- Category: Revolutionary Strategy
- Created on Wednesday, 29 September 2010 20:28
- Written by Tellnolies
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.”
* * * * * * * *
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.