Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Vote for Nobody

When Odysseus told the one-eyed Cyclops he had just blinded that his name was “Nobody”, he momentarily confused the giant and his brothers, allowing him and his men to escape.  Is there not a lesson here for the 2016 election?  Can we not register our disgust with the two party system by voting for “Nobody” and could this not cause some disarray in the ranks of the capitalist class who have rigged this election from the start? I only make this suggestion half in jest because in fact there is no one to vote for in this election.

The 2016 election campaign is noteworthy for exposing the fundamentally anti-democratic nature of American political life.   This is open and obvious with the demagogy and bullying of Trump. With Clinton it is mostly behind the scenes, but occasionally we can see a glimpse of her contempt for ordinary people through the leaks of her speeches at Goldman Sachs.  She says one thing on the campaign trail where she claims to speak for working people and quite another when she addresses the billionaires who back her candidacy.  One can of course say that this two-faced  posture is the norm for successful American political leaders, but rarely has it been exposed so blatantly.

We see on the one hand the rise of a right wing populist movement coalescing around Donald Trump, who has captured the Republican Party and turned it against the patrician establishment that has dominated it for over a century. Trump was able to do this because he was able to channel the anger that a significant section of the working class felt toward the status quo.  His opponents in the Republican primary were a collection of criminals, sociopaths, religious reactionaries, peppered with a few representatives of the old guard who were so obviously out of touch with their constituency that no one took them seriously except the professional pundits. (Remember when Jeb Bush was the clear favorite to win the Republican nomination?) Trump, was able to connect to this constituency of the forgotten white working class, not in spite of his boorishness and bullying, narcissistic personality, but very much because of it. [1] His promise to “Make America Great Again” touched the collective myth of the American Dream, a myth as we have argued, that serves as a substitute for socialism in American political life. [2]

At the same time we saw the rise of a left populism within the Democratic Party with the Sanders campaign.  The Sanders campaign had wide popular support, but the corrupt Democratic Party establishment, solidly behind Clinton as the Wiki-Leaks emails have revealed, conspired to steal the nomination away from Sanders. Despite Sanders’ shameful capitulation to Clinton and the Democratic Party establishment he was for a moment able to articulate policies hearkening back to the New Deal era of the Democratic Party that galvanized tremendous support. His campaign also showed that socialism can now be a popular slogan. Were there a viable revolutionary socialist movement in this country this wave of left populism could have been harnessed for the project of building an independent mass socialist party rooted in the working class. But alas no such movement exists in the United States.  

Instead what we have, with  few exceptions, are sectarian grouplets who are hopelessly isolated from and hostile to the working class on the one hand, and radicals influenced by the remnants of the New Left, who are hopelessly dismissive of theoretical clarity.   Insofar as the “Left” has any presence, it is through the radicals who have absorbed anarchist theories in recent years, theories that make a virtue of an absence of a program and a party.  Their disdain for theoretical clarity is of a piece with their disdain for program and organization.  This explains why, despite their enormous impact on the public imagination, absolutely nothing of lasting political significance came out of either the Occupy Wall Street movement or the Sanders campaign.

In contrast to Trump and Sanders, the Clinton campaign, which from the beginning was identified with the status quo and a continuation of the Obama Administration, never generated any enthusiasm. Her base of support comes from the 10 - 15% of the population who are more or less comfortable. Along with the strata of bourgeois feminists and media flaks from the New York Times, Clinton finds wide support among those middle class layers whose personal assets have grown in the last few years. Also working in her favor are a host of constituencies who are motivated more by their repulsion with Trump than any love for her. She will thus be the beneficiary of Trump’s screeds against Hispanics, Muslims, African-Americans and women.

