LAYING THE basis for an independent left is an urgent task for all those seeking to challenge the status quo of racism, sexism, inequality, environmental devastation, and imperialist war over which both establishment parties — the Democrats and Republicans — have presided for more than a century.
That’s why the ISO has participated in a number of third party efforts, many of them organized by the Green Party. In New York we have worked closely with Howie Hawkins and other Greens in many election campaigns — most recently, endorsing the gubernatorial campaign of Howie and Jia Lee as a principled left-wing alternative to Democratic Governor and machine boss Andrew Cuomo.
However, we strongly disagree with the campaign’s decision to welcome the endorsement of political commentator and comedian Jimmy Dore and to feature Dore alongside Howie at a livestream event this September in Brooklyn. A subsequent campaign email described Dore as “one of the most courageous and funniest political voices we have today.” In fact, he is a vocal supporter of the worst variety of Assadist and Islamophobic conspiracy theories on the Syrian conflict.
Howie and other leading members of his campaign do not hold these repugnant views. But the public association of the Hawkins-Lee campaign with this reactionary political current does immense damage to our common efforts to build a genuinely left alternative to the Democrats in New York state. These unfortunate developments have caused us to reconsider our endorsement.
THE APPEARANCE of Dore in the New York Green Party’s gubernatorial campaign is connected to a larger problem within the national party and the broader left. A significant number of Green Party members and leaders are open supporters of the positions put forward by the Assad dictatorship in Syria, while many others disagree but don’t view the Syrian conflict as a central enough issue to publicly criticize these positions.
These views from Baraka and too many others on the left embrace some of the most toxic post-9/11 political tropes of anti-Muslim racism and the so-called “war on terror,” an attempt by ruling classes in North America and Europe, but also in Russia, China and India, to frame all Muslims resisting oppression as “terrorists” or “extremists.” In fact, only a small minority of those who oppose Assad’s state have any relation to Islamic fundamentalism, though these reactionary forces are often the most heavily armed and funded, and the most tolerated by the regime itself.
When leftists put forward such positions on Syria, they disarm our side from confronting the menace of intensifying anti-Muslim racism which is an essential component of far-right politics in the U.S. and globally.
During a political period in which the socialist movement is rapidly gaining momentum in the U.S. for the first time in decades, it’s urgent that we build an independent left that challenges the Democratic Party’s support for war and empire, not with a reactionary Islamophobia masquerading as “anti-imperialism,” but with solidarity with the popular struggles of the oppressed in every country of the world — in particular, the millions of predominantly Muslim refugees fleeing the cycles of violence and war driven by U.S. imperialism in the Middle East and North Africa.
Given that much of the new left today remains tied to the Democratic Party structure, the project that we share with the Green Party of building a new party of the left is more urgent and vital than ever. But encouraging or tolerating Assadism and Islamophobia is no basis on which to pursue the project of building a party for our side. We urge our Green comrades to ask themselves what future the party has if it’s dependent on the support of those whose views of Syria and the Middle East appear to be heading on an ever more reactionary trajectory.
We believe that it’s important for Hawkins and the wider Green Party to challenge the views of figures like Jimmy Dore and Ajamu Baraka on the Syrian conflict, and to appeal to Muslims, Arabs and Middle East solidarity activists and welcome them into the party.
Regretfully, as Hawkins’ candidacy continues to be associated with these views in the public eye, we feel that we cannot continue to endorse the New York Green Party gubernatorial campaign. At this early stage in the enormously challenging process of building an independent left party, we cannot afford to pass over the problem of Islamophobia within our own organizations and campaigns.
We hope that our comrades in the Green Party and across the growing left will join us in confronting this threat to our movement, and we look forward to continuing the collaborative work of advancing a real alternative to this country’s intolerable status quo.
To begin with, it’s important not to confuse this discussion with the debates we’ve been having in the ISO — particularly in New York City — around left-wing Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. There are connections, certainly, but opposition to endorsing Hawkins is not an inevitable by-product of wanting to endorse Democrats instead.
In fact, this conflation was one of the problems with our initial endorsement meeting, which didn’t allow enough time to discuss and debate the various arguments opposing endorsement.
Those arguments included: the campaign wouldn’t build the left; campaigns that can’t actually win are nonstarters in an era of victorious left Democrats like Ocasio-Cortez; and the Green Party has a serious problem of Assadism and Islamophobia. Our rushed discussion and vote resulted in the conflation of these and other arguments, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t.
As a result, our district came out of the vote to endorse with less clarity and confidence than before — which in turn made it harder for us to fully implement our plans and test in practice whether we had made the correct decision.
Then came news of the campaign’s decision to feature Jimmy Dore, a political commentator who is known for promoting Islamophobic and Assadist views. Lingering doubts and frustrations in our district over the endorsement burst out into the open.
