A Discussion About Whether it Was Correct to
Support Kerry in the 2004 Presidential Election

      [These are some letters exchanged between “Scott”, “Kirby”, and “Carol” shortly after the 2004 presidential election. Probably all three have at least slightly changed their views since then, or at least would probably express their views differently now, especially if they had the chance to more carefully present their opinions in the form of essays for example. But even in the rough form presented here there is plenty of food for thought. This exchange is being posted now, four years later, because many of the same issues come up in every election. It is possible that there may have been additional emails in this discussion, but the ones below are all I can now locate. —Scott H.]

Carol’s Note to Scott Just After the 2004 Election

[November 3, 2004]

Dear Scott,

Once again, I am profoundly disappointed in the American people.


Scott’s Reply to Carol and Others Just After the 2004 Election

[November 3, 2004]

Hi Carol (and everybody),

Uhhh, what exactly did you expect the American people to do in this election? What exactly could they even do?

Both major candidates and both parties openly agreed on all the big issues, both with respect to foreign policy (continuing the imperialist wars in Iraq, etc.) and domestically. Both clearly represented the (perceived) interests of the ruling class. So no matter which guy won, essentially the same policies were destined to continue.

If there is disappointment to be expressed here about how the American people acted in the election, it should be around not their choice between the two major bourgeois candidates, but in the fact that the people participated in this farce at all!

However, when we are disappointed or surprised by something it shows we didn’t fully understand the real situation. Thus disappointment or surprise should encourage contemplation and/or investigation.

We shouldn’t have been surprised that a large part of the population thought this election was very important, nor even that a slim majority of the voters thought that Bush and the Republicans were the better choice. If we really understand the ideological hold that the ruling class has over the people (through all the means of education and information), and if we understand that the Republican point of view is the dominant one in the U.S. media, then the only (small) surprise should be that the Democrats are still doing as well as they actually are.

Still, the ideology being drummed into people’s heads is shifting to the right, due to shifts within the ruling class itself, the concentration of the media in that direction, and the consequent concentration and intensification of the right wing “message”. This will undoubtedly continue until foreign disasters (such as a qualitatively worsening quagmire in Iraq) or domestic disasters (such as a new depression) cause a shift of opinion both by the ruling class itself and also by the masses. In other words, for the time being the country is pretty firmly in the hands of the Republicans. More firmly so than 4 years ago.

Myself, I don’t blame the people for voting for the Republicans rather than the “me-too Republicans” (the Democrats). If the basic message that both parties push is correct (which of course it really isn’t) then you might as well go with those pushing it most insistently.

One of the most interesting things about the election has been Kerry’s quick concession on the grounds that “we must unite” the country around the common ruling class program. (And this after promising over and over that there would be no concession until all the votes were actually counted.) Kerry and the Democrats have, if anything, a stronger sense of bourgeois class solidarity than the Republicans do!

Sure it is always disappointing, and a bit depressing, that the masses don’t know where their real interests lie, and are so easily fooled by these ruling class politicians. But we’ve always known that the dominant ideas in society are normally those of the ruling class. This is an elementary principle of Marx’s historical materialism.


Commentary by Kirby about the Above Discussion

[November 3, 2004]

Scott...I agree that the Dems and Republicans have very little, if any, differences in what we might call the “umbrella” politices — foreign and domestic. They differed, as usual, in the details. Bush will likely continue to act unilaterally (or with our broad alliance of the English and the Poles), while Kerry might have done what he said, and aimed for a more truly international consensus on Iraq and other international issues. But both would have continued in the same general “imperialist” direction. Domestically, there will be differences in taxation — Bush will give a little more to corporations than Kerry would have, Kerry would have upped taxes again on “the rich” — but not so much as to really piss them off. Given that we live in a capitalist society (and world) this is, as you say, no great surprise. There are some other “minor” differences in the respective Kerry and Bush attitudes toward the environment, gun control, the “Patriot Act”, education, separation of church and state, social security reform, corporate laws...you know, the kind of things that don’t really make any difference in the big scheme of things. I mean people could have looked at these issues, and made a decision based on the candidates’ different positions but, in fact, they didn’t.

I’ve read through your note several times, and I believe the heart of it is this:

“If we really understand the ideological hold that the ruling class has over the people (through all the means of education and information), and if we understand that the Republican point of view is the dominant one in the U.S. media, then the only (small) surprise should be that the Democrats are still doing as well as they actually are.

