I remember when my mother died, we read the obituaries in the local newspapers. One of these obituaries (so far, I haven’t managed to unearth it) mentioned something about her run for Congress as a member of the Workers League (precursor to the Socialist Equality Party) and in the course of it, there was this reference to my father’s run for governor, and something about how Mom had “entered politics” several years before Dad did.
I was croggled. Of course, on reflection it made perfect sense, and clearly no disrespect was intended. But . . . “entered politics.” I mean, my parents had devoted their lives to building a revolutionary party, but, to the reporter, only when they ran for office had they “entered politics.” A revolutionary socialist believes that the ruling class will never surrender power and privileges through an election, hence, the value of running for office is purely to make the party more visible and to generate discussion. It is a tactic, suitable at a certain moments, always subordinated to the understanding that only the working class can liberate itself.
That “entered politics” was, in some measure, a revelation. It felt like, “Wow, I’m seeing a message from another world.” Such a concept had so little to do with anything in my experience. It was like reading a good book about an ancient culture and, at some point, having the epiphany, “They really were different from us.”
I think of this, of my own amazement at seeing the phrase “entered politics,” every time someone says something like, “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain about what the country does,” or some similar nonsense. To believe that voting or working for the election of this or that bourgeois candidate can help the oppressed—much less is the only way to help the oppressed—is to take a definite political position. It happens to be a position I disagree with.
16 thoughts on “Entering Politics”
“Entering politics” is an odd phrase. It seems to be shorthand for “entering the political arena”–going out to compete.
As for whether voting helps the oppressed, I believe a $15 minimum wage, free public education, and universal health care will help the oppressed. Not as much as I would like, but enough that I will go support Sanders today.
I’m pretty sure any definition of “entering politics” that allows one to say things like “MLK, Jr. never entered politics” or on the other side “the Koch brothers never entered politics” is pretty useless.
(As an aside, this http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/why-martin-luther-king-didnt-run-for-president-20160118 is in many ways relevant to the discussion.)
“Entering politics” is a really interesting phrase. It implies a certain disassociation with the political–only people actively running are political. Rather like one fish saying to a second fish that when the second moves from a pool to a stream it is only now entering the water.
Regarding politics… your comments on The Revolution Betrayed and on The Wealth of Nations gave me much food for thought. I wonder what your opinion is of A Theory of the Leisure Class.
I ask because “That thing where a character one is writing mentions having read a book and now one has to read it ones-self to know what the character is talking about.” I did read it and formed my own opinions–I’m wondering about yours.
As Will says, I’m going to caucus for Sanders. One has to work with what is available.
Chuck: I’ll add it to my list.
Don’t add it to satisfy the curiosity of a random Internet stranger, that would be silly… unless you enjoy being silly like that. I found it to be racist and sexist and a product of its time, but I thought the description of waste and uselessness as evidence of status was pretty interesting.
To expand a bit on Will’s comment: I think I understand your position on the use of voting to the working class to be that true freedom will never be gained by voting for a new oppressor. Is it, however, a worthwhile tactic for the working class to vote for parties or candidates that might be more inept at their strategies of oppression, thus making it easier to accomplish revolution? (The question sounds a bit snarky to me, which might be due to the post-caucus scotch I’m enjoying, but I do mean it to be a serious question.)
Thanks Steve, for the reminiscence and the great photo of your parents. They were totally devoted to the cause of socialist revolution and I remember them fondly especially for the role they played after we Trotskyists left the SWP.
I cannot let this thread go by without noting that the seven months I spent on the receiving end of the wonderful hospitality and political/historical education at Bill and Jean’s home in 1986 were a very big high point in my political life. Of course the phrase about “entering politics” does not at all apply to these great figures in the socialist movement, whose commitment dated back to the 1930s. Nor, as Steve explains, does it correctly define Bill and Jean’s understanding of the role of the electoral process, although of course this process is not to be ignored.
The 2016 election is certainly shaping up as a major turning point in the development of the crisis of American and global capitalism in the 21st century. Will and others raise important issues, which cannot be fully answered in a paragraph or two. The support Sanders has been getting is extremely significant, but the purpose of his campaign (whatever his specific intentions and even if he has a sincere belief that it is possible to reform capitalism) is not the winning of free public education and a higher minimum wage, but rather the use of these slogans in order to make the Democratic Party and its eventual nominee more palatable to the millions and tens of millions who are hostile to this party of big business and imperialist war. We can expect a campaign to convince workers and young people that Hillary Clinton is the only thing standing between us and fascist dictatorship. A Clinton victory, however, will only feed the fascistic trends that have gained in response to the economic crisis and the bankruptcy of what passes for liberalism today, and its inability to resolve these issues. The answer, then, is not a vote for Sanders but rather the determined struggle to build a revolutionary alternative, as Bill and Jean fought for.
Fred: Well said indeed.
The sudden appearance of the photo of your mom on my reading page gave me an actual, physical jolt–of recognition, and sorrow. I hadn’t realized how much I miss her. I didn’t know your dad as well, but I knew your mom enough to know she was a powerful presence for good in the lives of your friends.
“Entering politics “,defined by ,elections indeed fotr a Revolutionary Socialist a auaint foreign concept.We dont enter politics ,as such ,WE ARE POLITICS .
And never stop being such .
My mainstream media sources have never informed me about Steve’s parents and their passionate commitment to the cause of the workers! Thanks for sharing that photo and that part of your history.
As for Sanders, in the unlikely event he becomes President, he will be very hard pressed to achieve any of his policy goals, no matter how genuinely he holds them. I agree he may be the “seasoning” in the stew of “candidates” the masters are serving up for the voting public here in 2016. We have the choice of a bloodthirsty egomaniac wholly beholden to the current political paradigm of domination by banks, investment houses, and multinationals, or Trump. That’s really not a choice at all.
I particularly agree with your final paragraph. It is another thing I am tired of hearing from others.