The elected district leadership tasked our elections committee to meet with the campaign to urge it to disavow Dore — which we did repeatedly — and draft a public statement. We then called another membership meeting to hash things out.
At that meeting, we had a productive discussion about why we had made the mistake of rushing the initial endorsement — as well as about the growing influence on the left of supposedly “anti-imperialist” support for dictatorships, and the harm these politics have done to a party like the Greens that has struggled to find a base as many others followed candidates like Sanders into the Democratic Party.
It was apparent that many members would not have decided to endorse the campaign if they had the chance again, whether it was because of the original arguments or experiencing the campaign’s interactions with Dore. I still think there were good reasons to support the campaign despite its weaknesses, but clearly this was the full discussion we should have had initially.
UNFORTUNATELY, I think that our decision to rescind that endorsement compounds that first mistake by making another.
It’s important to be clear on the facts that are laid out in the district statement. The issue isn’t Howie himself supporting Assad or Islamophobia. To the contrary, he has a history of supporting the Syrian people’s democratic struggle, and has taken heat from some Greens for that stand.
The problem is that his campaign became associated with someone whose statements about anti-Assad Syrians are repugnant to us.
This raises many important and far-reaching questions that we’ll continue to confront moving forward: How do we build united fronts and electoral campaigns alongside people with whom we have major disagreements? How do these projects square with the ISO’s commitment to waging a fight on the left about Syria, while also recognizing that this fight is unfortunately far from won across the left?
Withdrawing our endorsement of the Hawkins campaign over our disagreement of his handling of Jimmy Dore signals that our method in electoral campaigns is to offer conditional support that is subject to being pulled when substantial political disagreements arise — not with the candidates, but with some of their supporters.
None of this is to say that our disagreement with Howie over his handling of Dore isn’t serious. In our conversations about the issue with leading members of the Hawkins campaign, some of whom we’ve worked with for years, the differences between our strategic conceptions of how electoral campaigns can build the left were very clear.
That’s why I think the appropriate response would have been to publicly criticize the campaign while continuing to be a part of it — and continuing the debate after the election.
There’s also the fact that Howie Hawkins is a lifelong fighter for independent politics and a longtime ally and collaborator with the ISO, who is waging a difficult fight to build the Green Party in difficult circumstances — which in my opinion led him to make a bad decision regarding Jimmy Dore.
One could argue that these and other factors shouldn’t have been enough of a reason to endorse the campaign, but once we did, I think we should have seen that decision through and assessed it afterward.
THE DISCUSSION and debate about this campaign has raised important questions about how to build independent electoral alternatives, the future of the Green Party and the growing influence of Assadism and even more openly reactionary elements in corners of the left. These questions should help us as we think about the kinds of campaigns and initiatives we want to develop moving forward.
But the fact remains that on Election Day in New York, Howie will be the only left-wing alternative to machine boss Andrew Cuomo running for governor. By rescinding our endorsement, we are saying it’s a better thing for the left if people abstain, rather than giving Howie the strongest vote possible. I don’t think that’s right.
There’s a better method for handling these situations, and it’s the one we originally came up with: publicly criticizing campaigns while continuing to support them. In 2004, for example, the ISO endorsed Ralph Nader’s independent presidential run while being upfront about our criticisms of his inadequate position on immigrant rights and his disastrous association with the right-wing racist Pat Buchanan.
Some on the left argued that our endorsement of Nader gave cover for these weaknesses, but we argued that it was possible to be open about our disagreements while also keeping in mind the campaign’s larger dynamic. In the Socialist Worker announcement of the ISO’s endorsement, we went through those disagreements before concluding:
The debates we’ve had in New York City about the Hawkins campaign are a sign that there’s a new moment, raising new strategic questions. The fact that our vote to withdraw endorsement passed by a narrow margin shows these are complicated questions that need further discussion.
Even though I disagree with the decision, I’m glad we held a meeting to reassess our endorsement, because I feel clearer and more united with my comrades about the important tasks ahead than I did after the first vote.
I’M WRITING in response to the New York City ISO statement rescinding its endorsement of the Howie Hawkins/Jia Lee Green Party ticket in the upcoming gubernatorial election in New York (“The independent left must oppose Islamophobia”). While I find much with which I agree in the statement the New York comrades issued, I think their conclusion of rescinding their endorsement of Hawkins/Lee was mistaken.
As is clear from the statement, neither Hawkins nor Lee hold the toxic views that Jimmy Dore espouses. In fact, earlier this year, Hawkins participated in an event in Utica, New York, in support of the anti-Assadist forces in the Syrian revolution. Lee is a rank-and-file teachers’ union leader who has worked in solidarity with the struggle for education justice in Puerto Rico.
