Is the Democratic Party a Capitalist Party? Not Exactly


Mark Lause, in his denunciation of Democratic Socialists of America’s support of the leftmost Democrats, claims that every single Democrat is a “Wall Street flunky.” I must assume that this means that he thinks that every single Democrat is taking cash from finance capital, if not some other corporate source.

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Socialist Upton Sinclair — 1934 Democratic Gubenatorial Candidate and Wall Street Flunky?


But this simply isn’t the case. What Wall St. firm would be fool enough to provide campaign funds to John Conyers, to Keith Ellison, to Barbara Lee? Obviously most Democrats represent the ruling class. Some do not.How can this be? Because the Democrats and Republicans aren’t real political parties anymore, and haven’t been for decades. The machines with their party bosses that used to control who could run for office on which party label are overwhelmingly a thing of the past. One would think a professor of American history would discuss this, but Mark fails to do so.

Today, the Democratic and Republican Parties (DP and RP, respectively) are not structured like political parties anywhere else in the world. They are state-run ballot lines whose membership consists of registered voters rather than dues-payers. It is the state, not the party, which controls who can register as a Democrat or a Republican or anything else.

Parties which can’t control who is “in” the party or who runs on the party ballot line aren’t real parties.

So contrary to what Mark and other might think, the DP isn’t a capitalist party — because it’s not a party. It’s a state-run ballot line which is usually held by ruling class politicians who win Democratic primaries — but not always. (Only the fundraising committees are pure shills for corporate America — but left-liberals and leftists running as Democrats aren’t required to take any money from those committees.)

This change in the structure of the DP and RP didn’t happen all at once but the evolution has been steady at least since the 1930s. It explains why it is why open leftists have been able to get elected as Democrats, without some central committee of the DP (there is none) throwing them out of the party. It’s impossible to get thrown out of the DP or RP once one is elected on those lines. At most, one gets kicked off of Congressional committees for disloyalty. (People can get kicked out of DP or RP clubs — but those have no real power over what the elected officials do and hence don’t really count.)

If what I’m saying seems insane, ask oneself — how else was it possible for the Maoists in the League for Revolutionary Struggle to have been Jesse Jackson delegates to the Democratic National Convention in 1988 — without hiding that they were Maoists? You think the DP leadership wanted MAOISTS in the DP ranks?

So class-struggle politics in the electoral arena is far more complex in the U.S. than it is anywhere else in the world. I agree that a labor party based on the unions should’ve been formed at least by 1948, when 35% of the U.S. workforce was unionized, and the United Auto Workers in particular was a real power in the country. But Walter Reuther didn’t do what he should’ve done, and today we are where we are. A mass independent workers’ party isn’t forthcoming in the near future. I wish it was. So when leftists run for office, they’re often going to have to do as (dissident, disloyal) Democrats or not do so at all — that is, if they intend to win the office they’re running for.

Contrary to the “Bernie Sanders as sheepdog” argument, there’s hardly anyone at all to “sheepdog” — no quasi-mass movement for a left-wing third party.

If there was, my judgement of Sanders would be different.

I acknowledge with Mark and others in and around Solidarity (and other groups from the Trotskyist traditions) that Dennis Kucinich in 2004, Jerry Brown in 1992, Jesse Jackson in 1988, Ted Kennedy in 1980, even John Edwards in 2008 — all of them ended up endorsing the pro-war neoliberal victor in the Democratic presidential primary. And they should not have done so. But they weren’t required by party laws to do so in the first place. Look at Ron Paul. He very openly didn’t support John McCain in 2008 or Mitt Romney in 2012. And yet he remained an elected Republican. Look at the Seattle Democratic officials that have endorsed Kshama Sawant’s re-election campaign. Do you think such a thing is possible anywhere else in the world? It isn’t.

I wish Bernie Sanders wouldn’t endorse Hillary Clinton if he loses to her in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. Socialists active in his campaign should pressure him to “pull a Ron Paul.” If he doesn’t, well, he can’t force us to vote for her. (She’s not even a lesser evil as far as I’m concerned.)

So to make a long story short — because of the peculiarities of the U.S. electoral system and the effective structurelessness of the two major “parties,” SUPPORTING DEMOCRATS WHO RUN ON LEFT-WING PLATFORMS AND DON’T TAKE CORPORATE CASH IS NOT AN ACT OF CLASS-COLLABORATION. It’s no worse than supporting the workers’ party wing of a popular front — and the Democratic Party, in 2015, is more like a popular front unto itself than a genuine political party.

