David McReynolds on US election
Source Marvin Gandall
Date 04/10/31/22:43

"The Truth is Always Concrete" - election
thoughts, David McReynolds

(Obviously this can be sent on to anyone, used in
whole or part. My election guess is at the end)

There is nothing here (beyond the second
paragraph) that I wouldn't have written three
months ago. It is written at the last moment,
without time to properly organize my ideas.  In
that sense, these are notes, not entirely
coherent.  I meant to do it much earlier,  tried
to find the time and could not. This post is
guaranteed to have something in it to irritate
everyone, including some of you who have been
very supportive of the Senate campaign. Yet I
feel that if I didn't get this out before the
election I'd have copped out. And while I haven't
earned the right to have anyone take what I say
as the truth - no one has, each of us has to make
our arguments and not expect them to be taken on
faith - I have earned the right to discuss third
party politics, the nature of the two party
system, and the process of social change.
Probably as much right as anyone else in this

The one paragraph that I wouldn't have thought to
write two months ago is an _expression of
sympathy for ALL those campaigning for President.
I don't know how Bush and Kerry sustain the pace.
 But at least they have the hope of gaining
power. No such hope can motivate David Cobb,
Ralph Nader, Walt Brown, etc., and yet I know
they are also running all out, keeping terrible
schedules. Someone mentioned, at a meeting last
night, that when Ralph Nader was asked "how is
your social life" he replied "how is your civic
life?".  A clever  response, but not one that I
can accept - everyone, including Nader, has some
human right to a social life. The grinding pace
of these campaigns is almost inhuman.

Now on to the issues. My mentor, the late A. J.
Muste, used to say "the truth is always
concrete". I don't know whether the phrase was
his own, or borrowed from Marx, Trotsky, or
Gandhi. But it made sense and has stuck with me.
When people ask me "who will you vote for for
President?" my answer is "Which state do you live
in?" Because of the electoral college I can
safely vote for Ralph Nader here in New York
State (though if David Cobb were on the ballot, I
would have voted for him), knowing that Kerry
will safely take New York State. If I lived in
New Jersey, another safe state, I would certainly
vote for Walt Brown, since I am a member of the
Socialist Party and he is our candidate. But if I
were in Ohio - or any swing state - I would vote
for Kerry. How can a simple question have three
different answers? And how in the world could I
even consider voting for Nader "when the fate of
the world hinges on defeating Bush" (one close
friend sent me an email saying he wouldn't even
consider voting for me in the NY Senate race, so
deep was his hostility to Nader), others will ask
how I could consider Kerry "when he is not
opposed to the war in Iraq".

This is an unusually bitter race. It has given
rise to more vitriol on various list serves than
I have generally seen. Sophistry has risen to new
levels, if it is possible for sophistry to rise
at all.

Let's look at some of the errors in thinking
which I feel have sprung up. (I think if I hear
one more time the nonsense about "Voting for a
Lesser Evil Is Still Voting For Evil" I shall
scream - how can we miss the fact that a lesser
evil, while it may indeed still be evil, is
lesser! True enough, if a fat person weighing 250
pounds loses 25 pounts they will still be fat -
but to lose 25 pounds is surely better than
keeping it!).

First, "there is no difference between the two
major parties" (a position Peter Camejo has
argued with vigor, and which is shared by many in
the Socialist Party). This position is nonsense.
There are major differences between the two major
parties and, more important, vast differences
within them. In terms of basic political science
neither major party is a "party" of agreed
principles. Both major parties are collections of
regional interests, and usually the greatest
differences are between regions, not within the
parties themselves.

One example was the old New Deal which FDR put
together. This brought together a racist group of
Southern Democrats with  the big city bosses of
the North, backed by the emerging trade union
movement. That coalition ruled the country until
1952.  Despite the clear racism of the Southern
Democrats, the Democratic Party was the party of
Northern liberals, and of most of those in the
black community. In Northern states the
Republican Party was often very close to the
Democrats on Civil Rights issues.  In Southern
states the Republican Party, as it gradually made
inroads on the old solid Democratic South, didn't
do so by challenging the racism of Southern
Democrats, but by echoing it.

