Communist Electoral Strategy?

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klas batalo's picture
klas batalo
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Aug 22 2016 17:15
Communist Electoral Strategy?

https://communistleaguetampa.org/2016/08/22/towards-a-communist-electoral-strategy/

What do Libcom users think of this piece by DP of CLT?

Interested in anarchist / left communist / impossiblist thoughts on it.

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Aug 22 2016 17:38
Quote:
And if universal suffrage had offered no other advantage than that it allowed us to count our numbers every three years; that by the regularly established, unexpectedly rapid rise in the number of votes it increased in equal measure the workers' certainty of victory and the dismay of their opponents, and so became our best means of propaganda; that it accurately informed us concerning our own strength and that of all hostile parties, and thereby provided us with a measure of proportion for our actions second to none, safeguarding us from untimely timidity as much as from untimely foolhardiness—if this had been the only advantage we gained from the suffrage, then it would still have been more than enough. But it has done much more than this. In election agitation it provided us with a means, second to none, of getting in touch with the mass of the people, where they still stand aloof from us; of forcing all parties to defend their views and actions against our attacks before all the people; and, further, it opened to our representatives in the Reichstag a platform from which they could speak to their opponents in Parliament and to the masses without, with quite other authority and freedom than in the press or at meetings. Of what avail to the government and the bourgeoisie was their Anti-Socialist Law when election agitation and socialist speeches in the Reichstag continually broke through it?

Engels in his 1896 intro to the Class Struggles in France by Marx

This is quoted in the piece and is certainly worth engaging, as it sums up the arguments, more or less, offered by Parkinson.

fnbrilll
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Aug 23 2016 01:05

Don't electoralize

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Aug 23 2016 01:50

Some of my own thoughts:

I’ve been waiting for a while to have a succinct article from Donald Parkinson on communist electoral strategy, because various informal debates previously left me unclear. Here are a few of my initial thoughts.

“A mass party will have to engage large amounts of workers through “extra-parliamentary” means before it will even stand a chance winning in an electoral campaign. Building class unions, solidarity networks, unemployed councils, mutual aid societies, gun clubs, sports teams, etc. is not to be rejected in favor of electoral action.”

Currently we do not have such a mass movement and revolutionary organization. The top priority for the immediate to mid term strategy of communists should surely be to build such a movement and organization.

“A critique one could make of Bebel and Kautsky is that they did focus on the parliamentary movement to exclusion of mass actions and strikes.”

Unfortunately not only Bebel and Kautsky focused on parliamentary struggle to the exclusion of mass action but the majority of actually existing socialists and leftists then and now have favored electoral activity of lobbyist activism, or speaking truth to power instead of building the self-activity and organization of the masses for real gains here and now.

“The opposite plagues the current left which mostly fetishizes direct action.”

I highly doubt this. Since the fall of the Soviet Union there has been an increase in the world wide anarchist movement, but the majority of the far left still seems attached to the lobbying and electoral strategies of the left of capital. Most “direct action” activists serve these purposes as a sort of militant reformism, shock troops for the Democrats.

“Elections can not only serve as way to win support, but also to measure it.”

If you are saying you would only start electoral action once you built up a sizable mass movement to justify a mass party taking part in elections, don’t you think you would have already developed tools for measuring support, various forms of metrics from FB likes and shares, to media sales, to number of local groups, success and support in strikes, etc? Not saying that elections couldn’t be another avenue to win support or measure it, but it seems sorta silly that in 2016 and the future we would need such an outdated way to drum up and gauge support.

“Our energy right now is being put into making ourselves a more effective organization and helping get a General Membership Branch of the IWW started. We are obviously not saying communists should just run for office hoping it will kickstart a revolutionary movement. But in the long-term, if we are committed to building a world-wide party of the proletariat, the question of electoral strategy must be taken seriously. If we abstain from elections, it should be done on the basis of what is tactically best for the situation, not on the basis of anti-electoralism as an eternal principle.”

