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What Debate? Some Strategic Electoral Considerations


Someone recently asked me my opinion on “the left debate over lesser evil voting” this year. What debate? There’s no debate. Anyone who doesn’t understand that the creeping fascist white nationalist Republicans are more horrific than the dismal dollar Democrats in ways that matter enough to hold one’s nose and vote “for” the Dems in contested races this year is (sorry to say) hopelessly out of it.

It was one thing to protest-vote for Jill Stein over hideous Hillary in a contested state when nearly every reputable pollster was predicting an easy victory for Mrs. Clinton. But then the caravan-barking freak got into the White House, turned what was already a dangerously arch-reactionary party into his own personal pre-fascist organization, and then worked with that party to advance a hard-right, ultra-plutocratic and eco-cidal agenda while spreading racist and nationalist hate and setting new world records for totalitarian, truth-canceling mendacity. Any lefty who doesn’t grasp the desirability of the Republicans and their terrible tangerine master being checked to some degree in the House of Representatives is too stupid and/or alienated for their own good.

Is there a “debate” over the advisability of walking barefoot on rusty nails?

Yes, the Democrats are horrible. They make my skin crawl. I’ve documented their record as a pack of “lying neoliberal warmongers” for many years. But when the deplorable Dems embraced the full corporate neoliberal agenda in the 1980s and 1990s, the Republicans saw many of their key issue positions (“free trade,” deregulation, schools privatization, the destruction of welfare, the War on Drugs and more) being overtaken by the Inauthentic Opposition Party (Sheldon Wolin’s excellent term for the Democrats) and were existentially compelled to shift further to the dodgy racist and sexist starboard. The widely loathed white-nationalist GOP is now chillingly united under the rule of a malignantly narcissistic arch-authoritarian monstrosity – a brazen racist-sexist who tears up nuclear missile treaties and critical environmental regulations for breakfast and lies to the public at least four times per day. This malevolent party now controls all three branches of the federal government and most of the state governments, many of which are wreaking havoc all too invisibly across the land.

Want to be able to safely vote third party Left for the things you believe in – peace, social justice, democracy, worker rights, civil rights, environmental sanity, and end to class rule, and more? Me too. Please join me in calling for a national Constituent Assembly to draft a new governing charter with new rules (including full public financing of elections and proportional representation) mandating a fair and democratic, multi-party elections and party system beyond the big money winner-take-all first-past-the-post system that reigns in the U.S. today.

In the meantime, consider that the capitalist Democrats and U.S. electoral politics are best exposed as inadequate when the two-party system’s not-so “leftmost” wing holds nominal power/elective office. The dismal Dems are most free to deceptively preen and pose as an authentic popular opposition entity when they are out of nominal power/elected office – and when the horror show of Republicans in office feeds the noxious illusions that the main problem plaguing the nation is that the wrong party is in power and that the solution is another big get-out-the-vote effort for the fake-progressive Democrats.

The only real solution to America’s ills is a mass, ongoing, and highly organized popular rebellion against what urban street activists call the Whole Damn System (WDS): class rule, racial oppression, patriarchy, empire and ecocide. Regarding the question of which of the two dominant capitalist-imperialist political organizations leftists should want in “power,” the main considerations beyond the matter of which one will do the least immediate harm to people and livable ecology are which one does the most when in office to educate people on the limits of merely electoral politics under the American system and on the need for a real popular movement and politics beneath and beyond the biennial candidate-centered extravaganzas that are sold to us as the only politics that matters.

The dismal dollar Dems get the nod on every count. Acknowledging that doesn’t make you a neoliberal or even a Democrat, fellow workers and citizens. It just makes you an adult.

If you really hate the Democrats, and God knows you should, vote them into office. Make them wear the stink of the WDS and use whatever breathing space you can find with the partial checking and balancing of fascist creep to build an authentic popular opposition and alternative to American Empire and Inequality, Inc.

13 Comments

  1. avatar
    James November 3, 2018 11:15 pm 

    “The only real solution to America’s ills is a mass, ongoing, and highly organized popular rebellion against what urban street activists call the Whole Damn System (WDS): class rule, racial oppression, patriarchy, empire and ecocide. “

    It is no longer a local, regional, or national problem.

