The views in this article are not the official position of the Marxist Center National organization and represent only the views of the author, an at-large Marxist Center member.
Of course, in politics, where it is sometimes a matter of extremely complex relations between classes and parties, very many cases will arise that will be much more difficult than the question of a legitimate “compromise” in a strike or a treacherous “compromise” by a strike-breaker, treacherous leader, etc. It would be absurd to formulate a recipe or general rule (“No compromises!”) to suit all cases. One must use one’s own brains and be able to find one’s bearings in each particular instance. It is, in fact, one of the functions of a party organization and of party leaders worthy of the name, to acquire, through the prolonged, persistent, variegated and comprehensive efforts of all thinking representatives of a given class, the knowledge, experience and—in addition to knowledge and experience—the political flair necessary for the speedy and correct solution of complex political problems.V. I. Lenin, “No Compromises?”
There is a growing discussion within our network about the upcoming election, and electoral action in a general sense. Due to the broad nature of our membership, this discussion is causing some internal confusion. Some members question why the election is a point of discussion at all, given an “anti-electoral” position put forth in our Points of Unity. Others react to that questioning with concern: do we not care about suffrage, voter suppression? Which then elicits another reaction: do we have members that wish to take the Democratic Socialists of America’s road of potentially supporting the Biden campaign against “Trump fascism/authoritarianism”?
From this insider’s perspective, these concerns mostly seem to be jumping at shadows. Perhaps this is a result of concerns of “devolution” and fully justifiable exhaustion from previous negative organizing experiences outside of this network. I wish to re-assure: we are not as far off as we may fear. Regardless, it is necessary to spotlight that there is a single significant political difference that we should discuss and analyze as a network.
To begin to shine a light on this issue, let us examine our “anti-electoral” position by examining our network’s Points of Unity:
3. Acknowledge and educate about the conditions existing for the proletariat and work towards their dismantling and liberation of all people through the foundation of socialist principles.
4. Reject the strategy of administering or reforming capitalism and recognize that the capitalist state can never be made to serve the interests of the working class as a whole. Work against the interests of the capitalist state even if holding government office.
7. Oppose and refuse compromise with all forms of US settler-colonialism, imperialism, and domination.Oppose the exploitation of countries affected by colonialism by the imperialist core.Recognize that the United States is a settler-colonial entity. Support the complete emancipation, decolonization, and self-determination of Indigenous and oppressed peoples. Work within the core to undermine imperialist development and achieve reparations in the global south.
Immediately we see a few key points: we must refuse compromise with all forms of U.S. imperialism, capitalism, and settler-colonialism. We know that trying to administer this system ourselves and ushering in reforms will never actually serve the interests of the working class, while also acknowledging the need to educate the working class about their currently existing conditions. Even more explicitly: always work against the interests of the capitalist state even if holding political office within the US.
Some “anti-electoralism”— we mention what to do while holding political office within the U.S.! This very heavily implies at least some degree of willingness to engage in an extremely specific form of electoral action.
One could easily make the argument that there is a contradiction here: we both say to oppose all compromise and attempts at reform in capitalism, but leave open the possibility that our members could hold political office within the settler-colonial empire we reject? Isn’t this allowing opportunism?
Let’s return to Lenin on this point, not merely because he is Lenin, but because he is typically seen as someone advocating for a strictly revolutionary professional “vanguard party” that holds bourgeois democracy as obsolete, AND to highlight the still-existing hundred-years-old debate on these tactical questions:
It has been proved that, far from causing harm to the revolutionary proletariat, participation in a bourgeois-democratic parliament, even a few weeks before the victory of a Soviet republic and even after such a victory, actually helps that proletariat to prove to the backward masses why such parliaments deserve to be done away with; it facilitates their successful dissolution, and helps to make bourgeois parliamentarianism “politically obsolete.” (…) Now let us examine the “Dutch-Left” arguments in favor of non-participation in parliaments. The following is the text of Thesis No. 4, the most important of the above-mentioned “Dutch” theses: “When the capitalist system of production has broken down, and society is in a state of revolution, parliamentary action gradually loses importance as compared with the action of the masses themselves. When, in these conditions, parliament becomes the center and organ of the counter-revolution, whilst, on the other hand, the laboring class builds up the instruments of its power in the Soviets, it may even prove necessary to abstain from all and any participation in parliamentary action.” (…) The authors of the theses are engaged in muddled thinking; they have forgotten the experience of many, if not all, revolutions, which shows the great usefulness, during a revolution, of a combination of mass action outside a reactionary parliament with an opposition sympathetic to (or, better still, directly supporting) the revolution within it.”V. I. Lenin, “No Compromises?”
