…EXCEPT WHEN THEY’RE NOT.
If you had asked me in 2015 or in early 2016, I would have told you that voting is the most important and powerful thing one can do as a responsible citizen of our nation. I would have said that using the only voice granted to us in the political arena before all the power and decision-making are taken out of our hands for a couple more years is far more effective than any protest or petition, and infinitely more beneficial than screaming into the void on social media.
Nowadays, however, I see Electoral Politics in a much different light – namely as a giant flaming pile of dogshit. I’ve seen actual results from mass protests, and while I still internally debate the benefits of social media void-screaming, it actually does seem to be more effective than voting.
Online, we can educate each other and ourselves, we can debate finer points of theory, we can analyze other viewpoints and better illuminate our own understanding of the world that surrounds us. We can meet new comrades and plan events. We can organize.
Of course, as we all know too well, there is plenty of detriment in social media, and it doesn’t hold a candle to actual face-to-face organizing or direct action in real life. But, my point is that even uselessly screaming into the cyber-void is somehow still more effective in creating social change, or a social philosophical or ideological shift, than voting is. At least when it comes to Federal electoral politics, anyway.
But, despite all of this, I actually still support voting.
Right, I know, participating in this shit system actually upholds this shit system, and reforming it only strengthens that system in the long run. Reforms not only can be repealed, eventually they usually are.
I know that the State is just the tool of the Ruling Class. I know that voting for any politicians – even actual left-wing candidates – amounts to nothing more than handing over our autonomy to the Bourgeoisie. I know this.
And still, STILL, I refuse to throw away the only ability I have to exert any semblance of my will over the current system, nor will I encourage anybody else to do so.
But, I do encourage everyone on the Left that will participate as voters to draw a line in the sand and never ever back down from it.
Look, of course we will never vote Socialism into office, although we may succeed in getting a few Socialist-Lite™ candidates into the government. And, even then, electoral politics is pretty much just performative garbage. We see it all the time – empty promises to win votes, popular candidates co-opted by the Corporate Party, in turn giving us the same old “business as usual” politics.
Corporations will siphon Social Activism and transform it into Political and Social Capital, appropriating what is important to us and repackaging it, branding it, marketing it back to us for profit – and at the cost of our own integrity as we pay more and more for the Fair-Trade Organic coffee, the palm oil-free foods, the sustainable forestry initiative paper goods, the shoes that support an activist protesting police brutality while their products are still made in overseas sweatshops for literal slave wages – all so we can feel better about ourselves while still increasing our consumerism and ultimately their wealth.
But, voting for people who may fight for the values that you share can be a good thing – and it can have some actual, tangible effects in the material realities of the people we as Leftists claim we are fighting for.
On the Local level – especially on the Local level – voting for certain policies can give immediate relief to those who need it the most. School Board, City Council, hell, even using your voice to elect the District Attorney is probably a pretty god damn good idea. I mean, if there is going to be a DA anyway (and under this system, there’s going to be), why the hell wouldn’t you go cast a vote for the one who isn’t going to bother with bullshit marijuana charges? In a lot of ways, Local elections are even more important than State, and almost always more effective than Federal elections, at least in the short term.
But, State-level elections can be pretty effective in a lot of ways as well. Your State government largely decides how Medicare dollars will be distributed and what they can be spent on, or whether or not to be a Medicare Expansion State. They maintain infrastructure. They decide whether or not to spend the money to fix shitty lead water pipes or to ignore it and allow Nestlé to bottle fresh clean water just a little further upstream for pennies on the dollar.
But Federal Electoral Politics? Yeah, pretty much just ineffective bullshit – for the most part. Even so, there are a couple of pretty good reasons to go ahead and participate anyway, even if it isn’t going to produce any real change in material conditions.
IT’S FUCKING EXCELLENT PROPAGANDA.
Go back to the 2016 Democratic Primaries and Bernie Sanders – hardly the ideal Leftist to be sure, but for many self-proclaimed Socialists today (myself included), his campaign was the beginning. Bernie ran on a Populist platform, garnered huge amounts of support from Working Class voters of all stripes, even across Party divisions. Of course, we all saw what happened, it’s still fucking being debated ad nauseam, and I’m not going to go back into it here, but the results are still developing today.
