A Response to the Paper on Elections

By Scott H. (7/4/1972)

      [This is a complete and unchanged copy of an internal criticism I wrote of the Revolutionary Union’s position on the 1972 election and George McGovern. At the time I was a member of the RU, and strongly disagreed with important aspects of the RU’s position on that election. After writing and submitting this paper through proper channels, for reasons of democratic centralism I scrupulously kept to the RU line on the election (despite my private disagreements). Even so, this paper was raised as one of the reasons for expelling me from the RCP (the successor to the RU) in late 1977.

      I should emphasize that in the next few years after writing this essay events caused me to greatly change my views. With the Paris Peace Accords of 1973, which brought the direct participation of U.S. troops in the Vietnam War to an end, and then the complete liberation of all of Vietnam and the unification of the country in 1975, I decided that the position I held in this paper favoring critical support for McGovern was not at all correct. In fact, I considered that events had proven that I was completely in error. (See Appendix 1 near the end of this document.) My present (2008) opinion of the essay is much more sympathetic to what I originally wrote. (See Appendix 2 at the very bottom.) —Scott H.]

     The paper on elections from the regional leadership is a step forward in our understanding of how to deal with the 1972 presidential election. But it also marks the firming up of a line on this election, and elections in general, which is still not correct, a line which is still “left”. Since in the past we have not had a line on elections at all (beyond an attitude of total rejection and disinterest) and since this really amounts to the first time the leadership of our organization has seriously come to grips with the problem, it should not be too surprising if some serious weaknesses yet remain to be overcome.

     The regional paper embodies a good deal of work and discussion. Moreover, it rejects totally the ultra-“left” attitude of disinterest towards elections, as well as reaffirming some basic Marxist attitudes on the nature of the Bourgeois-Democratic state, the impossibility of socialism through the ballot box, how bourgeois elections are used to deceive the people, and so on. All of this is correct and on a sound, Marxist footing. It is eminently sensible from a Marxist point of view. But just because this is so, I fear there is apt to be an extreme reluctance to admit that the paper has any serious weaknesses. Therefore I want to try to first raise a question in your mind about the paper by showing that it is inconsistent and poorly thought out in one area, at least.

      To begin to see this, let us first summarize the paper’s position about how the war will end. The war was started by the imperialists but it will be ended by the Vietnamese, American and other peoples of the world. The imperialists will be forced out by the people. “The imperialists and their political representatives, including McGovern, will make war any time they can get away with it...” (p. 10) Differences among the imperialists are over tactics, but there are no differences over the “right” to be imperialistic. So, when McGovern says he wants to “end the war” he is really saying that he and his section of the bourgeoisie want to find a better method for continuing to plunder the world, including Vietnam. “It is not really a question of getting out; it’s a question of changing tactics.” (p. 10) Furthermore, “it is the imperialist system itself which breeds wars like Vietnam independently of the ‘will’ of this or that capitalist politician.” (p. 8) The strong implication of all this is that of “Position ‘NO’”. That McGovern is not more likely to end the war than any other candidate because “McGovern represents the ‘big bourgeoisie,’ the imperialists, the same class that Nixon represents. The point is that the monopoly capitalists do not want to ‘end the war’ in Vietnam or Indochina. To the contrary, it is the very nature of monopoly capitalism to start such wars and to fight them until they are forced to stop. This is as true of McGovern, as a representative of the bourgeoisie, as it is of Nixon.” (Quotation from position “NO”, p. 9.)

      What all of this amounts to is the view that there is no important difference between the bourgeois candidates and that there cannot be, because they all represent the same class. The paper allows that there may be differences within the bourgeoisie, but implies that these must be superficial, of the kind “how best to keep the war going” rather than over the question of whether the U.S. should “cut its losses” and pull out totally.

