Reaching the Advanced: Breaking Out of Protest Only

The following was written on a comment in the thread following “Communist Electoral Tactics Part 2: Reinvented According to Conditions.”

“I think its important that we really understand the costs of confining ourselves to extra-electoral political activity. For most of us, that’s simply what politics is, working with social movements or trying to bring them into being, organizing demonstrations and the like. We imagine the road to revolution consisting essentially of the continuous expansion of this sort of activity.”

* * * * * * * *

by Tellnolies

Carl Davidson wrote:

“First, we are already ‘within the system.’ That’s what it means when conditions are non-revolutionary and dual power is not emerging in the streets in any major way. It’s not a matter of dragging people ‘bank into’ it; they’re already there, albeit with varying degrees of activity and passivity.

“Second, we are in no position to confer ‘legitimacy’ on Congress, the Constitution or any of the rest. They already have legitimacy, or at least a good deal of it, in the thinking of the majority, and even to a considerable degree, of the militant minority. Whether the left, at its current level of strengthen, decides to work in elections or not, won’t add or subtract ‘legitimacy’ very much one way or another.”

I don’t think the question Mike is raising here is whether revolutionaries are presently in a position to legitimize the system in the eyes of the broad masses, but rather whether by engaging in electoral work they reinforce its existing legitimacy among precisely the people they are trying to win over to revolutionary politics.

At least that is what I assumed where he said:

“The opposite is true of socialists running in the U.S.: here no matter what you say (“revolution, blah, blah, blah…”) the fact that you are running for the fucking senate or city council, symbolically implies (under current conditions) an implied legitimization of all that… the system, its offices, the constitution, “American democracy,” the will of the people etc.”

I’m simply not convinced that this is the case.

I think recent conditions have certainly favored such an outcome, and this is why ostensibly left electoral work has generally had the character it has. But certain conditions have changed recently and there is considerable untapped discontent out there.

It ain’t Weimar yet, but millions of people are getting hit very hard and are clearly unenthusiastic about what the Democratic Party is offering. Whether this translates into an opportunity for socialists to get a hearing in carefully chosen races is something that can only be determined by trying.

I think its important that we really understand the costs of confining ourselves to extra-electoral political activity. For most of us, that’s simply what politics is, working with social movements or trying to bring them into being, organizing demonstrations and the like. We imagine the road to revolution consisting essentially of the continuous expansion of this sort of activity.

Now social movements are critical to building a revolutionary movement, but when they are the extent of political activity it can be hard to see how cramped and self-limiting they too are under current conditions. Quite simply put for the vast majority of politically engaged people in this country electoral politics is the only politics they know. It is where most people are at. And it is a big mistake I think to assume that this is not true for a significant fraction of the most politically advanced.

Mike has repeatedly insisted in other discussions here on the distinction between the most advanced and the most active. I think it is important recognize this distinction and to understand its implications in terms of confining our political work to work within social movements.

There are many many people with highly critical views about this society who do not participate in any social movements. Some of them don’t participate in electoral politics either. But many do, at the very least by voting. If we think everybody who votes is thereby buying into the whole official ideology that surrounds the electoral system we are not going to see these people or talk to them. And we need to.

We may view it as contradictory that some people with advanced ideas about the nature of this system may be more receptive to a revolutionary socialist or communist appeal to vote than to come to a meeting or a demonstration, but its not really that strange and in any event people ARE contradictory like that.

The fact is that both the electoral and the extra-electoral arenas have been pretty bleak places for revolutionary politics for a long while. Each of them offers us a little space and if we can find ways to utilize any of that space to reach people who might be receptive to our views we should seek to use both to leverage still more space.

Elections offer an opportunity to have people open their doors and let you into their homes to talk politics in ways that most of our other work does not. Of course one can canvass an issue or selling newspapers, but the resistance to both of those activities is much higher than to electoral canvassing, precisely because that is an activity that has been legitimized in the minds of most people.

What we say when that door is opened to us matters. To just insist that the content is overridden by the format is dogmatic. Just as we struggle to break out of the confines of the forms of protest as usual we should be asking how we can break out of the confines of electoral campaigning as usual and seek out methods that disrupt the processes of legitimation. here the experiences of Cleaver and the Yippies are instructive.

People in this conversation

  • Guest - Stephanie McMillan

    Tellnolies says:

    <blockquote> "If we think everybody who votes is thereby buying into the whole official ideology that surrounds the electoral system we are not going to see these people or talk to them. And we need to."

    If unorganized masses vote, that's not the same as if communists do it. We are supposed to be exposing the nature of the system for the people, not buying into its framework and encouraging others to do so. Our job is to show people the way out.

    We can still engage with those who vote, without participating in elections, by going to voting places and talking to people.

    Even people who vote usually have a deep distrust and dislike of politicians, with good reason. I think we should encourage that rather than asking them to give voting one more try, it'll work this time, really, we're different, I know everybody says that but this time it's for real, I swear...

  • Guest - carldavidson

    Have you tried it, SM? I mean going to polling places on election day and telling people that they're deluded and shouldn't be there at all?

    If so, how did it work out for you?

    But there's another point to be made. What happens on election day is only the tip of the iceberg of electoral work. Far more important is the independent canvassing, talking, educating, and organization building that you do in the long period before election day. If your organizations, both mass and revolutionary, are stronger after the election than they were before you began, then you've scored a victory, no matter how well your candidate did.

    For MikeE, I'm well aware that the US has the most backward electoral system in the modern world, made the worse so by the 'reforms' of the 1920s. That's why we need protracted campaigns to change election laws between elections, not just complaints a few months before. But the nature of our system today is why left tactics often take the forms that they do, ie, various forms of 'inside-outside' activity. We simply do not yet have the options of, say, European parliamentary systems, even though European Trotskyists who have moved here often try to impose them on us as tests of purity.

    It's not an easy task. But then, neither is getting rid of the old order and establishing the d of the p. The point is that if you can make some structural reforms, major or minor, how do you expect to gain the strength to do the latter?

  • Guest - Chris Cutrone

    I think that it is not a matter of "conferring legitimacy" but rather delegitimizing the electoral system, denaturalizing it for people.

    So, it's not a matter of abstention -- or, the opposite problem to "electoral politics," "protest politics" -- or attacking people for voting. But rather the issue it seems to me is of spreading illusions.

    Rather than speaking of the Bolsheviks a closer but not exact analogy is the German SPD pre-1914. They ran in and won elections (to the Reichstag) but used both the electoral campaigns and office as a platform to expose and delegitimize the system (if not the state). This would seem a valid strategy. The SPD did not try to split the liberals, which is what trying to intersect the Dems amounts to.

    The point, it would seem to me, is that we need socialist politics in and through labor organizations (unions), rather than (merely) liberal politics, which lends itself to becoming a constituency of a "bourgeois liberal" party like the Dems (if the Dems can even be called "liberal"). Are there people who could be won to socialism presently operating in (and not merely voting for) the Dems? Perhaps. But only in the sense of individuals, not a faction or wing of the Dems (i.e., *not* the black Dems per se).

    The analogy to the pre-Civil War Whigs and the Republican Party seems like an awful stretch to me. The point would be, I think, the profound social transformation, north and south, that the Union victory in the Civil War inaugurated (i.e., the precondition for a real labor movement and for accelerated industrialization in the U.S.).

    The problem is that "extra-parliamentary opposition" in the preceding era of the 1960s-70s "New Left" in disenchantment with the Dems in the U.S. and SPD in Germany, Socialists and Communists in France, etc., was channeled into what became (routinized, ineffectual) protest politics, rather than what it could have been, perhaps, a reinvigorated workers' movement.

