The November presidential elections have spawned a multitude of reactions from both the so-called Marxist ‘Left’ and the strains of post-Anarchism and autonomism emerging from the self-liquidation of the Occupy movement. Positions range from an inside-outside strategy which calls people to “vote against Romney” while simultaneously building a left pole both inside and outside Democratic Party, voting for a third party candidate, or organizing for an outright boycott.
However, as Mao says, “one divides into two.” All these strategies are self-contradictory. The American “left” provides us with the false choice of outright liquidation into the Democratic Party or the similar erroneous choice of following spontaneous moral outrage in organizing a virtual boycott of the entire institution of bourgeois democracy. I will briefly describe these two, seemingly opposing lines, and offer a third position on our tasks within developed bourgeois democracy from the standpoint of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.
We’re Pissed Off!
Some forces call for a complete boycott of bourgeois democratic institutions. Their boycott is primarily a Facebook campaign in which you register your moral outrage. Taking the Occupy Movement, the convergence of primarily petit-bourgeois students and professionals fearful of re-proletarianization as a starting point, these forces make the assumption that the Occupy Movement itself must remain a politics at a distance from the state. From this summation, developed through the work of Alain Badiou, they see the proliferation of communes and Occupy-related forms as the practical work of building a movement to overthrow the state and its institutions. But, in effect, they only substitute voluntarism (itself a form of liquidation) for liquidation into the Democratic Party. Instead of addressing bourgeois democracy as an overdetermined ideological state institution, boycotters rely principally on the “Event”, the radicalization of the individual qua collective, as its primary mobilizer.
The “boycott the system” populist line is not only totally vapid, but, equates bourgeois democracy entirely with Capital, as if politics do not shape economics co-terminously but that the entire system is determined by “material circumstances” and the conspiracies of the imperialist bourgeoisie alone. Yet, what is Democracy? Democracy comes from the term ‘Demos’ (or the rabble), and as Plato begrudgingly admits, the only qualification of democracy is that there are no qualifications. However, engaging bourgeois democracy requires a substantial assortment of qualifications. You can’t be a prisoner. You can’t be on parole. You may need proper identification and so on. What the “boycott” line avoids is national oppression.
While I agree that our focus should never be on handing Obama victory in 2012, there should be massive mobilization in regards to defending and enhancing the democratic rights of the excluded and nationally oppressed. Communists should intervene in reforms which decriminalize nationally oppressed youth, even if this activism only culminates in a massive turn-out at the voting booth. For example, our “pure” Communist friends would have abstained from voting on the question of decriminalizing marijuana, even though this directly contributes to the struggle against settler white supremacy. I’ll call it: Racism. While the right opportunist line calls for liquidation, the left opportunist line envisions a petit-bourgeois utopian movement which asserts that the fundamental contradiction is between the people and the system, neglecting that it is not solely ‘the system’ which renders the oppressed and exploited invisible, but, the very popular classes themselves who also readily enforce national oppression viz. their class position.
Beating A Dead Horse
Bill Fletcher and Carl Davidson, two long-time Marxists and labor activists central to developing an American-style ‘21st Century Socialism’, tote a decades old line on the strategic centrality of elections for the Left within bourgeois democracy. Except in this election, they also make some sense. Bill Fletcher and Carl Davidson both believe a vote for Obama is necessary because the Romney campaign represents white revanchism. Thisoutright white supremacy, not even couched in post-racial discourse, is thoroughly on display as Donald Trump launched a campaign to “uncover” Obama’s foreign birth and the Republican Party attempted to marginalize nationally oppressed at the voting booth through id checks.
While voting for Obama can be understood as a symbolic gesture against white supremacy –as Bill Fletcher notes, his critical support for Obama is not at all about his record– Fletcher and Davidson’s ‘inside-outside’ strategy is historically flawed. Fletcher and Davidson, as a corollary, the creation of mass-based left-wing electoral formations to run progressive Democrats for office, in the hope of eventually challenging the Party duopoly. This strategy has never worked and has only led to the liquidation of Marxist-Leninist forces in the United States, who, openly (and often rightfully) fearful of ultra-leftism, resorted to disillusion instead, citing isolation from the working masses and the need to “meet people where they’re at.”
We’re Not There Yet
There is not yet a comprehensive, non-reformist strategy which takes into account the contradictory character of bourgeois democracy, that, while supposedly requiring no qualifications, enacts qualifications for its very existence. Yet, the future of the Communist movement in the United States requires walking that tight rope between reform and revolution. The failure of articulating a centrist position on this question which simultaneously strives to achieve a strategic offensive through a people’s war while taking into account the gaps in our formal freedoms is disconcerting and reveals our continued state of overall disarray.
Away with false choices: Let’s make the hard choice of building a strategy, which can really unite the proletariat with the vanguard and rally the masses around the proletariat.