So voters are now left with a choice - either the reactionary Populism of Donald Trump, a form of populism entangled with an economic policy that supports the wealthy, racism, xenophobia and the rise of fascist armed vigilantes – or support the favorite of Wall Street and the neo-cons, Hillary Clinton, who promises more wars and more attacks on whatever is left of the social safety net despite her phony adoption of some of Sanders policy positions. The 2016 election demonstrates like nothing previously, the bankruptcy of the logic of “lesser-evilism”. Even if one thought that voting for the “lesser-evil” of these two widely hated candidates for President was a viable strategy, it is not at all clear who the “lesser-evil” is in this election.  It is indeed, to hearken back to the Odyssey, a case of being caught between the twin evils of Scylla and Charybdis.  We will leave it to the likes of Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky to explain to us why voting for Hillary Clinton is the “lesser evil” in this election.[3]  Their logical gymnastics in support of the candidate of Wall Street and the military industrial establishment should once and for all put an end to their reputation as radicals of any sort. [4]

One thing this election has done is write the epitaph of the two party system and that is a positive outcome. These putrid political formations are overripe for extinction. The Republican Party is now hopelessly fractured, with many prominent Republicans refusing to support their own Presidential candidate. In fact, Clinton is the Republican candidate in this election in all but name whereas Trump is in effect running as a Third Party candidate.  The remnants of Sanders supporters will not likely find a home in the Democratic Party which has been exposed as being even more anti-democratic than the Republican Party.  What we have now is an enormous potential for the rise of a new party representing the working class.  Whether that happens depends to a great extent on whether the left can learn the lessons behind the dissolution of Sanders’ “political revolution” and the Occupy movement.

Insofar as this election is concerned, one is still left with the question, “If not Trump or Clinton, why not vote for one of the other candidates?” While none of the other candidates stands a chance of winning could a vote for them advance the cause of socialism?  It’s a legitimate question. But an examination of third party candidates provides few reasons for optimism.  The obvious alternative to Clinton or Trump is the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein.  Stein has gained some support by articulating policies supporting social equality and opposing U.S. imperialism.  But the Green Party is not a working class party in any sense and has never adopted an explicitly socialist program. Insofar as Stein and her supporters think her policy proposals can be achieved within the profit system – a more humane form of capitalism – they are subscribing to a dangerous illusion.  Furthermore, Stein has selected for her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, a person who is at home attending conferences of Holocaust deniers.[5]  This alone should disqualify her from consideration.

In New York State, with its arcane election laws designed to keep third party candidates off the ballot, the only candidate on the ballot besides Clinton, Trump and Stein running for President is the reactionary nincompoop Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party.  New York State does have a procedure for registering as an official “write-in” candidate however.  If you register as an official candidate then your vote must be counted whereas if you are not registered a write in vote for you is simply tossed out. The procedure for registering as an official write-in candidate is not very difficult, consisting of little more than filling out an application obtainable online. There are 32 official write-in candidates for President in New York State. The only name I recognized in the list was that of Gloria la Riva, from the Party for Socialism and Liberation, a break off from the Workers World Party. Neither the Socialist Workers Party’s candidate, Alyson Kennedy, nor the Socialist Equality Party candidate, Jerry White, was included in the list of registered write-in candidates. It is clear that if they could not even be bothered to submit an application to be a write-in candidate that their campaigns are not at all serious but a Potemkin village production designed to impress their membership and bolster morale.

In years past, I voted for the candidate that came closest to the socialist policies I support. On those occasions when no candidate was even close to my political orientation, I would vote for whatever party was running that had the word “Socialist” in its label just to make a symbolic statement. Unfortunately, although there are official write-in candidates on the ballot in New York, their party affiliation is not registered. So you cannot even vote for a party this year in New York that says it is “socialist” despite the fact that the “socialist” label became popular among millions through the Sanders campaign.

Given the paucity of even a making a symbolic statement in this election, my conclusion is that the lesser evil is to vote for Nobody. 

