November 7, 2000: National Pick Your Oppressor Day
The Realism of Revolution and the Fantasy of Elections
Revolutionary Worker #1077, November 6, 2000, posted at http://rwor.org
It's the closing days of this election. The media is trying to sweep people up in the "excitement of a political horse race." And, of course, they always suggest that your vote (and the turnout of people like you) could well decide who rules the empire.
But really, the main outcome was decided long ago: On November 7, 2000, one of the two representatives of this system will be chosen as the next president. These men were hand-picked and tested over years by the ruling class itself--they are trained, trusted and totally loyal.
Two months after the election, there will be a ritual transfer from one imperialist president to the next. And all the core instruments of power, all the inequality and exploitation of capitalism will remain in place.
No matter who wins, the guns and nukes of this system will remain poised against people all over the world. U.S. navies will remain in the Adriatic Sea, the Persian Gulf and Vieques. American capitalist corporations will still bleed the life and labor of millions of people--in the U.S. and around the world--in sweatshop factories, assembly lines, chemical plants, mines and oil rigs. And on the streets of the cities, in the parks and projects and reservations, on the highways, and in the schools, police will patrol the people--harassing, insulting, frisking, arresting, framing, beating and even killing members of an increasingly criminalized generation. Two million prisoners--twice the number of a decade ago--will wake up surrounded by steel bars and armed men.
And all of this will continue with the firm support and guidance of the next man who sits in the Oval Office--whether that is George Bush or Al Gore.
Look at this circus from the viewpoint of the kids in crumbling ghetto classrooms, from the dangerous crossings of militarized borderlands, from poisoned fruit fields and stifling factory floors. Look at these candidates and programs through the eyes of our brothers and sisters, trying to survive and free themselves across this planet. From that perspective, it is clear that there is NOTHING here for us, in these convention halls, in this whole sick process of photo ops, debate, TV ads and voting booths. There is no future here worth living for the new generation.
"Who the hell wants the right, the so-called right to see which group of oppressors and exploiters is going to oppress and exploit you? We don't want that right - it's not worth a damn! We want the right to be rid of being oppressed and exploited - to put an end to the sham of democracy and the reality of dictatorship."
Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP
Lots of people in the U.S. sense that this whole election circus is owned and operated by wealthy, powerful and sinister interests. TV offers us "Gore vs. Bush" debates--but the real question debated by millions of people is: "What can we do, together, to bring about a radically different kind of politics and society?"
Can we influence policies by voting? Can we pull the system in progressive directions by pulling in new voters who are oppressed and eager for change? The answer is NO. And to get at the heart of this, it is necessary to break down and analyze some rather intense electoral fantasies that have a grip on people (and that are being energetically promoted).
RCP Chairman Bob Avakian writes: "To state it in a single sentence, elections: are controlled by the bourgeoisie; are not the means through which basic decisions are made in any case; and are really for the primary purpose of legitimizing the system and the policies and actions of the ruling class, giving them the mantle of a 'popular mandate,' and of channeling, confining, and controlling the political activity of the masses of people."
Basic reality check: The ruling class of this system savagely rip off and suppress billions of people. They have nuked cities, flattened countries, assassinated opponents--and they are not about to turn around, every year or so, and let the masses of people have a final say over how their system is run.
Elections are not the time when people influence the politics of this system. It is the opposite: it is a time when the masses of people get indoctrinated in the policies this system intends to adopt.
The media magnifies the microscopic political differences between the candidates. But who can miss that the range of official political debate has narrowed so much, and shifted so far to the right, that on most issues these current presidential candidates practically breathe in unison.
Bush is covered with the blood of prisoners he has executed in Texas, while Al Gore is cut and dry about his support for capital punishment. To make things clear, the Clinton-Gore administration have now scheduled the first federal execution in 35 years. Bush runs with the backing of the religious right, while Gore has his sidekick "Holy Joe" Lieberman preach on the importance of conservative religious values and censorship. Both candidates support Star Wars. Both speak in support of imperialist profit, global restructuring of production, NAFTA and the cruel policies of institutions like the World Bank and the IMF. And so on.
There are differences within the ruling class. Sometimes they even kill each other over these differences. Kennedy was assassinated, Nixon was driven from office, Clinton was impeached. But these disputes were not decided by elections. They are fundamentally dealt with behind closed doors and often aren't even mentioned in the political campaigns.
Those differences that are allowed into the campaigns are used to prepare the population for possible changes in policy-- like how much to privatize social security and public schools, over which global military strategies to adopt, over how much to restrict abortion, over how to impose more discipline in society and in schools, over how to handle health care costs, and so on.
Lessons of the Past
How do things actually change?
