The election this year for Mayor and other city offices in New York is taking place amid intensifying attacks on this country’s already highly-compromised system of electoral democracy by the now openly white-supremacist and authoritarian Republican party. Voters last November dealt a defeat to the far-right project by denying Trump and his crew another four years in power. But the Democrats’ conservative leadership, headed by President Biden, is already allowing the right-wing menace to revive. And in New York, where Republicans stand little chance of winning any important office, the candidates in the Democratic primaries are proving once again how their party is a dead-end for hopes to do away with the capitalist system’s relentless injustices.
To understand how the working-class, oppressed people and their allies can makes the best of the bad electoral situation confronting them in New York, we will first review the national political scene and what it tells us about the rivalry between the two major parties. Then we will be well- placed to understand the electoral alternatives presented by the Democrats in New York.
For decades the Republicans and Democrats took turns in power in Washington, with each presiding over worsening poverty, racist injustice and imperialist wars. Liberals who assumed the Democrats were always a “lesser evil” were often confounded when Democratic administrations advanced attacks that the Republicans couldn’t hope to get away with – like Bill Clinton’s years of anti-working class “free trade” deals, his ending of “welfare as we know it” and his massive expansion of racist policing and mass incarceration.
The Democrats’ rotten history must always be remembered, but it must not blind us to the differences of life-and-death significance that have opened between them and the Republicans. The GOP’s commitment to using racism to win electoral support has led them to openly embrace white supremacy and minority rule over this increasingly Black-and-Brown nation. Meanwhile, because the Democrats rely on the electoral support of people of color to have a chance of winning power in Washington, they generally have a vested interest in opposing the Republicans’ assault on democratic elections. That’s why it was in the interests of working-class and oppressed people to support the Democrats in defeating Trump. [See the Appendix, “Our Electoral Perspective,” below.]
The Republican threat can be seen as the confluence of two streams. First, there has been a decades-long campaign to use the most undemocratic features of the Constitution – the Senate, the Electoral College, lifetime judges and justices, states’ rights to set election laws – to entrench their power and use it to wipe out both the trade union rights won in the 1930s and the civil rights won in the mass struggles of the 1960s and after. The underlying reason for this is to restore the capitalist rate of profit, which has never regained the heights reached in the first few decades following World War II. In doing so, Republican theorists aim to re-shape power in Washington and establish the president as a “unitary executive” who is effectively above the law, empowered to overrule Congress and the courts and govern through one-man rule. With Republicans dominating the federal judiciary and thereby in position to make this theory the law of the land, it amounts to a plan for a creeping constitutional coup to enshrine minority-party rule.
The second stream consist of direct coup attempts, starting with the foiled plot by right-wing militias to abduct Michigan’s governor Gretchen Witmer in April 2020. Then Trump’s efforts to steal the 2020 election culminating in his backing of the January 6, 2021 invasion of Congress, and its follow-ups like the Arizona pseudo-recount. All this was motivated by the Trumpist drive to halt the demographic and legislative erosion of white power.
Much of the ruling class was satisfied to see Trump lose in 2020, since he was no longer serving their needs. They were concerned about his handling of the pandemic that exposed him as an incompetent ignoramus; his provocative response to the massive Black Lives Matter movement of last summer which served to encourage the protests’ further growth; and his ham-fisted attempts to overturn the election results that threatened to trigger even more social unrest. But many capitalists who opposed Trump’s last power grab have returned to financing Trumpist Republicans, expecting that they will prevent Democrats from conceding too much to the demands of their supporters in the working class and among the oppressed.
The merger of the two streams can be seen most clearly in the Republicans’ current nationwide voter suppression effort. Preventing Black votes especially and blatant gerrymandering – rigging electoral districts to their advantage – has been a nationwide Republican strategy for years. But since their defeats in November and in Georgia in January, the party has been pursuing this strategy more blatantly and aggressively than ever, with most party leaders going along with Trump’s absurd election fraud claims. In state after state, Republicans are pushing legislation that would guarantee their ability to steal future elections – the most sweeping assault on voting rights since the end of Reconstruction after the Civil War.
