For the record this article is not an attempt by me to sketch out an all encompassing view on the uses of electoralism in the revolutionary process, as I think that such a view needs to be based upon thorough analysis of long ranging historical processes, something for which I do not have the time nor the willpower at the moment. Nevertheless this article will probably be interpreted in this way anyhow, and will (hopefully) lead to a range of good discussions on the subject of the use of elections by revolutionaries. My intention therefore is to elaborate on some thoughts I have on the subject of elections and provide a useful contribution to the discussion of elections within the radical left.
The first point I would like to make is in regards to a statement that has become very popular in recent times on the limit of direct action and more specifically general strikes, and how apparently this would demonstrate how there is a strong need for election participation by revolutionaries. The statement goes something along the lines of: Greece has had X amount of general strikes and austerity is still continuing. Now besides vastly underestimating the amount of struggle that will be needed to actually defeat austerity, and grossly simplifying necessary tactics in regards to resisting austerity. It ignores the fact that all these general strikes are the usual symbolic 24 to 48 hour strikes that have been used by the unions within social democracy for decades and that have little to do with the indefinite general strikes of earlier times (which have been made illegal in many countries in the meantime) that have yielded the working class many of its concessions. Equating the use of these symbolic general strikes, which are in reality more of a show of power comparable to a demonstration on steroids, to the earlier indefinite general strikes and based on that the out of hand rejection and/or the belittling of direct action is highly reductionist and serves only to limit the potential adoption of potent tactics in the current struggle against austerity.
Secondly, despite most portions of the radical left being very critical of social democracy, the success of any electoral programme by these same groups is in general mostly based around the adoption of social democratic programmes. This is a phenomenon that can be very interestingly observed in a whole range of communist, trotskyist and whatever-ist parties, that when participating in elections they either act as surrogate (radical) social democrats or use their organizational infrastructure in support of social democrats. In both instances basically just adopting social democratic rhetoric and programmes during their participation within the elections while still internally holding onto their more radical ideology, creating a weird sort of friction between those two identities. And even though it is not possible to wholly reduce radical leftist participation within elections to equating it with social democracy, there is a strong core of truth to the argument that electoral participation by revolutionaries necessarily forces them to temporarily adopt social democracy. Which off course raises the question of why according to these groups the most useful thing revolutionaries can do at this moment is act like surrogate social democrats, and what kind of mentality produces this plan of action.
Third and last point I want to make is the one of realism. While many on the electoral left have called for the heavy limitation and curtailing of energy put into already limited street politics (see for example my point on symbolic general strikes) and into the electoral arena, for reasons of realism. Namely that these street politics are supposed to be ineffective (often based on some dodgy reasoning), while in turn strongly overestimating the effectiveness of electoralism. For example as of now, even though the left has been able to achieve unseen election results, they haven’t been able to stop austerity measures at all. And this will most likely continue into the future. As for example even the often hailed success story of SYRIZA probably wouldn’t have been able to even form a coalition government even if it had been able to get the fifty extra seats you get when you become the biggest party in Greece, as it would require a coalition with the KKE and DIMAR (alliance with the KKE being very unlikely and with DIMAR now in the government imposing austerity measures on the Greek population). Not to even mention the basically social democratic/keynesian character of SYRIZA (remembering my earlier point on leftist election gains and social democracy) and last but not least the slim possibility of SYRIZA installing a “more humane” form of austerity under the pressure of European insitutions. In short an accurate analysis of the electoral situation in many countries quite quickly leads to the conclusion that electoralism cannot play the role that many of the radical left hope it will play, yet these kinds of remarks are generally just met by overly enthusiastic cries that it is then necessary to simply start to trying and working even harder, and direct even more attention away from the supposedly “ineffective” street tactics. Thereby revealing one of the double standards held within the electoral left that bases it’s choice of electoral tactics not necessarily upon a thorough analysis of the conditions they are in but more likely upon a desire to feel relevant within the framework of bourgeoisie politics that states that politics are solely limited to the parliamentary arena, significant sections of the radical left at least partly following this logic in their desperate and often unsuccessful attempts of participation in projects that have some parliamentary relevance.
So that concludes my intellectual wanderings into the field of electoral politics, may this article bring alot of the usual knee-jerking comments and claims of incorrectness that are usually associated with the discussions on this subject.