By ERWIN FREED
On Aug. 11, likely Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden announced his choice of California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate for the election. Biden’s decision not only demonstrates the undemocratic functioning of the major parties, but also his and the Democrats’ commitment to mass incarceration, austerity, and the rule of capital.
In a repeat of the rise of Barack Obama, the choice of Harris, a Black woman also of Indian descent, as Biden’s vice presidential pick is a transparent attempt by the Democratic Party to shepherd progressive voters into supporting its pro-capitalist policies. After attacking Biden during the primaries for not supporting school integration in the 1970s, Harris has shown that she believes “party unity” is more important than racial justice.
Leading up to the Democratic Party convention—which is expected to adopt a platform that rejects nationalized health care, amnesty for all immigrants, or defunding the police—the choice of Kamala Harris as vice presidential candidate makes sense for much of the ruling class. Harris has managed to remain in the simultaneous favor of financial capital and the union bureaucracy for her entire political career.
According to the Washington Post (Aug. 11, 2020), when she first ran for San Francisco district attorney in 2003, Harris received major donations from “Pritzkers of the Hyatt hotel-chain wealth, Getty oil-fortune heirs, Charles Schwab from the finance company that bears his name, and the Fisher family of Gap fame, her first campaign finance reports showed.” In the most recent election, The New York Times listed Harris as one of the three “most aggressive candidates [in] chasing Silicon Valley money.”
The Wall Street and Silicon Valley crowds feel especially comfortable with Harris. While she has voiced support for policies like Medicare for All and military de-escalation in Iran, she is always quick to move backwards from potentially disruptive legislation. Indeed, almost exactly mirroring Obama, Harris has used the cover of “supporting” nationalized health care to put forward a plan that actually further privatizes Medicare.
While garnering favor from big capitalists, Harris also has the approval of sections of the union bureaucracy. She received an early endorsement in 2019 by the United Farm Workers and has a score of “100%” favorable to labor by the AFL-CIO officialdom. These endorsements are a symptom not of Harris having any significant connection to the movement of rank-and-file workers, but rather the current union leadership’s extreme disconnection from them. On the same scale in which Harris ranks “100%,” the AFL-CIO algorithm gives the “average Senate Democrat” a score of 97%. This is for the party that has been the leading wing of neoliberalism for four decades.
A more condensed reflection of this superficially contradictory divide over Harris is the fact that both Trump and Sanders have supported her at different points in her career. Trump donated thousands of dollars to her previous campaigns for California attorney general because he understood that she stands by the continued domination of politics and lives by landlords. Sanders immediately came out in support of her as the vice presidential candidate because she represents the “party unity” that is his true modus operandi.
Dog whistle for law and order
Choosing a former district attorney amidst the largest anti-carceral uprising in U.S. history was not an accident. The Democratic Party is showing in action that it will maintain Black oppression by any means necessary, including uplifting the Black daughter of a Marxist professor to high office. Placing the full weight of the party behind an architect and enforcer of mass incarceration gives capital confidence that the demands to seriously defund the police are not really on the agenda.
While Harris is now calling for Breonna Taylor’s murderers to be prosecuted and giving nominal support to the miniscule police budget cuts in places like San Francisco, she has a long history of actively refusing to investigate killer cops. Despite having some of the highest rates of police violence in the country, no officers were prosecuted in San Francisco when Harris was DA, and she opposed legislation that would give minimal increase of funding to her office for police oversight. In a 2009 book, “Smart on Crime,” she said, “If we take a show of hands of those who would like to see more police officers on the street, mine would shoot up.”
No to the Democrats! For a break with capital!
Now that the mystery of Biden’s full ticket is solved, there will be a barrage of articles from “progressive” and “socialist” outlets either in support of the “lesser evil” candidates or arguing that some wing of the Democratic Party actually represents the workers’ movement. Jacobin already published a front-page article that, while generally critical of Harris and Biden, argues that there is a “left” of the Democratic Party that was meaningfully “defeated,” and that the two candidates show an “encouraging propensity to gesture leftward under pressure.”
Militant workers must reject even this semi-hostile logic, which simply draws our struggles into the fold of the capitalist-controlled political arena. Instead, we should look to deepen the movement in the streets by consolidating the experiences of independent struggle into an independent party of working and oppressed people based on a revolutionary program.
Rank-and-file workers, union and non-union, can work with the organizations that have led the movements in the streets to call for statewide and national conventions to have full democratic debates over such a party’s program and candidates. This is in total opposition to the method of functioning of both the Democratic and Republican parties, which set both behind closed doors and out of any semblance of control by the average voters.
Now, in a period in which tens of thousands of people have directly seen the full violence of the capitalist state for what it is, it is the time to smash illusions in any possibility that it can be reformed. Socialist Resurgence is giving a modest example of what this means with our campaign of Dan Piper for Connecticut State Representative!
Illustration by General Strike Graphics.