      Let us first of all recognize that the differences within the bourgeoisie need not be superficial. There are the differences between those sections which favor fascism and those which favor retaining bourgeois-democracy, for example; differences which are so great and so vital to the proletariat that under certain conditions it is proper and necessary for the proletariat to ally itself with the anti-fascist sections of the bourgeoisie against the fascist sections. (See p. 2 of the regional paper.)

      Within the bourgeoisie there are sections which are at odds over almost any particular program or action that you can think of (just as in the case with other classes). Of course overall the bourgeoisie has a strong sense of class solidarity—when the few are up against the many they have to be pretty “together”. But for several years at least, there has been a growing section of the bourgeoisie which has come to believe that we should pull out of Vietnam—that it has proven to be a “mistake”. We well recognize that the war was no “mistake” but the inevitable result of the attempts of the imperialists to hang on to their empire. And yet, in a way, it was a mistake from their point of view—they failed to see that the Vietnamese would not surrender, no matter what. They thought they could suppress the Vietnamese as they have succeeded in doing to a great many other people (for the time being!). It was indeed a big mistake to think that.

      It is ridiculous to think that the bourgeoisie can never be defeated until the day of their final demise; it is ridiculous to think that they never make a calculated decision to cut their losses. They are forced to do so all the time. Remember in [the movie] Salt of the Earth when the company big-shot from back East gave in to the miners’ demands “for now”? That was an example of the bourgeoisie being smart enough to cut their losses, to give in, in order to prevent larger losses. That is a small example of the kind which occurs every day. Then there was the decision to abandon Chiang Kai-chek in the late 40s. The U.S. could have continued to support him, such as by sending in thousands of U.S. troops. But the section of the bourgeoisie controlling the government knew they had lost China and there was no use making the defeat even more disastrous for themselves. That is a big example. But notice that this decision to abandon China came under fierce attack on the part of such important bourgeois representatives as John Foster Dulles. There was not unanimity on the question.

     And there is not unanimity within the bourgeoisie today over Vietnam. One important section of the bourgeoisie wants to pull out now, before the defeat is compounded. Actually, pulling totally out now would probably be the best course of action for the bourgeoisie in defense of their overall class interests. The war cannot be won no matter how long it is continued; and every day the war continues, there are bad effects for the U.S. bourgeoisie at home and abroad.

     But the regional paper refuses to admit that one section of the bourgeoisie may actually favor a complete U.S. withdrawal from Indochina while another favors keeping the war going. If this were so, the paper says, it would mean that the war could be ended by the imperialists if they choose, whereas in fact only the people can end the war by forcing the imperialists out, by leaving them with no alternative. This is extremely muddle-headed and idealistic thinking.

     It is of course true that the people will end the war by forcing the U.S. out of Indochina. If it were not for the military pressure from the Vietnamese, the support of the Chinese and other peoples, and the anti-war feelings of the American people, the U.S. imperialists would never leave Indochina. But just how does the bourgeoisie give in under the people’s pressure? Do they all come to the conclusion that they can’t win simultaneously? Of course not. Whenever a crisis develops for a class there are different suggestions put forward for resolving it. The Indochina war is incontestably a major crisis for the imperialists. Some of them still say the war can be won, or at least that the U.S. won’t have to get out totally. Others say “it’s hopeless; let’s not make matters worse by continuing the war.”

     The paper says that if a section of the bourgeoisie turned against the war and called for a pull out it would mean that they were no longer imperialists. “Any talk about any presidential candidate ‘ending the war’ is misleading. It’s misleading, because it seems to be saying that the imperialists don’t want to be imperialists.” (p. 10) Nonsense. In fact, as pointed out earlier, the policy which is actually in the best interests of the imperialists is to end the war (precisely because of the pressure of the people). When they are finally forced to end the war it will be because they recognize finally that it is in their interest to accept another defeat, just as they have been forced to accept defeats in the October Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, the Korean War, and in a million smaller cases. The tide is running against them, but the world proletarian revolution is a protracted war in which the imperialists are defeated in one skirmish after another—not in one single all-decisive battle. To say that the people can force the enemy out of Indochina, but then to say that the imperialists that give in to this force are no longer imperialists is an indication of great confusion.