    It's truly unfortunate and tragic that the New Left only got serious about the workers after the 1973 downturn, so that intersecting and trying to lead the workers' movement (or, labor movement) happened in the context of defensive struggles (against dawning neoliberalism), so that the "socialists" largely became the last defenders of gains achieved in the preceding period, as opposed to leaders of new forms of class struggle, which is what was called for at the time (and still is today).

    The collusion of such defensive orientation in the labor movement with attempts to stave off the slide to the Right of the Dems (that has never abated since then, certainly not with Obama) has been a pernicious mixture. Trying to intersect or split the Dems in a period of polarization and radicalization (for instance circa 1964, when someone like Bayard Rustin could foresee how the Republicans would capture the Dixiecrats, creating an opportunity for remaking the Dems into a labor and black party -- but which was perhaps nothing more than a pipe-dream back then, bought at the expense of trying to bracket the Vietnam war, going "part of the way with LBJ," etc., and became a willful delusion afterwards) would be quite different from the context in which it has been done since the 1970s, which has inevitably been a dynamic of diminishing returns and collapse for the "Left."

  • Carl writes:

    <blockquote>"Have you tried it, SM? I mean going to polling places on election day and telling people that they’re deluded and shouldn’t be there at all? If so, how did it work out for you?"</blockquote>

    Actually yes. I have personal experience, but more important, the RCP had extensive and repeated experiences "going out" in election season (and on election day) with agitation.

    At one point the RCP raised the slogan (aimed at Black communities mainly), "We fought for the right to vote, now we must have the consciousness not to use it." And so on.

    In several elections, RCP teams sent out in each city with a giant prop toilet -- handing out ballots and urging people to throw them in the toilet. Implying that voting was a waste of time, and that the election aparatus itself was a sham.

    How did that work out?

    I think it is mixed. I never saw a summation of the RCP itself on the tactics (which is typical), and can't claim to have an overview. But here is my own frog in the well summation:

    a) It was often popular among radical people who were potential recruits for a revolutionary organization. It corresponds with how many people view American democracy, the two partys, and the sham of voting.

    b) It often was popular among a section of the audience -- i.e. if you "went out" with that kind of message (creatively and with a sense of fun), there were lots of people curious and intersted. And that is true (generally, in my experience) whenever you "go out" in the U.S. with very radical and revolutionary messages -- a section of people you meet say "where have you been all my life?" This is a <em>section</em> of those you meet (obviously), not the great majority -- but there is a positive and interested reception.

    c) There is much more tension in organized movements of struggle and among serious activists. My impression is that each major election year the RCP argued with its allies and periphery <em>not</em> to support the major democrats (McGovern, or Carter, or Dukakis, or Clinton, certainly Jesse Jackson or whatever) -- and that each election cycle that argument did not do well. Radical people who were active in various struggles (antiwar, police brutality etc.) would generally go vote for the lesser evil, and would not be convinced by the argument that trying <em>multiple</em> tactics (militant protest, patient education, media outreach, <em>then</em> voting for an evil) was wrong.

    Often they thought the Democrats were lame or half-hearted or deceitful or imperialist, but still "better" than their opponents -- and they didn't see what was <em>lost</em> by voting for them.

    And this view represents (in my experience) an assumption that (when all is said and done) the voters DO get to pick -- they may get to pick among pre-vetted capitalist candidates, they may get to pick after the media decided what is a "gaff" and what their image/message is, but people do believe that they (on some level) "get to pick" -- and they don't see why they should participate in that (even if they are repeatedly "picking" among choices that are distasteful.)

    The analysis that the <em>real</em> picking is done by a ruling class and that the voting is often <em>mainly</em> a legitimization of that previous picking (especially at the national level) -- is a much more controversial and less spontaneously generated idea, even among quite radical people.

    In other words, even when the RCP had a cloud of allies and activists around it -- their specific campaigns at election time seemed to involve only the most consolidated RCP core forces and not the periphery (who seemed inclined to "hold your nose and vote" with everybody else.) The main exception was when such clouds were younger and more anarchist inclined folks (like during the heyday of NBAU and the Reagan years) when there seemed more of an enthusiasm for boycotting election within the larger RCP periphery.

    This also suggest several contradictory things:

    1) There is a real reservoir of hostility to the two parties, the bullshit of American election campaigns, and the general ugly reactionary buzzing that is American politics.

    2) Politically active people are not, in general, drawn away from the logic of voting (or even actively endorsing specific candidates like Jackson or Obama) merely by the logic of a communist exposure campaign. It will be the actual dynamics of events, and the intensificatin of objective political fissures (a la 68), and the emergences of something that promises a material alternative that will draw sections of the people <em>out of the two parties</em> and out of the electoral logic. Not a fetish of the word.

    3) The Gore-Bush debacle in Florida was a case of where millions of people learned a lesson through experience -- and in that case the "lesson" learned was a de-radicalizing one that "even a small number of votes can count on a huge scale," and "supporting a third spoiler candidate can saddle with world with an American rightwing moron for eight years." I don't think that is a <em>correct</em> lesson to have learned -- but it has been a potent one. And it is an example of the way that major common experiences will have to crash over millions of poeple before they will seriously consider pulling out of the American electoral logic.

    4) Like Stephanie, I believe that recognizing that "people will vote" (and even many of the most alienated and progressive people will likely vote) -- does not mean that we should, or that it would be wrong to articular (to the extent we can) a clear, ongoing, condemnation of this electoral system as the apparatus of a bourgeois dictatorship. This is their system, it legitimizes their rule, it picks their chieftains, it restricts itself to their stable of hand-selected candidates when picking for powerful posts, it defines a framework for politics that reinforces and serves capitalism, it trains people to think of politics in crudely capitalist ways... and so on. And all that needs to be exposed in creative ways -- in part because many (millions of people) have a beginning sense of all that, and many would become more articulate and consolidated if exposed to the creative expression of that.

    5) The various "don't vote, revolt" campaigns of the RCP were not that much different from the "vote socialist" campaigns of other left parties -- structurally it involved "going out" into the election season and agitating for more radical politics. The specific differences of the content did not effect much the overall impact or form of the effort. And generally, neither the RCP nor those running "socialist campaigns" were able to develop much of a broader organized united front around their efforts.

    * * * * * * * * *

    Again: I don't think we can shape our politics in a non-revolutionary period by where the intermediate mass is at. That impulse doesn't lead to radicalizing them, it leads to de-radicalizing us. In non-revolutionary times, we need to be preparing -- which has many levels of operation but includes developing a coherent dynamic revolutionary core force (theoretically, culturally, organizationally, programmatically) and developing its initial mass links to the relatively advanced sections of society.

    And I suspect that thoughtful debates (internal and external) over electoral work will be a component of that process at every stage for a long time -- and should be.

    This is not some definitive summation, and others reading this may have a different (and more accurate) impression.

  • I don't believe in asking people "to give voting one more try." I believe in asking voters to express their contempt for this system by voting for people who are unambiguously in favor of its overthrow. I believe in asking them to join a process of building an organization and a movement that can carry that out.

    It is certainly true that you can talk to people outside polling places (though in most cases they are busily on their way to work or home) and I'm not against that. But its not a serious way to deal with the opening that elections offer. Election campaigns create a small opening, a short period when large sections of the populace are brought into some sort of political activity, however feeble and constrained.

    I don't believe in promising people "if you vote for me and I win, I'll go and make things better for you." Rather I believe in saying "the source of your problems and the problems you around you is capitalism and it can't simply be voted out of existence. We are using these elections to gather and organize forces to fight for socialism and communism and we want your help in doing that."

