Friday, February 12, 2010

The Democratic Party Is Neither.....

 Here are a few thoughts on the Democratic Party. First, the Democratic Party is neither democratic, nor is it a political party. The only more oxymoronic title, I can think of is the Holy Roman Empire. After Charlemagne, that kingdom had little to do with Rome, it was never very holy, and, for most of its history, was by no stretch of the imagination an empire. It was more of a federated alliance of Germanic dukes and other minor nobility.

In the same way "the" Democratic Party is a loosely allied confederation of semi-autonomous organizations. I have been a registered Democrat since my 18th birthday and have yet to receive a membership card. That's thirty five years of waiting in vain, folks. I am just about to give up. Also, I have never been invited to a local meeting or a national convention. I even had a hard time finding out when Cambria County Democratic County Committee meetings were when I was a committeeman. I did attend one national convention as a delegate. That is a very, very convoluted story for another time. I am beginning to think that many of the tiny few who actually are paid by the DP don't like socialists much. They don't seem big on democracy either. Well, that is their problem. We did get two comrades nominated in Cambria County for local office twenty-five years ago and one of them actually won. The guy who won unfortunately died, before taking office. Actually the guy that lost died as well, and that was very unfortunate, too. Their early 50's was not the time to lose these friends and comrades. But, we still have two local former office holders active in Laurel Highlands chapter of the Social Democrats, USA. who are very much alive. Hey, you are going to die any way. You might as well leave a more colorful obituary and run for office!

The DP has still never sent me its manifesto (It did does not actually have one and its platform is a waste of good trees) Thankfully, I have never been asked to pay Democratic Party dues. Maybe I am complaining too much. The PA voter registration form asks "In which Party do wish to be enrolled". The DP in fact has no members in PA. The DP enrollees are only people who choose for that election cycle to vote in the DP primary. As Cde. Michael Marino pointed out, that makes the individual States the roster keeper for all "political parties". The State decides who is a member of my Party, outrageous. This jest is every bit as true today as when Will Rodgers said it, "I am not a member of any kind of organized political party; I'm a Democrat!"

The term "political party" means something different to people outside this country. Our political parties are huge catch-all electoral coalitions. In other countries, members of a political party are required to express substantial agreement with the party's programme(Generally a 200 page book), pay dues (generally substantial ones), and participate in electoral campaigns. The British Labour Party, one of the parties with which I regularly have contact, has less than 200,000 members. Yet, it governs a nation of more than 80 million. The same structure exists in nearly all the member parties of the Socialist International. Dues paying members choose the party's candidates for office, not those who become members "du jour" of the party on primary election day. My cousin, Larry and his wife, Liz are among those 200,000 members of Brirish Labour Party. That is 27 pounds a month for the two of them. They both have dual citizenship. Liz, is an Aussie, and is bombarded with Australian Labor Party emailings and regular mail. Larry, a Yank, never hears from Democrats Abroad, except during presidential elections. It is just a guess, but I bet Democrats Aboard has a bigger budget than the national Australian Labor Party. Of course, if Liz dropped her membership in the "down under" Labor party she would likely have a freer inbox. Fortunately, she has not done so. God bless her! And, I have not misspelled "Labor" in this context.

Socialist author and Democratic Party activist, Michael Harrington, was fond of saying, "The Democratic Party contains some of the worst and most of the best people in American politics." He also pointed out that small left wing sects, like the Socialist Workers' Party, have more people on national staff than the Democratic Party does in non-presidential election years.
The national Democratic Party only exists once every four years. It holds a convention and then, mercifully, it hibernates for three years. Harrington, was also fond of saying the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in non-presidential years has less people on staff than the Socialist Workers' Party. The idea that there is the massive top down machine called the Democratic Party is a joke.

If there was a Democratic Party in Congress health care reform would have already happened. In any parliamentary democracy the party whip would demand a party line vote on cloture of debate. A member would either vote the party line or "cross the aisle" to join another party. Only Winston Churchill ever survived the next election for the Commons after crossing the aisle in the British Parliament. If there was a party line vote on health care in the U.S. Senate on health care, the Dems and their two allied independents have a 60 seat majority. As the Republicans would still be a minority, they could not guarantee the seniority of six or so defectors from the Democratic Caucus. No senator would risk every committee appointment, and hence all power and fund raising ability, to defect to the Republicans. However, the Democrats are not a disciplined parliamentary party and real health care reform is still a dicey proposition. Can we all agree Joe Lieberman is not a Churchillian figure? If the Democratic Senate Causus cannot hold together as a national entity, why would anyone assume any national membership party could?