First, there has been a HUGE influx of Leftists since then. I don’t just mean in Big Tent organizations like the DSA, but in smaller, more sectarian Parties and non-Party-affiliated groups as well. And, while there is an argument to be made that rising fascism has been both a cause and an effect of that, the fact remains that were it not for the events of 2015-16 neither the far-right nor the far-left would have seen this sudden swell in numbers.
Secondly, and most obviously, we’re seeing political candidates in the upcoming midterms that are actually calling themselves Socialists – and winning primaries. That is not something we would have seen were it not for the massive success of the Sanders campaign. We are seeing incredible amounts of organizing on grassroots lines for these candidates, and those wins are coming at far less cost than their opponents are spending. We are seeing demonstrations of the power that Working Class people have when they unite behind a certain cause. THAT, dear comrades, is some pure, uncut, Grade-A propaganda – IF we harness it properly. Yelling at people that their causes are hopeless, that they’re wasting their time (as truthful as it might be) isn’t how we do it.
Look further into the 2016 Primaries, and we find another kind of propaganda – the DNC told Sanders supporters that they could not have their candidate, that they were going to run a Corporate Centrist instead, and they ended up losing. Their actions caused a certain result – and it will happen again.
For example, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, probably the most visible Socialist-Lite™ candidate today, ran on a platform virtually identical to Sanders in every way, and she won her Primary, against a long-time incumbent who was thought to be next in line for Nancy Pelosi’s House Democratic Leadership position. A huge accomplishment, to be certain. Add to this her hardline stance on the #AbolishICE movement, which is still seeing very little support in government, and it was almost like we were going to see a real Socialist win an election (well… Socialist-Lite™).
And almost immediately after her Primary win, she pivoted towards the center, with the softening of her rhetoric on ICE and her fawning of warmonger John McCain after his recent death.
In each instance, she felt major backlash from the Left and likely lost a fair amount of votes. She turned away from the Left and took a page out of the “Business As Usual” Political Playbook, and it may very well have cost her the election in November.
In a more recent example, Andrew Gillum won the Democratic Primary for Governor of Florida on a Medicare For All platform – and almost immediately started using a phrase we have all heard (and we all know exactly what it really means) – “access to affordable healthcare”. This WILL cost him a victory in November if he does not go back to his original position.
We know that it will – because it already happened. And it’ll happen again. THIS is our “Propaganda Of The Deed”. These are lines in the sand, and we have already shown that we will no longer back down from them as we have in days past. Maybe they believe that seeing the actual realities that resulted from a Trump presidency is enough to beat us back into submission (and, in 2020, perhaps it will be), but in this current time where so many people are hurting regardless of who is in office, I’m pretty sure that voting for yet more spineless Democrats who just end up bending to the will of the Corporate Donor Class is out of the question for most. We can use this sort of propaganda to show those would-be elected “leaders” that we will have none of those shenanigans. But we HAVE to be willing to stick to our principles, to enforce those lines that we’ve drawn.
IT CAN BE REALLY FUCKING RADICALIZING.
Again, taking from my own personal journey to Leftism – one which I know many others have made or are still making – the 2016 Election Cycle is what radicalized me. It opened my eyes to just what a flaming pile of dogshit electoral politics, and the whole system, really is. I saw the voices of millions stamped out in deference to the Corporate favorite, who in turn was defeated by the far-Right “Populist” we now see in the White House. I voted for Bernie in the Primary, and I voted Green Party in the General. And my vote – my voice – the one I was always taught to hold dear and to use with a clear conscious, in the end, it didn’t fucking matter.
We can talk about the Third-Party Voter math, the fucked up Electoral College, the Popular Vote winner, the shitty First-Past-The-Post voting system – and honestly, all of it is worthy of debate and simultaneously not even worth thinking about at this point. But, just as the people and policies that we vote for can be a sort of Propaganda Of The Deed, this fucked up system can be an educational tool for the radicalization of new comrades.
Like many others that I knew who had invested so much personal time, effort, and energy into the Sanders campaign, I was absolutely crushed. It bordered on depression for me, and many I knew actually did fall into depression. The only thing that kept me from sliding that far was my intense anger at the system and the questions that kept popping into my mind – why? HOW?
And that’s when the reading began. I dived deep, determined to figure out how this fucked up system got so fucked up, and how it could fail us so miserably. I didn’t have anybody to mentor me, no guide to suggest readings – I would be a lot further in my own development as a Leftist if I had, and that is an important lesson for me. It showed me that those of us who are already on the far-Left have to be ready and willing to entertain newcomers, and to use their own experiences as teaching tools.