    Unfortunately for us there is more to "showing people the way out" than pointing to the EXIT sign. We have to win over hundreds, then thousands, and then millions of people, most of who are presently "inside" the Democratic Party. For that to happen, the Democratic Party has to fracture. And for that to happen I believe there need to be consciously revolutionary forces inside it at the moments that the cracks appear (which happens to a greater and lesser extent quite frequently, but especially in times of larger social crisis) that can lead people out, and into organizational forms more suited to the tasks quite possibly in multiple waves. Of course people leave the Democratic Party to join groups to its left all the time, usually in ones and twos and through their involvement in social movements or because they have been convinced by the arguments of people trying to "show them the way out." That is part of the process as well, but on its own it is, in my view, insufficient.

    I don't think people learn how this system works and what its limitations are primarily by having it explained to them by already conscious revolutionaries. They learn from the combination of experience and having revolutionaries around who can help them distill out of the jumble of their responses, a better understanding of those experiences. That means that revolutionaries have to accompany people through experiences where they have a pretty good idea that things are not going to work out as people hope. It also means that we have to recognize the limitations of our own knowledge about "the way out" and be prepared to learn from the very people we want to lead.

    Millions of oppressed people identify with the Democratic Party. We can tell ourselves that this is because they are dupes, but the reality is much much more complicated. The Democratic Party was, despite many well known betrayals, an important instrument through which Black people, to take the clearest example, ended the reign of Jim Crow and won certain basic political and even social rights. Black allegiance to the Democratic Party, which in any event is often highly nuanced in its recognition of the contradictions involved, is not irrational. Black folk en masse know that there are powerful political forces eager to roll back all those gains and they also know that no existing forces outside the Democratic Party presently have the power to block such a roll back. We can argue truthfully that an exclusive dependence on the Democratic Party is not sufficient to protecting (or restoring) those gains, but there is no way that millions of Black folk will break with the Democratic Party before a fight within it forces them to do so. Simply put, there is significant fraction of the capitalist class that understands that guaranteeing certain minimal rights to Black people is a condition for social peace and stability and that fraction dominates the Democratic Party. And under present conditions that fraction of the capitalist class is more useful in resisting the attempts to roll back those rights than the small and scattered forces of the revolutionary left.

    Lots of people inside the Democratic Party understand this to one degree or another and also understand that this same fraction of the capitalist class is an obstacle to all sorts of other things that are important to them. They gnash their teeth each time the Dems "sell them out" but see no credible alternative on the horizon. And the view that the Dems are "selling them out" is a reflection of their divided consciousness. It is a reflection of an awareness of conflicting interests and orientations within the Democratic Party as well as the obviously misplaced belief that the Dems in some basic sense are "the peoples party." I am suggesting that an important task of revolutionaries is to put ourselves in a place where we can help people untangle that contradictory outlook in the course of their struggles within the Democratic Party by arguing explicitly (in ways that PDA for example does not) that the Dems in Congress are not "spineless," but rather quite determined defenders of the interests with which they are actually aligned, the interests of corporate and financial capital and US imperial domination.

  • TNL writes:

    <blockquote>"think its important that we really understand the costs of confining ourselves to extra-electoral political activity. For most of us, that’s simply what politics is, working with social movements or trying to bring them into being, organizing demonstrations and the like. We imagine the road to revolution consisting essentially of the continuous expansion of this sort of activity."</blockquote>

    I know that you are describing something real: that generally, there has grown up an activist culture that has (often) confined itself to protest. Sometimes this is called "the social movements" -- when in fact many of these activist protest networks are far from movements and far from social. And there is a great deal of stereotypical routine and lowered sights in that. (And a trend to consider NGO-style social work and reform campaigns to be "movements.")

    I won't beat up on all of that (which is certainly well intentioned), except to say that a great many people feel deep frustration with those confines and their results.

    And the job of communists is not mainly or simply to help organize the existing protest movements so they become bigger and more influential social movements (though quite a few left formations have that as their defacto view).

    I think we want to figure out how to help radicals "break out" of their current constraints -- and I can't really imagine an election campaign doing that (even a revolutionary one).

    And again: My view is that our main problem is not (at this moment) how do we reach "the mass" better -- but how do we meet and connect with the advanced (say 300,000 in society) , who are our necessary bridge to "the mass" (of millions). The desire to "go broad" when there is no real core yet is not a great impulse -- and it crops up whenever anyone gets excited about radical ideas.

    But, in regard to TNL's post, I'd like to challenge a bit the assumption that our choice is some binary admixture of protest movements plus electoral agitation. Really? Is that all we can think of?

    I think we should consider breaking out of that activist ghetto of the "usual suspects" in other ways:

    1) Why not a new sanctuary movement? Support for the border movements?
    2) why not consider on some major new journalism project (the Pradva project)?
    3) Why not build a radical/revolutionary artists network, and think of "superstructural" means of reaching large audiences?
    4) Why not seriously look at the emergence of social networking and try (in a ground floor out of the box kind of way) how to innovate there for radical politics?
    5) What about conceiving some new multimedia online "alternative university" of courses and debates (combined with a collective organizer aspect)?
    6) What about developing a revolutionary video game and fantasy world with the potential to go viral?
    7) Is it time for a new focus on police brutality?
    8) Can we make an impact with a "popularize living communist revolutions" project? How? Documentaries? Speaking tours? Supporting a "trekking for revolutionaries" project?
    9) What about ten or twelve other ideas to consider and decide among?

    In other words, I am very uneasy when the choice is a binary "protest or election" -- who says?
    Even if, in TNL's case (at least) the election work is conceived in terms of "voting for people who are unambiguously in favor of its overthrow."

    There is a reason why both protest and "socialist election campaigns" tend to slide down the slope to a non-revolutionary "Jobs not War" persona.

    By contrast: I really would like to have us carve out a new common project and arena where some shocking and very radical <em>communist</em> ideas are among the main lions meeting people at the front gates.

    I am not against considering that kind of revolutionary Eldridge Clearver-style electoral campaign (not against it in principle). But I am a bit skeptical of its likelihood under current conditions. I suspect that what starts with that vision ends up with Kucinich (despite desire and intention).

    So I am against <em>confining</em> our imagination to any "protest plus election" framework, and (on that basis) declaring that revolutionary electioneering looks like our next likely avenue of work.

    We will (as loose cloud of revolutionaries emerging as a potential movement) undoubtedly do diverse things. But if we are discussing one or two major COMMON projects, lets step back a second and let our imaginations run rampant, and see if we can't come up with something that has some real novelty (and that doesn't threaten to constantly drain revolutionary impulses and intentions by its logic).

  • Guest - RW Harvey

    Against my earlier plan to not participate in this election debate, it is too important a question.

    Poll in today's newspapers note that since 1976, 90% of incumbents voted back into office.

    Further, the poll notes, while there is "anger at Congress" voters tend to support "their own" political representatives.

    You might say that revolutionary candidates could (1) galvanize and concentrate the anger at Congress onto another, anti-imperial level of consciousness; and (2) have success in becoming popular enough to pry incumbents out (though in 34 years that happens only 10% of the time).

    Ask folks why they vote one way or another and the typical answer is because my family has been Dem/Reb, blah, blah. Half unconscious, half "being an American citizen," voters stumble zombie like to cast votes and then spend the time in between elections regurgitating the political viewpoints they grew up with anyway...

    Voting is a dangerous ideological habit; anything that reinforces that habit will undermine revolutionary consciousness.

    Lastly, if we think that working in and through the electoral arena will garner -- eventually --hundreds of millions of revolutionaries prepared for action... well, think again.