     There must be an idealistic picture of how the bourgeoisie rules behind all this. Classes rule through people they choose to represent them. (Can this be seriously disputed?) It is silly to say that the representatives chosen are mere puppets who have no real say as individuals. Of course their say is limited to the area of “legitimate” disagreement. That is, they can only decide questions which are real issues within their class perspective. Otherwise they are swiftly isolated and dismissed. But this leaves an important and broad area in which the class representatives have genuine power to determine which course of action to follow. Furthermore, whenever there is a crisis, the hands of the class leaders are freed to a wider range of choices. If there were no struggle of the Vietnamese, American and other peoples of the world against the American rule in Indochina, then no imperialist leader could possibly “pull out” of the area. But there is a tremendous crisis and the option of pulling out totally has become a view within the realm of “legitimate” choice by contenders for the leadership of that class.

     How does the bourgeoisie select its leaders? Through the machinery of its two political parties, primarily. They control who gets support, who gets nominated and who gets elected. This is done in a hundred ways: through financial support, machine politics, bribes, control of the news media, their labor lieutenants, etc. Of course in a bourgeois democracy other classes occasionally get a word in here or there in the process—and at a later stage of our struggle it may be quite a loud word or two. But overall control is always firmly in the hands of the bourgeoisie. It is only if there is a split in the bourgeoisie over some question that other classes can ordinarily have influence in the bourgeois electoral process.

     However, there is a split now over the question of the Indochina war. And while both parties are indisputably bourgeois parties, the Democratic Party does have sizeable numbers of adherents among the petty-bourgeoisie and the working class. (This is also true of the Republican Party, but to a substantially lesser extent.) This is why the struggles within the U.S. bourgeoisie take their characteristic form as struggles between the Democratic Party candidates (who usually are more receptive to bourgeois reforms) and Republican Party candidates (who usually are more resistant to reforms).

     This arrangement is a fine one for the present overall interests of the bourgeoisie. (Hence all their praise for the “two party system”.) It allows them to settle disputes among themselves in a gentlemanly manner, as well as provide a safety valve for co-opting and containing within safe limits the discontent of the masses.

     It is not always necessary for the Bourgeoisie to replace its leading representatives when a change of policy is called for. However, individuals tend to be far less flexible than a class as a whole, and often are unable to reorient their thinking; so that in times of crisis it is often necessary to dump the current class leaders if they do not change their policies to fit the new situation. Thus Hoover had to go in 1932. Bourgeois states typically change governments in order to implement important changes in policy. This is not to say that it would be impossible for Nixon to end the war—merely that he is much less likely to do so than McGovern.

     What this all comes down to is this: It is not true to claim, as many of our comrades do, that it makes no difference (or no “important” difference) which bourgeois candidate is elected in November. It is indeed true that McGovern is every bit as much a representative of the imperialists as is Nixon. The point is that there is in this election an important dispute between those two imperialist candidates, reflecting disagreement within the bourgeois class over what to do about the Indochina war. If McGovern is elected he will in fact have a free hand to end the war completely. There is every reason to believe that this is just what he will proceed to do. It is juvenile to say that he will be unable to do so because that would mean he was no longer an imperialist, or because the imperialists won’t allow it. (If they allow him to be nominated and elected they will already have “allowed” him to end the war.)

     What our comrades are probably sensing is the undoubted fact that the majority of the bourgeoisie still favor Nixon’s approach to the war, continuing it while pretending to end it. The Wall Street Journal is not a friend of McGovern. But this circumstance by no means indicates that McGovern is just putting us on, that he really would follow the same course in all essentials as Nixon. (In fact just the opposite!) What it does show is that other classes which by and large oppose the war will have to join forces with the minority section of the bourgeoisie which opposes the war in order to nominate and elect a bourgeois candidate who is really committed to ending the war. This is possible because we are living under a bourgeois democracy where under special conditions like those in the present case, where there is a substantial split in the enemy camp, it is possible to have an influence even in a bourgeois election. In fact, McGovern cannot be elected without substantial working class support.