Democracy alone does not solve the problems of exploitation and injustice faced by working-class and oppressed people. But it does give them the opportunity to defend their interests by keeping their most threatening enemies out of power and depriving them of any claim to a popular mandate. Further, it allows our class the chance to elect candidates who claim to represent its interests. With mass struggles in workplaces and the streets, working-class election campaigns can play a crucial role in winning immediate social improvements and testing the extent to which the system can be reformed. This is vitally important to provide the experiences that point to the need for the revolutionary overturn of capitalism.
The potential to use elections to advance working-class struggle in this country has long been stymied by the Democratic Party. The Democratic leadership uses its image as the friend of labor and the oppressed to channel popular dissatisfaction and anger away from mass struggles and from building a political party of their own. Instead, it encourages support for their pro-capitalist candidates and to then sit back and hope they will deliver on their promises.  The demobilization of mass movements and their betrayal in the halls of power has been the principal role that the Democratic Party has played for the ruling class.
The Democrats’ ties to capitalist interests are already emboldening the Republicans’ anti-democratic offensive. The Biden White House encouraged right-wing Democratic senators to embrace the Senate’s anti-democratic rules in order to block passage of popular policies like a $15-an-hour minimum wage that would benefit workers at the expense of capital. Right-wing Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are now using those same anti-democratic rules to block voting rights bills that would hinder the Republicans from stealing elections in the states they control. Tragically and criminally, neither the “progressive” Democrats nor the organizations that claim to lead the working class and oppressed (trade unions, civil rights groups, etc.) have organized mass mobilizations to demand the defense of democracy.
Like most big cities with large concentrations of Black people, Latinos and immigrants, New York can seem somewhat insulated from the Republican far-right threat. While the masses here would not escape the consequences of a Trumpist return to power in Washington, the fact that the threat seems less imminent only serves to make more glaring the social injustices of capitalism that both parties preside over.
In New York the crises of poverty, housing insecurity and grossly inadequate social services are undeniable, along with the systematic racism that condemns people of color to suffer the worst of those blights. While the working class has yet to launch a sustained fightback, last year’s massive Black Lives Matter protests drew hundreds of thousands to the city’s streets challenging racist police injustice and raising demands against the economic injustices suffered by all working-class and poor people. The best way to judge the Democratic candidates for mayor, the most important office up for election, is by the stands they have taken in response to this movement and its demands.
Among the numerous Democratic candidates for mayor, four are heavily financed and endorsed by Wall Street and other ruling-class institutions – the so-called “moderates”: Andrew Yang, Eric Adams, Kathryn Garcia and Ray McGuire. These candidates are more accurately conservatives within the Democratic spectrum who might easily have been Republicans not so long ago – and Adams actually was, during the years when the notoriously racist Rudy Giuiani was mayor. They personify the ruling-class hope for the resumption of business as usual, whereby the city government serves the interests of Wall Street and real-estate capital and the police remain a menace to popular protests and a deadly threat to people of color. Adams, the current front-runner, is especially dangerous: as a former cop who plays on fears of urban crime, he could be even more deferential to the police than the current mayor Bill de Blasio. All four want to expand police budgets and oppose taxing the wealthy and the corporations who dominate the city’s economy. 
There are also three leading “progressive” candidates – Dianne Morales, Scott Stringer and Maya Wiley – who have sought to win liberal and left voters’ backing by voicing support for movement demands by proposing to cut at least a portion of the cops’ enormous $11 billion annual budget and redirecting those funds to needed social services, along with raising taxes on the rich.  But their records leave little doubt that they cannot be trusted:
Stringer’s campaign came under a cloud in April when he was accused of sexual harassment two decades ago by a former campaign worker. This accusation was made without evidence, and some aspects of the accusations, along with the accuser’s claims to have nothing to do with rival campaigns, were exposed as false. What’s more, the accuser’s lawyer was exposed as the long-time counsel of a construction company that had a vendetta against Stringer since he challenged their use of non-union labor. In June a second woman came forth with another sexual harassment accusation against Stringer; she was represented by the same dubious lawyer. None of this proves that the allegations against Stringer are not true, and all such charges should be taken seriously. However, nobody should be found guilty without evidence, yet that is just what a number of Stringer’s liberal and left-wing backers, including AOC and the Justice Democrats, did by immediately withdrawing their endorsements.
