Elections and Struggles

  1. While our broad perspectives and approach to the 2012 elections are outlined in a separate document, here it is necessary to warn how the elections will complicate perspectives for struggle. Historically, presidential elections have sucked the energy out of social movements, isolating them and pushing them further to the margins of U.S. politics. The logic of lesser-evilism, as we have repeatedly explained, means most social movement organizations mute all demands aside from those acceptable to the Democratic Party and effectively channel their bases into get-out-the-vote efforts. Mass protests and other methods of struggle that open democratic space for criticism or exposure of the Democratic Party’s pro-corporate politics are avoided in order to prevent the “greater evil” Republicans from being elected.
  2. The experience of the antiwar movement especially shows the disaster of lesser-evilism. While Obama won limited political capital for withdrawing most U.S. troops from Iraq, he tripled the number of troops in Afghanistan, increased the use of drone attacks, and militarily intervened in Libya to derail the revolutionary movements of that country and region. Yet the antiwar movement, so boisterous and prominent under Bush, has virtually disappeared under Obama. The threat of military conflict with Iran is now on the agenda, but no serious protest movement has met Obama’s dangerous saber rattling.
  3. For those on the left, including many Occupy activists who understand the corporate character of both parties, the challenge will be to prevent the elections siphoning off both activists and attention from the ongoing community, workplace, and student struggles. This task would be massively assisted if a genuine workers’ party existed, or at least a strong independent left presidential candidate to give expression to workers’ struggles in the electoral arena, but it seems unlikely even the latter will materialize.
  4. However, Obama’s 2012 campaign will be far different than it was four years ago. In 2008, mass illusions were built up that change could be achieved through the electoral arena. Obama helped reestablish the tattered democratic credentials of American capitalism. But for the youth especially, these illusions are largely shattered. Anger at both parties and the sham system of “democracy” is at unprecedented levels. While the movement has not yet reached the stage of building its own unifying political voice, tens of millions of workers and youth have wised up to the reality of corporate political domination.
  5. In fact, especially for the radicalized youth, healthy disgust with the existing political establishment means, on the one hand, calls to instead build real movements on the ground and, on the other hand, a simplistic rejection of “politics” in general. On the positive side, this mood could provide added energy for struggles to develop in 2012 even amidst the pressures of the Democratic Party election machine. In Spain, for example, at the height of their election frenzy, the youth responded to their fake no-choice election with the mass “indignados” movement. We should encourage a similar response to the U.S. elections.
  6. At the same time, the anti-political ideas in Spain acted as a barrier to the indignados, preventing them from constructing a viable political force that could defeat capitalist policies. Similarly, here in the U.S. we must counter the anti-political mood. Anarchist ideas against voting or any participation in elections reinforce and appear to give intellectual weight to the broader anti-political mood. While taking a sympathetic attitude, we have to firmly argue against this ultra-left approach.
  7. The 2012 elections will dominate the entire political life of the country. With increasing intensity up through November, it will be the main topic of political conversation for tens of millions of working-class people. Attempting to ignore or abstain from the elections, to just “focus on building real movements” is a formula for self-isolation. The Occupy movement and the left will be far more relevant if they intervene in the election debate with a clear, independent analysis and program. Slogans like “Occupy the Elections” can be a starting point to explain the pressing need to break from the Democratic Party and build left and anti-cuts electoral coalitions, and for a new party to represent the 99%. Even though we will not, in most areas, be in a position to run candidates or have serious left independent campaigns we can support, arming ourselves with a clear program and explanation of what is needed will help us maintain a dialogue with wider layers of working people and youth.