Socialists and Elections

by Adam Ritscher

With elections coming up again a lot of politically conscious people are hitting the pavement to campaign for their candidates. Voter registration drives, leafleting and yard sign distribution have become the order of the day for many activists.

We in Youth for Socialist Action certainly commend people who take politics seriously and who are committed to fighting for what they believe in. However, when asked who we will be supporting in the upcoming elections, we have to say “nobody.”

This is a reply that shocks a lot of people. Our reason for this is two fold. On the one hand we don’t believe the ballot box is where real social change comes from. As Marxists, we believe that the electoral system has been set up and rigged by the powers that be to limit the issues and candidates presented to voters to those that don’t fundamentally challenge the status quo. Restrictions on who can get on the ballot, the denial of press coverage for third party candidates and the need for outrageous amounts of money to run a competitive campaign add up to make it all but impossible for alternative ideas and candidates to get a fair hearing.

In the same way that we really have very little power as a consumer, since we are limited by what we have to choose from, our power as a voter is all but nil. We believe that social change can instead be best achieved through mass action – demonstrations, protests, strikes, workplace actions – by building social movements. Our power as working people comes from our numbers, and our location at the point of production. After all – nothing moves without a worker moving it, and nothing is made without a worker making it.

“But don’t socialists sometimes run in elections?,” some ask. Yes, we sometimes do indeed run candidates, but we don’t do so with the belief that getting people elected to office is the real way to effect change. When we run candidates we do it as an educational campaign. Our candidates use their campaign, and their office if they win the election, as a platform from which to reach and mobilize people into the streets, and to get them thinking about alternative, revolutionary ideas.

We live in a world divided by class. The interests of big business is diametrically opposed to that of working people. None of the major parties though (and few of the minor ones either!) admit this, and in doing so – no matter how radical they may sound – they by default support the status quo. Groups like the Democratic Party may seek to woo workers, students and minorities, but don’t forget that they accept millions of dollars from the same corporations as the Republicans – and nobody gives anybody millions of dollars unless they get something in return! That’s why when push comes to shove, on all the major issues, both major parties trip over themselves to support the policies that benefit the rich and hurt workers. Just look at what they’ve done to welfare and other social programs, look at their willingness to send us off to war for the sake of oil, their failure to give us even a decent minimum wage!

We need to be political, but we need a set of politics, and methods of political struggle, that reflect our interests, and ours alone. You can’t be neutral on issues like slavery, so how can you be neutral on class struggle? Working people need their own party, and they need to avoid the mazes set up to deflect and demobilize people in struggle (like elections and lobbying).

For these reasons we urge you to reconsider how you react to the upcoming elections. Take a second look at the candidates and parties that you are supporting. Ask yourself how effective is it to vote for candidates who fail to see that you’re either on the side of the workers, or you’re on the side of big business.