Abolish the Republican Party
A photo of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at a Sons of Confederate Veterans event in the early 90s. Credit: Kentucky Democratic Party / Twitter
“it’s true: Biden opposed bussing for school desegregation, rejects Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, defends the environmentally destructive practice of fracking and boasts of his relationship with Republican conservative segregationist colleagues in the Senate. These markers reveal the person Biden is. Biden is also a person who humiliated Anita Hill when she stepped forward with sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas, who supported the racist 1994 crime bill, who helped usher in the disastrous war in Iraq, and who told Black people we “ain’t” Black if we don’t support him. And he was still the better candidate.”
We must abolish the Republican Party. Here are 7 thoughts towards that end.
The context: a wounded hegemonic right, a rising left
US politics is at a stalemate. The 2020 US Presidential election took place across the country just two months ago, in a year that included the largest Black led, multiracial uprising in the history of the country and a COVID catastrophe that is rampant and ongoing. Thousands of elected offices, hundreds of state and local referendums, and the balance of forces at all levels of government were up for grabs.
The defining feature of this election was the rejection of Donald Trump. The right wing social base has grown by the millions (Trump got 62 million votes in 2016 and 74 million votes in 2020) yet not as quickly as the progressive social base (Clinton got 65 million votes in 2016 and Biden won 81 million in 2020). Trump's coup attempts have (as of this writing) been defeated, yet Trump is still determined to fight like hell to hold onto Presidential power. The MAGA mob of the Capitol on Jan. 6th delayed, but did not prevent the imminent removal of Trump from the White House, and indeed has led to infighting among the Republican Party base and leadership. Trump's electoral defeat is the first time a sitting President has been unelected in a generation.
The US Congress will be controlled narrowly by Democrats who, while losing seats in the House, won both seats in Georgia, handing Congressional tie breaking power to the Vice President. If Democrats are forced to hold the line (that is, they all vote together), there are significant legislative victories that are possible at the federal level over the next two years. Trumps defeat and the end of a Republican Senate is undeniably good news.
The election was not good news for ending Republican state government supremacy and gerrymandering in 2021. Before the 2020 elections, Democrats held 15 trifectas (control of the governor's office and both legislative chambers), to Republicans 20, with 14 states having divided government. The 2020 elections created two new trifectas, as the New Hampshire and Montana state government shifted from divided government to Republican control. Republicans are now poised to draw 4-5 times as many congressional districts as Democrats, likely closer to the latter number. This will be similar to the Republicans advantage after 2010.
Meanwhile, the Trump imposed Supreme Court Justices (Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett) handed Republicans a 6-3 Supreme Court majority. This court could strike down ballot initiatives, state supreme court rulings, & possibly even governor vetoes that block GOP gerrymanders at its most extreme. This would cement GOP minority rule across the country for another 10 years. And let us be clear- Republican rule is minority rule.
With a Democratic Congress, progressive wing of the Democrats are preparing to push for significant legislation like the Green New Deal, Medicare For All & the BREATHE Act, a minimum wage increase, the PRO Act, student debt cancellation and potential Supreme Court placements in the first two years of Biden's presidency (after which, over two dozen Senators will be up for re-election). The fanatics in the Republican Party were close to having state hegemony to such a degree that a confederate constitutional convention aimed at destroying the Reconstruction Amendments (13-15, 23, 24, 26) was not far off the table. The MAGA coup attempt on Jan. 6th left 4 people dead, and indeed has led to infighting among the Republican Party base and leadership, with Trump’s own cabinet contemplating his removal by invoking the 25th amendment. This orchestrated riot is in no way comparable to the 2020 uprising for racial justice. This MAGA mob was not attacked and beaten over the head with batons by the police because, unlike the Black freedom movement, they are not a threat to the ruling class. In fact, they are funded to be the extra-legal shock troopers of the ruling class. This political stalemate, between a wounded powerful right and a small but rising left, is the preferred condition of the wealthy who control both parties, and is reinforced by the US’s reactionary political structure.
The reactionary political structure
The U.S. political system is governed by one rule: suffocate the small pockets of democratic movement capable of transforming it. This reactionary political structure is a major line of defense of a two party dictatorship, and its beneficiaries actively discourage the formation of any legitimate alternative. Genuine revolutionaries know that both parties are owned by the wealthy individuals, and both parties are funded by billionaires who hate the idea of democracy. Yet, we must understand the political structure if we hold out hope that we can transform present political conditions.
The majority of the electoral system in the US is a first past the post, winner take all system (FPTP + WTA) which means that every citizen (except the Black ones) gets one vote, and the candidate with the most votes wins. This is a fundamentally anti-democratic arrangement that discourages all efforts to form a genuine third party (genuine as in, not the Green Party or any other party unwilling to move beyond empty slogans because it is unwilling to build a base or adjust their strategy when it fails for two decades straight). In this FPTP +WTA system, third parties could actually throw the election results to the candidate that third party voters least agree with. For an example of this working in our favor, see the results in Arizona in the election last November, where the difference between Trump winning and Biden winning was the right wing vote for the Libertarian candidate.).
