Should We Vote? Debunking the Contemporary Misuse of the “Duma” Tactic



Proletarian Alternative

August 5, 2015


Many in the people’s camp, some identifying as progressives, evoke a tactical orientation called “the Duma” to justify their participation in the electoral process. The Duma was the Russian Parliament in which the Bolsheviks saw fit to use the contradictions within the Russian dominant classes to further their political objectives. For the Bolsheviks, though it involved participating in the bourgeois electoral process, this was a revolutionary orientation.


But today this tactic is not revolutionary in the least.


Experiences, both direct and indirect, are not to be duplicated or memorized. They are to be learned from to guide upcoming experiences, other social practices. Revolutionary experiences either consolidate or rectify theory. The Duma experience was specific to the reality of Russia, a tactical line in a revolutionary project. Even though it was correct at that time and place, it’s a mistake to attempt to duplicate it now in another social formation where the material conditions, the subjective and the objective conditions, are totally different.


Some elements of the subjective conditions:

1] A revolutionary proletarian alternative was a viable alternative in Russia at the time. Currently, no such viable alternatives are present in the US social formation. For the Duma strategy to become a general viable alternative to be applied in the specificity of the US social formation, the principal task would be to construct that proletarian alternative. This is the task of the working class and its most advanced detachment [proletarian revolutionaries]. The left today, due to the fact that it’s mostly comprised of the petit bourgeoisie, prefers readymade alternatives [a reflection of dogmatism] and are not capable of constructing a proletarian alternative.


Because of the lack of a proletarian alternative, the petite bourgeoisie has elevated the tactical line of the Duma into a strategy. An inadequate or total absence of a strategy can only lead to pragmatism. It is a plan that is not a plan; objectively an expression of opportunism and reformism. It’s opportunist (class collaborationist), because it advocates allying with fraction[s] of the capitalist class to implement the Duma. It’s reformist because it confuses tactic with strategy, thus alienating a tactical line from a proletarian revolutionary strategy. The only achievable result would be the reproduction of bourgeois domination, the complete opposite result of the same tactic when implemented by the Bolsheviks.


A tactical line outside the context of revolutionary strategy will inevitably lead to reformism. Any tactical line needs to be determined, condensed, defined and prioritized by a strategic line.


The consideration of priorities is very important. It requires that revolutionaries appropriate contradiction and align their work with the fundamental contradiction of capitalism, instead of chasing events [falling into the error of spontaneity] to justify their presence politically.


One effect of the ambulance-chasing orientation is the creation of organizations that are quickly overtaken by reality. These organizations are defensive, not proactive. For example, the tactical line of “voting for the lesser evil” is quickly self-exceeded when bourgeois politicians get elected. The lesser evil quickly becomes evil; then the authors of that line are force to swim in a pool of their own piss.


The Duma was not a defensive line.


2] Along with the proletariat, the capitalist class in Russia was also a revolutionary class, engaged in a battle against feudalism. They were militating to unite, under its leadership, the peasants transitioning to the proletariat. But the Bolsheviks did not call for unity with them against feudalism. They understood that even if the capitalists were a revolutionary class against feudalism, they were still the fundamental enemy of the working class. The Duma was a tactical line for the consolidation of the AUTONOMY OF THE PROLETARIAT, and to assert proletarian leadership [rather than capitalist leadership] over the mass struggle against feudalism. Combatting the illusions of petit bourgeois and bourgeois democraticism, it exposed the limitations of the ideological and political promises of freedom and democracy made by the capitalists. It was for the defeat of capitalism, not for the reproduction of capitalism.


Now in the US social formation, capitalism has reached the stage of imperialism. There are no longer any progressive or revolutionary bones to be found in the body of capitalism. In the US and in most social formations in the period of imperialism, the tactical line of the Duma is inapplicable.


The participation of the Bolsheviks in Parliamentary elections at the time was to expose the bourgeoisie. Any attempt to duplicate the Duma orientation today involves collaboration with the bourgeoisie or some fraction of the bourgeoisie [all of which are the fundamental enemy of the working class], and will be totally absorbed by bourgeois democracy. When opportunists advocate electing a lesser evil of capitalism [as if there is such a lesser evil to be found], somehow it winds up that all of these lesser evils reside inside the Democratic Party. At the same time, no work is actually being done to construct an autonomous alternative to capitalism.


