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Vote With Your Feet: Part Five

Over a week after the public discussion that launched the federal elections boycott campaign, there is still a bizarrely dogmatic antipathy amongst sections of the mainstream Canadian left regarding this campaign.  What makes this antipathy especially dogmatic is a refusal to critically grapple with the reasons for an elections boycott––a knee-jerk denunciation, filled with banal pronouncements about "ultra-leftism", that masquerades as political debate.  The vast majority of the groups and individuals who resist the very possibility of a boycott did not bother to attend, and in fact showed no interest in attending, the discussion on March 19th and instead chose to boycott the boycott discussion.

This refusal to engage in a critical discussion around the elections boycott, therefore, allows those who have decided a priori to participate and agitate for bourgeois parliamentarianism to cling to the tired arguments without having to consider the possible counter-arguments.  The point of the discussion on March 19th was to clarify the meaning of the campaign––a meaning that was clarified for many people who attended and participated, though not always in agreement, in a very fruitful discussion––but it is clear that the people who are most opposed to this campaign (as opposed as the ideologues of bourgeois democracy perhaps?) do not want clarity.  There minds were made up ahead of time; their imagination severely atrophied by decades of electoral loyalty.

In any case, perhaps the March 19th discussion was better served without the inclusion of those who had already decided, dogmatically and uncritically, to cling to the false promise of Canadian parliamentary democracy.  Instead, the people participating in the discussion tended to share a commitment to the rejection of capitalism and the discussion centred around whether or not a campaign was a viable use of time and energy, whether it was a totalizing strategy or temporary tactic, and whether or not the electoral space could be considered, either now or in the future, as a possible secondary (though not the principle) area for struggle.  This was a useful discussion, and one that clarified the possible campaign for everyone who participated regardless of their position, and I'm not sure it could have happened if those who were already rabidly opposed to a possible boycott were present.

By abstaining from the discussion, and by still abstaining from any critical consideration of the campaign arguments, those who make the same tired arguments attacking the campaign have also abstained from honest political responsibility.  But this political abstention, this prior abdication, was predictable.  As Alain Badiou wrote (and that I quoted in a previous post), "to want to abdicate is to vote."  And this abdication, when at its most dishonest, takes the form of rehashing arguments that, with just a little critical thought, would be revealed as groundless.

How many times must we listen to the argument that if we do not vote the Conservatives will win and so we have to support a "lesser evil?"  The fact that people can make this argument with a straight face, and even go so far as to make ahistorical claims about how voting abstention produces fascism, demonstrates either a political dishonesty or an uncritical ideological commitment to the pipe dream of social democracy.  In my first post in this series, I already dealt with this common argument amongst others and argued that fascist movements, and the conservatization of society, had nothing to do with our voting.  Despite attempts to mobilize people to vote in the past, despite all of our energy to get a social democratic government in power, society has been drifting to the right.  A perfect and recent example of how this type of thinking and practice does nothing to counter the rise of fascism is the Obama voting movement in the United States which now has received its senile reflection in the Tea Party.  But I'm not going to repeat what I wrote there because it will probably not serve to convince someone who is already convinced otherwise: if false consciousness could be easily dispelled by logic then our logical arguments would have already resulted in the end of capitalism.

Other protests, all equally baseless, abound.  The most infuriating complaint, and one I have heard over and over, is the argument that since there is no "organized left" then we should just vote in the meantime.  What makes this argument annoying is that it demonstrates an utter ignorance about the boycott campaign because, apparently made without reading any of the campaign material, it fails to understand that the problem of an "organized left" is the primary motivation of the campaign.

The RCP-Canada launched this campaign, during the last federal election, as a strategy to accumulate revolutionary forces––a method to connect with the people who do not vote, draw them into a revolutionary organization, link up isolated elements of the disaffected masses.  This is a fact recognized by the RI-Canada––another revolutionary organization and one that does not rush to dismiss critical discussions surrounding the practice of bourgeois democracy––who examined the RCP-Canada's campaign call in a very recent and thorough document.

It also needs to be said, though I'm tired of repeating a point that people desperately want to forget, that the RCP-Canada's campaign last election, which was limited to Quebec, was also successful as an organizational method.  (So any arguments that rely on the "I'm-not-convinced-this-works" position are arguments that depend, like many of the typical and repeated arguments, on a denial of reality.)  Since the campaign has already demonstrated success as a method of radical organization, a way to connect with people who feel this democracy doesn't work for them, then to complain that we should go ahead and vote because there is no organized left is to abdicate one's responsibility from organizational work.

