A Tale of ‘Lesser Evils’


According to AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney and other top union officials and many well-meaning “progressives,” there are as many as three “lesser-evil” candidates seeking election as president of the United States.

There’s Sweeney’s choice of Al Gore; there is UAW President Stephen Yokich’s choice of either Gore or Ralph Nader; and then there is Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa Jr.’s choice of either Gore, Nader or Pat Buchanan. In the case of the UAW’s Yokich and the Teamsters’ Hoffa, the likely choice in the end will most likely be Gore.

Why? Because these so-called labor “leaders” believe that Gore is the only one of the three that can win against the “much greater evil,” George W. Bush, Jr. In other words, these bureaucrats are busily pretending to weigh in their mental balance scales which of the three “lesser evils” is the least evil.

What the politicians promise

It’s no mystery what people want and expect from those they elect to run the country. They want politicians who will pass laws that they think will be good for them and most people. Consequently, the standard vote-getting promise of capitalist politicians is that they will pass laws that are good for all the people.

Let’s leave aside for the moment the matter of politicians’ promises and their deeds (since jokes like “How can you tell when politicians are lying? When their lips are moving!”) are deeply rooted in American culture. But the biggest lie of all is that there are, indeed, laws that are in the interests of “all the people.”

A good example of the absurdity that there are laws good for all the people comes up when we look at the matter of taxes. There is no way to assess taxes that will please everyone. It certainly would not please capitalists to simply tax the rich and not the poor-although that would be both eminently fair and logical.

After all, a tax that might cost the rich, at worst, an inconsequential part of their many luxuries, would cost the poor some of life’s basic necessities, like enough milk, meat, clothing, shelter-not to mention dental and health care-for themselves and their children.

In fact, there is absolutely no one with even the tiniest income that does not pay any tax whatsoever. Even those on welfare must pay what are correctly called “regressive” sales taxes, which tax rich and poor exactly the same rate on all taxable goods purchased.

In fact, the income tax, which is alleged to be a “progressive” tax-i.e., providing for those with higher incomes paying a progressively higher percentage of their income-is not what it’s cracked up to be.

Among many other special breaks for the rich are deductions from their gross taxable income that the rest of us are disallowed-like so-called company cars, apartments, penthouses and even yachts, jet planes and mansions.

Capitalists pay no personal income tax on the profits used to purchase these “company-owned” properties, but they enjoy their use, nevertheless, just as if they were their own personally owned properties.

Furthermore, there’s the matter of the extremely regressive Social Security tax. Not only do rich and poor pay this tax at the same rate, but wages and salaries above $76,200 annually (as of 1996) are not taxed at all!

In fact, there’s hardly a law that doesn’t have extremely different effects on the rich and the poor. For instance, laws governing such things as wages, hours, working conditions, benefits, and other parts of the wage package are either good for capitalists and bad for workers or vice versa.

Even laws leading to war or peace are far from neutral. War, after all, is a source of huge profits for the rich while providing lower living standards for workers mobilized in the armed forces to kill and be killed in defense of capitalist profits.

All this serves to make it patently obvious that no one can be for “all the people” at one and the same time.

But, one might ask, aren’t some capitalist politicians easier on the poor and harder on the rich than other capitalist politicians? That illusion certainly is what all capitalists and their supporters work hard to create and sustain-hence, the myth of the lesser evil.

However even if we were to discount the vast gulf between their words and deeds, the differences among competing capitalist politicians are exactly like that between hard cops and soft cops.

The tough cop uses brutality and terror to extort a false confession while the nice cop says plead guilty or this crazy cop might kill you. Besides, your chances of acquittal are virtually nil. So you’d better plead guilty on a lesser charge and get off with a “lighter” sentence- like life in prison as against the death penalty.

Reform versus revolution

Contrary to accepted wisdom, revolutionary socialists see no contradiction between reforms and revolution. In fact, reforms-that is, changes in the status quo that improve the lot of the victims of capitalism-are an inevitable byproduct of the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism and for socialist revolution.

But reformism as a strategy is something else again. It is premised on the notion that the interests of labor and capital are not diametrically opposed and, therefore, a compromise between competing interests can be negotiated peacefully. Consequently supporting lesser-evilism exemplifies the strategy of gradual reform of the capitalist socio-economic system.

This is a mistaken strategy that many of those with the best of intentions unwittingly fall into. This strategic misconception, for example, has led many opponents of the evils of capitalist globalization to support the protectionist wing of the capitalist class-that is, they support the “good” capitalists against the “bad.”

Lesser-evilism, in short, adds up to backhanded support to the profit system and the miseries it heaps on the super-exploited and oppressed around the world.

On voting ‘because they can win’

Finally, a few words on the matter of voting for an Al Gore as a lesser evil “because he can win.” This refers to those who would rather see Ralph Nader elected president but will vote for Gore because he can win and Nader can’t.

But the lessons of history provide overwhelming evidence that reforms are not gained by the goodwill efforts of “humane” capitalist politicians who claim to be motivated by the best interests of “all the people.”

Even those independent representatives of the working class (and Nader, a pro-capitalist politician, is not one of them) who may be elected to public office cannot win reforms for the exploited and oppressed masses by legislative action alone.

On the contrary, the labor and socialist political parties and their elected representatives attempt to use the electoral process to accomplish the following objectives:To use election campaigns to educate working people and their natural allies to understand that reforms that benefit the exploited and oppressed are won by mass independent working-class political action in the streets and workplaces of the country.

  • To use election campaigns and the elected representatives of the working class to mobilize the exploited and oppressed for mass independent political action in the streets and workplaces.
  • To use the electoral process, more generally, to lead the masses to the understanding that every reform won through their own independent mass political action increases their own confidence in their inherent power to change the world. Thus, each small victory won by what we call the strategy of class struggle brings them one step closer to socialist revolution.
  • And finally, this brief outline of a revolutionary-that is, effective-strategy cannot be consummated through the political institutions created by the exploiting classes. Social revolutions are never accomplished by the capture of parliamentary and other institutions created by capitalists as their preferred instruments of class rule.

A fundamental social transformation can and will be carried to a successful conclusion only through the institutions of social, economic, and political power created in the course of the mass independent struggles against capitalist injustice by the working class and its natural allies.

And like everything in nature, the transition from capitalism to socialism-a society dedicated to human needs as opposed to private profit- can only be accomplished by what physicists call “a quantum leap.

In plain English, that’s socialist revolution.

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