For 43 years, since 1975, I’ve been a member, often a leader, of national and local groups working to build a mass-based, progressive political party. During all that time I’ve advocated for and acted upon an approach which appreciates that there is little to no chance of achieving such a thing—an organization actually capable of contending for power electorally—without a significant percentage of grassroots progressive Democrats deciding to be part of or support it.
Third party efforts on the left over that time have borne out the soundness of this approach. On the one hand, partisan, go-it-alone, Democrats-and-Republicans-are-equally-terrible third party campaigns have yielded a miniscule number of electoral victories nationally. On the other hand, independent, democratic socialist Bernie Sanders’ tactical decision to run for President within the Democratic Party in 2015-2016 had and continues to have a very big political impact.
A story in today’s New York Times, “Democrats Brace as Storm Brews Far to Their Left,” reports that “about a sixth of Democratic congressional nominees so far [in 2018 primaries] have a formal affiliation with one of several important insurgent groups. Fifty-three of the 305 candidates have been endorsed by the Justice Democrats, the Working Families Party, the Progressive Change Campaign and Our Revolution, organizations that have helped propel challenges to Democratic incumbents.”
The Times writes about those 53 victories with some palpable relief that it’s not more, that 5/6ths of the primary victors are less progressive, more centrist, more corporate or some hybrid. But they do acknowledge that this movement “promises to grow as a disruptive force in national elections as younger voters reject the traditional boundary lines of Democratic politics.”
I am sure that some of those 53 Congressional nominees are not as radical and consistent in their positions as, for example, Green Party candidates. Some are, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes in the Bronx. But there are no Green Party members of Congress, and there are very few, if any, elected to state legislatures anywhere in the country. That is not a good track record.
There is such a thing as the “art of politics,” knowing, if you are a leftist or socialist, how to keep your principles, advocate for strong policies, but not be so far out there that you have no chance of being elected. Part of this “art” involves determining if you should run on an independent line or in a Democratic primary.
There is no doubt in my mind that, right now, and for at least the next two and a half years, through 2020, the strategic priority for leftists and socialists is to run campaigns within the Democratic Party, to work to massively register and bring out to the polls the 35% or so of eligible voters—the vast majority of them people of color, working class people and young people—who don’t vote, and to thereby both set back the Trumpist Republicans and build and make visible a mass, progressive movement. Such a movement is absolutely essential to the ultimate political decline of the ultra-right and the conservative-run corporations which support them. We can’t depend on people like the Clintons to make this happen.
The corporate-influenced wing of the Democratic Party, which continues to have most of the national party’s day-to-day decision-making power, will unquestionably continue to fight against the left political upsurge, at the same time that they will try to do so in a way which doesn’t help the Republicans and which wins back Democratic control of both houses of Congress and, in 2020, the White House. That objective of Democratic control of government is a goal which we on the left share, and we should work in both alliance with and independent of that less progressive, more pro-corporate wing accordingly.
It is hard, day after day, to see and experience all that the Trump/Republican cabal is consciously and maddeningly doing to struggling people, to our severely wounded planet and to the best traditions of our country. But the signs are everywhere that the November 6 elections could be a very big political defeat and a shot in the arm for the Trump resistance movement. We all need to figure out how we can each do our part to achieve this critical objective that is right before us, within our reach.
Ted Glick has been a progressive political activist and organizer since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at https://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jtglick.