The REDSTAR2000 Papers

Listen to the worm of doubt, for it speaks truth. - Leftist Discussion

Lights! Cameras! Democracy! November 5, 2003 by RedStar2000

This is another collection of posts on the follies of bourgeois electoral politics.

One would imagine that all the central lessons would have been learned back in 1914...when socialist members of all the European parliaments enthusiastically supported World War I.

But bourgeois electoral strategies are so seductive that each new generation must seemingly learn those lessons all over again.

One can only hope that someday it will finally penetrate our "thick skulls" for good: bourgeois elections and parliaments mean nothing and are useless for our purposes.

May it be soon!


Of course, I'm speaking from the United States...where bourgeois electoral politics has long been a patriotic spectacle, resembling a Superbowl Half-Time Show more than anything else.

Real political decisions in the U.S. are made by corporate campaign contributors and lobbyists (also mostly corporate)...and pretty much all of it takes place behind closed doors and far from the television cameras.

There are isolated instances where spirited local races between the "left" and the "right" take place...but since the federal government is "all powerful", nothing much comes of it, even when the "leftist" wins.

Perhaps things are not that "bad" yet in the U.K. From what little I know about your BNP, it would fit quite comfortably in the Republican Party here (it's quite acceptable to be racist here; one must simply employ the socially acceptable terminology).

But there were some opinions expressed with which I must disagree.


People move toward a more critical view of society gradually, not by overnight conversion - thus an electoral strategy is a part, not the be all and end all, but a part of what is required to change things in a more democratic direction.

A dubious thesis. What I have observed is that people who are predisposed (from life experiences) to a critical view of the prevailing social order move "to the left" rather quickly. (Perhaps also to the far right as well...but I have no observations on that possible occurrence.)

On the other hand, it seems to me that any effort to "ease" someone into the left when they are not already predisposed to change is probably a waste of time. Those who think that things are "well enough" or "ok" may or may not be convinced that some tinkering with the system would be useful...but it's not going to be a "big deal" with them, one way or the other.

My own view is that we live in a period of reaction...and that means that the vast majority of people are completely indifferent to the possibilities of significant change.

In such periods, there are always those who will say "if we just did X" or "if we would only do Y", then "enlightenment" would "dawn" on the "masses" and everything would really move forward.

No. How and why "the masses" become restive, rebellious, and ultimately revolutionary is still clear pattern has emerged thus far in human history.

When we speak, sometimes no one listens...sometimes nearly everyone does. There's just no telling.


Yes, of course elected representatives sell out - that does not mean ALL of them do...

Actually, I think the "sell out" begins before they are ever nominated...usually long before.


...the struggle to win the vast majority over to an understanding and resolve to bring about real change is unlikely to be able to abandon the conventional political arena without serious consequences.

Well, others have noted that more than half the population of eligible voters have already "abandoned the conventional political arena" (for whatever reasons).

Is there anything to be "gained" by trying to coax them back? What, exactly?


But if someone is offering you a choice between a kick in the balls or the shins, I say ask for a kick in the shins.

Always presumes you can tell the difference ahead of time. In the American presidential race of 1964, Lyndon Johnson was the "peace" candidate and Barry Goldwater was the "warmonger".

Or consider the pathetic German Social Democrats. In the German presidential race of 1932, they were convinced that re-electing the aging Prussian aristocrat, von Hindenburg, would "save them" from Hitler. It didn't work; they got Hitler anyway.


From a personal perspective, I think that as hundreds of people die, or put themselves in danger around the globe fighting for their right to vote, it is our obligation to use the right we have.

An argument from guilt. In the late 1940s, American mothers told their children "eat your (crappy-tasting) vegetables; children in Europe are starving".

If anyone is so foolish as to believe that a vote in a bourgeois election is worth "dying" for, that is not my problem.

Or yours.


We may not agree fully with the system, but let's not forget that we've got things a whole lot better than countless others.

And God Save the Queen!

We hear an even stronger version of that sort of thing in the U.S., e.g. "How dare you criticize our president? You don't realize how lucky you are to be an American!"



When people start talking about things being "structurally created" for just one function I begin to think they are verging on conspiracy theory. This is not the reality I experience. Who created parties? Who are their members? So, even if a majority seek radical change and support participatory democracy in a party (which is a position I would like to see the Greens and other parties if possible, won over to) they are "objectively" reactionary?

I don't think it's a matter of "conspiracies" (though one should always keep the possibility in mind--the reason conspiracy theories are popular is that some of them turned out to be true).