This really gets to the meat of things. You don’t see it as viable short term to take on an electoral strategy, but a long term goal. For now you think honing your own intra-organizational capacity and building the IWW is worthwhile. In this short term work my organizations share generally a lot with yours. However most serious anarchists have never held anti-electoralism as an eternal principle, there have been situations where it was important to oust out right reactionaries from office, though certainly all sort of methods should be tried before putting forth candidates. But if we flip your formulation on it’s head, if we are really engaging on a debate on tactics, why the insistance on parliamentary politics as the strategic end game for communist revolutionaries? Should communists as a principle engage in elections if they have the capacity to do so?

Jim
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Aug 23 2016 10:06

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Aug 23 2016 10:52

638.4x301.91

syndicalist
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Aug 23 2016 13:55

I say this respectfully, it's a double edge sword
It depends on which side of the sword you want to cut yourself on

I don't advocate electoralism, perhaps the comrades
Should examine the campaigns and results if the former
De Leonist SLP and the British impossibility SPGB. These
can indicate an approach with full knowledge of no electoral victory, what sort of info that was distributed and imparted in outreach and so forth. And an analysis
of what is grained by head banging

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Aug 23 2016 18:38
klas batalo wrote:
https://communistleaguetampa.org/2016/08/22/towards-a-communist-electoral-strategy/

What do Libcom users think of this piece by DP of CLT?

Interested in anarchist / left communist / impossiblist thoughts on it.

Jesus I managed about one and a half paragraphs of that.

In short, no.

Best case scenario:

admin: inappropriate and anatomically inaccurate joke from another user unpublished

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Aug 24 2016 19:48

I'm sympathetic with the view towards a limited, tribune of the people, attitude toward state and national legislatures. But it's a very complex topic upon which I'd like to read a lot more. I'm not convinced that the SPD or myriad other parties failures derived simply from the fact of electoral engagement, in the same way I'm not convinced that paying staff in unions is the generative moment of their betrayal.

I've heard that 'municipalism' what in the U.S. was rightly derided as 'sewer socialism' was one of the conservative forces in the SPD and clearly was in the SPA. That should be avoided and incorporated into any strategy.

I should say that this piece isn't as in depth about the strategy problems as one I'd like to see, but there are a lot of past examples to investigate.

Some core principles;

1. Recognition of the demise of the Constitutional order as the beginning of the working class taking power; revolution is on the agenda, not an electoral road to power.

2. Critical focus on specific enumerable democratic rights as 'minimum program's to clarify what exactly will break the rule of the bourgeois order, and bring workers to power

3. A rejection of Bolivaran, SYRIZA, Podemos, Labour (and much labor left) 'form-a-government-first, act later' strategy as a failure which doesn't reckon with the normal methods of global bourgeois rule.

I would like to take a closer look at impossibiist parties or other left socialist/communist electoral strategies and their road blocks and so on.

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Aug 25 2016 18:27

https://symptomaticcommentary.wordpress.com/2016/08/25/concerns-about-toward-a-communist-electoral-strategy/

Spikymike
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Aug 26 2016 14:20

Donald Parkinson is 'living in the past' replaying the arguments of yesteryear under different material conditions than today. There is no basis today for building a 'mass' socialist/communist party. The SPGB's electoral strategy carried out consistently since 1904 is a measure of all the success Donald's strategy is likely to produce.

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Aug 27 2016 00:23
Spikymike wrote:
Donald Parkinson is 'living in the past' replaying the arguments of yesteryear under different material conditions than today. There is no basis today for building a 'mass' socialist/communist party. The SPGB's electoral strategy carried out consistently since 1904 is a measure of all the success Donald's strategy is likely to produce.

word

ajjohnstone
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Aug 27 2016 04:20
Quote:
The SPGB's electoral strategy carried out consistently since 1904 is a measure of all the success Donald's strategy is likely to produce.