Still, the ideology being drummed into people’s heads is shifting to the right, due to shifts within the ruling class itself, the concentration of the media in that direction, and the consequent concentration and intensification of the right wing ‘message’.”

Now, you don’t say what this message is. I think I know what it is, but, as you and I sometimes aren’t quite on the same wavelength, I don’t like to assume.

However, what it seems like the message is (given that umbrella policies are similar), based on all the “post-polls”, is morals. That’s what they’re all saying. Based on which poll/pundit you read, somewhere around 90% of the people in this country believe that homosexuality is a sin, Islam is a false religion (actually any version [of religion] is false if it isn’t their brand of Christianity — the Protestant fundamentalists and conservative Catholics were sort of uneasy bedfellows this time around), most Muslims “hate Christians”, the Bible is literally correct, evolution is false, science in general is untrustworthy (at least biology, geology, cosmology, astronomy and physics — all of which tell us the cosmos is more than 6000 years old!!, that “pro-life” somehow encompasses “pro-death penalty”, the minority that is the least trustworthy (and the least moral) is the atheists, and that the leader of 5% of the world’s population can do pretty much whater he feels like militarily because he has God on his side — these people voted for Bush.

Meanwhile, more than 90% of the people that disagree with these beliefs voted for Kerry.

So now we have an Executive Branch that will direct our foreign and domestic policies based on the above “morals”, a Legislative Branch that will pass laws based on the above “morals” and a Judiciary Branch (including a Supreme Court) that will soon enough be weighted in favor of upholding all these “morals”.

So Carol ... if this is what you mean by “profoundly disappointed in the American people”, please only be disappointed by the 51% that voted for him. If Scott is correct, and we continue our swing to the (far) right (on beyond the next four years), there are a lot of people my age that will make good on their resolution to retire to a somewhat more sane and tolerant country.

Reply by Scott to Kirby’s Letter Above

[November 3, 2004]

Hi Kirby and everybody,

I note that in your letter you refer to the right-wing message as being a matter of “morals” (in scare quotes). That is the way the Christian fundamentalists would characterize it (without the scare quotes!). I wouldn’t put it that way myself, though it is true that morality and politics are both basically a matter of group interests, and therefore—in class society—class interests. In other words, politics is always a matter of morality in the broad sense.

Of course what the Christian fundamentalists call “morality” is often the exact opposite of any correct morality (i.e., anything that is actually in the interests of the people), and hence the scare quotes are certainly justified in reference to their view of things.

However, there are really two things here: First, the actual program that the right wing is pushing, and second, the ideology they have to support the program. In your letter you focus mostly on the ideological aspect (religious views, etc.), but I prefer to focus mostly on the actual policies (such as imperialist wars or the slow trend toward more fascist laws and policies at home, such as the Patriot Act).

If you look at the ideologies that characterize the Bush Republicans and the liberal Democrats you see quite a notable difference. This is the “cultural divide” that the press is talking so much about at present. But if you look at the actual programs of the two parties (i.e., the policies they are actually supporting and putting into place) then there is hardly any difference. Kerry and the Democrats also want to continue the U.S. imperialist war in Iraq, and Kerry voted for the Patriot Act. Yes, their ideologies are a bit different, but both ideologies still lead to virtually the same policies. In other words, both ideologies—as different as they may seem on a superficial level—are actually variations of the same ruling class outlook.

A great many of the people who voted for Bush do not actually hold most of the ideological views you mentioned. Sure, there is the Christian-fascist bunch that accepts the whole package and even wants to push Bush further to the right, but they are minority even among Republican voters.

Over the next decade or so—and quite possibly over the next 4 years—there will almost certainly be a major intensification of the economic and political problems that plague the rulers of this country. Since Bush and the Republicans are in there, they will get the blame, and the voters will likely turn again to the Democrats. So those who really think that having the Democrats in power will make a big difference should just hang tough for a while.

Meanwhile we revolutionaries have to figure out a way to wean the masses from alternating between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.


Reply by Kirby to Scott’s Letter Above With Scott’s Responses Interspersed

[November 3, 2004]

Scott, and all...I don’t know. When you say “A great many of the people who voted for Bush do not actually hold most of the ideological views you mentioned.” how do you know that? I do know, from several polls, including Barna, that 40% of Americans consider themselves “born again Christians”. That’s something like 120 million people, and Bush got 54 million votes. So I’m just not sure that “a great many...” current Republicans don’t hold those views. All the Republicans I personally talk to around work and socially hold most of those views.