    What will move people into action (albeit mulitdirectional at first) are the radical ruptures in the objective situation that provide the openings for existing levels of consciousness to be ruptured and re-established at a new, revolutionary level... that's where we play our most significant role. Everything up to that point is about breaking bourgeois ideology (organizing minds) and revolutionary practice (organizing forces).

  • Guest - Some thoughts

    My experience in doing Student Government electoral work is that:

    1. You can't openly say you're a communist, but you can basically say anything else and just ignore people who do say you're a commie (because it's bizarre to be accused of it to most people).

    2. The people you attract to your campaign are often very advanced, and winnable to communism. They will respect you through the work you do first, will see your platform (which they like) as an extension of your ideology (which they will then be open to).

    3. It's a very effective teacher to these same people how flawed bourgeois-democracy is, whether because of the odds stacked against them, or the bullshit that actually goes on when they win and see how the sausage is made.

    I think, in general, communist electoral politics has to be basically communist in platform, phrased in a mass-line sort of way, but should avoid having that label slapped on it. Your opponents will do that for you, and the people who like your platform start to wonder if they're also "communists." This is the real reason why so many people today are not hostile to the word socialism: because right-wing propaganda against Obama calling him a socialism makes people who do identify with him start to warm-up to the word.

  • <em>I wrote the following in reply to <a href="/" rel="nofollow">Louis' post </a>above:

    I find this post a little odd, almost literally line by line. Louis implies that I have a soft spot for Democrats and am “toward the center” in a discussion where I have argued hard against supporting Democrats, including Obama. I’ve opposed supporting Democrats in every election since I was a child (and the RCP has opposed supporting every Democrat in every election).

    Further when it gets to the meat of the question, Louis claims:

    “It should be understood that in such circles, Lenin’s imprimatur will count as much as the Pope’s for Catholics."</blockquote>

    But, in fact the opposite is the case. In fact my whole issue around “tactics” is that we shouldn’t take Lenin’s historical position (on Cadets) as if it is some universal and timeless principle that applies to the Democratic Party a century and a world away. Louis may think that is a position to the right of his — but I don’t see why.

    I am arguing we should oppose voting for Democrats WITHOUT some obscure and mechanical reference to Lenin’s Duma policy.

    I said several times to Louis:

    <blockquote> “This is an example of the method i’m urging that we not adopt. Even if we made this distinction, our conditions are different enough that it would not be the same one. the Cadets were an opposition party inside an autocratic Tsarist state — do we really want to (repeatedly) use that as a reference point when discussing the U.S. Democratic Party (which rules a modern imperialist empire)?

    “It is just a wrong way to approach and assimilate the (very rich and instructive) history we have.

    “It is a method of constant analogy — where people try to understand today by approaching it through the lens experience of century-old case studies. Even if this method occasionally produces a correct stand (and it does occasionally) as a method it saps everything of materialism and critical thinking.

    “Justin was right to mock “quote slinging” above — and the habit of some communists to reference everything to some previous struggle (usually in pre-1930s Russia). It isn’t just off-putting and cliquish — it is methodologically non-materialist, because the situations we are dealing with have a great deal of particularlity, and an overuse of analogy is misleading.

    “You can’t approach a specific political question and ask “What would Lenin do?” It is a methodologically wrong use of Lenin’s contributions.”

    Then Louis says:

    <blockquote> “It should also be understood that there is an unfortunate amalgam made during the entire discussion on Kasama between “electoral work” and supporting the Democrats. The two really have to be separated, in my opinion.”

    In fact in the essay i posted (called Communist Electoral Tactics”) I wrote:

    <blockquote> “If you think about it those are three different approaches to electoral politics:

    1) Entering or supporting the Democratic party, in order to actually win office or at least influence the direction of official policy,

    2) Participating in third party electoral campaigns of an agitational kind, to get radical and revolutionary ideas before the people and

    3) Participation as a form of theater — exposing an oppressive power structure through creative mockery.


    And the whole conversation (if you go read it) dissected and examined many different ways communists could (hypothetically) relate to elections (abstention, active boycott, third party candidates, critical support for liberal democrats whatever). In other words the discussion on Kasama was framed exactly opposite of how Louis decribes it.

    Then, one last correction, Louis claims that there is a big mystery about what Badaev is claiming. How can he be explaining that the Bolsheviks sometimes gave voting support against Cadets against Black Hundreds and yet also point out that they are counterrevolutionaries.

    But it is not that complicated, it is discussed and documented in great detail in the discussion on Kasama.

    If you don’t cut off the quote from Badaev it is clear that the Bolshevik candidates did not conclude an electoral bloc with the Cadets, they did not agree to stop denouncing them as counterrevolutionaries, they merely (in some places) chose at the second tier of pyramid voting to give their support to Cadets over Black Hundreds.

    Now, again, my main point is that these historical details are irrelevant to our own need to expose and divide the Democratic Party. I am arguing that we shouldn’t seek timeless “principles” of electoral detail from the small print of Duma practices.

    I’m not sure why Louis distorts and mocks my views on each point. I’m not sure why he presents our discussion as a bunch of fools seeking excuses to support imperialist candidates. I’m not sure why he doesn’t actually remember the details of the historical discussion.

    I find the tone and the distortion unfortunate (and oddly hostile). And, while respecting Louis and his work, just feel I need to make these clarifications.

    * * * * * *

    BTW: even the title of [Louis'] post is odd: “Did the Bolsheviks form blocs with the Cadets?”

    No one claimed the Bolsheviks formed a bloc with the Cadets. Badaev is very clear they did not. I made clear they did not.

    Why slant this discussion in this way? Sloppiness? Desire to score cheap points? Simple disrespect for others? Inability to see the point someone is trying to make?

    I think we have to move beyond casual snide hostility with people who have different left histories — and at the very least should try to listen and learn.

  • Guest - louisproyect

    <blockquote>No one claimed the Bolsheviks formed a bloc with the Cadets. Badaev is very clear they did not. I made clear they did not.</blockquote>

    Mike, you wrote:

    <blockquote> “actually there were situations in the Duma elections where the Bolsheviks would support Cadets against the Black hundreds.”</blockquote>

    Perhaps I was mistaken to think that this had anything to do with the ongoing discussion/debate about the left and the DP. I won't make that mistake again. It sounded a lot to me like the arguments I have heard for the past 42 years or so about the lesser-evil. Apparently, I was mistaken. My humblest apologies.

  • In fact the Bolshevik did (in some cases) give votes to the Cadets without forming a bloc.

    It is not that complicated, and this is very clear in the Badaev passages -- and its mention of the Bolshevik Prague conference.

    Badaev makes a distinction between an electoral agreement and a bloc -- and explains that the differences is (a) no common program and (b) no decision not to relentlessly expose the Cadets as counterrevolutionary.

    So yes it is both true that (a) there was no bloc and (b) the Bolsheviks did sometimes support the Cadets against Black hundred.

    The reason this is not part of any argument about lesser evil: My point was we should not support the Democrat Party, and should not take small print of Bolshevik practice as some kind of timeless script for ourselves.

    In order to argue against supporting Democrats I don't feel compelled to "prove" that Lenin didn't support Cadets -- that kind of linkage strikes me as dogmatism and mechanical thinking of an extreme kind.

    I appreciate that you (and the rest of us) may "hear" arguments through the experience of previous debates.

  • Guest - louisproyect

    In fact the Bolshevik did (in some cases) give votes to the Cadets without forming a bloc.