The "national Democratic Party" does not run presidential or state campaigns. That is left to independent organizations like Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or D, triple C, for short. The D, triple C, has only a very tenuous relationship with the DNC. It raises money for the local Democratic congressional nominees. Yet, the D,triple C's relationship with local campaigns is generally only a loose advisory one. There is another operation for the Senate campaigns and still another for presidential campaigns. To top off all that there are the College Democrats and the Young Democrats which are loosely tied to the DNC.

The DP nationally and locally does little training for its committee people, Young and College Democrats leaders, even its county chair people. In many areas of the nation, the local Democratic County Committee expects donations from Democratic nominees, rather than providing donations to the candidates. In most counties in the U.S. the DP in all its incarnations has no full time staff. It is a totally volunteer effort. So, those who volunteer control the local Party.

The question arises, isn't the Republican Party in the same fix? Yes and no. The hardcore right wing has a stake in Republicans and trade unions in the Democrats, or at least that is how they see it. Once you get elected you need to form the government with someone. I will pass on working with the Sarah Palin fan club. I will go one step further. If the national Democratic Party platform were neutral on abortion, there would not be a Republican Party in most of PA's 66 counties. The Commonwealth would be a one Party state. I am not at all sure if that would be good or bad, but it would be the facts on the ground. In PA, the Democratic pols are by and large pro-lfe and pro-Second Amendment and the Republican Party pols are survivalists, religious fanatics, and radical economic libertarians, conspiracy buffs, and Richard Mellon Scaife's family and employees.

The problem is definitely not that the structure of the Democratic Party has no room for socialists, liberals and progressives. There is all the room we need, or what "independent social space" as Antonio Gramsci might put it, in the DP. The problem is that groups who have tried to enter the DP lack discipline themselves. The Labor Movement provides about half the people for Congressional and larger races within the DP. Labor could certainly force non-negotiable demands on the DP from the county to the national level. If Labor were united, that is. We don't even have a single all encompassing Labor federation in the U.S. Since, Labor doubts its own strength to do more than, "help its friends and punish its enemies," as Sam Gompers put it, there can be no national "labor party" no matter how much we socialists might want one.

The problem has always been that groups that enter the Democratic Party with a message end up worried about the back room politics of the DP. This was true of the black Civil Rights Movement of the 60's, the Peace Movement, and it has been true for the Communist Party. The CP,USA has made the most disciplined effort at "entryism" into the DP of any group so far. Unfortunately, until the advent of the 21st century the CP's tactics were tied to what was going on or had gone on in the Soviet Union.

Some level of the DP can always offer a promising young activist a good job or perphaps an elected position. The offer usually comes just as an activist is maturing and realizing she or he cannot live on movement wages. Barack Obama comes to mind here. So does John Conyers, Bella Abzug, Gary Hart, John Lewis, Julian Bond and hundreds of others. Gay activists have been less co-opted, probably because their struggle remains so intense. Yet, don't expect to see Rep. Barney Frank speaking at many Gay Rights rallies, or even opposing "don't ask, don't tell".

So what can be done? Socialists need to build a movement which "speaks its own name" and works in the Democratic Party. Working in the DP to me does not mean joining or forming letter head coalitions or email list organizations. I am on the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) mailing list, which I guess makes me a member. The same is true of Democracy for America and 21st Century Democrats and every other group I can join for free. I even pay to belong to Americans for Democratic Action. I don't really see the sense of taking over an email list organization in a few counties across the country as the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism is doing with PDA. There is nothing wrong with coalition building, but why give life to an organization that can then take credit for your hard work? The old Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee worked in the DP as very "in your face socialists". Alas, DSA today has no such goals or resources.