[Scott’s response to that paragraph:]

Republicans are a pretty sad bunch, aren’t they? Perhaps I overstated my case.

It would be better to say that most Republicans, while they hold many of the same views, to one degree or another, are nevertheless not Christian fascists. Actually, I think even Bush himself is not quite a Christian fascist, at least at this point. His handlers (Cheney, et al.) keep him focused on the main concerns of the imperialists, as far as his actions go. He can talk about Jesus all he wants, within that framework.

[Kirby continues:]

Scott, you know I agree with you on a high level. But the revolution is not just around the corner, and may not occur in your lifetime, or ever.

[Scott responds:]

I have never said or thought that it was—in this country. Of course there are ongoing revolutions elsewhere in the world, and the success and spread of those revolutions is the main hope for humanity at present. I expect that this country, the primary imperialist heartland (or “belly of the beast” as we like to say), will almost certainly be one of the last to fall.

This doesn’t mean that we in the belly of the beast don’t have a very important role to play in the whole world revolutionary process. By building antiwar movements here, for example, we can help stop the U.S. imperialists from suppressing popular upsurges in other countries.

[Kirby continues:]

However, the day-to-day policies that might now be legislated by this administration are not the same policies that Kerry would likely have signed, even if Congress had passed them. Seeing the glass half empty, and draining, I believe it is a real possibility that between Bush, Congress, and Bush appointed judges we could see women bleeding to death (again) from illegal, or self-administered abortions, gays going back into the closet or risking legal discrimination, atheists shutting up about church/state separation or risking physical harm, certain lines of scientific research being shut down, and an expanded role as the world bully. I sincerely hope none of these come to pass (though I would bet money on the last one happening). I don’t think they would have happened under Kerry. Can you really say you believe they would have?

[Scott responds:]

I’m all for building mass movements around all of these things and more. I believe the way to fight around these issues is not primarily through the ballot box, but through building mass movements. There was no effective way to stop the Vietnam War through the ballot box, but it did get stopped, in part by a very powerful American antiwar movement (with revolutionary overtones) that scared the shit out of Nixon and the ruling class. Similarly, the major advances of Black people against apartheid in this country and some of the worst forms of discrimination, developed because of demonstrations, riots, and all sorts of other mass actions. The ballot box had little to do with it.

If we only fight in the electoral arena, we are in effect giving up in the arenas where we have some real strength. Remember, the capitalists run the electoral show, and dominate elections through their control of the major parties and, more importantly, through their ownership and control of the media. It is quite difficult to even get ballot measures passed on the state and local level, even when these are clearly in the interests of the people, because of the millions of dollars of lying ads the rich publish against them.

[Kirby continues:]

You continue to talk mass revolution. You know, sometimes you should come down to what is going to affect “the masses” in their everyday lives. Some people in this country have now been given a “mandate” to be more intolerant of people that don’t believe and think like they do. I seriously doubt that electing either Kerry or Bush either delays or moves up your revolution by a day. But, in my humble opinion, it will make a difference (negatively) in the daily lives of many, many people, in this country and others, for possibly many years to come.

[Scott responds:]

Well, in my opinion the Bush/Kerry choice was no choice at all, and certainly not with regard to the big issues (imperialist war, any qualitative difference in the lives of the people, etc.).

I do talk about the need for mass revolution; that is something that revolutionaries need to do, you know. But perhaps you do not know how I say that a revolutionary movement should be built. It is not by simply talking about revolution! In fact, it is—as Lenin said—by joining up with the masses in their actual day-to-day struggles (not only at the work place, but around issues like abortion, racial discrimination, etc., etc.), by participating in and attempting to lead such struggles, and at the same time bringing the light of revolution to the masses in the process.

This in fact is the major theme that I harp on with my fellow revolutionaries. It is the theme of my book on the mass line that I have 3/4 posted on the web at MASSLINE.INFO.

A big problem with the revolutionary movement in this country is that it is not of working-class origins, even though it calls for working-class revolution! In part this is why the revolutionary movement has tended to be so divorced from the working class and their struggles. My efforts have been focused on trying to educate revolutionaries themselves about how to successfully build a revolutionary movement of the masses.

I would be happy to talk about all this some more if you like.


