Camejo, elections, independent politics
Jose G. Perez
jgperez at netzero.net
Fri Jul 11 07:14:51 MDT 2003
>>I think the real false polemic is trying to compare Peter's campaign
with "a Lenin" or "a Fidel." That is, in my humble opinion, bizarre.
Lenin was a Marxist in a backward, just-out-of-feudal Russia. Fidel was
a democratic nationalist in a hyper-exploited third world Latin nation
with a tinpot dictator. There's simply no justifiable comparison between
those guys and a millionaire running a Green campaign for governor in an
The similarity is simply in the METHOD, the POLITICAL APPROACH in
formulating your political "discourse" or if you prefer "demands":
"It is necessary to help the masses in the process of the daily struggle
to find the bridge between present demands and the socialist program of
the revolution. This bridge should include a system of transitional
demands, stemming from todays conditions and from todays consciousness
of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final
conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat." (Trotsky, the
However radical or unradical specific proposals or demands might be, in
and of themselves, is of little interest.
In general under bourgeois rule you cannot formulate really and truly
"socialist" demands in anything but a propagandistic way. How do you
demand a bourgeois state smash itself? How do you demand a capitalist
class expropriate itself? And as both history and the manifesto teach,
even on "the morning after" the revolution the measures you take "appear
economically insufficient and untenable." What they are is part of a
process, the are the bridge between where you *begin*, with working
people realizing they need their own government, and the goal, which is
a communist society.
So would someone be required, on the basis of revolutionary principle,
to always demand when running for office not just US Hands Off of Iraq
(and today, Out Now!), but also elimination of the Pentagon budget? I
would expect a socialist under current conditions to maintain a stance
of hostility towards U.S. military policy, intervention abroad, etc., to
say things like "just one month of the Iraq war will pay for" so much of
the California budget deficit or "just one aircraft carrier" will pay
for so many schools, but no, not something which masses of people will
plainly not understand, that will be translated when they hear it into
the following statement: "Greetings Earthlings. I am called nine of six.
I come from Uranus."
NOT telling people you're from Uranus is *precisely* what Marx, Engels,
Lenin, Trotsky, Fidel and --yes-- Camejo all seem to agree on. And which
many people on this list and on the U.S. Left aren't entirely clear on.
Another one: should Camejo be more aggressive in the tax hike on the
rich he is proposing to close the budget deficit, and save social
programs. Or should he in addition propose eliminating the sales tax?
California is facing the mother of all state fiscal deficits. Camejo is
saying, make the rich pay for it, don't cut social services or
education. Is the political clarity of that message really enhanced by
adding, and lets double or triple this record deficit by eliminating the
These aren't examples José made up. These are the actual issues and
criticisms that have been raised here about how Peter has handled his
assignment, viewing that assignment as being running a green party
campaign illuminated by a Marxist understanding that stresses the actual
working class character of this party, even though the green party
cannot yet openly inscribe that on its banner. It doesn't seem to me
Camejo's critics are scoring heavily, it seems to me their suggestions
are mostly for speeches of the "Greetings, Earthlings, I am from Uranus"
So let's drop these sorts of ultimatistic demands and get real.
Demanding USA out of North America is NOT a skillful application of the
transitional method to something like Peter's campaign.
Of interest in the measures he does raise, however, is whether they
serve as a bridge to somewhere, i.e., that help draw the masses into
motion. Right now working people in the United States don't have their
own independent political movement or expression. The first step in
crossing the bridge is getting that. I think Peter's campaign shows,
together with other evidence, that conditions exist for a serious
attempt to begin the building of such a movement. That this takes the
form of a "green" party and not a labor party or a socialist party or a
socialist alliance is irrelevant.
You say in another post that you just can't believe the Greens would
become the vehicle for such a development. I shared your disbelief. And
you can look back at some of the stuff I wrote in the 2000 election
cycle, which reflect that.
What changed my mind was Peter's campaign. Nearly 400K votes, 5%, ain't
Especially when you take into account that much of his natural
constituency, so to speak, isn't allowed to vote because undocumented
immigrants don't have any rights and even those with papers need to jump
through all kinds of hoops to get citizenship.
