Monday, March 02, 2009

Third Parties and Mass Movements

Whenever I see the by-line of Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist Dave Lindorff, I know that I’ll find something provocative and useful to read. While I usually agree with Lindorff’s opinion, I picked up an article of his the other day that prompted my immediate disagreement. So, using the tactics of many letter writers in The Daily World, I thought I’d make a public comment about Lindorff’s article.

That dirty, commie, pinko, faggot Lindorff!!! That low life has no conscience and is an un-American slob who should be fired from his job, tarred and feathered, and run out of town on a rail!

On a more rational note . . .

While I did have that immediate disagreement with Lindorff, I later realized that his article did make a very pertinent point on which we both agreed.

Lindorff wrote about being bombarded with criticism from the radical left for “calling for pressure on Democratic politicians to do the right thing, whether that is impeaching the last president and vice president for war crimes or in the case of our new president, standing and fighting for a people’s bailout, instead of a Wall Street bailout.” Lindorff dismisses, too easily I think, the radical’s claim that the Republicans and Democrats are the same. That is an old argument from the radical left and correct as far as I’m concerned. The great W. E. B. Du Bois called the Republicans and Democrats the right wing of the one party in the country.

Nonetheless, Lindorff’s critics then castigated him, and other leftists who voted for Obama as being part of the problem. Radicals claim that a principled leftist should have voted for third-party candidates like Ralph Nader or Cynthia McKinney.

While claiming to have nothing against McKinney or Nader, “that ticket would make for a wonderful administration,” Lindorff wrote, “third parties have not played a significant role in American politics since the 1930s and earlier, when the Socialist Party . . . managed to make a significant dent in the political equation, though even it had no shot at winning.”

In fact, we do have, in our history, a stunning victory by a relatively new third party. In 1860, after only six years on the scene, the Republican Party captured the presidency and solidified its place and the “other” in our two party system. Obviously, in 1860 the country was in a state of catastrophic social, political and economic turmoil over the issue of slavery. The Republican and Democratic parties really stood for something and, while most members of both parties were deeply racist, one did have a definite choice. - - there was no mistaking the philosophical differences between the two directions the parties would take the country.

Certainly Lindorff would not disagree that the parties today really are dominated and controlled by the same corporate sponsors. They are pursuing the same end, capitalist, imperial hegemony, just by different means. He sympathizes with third parties while noting that “the system of winner-take-all elections is structured against them . . . but calls to change that system so that third parties might have a chance bump up against the reality that the two parties that have a duopoly on power have no interest in changing the rules of the game to make it easier to bump them off.” Says Lindorff, “it simply ain’t gonna happen.”

Well, maybe or maybe not.

And here is where Lindorff and I agree. Later in the article he recalls the great progressive triumphs in U.S. history, triumphs brought about by mass movements that have forced change that the major parties resisted almost to the death. Universal man and woman suffrage, the end of slavery, the initiative process, progressive income taxes, civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights, Social Security, labor unions, the end of the Vietnam War - - the list goes on. These victories did not come about because power decided to relinquish itself. These changes came about because people took power and demanded change.

Where Lindorff at one point in his essay encourages working with Democrats, his most powerful point, at the end of the essay, rests in his call for a new mass movement demanding progressive change. The movement has to confront the Republican and Democratic duopoly - - in the streets - - demanding “an end to this country’s pointless wars, a huge cut in the military budget,” single payer health care, “a jobs program, a break-up of the large banking and other corporate monopolies, an end to the national security state, reform of the labor laws, and a restoration of a real progressive tax system.”

Lindorff is right - - mass movements make history. “We need one badly.”

Check out my blog for these commentaries and more: What's Left

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