A Response to Noam Chomsky and John Halle:
We Don’t Need “Lesser Evil Voting” OR “Third Party Voting”
We Need to Overthrow this Whole System at the Soonest Possible Time!
August 22, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Bob Avakian and Cornel West on: Is there value to voting? Can voting stop fascism?
From a reader:
Bob Avakian (BA) has written that, “In a world marked by profound class divisions and social inequality, to talk about ‘democracy’—without talking about the class nature of that democracy and which class it serves—is meaningless, and worse.”
Today, Noam Chomsky and John Halle are providing a powerful example of the “worse” BA spoke of. In “An Eight Point Brief For LEV (Lesser Evil Voting)“ published on June 15, Chomsky and Halle argue that the extreme dangers of Donald Trump obligate “the left” to go out and vote for Hillary Clinton.
The problem is not merely that Chomsky and Halle advocate support for someone (Hillary Clinton) who is neck-deep in the genocide of Black people and crimes against humanity stretching from Iraq to Libya and beyond. The deeper problem is they remain locked within—and are objectively fighting to keep others locked within—the dictates of a system that requires and thrives on genocidal oppression of Black people and crimes against humanity from one corner of the globe to the other.
Let’s examine how this is so.
First, Chomsky and Halle build their entire argument for “lesser evil voting” in opposition to the strategy of supporting third party candidates. But these are NOT our only choices.
In fact, these “choices” are just different expressions of the same fundamental error of accepting and remaining imprisoned within the capitalist dictatorship—and the choices offered to us by that dictatorship—with all the horrors this system inflicts on people worldwide. This includes the U.S.’s imperialist wars, genocidal mass incarceration, vicious brutality against women, destruction of the environment, and demonization of immigrants. You see, these crimes are not mere “policy problems.” They are deep fault lines of this society rooted in, and today inextricably woven into, the system of capitalism-imperialism as it has emerged in America. These crimes cannot be ended under this system.
As such, what is needed is neither “lesser evil voting” nor “third party voting” under this system—which, in effect, amounts to voting for the system.
What is needed is an actual revolution that overthrows this system and replaces it with a radically different system, the New Socialist Republic in North America. Only in this way can we put an end to the horrors this system generates, and will continue to generate, no matter who wins their elections.
Second, in making their argument for “lesser evil voting,” Chomsky and Halle insist that the dangers of Trump outweigh the dangers posed by Clinton.
But, the problem is far bigger than Trump. Trump and the extreme fascist rhetoric and program he is spewing grows out of this country’s deep white supremacy and jingoistic bigotry as well as the particular needs of a system of global exploitation and oppression as it confronts extreme challenges. This is why all the ruling class media and major politicians have consistently treated Trump as a “legitimate” candidate. Think, for example, of the hours and hours of “reasoned debate” that have been granted to his genocidal fantasies and barbaric misogyny.
What must be confronted is this: Any system that treats a Nazi like Trump as “legitimate” is itself completely IL-legitimate. Such a system needs to be overthrown, not voted for.
A key part of preparing for revolution is waging mass independent political resistance. This, in fact, is the ONLY way to beat back this system’s crimes and is an essential part of getting ready to bring this system down. The more that fierce political resistance is built—to this country’s wars for empire, its rampant misogyny, its demonization of immigrants, its genocide against Black people, and its destruction of the environment, and the more this resistance is linked to making an actual revolution, the better the situation will be no matter who becomes president.
In contrast, the more that people do as Chomsky and Halle advocate and find their place within the criminal choices being dictated by the criminal system that rules over us, the worse things will be. As Bob Avakian has pointed out in a recent audio, “Continually accepting the framework and ‘choices’ dictated—yes, DICTATED—by this system and its ruling forces and institutions, repeatedly rallying to or acquiescing in the lesser evil, only leads to greater and greater evil.” (transcription mine)
This has been true repeatedly, including under Obama. Far too many people rallied to Obama when he first ran for president, in large part because he did not seem as war-mongering or vicious as President Bush. What was the result? Obama has outdone Bush in terms of drone strikes, deportations, legalizing spying, assassinating U.S. citizens,1 torturing and imprisoning whistle-blowers, and much, much more. Meanwhile, people who had protested these things when Bush did them remained silent when Obama did them.
Or what about Hillary Clinton herself? As secretary of state, she was a major part not only of the crimes carried out under Obama, she was also a knowing and active part of Bill Clinton’s massive escalation of criminalization and incarceration of Black people, the demolition of welfare programs that millions of impoverished women and children depended on, the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, and the vicious sanctions that murdered half a million Iraqi children, and more. In her current campaign audition to be commander in chief, she’s pledging not only to continue Obama’s war crimes, but to escalate them in the Middle East.
