The 2012 Elections Have Little To Do With Obama's Record … Which Is Why We Are Voting For Him
Continued from previous page
In the absence of a comprehensive electoral strategy, progressive forces fall into one of three cul-de-sacs: (1) ad hoc electoralism, i.e., participating in the election cycle but with no long-term plan other than tailing the Democrats; (2) abandoning electoral politics altogether in favor of modern-day anarcho-syndicalist ‘pressure politics from below’; or (3) satisfying ourselves with far more limited notions that we can best use the election period in order to 'expose' the true nature of the capitalist system in a massive way by attacking all of the mainstream candidates. We think all of these miss the key point.
Our elections are about money and the balance of power
Money is obvious, particularly in light of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. The balance of power is primarily at the level of the balance within the ruling circles, as well as the level of grassroots power of the various mass movements. The party that wins will succeed on the basis of the sort of electoral coalition that they are able to assemble, co-opt or be pressured by, including but not limited to the policy and interest conflicts playing out within its own ranks.
The weakness of left and progressive forces means we have been largely unable to participate, in our own name and independent of the two party upper crust, in most national-level elections with any hope of success. In that sense most left and progressive interventions in the electoral arena at the national level, especially at the Presidential level, are ineffective acts of symbolic opposition or simply propaganda work aimed at uniting and recruiting far smaller circles of militants. They are not aimed at a serious challenge for power but rather aim to demonstrate a point of view, or to put it more crassly, to 'fly the flag.' The electoral arena is frequently not viewed as an effective site for structural reforms or a more fundamental changing of direction.
Our politics, in this sense, can be placed in two broad groupings—politics as self-expression and politics as strategy. In an overall sense, the left needs both of these—the audacity and energy of the former and the ability to unite all who can be united of the latter. But it is also important to know the difference between the two, and which to emphasize and when in any given set of battles.
Consider, for a moment, the reform struggles with which many of us are familiar. Let's say that a community is being organized to address a demand for jobs on a construction site. If the community is not entirely successful in this struggle, it does not mean that the struggle was wrong or inappropriate. It means that the progressives were too weak organizationally and the struggle must continue. The same is true in the electoral arena. The fact that it is generally difficult, in this period, to get progressives elected or that liberal and progressive candidates may back down on a commitment once elected, does not condemn the arena of the struggle. It does, however, say something about how we might need to organize ourselves better in order to win and enforce accountability.
In part due to justified suspicion of the electoral system and a positive impulse for self-expression and making our values explicit, too many progressives view the electoral realm as simply a canvass upon which various pictures of the ideal future are painted. Instead of constructing a strategy for power that involves a combination of electoral and non-electoral activity, uniting both a militant minority and a progressive majority, there is an impulsive tendency to treat the electoral realm as an idea bazaar rather than as one of the key sites on which the struggle for progressive power unfolds.