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Vote With Your Feet (part 3)

"The inevitable result of the lack of ambitious thoughts is a mediocre politics and a devalued ethics."
-Alain Badiou (Theory of the Subject)

When self-proclaimed communists react with horror to the possibility of boycotting bourgeois parliamentarianism, we need to speculate on the gap between their theory and practice.  Anarchists, regardless of the problems I have with anarchism (and my anarchist past), are generally better in this area: when you suggest boycotting the elections to a group of anarchists, they wonder why it's even controversial.  Of course, a self-assured and comfortable communist will simply argue that of course anarchists are fine with boycotting the elections because anarchists, don't you know, are ultra-left children who do not understand politics to begin with.

My question, though, is whether this supposed communist position is itself entirely communist.  Whether this desire to mock an elections boycott as some form of petty-bourgeois "ultra-leftism" is actually an attempt to cloak unprincipled opportunism.  Whether the ire levelled at anarchists is nothing more than resignation in the face of the apparent "end of history."  I believe there are reasons to differentiate communist politics from anarchist politics, yes, but at the same time I also believe that some of the reasons given for this differentiation are wrong and unprincipled.

At the International Womens Day march on Saturday March 12th we circulated pamphlets about the March 19th event that would launch the federal elections boycott in Toronto.  We were careful to avoid handing these pamphlets to proud social democrats because we knew that the politics of social democracy were at odds with the politics we were promoting.  The hostility coming from communists who should know better, however, was telling: even though the event was promoted as a discussion and/or debate about the possibility of a boycott, we were pretty much told to screw off by members of some groups who did not want to even debate the possibility of building a movement based on a rejection of parliamentarianism.  Some decided that they were going to boycott the boycott.

When the majority of Canadian society does not participate in the elections process, however, a debate is necessary.  The point that needs to be emphasized, as I emphasized in my first post in this series, is that there already is an implicit boycott.  We need to understand that this is a democratic decision, where people are voting with their feet by not voting with ballots for one bourgeois party or another, rather than dismissing this situation as some general malaise of apathetic stupidity.

Apparently the debate must be avoided, a priori, as "ultra-left."  But in these days, where the traditional "left" is getting more and more opportunist and/or right (witness one "marxist" group's willingness to waste all of its time in entryism while attacking the arrested G20 activists for being too militant), what was once understood as basic leftism a century or half-a-century ago is now treated as ultra-left.  Building up an organization/party/whatever based on clear revolutionary politics is apparently an ultra-left strategy.  Rejecting parliamentarianism in practice is also ultra-leftism––we should only do that in theory, we are told, and practice calls for the subordination of our time and energy to reformist based coalitions.

What sort of communism is this?  How can we argue that bourgeois parliamentarianism will never end capitalism on the one hand, and yet waste our time advocating for this parliamentarianism, and building coalitions with social democrats and left liberals, on the other?

The communist imagination in North America is shrinking, stagnating within the limits of social democracy.  Numerous communist groups try to sell their opportunistic practice as properly "radical", convincing themselves that the only way forward is through reformist activities.  The height of this resignation, this banal way of seeing political possibilities, is codified in those groups like Fightback who advocate entryism and claim that this is the only true method of revolution, as evidenced in one book by Lenin––as if Lenin never wrote anything about the need for a party, how to build a party, and the problems with opportunistic parliamentarianism.

One Canadian communist actually argues that working for the NDP is the only viable socialist strategy in our context: "ultimately, given the Canadian political landscape as it exists today, I find myself unavoidably bound to the entryist strategy advocated by Fightback for the simple reason that there is currently no real alternative to the NDP as a Canadian labour party." (citation here)  But the "Canadian political landscape" of this supposed radical's imagination is one already determined by bourgeois parameters that cannot conceptualize an alternative beyond the boundaries drawn by capitalism.  Given the Canadian political landscape as it exists today?  What about a landscape where the majority of people living and working in Canada do not vote and do not see any of the parties as a viable option?  What about a landscape that exists at the centre of imperialism, a landscape that REQUIRES an alternative to the still imperialist/colonialist NDP?

Or what about this problem, and one that is immediately ignored by those who sneer at the possibility of building a boycott movement as a political strategy: the Canadian government is, due to its very existence as Canadian government, a settler-colonial government.  There was a time, decades back when the left as a whole cared about fostering real internationalism, when it was understood that part of anticolonial strategy was to boycott colonial governments.

No ambition, no imagination, no potential to approach the possibilities beyond things as they are: in this context, pursuing reformism as the telos of "revolutionary" practice makes complete sense––no wonder the Fightback position would see no real alternative to entryism, a Canadian landscape that is locked forever in the prison of capitalism where the only way to escape is to try and become prison guards.


  1. Comrade J,

    I've been following this string of posts and my neck is tired from nodding in agreement.

    I wouldn't spend a lot of time worrying about what the SD's (calling themselves communist or otherwise) think about, or how they react, to the boycott. The amusing part about their smug self-assuredness is that the only people who are confident in them (or even really know who the %%%% they are) are...them.