I don’t think either of the candidates’ commitments to international solidarity is in doubt, and in September, they announced plans to co-sponsor a number of panel discussions, including ones on Puerto Rico and Palestine.
That they have accepted support from a radio host who holds pro-Assad views is regrettable. But it seems to me that this is a situation that calls for comradely criticism and debate, not for ultimatums.
In 2016, the ISO supported Jill Stein’s campaign for president, while openly criticizing the pro-Assad views of her running mate Ajamu Baraka. In 2004, we supported the Ralph Nader/Peter Camejo independent presidential ticket, while also publishing our criticisms of decisions that we thought undercut the campaign’s left-wing character.
In these cases, we thought that these campaigns’ attempts to offer an independent, left-wing alternative to the pull of a “lesser-evil” vote for capital’s political B team, the Democrats, was the fundamental reason to support them. We did not support them uncritically, and we didn’t hold back criticisms of them. To me, the same logic should apply to the Hawkins/Lee campaign.
It is even more crucial to stand up for a left-wing political alternative today, a period, as the statement notes, “in which the socialist movement is rapidly gaining momentum in the U.S.” but where much of that “movement” is tied to the Democratic Party.
Recently, democratic socialist and soon-to-be U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed the Democratic ticket in New York, including the corrupt corporate Democrat Gov. Cuomo, and the nominally independent Working Families Party handed over its ballot line to Cuomo.
In my opinion, those actions do a greater disservice to the cause of “building a new party of the left” than the shortcomings of the Hawkins/Lee campaign. And when some socialists in the Democratic Socialists of America (of which Lee is a member) are arguing for support of Hawkins/Lee against the Democrats, it’s even more unfortunate that the ISO in New York has rescinded its support.
IN HIS Readers’ View “We can critically support independent candidates,” Lance Selfa gives the impression that the question of the Howie Hawkins/Jia Lee endorsement by the New York City district was a straightforward debate between critical support and ultimatums, and that the correct and appropriate method should have been a return to the example of the 2004 position on endorsing independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader.
I can only speak for myself, but I do not believe that this begins to address the difficulties that the New York City district of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) faced these past few months — which, I believe, were about a breakdown of democratic debate and decision-making that compounded the difficulties of clarifying the stakes of this particular endorsement.
The reality is that the debate on endorsement took all of 15 minutes. There was no space to have an assessment of the previous endorsement and campaign for Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones in 2014, and what to expect this year; no space to discuss the problems of the Green Party and the question of Assadism; no space to discuss how this would help the ISO grow and make the case for independent politics; and no space to consider postponing the endorsement vote until there was more time to have this kind of discussion.
Several issues were collapsed into this endorsement debate, which was supposed to temporarily have an answer to the question of independent electoral campaigns. Despite the fact that there were many new members who didn’t know who Howie Hawkins or Jia Lee were, the vote went through, with a high abstention rate.
Rather than resolving anything, this produced distrust and a fall in morale. We lost members as a result of this process. Therefore, we had neither full democratic debate, nor the ability to move collectively into action.
Under any other circumstances, we would have opposed such a process. In our unions, comrades would have voted down any effort to put forward a contract that members hadn’t read or discussed fully, and would have argued for others to do so as well. This is what makes it so difficult to even consider what a critical support endorsement would even have looked like.
DESPITE THIS, some of us tried to ameliorate the problems of this first vote. Some of us in the Brooklyn branch compiled and suggested readings from Socialist Worker, the International Socialist Review and elsewhere that could be sent to the whole membership and could include an assessment of our previous work in the Hawkins/Jones campaign, so the whole membership, new and experienced, could have a shared understanding and move forward on the right approach to the Hawkins/Lee campaign.
And some of us — believing that Howie Hawkins would fully support it — still held out hope that this campaign could be a space to issue a statement in support of Syrians against the Assad regime.
Initially, this was considered after Assad moved toward a military offensive against Idlib, the last stronghold of the revolution, and a territory of 3 million Syrians. After Idlib broke out in inspiring protests, we thought this was an even more opportune moment to issue a statement, because Idlib showed that the revolution was still alive.
I still believe that had we had a second district meeting right after the failure of the first, we could have arrived at a better perspective.
This might have meant critical support with a principled statement, and a clear lead that could equip those comrades most involved in Middle East solidarity work with a way to argue on confident and principled grounds for voting Hawkins/Lee. This might have meant inviting Hawkins and Lee to a district meeting to put forward our concerns and ideas, and possibly change Howie’s opinion in the process.
We know people’s ideas shift in the course of debating and discussing with one another. Had Howie met with the whole membership in the process of seeking our endorsement, including Muslim members who could convey the stakes of this position, this might have helped him take a different approach. After all, the process of organizing an electoral campaign for governor should theoretically mean an exposure to a base or constituency that one attempts to answer to.