These are often quoted portions that some within the “Democratic Socialist” left select to justify their own support for the Biden or even the Sanders campaign, while omitting and ignoring the most critical portion:
At present, British Communists very often find it hard even to approach the masses, and even to get a hearing from them. If I come out as a Communist and call upon them to vote for Henderson and against Lloyd George, they will certainly give me a hearing. And I shall be able to explain in a popular manner, not only why the Soviets are better than a parliament and why the dictatorship of the proletariat is better than the dictatorship of Churchill (disguised with the signboard of bourgeois “democracy”), but also that, with my vote, I want to support Henderson in the same way as the rope supports a hanged man—that the impending establishment of a government of the Hendersons will prove that I am right, will bring the masses over to my side, and will hasten the political death of the Hendersons and the Snowdens just as was the case with their kindred spirits in Russia and Germany. If the objection is raised that these tactics are too “subtle” or too complex for the masses to understand, that these tactics will split and scatter our forces, will prevent us from concentrating them on Soviet revolution, etc., I will reply to the “Left” objectors: don’t ascribe your doctrinairism to the masses!V. I. Lenin, “Should we participate in Bourgeois Parliaments?”
We all know well that the heavily electoral sector of the US socialist movement conveniently forgets these critical requirements in their rush to support Bernie more as human footstool/palanquin bearers than as Lenin’s rope.
This also ignores other requirements Lenin describes of complete political and agitational independence, a fully constituted worker’s political organization that consistently carries out both parliamentary action AND successful mass action. This organization is also mature enough to simultaneously walk and chew bubblegum without one action consuming all available resources and stopping the other. Beyond Lenin, other points are ignored by the most common Biden and/or Bernie-boosters within the Democratic Socialist electoral camp, such as the number of non-voters in the US, and many electoral campaigns not necessarily being rooted within or growing from actual working class struggles.
One may argue that the position of the Democratic Socialist camp is closer to Lenin’s rope in their support of Biden, but again we know their agitational propaganda around the need for the complete dissolution of the congressional republic and the utter failure and spinelessness of the Democratic Party establishment (if not sectors of the “progressive left” as well) often leaves much to be desired.
With the notion dispelled that Marxist Center is a purely “anti-electoral” grouping, or that a Marxist party worthy of the name must support bourgeois candidates in elections, what are we and should we be doing?
There have been many different articles and documents put forward about “organizing the unorganized,” “base building,” and “building regional and national collaboration and cohesion” as cornerstones. There is even some disagreement on the efficacy of various electoral actions within such articles. I won’t repeat all of the specifics here. The bottom line is precisely building the independent working class political organization that can both build the basis for consistent and effective mass action first, prior to wading into costly electoral struggles. Once this is constructed, then wade into such struggles ourselves when that makes political and organizational sense.
It is putting the proverbial horse ahead of the cart, on a basis that again is exactly intended to ward against liberal co-optation or “getting lost” in elections, and eventually succumbing to traitorous reformism.
The hope of this author, then, is that we do not inversely mechanically assume that a large non-voting bloc and the apathy of the US population automatically infers support for a revolutionary socialist transformation of society. It also should not mean revolutionaries won’t eventually need to put efforts into electoral struggles.
This takes us back to the growing debate within the Marxist Center about the current election.
Some of our DSA-affiliated comrades — who on the whole are extremely opposed to the DSA backing Biden (so much for any secret DSA-affiliated Biden-supporting fifth column in Marxist Center) — have put forward a position that a “strategy of confronting street violence with protest of our own merely puts our best organizers and the sympathetic at legal and physical risk. “Even in the lucky event that we carry out street tactics without injury or arrest, this strategy will have no impact on the presidential transition or on the social dynamics we are working within. (…) We must maintain the core principle of working-class political independence [in defiance of Democrat/Biden campaign co-optation]. If we do truly face down the barrel of fascism, the only effective response is to build, reinforce and broaden organization at every level. (…) That work starts at ground level. Conveniently, that’s where we find ourselves now. We need to start to build.” (editors’ note: citation from an unpublished piece with permission from the author)
Another position paper from Unity & Struggle has circulated around the organization with a slightly different tack, that sees “mass action as they key to controlling the streets and shaping the narrative, on election day and in whatever follows,” with the important caveat that “a battle between armed specialists is [not] politically desirable.” They indicate that the “left’s role will be to fuel mass, militant direct action that overwhelms the far right and multiplies points of resistance in the institutions of the state and economy. (…) Against calls for passivity and nonviolence, the left should celebrate and spread resistance, linking it with the long history of labor and freedom movements in this country.”
