Last week, I published an op-ed in Midwest Socialist on why DSA is not endorsing Joe Biden. Midwest Socialist also published a response to my article by Joe Allen, “Discussion and Debates are Better Than Edicts”. This article is a response to the critique laid out by Allen.
Allen does not take issue with DSA’s stance of not endorsing Joe Biden, but rather the focus of his criticism is on my “attack” of Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins, and more broadly that my dismissal of a potential DSA endorsement reads as “an edict rather than a willingness to have a discussion.”
In his piece, Allen writes:
Neither resolutions 15 nor 31 were meant to exclude or set the bar so high as not to endorse someone like Howie Hawkins. If Howie’s campaign broadly corresponds to our “Class Struggle Elections” resolution, shouldn’t there be, at the very least, a robust discussion and debate about it? If there are concerns and disagreements about our posture towards the 2020 presidential election in general, shouldn’t we have that discussion, too?
Allen is correct that neither resolution excludes an endorsement of Hawkins. Where I disagree with Allen is that I don’t think there should be a discussion and debate within the organization about endorsing any candidate just for the fact that they may happen to meet the class struggle criteria. If members are pushing for an endorsement, then yes absolutely. Let’s have that debate. But this is the major disconnect in Allen’s criticism. While other chapters have considered endorsement of Hawkins, no one in Chicago DSA has put forth such a proposal. That no members have submitted such a proposal isn’t proof that no members in the chapter want CDSA to endorse Hawkins, but at the very least it means there is no basis for the organization to formally consider the question at this point. A link to submit proposals to the chapter Executive Committee is included in the chapter’s newsletter every week.
The other major disconnect in Allen’s criticism is that my editorial “comes off as more of an edict rather than a willingness to have a discussion.” I can’t say I understand this charge. My article was an editorial and was clearly labeled an “op-ed” on Midwest Socialist. It is not a formal statement by the chapter. I’m not sure what would lead Allen to think so, other than the fact that I am in chapter leadership and my editorial was well argued.
While my piece was primarily about why, in my opinion, DSA is not endorsing Joe Biden, I did feel compelled to touch on the Hawkins question, as a few small DSA chapters have endorsed his candidacy while other larger chapters that have considered a Hawkins endorsement voted decidedly against it. I linked to an editorial by the Reform and Revolution caucus of DSA to provide context to this debate. It’s not clear from Allen’s piece whether or not he is in favor of a Hawkins endorsement. If he is, I do not find the points he raises in his piece to be very convincing.
For instance, Allen writes that “Howie has been thrown off the ballot in Pennsylvania, and denied access to the ballot in Wisconsin. These are straight forward attacks on the left and democratic rights.” While I agree that such ballot challenges are anti-democratic attacks against the left, I don’t think such attacks alone qualify Hawkins for endorsement. Further, Allen writes that “Howie may not have a chance of winning but his presence is considered dangerous enough for the Democratic Party establishment.” This is where I have another major disagreement.
Neither the Democratic Party trying to knock Hawkins off the ballot, nor their insistent hand wringing that a vote for Hawkins is a vote for Trump, are proof that Hawkins’ candidacy is actually a danger to the Party, at least not anywhere close to the level that Sanders’ run for the nomination was. The Democratic Party will always be hostile to any left wing alternative, but to be an actual threat Hawkins would certainly need to be polling higher than 0-1% with voters. The Democratic Party has a vested interest in propagating this view so that Democratic party voters will chide anyone considering voting for Hawkins, or perhaps even chide anyone challenging the general righteousness of the Party. But I reject the notion that Hawkins’ campaign will have an impact on the outcome of the general election whatsoever.
Allen also makes a comparison to the third-party socialist campaigns of the 20th century, writing that “using Sean’s criteria, since Eugene Debs had ‘no chance of victory’ in his many campaigns for president, he shouldn’t have been supported either, or even Norman Thomas when he ran in 1932.” I’m not sure what is supposed to be compelling about this point. For one, DSA in 2020 is in a fundamentally different place than the Socialist Party of America was for those elections. Second, and this would be a whole other discussion, just because Debs and Thomas are revered on the left doesn’t mean that their candidacies for president were actually effective in building working class power or the socialist movement, at least not long-term or sustainably. If Eugene Debs rose from the dead to run for president a sixth time in 2020 and was polling at <1% against Biden and Trump, then no I don’t think it would make sense for DSA to endorse his candidacy in that hypothetical scenario.
Allen also takes issue with my claim that “the majority of the working class 1) desperately want Trump gone, and 2) see voting for Biden as the way that happens” and that in his opinion, “this comes off as an endorsement of Biden, all but in name.” I will admit that my claim here is purely anecdotal. Nonetheless, it is one informed from my experiences on the ground talking to voters during the primary. In fact, the attitude of “I just want Trump out” was so prevalent on the doors that we enshrined a response to it in our canvassing script in support of Bernie Sanders. Voters appreciated our enthusiasm for Sanders, but constantly reiterated that their main concern was defeating Trump. In these conversations, we would affirm this view and then pivot to why Sanders was in fact the best candidate to put head-to-head against Trump.
Allen misunderstands my concern that DSA campaigning for Hawkins would alienate members of the working class as “worrying about the concerns of middle class liberals, the most loyal of Democratic Party supporters, who would be the most violently hostile towards Howie’s campaign.” This is not the case. My view on this is informed, again, by my experiences canvassing through Chicago DSA for Bernie and Anthony Clark for Congress (IL-7), and specifically from running canvasses regularly in the working class, majority Black and brown neighborhood of West Humboldt Park. These voters were not generally loyal to the Democratic Party nor loyal in opposition to the Democratic Party. Most did not see themselves as being very “political” at all. Almost all, however, wanted Trump out, even a few voters we talked to who had voted for Trump in 2016.
Finally, Allen writes that “given a choice between a neoliberal and rightwing populist, the latter has a good chance of winning, as we learned in 2016.” Again, I agree with Allen here. That is the choice voters are being given. But I’m not sure how backing a marginal third-party candidate running to the left of Biden is relevant to that concern. Whether or not Hawkins is on a voter’s ballot, the election is ultimately between Biden and Trump, both narratively and in practice.
Again, I will reiterate that all of this is my individual opinion, as one might deduct from this article being labeled an op-ed. If there are members of Chicago DSA that want the organization to consider an endorsement of Hawkins, that is an option and I’d happily participate in the ensuing debate. However, there has been no such proposal put forward at this time. Not to the Executive Committee and not to the Electoral working group. As a democratic organization, committing to any project or campaign requires not only majority support but that members be motivated enough to try and formulate a proposal to actually be voted on, and to organize to win the support needed to pass that proposal. Nothing in DSA just happens; there must be a drive by members to try and make it happen.
The pressure on DSA to even mildly hint at support for Biden is much larger than any pressure on DSA to endorse Hawkins. The former was the catalyst for my original article, the latter for just a single paragraph in it. Particularly, I wanted to explain the decision to forgo endorsement from my point of view to newer members (we have quite a lot joining DSA right now) who may be asking “why isn’t DSA endorsing Biden?”, or asking “if not Biden, why not Hawkins?”. I have trouble finding time to write generally, and while there’s plenty I’d like to write about related to internal DSA politics, I felt compelled to prioritize by Biden piece for this reason. I also felt compelled to respond to Allen’s criticism.
I have no authority to issue edicts for DSA, but I do feel a responsibility, as a leader in my chapter, to try and provide a political framework for members newer to the organization and its approach to electoral politics. That was the intention of my article on why DSA is not endorsing Joe Biden.