    Perhaps the best position to take is to ignore them (like everybody else does---a mass line definitely worth taking up)and carry on building a revolutionary movement and party with it's roots firmy rooted in the masses. Their strategy has failed time and again, even (especially) when it succeeds. see: Bob Rae, and all the rest of the provincial NDP governments elected which always side with the bourgeoisie--like is attracted to like,right?--when the chips are down.

    You've mentioned the high percentage of people not voting. It's no great leap for me to agree with those statistics based on personal experience.

    I'd be hard pressed to give you more than two grown people I know who are interested in voting; most of the people I associate with are definitely proletarian. All of the kids who are approaching voting age I know think it's "a joke,cause the same people run things anyway". None of them give lick, lickity, spit about the NDP or bourgeois politics and only acknowlege it (them) when they talk about getting @@@@@@ by the system. The boycott we (yes, we) are involved in diplays more awareness of, and connection with, the growing frustration, disgust,and outright anger of a the majority of people in Canada; people like those I mentioned.

    Their decision not to vote, while certainly not indicative of a revolution, is definitely indicative of a revolt. I believe the "germ" (your word) of something bigger is there and those who are wrapping their minds, and their politcal actions, around it should be taken seriously, not dismissed (this from a pessimist). When I read the RCP's call for a boycott (their whole program, as a matter of fact), I became politically excited for the first time in years.

    You're in touch with "the people" on this one Comrade J. That's the difference between a revolutionary communist and a class collaborator (and you know how this "Stalinist" feels about them) . Further to that, the position the RCP has taken (not just on the boycott) scares the beejezus out of these folks. You may as well have handed them a pamphlet saying "Be Somebody. Be a Revolutionary. Rifle practice this Friday".

    To dismiss the boycott is simply being thick and scared (scared thick). It's also being irrelevant; that's how you found them, that's how you should leave them. Once upon a (short) time I believed pounding the pavement for the NDP, campaigning, voting, etc. etc. was a way to make a difference. I was wrong. No one had to imprison me as I was imprisoning myself. Worse yet, I knew better. If me now, met me then, I would say: "Given the Canadian political landscape as it exists today {good grief}, I find myself unavoidably bound to ignore you. Better for you if I keep it that way".

    Truth is though, we don't all "come around". Some stay irrelevant to, a lot become enemies of, revolution and revolutionaries. Do we debate enemies?

    The kids and I are designing "Don't Vote" signs in anticipation of the election. Their friends are helping out. Why the hell would I want to talk to a bunch of SD numpties when I have energetic minds to collaborate with?

    Respectfully, Comrade J., that's my opinion.


  2. Thanks for the glowing response - good to hear your thoughts on this matter. The points you made about the NDP are apt and I am just editing another post, a guest post by a comrade, that speaks of the history of the NDP and its failure to represent, whenever it has been in provincial power, even the most moderate social democratic position.

    Soon the boycott coalition will be launching an official website with pdfs and graphics that can be used commonly to tie the boycott together: I'll put up the link on this site when it's operable so you can draw on it in your context.

    Also, would you be interested in distributing a coalition/bilingual commie paper that the RCP Canada is spear-heading? One of the other initiatives agreed upon at the CRC was to start working towards an actual communist newspaper that would slowly become a nationwide paper. If you email me (just click on my icon in the "followers" box and hunt down my email, and send me from an anonymous email of your own, and are interested in setting up a P.O. Box or something we can ship papers to, we might be able to set this up whenever the paper rolls off the press.

    In solidarity,


  3. As a relatively speaking politically naive person, I just wanted to ask your opinion here. I've wondered if the NDP became what it did by being purposely infiltrated by "imperialist/colonialists", and if so, couldn't it be turned around by the same method?

  4. First of all, the NDP was always a social democratic party, meaning not communist, in the first place: the question of infiltration, therefore, is already moot when its aims were contingent on colonialism and imperialism.

    Secondly, parties involved in the bourgeois parliamentary process, no matter how well-intentioned they began, cannot help but capitulate to capitalism: this was Rosa Luxemburg's great insight about the German SDP which, true to her analysis, ended up collaborating with what would become the Nazi Party - and the SDP was originally far more to the left than the NDP.

    Therefore, entryism - wasting time infiltrating social democratic parties - is an opportunistic tactic that does not work, especially in this context.

  5. Not only has the NDP always been social democratic at best, it has a long and sordid history of actively obstructing communist forces, even during the possibly misguided attempts by Labour-Progressives and Communists to form alliances with the NDP against monopoly capital. Inside the Party, whenever more 'left' forces begin to gather they are periodically shaken off like a wet dog. The NDP eats communists and defecates a thoroughly imperialist log on the Canadian working class.

  6. Hi there, I'm the Fightback supporter who wrote the blog entry you link to in this article. I must say, despite the fact that I disagree with you on aspects of political theory and tactics, I think your blog is great. I just stumbled onto it today - specifically, the article on why Marxists should avoid talking about "true communism" - and you're a very good writer. Despite our differences, I admire your intellectual honesty and even when I disagree with what you're saying it's at least thought-provoking instead of pointlessly sectarian.

    1. Thanks. Hopefully you'll pop in to argue from time to time.


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