The REDSTAR2000 Papers

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

The DeLeonist Anachronism May 31, 2003 by RedStar2000

These are, I believe, the first posts I ever made to a message Yahoo, of all places.

The pre-World War I DeLeonist reformism actually does have, in words at least, the goal of socialism. It's only on closer inspection that its defects become apparant.


To the extent that there are serious revolutionaries in Argentina--something I have no way of knowing--they must have more important things to do than participate in a broadly discredited political process.

I believe I have run across at one time or another most, if not all of the arguments in favor of communist participation in capitalist elections... whatever force such arguments might once have had, they seem to me to be simply irrelevant in the present era. Even the capitalist press treats them (correctly) as entertainment.

I would not dream of telling Argentine revolutionaries what they should do; it would be insufferable arrogance on my part. But if they (or some of them) believe they will gain some kind of "credibility" with the working class by running candidates in capitalist elections, I think they are sadly mistaken. Not many folks want to hang out with people who sleep with pigs.

Finally, may I suggest that appeals to authority, even "revolutionary" authority, are not really the best way for communists to argue with each other. We are not theologians. All of the great historical figures of the communist movement said intelligent things (many of them still true); all of them also said stupid things (many of those things even more stupid now). A political position ought to rest on evidence for its validity; not simply because it echos some famous figure of the past.
First posted at SovietDemocracy on September 24, 2002

Did I really say that I had run across "most or all of the arguments in favor of communist participation in capitalist elections"?

Here is one I have never heard before; that participation in capitalist elections will win support for communists from rank-and-file soldiers.

Ok, let's try that one out. As far as I know, Argentina does not have military conscription (a draft). That means people volunteer for military service for the same two reasons they do so in the U.S.: to escape poverty and/or because killing people is a fun way to make a living. The very mindset of someone who is a professional soldier is a great deal closer to fascism than to communism.

There have been certain circumstances when soldiers have become radicalized: an army of draftees plus a lost war will generally do it. I have never heard of, read about, etc. a volunteer soldier ever express anything but total contempt for civilian politicians of any hue.

If there are radical soldiers in the Argentine armed forces (how would any of us know that?), they undoubtedly are already warning their fellow soldiers of the dangers of being used to prop up a disintegrating social order. I can't imagine the participation of Argentine communists in capitalist elections plays any part in their discussions about what to do in the event of a military coup.

If you want rank-and-file soldiers not to allow themselves to be used in a military coup...why not ask them? Why not speak directly to them? Why not call for them to turn their rifles on their officers?

Finally, was it really useful to suggest that I should be out shooting cops? Must we make a choice between some half-assed act of impotent resistance and wallowing in the muck of capitalist elections? At the very least, restricting ourselves to such dismal options would show a marked lack of imagination.
First posted at SovietDemocracy on September 25, 2002

You make the classical argument for communist participation in capitalist elections--as a tool to "educate" the workers. Unfortunately I think history would show that it "educates" them all too the point of regarding communist politicians as the same kind of rats and parasites as all other politicians, and worse, to the point of regarding all political activity as futile and pointless (unless you want to be a rat/parasite).

Everything that we might want to say to workers in the course of an election campaign could be said without running candidates. In fact I rather like the slogan "he who punches the clock does not vote for the boss". Again, I think history would show that a serious candidate for public office who has not already reached some private if not public accomodation with the bosses is simply impossible. In your country, "Lula" is a perfect example of this. (Nice suit, though!)

Seriously, the actual rate of participation ("voting") in, I think, all countries is more or less steadily declining. Not only workers but even many middle class people have already concluded that capitalist elections offer no meaningful choices, and that the candidates are already in the pockets of what in the U.S. are called "special interests" (a polite way of saying rich bastards). In that sense, I think the capitalist electoral process can be fairly described as "broadly discredited".

With regard to DeLeon, I don't think there should be any "nonpersons" in the history of the revolutionary movement. All of them made positive contributions to the struggles of their era(s)...that's why we've even heard of them in the first place. But I think it's probably a mistake to personally identify with any of them too strongly, where you get backed into a corner defending something that even you find a little awkward or worse. We owe all of them our respect; we owe none of them our obedience.
First posted at SovietDemocracy on September 25, 2002

I don't think I'm going to convince you on this one but perhaps I will make sense to other readers. I should try, anyway.

First of all, I dispute that you were "more effective" as a candidate for public office than if you had just walked up to people and told them what you had to say; or just told the people in your workplace or in your neighborhood about your ideas. I think you are operating under the impression that a political campaign is somehow the only "legitimate" time and place to talk impression that the bosses do much to cultivate. Indeed, "politics as ritual" would be one good way to characterize capitalist elections. Everyone knows that they are not about anything real...a t-shirt for your vote is probably not a bad idea if you are shirtless! You're sure as hell not going to get anything else!

Secondly, it is absurd to think that because we would never be allowed to win 51% of the vote, therefore we can't win or we can only win through violence. History has a fair number of examples of regimes that fell because of massive and on-going public protests that were, by and large, non-violent. Even if that were not the case, there are other options...some perhaps that we have not yet been smart enough to think of. (!)

Thirdly, if non-violence is crucial to you from an ethical standpoint, I have no quarrel with that; it's up to you. But do not delude yourself with the notion that you have therefore removed yourself and your loved ones from danger because you promise not to shoot at cops. You may be in slightly less danger but the bosses have not been known for making fine distinctions when they think the time has come to go on a killing spree (tip: turn down wedding invitations in Afghanistan). Come to think of it, it was really not all that long ago when Brazil was infamous for the torture and murder of all kinds of lefties and even a few priests. There's no safe place under capitalism, not for any of us.

