I’ve been reflecting more on the need to build a mass movement to defeat John McCain and stop the reactionary Republican agenda of racism and war. Mostly, I’ve been thinking about this in terms of the The Stop the War! Stop McCain! working group of Students for a Democratic Society, which is an important initiative from radical youth and students in that direction.
Hearing John McCain talk about 100 years of war in Iraq, watching him spit his racist and reactionary venom, reminds me of something Mao Zedong, the leader of the Chinese revolution, once said.
Now U.S. imperialism is quite powerful, but in reality it isn’t. It is very weak politically because it is divorced from the masses of the people and is disliked by everybody and by the American people too. In appearance it is very powerful but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of, it is a paper tiger. Outwardly a tiger, it is made of paper, unable to withstand the wind and the rain… When we say U.S. imperialism is a paper tiger, we are speaking in terms of strategy. Regarding it as a whole, we must despise it. But regarding each part, we must take it seriously. It has claws and fangs… Strategically, we must utterly despise U.S. imperialism. Tactically, we must take it seriously. In struggling against it, we must take each battle, each encounter, seriously. At present, the United States is powerful, but when looked at in a broader perspective, as a whole and from a long-term viewpoint, it has no popular support, its policies are disliked by the people, because it oppresses and exploits them. For this reason, the tiger is doomed. Therefore, it is nothing to be afraid of and can be despised. But today the United States still has strength, turning out more than 100 million tons of steel a year and hitting out everywhere. That is why we must continue to wage struggles against it, fight it with all our might and wrest one position after another from it. And that takes time… It seems that the countries of the Americas, Asia and Africa will have to go on quarrelling with the United States till the very end, till the paper tiger is destroyed by the wind and the rain.
I think we have a lot to learn from what Mao says here about the strategy and tactics of dealing with paper tigers.
Unfortunately there is very often on the Left an abstentionist view put forward, a view that the problem is systemic and the voting makes no difference. This view argues that we should put forward a principled opposition to electoral poltiics. I don’t agree.
Of course it is easy to unite with the view that elections are not enough, that elections alone will never get to the root of all of the problems we face. I agree with that. And of course these problems go deeper than McCain or Obama. Of course there are systemic issues here, having to do with the inner workings and contradictions of capitalism and imperialism. And of course we can’t elect anybody to solve those problems. Those problems have to be solved by socialist revolution. That’s fine.
But what does abstentionism accomplish towards dealing with these problems, systemic or otherwise? The answer is, nothing. As Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik revolution, said in “Left-Wing” Communism, an Infantile Disorder, “Parliamentarianism has become ‘historically obsolete’. That is true in the propaganda sense. However, everybody knows that this is still a far cry from overcoming it in practice.”
Of course McCain and Obama are both running for Commander and Chief of the Empire. And we saw both candidates circle the wagons around the ruling class when the bailout bill came up to deal with the growing financial crisis. We don’t need to have any illusions about that. But we need to recognize that there are some differences that matter to working people: women’s reproductive rights, immigrants rights (the DREAM ACT), the Employee Free Choice Act, and so on. And we need to recognize that the GOP, McCain and Palin, are whipping up a reactionary storm rarely seen. This isn’t about maintaining our radical purity. This isn’t about morally soiling ourselves. It is about dealing strategically and tactically with the conditions as they exist, and acting by any means neccessary to change those conditions and move forward.
As the recent Fight Back! editorial, The Economy, People’s Struggle and the Election, said:
The crisis has made it even clearer for all to see that both the Republicans and Democrats are parties of big business. Both parties’ leadership and presidential candidates supported the $700 billion bailout for bankers and billionaires. Having said that, the defeat of the Republicans would be a repudiation of their leadership on deregulating the economy into crisis at home and charging into war abroad. But only a massive people’s movement can force Democrats in power to win more reforms that benefit working people and at the same time show more and more people that Democrats are not for real change; only socialism can bring that about.
The masses are the makers of history, not the politicians in Washington. The masses are the wind and the rain that will batter down the paper tigers of the world. We need to build a campaign against the war that unites all who can be united. This would include millions of young liberal activists who are coming to political activity through Obama’s campaign for the first time. Right or wrong, they believe that voting for Obama is a step towards ending the war. Obama is not a radical. But progressives and radicals need to unite with people where they are at if we’re going to actually do anything. While we’re at it, we need to talk to these new activists about radical politics, share our revolutionary vision with them, and win them over to Marxism-Leninism. We need to apply the mass line in order to organize people for revolution around their felt needs and immediate demands.
We need to understand that the elections is seen by many as a referendum against racisim and national oppression, as a referendum against the war, and as a referendum against Reaganism in its myriad forms, economic, social, and political. We can’t afford to sit this one out.
So this is an issue of strategy and tactics. Returning to the quote from Chairman Mao, McCain should be despized strategically, but tactically we must take him, his party, and his bid for the presidency seriously. This isn’t Popular Frontism, where uniting with bourgeois-liberal parties and organizations is raised to the level of strategy. The Popular Front strategy had its place in certain struggles in history, but that is not what this is. This is not about uniting with the Democratic Party. This is about working with people who will vote for the Democratic Party, struggling with them and moving forward with them. Strategically, we need to build the United Front against Monopoly Capitalism. Tactically, engaging electoral politics from this angle is about building subjective forces, and must be understood in that way, and within the context of the overall strategy. So, going by what Mao says concerning the strategy and tactics of dealing with paper tigers, strategically, abstentionism seems very reasonable, but tactically it helps to disarm us. We need to use every tactic that we can. The Stop the War! Stop McCain! working group of Students for a Democratic Society is an important step in that direction.