Revolutions don’t come when they’re called: Marxism and electoral struggle

 
BY:Scott Hiley| November 1, 2018
Revolutions don’t come when they’re called: Marxism and electoral struggle

One of the most frequent questions we get involves our electoral strategy.  Why do we encourage our members to get involved in electoral work?  And why for Democrats?  Election Day is less than a week away, so here are our answers to some of the most common questions. 

Why do you support Democrats?

“Communists,” wrote Marx and Engels, “have no interests apart from those of the whole working class.” CPUSA is an independent revolutionary party of the working class, for the working class. Our entire program is based on advancing workers’ interests, both immediately (by defeating the Trump-GOP regime) and definitively (by building the unity and organization needed for a revolutionary transformation of society).  Both of those goals require getting involved in electoral struggles, including around candidates who don’t share many of our goals.

Why aren’t you calling for revolution?

Revolutions don’t come when they’re called. After the terrifying spectacle of the 2016 Republican Convention, the challenge was clear: stop Trump and the GOP.  But over 40% of the eligible voters in this country didn’t even cast a ballot. It took workers and oppressed people 150 years of struggle to win universal suffrage and make the vote the most basic tool of political struggle.  If we can’t even get people to use that tool to keep fascism at bay, how can we even think about transforming society?

Aren’t you worried that you’ll confuse workers about their real interests?

Working-class people aren’t stupid!  We have to get rid of this idea that Communists are missionaries bringing Marxist enlightenment to the backward masses. The biggest challenge facing the working class isn’t a lack of awareness of exploitation and oppression. It’s the lack of effective organization to combat it.  Electoral campaigns are one of the ways to build that organization. Marxist political education is extremely important, but it has to be linked to other political work as well.

Shouldn’t you be running your own candidates, or at least voting for other socialists?

Sure, when that’s the best way to strengthen working class unity. But the idea that radicals should only vote for ‘radical’ candidates strikes me as short-sighted, individualistic, and… well,  bourgeois. (Imagine someone who wants to “smash the state”–just as soon as their custom-made, artisanal hammer comes in the mail.) Social change comes from collective action of the working class, not from getting a couple of socialists elected and then denouncing them when they when they fail to overthrow capitalism.

Well, if the Democrats want my vote, they have to earn it.  

What about people who depend on Social Security, Medicaid, heating subsidies, and food stamps?  What about women who want equal pay and insurance that covers contraception, or trans people who want civil rights? What about people who face disenfranchisement in Republican-controlled states? Do they have to earn your vote, too? This isn’t a reality show or a talent competition; it isn’t about rewarding or punishing the Democrats. There are two paths forward from November 6: an emboldened Trump regime and a renewed assault on workers and oppressed people, or a weakened Trump regime unable to deliver on its increasingly  terrifying promises.

So what you’re telling me is…

Fascism is not just knocking at the door.  It already has a foot inside the house, and the November 6 midterms are our best chance to stop it. So get out and vote like every step of democratic progress since Reconstruction depends on it, because it does.  The fight for democracy is too important to be left to the bourgeoisie.

Still confused?  Here’s a one-hour class on Lenin’s Two Tactics and the fight for democracy and working class power. Ready to get involved?  Pledge to Get Out The Vote, November 3-5.

Image: Marchers at the 1963 March on Washington: a reminder that the vote is a tool we had to pry from the hands of the ruling class.  Photo by Marion S. Trikosko.

Author
    Scott Hiley has taught French, literature, history, and philosophy at the high school, college, and post-graduate levels.  A member of CPUSA since 2010, he is active in struggles against austerity and for education justice and labor rights. His articles have appeared in the People's World (US), the Morning Star (UK), and l'Humanité (France). He lives in a rural town in upstate NY.

Comments (9)

Will Mitchell | November 07, 2018 at 12:12 AM

“Our entire program is based on advancing workers’ interests, both immediately (by defeating the Trump-GOP regime)”

A Democratic congress doesn’t defeat the Trump-GOP regime at all. As mentioned later, Democrats are usually happy to collaborate with the fascist state.

“and definitively (by building the unity and organization needed for a revolutionary transformation of society).”

Do you mean unity with the liberal bourgeoisie? Because that is an alliance that Marx specifically disavowed as useless.

“Both of those goals require getting involved in electoral struggles, including around candidates who don’t share many of our goals.”

