Don’t mourn lack of electoral choice, organize!

Capitalist ideology tells us that “democracy” means voting once a year, or every four years, after which we can congratulate ourselves for our participation in turning the wheels of government in one or the other direction.

I would be the last person to tell someone not to vote, but casting a vote ought to be the least of what we do. Around the world, we are given a choice among corporate candidates, a dismal prospect that, perhaps, is reaching its nadir this year in the U.S. presidential race that features two of the most unpopular candidates ever.

Photo by Alex Proimos

Photo by Alex Proimos

Well, we hope it won’t get worse, but the trend around the world is not encouraging. Canada has just elected its “hope” candidate, but so far Justin Trudeau has proven more style than substance, given his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for CETA, for oil pipelines and much of the neoliberal agenda. In France, Francois Hollande seems determined to snuff out whatever good associations may still cling to the Socialist Party. In Britain, the Labour Party old guard seems to prefer committing suicide rather than accept the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. No, we don’t want people joining our party in large numbers! Anything but that!

Back across the Atlantic, all signs point to a victory in November for the technocratic war monger over the misogynist ego maniac. Should Donald Trump somehow win the White House, there is little doubt that liberals would join leftists in massive protests. But why shouldn’t this be the case when Hillary Clinton takes office?

There is a belief among U.S. liberals that they shouldn’t give any “ammunition” to right-wingers by protesting a Democratic president. Or that they can gain access and persuade Democrats to “do the right thing” despite the corporate money that put them in office. Sometimes this extends to candidates. The idea of “Anybody But Bush” took hold in the run-up to the 2004 election, and although removing George W. Bush from office was a necessary goal, the narrowness of “Anybody But Bush” was exemplified when the liberal United For Peace and Justice coalition successfully steered the U.S. anti-war movement into becoming a wing of the campaign of pro-war candidate John Kerry. That movement was thereby snuffed out, never to regain its momentum.

We can’t afford to continue to make these kinds of basic mistakes. The only recourse to a Clinton presidency is to get in the streets on day one. If U.S. progressives don’t mobilize against Hillary Clinton’s White House the same way they would against a Republican president, then the widespread fear that her recent leftward shifts in response to Bernie Sanders are an election ploy that will quickly be forgotten will surely come true.

What we do in the streets, how movements respond, is what matters. The social gains of past decades did not come as manna from heaven or as gifts from politicians. They came as the result of organized struggle and a willingness to be in the streets, occupy workplaces and not allow business as usual. Without struggle, there is no advance, as Frederick Douglass put it succinctly.

Like social democracy in other parts of the world, North American liberalism has reached the point of exhaustion, having no way out of the trap of believing that capitalism can somehow be made nice with a few reforms. Neoliberalism is not the result of a cabal, nor an unfortunate turn by misinformed leaders. The neoliberalism the world has been living through the past few decades is the natural development of capitalism.

Nobody decreed “we shall now have neoliberalism” and nobody can decree “we shall now go back to Keynesianism.” The path to a better world will not be found in an election booth. That is not a reason not to vote, whether for a lesser-evil candidate as a short-term tactic or for a socialist candidate as a gesture of protest. But once election day is over, the real work begins, regardless of who takes office.

15 comments on “Don’t mourn lack of electoral choice, organize!

  1. Alcuin says:

    I wouldn’t say that “neoliberalism … is the natural development of capitalism.” Neoliberalism is a return to the kind of capitalism (Liberalism, as opposed to Burkean Conservatism) that existed before the “Progressive” and “Liberal” era tamed it a little bit. Under the “progressive” and “liberal” regimes, capitalism went into its dormancy period, if you will. Seedling trees do this in a mature forest while waiting for one of the old giants to come crashing to the ground, letting in sunlight. Reagan and Powell were the ones who provided the sunlight and now we see the “benefits” of that sunlight.

    Your call for occupying the streets is well-meaning, but if those who occupy the streets don’t look at themselves and realize what it is that they are calling for, we won’t progress. All we will do is, maybe, get capitalism roped in a little bit. Maybe.

    Sorry to be the one who rains on your parade …

    • Alucin, we’ll have to disagree on this one. But I do agree that a movement has to know what it wants. We have to for something, not simply against something.

      Still, there is never progress without agitation. If we don’t go in the streets, if we don’t organize, nothing will get better and it will very likely get worse.

      • Alcuin says:

        Let me clarify a bit here. I’m not at all opposed to going into the streets to agitate for change. I share your thought about knowing what to do and this is where we diverge. Trump’s supporters are marching for change, Sanders’ supporters are marching for change, Stein’s supporters are marching for change, Clinton’s supporters are marching for change. But not a single one of them (oh, maybe I exaggerate!) is opposed to capitalism. Who is calling for an entirely new economic system? Capitalism co-opts everything. It is the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink. We live capitalism and none of us knows how to stop.