    “The prospect of humankind’s demise and the ultimate failure of the techno-industrial project sees us disinterring the original human questions –the conundrums of origins, the place of humans on Earth, the meaning of our lives, and salvation. So at the dawn of a new historical epoch it should be no surprise to find ourselves returning to them after three or four hundred secular years in which they were progressively pushed to the margins, and wondering about a narrative that might provide some answers. Before venturing some suggestions, let me make three preliminary observations.

    First, if the problem of history coincides with the problem of human existence, the problem of history can never be one of thought alone; it is the history of activity, of striving, of conflict, of achievement, and of failure. If the arrival of the Anthropocene serves as a blunt reminder of the totality of humans as a phenomenon on the Earth, it is by way of our physical impact on the Earth and it is this phenomenon that allows us to create space for a narrative of human–Earth history and a philosophy of geohistory. So to open up the question of the nature of humans and their story is not a call for greater introspection in search of the structures of Reason or states of consciousness. To go looking on the inside for answers to a problem that is so manifestly on the outside can now be seen as a modern form of evasion. It calls instead for extended reflection, informed by the evidence of Earth System science, on what it means for humanity to have arrived at the predicament of the Anthropocene. It is the Anthropocene that finally allows a clear view of what humans truly are.

    Second, the difference between the old stories and the new one is more than scientific, that is, more than a rewrite to “take account of the environment,” or even of Earth System science. The new story has a new main character, no longer the protagonist of modernity, the autonomous subject blessed with consciousness and reason and so the capacity to decide. The newborn anthropos is a conception centered on humankind’s world-making practices, the power to shift the Earth, for good or ill. We might speak of the transformation of humankind into the shackled super-agent, torn between two irresistible forces –a self-assertion that, convinced of its independence, aspires to transcend all boundaries, but which is up against the limits imposed by an Earth that remains implacable and ever-more recalcitrant.

    Third, it’s no longer tenable to imagine a divine agent directing events toward a predetermined goal; but that is not to say that events are not pushed toward an end by laws, forces, or tendencies internal to the system, that is, a teleonomy of processes that gives direction without intention, end-directed without being end-seeking. Self-organizing systems always have a tendency; they act as if they have an intended result. And is it not reasonable to think that the drive that saw humans spread across the Earth and increasingly transform the environment could at some stage become so large and active that it would rival some of the great forces of nature? It was not inevitable, for there were countervailing forces restraining thoughtless exploitation of nature, from the Romantics to the modern environmental movement in all of its variations. Yet the propensity to end up where we are was strong enough to give rise to a legitimate sense of directionality in the history of human–Earth relations.“

    • avatar
      James November 3, 2018 11:17 pm 

      Forgot to cite quote. From Defiant Earth: The Fate of Humans in the Anthropocene, by Clive Hamilton.

      • matt farkas November 5, 2018 3:24 pm 

        Interesting quote, but is your point, humans are the next inevitable evolutionary reset button (like a comet or burning Siberian Traps) ?

        I’ve been wondering that for some years now, considering how much of the 1% seem to realize what is going on… or they just don’t understand they’ll be bunker ridden for likely a million years (if the same scenario as the Siberian Traps happens) ?

        • avatar
          James November 5, 2018 10:24 pm 

          It’s not so much mine as Clive Hamilton’s. A philosophical outlook he thinks will take a while to come to terms with. The Anthropocene is a new geological epoch. The Holocene is dead. Enlightenment ideals, and so much of what got us here won’t/doesn’t work anymore and we cannot go back. That we have done this is testimony to our abilities and power…the power to change the functioning of the earth…the Earth System, but also to our blindness to our responsibility, which perhaps the Anthropocene was necessary to alert us to. The earth will dictate now, but with us in a permanent marriage. There s no separation between us and the earth. We cannot deny our own power, which we must use, but we cannot ignore the earth’s which we cannot fully know…we are entangled which means the geoengineering/technofixes of the ecomodernists are a fools errand. But the local, the regional, the state, the country fix, while immediately and seemingly necessary and alluring to simplicity folk and environmentalists, will not do. It’s the whole Earth System we fucked. And while Thanos can sit and and watch the sun set for all eternity after completing his task, humans cannot…even to sit and watch anything requires work…production, consumption, and allocation. A truly collective Politics. Yeah, it kind of is a reset but by the Earth and humans, together…if we want it…if we can get beyond the bullshit…particularly the still bickering sectarian left.

          Probably done a disservice to Clive. And probably to Paul being as I only responded to that little bit. But bickering over electoral politics seems quite pathetic by comparison to what is needed. . Leave with this.