This type of abdication is not an abdication simply because you are voting; it is an abdication because it relies on that tired academic left cop-out where we complain that no revolutionary movement exists, and go about our business as if social democracy is the best we can hope for, and yet do not, for even one minute, think about what we need to do to build an actual revolutionary movement.  We imagine that a movement will suddenly spring up around us, perhaps spontaneously or perhaps because someone else will do the work for us, and never realize that maybe there is no "organized left" because we leftists aren't doing any significant movement building.

There are people in Canada attempting to do build a revolutionary movement, and not simply a single group, who are examining how to do so in concrete and non-sectarian ways.  (Non-sectarian and ideologically principled, I should clarify, because there's a banal tendency these days to claim that ideological principles, in themselves, are sectarian.  If this was the case, then the most popular-frontist anti-capitalist would be sectarian because of hir refusal to work with capitalists.)  This campaign comes from one of these groups, and one that has been developing a concrete analysis of the Canadian context for years, and is proposed an organizational strategy.  Again, its use has been proved in practice: we are definitely at a stage where the objective conditions require us to start accumulating forces; the boycott is one strategic method.

The argument made by this campaign is that bourgeois democracy distracts from building a sustainable anti-capitalist movement.  This is not a new insight, nor is it traditionally "ultra-left."  In fact, this argument has been made by communist organizations for almost a century, and it has been made because of the historical experience of these organizations.  In May 1920, for example, the Abstentionist Faction of the Italian Socialist Party, witnessing the rise of fascism and the PSI's previous collaboration with parliamentarianism, wrote:
"Because of the great importance which electoral activity assumes in practice, it is not possible to reconcile this activity with the assertion that it is not the means of achieving the principal objective of the party’s action, which is the conquest of power. It also is not possible to prevent it from absorbing all the activity of the movement and from diverting it from revolutionary preparation." (Theses of the Absentionist Communist Faction of the Italian Socialist Party, posted at Signalfire.)


  1. I have some reservations about this campaign and although I would like to engage you in some kind of discussion I find myself facing a series of insults which make it difficult to formulate a response. When I read this post I find my position is characterized as the "ignorant," "banal" "dogmatism" of an "ideologue" who is "politically dishonest" or perhaps has a "false consciousness" and a "severely atrophied imagination." Do you imagine this provides an opportunity for open dialogue on the left about the limits of parliamentary democracy? Calling everyone who disagrees with your particular line an "imbecilic entryist"? What purpose do these ad hominem attacks and straw man arguments serve? In order to have any discussion with you one would have to turn the other cheek with a kind of other-worldly composure that I most certainly lack.

  2. Jude: I have not called everyone who disagrees with this campaign an "imbecilic entryist" - that refers to a specific group that is an entryist group. I don't know what your position is, but as I indicated in this post my annoyance is due to the fact that there is a certain rejection of the campaign position that is knee-jerk and has not (and I think this comment here proves my frustration) even bothered to examine the reasons given. This is the fifth of a series and is annoyed with the arguments that are made that ignore the previous ones.

    It is also funny that you accuse me of "ad hominem" and "straw person" when you've done exactly that with this comment. There are people I will accuse of being politically dishonest, and taking dogmatic positions (i.e. an unwillingness to listen to arguments that prove their position wrong), as well as lacking any imagination (doing the same thing over and over with no results), and I don't see why you would imagine that any of them were you. As noted above, I'm not referring to individuals but to small left sects that made up their opinion ahead of time, never bothered to engage in the debate (which a lot of other people attended and not the usual suspects), but made up their minds ahead of time what it was about.

    You've also, if we want to talk about fallacies, "poisoned the well."

    My position here is not to ask for open dialogue with a small sector of the left that has already refused dialogue (as the frustration of this post demonstrates) and has gone to great lengths to resist any dialogue. You say you want to enter into a dialogue with someone like me here but then feel insulted by this post, but this post is a response to those (who are not necessarily you because I don't even know your position) who have been repeating a position without listening to the campaign arguments in the first place. Or making arguments that are clearly not true.

    As I pointed out, this campaign was designed during the past election as an organizing tool and it was actually very successful. Maybe it only worked in the context of Quebec, fair enough, but it is not designed, to be fair, to get members of the academic left and usual suspects "on board", though that would be great.

  3. Whoever the intended target of your insults, they hit just about everyone who disagrees with you. Notwithstanding your claim to the contrary, you did caustically denounce the “vast majority of individuals” who oppose a boycott and characterized their arguments as ignorant, stupid or cynical. Surely you must have realized this includes a wide range of people and not just the particular “sects” you find so irritating. Perhaps a change in tone or rhetoric would make it possible to have a discussion with people who don’t share your line but are willing to debate with you. This is assuming of course that persuasion is the purpose here. My concern with a campaign like this is that it tends to draw a line in the sand in a place that seems wholly inappropriate or unnecessary.