The federal government is not the only form of government in the US. Revolutionaries must study not just their municipal government (budget cycles, unelected officials, political dynamics and economic conditions) but must also do this rigorous investigation at the county and state level. County government matters too. This is an area that conservatives and liberals have dominated for decades, and a level of government most organizers write off as boring or uninteresting. The US state is the scale that we need to be organizing on. Municipal struggles are vital, but if we cannot build a base outside of major metropolitan areas, we cannot govern. And the goal of all genuine revolutionaries is for our politics to be hegemonic in society, for our politics to govern.
I have written before about the significance of fully understanding this reactionary political structure, so I will be brief here: the US political structure is fundamentally reactionary in that it is designed to preserve the interests of the wealthy at the expense of the great majority. We cannot give any ground in our struggle, even on terrains that are less than ideal.
The Democratic Party- a complex bloc of millions
Speaking of terrains less than ideal, the Democratic Party is not really a party in any useful sense of the word. Carl Davidson wrote up a useful analysis of the two dominant parties. The Democratic Party has different social forces and historic blocs that struggle at different levels of government, in different geographical locations and with different ideological motivations. Neoliberal capitalists do own the party. This is why they marshaled their forces to destroy Bernie’s insurgent campaign in 2020. This is why they offer absolutely nothing that speaks to the material needs of millions. But this is not the only political force in the party. Indeed, there is major bloc in the party that consists of middle class professionals that disdain the revanchist and open hatred of the right-wing. Even further to their left, we can see the rise of a progressive wing within the party that has as of now unsuccessfully challenged this entrenched corporate power. Increasingly this progressive wing speaks more to the actual interests of everyday peoples. They are still a super-minority at the federal level, still unable to move a legislative agenda, still relegated to the margins of the party. Yet, it is growing.
If we understand the Democratic Party not as a monolithic beast that devours social movements, but as a fluid, dynamic force at times progressive and most often not, we began to think like revolutionaries. We began to see that the Democrats are a complex bloc of millions. In 2020, the left that included elections in their strategy were able to win significant material victories, galvanize and inspire millions of people into politics (who have been systematically depoliticized by the right-wing domination of state & county government) and were able to make the deep needs and desires of millions of people (Medicare For All, a living wage, a Green New Deal) into popular policy alternatives to the depressing & suffocating status quo. These in themselves are meaningful advances. While we were able to build the legitimacy of left politics, it was not enough to defeat the establishment (read: austerity-committed) forces in the Democratic Party. Democratic Party leadership will fight the left with more veracity than the right because the left is weaker than the right and because the Democratic Party leadership lacks a commitment to anything other than the dictatorship of capital.
The Democratic Party is a complex bloc of millions. It is owned by a wealthy elite, yet moves far more Black people, people of color and oppressed peoples (if only for an election) than any of our organizations and collectives do. Many on the left fall into a false equivocation of the Democratic and Republican Party. Revolutionaries must understand the difference: Democrats include your family, your neighbors, newly naturalized and formally undocumented immigrants, genuine progressives who must be won over to revolutionary politics, middle class whites afraid of the Right and who feel guilty of the history of their ancestors, millionaires who hate the iconoclasm of the conservatives and billionaires who disagree with the style of Republicans, but not so much their substance. In short, the Democratic Party is a complex bloc of millions. As revolutionaries we must be honest that most Black peoples political home is in the Democratic Party. We must recognize this fact, and struggle to build organizations that win over millions of our people.
Meanwhile, many revolutionaries were shocked that so many working class peoples and peoples of color flocked to Biden over Bernie and Warren. Surely ideological hegemony and corporate media strategies narrow the debate. But, I do not believe millions of oppressed people vote for Democrats because of ruling class strategy alone. I believe they voted for Democrats because they made a calculated decision about the state of politics in this country. But the question remains: Democrats offer nothing of real and lasting significance; so how could millions of our own people support a Democratic Party so devoid of political vision?
The Republican Party- political instrument of a white united front
The answer lies in the Republican Party.