According to the New York Times polling information, Hillary Clinton is all but assured of winning the election as she has the necessary votes in the Electoral College already locked up. However the popular vote according to the latest polls is very close and it is conceivable that Clinton could win the Electoral College vote but lose the popular vote. If that happens it would embolden the authoritarian elements not only in the Republican Party, but in the military and police apparatus of the national security state to openly sabotage a Clinton Presidency from the start. Trump and his right wing enablers are already, even before the election, threatening to impeach Clinton. And reports that elements within the FBI have been leaking false information to the press in an attempt to undermine Clinton’s candidacy indicate that significant sections of the ruling class are prepared to do away with the fig leaves of democracy in favor of an openly authoritarian state. Even if Clinton wins by an overwhelming margin Trump and his supporters within the state apparatus will not recognize her legitimacy. The United States will become ungovernable. There is no going back to “normal” times. We are entering a period with no parallel in our history with the exception of the period leading up to the Civil War.  Ahead lies great dangers but also great opportunities for the emergence of a revolutionary socialist alternative.

[1] One political scientist has shown that an identification with authoritarian ideas is a good indication of a preference for Trump:  http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/01/donald-trump-2016-authoritarian-213533
This discovery was anticipated more than 80 years ago by the pioneering study of the authoritarian personality in Weimar Germany by the Left Freudian psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm, whose research was supported by the Frankfurt School.
[3] Both Chomsky and Moore have have made what they consider serious arguments for supporting Clinton as the “lesser evil”. See for instance, https://chomsky.info/an-eight-point-brief-for-lev-lesser-evil-voting/
[4] Some left commentators have argued that it is really  Trump who is the “lesser evil”. See for instance,
[5] See https://radicalarchives.org/2016/08/10/ajamu-baraka-holocaust-denial/ . After his relations with Holocaust deniers were publicized, Baraka denied that he supported Holocaust denialism, claiming he was unaware of Kevin Barrett’s connections to anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. It defies credibility that Baraka was ignorant of the background of a person on whose radio show he has appeared twice and for whose anthology he contributed an essay. 


Thomas Cain said...


This post expresses most of my own feelings on bourgeois elections in general, though I admit that I have never bothered to even register to vote. But despite your assertion that there will be a great opportunity for revolutionary socialism, I feel a sort of despair emanating from your piece, or maybe I'm only projecting. Trump's election, contrary to our expectations, raises questions that I can't find the answers to: Should we re-evaluate our assessment of events thus far? Should we have a discussion on Fromm and Reich (not that I'm an expert on either)? And most of all, what should we do now? I know that we're just individuals and that we can't wage the revolution or just wish a party into existence.

Stephen R. Diamond said...

I called for an active boycott of the presidential election: http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1125/letters/

No socialist group adopted this approach.

Some are disconcerted by the Trump win because they think he's more "evil" than Clinton. I don't share this view at all. But those like me who were sure Clinton would win do have a real reason to feel disconcerted - something was wrong with the analysis.

Broadly, I agreed with Julian Assange that Trump couldn't win because he lacked the support of any significant part of the ruling class or inner state. This isn't a general truth, but it is implausible that in the absence of much class struggle, a reactionary who is opposed by the entire ruling class would be elected.

But most socialists I've read seem to think that's what happened. I don't. Trump expressed the distress of the rural working class, but the farmlands don't rule. An atomized and peripheralized rustbelt working class is not a cohesive political force. It requires the glue of a section of the ruling class and inner state to hold this extremely politically confused coalition together.

A greater number of monopoly capitalists supported Trump than was apparent. But probably most important, Trump has the support of a section of the inner state whose power is burgeoning: the domestic police. The militarization of the police has increased their social weight, to the point where the FBI can successful attack a 4-star general leading the CIA (Petraus). And when a section of the state apparatus was moved to put its finger on the scale for Trump, it was the FBI. (To great effect, in part due to Clinton's political ineptness and her reflexive retreat to her stock mudslinging.)

Eighty-four percent of cops support Trump. Cops have become enmeshed in the lives of the poor in America, with drug courts and domestic violence crusades. They are greatly respected by the rural workers they actually oppress.

