Friday, April 28, 2006

The Democratic Party Parasite

History shows social movements are the decisive factor in spawning change, not the party affiliation of those in office. Consider some of the major achievements in our country's history and how they have been won: the end of slavery (fought for a prolonged period of time by the abolitionist movement; against this backdrop, a series of events compelled Lincoln to free the slaves against his preference), the 8-hour day (vibrant labor organizing), the institution of a modest welfare state (fear of radical discontent arising from the Great Depression), the attainment of black rights (civil rights movement), the end of the Vietnam war, the legalization of abortion, the women's rights and environmental movements (all fruits of the widespread discontent of the era). Why is Nixon often referred to as the last liberal president? Not because he was an enlightened fellow but because the social movements of the time period compelled government concessions. I can't think of a contrary instance in which major change occurred not because of a large scale grassroots movement but rather because a Democrat was elected (if a Democrat is elected in the course of events or is already in office, all to the better, but the key to past change is the movements not the parties).

Seeking to improve the Democratic Party machine from within (the inside/outside strategy, etc) is (with only slight exaggeration) like seeking to turn Archer Daniels Midland into Oxfam. There's a reason the Democratic Party leadership and elected representatives are far more conservative than registered Democrats as a whole (that is, ordinary people) - the Party is irreconcilably tied to elite influence. Moreover, there's never been an instance in our country's history when the ruling parties haven't been tied to the elite. The reasons are structural so it's not a matter of entering the Party machine and changing people's minds as if they just don't see the errors of their ways.

Take for example the argument offered by some that it is important to actively support Democratic candidates to further the impeachment of Bush. The most obvious problem with this reasoning is that almost all the elected Democrats on the federal level oppose impeachment proceedings (contrary to their own constituency; polls show registered Democrats largely in favor) or even the mild censure resolution put forth by Senator Feingold.

True, it's obvious that, all other things being equal, it's better to have a Democrat than a Republican in office. Hence, in many circumstances it makes sense to vote for a Democratic candidate. I voted for Kerry in the "battleground state" of Pennsylvania in '04 despite the fact that I despised him. But it's quite another matter to devote one's limited time and resources as an activist to promoting a Democratic candidate. If indeed, social change comes from movements, not parties, than that is where one should put one's efforts. As a general rule, supporting Democrats should be limited to the 5 minutes it takes to vote for them when circumstances dictate and nothing else.

The Democratic Party is little more than a parasite on the Left. It absorbs the discontent of the population and directs it towards harmless ends. Again, history is instructive. Take the justly famous book, Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States." These lessons are illustrated quite explicitly time and again in this book and in many other sources.

The issue is of course subjective but nonetheless rather straightforward I think. I'd be very interested to learn of any instances in which significant change in this country has come from activists devoting their energies to electing Democrats rather than (or even, in addition) to building independent movements.

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