences between the Democratic candidates in particular.

To put this as clearly as I can: on every single policy issue that concerns American voters, regardless of their class, Democrats and Republicans come down on different sides.

While it's true that neither party supports the creation of soviets, the collectivization of land, or the nationalization of industry, back in the real world if you want abortion to be safe and legal you vote Democratic. If you want US troops withdrawn from Iraq within our lifetimes, you vote Democratic. If you want labour laws to be changed so that it becomes easier for unions to organise, you vote Democratic.

This is something that every single trade union in America understands, and that the vast majority of socialists and progressives understand as well. In all recent national elections, those socialists which took the view that there is no difference between the parties -- the view that Sacha takes -- received only a handful of votes.

The Socialist candidate for president in 2004 received 0.009% of the vote. I think that there are more socialists and progressives than that -- and I think they voted, as most socialists have done for the last 70 years, for the Democrats.

Sacha goes on to say that there's been "a certain amount of fuss" around the candidacy of John Edwards. What a condescending, patronizing tone -- "a certain amount of fuss". What there has been is a groundswell of support on the left and in the unions for a candidate who the mainstream media has largely been ignoring and who is being outspent ten-to-one by his celebrity rivals.

To say that Edwards' background as the son of a mill worker is irrelevant (even though it informs his views on a whole range of issues) but then to say his career as a trial lawyer, and the wealth he accumulated, is relevant is a bit unfair.

Either you care about the man's biography or not. In any event, Edwards' success as a trial lawyer did make him rich -- but it also gave him valuable experience doing battle against greedy corporations.

And to ignore the incredible transformation of Edwards that has taken place since 2004 is unforgiveable. Edwards has undergone an RFK-style epiphany. Instead of spending those years in the Senate, as his opponents, have done, Edwards set up a centre to research poverty, and became a leading activist in support of union organising drives across the U.S. Which is why it should come as no surprise that most of the state affiliates of the giant SEIU, the union most committed to organising, have backed him. As have some of the biggest unions in the country, including the Steel Workers.

Instead of mentioning any of this -- even to criticise it -- Sacha has chosen to mention yet again the infamous Edwards $400 haircut. Welcome to the Republican Party -- that's their style, not ours. If you disagree with Edwards' policies, make your case. But don't slump into the gutter of Fox News.

To dismiss Edwards' policies with a shrug -- "they go nowhere near solving problems" -- is utterly irresponsible. What aspects of Edwards' plan to guarantee health care for every American do you not agree with? Surely you know that the Obama plan is far worse, and that the alternative is a Republic president and Congress who are happy with things as they are. (We won't talk about Clinton's likelihood of getting health care passed, considering what happened last time.)

What about Edwards' support for the Employee Free Choice Act, which would remove considerable barriers to union growth? Or his plan to end poverty within 30 years? Or his views on tax? His promise to kick corporate lobbyists out of the White House? Or his compelling vision -- borrowed from the foremost American socialist of the late twentieth century, Michael Harrington -- of there being "two Americas"? No room in the article to mention any of that, let alone critique it. (But there was room to mention the haircut.)

To say that socialists cannot support "any Democratic candidate" (even Kucinich?) because it means giving up the task of building an independent voice for workers in the US -- what does that mean? I thought that trade unions were independent forces, tools used by the working class in its struggles. Edwards' commitment to unions is absolutely clear, and if elected president (presuming he sweeps in a Democratic majority in Congress) unions are likely to experience their biggest period of growth since the 1930's.

Or did Sacha mean that if we vote for Democrats, we delay the creation of a genuinely revolutionary socialist party? Sacha ends his article by pointing out that American workers are indeed capable of forming a proper labour party -- this is no fantasy. And he gives as proof of this -- the Labor Party formed in 1996. With over 2,000,000 affiliated trade unionists, no less. Wow -- why bother to vote for bourgeois Democrats when we've got this two million strong labour party to vote for? Except -- this labour party existed on paper only, and Sacha knows that. It's dishonest to pretend otherwise.

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, where real workers are engaged in real struggles, socialists know how to support them and engage them. It took the American Socialist Party decades of unbroken electoral defeats and decline -- down to 2,000 votes in the 1956 presidential election from a peak of a million in 1920 -- to rethink their refusal to get involved in the real-world politics of the working class, in its unions and in its party.

The ideological leader of that current in the American Socialist Party was Max Shachtman, whose writings and portrait have often graced these pages. How unfortunate that you've chosen to ignore the conclusions Shachtman himself drew by the mid-1950s.

Today, every socialist I know in America and many progressives as well are enthusiastic supporters of the Edwards campaign, as am I. There are real issues at stake here, and people's lives on the line, and to spew out far-left nonsense about "pick-the-millionaire", blind to the differences between, say, John Edwards and George Bush, is irresponsible and foolish.