Jim Lafferty: “Time to Break with ‘Lesser-Evil’ Politics”

Originally published on 10/5/2019

[Note: Jim Lafferty, executive director emeritus of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, is an endorser of the Labor-Community Campaign for an Independent Party and a long-time advocate of an independent labor-based political party. The following is an abridged version of an article he submitted to the LA Progressive under the title, “Socialism or Barbarism.”]

For at least as long as the 80 years I’ve been alive and, frankly, much longer than that, socialists have been arguing with liberals, progressives, and “left-leaning” voters over whether it makes more sense to elect a decidedly imperfect but “lesser-evil” Democratic Party candidate than a “more evil” Republican Party candidate. Socialists have long argued that such a political strategy ultimately leaves “we the people” insufficiently better off to justify doing so; and that, instead, we should bite the bullet and get about the business of organizing a true “peoples’ party,” a “socialist party.”

A New Reality

While we socialists have been making the argument against lesser-evil politics for decades, with only modest success, today things have profoundly changed, presenting us with a new, undeniable reality. That new reality is that today the planet’s climate has changed as a consequence of capitalism’s long-standing assault on the Earth’s environment. More to the point, the planet’s climate has now changed to the point where I believe the only choice left to us is socialism or barbarism. Either we in the very near future defeat capitalism, or the sustainability of our planet will be lost forever — “lost” in terms of the feasibility of humans living anything remotely resembling a decent life.

Why does this change the “lesser-evil” equation? Because, a capitalist America will never allow the regulation of production to the extent needed to stop the accelerating march of climate change. It is 2018 and there is no convincing evidence one can point to that the capitalist world is prepared to make, or can be made to make, the herculean changes in how it does business, and how it produces the products it produces and sells, that can offer us more than a slower death of our planet.

Tinkering about with embarrassingly modest and totally inadequate efforts to slow the rate of climate change is the best we can hope for under capitalism. Even if somehow the capitalists who run our country and this world were to finally “come to their senses,” based upon  all the evidence we’ve seen so far, it would not alter, in any meaningful way, planet Earth’s steady, if slower, death slide. The Paris Accords? Even if fully implemented they would be no more meaningful than applying a band-aid to a bullet wound in the heart.

It’s true that a handful of more “enlightened” companies have initiated measures of some worth aimed at reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. But even these tech elites are on board with a central objective of the Trump administration: an aggressive rollback of regulations across virtually every domain, including the environment.

“Tipping Point” on Nuclear Proliferation

What is also true, and further validates my argument, is that, as Noam Chomsky contends, we are past the “tipping point” where nuclear proliferation and the likelihood of nuclear meltdown are concerned. Already, the United States is preparing to spend billions on producing more modern nuclear weapons, including so-called “tactical” nuclear weapons, that pose an even greater danger of use than the more massive ones. This, in turn, makes more likely the use of the more massive ones, as well. Bottom line, a capitalist government is a government under which it’s capitalist munitions-makers who will always fight for, and win, new orders for more nukes and for additional profits that flow from their production and sale to other governments.

A Possible Way Forward

For at least the last 80 years, progressives and democratic socialists have been trying to take over the capitalist Democratic Party and patch up its many holes. And for at least the past 80 years, they’ve failed. What makes anyone think that today, when the Democratic Party is more in the pocket of corporate America than ever, they can do today what you couldn’t do before?

Today, Democratic Party candidates depend in large measure on corporate financing if they are to have any chance of defeating Republican candidates, who are also the beneficiaries of big corporate campaign contributions — now virtually unlimited as a result of Citizens United.  And no candidate continues to get those campaign contributions who sets out to reign in Corporate America, or its friends in high places. Naomi Klein is correct: “We no longer live in a democracy, we live in a corporate oligarchy.” 

Today, if Bernie Sanders were to get about the business of forming a new party — a “Peoples’ Party” with an essentially socialist program — it would be possible to get on the ballot in all states. Such a party’s first forays into electoral politics could be at the local level and under the auspices of local chapters of the new party. And as it grew it could begin to realistically compete in all Congressional and state races.

Over and over again, history has shown that when enough people have had enough; when they take up the challenge, and together, plan, organize and fight for what they need, anything is possible. Indeed, history itself is on our side!     

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