A week has passed since the midterm elections that occurred last Tuesday. The results are in, and although we still live in the same “Trump’s America” we did a week ago, there were a small number of hope-instilling wins, such as the social democratic DSA candidates (despite whatever criticisms we may have of them) who made it past the DNC’s money and then their GOP challengers with the help of their real grassroots support; additionally there was the passing of Amendment 4 in Florida, restoring voting rights to the formerly incarcerated, and the passing of Amendment 2 in Louisiana, removing a Jim Crow law from the state constitution. Both of these formerly inconceivable wins fly in the face of the Democratic Party establishment, who cannot tolerate even the most moderate reformism by the DSA elements in their midst, and who practically refuse to organize in the south, as consistently pointed out by Bernie Sanders, who condemns their lack of a “50-state strategy”. Yet, what wins are achieved on their ballot line will be used by the DNC and their cheerleaders as we plunge forwards into the 2020 Presidential Election campaign which will inevitably come to dominate the discourse in the coming months.
How do we regard such elections? We know that young people in the U.S., as elsewhere in the world, engage in both electoral and extra-electoral politics on a more critical basis than their elders who constantly scold them and fear their radicalization. But taking a bird’s eye view of this process, is the more radical option to try to draw them away from elections, or to try to win elections in the name of the most radical trends in the youthful left?
In fact, if we draw an analogy to another sphere of legal left organizing, we can see that this is a false choice: we do not ask whether young people engaging with strikes more critically than their elders should kick older people out of their unions, or should be told to leave unions, because they are reformist. We know that all of these reformist spheres are part of the totality of class struggle which is objectively taking place in our society at all times, whether we subjectively grasp this fact or not. To conscious communists, all political activity is subordinate to the bigger picture of class struggle; to the unconscious whom we organize among, however, this activity helps reveal this totality to us, to awaken their consciousness.
A formalist fetishization of elections and a formalist fetishization of boycotts are both wrong, because what matters is the content, as Vladimir Lenin pointed out in his book “Left-Wing” Communism: an Infantile Disorder. While this text is frequently used by electoralists to justify the very parliamentary cretinism he so adamantly rejected and criticized, the actual point that Lenin and other revolutionaries have continually stressed is that we must intervene in every site of struggle and continually try to revolutionize them. In as much as elections can be used, in certain circumstances and when they have not yet become obsolete for the masses, to fight the powers that be and win real gains for the masses while educating them through their own political experience about their power and the nature of the capitalist system, then elections should be intervened in.
But all action taken in this site of struggle, as in all legal, bourgeois-democratic struggles, should be taken with the ultimate goal of exposing the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie masked by bourgeois democracy and the fundamental necessity of revolution to overthrow this dictatorship. Similarly, when elections have become an impediment to revolutionary struggle, or obsolete not just for revolutionaries but for the broad masses, elections should also be rejected. What is needed is a concrete analysis of the concrete conditions of the election in question, and the time and place in which they take place.
This, briefly stated, is our view on the participation of revolutionaries in elections. But whatever debates we engage in and whether or not we participate in elections, they will continue to take place. And despite the fundamental lie of bourgeois democracy, they have great social significance in the current political climate. So we must examine them.
First off: in general, what happened?
The GOP increased its majority in the Senate from 51 seats to 54. The Democrats broke through Republican control of all three branches of the federal government and won a majority in the House of Representatives. While the much-touted “Blue Wave” proved to be more of a Blue Trickle, the Democrats did win a majority, flipped districts in “red states”, and even in a Republican stronghold like Texas came only a couple of percentage points short of winning a Senate seat. Such closely contested races have been particularly discussed, and are the subject of much controversy. The bourgeois media has been making much ado over all this, with many attempting to claim them as evidence of the exacerbation of the U.S. urban-rural divide, a much-heralded supposed desertion of college-educated suburban white women and moderates from the GOP tent, the opposition that Trump is supposedly bound to face come the swearing-in of the new congress, increased partisanship and polarization, etc.