The role of the domestic police, from the FBI to the municipal cops, has not to my knowledge been seriously explored. (See "Pseudo-transparency: From the FBI to the State Bars" - http://kanbaroo.blogspot.com/2016/11/interlude-30-pseudo-transparency-from.html )

Adam Cortright said...

That's a really great point, Stephen. And I never really bought the whole "Trump is an outside" rhetoric. His program is essentially routine far-right Republican Party boilerplate. There are some isolationist tendencies that will be dealt with by the ruling elites, but otherwise he's just an extreme form of what we got with the Bush Administration.

Alex Steiner said...


I don't agree at all with this analysis. It flies in the face of the facts we know to say that a great number of "monopoly capitalists" supported Trump. Certainly some did, like the Silicon Valley businessman Peter Thiel. But he was almost alone within that group. The capitalists and the political elite were overwhelmingly opposed to Trump. Of course now that he has been elected they will make their peace with Trump and see opportunities for profits and lower taxes. In any case Clinton had far more financial backing from this elite group than Trump. I agree that a section of the military and police were avid Trump supporters but that doesn't explain what happened in this election. Trumps' base of support came from traditional working class centers. Of course it is true that he also captured large sections of middle class voters. And it is also true that significant sections of the working class opposed Trump. But not enough of them. Sanders galvanized large sections of the working class when he was running in the Democratic primaries against Clinton. But after he capitulated I think most of his supporters stayed home on election day. Some of them even voted for Trump. I think you are trying to place a square peg into a round hole by denying that Trump got significant support from the working class. Thus your references to "rural farmlands" as if workers from rural parts of a state - that is not necessarily "farmland"- aren't really part of the working class. And as if workers in large metropolitan areas that were traditionally Democratic didn't desert the Democrats in droves. You want to see the Trump phenomenon through the glasses of the rise of fascism in the 1930s when the base of fascism was primarily the middle classes. The Trump phenomenon is different. I will discuss that more in a subsequent post.

Stephen R. Diamond said...

I'll delay part of my response for your upcoming piece, and for now restrict myself to a few points for the sake of clarity.

First, let me state where we disagree, as I don't hold all of the analysis you attribute to me. Where we disagree is that I think it impossible that a reactionary candidate without the support of a section of the ruling could win an election. This might be up your alley, in that it would require considerable autonomy for psychology if candidates can win based _wholly_ on false consciousness.

There was more support for Trump than was evident in the polls. There was _much_ more support for Trump within the ruling class than was evident from journalism. For the same reason: the liberal bourgeoisie controls the means of intellectual production. Ruling class Trumpists usually find it better to hide their views. This isn't just my opinion: I owe the observation to the same Peter Theil, who estimated that 25% of the Silicon Valley plutocracy supported Trump. It may be asked, what's the point of support if it isn't expressed? What it means is that there was no united front across the whole capitalist class against Trump. The mass media were not restrained (by pulling advertising) in affording him tremendous mass publicity.

I agree that the Trump movement isn't analogous to fascism; Trump appeals to workers. (This is why I opposed attempts by many leftists to disrupt Trump rallies.) But the fact that this proletariat is rural is relevant. The cities are simply more advanced than the outlying areas, _surrounded_ by farmlands. Moreover, this is a partly lumpenized working class, highly demoralized in several senses of the word, deeply interpenetrated by the police and military.

A side note: I think the Trump victory is to be celebrated. Conditions for the development of a working class movement will surely accelerate. I just read the Spartacist's WV, which said "Trump's election is bad news." This is concentrated centrism, valuing the opportunity for reforms over possibilities for the development of a class-based movement. My hope is that the working class can pull a labor party against the Trump administration before he is impeached.

Anonymous said...

"When Odysseus told the one-eyed Cyclops he had just blinded that his name was “Nobody”, he momentarily confused the giant and his brothers, allowing him and his men to escape."
Odysseus told the Cyclops his name was "Nobody", before he and his men blinded him.

Alex Steiner said...

Reply to Anonymous,

You are indeed correct!