Sadly, as being inferred by Mike, it is indeed depressing and pessimistic. The only thing we have to look to is that as a structured organisation with a shared goal and agreed strategies to achieve it, the SPGB has survived. Many larger parties have faded and disappeared, so we must wonder that the SPGB encompasses a reflection of fellow workers, no matter how few they be. But our slow decline may be terminal in a decade or score of years from now.

The alternative methods offered against the SPGB has been numerous over the century, from syndicalism to anarchism to reformism (both gradual and radical versions) none of which gained much more than temporary success and are now much at the same level of popular support as the SPGB. Nobody can take any pleasure in facing that stark fact. For those in the SPGB who say "we told you so", it is a very poor consolation for perhaps being right.

If different ways of organising and gaining adherents were proving a success and advancing the case for libertarian communism then i think it would be incumbent upon members of the SPGB to reconsider their principles, particularly the focus on elections which cause much debate on this website but also the ever recurring reformist recipes as remedies. I've been waiting in vain, unfortunately.

We really do need a comprehensive MOT of the Thin Red Line, returning to some very basic political positions to reappraise their validity and how they are expressed and applied in practice.

But i always get the feeling that comrades fear, as they do their own car's annual MOT, what unpleasant surprise might result when the dirt is scraped away and the rust exposed. Some i think feel happier to live with that haunted house engine with all its unsettling rattles and squeaking.

Maybe i am justifying my increasing reputation for being a gloomy Private Fraser..."Doomed...we are doomed"...But for crying out aloud...can anybody provide proof or even evidence of hope that we don't have society collapse before we get anywhere close to establishing our desired new world sad

bastarx
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Aug 30 2016 01:09

The days of big parties and big unions are over and seem unlikely to return. Working class struggle largely takes the form of massive street movements which seemingly appear from nowhere and then disappear just as quickly plus small isolated strikes with occasional big union orchestrated strikes that are designed to fail.

That's what communists have to work with not fantasies about replaying the early 20th century only without the betrayals.

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Aug 28 2016 16:24
klas batalo wrote:
https://communistleaguetampa.org/2016/08/22/towards-a-communist-electoral-strategy/

What do Libcom users think of this piece by DP of CLT?

Interested in anarchist / left communist / impossiblist thoughts on it.

First, I'm being sincere: what does legitimacy mean in the opening sentence?:

CLT wrote:
Participation in electoral politics, and therefore an electoral strategy, are essential if communists are going to gain public legitimacy as a serious political force.

The etymology from the Medieval Latin, legitimatus, means "make lawful, declare to be lawful." So this term is tied up with conformity with rule-of-law. Perhaps Parkinson is being careless and even naïve in using a term that historically has been used for the "lawful authority of kings and governments," especially over their "subject" -- which seems to be Parkinson's "public."

O.K., poor choice of words can be chalked up to sloppy writing. But his attempt to support the "authority," "lawfulness," or "constitutionality" (all synonyms of "legitimacy") of communist participation in electoral politics by arguments from the mid-19th century remains unconvincing.

At worst, it's a pretty orthodox Leninist argument lacking any nuance for the second decade of the 21th century. But the Communist League of Tampa is currently in the process of merging their editorial efforts with the stodgy Old Left formation, the Red Party, whose activities include defending the Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutions. So will the World Party have to include these reactionary anti-imperialists?

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Aug 28 2016 17:36

They're reaching out. Nothing has been decided yet. Would love to see evidence of Red Party's 'defense of Chinese and Cuban' revolutions. Your comment implies an uncritical support for Russian revolution, which I'd also be happy to see evidence for. Perhaps you're conflating them with some other organization?

As for clt it is not monolithic and it is not 1/1 Donald. There are multiple views in the group. CLTs main activity is a small weekly rg. Secondarily, writing. Thirdly, internet shitfights because of slaying contemporary sacred leftcows.