But do we believe all this? And what does all this actually mean for the workers and the oppressed, the poor and exploited, of the US and the world?
A midterm shift away from the President’s party is normal, but we do not live in normal times. Yet one thing that is striking about this election is how normal it seems. The GOP increased its Senate majority, but most of those races were in “red states”. The Democrats won the House, but they are the (so-called) opposition party and two years into a new presidency voters tend to be dissatisfied with the party in power and swing away from it. This is a favorite tactic of U.S. imperialism, which is able to take popular dissatisfaction and pin it on the rule of whichever of the twin parties of capital is in power, channeling discontent into support for the other party. Like clockwork, the Republicans and Democrats switch off and engage in just enough shadowboxing to keep up the illusion of actual opposition while working in concert to maintain the rule of Wall Street. This is not to say that there are not real differences between the two parties, stemming from inter-bourgeois disagreements and their popular bases, but in the long run these differences are of little consequence. This has been proven with Pelosi’s immediate and now notorious tone of cooperation with Trump, setting a fine example for the DNC-loyal hashtag resistance.
Voters are taught that the only meaningful form of political activity is voting, that voting is the only way to take part in “democracy”, and that any and all problems under this democracy can be found not in shortcomings of our democratic culture, popular decision-making, or, God forbid, social contradictions, but in the idiocy of those who voted for the other party. Party identification becomes another form of identity and partisanship a means of dividing and conquering while capital laughs all the way to the bank. Those who are not hyper-partisans are disgusted by the whole thing, becoming apathetic and “apolitical”.
This state of affairs is not at all harmed by the fact that for the majority who tend to vote Democrat, the political identity of the Republican Party at present is one of open chauvinism towards women, LGBT+, and of course, immigrants and oppressed peoples. But the Democrats’ own weakness in defending these peoples, limited only to the class interests of the ruling classes which control the DNC, means that despite being implored to “for the love of God, VOTE!”, outside of the party faithful, even a great many oppressed peoples feel apathetic about voting. Even more damningly for the Democrats, their historical refusal to fight against voter disenfranchisement in “red states” means that even those oppressed who want to vote for them are unable to do so. But 2018’s midterm revealed a significant increase in turnout, despite a lack of change in the Democrats’ overall strategy. And as Sanders has many times pointed out, it is in fact the Democrats who benefit from this, despite their lack of a “50-state strategy”.
Because we are trained to think that the be-all and end-all of political activity is elections and voting, when people become politically active it usually shows itself first in increased electoral activity and voting. Clearly, in the Trump era politics is becoming an increasingly significant part of life for people. And this is evident in the increased turnout numbers. But unfortunately, this increased turnout has not been restricted to engagement by anti-Trump masses who are more or less forced to identify with the Democrats. There was also an increased turnout on the Republican side, thanks in a large part to the campaigning of Trump and his fascistic base, who are rallying around their leader in the polls when they are not terrorizing innocent people for their identity. As Trump continues to tighten his grip on the GOP and draw his base closer together, the disunity of the anti-Trump forces contained largely within the tent of the conciliatory Democrats is disheartening.
This increased turnout has both a positive and a negative side. The positive side is that it is a sign that more and more people––still dominated by white petty bourgeois liberals, but also increasing numbers of the working class, and in particular oppressed peoples––are becoming politically active and engaged, motivated by opposition to Trump. The negative side is that this political engagement is largely confined to support for the Democrats, in spite of the Democrats fundamental role as the “soft” version of the Republicans. The Democrats are unabashed supporters of capitalism and imperialism, and wage war without qualm on the poor and oppressed at home and abroad. Even when they offer hand-wringing appeals to “decent” “democratic” values, with the vast majority of reactionary proposals the Republicans put forth, they concede and lay the groundwork for our further slide to the right, election cycle after election cycle. The fascist wave that Trump stands at the head of finds its breeding ground in the class war that the Democrats have waged without apology for as long as any of us can remember. Trump and the Democrats have the same end goal: to reinforce the declining U.S. Empire and maintain its murderous reign. If opposition to Trump leads to nothing more than support for the Democrats, then the reign of capital will only be strengthened, and more Trumps, worse Trumps, can easily follow.
