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.


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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