A Radical Alternative in 1996

Against the Current, No. 61, March/April 1996

Eric Chester

ONE OF THE many ironies of contemporary life in the United States is the perspective being assumed by most of the Left toward electoral politics. As living standards continue to slide into the abyss, the two-party system has begun to lose its hold over popular consciousness.

It has become common wisdom that the Democratic and Republican parties are closely tied to avaricious corporate interests and that, as a result, their debates represent a narrow spectrum of political discourse. Indeed Ross Perot has financed a new organization on little more than this critique.

Throughout society a deepening sense of malaise has become pervasive. Right-wing social movements, while still marginal, are growing in strength. On the opposite end of the spectrum, realignment has been abandoned as a viable strategy: Virtually no one still believes that the Democratic Party can be transformed into an ideological force
committed to a consistent program of structural reforms.

All of this would seem to fulfill the prerequisites needed for an independent party of the left. Yet most progressives remain mired within the Democratic Party, once again preparing to vote for Clinton and his band of pragmatic opportunists as the lesser-evil choice when compared to the laissez-faire conservatives currently controlling Congress.

Certainly there have been many on the left who have attacked the two establishment parties, and have posed the necessity of a third party. Indeed several efforts have been launched along these lines, the most interesting of which is Labor Party Advocates (LPA).

Yet none of these formations have moved beyond the most embryonic of stages, nor have any of them advanced their own, distinctive slate of candidates. In fact these parties-in-formation remain trapped on the margins of the Democratic Party, unwilling to venture a final, definitive break.

This vacuum is most telling on the national level. Confronted with the likelihood of Clinton versus Dole, a contest harking back to 1976 and the soporific election staged by Carter and Ford, none of the new party formations have opted to present a genuine alternative.

The Socialist Party’s Response

Given this ongoing vacillation and timidity, the Socialist Party has entered the fray with a ticket of Mary Cal Hollis for president and myself for vice president, providing the only nationwide left alternative to the two mainstream parties. We expect to be on the ballot in fifteen states, maybe more.

We are running without illusions, knowing that building a militant left wing in this country will be a long, arduous process, and that the most important steps in this process will take place in the streets and work places, not at the ballot box. Nevertheless electoral politics can furnish a forum, one that the left should utilize to its advantage.

We are also aware that no single organization can provide the framework in and of itself for a successful new party. Thus a key strategic goal of the campaign will focus on establishing links to other groups on the Left who have completely and definitively broken with the two-party system. This effort should be seen as a first step in a continuing process, facilitating closer ties and future joint projects.

The Hollis-Chester campaign has begun to forge these links. We have already been placed on the March 5 primary ballot of the Liberty Union Party in Vermont, and we will be seeking the nomination of the Peace and Freedom Party in California.

We have also been in contact with Green activists in upstate New York, discussing the possibility of joint campaigns on the national and state level. (A conference has been scheduled for May to make the final decision on these questions.)

In Wyoming the local Labor Party Advocates has opted to run a slate of candidates, contrary to the policies of LPA’s national leadership. Several members of this new party have recently joined the Socialist Party and will be urging our appearance at the top of this ticket, once ballot status has been achieved.

In a variety of other states our campaign has gained the support of independent socialists interested in helping the campaign.

The results of our initial efforts to reach beyond the Socialist Party for support of an independent ticket have been encouraging. I would hope that the readers of Against the Current would join us in this campaign, and beyond, in a concerted effort to launch a radical party independent of the two-party system.

ATC 61, March-April 1996