Response From Kirby to the Above

[November 4, 2004]

We do need to talk, as this [exchanging emails] gets too time-consuming for me. My final points here are that, when you talk about the mass movement that changed the status of black Americans you fail to mention the contributions that were made by “activist judges” up to and including the Supreme Court. I believe this is quite germane here as activist courts were pushing ahead on gay rights and maintaining separation of church and state while this electorate has shown (quite convincingly in 11 states especially) that they have a vested interest in keeping gays second class citizens. Bush will now have four years to name federal judges all over the country (not just the Supreme Court) that will support this view. So while mass movements are important (as per your example re the Vietnam War) we also cannot abandon the ballot box, as you sometimes seem to be saying we should do. Because, quite frankly, the ill-informed seem to be influenced in increasing numbers by the right wing religio-political leaders to push their agenda in this way.

And it is not just in these large national elections. I can tell you that the fight to get Creationism into schools is alive and well, by taking control of local school boards and slipping it in by various other names (since the Supreme Court already ruled schools cannot teach it by that name — of course, that may change in the next 4 years also). The right wing “fringe” is not the fringe anymore in this country, and we cannot just abandon these “lesser revolutions” to them because we don’t believe who is in office changes anything in the “larger revolution”.

We will talk more at the next [book club] meeting on this topic.

Carol’s Letter Criticizing Scott’s Views on
the Election With Scott’s Replies Interspersed

[November 5, 2004]

You know, we realize that there is no qualitative difference between the Republicans and the Democrats...but the voters don’t! Kerry was too liberal for them. So they went for the most right-wing, semi-fascist they could find. And if Kerry, who is only an inch and a half more “left” than Bush is, is too liberal for them, forget about radical, and really forget about revolutionary.

[Scott replies to that paragraph:]

Hi Carol, and everybody,

If it is really true that there is no qualitative difference between the Republicans and the Democrats, then why do you much care which of the two that people vote for?

I really think there is a dialectical contradiction in your viewpoint. On the one hand you know there is no real difference between the two, but on the other hand you seem to have gotten somewhat caught up in the left-liberal fear and angst about the Republicans in particular. Thus you complain that the voters went for “the most right-wing, semi-fascist” party, after just yourself saying there was no real difference between the parties. If there is no real difference, then if one is right-wing, semi-fascist, then so is the other.

So is there a qualitative difference between the two, or isn’t there?

It is true that there is no possibility of any left radical government in this country (let alone an actual proletarian revolution) either at present, or over the next decade or two. However, that would be just as true if Kerry had won by a landslide.

It is wrong to think that people voting for the “slightly lesser of two bourgeois evils” is somehow a step toward revolution. It is not.

[Carol continues:]

The election results were, in essence, the people saying, “Yeah, we enjoy being lied to. And please take a few more of our political rights away. And gambling our Social Security on the stock market sounds like a good idea. And we like having a moron for president. And a 4 trillion dollar deficit?....no problem. And we don’t mind killing 100,000 Iraqis, as long [as] pregnant women aren’t allowed to get an abortion.”

[Scott replies:]

Well, of course, that is not what people consciously understood the deal to be. That is the liberal spin on what the deal actually amounts to.

But there are big problems with that liberal spin too. First, with regard to the erosion of democratic rights, the Democrats are part of that too. (As I keep reminding folks, Kerry and most of the Democrats also voted for the Patriot Act.)

With regard to Social Security, it is wrong to think that this was ever guaranteed to the working class under this system. No reform is permanently secure under capitalism. If you don’t keep fighting for it it will be taken away again, either all at once (as when the Nazis came to power), or—more typically—quite gradually. And as a matter of fact, there has been a huge erosion in the actual value of Social Security benefits over the years, including under Democratic administrations. The original idea was to set up a public pension system that people could actually get by on comfortably. But that hasn’t been possible under our actual Social Security System (due to not only the compromised start of it, but more importantly to the erosion of its real benefits through inflation. Moreover, both Democratic and Republican governments have ripped off the huge surpluses that SS taxes were generating (in order to partially cover the general fund deficits for wars, etc.). That is the whole reason why there is a crisis looming in the system now. The Republican scheme to set up stock market accounts for Social Security is indeed bad. But it is just one more bad thing that the two parties have done to the System over the years—and it is far from the being the worst of those things, at that! It is very wrong to focus just on this one additional bad move, while ignoring the much more basic bipartisan attacks on Social Security over the years.

