A Wobbly talk on Lesser-Evilism, the Democratic Party, and Harm Reductionism.
“The [worker] who supports either of these two parties forges his own fetters and is the unconscious author of his own misery.” – Eugene V. Debs
Here in the United States the presidential elections are starting to heat up again. Donald Trump and the Republicans will no doubt run another right-wing campaign based on xenophobia and sexism by targeting immigrants, Muslims, women, the LGBTQ+ community, and other oppressed national minorities, the vast majority of whom find their home within the working class. The Democratic Party and its nominee, whoever it may end up being, will undoubtedly tell the multinational workers here in the United States that if we all want to avoid four more years of Trump and conservative rule we will need to vote for them and their policies.
In this argument the Democrats will, as they usually do, begin to shame the more progressive and revolutionary-minded workers into voting for them, because if they do not vote for the Democratic ticket they will inevitably cause the re-election of Trump. This argument — promoted by the Democratic Party elites, revisionists, and social democrats like Bernie Sanders — is usually referred to as “lesser-evilism” and it needs to be examined in detail from a working class point of view.
Before discussing lesser-evilism, we must first understand class society and the bourgeois-democratic system within which we exist. Today we live in a dictatorship. Not the individual dictatorship of one person like Trump, but the dictatorship of capital and the capitalist class. Trump, and all other presidents, simply act as representatives for this capitalist dictatorship. The state and its apparatus are controlled and used both consciously and subconsciously by the capitalist class to reproduce and enforce its ideology upon the masses. However, this dictatorship has its illusions of relative “freedom.” The masses are allowed to choose which capitalist news they watch, which stores to buy from, and which of the two capitalist parties they want to support. The capitalist class even allows, to a very small extent, the existence of socialist, communist, and anarchist organizations within its bourgeois-democratic society.
The French communist philosopher Louis Althusser points out in his work On the Reproduction of Capitalism that these illusions of relative political freedom are granted to the working class and masses of people as a concession due to the very nature of the bourgeois-democratic system. When the emerging capitalist class began its struggle for liberation from the chains of feudalism it needed the aid of the peasantry (as in the American and French revolutions), and so the capitalists established “liberal” societies that allowed for the existence of politics as a way to protect their growing class interests and, by extent, opened the door for the masses, allies in the struggle against feudalism, to organize themselves as well. History however shows that the bourgeois-democratic system maintained by the capitalists will only allow this relative freedom to a certain degree. Once capitalists feel threatened by revolutionary and progressive forces the capitalist state begins the act of repression. This repression takes both ideological and physical forms. Examples from US history include the Palmer Raids, the Red Scares, COINTELPRO, anti-communist propaganda (i.e. movies, art, and government-sponsored film clips), and other actions taken to silence the growing workers’ movement, including the murder and assassination of progressive activists and organizers such as Joe Hill and Fred Hampton, to name only two of many.
To help quell the workers’ cries for political freedom and continue the illusion of a real democracy the capitalist class allows the existence of a “democratic” parliamentary-style system. This bourgeois-democracy enables workers to take part in some decision making by casting a vote between two capitalist parties: the Democrats and Republicans. One more liberal and the other more conservative. This “democracy” furthers the illusion that working class people have some real power in a capitalist country while also ensuring the dominance of capital.
For years the argument made by the revisionists and social democrats alike has been that the working class should vote for the more liberal Democratic Party since it represents a more pro-worker element of the capitalist class compared to the Republican Party. This is the basis on which the idea of lesser-evilism arises. This argument is only partly true. The Democratic Party, over the last twenty years, has in fact jumped onto the intersectional bandwagon that arose from postmodernism. Due to this, the Democrats more openly accept people of color, women, and LGBTQ+ peoples, and have even pushed for equal representation for these communities within the bourgeois-democratic system that currently exists.
Since the Democratic Party is a party of capital, it doesn’t have any real interest in truly ending the source of the oppression that these marginalized communities face, which is, in fact, the capitalist-imperialist system itself. Instead, the Democrats and the liberal-bourgeoisie want to become inclusive to these communities for the sole purpose of expanding and maintaining the dictatorship of capital. In short, the Democratic Party’s social policies are not bent on ending the oppression of marginalized communities, but instead act as a way for marginalized communities to participate in the oppression that capitalism-imperialism creates.
Once capitalists feel threatened by revolutionary and progressive forces the capitalist state begins the act of repression.
This point also introduces us to the idea of harm reductionism. Many of the proponents of lesser-evilism will say that voting for the Democratic Party is necessary so that we can have and create safe frameworks for marginalized communities to organize within. This point, often put into play by supporters of lesser-evilism, fails to take into account the shared imperialist nature of the Democratic and Republican parties since they both represent the interests of capital. Both parties support endless war in the Middle East, both parties support U.S. intervention in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, both parties support the occupation of Palestine by Israeli apartheid, and both parties, including the “progressives” like Bernie Sanders, support the toppling of the left-wing government in Venezuela. The Democrats may seem to care for marginalized communities here at home but it becomes more than obvious that the Democratic Party doesn’t care for these same marginalized communities in poor developing countries if those countries’ regimes stands in the way of expanding US capital. The idea that the Democratic Party is less harmful to marginalized communities is a false idea pushed by those who wish to hinder any real progressive change in the United States.
One final point espoused by supporters of lesser-evilism is the idea that the Democratic Party is better for workers’ rights. Certainly the Democrats shake hands with AFL-CIO bosses from time to time and call for a few rights here and there, but have the Democrats as a whole supported higher minimum wages, universal healthcare, or stronger unions? Was it not Democratic Party elites like the Clintons who in the 1990s voted for the Crime Bill and gutted welfare? Was it not the Democratic Party elites who helped push for the deregulation of banks with the repeal of Glass-Steagall? Was it not “progressive democratic socialists” in the Democratic Party like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who just voted to expand Trump’s military budget? Are these right-wing agendas really to be considered more pro-worker and better than those of the conservative Republicans? No, I think not.
So, if voting for the Democrats does no good for the multinational working class and lesser-evilism is nothing but harm reduction shelling for the liberal-bourgeoisie, where does that leave the oppressed in the United States? Thankfully, voting for our representatives of oppression in this bourgeois-democratic system is not the only option we in the multinational working class have. Being political is not limited to voting in a ballot box. We can organize our workplaces with revolutionary minded unions like the IWW. We can join mass organizations and use demand-based politics (i.e. protests, marches, demonstrations, and strikes) to win minor concessions from capital from time to time. We can fight to organize and weaponize our class until the day we are strong enough to end the current capitalist order of things and the oppression/exploitation it brings and give the masses of oppressed people true power over their lives and the world they have built. The Democratic Party is not a party of the working class but instead is a party of capital and, as such, should not rely on the working class for its support. History has proven that the working class cannot rely on it to aid us in the fight for socialism.