The typical anarchist and leftcom rejections of electoralist most commonly advanced don't stand up to historical scrutiny. At most they contain partial truths, and by no means ought to be ignored but I think a more thorough investigation is in order.

My own feeling is that it hasn't been completely eliminated at least as a possible field of propaganda. But I also am sympathetic with Marx's view that the political plane needs to be actively engaged and eventually conquered by the organized working class in order to put in place the institutional means of working class rule. I'm not convinced that this is a spontaneous process (alone) as the point of reference for spontaneists is always epochs with mass workers parties' and unions, so we cannot abstract away from that element.

Until 1913, for example, the SPA and the IWW were close organizationally if some what anatagonistic politically. There were majorly important infrastructures of support, which persisted in some places after the formal split.

The question here is settled in agreement between an advocate of elections of some sort for propaganda, and the abstentionist, regarding the point of revolution; it will be an insurrection and a smashing of the bourgeois state. Elections aren't a road to state power in the direct sense, but an organizational tool to agitate, educate, and organize the class and prepare it for the day of revolution. This is the articulation, so to presume some sort of kautskyism, bergerism, Bernsteinism, is to act in pretty poor faith.

What are the mechanisms by which the bourgeois state in the US militates against legislator accountability to a membership political party? What are the laws and policies which militate against the working poor being drawn together in unions and parties so they can act in their interests? Etc. If it's true that the state is not a viable field in the strategic and tactical (vs the moral) sense then it seems this would be part of the argument advanced.

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Aug 28 2016 17:42

Re rule of law, legitimacy etc.

In terms of Republican democracy the general populace will have to recognize the authority of the delegated representatives; to Soviets, to IWW convention, or the commune (extreme Republican democracy in Marx and Engels' sense).

Here the delegates are subject to recall, avg wage, etc. Other institutional and practical methods which subordinate them to the working class. But nevertheless it's a means of organizing the authority of the majority of non-owners over that of owners (initial dictatorship of proles). In that way, like authority in general, it is a means of making decisions on the basis of a division of labor.

This does not equal the rule of law constitutionalism inin the bourgeois sense which is a very specific set of social relations. Authority =\= rule of law constitutionalism. Easiest example is a tribal society with a chief or council of elders etc.

Spikymike
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Aug 28 2016 17:55

Well the 'Red Party's' political programme seems to be little more than a second-hand version of Trotskyist transitional demands - best not to get linked in with any electoral strategy which includes that! Anyway you don't have to stand yourself in state elections to take what little advantage there may sometimes be in election periods with some appropriate propagandising.

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Aug 28 2016 18:58

There program seems more inspired by CPGB-PCC and classic minimum/maximum programs iirc. There were some wonky demands in there, that are reminiscent of Trotskyism, but that stuff could change.

I should add, that in the above, I Think the substantive questions (what exactly is the day-to-day nature of the rule of bourgeoisie, how does it keep elections useless etc.) have to be answered as well by those advocating *some* electoral strategy, and would inform what the strategy entails, how far it goes, what elections to run in, etc.

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Aug 29 2016 04:48

Pennoid, this is one of those agree-to-disagree moments. Like many others here, libertarian communism is the goal. Which, to me at least, doesn't mean Republican democracy, working class rule, party programs, electoral propaganda campaigns, or tactical alliances with vanguardists. And much of my own theoretical perspective comes from the anarchist rejection of authoritarian and hierarchical structures of organizing.

My ideal of communism is based on a revolutionary upheaval that changes all social relations to communist ones. It doesn't create the preconditions of communism, it creates communism. Money, wage-labor, enterprises as separate value-creating poles of accumulation, private property, the state and its judicial apparatus for mediating social life and conflicts -- police, courts, jails/prisons, standing military forces, nations and borders, the separation between learning and doing, all of these have to be abolished. This doesn't mean worker control of production, co-ops, or nationalization of industries. Communism is the continuous process of replacing bourgeois institutions with communal, moneyless, profitless, and stateless forms of life, where the proletariat self-negates, destroying all classes, and gives birth to a material human community (some of this plagiarized from Gilles Dauvé).

