An alternative for Ohio voters

August 25, 2010

Ohio has a socialist candidate for the U.S. Senate this November. Dan La Botz, the veteran socialist activist and author, is running as the Socialist Party candidate because of the urgency of putting forward a political alternative in the midst of the Great Recession and the continued corporate domination of U.S. politics.

Dan is a co-founder of Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) and member of the socialist group Solidarity, and he has written extensively on workers' rights in the U.S. and Mexico. Shaun Harkin interviewed him about his campaign and how his candidacy has been received.

CAN YOU talk about your campaign? Why are you running and what impact do you think you can have?

THE UNITED States is at a critical moment in its history, faced with three crises which threaten the wellbeing of our people.

First, we have an economic crisis which has become the first Great Depression of the 21st century, and the government is failing to act to provide jobs. Second, we face an environmental catastrophe of enormous proportions--global warming or climate change--and the government is moving too slowly and ineffectively to address this problem. Third, the United States finds itself involved in illegal, immoral and unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and refuses to withdraw all troops and end the wars. Leaving 50,000 troops in Iraq is a continuing occupation, not withdrawal.

The Republicans and Democrats don't have the ideas or the will to address these issues. We need new political ideas and a new political movement which will take action to address these problems. I see my campaign as contributing to building that political alternative.

Dan La Botz
Dan La Botz

My campaign provides a vehicle for putting before the American people an alternative vision of a just society, a democratic socialist vision. As a candidate for office, I am every day speaking before the public, distributing literature, being interviewed by the media and in other ways putting a socialist analysis of our current situation and a socialist proposal for a solution to our problems before the people of Ohio and the country.

Through this campaign, I am meeting and bringing together in cities throughout Ohio activists from various movements and organizations who want to work together to build the social movements, and talk to people about why democratic socialism represents a way out of the current situation. I'm delighted that my campaign can be a vehicle for groups such as the Socialist Party, Solidarity, the Ohio Labor Party, the International Socialist Organization, members of the Democratic Socialists of America, and others from many movements to unite in the fight against the corporate domination of our society and against the capitalist system.

I'm running to win--to be the first socialist senator from Ohio. But as I see it, whatever the outcome of the election, the socialist movement will win.

Today, socialism is being misconstrued and misrepresented in the media in bizarre ways. This campaign provides an opportunity to explain that socialism means the working class majority would control the government, collectively own the major industries and firms, and produce not for profit but for human need.

The campaign is way to link together people in Ohio who have considered themselves socialists, but had no organizational way to connect and act together. I believe the campaign can become an expression of existing social movements--labor, immigrant rights, LFBTQ, environmental and others. My campaign has and will continue to speak out in solidarity with those in struggle, and work to inspire others to fight for economic and social justice and for political power.

IN A recent CNN poll, 47 percent of people said the economy is the most important issue facing the country. How are working Ohioans coping with the recession? What do you think of President Obama's response to the economic meltdown?

THE OBAMA administration and the Democratic Congress acted with amazing speed, mobilizing vast economic resources to save the banks, to save the auto companies and to save insurance companies. They saved the banks--but not homeowners. Saved the auto companies--but not auto jobs, wages and benefits. Saved the insurance companies--but didn't provide health insurance for all and haven't kept down insurance costs. Above all, they haven't provided jobs.

The overriding concern of the American people today is with finding or keeping a full-time job. We have an official unemployment rate of 9.5 percent, while in reality the figure is more like 17 percent (including discouraged workers and the underemployed), and in African American and Latino communities, the figure is 25 percent. For youth, it's 50 percent.

We are in the first Great Depression of the 21st century; the economy is on the verge of a deflationary collapse of values, wages and prices; and the Obama administration has not taken the measures necessary to create jobs. Republican and Democratic candidate both talk mostly about tax cuts for small business as a way to create jobs, a not-very-useful approach during a typical recession, and useless in the face of the potential economic catastrophe we face.

The U.S. government should at once enact a multibillion-dollar stimulus program several times larger than the original Obama program--one that will create jobs not only in construction, but also in health and education. Where plants are idle or operating at extremely low capacity, the government should take them over, and workers and consumers should manage them. Where an entire industry has been in crisis, such as auto, the government should take over not just one company, but the entire industry.

