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Socialism at a Crossroads: Is Bourgeois Electoralism a Dead End?

Posted on April 21st, 2020 in Theory, 2020 Elections by Cultura Obscura, James Deal
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Amidst what we hope to be the peak of the Coronavirus epidemic, Bernie Sanders made the decision to drop out of the 2020 Democratic Primary and endorse the remaining establishment candidate, Joe Biden. This decision left his socialist supporters in disarray, forcing them to vote third-party if they wish to vote for a party that in any way aligns with their political views. Nonetheless, the "Amendment King" did not drop out without his reasons, as his cordial relations with establishment members of a reactionary Senate allows him to exercise damage control in the slow grind to the bottom inevitable to neoliberalism. 

This leaves many at a crossroads, as the imminent threat of climate change and the presence of a literal plague have revealed the grotesque machinery of capital to the masses. Even the Republican Party has conceded that near infinite spending is possible, and cash payments to citizens (though for the most part subsidies for  corporations and the elite) sits within the realm of possibility. The Democratic Party however has shown time and time again that there is no hope for reform in this respect, as their leadership attempted to means-test relief funds for working-class citizens while the fascistic Republicans passed it without such conditions.

Ratchet EffectCourtesy: Reddit

This sort of behavior by Democrats remains characteristic of their obsequious nature, bowing before Republicans in pursuit of the Sisyphean task of 'bipartisanship'. The 2016 election functioned as a mandate on this sort of partisan orthodoxy, proving that the electorate would not tolerate 'progressives' who sold out to their corporate benefactors. The subsequent entryism of social democratic candidates such as AOC, Tlaib and Omar provided some hope in the attempt to transform the DNC into a social liberal party with a semblance of representation of workers' grievances, but their party membership has mandated limits to their political reach through virtue of partisan civility. In consequence, their power remains limited to amending neoliberal legislation and representing a 'left' opinion on partisan spats. 

With the recent primary elections, the Democratic Party has revealed itself to many as a bourgeois tool to trap and diffuse leftist activism. A party is only as strong as its weakest link, meaning that if we desire a party to represent us, we must build one from the ground up. Not to establish a popular majority in the legislature, but to prove to the masses that representative democracy does little to represent the will of the people. Lenin discussed the need for revolutionaries to engage with the bourgeois electoral system, writing:

"The conclusion which follows from this is absolutely incontrovertible: it has been proved that, far from causing harm to the revolutionary proletariat, participation in a bourgeois-democratic parliament, even a few weeks before the victory of a Soviet republic and even after such a victory, actually helps that proletariat to prove to the backward masses why such parliaments deserve to be done away with; it facilitates their successful dissolution, and helps to make bourgeois parliamentarianism 'politically obsolete'."

The working class still has several viable options in respect to supporting socialist candidates  running for office, whether it be local races or congressional. Although they may bring little immediate material change in the conditions for the working class due to the inherent majoritarian design of the American legislature, a growing socialist party will have increasing political power and can help draw people to the socialist cause.

LeninCourtesy: Wikimedia Commons

That is not to say leftists should not be willing to make rational compromises in pursuit of improving our material conditions, because such compromises are important to securing much needed short-term improvements for the proletariat. However, the rational compromise was to support Bernie's less political agenda, ensuring equal access to health care, green energy, federal job guarantee, secure housing for all, and a wealth tax aimed to reduce the rapid accumulation of wealth by the capitalist class. For Lenin, compromises were necessary to achieving the long term demands of the proletariat:

"to very young and inexperienced revolutionaries, as well as to petty-bourgeois revolutionaries of even very respectable age and great experience, it seems extremely 'dangerous', incomprehensible and wrong to 'permit compromises'... However, proletarians schooled in numerous strikes (to take only this manifestation of the class struggle) usually assimilate in admirable fashion the very profound truth… expounded by Engels. Every proletarian has been through strikes and has experienced 'compromises' with the hated oppressors and exploiters, when the workers have had to return to work either without having achieved anything or else agreeing to only a partial satisfaction of their demands. Every proletarian—as a result of the conditions of the mass struggle and the acute intensification of class antagonisms he lives among—sees the difference between a compromise enforced by objective conditions… which in no way minimises the revolutionary devotion and readiness to carry on the struggle on the part of the workers who have agreed to such a compromise—and... a compromise by traitors who try to ascribe to objective causes their self-interest… their cowardice, desire to toady to the capitalists, and readiness to yield to intimidation, sometimes to persuasion, sometimes to sops, and sometimes to flattery from the capitalists."

Biden represents a defense of capitalism and the strategies that have allowed the gross accumulation of wealth by the wealthy capitalists, and voting for his election would mean simply caving to the demands of the wealthy and those in power within the Democratic establishment. Any 'leftist' support of Biden cannot be understood as being a rational compromise forced by "objective conditions"; rather, any support of Biden must be recognized as inherently being "a compromise by traitors who try to ascribe to objective causes their self-interest." Make no mistake, be it "readiness to yield to intimidation" at the hands of neoliberals and 'vote blue no matter who' Democrats that will smear, harass, and abuse ardent supporters of the proletarian cause, yielding to "flattery from the capitalists" who claim to admire the profound passion of the leftist cause, or yielding "to persuasion" in the argument that Biden is the lesser of two evils and deserves our support, voting for Biden is a compromise that stands diametrically opposed to the proletarian struggle.

Socialist ProtestCourtesy: Library of Congress

What then can be done to continue the "carry on the struggle on the part of the workers?" Lenin argued that political power manifested itself in two forms: the de facto government of the bourgeoisie and that of the proletariat and working class. In contrast to the government of the bourgeoisie, the proletariats wield "a power directly based on revolutionary seizure, on the direct initiative of the people from below, and not on a law enacted by a centralised state power." This philosophy of Dual Power can be seen in the direct action initiatives of organizations such as the DSA and PSL, which fight on behalf of the workers through "the direct initiative of the people from below, in their local areas." This can include mutual aid services such as replacing busted tail lights in low-income areas, providing meals to the needy, and supporting local leaders to work in offices that have a direct impact on the day-to-day lives of those in need. Your workplace is also a prime location for direct action, as many of your coworkers likely harbor a mutual resentment of your boss or the company's treatment of employees, and could be coaxed into forming an IWW union. This, in turn, strengthens the socialist cause in a way that electoralism never could, as the 'bark' of socialist politicians is given a 'bite' with the increased negotiating power of Union members and their coalition of support. While the left's minority status in the legislature prevents any drastic alteration of the material conditions of the working class, a well-backed threat of a general strike might force both liberals and conservatives to  'bend the knee', passing policies to guarantee human rights such as healthcare and housing to all citizens. 

 

If we are to create any substantive change for the proletariat in America, we must continue the worker's revolution in both the bourgeois electoral system as well as through direct action initiatives. We cannot bow to the will of the Capitalists and neoliberal political elites. In order to continue fighting for the interests of the workers, we must vote for candidates that represent more than the interests of corporations. The left needs a party that represents the will of the worker, fighting for the wellbeing of the average person rather than the interests of the wealthy and powerful. Voting Green Party, PSL, or for any other political alternative is the only compromise that can be made at this juncture in the electoral process. In doing so, the left can attempt to secure federal funding and exposure for a third party that actively attempts to represent the interests of the working class, forcing the political establishment to make meaningful concessions and compromises at their expense if they wish to get the progressive vote. If the left once again gives in and supports the establishment's hand-picked neoliberal candidate, the Democratic Party will never seriously consider passing progressive reforms. Even at the expense of a second term for Trump, refusing to vote for the candidate that represents no fundamental change and fails to adapt his platform to meet the demands of the people is the only way to ensure representation for the left going forward.