The Arcane World of Capitalist Electoral Politics in the U.S.

For those who may have had some optimism in regard to the election victories of Kshama Sawant of Socialist Alternative[1] in Seattle and Adam Ritscher of Socialist Action[2] in Douglas County, Wisconsin, have the answer to their optimism in a spate of legislation restricting voting in 19 states, and a recent Supreme Court decision that did away with all limits on amounts that can be contributed by individuals to election campaigns. This Supreme Court ruling was in line with the Citizen's United decision of 2010 that reaffirmed that a corporation has the same rights to free speech as an individual. The capitalist class functions as an organic whole that produces its own anti-bodies, evolving mechanisms to assure the ideological dominance of their class. Present capitalism cannot be conquered with nineteenth century means, nor will it provide a platform for revolutionists to conduct propaganda in denouncing the capitalist system. It is a system that must be overthrown.

Making sure that their election rituals stick to their script has been a historically accomplished task for the bourgeoisie. Gerrymandered voting districts, eternally increasing ballot access requirements, enforced media blackouts, legal challenges and outright political repression are all a part of the arsenal a republic uses to control the results of an election.

From their inception in the 19th Century, ballot access laws developed into a web of laws often written with the express purpose of keeping specific political parties off ballots. Repressive laws often follow on the heels of periods of class struggle. The goalposts constantly move and shift to suit the needs of the bourgeoisie. Even if lasting reforms could be won in favor of the working class, they would still function to extend the life of the system aiding capitalism in its further evolution as a system. Alabama today requires 41,000 signatures just to get on a state ballot, that is to say one would have to collect more signatures than they would need votes to get elected to the most positions in state government.

For any but the smallest local political offices one would have to get an enormous number of valid signatures just to get listed on the ballot. Most of these signatures will get thrown out by the local election authorities, or failing that, legally challenged until the election is over and done. Even if one were to get on the ballot, as a freak deviation from the standard political script, then that candidate would most certainly be completely shunned in the vast majority of all media outlets. The ruling parties choose the voting districts, they control ballot access and they appoint the courts.

The average amounts spent winning elections have increased constantly for decades. For a U.S. Senator the average amount needed to run is $2,794,057. For the House of Representatives this figure stands at $623,105. These are just the averages from the last congressional elections according to the Federal Electoral Commission reports.[3] The numbers aren't reflective of the amounts actually needed to win the election, rather they indicate solely the amount needed just to run with the big dogs.

For the US Congress the rates of re-election of Congress are the envy of the bourgeois world. For US Senators the rate of re-election is 91%, for the House of Representatives it stands at 90% as of 2012. Even nations ruled by one political party would have a hard time beating this for an incumbent re-election rate.[4]

There is as well the pseudo-Leninist argument that you can use the elections and political office of the bourgeoisie as a platform for disseminating propaganda and denouncing the capitalist parliamentary system itself. So, while running for city council we should be advocating for the overthrow of the capitalist system and the government with it and asking people to vote. Reaching the masses by standing up at a city council meeting to denounce the regime one serves in? Using the bourgeois parliament as a revolutionary platform may sound like a sensible theory but it isn't connected to reality. It is a tactic without a basis of success in practice, apart from the Bolshevik experience. Those times are not ours. Our circumstances do not correspond to those of the Bolsheviks in Czarist Russia.

Often reformist third-party candidates of the left are physically removed or even arrested for even trying to enter into a presidential debate. Green Party candidates are consistently barred from any participation in debates, escorted away as Ralph Nader was, or handcuffed and hauled off as the last Green Party presidential candidate, Jill Stein was when she attempted to join in a Presidential election “debate” in 2012. Even the most mainline liberal-reformist political organization doesn't stand a chance. The presidential “debates” are controlled by a Presidential Debate Commission, appointed by the Democratic and Republican Parties that see to it that their sham elections go according to script. Participation in this rotten electoral institution lends legitimacy and ideological support to this political machinery of capitalism.

Voter participation skews upwards by income, as US Census data shows. That is to say the people most likely to be registered voters that actually vote tend to be those who earn over $150,000 per year.[5] Of course the bourgeois citizens be the ones more likely to vote than everyone else — it’s their system.

As with all things capitalist the most rights go to those who can mobilize the most capital on their behalf. Thus it is with “freedom of speech” during an election. Candidates are sold to a passive population by the same people who come up with ad campaigns for consumer products. The same people who advertise beer and cosmetics advertise our candidates.

Even the status and category of a 'third party' is a false construction. When a Green reformist refuses to run in elections where there is a 'progressive democrat' or when Libertarian and Constitution Party candidates refuse to run in elections against Republicans the very parties that purport to be an electoral alternative tacitly accept rather than challenge the ruling parties in any way. When the Socialist Action candidate won the Brown County Supervisor District Six seat in Superior, Wisconsin it was because there were no other candidates running in that campaign for that seat. For Kshama Sawant on the Seattle City Council, it works to the advantage of the Democrats who recognize their control over their token leftist. She will ultimately follow their lead.

So, while running for a city council seat we should be advocating for the overthrow of the capitalist system and the government with it and asking people to vote. Reaching the masses by standing up at a city council meeting to denounce the regime one serves in before moving on to the business at hand? Using the bourgeois parliament as a revolutionary platform may sound like a sensible theory but it isn't connected to reality. It is a tactic without a basis of success in practice, apart from the limited Bolshevik experience. A token left reformist in the halls of power simply allows the bourgeoisie to pat themselves on the back for how democratic they are. More than anything it reveals the dishonesty of any would-be parliamentarians of the left, who would sell you their electoral snake oil.



[1] Socialist Alternative is the US branch of the Committee for a Workers’ International in the US. The CWI, based in Britain, grew out of Ted Grant’s “Militant Tendency”. Socialist Alternative supports the creation of a reformist mass “workers party”.

[2] Socialist Action grew out of the 1983 expulsions from the SWP (US) when the SWP had withdrawn from participation in the Fourth International the previous year. Entryists in a mass Labor Party that doesn’t exist, Socialist Action supports the creation of a mass reformist “Labor Party”, into which they might practice their traditional entryism.

[3] Center for Responsive Politics. Price of Admission. 2013

[4] Center for Responsive Politics. Reelection Rates Over the Years. 2013

[5] Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2012 - Detailed Tables Table 7 - Reported Voting and Registration of Family Members, by Age and Family Income

Wednesday, April 30, 2014