The left should run in Wisconsin

March 24, 2011

WE AGREE with ("Wisconsin and the shape of things to come") when you write: "[T]he recall strategy will necessarily slow the rhythm of the movement [in Wisconsin]." You are also right to point out that "the recall initiative shifts the struggle in Wisconsin toward the ballot box and away from the kind of mass action--especially workers' actions--that fed the upsurge."

Socialists always have to point out that the power of workers lies in our role as workers, and that our most effective tactic is withholding our labor. This is central to socialist strategy.

However, socialists also have to contend with the realities of the day, in particular, the reality that Wisconsin workers appear far from ready at this time to carry out a general strike. By all indications, the majority of the working class in Wisconsin looks to the recall process for relief.

There is, in principle, nothing wrong with people wanting to control their representatives; yet it is obvious that the Democratic Party and its agents, in collaboration with the leadership of the trade unions, seek to channel the entire struggle into electoral politics--with eyes to the prize of 2012. The "class struggle" left is too small to contend for real leadership of the overall movement with a strike strategy.

That the recall elections will become the touchstone of further developments is, therefore, practically an accomplished fact. We would like to offer for debate the proposal that the left, wherever possible, contest the recall elections with independent candidates committed to some kind of "no cuts, no concessions, tax the rich" platform.

Of course, we cannot personally speak to the specific political or practical details such campaigns might entail, but we think we can motivate the proposal in general terms.

It goes without saying that the main idea would not be to win in electoral terms, but to present a clear, fighting alternative that develops the intellectual and organizational infrastructure of a militant movement, or at least its left wing.

WHAT ARE the advantages? First, the whole political situation in Wisconsin is clearly "weird," meaning that it commands the attention of working people who typically (and correctly) perceive elections as stage-managed. And indeed, the recall is likely to be less "stage-manageable" than the typical U.S. bourgeois election.

An instructive example is the 2003 gubernatorial recall election in California, which had a certain circus atmosphere because of its 135 candidates, but gave socialist Green Party nominee Peter Camejo the opportunity to debate the major party ciphers before a national audience.

Second, a candidate of the militant left would be able to resist, and possibly affect, the tendency of the Democrats to sink everything to the "lowest common denominator" platform, with the vaguest slogans, the fewest concrete commitments, etc. (An atmosphere that would, in fact, render the GOP the greatest possible assistance.)

By no means do we intend that left candidates should be conceived of as "pressure" to get Democrats to shift left. It's just as likely the latter will play for the "center," drift right or wander confusedly in circles. The idea would be to keep the struggle "live" in the overall political discussion, whereas the Democrats will surely seek to bury it, or at best, frame their own blessed selves as its ultimate consummation.

Third, and most importantly, intervening in the recall elections would give left forces an opportunity to argue and organize "where people are at." Otherwise, our side will be relegated to making arguments that, while correct and important, will lack a sense of connection with the recall elections, which seem likely to dominate the state's political discussion, and will certainly be watched nationally with acute interest.

What are the disadvantages? Well, the Democrats, union bureaucrats, and "civil society" nonprofits will, of course, howl with their usual excuses. But that will be altogether enjoyable, and we count it in the plus column.

More seriously, the aforementioned forces will gin up hostility against the left, and they are sure to be somewhat successful. But the left can simply invoke the democratic right of any citizen to run for office with his own distinct ideas. In a struggle that has been draped in the language and figures of democracy, appealing to the public's sense of "fair play" should be entirely effective.

It is possible, of course, that the Republicans could win. We should point out in the first place that there's no reason to trust in the Democrats' ability to fight them, since if they were so able, we'd hardly be in this position to begin with.

But even in the "worst case," where the majority vote is split between the Democrat and the leftist, allowing the Republican to go through, the struggle would still have advanced, since the left forces would have become better organized in the process. Much better a Republican facing a disgruntled majority and an organized, militant minority, than a Democrat with his finger to the wind that blew him in.

We believe that an electoral intervention can be an effective tactic for the left to propound and prepare the strategy of class struggle. We are keenly interested to hear our comrades' thoughts.
Paul Hubbard and Shaun Joseph, Providence, R.I.

Further Reading

From the archives