Opportunists will use every justification to introduce their line. Though it may be well executed, it is badly planned. Their definition of the Duma has nothing to do with the proletarian line of the Bolsheviks, neither as a strategy nor as a tactic. The strategy for the Bolsheviks was: political power. And the Duma was no more than a tactic of that strategy, subordinate to it.


3] The ultimate revolutionary strategy of the Bolsheviks for proletarian revolution was based on the correct identification of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism: labor vs. capital. The fundamental contradiction of capitalism has not changed; it is still in effect today. The revolutionary proletarians of Russia invested their militancy in organizing the proletariat, while combating petit bourgeois opportunism, populist brands of anarchism among the peasants, and bourgeois alternatives. Today’s radical petit bourgeois activists [even when they call themselves revolutionaries] are not doing this; instead they are falling into opportunism and populism, especially when they attempt to strip the revolutionary content of the Duma by attempting to misapply it based on their class interest, which is to serve capital.


Most revolutionary militants historically, including Marx Engels, Rosa, Lenin and many more, have paved the way politically for how to address a fundamental contradiction. In general, one cannot even begin to comprehend and radically transform any phenomenon [in our case a social-political phenomenon] if we do not appropriate its fundamental contradiction. The identification of the fundamental contradiction is one element in the process of transformation of any phenomenon.


In fact Engels and Marx collectively declared that one of their most important discoveries about the capitalist mode of production is the form in which SURPLUS VALUE is extracted. They further declared that surplus value is the source of all other forms of capital and of all forms of circulation of capital, and that without understanding surplus value, one will never be able to conceive of scientific socialism.


The proletarian dictatorship is the process in which the proletariat, along with sectors of the popular masses under their leadership, destroys the process of producing surplus value, toward the abolition of classes. The process of destruction of surplus value is the process of destroying all forms of accumulation of capital, since all originate from it. Through the elimination of all forms of concentration and accumulation of capital, the working class will also achieve the most advanced society humanity has ever seen: a classless society, along with the dissolution of itself as a class. This process will be determined by the leadership capacity of the working class. The possibility of a reversal will still exist, as occurred in Russia and China.


Any political line that steps away from annihilating and overcoming surplus value production will not lead to the realization of another mode of production. Instead it will only result in an upgrade of the existing mode of production, or its degeneration, or an absurd and fruitless metaphysical quest of system-creation. The identification of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism as capital vs. labor still stands.


It still stands despite attempts of the petit bourgeois-led left to argue otherwise, for example, in assertions of a “re-composition” of the working class from surplus value production to capital circulation, and assertions of equivalence between capital’s production and conditions of reproduction.


In Anti-Dühring, Engels showed that slavery as a form of production was the backbone of capitalism in Europe. Slavery also introduces an antagonism in the relation of production: between the slave masters and the slaves. The appropriation of both slavery and capitalism also simultaneously entails an understanding of scientific socialism.


Neither antagonism can be resolved amicably, however that may be the wish of opportunists, reformists and revisionists. Every time they attempt to launch a struggle by trying to offer some radical change at the level of the superstructures, the only possible result is the realization of reformism. The left’s participation in elections is such an attempt. Whether these attempts for change are waged by armed struggle or by putting ballots in a box, the results are always the same: reformed superstructures.


The attempts by way of armed struggle are being realized through the displacement of the fundamental contradiction of capital vs. labor, bringing it to the superstructure, and situating the fundamental contradiction in the superstructure rather than the economic base.


To clarify: these struggles are indeed an objective advancement from previous lower levels of struggle, and need the support of proletarian revolutionary movements. But we also need to indicate their limitations, and show that the inevitable achievement of these struggles is not revolution but reform. We need to insist that a movement, no matter how radical or militant, that addresses the superstructure for reformism is a very limited orientation particular to petit bourgeois objectives. Instead, what we really need is a revolution for the radical transformation from one mode of production to another—in this case by advancing the antagonism between capital and labor to the point of rupture and resolution, under the leadership of the proletariat.


For all doubters of Marxism as a science and of scientific socialism, it is important to show each time that if the fundamental contradiction of any phenomenon is displaced, there can be no understanding or resolution of that phenomenon. Mao went a little further, correctly so, by arguing that a phenomenon no longer exists when its fundamental contradiction is resolved. This is one of the arguments supporting socialism as a transition from capitalism to communism. The socialist moment/conjuncture is led by the proletariat to destroy the production of surplus value toward class abolition, therefore destroying capitalism while simultaneously realizing the destruction of the proletariat itself. So again, Mao and Marx insisted on the presence of class struggle during that transition. Marx went even so far as to argue that at least a few revolutions will be required to accomplish the task of destroying surplus value, which means that the proletariat will lose a few revolutions on the way to achieving its final objective.