With regard to having a moron as president, this is something that makes no difference to anybody. (Why does it matter to you?) This country has an imperial presidency, with powers approaching that of the Roman emperors. But these powers lie with the executive branch of government, and it doesn’t even really matter if there is an actual president or not. For half of his second term Wilson was incapacitated, and his wife ran the government in his name. If you have an incompetent, like Reagan or Ford, or even a nincompoop like W., that makes not the slightest bit of difference. The executive branch gaggle of “advisors” makes most of the decisions anyway. From the ruling class point of view, it is actually better to have somebody like Reagan—an actor and “great communicator”—in the office, since they don’t then have to worry so much about a loose cannon. W. ain’t that good, but Cheney, et al., make all the real decisions, so “not to worry” if W. is a moron or not.

With regard to the $4 trillion dollar deficit (that W. is adding to the existing debt), this is something that is necessary to keep a very weak U.S. (and world) capitalist economy going. I have not the slightest doubt that if Gore had won in 2000 we would have had a much worse recession than we did a few years ago. In fact, it would probably still be going on, while the Democrats fiddled, and the Republicans were elected in 2004 with an even bigger majority. The reason for this is that the Democrats still quaintly believe in balanced budgets, while the Republicans are now much more determined Keynesians. As Cheney remarked, “President Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.” Well, of course they do matter, in spades—eventually. That’s when all hell breaks loose. But the only way of postponing economic disaster is through the huge and continuing expansion of government and/or consumer debt.

It is true that W. and the Republicans have not made the best use of this enormous expansion of government debt. For example, it would have been more effective if the tax breaks had been given to working people (who would spend it all) rather than to the rich, who end up saving a big chunk of it. But the fact is, the Republican economic policies have actually been keeping the economy afloat for a while longer—while at the same time speeding up the arrival of the Day of Reckoning. There is nothing the Democrats could have done, or could now do, which could prevent that eventual economic catastrophe. This is a problem inherent to the capitalist system. (For more on this topic see my “An Introductory Explanation of Capitalist Economic Crises” at http://www.massline.org/PolitEcon/crises/index.htm, especially section 2.4 on Keynesianism.)

With regard to Iraq, the recent war and the earlier one too were both bipartisan efforts. Kerry, and most of the Democrats, voted for this one along with the Republicans. Kerry and most of the Democrats say that “even if mistakes were made” in the conduct of that war, the occupation must continue and the country and region must be pacified for the benefit of U.S. imperial intersts. It is true that the Bush administration is responsible for more than 100,000 Iraqi deaths over the past few years. (The 100,000 figure is just overt killings.) But I remind everybody of the estimated 250,000 Iraqi children who died under the previous U.S. blockade (and periodic bombings) of the country, most of which happened under the Clinton Democratic administration.

Of the issues you mention, only the abortion issue demonstrates noticeably different policies by the two parties. And even there, many Democrats agree with the Republicans (and some Republicans disagree!), and the Clinton administration did very little to expand (or even protect) existing rights to abortions.

So, collectively, the liberal argument of your last paragraph was very weak, I’m afraid. It is the argument of the Democrats trying to falsely show that there is a big difference between them and the Republicans.

[Carol continues:]

I think that you went a little too easy on “the masses” when you said, “What else could they do?” Well, not vote for a mass murderer, for one. I mean, people have to be told that endless invasionary wars of aggression are not a good idea?! How stupid can you get? If that is the case, I don’t hold out any hopes for the future here in America.

[Scott replies:]

If the masses were now conscious enough, in their hundreds of millions, to generally recognize and oppose imperialism and imperialist mass murder there would at the same time be a revolutionary mass movement of millions, and the ruling class would be quaking in their boots. I know that you know very well that this is not the situation.

Of course the masses have great shortcomings! Even if they had voted to a man (and to a woman) for the Democrats they would still have 99.44% of those very same shortcomings. The American masses do not know their own long term interests, nor do they—for the most part—care about the life and welfare of other people of the world. This is because we live in a bourgeois society! In a bourgeois society the opinions of the masses are—normally, and for the most part—the opinions of the ruling class which have been drummed into the heads of the masses. This is a basic point of historical materialism, and the reason I brought up this point in my last letter.

But it is liberals who blame the masses for their backward and false ideas. The Marxist view is to blame the shortcomings of the masses on the people who put those ideas there—the enemy bourgeoisie.

The Marxist view is that while the masses do have all these backward ideas, they are for the most part wavering and unstable in their adherence to those ideas. That is to say, those ideas really are the ideas and opinions of an alien class, and they are not in the real interests of the masses. Marxists believe that there come times of great upheaval when the masses suddenly find themselves questioning and starting to reject that mass of bourgeois ideas. But this only happens rarely, and especially in what we call revolutionary situations. Most of the time most of the masses will have mostly backward ideas! But we don’t fret about that because we know that it only takes one major occasion to break through that morass of bourgeois opinions.

