Logic of Capitalist Elections

Avir W.

Prioritizing the development of a party focused on elections rests upon two flawed assumptions: that electoral work can build up a mass movement for socialism and that gaining power within the state will help bring about the reforms necessary for a transition. Yet electoral work actively siphons energy away from the organizing necessary to bolster a mass movement, and the state, as an organ of capitalist society, is limited in its ability to realize working class interests. Focusing on developing an electoral party will only hobble our efforts in the long run.

Class Power, not Individual Impotence

To begin with, winning elections doesn’t require class power: voting is a private and individual act. If the party's focus is winning power through elections, it only serves to atomize the class, depriving it of its power by individualizing any act of "resistance."

Because the focus of an electoral campaign is to win voters, movement activity is constrained to supporting the candidate, and denies the opportunity for the movement to develop its own demands. In other words, a focus on electoral campaigns actively directs activity away from the class struggle with the end goal of mere representation.

Mass movements do not vie for power within institutions, but directly oppose them. They do not have positive legislative platforms but, through direct action, demand broad, overarching, systemic change. Historically, change has only come when there is a mass movement which arises outside of existing institutions, and, through its collective power, forces its demands upon the state from the outside.

Party/State Power Neuters Class Power

Once elected, political representatives are under an obligation to "get stuff done" yet also to remain loyal to the mission of the class. In practice, this means that the representative will either have to compromise with the capitalist politicians, thereby losing their radical nature (see how AOC went from occupying Pelosi's office to moderating herself for the sake of gaining a committee chair position), or, when they fail to pass legislation, will be able to shelter behind the notion that "there simply wasn't enough support" and that additional representatives must be elected (for example: universal healthcare has been part of the progressive platform for decades, is extremely popular, yet still has little backing). Winning electoral power thus requires either a dilution of radical demands or a never-ending cycle of more electoral campaigns.

Furthermore, this strategy fails to take into account that within capitalism, the State is not a neutral entity--it is a capitalist one. Thus, even if socialists do take control of the government, the State is still intimately tied to the capitalist economy. Any attempt to raise taxes or nationalize industries would be met with resistance, capital flight, and a destabilization of the economy. If the State cannot collect taxes, its programs will go unfunded, and the ruling administration will be ousted from power. The austerity measures which were passed by the "socialist" European governments of the 80s (a period which coincided with the decline of the vibrant movements of the 60s and 70s) attests to this.

The above positions would be challenged by "class struggle electionists" by saying that the class would simply be called upon to engage in strikes, occupations, and other militant actions to support the party’s agenda. Besides the fact that this ignores that capital will not tolerate a threat to its power (note the US's interference in Chile in the 70s) or that the international character of the economy makes capital flight easy, it ignores that in a declining economy—such as the current one, and such as will surely be generated by the capitalist response to a socialist government—capital is willing to weather the storm of strikes and occupations if it means saving costs on labor or taxes: the worker needs to eat, capital does not.


Winning power through the State diverts energy away from direct contests with capital in favor of reforms which ameliorate the worst of capitalism, while also risking co-optation of the movement. Our ultimate goal, however, is to overcome capitalist relations, not simply swap out who acts as management. This cannot be done by relying upon representatives; this cannot be done through elected officials who will seek party influence over the turmoil of social revolution; it cannot be done by winning power in a State tied to the capitalist economy. It can only be done by the mass of workers who, through their own, immediate, collective activity, seize power for themselves.