On the evening of January 8, we assembled several interesting people for an inquiry into election policies:
We'd have had a lot more except that the VYEW webinar service went down and we were 45 minutes late starting. Nevertheless, the inquiry went very well.
We had a number of questions.
Nobody in our group was interested in the "abstentionist" electoral policies put forward by anarchists and certain radicals, so we did not explore that very much. There was a little bit of interest in the idea that socialists should always run their own candidates and vote for no others, but not much. Most of us agreed with the CPUSA 2010 convention, which said that our electoral policies should be based on the need to defeat the ultra-right in American politics. One of us made the point that CPUSA electoral policies for 2012 would be hard to distinguish from those of traditional Social Democrats, who generally believe that revolutionaries can be elected into power.
At this point, it became evident that we really have to understand the difference between idealism and materialism when we are discussing tactics.
The difference between CPUSA and Social Democrats, our professor noted, is that CPUSA election tactics for 2012 are not necessarily our long-term strategy. "Nobody believes that the ruling class will stand aside and let the working class be elected over them," was said. It was also emphasized that elections are only one arena of struggle, and Communists participate in all of them!
Somewhere in there, we made the point that it would be lazy and ill-advised to try to copy the election tactics used in other countries and in other times. The American "winner take all" electoral system is quite unique and cannot be compared to the parliamentary systems used in most other advanced countries. We also noted that the long arc of history has been toward more and more democracy in the United States. In the first constitution, Rhode Island, it was said, was the only state that allowed all mature white men to vote, all the other early states also required that voters own substantial property. It was not until the 20th century that women won the vote, and only very recently that African Americans in the South began to enjoy voting rights commensurate to those of white people.
We took note of certain attempts to reverse the long arc of history toward democracy. In state governments controlled by right wingers since 2010, a number of legislative attempts have been made to curtail and/or distort people's right to vote. We began to wonder if we were correctly assessing the situation in the United States today.
The biggest question we dealt with was "What principle(s) should guide us in figuring out election policies?" We were unanimous in agreeing that the interests of the working class must guide Communist electoral decisions, just as they guide all our other work.
One of the most critical elections in world history took place in Germany in the early 1930s. Hitler and the German "National Socialist Party" won a plurality, then went on to take full power, start World War II, enslave nations, and murder millions. We know that the Nazis must have run pretty effective election campaigns, but what, we asked, did the Communists, the Socialists, and the liberal capitalists do?
One of our participants said, "The Communists and Socialists were at each others' throats" while Hitler went on to win. If they had combined, it was speculated, they would have won a clear majority and barred the Nazis from power! Would that have prevented World War II and all the attendant atrocities? To what extent do the lessons from Germany apply to our situation in America today, if at all? What did the different parties and electoral groups do, what might they have done, and what was the effect on history?
We agreed, then, to advance our studies of historical precedent. We will probably need to study the Little School lesson on fascism. and we need to know a lot more about how the Nazis (and the Italian fascists?) came to power.
Here is a brief bibliography on the way Communist/Social Democratic political antagonism contributed to the success of Nazism. The best source on the role of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in the Weimar Republic is Heinrich Winkler's magisterial three-volume study (unfortunately available only in German):
Von der Revolution zur Stabilisierung: Arbeiter und Arbeiterbewegung in der Weimarer Republik -- 1918 bis 1924 [of the Revolution to Stabilization: Workers and the Workers Movement in the Weimar Republic] (1985).
Der Weg in die Katastrophe: Arbeiter und Arbeiterbewegung in der Weimarer Republik -- 1930 bis 1933 [The Road to Catastrophe: Workers and the Workers Movement in the Weimar Republic] (1987).
Der Schein der Normalität: Arbeiter und Arbeiterbewegung in der Weimarer Republik -- 1924 bis 1930 [The Assurance of Normality: Workers and the Workers Movement in the Weimar Republic] (1988).
Other useful secondary sources on the subject are:
R. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich (2005).
G. Layton, From Bismarck to Hitler: Germany 1890-1933 (2002).
Richard Breitman, German Socialism and Weimar Democracy (1981).
Gerard Braunthal, Socialist Labor and Politics in Weimar Germany: The General Federation of German Trade Unions (1978).
Conan Fischer, ed., The Rise of National Socialism and the WOrking Classes in Weimar Germany (1996).
Hallas's study of the Comintern is helpful for understanding the political interaction of the international Communist movement and the Soviet Union with the German CP:
Hallas, D., The Comintern (1985).
Let's keep this inquiry going! Let us know what you think!