In capitalist societies, the political "center of gravity" is on the right...because that's where the serious money is. "Left" electoral parties are "tugged" in that direction and, over time, respond to that "pull".

This can be seen most clearly if you look at "communist" (Leninist) parties in the advanced capitalist countries--in practice, nearly all of them now occupy the same position on the political spectrum as the social democrats did before World War I.

The social democratic parties, of course, are now all capitalist parties.

Call it a political "blue shift".

If the Greens become a major party in any country, I see nothing to prevent the same rightward drift, regardless of their rhetoric or their "good intentions".


We find ourselves in a certain situation, the philosophers have interpreted it, the point is to change it, to misquote the old man. He did not say imagine an ideal in your head and accept no compromise with reality.

A bit misleading; Marx and Engels were quite uncompromising on occasion. Late in life, they both grudgingly accepted the possibility of "victory" through "bourgeois elections" but even then I think they were uncomfortable with the idea.

But, in any event, that was then, this is now. We've seen many attempts to "win power" through bourgeois elections...all have come to grief.

I see no reason to endlessly replicate a failed experiment.


Those in control can only exercise their power as long as people accept their right to exercise that power, as long as people believe themselves to be powerless. Organising outside of the current structures deliberately undermines the current power structures. It lessens their hold over people, it creates confidence in peoples ability to organise themselves without the need for the state or any other hierarchical power structures. It's not so much those in control stopping exercising their power so much as it's people realising their own individual and collective strength - this will lead to the state weakening and losing its grip over people's everyday lives. This leaves space to increase grassroots non-hierarchical organisation in which people can actively participate to meet their own needs.

I don't disagree with this, but my own "take" is more negative.

What I want to see and would encourage is active resistance to the prevailing social order, such as the demonstrations against the arms fair in London recently or the mini-wildcat strike at Heathrow not long ago.

We know that when exercised on a sufficient scale, such actions do weaken the state apparatus and challenge the entire social paradigm, drawing millions of people into self-directed political activity.

Of course that little phrase "when exercised on a sufficient scale" is an awkward point...who can say when that will happen?

All I'm sure of is that it will happen long before any bourgeois parliament ever gives us anything more than "a load of bollocks".

I'm pretty sure "pigs will fly" before that happens.
First posted at Urban75 on September 23, 2003


redstar2000 you for instance say you don't know when the revolution will happen but have in the past said that parliamentary reform is worse the useless (unless I misunderstood what you said).

Parliamentary reform is one way towards a better society. So don't just say the idea is fucked.

Yes, I think it has been shown to be "worse than useless". It is "fucked".

You sound rather upset with me for saying that...but why should I pretend otherwise? If you had a computer problem, would you like it if I gave you a bunch of instructions that not only did not solve the problem but actually made it worse?

Personally, my estimate is that proletarian revolution is at least several decades in the future but certainly quite possible in this century.

If I am right about that, then "what is to be done"? Obviously, the first need is to build up an intransigent and uncompromising opposition to the totality of the capitalist system.

What we need to do is not just participate in movements opposed to globalization or the next imperialist war...but use those opportunities to advocate total opposition to capitalism, to show people why proletarian revolution is "the right thing to do".

If what we say to people "makes sense" over the coming decades, then our numbers will grow and our ideas will become a "public presence".

The greatest danger and one which many movements have self-destructed over is the idea that what we want can come "in steps" or "stages"...that we can get a little now and a little more later and a little more after that, and someday we'll get it all.

What actually happens to such groups is that, if they're lucky, they get a little now...and a little later they lose it. All of the "great reforms" are being dismantled in the advanced capitalist countries...the capitalist class has no choice but to do this in their unending struggle to avoid the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

If you look at recent labor struggles, what must strike any objective observer is their defensive character...the workers are not pressing forward with new demands but just trying rather ineffectively to hold on to the gains made by their parents and grandparents.

Thus it is self-defeating for leftists to concern themselves with parliamentary reforms for two basic reasons: 1. It is probably no longer even possible to secure significant reforms in advanced capitalist societies; and 2. Such a focus simply reinforces a "defensive" attitude on the part of the working class.

The attitude we want to encourage is total hatred for the ruling class and everything it does.

Bourgeois parliamentary maneuvers are just a distraction from our real job...proletarian revolution.
First posted at Che-Lives on October 3, 2003


Do you think a system like this is feasible?