The Stringer scandal and Wiley’s more confrontational stance against front-runners Yang and Adams has made Wiley the leading “progressive” candidate as election day approaches. She was endorsed by leftist U.S. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman, liberal Senator Elizabeth Warren, and even from conservative Democrat Hakeem Jeffries. 
It is important to understand that neither Stringer nor Wiley present themselves as champions of specifically working-class interests and opposition to those of capital, as Democratic left-wingers like Bernie Sanders and AOC often do. But in seeking left support they have echoed some of the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement and other struggles. They are liberals without even pretensions to being radical. Nevertheless, the working class needs to develop its self-awareness as a class and fight for its independence from capitalist politicians, and so it should take advantage of differences among the capitalists and their politicians. It can defeat the most hostile politicians and put to the test of office those who promise to enact reforms demanded by mass struggles.
So just as we supported the election of Biden to defeat Trump, we favor voting to keep Adams, Yang and Garcia out of power. Under New York City’s new ranked-choice voting system, Democratic voters should place Wiley and Stringer in slots 1 and 2, in either order. Thus if the contest comes down to a decision between one of them and one of the “moderates,” as now seems most likely, the leader of the two gets your vote. This approach will allow better conditions for working-class and oppressed people to organize and fight for their demands, as well as for exposing the untrustworthiness of the Democratic Party and the need for an independent working-class political alternative.
Under these guidelines, we also favor support for the six candidates for Democratic nominations for City Council seats who are running as socialists and are endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). They are: in the Bronx, Adolfo Abreu in District 14; in Brooklyn, Michael Hollignsworth in District 35, Alexa Avilés in District 38 and Brandon West in District 39; in Queens, Tiffany Cabán in District 22 and Jaslin Kaur in District 23.  If some or all of them win, that will sharpen the conflicts within the Democratic Party over the basic reforms the socialist candidates stand for and thus aid the struggles of the working class over these issues.
However, in addition to DSA, AOC (through her affiliated Political Action Committee) has endorsed 60 (!) Council candidates in the Democratic primary, all those who satisfactorily answered a questionnaire covering a range of key working-class concerns. In some districts she has endorsed more than one candidate.  The six DSA endorsees are on AOC’s list. We are not able to assess all these candidates, but the fact that there are so many other “progressives” on the ballot raises questions about DSA’s methods. They do not tell their supporters that some of their candidates are competing against others with progressive credentials, and so they give no explanation why their choices are preferable.
There is a deeper problem with DSA’s approach. DSA does not offer any advice on the contests where it is not endorsing a candidate. It justifies this policy by saying that it lacks the resources to actively support more than a handful. That may be true, but even if all DSA’s candidates win they will not control a council of 51 members. If DSA is serious about fighting for a working-class program, it ought to at least point to which other candidates can be held to their promises of defending the interests of the class it claims to champion. In particular, it should offer information on and a strategy toward the mayoral candidates. The largest socialist organization with thousands of members in New York City ought to take responsibility for providing leadership to working-class voters.
With Trump’s victory in 2016, along with the rise of popular support for openly socialist figures in the Democratic Party and the growth and DSA’s successful electoral campaigns, we in the League for the Revolutionary Party were forced to reconsider the electoral strategies and tactics available to revolutionary socialists. In particular, we learned that the “principle” that had long guided our organization and others on the revolutionary left – namely, that Marxists should never support capitalist parties or their candidates – is a myth. In fact, when the working class had no viable candidates of their own, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels often supported voting for bourgeois parties. They did so especially when that would help win or defend democratic rights the working class needs to organize, as well as when it expose candidates or parties that the masses had illusions in. Lenin and Trotsky in Russia and Rosa Luxemburg in Germany followed that precedent and did likewise. Accordingly, we called for voting for Joe Biden and other Democrats in the November 2020 election in order to prevent Trump and the Republicans from further advancing their assault on voting rights and their drive for white supremacist minority party rule. [a]
We emphasized that this vote was tactical and defensive, designed to keep Trump out of power and to allow working-class and oppressed people the best possible circumstances to engage in mass struggle for their interests. We did not endorse Biden or his program – on the contrary, we highlighted Biden’s history of racist, anti-working class and imperialist policies and continued to explain that the Democratic Party defends the U.S. ruling class’s exploitation and oppression at home and its super-exploitation and murderously repressive actions around the world.