We can't build a healthy economy on the squeezed lemons of capitalism, so we must take advantage of the prosperous and successful firms and sectors to restore health to other parts of the economy. We should nationalize the entire auto industry and turn it to producing mass transportation and wind turbines, rather than using taxpayer money to rescue corporate stockholders.

ONE OF the reasons you gave for running for U.S. Senate was that this would you to take up U.S. foreign policy. Can you talk about this issue?

PEOPLE VOTED for Barack Obama in large measure because they wanted to bring an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But under Obama, the wars have only expanded while continuing to drag on, ruining the lives of both the soldiers who fight them and the countries that suffer them.

At the moment, there are roughly 95,000 troops in Afghanistan and 90,000 in Iraq. Obama plans to leave an occupying force of 50,000 in Iraq indefinitely, while continuing to increase the forces in Afghanistan. The drone bombing of Pakistan continues, frequently taking the lives of civilians.

This is completely unacceptable. These wars are illegal by the standards of international law, they are unconstitutional since Congress has never declared war, and they are above all immoral, having taken the lives of thousands of U.S. soldiers and of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis. U.S. soldiers have had 500,000 casualties, suicides in the military are rising, and returning soldiers often return unable to participate in civilian life. What a tragedy. What a waste.

Why war? American corporations dominate U.S. government policies, whether we're talking about domestic, environmental or foreign policy. Facing rising competition around the globe--from Europe and Japan since the 1970s, and from countries like China, India and Brazil since the 1990s--the corporations pressure governments to use power to control scarce resources such as minerals and oil, to control world markets and to exploit labor. The Iraq war, for example, has been principally about oil.

Capitalism has from the beginning been as much about piracy and war as it has been about markets and trade. The U.S.'s self-proclaimed role as world policeman, with its world command structure, derives from the corporate drive for dominance in the world economy. The U.S. has between 700 and 1,000 bases in nations around the world which work to prevent rival states, nationalist movements, or social rebellion from disturbing the long term interests of the corporations. The U.S. will spend 4.7 percent of our GDP, or $1 trillion on military spending this year, representing 19 percent of the total budget, and 28 percent of tax revenues.

We've got to stop this. We must withdraw all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan at once. Stop the bombing of Pakistan. As a senator, I would vote against any military budget while foreign wars and occupations continue. We must withdraw all U.S. troops from the Middle East, for those occupations only breed anti-Americanism and terrorism. We should be using that military budget to create jobs at home, and for health care and education.

CINCINNATI, WHERE you live, has a large immigrant population that includes 60,000 Latinos and more than 20,000 people from sub-Saharan Africa. But inspired by Arizona's SB 1070, right-wing politicians have introduced a slew of anti-immigrant measures into the Ohio legislature--SB 35, SB 150 and SB 238. Could you talk about the issue of immigrant rights and what your campaign is advocating?

THE REPUBLICAN Party and the Tea Party, joined by the Blue Dog Democrats, have been fomenting an anti-immigrant movement. The results have been Arizona's SB 1070 and a spate of copycat laws across the country. In Ohio, legislators have introduced bills SB 35 and SB 150, which would allow local law enforcement to assist ICE in immigration enforcement and deportation, and SB 238, which would require injured workers to prove that they had immigration documents before they could collect workers' compensation.

Clearly, these laws threaten both immigrants' and other Americans' civil rights and their rights as workers, and they must be opposed. They will lead to even more racial profiling, more arbitrary detentions and more exploitation of workers on the job.

The Obama administration's increased level of deportations will hit an estimated 400,000 this year--10 to 25 percent above the average annual level of the Bush administration. At the same time, Obama has increased the military presence at the border. These measures suggest that immigration reform will be based on repression of immigrants.

I support calls for immigration reform, but feel that the dominant coalition, Reform Immigration for America (RIFA), makes too many concessions to right-wing politicians and to the corporations.