     Lenin put it this way:

      To carry on a war for the overthow of the international bourgeoisie, a war which is a hundred times more difficult, protracted and complicated than the most stubborn of ordinary wars between states, and to refuse beforehand to manoeuvre, to utilize the conflict of interests (even though temporary) among one’s enemies, to refuse to temporize and compromise with possible (even though temporary, unstable, vacillating and conditional) allies—is this not ridiculous in the extreme? (“Left”-Wing Communism...)

      It is perfectly true that the proletariat cannot achieve its emancipation through the ballot box. It is even true that it cannot achieve many significant reforms through the ballot box. But some things it can achieve. When it is more “together” it will be able to elect a few representatives who will be in an effective position for exposing bourgeois society and parliamentary institutions. These representatives can carry on the class struggle within the congresses and legislatures. But the working class can also win occasional victories through electoral politics. For the most part these will be minor reforms won through the pressure we put on bourgeois candidates and office holders. But when there are splits and differences among the other classes which give us an opportunity, we must make the most of them.

      Of course the way to make use of the split within the bourgeoisie is to support one section against the other. Some dogmatists take the line that we should never support the bourgeoisie or any section of it. (They say this is what makes the CPUSA revisionist.) The Marxist position is that it depends on the concrete conditions. As indicated before, there are times when it is appropriate—indeed manditory—to ally with the bourgeoisie-democratic section of the bourgeoisie against the fascist section. Or in a country being overrun by an imperialist invader (as with Japan’s invasion of China in the 30s and 40s) it is necessary to ally with the anti-comprador section of the bourgeoisie against the comprador section. In every case the principle is the same—“Unite all those who can be united” against the main enemy.

      It is true that those are exceptional circumstances. In general we should not ally ourselves with any section of the bourgeoisie. In an ordinary election we should not. We should run our own candidates when we can win, until then perhaps work for the formation of a labor or progressive party in which we could work in good conscience without misleading the masses.

      But this election promises not to be any “ordinary” election. It is very extra-ordinary in that the central issue is over a split in the enemy camp on an issue which is vitally important to the American proletariat and even more important to the people of Indochina. Under these exceptional conditions it is our internationalist duty to put the election of McGovern above all other considerations in this election.

      This is not to say that we should not criticize McGovern or expose him for what he is. This is exactly what we should do. We should expose his anti-labor record and detail his imperialist pronouncements on the Middle East. We should expose him in every way. But we should also “expose” and commend his anti-Indochina war stand, explaining to people why he takes this position (pressures from the people). We should not be afraid of confusing people—if we can understand this kind of tactic then so can they. (In fact they are ahead of us on this question, which ought to be a little embarrassing.)

     And if the objection is raised that these tactics are too “subtle”, or too complicated, that the masses will not understand them, that these tactics will split and scatter our forces, will prevent us concentrating them on the Soviet revolution, etc., I will reply to the “lefts” who raise this objection: Don’t ascribe your doctrinairism to the masses! (Lenin, “Left”-Wing Communism...)

      Some comrades have recognized that there is an important difference between McGovern and Nixon on the question of the war and that McGovern would in all probability end the war. They say therefore that they “hope” McGovern wins. However, they oppose our doing anything to encourage people to vote for McGovern and insist that our comments on McGovern be confined to exposures of his anti-labor record and bourgeois stand. In effect this kind of unqualified attack amounts to telling people that they should not vote for McGovern. Even if it parades as neutrality it is in fact opposition. They hope McGovern wins; they think it would mean an end to the war if he wins; and yet they objectively work for his defeat. (And now that this is the official line of the organization—not to support McGovern, I mean—we are all bound to do likewise.)

