[lbo-talk] My reply to Stan Goff's "Why I won’t vote (and you shouldn’t either)"

Dissenting Wren dissentingwren at yahoo.com
Tue Jun 21 20:33:46 PDT 2011

Och, the ink spilled over whether or not to vote, for whom to vote...  And why bother to try to convince people not to vote?  They are already out in their tens of millions not voting.  At least Stan can finally place himself at the head of a mass movement, not that it will accomplish anything.

At the end of the day, this is a simple argument.  (1) Your individual vote will affect nothing, so vote, or don't, for whomever you want - it doesn't matter.  (2) The question, therefore, is not whether or not to vote, or for whom, but what you do with your political energy (if anything) beyond voting.  (3) So vote for whomever you please, or don't vote at all, but whatever you do, don't go exhaust yourself campaigning for one of the major parties, because they are both fully owned subsidiaries of what George Carlin called "the owners of this country".  (I've never seen anyone who didn't understand and laugh at that particular routine of Carlin's, and I've yet to find anyone who has the courage to publicly disagree with it).  (4) If you are, then, able and inclined to expend political energy beyond the act of voting, here are movements outside the two-capitalist-party system in which your energy may not be wasted.  This has always seemed like

simple stuff to me, and I'm not sure why we keep getting derailed onto the whether/for whom to vote debate.

________________________________ From: Julio Huato <juliohuato at gmail.com> To: Stan Goff <stan at stangoff.com>; Marxist Debate <marxist-debate at googlegroups.com>; pen-l at lists.csuchico.edu; Lbo Talk Lbo Talk <lbo-talk at lbo-talk.org> Sent: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 9:40 PM Subject: [lbo-talk] My reply to Stan Goff's "Why I won’t vote (and you shouldn’t either)"

In his latest blog post (http://www.feralscholar.org/blog/index.php/2011/06/19/why-i-wont-vote-and-you-shouldnt-either/), Stan Goff calls people not to vote in 2012.  He argues that defensive voting for the Democrats, although partly justified, hasn't stopped the worsening of conditions for working people.  Stan implies that, by not voting, people should be able to reduce their political loses, if not turn them into gains.  (Although, at a point, Stan rejects this mode of analysis as utilitarian.  But I'm hereby giving readers permission to broaden their notion of what is good for working people in order to transcend any narrow utilitarianism.)

Stan argues that now is the right time to switch from defensive voting for the DP to not voting.  How does Stan know this?  Because if by now people have not become sufficiently disappointed with the lousy political performance of their defensive voting strategy, then they never will.  An additional argument that Stan brandishes is that the system is fundamentally rigged and the only chance people have to advance their interest is by shifting the battleground outside of the electoral process.  Sabotaging the elections is thus the proper course.  (Of course, Stan's argument is much richer and expansive that my little capsule here, but I will limit my comments to this part alone.)

I will say here that Stan's latter argument is essentially correct. The US legal and political system -- as it exists -- imposes serious constraints on the independent political activity of working people, and the space for working people to reform the system without a serious disruption is rather narrow (although not inexistent).  As it is, the legal and political system is unacceptable and, if working people are to preserve and assert our humanity, then this system has to go.

However, this latter argument doesn't necessarily settle that the time to switch from defensive voting for the DP to not voting or some other strategy (e.g. voting offensively for our own candidate) is now. Again, Stan's argument boils down to asserting that the time is now, because he, Stan, has realized that the time is now.

I've argued before, in an essay that needs some updating and tightening but whose main points retain most of their validity (http://www.swans.com/library/art11/jhuato01.html), that the relevant criterion to decide on strategic matters of the political struggle is not the opinion of a few individuals, but the actual practical political motion of masses of working people.

If one judges people by their deeds, rather than by what they may opine or say occasionally, it is apparent that people, or at least the most politically active segment of the US working people, are not yet convinced that without or outside of the DP they will be able to reduce their political losses (or increase their gains).  It's, of course, a chicken and egg situation.  They look around and they don't see a lot of their neighbors and co-workers jumping ship, so they are not eager to be first.  And by so doing, they perpetuate the problem. So, how can this vicious cycle be broken?

