Synthesis/Regeneration 12 carried an interesting and lively discussion of the 1996 elections and their repercussions. Unfortunately, although several articles presented a fusion perspective, no one articulated the position of those who believe in the necessity of an electoral alliance, but who are also convinced that such an alliance needs to start from a position of total independence from the two party system.
The steady rightward drift of the Democratic Party over the last two decades has made it more and more difficult to maintain the illusion that either of the two corporate parties can become an effective vehicle for social change. As a result, a considerable segment of the Left has begun to espouse a position that places them on the edge of the Democratic Party. Proponents of this position intend to support only the "good" Democrats who advocate progressive legislation, while distancing themselves from the "bad" Democrats such as President Clinton. This strategy encompasses several tactical variations, of which fusion is the most prominent. With fusion, a political party that has gained ballot status endorses selected candidates of another party, thus providing those candidates with an additional line on the ballot. While fusion could conceivably occur when two third parties support the same nominee, the term commonly refers to a situation in which a third party endorses the candidate of one of the establishment parties. For those on the Left, this almost always leads to a nominally independent party placing Democratic candidates on its slate.
Inevitably, the decision to blur political lines of demarcation brings as one of its consequences a dilution in program.
Frequently those defending fusion argue the issue is purely tactical. After all we should be working for the candidate who advances our position, and if that happens to be a Democrat, so be it. In fact, the issue of the Democratic Party has been the cutting edge of debate within the Left for more than a hundred years. The issue is significant in and of itself, but it also brings into focus far more fundamental questions as well.
Fusion is hardly a new concept. In the 1890s opportunistic elements within the Populist Party negotiated joint tickets in several states, sometimes with Democrats, sometimes with Republicans. These fusion tickets failed to campaign on the basis of the Populist program, with its demands for low interest rates and government ownership of the railroads. Inevitably, the decision to blur political lines of demarcation brings as one of its consequences a dilution in program. In 1896 fusion became national policy when the Populists endorsed the Democratic Presidential nominee, William Jennings Bryan. The Populists thereafter disintegrated as a cohesive party.
The history of the American Labor Party (ALP) is even more instructive. Launched in 1936 by the leadership of the New York City garment workers unions, it was designed to help President Franklin Roosevelt by attracting the votes of members and former members of the Socialist and Communist Parties who refused to vote for the Democratic Party. The ALP, as well as one of its offshoots, the Liberal Party, soon engaged in the most sordid back room deals with a wide array of politicians. Yet the ALP had as one of its initial goals the strengthening of the reform wing of the Democratic Party.
Thus the history of fusion politics is straightforward. Parties pursuing this strategy have not provided a first step toward a genuinely independent politics. On the contrary, these formations have acted as safety valves, directing popular discontent into the framework of liberal reform, and then collapsing back into the mainstream of two-party politics.
The Democratic Party is a cesspool. It is funded, and funded magnificently, by mammoth corporations, who count on Democratic politicians to discipline and divide the work force. We need to build a militant movement that can fight for systemic social change. As long as we maintain any ties to the Democratic Party, we cultivate the illusion that liberal politicians can be effective agents for fundamental change. The break with the establishment parties must be final and definitive. Tentative, half-hearted measures only lead back into the quagmire of two-party politics.
As long as we maintain any ties to the Democratic Party, we cultivate the illusion that liberal politicians can be effective agents for fundamental change.
The Socialist Party rejects fusion, or any other electoral maneuver that links our candidates to those of the Democratic Party. We want to build a party of activists, one committed to direct action as well as to an electoral politics completely independent of both corporate parties. We want to present candidates who will adhere to a program of structural reform that includes demands such as a $10.00 an hour minimum wage, an instant 50% cut in the military budget with more cuts to follow, socialized medicine, and a cap on incomes greater than $200,000 a year.
I believe that one step in the formation of such a party would be the forging of an electoral alliance based on these principles, an alliance that would hopefully include a significant segment of the Greens. Within such a formation, the Socialist Party would propose candidates for nomination by the alliance who would present an explicitly socialist perspective, while advocating the program as a set of immediate demands. The creation of such an alliance would allow the radical Left to quickly overcome the many hurdles to achieving ballot status in 30 or more states. It would also significantly increase our credibility with a wider audience.
This is a complicated structure, but it is a workable one as well. The New Zealand Left has operated within such an alliance, garnering enough momentum to shift that country from winner-take-all district elections to proportional representation. It seems an organizational structure worth exploring. It also allows for expanding the alliance to include other organizations which are committed to a platform of fundamental change, and which have broken entirely with the Democratic party.
If such an alliance is to be in operation by 1998, we need to begin soon a series of discussions that could encourage statewide formations to begin forming. From this base we could move to the national level, forming a Congressional fundraising committee, with the idea of generating a database of contributors for 2000. In Massachusetts, we have already taken an initial step toward the creation of an electoral alliance between the Socialist Party and the Greens. Hopefully, this will prove to be one component of a broader and ongoing process.