As Lenin said

[T]he struggle on the parliamentary rostrum is obligatory on the party of the revolutionary proletariat specifically for the purpose of educating the backward strata of its own class, and for the purpose of awakening and enlightening the undeveloped, downtrodden and ignorant rural masses.

So I’m not entirely sure that Lenin would agree with the practice of just encouraging people to vote Democrat over and over again and actively discourage the running of candidates that would do that.

“[O]ver 40% of the eligible voters in this country didn’t even cast a ballot. It took workers and oppressed people 150 years of struggle to win universal suffrage and make the vote the most basic tool of political struggle. If we can’t even get people to use that tool to keep fascism at bay, how can we even think about transforming society?”

Re-reading Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, somehow the positions are reversed. Now it is the proletariat who understands that parliamentary forms of struggle are obsolete but the ‘communists’ desperately trying to get the proletariat back into it.

“Electoral campaigns are one of the ways to build [the] organization [to combat exploitation and oppression].”

Well then you’d think the CPUSA would try to build that organization rather than just telling people to not vote for the GOP every election cycle. I’ve never seen CPUSA at any demonstrations or even campaigning for candidates or policies and all of their most recent events listed on their website are conference calls.

“Working-class people aren’t stupid!”

The CPUSA is leading people into liberal consciousness by encouraging them to only vote Democratic and then they have the audacity to say that their falsehoods have no effect. What you fail to ask is “What about the dead children murdered by bombs dropped by the democrats? What about the elected leaders overthrown by democrat coups? What about the slaves who want freedom in nations put into slavery by democrat leaders? What about the illegal invasions performed by democrats? Assassinations performed by democrat leaders? How many more have to die before you stop giving the democrats power?”

“Social change comes from collective action of the working class, not from getting a couple of socialists elected and then denouncing them when they when they fail to overthrow capitalism.”

The fact that CPUSA just tells people to vote for the Democrats hinders that collective action.

“What about people who depend on Social Security, Medicaid, heating subsidies, and food stamps? What about women who want equal pay and insurance that covers contraception, or trans people who want civil rights? What about people who face disenfranchisement in Republican-controlled states? Do they have to earn your vote, too?”

This is implying that Democrats resist attacks on Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps, contraception, etc and that Democrats fight for equal pay and voting rights when history shows us that they do not do either of these things. Usually they are even willing to co-sign the destruction of the welfare state, economic regulation, etc. In addition, Democrats claim to be fighting against climate change, for equal pay, what have you, but they never actually do anything about it. When deciding between someone who doesn’t believe in climate change versus someone who does but does nothing about it (because it’s not profitable to do anything about it), there is no difference in outcome.

“There are two paths forward from November 6: an emboldened Trump regime and a renewed assault on workers and oppressed people, or a weakened Trump regime unable to deliver on its increasingly terrifying promises.”

The only party to have any of its members vote against the Trump war budget was the GOP. Democrats give the go ahead on most Trump appointments and they support all of his warmongering. Basically the only way I can see Democrats ‘resisting’ Trump is by encouraging him to further militarize against Russia, something any anti-imperialist worth their salt should be against.

“[Fascism] already has a foot inside the house, and the November 6 midterms are our best chance to stop it.”

This implies that the Obama regime that deported 2.7 million people, killed American citizens without due process, continued the illegal detention center in Guantanamo, continued the illegal embargo on Cuba, bombed Libya, etc was not at all fascist. This also assumes that somehow the Trump regime needs Congressional approval to continue creation of these fascist paramilitaries and perpetration of fascist attacks.

“The fight for democracy is too important to be left to the bourgeoisie.”

THEN WHY ARE YOU EXPENDING ALL OF THIS EFFORT TO TELL US TO VOTE FOR THE BOURGEOISIE?

The degenerated CPUSA is an exact mirror of the opportunism of the second Internationale. You are nothing more than democrats who fancy the color red. Come join a communist party.

    Paul Perkins | November 08, 2018 at 3:38 PM

    What exactly do you propose that we do? Can you rewrite the constitution to eliminate the electoral college that gives the two-party duopoly a lock on power? If so, go for it.

    After Trump’s selection, the CPUSA had a spike in people joining similar to other left parties, bringing the total membership to something like 4,000 to 5,000 members. If that’s inaccurate, someone can correct me. The point is, compare that to the population of the United States, just under 329 million the last time I checked, many of whom still think communists have horns and pointed tails. How far will any candidate this tiny party fields get? Will such a candidacy make a difference? The answer seems like a pretty clear no to me. Taking a high-road, principled stand might make us all feel better, but acknowledging the reality on the ground and working for some kind of coalition against the worst elements of the system could produce at least some incremental relief for working people now. I don’t hear anyone saying we’re not ready to take revolutionary action when the conditions arise for that.