The Republican Party was formed in the 1850s in light of the historic collapse of the Whig party and in response to the declaration of regional warfare known as the Kansas Nebraska Act. By enacting a law that allowed for ‘popular sovereignty’ (a short hand for political and military warfare among the people of a specific geography) to determine the expansion or abolition of slavery, Southerners across parties and Northern Democrats attempted to expand slavery through mob rule. The Republican Party preceded to capture federal power in 1860 under President Lincoln, and went on to dominate national politics for the next 15 years. After the Republican Party leadership abandoned the Reconstruction Revolution, the party moved more into the control of a new wealthy industrial capitalist class. After 1912, the party moved further right, defending vicious forms of capital accumulation against the demands of the early Black labor movements. Party identification was more fluid before the re-imposition of Franklin Delano Rosevelt in 1932, and ideology lay mostly along regional lines (with Republicans still highly concentrated in the North). The political strategy of FDR was to unite a massive coalition (big business, expanding middle classes, newly arrived immigrants, liberal intellectuals, white workers and Black peoples) into a political bloc that established a social welfare system that was the result of peoples movements for justice and ruling class calculations that welfare was better than revolution. This New Deal coalition would dominate national politics for most of the middle of the 20th century. Southern Democrats historically defended slavery, and in this period fought viciously against the second Reconstruction (1955-1968). Yet, 1964 and 1965 saw the Democrats pass the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, which effectively moved large numbers of racist middle class whites into the Republican Party, where they remain to this day.
The Republican Party after Nixon's victory in 1968 became the political vehicle of a New Confederacy, one rooted in the geography, strategy and history of the old confederacy. With the rise of Reagan and his counterrevolutionary government of the 1980s, the party became the exclusive political instrument of a white united front.
This cross class white united front consists of Christian fanaticism (steeped in the belief that God is patriarchy and genocide), racist populism (steeped in the ideology that to be human is to be white) and reactionary state forces (who understand that military and police power are the final line of defense of the neoliberal system and its logic). These various middle class forces are funded by an extremely wealthy reactionary capitalist class, almost exclusively Christian, who understand that the entire system of racial capitalism is in a death spiral, and that the only way for it to survive is to triple down on open warfare against the oppressed and exploited peoples of the world. This white united front was also able to win over a small number of white working class peoples, each of whom we must recognize have more to gain from revolutionary transformation than they do remaining under the thumb of reactionary capital and its middle class minions.
Unlike the Democratic Party, the Republican Party is not confined to the electoral arena. It must be said that the wealthy elite who control the party have actively encouraged the formation of a right wing paramilitary movement that has developed over the last decade. Steve Bannon calling for Dr. Fauci’s head, the white supremacists who murdered an activist in Charlottesville, the Re-Open protests that demanded the government let people (mostly Black and indigenous peoples) die of COVID, the defeated attempt at taking over the Oregon Wildlife Refugee, the foiled plot to kidnap and summarily execute the Governor of Michigan and her government, and the 2021 MAGA mob of Capitol Hill point to a growing quasi-military movement hellbent on destroying not just the Democrats, but all peoples who struggle to transform the system. The Republican Party of today is quite simply a party of death cult fanatics.
The US left- fragmented yet nascent
While the neoliberal vacuity of the corporate Democrats and the Confederate fanaticism of the Republicans reign, the US left has been fractured, small, fragmented and on the periphery for far too long. This fragmentation is due to both objective and subjective forces.
Since the U.S. defeat in Vietnam, sections of the capitalist ruling class have largely succeeded in co-opting the middles classes (through bourgeois opportunist politics, institutions of higher learning, and corporate kickbacks) warehousing the masses(through the use of mass incarceration, criminalization, the war on drugs and the HIV/AIDS epidemic) and murdering or attempting to murder the revolutionary leadership(Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton) of Black people. These were the social conditions under which antecedent political projects developed. The Black Radical Congress, ACTUP, the campaigns around Harold Washington and Jesse Jackson, Critical Resistance & INCITE!, each are precursors to the current Black freedom struggle. However, the revolutionary struggle during this 30 year period (1975-2005) was largely arrested, bought and buried under the weight of the imperial response to African decolonization, the death of Mao, the rise of Reaganism and Thatcherism, the destruction of the Soviet Union and the neoliberalization of the global economy.
The catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, where large numbers of Black people were left to drown by the federal government, once again pushed the Black freedom movement into to the forefront of the national political consciousness. The following year, the Jena Six case exploded onto international headlines and the Democratic wave at the federal level in 2006 culminated with the election in 2008 and re-election in 2012 of the nation’s first Black president. These victories were the result of organized Black people. Even with these victories, the ruling class strategy of mass criminalization resulted in a number of killings of Black people at the hands of police and racist mercenaries. In the face of a Democratic Presidency & Democratic Congress, New Confederate forces waged a reactionary political program to subvert and delegitimize these victories. A string of high profile murders (Aiyana Jones, Resse Walker, Shante Thompson, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Korryn Gaines are only a few) led to mass urban uprisings in cities from Ferguson to Baltimore, Milwaukee to Charlotte. The severe inadequacy of the Democrats led to the imposition of Trump in 2016. Over the last 4 years, Trump has had to govern. With the COVID catastrophe, massive job loss, huge political struggle & mass mobilizations from the Women’s March in 2017 to the early summer 2020 insurrection for racial justice, objective conditions and subjective realities have made that difficult for him, even as he and his minions control the federal government almost in its entirety. This brief historical recounting leads us to our present political stalemate.