The two groups have interesting differences:
The former position claims that “we do not believe that a Trump re-election—though of course it will be harmful for the working class and for socialist organizing—signals impending fascism (…) the present situation [may] appear to share some characteristics with historical fascism or proto fascism (…) [but] they are nowhere near the scope nor the type that left to historical fascism. (…) Even if we are wrong about the threat of fascism, the two solutions [mass actions/spontaneity and electoral support for Biden] do nothing to address it.”
The latter interestingly mostly agrees but pulls a different conclusion and level of threat out of this, in that “the GOP has obviously devolved into a power-hungry, racist, authoritarian mess. Whether this unfolded over 40 years or 4, whether it represents nascent fascism or your run-of-the-mill authoritarianism, these nuances won’t matter so much in the coming weeks. (…) If the Democrats have a plan for securing power, they haven’t shared it with their supporters. (…) The uprisings this summer showed a vast potential for street action, but lasting organizations in neighborhoods and workplaces – socialist, anarchist, Black radical, whatever – are few by comparison. Trump can’t name a communist group in the U.S. and has no clue what “antifa” is, but he’ll use these bogeymen to attack all of us in a second term. A constitutional coup might just be one building block in the emergence of fascism, but it’s a muscle we shouldn’t permit the right to exercise.” To that end they propose strengthening “networks that will respond in the case of a coup, and build their capacity to take the initiative (…) establish direct contacts, signal boosting networks and carpools among regional groups, and develop action plans for election week. We can facilitate training for marches, street medics and other key skills. We can link with the bases of NGOs and the trade union rank and file fighting voter suppression – not to join their efforts, but to find others who, in a crisis, might take independent action.”
Interestingly, this position paper also sees a Biden victory as buying us time to prepare for an inevitable later confrontation, with a Trump coup or re-election forcing more immediate confrontation, in their “two scenarios.”
To reiterate the agreement:
- Both groups acknowledge that lasting and significant left-wing organizations and movements are few and far between
- Both groups want to increase our independent working class organizational capacity, and don’t currently see wading into electoralism as being of value to the network or their organizations at this time
- Both groups reject collaboration with the Biden campaign as being tactically effective at this juncture
The disagreement, then, can be reduced simply to a desire to either participate in or reject street action in the immediate aftermath of a Trump-contested election.
This divergence raises a few immediate questions from the author and from the broader membership:
- What actions are Marxist Center affiliates, specifically, taking in response to the election? Do we have other analyses or positions on election-related action within the network?
- Should we encourage collaboration and cooperation on election-related actions?
- Do we think that we have capacity either as individual affiliates or as a national network to make any significant intervention in election-related actions?
- Are broad policies of either “all street actions against Trump/right-wing election interference should be supported” or “all actions are too risky” accurate?
- Should we develop some sort of internal national policy, considering the potential for chaotic and violent street action post-election? (even if that is only “please don’t claim your individual actions are done at the behest of the national org”)
- Is there a framework we could develop organizationally to analyze upcoming actions as being particularly worthy or unworthy of supporting? Is this effort worth-while given our organizational capacity or lack thereof?
- Is a clear Biden victory truly providing “a few more years of (sort of) favorable conditions to prepare” as the latter position paper by Unity & Struggle claims, or could there be a threat from a Biden victory we need to prepare for as well?
- Do electoral actions to build working class power need to be coming from within the network to be valuable?
- Should we lend our organizational energies to any socialist-oriented electoral actions? (from anti-voter suppression actions all the way up to supporting Green candidates or Socialist candidates from other tendencies)
To answer some of these questions, the membership and the Political Education and Organizing Working Groups have decided to immediately organize a series of internal Marxist Center discussion and coordination calls on a weekly basis in the run-up to the election. We plan to continue these talks in the aftermath of the election as well.
We hope that this will form a basis for ongoing analysis and help to cohere engagement with different responses and actions from our affiliate and at-large membership.