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12 responses to “Is the Democratic Party a Capitalist Party? Not Exactly

    • One thing the sheepdog-shouters don’t mention or try to grapple with is the fact that if the Greens or a labor party were serious national parties running serious national presidential campaigns, the problem of big money dominance of the primary process could just as easily happen to those parties as it does to the Democrats since — as you point out — U.S. electoral laws prevent parties from controlling who is and is not a party member. So if we had a three-party system, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or Martin O’Malley could run for the Green Party/hypothetical labor party presidential nomination. The vibrant, effective third party they claim to stand would also be infiltrated, influenced, and possibly bought up by the very forces they say we need a third party to fight against. In that case, will they call for the formation of a fourth party, fifth party, ad infinitum?

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    • Interesting letter: “SOCIALISTWORKER.ORG HAS rightly taken the position that Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign ultimately works, like previous left primary challenges, to prevent a political alternative independent of the capitalist class. Todd Chretien has correctly argued, further, that Philip Locker and Socialist Alternative are wrong to believe that the Sanders campaign’s left co-optation logic can be reversed from within.

      “But an unanswered question remains: Could a Democratic Party electoral campaign ever incubate the forces that could break with the Party and substantially contribute to working-class political independence?”
      http://socialistworker.org/2015/06/23/an-inevitable-graveyard-of-movements

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  1. I guess you can say that neither the Democrats or Republicans are political parties anymore, but I think they do symbolize some sort of political organization as you note in this article. I also think that even “progressive” Democrats still fundamentally serve the capitalist system even if Wall Street firms don’t always give them money…

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      • Fan clubs do to equate to movements…There is no comparison at the serious attempt to re-model the Democratic Party. Sanders eventual failure leads to an endorsement of Clinton and do you think she will adopt his hopes and aspirations. Dozens of EPIC proponents were elected to the California’s state legislature. It spread to other states. If Sanders has Debs picture on his wall…alongside should be the Sinclair photo as something he should be learning from.

        http://depts.washington.edu/epic34/

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        • “Fan clubs do to equate to movements…”

          How was EPIC a movement when it collapsed shortly after Sinclair’s candidacy ended?

          “Dozens of EPIC proponents were elected to the California’s state legislature. It spread to other states.”

          There’s nothing stopping the Sanders campaign infrastructure from joining with third-party efforts in various states and localities.

          “Sanders eventual failure leads to an endorsement of Clinton and do you think she will adopt his hopes and aspirations.”

          You’re predicting defeat when the fight has barely even begun. Defeatism is not a strategy. Furthermore, a significant number of Sanders supporters (maybe even a majority) are simply not going to vote for Clinton. They will either go for the Greens or stay home if Sanders does not win the nomination. What is your plan for politically engaging those forces?

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          • You didn’t follow up the links did you and you would have seen that it didn’t simply disappear but evolved. EPIC was given the credit for inspiring the New Deal…What radical reforms will Hillary be adopting from Sanders?

            You see the difference between being part of a movement and merely a leader’s follower is that you would be pressing Sanders to up his ante, not simply applauding his speeches. You would be actually saying , …”yeah…you’re right…i’ll use all my influence and media sources to do just that…”…but you aren’t , are you? You see your role as simply a cheer-leader for a politician…getting him selected…and that won’t change anything, no matter how worthy the politician may be…you aren’t changing yourself and that’s what political change is all about…Maybe i am wrong…But check out the actual words to The International about no savior from high saving us. An old lesson we always forget

            As you correctly surmise, i’m not privy to People for Bernie activities…perhaps more should be focused upon them than the actual personality. You could start that process on this blog…and help make a movement …Go one step beyond what is expected of you and demand those changes to infrastructure and demand Sanders follows up on his rhetoric for a campaign being millions strong….not of voters or fund donors but of activists. Debs was inspiring but he made sure nobody believed he was a Moses leading them to the promised land…he was all about building an independent party by the people of the people for the people. Although presidential candidate a few times, did you know he never held any administrative or executive position with the SPA other than a speaker, writer and candidate. That was why he was visionary.

            They disappeared because the whole power of the oligarchy was used to suppress the socialists…Jack London’s Iron Heel.

            I do wish you the best even if i am doubtful that it will happen but prove me wrong..nothing will please me more than to re-assess my opinions.

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          • I read the links when I wrote my material on Upton Sinclair’s campaign.

            “EPIC was given the credit for inspiring the New Deal.”

            No, EPIC wasn’t given the credit for inspiring the New Deal, at least not by the vast majority of historians, media outlets, nor by popular consciousness at the time nor subsequently.

            “What radical reforms will Hillary be adopting from Sanders?”

            She is advocating a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United which is what Sanders has introduced in Congress. I don’t believe for a minute that she will actually follow-up on it, but she has adopted his radical reform.