        • I see more clearly your point. Until we name the underlying problem, capitalism, and organize to transcend it we are tinkering with reforms. Reforms can be, and often are, taken back when capitalists regain their confidence.

          Capitalism continues to be widely accepted as something as natural as the air we breath, thanks to lifetimes of indoctrination, and until that belief crumbles, it will be impossible to tackle effectively the mounting economic, environmental and political problems humanity faces.

      • Alcuin says:

        Here’s a snippet from the latest Nation of Change newsletter, one that I subscribe to so that I can keep a finger on the pulse of the so-called “progressives” in this country. The article is by Robert Reich.

        “The real problem isn’t globalization or technological change per se. It’s that America’s moneyed interests won’t finance policies necessary to reverse their consequences – such as a first-class education for all the nation’s young, wage subsidies that bring all workers up to a livable income, a massive “green” jobs program, and a universal basic income.”

        Oh, really? You don’t say, Mr. Reich.

        As I wrote in my clarification, people are marching in the streets for a “fairer” piece of the capitalist pie, not to protest capitalism.

  2. Tyler says:

    Hi Pete,

    I contacted Noam Chomsky and he replied. The below is our correspondence.


    Professor Chomsky,

    In the last years of his life, Martin Luther King, Jr. organized the Poor People’s Campaign, which essentially planned to occupy Capitol Hill. The campaign still happened after his death, but not enough people showed up for it to have a great impact.

    I’ve begun to advocate what would essentially be a continuation of the Poor People’s Campaign, but with a broader focus on the numerous crises facing humanity: climate change, poverty, illegal wars, etc.

    Would you possibly be interested in providing rhetorical support for this action?

    Thank you so much for your efforts to make a better world.


    Tyler Healey

    Chomsky’s reply: “It was a wonderful and very important initiative, cruelly undermined by his assassination. I hope you manage to revive it.”

    • Prole Center says:

      I’m sorry, but Noam Chomsky is a charlatan. I can’t sugarcoat it. He is another part of the “system of control” to borrow a phrase from the Matrix films. He always gives trite and terse replies like that . . . if it’s really him at all. I’ve corresponded with him too, by the way.

      This short article will help, as will the link at the end of it to a more in-depth article by Stephen Gowans:

      • Tyler says:

        Prole, all of the left’s leaders are hopeless. Cornel West is wasting time trying to get Jill Stein elected. West is a scholar of Martin Luther King and thus knows of the Poor People’s Campaign, but has he done one thing to try to reorganize it? Absolutely not. I think these so-called lefties are really just rich cowards. And what has the Occupy movement been doing for the past five years besides sleeping and watching TV?

        • Noam Chomsky is extremely valuable as a critic of capitalism and U.S. imperialism. We shouldn’t under-estimate the value of someone who has extensive knowledge and an ability to communicate in language that people can understand.

          What he doesn’t do is provide solutions, and providing solutions appears to me to be something he is not interested in providing on the basis that people ought to know what to do themselves. I personally believe that if we have knowledge we ought to act on it, but I can’t, and won’t, put down someone who tirelessly works to shine a light on the real workings of capitalism.

          It does us no good to paint everybody as “cowards” or “hopeless.” Become a leader yourself if you don’t like the leadership of others. You don’t have to wait for someone else to act.

  3. Prole Center says:

    I mightily encourage people NOT to vote in rigged elections. Don’t even cast a protest vote. In fact, I think every progressive activist of good conscience should write a letter to their state board of elections asking them to cancel their voter registration if they already have one.

  4. Change is possible. We do need to organize. We need to define the problem, develop solutions and then take the reforms to the state legislatures to ratify. That is the procedure set out in the Constitution. Politicians will not reform themselves or the system but, we can, we must, and we will. We are trying to start this discussion. You can find us at unrigging america on wordpress and facebook. Yours would be a valuable voice. Please join us. We need you.

    • I don’t wish to discourage you in any way, but I note that state legislatures are filled with “politicians [who] will not reform themselves or the system” and thus not likely to be open to serious reform.

      Nonetheless, good luck to you and your organization. We do need to use all tactics.

      • We hear you. What we’ve learned is that in some states all that is needed to get a change to a State’s constitution on the ballot is a petition with a specific number of signatures. Once the ball gets rolling in a number of States it will continue into States with different laws. We are particularly optimistic because we will be working on popular solutions to widespread concerns which should make gathering momentum a bit easier. Finally, it is difficult to argue with success and we adopted the State-by-State approach after studying one of the most successful campaigns ever; that of the NRA. Would you like us to send you a link to a summation of how the NRA has achieved so much? Hope you will coninue to be with us.

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