    Mike, I know you are a busy guy but if you ever find something in printed or electronic media other than the Badaev paragraph you quoted that provides more information on this, I would appreciate reading it. Also, I don't know what "give votes" means. Do you mean voting for a Cadet candidate? For a motion put forward by a Cadet deputy? Agreeing with the Cadets on the choice of an elector, as Badaev mentioned? I made a conscientious effort to find something in Lenin's writings that might have supported the idea of an agreement--even on a temporary tactical basis--with the Cadets, but found nothing. The only thing I found, in fact, was his reference to the Menshevik's defense of a "fighting agreement" with the Cadets, which he characterized as "nonsensical" and "illiterate".

  • Guest - Nat W.

    I thought this article which appeared online today on the NY Times website was very relevant to this conversation. It seems rebels from the Shining Path who have been released from prison are running for several mayoral and governors' races on a total amnesty platform. This sounds like one type of electoral stategy that can be important (for their context) and something to learn from as it develops. Here's the link:

  • Guest - Nat W.

    TNL says:

    <blockquote>"I don’t believe in asking people “to give voting one more try.” I believe in asking voters to express their contempt for this system by voting for people who are unambiguously in favor of its overthrow. I believe in asking them to join a process of building an organization and a movement that can carry that out."</blockquote>

    While Mike E says:


    "I think we want to figure out how to help radicals “break out” of their current constraints — and I can’t really imagine an election campaign doing that (even a revolutionary one)." </blockquote>

    I think out of context and in the abstract, both things are correct. TNL's line is in some ways a Leninist one, it's what he fought for after 1905 when there was the opportunity to use the Duma for communist propaganda purposes.

    On the other hand Mike is correct that in the "current constraints" in which radicals find themselves in running candidates in the way TNL proposes will probably not accomplish much (imo).

    Now with the polarization existing in the country and the rise of tea party and such, this situation could change fast and people might become more open to a radical left line, I think history shows that when things get more polarized, both extremes (left and right) usually begin to do well.

    Mike points to nine ways he thinks that communists (or radical leftists) can breakout of the "current constraints." I think all those nine suggestions are viable, but then that goes back to TNL's correctness. In other words when the current constraints have been burst open to a certain degree, then I think it becomes very possible to participate in elections in the way TNL suggests. There needs to be a 1905 or some type of an "event" in the Badiou sense, along with the cultural work Mike proposes to make TNL's electoral thesis viable (imo). When that happens we've come a long way (but hopefully in not so long a time).

  • Guest - land

    I want us to come up with some revolutionary projects that will meet people at the gates. We have to come up with this.

    People will always participate in elections. In a country like this, in a country like this, elections will only solidify what already is. Even with Obama it is still what already is. Many people are going frantic for some new choices. I do not believe there are only a few of these people. There are many. How can we involve them in these projects?

    I will need somed time to go more into the projects but that is good. Because I cannot go the route of elections and protest. Maybe there was a time when it was crucial. And I will always come out for Mumia Abu-Jamal. But we need another future.

  • Guest - land

    Having said the above this also means that we will always resist attacks against our people and our history and our movememnt.

  • Guest - Stephanie McMillan

    Land, I couldn't agree more. People are desperately searching for what will get us out of this. I hear it everywhere. We need to come up with more concrete visions and brainstorm ideas for projects.

    Mike's list is great. Work in the cultural and theoretical realms are all great. Mass movements that take on various forms of oppression are great. We need something more, though. We need ways to facilitate some kind of activities that challenge the system as a whole (without getting ahead of ourselves), actions that point the way to how we will be able (when it becomes possible) to defeat it, and lead to the way of life we are fighting for.

    I used to understand protests this way. For many years I had this vague sense that massive, ever-more-combative protests would one day lead to some kind of "storming the Winter Palace" or "army against army" scenario. Maybe that could still happen, but especially since the 2003 global protests failed to stop the US from invading Iraq, protests don't seem very exciting or imbued with potential any more.

    I have a hard time articulating a vision of the future that inspires people -- mostly I (and many others) talk in negative terms about what we need to put an end to.

    When I describe the future I want, it's pretty general: "a sustainable way of life free of exploitation and oppression." That sounds nice but doesn't really catch people's imagination on fire, because it's hard to picture what that looks like concretely. People want to know what their lives might be like after capitalism is done away with. Many find the unknown more frightening than the awful conditions we're familiar with.

    We are good at exposing the crimes of the system and sometimes we succeed at building opposition. But how will we move from that, closer to our real goal? What is the bridge from here to there? How, concretely, will these struggles lead to defeat the ruling class and bring into being a new society? What are the most effective actions we can take today to get us where we want to go? Personally, I have a hard time imagining and articulating that.

    Preparing minds and organizing forces are good guidelines for today. I, like Land, will not organize around elections nor do I want to waste time organizing more useless protests. What else though? I'm clear on the "preparing minds" part but organizing forces to do what, right now, other than preparing more minds? Or is that the most we can do right now?

  • Guest - Wendy

    I don't think that socialists or Communists should engage in electoral activity. Especially in the wake of the "Citizens United" ruling, elections have become totally saleable, and without corporate money it is impossible for even an energized leftist movement to succeed. Rather than waste effort on elections, the socialists and Communists should focus on building a vigorous movement based on the idea of "service". If our countries are to have austerity, if the State is going to give up even the pretense of protecting the poor, the left should become a safe haven for the people displaced by the economy. There will certainly be no shortage of homeless, destitute, and starving people who need comfort, solace, and material support. I think a cursory review of any successful third world movement will demonstrate that building trust is the key to building a vigorous movement.

    Besides, what would you rather be doing? Holding up a sign that nobody's going to read, getting kicked around by pigs in riot gear, or giving plates of food to hungry bellies, volunteering at a free clinic, helping the dispossessed find shelter and stability?

    I also think we need a stronger theoretical/cultural component to our beliefs. A new generation of Left thinkers, like David Harvey and Slavoj Zizek, are inspiring a new generation of young Leftists and giving Marx his due in the canon of Western thought. We shouldn't be so quick to reject the ideas of Marx, a thinker and historical figure who was certainly anything but the stodgy, doctrinaire geezer he's portrayed as in modern media.

  • I want to raise a point in regard to the arguments of "supporting the lesser evil."

    Some people want to participate electorally to agitate for revolutionary, socialist or at least progressive ideas. Ok. But others argue that we <em>must</em> participate in order to ally with liberals to win specific reforms -- in other words, pending chances for revolution, we have an obligation to use our votes (and potentially voting blocks) to help pressure state policy one way or another.

    In general, and of necessity, such arguments need to take any sense of "bourgeois dictatorship" (i.e. a sense of the state as a whole serving an imperialist system) and subordinate it to a vision of seamless political spectrum.

    Two historical examples: 1964 and 1972.

    In 1964, the "lesser evil" types told us that LBJ was the peace candidate (and we got the Vietnam war). In 1972 they told us Nixon was the war candidate (and we got an end to the Vietnam War).

    There is a similar "irony" earlier:

    In 1964, the Democratic forces of LBJ portrayed the Republican Goldwater as a dangerous warmongerer who would escalate U.S. involvement in Vietnam (and specifically use nukes). Progressive forces were urged to go "Part of the way with LBJ" in interests of ("at least") getting a less warlike foreign policy. It was raw deceit: during the election campaign, LBJ invented a "Gulf of Tonkin incident" as a casus belli. Within days of the 1964 LBJ victory he and his staff were planning the U.S. land invasion of Vietnam (which he launched in April 1965).

    In 1971, the liberals (and part of our own radical movement) argued that "McGovern will end the war, Nixon will escalate it." But in fact that shows their own assumptions.

    Nixon had already withdrawn most U.S. forces, and shortly after his resignation, Saigon fell to the liberation forces (without U.S. retaliation).

