Electoral Reform

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Tue Aug 29 11:46:40 PDT 2000

There is an issue here that is partly a matter of empirical judgment, partly a matter of logic or coherence. Let me see if I can illustrate the latter with an arbitrary (and unreal) example outside politics.

Suppose a group of people trapped and isolated between two mountain peaks. Suppose that they are suffering from some infectuous illness (which can be cured with an anti-biotic) which has the effect of undermining their ability to tap their food supply. Suppose the two mountain peaks are of identical size and difficulty of ascent. Now.

Suppose that on one mountain (Peak A) there is a manual giving instructions of how to produce antibiotics. On the *other* mountain peak (Peak B) there is (a) a supply of food, (b) a supply of antibiotics and (c) mountain climbing equipment (of which we will assume our community has none). Some members of the community argue that it they were to try to climb Peak A and succeed, they could then first manufacture anti-biotics, cure themselves, then tap their food supply and gain the energy to climb Peak B to acquire the food, antibiotics, and climbing equipment They admit that the climb to Peak A is very difficult. They admit that even with the manual they might not be able to produce a supply of anti-biotics. They admit that even if they do produce a supply, it might not be adequate to give them the energy either to produce sufficient food to survive let alone climb Peak B. Nevertheless they insist their plan is better than the proposal to climb Peak B is wildly unreasonable and could only be proposed by super-idealists who refused small gains and wanted to put all their eggs into one basket and climb Peak B because it would bring greater awards.

My point is that those who bewail the left's failure to take electoral reform seriously themselves fail to see that *if* we were powerful enough to achieve electoral reform (and we probably are not), we would *already* be powerful enough so that there would be no *need* for electoral reform -- that we could achieve all our goals without wasting our limited energy on a goal which, though in substance very minor was in difficulty of achievement equal to or greater than more "ambitious" goals.

Electoral reform is pure utopianism. The precondition for electoral reform is that there must have already been electoral reform before we start fighting for it, becasue without the gains which electoral reform is supposed to provide we don't have the power to demand electoral reform.

Any small gain for workers is worthwhile -- unless fighting for that small gain is (a) incapable of even achieving the small gain and (b) interferes with achieving greater gains. Fighting for electoral reform will fail to achieve electoral reform. It will also deflect the left from battles it might actually win.


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