Views in brief

July 21, 2016

Democrats don't own our votes

I RECENTLY read an article about how Bernie supporters voting for a third party aren't throwing away their vote, they're actually helping to elect Trump (which happens to also be the title of the article if you're interested). We hear a similar argument every election year, and I'm sick of it.

In the above-mentioned article, author Sean Colarossi attempts to scare us awake by manipulating the classic line our parents and other out-of-touch people always feed us: "If you vote for them you're throwing your vote away!"

Colarossi claims that, "Sanders supporters who decide to ignore the wishes of their own candidate and vote third party aren't committing a meaningless act. They're helping elect Donald Trump, and that's about as real and scary as it gets." He also goes on to argue that we shouldn't abandon the Democrats just because Sanders "lost to someone they agree with 80 to 90 percent of the time."

The problem with this is that Bernie is an independent who ran as a Democrat in order to gain publicity. He consistently challenged the behavior and ideals of the Democratic Party and called for a "political revolution" that would change the course of American politics. Anyone who supported Bernie 80 to 90 percent of the time could in no way support Clinton in equal measure.

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Bernie ran as a Democrat, but his followers obviously were not satisfied with the Democratic Party's way of doing things. So to refer to Clinton as "their own candidate" is to essentially ignore the past 12 months.

Returning to the crux of Colarossi's argument, let's take note of the hypocrisy. The scare tactics always go one way: Those who vote for a third party are helping to elect Trump. Those who vote for Clinton, of course, bear none of this responsibility.

They say we must all vote for Clinton or Trump will win. And we respond, but what if we all vote for Jill Stein or Mimi Soltysik? And they say, but you can't--the system doesn't work like that! And we ask, but if our vote doesn't matter, then why should we bother voting for Clinton? And of course they never have a response for this.

It's also important to remember that Trump is merely every politician you've ever seen, only without the mask. Trump is a racist, xenophobic capitalist, and so are the rest of them. Trump's idea for a border wall is treated as some unimaginable evil, but do people forget that we already have a military of armed boarder guards ringing the country, resulting in 49 deaths so far in 2016?

Readers’ Views welcomes our readers' contributions to discussion and debate about articles we've published and questions facing the left. Opinions expressed in these contributions don't necessarily reflect those of SW.

If our votes are meaningless, then we should vote for the candidate we want. If our votes actually mean something, then we should definitely vote for the candidate we want. Either way, the idea that leftists are responsible for keeping out the monsters by voting in the lesser monsters has no right being entertained.
N.S. Wofford, Glassboro, N.J.

Reaching across cultural boundaries

IN A recent letter to ("For a subculture of our own"), Alexander Billet refers to a recent talk I gave at the Socialism 2016 conference (entitled "What Do We Talk about When We Talk about Culture? Culture in the Marxist Tradition," soon to be available at

While I am touched that Billet alluded to the presentation in his letter, I feel I should clarify that my own views regarding the benefits of creating a "radical workers' subculture" are much more ambivalent.

In my opinion, many of the radical left organizations in the U.S. are subcultures in their own right, with habits and codes of conduct that enable them to reproduce themselves in conjunction with allegiance to a political perspective. In the best cases, these are groups open to debate, alteration, adaptation and the vicissitudes of operating in a live social reality; in the worst, they are sclerotic zombies, clinging to organizational rituals and outmoded ideas in hopes of living beyond their irrelevance.

In either case, existence as a subculture is a situation to be overcome. If we want to win greater numbers of people to revolutionary socialist politics, we must reach people across cultural boundaries, not establish new ones.

The question of cultural production in terms of art is related but distinct. Works of art (literature, music, visual art, etc.) often become rallying points for political identification and can become the basis for the formation of groups dedicated to cultural radicalism or deployed on behalf of established political organizations.

But rarely does political radicalism and cultural radicalism coexist harmoniously; cultural radicalism is typically impatient and skews toward a politics uninterested in building mass constituencies, whereas political radicalism all too often ignores culture or seeks to wield it solely in a weaponized form.

Twentieth-century Communism, once it solidifed in the late 1920s, shunned most cultural radicalism in the arts as art (as agitprop was another matter) and outright refused to openly acknowledge cultural radicals--outside its ranks and within--who questioned cultural norms and traditions regarding gender and sexuality. Political defense of issues regarding either rarely impacted the political culture of Communism, both highly masculinized and hetero-normative.

