Third Parties and the Left: Problems and Prospects
Electoral politics are a longstanding problem for the U.S. left. In recent decades, a number of parties have formed as an alternative to the Democratic Party: the Labor Party, the Green Party, and now, the Justice Party. However, these parties risk becoming little more than networks of activists or pressure groups on the Democratic Party, and it still remains unclear whether a serious electoral challenge to the Democratic Party is possible.
Many progressives blame the “first-past-the-post” structure of U.S. elections, contra labour-friendly parliamentary systems; yet others insist that this procedural focus is misplaced. Leninists charge some quarters of the Left with misunderstanding the proper relationship of the party to the state; but for many, it remains unclear how State and Revolution bears upon the present. Most activists grant the desirability of a viable party to the left of the Democrats, but why exactly such a party is desirable-- to win reforms? to spread emancipatory consciousness?-- is contested as well.
These are old questions for the American left-- as old as Henry George, Daniel De Leon, and the 1930s American Labor Party, perhaps the high point of independent electoral politics in the U.S. This panel will investigate several contemporary approaches to electoral politics to draw out the theories that motivate Leftist third parties; it will also ask how the historical achievements and failures of third parties bear upon the present.
Nikil Saval is an editor at n+1, and a co-editor of Occupy!: Scenes from Occupied America (Verso, 2011). He is currently writing a history of office design and white-collar work.
Lenny Brody is an activist, student of political change, printing industry worker, and descendant of union organizers. He fought with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the civil rights movement and refused induction during the Vietnam War. Mr. Brody has been active in local elections and in the Dennis Kucinich campaigns. He is a member of the Justice Party National Steering Committee and is working to build an independent political movement that will empower the victims of the current economic crisis.
Jason Wright, a contributor to the IBT's journal, 1917, began his career on the left in support of the Democratic Socialists of America. Breaking with DSA in opposition to the 1991 US invasion of Iraq, he spent several years in the Revolutionary Workers League. Disenchanted with the RWL’s mindless hyper-activism, Wright undertook a study of Trotskyism. He concluded that the Revolutionary Tendency of the Socialist Workers Party represented the continuation of Trotskyism and joined the IBT.
Katie Robbins is an activist and member of Healthcare-NOW! NYC and Healthcare for the 99%, a working group of Occupy Wall Street. Katie was national organizer with Healthcare-NOW! from 2008 - 2011 during the national healthcare debate. With doctors, nurses, and other advocates, she was arrested in May 2009 in the Senate Finance Committee asking for single-payer healthcare to be considered as a solution to the healthcare crisis when it was systematically ignored by policy makers.