The last time Americans went to the polls, a clear majority voted to oust Trump from the White House only to see the racist authoritarian try and fail to overturn the results and hold onto power. Since then, Congress’s January 6 Committee has revealed more details of that shambolic but nonetheless incredibly dangerous attempt at a coup. Yet Republicans have continued to embrace Trump as their leader and racist authoritarianism as their ideology. Accordingly, they have advanced their attacks on voting rights and other democratic protections in state governments and the courts, in order to strengthen their ability to hold power despite having only minority support. In the same spirit, the Republicans’ far-right Supreme Court justices overturned the right to abortion, showing that regardless of popular opinion they are committed to continuing to destroy the gains won by the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s, as well as those won by the great union struggles of the 1930s.
Now the midterm elections are approaching, and Republican victories in November threaten even worse for working-class people, especially Black people, Latinos and immigrants. If the Republicans retake Congress they will not only use their power to protect Trump and enable further overturns of democratic rights; they will also act to make the masses pay for the deepening crisis of the capitalist profit system. Indeed, that is why the section of the ruling class that backs the Republicans seeks to enshrine minority rule and crush the working class’s ability to resist their attacks.
The menacingly reactionary character of the Republican Party, its open racism and misogyny and increasingly close connections with armed and violent far-right militia should not blind anyone, especially working-class and poor people, to the nature of their competitors, the Democrats. Contrary to the image they promote as friends of labor and oppressed people, and despite the small number of their members of Congress who do challenge capitalist interests, the Democrats are in reality a major party of the imperialist ruling class. As their leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, bluntly declared: “We’re capitalists, that’s just the way it is.”  The Democratic Party is an enemy of the working class and oppressed people both at home and abroad.
Unlike the Republicans, however, the Democrats generally rely on the votes of people of color in order to have a chance of winning power. And so they can, if only for that reason, be expected to oppose attacks on voting rights, which underpin all other legal protections. For that essential reason, in the absence of a realistic working-class electoral alternative, socialists must favor a Democratic victory in the coming elections in order to keep the Republicans out of power.
The Democrats’ “progressive” identity is central to the unique service the party offers the ruling class in maintaining the social stability that capitalism needs. They claim to be on the side of the masses in order to persuade people to forego pressing their demands through direct action in protests and strikes and instead place their hopes in passive electoralism. Their image enables the party to maintain its alliance with the leaders of the trade unions and civil rights organizations, whom it uses to hold back demands for mass struggle whenever possible.
But the Democratic leadership’s commitment to capitalist stability above all means that they inevitably undermine opposition to the Republicans and demoralize their own base of electoral support. When it comes to the defense of democratic rights against the far right, for example, the Democratic leaders correctly label MAGA Republicans as semi-fascists but resist holding Trump accountable for his crimes. They denounced the Supreme Court’s decision overturning abortion rights but failed to seize the opportunity presented by the widespread popular outrage to mobilize mass protests against the Court. On the economic front, from Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, Democratic administrations have sacrificed working-class living standards in the interest of capitalist profits.
A Democratic victory will therefore not vanquish the far-right menace, but it will provide working-class and oppressed people a greater opportunity to organize and defend themselves. Leading Democrats have provided one focus for such post-election struggle by promising that if they maintain control of the House and expand their control of the Senate, they will override the Senate filibuster rule that requires a super-majority to pass legislation, in order to make abortion-rights protections the law of the land. Such an effort would open the possibility to demand that the Democrats do the same for voting rights and more. And if the far-right Supreme Court majority continues to thwart the will of the people and overturn established rights and legal protections, the Democrats could be pressured to expand the number of justices so that a new democratic majority can be appointed.
Therefore, beyond voting for Democrats this November, socialists must emphasize the need to challenge them to follow through on their promises, expose them when they betray, promote mass working-class organization and struggle to press our demands independently.
For most of our existence, the LRP shared with much of the far left the position that to vote for a bourgeois (capitalist) party like the Democrats was a violation of a fundamental principle of working-class independence. But dramatic changes in U.S. politics increasingly confronted us with the problem that this imagined principle was a barrier to defending and advancing the interests of working-class and oppressed people.
An early sign of the problem came in 2015, when Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination drew enthusiastic support for his reformist version of socialism. It became clear that neither we nor any other organization on the left had found a way of connecting revolutionary politics with the tens of thousands of young and working-class people who joined the campaign; they saw in it a chance to defeat the establishment leadership of the party headed by Clinton and advance a left-wing program that promised to address their increasingly precarious livelihoods.
The underlying problem was posed point-blank by Donald Trump’s election as president in 2016. The Democrats’ candidate, Hillary Clinton, was a loathsomely arrogant, anti-working-class politician, but Trump’s racist authoritarianism represented a far greater threat to the masses; the supposed principle of not voting for capitalist candidates undermined our identifying that threat and the need to defeat it at the ballot box. Thus we were finally forced to research and reconsider the Marxist tradition on voting for bourgeois parties or candidates.