It might be hypothetically "feasible", at least for a while. The general history of such projects in the advanced capitalist countries is for state-owned enterprises to be unprofitable...if they start to become profitable, the cry for privatization goes up at once. Bourgeois democracy being what it is, that cry is generally heard and responded to quickly.

But it's important to understand what the source of that profit actually is. It doesn't have anything directly to do with the usual bourgeois definition of profit (buy or make for less, sell for more).

When a state-owned enterprise hires workers to provide a good or service at a profit, it is extracting surplus value from those workers just like any capitalist enterprise.

The use of that surplus value is irrelevant...whether it is reinvested in additional fixed capital, used for bonuses to management, or diverted to "social projects" does not matter.

That's why communists, if they are consistent, are indifferent to such schemes as warm the hearts of many socialists...if the exploitation continues, then nothing has been gained.

Even if all the profits go back in some form to the workers (minus administrative "costs" of course), it is simply a device for taking money from some workers (those that produce the good or service) and giving it to other workers (those who purchase the good or service at a lower price than they would otherwise pay a private company).

The rearrangement of exploitation is not the point of communism.

That's the theoretical argument. The practical argument is that it is probably no longer possible to secure such changes in late capitalism. The trend appears to be one of "private enterprise" taking over nearly all functions of government, traditional and modern.

Thus efforts in this direction are apt to be "a waste of time and energy" even for those who think they are a "step" in the "right" direction.

Which won't stop some from trying, of course.
First posted at Che-Lives on October 9, 2003


I do agree that in our capitalist country private enterprise is taking over the gouvernment slowly, but the people are the basis of the gouvernment.

Well,, they're not, the "basis" of the government that is.

A common illusion of bourgeois democracy is that it "really is democratic". It's not.

To put it crudely, you would not be permitted to win the election and even if you were, you would not be permitted to "govern".

The difficulties of Mr. Chavez (who is not even a socialist, at least publicly) in Venezuela are a good illustration of what you would face.

The "genius" (if I may apply that word) of the modern bourgeois "democracy" is that it gives the appearance of popular sovereignty and the rule of law without ever for a second yielding a gram of substance. Not since the Asiatic despotisms of antiquity--when the ruler was "god"--has any ruling class pulled off such a brilliant display...and display is exactly the right word here.

It is all "smoke and mirrors", sham and deceit, lighting and makeup.

Lights! Cameras! Democracy!
First posted at Che-Lives on October 9, 2003

Basically, you echo the sentiments of early 19th century "utopian socialists".

The core of their appeal was that "socialism is the rational alternative".

They thought that all that was necessary was to "convince" people--particularly powerful wealthy people, particularly capitalists--that this was true and the ruling class would voluntarily take the necessary measures to bring it into existence.

All the "endless possibilities" that you list are "rational"...and the capitalist class is utterly indifferent to them--except for fake public relations campaigns.

They have a different definition of what is "rational"...that which is most profitable is "rational" in their eyes.

Thus you may appeal and appeal until your voice is but a croak...and it will do you absolutely no good whatsoever.

They can't hear on the wave-length that you're using.

As to the "power" of the electorate to select among competing bourgeois politicians, of course that exists. No one denies that. You have the same power to select among competing movie stars, competing pop musicians, competing televangelists, competing psychic hot lines, or any other competing commodities.

"Hey, it's all about choice."

Except, of course, for the fact that beneath the packaging, they are all the same.

Lots of folks have gone into bourgeois politics thinking "they would be different".

But they weren't. After a while--and usually not a very long while either--they were just as corrupt, just as unprincipled, and just as disgusting.

And in the end, just as murderous.

Do you imagine that I paint too bleak a picture?

Consider the Social Democratic parties of the 2nd International--the "heirs of Marx and Engels", as they liked to flatter themselves--standing up in their respective parliaments voting in favor of World War I.

Is that just some dim tale from the past? We have a "socialist" on this board who supported U.S. and British imperialism in Iraq. And still does!

I wonder if you'll find these ideas very convincing. People who have an "itch" for a seat in parliament or congress (or even on the town council of Shit Creek, Arkansas) are not particularly receptive to revolutionary ideas. That's just the way it goes.

But as we used to say back in the 60s, you can work "within" the system to "change" it or you can work outside the system to smash it.

And that's a real choice.
First posted at Che-Lives on October 10, 2003

Well, as I understand it, the Democrats are going to put up a GENERAL against Bush in 2004.

As you know, the last time a general ran for president, he easily defeated his opponent in two elections.