And that contrary to what has been said here, there was a fair amount of
pressure to not "run the risk" of winding up with Simon by voting for
Camejo. In at least a couple of different statewide polls I saw Peter
was getting 9%. And that extra 4% Peter DID NOT get was precisely
Davis's margin over Simon.
And I put that together with other stuff. Like the antiwar protests.
Where did THAT come from? A lot of it was energy, sentiment, motion
looking for an outlet. The increasing abstentionism in bourgeois
elections, especially by Blacks and Latinos. Then individual things,
like that Black union militant I mentioned in another post, discussions
I've had with people. Some of my reasoning is like doing cosmology
around dark matter. There is a body there whose effects you can detect
even though you don't have anything that can detect the dark matter
itself. So a narrow coalition like ANSWER calls a demo in DC and 100,000
or 200,000 people show up.
So much as I may think it is quite improbable that this formation would
serve as a vehicle for that kind of movement to take form, I've got to
admit that's what happened, partly because I see similar phenomena in
other areas that would be explained by the same sort of underlying
sentiment and effervescence as would explain the green one.
And, really, with a little sense of American history, as these things
go, the Greens aren't really all that weird for an independent political
formation. If you want REALLY wacky stuff, you've got to look at the
outfits from the 1800's. A not entirely unprofitable diversion, for as
it turns out, Engels wrote a fair bit about one of these phenomenon. And
what he said then I think speaks very directly to us, it has a lot of
useful ideas for orienting ourselves today.
So out of deference to everyone's complaints that Fidel and Lenin
weren't bourgeois, which I guess Peter is, we'll stick with Engels for
the rest of this post. True, unlike Peter, Engels didn't speculate on
the financial markets. He left that to Marx. But there is no question as
to his class position in English society. He was a bourgeois,
And it is striking how similar some of the sorts of issues that Adam
raises --arising from the idiosyncrasies of the Greens-- are to those
posed by the Henry George movement of 1886, where a nascent labor party
in New York and other cities that also included the various sorts of
disparate and often crackpot radicalisms common in the U.S. in that
epoch (George himself was an advocate of the single-tax panacea)
nominated the well-known reformer of religious inspiration for Mayor.
Engels considered the event of signal political importance: "Whatever
the mistakes and the Borniertheit [narrow-mindedness] of the leaders of
the movement, and partly of the newly-awakening masses too, one thing is
certain: the American working class is moving, and no mistake. And after
a few false starts, they will get into the right track soon enough. This
appearance of the Americans upon the scene I consider one of the
greatest events of the year." Engels to Florence Kelley Wischnewetsky,
June 3, 1886.
In December, in another letter, Engels was extremely critical of the
American Marxists who were German imports (I think these were the
"Our theory is not a dogma but the exposition of a process of evolution,
and that process involves successive phases. To expect that the
Americans will start with the full consciousness of the theory worked
out in older industrial countries is to expect the impossible. What the
Germans ought to do is to act up to their own theory --if they
understand it, as we did in 1845 and 1848--to go in for any real general
working-class movement, accept its faktische starting points as such and
work it gradually up to the theoretical level by pointing out how every
mistake made, every reverse suffered, was a necessary consequence of
mistaken theoretical views in the original programme; they ought, in the
words of The Communist Manifesto, to represent the movement of the
future in the movement of the present.
