What's Left

October 6, 2003

Am I a jackbooted Trotskyist working as a secret agent of Karl Rove?

By Stephen Gowans

I ignored my own rule: You can never, ever, be too simple, so spell it out in black and white.

Which isn't to say I'm only occasionally remiss in following the rule. I often am. But I shouldn't be.

If I weren't, I probably wouldn't have been inundated with as many angry replies to "A more sensible alternative to replacing Bush with a Democrat" from readers who've arrived at as many interpretations of what I was trying to say, as there are interpretations of the Bible.

Indeed, within the last 24 hours, I've received notes accusing me of occupying almost every possible point on the political continuum (with Democrat, predictably, left out). I've been described, variously, as:

A fascist.

A right-winger.

A secret operative of Karl Rove.

A Trotskyist.

A member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO)...in disguise.

A Trotskyist fascist (whatever that is.)

An anarchist.

What's more, I've been accused of making one women's husband lose her job, and others have demanded that I come clean, and reveal my party affiliation.

In light of this, and following my new resolve to follow the KISS principal, let me spell it out: I am none of the above.

But I do subscribe to the International Socialist Review (an ISO publication).

And I also subscribe to the Monthly Review (a journal for independent Marxists), People's Voice (the newspaper of the Communist Party of Canada), and the National Post (a thoroughly right-wing Canadian newspaper.)

And The Hockey News.

If that isn't information enough, I'd be happy to let to anyone pick through my trash, in search of clues to who I really am, if that will help.

But before I start sorting my trash into neat little piles so that garbologists can fit me with a defining label, to either be dismissed as a devil or embraced as an angel, let me see if I can clear up some misconceptions, before anyone has to pick through my discarded toothpaste vials, toenail clippings, and empty bottles of Black Sheep Ale.

Much as it might seem I've spent the weekend hanging banners from highway overpasses reading, "If voting made any difference, it would be illegal," I did not, in my last article, equate the ballot box with a painful boil that needs to be lanced, and nor did I pass the weekend hanging banners.

Instead, I closed my modest little, four-foot high above-ground pool, bought a new lawn mower, and sat down and had a pleasant chat with Karl Rove...or was it the ghost of Karl Marx? I can't remember which. You see, I was playing the new CD I got for my birthday, "Best Fascist Dictator Speeches of 1937" and der Fuhrer's frantic oration, punctuated by shouts of Sieg Heil!, disturbed my concentration, which really pissed me off, because not only did I become confused as to which Karl I was speaking to, I became so distracted, that I spilled mate (Che Guevera's preferred beverage, which I drink in homage to his memory) on my prized copy of Bakunin's "God and the State." That bummed me out so much, that in a fit of pique, I picked a name out of the phone book at random and had the guy I selected fired from his job. That's one of the secret perks of being an Internet gas bag;  you get to sack whoever you want. Where this power comes from, I'm not sure. It's just one of those inexplicable Internet things. Or maybe Karl Rove gave it to me.

In any event, what I had argued for in my last burp on the World Wide Web was "change from working to elect people who propose to govern within the logic of a system organized on profit and its pursuit, to working with people who propose to replace that logic, with a rational, planned system, subservient to human needs."

Working with people who propose radical change hardly precludes electing such people, and I by no means rule out the electoral system as a route through which a party advocating a program of radical change could come to power. That's not to minimize the enormous impediments capitalist democracy places in the path of parties seeking radical change, or to deny that a necessary part of a program of radical change would have to be change in the electoral system itself.

Moreover, I am not of the view that you should avoid the ballot box, or that you should join campaigns encouraging other people to refuse to vote. You should vote -- but for something, not against something else, especially when that something else is no different from what you plan to cast your ballot for.

It's rather sad, and tragic, that millions of left-leaning voters talk the talk, but, at election time, walk the walk of the tens of millions who hug the middle of the road.