The AFL-CIO found its home in the Democratic
Party. The Democratic Party has been the arena of
the  Civil Rights movement,  the Women's
movement, the Peace movement, and the Gay/Lesbian
movement. We can deplore this, but it won't
change the facts. Within the African American
community there has been sharp tension over the
fact that the Democrats take the black vote for
granted - yet every effort to form some kind of
ongoing "black political party" has failed. This
is also painfully true of the labor movement,
where the efforts to form a Labor Party have not
taken hold. And despite the fact that the
Democratic Party has historically been the "war
party" - up until Reagan - the broad liberal
peace movement has functioned in and around
liberal members of Congress - some of whom have
been exceptionally good and decent people - as
some Republicans have also been.  (It is, I note
in passing, an irony, and not a happy one, that
the Republicans have become the "war party".
Historically if the ruling class wanted to have a
war it need to have in power that party most
likely to have the allegiance of working people.
It is ominous that, to a great extent, the
Republicans now have the allegiance of a large
segment of the lower income groups, and have been
able to moblize large parts of the public behind
war policies from Reagan through to the present).

The efforts by Socialists or Greens to insist
there are no differences between the two parties,
or that it doesn't make any difference whether
Kerry or Bush wins the election, defies
commonsense. (Which is one reason the left has so
little impact in the country as a whole - people
perceive their own immediate interests better
than we do. One reason many on the left are
irritated by Michael Moore is because he has
spoken the truth on this, reminding us that we
don't really speak for or understanding working
class Americans).

If you earn more than $50,000 a year, are white,
and are a male, then it doesn't really make any
difference to you who wins. It is a matter of

But if you are a woman, if you earn less than
$30,000 a year, if you are of color, then it
makes a very great deal of difference. I spent
time yesterday with an intelligent,  committed
member of the Greens (who has been extremely
helpful and supportive in the Senate campaign)
who insisted that it didn't make any difference
in terms of choosing the next member of the
Supreme Court whether Bush or Kerry won the
election. This is self-deception on a disturbing
scale. (Even allowing for the fact that some of
the Republican choices for the Supreme Court
proved excellent - Earl Warren comes to mind -
and some of the Democratic choices have been
dismal, do people really think that Bush can be
trusted with credible nominations? Granted also
that nominations have to pass the Senate, and
this puts some curbs on either Bush or Kerry, I
remain bemused at the thought it "makes no
difference" who is President in terms of the
Supreme Court. I suspect that, as with other
things, once the election is over we can take a
clearer view of this).

On issues of the minimum wage, affirmative
action, rights of gays and lesbians, of a range
of judicial appointments for lower courts, of
which tax cuts go to whom - on all these issues
there is a difference. It certainly makes a
difference in one of the more chilling aspects of
this campaign - which is the degree to which the
forces around Bush are pressing for a kind of
"Talibanization" of American political life, the
destruction of the historic separation of church
and state. And I say this not as someone
indifferent to "values", which matter greatly to
me, but as someone who is frightened by the kind
of "false Christianity" of those around Bush, who
are pushing for a kind of State religion in which
the highest authority will not, in fact, be our
values, but the religious charlatans close to

If, however, one expects socialism, nonviolence,
or revolution of any kind from the two major
parties, then no, it won't come from there, and
on most of the basic issues the two major parties
reflect the position of most of the voting
public. I wish that it had been possible for the
Democrats to have seen in Kerry a real anti-war
candidate - but had that been Kerry's position we
would have had a replay of the noble effort of
George McGovern in 1972. I could add that there
are a number of serious economic issues of what
to do about global trade, social security, etc.,
which neither party really faced during the
election and to which I'm sure there are no easy

There are limits on what is possible at any point
in history. It was Marx who  reminded us that
while we make our own history (an extremely
important point in Marxist thought), we do not
make it as we might wish, but within the
circumstances of the time and place within which
we find ourselves. Let's take a couple of
examples - in the first freedom rides - the
"Journey of Reconciliation" organized by the
Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1947, which
resulted in time on the chain gang for Bayard
Rustin and others, it was agreed that only black
and white men would take part, that for women to
take part would raise another set of issues so
explosive that it would deeply complicate the
situation. This tactic was also followed by the
Freedom Summer folks in the 1960's, who were
cautious about having white women and black men
take part in some of the actions. The South was
profoundly dangerous.  One can understand why, in
1947 and in the 1960's, these compromises were
made. Yet these were clearly compromises. They
were "lesser evils", even if they were acts of
courage which defy our understanding.