But, my personal struggles aside, the point is that participating in this fucked up and broken system can still be a fantastic way to teach others just how fucked up and broken this system really is – and to show them there there are other ideas, other ways of life, other ideologies outside of the “Two-Party” system, things they might not have thought about, things that were intentionally hidden from them. It can be a perfect jumping off point into radical Leftist ideology – just as it was for so many of us.
And, yes I understand how contradictory it is to say that I support an overthrow of the government and abolishing Capitalism, by violent means if necessary (and will the powerful ever give up their power peacefully?), to say that I support the abolition of the State, to say that I truly and honestly believe that Federal Electoral Politics is pretty much just complete garbage, and to also say people should still go out and vote, if only to see how fucked up the system really is. I see how contradictory that is, and yet I still say we should use our vote every chance we get, because…
…WHAT IF IT ACTUALLY FUCKING WORKS?
Again, we are never going to vote Socialism into office. However, I would be remiss not to point out that Allende was actually elected in Chile, but we know how that turned out. And, while there have been a number of Socialist-Lite™ presidents and politicians elected throughout history in various parts of the world (FDR is one example, though definitely not the best example, and even in modern times, Mexico’s Obrador comes to mind), historically and materially speaking, particularly in the heart of the Imperialist machine, such a turn of events is highly doubtful.
What if it actually fucking worked, though? What if our Propaganda Of The Deed and our Revolutionary Education actually led to a shift in popular ideology here in the US, and people voted en masse for several Socialist-Lite™ – or even actual Socialist – candidates to replace these corporate sycophants we have today? Or maybe even actually take the Presidency?
Sure, there would be a tremendous amount of pushback, and perhaps even open civil war in the streets. Even without public unrest, the Oligarchy would do everything in their power to stymie any progress we might make. Conservatives and reactionaries in the halls of government (and next door to you) would be up in arms, literally and figuratively.
Just putting Socialists in office wouldn’t be any sort of magical elixir for what ails the Working Class – especially as corruption seeped in, as it inevitably would (short and strict term limits, folks).
Suppose we elected enough Socialist or Socialist-Lite™ politicians to get Medicare For All passed? Millions of people who are sick and don’t even know it could get the diagnosis and treatments that will save their lives. Millions more who are sick and DO know it, but just can’t afford treatment, would be saved. We wouldn’t have a woman whose leg just got shredded by a subway train begging people not to call an ambulance because she couldn’t afford the bill. It could create real, tangible change in the material conditions of millions of Working Class people.
Suppose we elect enough Socialistic politicians to get a variable Universal Basic Income passed? Millions of people who have to make the choice between having electricity and running water or food on the table wouldn’t have to make that choice anymore. Crime rates would plummet as Working Class people were no longer forced to steal from or rob other Working Class people just to get the bare necessities of life. And don’t give me that whole “but people would just be lazy!” bullshit, we already work way more than we should have to as it is now, and still can’t pay bills.
With advances in automation that have, until now, only benefitted the Ruling Class, I know that I, for one, would welcome a 25-30 hour workweek where I didn’t have to struggle to pay bills, and I really wouldn’t mind a whole hell of a lot if another person only worked 20 hours or even less so they could care for their kids or elderly parents, or even just so they could smoke pot and play video games. And, maybe, juuust maybe, we could free up enough time to work on organizing and building a movement of social ecology, to advance the ideas and concepts of true liberation from Capitalism, to build networks of mutual aid, etc. It could create real, tangible change in the material conditions of millions of Working Class people.
Suppose we get enough Socialistic politicians in seats of power that would actually take some real action against the coming climate catastrophes? Even as our current models are surpassing the predicted effects of Climate Change that just a few years ago were thought to not be seen for another 50 or 100 years, we aren’t extinct yet. It’s true that we are past the point of minimizing or reversing most if not all of these effects (if there ever was the chance of that in the first place), but that doesn’t mean that we can’t take real and drastic measures now to ensure the survival of humanity.
Shit is about to get real deep, folks, and I do mean that literally. Sea levels are going to rise, and not just a few inches but by a few feet at the least. Large swaths of land will be uninhabitable, and Climate Emigration is already happening. It’s only going to increase. We are going to be forced inward and towards the poles, and this will happen regardless of who is sitting in the seats of government.
