Leftist Views About the Importance of
Defeating Bush in the 2004 Election

      [Below is a query from Scott H.’s friend Kirby to him about his voting intentions in the 2004 presidential election, and Scott’s reply. Scott also talks about how serious the threat of complete fascism is in the U.S.]

Kirby’s Query to Scott on Leftist Views about Defeating Bush

[October 9, 2004]

Scott...are you still going to vote third party, or for Bush as per your plan to bring capitalism down more quickly? It is pretty clear from this (if it wasn’t before) that 4 more years of Bush will be worse than even the first 4. After all, his attitudes and practices (and resultant consequences) have been picking up momentum as people around the world realize exactly what this guy is about. Florida will go for Bush, but the margin will be large enough that people will say “Oh, it can’t be fraud...it’s not even close.” But of course it will be. And only a few people will wonder how Kerry could have been ahead in Florida polls and still lose the state.

Scott’s Response to Kirby’s Query Above

[October 11, 2004]

Hi Kirby and everybody,

I never said I would vote for Bush! And I don’t think voting for Bush or any other candidate this time around will much serve to hasten the downfall of capitalism! Even if some revolutionary like Bob Avakian were on the ticket it would make little difference whether a tiny number of people voted for him or not. In short, the election itself is of virtually no importance from a revolutionary perspective. But changing the attitude of at least some people about such phony pseudo-democratic elections is of some importance.

When I send around an article like the one about European attitudes becoming more hostile to the U.S. I do not mean to be attacking just Bush and the Republicans, but U.S. imperialism generally. It is in my view the nature of the beast that it should lead to resistance from those it attacks, and to resentment and hostility even from those others who watch these imperialist assaults on the rest of the world but who are not directly attacked themselves.

Yes, Bush’s bunch are a bit more stupid in the way they go about doing this, and thus alienate more people than a more sophisticated defense of U.S. “interests” (i.e., the interests of the U.S. ruling class) would. But Democrats or Republicans, they both represent the same class and they both do more or less the same things. The Vietnam War, for example, was started by Kennedy and Johnson. Clinton carried out a low-intensity war (economic blockade with periodic bombings) against Iraq all through the 1990s, which itself led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. And Kerry voted for the measures to give Bush the authority to attack Afghanistan and Iraq (as well as for the Patriot Act), wants to continue the U.S. domination of those countries, and even wants to send more troops to Iraq.

Rather than simply repeat all the reasons I gave before for not supporting Kerry, let me do something slightly different. I’ll present the conflicting views within the revolutionary left about this election.

A lot of revolutionary-minded people themselves have gotten caught up in the “great importance” of defeating Bush. For example, one of the two political groups calling themselves the “Freedom Road Socialist Organization”, has a “Dump Bush!” leaflet posted on their web site (www.frso.org). I guess the argument goes something like this: Yes, Kerry and the Democrats also represent the ruling capitalist class. But the current administration has done lots of horribly bad stuff, including launching not only imperialist wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, but also at home with the Patriot Act and so forth. So, even though it is true that there is no real difference between Bush and Kerry or between the two parties, it is still important to join up with the liberal sentiment against Bush as part of building a people’s movement against the war and imperialism.

In other words, this FRSO (pronounced “Frizzo”) group seems to view defeating Bush as a step toward a more general public opposition to the U.S. imperialists. They also seem to think that it is possible to “pressure” the Democrats to take a “less” imperialist stance. As they say in their leaflet:

“The U.S. electoral system gives the people limited choices. It is a given that the Democratic Party—the other party of the rich—typically does the bidding of whoever gives them the most money. It is a political party of the corporate elite. In the final analysis, all the important political issues are decided by struggle, a strong antiwar movement will force the Democrats to take a stronger stand. No one elected in the next presidential elections is going to bring the American people, or any one else for that matter, peace and prosperity. Over the long run, we need independent political action that is hostile to the parties of the rich.

“Nonetheless, the defeat of Bush would represent a rejection of the entire direction that this country is heading, and will create new and favorable conditions for the people’s movements to advance their agendas.”

The trouble is, the defeat of Bush—if it happens—will not lead to this result. Yes, there is a small element of truth to their position, but it is essentially wrong. Yes, the defeat of Bush might very slightly and quite temporarily help slow down the U.S. imperialist onslaught in the Middle East. But it will not stop it nor change the essential fact that it will continue. In fact, to a degree, it will—just as much as Bush’s reelection—put the U.S. public “on record” as supporting this continuing campaign (though in a bit more cautious and “smarter” way, perhaps). Defeating Bush will merely help promote a temporary breather for the imperialists, as they consolidate their current conquests and prepare for the next round of invasions and attacks. And, at home, defeating Bush will be viewed by many (probably including yourself) as a reason to back off from political activity and discussion for a while again. I.e., while defeating Bush will take the mass pressure off of him, it will also tend to take the mass pressure off of Bush’s policies, which will mostly continue—and with less public objection and outrage—under Kerry.