Take for instance a rather boastful character who has been at the center of progressive causes for decades, who says, "Of course, my man is Kucinich, but he'll never win, so I'm supporting Dean, and I hope Dean's running mate is Clark."

This guy presents himself as an unalloyed leftist, but, at the end of the day, behaves in the same manner as those who would punch you in the face for so much as daring to suggest they're even 10 miles within the same political neighborhood as Jesse Jackson.

I'd be a whole lot happier if he and his ilk voted for Kucinich (if that's whose platform truly lines up with their own thinking), rather than playing the idiotic, self-defeating game of believing they're voting against "the drive to dominate the world through military force," by backing a Democrat "who can win."

Indeed, to be frank, it's unfair to say there's a lot of "thought" behind the decision to line up behind the Democrats. It's reflexive -- like sneezing.

Pushed to explain why they'd vote for a Democrat, "talk-the talk, but walk the middle of the road" leftists, reply in one of two ways:

1. The party or candidate who best represents my views can't win (therefore, I'll vote for someone who doesn't represent my views, who can win);

2. There are no alternatives.

He who utters the first would probably stick a knitting needle up his left nostril if you told him that if he didn't, someone else would stick one up his right nostril. He who utters the second is blind, or (in the interests of keeping this simple) is a fraidy-cat.

There are plenty of radical alternatives available; it's just that the talk-the-talk, gosh I'd never walk-the-walk left,  doesn't want to vote for them, doesn't want to acknowledge them, or doesn't want to defy the pervasive propaganda that paints these alternatives as dangerous, unsavory, and undemocratic.

This is unfortunate, for the goals and platforms of such alternatives, with their emphasis on free health care, free education, full employment, social housing, a significantly reduced military reoriented to national defense, and an end to imperialist foreign policy, are simpatico with what the left wants (or says it wants, except at election time.)

A party platform that proposed to: legislate a 32-hour work week; raise the minimum wage; lower the voluntary retirement age; cancel NAFTA; end support for WTO and IMF policies; replace regressive taxes with robustly progressive taxes; provide free post-secondary education and free health care; introduce proportional representation and the right to recall legislators and members of the executive; provide fair media access for all parties and candidates; ban strike-breaking and scabbing; dismantle NATO; prohibit arms exports; negotiate the abolition of weapons of mass destruction; end economic embargoes, might seem a dream, but parties promoting such platforms already exist. Indeed, this platform was lifted from an established Communist party.

Sadly, leftists who agree in every particular are likely to walk the walk of their middle of the road compatriots, either because they don't know about these radical alternatives (the legacy of decades of anti-Communist and anti-Socialist propaganda making them give these parties a wide berth); do know, but are afraid to vote for a radical alternative (again, the legacy of the same propaganda); figure that a vote for a radical alternative is a pointless act of throwing one's vote away (a self-fulfilling prophesy); or are waiting for the spontaneous insurrection that will sweep the government and conservative forces from power (which is kind of like waiting to win the lottery.)

Finally, I should point out that there's a deplorable tendency to divide the world into angels and devils, or to think that this is the way everyone thinks about other people.  I've criticized Michael Moore for backing Wesley Clark, but I like the filmmaker, I find him funny, and I wouldn't miss any of his films, but that doesn't mean that I can't disagree with him, or that I regard him as a devil.

Likewise, I've said I think Noam Chomksy and Pete Seeger and others who've endorsed a call for the left to work to get Democrats elected are wrong, but I wouldn't miss anything written by Chomsky and my CD shelf is sagging under the weight of Pete Seeger CDs. And I'm not oblivious to the merits of their arguments.

So, what does that make me? Or do you still need to poke through my garbage? If so, I've neatly laid out over two years of trash at http://www3.sympatico.ca/sr.gowans . Sift through that.

Or just call me an independent Marxist who thinks that

(1) it's the system, man, not the people;

(2) parties committed to radical change should stand for election (but by no means should limit their activism to the electoral arena); and

(3) leftist should stop walking down the middle of the road and vote for left alternatives that, yes, really do exist.

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