Even then, it is only on one or two critical questions that the breakthrough is first made, and then people’s ideas on other matters must be transformed step by step. The same is true, by the way, of our own ideas! We don’t know everything either, and we more radical and progressive people still have many ideas ourselves which will eventually prove to be false and backward.

Right now this country is in fact a very reactionary, imperialist, racist, selfish, ignorant, shortsighted country. Hey, as I like to say, this country gives me the creeps too! And largely it gives me the creeps because of what sort of ideas and opinions it creates in the population in general. There is not going to be a revolution in this country any time soon because we not only do not have a revolutionary-minded people now, we do not even have people who are generally likely to become revolutionary minded during the next few decades. That is the fact.

But that does not mean there can never be a revolution in this country. Nor does it mean there is no reason to be a revolutionary now. Quite the contrary! It is crtically important to build anti-imperialist and revolutionary movements here right now. We have obligations in this belly of the beast to help defeat the U.S. imperialist wars against the rest of the world. We have the same obligations to aid the revolutions which are already ongoing in other countries, and the many new revolutions overseas that will certainly break out once one or two others are successful. And, finally, we have the obligation to create a more serious revolutionary movement in this country—even knowing that we cannot be successful for a long while—because if we can create a sold beginning toward that goal, then the goal will eventually come into actual view.

The worse thing in the world is to say, hey the masses are backward, and I’m giving up on them because they are so backward, and not even a tiny bit progressive. This is the attitude of liberals towards the masses, not a Marxist attitude. We Marxists do have to face the fact that the masses are presently backward, but we also should know that things can change. Sure, it will take major changes in society (wars and depression) before the great majority changes in a radical (let alone revolutionary) direction. But capitalist imperialism is precisely the sort of system that generates those horrible conditions.

There are always tens of thousands and even millions of people who are open to more advanced ideas if they come across them—and especially if they come across them in the midst of their own struggles around some issue of immediate concern to them. This is why we can right now start to build a more serious anti-imperialist and revolutionary movement.

If there were more of us we could do a better job. (That’s why it’s a crime for even a single revolutionary-minded person to flake out now, on the grounds that the masses are “hopeless”.) But even a small number of people can find some others and get things going. Then when there are more of us, we will do a better job and win over larger numbers of people. But if the few don’t get to work now, the many cannot be brought into action later.

Our biggest problem at present is not with the masses, but with those who give up on the masses. They go from being an early part of the solution, to just being another part of the problem.

I know I’m being too hard on you personally here, Carol, and that you aren’t really guilty of the whole syndrome I’m talking about here. But I get alarmed when I hear people talking about how hopeless the masses are. To me that sounds like they are slipping into some fatal backwardness themselves.

[Carol continues:]

I know you wouldn’t consider participating in the bourgeois election, but there is such a thing as individual differences that can make a difference, even if a little one.

[Scott replies:]

Actually, I did participate in the election. I voted for the Peace & Freedom Party candidates for President, Senator, etc. (For the benefit of backwoods Wisconsinites, P&F is, I believe, just a California phenomenon. It’s a tiny anti-imperialist, vaguely socialist party. They’re good people, many of them conscious revolutionaries. But, at least in general, not scientific in their approach, not Marxists.) And I also voted on the local and state propositions.

Unlike some doctrinaire Marxists I don’t oppose all participation in elections. But I think people should participate in elections knowing really what is possible to win in them, or—in other words—how phony and undemocratic they are in general. If the only information that most people ever hear about an elections comes from one section or other of the ruling class, then the election is virtually always in essence and in general a ruling class con job. If we participate in them, we should be keeping that in mind. And it is far more important to work to get others to understand that than it is to work to get them to try to get some crumb or other out of the election.

It is very rare indeed that the admitted small individual differences between bourgeois parties and bourgeois candidates are worth making any kind of big deal about. In general our obligation as revolutionaries and defenders of some real sort of democracy is to stress more how meaningless and undemocratic the election is with regard to the big and most essential issues. What kind of “democratic” election is it, after all, when the only two “serious” candidates agree about almost everything? What kind of a real choice is that?

[Carol continutes:]

Also, there is political momentum. Which now is really frightening. I already heard on TV that Bush considers the election results as a “mandate for his programs”!

