The Establishment Left, Electoral Politics and the Revolution of 2012

By Mark Hand

By Mark Hand

When they were in their prime, the team of Leftist all-stars had years ahead of them to push hard for an alternative mode of social organization. And yet, they clung to the existing system and kept warning others that the lesser of the two evils was worthy of our support. Imagine the progress we’d have made by now if these great thinkers had rallied behind a movement to dismantle “the system.” Instead, they told us to respect federal electoral politics because, as they told the story, the tiny differences between the establishment’s two political parties could have huge consequences.

They stood behind their lecterns, offering cogent analysis of the corporate state. But as they were educating us, opening our eyes to the ugly reality of American Empire, they remained anchored in the belief that the system wasn’t worth kicking over.

We celebrated the Leftist all-stars and their significant contributions to awakening people worldwide to the real America. As we discovered, though, they had been snookered into the mythology of electoral politics serving as a vehicle for positive change. Their hypocrisy left us bewildered.

That was then. Times have changed, and we have moved on. We knew it was time to divorce ourselves from the belief that these people, the ones who we had viewed as heroes for so long, would join us in creating a new society. They had been our teachers. But they, for some reason or another, could not pry themselves from the dominant culture’s grip.



“I have no interest in participating in the traditional political process. It’s bureaucratic. It’s vertical. It’s exclusive. It’s ruled by money."Jon Friesen



Many Leftist all-stars have died or moved into irrelevancy, stuck in their tired and static way of thinking. Others mock the people who are doing real work to transform our society away from its top-down, hierarchical structure.

Despite the ho-hum attitude from so many in the establishment Left, the Occupy movement has thrived, succeeding in opening the eyes of millions of people to the power of direct democracy. The movement also has succeeded in highlighting the irrelevance of established governmental institutions in creating a fair, decent and sustainable world. In fact, the movement has visibly demonstrated how the ruling elite, within the modern liberal democratic state, will push back hard and viciously when they believe their positions of power are threatened.

From its start, the Occupy movement has recognized a basic fact that the Leftist stalwarts still can’t seem to grasp: that federal electoral politics is a complete sham that distracts people from doing what’s necessary to dismantle the system. When unimaginative minds criticize the movement for its lack of demands, Occupiers gently inform these stodgy types that it’s counterproductive to make demands of a system that has no legitimacy.

In a recent interview, activist and cartoonist Stephanie McMillan cut to the chase. “I don’t have demands because I don’t recognize the legitimacy of those in power (so why would I demand anything from them?), and I don’t believe that this system can be reformed,” McMillan said. “But I absolutely have goals: a sustainable way of life free of class divisions and all other forms of domination.”

We will be pursuing these goals between now and next November and then for as long as it takes. What will the establishment Left be doing?

You can count on them expressing the same sentiment that beloved historian and activist Howard Zinn shared with us back in 2004 when he took a step backward. During the Bush v. Kerry presidential distraction, Zinn indeed warned us about Kerry’s pledge to increase the number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, if elected president. Zinn described Kerry’s pledge as “the definition of fanaticism.” Zinn added: “It’s going to be hard for the American people to distinguish the two on the war.”

But—and this is a big but—in the next breadth, Zinn urged us to vote for the Democratic warmonger because “if Kerry is elected, we’ll have a little ledge to stand on,” referring to the potential influence progressives would be able to impart on a Kerry administration. “Presidents can be moved by their constituencies.”

(This is the same man who inspired us to live “now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us.” The same man who so beautifully reminded us that “revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society. We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.")

In the same year that Zinn was talking about standing on ledges, legendary dissident Noam Chomsky called on the enlightened among us to throw our values and goals out the door. Calling him “Bush-lite,” Chomsky argued that Kerry was a “fraction” better than his rival. Chomsky explained that there were “small differences” between Kerry and George W. Bush, but those small differences “can translate into large outcomes.”

If you have the patience to listen again in 2012 to these inanities during the folly called the “presidential race,” you’ll be hearing the exact same arguments coming out of the mouths of people who you generally respect but who, as we now know, have no desire to see real positive change happen in their lifetimes or the lifetimes of their children or their grandchildren.

Instead, it’s time to look forward, as the legions of Occupiers and their sympathizers are doing. In her wonderful book Anarchism and its Aspirations,” Cindy Milstein dissects the ruling elite’s version of “democracy,” also known as representative democracy:

“What gets dubbed democracy, then, is mere representation, and the best that progressives and the leftists can advocate for within the confines of this prepackaged definition are improved versions of a fundamentally flawed system.”

By participating in federal electoral politics, one is essentially giving his or her blessing to a repressive institution that sets up sham elections as a distraction to prevent real change. What the Occupy movement has done and will do in 2012—which is setting up to be the most revolutionary year in decades—is, as Milstein explains, “participate in the present in the ways that they would like to participate, much more fully and with much more self-determination, in the future.”

The Occupy movement has pushed beyond what Milstein calls the “oppositional character of the direct action movement by infusing it with a reconstructive vision.” That’s what we’re seeing across the United States and around the world in the actions of the Occupy movements and the revolutions for freedom. In the minds of the Occupy movement and other people engaged in radical change, sham electoral politics are history. Instead, as Milstein explains, a growing number of people are now determined to translate movement structures into “institutions that embody the good society; in short, cultivating direct democracy in the places we call home.”

These actions will not be taken lightly by the ruling elite. That’s why 2012 will be such a revolutionary year. Because it will be the year that people, emboldened by the Occupy movement’s success in 2011, will go to even greater lengths to take power into their own hands, causing the ruling elite to ponder new ways to curb the movement’s momentum. As Milstein explains: “It is time to move from protest to politics, from shutting down streets to opening up public space, from demanding scraps from those few in power to holding power firmly in our hands.”

(Occupy Poster by Rich Black)