Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

John Trinkl

Left lukewarm about Dukakis

First Published: Guardian October 5, 1988.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

As the 1988 presidential campaign enters its final phase, Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis is drawing a tepid response from left and progressive groups.

Unlike 1984, when virtually the entire left threw considerable resources behind Walter Mondale in an effort to unseat President Reagan and his reactionary agenda, this time around few groups exhibit much enthusiasm for working actively for the Democratic candidate. Many will vote for Dukakis as part of an effort to prevent further consolidation of the conservative Republican agenda, while devoting most of their efforts to building the progressive movements no matter who wins.

The various left parties are also generating little excitement and two of them–the Communist Party (CPUSA) and the California-based Peace and Freedom Party are not fielding candidates this year.

The response of progressive and left groups to the 1988 presidential campaign ranges from strong–if somewhat grudging– support for Dukakis to total condemnation of both candidates.

George Bush “represents the forces that in the last eight years have taken food from our children; left millions homeless; helped the rich become richer and the poor poorer; plunged our nation into unprecedented debt,” according to the National Rainbow Coalition’s board of directors. In an open letter to Rainbow members, the board wrote, “We owe it to ourselves to rid the nation of this regime. We also owe it to the people of the world. We must support the present Democratic ticket because this is the way we can rid the nation of the Bush-Reagan crowd and get at least part of our program adopted as national policy. But we will give our support critically, constantly pushing for implementation of our total program.”

Several left parties take the same view. “Between now and election day there needs to be a single-minded approach to the effort to defeat George Bush. Given what is at stake for working people, there can be no other priority,” the CPUSA’s National Labor Commission concluded in mid-September. For the first time since 1964, the Communist Party is not running its own presidential candidates. The party announced last year that its presidential campaigns–especially the efforts to overcome unfair election laws directed at third parties–were an enormous strain on its resources. The CPUSA is fielding several candidates for statewide office and supporting other local candidates.

Frontline, newspaper of Line of March, recently editorialized: “The left in our view has a responsibility not only to vote for but to work for the election of the Democratic nominee. . . . Support for the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket is the new terrain on which the left must operate to advance an independent progressive agenda.”

The League of Revolutionary Struggle writes in its paper, Unity, “Although both parties are run by the big capitalists, Bush and the Republicans represent the far right and would continue Reagan’s anti-people policies, while Dukakis is a moderate Democrat. A Democratic victory would hurt the right and create better conditions for people struggling for peace and justice.”

Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has adopted “a position of critical support for Dukakis,” according to field organizer Shakoor Aljuwani. “We have a particular focus on developing anti-Bush materials and doing voter registration,” he said. DSA’s efforts are “based on the point of view that a defeat of Dukakis by Bush would make it much more difficult to develop progressive movements, while a win by Dukakis would open some space for progressive activity–though it would still leave a lot to be desired,” he explained. DSA’s political action committee is also supporting progressive candidates such as Reps. Ron Dellums (D-Calif.) and Major Owens (D-N.Y.) and Bernie Sanders, a socialist running for Vermont’s House seat.


The California-based Peace and Freedom Party, which has run presidential candidates since 1968, has disintegrated to a faction-ridden shell of its former self. At its August convention, a faction headed by the Trotskyist grouplet, Internationalist Workers Party, secured an endorsement of sorts, but were challenged by the New Alliance Party (NAP) which is fielding its own candidate Lenora Fulani. In the resulting squabble, with no apparent clear endorsement, U.S. District Judge John Vukasin refused to issue an order that would have placed a PFP presidential candidate on the California ballot. Several PFP candidates are on the ballot, however, for congressional seats and other offices.

The New Alliance Party has attempted to siphon off supporters of Jesse Jackson’s campaign by billing itself as “the Rainbow Lobby” and Fulani, a Black woman, as the inheritor of the Jackson mantle now that he is out of the race. The Rainbow Coalition has denounced this attempt to link the NAP with the Rainbow and Jesse Jackson’s campaign; many progressives, meanwhile, have voiced concern about the party’s past and its cultish nature. Nevertheless, the NAP has gotten enough support to qualify for federal matching funds and says it is on the ballot in all 50 states.

Workers World Party (WWP) charges, “The Democratic Party has turned its back on the poor and working people it claims to represent and has embraced with loving arms the ruling class. Dukakis’s selection of super-rich, super-right-wing Bentsen was the decisive signal. No matter who wins in November, it’s going to be business as usual, corporate greed before people’s needs.” WWP is running its own presidential campaign for the third time, with Larry Holmes running for president and Gloria La Riva for vice president.

A similar stance is taken by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which has run presidential campaigns since 1948, and the Socialist Party, which has been fielding presidential candidates longer than any other left party but is now much smaller than the other groups. The SWP is running James Mac Warren for president and Kathleen Mickells for vice president and is attempting to get on the ballot in 18 states. The Socialist Party is running Willa Kenoyer for president and Ron Ehrenreich for vice president, and is on the ballot in Utah, New Jersey and Vermont.

Among progressive movements, there are a variety of views toward the 1988 campaign. In a mail poll of its members, SANE-Freeze decided not to endorse Dukakis, but did initiate a “Bush-whack campaign”–a get-out-the-vote to defeat Bush. “We didn’t endorse a candidate on the presidential level,” said executive board member Lyle Wing, “but we do need to prevent Bush from winning the White House.” SANE-Freeze’s political action committee will be supporting progressive candidates around the country. Freeze Voter, a separate organization from SANE-Freeze, did endorse Dukakis and is supporting his campaign.

On the other hand, groups concerned with Central America are highly critical of the stands Dukakis and the Democrats have taken toward Central American issues. Reflecting the disgust with Dukakis’s positions on El Salvador, his support of House Democrats’ recent “humanitarian” contra aid package and his selection of contra supporter Bentsen, some 80 people marched on Democratic Party headquarters in San Francisco Sept. 16 in a protest called by the Pledge of Resistance. The protesters marched up into the office and engaged in a dialog with the staff, who promised to pass along their demand that Dukakis take a strong stand against any aid to the contras. “We don’t want Bush, but unless we pressure the Democrats, there will be no real change in policy,” said Rita Himes of the Pledge. “We want Michael Dukakis to know that Central America policy has to become an issue in the election.”


In an indication that few people on the left equate Dukakis and Bush on every position, 1000 people protested against Bush a few days earlier in San Francisco on Sept. 14. “While Dukakis is a worm, George Bush is a criminal,” one Central American activist commented.

Leslie Cagan of Mobilization for Survival noted that “there is no nationally coordinated approach from the peace movement toward the 1988 elections–there are local actions when candidates come to town.” She concluded, “It’s an indication of the weakness in our movement that we’re not strong enough to be able to project a campaign or strategy to take advantage of the fact that this is an election year and people are more tuned to national political issues.”