            “You see the difference between being part of a movement and merely a leader’s follower is that you would be pressing Sanders to up his ante, not simply applauding his speeches.”

            Actually this blog and the grassroots campaigners have been hammering Sanders for not speaking out forcefully enough in support of #BlackLivesMatter and now he is shifting, talking about the problem of mass incarceration and “off the charts” (his words) Black unemployment.

            “They disappeared because the whole power of the oligarchy was used to suppress the socialists…Jack London’s Iron Heel.”

            This is just wrong. EPIC disappeared because Upton Sinclair quit leading the movement after the election and divisions emerged between those who wanted to keep campaigning to elect people and others who wanted EPIC to form self-help cooperatives and things of that nature. These divisions were never resolved in either direction and EPIC dissipated amid infighting and demoralization.

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          • I enjoyed your Sinclair/Debs article…Would have saved me some criticism if i had read it first 😉

            Apologies for a simple misunderstanding. I was referring to the demise of the influence of the SPA regards the Iron Heel, not EPIC. During the 30s the labor unions were enjoying a revival and resurgence that the earlier tactics of the likes of the Pinkertons just couldn’t suppress as they did in previous generations

            Harry Hopkins, a senior adviser to Roosevelt who would go on to oversee many New Deal programs, proposed an End Poverty in America campaign in late 1934 that the New York Times wrote “differs from Sinclair’s plan in detail, but not in principle.” – wiki

            “His EPIC organization with its network of grassroots clubs had captured the Democratic party and would now control the party’s statewide machinery and many of the local party committees. A number of Democratic congressmen had been elected with EPIC endorsements and the new legislature would have a substantial EPIC caucus–a third of the assembly and several key senators, including Culbert Olson, the new state senator from Los Angeles country. Four years later, Olson would win the office that Sinclair had lost, becoming the first Democrat to be elected governor since 1894….”

            This review of the legacy seems to suggest an influence that did continue into the New Deal
            http://depts.washington.edu/epic34/candidate.shtml

            Of course, in the end the Democratic machine regain its control

            EPIC remodelled itself in Washington state as Commonwealth Builder, which you failed to mention in your Sinclair article. This was done without Sinclair and in Washington the offshoots were probably even more radical and achieved more than in California.
            http://depts.washington.edu/labhist/laborpress/CommonwealthBuilder.htm

            I’m glad you are active in making Sanders more responsive to grass-roots concerns…But what is your Plan B, if he continues to ignore that strategy? At what point do you lose confidence?

            What is your hopes for after Sanders returns to the fold to sustain what you want the campaign to be?

            I agree with your appraisal Corporate Clinton will talk the talk but never in a month of Sundays will walk the actual walk…the gulf is too wide to bridge for radicals to support her even though the lesser of two evils will once more be the tactic of the Left and feature in the debates. Will you transfer allegience to the Green Party?

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          • FDR never embraced a plan to end poverty or production for use in any way, shape or form. I think there’s probably more in common between Social Security and the Townsend Plan (that Sinclair wrongly and foolishly opposed during the 1934 campaign) than between Social Security and EPIC (ditto for unemployment benefits).

            “But what is your Plan B, if he continues to ignore that strategy?”

            I’m not sure what you’re talking about? Sanders’ entire campaign infrastructure so far is grassroots; he hasn’t been endorsed by any major Democratic politician or state or local organization, although a recent Wisconsin straw poll of said organizations garnered a very surprising 41% for Sanders:
            http://www.politico.com/story/2015/06/wisconsin-straw-poll-surprise-a-narrow-clinton-win-118727.html

            I’m not sure what you are referring to re: plan B. I guess you mean if Clinton defeats Sanders for the nomination? It really depends on where/what we are talking about. Strategically a vote for a Green in swing states would serve as a spoiler and aid the GOP; in safe states, I think it makes perfect sense strategically to vote for the Green Party or whoever is the main left/independent presidential candidate in that state. Truth be told, I think the Greens and all the political organizations to the left of the Greens should just stop running presidential campaigns they have no hope of winning and focus on winnable fights on the local and state levels. It would be a much better investment of time, money, and resources and on the basis of those victories a real/meaningful left presidential campaign could emerge in the future just as the success of the old Socialist Party locally and state wide created the basis for Debs’ 5% vote in 1912.

            But really it depends on what you’re talking about. I don’t think there is an alternative or ‘plan B’ to direct and robust involvement in the Sanders campaign if we’re talking about re-creating a mass-based socialist movement in the United States. Not one of the socialist/left groups that is opposed to the Sanders campaign has outlined such a plan because I don’t think it’s even possible.

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