Go ahead, seize political power: Who is stopping you?

by Jehu

srp-i-cekic_zHere is a brief reply to the members of the Socialist Equality Party, who have decided to teach me historical materialism.

First, let’s begin with some pertinent facts about existing political relations in the form of the Socialist Equality Party’s political influence among the working class. I do this in the form of election returns for that party since 1984:

Socialist Equality Party (US) election performance since 1984:

  • 1984: 10,801 votes
  • 1988: 18,693 votes
  • 1992: 3,050 votes
  • 1996: 2,438 votes
  • 2004: 1,857 votes
  • 2008: no ballot access (18 recorded write-in votes in New York)
  • 2012: 1,279 votes

To prove I have no particular bones to pick with the Socialist Equality Party, I will introduce the election returns of two other communist micro-sects over the same period: the Socialist Workers Party and the Communist Party, USA:

Socialist Workers Party election performance since 1984:

  • 1984: 24,672 votes.
  • 1988: 15,604 votes.
  • 1992: 23,096 votes.
  • 1996: 8,463 votes.
  • 2000: 7,378 votes.
  • 2004: 7,411 votes
  • 2008: 5,151 votes
  • 2012: 4,115 votes

Communist Party USA election performance since 1984:

  • 1984: 36,386 votes
  • 1988: No candidate, endorsed Michael Dukakis
  • 1992: No candidate, endorsed Bill Clinton
  • 1996: No candidate, endorsed Bill Clinton
  • 2000: No candidate, endorsed Al Gore
  • 2004: No candidate, endorsed John Kerry
  • 2008: No candidate, endorsed Barack Obama
  • 2012: No candidate, endorsed Barack Obama

Based on the above data, I am sure no one has to argue the seizure of political power is no longer the aim of communism — it is pretty obvious.

Second, it is just as obvious that communists have no idea what should replace that aim. Communists (broadly defined) have given up on any realistic possibility of armed seizure of power and electoral capture is equally impossible. In two elections cycles during the worst crisis since the 1930s, communist presence has been indistinguishable from political background noise or spoiled ballots.

A single capitalist family – the Kochs– can bring more influence to bear among the working class than the combined effort of all communist micro-sects

John Holloway’s book wasn’t so much groundbreaking as it was simply stating the obvious in a way that could not be ignored. But his criticism has only left communism as an irrelevant force trying to find its place in the cracks of capitalist society. In truth, Holloway’s book has simply sought to turn the irrelevant character of communism into its virtue. Since there is no way in hell any communist political party will ever gain power by force of arms or votes, Holloway states none should try. Holloway’s actual argument is that communists are completely irrelevant to democratic politics and should learn to accept this fact.

Communists of one sort or another know he is right, but they resist his conclusion. James Parker of the Socialist Equality Party, in a comment on my post, wrote:

“The “essence of ending capitalism” is the abolition of the private ownership of the means of production, and the capitalist nation-state system”.

How far the Socialist Equality Party has gotten to “the essence of ending capitalism” can be seen in their vote totals since 1984: In 1984 they got 11,000 votes and in 2012 1300 votes. After 30 years of neoliberal crisis, the Socialist Equality Party has seen their support decline by 88%. During the same period, the SWP’s votes has declined by 84% and the CPUSA gave up on all independent political activity.

In other words, anticipating Holloway, the CPUSA has long since given up on the idea of taking power and is satisfied to live in the cracks of capitalism.

At the same time, the capitalist crisis has intensified to an extent no one imagined in 1984, much less in 1992 when “real existing socialism” died. Japan has been in a prolonged decline since that period, the US since 2000 and Europe since 2007. The crisis has not in any way given any advantage to the communist movement in these countries. It is almost as if the deeper the crisis of the advanced capitalist countries, the more irrelevant communism has become as an alternative.

So far as I can tell, no one has explained the coincidence between the crisis of capitalism and the collapse of political alternatives to capitalism. Further, the more the conditions of the working class decline, the less attractive an alternative to wage slavery appears to them. It is one thing to declare, as James Parker does, that the international working class is the only force able to provide an alternative; it is quite another to do what Parker does not: explain why the fuck this alternative has not made its presence felt in this crisis. If the only alternative to the crisis is “the abolition of the private ownership of the means of production, and the capitalist nation-state system“, and if “The only social force capable of carrying this out” is the working class, what are the implications for us that no such social force exists that has that aim?

It seems to me the present crisis suggests either a fundamental refutation of Marx or a fundamental misunderstanding of Marx. You can choose which ever alternative seems most satisfying to you. What you cannot do, (unless you are a complete weasel), is pretend nothing significant is happening.

If, as they seem to believe, Marxists have an accurate grasp of historical materialism, then what is happening now is the social equivalent to proving Einstein’s theory of relativity and Darwin’s theory of evolution are wrong.