Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Left Parties in 2013?


Last week’s article by John Halle highlighted the growing strength of left-wing candidates for municipal office in the United States. As of writing, Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant has pulled ahead by a slim margin in Seattle, while Howie Hawkins, Green and Socialist, received 40% of the vote in his race for City Council in Syracuse, NY. My own campaign for city council in Albany, NY – I am a Green and ideological socialist – saw me come in second to a Democrat. I agree with Halle that the objective conditions for the left’s electoral success in the United States especially at the municipal level are more promising than they have been in decades.

In much of the country gerrymandering and the decay of old party machines have left towns virtual one party fiefdoms for generations. I know when Greens run serious campaigns in upstate New York, we are the second party behind the Democrats. A great deal of potential exists for left campaigns in towns and cities with no Republican presence; the capitulation of Democrats to the ruling class and its policies of austerity, privatization, and economic decay should be a constant theme for all left candidates.

Given the unlikelihood of revolutionary workers’ councils springing up in the not-too-distant future, the real left in the United States must make a cross-party push for serious electoral reform at the local level if it wants to see campaigns like Sawant’s become more than anomalies. Barriers to continued electoral success by alternative parties in the United States are structural, endemic, and onerous. To overcome them, we need an honest effort by the real left outside the Democratic Party to commit to a joint platform on electoral reform. The first test will come in states and municipalities with referendum and initiative, but should be fought anywhere a left grouping can do so. My humble suggestions:

1. Proportional representation: this is the lynchpin of continuing left-wing electoral success in the rest of the world. This reform is actually easier to achieve at local levels, where many officials are elected at-large and city councils could easily convert from multi-member plurality elections to party-list. For areas which prefer some form of geographical representation, mixed-member proportional provides the solution.

2. Ballot access barriers: The left needs to fight for one simple ballot-access standard for all parties across the United States and District of Columbia: 1% of voter registration or the vote for a statewide candidate confers permanent ballot access, and standard, low signature requirements for non-ballot access parties. Alternative party candidates often need to collect staggering amounts of signatures compared to ballot-status parties just to qualify. In New York, prior to 2010 the Green Party needed to collect 15,000 valid signatures from voters in 6 weeks for our statewide candidates, which meant at least 25,000 to ensure we made the ballot. At the local level prior to 2010 we often needed hundreds of signatures just to run for local office. Ballot status has conveyed a much easier procedure.

3. Public Campaign Funding: Campaigns can be expensive even at the local level. Clean money, clean elections block grants to candidates after they raise a small amount of money are still the best way to minimize funding disparities and increase the chance the left has to win. There is no reason to think this could not happen at the municipal level.

4. Permanent Voter Registration: The left needs to demand an end to opt-in voter registration, and instead push for permanent registration kept by the board of election via your address on tax returns, DMV records, etc. Making everyone permanently registered would benefit the left as it is often the poor, young, and transient who have a hard time remaining on the voter rolls.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, nor is it likely to be enacted in the near future. Clearly the real left in the United States needs to learn to embed itself in communities and raise demands that resonate with the population if it is to succeed at the polls.

Yet a serious drive by parties of the real left to win these battles would invigorate left-electoral campaigns and point the way forward to a more radical confrontation with the state and capitalism in the future as the parties grow based on their activist and electoral success.

Peter A. LaVenia, PhD. – Peter has a PhD in Political Science from the University at Albany, SUNY. He is currently the Secretary of the New York State Green Party and is a researcher and organizer for the civic activist Ralph Nader. 

Peter A. LaVenia has a PhD in Political Theory from the University at Albany, SUNY and is a member of the New York State Green Party’s executive committee. He can be reached on Twitter @votelavenia and at his website,

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
Lara Gardner
Why I’m Not Voting
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017