    I get your points about the Democrats and have no arguments with them. If they regain power, things will indeed go back to business as usual. But I assert that there is a difference between them and the Republicans who have ceased to be Republicans and now want to tear down every gain working people have made in the last 100 years. Getting back to a status quo may not be ideal, but it’s better than what’s going on right now.

    If you have a better idea on how to proceed, one that’s workable, put it forward for debate instead of upbraiding the party for taking a pragmatic position.

Paul Perkins | November 06, 2018 at 3:17 PM

To the people who don’t like the party’s electoral position – you know, I don’t like it either. But as communists I believe we have to look political reality in the face. Trump, the Republicans, and this alt-right movement have to be stopped by any means necessary. And the sad fact is that the only electoral solution to stopping them at this point lies with the Democratic Party. As for other solutions, hey, if you can suggest something I’m on board. How many red armies does the CPUSA have available? If you see any marching, point me in that direction. Meanwhile, I will hold my nose and vote for Dems in every position that matters. Am I happy about that? No. But a sane bourgeois party in power is way better than keeping one that has lost its mind. We all do still have to live in this country, and frankly, I’d rather not have to live in a box and eat out of a dumpster in my old age.

Steve Rothschild | November 05, 2018 at 4:25 PM

While I agree with the viewpoint espoused in this article, the smugness of the author’s tone and the vague, general way in which the arguments are phrased are counterproductive.

Len Yannielli | November 04, 2018 at 2:11 PM

Looks like some radicals (11/3/18) are still looking for “pure” candidates. That door, with the fascist foot in it, will be swung wide open if that purist thinking prevails. A peek at German 20th century history is proof positive of such a disastrous result.

A | November 03, 2018 at 9:44 PM

Nobody who truly claims to be a communist would support a party that has historically overthrown democratically elected regimes, killed innocents in drone strikes and collaborated with fascists. They’re imperialists, plain and simple, and I’m disappointed to hear that a party that claims to be revolutionary would support them and the status quo. This is not how change happens, and you’ve lost my support.

    Joe Sims | November 04, 2018 at 7:56 PM

    We have to defeat fascist-like developments with the instruments that are available. We don’t have pure candidates and parties.

Zhan Taorong | November 03, 2018 at 6:35 PM

What about all the bombs dropped by democrats? The sanctions on anti imperialist nations put in place and maintained by democrats? What about the coups performed by democrat leadership? What about the illegal invasions performed by and approved by democrats?

How many brown children have to be murdered by democrat bombs before you stop putting them into power?

    Scott Hiley | November 04, 2018 at 2:10 PM

    The underlying question here has to do with what a revolutionary’s tasks are.

    Is it about moral purity, fiery manifestoes, and calling for a revolution? Or is it about analysis, strategy, and building the unity and organization of the working class to actually make a revolution?

    We take the latter option. Here’s our analysis. Capitalism and the post-WWII international order are in crisis. The ruling class is split over how to respond: with open dictatorship (fascism), or by minimal tweaks to the neoliberal status quo (bourgeois democracy). That split, which falls along the line between Democrats and Republicans in this country, weakens the class as whole.

    There’s another split as well, in the heart of the Democratic Party, between ruling-class leadership and a growing section of the base that agitates for a pro-labor, anti-war, and even anti-monopoly platform. These forces are not yet strong or organized enough to break with the Democratic Party and win elections on their own, but they are building toward it, and their growing strength is evident in the way political discourse has shifted. (Four years ago, could we have imagined op-eds in the NYTimes or Washington Post condemning Saudi Arabia and Israel, and even calling for socialism?)

    So, in this situation, how can we most effectively combat imperialism? I think it’s by getting involved in the main mass struggle in our country, which is the resistance to the Trump regime. There, we can take advantage of the split in the ruling class to defeat the Republican Party, which is the tool of the most vicious and violent section of the capital. We can also help build the political experience and independence of the working class–that is, its ability to take on the whole of the capitalist class, and win.

    There is no safety from imperialism as long as capitalism exists; socialist revolution is necessary, and the working class is the only force that can accomplish it. I haven’t heard a better proposal for putting our class in a position to fulfill the role history assigns it.

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