Our electoral approach, however, was not limited to defensive tactical voting to deny Trump and the Republicans’ the power to continue their attacks. Opportunities to use the elections to advance offensive working-class struggles were created by the primary campaigns of left-wing Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Rallying support by denouncing capitalism and championing demands like “Medicare for All” and a “Green New Deal,” these campaigns offered a chance to defeat openly pro-capitalist Democratic party politicians and raise support for demands in the interests of the working class. Such left-wing candidates may aim to go no further than reforming the Democratic Party and the capitalist system in general, but their election offers a chance for the working class to test them and their reformist perspective and thus learn the need for an independent working-class political party to represent them and ultimately the need for socialist revolution.
Our method in these cases followed Lenin’s approach to the British Labour Party a century ago: put it in office so that the working class can see what its leaders do.[b] In some cases Democrats will betray the programs they stood for; in others they will fight for their programs only to be stymied by the party leadership. In any case, the working class will have an opportunity to learn the class nature of the Democratic Party.
When we support Democratic Party candidates, we work independently of the official campaigns as much as possible so that we are able to raise our criticisms despite our tactical support. In carrying out these tactics, we explain the limits of capitalist democracy: that the capitalists’ wealth and control of mass media, along with the impoverishment and exhaustion of the masses, make a mockery of democracy; that the periodic election of representatives who are otherwise unaccountable leaves the working class disempowered; that mass action in workplaces and the streets is essential to the workers and oppressed defending their interests; that behind the most democratic elections under capitalism stands the ruling class’s state with its cops, courts and military ready to resort to violence to keep the masses down; and that to establish socialism the working class will have to seize power and replace the capitalist state with an armed state of its own, governed through a radically more democratic system of workers’ councils with immediately recallable delegates.
1. For a fuller discussion see our statement “Rethinking Voting for Capitalist Parties”
2. Berman, Ari. “Jim Crow Killed Voting Rights for Generations. Now the GOP Is Repeating History” Mother Jones, June 2, 2021.
3. The party leadership’s class loyalty was made clear by House leader Nancy Pelosi when she bluntly declared: “We’re capitalists, that’s just the way it is.” See “Pelosi: Democrats are Capitalists,” CNN, January 31, 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=MR65ZhO6LGA.
4. For statements by Adams and McGuire defending the NYPD, see: https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/nyc-elections-2021/ny-nyc-mayoral-race-eric-adams-stop-and-frisk-20210606-q57gpjip3rh4lha4iygev2hd2m-story.html. For Yang’s position see https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/553496-yang-defund-the-police-is-the-wrong-approach-for-new-york-city. For Garcia’s opposition to decreasing the police budget, https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/opinion/commentary/barkan-kathryn-garcia-moderate-yang-and-adams.html.
5. Only these three have supported raising taxes on the wealthy. https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2021/04/07/mayoral-candidates-react-to-increased-taxes-for-wealthy-new-yorkers.
re Cuomo see https://comptroller.nyc.gov/newsroom/statement-of-new-york-city-comptroller-scott-m-stringer-on-governor-andrew-cuomos-2016-state-of-the-state-address-2/; re real estate, see https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2021/02/07/hes-running-for-new-york-mayor-as-a-real-estate-foe-why-do-some-developers-support-him-1362333
8. “Wiley’s real police reform record,” NewYork Daily News, June 11, 2021.
10. Labor endorsements are divided: Stringer has the most, including the UFT, the RWDSU, CWA District 1, IBEW Local 3, UAW Region 9A; Wiley has 1199 SEIU. Several unions have backed Adams, including TWU Local 100 and 32BJ SEIU.
11. https://www.socialists.nyc/endorsements For specifics, see https://couragetochangepac.org/ctc-pledge/.
a. “Defeat Trump’s White-Supremacist Assault on Democracy!”.
b. See Lenin’s pamphlet ‘Left-Wing’ Communism, An Infantile Disorder, Chapter 9.