The Safe State Strategy

YDSA members should tactically vote for Biden in swing states, while voting third party in safe states in the November election.

59 million votes have already been cast in the 2020 Presidential election. It is undeniable that the winners will be able to shape the policies and orientation of this country in a significant way. YDSA needs an answer to the question when we receive our ballot: who do we vote for?

The answer was simpler in the Democratic primaries. YDSA members had a vehicle to advance socialist politics on their campuses with an open democratic socialist in Bernie Sanders. But now, choosing between Biden and Trump, we are left at a crossroads. Should socialists vote for Biden? For a third party? For nobody? Should we campaign for any of these candidates?

In 2019, the DSA Convention passed Resolution 15 (R15), which stated that we will not endorse any Democratic candidate in the event of a Sanders defeat. This, in my opinion, was a correct approach that made sure we didn’t endorse Biden, Warren, or any other ‘lesser evil’. It would be disastrous for a socialist organization to publicly support liberal candidates that are explicitly against us. However, R15 does not answer the question of how socialists should orient toward the election in general after a Sanders defeat.

This presents a problem: the lack of political clarity has led to some confusion in DSA. Three DSA chapters have endorsed Howie Hawkins of the Green Party, letting his campaign tout their endorsements. Even though most DSA members are opposed to it, R15 allows it by being explicit in its mention of a Democratic candidate. In contrast, prominent DSA members have started campaigning in swing states for Democrats, indirectly helping Biden. Is this support of Biden? Some members are public about campaigning for Biden directly! By not having a clear message on who to vote and campaign for, we are allowing ourselves to be pulled in different directions and are sending an unclear message to the broader socialist movement. 

As it stands, we have no clear answer to the simple political question: who are we voting for? Will we vote for Hawkins, like Bhaskar Sunkara? Will we be public about it? Will we vote for Joe Biden? And in what states? What about Gloria la Riva, the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s candidate, or the plethora of other socialist Presidential candidates? This isn’t just posturing! If we can’t answer these basic questions, I struggle to see how we’re going to answer a number of more difficult tactical and economic questions, assuming we’re serious about the election and independent working class power.

I propose the “Safe State Strategy,” which answers the questions of who to vote for and how we orient ourselves towards it. We should vote for Hawkins or La Riva in safe states while not building their parties and vote for Biden in swing states to defeat Donald Trump.

The Swing State

In swing states, we are constantly haunted by the specter of lesser-evilism. As socialists, we understand that voting is just one arena of many in which we engage the working class. However, the agenda of Donald Trump is a paleoconservative nightmare and he maintains a national conservative posse that flirts with fascism, along with fascist militia groups and conspiracy theorists that idolize him. Socialists must stand against this if we want to build any realistic condition of future working-class power. Therefore, a tactical vote for Biden, while being very clear about our opposition to the liberal Democratic Party and the need to build independent socialist power, is the most reasonable option in swing states. 

If we want to reach the millions of working-class people who will face this dilemma with an answer in hand, we must correctly identify not only how we vote, but why we do so. By openly rejecting the principles and platform of Biden, we can engage with people who might vote for Biden under the illusion that he will fix America or bring it back to a halcyon normalcy — without seeming unrealistic.

The Safe State

However, in safe states, where the outcome is a forgone conclusion, this discussion opens up significantly. Without the catch-22 of lesser-evilism present, we need to have a political line that correctly condemns Biden or any other right-wing Democrat, and their fervent neoliberalism. If we want our protest to not be silent, but tangible, we should support a visible socialist ballot line that will be reported on election results, thus eliminating any spoiled or blank ballot tactic.

That leaves us with a few questions: who do we support, and to what extent? 

We should support the strongest socialists on the ballot or in official write-in status. Howie Hawkins and Gloria La RIva are by far the biggest socialist campaigns in the election. Hawkins’ campaign is bigger and more noticable; that may appeal to some, but the Green Party’s nudges with transphobia and general “kooky” nature might make some hesitant to vote for them. La Riva’s PSL is less well known, but the open socialist nature of the campaign and lack of scandals allows for a clearer advance of socialist politics compared to the Greens.

We also make the choice to call for a vote, but not endorse these candidates. We have no desire to build quixotic third parties without a mass base by putting resources toward them.  We support these third party challengers to be consistent in our principles to building independent socialist power and to be able to talk to our friends and family in a consistent way about the election. By staying silent on the issue or being coy about it, we alienate ourselves in an attempt to have a pure line. 

These campaigns will no doubt be marginal. The socialist movement lost its strongest candidate when Bernie Sanders conceded the primaries, but that does not mean we should not have an answer to the question of who we should vote for. We will not choose our terrain in every situation, and while it is no doubt difficult with the threat of a second Trump term, we must have a nuanced position that recognizes that fear that millions of working-class people will have, while also recognizing that Biden is an enemy to the working class, and will oppress us only slightly less so than Donald Trump.

Finally, we should be clear that this is not the primary site of class-struggle. We must mobilize on November 4th for democracy and for a socialist alternative to the decrepit neoliberal politics that led us here. Our focus should be on mass movements and the work we do to build working class power, but these debates are undoubtedly on people’s mind, and it is wrong to believe that DSA members do not have the capacity to do mass work and engage in this looming question. The Safe State Strategy is a way for us to have this debate, build the working class, and stop Trump.

How do you think socialists should vote and fight for socialism under a Trump or Biden presidency? YDSA members: we want to hear from you! Find out how to submit your work to The Activist here.

Want to support The Activist and help build a mass working-class movement by and for student socialists? Become a YDSA member today! 

Ruy Martinez is a founder and co-chair of Harvard College YDSA in Cambridge, Massachusetts.