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Kerry and Progressive Party Building

by Open-Publishing - Thursday 23 September 2004

Parties Elections-Elected USA Ted Glick

by Ted Glick

Peter Camejo was the first one I heard put it out, back in April: "Kerry will do what Bush wants to do better." In other words, Kerry and the Democrats are the greater evil, not the Republicans which, followed to its logical conclusion, means that Camejo hopes that Bush/Cheney will win re-election.

Since that time I’ve heard and seen others put forward this same point of view. There’s not a lot of them on the Left but they’re out there. The Counterpunch website seems to be a repository of several authors who take this approach.

It reminds me of the old socialist saying, "Left in form, right in essence."

I don’t support John Kerry and never have. The main difference between his plan for dealing with Iraq, put forward Monday, and Bush/Cheney’s is that he wants to bring in other countries to help do the job of creating a U.S.-friendly Iraqi government. Neither of them want to see genuine Iraqi self-determination and sovereignty. In that surface respect there’s a grain of truth to what Camejo and some others are saying and writing.

But a recognition that both Bush and Kerry are about maintenance of the Empire ignores a number of very real differences on policy between them: on civil rights, on abortion rights, on global warming and the environment, on worker rights, the Bush tax cuts, etc. Although they are both "corporatists and militarists," in the words of David Cobb, there are concrete differences that cannot be swept away by purist ideological arguments.

However, there’s another reason why those of us who are members of the Green Party, Labor Party or other alternative parties, or who support progressive third-party building, should hope for a Kerry victory: it will help our progressive party cause.

Jenny Brown, co-chair of the Alachua County (Fl.) Labor Party, put it this way in an article in the summer issue of Independent Politics News: "It’s only as long as they’re out of power that Democrats can credibly claim to represent us [progressives and workers]. . . The Democrats are not the answer. This is something we must keep being able to prove each day, to more and more people. More people will see it. . . when the Democrats are in power. Bush is close to the worst this system has to offer, and Kerry is, apparently, the best, which means that Kerry is better proof than Bush will ever be that we need to upend it."

Since World War II the strongest, national, progressive third party movements have developed when Democrats were in power. The first example was the Henry Wallace/Progressive Party effort in 1948 when Harry Truman was President. Then there was the 1968 national Peace and Freedom Party effort when Johnson was President. The decade of the ’90s, when Bill Clinton was in office, was a decade which saw the emergence of three major efforts, the Green Party, the Labor Party and the New Party.

If the Bushites are re-elected, several things will happen. First, there will be deep and broad anger toward Nader/Camejo on the part of many progressives, both independents and Democrats, because of the attack-the-Democrats strategy that campaign is openly following. There may be similar feelings toward Cobb/LaMarche but, given the "strategic states" approach they are taking, distinguishing between swing and sewed-up states, it will be much less.

Second, we will be in a position where our criticisms of the Democrats, out of power, will not have the broad impact they will if they were in power, as Brown articulates above.

Third, growing numbers of us will undoubtedly be faced with an increase in government attacks on our dwindling rights. We will be much more on the defensive. Our conditions for struggle will be harder.

These are not favorable conditions for movement-building.

This does not mean that a Bush/Cheney victory would mean that we have no hope of making progress during the four years they would be in power. We saw an indication of what is possible on the part of our movement before and during the week of the Republican Convention in NYC. During that week there were an impressive series of actions conducted by a very broad range of organizations despite the efforts to marginalize and undercut them by the Republicans, sectors of the corporate media and even some timid progressives. It was an inspiring display of intelligent activism.

After November 2 we will need to assess what happened on that day and determine how we struggle for justice, peace, democracy and a stronger independent progressive movement no matter which shade of Empire is elected. But until then, we should be doing all we can to maximize and defend the progressive vote on election day, articulating clearly that while both parties are seriously deficient and that we need to be building an alternative to them, a key step toward such an alternative is to remove the Bushites from the White House.

Ted Glick is the National Coordinator of the Independent Progressive Politics Network (www.ippn.org) and Co-Coordinator of 2004 Racism Watch (www.racismwatch.org), which is working with a number of other groups to organize a nationally-coordinated "Vote for Racial Justice Week" of local actions October 18-24.