Misguided Election Strategies

I am not writing on how to win elections. I am writing on the role of elections within the larger purpose of making fundamental change. Among those with that purpose, I will consider three approaches to the political arena known as elections.

All three groups may agree more than they disagree. They all agree that the two major political parties operating in the United States are controlled by very wealthy owners and employers. They all agree that neither the “better” nor the “worse” candidate intends any fundamental change. They agree that fundamental change will never be on the ballot as long as the owners and employers control the election process.

  1. The first group abstains from elections, or they only participate when their own members are candidates. The Industrial Workers of the World were a good example. They believed that the bosses control the elections, the parties, and the candidates; consequently, the entire process was nothing but a diversion from the real struggles for change. Later variations on this approach make exceptions when their own members run for office because of the opportunities for proselytizing and organizing that elections afford. But even though they have limited participation in elections, they never believe that election outcomes make any difference.

As the election outcomes are a matter of indifference, these partial-abstainers tend to choose races and election opponents that represented ideas closest to their own. The followers of their opponents might be more likely to listen to, or even join, the “revolutionaries” in those races. While these “revolutionaries” may be very smug about their tactic, working families tend to see them as spoilers and wreckers, as in fact they are.

2) I think the second group in this discussion is the more dangerous of the two, because their “road to revolution” sounds easier. They see each election as an opportunity for gradual reforms that will eventually erode away the support of the wealthy bosses in charge. Such activists generally support the “better” candidate instead of the “worse” one, or the “better” party instead of the “worse” one. If that’s all there were to it, they would be relatively harmless. Their errors may not even be noticeable in general elections. But their actions in primary elections are a different matter.

Since they believe that the “better” political party – currently the Democrats – will eventually make revolutionary change, then the activists see their own role as finding and supporting the “more revolutionary” Democratic Party candidates in primary elections against the “less revolutionary” ones.

Excellent examples are active in elections today in the various groups that pursue the politics of Social Democrat Bernie Sanders. Like the “real revolutionaries” in the first group, they also choose to field candidates against those most like them. In those races, they are more likely of success. More importantly, every time they replace a “less revolutionary” candidate with a “more revolutionary” one, they believe they have moved the entire Democratic Party in the direction that they consider revolutionary.

The Bernie-ites take the Republican “Tea Party” movement as their example. Just as the “Tea Party” candidates defeated “less reactionary” primary candidates with “more reactionary” ones, and moved the Republican party in a reactionary direction, then one would think that a similar approach would make the Democratic Party more progressive and, eventually, revolutionary. The wealthy owners currently in charge will, apparently, not notice in time.

3) The third group does not participate in elections in order to manipulate the process. They support parties and candidates who will be of most benefit to working families, both in the long and in the short term. They do not tend to run primary challengers against the candidates most like them. In every race, primary or general, they choose the candidate most beneficial to working families. They do not disdain the electoral process, like the sectarians in the first group, nor do they commit to the “better” party against the “worse” one like the reformists in the second group. Their focus is on building the political power of working families in the election arena, just as they do in every other arena of political struggle.

Electoral politics is not nearly the only way that power is won and change is made. It may not even be the most important arena. It is certainly part, though, of the necessary process of building an effective coalition benefitting and led by working families. Such a coalition is the only possible remedy to wealthy owner control of our society.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on “Workers Beat” radio talk show on knon.org at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. On Wednesdays, they podcast the program and another “Workers Beat Extra” on Soundcloud.com. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

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