Rallying behind Hillary Clinton, even if you do it in the name of “opposing the worse evil,” is giving your endorsement to all this. It makes you complicit in these crimes. And it strengthens the system that is the cause of these crimes.
Third, and most fundamentally, what underlies all of this is that Chomsky and Halle fall precisely into the error Bob Avakian warns against. They fail to recognize the class nature of U.S. democracy and which class it serves.
In the very first sentence of their brief, they write: “Among the elements of the weak form of democracy enshrined in the constitution, presidential elections continue to pose a dilemma for the left in that any form of participation or non participation appears to impose a significant cost on our capacity to develop a serious opposition to the corporate agenda served by establishment politicians.” (emphasis mine)
But, the problem is not that the “form of democracy enshrined in the constitution” of the U.S. is “weak.” Nor is it that some “corporate agenda” has corrupted “establishment politicians.” The problem is that “the form of democracy enshrined in the constitution” is one that—like the U.S. Constitution itself—reflects and serves the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie (the capitalist class). The capitalist class owns and controls the major means of production—the land, natural resources, energy, factories, transportation and communications systems, etc.—and they amass enormous wealth by viciously exploiting people here and around the world. And they enforce this exploitation through the capitalist state—through invasions, occupations, torture, coups d’état, drone strikes, extra-judicial assassinations, wanton murder by police, and more. Never has their state power—its armies and its police, its courts and its prisons—been used for any purpose other than to enforce the interests of the capitalist class, nor could it be.
Bob Avakian, "The 'voting trap' under capitalism"
From: Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About. A film of a talk by Bob Avakian, 2003
All this is what sets the terms for what this system does—NOT their elections.
In fact, one of the most powerful examples of how this is true can be found in the very experience Chomsky and Halle cite—but completely misinterpret.
Chomsky and Halle indict what they call an “ultra-left faction of the peace movement” for having “minimized the comparative dangers of the Nixon presidency during the 1968 elections. The result was six years of senseless death and destruction in Southeast Asia and also a predictable fracture of the left setting it up for its ultimate collapse during the backlash decades to follow.”
This is simply not true. It is deeply wrong to blame the antiwar movement—most especially those among it who had the good sense to break out of this system’s elections and put themselves on the line to wage meaningful resistance—for the murder carried out by the U.S. government!
The REAL lesson of the elections surrounding the Vietnam War is precisely the opposite of the conclusions drawn by Chomsky and Halle. To see how, let’s briefly examine the two elections that book-ended the U.S.’s major involvement in its war against Vietnam.
In the 1964 election, Lyndon Johnson promised to scale back U.S. involvement in Vietnam, while Goldwater advocated that U.S. field commanders in Vietnam should be authorized to launch nuclear weapons without presidential confirmation. Yet Johnson was elected and proceeded to escalate the war dramatically.
Then, in 1972, the war-mongering President Nixon was re-elected in a landslide over the antiwar Democrat George McGovern. Yet, just a few months later, Nixon began withdrawing U.S. troops and abandoning the war.
In neither of these cases did the elections play any role whatsoever in determining what the U.S. rulers did in Vietnam. Their choices were determined by the dictates and the needs of their system. For years, the rulers in both major ruling parties felt their interests lay in expanding their domination of Southeast Asia through genocidal military terror and death. As they suffered greater and greater military and political defeats at the hands of Vietnamese liberation fighters—and as increasing numbers of people revolted against them in their own “homeland”—the rulers came to feel their interests lay in withdrawing from that war. Again, NEVER did voting have a damn thing to do with it!
Finally, let us return to the sentence from Bob Avakian that I began with, and include with it the two sentences that follow it:
“In a world marked by profound class divisions and social inequality, to talk about ‘democracy’—without talking about the class nature of that democracy and which class it serves—is meaningless, and worse. So long as society is divided into classes, there can be no ‘democracy for all’: one class or another will rule, and it will uphold and promote that kind of democracy which serves its interests and goals. The question is: which class will rule and whether its rule, and its system of democracy, will serve the continuation, or the eventual abolition, of class divisions and the corresponding relations of exploitation, oppression and inequality.”
Bob Avakian gets it right and it is long past time that others dig into what he is saying and learn from it for real. Great harm is done by failing—or refusing—to recognize the class nature of the democracy that rules over us and which class it serves. As long as the bourgeoisie maintains its monopoly on political power and military might, it will enforce and enshrine a form of democracy that facilitates its ongoing dictatorship over—and exploitation and plunder of—people here and around the world. There is no way to change that by entering into their elections—not through “lesser evil voting” or through “third party voting.”
But this can be changed through an actual revolution. Get into this here.
1. See “The U.S. Assassination in Yemen: Unconstitutional… and Ominous,” revcom.us, October 9, 2011.
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