It’s not every day that a group of socialists ask people to vote for a centrist Democrat running for president. Yet that’s exactly what Freedom Road Socialist Organization has done with the release of its 2016 election strategy, in which the group explains why it supports voting for Hillary Clinton.
Freedom Road has been fighting for the rights of workers, women, people of color, and LGBTQ people through socialist ideals since 1985. It does not endorse presidential candidates, but on August 3, the group’s National Executive Committee published a post titled “Crush Trump! Build Our Movements!” that explicitly outlines why a Trump presidency must be avoided at all costs. The strategy includes the expected recommendations regarding Trump in decidedly red states, but also aims to address racism and classism in blue states and throughout Democratic politics. Perhaps most surprising, however, is the case the group makes about voting for Clinton, especially in those hazy purple states that could swing for either candidate. While Clinton represents many of the capitalist practices that socialists typically oppose, the organization has deemed her far less destructive than the alternative.
Like many Democrats and Republicans, the socialists of Freedom Road position Clinton’s election as the best way to stop a man whose rhetoric is openly hostile to their values of social justice, workers’ rights, and economic equality. Their statement takes care to mention Trump’s deeply troubling ideas about mass deportation, registering and tracking Muslims, and, of course, that famous and impossible wall he’s promised to erect at our southern border. A Trump presidency, it asserts, would cause marginalized people to suffer greatly.
The group also points out that whomever we elect in the fall will determine the fate of these issues for generations to come. With one vacancy already on the Supreme Court — and a strong possibility of more over the next four years — the next president will be a game changer. Either progressives will be able to advance social reform with the support of SCOTUS, or we could watch newly appointed conservative justices whittle away at the hard-won civil rights we already have.
Of course, these arguments against Trump are very similar to those being made by Clinton’s Democratic supporters. What makes socialist support for her election different? For Freedom Road, at least, support for Clinton’s election doesn’t hinge on her being the leader who will provide solutions for the problems we currently face; on the contrary, the organization believes Clinton “is a neoliberal representative of capitalism who must govern in an era where neoliberalism is no longer considered legitimate and where key constituencies she must rely on are engaged in uprisings.” It’s referring to the rise of things like the Occupy Movement and Black Lives Matter, both of which began and found fertile ground during the Obama administration. Such advocacy has a better chance of thriving under a presidency that is not aggressively working against it. Basically, while Freedom Road believes that Clinton’s election means it’ll “need to be fighting to defeat her administration’s imperialist plans for the global South as well as her dangerous domestic policies,” she, unlike Trump, won’t do as much to hinder progress.
Also unlike Trump, Clinton has proven that she can be moved by a diverse and vocal constituency demanding progressive reform. She has responded to pressure from leftist activists by doing things like turning against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and stating that we need to reform our prison system. Clinton clearly recognizes the changes within the Democratic Party that require her to move from the center and at least look to her left if she hopes to be a successful president. For many socialists, this doesn’t make her an ideal candidate, but it does make her a force that they can work with — or against — more effectively; Freedom Road thinks her presidency will be “inherently unstable, vulnerable to movement pressures, and therefore preferable.”
Would Clinton listen to socialist ideas? Technically, she already does. While most Americans don’t have a solid grasp of what socialism actually is, it entered electoral politics well before Bernie Sanders. Modern socialism is rooted in philosophies and movements where equal distribution of resources and autonomy are afforded to all people with primary control of industry in the hands of workers. Public education, Medicare and Medicaid, and public assistance programs like welfare have their origins in socialist ideas. While none of these are perfectly socialist, they do illustrate how socialism is already inextricably tied to American society as we know it (even if it’s often used as a slur by conservatives).
The ultimate goal for many socialists is a revolutionary change in how we govern ourselves. In the meantime, Freedom Road is offering a nuanced approach to affecting change within an existing system by building a case to vote for a candidate who is tangentially supportive of their ideals. Folks like the organizers within Freedom Road don’t love Hillary Clinton, and will undoubtedly continue to protest, petition, lobby, and issue demands under her administration. But under Trump, they see a very real threat that could undo decades of work. The choice has become one of pushing forward or scrambling to hold the line.