With the US general election just around the corner, Donald Trump has repeatedly stated that he may refuse to leave office even if he loses the election. Liberal, left, and workers’ organizations are already making plans to take the streets in the event that Trump refuses to acknowledge election results, and right wing militias are likely to show up to polling booths in parts of the country to intimidate voters and possibly disrupt the proceedings. Where does that leave us socialists who recognize that the US electoral system is dominated by two capitalist parties that are unaccountable to the working class, and that this system is a pale imitation of democracy?

Written by Carlos Jara

Even though we do not support the Democrats, and are hardly excited about the prospect of a Biden presidency, it would be a mistake for us to sit out this threat against the elections and the broader democratic rights won through struggle by the working class. While we hold no illusions about the undemocratic nature of the political regime in the US, any attempt by Trump to ignore the election’s results is still an attack on institutions that will only serve to further reduce the ability for people to participate in politics. As socialists, we are principled defenders of democracy, and need to stand against such attacks.

Ironically, taking to the streets after an attempt to ignore the election’s results provides an opportunity for people to engage in a truer form of democracy: the power of mass demonstrations and work stoppages will activate previously apolitical people. When contrasted against the ineffective posturing of Democrats in government, the lessons of mass struggle in the defense of democracy will push people towards recognizing that we need system change and that there is more to democracy than electing unaccountable figureheads every few years.

Depending on the exact nature of how the election plays out, Trump’s posturing and the mass protests that will follow may open the door for political reforms that stand a real chance of being enthusiastically supported by the majority of the population. For instance, if Trump’s refusal to step down hinges on delays, errors or cheating in counting specific states while already having lost a majority vote, it could provide an opportunity for a movement to abolish the electoral college (and along with it, reform of the Constitution). Any governmental institution enlisted to defend Trump, whether the Senate, the Supreme Court or law enforcement agencies, will be heavily delegitimized as well. While the Democratic Party is unlikely to raise such demands, they are likely to have mass appeal and could be brought to the table by mass demonstrations and general strikes. No matter what happens, we need to be clear in our interventions: we are standing up for democracy and democratic rights and will fight for reforms to expand them.

Some unions have already committed to strike in the event of a stolen election. This is exactly what we need, and a call that we should support and raise in all of our workplaces as well. The task at this moment in time is for socialists to raise these points in our unions, in our workplaces and our activist groups, to make concrete plans to mobilize following the election.

We are in the midst of the largest wave of protests in American history. People are ready to fight to defend democracy. This is an opportunity to restore the political importance of organized labor in US politics. Let’s not waste it.