One thing which we as radicals need to confront
and come to terms with is that there are no "pure
actions". Not even for saints, and certainly not
for us. All of life is a compromise between the
possible and the ideal. The job of the radical is
surely to press hard to make the ideal possible.
My critique of the late Michael Harrington was
that his argument that he sought to be the "left
wing of the possible" narrowed the scope of
radical change. (And certainly it did in his
case, since it meant that the timidity of his
position led Harrington to "critically support"
the Vietnam War as late as 1971). But bitter as I
was about that old argument, I did understand it.
Bitter as I was about the support the Communists
gave to the Soviet Union, I did understand that
in their view the Soviet Union was, at that time
and place, the "best we could get" and had to be
defended. My anger was perhaps more about the
denial of what the actual situation in the Soviet
Union was - I always felt close to Bertolt
Brecht's poem "To Posterity", in which he comes
to terms with the contradictions:

    "Ah, what an age it is
    When to speak of trees is almost a crime
    For it is a kind of silence about injustice!
    And he who walks calmly across the street,
    Is he not out of reach of his friends
    In trouble
     . . . . .

     When you speak of our weaknesses,
     Also of the dark time
     That brought them forth,
     For we went, changing our country more often
than our shoes,
     In the class war, despairing
     When there was only injustice and no

    For we knew only too well:
    Even the hatred of squalor
    Makes the brow grow stern,
    Even anger against injustice
   Makes the voice grow harsh. Alas, we
   Who wished to lay the foundations of kindness
   Could not ourselves be kind.

   But you, when at last it comes to pass
   That man can help his fellow man,
   Do not judge us
  Too harshly"

I think of Kenneth Patchen, the poet whose works
the late Alvin Ailey introduced me to, and his
lines from the poem "What is the beautiful"

"A narrow line,
Walking on the beautiful ground.
A ledge of fire"

That is what we are always walking - that "ledge
of fire" where there is hope of changing the
future, and not simply protesting the present.
And that "ledge of fire" is always indeed narrow,
hard to locate, and sometimes that ledge of fire
is shown to us by those with more courage, who
take greater chances, and help make a radical
politics more possible. There is a dialectic
between the prophet and the radical politican.

If we say the two major parties are identical, it
is true that both of them represent the ruling
class, even if they represent (as they do)
somewhat different sectors of that class. It is
true that both major parties (along with the vast
majority of the nation) buy into the insanity of
"safety through military power". Or into the
concept that a petroleum economy can continue
indefinitely. Or that the human race can really
ignore the impact it has on the environment. In
these areas the two parties truly are identical,
and they are identical because they are working
on the shared common assumptions of the broader
public. Thus it is not some "trick" that the two
major parties "are the same" on these issues, for
on these issues they speak from common shared
(and very dangerous) assumptions.

This nation believes in "free enterprise". Not
just the ruling class, but the bulk of workers. I
read posts on the various left lists which talk
as if the working class was about to revolt.  The
"Million Worker March" not only did not mobilize
a million workers, it didn't mobilize a hundred
thousand. That doesn't mean it was
wrong to attempt the march - it does mean that
serious radical would examine why the march

So yes, dreadful as it is to argue for a vote for
Kerry in a swing state, it is because Bush
represents a danger great enough that the
interests not only of the more rational sectors
of the ruling class, but of a wide range of the
rest of us, require the defeat of Bush. The
general "left" public grasped this from the
beginning. Only the more elite sectors of the
left, those inclined to self-delusion, don't see
this. The support of Kerry is the support of a
politician who has a good record, dating from his
days as a Vietnam Veteran, to his work on
opposing Reagan and the Contras, and even to his
work with Senator McCain in finally resolving the
issue of the "Missing in Action" which the far
right was using to chill any possible
reconciliation with Vietnam. It is not a radical
record - radicals are not nominated by the
Democratic Party.

In fact, by the time anyone gets the nomination
of either party they have been bought and sold so
many times over by various special interests that
their freedom of movement is extremely limited.
Only if, as with Bush, they are "lucky" enough to
have events break in their direction (in Bush's
case, the shock of 9.11) can the nation be pushed
in directions it would not otherwise have taken.

