Prof Chomsky & Halle, please do not confuse the Left
Sako Sefiani is a commentator on the international affairs. He blogs at https://sakosefiani.com/
John Halle and Professor Noam Chomsky wrote a piece which they posted on Halle’s blog, in defense of Lesser Evil Voting (LEV), where they urged the left to vote for Hillary Clinton in swing states to make sure Trump does not win the presidency in the general elections. The following is my rebuttal to that piece. You can read their piece here: http://johnhalle.com/outragesandinterludes/?p=1065
They begin by the lament that: “presidential elections continue to pose a dilemma for the left”. As I will show, they’re only a “dilemma” for liberals, who lack class perspective, and who seem to believe in the overall legitimacy of the electoral process and that they must vote for one of the two candidates, presented by the two major parties, even if they disagree with their policies. “Disagree” is the right word here, because that’s how they seem to view their differences with the politicians of the two parties, rather than conflicting interests of warring classes, trying to defeat each other.
They warn that if we hold that “Clinton’s foreign policy could pose a more serious menace than that of Trump”, which they acknowledge many on the left rightly do, then it follows that we would have to vote for him: “insofar as this is the fact of the matter following the logic through seems to require a vote for Trump”. So, they take the idea of lesser evil voting for granted and assume its correctness – that it’s the only natural thing to do – before even setting out to prove it. It’s hard to take their reasoning seriously after that, if they assume at the outset that that’s the natural thing to do.
They say LEV is only “tactical” and “provisional”, so not to worry. First of all, what is “provisional”, by definition, must have some kind of ending provision; i.e.: a condition or a date for ending it. For example, a provisional government may be formed to govern until an election is held. If it’s permanent, then it’s not provisional. Since there is no stipulation of any specific conditions or circumstances for ending the LEV, it cannot be considered provisional.
Secondly, speaking of “tactical”, what the authors don’t make clear is what our strategy should be. The strategy of the ruling 1% is clear: maintain the power structure and the exploitative economic system. Ours should be the opposite: to grab the power from them and change the system. What the authors call “tactical” for the left – meaning the LEV – is actually what the 1% relies on to maintain their rule. In other words, the ruling class relies on the very “tactical” behavior of the liberal “opposition” to maintain their rule. Our tactics should be in line and geared towards OUR strategy, not what makes THEIR strategy possible. The quadrennial elections and our willingness to go along with them by voting for the lesser evil is exactly how the ruling class neutralizes liberals and maintains the status quo and the power structure. How can that, which is THEIR strategy (as well as tactic) and which, as part of that strategy, relies on our participation through LEV, and which is clearly NOT provisional, be our tactic?
LEV has been exercised for over 40 years with the result of keeping the 1% in power and making it more and more entrenched and powerful. If it is a “tactic” then, obviously, it’s not working. If it is “provisional”, then how long are we supposed to continue it?
The authors are therefore wrong to call LEV a “tactic” since it coincides with and fits into the ruling class strategy of holding on to power and they’re wrong to consider it “provisional” since it has no condition or timing to end it.
The authors add – as an afterthought – that “the left should devote the minimum of time necessary to exercise the LEV choice then immediately return to pursuing goals which are not timed to the national electoral cycle”. They should do that after having already endorsed and voted for the establishment? The authors don’t see a contradiction here because the thinking is that we vote for the lesser evil (such as for Hillary) and then ask her to make reforms and hope that she’ll listen to us, instead of corporate lobbyists. If on the other hand, the thinking were that the candidate represents the 1% and will not change her allegiance, then our approach would be to oppose and expose her, rather than tell people to vote for her.
But, does opposing and exposing a Wall Street shill and war monger begin after November, after you’ve voted for her, or while she’s telling lies to people to get their votes? Do we remain silent before the general elections as she tells lies and makes false promises, because we don’t want to lessen her chances and give the advantage to her “more evil” opponent? Won’t we look like hypocrites if we do that? How do you build a movement to oppose her policies after having already endorsed her? Does the movement have to wait until after the elections? If not, then there is a clear contradiction between the objectives and tenets of such a movement and endorsing the candidate, who is the representative of the power structure that the movement is supposed to be against.
The authors admonish us in a condescending manner that “the consequences of our actions for others are a far more important consideration than feeling good about ourselves”. Though it may sound too harsh, they say, not voting for the lesser evil, “can become indistinguishable from narcissistic self-aggrandizement”. So, if we don’t vote for Clinton, it’ll be because we want to feel good about ourselves for not voting for her. They advise us to mind “the consequences of our actions for others”, which begs the question: is LEV a new idea? Do we not know what its consequences have been? Have we not over 40 years of experience with it? Did liberals like Halle and Chomsky think of its consequences for others as they ask us to consider? The consequences of more than 40 years of LEV speak for themselves and are in fact the strongest argument against LEV that has resulted in nothing but increasingly tighter grip and entrenchment of the levers of power by the 1%, increasing income gap and the defeat of the working class.
“A Trump presidency, should it materialize”, warn the authors, “will undermine the burgeoning movement centered around the Sanders campaign”. The truth is just the opposite. It is the Clinton presidency that will undermine and already has undermined the Sanders campaign. Sanders endorsing Clinton has already acted as a brake on the advancement of that movement. In fact, it’s a hallmark of Democrats to undermine and derail progressive movements by drawing its supporters into the ranks of the Democratic Party and extinguishing its momentum. That is exactly what the Democratic Party officials hoped would happen to Sanders and that’s exactly what they encouraged him to do: to channel the energy and frustration of his supporters into voting for the lesser evil Clinton. That’s what the Democratic Party has tried to do with past progressive movements, too, including the Occupy movement. And, knowingly or not, that’s what LEV advocates do, too.
“Those on the left who ignore or dismiss as irrelevant” their “cost/benefit analysis”, as the authors see it, “are engaging in political fantasy and are an obstacle to, rather than ally of, the movement which now seems to be materializing”. Again, the truth is the opposite: Sanders himself took the wind out of his movement by endorsing the lesser evil. His endorsement of Clinton did not continue the movement. It disillusioned his supporters and drove many to realize the system is rigged and unfair, unlike the authors who still maintain their illusion but the majority into the corrupt pro-imperialist Democratic Party.
How is prodding Sanders supporters to vote for Clinton, who is everything they don’t want in a candidate, going to “materialize” the movement? Wouldn’t the movement have had a better chance of developing into a viable third party opposition had Sanders not endorsed Clinton and disillusioned his supporters? Isn’t the creation of such a progressive third party what the authors would consider the way out of the LEV routine? They call the lesser evil voting “provisional” and yet don’t seem to mind that what they call a movement just got swallowed up and dissipated by the Democratic Party, which has for decades been the graveyard of progressive movements.
Liberals like Mr. Halle and unfortunately even Professor Chomsky, who has contributed much to the political education of progressives in this country and beyond, don’t feel any urgency to see fundamental change in this country. They don’t seem to hunger for real change. It’s easy for them to suggest staying in holding position and wait until some day a movement can develop, so we don’t have to choose one of two evils, anymore. But alternatives to corporate oligarchies don’t appear by themselves. They are developed by teaching not just about the crimes of US empire around the world, but by also raising awareness about the two war criminal, imperialist and pro-Wall Street parties, and help organize against them towards building a movement that can take power away from them, not join them, endorse them or vote for them. Understanding this requires and is predicated upon having a class awareness, with implications on state power and what it takes to grab it from the 1% and have it serve the masses. And that’s what separates liberals from the revolutionary left.