Against the Current, No. 38, May/June 1992
The Crime of the Centuries
— The Editors
The Democrats' Wasteland
— Peter Drucker
1992: A Palestinian View
— Yasmin Adib
Reproductive Justice for All
— Ron Daniels
Why I'm Supporting Ron Daniels
— Sabrina Virgo
The Rebel Girl: Dow Bows, FDA Applauds
— Catherine Sameh
South Africa: Towards Grassroots Socialism
— Patrick Bond
Letter to the Editor
— Val Moghadam, Helsinki, Finland
Letter to the Editor
— Dave Linn, Berkeley, CA
- Globalization and Resistance
Peru: A People Under Siege
— Socialist Challenge
Our Roots, Our Revolution
— Hugo Blanco
Random Shots: The Revolution Looks Forward
— R.F. Kampfer
- Globalization and Resistance
A Hawaiian Activist's Fight
— Nancy Holmstrom interviews Haunani-Kay Trask
Guatemalan Women: Organizing Under the Gun
— Deborah J. Yashar
Native American Struggles Today
— Jennifer Viereck
- Reflections on Socialism After the USSR
Nationalism at the End-of-Century
— Michael Lowy
The Future of Marxism
— The Editors
Privatization and Russian Workers
— Milton Fisk
Socialism Is Not Stalinism
— Suzi Weissman interviews Mansoor Hekmat
Worker-Communist Party of Iran
— Mansoor Hekmat and others
End of Stalinism, Beginning of Marxism
— Hillel H. Ticktin
Before Stalinism (a continuing symposium)
— The Editors
Rejoinder: Revolutionary as Conservative
— Tim Wohlforth
Of Lenin and Leninism
— Bernard Rosen
The Politics of Affirmative Action
— Aaron Brenner
I WAS ASKED to talk about the Ron Daniels campaign this afternoon. But I’m not sure that Ron’s campaign is the right starting point for this discussion. I don’t think we can talk about whether we support the campaign of Ron Daniels in the same way we talk about whether we support the campaign of Tom Harkin, or whether we prefer the candidacy of Jerry Brown.
We’re facing a broader and more fundamental question than that. I think the question we need to address today is how we approach electoral struggle.
If I were a Republican I would be deciding between Bush and Buchanan. If I were a Democrat I’d be deciding between Tsongas and Clinton or Harkin and Brown. But I am not a Democrat or a Republican, and I don’t think that many of us here today are. Some of us may vote for Democrats, but voting for Democrats doesn’t make you a Democrat any more than speaking in a church makes you a member of the congregation.
Many of us here have a revolutionary perspective. We have a vision of a very different kind of world. We spend our lives fighting the violence and the pain that capitalism inflicts on us and on our people–and we know that as long as this system exists, it will oppress and exploit and wage war.
Unless we find a way to share that understanding and offer real alternatives to people, our politics have no effect in the real world. No one will suffer less because you and I believe in a different tomorrow.
And if we who are revolutionaries focus on protesting capitalist policies, and neglect to challenge capitalist power, the legitimacy of rule by transnational capital is not confronted. Our vision is unspoken, capitalist ideology is unchallenged, and most working people see no alternative for which to struggle.
If in the electoral arena we make our vision secondary to the election of liberal or progressive Democrats, oppressed and exploited people will never hear what we have to say about the system that controls our country. Because no matter how “liberal” the Democrat, I haven’t heard any of them talk about ending corporate control of the economy, or about the centrality of the struggle against racism, or about the role of imperialism.
I’m sure you haven’t either. Because even if they had those thoughts (which they don’t), once inside the party structure they are Democrats, and are dependent upon the party’s financing, and must negotiate which part of their vision the party will accommodate.
If you question the truth of that, study the shift in the politics of the Jackson campaign between 1984 and 1988. There are some heavy lessons to be learned there.
How The Rulers Rule
Capital rules through a combination of illusion, force and accommodation. And the majority of people in this country have been taught to love their enemies–to defend the interests of their enemies, to identify with them–and to vote for them. And most people mark the right to vote for their oppressor as a symbol of their freedom.
Without belief in the authority and righteousness of the structures of capitalism, the stranglehold of the ruling elites on (society’s) belief systems would be in jeopardy. It is our job to challenge those structures and expose the illusions that they create–those
illusions that keep the elites strong, and the people weak.
On the political/electoral front, capital rules through the illusion of choice. It maintains its power through a two-party system. And I believe there are differences between those two parties–because if there weren’t, if there were no differences at all, an alternative party would have developed by now.
The Democrats and the Republicans are not exactly alike, but they’re not exactly different either. Both are instruments of the elites; they differ in their tactics, not in their allegiance to capitalism. They exist as a system–they work in tandem–and both have their roles to play.
The role of the Republican Party–in working class and oppressed communities–is to be the greater of the two evils. The role of the Democratic Party is to be the lesser of two evils. That is its job. The purpose of the Democratic Party is to seduce the people–to hold out the promise of hope and help.
And sometimes, depending on the strength of the people’s organizations outside of the Party structure, and on the conditions of the economy, the lesser evil actually doles out some relief. Just enough to divide our ranks, defuse our anger and co-opt our leaders.