With this in mind, we must take note of the victories of the social democratic DSA candidates under the Democratic banner, like that of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, both of whom were elected to the House of Representatives. This reflects the huge increase in popularity of at least the vague notion of socialism among the youth over the past five years, but their immediate moderation on issues of imperialism shows the strong ability of the Democratic Party mainstream to co-opt and drain of any ideological character activist movements in a way the UK Labour Party mainstream was unable to do with Momentum. They reflect both the growing fightback of the workers and oppressed, but also the timidness of this fight so far. Though overall this trend is positive, so long as the movement remains inside the Democratic Party and without a broad framework for opposing the ruling classes which have built the Democratic Party, it will be stripped of vitality and militancy, it will be reduced to being nothing more than the extreme left wing of the program of the imperialist bourgeoisie, timidly fighting for a modest redistribution of the wealth stolen by US imperialism and failing to win even that while providing cover for the continued oppression and exploitation of the rest of the class outside the borders of the US state.
Other races that should be taken note of are the governors’ races in Georgia and Florida. Both of these races feature blatant election stealing tactics on the part of the GOP. While the Democratic establishment and its media defenders have been literally calling people to the streets for Jeff Sessions, what happened in these states that can be viewed as politically normal and unworthy of mass protest?
In Georgia, Democrat Stacey Abrams (an Afro-American woman) ran against Republican Brian Kemp. Kemp, as Georgia’s Secretary of State, was able to manage his own election, despite calls to step down and even a legal challenge on election day. During his tenure in office, Kemp purged over 1.4 million registered voters from the rolls, including 53,000 immediately prior to the election. These purges overwhelmingly targeted Afro-Americans, in an effort to suppress their political participation. Many polling places were closed prior to the election. Georgia voters also reported malfunctioning voting machines and polling places with too few voting machines on election day, as well as prohibitively long lines.
In Florida, Democrat Andrew Gillum (an Afro-American man) is running against Republican Ron DeSantis, in a race that has not been called, and that has now entered a recount. DeSantis is currently ahead, but less than half a percentage point separates the two candidates, and Gillum has retracted his concession. Florida, like Georgia, has restrictive voting laws and voter roll purges that target Afro-American voters. The outcome of the election has not yet been determined.
Furthermore, even where Republicans were not running against Afro-American candidates, they still engaged in the most blatant and egregious forms of election stealing, as the Florida Senate race between Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Bill Nelson. While Scott has claimed victory, the race is currently undergoing a recount.
State officials—and Trump himself—are engaging in racist talking points about Democratic “voter fraud” and “illegal voting” when discussing the possibility of counting every vote. Their (historically justified) hope is that their legal election-stealing tactics will, in fact, ensure that the outcome of the election is in their favor: decades of voter disenfranchisement even worse than that seen in this election have convinced them that this is a winning strategy. The Democrats, who in the name of rule of law were the first to raise the alarm against Radical Reconstruction in the Black Belt South (one of the least “democratic” parts of the United States), were silent on decades of voter disenfranchisement in the south almost every election since then, so why, the Republicans reason, should it not work this time?
Election-stealing tactics are not limited to the South either. Porter County, Indiana was subject to flagrant negligence and/or sabotage by officials that resulted in 50% of the precinct being left out. This is Porter County’s first year of holding elections run by the County Clerk’s office. They were formerly run by an election board, but there was a vote to transfer that responsibility to the Clerk’s office and the County Clerk was one of the deciding votes which made this possible.
This flagrant sabotage of America’s already highly undemocratic bourgeois democracy is morbidly fascinating to observe. Why are the Republicans engaging in such antagonistic actions toward the Democrats? Is their imperialist partnership nearing an end? Could a sort of “war” between them be on the horizon?