    I do not, of course, believe that boycotts are in principle wrong or that parliamentary democracy is the only venue for political expression or activity, but I do think boycotts are only really effective when a mass movement or organization already exists that is forcefully excluded from the process. At the very least, such a movement needs to exist in order to withdraw from power. You can’t strike on your own, right? You need to either have a union or you need to have enough support in your workplace to build a union in order to successfully strike. The fact is there is no real support for a revolutionary movement in Canada and calling a boycott to create such a movement seems--forgive the downhome cliche--like putting the cart before the horse. You claim this is baseless, infuriating and ignorant, but you have not to my mind adequately addressed this argument. Although you cite the RCP as an example of a group that successfully used a boycott to build a mass movement, the precise nature of their “success” remains unclear to me. You claim that they “accumulated revolutionary forces” as a result of the boycott, but this is rather vague. I doubt most people have even heard of the RCP. Perhaps if you could offer some concrete examples of how the RCP has “accumulated forces,” or what these forces are actually doing.

    Now I certainly have problems with the NDP, but I consider a vote for them simple pragmatism and not, as you say, “uncritical ideological commitment to the pipe dream of social democracy.” I don’t see why I should have to say this, but universal healthcare, welfare programs, labour laws, human rights legislation, financial regulation and subsidized housing are, I believe, worth preserving. Such programs, flawed as they are, ameliorate real suffering. They are not nothing, and those programs would not exist if socialists had not “dissipated” their energies working through the NDP, in trade unions, in bureaucracies and law courts. The RCP cannot claim to have built anything even remotely comparable to these flawed, limited laws and programs. I’m under no illusion as to the “revolutionary potential” of the NDP, but I do believe it is better to have people in parliament who will at least register opposition to the dissolution of such programs than to simply not vote and preserve my ideological purity.

  4. I think in my first post I discussed that the drawing the line was actually an important part of the boycott and I explained why. Again, this post is a frustrated post that deals with the *unwillingness* of people (not meaning you) to even engage in a discussion. I actually, to be fair, do not think I have to apologize for the tone on my blog after having to put up with the tone of a small group of people, connected to certain sects (and yes some of them are individuals and some are groups), who have demonstrated the dogmatism I complain about.

    The question about having a movement already existing is a serious problem, however, when we haven't been building this movement. In fact, many of the serious attempts in Toronto at building a movement have been to build nothing more than: a) an entryist group that thinks that, contrary to historical evidence, it can take over the NDP from the inside; b) a group that wants to be the new NDP and calls itself radical even though it only works with union bureaucrats. The boycott position was passed at the Canadian Revolutionary Congress spear-headed by the RCP-Canada and passed with people who came from all over Ontario to meet with them as a method of organizing: a large portion of people do not vote, there already is an implicit boycott, let's use this as a way to build forces. I don't see why it's putting the cart before the horse unless you assume that social democracy is the horse that draws the cart of communism. Luxemburg argued differently though maybe, as you also pointed out, she did argue how it was useful to vote from time to time... I dealt with that argument in my first entry in this series, though.

    In any case, I think the boycott strategy is about accumulating forces and you ask about the RCP-Canada. First of all, you say "most people" in the left don't know who they are and I would have to say most people in a certain small group of the left in Toronto don't know who they are. There are in fact a lot of people (some who are in agreement with them and some who are not) who have been following them for years - from their development out of Action Socialiste in 1986 to the present. Also, they're the only communist org. in Canada so far that is recognized by the Nepalese, the Afghanis, and various other groups involved in revolution. In Quebec they're pretty much considered one of the largest left wing organizations: maybe it's the English speaking canada left mainstream that doesn't know/care about them. As for details on "what they're doing" that is a very problematic discussion to have on a public blog.


  5. [cont from above]

    My argument about the NDP, that I made in previous posts that I'm not sure by the tone of the first comment and this one that you've read, was already made. And then what the NDP has actually done in practice was made by Wendy G. on a guest post [Vote With Your Feet Part 4] previously. I went through these arguments already, which is the reason for the frustration of this post, and explained why this boycott has emerged against the "amelioration of the suffering of the working class" line that, like you, I've taken in the past [I talk about the basic argument against that in part 1].

    My blog is not aimed at winning over people who have already made their decision ahead of time: that was the point in this entry. I complained about people who made their decision ahead of time, were extremely committed to the belief that a ballot every four years can change anything in this climate (even the NDP won't as its record now demonstrates), and are unwilling to discuss potentials outside of social democracy. Because of the polemical line I've taken here, actually, I have had a lot of people either comment in support on the previous entries or send me private emails expressing agreement: it is aimed at gathering those people, or maybe people like you who want to have a discussion (and again I'm sorry you thought it was about you - I *do* think it's clear about people who made up their mind *ahead of time* as it says in reference to those who boycotted the march 19th event), rather than people who should be rightly castigated for being dogmatic. They're not going to change their minds anyhow and they'll just argue for the sake of being a nuisance.

