Why DSA Should Oppose Biden and Recommend a Vote for Hawkins in Safe States
Co-Signers: Deepa Bhandaru, Manuel Carrillo, Sean Case, Mark Rafferty, Connor Rauch, Melissa Schade, Stan Strasner, Bryan Watson, and Brian Weitzner
Seattle DSA will vote on a resolution for DSA to advocate voting for Howie Hawkins in “safe states” at its August 4 chapter meeting. Seattle DSA Vice Chair Justin R wrote a response, co-signed by a number of comrades, arguing against the resolution. We truly appreciate this exchange and believe it helps us foster a culture of comradely debate in DSA.
We agree with Justin that the left was dealt a setback when Bernie was defeated in the Democratic primaries. A presidential race dominated by Trump and Biden is, no doubt, unfavorable for DSA and the left.
Nevertheless, this election will increasingly dominate politics over the next months. In our workplaces, families, and in progressive struggles people are discussing it, and will do so even more as we approach November. Our members will face increasing pressure to take a side. To build the socialist movement within the multiracial working class, we believe we have to engage in the actual discussions taking place, even if it’s not our preferred debate.
Should we vote for Hawkins like Jacobin Editor Bhaskar Sunkara announced he will do (without building the Green Party), but unlike Bhaskar not publicize it? Or should we vote for Biden to get rid of Trump, even in safe states? Or will comrades not vote at all in the presidential race?
What should DSA members say when we’re asked who we're supporting by co-workers, friends, family, at BLM protests, or when campaigning for socialist candidates in down-ballot races?
Our comrades’ response does not answer these questions, and argues against DSA spending time or resources to have a national discussion about it. We respectfully disagree. We think DSA can deal with this difficult election most effectively if we, as a collective organization, take some time to consciously discuss it, rather than leaving it to members to figure out in isolation. We believe this is a modest but important use of DSA’s resources.
Furthermore, DSA’s silence on how to vote doesn’t take place in a vacuum. The most prominent representatives of the left publicly associated with DSA — Bernie Sanders and AOC — are campaigning for Biden. If DSA maintains its non-endorsement policy, it will contribute, in practice, to many DSA members voting for Biden in safe states, or not voting at all.
Socialists Should Vote for Hawkins in Safe States
Writing in The Nation, Bhaskar Sunkara explained his support for Hawkins in safe states: “I’m going to vote for Howie Hawkins, but I don’t believe in building the Green Party as an institution. Like millions of voters, I am frustrated with what feels like a ‘shoot me or stab me’ choice between two corporate puppets.”
Sunkara argued that “millions of people are rightly alienated and angry at the Democratic Party. Joe Biden, owing to both his long history of right-wing policy positions and the credible accusations of sexual assault that have been directed at him, is an especially unpopular figure... Is this mass anger at the Democratic leadership a problem for the left, or an opportunity? That’s what this debate is about—not whether one should vote for Howie Hawkins as a moral gesture.”
The resolution to Seattle DSA clearly acknowledges the justified fears of a second Trump term, encouraging DSA members in battleground “swing states” to vote to ensure Trump is defeated.
But in “safe states” like Washington state which will clearly go to Biden, there is very little risk of swinging the election to Trump. Voting for Hawkins is the best way in the presidential election to register a protest against Biden and to register support for defunding the police, Medicare for All, and a Green New Deal. Some have instead suggested not voting, but this is a far less effective way to make visible a left-wing opposition to Biden.
Building Working-Class Power
The comrades argue that voting for Hawkins, a marginal Green Party candidate, does not build working-class power.
There is no disagreement that Hawkins’ campaign will be marginal. (In 2016 the Green candidate Jill Stein received 1,457,216 votes, 1.07% of the vote.) We note that the resolution says DSA’s support for Hawkins should be a political stance, not a commitment of resources for a public campaign, in contrast to how DSA contributed lots of time and money for Bernie’s campaigns. It also says we should focus on building social movements and DSA, not the Green Party (like how DSA supported Sanders without building the Democratic Party).
But there is a far larger dynamic impacting workers’ power that the comrades’ response does not address. It’s the policy of unions and most progressive organizations to support Biden and tell working people that Biden is on our side. We strongly believe that this policy materially weakens working-class power by lowering consciousness and promoting illusions in our class enemies. This will have the effect of undermining the building of social movements to fight back under a Biden administration.