Rather, what this reflects is a growing internal split within the bourgeoisie about how best to repress the rightful demands of the masses for a change to their oppressive living conditions. As the U.S. Empire declines, capital is increasingly confronted with the problem of how to maintain its rule in the face of crisis and the possibility of popular revolt. One section takes the route of fascism. In the present era this section finds a popular base among the openly chauvinist petty bourgeoisie and labor aristocracy of the largely white (and openly white-supremacist) “Yankee” nation, and its discontent with the project of neoliberal globalization. This is the faction represented by Trump and his forces within the GOP, who are becoming increasingly dominant. As the GOP has become “Trump’s party,” the “mainstream” Republicans have been pushed out, or, after a very mild fight, capitulated entirely to the Trumpites. And we should not mistakenly think that this began with Trump, even in terms of the structure of the Republican Party: following the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, the Tea Party began to lay this groundwork, gaining widespread influence within the GOP.
The other section of capital, the mainstream one of “bipartisanship” currently led (and perhaps in the future only represented by) the Democrats, is the faction still committed to the project of neoliberal globalization and the world as presently ordered. So this is our rock and our hard place: on the one hand there is the increasingly fascist-dominated GOP, and on the other there are the Democrats, who are still committed to the old rules of civility and propriety. But the GOP, with its ever-stronger fascist tendencies and disregard to any notion of fairness within their class, is quite willing to impose its program by any means necessary. And those means include election stealing. The Democrats do nothing but wave their hands, file lawsuits, and mildly grumble about unfairness (while pursuing similar undemocratic methods against the mildest reformism as they did with Sanders).
The GOP, with its committed base and willingness to be ruthless in pursuit of victory, stands at the head of a growing fascist tide. Their first-time-a-tragedy-second-time-a-farce would-be Führer Trump is its embodiment, and indeed the embodiment of the most nakedly reactionary elements of the U.S. state of affairs. The Democrats, with their reclamation of the House, have gained a temporary victory of the conditions which give rise to fascism over fascism itself. While the GOP stands ready to slide further and further down the fascist path, the Democrats stand ready to capitulate. As already mentioned, in the wake of their reclamation of the House Nancy Pelosi’s first move was to make bipartisan overtures and assurances that they would not pursue impeachment.
While such statements are normal, the conditions that we face are not. The stakes are high indeed, and it is the Democrats unbreakable adherence to normality that will usher in their inevitable capitulation to fascism. Maybe not now, and maybe not in 2020, but when the time comes, fascism will be too powerful for the Democrats to stop it even if they were willing to, which they aren’t. When fascism comes the Democrats will greet it with cheers if they aren’t imposing it themselves.
Having taken note of all this, what are our tasks?
Our continuing task is to support every struggle against the existing order of things, to unite our theoretical leadership with the practical leadership of those struggles and prove that our theory is worthy of this leadership with word and with deed, Our theory is the theory of uniting all struggles, revolutionizing them, and leading the oppressed to bring down the old order and usher in their new order.
More concretely, this means that we need to intervene in the struggles of workers, of women, of Afro-Americans and other oppressed nationalities, of immigrants, of LGBT+ people, the struggle against Islamophobia, against anti-Semitism, the anti-fascist struggle, and form a united front against Trump, against fascism, and against Wall Street. This can mean working with anarchists, and it can mean working with people like Sanders, but in the final instance it must mean breaking from the ruling classes and their political order, the Democrats.
As revolutionary communists, to facilitate this process and as part of it we seek the rebuilding of a revolutionary communist party which can play the necessary vanguard role. We seek to unite with all forces which share our vision in this historic mission.
The building of a broad anti-fascist front, in legal electoral terms represented by a party of labor and the oppressed, which will have the means not only to theoretically expose the Democrats but practically overcome them, this is our answer to the problems posed by this election.