But as to "soul searching", you're asking in the wrong place. Only a small number of people here think the Democrats are any different from the Republicans--as Ralph Nader put it so well, "The difference between Bush and Gore is the speed with which their knees hit the floor when a corporate CEO enters the room".

More importantly, taking the charade of bourgeois elections seriously is a sign of political innocence. Real decisions in a bourgeois "democracy" are not made by elected personalities--like Arnold the Barbarian or George II--but are made behind "closed doors" by appointed officials who are "acceptable" to the ruling class. For example, Alan Greenspan (Federal Reserve Chairman) and his associates are far more powerful than the president and the congress put together.

They never "run for office". They are men of substance, not clowns performing for the cameras.
First posted at Che-Lives on October 11, 2003

What follows is from an article that will tell you something (perhaps more than you want to know) about San Francisco, the Green Party, various left sects, bourgeois electoral politics, ANSWER, and the Democratic Party.

"Why are the CP, CofC, ISO, and WWP not supporting a left victory in the SF mayoral election?" (Frontlines)

Why refer to a piece that argues against the "sectarian abstentionism" that I recommend with regard to bourgeois elections?

Because I think it is an extraordinarily revealing shows clearly what kind of a morass that you are apt to land in when you get involved in such rituals. You may console yourself with the fact that you have lots of company...but it doesn't stop you from sinking into the mire.

I'm not familiar with San Francisco's Left Party in detail--it was formed after I moved away from that city. But it is clearly a Trotskyist group...or at least inspired by Trotskyism. How do I know that? Because they used the phrase "transitional demands" in a positive sense...that's a phrase copyrighted by Trotskyism back in the 1930s.

So now that you know where these folks are coming from, let's examine their specific views...


The plot: in spite of the claims of all these organizations to represent the "left," they are either abstaining from which could constitute one of the fundamental struggles of the US left in the last period (ISO) or overtly and actively opposing the left represented by the candidacy of Matt Gonzalez (CP, CofC) or claiming "neutrality" in the race (WWP) while helping the Democrats under the table.

On what grounds is the race for mayor of San Francisco "one of the fundamental struggles of the U.S. left"?

Mayors in the U.S., as in most countries, have very little real power. Italy, for example, has had "communist" mayors for decades. They don't have the authority to make real changes in the cities they "govern"...though some cosmetic changes are possible. Most of all, they cannot challenge the dominance of major corporations over urban life...the state governments, the court system, and the federal government would block such a challenge before you could say "temporary restraining order".

So, if the Green Party guy does become the next mayor of San Francisco, he will be a "symbol", not a force or source of any kind of substantive change. Symbols are what bourgeois electoral politics are about.


But most importantly, Gonzalez is a broad leftist that is demonstrating the possibility of breaking with the Democratic Party - the jailhouse of social and political movements and the unions - as he runs a successful and popular campaign.

This is a common response to the morass...if we can only "break out" of the wretched two-party system, then electoral politics can become really "meaningful" and "useful".

But it is not a matter of parties. Even the Left Party has to admit that the Green guy is not any kind of a "socialist"...


Matt is no socialist or radical left winger. His views on economic development are limited to certain areas of public ownership - like public power - and fair taxation and he does not espouse the virtues of a planned economy.

He does not, as far as we know, raise issues such as tax devolution for working class neighborhoods or the establishment of elected district councils with real power over issues of planning, services and taxes.

Many of his close collaborators are moderate progressives or even liberal Democrats, mostly to his right.

He is, in short, a bourgeois liberal. Perhaps a really "good" one; perhaps more "progressive" than any other bourgeois liberal in the country; but still...a bourgeois liberal.

He is very much within the tradition of "communist" and "socialist" mayors...bourgeois liberals all.


My impression, however, is that Matt and his closest advisers are not deaf and committed to a traditional campaign framework and that what they don’t raise and the shortcomings that are visible are more due to lack of strategy and experience in movement building, than a desire to shut out people who are joining the movement every day.

Note the romanticist confusion (deliberate?) between a "movement" and an election campaign. A real movement is people getting organized to resist capitalist hegemony in some substantive fashion; an election campaign is symbolic and requires only that one vote and encourage others to do likewise.


But the central question in this debate is: does the Gonzalez campaign represent the mobilization of new social forces behind a politically independent progressive left movement?

How can a bourgeois liberal be "politically independent" of the bourgeoisie? That's an oxymoron.

And I can't imagine what the "new social forces" are supposed to be? San Francisco is just like any other major American city with the same classes present. It's more "progressive" than others but still well within the bourgeois paradigm.