    Anyhow, this is a conversation better had in person. Or at least participate in it on the boycott site rather than here.

  6. AND ALSO:

    How come all of you can post giant comments and, on my own blog, mine are too big to get accepted?

  7. Hi Josh -

    I don't know if it's "about me" (I suspect I'm in an organization diagnosed from the outside as 'wanting to be the new ndp' - a good laugh to many of our members who support your campaign) - though I enjoy your blog, I differ with you on analysis of the conjuncture.

    Neither I nor anyone I'm associated with boycotted the March 19th event. I would have gone but I was at Left Forum. I do feel targetted by your comments in general about what I do politically - though as a friend, I don't take them personally - but I think you're reading too much into who does and doesn't support this campaign.

    I wish you good luck. Anything that build capacity or "forces" or whatever tem you use is fine by me. A thousand flowers and all that.


  8. Jordy,

    I know you were at left forum at the time but there were people who told us directly that they would not even think about coming to the discussion on March 19th - and yes, some of them were associated with your organization. Nor do I think I'm reading too much into who and who doesn't support the campaign: the knee-jerk reaction around this amongst the academic left is something to be frustrated about.

    You know I have issues with the WA as a viable project that actually connects to the working class, and I've been open about those problems since its initial existence, before you were even involved to the level in which you're involved. True, this is not an attack on you personally because I consider you a comrade, but I do feel that the focus on what is pretty much the labour aristocracy on the part of the left has led us down a blind alley over and over. This is not to say that I don't think the WA can or cannot do important things, but I do think that if it actually was interested in social change it would consider endorsing this campaign - at the very least partially endorsing this campaign.

    Diagnosing you from the outside for wanting to be the new NDP? Maybe that was harsh, but a number of your members have spoken about being a new, and Ontario version of, Quebec Solidaire. And when it comes down to it, your arguments *are* for social democracy and not communism and that is an important distinction to make. Do you actually have members who support this campaign? I haven't seen them at the meetings, or any emails expressing support. It's very easy to denounce something as a "critique from outside" but, really, something is defined by how it acts and the theoretical line it puts forward - its practice in society - not on whatever discussions happen internally.

  9. Well those people misquoted me. I wanted to go.

    And I am aware of your critique, just as you are probably aware of my critique of how others orient themselves, but I don't see you bringing anythign concrete to the table.

    And for the record, I am one of those people who'd like us to be like Quebec Solidaire or Die Linke in Germany.

    In any case, for irl discussion. And there are as far as I know people around CC who are members of the WA who support your campaign, I know DDP was to attend the event and some others, and our friend XR. And I'd be happy to forward you our discussion bulletins and minutes from coffeehouses where these issues (electoralism) are debated by people ranging from AN to MJN and others across the spectrum of the local Left.

    If the WA is flawed (sure it is) - then at least we're not isolating ourselves. And I don't know of any bureaucrats in our org, except part of progressive people who are elected in their unions.

  10. And endorsing this campaign goes against our endorsement protocol (I wanted to send out your event on members reccoment but it didn't get to our list person on time)

  11. I don't know what you mean by "isolating ourselves." Personally I don't think that the PRAC is isolating itself - it's only isolating itself from the people who are hardcore about a social democratic line while, at the same time, has opened itself up to people who have always felt isolated from that small sector of the left. Personally, I think that people who embrace the social democratic line (and I have been guilty of this in the past) have actually isolated themselves from a much broader space of organizational potential. Being isolated from the usual suspects has proven, at the end of the day, to actually not be isolating.

    Not bringing anything concrete to the table? The political line we are pushing is one that is very concrete, the most concrete version expressed in the programme and actions of the RCP-Canada which is one of the viable revolutionary forces in Canada because of the principled position it has taken *and* because of its ability to organize in those sectors abandoned by a commitment to a very limited idea of the working class. In fact, the reason I was drawn to them even five years ago was because they were the only organization in Canada at the time who was putting forward a concrete analysis of the concrete situation.

    I never said that you didn't want to go to the meeting. In fact I understood that you were at Left Forum at the time and, knowing you, would have assumed that you would be out March 19th even if you didn't agree with the politics expressed (you do act principally in these areas and I would never suggest otherwise). I said that other members of your organization said that *they* would not go because they disagreed, not you.

