US election offers no choices for workers and the oppressed


US election offers no choices for workers and the oppressed

By John Leslie and Wayne DeLuca

US workers face high unemployment, an employers’ offensive, austerity, and continued imperialist wars.

The official unemployment rate for September 2012,  showed a slight improvement falling to 7.8 percent. This is good news for Obama, who has been claiming that the economic situation is improving under his administration.  The US economy only added approximately 114,000 jobs — far fewer than the 150,000 jobs necessary per month  just to employ new workers entering the workforce.  The growth in employment reflects an increase in the number  of part-time jobs. The healthcare sector added jobs, but manufacturing lost 16,000 workers

The number of unemployed is 12.1 million, with 5 million of these counted as long-term unemployed.  An additional 8.6 million work part-time jobs because they cannot find full-time work. Another 2.5 million are referred to by the government as “marginally attached” to the workforce. This means that some 23 million workers are still locked out of the US economy.

The “solutions” offered by both capitalist parties are cuts to education, public works and  essential social services for the poor and elderly.  Public sector unions, particularly the teacher’s unions, are vilified by both ruling class parties as greedy and out of touch with reality. Public education is being slashed and public schools are being privatized at an alarming rate.

Imperialist wars and occupations continue to act as a drag on the economy, while arms manufacturers, energy corporations and banks reap massive profits.

Obama is trying to be a “populist” right now; criticizing bankers and the rich and appealing to the unemployed and workers. However, he has done nothing to create the jobs we need. He’s trying to win Latino votes, but has deported more undocumented workers (400,000 annually) than G.W. Bush.  All the while, he’s promising to make “hard choices” and balance the budget, which signals his willingness to attack workers’ living standards. Obama is promising to raise taxes on the richest Americans, but these promises can’t be taken seriously.  Significantly, the Democrats held their nominating convention in a nonunion venue for the first time in decades.

Mitt Romney, a product of the richest 1 percent, has remade himself from  a GOP centrist into a hard right politician.  He has repudiated his former pro-choice, abortion -rights, stance and his health care program enacted in Massachusetts, which is similar to Obama’s Affordable Care Act  (ACA), also known as Obamacare. Romney’s criticism of Obama’s inaction on unemployment cites the 23 million unemployed and underemployed, who he refers to as our “brothers and sisters” struggling in this economy.

Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan, an extreme right, free-market advocate and darling of the tea party faction of the Republican party, should  cure anyone of illusions  that Romney has the slightest concern for the victims of this crisis. In a 2011 interview with the right-wing publication, Human Events, Ryan referred to the Democrats’ attacks on the rich and said that the Republicans “should not shy away from class warfare.”

Following the attack on the US embassy in Libya, the Republicans have ratcheted-up Islamophobic rhetoric against Obama’s supposed  “weakness” against Iran and lack of support for Israel.  In reality, Obama has continued the US  imperialist policies of his predecessors, continuing the occupation of Afghanistan, and working to short-circuit the revolutions in the Middle East through interventions in Libya and, now, Syria.

Polls show Obama with a slight edge over Romney nationally and with the numbers very close in several key states. (The antiquated US electoral system means that a candidate could win a majority of the popular vote and still lose in the electoral college by losing in certain high population states.)

Obama’s record in office is one of service to Wall Street. Despite the insane ravings of tea party supporters, not only is he not a socialist but he is really not even a liberal. His record shows the hollowness of his appeal to unions and workers. Elected in 2008 on the vague promise of “hope and change,” Obama has delivered little for working people.

The threat of war against Iran is very real, as US imperialism works to isolate the Islamic Republic because of its alleged nuclear ambitions.  Whoever wins in November, workers face the prospect of more austerity and war.

This points out the need for a working-class party and for a working-class fightback rooted in struggles against austerity.  Early in 2011, the beginnings of a fightback emerged in Wisconsin as unions and supporters mobilized against  Republican  Scott Walker’s proposal to gut public employee’s right to collective bargaining.  Wisconsin was indicative of what a militant fightback  might look like, but the revolt was channeled into electoralism by the trade union bureaucracy and the Democrats.

Occupy Wall Street was another sign of a possible fightback, although it was uneven politically. OWS was an expression of popular anger against the banks and the government.  Of course, the Democrats tried their best to co-opt the movement and win it for Obama, but it seems that most occupiers have refused.  The Democrats combined co-optation and repression in order to put an end to OWS.