Bernie and AOC have contributed enormously to building a new socialist movement, but their current position of covering up for Biden is preparing the ground for frustration among left-wing activists.
To build workers’ power, we must directly address this damaging policy. In this context we believe it is not enough for DSA to not endorse Biden. Calling for a vote for Hawkins would help DSA make clear our refusal to go along with other left forces who are promoting illusions in Biden.
As an important and growing part of the left, DSA supporting Hawkins would spark a debate about the damage created by progressives and union leaders' support for pro-corporate Democrats like Biden. We believe this would be a contribution to building working-class power — right here, right now.
This Is Not a Debate Between a “Dirty” or “Clean” Break
The comrades' contribution portrays the resolution as arguing for a “clean break” from the Democratic Party. It is true that Hawkins wants a clean break. However, we understand the resolution as being consistent with a dirty break strategy.
We support a dirty break strategy that is serious about breaking with the Democratic Party in an effective fashion. We believe using the Democratic ballot line is a justified tactic if it helps build working-class power — as long as we are openly arguing for socialism and a working-class party. That is why we energetically argued for DSA to endorse Bernie in the Democratic primary, but with its own independent DSA socialist campaign.
However, we face a very different situation now that Bernie has dropped out. The resolution recognizes that in swing states many socialists will feel it is unfortunately necessary to vote for Biden to defeat Trump. This is clearly a flexible approach towards the Democrat ballot line.
But for DSA to be silent on which presidential candidate to vote for in safe states, and silent about Sanders and AOC’s support for Biden, does not help build toward a future break — however dirty it will be. It instead points, in our opinion, toward a “dirty” strategy that loses sight of the “break.”
Since the 2019 DSA National Convention set the goal of building a mass workers’ party, DSA’s National Political Committee has unfortunately been silent about working toward such a party. While it would be premature for DSA to immediately launch a new party, DSA could be raising the idea in its political material, as this petition advocates. Supporting a vote for Hawkins in safe states is another tool, although a limited one, to take a step in this direction.
Is this a distraction, as Justin argues, from “important (and winnable) work to do for Black lives, viable electoral campaigns, housing, Medicare for All, etc.”?
We don’t think so. The resolution argues that Seattle DSA’s focus for the rest of 2020 should be on “building movements of working and oppressed people like the uprising for Black Lives and the labor movement, and building DSA to play a growing role in organizing resistance against whoever will occupy the White House in 2021.”
In the course of these campaigns that we all agree should be DSA’s priority, the question of the presidential election will come up. Recommending a vote for Hawkins in safe states, even where DSA is a minority, can help politically prepare workers in these struggles for the opposition they are, and will be, facing from Biden. For example, Biden not only opposes defunding police; he is arguing to increase police funding!
The comrades also wrote: “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.”
We disagree that electoral campaigns are only helpful if they have a clear path to electoral victory. Independent candidates — like Bernie in his early days, or Eugene Debs, who ran for president four times, winning between 0.6% and 6% of the vote — have helped popularize socialist politics.
Of course, this is a limited comparison. In this election, Hawkins will make much less of an impact than Debs or Sanders made at their peak. But we raise these examples to highlight that some electoral races can still be used to promote ideas like Medicare for All and the need for independent working-class organization, even if the left candidate receives only a small portion of the vote.
Hawkins is not a DSA candidate, and alongside calling for a vote for him (not endorsing him), we can make clear, where relevant, that we disagree with the Green Party’s strategy. We recognize that Hawkins’ low vote will be used by some to try to discredit the potential for building a left party. Nonetheless, when faced with the choices we have in front of us, however imperfect, DSA should not be neutral. As we grow, DSA needs to develop nuanced positions, and our members are capable of explaining the value of a protest vote in safe states today, while also promoting our “dirty break” strategy for moving toward a mass workers’ party.
Another concern we’ve heard is that the national DSA convention decided to only endorse Bernie. However, the convention agreed “should Bernie Sanders fail to win the Democratic Party nomination the Democratic Socialists of America will not endorse another Democratic Party presidential candidate for the 2020 general election” (emphasis added). DSA supporting Hawkins would not conflict at all with the national convention decision since Hawkins is not a Democrat.