My aim in the presentation was to introduce a multi-dimensional conception of culture that addressed such contradictions, a notion of culture attuned to the products of specific artistic practices as well as the rituals, norms and customs that structure our everyday lives and assist in reproducing group identities. Denying either dimension has serious consequences for the left, as does viewing one or the other as a shortcut for political organizing. How we conceive the relationship between culture and politics matters.

This is all to say that I fully support Billet's call for more discussion of culture within our organizations (and beyond), and agree that we must, as he argues, reckon with culture as a process, comprised of complex practices and procedures that should be specified so as to avoid their being hypostatized.
Grant M., Ann Arbor, Michigan

Anti-immigrant "jokes" aren't funny

I HAVE seen a few "jokes" on Facebook referring to Melania Trump's immigrant status as connected to her plagiarism of Michelle Obama's 2008 convention speech. An example: "Melania's speech proves that Trump was right, immigrants are stealing from hard-working Americans."

Any references to Melania being an immigrant that attempt to tear her down, whether related to this plagiarism debacle or otherwise, are at minimum disappointing, no matter how "liberal" or "radical" the source. But they are also extremely dangerous, for the same reasons that we find rape "jokes," sexist "jokes" or racist "jokes" to be unacceptable. We cannot use the same anti-immigrant rhetoric or anti-immigrant "jokes" that the right uses.

To paraphrase activist Sofia Arias, of course Melania would find Michelle's speech about the values of the meritocracy and "personal responsibility" appealing, but the question is do we? We must not ever find anti-immigrant "jokes" to be appealing. We can and must do better. Denounce her for plagiarism, but attack her husband for racism first. And never, ever condemn her for being an immigrant.

As socialists, we demand open borders and allowing the free movement of any and all people to explore our world and live where we choose, not where we are forced. That includes Melania Trump, despite her husband's atrocious attitude toward and policy proposals for immigrants. Even though Melania is famous, she must be defended from racist and anti-immigrant attacks.

To engage in any form of oppression, including such "jokes," undermines our collective project of creating a free and just society--and in a small way, contributes to the climate of racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric that the Trump campaign has condensed and distilled."
Emily G. Shaw, Columbus, Ohio

The racist war on Black men

VIOLENCE, YES. Killings, yes. Murder, yes. War, yes.

In the United States, law enforcement is perpetrating a war against young Black men. I don't like to trivialize war though. Media and popular culture do that quite enough as it is, whether it's the newest installment of Call of Duty or "Godwin's Law." Yet based on my study of race, racism and policing, I can come to no other conclusion than that there is a war against young Black men.

But it's quite a bit more than that. Young Black women are also increasingly victimized by law enforcement. It's also the case—and law professor Dean Spade has made this clear—that queer, trans and gender non-conforming peoples are often racialized and subject to violence by law enforcement. No one is safe. We are in dire times.

But I want to step back and consider war, which I find a particularly useful lens through which to view the current state of affairs.

Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian military theorist, famously declared that war was the "continuation of politics by other means." Clausewitz can fruitfully be applied to police violence today as killing people of color is the continuation of systemic racism and structural inequality, not through housing restrictions, social welfare reforms, economic discrimination and racial preferencing, but through systemic, state-sponsored violence--or war.

This war looks like other wars. There is a heavily armed and organized force, sponsored by the state, with an obvious but undeclared enemy. Perhaps the war on Black men is the continuation of the "war on terror" by other means.

The increasing use of #SayHerName and #SayHisName on Twitter is a testament to the ways in which righteous rebels have sought to outdo official discourses that seek to cover up and dehumanize the victims of police violence. It's important to consider the ways in which this silence, this inability to name the war's victims, is part of the war's success.

This war has been conducted for a long time. We must recognize that we are not far removed from the killing of slaves and the lynching of Blacks in the U.S. South. It seems like a long time ago, and that these subjects are discussed in history texts more so than politics texts seem to suggest that somehow racial violence is discontinuous. Quite the opposite. The impunity and un-impeachability of law enforcement killers share clear historical affinities with the racialized violence of the last several centuries.

So rather than talk about war as a metaphor, it behooves us all--whether wage worker, politician, academic or other toiler in the world--to recognize the war for what it is: material, structural and systematic. Black men and women, and all other people of color, are in danger, and will continue to be in danger, absent radical political change. Today, tomorrow and well into the future, we must #SayTheirNames and say no to war.
Dr. Nick J. Sciullo, Jacksonville, Illinois

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