Response to: “Are anarchism and sectarianism compatible?” and “Response to: ‘History Lessons'”, etc.

Greetings to the Houston Communist Party! Your struggle against CPUSA opportunism and bullying has been an inspiration to all of us on the Marxist-Leninist left. But a large element of CPUSA opportunism has been a slavish dependency on the Democratic Party in the electoral arena. To my mind, that is a colossal mistake and a betrayal of both the theory and practice of Marxism-Leninism.

Regarding recent comments critical of my History Lessons on the Houston CP website, I believe I was mistaken to write of “unrepentant Marxist-Leninists, Green Party hardliners, and assorted outliers”. That expression was a poor attempt at humor, a facetious comment that clearly failed in its intent. In fact, the opposition to the two-party program is much more substantial. Of course we all know of the depleted ranks of the Communist movement, a frustrating fact that Joseph Hancock and “worker” correctly remind us in their comments and a failing that we must assiduously work to correct. But the Green Party is a party of some weight. In my county alone, there are 1,700 voters registered Green, a politically-conscious decision on the part of voters who likely will enjoy few candidates to vote for in the November election thanks to anti-democratic election laws. Nevertheless, they refuse to take part in the two-party charade. As for “outliers”, less than 20% of registered Democrats in my county voted in the 2012 election. Surely that reflects a disaffection with the Democrats. How often have we heard on the street that voting is pointless? That’s not a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, but an experience that all of have of had, and had often. Both the growing Green Party strength (claiming a quarter of a million members and 151 elected officials) and the growing dissatisfaction of Democrats would seem to be an encouraging basis for joining hands in third-party and independent efforts.

It has been said before and it is repeated here that “Lenin argued against sectarianism and advocated that in order to bring about revolutionary change, revolutionaries must use all means of struggle available to us”. Of course Lenin would endorse this point, but how does the reference help us understand the 2016 election dialectically “in its concrete setting and development” (Lenin, The Junius Pamphlet)? Concretely, the decisive material conditions determining the election at this moment are campaign contributions. They are decidedly skewed against progressive gains. And there is NOT a remote chance that they will be trumped by anything short of a massive grass roots rebellion or insurgency against the Democratic leadership. How likely is that after six years of fealty to corporate Democrats? The development of the Democratic Party has been steadily, inexorably rightward for many decades. Since the Jesse Jackson insurgency (I differ with Black Agenda Reports‘s Bruce Dixon here), every hint of rebellion in the Democratic Party has been snuffed out.

These are harsh, but objective truths. And Lenin insisted on facing harsh, but objective truths as a basis for moving forward.

What would Lenin say about the 2016 elections? Perhaps we can gain an insight from reflecting on his advice to Austrian Communists written in 1920. Letter to the Austrian Communists is often mistakenly taken to be a universal call for participation in bourgeois-democratic parliaments. It is no such a thing. The Austrian Communists had delegates elected, but proposed to oppose their participation in favor of agitation in the Council of Workers’ Deputies. Lenin correctly challenged this as sectarian, but he urged the Austrians to participate only to agitate, educate, and disrupt. It’s a long quote, but one that deserves careful reading:

As long as we Communists are unable to take over state power and hold elections, with working people alone voting for their Soviets against the bourgeoisie; as long as the bourgeoisie exercise state power and call upon the different classes of the population to take part in the elections, we are in duty bound to take part in the elections with the purpose of conducting agitation among all working people, not only among proletarians. As long as the bourgeois parliament remains a means of duping the workers, and phrases about “democracy” are used to cover up financial swindling and every kind of bribery (the particularly “subtle” brand of bribery the bourgeoisie practise with regard to writers, N. P.s, lawyers, and others is nowhere to be seen on so wide a scale as in the bourgeois parliament), we Communists are in duty bound to be in this very institution (which is supposed to express the people’s will but actually covers up the deception of the people by the wealthy) to untiringly expose this deception, and expose each and every case of the Renners and Co.’s desertion to the capitalists, against the workers. It is in parliament that the relations between bourgeois parties and groups manifest themselves most frequently and reflect the relations between all the classes of bourgeois society. That is why it is in the bourgeois parliament, from within it, that we Communists must tell the people the truth about the relation between classes and parties, and the attitude of the landowners to the farm labourers, of the rich peasants to the poor peasants, of big capital to employees and petty proprietors, etc.

Agitation and exposure are distant from working intently for bourgeois candidates. This is not a formula for aloofness or detachment, but for attacking dysfunctional and anti-working class institutions. This doesn’t mean that we should never engage bourgeois politics or bourgeois politicians, only that we should monitor them, analyze them, and lend support when they promise to mark a qualitative change in the electoral struggle. I don’t see that in today’s Democratic Party. Arguably, we might see that in an independent run in the 2016 general election by Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Ralph Nader, or Jill Stein.

It is clear from the Houston CP website, that the Party is intent upon supporting Bernie Sanders. I cannot help but ask, if Sanders were serious, why he didn’t decide to run independently in the general election, a campaign that much of the left could embrace, especially if Hillary wins the Democratic primary? What is gained by running in the primary? If he’s not a stalking horse to keep progressives in line, why doesn’t he marshal his limited resources for a summer/fall campaign going into the general election where his views will stand in stark relief to the major party candidates?

Suppose, against all odds, Sanders wins the primary. Does anyone believe that the Democratic Party establishment would not subvert his campaign as they did with McGovern in 1972 when political opposition was far stronger?

We cannot build movements on false hope. It didn’t work in 2008. It won’t work in 2016.

I hope that if Sanders fails to win the Democratic Party primary, the Houston comrades will give some thought to third party candidates (like Jill Stein) in the 2016 general election and further heed Lenin’s admonitions on finding our own candidates willing to expose the hypocrisy of bourgeois democracy.

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