A defeat the Democrats deserved

January 5, 2017

The Democratic Party lost in Election 2016 because of its perpetual dismissal of the needs of working people, writes Brian Napoletano.

THE REPUBLICAN Party has made unprecedented gains in the most recent round of elections. With the Electoral College's December 19 vote, the Republicans have gained control over the White House and both branches of the U.S. Congress, in addition to 32 of the nation's 50 governorships and 30 state legislatures. Moreover, the U.S. election mirrors several other right-wing electoral victories throughout Europe, Latin America and elsewhere.

Although many on the U.S. right, including the Tea Party, are attempting to characterize these victories as a validation of their reactionary agendas, actual voting results do not support this assertion.

Firstly, Trump--like George W. Bush in 2000--did not win the popular election, but defeated his opponent in a sufficient number of states to be declared the winner by the Electoral College. That this is the second time in this millennium alone that the more reactionary candidate has won via the Electoral College strengthens the case for eliminating the institution as a barrier to genuine democracy.

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Secondly--and more importantly--the Republicans primarily won by default. That is, widespread discontent with the Democratic party significantly reduced the number of votes its candidates received, leaving Republicans the de facto victors in numerous cases.

Thus, the success of the Republican Party is better understood as a widespread rejection the Democrats and their posturing as the marginally lesser of the two evils in an attempt to justify their subservience to the same interests of the capitalist class as their Republican counterparts.

As I argued in a 2009 criticism of the Obama administration's refusal to investigate the Bush administration's various war crimes, the Democratic Party largely betrayed the policies and positions upon which its popular support was based after winning the White House.

The New York Times has identified the failure of the Obama administration to hold any banking executives responsible for the 2008 financial crisis as another significant betrayal by the party. Even the Democrats' much-cherished "Obamacare"--which was supposed to be the centerpiece of Obama's legacy--was undermined from the start by the Democrats' refusal to pursue a public option, and primarily resulted in massive subsidies to for-profit insurance companies rather than genuine reforms to the U.S. health-care system.

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These and numerous other betrayals by the Democratic Party (for example, a half-hearted "cap-and-trade" approach to carbon emissions following decades of inaction, an unprecedented escalation of drone warfare and its use in assassinations of U.S. citizens, and record numbers of detentions and deportations of undocumented persons) have largely isolated Democrats from the progressive social movements that ostensibly form their base, exposing the extent to which the party is as equally beholden to anti-democratic corporate and financial interests as its Republican counterpart.

The Democrats themselves, however, are either unwilling or unable to acknowledge their own responsibility for their defeat, and instead blame Clinton's loss on the FBI's decision to continue investigating her use of a private e-mail server. If it didn't imply a Trump victory by default, few would contest the conclusion that the Democrats deserved to lose the 2016 elections.

ALTHOUGH THE specific contexts differ between countries, the same fundamental problem lies behind the right's victories around the world: the failures of the capitalist version of "democracy" to defend the interests of the working and other exploited classes are producing widespread disillusion with electoral politics, creating space for extreme right-wing movements to seize control.

In multiple instances throughout Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America, popular movements have been repeatedly betrayed by the people that they've put in power, resulting in widespread disaffection with the politics in general.

Although this tendency has resulted in numerous right-wing victories in the short-term, it also presents an important opportunity for revolutionary movements to help the left make significant advances.

The advice of Marx and Engels in their Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League in 1850 is relevant here, as it highlights the two basic components necessary to advance a revolutionary position in this situation: (1) political organization independent of the capitalist class and its parties; and (2) engagement in and encouragement of widespread popular mobilization against reactionary forces. In the words of Marx and Engels:

Even where there is no prospect whatsoever of their being elected, the workers must put up their own candidates in order to preserve their independence, to count their forces and to bring before the public their revolutionary attitude and party standpoint. In this connection they must not allow themselves to be seduced by such arguments of the democrats as, for example, that by so doing they are splitting the democratic party and making it possible for the reactionaries to win. The ultimate intention of all such phrases is to dupe the proletariat. The advance which the proletarian party is bound to make by such independent action is infinitely more important than the disadvantage that might be incurred by the presence of a few reactionaries in the representative body. If the democracy from the outset comes out resolutely and terroristically against the reaction, the influence of the latter in the elections will be destroyed in advance.

The primary obstacle to implementing this strategy in the U.S. and elsewhere is, of course, the absence of significant political parties independent of the capitalist classes. In part, this problem can be attributed to the extent to which corporate and financial power dominates political and media institutions. Moreover, Stalinist and similar perversions of Marxist theory have weakened much of the revolutionary left. Finally, the concentration of power in multinational corporations has partially (but not necessarily critically) weakened the influence of domestic interests over national politics.

How revolutionaries respond to these challenges will be critical in determining the direction of future struggles, and will likely vary significantly between countries and regions. The need to form an independent political movement that is rooted in the working and other exploited classes and ready to engage in popular struggles against reactionary forces, however, remains an overriding priority for revolutionaries everywhere.

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