[Scott replies:]

Every election is viewed as a mandate by the winners, and every bourgeois dominated election is viewed as a mandate for the ruling class. (Or as Kerry has been putting it, “for the nation”.)

Of course we need to continue to fight the bastards in all that they are up to! Now that the damned election is over, maybe people can get back to more effective ways of doing that.

[Carol continues:]

No one (here) is saying that bourgeois elections are the only way to go. Or even that they are the primary course of action. But I think that they are a tiny bit of the overall political action.

[Scott replies:]

I’ll go along with that... a very tiny bit. But in effect many people on the left (including perhaps you) seem to have made it a far more important thing than you are suggesting here.

The problem is not so much that we should not participate in elections. It’s that we should participate in them with an anti-ruling class perspective. That means first: Don’t support any bourgeois candidate! And second, try to get people to see the phoniness and undemocratic nature of these rigged elections. And only then, a distant third, maybe try to beat back some reactionary ballot measures, and support some currently minuscule left-wing parties at the polls.

If you support the supposed “lesser of two bourgeois evils” you are still supporting the bourgeoisie. If you encourage others to do this, then you are still doing more to keep the masses indoctrinated than to help wean them away from the rulers’ rigged system.

[Carol continues:]

Your position comes off as a little sanctimonious.

[Scott replies:]

Sanctimonious means “hypocritically devout”. How am I being hypocritical? My position is clear and coherent and consistent, and my actions are in accord with my opinions here. The “devout” part is also false. It is true that I am sticking to my principles here. But my principles are not based on faith; they are defensible and I defend them with reasons and arguments. If you want me to further defend them I will be happy to oblige!

[Carol continues:]

To the uninitiated, I’m sure that your saying that people should not participate in a bourgeois election comes off as a total disdain of democracy. I would like to think that even after the rev there would be elections of at least some things.

[Scott replies:]

You’ve got my position a bit wrong here, as I explained above. I don’t say that people should not participate in bourgeois elections, but only that they should do so with their eyes wide open and know that the game is rigged, for the most part.

As I have been saying, what we most need to get people to understand is that these bourgeois elections are not democratic at all! That is exactly what is wrong with them. There are two main ruling class parties which are the only “serious” parties—that is, the ones that get all the press coverage, get taken seriously by the media, and so forth. The “serious” candidates for both of these parties in the primaries are almost exclusively people who are already in the pay of the ruling class—if not actually millionaires themselves. The media is the dominant determiner of which of these already extremely narrow range of candidates wins each primary. (Sometimes it is not only the national media, but also the media in a particularly crucial state that determines this, such as in New Hampshire or Iowa, due to the idiosyncrasies of the American political system.) And then it comes down to the final two candidates who are almost always virtually indistinguishable.

But at this point something remarkable happens. Two almost indistinguishable candidates from two almost indistinguishable parties suddenly now try to make it seem like it is a matter of life or death as to which one wins! The tiny differences that actually exist are blown way, way out of proportion, and the dominant, major areas of agreement are scarcely mentioned at all. (Those things are not up for discussion nor popular decision making.)

There are two reasons why this gigantic dispute between Tweedledum and Tweedledee always develops. First, there really are a few secondary issues which the ruling class itself has not come to general unity around. It is acceptable for the two condidates and the two parties to differ on these issues (and still be taken “seriously”). Second, and probably much more important, it is very useful for the ruling class to sucker the masses in in each election, making it seem to them that critically important matters are at issue, and that they have graciously been given the right to make the actual choice. Wowwy! And of course the people then get the blame for everything that happens, even though the program on all the big issues was already agreed upon.

And millions of people fall for this con job every time. This last election was especially successful from this ruling class point of view. As far as political consciousness about the system goes, we lost a lot of ground. Millions more suckers were drawn in and fooled than usual. Many millions of people who had given up on elections as a waste of time were suckered in once again. But the really funny thing is that—even here—in this final, almost meaningless choice as far as the working class goes, it is the rich man’s media once again that pretty much determines who the suckers “choose”.

In socialist society, under working class rule, we will definitely need to have regular elections. To make them democratic, we will need to not only allow many different candidates with different views and positions to run, but we will also need to make sure that the masses are made aware of all these different views and positions. On the other hand, as part of our dictatorship of the working class over the bourgeoisie, bourgeois candidates will not be allowed to run, nor will their views get our free publicity—except as part of our campaign to expose and criticize them. Just as the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie effectively allows democracy only for the bourgeoisie and their candidates and views, our working class dictatorship will allow full and completely democracy for the working class, but not for the unremolded former exploiters and their lackeys (most of whom will still be around for some time).