The "comprehensive immigration reform package" that RIFA supports--which exists in various forms and remains in process--to its credit proposes the regularization of those immigrants and their families who are living and working in the United States today, though it accepts the notion that those immigrants should pay various penalties. But it accepts measures that would lead to more walls, police and soldiers on the border; create a guest workers program; and continue to deny undocumented workers jobs. The bill, if it proceeds, will only get worse as it moves through Congress.

My position is that all immigrants and their families now living and working in the United States should be regularized at once. We should also make the citizenship process easier and more rapid so that immigrants can gain full political, civil and labor rights more quickly.

Guest worker programs will inevitably lead to second-class status and should not be accepted by the labor and immigrant movements. Instead, the Untied States should increase the number of visas offered to immigrants from something like 70,000 to the more realistic 500,000, which reflects the typical participation level of immigrants in the U.S. economy. All immigrants should be eligible at once for all services available to other Americans, since immigrants pay employment, property, sales and other taxes which support those services.

In the bigger picture and longer term, we have to fight to change the corporate-driven U.S. foreign policy--trade agreements, diplomacy, military interventions--which have helped to ruin many economies around the world, forcing people to migrate. We need to build socialist movements that can take political power in many countries so that we can more fairly distribute the worlds' resources.

The world--its land and seas, its resources and its wonders--is the common inheritance of humanity, and we must all live in it together. So these measures which I propose should be understood as steps to a world of open borders, a world without borders--sin fronteras, as the movement has said.

I am inspired by the young immigrants fighting for immigration reform and for the DREAM Act--while at the same time recognizing that the DREAM Act's military provisions represent a problem. Most inspiring to me have been the young immigrants who--taking a page from the LGBTQ movement--have "come out" as undocumented and risked their freedom to stand up for reform now. I hope I can take just a little of their inspiring energy and idealism into my campaign as I talk about the need for immigration reform.

WHAT OTHER issues are you aiming to raise in the campaign?

CLEARLY, WE have to continue to fight for full equality for gays and lesbians in our society. The LGBTQ movement has provided an inspiring example of an active social movement, often fighting around the issue of gay and lesbian marriage rights. Gays and lesbians have also fought for the right to serve in the military without the discriminatory "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

I support those movements, but we must also continue to fight for equality at every level of our society, from the school and workplace to the broader community. The Equality at Work movement represents an inspiring real and ongoing challenge to homophobic attitudes and practices in our everyday life.

On the question of the environment, we face a looming catastrophe through climate change or global warming, call it what you will. We are witnessing profound changes in our weather patterns that will affect agriculture and threaten to inundate low-lying nations and coastlines.

More immediately, the BP oil spill revealed the degree to which the U.S. government has been corrupted by oil money and regulation has been a joke. The greater oil spill is the oil money flowing into the Congress, which determines our national social, environmental and foreign policy.

We have to continue to strengthen the environmental movement and to give it a more independent and militant character aimed at dramatic reductions in carbon fuels--and over time, the replacement of coal and oil with environmentally sustainable energy sources.

CAN YOU say something about the Republican and Democratic Party candidates you are running against?

THE U.S. Senate seat for which I am a candidate is being vacated by Republican George Voinovich, who is retiring. My principal opponents are Republican Rob Portman, a former Congressman, who served as George W. Bush's trade representative; and Democrat Lee Fisher, Ohio's lieutenant governor.

Like myself, Portman and Fisher both see the economy and jobs as the central issue in the campaign, but their programs revolve principally around tax cuts for business. Fisher holds standard liberal Democratic Party positions on labor issues, but his record is that of a party man, not of a fighter. Even if Fisher were a fighter who would take up labor's cause, he would have to contend with the Blue Dog Democrats in his own state and in the country.

Obama and the Democratic Congress have given no indications that they intend to fight for working people, and Fisher cannot be expected to wander far from his president and his party. The Green Party, which has several candidates running for other offices, has fielded no candidate for the Senate, so I am the one option to the left of the Democrats in that race, and the one candidate calling for a real program to create jobs.

HOW DO you hope to get your message out? Will they let you in the debates?

TODAY, MOST of the big debates are controlled by the news media--CNN, FOX, etc.--and by the Republican and Democratic Parties. So it will be a real struggle to get into the big debates, and we are looking at both legal and political strategies to do so.