    If endorsing this campaign goes against your endorsement protocol, and the democratic centralism the WA has adopted speaks to a politics that supports this round of electoral politics, then it does say, in my opinion, something about the WA's political interests. Who knows? Maybe you're right in the end: maybe the only thing the left can do is be a social democratic organization, participate in elections like QS, and thus accept that our privilege is contingent on imperial oppression elsewhere. But if that's the case, we might as well say that Kautsky's wing of the Second International was correct, Lenin was wrong, and throw communism in the dustbin of history - as some commenters on previous entries (like the imperialism ones) have argued.

  12. You know, I dont' disagree with your critique. We should talk more in person, and respect the tone of your reply (and I also wanted to get the Nepal event endorsed, which caused a shitstorm).

    I don't think that a tactical orientation mostly involved with extra-parliamentary organizing (but with some members individually pushing for a QS type formation) is social-dem. I don't think orgs like QS or NPA are social dem (or maybe they are, but in the classical pre-cold war sense)..

    The reason it goes against our protocols is not a line about electoralism. We have anarchists on our CC that are as opposed to electoralism as you are. Rather, as I understand it, it is our role to not involve ourselves publicly in inter-left debates when we have no consensus as an org..

    We should talk soon -

  13. As you know, I don't agree as well with the notion of imperialist rent. See Charlie Post's critique of the theory of Labour Aristocracy in the most recent Historical Materialism.

  14. I hope my other posts didn't get lost but one last point - I'm not saying you are not bringing anything concrete. I'm saying that in your critique of the WA and others, you don't have a concrete example to back up your critique.

  15. Jordy: my critique is very concrete by your own admission. You said that you want to see the WA be like another Quebec Solidaire: my critique of the WA is exactly because of *that* politics. Which are all fine and good if you're not a communist (this is clearly the position that principled communists took in response to the German Social Democrat betrayal at the 2nd International). If you disagree with this then this is the concrete terms of debate and there is an entire history around this - do not pretend there is not.

    Secondly, this post has nothing to do with Amin's notion of imperialist rent. You know I disagree with you: I also disagree with an easy deflection of critique that asks me to read someone else's criticism: why would I care what Charlie Post thinks over someone like Amin? I have heard the typical critiques of the labour aristocracy - and there are a lot of them and I'm sure I won't be surprised by Post's - and I think they're extremely problematic and *very* eurocentric. In fact, I would go further to say that every dismissal of the concept of the labour aristocracy is as asinine as the dismissal of the labour theory of value... Moreover, I would say that it speaks to a consciousness produced by what the theory of the labour aristocracy is designed to critique. I don't really care if yet another eurocentric marxist writes another version of the same complaint, just as I don't care if another bourgeois economist writes the another version of the same rejection of the LTV.

    If you want to argue whether there is such a thing as a labour aristocracy, or if imperialism doesn't exist and all these military ventures are just ideological aberrations that have nothing to do with the structure of world capital, we can have that in person. Or you can maybe debate on the comment string on my post about the labour aristocracy.

    In any case, these arguments are better had in person especially since they are now roaming (which is good) outside of the bounds of the subject of this post.

    (Note: they didn't post because all comments are moderated and I wasn't home when you wrote these.)

  16. Fair enough.

    Let's continue this in person.

  17. Josh: clearly this is a topic for another venue, but I would like to stress a key problem with what I view as the central presupposition of this campaign: the notion that the 40% of the electorate who do not vote are involved in an “implicit boycott” and are therefore potentially (i.e. passively or unconsciously) revolutionary. As I’ve said elsewhere, the vast majority of people who do not vote are not, I believe, “passively resisting bourgeois politics;” they are simply *disinterested* in politics in general. They may not be voting because they know "things won't change," but at the same time they may very well prefer things to remain unchanged, so it's not disaffection or even apathy but a cynical realism and intense conservatism that draws them out of the electoral process. I do think that the low voter turnout is a striking phenomenon that demands greater attention, and not just the patronizing contempt of liberals who claim it is apathy, ignorance, or lack of education which prevents people from becoming “fully involved” in the electoral process. Nevertheless, I’m doubtful as to whether the non-voter as non-voter is really a source of even passive or unconscious revolutionary desire. There is plenty of evidence to support alternate interpretations--the recent municipal election for instance, in which we saw the erstwhile non-voter successfully mobilized by the populist right.

    Again, the example of the RCP is not convincing. They clearly haven’t called a mass movement into being ex nihilo, and if they’ve done nothing with their undefined “accumulated forces” that can be shared on a public blog, then they are even more irrelevant than I initially believed. And in the end, nothing of what I said about the NDP seems to be negated by your posts or your response. The fact that the NDP have at times reversed and undermined gains made by left does not make them identical to other “bourgeois parties,” and pragmatism in the domain of parliamentary politics does not preclude the possibility of more radical political activity in other domains.