However, every candidate is his or her on coalition. Everybody can't be Fiorello La Guardia and be "his own balanced ticket". But every candidate who runs has people who will get involved for just her or him. These might be friends, workmates, family, etc. There are hundreds of winnable offices at the municipal level that self described democratic socialists can win. In early November the national chair of the Social Democrats, USA, Richard D'loss will be elected to the Carnegie,PA borough council. Rick has won both the Republican and Democratic nominations. Rick will join Bernie Sanders as the only publicly self identified socialists in public office come January. As Sanders is not a member of either the Democratic Party or DSA, that will mean the SD,USA has the most currently elected officials among its ranks of any socialist party or group in the United States.

Sorry about the commercial above. Oh, the hell, I am. The home team is winning. Hurray!

I certainly don't see Rick D'Loss as borough president of Carnegie, PA ending poverty, war and injustice. He can however, call hearings using the municipal building on unemployment, health care, even the environment, or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as long as he relates the hearings to Carnegie. All the substantial progressive political forces in the Pittsburgh, PA area could at least get their messages out at such hearings and perphaps get some wider publicity besides. It is certainly the beginning of a "long march". But what's the alternative? The police went nuts during the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh. For everybody except those of us who were manhandled and especially those still facing charges it is all but forgotten. Well, I personally will always remember the Long Rang Acoustic Device (LARD). It was kind of like having your head stuck in the tweeter speaker at a Slip Knot concert. Well only having one working ear for the last month means I have heard only half as many stupid things.

Despite the myth, Eugene Debs was not the turn of the century Socialist Party of America all by himself. There were Socialists elected to congress, state legislatures, and city councils across the land. The SPA was destroyed by the combination of the Palmer Raids and the defection / expulsion of the Communists. When the Socialist Party, USA, as it was then called, stopped running third party candidacies in the early 60's, it then reached its second zenith of influence. The Civil Rights Movement of the early 60's was lead by Socialists. After the Party broke in three the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee/ Democratic Socialists of America once counted three members of Congress, the mayors of New York City and Chicago and dozens of other office holders in its ranks. Michael Harrington's death was a heavy blow, but it should not have crushed the organization. Mike's strategy was not dependent on Mike. That is especially true as idea did not originate with Harrington. DSOC members were elected to the school board in Ann Arbor, MI, the state legislature in Maine and North Dakota, and numerous city councils across the land. They won with help of their locals and not the national DSOC/DSA. The same is true of the committee people elected in NY state, Virgina, PA, and elsewhere.

Einstein said that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results was the definition of insanity. If that be true, isn't not doing what has worked repeatedly, like running local socialist candidates insane? Isn't pursuing schemes that have never worked, like creating a nationwide third party, a truly pervasive form insanity? Or, maybe it is just feel good politics. Let me say this again, the Democrats and Republicans with all that corporate money have never been anything remotely akin to national political parties. The issue is distance, not determination, or resources.

The "independent politics" socialist says, "I ran for Senator, traveled all over the state and got .005 percent of the vote and I am revolutionary!" Sorry, no. At best, most people will see you as an also ran and more likely as a nut.I got a chance to catch folksingers David Rovics and Anne Feeney's show the other night. Please view Dave's "I'm a Better Anarchist Than You" for more on this topic. Winning is not built on losing. To wield power, one must be elected. With no resources and the established media firmly against us, we need to win. So pick a race you can win.Then run. As Michael Moore says you can't screw it up worse than the person currently in that office.

I will gladly walk you through all the steps from filing, fund raising, door to door canvassing, etc. You can win. I know. I have done it. The help is free. There are a few conditions. Please pick a race where you can actually do some good. If you have never sought elective office, don't start with the state legislature. Run as an open and proud socialist / social democrat. Try the Democratic ballot line. Vermont is very different than most parts of the U.S. politically. If you can't win a primary you can't win a general election. When you get elected encourage others to run. Get a member of your personal coalition to run. If, like Bernie Sanders, you keep saying. "I am a democratic socialist", the invitation from the moneyed interests will never come to join the fat cat club. That's about all the party discipline we need. If this sounds like a great deal of very hard work, it is.

I will close with the prayer attributed to moral theologian and Socialist Party member, Reinhold Niebuhr,

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference".

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