Our investigation led us to conclude that the principle of working-class independence did not exclude voting for bourgeois parties. In fact, the tradition founded by Marx and Engels and continued by Lenin was to advocate tactical voting for bourgeois parties that were tied to the defense or expansion of democratic rights when the working class had no viable candidate. 
How does this apply to U.S. politics today? The critical fact about the present conjuncture is that the Republican Party is dedicated to establishing its permanent rule as a racist minority party. This drive was most evident in the insurrection of January 6, 2021, when a Trump-inspired mob led by far-right and fascist thugs attempted to prevent Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential vote. The sacking of the Capitol was not just a plot organized by Trump; it was enabled by the Republican Party as a whole. Few Republican politicians denounced it; all but a handful of Republicans voted against his impeachment, and a majority of Republican candidates this year subscribe to his lie that he won the election. Trump and his allies have been urging their supporters to intimidate election monitors and officials, and right-wing armed “militias” are planning to repeat their assaults on state capitals.
But the Republican drive to enshrine minority rule does not rest solely on thug violence. Through the Supreme Court’s rulings on campaign finance, gerrymandering and voting rights, they have engineered themselves a distinct electoral advantage. There are several states, for example, where the Republicans control super-majorities in state legislatures – enough to override a governor’s veto – despite having won only a minority of the total popular vote for legislative seats.
And this term the Court will be considering the so-called “independent state legislature” theory, which claims that state legislatures, not the governors or state courts, have sole power to rule on federal elections. Thus a Republican controlled legislature could overturn the popular vote for presidential electors. This is what the leaders of the January 6 insurrection had in mind: if they could have delayed Congress from confirming Biden’s victory, then a few states could have replaced his electors with fake slates dedicated to Trump – and the 2020 election would have indeed been stolen. Long regarded as a fringe theory, it has been rejected by the Supreme Court in the past. But three of today’s justices – Alito, Gorsuch and Thomas – have endorsed it and Amy Coney Barrett’s writings suggest she would support it also. 
More generally, the Court majority is dedicated to eviscerating the civil rights gains, union rights, and other labor, social-welfare and environmental protections that were won in the 1930’s and 1960’s and beyond. Towards that end, the Republican Party leadership seeks to end the constitutional framework of three co-equal branches of government that “check and balance” one another. Their claim that the president can rule as a “unitary executive” above the other branches is backed by most of the Supreme Court’s right-wing justices. As Justice Kavanaugh once wrote, that means that the president would be free to “decline to follow” any law by claiming it was wrongly decided and is really unconstitutional – a legal formula for transforming the presidency into an authoritarian dictatorship. 
A Republican victory in November giving them control of one or both houses of Congress would solidify these anti-democratic efforts. Accordingly, to hinder the Republicans’ attacks on democratic rights, the LRP calls for tactical voting for Democratic candidates in Congressional and state races. Our initial aim is defensive, to keep the Republicans out of power. Most immediately, the right to abortion and the right to vote would be under direct attack, and long-standing aims to degrade Social Security and Medicare would accelerate. Our further goal is to use the opportunity of mass interest in the electoral contest to raise class consciousness about bourgeois politics and work towards the construction of a revolutionary working-class party.
When it comes to promoting action to defend and advance the interests of working-class and oppressed people, political action in elections is vitally important. In general, however, even more important is promoting mass direct action like union organizing, protests and strikes, which provide an opportunity for working-class and oppressed people to become more organized and learn through experience the awesome power they have. Mass mobilizations to defend the vital rights and past gains that are under attack from the right can win victories. But they can generally expect to face stiffer resistance from Republican office-holders who can claim that their election, even with a minority vote, means they have a mandate for their reactionary measures. Democrats, on the other hand, are more vulnerable to mass struggle because they promise to satisfy the masses’ demands only to so often betray them.
In this context, we note that Republicans are willing to mobilize their base when necessary (e.g., in 2000 when they mobilized to stop the counting of votes in Florida in order to help Bush II steal that election), since that base does not threaten capitalist rule. Democratic party leaders, on the other hand, are reluctant to mobilize their supporters, since the interests of workers and oppressed people clash with those of capital; such mobilizations risk getting out of control and going beyond the immediate reforms demanded.
A significant number of Democrats, including Biden, have declared that this is a life-or-death election in which fundamental democratic rights are at stake. These politicians can be held to that standard and, as we have noted, they can be called on to end the Senatorial filibuster, enact federal voting and abortion rights legislation that overrides recent Supreme Court decisions and even alter the makeup of the Court. They can also keep open the January 6 committee to expose the attempted coup.