The largely uncritical support for Biden by Bernie, AOC, and the union leaders is having a demoralizing effect on many of the most left-wing activists. It lowers the expectations and consciousness of sections of the working class.
A vote for Hawkins is a public statement of defiance. It would make people aware that, under the unfavorable conditions of the current presidential election, DSA is opposed to the left trailing behind corporate Democrats.
If Biden is elected, or in the worst case, if the Democrats lose again, we expect debates about forming a new party to heat up and social movements to erupt. Let’s prepare today for this more favorable tomorrow by fanning the flames of revolt in every way we can — building social movements, growing DSA, and calling for a vote for Howie Hawkins for President.
Please vote YES on the resolution Joe Biden, Howie Hawkins & the Presidential Election — A Class Struggle Strategy to Fight Trumpism.
Add your name as a co-signer of this statement here
Resolution: Joe Biden, Howie Hawkins & the Presidential Election - A Class Struggle Strategy to Fight Trumpism
Resolution for Seattle DSA August 4 General Membership Meeting
WHEREAS we are completely opposed to the right-wing agenda of Donald Trump and are committed to seeing him defeated in November, while also recognizing that Joe Biden represents the interests of big business;
WHEREAS getting rid of Trump is a top priority for many working-class people. Many people we will meet in our various activities will be thinking about the presidential election, as it will be the dominant political issue this fall;
WHEREAS in the undemocratic system used in US presidential elections the president is not elected by a national popular vote but by an electoral college decided by a “winner take all” vote in each state. It is therefore useful to distinguish between “safe states” (the majority of states where the winner is clear in advance, such as Washington) and “swing states” (the minority of states where the election is closely contested such as Ohio). Exactly which states are "safe" vs "swing" states will become clearer in September and October;
WHEREAS Bernie Sanders, AOC, Rashida Tlaib, and union leaders have endorsed Biden, are calling for a vote for Biden in all 50 states, are largely uncritically promoting Biden, and are thereby providing left cover to Biden;
WHEREAS the DSA National Political Committee took an important step in announcing that DSA will not endorse Biden (tinyurl.com/DSABeyondBernie);
WHEREAS, given the importance of the 2020 presidential election and the support for Biden by the most prominent representatives of the US left, it is important that DSA leave no doubt that while we understand why people vote for Biden in swing states, we will not be complicit in covering up for Biden;
WHEREAS DSA taking a political stand of advocating a vote in safe states for the strongest socialist candidate for President would be an important way to demonstrate that there is at least a section of the left that is publicly refusing to support either Trump or Biden, while also signaling our desire to see Trump defeated by limiting this call to voters in safe states;
WHEREAS the 2019 DSA Convention agreed to a strategy of a “dirty break” with the Democratic Party, using the Democratic ballot line where this provides a real advantage to build working-class power and promote socialist ideas (i.e. supporting Bernie) but also taking opportunities to run independently from the Democrats and promote the future formation of a mass, working-class, democratic socialist party;
WHEREAS the 2019 DSA Convention agreed in Resolution 31 that our goal is to create an independent working-class party in the future; and
WHEREAS whether the Democrats manage to lose again against Trump or whether the Democrat gets elected as the lesser evil, millions are likely to be increasingly disillusioned with the Democratic Party in the period following the 2020 election; therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED THAT:
1) Seattle DSA's focus for the rest of 2020 is on building movements of working and oppressed people like the uprising for Black Lives and the labor movement, and building DSA to play a growing role in organizing resistance against whoever will occupy the White House in 2021.
2) To engage in discussions around the presidential election and point toward building the left, Seattle DSA recommends DSA members and socialists vote for Hawkins in safe states, including Washington State, as the strongest socialist candidate in this presidential race.
3) Our support for Hawkins is a political stance, not a commitment of DSA’s resources. Our approach toward Hawkins will be very different from Bernie’s campaigns, where DSA contributed lots of time, money, and volunteers. Furthermore, Seattle DSA will not put energy into building the Green Party; instead, we will use this election season to build DSA while calling for a protest vote for the strongest socialist presidential candidate.
4) Seattle DSA requests 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.