None of this came to pass. Instead, the decision was made to hold meetings at the branch level, discussing among ourselves the 2014 campaign, and an informal bar night with the candidates, which unintentionally served to downgrade the importance and formality of an endorsement process. And there are only so many hours in a day to prioritize a debate that was already deeply demoralizing and draining, while trying to relate to other events and questions in the world.
THE REVELATION of Jimmy Dore’s endorsement came after all these failed attempts to shape the campaign and open up debate. It is still hard to believe that Howie Hawkins would refuse to even produce a mild statement disassociating himself from Dore’s Islamophobia.
This is where the one-to-one comparison with Nader in 2004 really fails. Howie is a comrade and a committed socialist. We’d worked with him before, we’d helped contribute to the 2014 campaign’s position condemning Israel’s war on Gaza, and we knew he was no Assadist. The space to shape this campaign should have theoretically been greater, precisely because Howie is not Nader.
I hope the internal debate around the Nader 2004 endorsement was thorough. But at least the public statement around this in Socialist Worker provided a lead for members on how to navigate these waters, including criticisms of Nader’s acceptance of Pat Buchanan’s endorsement, which flows into a recommendation about what ballot lines to vote on and not vote on.
Lance doesn’t consider the possibility of what a larger ISO rooted in more struggles might mean for also evaluating the ramifications of a critical support endorsement. That is, the ISO has grown since 2004, and the world has also changed since then.
If a Green Party candidate today accepted the endorsement of Pat Buchanan, who has called on Trump to stop the caravan of Honduran migrants at the border and called it a “Third World invasion of the West,” would our position be basically the same as it was in 2004?
In 2018, when “Abolish ICE” has become a mainstream demand, and we have members rooted in immigrant rights struggles and the migrant caravan faces the violence of the U.S. military and fascist vigilantes, would we still be able to also call for critical support at the ballot box?
This example seems completely implausible, because the U.S. left has advanced so much on the question of immigrant rights and anti-racism that there is no way to even imagine this scenario.
I believe it would be impossible for any Green Party candidate today to do what Nader did in 2004, not because the far right has become less right wing (the exact opposite is true), and not because the Green Party has become more left wing (the exact opposite is true), but because the immigrant working class has, since the historic “Day without an Immigrant” strike in 2006, changed this generation of the U.S. left forever.
We have been transformed because of the struggle of immigrants in this country, and this is why we can take up the fight against Gestapo raids, detention centers, borders and the good immigrant/bad immigrant ideological offensive. Lance’s argument about turning back to the lessons of 2004 forces us into an abstraction that isn’t useful.
WHEN WEIGHING whether critical support is an option, the organization is tasked with several considerations, because the endorsement should mean something real for the work we carry out in our movements.
The burden of carrying out a controversial critical support position isn’t distributed evenly among all members. It is hardest on those comrades who are most closely connected to the issue being debated. It is therefore incumbent upon the entire membership to set a lead that prepares those comrades for making the most difficult arguments with allies in order to win them to voting on the basis of a broader class independence vision.
So assuming this hypothetical works, if Howie had received the endorsement of Pat Buchanan today, would we expect our comrades organizing most closely in immigrant rights work to vote and accept it without any debate?
Just imagine you were asked to accept this, without any debate over a figure like Buchanan, who has called for Trump to stop the caravan with U.S. troops, without any opportunity to have a meeting with these close collaborators and allies on the New York socialist left to make the case for a change in their campaign?
You wouldn’t simply accept that, right? You would argue hard for something different. You would push for something else because you couldn’t carry out a lead on these terms, and you would vote with your feet for something different.
You would refuse to organize an event with the campaign, you would increasingly feel discouraged and sometimes bitter, you might even consider leaving the organization itself because it felt like an impossible choice. No comrade should have to get to the point where something like that has to happen.
It is not a coincidence that the burden was felt most by those comrades who were involved in our Palestine work, and especially those who were Arab and Muslim. Critical support is more than a rhetorical statement we hammer out to fly the flag of class independence.
The more the ISO grows, the more rooted it becomes in struggles, the more deliberate our arguments have to become and the more careful our considerations, because the stakes become higher. We are trying to win other people to voting the same way, and all our painstaking work, history of struggle and politics are put on the line in that moment. You might lose seven years of political credibility on Syria solidarity work. You might lose some members. All for a campaign that would end in two months.
I was not present for the second vote to rescind. I had taken a leave of absence shortly after the Jimmy Dore endorsement revelation. I do not share Lance’s pessimism that this vote did a disservice to the cause of building a new party of the left.
I would like to thank the comrades of the New York City ISO for making a much more difficult, sober and clear-eyed decision: that of opting to revisit a vote taken without the fullest input and informed participation of what should be the highest decision-making body in the district. And for working toward someday being able to “march in a compact group, along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand.”
