[Marxism] Lesser-Evilism

Philip Ferguson plf13 at student.canterbury.ac.nz
Thu Mar 18 14:11:24 MST 2004

> The only way to break out of lesser-evilism is to vote
> in Democrats. The left flourished under under JFK and
> LBJ; it withered under Nixon; it became virtually
> extinct under Reagan. 

Actually, it was during the Nixon years that the left was strongest.

At the end of the 1960s, SDS had 100,000 members, Maoism had thousands 
and thousands of adherents and Trotskyism had grown significantly as well.

The Nixon years saw the height of the anti-Vietnam War movement, with 
the biggest demos.

It saw the arrival of the women's liberation and gay liberation movements.

The American Indian Movement was formed during the Nixon period.

The idea that the left flourishes under the Democrats and dies off when 
the Republicans are in government seems to be wrong.

Moreover, people had to fight for left positions just as much under LBJ 
as under Nixon.  LBJ was prepared to abandon the 'Great Society' project 
in order to have sufficient funds to massively escalate the war in Vietnam.

In terms of economic policy, as someone on this list pointed out a few 
weeks back, the Nixon years actually appear in retrospect as the 
highpoint of Keynesian reformism, compared with what came after (under 
*both* Democratic and Republican administrations).

The key to the weakening of the left after the end of the Vietnam War - 
and this was a phenomenon throughout the world, especially the 
imperialist world - was the end of the postwar boom, in my opinion.  The 
  radical left of the 1960s was a product, in no small part, of the 
postwar boom and vastly underestimated the significance of the end of 
the boom and how this would lead to the political retreat of all the 
'new social movements' and of most of the radical left's liberal-left 
allies - ie of the whole social milieu in which the radical left was 

The shift to the right of this milieu, which Mike Davis analyses in the 
extract Louis posted, involved a shift into the Democratic Party which, 
again as Davis noted, was a kiss of death to any genuinely radical politics.

The pro-Democrat argument in the US is rather similar to the pro-Labour 
argument here in NZ.  Of course, what actuially happens is that when the 
National Party is in power, the liberal-left argue against radical 
struggles and for concentrating energy on getting Labour back into power 
and then when Labour is in power they argue against rocking the boat in 
case it topples Labour out and National back in.  So the time for 
struggle is. . . well. . . never!

Over the past decade, the actual experience of struggle here is that 
there is little difference between the two governments.  Days lost 
through strikes, currently sadly very low in NZ, does not vary much 
according to who is in government.  Wage rises were notably larger in 
the last few years of the National (in the late 1990s) than under Labour 
(in power since 1999) and class inequality between the richest and the 
rest has widened more and at a faster rate under Labour than National 
since 1984 (the 1980s Labour government organised the biggest transfer 
of wealth upwards in NZ history since colonisation, while under the 
current Labour government those on the NZ Rich List have seen their 
wealth increase at a faster rate than any time since. . . the last 
Labour government).

 From what I know of the Clinton years, there was a clear esacalation of 
US military involvement abroad (most US involvement in imperialist wars 
and interventions have been courtesy of the Democrats), plus there 
continued to be erosions of workers' living standards, the health fiasco 
and so on.

The (partial) revival of protest movements in recent years has little to 
do with who is in power and more to do with revulsion at certain aspects 
of capitalism which have become more apparent and rampant - like the 
commodification of everything capital can get its hands on.  There is 
now a new generation of young people, who did not go through the defeats 
of the 1980s and 1990s, and who are coming into political activity.

What a waste of this new generation if it got embroiled in lesser-evil 
politics.  They deserve better.

And, happily, I think there are lots of radicalising young people for 
whom the mainstream parties actually hold little attraction.  I would 
guess that people like Chomsky and Nader are far more attractive to 
critical-minded young people in the US than people like Kerry and 
Edwards are.

Philip Ferguson

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