[Carol continues:]

I now believe that it will take a catstrophic depression to wake ’em up.

Yeah, I’m a little pissed off.


[Scott replies:]

We should be pissed off. But primarily we should be pissed off at the ruling capitalist-imperialist class, and only very secondarily at the masses who are regularly conned and fooled by them. Our attitude toward the masses is to really try to help them understand what is really going on, and where their own interests actually are.

Yes, it probably will take a catastrophic depression and/or major and prolonged imperialist wars to begin to wake the majority of people up. But even those things will not do it by themselves. There also needs to be a core of more enlightened people, and eventually a serious revolutionary party, who sees through not only this electoral racket, but the whole goddamned system, and who is determined to join up with the people and bring the light of revolution to them in their day-to-day struggles. Without this conscious force, even the most horrible wars and depressions won’t bring down the system once and for all.


Carol’s Letter in Response to Scott’s Comments Included Above

[November 7, 2004]

Dear Scott,


But I think that you are being a little naive if you say that Bush has no political power. (Or even that it’s completely inconsequential.)

No, I’m not “flaking out and giving up”, and I never said that. And when I said ‘I have no hopes for the future’, I meant the immediate, foreseeable future...which could take awhile. Not forever. It’s just a little frustrating to see things go in the wrong direction.

I didn’t “support” Kerry to the people. And, in fact, I was telling people before the election; “that even if Kerry gets voted in, don’t get your hopes up that things will really change”, that he supported the war, etc.

You talk about such high regard for the masses and then refer to us as “backwoods Wisconsinites”. Is that not hypocritical?


Scott’s Response to Carol’s Letter Above

[November 11, 2004]

Hi Carol,

I am also a “backwoods Wisconsinite” by origin and still in many respects. So I don’t think a bit of humor directed at rural Wisconsin is overly out of line. (And I didn’t mean it to be directed at you personally.) Was it Marx or Lenin who referred to the problem of “rural idiocy”? The fact is that rural areas still tend to be less sophisticated than urban areas. That doesn’t mean that the masses—both urban and rural—do not also have their strengths and great potential.

I didn’t mean to imply that Bush has no political power; only that it doesn’t matter if he personally does or not. And actually I think there is very little that he does that he has not been programmed to do—either over the long term by his general indoctrination, or more directly by his immediate handlers. I think, for example, that Bush would never be assured of himself enough to go against the strong advice of Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al. But of course he still does have the final say about policy, even if he rarely if ever originates that policy.

I know you’re not flaking out, but many people do flake out, and one of the big reasons they do is that they give up all hope that we can ever win over the masses. That’s why I jumped on just the hint that you were leaning in that direction. This is a common problem for those who have dropped out of the RCP over the years. They ... have come to accept the RCP’s preaching approach, and when they finally discover that that approach doesn’t work, they give up completely—instead of thinking about changing that faulty approach to the masses.

The way I like to look at this is if we see a serious problem with the masses—that we are not making any headway on—we should also recognize there might well be a problem with regard to our approach to the masses. Avakian himself once remarked that the current attitudes of the masses are a given for us. We don’t have control over this initial condition. But we do have control over how we do our work now. Until we start doing our work in a rational and correct way, we have little right to complain about the masses and their backward ideas that we are doing so little to effectively change.

You say that “it’s just a little frustrating to see things go in the wrong direction”. That’s very true. But what things? The election? The outcome of the election itself could not possibly have been anything but bad, regardless of which of the two major bourgeois candidates won it. But from the revolutionary point of view, the election itself would have been less of a defeat for us if fewer working class people had gotten suckered in behind Kerry and the Democrats. In other words, part of the reason why this past election was such a defeat for us, from the point of view of raising people’s consciousness, is that a largest part of the left itself tended to lead people in the wrong direction. Instead of exposing the fraudulent nature of bourgeois elections and emphasizing how little there is that can be achieved through them, we tacitly agreed with the Democrats that this election was a matter of supreme importance to the working class.

Instead of focusing on defeating Bush we should have been focusing on exposing the election as an undemocratic farce that offered the people no real choice at all.

And now that it is over, that point is what we should really be emphasizing in order to combat the atmosphere of defeat that now pervades the left.


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