Take the example of Jim Crow segregation in the South. Before the 1950s, Black people were kept strictly segregated in the Deep South--with separate, grossly inferior schools and separate bathrooms in official buildings. Black and white were forbidden to date or marry. Black people had to address all white people as "Sir" or "Ma'am." Black people couldn't sit on juries or ride on busses alongside whites. These hateful inequalities were enforced by the lynchings of the Klan and the chain gangs of Southern sheriffs.
Jim Crow wasn't abolished at the ballot box--it was never voted on, or offered to the people to vote. Jim Crow was destroyed because changes in the economy and the world situation weakened this system of oppression--and because the masses of Black people and their allies fought to destroy it!
As Southern agriculture mechanized in the '40s and '50s, millions of Black farm laborers moved to the Northern cities. Meanwhile, the European colonial systems broke down in Africa, and the U.S. imperialists wanted to expand their influence there. Jim Crow became an international embarrassment--making it hard to portray the U.S. as "the friend of de-colonialized Africa."
Jim Crow was destroyed when, in the '50s and '60s, Black people rose up in revolt--staging sit-ins and boycotts at segregated lunch counters and bus stations, demanding an end to special "poll taxes" and rigged "literacy tests" that denied Black people equal political rights. Southern jails were filled and major cities started to burn.
The U.S. system was forced to grant major concessions by intense struggle of the people. The people wanted liberation--and at the same time the oppressors for their own purposes found it necessary to move toward new ways of controlling Black people--new ways that were not so crudely based on Jim Crow segregation's open and legally enforced inequalities.
The change was forced through by struggle, not by voting.
Another example: Women did not win the right to abortion through elections. There was no wave of congressional or presidential candidates who swept into office declaring support for abortion rights. The legalization of abortion was forced from a reluctant Supreme Court at a time when millions of women were entering the workforce--and rebelling against the system. And only after the system legalized abortion did a section of the system's politicians openly declare their support for this right.
This is worth remembering now--because the right to choose abortion is one of the areas where the major parties and candidates have clear differences. Some people argue that this alone is reason to support Al Gore.
However for the last eight years, these Democrats have been in power and presided over the restricting of abortion rights. They have called for "keeping abortion legal, and making it rare." They have supported parental consent laws and opposed using federal funding to make abortions available to poor women. Gore's running mate, Senator Lieberman, even sponsored a bill to ban abortion completely in the last months of pregnancy.
During this same period, this policy of supporting the Democratic administration worked to demobilize the struggle of women in support of abortion rights.
The electoral system--its parties and campaigns--is a terrible place to try to organize the people for struggle and change. It is a place completely and tightly controlled by the system--by its laws, institutions, and media.
When the people get drawn in there, their struggle gets tamed. It is an arena where people get trained to accept the limits and framework of capitalism as "realistic." They are schooled in the political methods most useful (and least challenging) to their oppressors. Their organizations get tied to the structures, institutions, personalities and policies of this system and its chosen representatives. It is quicksand.
And that's why the system loves to see new voters brought in. All the better to eat you with, my dear.
The whole strategy of the Nader campaign is based on an elaborate electoral fantasy. And despite the best intentions of many people involved, it will overall have negative effects on the struggle for social change. At every campaign stop and in practically every interview, Nader explains that he intends to pull official politics in progressive directions by renewing the faith of millions of people in the electoral process. He calls on progressive and disaffected people to put aside their distaste for this process--and "retake our democracy."
Lots of people listen to Al Gore rant about "I will fight for you," and mutter "Yeah, right." They laugh at Bush's talk of "compassionate conservatism" and see it as obvious bullshit. But is Nader's vision of a compassionate, reformed capitalism any more realistic?
His claims demand some tough questions. We'd like to ask: Exactly when was this supposedly "our democracy"? When was it not controlled by capitalists and slave owners? When were politicians not bought and sold like race horses?
There are no "good old days." U.S. electoral democracy never served and represented oppressed people. This electoral system was invented, designed and refined by capitalist merchants and slaveowners from the beginning. And it has served the ruling class well--by elevating reliable political figures to serve their class, by tying sections of the people into their state structure and political machines, and by enabling them to disguise a capitalist dictatorship as "democratic rule of the people."
Is it really possible to remove "corporate control of government" by building an electoral third party and passing some campaign finance reform laws? If you could really do that, they'd make voting illegal.
What will happen to the forces who follow Nader on his crusade to the ballot box? Nader talks about turning the Green Party into a serious national contender for the election of 2004. This is highly unlikely. Not because there aren't millions of people who want a new kind of politics. But because this system was designed to absorb and demoralize the forces who try this. The whole history of electoral third parties in this century shows this.