The vote may have helped advance that much more important project that continues after November, and I think the organization owes its thanks to those comrades.
Citing war in Syria, ISO withdraws endorsement of Green Party gubernatorial candidate in New York
By Sandy English
On October 17, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) announced that it was withdrawing its endorsement of the Green Party candidates for New York State governor, Howie Hawkins, and lieutenant governor, Jia Lee, who ran against the Democratic incumbents Andrew Cuomo and Kathy Hochul in Tuesday’s election.
The ISO justified its rupture with the Green candidates over the issue of Syria. The immediate reason given for rescinding their endorsement was the appearance in September at a Hawkins fundraiser of comedian and YouTube talk show host Jimmy Dore.
Dore has denounced the US intervention in Syria and debunked unsubstantiated claims by the Obama and Trump administrations that alleged chemical weapons attacks on Syrian civilians were the work of government forces. Washington has used these allegations to justify airstrikes directed against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, which the US has targeted for regime-change.
The ISO’s right-wing attack on the Green Party is consistent with its long-standing role as an agent of US imperialism and political accomplice in a neo-colonial war that has killed hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians, turned millions more into refugees and destroyed the country’s infrastructure.
The ISO’s position is in sync with that of the Democratic Party and those factions within the US military and intelligence establishment that consider the Trump administration’s conduct of the US war in Syria insufficiently aggressive, and are demanding a more belligerent posture toward Assad’s main ally, Russia.
In the October 17 statement, “The Independent Left Must Oppose Islamophobia,” published on the ISO’s website, SocialistWorker.org, the New York City district of the organization demanded that the Hawkins-Lee campaign “publicly clarify its opposition to the Islamophobic and Assadist views put forward by these figures.”
The ISO brands as “Islamophobic” and “Assadist” anyone who questions the role of US imperialism and its allies in funding and arming Islamist “rebels,” including forces linked to Al Qaeda, and orchestrating the seven-year-long war for regime-change.
This is a reactionary slander. Opposition to US imperialism in Syria does not imply political support for the bourgeois Assad regime. The defense of oppressed former colonial countries against imperialism is a fundamental principle of the Marxist movement, regardless of the nature of their regimes.
Genuine socialists do not lend any credibility to the cynical attempts of the US ruling class to cloak its war crimes in the mantle of “human rights.” Nor do they cede to the imperialists the task of settling accounts with Syria’s bourgeois regime—a task that must be carried out by the Syrian working class as part of a united, international struggle of the working class against world imperialism.
Similarly, applying the term “Islamophobic” to those who oppose the long-standing use by US imperialism in the Middle East of right-wing Islamist militias and political movements as instruments for regime change and suppression of the working class is a political libel. It is of a piece with the ISO’s attempt to portray right-wing terror outfits in the pay of Washington and its regional allies, led by Saudi Arabia, as the spearhead of a “democratic revolution.”
In the October 17 statement, the ISO writes: “Dore’s YouTube show, with its 400 thousand subscribers, is a platform for conspiratorial arguments about Syria, including the claim that the outcry against the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons is a ‘false flag’ operation.”
By “conspiratorial arguments” the ISO means Dore’s exposure of falsehoods and contradictions in the claims of the media, the Trump administration and the Democratic Party that Assad forces carried out chemical weapons attacks on civilians in 2017 and 2018. These allegations were used to justify US missile attacks on Syrian forces in April of 2017 and again last April. The ISO article links to a video of Dore debunking the claims of a Syrian government gas attack on Idlib Province, which were used as the pretext for the April 2017 missile attack on Syria’s Shayrat airbase.
The ISO has been aligned with the Green Party, a bourgeois party steeped in nationalism and hostile to any independent movement of the working class, since 2004. ISO members have repeatedly run for office on the Green Party ticket. The organization has to be well aware that among both the Greens’s leaders and members there has existed a range of opinions critical of American policy in Syria for some time.
Green presidential candidate Jill Stein’s running mate in the 2016 presidential election, Ajamu Baraka, for example, had spoken critically of US “human rights imperialism” and called American intervention in Syria “a classic destabilization campaign.”
While supporting the Stein campaign in 2016, the ISO criticized it for failing to unambiguously back the US wars in Syria and Iraq. In August of 2016, SocialistWorker.org writer Ashley Smith complained that Jill Stein “has made little to no criticism of Assad.”
There is no doubt that since then, the ISO has hardened its pro-war line and aggressively attacked—in the name of the Syrian “democratic revolution – anyone who opposes the US aggression in the region. Last May, SocialistWorker.org issued a rebuke to an article in Jacobin, the magazine associated with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), for “casting doubt on the idea that Syrian Dictator Bashir Al-Assad used chemical weapons.”