Forthly, I can certainly understand why DeLeon held the views that he had... at the time. Before World War I, the outstanding marxist party in the world was the German Social Democratic Party. Every election that was held, the SDP's vote and membership in the Reichstag grew...inspite of the fact that the electoral system itself was heavily warped to reduce working class representation. DeLeon wanted to do in the U.S. what the SDP was doing in Germany; it looked like a good idea at the time.

It doesn't look like a good idea now; it looks to me like a very bad idea for all the reasons I've set forth above and in prior postings.

Finally, a couple of small points about co-ops: (1) historically, they either go capitalist or they go bust; (2) I can't help but wonder if it's really our "job" (for want of a better word) to "help" workers "improve" their lives under capitalism. To be a communist, is it enough just to be a better social services worker than the people who get paid for that sort of thing? It's that old "reform vs. revolution" question--a can of worms if there ever was one--but one which it may be time to consider reopening.
First posted at SovietDemocracy on September 25, 2002


Those who cast the votes decide nothing; those who count the votes decide everything. -- J.V. Stalin

I found this little quote by accident on another site; even Joe could sometimes get it right.

I want to try and probe a little deeper into this question. You make the point that the people in your workplace showed you more respect when they learned of your candidacy for public office (or perhaps heard your soundbite on radio).

My question is: what is the meaning of respect in this context? For example, someone you work with in an ordinary job; you see them every day; you talk about the things people talk about every day; one day s/he comes to work and tells you they've just been approached by a record company to negotiate a contract to make a cd. Wow! Wouldn't you be impressed? Or a publisher has expressed interest in their novel; or something else has happened that somehow "raises" them above ordinary people (gives them enhanced status, as the sociologists would say). At the least, respect is fairly complicated and it kind of matters just what you are being respected for.

Even deeper, just why is it that we communists want workers to respect us, follow us or (at least) vote for us? Is it our burning ambition to be a city councilman in Minneapolis, mayor of Kansas City, governor of South Dakota, or even President of the United States? If we occupied every public office in every country, the working class would still only have as much power as we chose to give them...and we could take it back for ourselves whenever we wished. Is that what we want???

Let me offset that quote from uncle Joe above with another that's just as valid; Gene Debs was once supposed to have said something like this: "I wouldn't lead you into the promised land [socialism] even if I could, because if I could lead you in, some other sonofabitch could lead you right back out again!"

Here is a telling example: the pre-World War I German Social Democratic Party (that influenced DeLeon and so many, many others) was the "flagship station" of the 2nd International. Not only did they amass enormous electoral strength, they had a whole social network built up. They had socialist doctors, dentists, lawyers, schools, hospitals, co-ops out the behind, marching bands, chess clubs, and, I suspect, even undertakers. It really did appear to be a new social order growing up within the old capitalist order (I think even Engels was impressed by this).

And in 1914, it all passed away as silently as the mist on a summer morning. The German working class, inspite of all that Social Democracy had done to "educate", "influence", "earn respect from", etc.--the German working class plunged into an orgy of barbaric slaughter in the name of their fatherland. It was not simply a matter of bad leadership (Lenin was wrong about that); somehow the German Social Democracy had forgotten, in all its busyness and all its apparent success, to explain to the German working class what socialism was really about and what its implications really were. Somehow, at the very core of German Social Democracy, there was a serious misunderstanding of the whole communist project.

It seems to me that there are a number of ways we communists can earn
respect from people (not to mention the different kinds of respect). We can be better reformists than the other reformists; we can deliver modest improvements to the working class better than others can; we can be better patriots than others can (cf. French Resistance to German occupation); we can build better communities than others can (German Social Democracy); we can build better, stronger anti-war movements than the pacifists can; we're better union organizers than anybody else; and so on, and so on, and so on.

We're good, really good at all that stuff. What we seem to be really bad at is explaining to people what it means to be a communist, what communism is really about (clue: it's not about people in public office who call themselves communist).

Years ago, I knew a fellow who said: "if the workers don't run things, it ain't communism!" If you think about all the implications of that statement, I think you might agree with me that he was on to something.
First posted at SovietDemocracy on September 26, 2002

The quotes (from DeLeon?) were, I thought, very revealing...of the strength of my position.

Re: "the peaceful submission to the counting of ballots" fits perfectly with the quote from Stalin--"those who count the ballots decide everything" or, one could spend some time in Florida to see how the bastards can't refrain from stealing elections from each other (much less us).

Re: "the Genius of the Age"--what a beautiful example of pre-World War I rhetoric. It sounds almost Victorian in its mystical faith in "civilization"...a capitalist social order which even as those beautiful words were being written was preparing the first of the incredible mass slaughters of the bloody 20th century. I don't blame DeLeon for believing that sort of nonsense; he was a product of his time. Haven't we learned better by now?

As to being "clad in the vestments of civilized conflict", um, I think that particular ideological emperor is, well, naked. That is, I think history has shown that whenever the working class is thought to pose a serious threat to capitalist state power, all that bullshit about "human rights", "due process", "rights of the accused", "counting of ballots", "peaceful conflict resolution"...all of it goes into the toilet and what pops up was called fascism in Italy, Nazism in Germany, and, no doubt will be called something like "Homeland Security" in America. Wait a minute! We already have that!
First posted at SovietDemocracy on September 27, 2002
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