Will Nader inject "new ideas into the process," as some people hope? Here too you can see the system in full effect: In 1992, Ross Perot was allowed to "inject new ideas"--because the ruling class needed someone to argue for major social cuts, in a campaign where neither major candidate could be the first to bring it up. But in Nader's case in 2000, the same ruling class is not interested to give a national platform for his proposals for universal health care or pro-unionization laws or opposition to NAFTA and similar agreements--and so they simply don't allow his voice to be heard much in the official channels. They have kept him out of the debates, and (for the most part) out of the media. And so his "new ideas" (which are really old, tired ideas lifted from European and Canadian social democracy) are kept outside the allowed spectrum of policy debate.
At the same time, the ruling class, the media, and the electoral apparatus has allowed Nader to recruit, and has allowed him (with some conflict) on the ballot in 44 states. The prominent Texas populist John Hightower argued for the Nader campaign on the evening news saying, "There are tons of people who are angry and fed up, and if they don't have this candidacy, they may start some real revolt." This is an honest statement to the ruling class about the value of the Nader campaign to the stability of this system.
Prominent forces within Nader's own campaign openly say that their intentions are not to draw people out of the Democratic Party--but to play "hard to get" this year, in hopes of getting more respect in future years. And, if the history of electoral third party races is any indication, many of the forces "energized" by Nader will end up voting for Gore and Democratic congressional candidates when this year's November 7 actually comes. Once people have swallowed Nader's arguments--that the election process is where the action is, that their votes "count" etc.-- the larger logic of the system will take many of them on the next step, toward voting for the mainstream "lesser evil."
The discontent and resistance of the masses of people is a precious thing. For example, fresh new forces have joined the struggle in Seattle, at the conventions of Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Will a new generation of rebels now get sucked into the demoralizing ritual of electoral campaigns?
Protest votes for Nader send a message of disgust with Gore and Bush--and express the sentiments of people who feel betrayed by the Democratic Party. But such votes are a public statement of faith in the system--that it somehow represents the people and can be a vehicle for real change. Such votes legitimize the ultimate winner of the election, his future government and the power structures of this system.
Nader claims that voting is the power of the people. But climbing into a voting booth doesn't make you powerful--any more than climbing into the back of a squad car makes you a cop.
"People say what is your alternative? What are you offering instead? To me this is like somebody who has been out in the desert for days without water, and their throat is parched and dry and they're desperate for water. And they come across a place where there's some water holes, just as we've been out in this desert for so long, desperate, thirsting after some kind of decent life and a better future for our kids.
And you come up on these two water holes. And one of them is muddy and murky and has all kinds of foul things in it, and it stinks. And it's pretty clear to see that it is poisonous. And there is a man there telling you, 'Don't drink out of that one, that other one over there is the one that is good.'
And yet there's an older fellow there, who's been around a little longer, he's not drinking out of the one that appears to be a little bit cleaner. He's down on his hands and knees, digging down in the dirt, and he says, 'Don't drink out of that water hole, that one's poison too. It might look better but it ain't no better for you.'
And you say to him, 'What's your solution then? What are you offering instead?'
And he says, 'We've got to get together and do what I'm starting to do here now. We've got to dig down with our own hands, to where we can get some fresh, some pure water, drink some of that, draw some more of that up, and keep on digging till we can not only get enough water, but until we can make this whole place fertile and create the kind of situation where we can live a decent life for the first time.'
And that's our alternative."
Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP,USA
How does real change happen? It comes through struggle: through uniting people--from their different points of view--to do what needs to be done for the people. It comes through creative exposures of all the forces that abuse the people. It comes through diverse forms of resistance. But fundamentally, ultimately and finally, real change comes when the crisis in society is so deep and the struggle, organization and consciousness of the people is at the point where a real all-the-way revolution is possible--when power is seized and old structures are torn down and uprooted and something new and truly liberating can be born.
There is a lot of history and understanding behind our viewpoint that: "Elections are the wrong arena. It's going to come down to revolutionary war." Is that practical? Is it realistic? The answer is YES.
Revolution is infinitely more practical and realistic than Nader's idea of voting out the corporations or expecting Al Gore to "fight for working families." Nothing less than revolution will solve the problems of the present--or make a better future. Nothing is more worth living, planning, fighting and dying for.
Oppressed people need a massive, determined movement of resistance to take on and beat back their oppressors today. And they need a revolutionary movement and a revolutionary communist party preparing to launch and win a mass armed revolution when the time is right.
Many people have taken important steps away from the traditional "liberal-conservative" politics of this system. They have seen through the lies and rhetoric of the two major parties--and can't bring themselves to vote for the disgusting, reactionary "lesser of two evils" they are offered.
To those people we say: Step all the way out of this system's political circus. Hook up with the revolution and help humanity get free.
Carl Dix, National Spokesperson, Revolutionary Communist Party, at NY NDP 2000
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)