    But yes, perhaps we could discuss this in person some time.

  18. Sorry if this wasn't posted immediately: for some reason it ended up in my spam folder.

    Because I can't discuss what an organization is doing because of security reasons on a public blog they're irrelevant? That is not a very good argument. The mass movements they are involved in, as well as the political work they have done since the end of the 1980s to the present, is actually very relevant. There is also a lot of relevant organizing work in other spaces that we shouldn't discuss on blog venues, mainly because I don't know who reads the blog and because, as the G20 events have again proved, it is actually inappropriate and undisciplined to discuss these things in these spaces.

    And why do we make this assumption without actually talking to people about the reasons why they don't vote? What is interesting is that elections canada did do a poll during the last federal elections about this and that a lot of people, especially youth, said that they didn't vote because they didn't think that the government represented their interests. Also, the percentage that said they didn't vote also said they would be more inclined to join a demonstration...

    It's not that the NDP have reversed their positions, it's just that they have grown more and more right over the years. And they're also a far cry from even the German Social Democratic Party which, as we know, sold out the left when that society was growing more fascist. These are issues worth debating and yes in person.

  19. I don't want to take this too far off course, but as it was brought up by Jordy C, Charlie Post (someone I used to know before I broke with his kind of politics) wrote an article some time ago (2007) in the publication of the U.S. post-Trot group Solidarity called ‘The Myth of the Labour Aristocracy.’ I know you said it was the in the most recent Historical Materialism (something I don't read), so I was wondering if by any chance it was the same article?

    Anyway, the reason I ask is because the Revolutionary Communist Group in the UK put out an article in response to Post's writings in Against the Current called "Labour Aristocracy: Mythmakers and Their Mistakes," that I was a pretty good take down of Post's ideas. It can be found here

  20. Thanks for the heads up. I'm aware of Post's original article but, since I haven't checked out the HM one that Jordy C. referenced, I also don't know if it's the same. I suspect, however, that even if it's different it's pretty much the same argument. I haven't read the response to the original, though, and plan to check it out.

  21. Rowland - its a fleshed out version of the Soli piece.

  22. And yet the piece Rowland posted is actually pretty devastating. Especially the final part that demonstrates the theoretical ramifications, which get to the heart of the rejection of the LA: an acceptance, reductio ad absurdum, of what capitalists say capitalism is...

  23. The Decima poll you mentioned listed "negative attitudes" towards candidates and parties as the major reason for not voting. Not liking the options available is not the same thing as a general desire for revolution. Plenty of conservatives have "negative attitudes" towards the politicians they vote (or do not vote) for. They wish they were more conservative, or they want government out of their lives altogether and have some libertarian fantasy about the destruction of government. There's a hell of a lot more libertarians and conservatives among those non-voters than potential Maoist cadres, my friend. People's subjective interests are variable and they are certainly not identical to what you consider their interests to be.

    As for the relevance of the RCP--the proof is in the pudding, to use another tired cliche, and if I can't see much less eat the pudding because of "security concerns," I'm going eat someplace else.

  24. Which is why I said this is a better discussion had in person. I'm also not going to argue specifics about a group I support but am not a member of, which could lead to several misrepresentations on my part. The point that I made earlier, however, still stands: they are a very large left organization, and every influential, in Quebec. The fact that the entire May 1st march, which is something banal enough to discuss here, in Montreal is taking the boycott slogan (something that would not happen here, nor are the May day marches here as big), not to mention the size of their base, or the mass movements in which they're involved, is an important starting point. It's also important, and I don't see why this doesn't count, that they're recognized as currently the only viable revolutionary group in Canada by the Nepalese Revolution (a while chapter in Basanta's book is devoted to them): I do care about internationalism as a qualification. Other than that, I don't think it's appropriate to discuss here and I don't see why that's a sticking point, especially since I indicated that we could have this discussion in person: why does the proof of the pudding have to happen on this site, from someone who is not even a member but a supporter? Even better, why don't you look at their own information [better if you could read french] which I've had up here since I began this blog (or maybe even look at the post I have on the Canadian Revolutionary Congress [december I think] which does get into more specifics). Other than that, why not just have this debate in person (we really should get together and for more reasons than this) rather than dismissing my concerns as irrelevant?

    You might have a point about the libertarians and conservatives out there, though. They're everywhere! Nor do I think that peoples' interests are the same: the coalition push behind this campaign understands that, and is being organized to engage with people where they're at. So far that is what we've been doing, and on the street and at other events that are not the events of the usual suspects, and have found ourselves involved in very interesting conversations.