    Nixon <em>tried</em> to win, of course. He unleashed brutal bombings of a criminal kind, and expanded the war to Cambodia in 1970. He <em>wanted</em> to win the war, of course. He was a war criminal and an imperialist.

    But the fact is: It did not require a Democrat in the white house to end the war (which in fact a Democrat in the white house had started!)

    In fact, the end of the Vietnam war was NOT dependent on Democrats winning, nor was it dependent on the antiwar movement supporting the Democrats. It ended because the U.S. was defeated, and continuing was no longer in the interests of its ruling class.

    The whole argument and history of looking to oppose the semi-permanent "greater evil" of the "ultra-right" etc. is riddled with such "ironies" -- meaning: deception, distortion, misinterpretation of stakes -- because it often (in its crude and common form) takes the political and ideological differences of candidates at face value, and does not take seriously the underlying (and ultimately determinant) interests of empire and class. It is (for many forces involved) actually an argument for a long-term alliance with the liberal imperialists -- argued by exaggerating their differences with a hyped ultra-right "wing."

    There are moments in history of real and acute fascist danger -- but they are rare and exception (certainly in the U.S., where they have not yet happened!)

    Look at those who said McCain was a warmongerer -- and that only Obama would end Guantamamo, etc.

  • What I most appreciate about Mike's contributions to this discussion, is that they actually address the problem, namely that a huge chunk of the people who need to be won to revolutionary politics in order for us to have a viable revolutionary movement are presently attached to the Democratic Party and that the efforts of revolutionaries at "exposure" of the Dems and the electoral process as a whole from the outside have proven largely fruitless.

    Taking the broadest definition of the term "revolution," there have been several dozen successful revolutionary transfers of power driven by popular uprisings of one sort or another on planet Earth in the modern era. Not ONE of them has occurred in a country with genuinely competitive elections. That is unless you count the abortive revolution in Chile and what is currently occurring in Venezuela, Bolivia, and in a more contradictory manner Ecuador which would only underline my central argument that it is neccesary for the broad masses of people to experience for themselves the exhaustion of bourgeois democracy and to understand it as such before they will break in sufficient numbers from the system. The electoral system is a potent firewall against any revolutionary movement, a firewall that we can not get around but rather must go through.

    Any attempt to, in effect, hack the electoral firewall, that is to say to turn some of the most potent mechanisms by which this system legitimizes itself against the sytem will be fraught with peril. The most obvious one is the threat of being sucked into the logic of the system itself and essentially functioning as part of the social-democratic wing of the Democratic Party. This is I think the clear results of the strategy that Carl has argued for and that has been carried out with certain variations by a whole swathe of the movement.

    The most commonly advanced alternative strategy of running independent or third-party candidates outside the Democratic Party may or may not escape this fate, but runs a different risk of perpetual marginalization arising from the particular design of the US electoral system. Here Carl is correct in criticizing the traditional Trotskyist position that attempts to impose a strategy developed in the context of European-style parliamentary systems on the quite different US reality. This is not to say that such efforts shouldn't be PART of a revolutionary electoral strategy. While I think the development of contradictions internal to the Democratic Primary will be primary in its breakup, the existence of and experiences with various electoral efforts outside it may play a role as well.

    I have proposed an alternative to both of these approaches of running explicitly revolutionary socialist or communist candidates in Democratic primaries with the objective of building up a conscious socialist electorate among some of the Democratic Party's historic constituencies. How exactly that would play out is of course uncertain. What measures would be taken, if any, and how quickly, for instance, to bar such efforts we can't really know in advance. Whether the present crisis actually offers an opportunity to attract more than trivial support is another question. I think its entirely possible that such an undertaking would involve many years of results just as marginal as present third-party efforts, that is to say rarely busting the 2-3% ceiling, before an opportunity for a breakthrough presents itself. (An advantage in focusing on primaries is that, given the pattern of dramatically lower turnout in such races, a much smaller number of voters can gain a more respectable percentage of the vote. This is precisely how the Tea Party has gained momentum.)

    While I am advancing a particular strategy for the purposes of developing the argument I am not really wedded to the specifics or even to the proposition that this should be undertaken right now or in the next election cycle. I generally agree with Mike that the central task of revolutionaries in this moment is to cohere a core and to develop contacts with the advanced and that attempting to "go broad" too early would almost certainly have the effect of deradicalizing and dispersing revolutionary forces rather than radicalizing any significant section of the masses.

    But a critical part of cohering a revolutionary core in my view is the fight for an understanding of the complexities of the challenges that making revolution entails. We may not have the forces or organization today to initiate a revolutionary electoral strategy, but sooner or later it will have to be done. The dogmatic anti-electoralism evident in these discussions, whether of the crude semi-anarchist variety characteristic of many around the RCP or of the more scholastic Trotskyist variety, is a serious obstacle to developing this neccesary aspect of any larger serious strategy for socialist revolution in the US.

    Finally, Mike proposes a bunch of specific potential alternatives to "protest as usual." Its a fine list. But my point about the limitations of the social movements wasn't simply about the ritualized forms of action or the role of the non-profit sector (although those are symptomatic) but really about the particular weight of electoral politics that I don't think any of Mike's suggestions are likely to overcome. This is not to argue that any one or two of them wouldn't be a fine place to concentrate ourselves now for the purpose of gathering forces. Thats another discussion that we should have. Rather it is to say that all of them would operate largely within the space of social movements and would not be likely to reach those sections not just of the masses but of the advanced that a serious revolutionary electoral strategy would.

    In short I am far less interested in convincing anybody of the need to run revolutionaries in Democratic primaries in, say, 2012, which may or may not be a good idea, than I am in convincing folks that the development of a serious electoral component will utimately be neccesary and that the prevailing anti-electoral dogmatism among many revolutionary-minded folks has to be fought.

  • Guest - Stephanie McMillan

    I think Wendy makes a great point about service. We can find ways of combining service with combativity. One example is Free the Land, the Miami group that has spread elsewhere, where communities seize foreclosed, bank-owned houses and help homeless people move into them.

    This is a concrete way to do several things: organize people around concrete work and build community ties, show that what we're about is collectively meeting people's needs, and in doing so, practicing on small levels forcefully dispossessing the bourgeoisie.

  • Guest - jp

    Mike's last point is one i often try to make. in addition to his examples, i'd add the absurd retroactive presumption that gore would not have invaded iraq. remember the clinton/gore administration killing a million Iraqis (including half a million kids)? not many do. gore may not have done it in the bush style, which was too messy for the ruling elites. more likely he would have done it in the obama style?

  • Guest - Chris Cutrone

    @ Tellnolies:

    I think that posing the question abstractly, whether revolution has ever taken place in the modern era where bourgeois liberal democratic norms were operant, is misleading.

    I almost never say anything positive about the 1960s-70s New Left, but in this case I'll make an exception. Whatever its other faults, the New Left was not defeated by electoralism. (I think the Dems picked up the pieces of the failure of the New Left, which is different. One could also say that the Republicans picked up some of those disintegrated pieces of the New Left's failed discontents, i.e., aspects of the New Right.) So a mass upsurge in revolutionary politics is quite possible under liberal democracy. The idea of an "extra-parliamentary opposition," as it was called in Europe, was valid. (The problem was that this was hitched to a Stalinist/politically indeterminate/opportunist notion of "the movement," or movementism -- a problem for which Lenin had several terms: economism and tailism.)

    I think it's important to distinguish the problems of electoralism per se from those of the Democratic Party as a Sargasso Sea/Bermuda Triangle/graveyard for the American (and, in a sense, the global) Left. Otherwise it becomes a matter of false principles.