When I encounter situations like this in life, I tend to fall back on my understanding of Hegelian and Marxian dialectics.  It seems to me that leaps in the quality of an organic process have to be preceded by a prolonged, very patient process of accumulation of small quantitative changes.  By definition, in and by themselves, quantitative changes do not alter the quality of the process.  The quality remains.  But those gradual changes prepare the sudden alteration in quality.  In this case, I envision a lot of propaganda, agitation, organization, and local struggles preceding a national-scale mass movement capable of:

(1) forcing the structures of the DP to adapt to the demands of the mass movement (kind of like Wisconsin but national), or (2) bypassing the structures of the DP, because they fail to adapt to the demands of the mass movement, or (3) emerging as an outright, direct insurrection against the structures of the DP, because those structures antagonize the political motion of those masses.

I imagine something like the mass eruptions in Tunisia or Egypt, except that at a US scale.  I don't think we can miss the signature of events of that kind.

Under conditions that fall short of this mass eruption, not voting is not likely to work.  I believe that not voting will fail to impose conditions on the two party system.  I don't think the two party system will have much of a problem dealing with such a challenge.  It is true that, if we don't shift the battleground, if we accept the conditions that the system imposes on us, then we'll be terribly constrained and our advances will look like the Sisiphean torture -- pushing a boulder uphill only to see it roll down repeatedly once we momentarily exhaust ourselves.  But we cannot just will conditions that don't exist.

Frankly, I do not see how we can resolve this problem on pure ideological or superficially political grounds.  It is precisely through the Sisiphean torture of an immense preparatory work that we make ourselves capable of helping an eventual mass eruption become a more coherent, politically conscious force. The more we entertain those get-politically-rich-quick schemes, the more we postpone or fail to undertake that preparatory work.  I say this with all due respect to Stan, but also with the frank critical attitude that any serious reflection deserves.

But, what if Stan's proposal is *precisely* the spark that could lead to the kind of mass political explosion described above?  IMO, that is a remote possibility.  Very remote.  Other fortuitous circumstances would have to coincide with it and compound it.  However, a remote possibility is not an impossibility.  So, I am willing to cut Stan some slack.  I think it was Woody Allen who said that 80% of success is showing up -- 80% of political success is daring to experiment. Since Stan is so eager to jump the gun -- so eager to substitute his own personal example for the masses in political motion, and since I don't think his individual exercise in vote sabotage can do us much harm at this point, I will do my part to amplify its positive impact. As far as I'm concerned, Stan can "go ahead" and try his approach in 2012.  I say this without a hint of cynicism.  I'll respect his actions and wish him the best.  Moreover, again, I will help him publicize his actions and expand its impact.  Let's hope much good comes out of it.

Meanwhile, Stan and everybody else need to do more basic organizing work.  This is not exclusive of what Stan is proposing.  I mean, not entirely exclusive.  Ideally, to use the old terms, our strategy should capitalize on our propaganda (emphasis on the commonality of interests of working people, broadly defined) and our tactics should capitalize on our agitation (a campaign against the concrete miseries of the crisis, wars, etc.).  At this point, clearly, the radical left does not have a unified and coherent strategy.  But people start where they may.

I'll finish with a few words on the latter.  Picking up on some of the ideas I threw out in my essay on the Democrats and listening to others who know better, I believe that the greatest promise lies, not in national struggles (where, IMO, one way or another, we'll be operating within the strictures imposed by the system), but in smaller scale local battles.  Let's go local.  Let's work seriously to take over PTAs, unions, municipal governments -- entities charged with managing resources for specific public purposes, even if those resources are meager and shrinking.  Let's go after them.  If we think we can change the system within our lifetimes, then this certainly will feel like small change.  What I envision is taking over a town and turning it around.  To the extent possible, converting that town into a small, democratically managed, proto-socialist island.  Let's show the world and ourselves how the left can help people manage (and manage well) their public affairs at a local level.  Let's go wherever the fruit hangs lowest.  That is the kind of work that, sooner than we think, will ripen things at the national level.  When things come to a head then, we will know that the time to switch away from the Democrats has arrived.


Julio Huato Brooklyn, NY ___________________________________ http://mailman.lbo-talk.org/mailman/listinfo/lbo-talk

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