I've watched the fights on the list serves
between those who support Nader and those who
support Cobb and I find the bitterness deeply
destructive. I may have comments to make about
Nader and Cobb, in a more general sense, but I'll
save those for after the campaign, since in New
York State I'm the candidate of the Greens and
want to respect that. But both Nader and Cobb
deserve respect, even as we disagree with them.
But neither of these men deserves the kind
of litany of attacks hurled against them. Yes,
Nader has made compromises (such as his
acceptance of support in New York State from
Lenora Fuliani), but yes it is also true that
Nader and Cobb both have a right to run. And it
is a very good thing, in my view, that in safe
states we can roll up sigificant votes that are
truly against the Iraq War.

The actual political reality, the "concrete
truth" of which Muste spoke, rests not within the
political parties, which have never led us
anywhere, but in the broad social movements. Yet
those movements, once in motion, are reflected
within the framework of the major parties, in
part because the major parties - the system
itself - seeks to co-opt and contain any serious
movement for change, and in part because the
major parties are made up of human beings who are
themselves affected by and part of the very
social movements which push them.

Look at the great movements of the 20th century -
the trade union movement, the Vietnam peace
movement, the women's movement, the gay/lesbian
movement - and you will realize that not one of
these movements originated in the Democratic
Party (let alone in the Republican party!!). Yet
each of these movements sought political
_expression at some point in the Democratic Party
- not in the Republican Party. To argue the two
parties are "identical" is
simply to show one has not read history or
absorbed its lessons.

When in comes to serious political change in the
US, I am at a loss to know how it can be
achieved. I do not want to discourage the Greens
- at this point the only viable possible mass
party - but I know that politics truly is local.
If the Greens became a stronger national party, I
know in advance that the Greens in California
(In San Francisco, thanks to Peter Camejo among
others,  they have demonstrated real clout) will
be different from the Greens in New York, or
Illinois, or Mississippi. I fear that the old
pattern would be played out, that if the Greens
gained a real mass following, then either the
Democrats or Republicans would adopt their
message, or enough of it to "defuse" the danger
of a real alternative party. In my view I think
the hope is less through running national
campaigns than through running serious local
campaigns where victory is possible.

This opens an entirely different discussion, of
how minor parties should or could operate within
a two party system. We know from Vermont that a
socialist can be elected to Congress.  We know
from New Paltz, New York, where Jason West was
elected Mayor, and proceeded to help usher in a
wave of gay and lesbian marriages, that Greens
can make a real difference. We know from the
example of the Congress Black Caucus that it is
possible to organize a serious "alternative
politics" grouping within the Democratic Party.
But we also know, from what we have seen, that
the reality of politics makes "true radicalism"
pretty much impossible. Bernie Sanders is good -
but he has had to make his own accommodation with
other forces not only in Congress but in Vermont.

In my own view it is important for some kind of
political or social movement almost independent
of political parties to act as a conscious
raising force, to raise the issues that no one in
office dares to raise. We have done that in New
York State in the Senate race - and with more
time and more money we could have done much
better. But I know that to some in the Socialist
Party it was not enough, because I didn't raise
the issue of socialism and workers control at
every meeting, and that to some in the Greens it
was a failure because I did not spell out in
sufficient detail the problems of global warning.
The left as a whole - and the Greens are part of
the left, whether they wish it or not, are our
own worst enemies. We do not support the positive
moves that are made, but are critical because
they are not "correct enough".

The experiment in "alternative politics" needs to
continue - to argue that it is not a mortal sin
to vote for John Kerry in swing states is not at
all the same as assuming that we should all
therefore enter the Democratic Party, or that the
Socialist Party and the Greens shouldn't run
candidates. Nor that local experiments - such as
the Working Families Party in New York State are
a mistake because of their links to the
Democrats. (I would say that the Senate race here
does not bode well for the WFP being a serious
force - despite its own position of opposing the
Iraq War, the issue of this period, the WFP
endorsed Chuck Schumer for Senate).

Finally, since this goes out just two days before
the election, I'll make my own guess that Kerry
will win, based on the new registrations, the
youth vote, and the slow shift of the polls in
the last month "narrowing" the race.  Usually
when this occurs, the undecided voters "break in
favor" of the challenger. We will, I think, know
early on election night - if New Hamphsire goes
to Kerry, it will mean Bush is in trouble. If
Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania break to Kerry
then I think Kerry will have won. I incline to
think that the anger of the last weeks of the
campaign may backfire on Bush, that while Bush
has certainly "fired up his base", it may have
turned off the undecided.

My guesses on this kind of thing tend to reflect
my hopes, but at least I've put my guess on the

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