    @ Jp:

    Definitely Gore would have invaded Afghanistan (al Qaeda would still have committed the 9/11 attacks) and Iraq (Saddam Hussein still would have spited the UN sanctions; the Kurdish nationalists would still have demanded U.S.-protected autonomy, the Shia Islamists would still have been seething under Baathism; Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel would still have desired an end to Saddam/Baathism).

  • Democratic Party as Bermuda Triangle.... hmmmmm.

    "They entered the Triangle heading southwest for Havana in formation and in full flight speed. There were no signs of unusual weather -- just the usual turbulence. Suddenly communications were cut off, and nothing more was heard from them. They were experienced pilots, and claimed to have a clear sense of where they were going. It is hard to search an area that large, but all our deployed forces found no trace of them. A few oil slicks seen, but that could just be the usual spillage in those waters..."</blockquote>

  • Guest - artemi0


    Have been following this discussion with some interest- and I think that I finally get what you are proposing, not to say that I agree with it.

    To summarise- your idea is to place explicitly socialist candidates into targeted and focused democratic party primary elections (and only into primary elections). The goal of this- would not be to win the democratic nomination of whatever locale, but would be to scoop up a relatively small number of democrats-and win them to explicitly socialist politics. This would not be the only, or even principle form of struggle. It's larger purpose is to have some kind of footing inside the democratic party- so that in a moment of crisis the small number of explicitly socialist forces could split the democratic party- and steal away a larger chunk of liberal/progressive/radical forces that are presently in the democratic mileau.

    Is this a fair summary of your general idea?

  • Artemio,

    That is more or less it. I'm not against winning those primaries and running in the general election, or even taking office, and indeed think such events would probably be part of any crisis, but I don't see that as an immediate prospect. And the point is not simply to "scoop up" a handfull of recruits, but to constitute a self-consciously socialist electorate that would include an activist core but also a presumably larger periphery of less active voters who nonetheless identify politically with the "party within the party." Whether electoral work would be the principal aspect of a larger strategy would I think depend on developing conditions that are hard to predict, and this would probably change over time, but I definitely think there must be a very large extra-electoral component.

    I've only sketched out he basic idea here and think there are still a lot of unanswered questions that could really only be answered in the course of doing it. I think, for example, there would be serious questions over how to relate to the essentially social-democratic forces like PDA and others in a manner that is non-sectarian but also non-liquidationist. I can imagine dozens of potential dilemmas in the actual implementation of the strategy I am suggesting.


    I don't think there is any question that mass revolutionary upsurges a la the 1960s New Left are a possibility in bourgeois democracies. But there is a huge chasm between such an upsurge and a revolutionary movement able to command the sort of mass support neccesary to overthrow the state and here I think we need to look more closely at the role of elections in the decomposition of the New Left (which I am sorry but not surprised you have so few kind words for).

    I would argue that the failure of the New Left to develop a genuinely revolutionary electoral strategy put them in a place where, when the upsurge began to ebb for all sorts of reasons (repression, the end of the draft, simple exhaustion, etc...), the choice increasingly became one between the sectarian irrelevance of various Leninist party and pre-party groups and the sort of dissolution into the social-democratic wing of the Democratic Party that I've argued is the essence of Carl's position.

    The fact is that while a numerically significant fraction of people, particularly students, youth and oppressed nationalities, came to identify with the revolutionary project, far larger numbers of new people were being drawn into electoral politics as a result of the Voting Rights Act and the lowering of the voting age. The electoral system was a very powerful weapon against this incipient revolutionary movement and I would argue effectively imposed a ceiling on its growth.

    There were during this period significant cleavages within the Democratic Party, first over civil rights and then over the war, that a revolutionary electoral strategy might have been able to exploit to actually break up the party and repolarize politics in the US. Instead the movement basically went from Cleaver and Pigasus to McGovern and the abyss in four years and by 1976 was a non-factor in the elections and US politics generally, which is not to say that people didn't continue to do good and important things.

  • The problem with the characterization of the Democratic Party as the graveyard or the Bermuda Triangle of the left, is that it underestimates the multiplicity of its effects. What the Democratic Party and the electoral process do is not simply absorb leftist activists who foolishly venture into its waters, but I think far more importantly separate grassroots actvists and organic leaders thrown up in the course of various struggles who are drawn into the Democratic Party by a myriad of considerations from conscious revolutionaries who refuse to have anything to do with it. What makes it a watery graveyard then is not neccesarily simply the sailing into it, but the abdication on the part of those who have the political understanding to navigate through and eventually lead (many more) people out.

  • Guest - Chris Cutrone

    @ Tellnolies:

    I agree that electoral dynamics played a role in the demise of the New Left in American politics -- but I would say an extrinsic rather than intrinsic one.

    I also agree that one cannot discount the potential role elections could play in a broader context of radicalization and polarization.

    The problem with 3rd party candidacies is their attempt to influence the Dems. I.e., Nader/Greens try to punish the Dems for being so Right-wing by costing them margins of victory, in an attempt to force the Dems to the "Left." (I think it's questionable whether Nader/Greens are actually to the Left of the Dems.)

    I think that there is a blurring of using elections as a tactic vs. using them as a strategy. The raising of principles (in the guise of historical examples) tends to blur the distinctions. I don't think electoral campaigns with respect to the capitalist state are inherently liquidationist or otherwise bad. But there are preciously few examples to the contrary.

    In a word I would say that the New Left suffered from infantilism -- an infantile attitude towards mainstream politics and the state. They didn't make good on previous historical experience (not that there was that much there to begin with), let alone begin to transcend it. Instead it became a matter of reinventing the wheel (but more poorly) imagining conditions had changed fundamentally.

  • Guest - jp

    chris cutrone says: "I think it’s questionable whether Nader/Greens are actually to the Left of the Dems."

    is this another platypus attempt at what it considers sophisticated thought, like being anti-anti imperialist?

  • Guest - artemi0

    TNL says

    <blockquote> I can imagine dozens of potential dilemmas in the actual implementation of the strategy I am suggesting.</blockquote>

    Lol- so can I. &amp; I do not think it is fair to characterize these questions and grave doubts as "anti electorate dogmatism".

    It is a correct assumption to question the validity, the purpose, the process, &amp; the results in bourgeois elections. This assumption falls on the political spectrum of intermidiate/advanced as to those foreces we are trying to win over.

    The relatively advanced are those who actually answer this question by explicitly saying; voting is an invalid expression and does not represent the interests of the people (or my own), voting is relatively pointless right now, the entire process is rigged &amp; stacked against us (or me), &amp; the results don't even mattter.

    Would this generic but politically advanced sentiment be part of a platform for a proposed revolutionary electoral strategy? If yes- would the democratic pary accept it? would the democratic party apparatus rule it out at jump street?
    If "marginialization" is our (temporary) fate- do we have some agency here? or do we let the nomencletura decide and declare?

    I suppose the last point that "the results don't matter"- is the appropriate lesson to draw from the presidential election of 2000. It is not however the popular lesson drawn from those who were and are engaging in democratic electoral politic's. The electoral and popular lesson learned is- a 3rd party vote and a 3rd party candidate is just a waste of a vote with extreme consequence.

    I have always questioned this? What is the reason why? How can one be wedded to a process- in which their candidate recieved the largest number of votes popularly (and in fact! electorily)-but still was defeated, lost, and in fact ruined. What is the drive to refuse these basic facts &amp; to turn around and blame someone else, someone of little or no consequence- "Ralph Nader"?