The invocation of the appearance of the comedian Jimmy Dore at the Hawkins rally, however, is a transparent pretext for breaking with the Greens. Underlying this move are real political pressures.
First and foremost among them are the recent “successes” of the ISO’s political allies in the Democratic Socialists of America in fielding winning candidates for the Democratic Party, particularly in New York, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for Congress and Julia Salazar for State Assembly. The privileged upper middle class constituency to which the ISO is oriented was also drawn to the unsuccessful challenge by former TV star Cynthia Nixon to incumbent Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. With their endorsement of the Greens, the ISO’s leadership became fearful that it was missing the boat.
Nonetheless, this shift has provoked a crisis inside the ISO. The predominant layer within the organization that wanted to ditch the Greens to work with or within the DSA, that is, more openly and more directly in the Democratic Party, has encountered opposition from other elements that are concerned about the ramifications of such a blatant orientation to the oldest capitalist party in the world.
Danny Katch, a leader of the ISO opposed to the decision, in an October 18 discussion article warns SocialistWorker.org ’s readers and the ISO membership “not to confuse this discussion with the debates we’ve been having in the ISO—particularly in New York City—around left-wing Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. There are connections, certainly, but opposition to endorsing Hawkins is not an inevitable by-product of wanting to endorse Democrats instead.”
Of course, the issue of an open—or slightly less open, via the DSA—turn by the ISO to the Democrats is precisely what is involved here. What concerns Katch is that the ISO’s decision to break with the Greens will expose this political orientation and make it more difficult for the organization to provide a “left” gloss for its pro-imperialist politics.
He refers to a discussion in the New York ISO branch about “the growing influence on the left of supposedly ‘anti-imperialist’ support for dictatorships,” by which he means hostility to the US military intervention in the Middle East, which the ISO supports, among broad layers of workers and youth.
Lance Selfa, another ISO leader who opposed withdrawing the endorsement of the Green Party nomination, echoes this sentiment in his own comment in SocialistWorker.org, arguing that the decision does “a greater disservice to the cause of ‘building a new party of the left’ than the shortcomings of the Hawkins/Lee campaign.”
In other words, a section of the ISO fears that such a demonstrative break with the Greens will not only damage relations with a “left” bourgeois party with which it has longstanding ties, but also expose the organization for what it is: a shill for the Democratic Party
While the pressures from within the upper middle class milieu within which it operates to join in the “most important election of our lives” to battle the “Trump regime” have shifted the ISO toward closer integration into the Democratic Party, there are evident concerns within the organization that such an approach can diminish its effectiveness in providing a pseudo-left cover for the policies of the factions within the ruling class and the state with which they are allied.
The Left Gives Cuomo a Free Ride
By Howie Hawkins
Over a conference call with NYC ISO leaders in early October, I was asked to publicly disavow Jimmy Dore’s endorsement of my candidacy for Governor of New York. It was in the last few weeks of a New York gubernatorial election where my schedule had me campaigning from 5 am to 11 pm or later every day fighting the capitalists’ clear favorite, Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo had the backing of everyone from the Working Families Party to the tycoons of big real estate, banking, insurance, oil and gas, and the charter school lobby. Capitalists didn’t even bother to fund the Republican candidate.
NYC ISO’s request felt like being back on the playground and a kid I know says I should go fight this other kid I don’t know because they have a beef. I had never even heard of Jimmy Dore before. I heard from no one during the campaign about Jimmy Dore and Syria except the NYC ISO...until the Friday before the election when a pro-Assad “anti-imperialist,” alerted by NYC ISO’s statement, attacked my pro Syrian revolution position on Facebook that began circulating among campaign supporters. I had to respond then and it is appended at the end.
I told NYC ISO that I did want to address the problem of the pro-Assad “anti-imperialism,” including some in the Green Party, next year after the election and after I work 70-80 hour weeks during holiday peak season at UPS. How to do that in a way that educates, persuades, and moves people on the question will require more than issuing denunciations. It will require a lot of time and energy to patiently explain of the real facts on the ground in Syria, debunk bad sources, and build practical solidarity with Syrian democrats. I was doing what I could on that that before the campaign. I am committed to doing that within the broader left and peace movements going forward.
But I had no time for picking a fight with Dore over Syria in the last weeks of the campaign. I think most New Yorkers following my campaign would have asked, Who the hell is Jimmy Dore? and What does Syria have to do with the race for New York governor? I know from experience on the Syria question that making a statement about the reality of the Syrian revolution brings a torrent of responses from the pro-Assad “anti-imperialists,” who will lie and put words into my mouth, such as saying I support U.S. military intervention for regime change in Syria. The responses come from around the world, from “peace” activists in the U.S. to East European acolytes of the Russian fascist Aleksandr Dugin. One has to respond to set the record straight. Then there would be Jimmy Dore fans asking me why I was picking on him. I didn’t have time for all that. My campaign decided we would pick our own fights and focus on the pressing problems the people of New York face under Cuomo’s rule.
