The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

2018 Elections:
A Referendum on Both Parties

Nov 26, 2018

The following article is the editorial from The Spark’s workplace newsletters, for the week of November 19.

The number of people who went out to vote reached record highs in many states – especially in Midwestern states which Trump won in the 2016 election. In Michigan, a higher percentage of people voted than in any mid-term election in half a century.

It was a referendum on Trump, even though he wasn’t on the ballot. Trump had inserted himself into the election – he campaigned in almost every state, saying he needed a vote for Republicans to show support for him and his administration.

He didn’t get the support he wanted. The vote put Democrats in control of the House of Representatives.

It was a vote AGAINST Trump. But was it a vote FOR the Democrats?

In fact, it followed a time-worn script: the political party that controls the White House often loses control of the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections. On the bigger scale, the party that controls the White House usually loses control of that after two or three terms in the presidency.

It’s not very surprising that voters are more motivated to get rid of one party than to put the other one in office. Does either party speak for the people who work every day for their living? Does either party, once in office, take up our problems?

It’s also not a surprise that most people don’t vote. Even with “record high” turn-outs in many states, this recent election was bypassed by over half the voting-age population. Most of the people who didn’t vote were laboring people: poor farming people, poor city people.

The Republicans claim to have the support of rural areas. In fact, the largest share of laboring people in rural areas didn’t and don’t vote. The Democrats claim to have control of big cites. But the fact is, the largest share of laboring people in big cities didn’t and don’t vote. In that sense, this election, like many others, was a referendum on both parties. Both parties were indicted.

The working people of this country – rural or city – have no party that represents us, that responds to our needs, that serves our interests.

The last time working people had a presidential candidate who represented workers’ interests and spoke about workers’ problems was nearly a century ago. In 1920, Eugene Debs ran for the presidency for the fourth time. He was in prison at the time, put there for traveling around the country speaking out against the so-called “patriotism” that led the U.S. into World War I. Charged with interfering with the draft in 1918, he indicted the capitalist parties, both Democrats and Republicans, who took the country into war. Threatened with prison, he said: “Years ago, I declared there was only one war in which I would enlist and that was the war of the workers of the world against the exploiters of the world.”

It was not the first time Debs had been in prison. He went to prison in 1894, as one of the leaders of the big railway strike at Pullman, which shut down railroad travel in the Midwest. He went to prison for speaking out in support of other workers’ strikes. He was threatened with prison for denouncing the U.S. invasion of Mexico in 1914.

He may have been in prison, but working people – in rural areas and the cities – voted for him. They saw in Eugene Debs a true representative of their own class.

Working people today need our own Eugene Debs. But political leaders like Debs, who represent our interests, aren’t given to us. We will get them only when we build our own organizations.

We have to work to renew the unions, to make them organizations that can lead fights. We have to start working to build our own party, an organization committed to pushing a nation-wide fight of working people. We need, ourselves, to enlist in “the war of the workers of the world against the exploiters of the world.”

We have the forces that could run the country, but we have to organize ourselves.