          “So what do we do? A new ethics cannot be conjured out of words on a page, but awaits the realization that this being called human has become something strange and unfamiliar, a being who stands at the point of transition between two geological epochs –one provided by nature to allow it to flourish and the other, molded by it, that threatens to undo civilization. The question that now haunts the universe is whether, in allowing humans free will, “nature” made a colossal mistake. The arrival of the Anthropocene signals a moment in planetary history in which modernity’s test is raised to an extreme degree. Are we to decide to press on doggedly with more of the same –more technological mastery, more exploitation of nature, more nihilism? Needless to say, this is the path of denial or willful recklessness for those who can only imagine a future as an enlarged version of the present, manufactured out of human ingenuity and resolve, even if it’s a vision now known to be impossible to realize. Or will new human beings emerge who embody another future, who allow themselves to be appropriated by the next future, who are willing to think eschatologically –that is, to think the end of the world of techno-industrial appropriation in an era of trial and struggle, to accept that the Enlightenment did not banish all darkness and that the lamp of Reason shines too dimly to guide us through the night falling over us?”

        • avatar
          James November 5, 2018 10:44 pm 

          But I think this is why we need people like Chomsky, who also recognises the science that dates the Anthropocene to post 1945.

          “The historical record of struggle and achievement gives ample reason to take to heart the slogan that Gramsci made famous: “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”

  2. avatar
    Paul Street November 3, 2018 4:33 pm 

    An exchange on this essay from the realm of so-called social media:
    Correspondent: “look, I’ve already seen a few knee jerk reactions to this piece. Reactions that are clearly not seeing the qualitative change we are experiencing under the rule of 45’s regime.

    Folks are falling back on what seemed correct before, that voting the lesser of two evils is still evil and that is what got us here in the first place. Therefore, don’t vote for either cuz it only encourages the bastards. (No offense to bastards).

    But, perhaps, we’ve finally seen enough of the quantitative changes over time… and our previous Marxist Analysis no longer holds true. Perhaps we’ve now gotten that qualitative change… and the new thing we are analyzing requires fresh eyes and a freshly cleaned slate on which to perform the now needed new calculus.

    Levine’s article was crap. Basically saying vote Dems cuz they suck less and then hold their feet to the fire – which is nonsense because there is no (legal) mechanism to hold these servants to capital accountable.

    You’re piece is entirely different yet I’ve already seen a few folks try to lump them together as if you are both making the same argument, for the same reasons and expecting the same outcomes.

    I’ve had a glass of wine or so… but I’m thinking this cycle isn’t the same as the last one… that we’ve been witnessing spirals rather than circles… and perhaps folks, especially Marxists, might revisit the voting question given the very real, new, objective conditions we find ourselves in.

    I’ve not thought too much about all this til today… but that’s what I got for now.

    Ya’ll chew on that and I’ll get some more wine and see what develops here.”

    My response: “Like I said, this time there’s no debate. There’s adults and there’s fools. People who accuse Adolph Reed 2016 of being a Dem or loving Dems when he called Hillary a ‘lying neoliberal warmonger’ are fools. People who get so hung up on voting/electoral politics and can’t see tactical and strategic arguments (beyond just the lesser evil argument) for the Dems being in are fools. People who can’t pick up the very real sense and creep of fascism (that’s where lesser evil comes back whether one likes it or not) under Trump and the GOP today are fools. People who advance third parry politics without demanding fundamental change in the underlying US and elections and party system are fools. People who can’t see nuance are fools. People who can’t see the difference between my argument (with its strong emphasis on strategic and tactical considerations) and more standard liberal lesser evil arguments are fools. It’s very important now to not suffer fools. We don’t have time for fools anymore. I am reminded of a World War II movie I saw once. US Navy warships somewhere in the Pacific had just been ordered into battle with Japan. One guy was still goofing around diving off his ship into the ocean for a swim. He calls up and says ‘hey, where you are going?Come back and get me!’ Too late. This is war. He was left to be eaten by sharks. We have to shed our fools.”

  3. avatar
    Paul Street November 2, 2018 4:53 pm 

    And Matt, you are retrospectively endorsing who — Herbert Hoover in 1932, Alf Landon in 1936, Wendell Wilkie in 1940, and/or Thomas Dewey in 1944? As better agents of left revolution? Really? As an American labor/working-class historian, I can assure you that the working-class did not go to sleep during the 1930s or the early 1940s under FDR.

