All the discussions of our Collective Study Group so far have concluded that the interests of the working class are the best guideline for electoral policies. However, it is evident from news reports that the ideological battle still rages among the American electorate and especially among the critical youth forces.
Although many may be amused and patronizing about the strong youth turnout for Republican candidate Ron Paul in their primaries, serious activists need to try to understand it. The Dallas newspaper carried this headline during the early primary voting: "Young Voters Cheer Paul On. Under-40 crowd likes war stand, consistency." Reporter Gromer Jeffers Jr reports that the libertarian candidate is consistently drawing in the most young voters and the most who call themselves "independents."
Please put aside the campaign promises of the candidates for the sake of this discussion of electoral policies. Since Ron Paul seems to have little possibility of ever becoming President, should we assume that a considerable number of young people are ready to throw away their vote? Is this a materialist (scientific) view or an idealistic (superstitious) one? According to the popular campaign verbiage, should Americans vote "their values" abstractly or should they try to predict the consequences of our actions in the real world?
An excellent discussion among Occupy Wall Street ideologues is taking place on googlegroups. An obviously committed activist named Kevin began his discourse with the following two quotes:
"Revolutionary war is an antitoxin which not only eliminates the enemy's poison but also purges us of our own filth. Every just, revolutionary war is endowed with tremendous power and can transform many things or clear the way for their transformation." and, "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." I don't recognize the first quote but the second is from Chairman Mao. Kevin enthusiastically asserts, "This is how those who currently have power maintain their grasp. Yes, there are ideological tactics. However, ultimately the ruling class rules by and with their police and armies. We are the 99% and so are the soldiers." He then goes on to argue against participating in the 2012 American elections in any way.
Kevin begins, "No matter what party is voted in -- Democrat, Republican, Green, or whatever -- politicians are controlled by whoever controls industry. Under Capitalism, that is the ruling class." I"m not sure why Kevin lumped the Greens in with the two main capitalist parties. I'm also not sure why he acceded all power to industrialists, when the rise to power of finance capital over industrialists has been well documented since the early part of the 20th century.
Rather than nit-pick over details, let's let Kevin make his point: "It's not about personality or even intention. If I, as a communist, were elected as president -- I would be powerless to enact any of my ideas as long as the economic system is capitalist. In order to even think I might get anything passed, I'd have to 'play the game'. 'The game' is oppression and exploitation. NONE of the major progressive changes that have come about in the last 100 years have come due to electing the right person into office. Labor laws, the weekend, and the 8 hour day came as a result of strikes and physical battles between workers and the police...."
I'm wiling to concede that Kevin considers himself a communist and that office-holders have to know the rules and play the game to pass legislation. I am not willing to concede that progressive change comes about due to exclusive activity in some arenas of struggle while ignoring the electoral arena. The great accomplishments of working peoples' struggles did not take place magically because they fought, but because they fought wisely and in every available arena, including the political arena. This can be checked very easily by seeing what real working people actually did and do.
In the same googlegroup discussion, someone named "Jackie" commented on Kevin's contribution: "I agree with at least 95% of this well reasoned argument; politicians won't save us, but mostly electoral strategies justify non-struggle positions arising from the illusion that we are a democracy when we are, as most of the 99% agree with OWS, a plutocracy controlled by the1%. The resistance of OWS to electoral politics stems from a history of sell outs by the Democrats.
'The 5% with which I disagree has to do with the use of electoral politics as a tactic, not a strategy. To do so one has to be very left and have a sophisticated understanding of the contradictions Kevin (or his friend) explains so well. But the 30s left used both direct action and electoral tactics. We must. be clear that if we elect someone,all they could do is speak for our independent movement: 'The liberation of the working class is the work of the workers alone.' But tactically elections can be useful-- for getting out a program, meeting progressives who respond to it and addressing the many people who pay attention to politics most during elections. Our message is that we will publicize a workers' agenda and force other politicians to address It, not that we can personally legislate solutions...." So said Jackie.
Football is a useful metaphor for understanding class struggle. In the photo, the two teams oppose one another at the line of scrimmage. The line is marked by an official holding a pole marker. The battle is on the field and the marker is on the sidelines.
We may think of legislation as the marker in the great class struggle. People may carry out many fights in many forms for working class progress, but it does not become general and lasting until the markers are moved forward. Thus, the centuries-long battles for shorter working hours reached a celebration point in 1935 when the marker was planted, and legislation was passed, for the Fair Labor Standards Act. A qualitative change had occurred in the fight for shorter working hours! The same metaphor applies with other progressive legislation and with court decisions. Certainly, these markers did not move independently, but their moving was nontheless an important part of the battle and would not have happened without legal and electoral action.
The metaphor holds when the pole marker moves the other way, too. Reactionary legislation marks a victory for the ruling class. For example, the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court in 2010 gave greater powers to corporations at the expense of workers. The pole marker moved backward!
One of the most interesting aspects, so far, of the discussions of the Collective Study Group has been our inquiry into the faulty election policies in Germany that let Hitler gain credibility and power by winning a plurality in their 1932 election. So far, we have not been able to closely examine what the communists, socialists, and liberal-leaning voters actually did in their elections, nor how they explained it, but we have asserted that the socialists' and communists' combined vote in 1932 would have been 54%, which would have prevented HItler's ascension at that time. Of course, they did not combine. They lost to the Nazis. Those who followed an anarchistic (abstention) or a sectarian (campaigning only for "their own" candidates) course, must have lived to regret it under the fascists! Many of them didn't live very long.
'The Nazis strongly capitalised on the despair of the Depression. In 1928, the Nazi Party held 12 seats in the Reichstag out of a total of 491 seats. By 1930 this number had increased to 107 (out of 577), which more than doubled to 288 (out of 647) only three years later.
'In 1932, feeling as though he had a chance at being elected as president, Hitler ran for election against World War I veteran General Paul von Hindenburg. Despite Hitler losing, he accounted for 37 percent of the vote. Later that year, realising that Hitler and the Nazi Party had risen to such great power that it was only wise to include him in the government, President Hindenburg and Chancellor Franz von Papen offered him the position of vice-chancellor. An ambitious Hitler, however, declined, demanding the chancellorship. In January 1933, the government yielded to Hitlers demands and appointed him Chancellor of Germany.
'It was believed that, despite Hitler being chancellor, the government would be able to curb his more extreme policies by only permitting three Nazi Party members in the cabinet. Many also believed that there was little cause for concern, since the Nazi Party did not hold the majority of seats in the Reichstag.
'On 27 February 1933 the Reichstag was burned to the ground. Blaming the communists, Hitler used this incident to encourage President Hindenburg to grant him emergency powers. Empowered by this, the Nazis proposed an Enabling Act which authorised the cabinet to enact legislation without the approval of the Reichstag. The following month the Enabling Act was passed with 441 votes to 94, giving Hitler unlimited power. This transition from democracy to dictatorship marked the end of the Weimar Republic and the beginning of the Third Reich. When President Hindenburg died the next year, Hitler became the Führer (leader) of Germany."
One cannot take an example from history and transfer it unchanged to the present situation. But one can certainly conclude that there are times when progressives must recognize the importance of their electoral decisions. If we believe that America's reactionaries are leading us closer to fascism, then would it make sense to seek electoral coalitions with those who oppose it?
Please participate with this Collective Study Group activity by doing your own research and sharing your findings. Let me know by e-mail if you want to be invited to the next on-line or telephone conference discussion.
--Jim Lane 01/14/12