The central task of all those fighting for fundamental changes in the U.S. is to participate in and help shape the impulses towards a third party. While third parties have always been discussed among progressives (and others), serious efforts only take place at times of economic and political crises. The classic historical example of this process was the formation of the Republican Party before the Civil War. (See Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, 1970) It is now clear that the current economic crisis is structural and only partial recoveries are possible. The political reflection of this crisis is the weakening of both the Democratic and Republican parties and the beginnings of an historic political realignment. The battles within the Republican Party and the emergence of the Tea Party movement are examples of this realignment on the right. The tightening of the corporate control of the Democratic Party and the efforts to silence and drive out the “left” wing of the party also reflect the beginning of the break down of the traditional two party control of the political process in the U.S.
It is of critical importance to understand that those who rule this country are aware of this realignment and will be actively attempting to shape the outcome of attempts at the formation of new parties. Thus the fight for political platform and the involvement of the masses of Americans at the grass roots is of key importance. The strategic perspective must be one of developing political independence from the corporate powers that rule this country. Any tactical compromises with corporate politicians undermine this strategic outlook. Our tactics must reflect our strategy.
The discussion that needs to take place today is how far along is this process and what are the tactical steps necessary at this point. I would argue that a fight needs to be made to destroy the corporate control of the Democratic Party. This fight must be backed by the open threat to form a third party if the corporate control cannot be broken. At times of crisis and political realignment, old political parties tend to split as new ones are formed. We can see this historically when the Whig and Democratic Parties split with the formation of the Republican Party. The fight within the Democratic Party allows us to sharpen our understanding of political independence and helps shape the political platform necessary to form a third party. The fight is also necessary because many of the candidates we put forward will run on a platform of political independence but within the Democratic Party. These races at local, state and federal levels help develop the mass base for a third party. This work at the grassroots will play a major role in determining the long term success of our movement.
Perhaps here it is necessary to comment on the Green Party. It seems to me that the Green Party is too narrow in its politics and its mass base to become a genuine third party. At times they are reluctant to campaign in working class, poor and minority neighborhoods. Their activities and issues often reflect the professionals and the section of young people that are their main supporters. In one recent instance, a Green candidate issued a joint statement with a Republican candidate attacking unions and advocating the elimination of working class jobs in the name of fiscal responsibility. On the other hand, their overall program is good and we can and should work together. In fact, there is every reason to believe that the Green Party movement can become part of the general movement for political independence.
Currently, the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) is in a favorable position to make an important contribution to the movement for political independence. Their issue organizing priorities (see web site) is a good starting point to develop a broad platform for political independence from the corporate power. Their inside/outside approach (working inside the Democratic Party and outside of the party in the social movements) has been productive. It is the only national, principled left group fighting within the Democratic Party. PDA was started mostly by Kucinich supporters and some Howard Dean backers. It developed ties to the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) and other nationally prominent progressives. However, almost all of the CPC have capitulated to the corporate Democrats who run the party and cannot be considered progressive in any sense of the word. Some of the more prominent PDAers have taken this road also.
For PDA and the movement for political independence to move forward a clear line of demarcation between us and the corporate democrats must be made. Recently PDA Executive Director, Tim Carpenter, called on members of the Congressional Progressive Causcus to stand firm on progressive issues and candidates against the Party’s corporate friendly leaders. The Lynn Woolsey incident clearly pointed out the need for this to take place. Ms. Woolsey, who is on the PDA Advisory Board supported a blue dog Democrat running against a PDA member. Woolsey should have been removed from the PDA board but the only action taken was a mild letter of disapproval. PDA’s growth and strength has been based on its principled political stands. Compromise with corporate Democrats undermines our role in the national political process.
Some of the most interesting activity is going on in the local PDA chapters and state organizations. It is here that the fight to run genuinely independent candidates is taking place. We are refusing to support corporate Democrats running against corporate Republicans. We are supporting Green candidates against corporate Democrats. Discussions of what political independence means is taking place at our meetings. Our activity within the single-payer movement, the peace movement and elsewhere is linking up with our work for candidates.
The progressive movement is beginning to move beyond the politics of begging. We are no longer reduced to begging the corporate Democrats for a few crumbs because they think we have no place else to go. We have no problems supporting independent or Green candidates, nor developing the basis for a new party. Similarly, the social movements like those for economic and social justice and stopping global warming are no longer forced to pressure, which is closely related to begging, the corporate Democrats for minor concessions. The time has come for all of us involved in social movements and electoral activity to start discussions of how to take real political power, to elect people who will fight in our interests.
Lenny Brody has been politically active for 50 years fighting in the interests of poor and working class people. He was involved in the civil rights movement in South Carolina and the anti Vietnam War protests during the 1960s. Since that time he has studied economics and theories of political change while continuing his political activism. Mr. Brody is working with the Chicago chapter of Progressive Democrats of America to build an independent political movement that will fight for and empower the victims of the current economic crisis.