      The paper itself says that it is “contradictory” to support McGovern while at the same time realizing he is a representative of bourgeois class interests. Telling people to vote for him “tends to obscure the true nature of the state and class struggle, and therefore can only confuse the workers and masses of people.” (p. 10, my emphasis) Comrades, don’t ascribe your doctrinairism to the masses!

     The following are excerpts of a letter from a Chinese Trotskyite to Lu Hsun in 1936:

      Now the Reds’ movement to conquer the country has failed. But the Chinese communists who blindly take orders from the Moscow Bureaucrats have adopted a “New Policy.” They have made a volte-face, abandoned their class stand, issued new declarations and sent representatives to negotiate with the bureaucrats, politicians and warlords, including, those who have slaughtered the masses, in order to form a “united front” with them. They have put away their own banner and confused the people’s mind, making the masses believe that all these bureaucrats, politicians and executioners are national revolutionaries who will resist Japan too. The result can only be to deliver the revolutionary masses into the hands of those executioners for further slaughter. These shameless acts of betrayal on the part of the Stalinists make all Chinese revolutionaries blush for shame. [Taken from Vol. 4 of the Selected Works of Lu Hsun, my emphasis.]

     Quite a principled stand the Trotskyites took, wasn’t it?

      “But the situation today is not the same!” No it is not the same. The point is that this wonderful logic of the Trotskyites was wrong under certain conditions and may be wrong in the present case too. We must analyze the present situation to see what is right and what is wrong. I say the present situation is relevantly similar in that:

  1. The major election issue is around a split on policy within the enemy camp, which gives the people a chance to have the deciding influence, and
  2. The issue is of great importance, even overriding importance, to the proletariat.

     The many differences between the two situations are irrelevant. Those who think otherwise have an obligation to point out what differences are important enough to justify a different policy.

      The paper puts forward one argument that we should consider in this connection: “This argument (that we should support McGovern while realizing full well his class position) obscures the key fact, one which we must be making over and over again, that it is the entire bourgeois class which is responsible for U.S. aggression in Vietnam and Indochina and everywhere else.” And “it is made to look as though ‘some politicians’ made a mistake and some ‘other politicians’ are going to correct it.” (p. 10) The first part of this argument amounts to little more than moral indignation. It is true that the entire bourgeois class got us into the war; but it is also true that a section of the same class now recognizes that it is defeated and wants out. Should we refuse to accept our hard-hearned victory?

     The second part of the argument is just as bad and gets into the point that we have already discussed. Since the bourgeoisie rules through its political representatives, some of these representatives were the ones who were forced by the logic of their own position, the fundamental nature of imperialism, into starting the Indochina war. And since the U.S. forces are being defeated in Indochina and the people of the U.S. and the world are demanding an end to the war, the same representatives of the bourgeoisie, or more likely new representatives of that same class brought to the fore because of the crisis, will be forced to get out of Indochina. To repeat: It is plain silly to say that “other politicians” cannot end the war just because representatives of the same class started it. It amounts to saying that the people cannot win the war!

     The paper says that “To give limited but critical support to McGovern would damage the development of an independent anti-imperialist movement. In particular it would play into the weaknesses of many advanced workers and anti-imperialist students who still have a little faith in the power of the mass movement of the people.” (p. 11) Actually the situation is just the opposite. First of all our organization will tend to isolate itself from the advanced workers and other progressives because of our opposition to McGovern. They will view our line as idealistic and sectarian. Unfortunately they will be correct. We will be missing a chance to educate people about the rare conditions under which support for a bourgeois candidate is justified. We would stand a better chance of dispelling the many illusions about McGovern if our own position were more coherent. “By giving limited support to McGovern we would be providing a theoretical justification for this tendency of not relying on the people, but instead relying on a section of the bourgeoisie.” (p. 11) Another restatement of the idea that it is all too subtle for the masses. In point of fact this election is providing us with a great opportunity to explain to people just how the people’s movement against the war has made a difference, how a section of the enemy camp has been forced to admit defeat in the war. By opposing McGovern we are actually giving the impression that our ideas of mass movements of the people are mere dreams with no hope for success, whereas “Good guys” like McGovern can put matters straight for us in every department. We would be failing to explain how the people’s movement will actually end the war and reinforce the idea that it was all irrelevant.

