Convention Discussion: The two party system is in crisis

BY: Michael Bayer| June 4, 2014

Submitted by Michael Bayer, Indiana

The two party system is in crisis. While several minor parties have always existed, there have always been only two that could win the presidency because of the anti-democratic Electoral College and the role of federalism (and therefore state’s rights) in our government,

Throughout our history these parties have represented sectional or sectoral interests; manufacturers, finance, big land owners, mining interests, etc. Nothing was more divisive than slavery.

This led to the first great crisis of the two party system, the Civil War, and the emergence of the Republican party as the dominant party until 1932 when the second great crisis occurred, the Great Depression. That crisis cemented a Democratic majority that lasted until 1968.

We have been a war driven economy since WWII. This maintained manufacturing employment for quite some time. While the defense budget continues to increase, support for the manufacturing sector has shrunk.

Other major changes in the structures of US capitalism have undermined the industrial work force, its unions and reduced worker’s standard of living.

This transformation of the US economy has dramatically changed the playing field for the two party system.

The crisis of 2008 opened the door for the election of Barack Obama that year. For the first time since 1992 millions re-engaged with the electoral system.

The administration moved quickly to save the big banks. The stimulus program provided immediate relief for millions. But, economists like Krugman, Baker and Stieglitz warned that the stimulus program was not big enough. Led by Wall Street advisors Geithner and Summers the administration focused on the phony “debt crisis” instead of creating jobs.

Then came the Affordable Care Act.

While the ACA passed, Republican attacks cost the Democrats their majority in the House at the next election, and the course for the next 6 years was set (subject to what happens this November).

The failure of the administration to fight for a jobs program while it had majorities in both houses, its’ capitulation on the debt issue, its’ willingness to consider cutting Social Security benefits, and the rabid, racist, opposition to the President discouraged many who had been mobilized by the 2008 campaign. They stayed home in 2010.

In 2012 President Obama changed paths and once again advocated progressive positions. The Democrats maintained control of the Senate, the coalition again came out to vote for Obama, but the 2010 election in many states allowed the Republicans to gerrymander districts enabling them to cement their majority in the House and create new majorities in state legislatures.

The Two Party System Is Again in Crisis

The Republicans-

Having created an ultra right based political movement (the Tea Party) they have now incorporated much of the extreme-right agenda as their own

The Republicans are isolating themselves from many sections of the population and are in danger of becoming a sectional party.

The Democrats-

Here too, things have changed. There has been a shift to the right in the Democratic Party beginning with Carter.

Since the Obama election, there has also emerged a progressive attempt to craft an alternative to both the Republicans and the New Democrats. Dramatically this resulted in the election of Walsh in Boston, DeBlasio in New York, Baraka in Newark and many others across the country.

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are leaders of this trend. There are also Representatives who form the core of the Progressive and the Black Caucus.

The People’s Struggles –

After the stolen election of 2000 people began to mobilize in defense of democracy and against the Iraq war. New movements developed, such as the Moral Monday in the South.

The movement to organize low wage workers and the fight for the $15 minimum wage is something which we have not seen since the thirties.

There is a growing fight back against charter schools.

While the fight to organize VW in Tennessee lost, it is undoubtedly an indication of more to come.

Coalitions like the Cowboys and Indians against fracking, the anti GMO movement and pressure to ratify the UN treaty on treatment of the disabled are growing.

The Emergence of a Popularly Based, if Not Fully Defined Left-

The Republican Party has lost its appeal to so-called moderates (especially women) and has been written off by many working people. The Democratic Party has disappointed millions by their unwillingness, or inability, to stand up to the extreme right’s dominance of the political structure or advance the economic interests of the working class.

There is a growing section of the population who are looking for more basic answers. Recent polls which favorably compare socialism to capitalism are a startling new development.

But, where do people who have lost confidence in the political system and the Democratic Party go to stay in the game?

These voters are the beginnings of a “new left” which wants to fundamentally change the status quo. Those who are working for progressive Democrats like DeBlasio, Baraka or Warren reflect this trend.

We should encourage progressive Democrats to challenge candidates of the status quo as often as possible. These campaigns will sharpen the contradiction between the Democrat’s appeal for working class and minority support and their subservience to Wall Street.

This cannot be done without an independent base from which to operate. It has begun to develop, but more is needed.

Independent Political Forms-

The Working Families Party-

This organization takes advantage of local election laws to run on their own party line, even if they nominate the official Democratic candidate. They played an important role in the election of DeBlasio in the Democratic primary in NYC.

The Vermont Progressive Party –

The left and anti war movements of the seventies and eighties, the tenants rights movement in Burlington, the rural poor, labor and activists around Bernard Sanders are the base for the VPP

Four years ago the VPP announced that they would consider not running for Governor if the Democratic candidate took several positions, first among them, endorsing a single payer universal health care system. This fight had been building for twenty years and united labor, Progressives, progressive Democrats, the Workers Center and other leftists including known Communists. The Democratic candidate, did just that, the VPP did not run a candidate, and he narrowly won.

This is an example of an inside/outside strategy tied to grass roots organizing and clear political leadership at its best.

Left (Socialist) Political Parties-

There are candidates running on these  tickets around the country. They have very little appeal because they are not based on grass roots organizing and place the question of socialism abstractly.

There is a singular exception, the election of Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant to the Seattle City Council. It seems that there was a combination of good grass roots organizing, a good candidate and tieing the campaign to the $15 minimum wage which was embraced by many Democratic candidates.

There are many lessons for us in this campaign because it proves that workers will vote for a Socialist candidate who speak to them in terms they can connect with.

Party Candidates-

Party candidates can run as candidates of our Party or run for non-partisan offices or as part of a broader coalition slate.

Communist candidates must be tied to grass roots struggles, must have relationships with other folk in action and must speak to immediate issues that affect working people.

These opportunities cannot be self selected projects. They must be collective decisions of clubs and districts. In other words, they have to be taken seriously.

The Crisis of the Two Old Parties is an Opportunity for the Working Class.

Those who throw up their hands in the face of the obstacles to political work outside of the two old parties are not making a serious analysis of the times. They do not recognize the mass response to the economic crisis, they are not recognizing what is changing and new in “mass patterns of thought.”

As Communists we need a clear eyed approach which recognizes the new as it emerges from the old, which has a plan for the transition from this stage to the next. We must be rooted in the actual struggles of our class. Above all, we have to be rooted in reality and concrete analysis.

We cannot allow ourselves to be stuck in the old structures that the ruling class has established as the permissible limits for politics.

The views and opinions expressed in the Convention Discussion are those of the author alone. The Communist Party is publishing these views as a service to encourage discussion and debate. Those views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Communist Party, its leading bodies or staff members. The CPUSA Constitution, Program, and all its existing policies remain in effect during the Convention discussion period and during the Convention.

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30th National Convention, Communist Party USA
Chicago | June 13-15, 2014


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