The bottom line is that all bourgeois elections merely give you the choice between two slight variations on the same program, which is invariably a program that the ruling class views as important to its own interests. The variations never concern what is right and wrong, or what is in the people’s interests vs. what is opposed to those interests. Instead, the differences between the two alternatives always reflect the differences within the ruling class as to how best to promote their own interests. Thus there is almost never a good reason for anyone who is really concerned to promote the people’s interests to take sides in this internal dispute within the ruling class and the candidates of its various factions.

There have been a very few historical examples where the internal disputes within the ruling class become so extreme that other classes had a real and genuine interest in helping one side win. The best example was the situation in Germany in the early 1930s where the Nazis won out partly because the Communists were too stupid to form a united front against them with the SPD (the nominal “socialists” who were actually a liberal bourgeois party). The CPD and the Communist International recognized this error a few years later and then went overboard in forming such “popular fronts” around the world even where they were useless or inappropriate. But it would in fact have been correct to form a temporary united front against the Nazis in Germany, and the Communists were quite foolish not to do so.

One of the lingering effects of this error, even today among many Marxists and revolutionaries, is still to promote such “popular front” thinking, or variations on it, such as arguing for the great importance of “defeating Bush”. But in order to take a position like this within the revolutionary milieu you have to enormously exaggerate the actual differences between Bush and Kerry, and enormously overestimate the positive results that might come from defeating Bush. One thing we see on the left, for example, is the common claim that Bush is a fascist “like the Nazis”. If this were true, then presumably a united front against Bush and his party would be just as appropriate as it would have been against the Nazis in the early 1930s. Of course there are in fact secondary fascist aspects to contemporary American society; no bourgeois democratic society is entirely pure and without some fascist elements. (For example, the hundreds of thousands of people in prison for possession of illegal drugs for their own use is one major illustration of fascist elements in this society. Another more political example is the de facto partial overthrow of the right of peaceful assembly and protest.) And the passage of the Patriot Act did in fact institute some new fascist laws. But despite these creeping fascist measures (which Kerry and the Democrats mostly support as well), this country remains a bourgeois democracy in the main. And there is no plausible evidence to suggest that Bush and the Republicans will qualitatively transform this society in anything like the way the Nazis did in the 1930s.

In the same way, there has been a lot of speculation on the left that the 2004 election itself might even be canceled! Fears like this show that there is a lot of paranoia on the left. Not that there isn’t some justification for this; people are being watched by the government, private communications are routinely monitored, people are sometimes hounded and unjustifiably arrested (for participating in peaceful demonstrations for example), and so forth. But, again, while it is true that democratic rights are under gradually intensified assault in this country, it still remains essentially a bourgeois demoncracy and not a fascist state.

There is a good reason why the ruling class leaders will not cancel the election: they don’t need to! Their program, in its basic essentials, is going to win regardless of whether Bush or Kerry wins the presidency. And, more generally, there is a good reason why bourgeois democracy will more or less continue in this country, at least for the near future: because the ruling class still benefits from its existence and doesn’t yet need to switch over to full fascism. Yes, they are tightening up their control. Yes, there are some areas where they have felt the “necessity” of instituting fascist measures. Probably there will be more such things in the future. (The Internet, for example, is way too open at present for them to feel totally comfortable.) But some small steps in the direction of fascism—even a steady series of such small steps in that direction—are not the same as a qualitative shift from bourgeois democracy to fascism.

Even revolutionaries who normally reject participation in bourgeois elections will sometimes participate obliquely. Thus during the Watergate crisis the Revolutionary Union (main predecessor to the RCP) had a mass campaign under the slogan “Throw the Bum Out!” They (we!) of course knew that whoever replaced Nixon would also be a representative of the ruling capitalist class. But they felt, correctly it still seems to me, that this campaign and the ousting of Nixon could help to discredit bourgeois politics and bourgeois rule in general.

A major task of revolutionaries during bourgeois election campaigns is to expose what a sham these elections are, and how both parties represent the same ruling capitalist class. Thus completely ignoring bourgeois elections is not correct either (though it is not as bad as throwing your support behind one of the bourgeois candidates).

I find that your fear that the vote in Florida will be stolen by the Republicans mildly amusing. The whole election is being manipulated and stolen by the bourgeoisie, and this happens every single time! I’m not saying it isn’t worthwhile to expose the more overt cheating that goes on, such as with the disenfranchisement of many Black voters in Florida last time around. But it is far more important to get people to start to understand how crooked the whole electoral scheme is—even if the present rules and norms are scrupulously adhered to.

To start with, both the Democratic and Republican parties are totally controlled by the ruling class. Through their wealth and political machines they determine all the major (“serious”) candidates. Through their near total control of the media they are the primary determinant of who wins the primaries, and usually also determine which of the two wins the final election. When the ruling class itself (and to a lesser extent their media) is divided, then there might be a “horse race” between the two final choices. But either way, the ruling class wins. This, to sum it up in a phrase, is the electoral racket that the ruling class always runs. Compared to this, the occasional buying of an election (as Kennedy’s father did for him), or the winning of an election through fradulent vote counting and biased court decisions (like last time) are just additional, mostly irrelevant fraud on top of the more fundamental fraud.

This bourgeois election fraud is different from most con games; usually the con artist has to work on a new mark after cheating a person. But in politics people can be cheated over and over again, until they finally come to understand that the whole bourgeois political game is a con.


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