      “But isn’t it possible you are wrong? Isn’t it possible that McGovern will be the same kind of 'peace' candidate as Johnson was in 1968?” Of course it is possible. But this overlooks the degree to which McGovern is pinning his whole political future on ending the war, it overlooks the degree to which he has painted himself into a corner on ending the war. But most of all it overlooks the tremendous disillusionment with McGovern, liberals, the Democratic party and the American political system that would certainly ensue if McGovern were not to completely end the war. Such a great thing this would be that it would almost be worth having the war another four years to get it. But just because it would be disastrous for the bourgeoisie and for McGovern personally, it is extremely unlikely to happen. The idea suggested under position “NO” in the paper, that McGovern may just be the kind of candidate the bourgeoisie needs to keep the war going is absurd in the extreme. If McGovern is elected the worst thing he could do from the point of view of the interests of the bourgeoisie would be to continue the war; if it is still that important to most members of the bourgeoisie to keep the war going they will make sure he does not get elected. If they are stupid enough to pay such a disastrous price as disillusioning millions of antiwar Americans with their whole system in order to continue the war when they could do it with a thousand times less cost to themselves by arranging for the reelection of Nixon, then our enemy is alot more stupid than we have been supposing. I would give their rule about another 3 years!

*     *     *     *     *

      In this criticism I have concentrated on the McGovern question and points directly relevant to it. But there are other things wrong with the paper too, of a more general nature. The paper fancies that we now have a policy of “participating in elections,” for example. This is a delusion. How are we participating? Are we running candidates? Are we backing candidates? We are not even officially boycotting the election. But when you get right down to it we are “participating” in the same way we have always participated, by attacking all the candidates and hence by implication (at least) the election itself. In short, we are really boycotting the election and we should not fool ourselves into thinking anything different.

     Of course boycotting elections is the best thing to do sometimes. I think that were it not for the fact that the war is a real issue in this election, we would probably be correct in boycotting it, since we certainly are in no position to run our own candidates, or to back those of any genuine (or sham!) revolutionaries. In any case we ought to realize what our actual policy is.

     The more I read and think about the regional paper on elections, the more convinced I become that it suffers from very serious errors, both short term and reflecting our overall electoral line. This is not a place to stop; we must continue our study and thinking on this whole question.

— End of Original 1972 Essay —

Appendix 1: My Reconsidered View of the Above Essay in 1977

      [By 1977 the above essay from 1972 had pretty much become moot, and I had almost forgotten about it. But then my disagreements with the local RCP leadership about the mass line led them to write up a paper against me as a “proven opportunist” and expel me from the Party. As part of that paper against me they tried to recall all my previous “errors” (i.e., disagreements!) in order to build their case. (They should have come to me for suggestions, because they forgot several of them, including my disagreements with the way the newspaper work was being done!) But one thing they did recall was my paper on the 1972 election, and used my position back then as one of the reasons to expel me five years later.

      The strange thing about this is that I had already—on my own initiative—criticized myself on this issue within my Party branch in the mid-1970s when Nixon himself was finally forced to pull out of Vietnam. And in my response to the paper by the local RCP leadership condemning me I said the following:]

Critical Support for McGovern.

      Back in 1972 I wrote a paper called “A Response to the Paper on Elections” in which I advocated a policy of critical support for McGovern. This has been shown beyond any doubt to have been an extremely serious error. (The Paris Peace accords of 1973 made this obvious, not to mention the complete liberation of south Vietnam in 1975.)

