Electoralism is a contentious issue for the far-left. Should we, the left, run actual left-wing canadiens in liberal democracies? However, this debate is confused for the other debate, that between social-democratic reformist and radical socialist. I will address the debate between reformism and reductionism first to clear up that discussion. For those newer to leftism social-democratic reformism seems to make sense. They want to change the system from capitalism to what they think socialism is. They reject violence but see their ideas as ‘practical’. While the radical socialist recognizes that the capitalist class will not let real change affect their bottom line as liberal democracy is set up to benefit the class that created it.
In Marxism political ideologies, beliefs, and ethics arise from the material conditions of their class. So, for example, a slave owner will see themselves as having the right to own slaves. They see the slave as a commodity that they rightfully inherited and earned. This ‘right’ will be justified by anything that keeps them in power in this relationship. This same relationship exists between the capitalist class and the working class, which they justify with capitalist propaganda. As they own the systems that create propaganda, ads, tv stations, radio stations, and most popular websites. So, they want to perpetuate their own interest in their propaganda. This is most definitely in electoral politics. Most liberal democracies have two sides, both still rooted in the interest of the capitalist class. So, they can only either benefit the capitalist class or not hinder them. In modern neo-liberal political systems, these two sides have come to be mirror images of each other.
Both came to believe that all political solutions come from the growing and support of markets. Which has made the social-democratic position ‘radical’. It’s not, as social democracy is still subjected to capitalist class interest. As still the capitalist class still owns the economic systems around us. They own our news agencies, they donate to political campaigns, and they are the leaders of political parties. The reformist would argue that these reforms are the only real course of action for right now. That right now we can use the system to increase the material conditions of the working class, which will benefit them in the long term for revolution.
However, this only works in the short term. As social democracy has a fundamental flaw, that the justification for its existence is that the working class suffers, but when the working class stops suffering things go back to normal. Which eliminates the justification to keep social democratic policies. Which is what happened to social democratic policies in America after the 40s. In contemporary economics, they see social-democratic economic policies as a ‘fix’ for a bad economy. Generally, a neo-liberal interpretation of Keynesianism, think the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008. But when the economy is ‘fixed’ these policies create stagnation as the economy is based on the need for the capitalist class to keep making greater and greater profits. Social democracy doesn’t make the capitalist class richer, it just makes sure the system doesn’t collapse.
However, among the far-left, the question of Electoralism is a bit more complicated. Some argue that voting for social democratic candidates moves political attention to the left, even if it’s to social democracy. This is also accompanied by arguments for harm reduction. That if we support the social democratic candidates we are then obstructing reactionary ones. Others, however, argue completely in the opposite direction. That supporting any candidate supports the system and that real political change comes from outside the liberal democratic systems. These arguments have their merits, but both these positions have their flaws.
Supporting social-democratic candidates don’t necessarily move political attention to the left. It puts political attention on social democracy and people will associate the left with social democracy. If we want political attention we need to have it on us. In regards to harm reduction, it fails to consider that this is a slippery slope and that voting is not an individual thing. First, you can make the argument of harm reduction to the point of supporting centrist liberal candidates and not even social democratic ones. Because everyone looks like a leftist next to Hitler.
This argument also assumes that voting is an individual responsibility. That if you don’t vote for the harm reduction candidate that you are responsible for what happens. This is, in a liberal democracy, untrue. Looking at it from the perspective of one person is limiting, elections are determined by propaganda, generally who can have better selling propaganda. If the harm reductionist candidate’s message is ‘not them’ than they don’t have much for people to buy into. It would be like if I sold you a box, I didn’t tell you what it did, but if you buy it you can find out. This empowers the reactionary candidate to sell their ‘common sense positions’, ‘hard-working spirit’ and ‘traditional values’. Which looking at elections generally works.
Now the ani-electoralism leftist has a point, however, they are looking at things from a limited and purist perspective. As Karl Marx said in ‘Address to the Central Committee’ p. 117:
“Even when there is no prospect whatsoever of their being elected, the workers must put up their own candidates in order to preserve their independence, to count their forces, and to bring before the public their revolutionary attitude and party standpoint. In this connection they must not allow themselves to be seduced by such arguments of the democrats as, for example, that by so doing they are splitting the democratic party and making it possible for the reactionaries to win. The ultimate intention of all such phrases is to dupe the proletariat. The advance which the proletarian party is bound to make by such independent action is indefinitely more important than the disadvantage that might be incurred by the presence of a few reactionaries in the representative body.”
Elections to him were to gain popular support for a working-class movement, to get a platform, but to not participate in liberal democratic processes. The idea is to organize a movement to give the working class a movement. However, this isn’t necessarily possible or helpful in all situations. Because it should only be used to get a working-class movement started, but when it’s not necessary it should be dropped. Right now the left is a joke without much organization or numbers. Most ‘leftists’ are social democrats who are still tied to be the capitalist class’s propaganda.
If the left was to become a movement, running in elections should be something on the table. But in the same way that Sinn Fein ran in the 1918 UK general election. Refusing to attend the British Parliament and creating their own, the Dáil. Elections can be used as a destabilizing force, but not always. So it should be a tool that we can use, but a tool which shouldn’t be our aim, our aims should be to achieve a better world free from capitalist exploitation.Like (3)