DSA should not support Howie Hawkins
Originally posted on Medium on July 25, 2020
By now, you’ve most likely read the Howie Hawkins resolution, titled “Joe Biden, Howie Hawkins & the Presidential Election — A Class Struggle Strategy to Fight Trumpism” that will be voted on at the Seattle DSA business meeting in August. The resolution would have Seattle DSA encourage DSA members and socialists to vote for Howie Hawkins in safe states, to point towards “building the left,” while not committing money or volunteers to the Hawkins campaign. It would also request the DSA National Political Committee to organize a national discussion around voting for Howie Hawkins. This resolution not only hurts our credibility with the working class, but also our ability to build power. As such, it is harmful towards the Democratic Socialists of America’s stated goals of building a mass working-class organization. We encourage you to vote NO on this resolution.
At the national level, DSA recognizes the importance of electoral contests and is committed to the “Dirty Break” strategy. This means that, broadly speaking, we support candidates tactically using the Democratic Party ballot line, while at the same time building power and working towards an independent political organization and party. Some left political organizations, such as the Green Party, have utilized the “Clean Break” strategy, which involves an immediate, complete separation from the two dominant political parties, including a separate ballot line. The DSA has correctly rejected the Clean Break strategy of the Green Party and other organizations as an idealistic, rather than materialist, strategy. DSA’s pursuit of the Dirty Break strategy is both a response to left political movements being absorbed and dulled by re-alignment strategies, as well as to the consistent failure of the Clean Break strategy to build power in any meaningful way. The Class Struggle elections resolution, passed at the DSA National Convention in 2019, lays out how we can stick to our principles and run candidates as open socialists that engage the working class, despite tactically using the Democratic Party ballot line.
Supporting Howie Hawkins changes nothing materially for the working class, and accomplishes none of our organization’s stated goals. In the polling data we have for the 2020 election, most of it shows Howie Hawkins at or near 1% of the vote. This could change, and there is danger in over-reliance on polls. But, simply put, Howie Hawkins is not a viable candidate, has no labor support, and has no working class base of support. The Howie Hawkins campaign is doing very little to engage working people, and, though the afore-mentioned Howie Hawkins resolution has “Class Struggle” in its title, you can’t be a Class Struggle candidate if you aren’t engaging the working class.
The proposed Howie Hawkins resolution states that “Our support for Hawkins is a political stance, not a commitment of DSA’s resources” and then in the next resolution clause, calls on DSA national to use its resources to request that “the DSA National Political Committee organize a national discussion in DSA about whether to call for a vote for Howie Hawkins in safe states.” These discussions at the national level would constitute time and labor on behalf of the NPC and our general membership, as well as time from paid organizers and infrastructure to support the debates, and outreach with members to promote support for Hawkins. While our movement is growing every day, our resources are still limited. DSA has too much important (and winnable) work to do for Black lives, viable electoral campaigns, housing, Medicare for All, etc, to spend time and money arguing about whether to support a candidate who has no chance of winning.
In addition, if our goal is to move towards a strong and viable workers’ party, supporting non-viable third-party candidates makes us seem un-serious about this effort. If we want to build a workers party, we should be reinforcing that open socialists can win elections, not tying ourselves to a fringe candidate that will only get 1% of the vote. At best, we accomplish nothing, and at worst, we damage our credibility with the working class. Like others, I am inspired by the DSA For The Many slate’s clean sweep of state legislature in New York. Though they made use of the Democratic party ballot line, they all ran as open, working-class socialists against a hostile Democratic establishment, and will use their office to build power for the multi-racial working class — inspiring working people across the country. Locally in Seattle, supporting a winning independent campaign like Kshama Sawant’s, or a viable independent campaign such as Nikkita Oliver’s, points to the legitimate possibility of a worker’s party. Supporting a fringe campaign like Howie Hawkins’ does not.
So what’s the alternative to supporting Howie Hawkins? Consider this. In 2016, only 55% of the ~250 million voting population voted. This means that over 110 million people, and the overwhelming amount of the working class, stayed home. Though some will be galvanized to vote against Trump, I don’t expect this to change much in 2020. Working people have correctly identified that their vote in the Presidential election has very limited power as it stands, and their major choice will be between voting for Biden, or not voting at all. In fact, working people have already lost the 2020 Presidential Election — we all lost the minute Bernie Sanders dropped out. The best way to engage with working people about this election is to agree with them — neither major candidate will bring about the kind of change we need, and it’s unfortunate that Bernie isn’t the nominee. As Bernie said, “we need a mass political movement”, and we should focus our collective energy on the fights that will bring material change to our families and communities.
At the 2019 convention, DSA National Delegates passed a Bernie or Bust resolution, and we meant it. With its strong endorsement and campaign for Bernie Sanders, the DSA showed its commitment to real, material changes for the working class of this country. Lending any support to the Howie Hawkins campaign would accomplish the opposite, and signal to working people, unions, and other left-leaning organizations that we are un-serious about gaining and wielding power.