      I still think there might be very exceptional situations when it would be correct to support a bourgeois (or social-bourgeois) candidate, though there certainly is no example of this in U.S. history so far. As for 1932 Germany I am not so sure, though I lean towards the view that a common electoral front against he Nazis would have been correct. And in fact I still think something like the two criteria listed in my 1972 paper are correct.

      [Inserted note: Those two criteria for when revolutionaries should support a bourgeois candidate were:

  1. The major election issue is around a split on policy within the enemy camp, which gives the people a chance to have the deciding influence, and
  2. The issue is of great importance, even overriding importance, to the proletariat.

      Those who read my 1972 paper will see that I had no illusions about the possibility of revolution through the ballot box. I viewed critical support for McGovern as for a very limited (but very important) special purpose—to help speed the withdrawal of U.S. imperialism from Vietnam by 4 years. If such support could have actually had this effect then I still think it would have been worth it.

      However I was greatly in error in thinking this was true. As I see it now (and as I recall from my 1972 paper which I haven’t reread for several years), my mistakes were:

  1. in forgetting that we were too weak to affect the outcome of the election in any case; but more basically,
  2. in overemphasizing the strength of the U.S. bourgeoisie (as the DBI&E paper states, p. 14) and in failing to appreciate the heights of strength reached by the Vietnamese revolutionaries.

      The war had already gone on for over a decade and I believed that the U.S. imperialists still had the strength to hang on for 4 more years (though not the strength to hang on forever or to defeat the revolution). I was also misled by the PRG’s [Provisional Revolutionary Government in south Vietnam] evident support for McGovern as a signal that they themselves viewed the situation in the same way.

      Fortunately the RU (both its leadership and the vast majority of its members) had a much better understanding of the real situation than I did.

      The question arises again, however: what in the world has this past error (since self-criticized) got to do with the present dispute over the mass line and our work at Muni? If this is the procedure to be followed in figuring out who is right and who is wrong, then I guess I should have set to work to delve extensively into comrade D.’s past history of rightism and economism, for which he has been severely criticized, but of which he is still guilty in my opinion (though not perhaps to anything like the same extent). As for comrade G., I do not know his political history. Possibly he is perfect and has never made a political error [but see below] ...

      [Inserted note: Comrades “D.” and “G.” were the authors of the paper against me which led to my expulsion. —S.H.]

The 1976 Elections.

      I supported the line of the Party center on the 1976 presidential election completely—contrary to the completely unfounded slanderous remark on the top of page 15 of DBI&E. At a meeting of the UWO I was asked to speak briefly about the anti-labor ballot measures in San Francisco in this same election. I said that a sharp distinction had to be drawn between the national election and the local election; that unlike the question of which rich man’s candidate became president, the working class did have a vital interest in the fate of these ballot measures, and urged a strong campaign to defeat them. A certain comrade [“G.”] stood up after me to remind everyone that our view of the coming election was that the working class had no stake in it. A few days later comrade G. criticized my comments at the UWO meeting in the same manner.

      After the election, however, the Party center had this to say:

      “Overall, especially as the building for the demonstration got rolling, the main error was not from the right but the ‘left’ error of tending to ‘jack up’ the basis of unity of the demonstration, treating it in fact as a ‘don’t vote’ demonstration. This was sometimes coupled with a mechanical, and politically infantile, view that elections are somehow abstractly ‘dirty’ and we shouldn’t touch them—which meant in some cases that struggle was not built around particular ballot measures which were of genuine concern to masses of workers and the outcome of which did actually affect the struggle of the working class and masses.” (“National Bulletin”, Vol. 2, #1, p. 5.)

      I guess you must have forgotten, comrade G., that with this election it was you who championed an incorrect line, not me....