Contrary to the assertions in these pages, Dore did not appear at a fundraiser for my campaign. Nor did my campaign feature him in a livestream event. What happened is that I was a guest at Randy Credico’s “Livestream on the Fly” program in Brooklyn in mid-September to talk about my campaign. The mercurial Credico, who I respect for his long and persistent advocacy for ending the mass incarceration in New York created by the Rockefeller drug laws, decided spontaneously on the spot to have Dore, who had Skyped in to the show, to do the interview with me. Later that week on his own podcast, Dore endorsed me in a segment focused on criticizing the endorsement of Cuomo by Alexandrea Ocasio-Cortez, the newly-elected DSA-backed member of Congress from a Queens/Bronx district.
I would have made the time to meet with whole NYC ISO membership about an endorsement. The same goes for the state’s DSA chapters, the post-Sanders NY Progressive Action Network, labor unions, and the many PACs of liberal advocacy groups. None of those groups afforded us that opportunity. They were star struck with actress Cynthia Nixon’s primary challenge to Cuomo. The only notable exception was the Buffalo Teachers Federation, whose political action committee interviewed me and whose membership overrode its executive committee’s recommendation of neutrality to endorse us by a vote of the rank and file in a membership meeting. NYC DSA was pretty closely divided on endorsement. They held a vote – well, a vote on whether to consider an endorsement – but abstentions were counted as no votes and the consideration ended. Counting abstentions is how Jimmy Hoffa Jr. just shoved the latest UPS contract down our throats after a majority of those voting rejected it.
No one in the left and liberal groups that supported Nixon seemed to have been aware that she supported Clinton over Sanders in the 2016 presidential primaries, with maximum allowable donations to Clinton’s campaign fund and $5,000 more to the Hillary Victory Fund, a joint campaign fund of the Clinton campaign, the DNC, and 33 state Democratic parties that Sanders’ campaign complained gave the Clinton campaign control of the DNC’s finances, strategy, and staffing during the primaries.
No one joined us in protests of debates sponsored by the corporate media, which excluded statewide Green candidates this year after including us in 2010 and 2014. ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and Charter/Spectrum have given $850,000 to Cuomo’s gubernatorial campaigns and received in return tens of millions in subsidies, tax breaks, and regulatory favors. The corporate media acted like state media for the two-party state and the left was silent.
Nixon gathered a lot of energy on the progressive left and then delivered it to Cuomo. During the primary, she was not that progressive or effective in representing progressive positions. The Greens couldn’t get a word in edgewise as the corporate media was as star struck as so many progressive activists. We were told that we would be covered after the primary. But with an immediate post-primary poll showing Cuomo with an insurmountable lead, the media decided there was no story to cover. We never got into the media narrative about the race.
On single payer, Nixon told the N.Y Daily News editorial board, “Pass it and then figure out how to fund it.” Though the progressive taxation plan in the bill would save 98% of New Yorkers money on their health care costs, opponents right and center used her statement to attack the bill.
On taxes and fiscal policy, Nixon proposed tweaking Cuomo’s signature austerity measures instead of repealing it. Nixon propose letting local governments override the 2% cap on property tax increases by majority vote instead of two-thirds. Through unfunded mandates and a freeze on revenue-sharing, the state now balances its budget on the backs of working-class renters and homeowners through regressive local property and sales taxes. When Syracuse asked for state aid to upgrade its failing 19th century water mains that have breaks almost daily, Cuomo said, “Fix your own pipes.” The tax cap forces local governments cut services, or face penalties for raising above the cap what are already the highest property taxes in the nation.
On New York’s crisis of affordable housing and homelessness, Nixon was right to call for strengthening rent regulations and tenants rights. But she failed to raise the affordable housing movement’s longstanding demand to repeal state control of local rent regulations. Nor did she call for building more public housing to meet the enormous need for affordable housing.
The Greens have been calling for 100% clean energy by 2030 since the 2010 campaign and have a bill for that they helped draft introduced into both houses of the state legislature, New York Off Fossil Fuels (NY OFF). Nixon instead touted a Democratic climate bill that largely codifies Cuomo’s energy policy of flooding the state with fracked-gas power plants, subsidizing upstate nuclear power plants with billions, and delaying zero greenhouse gas emissions until 2050. The bill states its purpose is to help achieve the outdated goal of 450 parts per million for atmospheric carbon dioxide equivalents. For a decade now, climate scientists have been saying the goal should be 350 ppm goal to avert runaway global warming. The planet reached 412 ppm this year.
