We on the Left often issue warnings about forthcoming attempts by elite liberals, both inside and outside the Democratic Party, to cajole us into uncritically supporting the Democratic nominee. Now that the 2016 election is underway we can expect this behavior to play out again. Fear-mongering about the reactionary character of the Republican Party and the conservative movement will build to a crescendo as the election approaches. We will be asked, as we always are, to ignore our concerns and criticisms of Democratic Party policy and instead focus all our energy, and fire all our ammunition, at the conservatives. And we will likely do as we have always done and ignore this.
To be a Marxist means to have a very specific perspective. Marxists recognize the limits and intentions of liberal democracy; limits that are deliberate in nature, drafted for specific purposes, with the ultimate intention being to act as the mechanism for ruling class domination. We do not believe, as the Liberals do, that the best path forward for human progress is through the electoral and legal systems of the liberal democratic state. The state is the focal point of the hegemon’s power. We believe in popular struggle as the means to self-emancipation. Never in human history have the oppressed been liberated from above. Power concedes nothing without a demand, and we have much to demand.
Nevertheless, when November rolls around, and the country goes out to vote, there is no doubt in my mind that, even as a Marxist, I will be casting a ballot for whomever the Democratic Party nominates. The justification for this decision lies in having both short term and long term goals. In the short term we are trying to keep as many people alive and subsisting in the most reasonable of living conditions as we can muster, while in the long term we are trying to replace capitalism with socialism. Therefore we need a two-pronged approach. One that acts as the basis for short term reform, saving lives by expanding access to health care, releasing people from prison, reforming and rolling back the domestic and international police state, locating funding for putting people to work, re-building the country’s infrastructure, making it easier for individuals to vote, making it easier for women to access abortion and other reproductive and general health care, and so on. The other approach should focus on building revolutionary mass movements centered around militant political and economic organizations. We have to radicalize people both at work and at home.
One of the major faults of the Left over the last several decades has been a tendency to splinter off into sectarian quagmires. Some of us focus on criminal justice reform, others focus on housing, others on poverty, others on climate change, others on minority rights and identity politics, etc. We are each trying to put a puzzle together using only our own individual pieces. We need to maintain both a systemic and a fractional perspective, recognizing our own individual concerns as connected within a broader system of oppression. Liberal capitalism is a system defined by exclusion. But because it is also a dynamic system, capable of revolutionizing itself, it can adapt to changing circumstances and redraw the lines of exclusion. Political rights have slowly, through the popular struggle of the excluded, been forced to expand from including only white men with property to all white men, to all white people, both man and woman, to everyone. Further political, social, and economic rights have been won over the last century. Each time the pressure on the system to change has become too great just enough of the demand’s of the masses have been met to provide the ruling class with room to maneuver and redraw the lines of exclusion.
Not only that, but in the last two or three decades further economic lines have been drawn as the welfare state, a creation of popular struggle during the Great Depression, is now being slowly rolled back across the western world. Apparently the liberal democratic state is willing to grant all the political rights any minority group could want just as so long as the mass of the people is equally poor. They are happy to incorporate any nationality, any ethnicity, any religion, any skin color, any sexual orientation, or any gender as newly minted ruling class representatives of their minority group, just so long as the line that delineates class difference gets stronger and stronger, more and more distinct. They are willing to compromise on any other distinction because they know that integrating minority representatives is an excellent tool for subverting a unified front against their interests. Especially because Americans recognize every distinction except class and will live vicariously through their representatives who scratched and clawed and fought their way into the club.
Despite knowing all of this to be true we must recognize yet another important reality. The two political parties America has on offer, the Democrats and the Republicans, are not equivalent. Having the Democrats in power means the difference for working class people having, or not having, access to the social safety net. We will not deny the role that the Democratic Party has had in rolling back or expanding any number of policies we on the Left wholeheartedly disagree with. But the fact remains that the Republican Party and the conservative movement would rather burn the country to the ground than ever work with us on taking direct action in the short term to decrease the suffering so many in this country, and this world, endure. Therefore another of our long term goals should be the complete and utter destruction of the Republican Party. They represent the most extreme elements of the capitalist class, elements who wish to eliminate any and all remnants of the commons, the public good, and the collective. The capitalist system has reached such a self-destructive point that these elements of the ruling class are suicidal hostage takers that must, for the sake of every living person on this planet, be deprived of any further opportunities to wreak havoc.
It has taken me some time to come to this conclusion. In the past I might have very well been on of those on the Left howling about the attempts by elite liberals to manage popular struggle and direct its energy into electoral politics. We must recognize the nature of the beast. It has become highly self-contradictory, fractured, and in some ways finding itself at a place of internal opposition. I will be the first to admit that the Democratic Party is desperately incompetent and pusillanimous. Over the two terms of President Barack Obama they have lost control of the House of Representatives, the Senate, as well as countless state legislatures and governorships. On a national level the Republican Party is no more than a regional political entity. However, given the federalist nature of our governing system they do not need a tremendous amount of national power to cause radical damage. On a national level the Democratic Party appears much stronger than the Republican Party, but when one examines the situation more closely one discovers that their power is shallow and desultory. So much of the power of the national government in America trickles down into the state governments and the state governments are increasingly coming under Republican control. It will be difficult for Americans to recognize Democratic Party policy that benefits them should it be distorted by Republican interference upon arrival.
There is too much at stake in the present moment and in the future for the Left in America to remain as rhetorically imperious and practically ineffectual as it has over the last several decades. Climate change is an issue that could make any other consideration insignificant by comparison if even the most conservative estimates of its impact on human life comes to pass. I tend to sense the danger we are in every time I examine just how uninvolved so much of the public is in the political process. Confronted by such unimaginable forces many Americans seem to have repressed their awareness of said forces. Instead they weather the storm constantly, and quietly, pondering to themselves, just where all this water that is slowly drowning them came from.