— End of the excerpt from my response to the RCP in 1977. —

Appendix 2: My Reconsidered View of This Election Issue in 2008

      In actually rereading this early paper of mine for the first time in more than 30 years, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t as bad as I remembered it being! In fact, I now find that I agree with the general principles in it, and even most of the specifics. I even think that the position of urging critical support for McGovern in the 1972 election was most probably correct at the time. In short, I no longer agree with much of my own self-criticism on this issue that I made in the mid-1970s and in my response to the charges the RCP made against me in 1977. (See Appendix 1 just above.)

      I still firmly maintain the validity of the two criteria I proposed in 1972 that must hold before proletarian revolutionaries can or should support a bourgeois candidate. Because of their genuine importance, I’ll repeat them one more time:

  1. The major election issue (on which the bourgeois candidates truly differ) must be around a split on policy within the enemy camp, which gives the people a chance to have the deciding influence, and
  2. The issue is of great importance, even overriding importance, to the proletariat.

      There have been very few presidential or other elections for national office in the United States in which both of these criteria definitely held true. The only three I can think of at the moment were:

  1. The 1860 and 1864 elections in which proletarian revolutionaries (and there already were a few in the U.S., mostly Red ’48er exiles from Germany) should definitely have supported Lincoln—and actually did do so!—despite his bourgeois class outlook, his racism and his other serious flaws). The issue of overriding importance was, of course, slavery and getting rid of it. And,
  2. The 1972 election where it was correct to critically support McGovern, in order to try to bring the Vietnam War to an early end.

      With regard to the 1972 election, it is true that even Nixon was eventually forced to withdraw from Vietnam. But that was in 1975, about two and a half years after McGovern would almost certainly have pulled out. That was two and a half years of additional mass murder of Vietnamese and the other peoples’ of Indochina by the vicious U.S. imperialists and their South Vietnamese puppet troops. It was our internationalist duty to try to prevent that additional period of genocide even if that meant supporting a bourgeois candidate in one election.

      One self-critical point I raised in 1977 was that the issue was actually sort of moot even in 1972 since the Revolutionary Union was such a tiny group with so little influence in the first place. While that was true, it missed an important point: With only the very rarest of exceptions, on critically important issues we should always put forth what would really be the proper course of action by the government even if we know that putting forward our position will really not make any difference as to whether that policy actually gets adopted. The reason is that, in any case, our support can and will have other important consequences, and will not lead to our alienation from those among the masses we work with who know better! Moreover, to not put forward what is actually correct is itself a way of lying to the masses, or at least misleading them.

      Another self-critical point I raised in 1977 was that in 1972 I had overemphasized the strength of the U.S. bourgeoisie and underemphasized the strength of the Vietnamese revolutionaries. I still think there is at least an element of truth to that self-criticism. However, the PRG was itself urging support for McGovern, from which a reasonable implication could be drawn that they were not expecting imminent victory in the war. And second, the war actually did go on for nearly another 3 years. In 1972 I thought it was possible, at least, that it might go on for another 4 years or more. So I didn’t quite understand just how close to victory the Vietnamese were. But I wasn’t all that far off, either. There were other factors to consider too, such as the possibility (which came close to actually happening!) that the U.S. imperialists might also attack China, and even use nuclear weapons!

      So, all in all, and even in retrospect, knowing how things actually turned out, I now think my position of urging critical support for McGovern in 1972 was actually correct.

      I also am now quite certain it would have been correct to form a united front in the 1933 elections in Germany against the Nazis, and that the Communist Party of Germany (at the direction of the Comintern) made a very serious error indeed by not doing so. Of course I understand that this is only completely obvious in hindsight, but hindsight does at least often show what our movement should have done!

      On the other hand, I remain completely convinced that in no American presidential election since 1972 would it have been correct for us revolutionaries to support any bourgeois candidate. (At least of the Republican and Democratic parties; I won’t try to address the more complicated matter of minor party candidates here.)

      And in the current 2008 election campaign (which has been going on forever it seems!) it really is very wrong and anti-Marxist to support Obama in particular. Those two important criteria just do not hold at all in this election.

— End —

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