However, if we can get some people into office that understand these facts as reality, perhaps we can come up with some sort of global action plan that will keep the worst of the Resource Wars from coming to reality. We could create real, tangible change in the lives of BILLIONS of Working Class people around the globe.
Programs and efforts like these could be tied into Revolutionary Education and Propaganda to show the Working Class that Socialism is good, actually, despite what they have been told their entire lives. They, too, can be tools of Revolution. But we have to be willing to keep doing the work.
“But, William!” you say. “You, Mr. Modern Marxist himself, of all people should know what Marx said about these kinds of programs! He called it Bourgeois Socialism! It only pacifies the Proletariat and strengthens the grip of the Ruling Class!”
Yeah, and that dude has been dead for a long time now. Not even he could see this coming, as he advocated for accelerated industrialism around the entire globe. He was right on a whole lot of things, in both analysis and prediction. And in those days, accelerated industrialism might have been ok, if the Global Proletarian Revolution had come to pass in his lifetime or shortly thereafter. But today? Not so much.
What accelerationism advocates in today’s era is pushing for worsening conditions until people can no longer take this shit and they rise up against the Ruling Class and take power. And, if that is what is to be, I’ll take up arms right along with you. But I foresee a tremendous problem with that in the modern age – if we let things get much worse than they are now on a global scale, there isn’t going to be much of a Proletariat left to rise up. We’re talking about the deaths of 100s of millions of people in the coming global climate catastrophes and resource wars. We’re talking about the deaths of 100s of millions more as displacement drives them into lands where fascism has taken hold. In this day and age, accelerationism will only WEAKEN THE PROLETARIAT.
In this case, many will advocate for building Dual Power, because as it stands right now, the government is not going to save us. And I agree completely with that. We as Leftists should abso-fucking-LUTEly be building our own networks to provide for those in need and get resources from one place to another, to defend the defenseless and ourselves, and to create a world that is worth living in, or at least one that is not so shitty that we’d rather just go ahead and die instead. Because that is 100% correct – as it stands now, the government is NOT going to save us. And ultimately, in the hands of a Ruling Class, it never will.
BUT, if you are going to tell me that we shouldn’t at least try to infiltrate the government and push for relief of the Proletariat in the meantime, and in conjunction with building that Dual Power, what I am hearing is that your conditions aren’t quite bad enough yet, and until then we should just go ahead and martyr those millions of sick, impoverished people who need Medicare For All, who need Universal Basic Income, who need a mass contingency plan for Climate Catastrophe. What I am hearing is that you don’t have the confidence in yourself to teach people that Socialism and Communism will ultimately help them despite the clear evidence that the successful implementation of Socialistic programs like these would provide.
Further, how exactly does putting Socialists into office (even Socialist-Lite™ politicians) and implementing Socialistic programs to ease the suffering of and to empower the Working Class not constitute a takeover of the State, even if it is a transitionary and incremental one? I will concede that there is a valid argument to be made that this would only increase the Proletariat’s dependence on the State in the present and immediate future. However, this is a strategy that would ultimately weaken the Capitalist hold over that State as wealth is reappropriated and redistributed, and production falls into line with a “for-use” model rather than “for-profit”. And, failing that, or perhaps even in conjunction with that, as the Working Class is more empowered, we can use literally any turn of events in this scenario as propaganda and educational tools to enlighten the Proletariat.
Acceleration, as things stand now, means only one thing as far as I can see – increased fascism that will claim the lives of perhaps billions of innocent people before things might get a little better. But, a Working Class infiltration of the State against the Ruling Class in conjunction with building of Dual Power under an enlightened and empowered Proletariat is our best bet for survival in the coming years. And it can actually change the material conditions of the Working Class here and now – something that, in my opinion, Socialists and Communists should absolutely be in favor of regardless of how it comes about.
Yes, electoral politics, especially on the Federal level, is a flaming pile of dogshit. We should be organizing within the Working Class to build our own horizontal democratic structures to combat the fascism we see rising before our very eyes at the present moment. I want to abolish Capital and the State. I want to abolish borders, because no person is illegal. I will advocate for all of those things, and I will continue to do my part to try to educate and enlighten people as to why we should.
At the very same time, if I have the opportunity to vote for a politician who will fight for programs that will make life even a little better for suffering and oppressed communities on the local, regional, national, or global level, you can be damned sure I’ll be walking out of the polling center with a brand new “I voted!” sticker on my t-shirt, and I urge each and every one of you to do the same.
Header image by Anthony Freda