The Longview longshoremen’s (ILWU) strike demonstrated how links between OWS and workers’ organizations had the potential to shift the political landscape.  The Obama administration was clearly on the side of the bosses, sending the Coast Guard to protect scab ships from strikers. An alliance of Occupy activists and union members  resulted in massive solidarity actions, including the shutdown of the port at Oakland, CA. However, workers were saddled with a concessions contract  for which  they were not allowed to vote.

At the beginning of the current school year, the Chicago Teachers’ (CTU) strike energized the labor movement.  The CTU built massive pickets and mobilized the Chicago labor movement.  They built alliances with the community and parents.  Democrat mayor, Rahm Emmanuel, (former Obama chief-of staff) took steps to break the strike, even trying to have courts declare the strike illegal.  The contract won by the CTU is perhaps not a clear cut “victory,” but the real lessons to be gained are how mass mobilization, labor-community alliances and rank-and-file organizing can help create a new class struggle union leadership.

In all of these struggles, the ties between the trade union bureaucracy and Democrats are exposed as a barrier to a genuine fight back by working people.   The Democrats’ anti-worker policies are carried out with the collusion of trade union tops.

Left illusions in Obama as “lesser evil” 

The Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO-fightback), a Maoist group that was the target of FBI raids in 2010, has called for a vote for Obama!  So has the Communist  Party USA,  which has called for a vote for Democrats under the guise of a “defeat the right”  rationale.  Left activists, Carl Davidson and Bill Fletcher,* wrote that Obama’s  record of imperialist war making and anti-worker actions don’t matter.  According to Davidson and Fletcher, defeating the Republicans is the primary task for the left.

However, none of the reformist groupings and Obama apologists on the left offer a real path forward only continued subservience to a bourgeois party in the name of lesser evilism.  The fight for working-class political independence is a central task for working people  and the oppressed.

US workers need a party of their own, but  how can such a party be built? 

First we need to draw the class line clearly and avoid illusions in multi-class “third” party efforts.  Campaigns by “progressive” third party and independent candidates are a diversion from the harder road of building a party based in the mass organizations of workers. It is our contention that such a party will emerge not primarily as an electoral party, but from the mass activity of workers and communities in defense of their rights and living standards.  This is why a united front fightback against capitalist austerity measures and the employers offensive  is crucial.

*Fletcher is a leader of an organization named Freedom Road Socialist Organization.  (FRSO-OSCL)  There are two US organizations with the name Freedom Road — the aforementioned FRSO-FB and Fletcher’s organization.


  1. What about voting for an openly socialist candidate as a protest against a rigged and undemocratic election system? Leftists I have noticed have made similar points to those made here but restrain from recommending any action on Election Day. This is a form of abstaining from using the ballot box to protest capitalism. Excluding the authors here, I want to mention that those who do not support the openly socialist vote too often give unstated support to casting ballots for the lesser evil alternative, which turns out to be the same thing as what this article criticizes. I would like to recommend a vote for the Durham-López presidential ticket at

  2. Stephen Durham rightly points out the existence of several socialist candidates including himself. Speaking for myself- these campaigns are all, frankly, party building campaigns of small socialist organizations. What is critical right now is taking whatever steps possible to build a party rooted in the mass organizations and struggles of our class.

    Our former organization, Socialist Action, regularly calls for support for one or more socialist groups in the elections. It seems to me a sterile and empty form of propagandism. What is needed is an all-out struggle for a Labor Party based on fighting unions and organizations of the oppressed. Anything else is like taking a knife to a gunfight.

    Revolutionaries have a critical role to play in this struggle.

  3. “In the United States the situation is that the working class needs a party — its own party. It is the first step in its political education. … It is an objective fact in the sense that the new trade unions created by the workers came to an impasse — a blind alley — and the only way out for workers already organized in trade unions is to join their forces in order to influence legislation, to influence the class struggle.

    The working class stands before an alternative. Either the trade unions will be dissolved or they will join together for political action. That is the objective situation, not created by us, and in this sense the agitation for a working class party becomes now not an abstract but a totally concrete step in progress for the workers organized in the trade unions in the first instance and for those not organized at all.”

    Trotsky´s main arguments in 1938 for why Marxists should fight for a Labor Party can be summarized as follows:
    1) In conditions of the decline of capitalism, the trade unions must turn to political action — or be crushed.

    2) The revolutionary party is too small to immediately become the mass political expression of the U.S. working class. Therefore, a transitional form of organization, a Labor Party, is needed.

    3) A Labor Party in the United States would not necessarily become a class-collaborationist obstacle because a) it would be born in the epoch of the decay of capitalism, unlike its European counter-parts, and because b) the intervention of revolutionary Marxists in its development could shape its development.