  25. [cont. from above]

    I also want, because you began your first comment by perhaps rightly questioning the tone of this post, to question the tone of some of your comments. You say that you're interested in a discussion, and I believe you are, but you tend to be writing comments in a rather insulting manner - which is very annoying for me since I consider you a comrade. Fair enough: you found the tone of this article insulting and I apologize for that (and did on an email I sent you) but I also pointed out that it was aimed at people who refused discussion, already having their mind made up ahead of time - which you claim was not you.

    This comment and others, however, demonstrates a certain outrage that I do find frustrating. First of all you refuse to recognize the general outline of the RCP-PCR that I've given (and I'm not even a member) and want to know specifics - and then refuse to recognize the fact that giving these specifics is extremely inappropriate in this venue from someone who is not a member. I have indicated alternatives.

    Secondly, you respond to only half of my arguments. I pointed out that those demonstrating negative attitudes also, in the poll, demonstrated a willingness to go to demos rather than vote. I also don't think that these polls are the best, we can make of them whatever we want, which is why I see the boycott as an opportunity to connect with people where they're at. We'll see: maybe you are right, but I don't see why you have to be so against the possibility of the campaign as a potential strategy when, like it or not, society is getting more conservativized whether we vote or not.

    Obviously my posts are filled with (because we both love cliches) "piss and vinegar" (and since we both love the Simpsons the Grandpa Simpson joke that follows is implied), but that is why I have a blog: to vent. I don't have close friends in mind when I vent - if I'm directing them at specific individuals these are individuals who I do not consider allies. I don't understand why: a) you seem to still be acting under the assumption that I'm targeting you; b) you are writing with such scorn about an attempt (and yes you might be right that it won't work) to produce a politics that is different from the same crap we do every four (or three or five) years.

    Maybe the scorn is earned because you assume that I am trying to insult you: if that's the case, then I apologize again.

  26. We should talk in person then, and I do apologize if my response came across as overly acrimonious.

  27. No problem: apologies on this side as well. And really we should just hang out soon now that the term is winding down. Hopefully, despite an over-abundance of landlord troubles, I'll have time this week.

  28. Why are people taking this boycott position so personally? As if criticism of some of the reactions this campaign has garnered were directly targeted at specific individuals.

    Ever since I left SPT-L, the calls for decorum and civility here and on Facebook regarding JMP's personal blog--which are chock full of valid criticism-- are indeed puzzling and troublesome.

    Obviously this campaign is rankling a lot of nerves, but what I find interesting is this sacred aura around voting in the Fed. election.

  29. Yeah, I don't get the demand for "decorum" and "civility" on the part of those who act utterly uncivil in the first place (or are orgs that have dubious and opportunist positions), the reason why I wrote this entry. Also, my blog is about ranting: since when am I responsible to sectors of the mainstream left that I have never entirely agreed with?

    Mostly I think the demand for decorum and civility is a cover for rankled nerves and an a priori refusal to engage in a discussion - the reasons behind this post. They were already irate; this post just gives them a way to justify the irateness, though the latter preceded the former.

  30. I do acknowledge (and disagree with) the valid criticisms made here, Baolinh, but try for a moment to see the initial post from my perspective: if I were to describe the position or arguments with which you identify as ignorant, dogmatic, banal, dishonest and in general characterize your position as stupid or cynical don't you think you might find that "puzzling and troublesome"? Don't you think it might tend to produce mimetic rivalry rather than solidarity? I don't demand "decorum" like some blushing prudish Victorian gentleman; I want you to understand and be clear about whom you're insulting. Consider, for instance, why that unidentified friend who "takes things so personally" and pompously "calls for decorum" is so quickly identified with the enemy who uses civility as cover for their refusal to debate. Together you identify the friend with the enemy even while you insist they are distinct. Clearly there is a problem here with the way in which this campaign creates or defines friends and enemies.

    And no Baolinh, I don’t think the problem here is the “sacred aura” emanating from the voting booth. Just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean I go around crossing myself, muttering Hail Marys and blessing our wise founding fathers every time the election is mentioned.

  31. I don't understand why you're taking this so personally especially when I defined, over and over again, that this post was aimed at people who demonstrated a certain dogmatism, who were utterly uncivil, about the boycott campaign from the get-go: people who I didn't see as you because I didn't know what your position was, but people who attacked me without even listening to arguments.

    As for identifying friends with enemies, I have always considered it important to identify opportunists with enemies - which was the point of this entry. Again, I never claimed that people who were opposed to the boycott were suddenly "all" opportunists: I was targeting those who had a specific position.

    I am very clear who I am insulting and I have no problem insulting them. Again, I don't know why you're conflating these targets with yourself because, as you identified from the first comment, you were interested in having the discussion. If that is not the case, then feel free to be insulted, but if I am to assume that you are not someone who refuses, as I wrote at the beginning of this post, "to engage in a critical discussion around the elections boycott", then this post has nothing to do with you.

