The letter below, published on the website of the British left paper Weekly Worker on April 23, represents one point of view within the LRP. For our discussion, see Rethinking Voting for Capitalist Parties.

Vote Biden

April 21, 2020

Dan Lazare warns in his latest Weekly Worker article (17 April) that the prospect of Donald Trump securing another term in the White House threatens dire consequences for democratic rights.

“If Trump steals a second election, he will have a free hand to do whatever he wants amid the worst economic depression in US history. Instead of a constitutional democracy, America will wind up as a constitutional dictatorship – which is to say, a society in which ancient constitutional norms are used to reinforce a lurch toward authoritarianism. One man rule will arrive ...” [1]

The threat of Trump and the Republicans using the coming elections to claim a mandate to implement their vision of racist authoritarianism is indeed ominous. But having identified the threat posed by another four years of Trump’s rule, the question remains – what is to be done?

According to Lazare, the electoral contest between Trump and Biden will present a choice between two candidates representing equally deadly threats to their interests – “a choice between cyanide and arsenic if ever there was one.” But to make that assertion Lazare must ignore facts, including those he provides in his own article.

Consider his example of racist gerrymandering and voter suppression by the Republicans in Wisconsin. Those anti-democratic means allowed them to hold onto a strong majority of seats in the state assembly in 2018, although the Democrats won a majority of the votes. The same means were essential to Trump’s capture of the White House in 2016. Lazare is indeed right to warn of Trump “stealing” a second term rather than winning it.

But when Lazare says that the Democrats are equally poisonous, he offers no evidence. Do they engage in similar systematic assaults on voting rights in order to steal elections? They have shown many times in the past that they are not above rigging elections when it suits them. But today the Democrats rely on people of color being able to vote and have their votes counted, in order to stand a chance of winning. For their own opportunistic reasons, therefore, they can typically be expected to oppose racist gerrymandering and voter suppression.

Lazare’s “pick your poison” gibe ignores this reality. It has disarming and dangerous consequences for charting a socialist course for the defense of democratic rights that are essential to the prospect of working-class and oppressed people to organize in defense of their interests.

Consider the Wisconsin Republicans’ latest move in their war against voting rights. As Lazare points out, they weaponized the COVID-19 pandemic against the most vulnerable citizens – the working class, especially Black and Latinos – by insisting on in-person-only voting. Lazare did not mention that the Democrats sued to enable mail balloting so that all could exercise their right to vote; that was blocked by the Republicans. The Wisconsin Democrats’ defense of the right to vote deserved the support of all; we should now be demanding that the Democrats in Washington fight for the same provision in the presidential election. But to place such demands on the Democrats requires recognizing the specific difference between their interests and the Republicans’ that Lazare blinds himself to.

Lazare ignores more than basic facts in equating Trump’s Republicans and Biden’s Democrats. Sadly, he also ignores the significance of his past analysis of the country’s mounting constitutional crisis. In his trailblazing study The Frozen Republic, Lazare brilliantly explained how the undemocratic checks on popular rule that were adopted by the “founding fathers” in the Constitution have led to the increasing paralysis of the federal government – a paralysis that inspired his book’s title. The constitution is virtually impossible to amend, since it grants veto power to as few as 13 states, which today could represent only 4.4% of the population. The grossly undemocratic Senate, in which the least populated and whitest states similarly wield disproportionate power, can nullify acts by the more democratic House of Representatives.

Today the Republicans are trying to unfreeze the republic by securing a new majority on the Supreme Court committed to an unprecedented counterrevolutionary reinterpretation of the constitution. Republican judicial activists aim to end the treatment of the presidency, Congress and the courts as co-equal branches of government each checking and balancing the others. This set-up was devised to limit popular power, but the Republican goal is even less democratic. They plan to establish the presidency as an authoritarian “unitary executive” that is free to “decline to follow the law,” in the words of one of Trump’s Supreme Court justices, Brett Kavanaugh.[2]

If Trump secures another term in office and can appoint at least one more justice, the far-right majority will establish such strong-man rule, not simply by enforcing the “ancient constitution” as Lazare suggests, but by dramatically overturning the way it has long been interpreted. And they will not stop there. It is well known that the far-right legal theorists aim to nullify the protections won by the civil rights movement and subsequent struggles by oppressed people, and demolish the gains of the labor struggles of the 1930s embodied in the New Deal. The right of workers to organize in unions is an immediate target, and no social welfare program will be safe.

To be sure, Democrats have done much to establish today’s imperial presidency, especially its ability to spy, torture and wage war. But they are not pursuing a sweeping constitutional counterrevolution; and in their recent impeachment of Trump, however narrowly focused, they took a stand against such lawless authoritarianism.

Under these circumstances, to follow Lazare’s equating of Trump and Biden is to aid disaster. He is right that Biden is “one of the most odious politicians the Democratic establishment has ever produced.” Nevertheless, a victory for Biden will avert the Republicans’ immediate drive toward authoritarianism and buy time for working-class and oppressed people to use their rights to vote and to organize in unions to struggle against the imperialist-capitalist policies of both parties. Voting for capitalist parties despite their crimes when it is necessary to defend democracy has been a Marxist tactic from the beginning.

This is a vitally important argument to make. The fact that the Republicans and Democrats have traded power for so long, each in turn advancing anti-working class agendas, has blinded many on the left to fundamental differences that have emerged between them today. The Republican threat to unfreeze the Republic by instituting racist authoritarian rule will only be aided if the minds of socialists like Lazare remain frozen in the past.

Walter Daum, Matt Roberts
(New York)



The headlines in the Weekly Worker are provided by that paper’s editors.