How We Should Engage in the US Elections

6 09 2012

Elections in America are always contentious to the radical left. The vast majority of revolutionaries don’t view bourgeois elections as a legitimate avenue of struggle, so how we organize during them determines a lot. The views range from direct participation and campaigning in elections, like the International Socialist Organization did in 2000, 2004, and 2006 with the Green Party, to the Party for Socialism and Liberation running non-viable candidates, to the common “More Left Than Thou” boycott. But as Marxist-Leninists, we must examine our current material conditions scientifically to evaluate an appropriate strategy for engaging the masses in this election.

First, voting is not important. Change will not come from the ballot box no matter how hard we try. As we’ve seen over the past decade of attacks on the working class – from Republicans and Democrats alike – change can only come from the streets. Fantasies about having a viable third party like the Green Party or the Working Families Party have proven unattainable as the ruling class regularly unites people behind their two parties.

That said, we have to ask ourselves two questions:

1) Is there a material difference between Obama and Romney? And, 2) How should we engage the working class and oppressed nationalities during this election to help build a new revolutionary party.

Romney represents a far-right regressive agenda and Obama a center-right one. Objectively, it is true that a Romney presidency would be more harmful to working people and people of color, but Obama shouldn’t be seen as anything more than a watered-down version of this same regressive agenda.

The Rightist Error

To take this conclusion to its logical end would bring us to the “faux united front.”. The ideal that Marxist must have “unity against the ultra right” is laughable considering the current weakness of the left in America and the similarity between the two parties of the ruling class. This strategy identifies the sentiment of the masses – that Romney is worse than Obama – but it divorces itself from Marxism-Leninism by pushing a reformist and backwards agenda.

The beliefe that temporally uniting with the center-right Democratic Party in a so-called “united front against the ultra-right” starts from an ideologically bankrupt position and ends in willful bourgeois collaborationism. This is a gross misunderstanding of the united front, mass-line, and scientific socialism. It is also the line that the Communist Party USA has held for many years.

If we  are to engage the working class and oppressed nationalities during this election cycle we must not give false hope in the Democratic Party or to the bourgeois electoral process.

The Ultra-Leftist Error

But as scientific socialists, we also must not engage in ultra-leftism and risk leaving the masses behind us. As Mao said “from the masses to the masses,” we must engage the masses where they presently are; not where we wish them to be.

The fervor of the 2008 presidential election has diminished some. Currently, about 20% of people are not paying attention and college students are not expected turn out in the same numbers. But this should only be seen as a sign of disillusionment towards the process and not as a marker for revolutionary progress.

It might be useful to highlight the large scale disillusionment of  bourgeois elections on a small scale as it can radicalize some segments with advanced consciousness, but it does nothing for the masses who will begrudgingly vote for Obama and view any attacks on him as either support for Romney or just off-beat rantings. An ultra-leftist error here will lead to alienation among the masses.

Despite this seemingly widespread disillusionment the electoral process still matters to the vast majority of Americans. Even among these disgruntled citizens, revolution is not seen as a viable alternative.

Advancing the Mass Struggle

By engaging the working class and oppressed nationalities where they are, we must push a line that states that we have no choice in this election. The choices have been made for us, and we only get to select which version of anti-worker, anti-student, anti-immigrant, pro-war, etc. we want. On most issues, Obama is either the same as or marginally better than Romney, but the only way forward with our pro-worker, pro-student, pro-immigrant, anti-war, etc. agenda is to take to the streets via activism. The only changes that have been made for the benefit of working people and people of color have come through mass movements outside the electoral process.

This line allows the opportunity to engage the masses where they are, identify those people advanced enough to be radicalized to a revolutionary position, and advance the disgruntled and disillusioned intermediate towards activism for further radicalization.

There is no time for ultra-leftist or rightist errors. This crisis of capitalism will continue, and if we do not organize to build a revolutionary party of the masses, who will?