Sunday, January 31, 2010

Elections and Howard Zinn

In the part of his famous People's History of the United States that dealt with the 1830s and 1840s, the late Howard Zinn wrote:
"It was the new politics of ambiguity--speaking for the lower and middle classes to get their support in times of rapid growth and potential turmoil. The two-party system came into its own at this time. To give people a choice between two different parties and allow them, in a period of rebellion, to choose the slightly more democratic one was an ingenious mode of social control." [pg. 212 in the paperback edition]
Let us grasp the truth of this.

The power to determine government policy and actions in the United States does not come from, and never has come from, ordinary people; it comes from the very wealthy. Elections in the United States are not a means by which ordinary people can tell the government what to do (either directly or via "representatives"). Elections are a means by which the wealthy, who have the actual control of the government, persuade ordinary people not to take the kind of direct mass action that is the only way they can challenge the power of the very wealthy. This role of elections is especially important in, as Zinn put it, "a period of rebellion."

Let us not forget that no substantive improvement in the lives of ordinary Americans has resulted from voting. On the contrary, it was mass, direct, collective action that abolished slavery (the slaves left the plantations in droves during the Civil War, which Lincoln never waged to abolish slavery); it was sit-ins and massive demonstrations and bus boycotts that abolished Jim Crow; it was massive labor strikes that won the 8 hour day and, later, even more militant sit-ins (like the famous ones in auto plants in 1936) that won the right to have labor unions. It was the armed resistance of the Vietnamese peasants and the refusal of American GIs to fight them, plus the increasingly revolutionary movement of people inside the United States in the 1960s (see below) that forced the U.S. to "bring the troops home."

"It was the assessment of the Army that [Martin Luther King, Jr.] would lose control of [the Poor People's Campaign in Washington D.C.]. And the more violent and radical amongst the forces would take control and they would have a revolution on their hands in the nation's capital. And they couldn't put down that revolution. They didn't have enough troops. Westmoreland wanted 200,000 for Vietnam. They didn't have those. They simply didn't have enough troops to put down what they thought was going to be the revolution that would result from that encampment." [William Pepper speaking on the release of his new book, An Act of State - The Execution of Martin Luther King (Verso, 2003).]:"

In 2004 David Stratman and I (the co-editors of advocated that people boycott the election, to demonstrate that the U.S. government did not truly represent the American people in its warmongering mass murder in Iraq. Howard Zinn did not agree. He said it was important to elect John Kerry president.

An ingenious mode of social control

With all due respect to the man, I think Zinn was mistaken here. The truth needs to be spoken loudly--elections are, as Zinn stated it himself, "an ingenious mode of social control." They are not a means by which We the People can affect what our government does.

Once again, it is time to boycott the elections **in order** to focus on making this a "period of rebellion."

It is most definitely NOT the time to try to create a "better democratic party" or, as some people would call it, "a real labor party" or a "real party of the working class". What such a party is, by whatever name, is an instrument dedicated to persuading people that the solution to our problems is voting, not rebellion. This is the very last thing we need today!

The Supreme Court, Corporations & Elections

The recent Supreme Court decision to let corporations have the same rights as human beings to propagandize during elections should be a wake-up call to Americans. The Right defends the decision on the grounds that, "Hey, media corporations like the newspapers have always had this right, why shouldn't all corporations?" The Right has a point. The corporate elite has always controlled how public issues are framed in the newspapers and mass-circulation magazines, on the radio and on T.V. GE owns NBC for crying out loud. Chris Hedges put it well:
"The fiction of democracy remains useful, not only for corporations, but for our bankrupt liberal class. If the fiction is seriously challenged, liberals will be forced to consider actual resistance, which will be neither pleasant nor easy. As long as a democratic facade exists, liberals can engage in an empty moral posturing that requires little sacrifice or commitment. They can be the self-appointed scolds of the Democratic Party, acting as if they are part of the debate and feel vindicated by their cries of protest.

"Much of the outrage expressed about the court’s ruling is the outrage of those who prefer this choreographed charade. As long as the charade is played, they do not have to consider how to combat what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls our system of “inverted totalitarianism.”[ ]

Instead of fretting about for whom to vote, let's tell our friends and neighbors--even the whole world!--that we "get it" for once: we understand what elections are really all about. We know we do not live in a democracy and that the government, for all the hype about it being a "representative democracy" does not represent us. We know that what we need to do is launch a "period of rebellion" with the revolutionary aim of creating a genuine democracy that does not commit mass murder for lies in order to make rich people richer, does not deny health care in order to make rich people richer, does not throw people out of their homes to make rich people richer, does not take the side of the wealthy against ordinary people struggling to make a more equal and mutually supportive society instead of one based on inequality and pitting people against each other, and (you might need to read the first next linked article to understand this last point) does not support Israel's ethnic cleansing in order to (pdf) make Americans (pdf) easier to control.

But Do We Really Want Majority Rule?

If you are not a liberal or leftist, you can skip this section. But if you are, I can already hear you responding to this article by saying, "You know what? I'm not so sure I actually want real majority rule democracy, at least not right away. The majority voted Yes for Proposition 8 against same-sex marriage. In every one of the 31 state referenda on that issue the majority voted to deny gays and lesbians equal rights. The majority are bigots, unfortunately."

The Green Party's fear of majority rule democracy is expressed in their slogan, "It's wrong to vote on rights." The Marxist left says that over time, in the course of struggles led by the left, people will learn not to be bigoted and only then will it be ok to let them have the real say in society. Thus Che Guevara said that it was too early for real democracy in Cuba, and the Communist Party needed to rule from the top down, because, first, the Communist Party had to create a "New Socialist Man."

Listen people! The majority voting against same-sex marriage have decent non-bigoted reasons for doing so, as I discuss in painstaking detail here and here and here and here. The elite want the college-educated, professional white collar folks to fear the masses. This is why they tell us that "Hitler was voted into power by the German masses" when in fact the opposite is the case. (Read all about it here.) This is why they hide from us the history of poor whites in the deep South joining with blacks to fight slavery and, later, Jim Crow (as discussed here.) This is why they characterize opposition to same-sex marriage as bigotry.

If, my dear reader, you are so afraid of real democracy, and so willing therefore to tolerate rule by the plutocracy as a "lesser evil," then you should at least look at the above linked articles and possibly, for the first time, listen to what people opposed to same-sex marriage are saying. Do this before you dismiss them as bigots just because all you have ever heard on the subject from the corporate-owned liberal newspapers and magazines and radio stations that you read or listen to tell you that you should fear the majority and fear genuine democracy.

Don't Vote, Organize!

The bumper stickers are true!

If voting could make things better it would be illegal.

Don't vote, it only encourages them.


At 6:12 AM, April 10, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...


just registered and put on my todo list

hopefully this is just what im looking for looks like i have a lot to read.


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