Today, much of left strategy is either visionary yet inadequate or strategic yet opportunistic. Some on the left think a strategy that centers on the reallocation of resources at the community level will be enough to attend to the scale and scope of the problems we face. While mutual aid efforts are visionary, they are being deployed in response to the systematic shredding, over generations, of a form of social welfare that provided a floor upon which millions of people could stand. The only way to meet millions of peoples material needs is for the US left to take over the government, and the left must accept this fact.
The opportunists on the left meanwhile have taken this fact as a starting point, yet because of their class position and open disdain for working class peoples, they have decided that the only way forward is to invest all of our energy in winning elections. While they correctly understand the importance of government, they incorrectly believe that elections are the only arena that matters, and all else is a fools errand. This is to be expected- many of these same opportunists are paid handsomely by the very foundations that bank on the reactionary political structure itself. The only way out of the barbarity of the present is to fight for revolution, for a fundamentally distinct reality from that which presently reigns.
However, these are not the only trends on the left in the US. There is a growing, nascent movement to combine a transformative vision of society with the strategic imperative of winning governing power. The Movement 4 Black Lives, the Working Families Party, DSA, the Carolina Federation, Peoples Action, Durham 4 All, MiGente, Dream Defenders, left-wing Democratic politicians and numerous other political organizations have landed on this strategic orientation.
Photo Credit: Durham For All/ Instagram
Genuine revolutionaries must dare to build majorities and have the audacity to govern society. The need for political power has been relegated to the periphery of left movement for too long. Our movements across the country are generally on the defense and very fractured (able to lead powerful, one off direct actions, wage small issue fights, etc). These are necessary, but haven’t gotten us to scale & haven’t changed who has power in the society. Revolutionaries must identify the weak links of the capitalist imperialist system in the US as it exists in the concrete. These weak links include the vulnerability of municipal and county elections to mass movement, the vulnerability of purple states to organized left movement, the material transformation possible for all oppressed people when we take governing power and the central role of the US south in the maintenance of global imperialism.
Revolutionaries must build multiracial, cross class organizations (not just movement) at the county level that defeat the right, win over the center & grow the left. We must take up issue fights (like COVID responses, police terrorism, the incoming austerity battles) because they galvanize our people. We must be clear that elections matter as much as year round organizing, and that we win elections to grow the base at scale, so that we can win more elections that grow our base at a greater scale than before.
We must be clear that most of our organizations in the constellation of social movement are 501c3 non profits, which are structurally unable to do the kind of work (political organizing) which is needed to change the conditions under which we live. We must see elections for what they are: not as a choreographed distraction, but as a concrete container where objective class forces battle and struggle for hegemony.
We must accept that in each era of history, revolutionary struggle is waged not against an abstract opposition but rather against a concrete enemy. This doesn’t mean we don’t fight the Democrats (major cities are controlled by Democratic political machines). It means we prioritize the question the 20th century Chinese revolutionaries and the 19th century Black abolitionists focused on: who are our enemies? Revolutionaries decide who our enemy is. If our enemy is too broad, we set ourselves up for moral victories, material defeats and rampant burnout. If our enemy is too narrow, we succumb to an incremental reform that in no way challenges capitalist patriarchy. Defeating the right by winning over the center and growing the left will weaken the Republicans in the short term and Democratic elites in the long term. We must recognize that the defeat of one enemy opens up new possibilities to defeat our next enemy. We must take the fight to the Republican Party.
Towards an Abolition Democracy
The grand internationalist W.E.B. Du Bois argued in his 1935 classic Black Reconstruction that the movement to destroy slavery constituted a movement towards abolition democracy. Angela Davis makes the case in her book, Abolition Democracy:
“DuBois argued that the abolition of slavery was accomplished only in the negative sense. In order to achieve the comprehensive abolition of slavery—after the institution was rendered illegal and black people were released from their chains—new institutions should have been created to incorporate black people into the social order. […] Slavery could not be truly abolished until people were provided with the economic means for their subsistence. They also needed access to educational institutions and needed to claim voting and other political rights, a process that had begun, but remained incomplete during the short period of radical reconstruction that ended in 1877. DuBois thus argued that a host of democratic institutions are needed to dully achieve abolition—thus abolition democracy.”
— Angela Davis, Abolition Democracy (2005)
Indeed, such a democracy is necessary. Millions of our people, our dignity and self worth, our histories and lives are at stake. Genuine revolutionary advance in the US is very rare, and happens when revolutionaries seize hold of the political moment and sweep our main enemy into the dustbin of history.
That enemy today is the Republican Party. Let’s marshall our forces towards its abolition.