    4) In conditions of the decline of capitalism, Marxists should fight for a Labor Party even if a mass movement for one doesn´t yet exist.

    5) Inside a Labor Party movement, Marxists should support the progressive developments, criticize the reactionary ones, and propose the adoption of transitional slogans, with the goal of building the revolutionary party and leading the workers to the conquest of state power.

  4. “US election offers no choices for workers and the oppressed”

    Not true: The Green Party’s Green New Deal ( ) represents workers’ interests.

    It includes an Economic Bill of Rights, REAL financial reform, and changes to provide a FUNCTIONING democracy.

    The Green Party is on the ballot in 45 states. Your Green vote sends a message to the Democrats that selling us out to the 1% will cost them votes.

    And this message is sent even if the Green you vote for loses.

    VOTE GREEN 2012!

    • A “third” party is an empty slogan without the class content. We need a party based in the mass organizations of workers and oppressed people- call it a workers’ party, a Labor party or whatever you want

      What Stein proposes doesn’t advance a clear road forward. She calls for breaking up big banks and other reformist positions that don’t, IMO, advance the struggle. The problem is that most of the left in the US will either support Obama as a “lesser evil” or support campaigns like Stein’s or Anderson’s that are divorced from the actual struggles of working people.

      The Greens are a multi-class, liberal-populist party without a solid class basis. Working people need their own party/organizations.

      That said, of course, the “Green New Deal” Stein is offering sounds great, but how does it challenge the continued rule of capital over workers? Breaking up the big banks isn’t the solution -nationalizing them under workers’ control is. Taxing the rich is a good first step, but not enough. Their wealth and power was gained through the exploitation of our class and they ultimately must be expropriated down to the nails in their boots.

      The Green program is not anti-capitalist and reinforces illusions that the system can be fixed with some trust-busting and regulation and, of course, some “green” business programs. This has to do with the centrality of the working class and oppressed to social change. To build a new society we have to get rid of the old system and put another social class in power- our class, the working class.

      What is critical here is what we as socialists say to people about bourgeois elections. Do our statements encourage illusions in the possibility of reforming this system? IMO, calling Stein a “left candidate” confuses the issue.

      Here’s what I think:
      1. One of our most urgent tasks as socialists is winning the political independence of the working class.
      2. Calling for votes for “third” parties isn’t sufficient. We have to consider both class composition /and/ program.
      3. What we have with candidates like Anderson and Stein (and Nader before them) is similar to the LaFollette campaign in the 20s.
      4. The biggest obstacle to the political independence of our class is the trade union bureaucracy- which is tied institutionally and politically to the Democrats. That said, the unions are still (despite their weakness, etc) the mass organizations of our class.
      5. Trying to build a party or movement by bypassing these organizations is a waste of time.
      6. The struggle for a workers party has to be /combined/ with an all-out struggle against cuts and concessions. This means fighting inside the unions to build a class struggle left wing and form a new class struggle union leadership.
      7. Of course, I don’t expect a fightback movement or a new Labor Party to have a full socialist program, but we should fight within both for socialist ideas.
      8. That said, fight against cuts and concessions has the /potential/ to radicalize layers of workers and if/when this happens, the break with the Democrats would mean (IMO) a more radicalized Labor Party.

    • The first step is taking control of our country back from the corporations. Nothing you’re suggesting would be possible without that. The Green Party IS the non-corporate alternative. They deserve our support.

      I’ve also noticed the AFL-CIO is annoyingly attached to the Democrats. It’s maddening; the Democrats pass “free-trade” agreements like they’re going out of style, but the AFL-CIO gives them their unconditional support.

      • The Green program seems to be aimed at making capitalism nicer, less exploitative, smaller. That’s impossible. Workers need their own party and their own program, not illusions.

        Of course, the AFL-CIO is attached to the Democrats, but don’t mistake the rank-and-file for the bureaucracy. What we have to do is break those ties by organizing the ranks politically and that can only be done from within the unions themselves.

        Key to it all is understanding that the workers -as a social class- have both the power /and/ the interest in getting rid of the domination of capital. This is different from saying that “big corporations” control things, as if breaking them up and making them smaller is the solution. The problem is capitalism, period.

    • What’s foolish is the fact that so-called antiwar activists, liberals, and the labor leadership give Obama a pass for his reactionary policies – cuts and attacks on working people combined with continued wars overseas. It’s the fool who sees Obama as the “lesser” evil. He’s the more effective evil because he gets so-called progressives to carry his water for him.

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