    Fair enough, just because you disagree with us doesn't mean (and I have never suggested you, personally you, think like this) you believe in some "sacred aura" around the voting booth. But just because we disagree with your position doesn't mean we have grouped you into the category of those who do adopt an openly revisionist and opportunist policy. You accuse us of making some strange distinction between friend and enemy and it appears you are doing the same thing. And my response to Baolinh's comment, just so we're clear, actually has nothing to do with you. In fact there are people and organizations I *do* have in mind and none of them are you - my only contact with your position on this issue were your comments, all of which began demonstrating personal offense that I found rather strange because (as I indicated time and time again), I never spoke or interacted with you prior to this post.

    Nor do I think there is a problem with this campaign and how it draws the line. In fact, after spending hours today in Parkdale postering and interacting with people - people who came up to us, who were not offended, and who were actually excited about the concept of a boycott and wanted to know what it meant - I think this way of organizing is, to use a cliche already used above, is beginning to show the proof of the pudding.

  32. If you want to argue about how conflation and ascription works here, consider the following quote:

    "Mostly I think the demand for decorum and civility is a cover for rankled nerves and an a priori refusal to engage in a discussion - the reasons behind this post. They were already irate; this post just gives them a way to justify the irateness, though the latter preceded the former."

    Now if this refers to me I think it is a misrepresentation, but it's hard to see how it could refer to anyone other than me (or possibly Jordy). Who else can be characterized as demanding "decorum and civility" on *this post* or using this post to "justify their irateness"? Again, I don't think this is a fair representation of me or the arguments I present, but it clearly is directed at me and conflates me with the people and organizations you so despise.

    And of course the initial post was not a personal attack on me! I never said it was directed specifically at me, but at arguments and positions that I happen to agree with (the pragmatism of choosing the "lesser evil," the prior need for an "organized left," etc.) and the people who hold those positions--a large category that includes but is certainly not restricted to me.

  33. No, it had to do with the fact that Maominh told me that a bunch of people (and some who were most definitely not you, or who I assumed were not you) were angered by my blog (after she had posted it) and were demanding civility, decorum, etc. There were also some who contacted me privately with similar complaints - but these were people who, before this post, were saying quite insulting things about the movement. So when I say the "latter preceded the former" I mean precisely that: the attitude towards the campaign was expressed prior to this post, which initiated this post. And since you did not express any of that attitude prior to the post, as I said, it wasn't you. How can you not see how it applies to anyone else, especially since it assumes a prior attitude that I would not have been able to ascribe to you?

    I did not say that these people were in the comment string: again I was speaking about larger responses to this post from those who had prompted this post. So no, I am *not* attacking you. You never said the initial post was directed at you, no, but now you seem to be implying that I am attacking you. Please grant, as someone who considers himself your comrade, me the benefit of the doubt here.

  34. I accept what you say. I hope in the future we can both be like Mao's "first type of liberal," who "lets things slide for the sake of peace and friendship when a person has clearly gone wrong" :)

  35. Um. speaking as a member of what you seem to be critiquing as a "imbecilic entryist" group, there was no concerted boycott or anything. Several of us planned to go but then had other things to do that weekend and were disappointed that we couldn't engage in the sectarian debate because it can be amusing (i don't think it's particularly effective at organizing the working class or anything).

    I actually had planned to go but had some work in another city that weekend. Sorry you read so much into our absence, there was certainly no boycott of the boycott campaign and i'm not sure why such a small group as ours seems to be such a major focus- would it not make more sense to focus critique on trade unions that affiliate with the NDP, or the NDP itself or something that has more influence on society at large?

    It's weird that so much is read into our absence- unlike other trot groups we don't have a policy of intervening in communist event in the city it simply diverts too much energy from actual organizing. I'm actually glad to see you did door to door campaigns and participated in M1M march, thats the kind of actions that build a campaign, not facebook/blog wars or sectarian debating events.

  36. Fair enough: I've already apologized to some people about this grumpy post. Also, I think I indicated in the epilogue of this series that this was a problematic post generated by the strange flak and assaults some of us received from comrades.

    I'm not on facebook so I can't comment on those sorts of wars. But this campaign was always about organizing and it only became a flamewar, from what I heard and experienced, when it was massively attacked by certain individuals. I also think it is important, though, to have ideological struggle in areas and I would argue that this is not sectarian: there is a difference between a principled political position, as I have argued elsewhere, and sectarianism. Otherwise we would all be "sectarian" simply by being anti-capitalists.

    The campaign was aimed at breaking the left's reliance on social democracy - which I think was important - but also about organizing outside of those avenues. So ideological struggle was important, though it probably could have been less heated.


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