The Presidential Race and the Limitations of Liberal Democracy

My latest take on the presidential contest (not to be confused with an actual endorsement of any of the candidates).

Some polls now show Sanders actually having a better chance of beating Trump than Clinton. Up until ten years ago, maybe even more recently, it would have impossible for a self-identified socialist to be a viable presidential candidate.I don’t think that’s the case anymore. The US has taken a huge leap to the left in recent years due to generational, demographic and cultural change, as well as widening class divisions. I think a lot people still don’t realize how far left the US has moved. Hillary is actually the most right-wing candidate of the three major ones that are left with her neoliberal economics and her sucking off the neocons on foreign policy. She trends left on social issues, but that’s misleading as her constituency there tends to be upper middle class urban cosmopolitan professionals and upwardly mobile members of traditional out groups, and the progressive nanny state her followers tend to champion is the new social conservatism.


Meanwhile, Trump started his campaign with an appeal to the populist right that allowed him to subvert the Republican Party from their right flank and from the bottom up. This was a brilliant strategy on his part and one that allowed him to dislocate the neocons and “movement conservative” shitheads in the mainstream GOP (and good for him!). But now he’s moving to the radical center with some Ross Perot-like populist ideas on foreign policy and trade, and he’s starting to initiate a crossover appeal the left on class, labor, and bread and butter issues. Again, this is a brilliant tactical move on his part, and one that I always thought would be the winning strategy if the neoliberal/neoconservative paradigm was ever going to be effectively challenged. Recent polls show Trump gaining on Hillary now that he’s adopted this strategy. Other polls show Sanders is even more popular that Trump and, ironically, he’s not even a real Democrat. He’s actually to the left of the Dems (more in the vein of the Greens or the SPUSA) and is only running as a Dem for convenience. Hillary is now the conservative, Trump is in the center, and Sanders represents the growing popularity of the far left.


I don’t vote (or at least I haven’t in over 20 years), but there are circumstances where “defensive voting” might be warranted, and even “offensive voting” in some instances. The US state that I live in doesn’t usually have referendums, but in places where there are referendums on the ballot regarding important reforms voting might be legitimate. Some states have referendums on drug decriminalization, “criminal justice” reform, and a wide range of issues that might be worth voting for. In some places there are referendums on huge questions, like exiting the EU or Scottish secession from the UK. There are occasionally independent candidates, minor parties, or maverick major party candidates that are worth voting for (the Pirate Party, for example). Sometimes there might also be a party that is so awful that voting against them is warranted so as to ensure their defeat. Who in their right mind would not have voted for the Social Democrats over the Nazis in the 1932 German elections, for example?


At the same time, I do think anarchists need to devote more effort to thoroughly critiquing liberal democracy with its majoritarian-parliamentary-state-capitalist ethos. I think we can also make a distinction between someone like Murray Bookchin’s idea of democracy, and the kinds of centralized mass societies under plutocratic rule that we have at present.As an anarchist strategist, I’m in favor of building subversive political parties led by anarchists, or in which anarchists are embedded (like the Pirate Party, LP, Greens, etc) but only as a political arm for a popular movement consisting of anarchist federations that are independent of the state.
We need a multi-pronged “all fronts” approach. Some anarchists will be involved with political parties, some will be forming micronations like Liberland, some will be colonizing geographical areas like the Free State Project, some will be forming intentional communities, some willl be forming worker cooperatives, some will be engaged in direct action like eco-sabotage, some will be doing single issue activism (like Cop Block or Cop Watch), some will be doing alternative media, and some will be involved in direct armed struggle like the Zapatistas or PKK/YPG/YPJ. All of these things are already happening, we just need for them to expand.
One of the most important things to emphasize when we critique democracy is the question of scale. Democracy, socialism, communism, capitalism, etc all work fine in relatively small, relatively localized groups. When these things are centralized into mass society and the state it when the problems develop. For example, there are communists, capitalists, anarchists, theocrats, and nationalists who express admiration for the Amish culture, and to some degree they are all of these things.
Btw, the Amish have a great take on voting: “The Amish don’t vote in national elections. They vote in local elections. They do so because they have decided long ago that to vote for anyone on the national stage is to vote for a corrupt, lying, scheming Son of Satan. They won’t do it. Instead they argue that on the local level their vote just might make a bit of difference.”

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