As for elections and political representation in bourgeois society, I don't base my ideas on Marx's -- or anyone's -- writings from the 19th century. Instead, my opinion comes from direct experience. I worked as a campaign staffer, being mentored by veterans of SDS and the UFW in the methods of Saul Alinksky. In the mid-1980s I took part in a grassroots statewide initiative campaign that against all odds -- being outspent by at least 100 to 1 -- succeeded, only to be wiped out by a dozen court challenges the day after the election. During that campaign, I participated in a speaking tour across the state, accompanying Ralph Nader who was our main spokesman -- even acting as one of his bodyguards in communities where he was unpopular.

Over the years, I've crossed paths with dozens of politicians, from the local level to the House of Representatives. To a person, they all had the character defect of narcissism, naked ambition, and a Machiavellian quest for power. There might be decent people striving for elected office, but I've yet to meet any of them. All the ones I've ever seen are opportunist chameleons who've earned their place on the gallows a thousand times over (to paraphrase Bakunin). Where I live and work, some college-educated liberals are self-righteous voters, but most rank-and-file workers find it all to be a meaningless racket and are part of the abstaining demographic that gives the U.S. the lowest rate of electoral participation in the advanced industrial world (even factoring in those, like convicted felons, denied voting rights).

Pennoid wrote:
The typical anarchist and leftcom rejections of electoralist most commonly advanced don't stand up to historical scrutiny.

If you believe this, please give some concrete examples of this historical scrutiny. The closer to the 21st century the better.

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Aug 29 2016 11:53

Well, I suppose I could start with the one you advanced, which is nonsense;

"All politicians are ambitious, narcissist, etc." I of course cannot disprove this, but for reference to honest politicians. This a classic liberal argument for the rule of law actually, that even politicians are submitted to the rule of law because we can never be too trusting and so on. But I never even suggested that what was needed was people with a better moral character, but institutional means to hold people to account. Just like one would expect in a social system based on the plan administration of things, french-utopian wetdreams notwithstanding. Dauve doesn't actually solve the puzzle of decision making, authority etc. at the point of revolution he just attempts to exorcise it with flowering language and the most basic spontaneism.

Most bourgeois politicians are insincere, no doubt. But the reason this is encouraged and enabled has its roots in the social relations of production, policies of state, election rules, the dominance of money-donations, lack of membership political parties, etc. which encourage forms of party organization antithetical to the working class controlling its own institutions.

As for the rest of imputing some sort of 'in-authenticity' (Leninism) to the methods we employ; the day-to-day is the same - reading groups, writing, arguing, distributing info, helping workers fight back and so on are the forms of 'practice' we're engaged in. It's no less 'organic' because we call it what it is (agitation, education, organization) instead of trying to make fatuous appeals to 'authenticity' on the basis of being 'exactly alongside our other workers' and 'not above them, on the same level'. Reading groups are a form of education. Passing out lit is agitation. Soliciting for people's problems at work and beginning to address them in a prepared way with a division of labor is organization. I wouldn't want an auto mechanic to appeal to my ignorance in order to get my trust. I similarly wouldn't want a union organizer or community organizer to do the same, but to subordinate their skills to the direction of the membership.

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Aug 29 2016 19:54
Hieronymous wrote:
the Red Party, whose activities include defending the Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutions

Huh, didn't realize I unconditionally loved tankie stuff. Learned something new today *little Red Book spontaneously poofs into my hands in response to this quote*

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Aug 29 2016 20:32

Found this on your website:

Are you selling subscriptions? Or just spontaneously plugging the publication in a call for more openness?