    • matt farkas November 5, 2018 2:48 pm 

      I was referring to that Taft-Hartley was allowed to pass. How US labor allowed a set of rules that made striking illegal. I’m assuming Alan Brinkley, and others’ analysis of the US labor movement cutting a sort of deal that hours, wages and benefits were fair game, but not the actual workplace, is correct.

      It seems labor went to sleep in the 1950s. They allowed the red scare.

      If Hoover had won, couldn’t an outcome have been the socialists and communists of the 1930s would have created sustainable institutions? Obviously there would have been more short term pain, and perhaps the country would have simply lurched into a very repressive fascist country and crushed the left anyway, but we would be a different place now.

      Maybe better, probably worse.

      My conundrum is if we keep the status quo for another 4 to 10 years, very likely (and nothing is absolute, which makes it a more nerve racking decision) it will be the end of this set of evolution.

      Certainly the end of most humans.

      If we have a political catastrophe (US goes way, way right), there is a chance of a different outcome. A very small chance, as in the 1930s USA.

      As a labor historian, you likely have a better grasp of the question, if things had gotten worse (i.e., a Non-FDR elected), could the Socialists and Communists actually made a permanent presence in the US?

      Of course, if you could convince me we have 20 to 30 years to get to negative emissions, at this point, I would very likely “support them for the minute it takes to pull the lever”.

      I appreciate your responses, you, Albert and others have nearly moved me to vote Dem, though I’m still on the fence.

      An OWR person’s idea was perhaps the most fitting: we’re on the titanic and we may as well be as comfortable as possible on the way down (so vote dem).

  4. avatar
    Paul Street November 2, 2018 4:45 pm 

    Matt: antiwar movement went further asleep but was already snoozing and snoring in the second Dubya term. But actually Occupy — a remarkable development — happened under Obama as it became clear to many young folks that Goldman Sachs and Citigroup were still calling the shots under the “hope and change” fake progressive in the White House. Then there was the remarkable movement against racist police violence that started with Trayvon Martin and then took with Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Before Occupy there was Wisconsin. There was the Fight for 15 and then we had Standing Rock. Much more grassroots direct action under Obama party for reasons predicted by Doug Henwood in early 2008. Obama was a great lesson on the limits of electoral politics under the American Party system Now here we are compelled (I think) to hope and even work for the dismal Dems to at least get the House to try to possibly slow down the drift into an American 21st century version of, …..well, fascism. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/586030/how-fascism-works-by-jason-stanley/9780525511830/

    • matt farkas November 5, 2018 2:49 pm 

      Where I live they were on the street every week protesting until Obama. Perhaps this is an anomaly.

    • matt farkas November 5, 2018 3:18 pm 

      All awesome, exciting moments. Each time I held out hope those actions would turn into a broad anti-capitalist movement (I’d watch interviews with the water protectors hoping to hear things about capitalism, but either it wasn’t mentioned or Amy Goodman edited it out).

      It seems as long as the 10 — 20 % middle/upper middle class think the system is working, little will change. Some folk I’ve known for 20 years who “knew” heath care and education belong in the marketplace suddenly, with the current admin, consider, maybe not. They are now considering worker owned businesses might be a good idea. College as a right. I’ve never seen them bend so far until what is going on now.

      If anyone can show me an inkling this won’t all disappear once the dems are back in, I’ll go mark those ovals on an empty stomach and to go dry heave in the parking lot.

      Again, I might do it anyway, esp. per Albert’s essay.

  5. matt farkas November 2, 2018 2:10 pm 

    When Obama won, many folk went to sleep. Trump has awoken them and many others, to see the WDS likely should be changed.

    Is there data that shows that if the Dems get back in, these folk won’t just go back to sleep as with Obama?

    I’ve looked a bit, but if you have this, please share it.

    If the anti-capitalist sentiment would survive a 2018 Dem win, it would be obvious you are right.

    If not for global warming, your argument would be unassailable. As it is, we have 3 – 10 yrs (possibly less) to get to negative emissions. Things need to start happening quickly in order to save what’s left of this set of evolution’s species.

    Anecdotally there are people who would very likely go back to sleep, assuming the Dems will fix things enough to give their offspring a future. This would very likely ensure the end of the current ecosystem.

    You’re basically saying FDR winning was clearly the best outcome. Considering where we are (as a species), I don’t think that’s very clear.

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