Nixon’s campaign reflected the state of the broad liberal left in New York. Even 350.org Action endorsed Nixon despite her support for a bill with a goal of 450 ppm. They did not even acknowledge that we had answered their questionnaire. When Cuomo beat Nixon by a two to one margin in the primary, Cuomo said that the progressive challenge to him was “not even a ripple.” His primary challengers, Cynthia Nixon and the Working Families Party, then affirmed that judgement by endorsing Cuomo. Cuomo’s vote was up by 1.3 million in the general election from 2014. In his victory speech, Cuomo boasted that he was the “pragmatic progressive” who “gets things done.”
The Green vote was down from 2014, from 184,000 to about 100,000, even though the statewide voter turnout increased from 3.9 million to 5.8 million. If we had maintained the 5% share we received in 2014, we would have ended up with about 300,000 votes and leaped over the Conservative Party to third place on the ballot. As it was, we were about 10,000 votes behind Cuomo on the Working Families line, whose vote also dropped from 2014 by about 20,000.
Cuomo is now going to be even more insufferably arrogant in dismissing those to his left while doing his big donors' bidding. He will use the newly-elected conservative suburban Democrats against liberal city Democrats in the same way he used the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of state Senate Democrats who caucused with the Republicans during Cuomo’s tenure, allowing the Republicans to block a slew of long overdue progressive reforms. Cuomo will use the suburban Democrats to stop single-payer health care, continue underfunding high-poverty public schools, support charter schools, limit reform to expiring rent laws, cut or kill the expiring modest millionaire’s tax, and flood the state with fracked-gas power plants.
New York has the most income inequality of any state in the nation. Its housing and schools are the most segregated by race and class. The top 1% now takes home 33% of all income, up from 12% in 1980. Wages are stagnant while the costs of housing, health care, day care, and public college are exploding. Child lead poisoning is 40% in Buffalo and Syracuse, the highest in the nation. Cuomo’s fracked-gas power plant will increasing the state’s carbon footprint as the climate collapses. Cuomo and the Democratic legislative leaders promise not to tax the 1% to pay for the tens of billions needed to fix the state’s infrastructure, which is falling apart from New York City subways and public housing to upstate water and sewer systems.
Contrary to one assertion in this debate that the Greens are moving to the right, we ran as eco-socialists from the start and got no negative feedback on that from our members or supporters. Our campaign offered socialist solutions to pressing problems: public health care, public power for 100% clean energy, public broadband, public banking, more public housing, fully-funded public schools, tuition-free public college, worker co-ops, and progressive tax reform to pay for this Green New Deal. With co-sponsorship by the ISO and the Socialist Party USA, we held six forums across three New York City boroughs on socialist solutions to the problems of low wages, education, segregation, housing, health care, and Puerto Rico.
Most of the broad center-left voted Democratic down the line to repudiate Trump. Cuomo and most other Democrats campaigned more against Trump than for a program for New York. The Trump era has been and will continue to be hard for independent left politics. But the Democrats do not have real solutions to the problems we face. The climate crisis is accelerating and the working-class majority is in daily crisis just trying to pay the bills. I hope that we in the independent socialist left quickly figure out how to work together better than we did in this election because real solutions can’t wait.
My response to a Facebook thread that started circulating among some of my supporters the Friday before the election urging them not to vote for me “because Howie is an imperialist who supports the Zionist/U.S./NATO/Gulf-monarchist regime change campaign against Syria:”
I don't support US military intervention for regime change in Syria.
I support BDS and cutting off US aid to Israel as long as it violates Palestinians' human rights.
The Syrian struggle is three-way: (1) Assad and his foreign backers, (2) Islamic fundamentalists and their foreign backers, and (3) a democratic movement of Syrian people against Assad AND the fundamentalists. Socialists should support the democratic movement.
Assad is a murderous capitalist pig, but it is up to the Syrians to take care of him. Same goes for his authoritarian capitalist ally, Putin. That's for the Russian people to deal with. And the same goes for the repressive fundamentalist Iranian regime backing Assad. Iranians will have to deal with that regime.
Rolde calls Syria and North Korea socialist. These are authoritarian, repressive regimes. Syria is a neoliberal capitalist regime with favors and protection for monopolistic businesses in Assad’s family and cronies. North Korea is state capitalist. To equate these states with socialism is to discredit socialism. There is no socialism without democracy and no real democracy without socialism.
And to support Russian and Iranian imperialism against Western imperialism is to become a pawn in the inter-imperialist geopolitics of rival states and imperialist blocs in the new Cold War. Socialists should solidarize with the popular movements who fight for freedom and democracy in their own countries.
Sectarians who make up fantasies about my positions on Syria to oppose the only socialist option on the New York ballot give Cuomo a free ride to a third term as the capitalists’ choice.