If masses are mobilized to win such a program, they can go beyond more immediate democratic demands and fight for other demands in the interests of working-class and oppressed people that most Democratic politicians are not committed to: jobs for all at decent wages, government-funded health care for all, radical measures to challenge racist police injustice, and the rights of immigrants. In addition to these democratic demands, such a mobilization could also fight for the rebuilding of the decayed infrastructure and for serious measures to reduce climate warning and other environmental threats to humanity, e.g., ending the use of fossil fuels and massively promoting renewable energy.
The Democratic Party overall is beholden to capitalists like the oil industry who put profits over even such vital concerns. The working class needs to defeat both bourgeois parties and empower a working-class party with no commitment to capitalist rule. Towards that end, it is tactically advisable to put the Democrats into office with sufficient majorities so that they have no excuse for failing to act on critical needs – as they have had in the current term because of the oil and coal industry servants among them.
When the LRP first pointed out that the “Marxist principle” of never voting for bourgeois parties was a myth, we faced essentially two types of responses. One insisted on the so-called principle, but none of its proponents could produce an actual example of it in the classical Marxist tradition of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky. The other was to emphasize how terrible the Democrats could be, thereby implying that voting for them would mean betraying all the causes that socialists stand for, including working-class revolution. The idea of a tactical vote was not even considered. In the current scene, after several years of often-successful electoral campaigns by candidates supported by the DSA, the second response predominates. Here is one recent example from Ashley Smith of the Tempest Collective and the Spectre journal:
“The horror of bourgeois politics in the US. You get the ‘choice’ between a liberal capitalist party, running to the right of positions it adopted just a couple years ago, and a far right party, whose leader is a billionaire criminal. And, amidst this nightmare that could have been invented by a disturbed Hollywood screenwriter, the left in general is falling into line behind the Democrats repeating the mantra learned as holy writ during Stalin’s popular front – vote for the ‘progressive’ bourgeoisie to stop fascism. It was a bankrupt strategy that failed in its time and it will fail again today. You cannot stop the right by voting for the Democrats. Case in point: the Democratic Party spent over $44 million backing the worst reactionaries in the GOP in the hopes, which could prove a disaster, that that demon spawn would be easier to defeat in November. Behold the ‘geniuses’ in charge of the lesser evil, yet again, empowering the greater evil.” 
This short comment provides three reasons not to vote for Democrats: 1) the Democrats are not a left-wing party even though they are called progressive; 2) some Democratic strategists supported getting the Republicans to nominate Trumpists instead of moderates, figuring they would be easier to beat in the general election; 3) you can’t “stop fascism” or even “stop the right” by electing Democrats.
These arguments are similar to what the LRP had raised in the past, but they are directed against straw men and are unconvincing.
1) It is not necessary to see the Democrats as left-wing to favor a tactical vote; it is just a matter of understanding that for their own reasons they will not support attacks on certain democratic rights, especially the right to vote.
2) Yes, Democratic strategists are playing deplorable tricks in aiding the most reactionary Republicans to get nominated because their goal is simply to win elections, not to raise mass consciousness. While we condemn such maneuvers, that is hardly reason to allow those far-right candidates to win – we are still left with the need to keep the far-right from power.
3) It is true that voting won’t stop fascists marching in the streets. But keeping reactionaries out of elected office will forestall the adoption of their reactionary laws, a more limited aim. Smith invokes the “disaster” of the Trumpist Republicans winning in November. Preventing this immediate disaster doesn’t squelch the far-right threat, but it does give our class better conditions in which to fight.
Revolutionary socialists who disdain tactical voting are overlooking that electoral campaigning is one way available to us to reach politically minded people in the working class with ideas that go beyond voting and reforms.
1. “Pelosi: Democrats are Capitalists,” CNN, January 31, 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=MR65ZhO6LGA.
2. See, for example, the recently published revelations of how Nancy Pelosi resisted Trump’s impeachment in: Bade, Rachael and Demirjian, Karoun. “The Legacy Nancy Pelosi Never Wanted,” Politico, October 17, 2022; www.politico.com/news/magazine/2022/10/17/the-reluctant-impeacher-nancy-pelosis-00061653.
3. See our statement “Rethinking Voting for Capitalist Parties”; lrp-cofi.org/statements/elections-capitalist-parties.html.
4. This is discussed in www.vox.com/21540145/supreme-court-brett-kavanaugh-disputed-election-wisconsin-pennsylvania-north-carolina.
5. See www.lambdalegal.org/blog/20180709_brett-kavanaugh-record. For more analysis see “The Supreme Court Rules: Overturn of Roe Intensifies Reactionary Drive Against All Rights and Democracy Itself”; lrp-cofi.org/statements/scotus_abortion_decision_070622.html.
6. Biden’s comments on September 1 are at www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2022/09/01/remarks-by-president-bidenon-the-continued-battle-for-the-soul-of-the-nation/. Biden of course does not paint the whole picture: he attacks the MAGA Republicans but not the leaders who tolerate the coupsters in their party and are planning their own “peaceful” Constitutional coup.
7. Ashley Smith, Facebook, October 9, 2022.