"But above all give the movement time to consolidate, do not make the
inevitable confusion of the first start worse, confounded by forcing
down people's throats things which at present they cannot properly
understand, but which they soon will learn. A million or two of
workingmen's votes next November for a bona fide workingmen's party is
worth infinitely more at present than a hundred thousand votes for a
doctrinally perfect platform." (Engels to Florence Kelley Wischnewetsky,
Dec. 28, 1886)
In another letter around the same time, this one to Sorge, he says:
"The first great step of importance for every country newly entering
into the movement is always the organisation of the workers as an
independent political party, no matter how, so long as it is a distinct
workers' party.... The masses must have time and opportunity to develop
and they can only have the opportunity when they have their own
movement--no matter in what form so long as it is only their own
movement--in which they are driven further by their own mistakes and
learn wisdom by hurting themselves." (Engels to Friedrich Adolph Sorge,
Nov. 29, 1886)
These (and several others relating to the same events) are easily
accessible from this letters index page on the Marxists Internet
The question thus becomes does this Peter thing out in California
reflect something real. The number of votes he got say to me, that must
be our working assumption. And then you look at the character of his
campaign. I followed it, a little bit, insofar as one could in the
press. And the press coverage was what you'd expect if he were running
the kind of campaign he seemed to be running from the MP3 speeches and
Eli swears it ain't so, the couple of speeches they posted on were quite
unlike his normal fare. While I don't discount that completely --a
speech to the faithful, after all, tends to be different-- Eli seems to
have a much easier time digesting political messages when they're in the
form of stilted programmatic generalizations. So I'm not sure that the
important things Eli thinks were absent or way too downgraded really
were. I think it quite likely he missed a lot of it.
And Camejo has a history, a trajectory, not just in the SWP but
afterwards, including in the 90's when Eli thinks he wasn't doing
anything. And it's all been in the direction of promoting independent
politics, a break with the democrats and republicans, from a Marxist
perspective. And the kind of campaign he seemed to be running is
consistent with that. And it explains the results, he succeeded among
hundreds of thousands of people in getting them to view his candidacy as
the expression of their social struggles and aspirations and demands.
And then you look back at the Nader campaign, and it places a different
light on it. I forces you to ask, what is feeding this green thing? Why
doesn't it just collapse and disappear? Why are the sorts of leading,
outstanding militants that are there attracted to a formation like the
DeKalb Greens? One thing is for sure, it isn't Nader's charisma or wit
or ability to connect with people at a human level that's responsible.
The guy is, as the Brits say, a bloody owl.
All those questions now appear in a different light in the wake of
Camejo's race. There is *something* about the Green Party idea and the
vibes that surround it that is pulling all these people towards it. That
"something" at this stage doesn't seem to be necessarily intimately tied
to the activities and campaigns of the actual party committees, etc.,
but rather just the general idea that the green party as the electoral
expression of social movements and concerns. And that's consistent with
California, for when a campaign comes along that more consciously does
just that, support mushrooms.
I think there's like this hidden reservoir of pressure towards and
support for independent political action. It is not conscious, if it
were it would have taken some form already. And with the kind of
approach people like Camejo are taking to it, and his personal
effectiveness as a speaker and campaigner, the greens may well become
the outlet for it.
Of course, it may also just be a false start. The movement Engels wrote
about quickly fell apart, and there were other false starts but the
impulse Engels sensed led to the founding of Debs's Socialist Party at
the turn of the century, and by then on a fairly serious, coherent,
Marxist programmatic foundation. Things actually did work out pretty
much as Engels predicted they would. He hit it right on the money.
This whole thing does NOT NOT NOT revolve around watering down ideas or
getting a messed up program or anything else like that. It revolves
around seeing motion towards political independence and responding to
it, *even if* there are all sorts of messed up things about it.
But you've also got to realize that applying the transitional method,
which is really just the tactical approach outlined in the manifesto and
reaffirmed by Engels in these later writings I've been citing over the
past few days, is an *art* that has been little cultivated by socialist
groups in the U.S.
I know in my days in the SWP we always used to routinely raise the idea
of a "100% tax" on corporate profits or this or that, and I know that I
at least for a long time thought this was a matter of *principle* on
account of saying less than 100% was conceding the capitalists had a
right to some portion of the surplus value and so on. Addressing the
masses in our own name starting from THEIR level of consciousness really
was not our strong suit.
This then heads into a much broader debate, what sorts of groups should
Marxists form? For if it is always, or by default, going to be a
communist party, well you're obviously not going to be mucking about in
a swamp like the Henry George movement, except, perhaps, to raid it. But
that's not the course Engels advocated, he said be in it, part of it, go
through the experiences, represent, in this movement of the present, the
future of movement.
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