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Aug 29 2016 20:53

You might want to check the caption to that, comrade! "Hopefully with more editorial openness than this". Guess the sarcasm missed you? Look at our about page and you will see that we are decidedly not tankies.

The pending publication is the result of ongoing talks with some CLT members. We're not "selling" anything. This is just an example of the potential unity that we hope to grow between groups wherever possible.

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Aug 29 2016 20:58

Also, what about Russia and China? This is only one third of the quality tank Red Party content you promised me!

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Aug 29 2016 21:14

Jdhthegr8, you've only been on libcom for 20 minutes and you're already barking orders.

Could you explain the sarcasm of this:

Red Party wrote:
Still, socialist candidacies standing on a platform of working class political independence should be supported, ideally not just as an end in themselves but as a means to campaign for the kind of party we need. The vote share for the radical left as a whole will be squeezed both by the specter of Donald Trump and Jill Stein’s relative popularity, but working for the best possible result will help consolidate what support we can while laying the groundwork for the future. The Socialist Party’s Mimi Soltysik / Angela Walker ticket remains the best choice for class-conscious workers to give support while arguing for unity, electoral and otherwise, on the basis of class independence, internationalism and a commitment to radical democracy. Where this is not possible, support Gloria LaRiva (Party for Socialism and Liberation), Monica Moorehead (Workers World), or Mackler (Socialist Action) along the same lines.

I miss the humor. Perhaps you've wandered onto the wrong website. We're not Trotskiytes.

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Aug 29 2016 21:16

We endorsed Mimi, yes. But what exactly does that have to do with supporting Russia or China? I'm asking (or as you say 'barking orders') because I'm curious about why you came to the conclusion that you did, other than by misunderstanding of a single picture.

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Aug 29 2016 21:48

I'll just say this: the question of legitimacy isn't based on the rule of law. To have a regime that doesn't trample on democratic rights and rig elections, you need to have genuine majority support from the politically active sections of society. This requires that the political regime is seen as legitimate by enough of society to stay in power without resorting to mass repression on the populace. I don't see how a communist party could build this legitimacy on a mass scale without engaging in electoral politics to some degree. It's a question of revolutionary strategy and tactics.

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Aug 29 2016 21:50

And voting for a fringe socialist candidate in an election isn't some great crime that "crosses the class line", if people are going to vote they might as well have a socialist option. It's not the equivalent to promoting a "tactical vote" for Hillary.

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Aug 29 2016 22:27

O.K., deviating from the thread's topic of elections, I'll ask you a libertarian communist litmus test question related to Russia:

    Jdhthegr8, how would you avenge the betrayal of the heroic Kronstadt revolutionaries in 1921?

Next, rather than beating around the bush, what is your position on China?

donald parkinson wrote:
And voting for a fringe socialist candidate in an election isn't some great crime that "crosses the class line", if people are going to vote they might as well have a socialist option. It's not the equivalent to promoting a "tactical vote" for Hillary.

"Fringe" is being too generous; "wingnut" is more accurate. Gloria LaRiva? You've gotta be fucking kidding! From memory, LaRiva was one of the last diehard devotees of Hoaxa in Albania, and is a perennial cheerleader of whichever Kim is the current tyrant ruling over North Korea. Cuba is kinda like their model to emulate, followed closely by whatever despot is ruling Venezuela, Bolivia, or Brazil from the left. And in street marches, if she's a parade marshal, she works closely with the pigs to help arrest militants who don't march in line (a.k.a. anarchists and anti-authoritarians). That list of Red Party's wingnut endorsements reads like the strongest argument for electoral abstentionism that I've ever seen.

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Aug 29 2016 21:59

I'd avenge it by focusing on the here and now, building a movement that represents all workers and all ideological slants rather than one specific clique.

My personal position is that it made some major advances (compared to what was before it) and some major failures (The Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, Hundred Flowers Campaign)

But again, was there anything that led you to your initial analysis of us as blind supporters of these states?