Meanwhile, I have been surprised and happy to find that the idea of the town-hall meeting still exists in small cities and towns, often organized by the local Chamber of Commerce or some local civic association. Some local media also hold "Meet the Press" events, in which I will be able to participate, and some professional organizations hold meetings for candidates.

For example, an educators' organization (not either of the major teachers unions) has invited me and other candidates of the "minor parties" (the official term in Ohio) to speak to a gathering of a couple hundred of their members. Interestingly, some of the local patriot and Tea Party groups invited speakers from all points of view to speak to their meetings, and not to be heckled either.

As an official candidate, newspapers from around the state invite me to provide my views for publication in print or online. We are also leafleting at local fairs and parades around the state, as well as putting out my positions online at, and on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. News coverage has been most important: newspaper articles in papers throughout the state, a 12-minute interview on a local news show and several radio interviews.

THE RIGHT wing labels Barack Obama a socialist, but few socialists would agree with this characterization. Socialism suffers from long-standing misconceptions. How have people responded to your campaign, and how would you describe the socialism you believe in?

I HAVE been pleased to find that many young people have self-identified as socialist--whatever that means to them--without ever having been part of a socialist organization or read a socialist publication. My impression from some conversations is that they think of socialism as representing a more just society.

Many people in Ohio who reject the Republican and Democratic Parties and have come to think of themselves as Libertarians do so as much from a somewhat conservative outlook as because they believe that libertarianism means freedom. They have never had much of an encounter with socialism, and I have not found them to be hostile, so much as curious.

Most hostile to my campaign are the Democratic Party loyalists who argue--mistakenly, I think--that Ralph Nader brought us Bush, and so they say that I will help elect Portman. Some Democrats, however, will tell me, "Well, I don't know if I'll vote for you, but I'm glad that you're raising these ideas."

With all the confusion about socialism created by the Tea Party and right-wing media attacks on Obama as a socialist, I find that this is a good opportunity to talk about what socialism means. In doing so, I find it important to differentiate democratic socialism from Stalinism, or bureaucratic Communism with a capital C.

Many liberal Americans have a favorable attitude toward European social democracy, since especially in its Scandinavian version, it seems (or once seemed) to provide such important social programs as universal health care, free education from kindergarten to college, low-cost housing and good public transportation. So that can provide a kind of bridge to talking about democratic socialism, though I have to point out that today's social democrats often administer capitalism like neoliberal conservatives, rather than working to do away with capitalism and its attendant problems.

Arguing against illusions in the Democrats or in the notion that electing socialists will bring about change, I talk about the importance of building the powerful social movements which will be absolutely necessary to force change from the corporations and the government--movements that will need to find political expression in a working-class political party.

I don't see the Socialist Party, Greens, Labor Party or other left-of-center third parties as representing the core of such a party, but rather as making small but significant contributions to such a process. Workers will have to go into motion on a big scale before such a working-class party will become a reality.

YOU'VE BEEN an activist for a long-time in many different social struggles. What's the relationship between your election campaign and activism?

ACTIVISM IN progressive social movements--labor, LGBTQ, environmental, immigration--builds the power of political opposition to the corporations and the government. But unless there exists an alternative political party, that activism will always be harvested on Election Day by the Democrats.

The Democratic Party not only harvests from the movements, it also plucks off the leaders well. And if it incorporates the movements, it inevitably smothers them. The Democratic Party, cleverly, has even become proactive, creating its own movements so that it guarantees both control over the movement and the harvesting of it (see my article on "The New Corporatism in American Politics and the Grassroots").

If, in the end, activism is to be meaningful, then we have a responsibility to provide a place for activists to go on Election Day--a place to stand up and be counted against the corporations, against the Republican and Democratic Parties, and the government's policies. At the same time, no candidate and no election will end the corporate control of the U.S. government or succeed in making that government represent working people.

We need a new government of working people and a new democratic socialist economy and society, and we will only get there through activism of tremendous scale and scope. So I believe my campaign must be all about the political alternative and all about promoting greater activism.

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