Our Illusions Are Their Weapons
The Democratic Party gives just enough to maintain the illusion of serving us–that illusion is their best defense against us. It derails attempts toward independent politics, and locks us into “dependent” politics. The belief that the Democratic Party is, or can be, a Party of the people is the chief obstacle to the formation of an independent political vehicle.
The two party system is a good system, which works for the people who invented it. It’s been working for them for quite some time now. The “good cop-bad cop” dance has convinced some of the people that the Democratic Party can be pressured to protect their interests.
And all the horrors inflicted by the Reagan/Bush administrations have not helped the people to reject capitalism (because they don’t understand that those horrors are the product of capitalism)–it has just helped some to reject the Republicans, and to run instead (if they are still interested in running anywhere) into the open arms of the Democratic Party.
That dance will continue until we offer an alternative, and show the people that these horrors are caused by the capitalist system with the help of its two parties, and not by the personal whims or mean-spiritedness of Ronald Reagan or George Bush.
Those of us here understand that a game is being run. We know the Democratic Party is not a party of the people. We know their job is to put a human face on corporate rule and to legitimize capitalist power.
What Are We Here For?
We are revolutionaries. Our goal is the transformation of society–so that we can all become more “human” human beings. Our job is to show that the leaders of this country are misleaders and that their rule is illegitimate.
Our job is to show that capitalism’s hunger for profit and power is responsible for wars of intervention throughout the world, for the poisoning of the earth, the waging of war against the working class, the genocidal policies against African American, Latino and Native American peoples.
We are revolutionaries. Our job is to tell the truth about the system we live in–to tell it in a way that is understandable, that helps to explain the life experience of the people we work with. And that includes telling what all of us in this room know to be the truth about the Democratic and Republican parties.
And that is hard to do if we support their candidates. That is hard to do if we encourage people to vote for them. It is hard to articulate our vision when we are asking people to endorse theirs. In the struggle for people’s hearts and minds, it is not our job to validate dominant capitalist ideology. It is not our job to tell people to choose between two unacceptable choices.
Some will say, “True, but look–the Democratic Party is in shambles. It’s a mere shell. It’s ours for the taking. We need to organize and overpower it. We can do it.”
Right. Just like the (1964) Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party did. Just like Eugene McCarthy (1968) did. Just like Jesse Jackson did. Because we all know that transnational capital is eager to share its institutions and power. All we have to do is get the majority on the Central Committees of one of its parties.
Does anyone here really believe that? If we believe that it is possible to transform institutions of oppression into institutions of liberation–why don’t we all join the police force? Or the army?
“Well OK,” some will say, “maybe we can’t take over the party, but we need to organize within it because we can make alliances with progressives there. We don’t want to divorce ourselves from the struggles of the people.”
But the truth is that “the people” are not waging struggles around the Democratic Party. Most working class and oppressed people who still bother to vote for Democrats do it because they see no alternative. And most of the people involved in the structures of the Democratic Party are not the working poor, the unemployed or even lower paid sections of the working class. So who are we to ally with?
Break the Chains
The truth is that the Democratic Party is committed to a racist, sexist and exploitative form of government. The Democratic Party is not a membership organization. It is a structure of multinational capital.
Most people are disenchanted and disgusted with it, and do not identify with it. And I think that’s great. It’s a step in loosening the vise that this system has on people’s minds, which is what we’re all working toward.
So I don’t understand why we don’t encourage and deepen the people’s alienation from that party. I don’t understand why we do the opposite<197>and become, in practice, almost indistinguishable from people whose political understanding is quite different from ours.
The majority of our people no longer vote. They’re telling us something, and we need to hear what the people are saying. We need to start to take the next step forward. We, as people who believe in the transformation of society, need to open ourselves to new ideas and new ways of thinking, and need to stop doing politics by memory.
I used to be a revolutionary who supported liberal Democrats. That’s what I was taught to do, and that’s what I did, until I stopped taking old teachings as gospel and started listening to my own instincts. And once I did that–once I really listened–I learned to trust myself, and I was able to hear new voices.
I will conclude my remarks by saying that I believe very strongly that our work needs to reflect our definition of ourselves. If we support, in theory, the development of an independent political party, but find that we in practice are continually supporting Democrats–then something is wrong.
If we say we believe in the wisdom of “the people,” but steer them back to institutions that we know to be oppressive–something is wrong. If we believe that “the people” have the potential to transform society, but shy away from creating electoral vehicles that can demonstrate our capacity for self-government–something is wrong.
If we know more about this system than we teach, we must still believe that it is OK to keep secrets, and that we are the vanguard–then something is wrong.
Friends, all the people who don’t vote, and all the people who are talking about independent political action, feel disenfranchised by the two-party system. Most of those people do not define themselves as revolutionaries. It is difficult to comprehend why so many of us, who do, are walking so far behind so many of those who don’t.
Sisters and brothers, our movement is broken, our country is in crisis and our people are in pain. We need to do our work differently than we have been. We need to welcome real debate on both our theory and our practice. We need to struggle with each other and challenge each other’s ideas.
Brothers and sisters, we need to get very serious. Thank you.
May-June 1992, ATC 38