    I have always questioned the foundational and underlying logic of american democracy. Almost anyone can vote, &amp; almost anyone can run for office "in theory". There are only "2" parties though, and that is the way it shall remain. While there are deep differneces in the ruling class about the road forward in the new american century, when it comes to essentials of program- they are in fact essentially a 1 party state putting up the bare minimum of veneer and masquerading as a 2 party state...and it's a pretty good scam.

    "Politicians, they are all the same- they always promise but never deliver"

    Would this generic but relatively politically advanced sentiment be part of a platform for a proposed revolutionary electoral strategy? How so?

    My general understanding- is that in theory- almost any individual with a political idea can compete in the primary election for the partys nomination. I don't want to 'drag this discussion' down by getting into details and nitty gritty of primary and nomination process- as those discussions are usually boring and contrived, as is entire electoral process IMHO- and it's designed to be that way.

    In practice- to be a semi serious contender in a semi serious primary election, well first you have to have some money. To be a serious contender- you have to have alot more than the other few people who have enough to get their name on a ballot. As Mike point's out above-the money is 1 gate that you have to pass through.

    If you don't have it($), don't bother. If you only have $ome- well your better off going to a race track and placing all of it on the worst odds (which appear to be the highest paying) and pray against reality crashing down for a win. At least in that scenario you have the prospect and possibility of raising the necessary cash for the next cycle of election- but at that point, your already trapped in the logic of it all...

    and there are about dozen such conundrums we haven't even talked about yet.

  • The conclusion that "the results don't matter" is wrong and at the heart of what I am calling anti-electoral dogmatism. It reflects a crude and essentially conspiratorial view of how bourgeois democratic states actually function. The ruling class is not the borg. It is not monolithic in its outlook even if it has important core areas of consensus. It contains thousands of intenal differences and contradictions, great and small, many of which have quite tangible consequences in peoples lives and which get worked out through political processes in which elections play an important part. One needn't have any illusions that elections might bring the sorts of changes that this society most desperately needs to recognize that which party gets elected will detemine whether or not some women have access to abortion or whether or not the Justice Department prosecutes certain civil rights violations or whether unemployment benefits get extended and for how long during a particular recession. These are political decisions that involve judgements that are not mechanically determined by the logic of capital and then simply implemented by whoever happens to be in office. There is a hell of a lot more human agency than that involved.

  • Guest - louisproyect

    The conclusion that “the results don’t matter” is wrong and at the heart of what I am calling anti-electoral dogmatism.


    That's why they call it a two-party *system*. Unless the DP was not home to Dennis Kucinich and Maxine Waters, and unless there were not real differences between it and the Republicans (unemployment extensions, Roe vs Wade), the system could not function. The reason there is such a furor today is that Obama has made these differences fairly minimal. There was an interesting item on Peter Daou's blog that discussed how Glenn Greenwald and company are getting on the nerves of the White House:

    I don't put much stock in this opposition morphing into a 3rd party bid but I have not seen such alienation from a DP president since LBJ. It was all predictable, of course:

  • Guest - artemi0

    There are a number of assumptions on this thread (and related post's and comments) that have to be drawn out a little more.

    For starters, the biggest one- is the assumption that "most progressive people" &amp; those we are trying to win over are currently in the democratic mileau. For the record- I think many of them are. They are in some sense politically active, engagaged, left leaning, have stakes in the decisions they have made &amp; are either indecisive or loyal.

    Here I think it is relevent to bring in some data. Depending on which study and method of calculation one chooses to accept-the percentage of the eligiable electorate that actually votes (one time every 4 years) in a presidential election is?

    90%? not even close

    80%? still not even close

    70%? well- we are barely luke warm- and if anyone tells you 70% they are lieing to you and manipulating you.

    50%-65% An actual number that falls somewhere between truth and falsehood- and depends on which method of calculation one uses. Are we going on all registered voters? What about unregistered? Are you including all the population at or above age 18? Are you including those in prison? Obviously (non citizens/illegals are excluded), right? What about those overseas? point is there is a differing method of statistic and calculation in determining who's vote is elligable out of the total number votes to be counted. This calculation varies widely depending on which statistic one chooses to acceppt.

    There is an old cliche cooked up in US/UK intelligence agencies during WWII- often in the form of a quote that is attributed to Hitler,' The only statistics I trust are the one's I falsify myself'

    Accepting this cliche- we can acceppt a number between 50-65%.

    So do most people even vote? I would say yes, most do- but just barely, "most" as in slightly more than 50%- but well below 65%. And 65% is the highest, most opportune and inflated statistic that you can find. 50% is the lowest. I am sure we can find others outside of this range, according to... someone..

    And that is a presidential election we are talking about, once every 4 years. The election process, the primaries produce a much lower number. TNL is factually correct to point this out- and it is a well thought out basic plan, if we were to engage such a strategy.

    I do think this broad range of numbers doesnt take into account a few major categories of potentially revolutionary people. And at this point- Its all potential no matter which arena or creative invention we choose to pursue.

    If there are engaged and left leaning advanced forces rallying behind the Dem's-there are also those who are advanced and left leaning who have left the milieu, and those who were never convinced or inspired to join it in the first place.

    There are also center left forces- apatheic maybe- but unconvinced and uninspired by any mainstream political program.

    There are mainstream center forces- maybe politically apathetic- who can't even name 2 candidates in any given election; but they know exactly who Kim Kardashian is and in all the up to the minute details.. Maybe politically apathetic- but at the present moment, ideologically attached...

    And then there is the right- Numerically strong, perhaps and most likely a majority composed of the center + the center/right + the right/center + the hard right + right hard.

    More class analysisis is needed here I understand. For the purposes of this discussion am mainly trying to concentrate on left and potentially left forces though.

    So- do most people vote? maybe or maybe not? As Chou En-Lai answered a French journalist who asked his opinions of the 200 yr old French Revolution... Chou replied, " It's too soon to tell."

    We do have to engage with people who vote, that's not a question. We do have to understand that people can participate and become radicalized by the outcomes of electoral politics- and it happens in 'a-ha moments'. These people can have 1 foot in a democratic camp and the other in a more radical/revolutionary outlook. Contradictory feelings are by their very nature- occuring silmultaniously and conflicting.

    Which side win's? How to win? That is the question

  • Guest - artemi0


    Perhaps we had a misunderstanding. Perhaps not and it's exactly as it appears.

    When I said the result's don't matter I was referring to the specific circumstance of the vote count in the 2000 presidential election (and hinting at the less documented but nonetheless equally important data regarding the 2004 presidential election).

    Give me the opportunity to clarify and rephrase;

    The "vote count" doesn't matter- even if their candidate get's the most votes popularly or electorally- that's still not a garuntee of winning the election. In the 2000 presidential election definately- and perhaps in 2004, it was essentially ruling class political and military muscle &amp; mobility that determined the results of "who won". It had nothing to do with the vote count, and the generally accepted process of legitimization that elections normally represent.

    Maybe this is a crude view, Maybe it's conspiritorial- as TNL says. That's how it happened though.

    TNL- I suppose you have your own developed analysis of these modern electoral phenomenon? This is the arena that you are proposing we enter into and compete? Right? Wrong?

    The ruling class might not be "the borg" in the classical star trekkian sense. It's more complex than a monolithic,droning conspiritorial, robot machine with tentacles everywhere; all moving in unison and for a common programe based or primal desire- total domination of everything that exists. It's more complex than your analogy above- but not much more.

    The democrat's are a analogical bermuda tri-angle though. Right?

    Really enjoyed the passage mike cited above, got the metaphor- very funny too, ha ha.

Leave your comments

Post comment as a guest

0 Character restriction
Your text should be more than 10 characters
Your comments are subjected to administrator's moderation.