And inspite of its reputation as a "free city", its police force is just as brutal and corrupt as one would find in Texas or Alabama or anyplace else. (I could tell you some stories...)

The criticisms of the other left groups that the Left Party makes appear to be well-founded. The Worker's World Party looks particularly bad with an underhanded endorsement of a Democratic Party moderate.

The International Socialist Organization doesn't come off too well either...first denouncing Ralph Nader and then turning around and supporting him.

But isn't all of this typical of the morass of bourgeois electoral politics? Look at the Left Party itself: from a desire to appear "relevant" and "not sectarian", it has painted itself into the corner of supporting and actively campaigning for a bourgeois liberal...and puffing this up into some kind of "crucial opportunity" for the "left".

Whether this Green guy actually wins or not, the Left Party loses. If the campaign is unsuccessful, their followers will feel as if they've worked their asses off for nothing. If the campaign is successful and the Green guy betrays their trust--as he will!--then their followers are going to be equally disappointed.

The "symbolic victory" of the "left" will turn out to mean nothing at all, as the ruling class strikes the set and prepares the scenery for the next spectacular show that is bourgeois electoral politics.

Theme up; roll credits.
First posted at Che-Lives on October 31, 2003


I don't think it's fair to say that the office of Mayor is a powerless position. A strong mayor can be very effective in pushing his agenda...In NYC, former Mayor Rudy Guiliani, who I was never a fan of, was very strong-willed mayor and was often able to get his way.

Well, of course! He had a bourgeois agenda, as does the current mayor of that unhappy city.

Had he even pretended to have a pro-working class agenda, he would have been as helpless as a baby...the ruling class media there would have eaten him alive.

From time to time, U.S. mayors are allowed a bit of posturing for the cameras...but the ruling class rules.
First posted at Che-Lives on October 31, 2003


Parties that are revolutionary can and do participate in elections without losing their principles. The Bolshevik Party for one.

If I wanted to be mean, I'd ask you name a second.

But really, the differences in the situation in Russia between 1905 and 1914 and the situation in advanced capitalist countries now are obviously enormous.

One could probably argue that the Bolsheviks participated in the Russian proto-parliament (it had little real power--being a ceremonial speakers' platform more than anything else) because they saw it as a step towards the bourgeois revolution that nearly everyone then anticipated.

The opportunity to "sell out" wasn't present because the Czar was not buying. When the war began in 1914, the parliament went into indefinite recess and no one even noticed.

That was a long time ago, and things are very different are the consequences of certain strategies.


No party that thinks electoral politics are a major priority, or an end in themselves, has ever led a revolution. But then, no party that rejected them on principle has ever led one either.

If you are speaking of Leninist parties here, that is a non least I've never heard of a Leninist party that didn't play at electoral politics at one time or another.

Indeed, there are no "parties" of any kind that don't "fool around" with that shit...that's what a party is for under capitalism.

Of course, the overwhelming majority of Leninist parties have never led a revolution of any kind...inspite of their claims of superior understanding and their "correct" grasp of the "usefulness" of bourgeois electoral politics.

The working class of Petrograd in February 1917 had no electoral party and no vanguard...and permanently smashed the old autocracy beyond redemption. Nor do I recall that Cuba's 26th of July Movement ever ran a single candidate for public office under the Batista regime...and they did pretty good.


Election campaigns are primarily a means of spreading their ideas as widely as possible, including the idea that real change comes not from somebody being elected and handing you your freedom, but from mass action. It can be a means of getting wider publicity for communist ideas than any other.

So you tell people "voting doesn't change anything" and you show them that you really "mean" that by...running for office and asking them to vote for you.

And I will "prove" to you that money has no appeal me to all by first asking you to give me all of your money!


If someone can't maintain their principles in the electoral arena, they won't be able to maintain 'em anywhere else, either.

This is a most curious statement...which may or may not be would we ever know? If some folks who rigorously boycott bourgeois electoral rituals do something else that's utterly unprincipled...well, they should be criticized just as harshly. Who did you have in mind?


Redstar's a good example of this, actually. Staying out of elections hasn't guaranteed him a revolutionary conception of the world.

Well, I don't know about "guarantees"...I have simply pointed out that taking bourgeois electoral politics seriously always lands you in the shit. It is a marvelously seductive spectacle, as the ISO learned to their dismay, but in the end you have achieved nothing.

What's "revolutionary" about that?
First posted at Che-Lives on November 2, 2003
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