At the current stage of imperialism, in both imperialist and imperialist-dominated social formations, participation in bourgeois electoral process is a dead end. The task of proletarian revolutionaries is to prioritize their militancy based on the order of the day: proletarian revolution.


Election Boycotts


Another tactic implemented by the petit bourgeois left is to call for no participation in bourgeois elections. They identify this tactic as a boycott. We have seen this tactic implemented in imperialist as well as in dominated social formations.


All forms of boycotts are essentially a struggle of one force employing pressure to gain concessions from an opposing force. The most advanced form of the boycott is embargo. Mainly boycotts are a tool of struggle used by the bourgeoisie and the petite bourgeoisie to gain leverage in a negotiation, or to be heard. The effectiveness of boycotts generally has to do with the relation of forces. A historical synthesis of boycotts will allow us to deduce that they are usually lengthy, time-consuming battles that usually die of their own weight.


Presently, we will restrict our discussion of boycotts to those regarding elections.


It is an overtly reactionary practice to participate in something we have no interest in. So what would be the reasons for left organizations to boycott a practice of the dictatorship/democracy structures of the bourgeoisie—is it to assert that it is merely secondary issues preventing us from participating? We need to ask those advocating boycotts: what is the tactical relation of a boycott to a revolutionary strategy? What is the line, the strategy of participating or refraining from participating in a bourgeois election? And what have we learned from the tactic of the left [which they have erroneously converted into a strategy] of struggling within the internal structures of the capitalist class?


Many conflate the practice of elections with democracy. It is very important that we do not conflate a tendency/form of a phenomenon with the phenomenon itself.


Elections are merely a tendency of democracy, which is never pure or outside of class relations of domination. Elections, in every social formation, are an effect of class domination and are always in the interests of the dominant classes. They are an effect of the dominant classes’ dictatorship/democracy over society, serving the reproduction of their domination.


Democracy is about class power and the reproduction of class power. It is identical with dictatorship. Dictatorship/democracy is a structure, a type, a model that defines the super-structural [political] organization of a social formation. So far humanity has encountered feudalist democracy, capitalist democracy, and revolutionary popular democracy/proletarian democracy. Elections are one of many practices of the structure of democracy for the reproduction of class power.


Bourgeois elections are a secondary political superstructural form for the reproduction of class domination, used to address the intra-class capitalist struggle. Simultaneously they serve to keep the popular mass disorganized by focusing their energies on choosing which capitalist representative is going to lead the capitalist class.


Elections reflect the tendencies of so-called economic competition within the capitalist class, transferred to the political field. They are not about sharing power between the capitalists and those they dominate and exploit. We have seen many times that if we do vote in bourgeois contests against the interests of the capitalist class, that the results are thrown out or ignored—the “NO” referendum in Greece being a recent example. All the coups d’état organized against populist governments in dominated countries [such as Allende and Aristide] were able to occur because they won in a bourgeois-controlled electoral process.


The boycotting of elections by the left is unproductive. Any energy spent unwisely, not for working class interests, is an expression of reformism. Boycotting is superficially a plan, not really a plan, and sometimes even elevated to a strategy but with no actual strategy.


Our energy needs to be spent in exposing bourgeois democracy with all its limitations, while at the same time offering another alternative.


In Nepal, the self-declared “Maoist” radical petite bourgeoisie also sometimes boycotted the electoral process and sometimes participated in it. These revisionists deformed Mao’s proletarian theory of New Democracy, totally stripping it of its revolutionary content, to embark on a new project of system-creation, resulting in the historical constitution of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie by their leadership.


For those who intend to participate in bourgeois elections as soon as some deficiencies are resolved, then boycotting makes sense. But let’s be clear: whether we participate or abstain, it will be in the favor of capitalism. In contrast, our task is to construct another alternative based on the guideline that PROLETARIAN REVOLUTION is the order of the day. This is the case even if in that process we use the internal contradictions between the different sectors of capitalism in our favor.


Another totally simplistic approach is to go after the weakest link in a bourgeois election, while not even participating in exposing the electoral process as a whole. This approach only appears to be progressive. In reality it is the same as populist-appearing candidates attacking their openly rightist rivals, or an inversion of that in the other direction. All the candidates are reactionaries, and all deserve to be exposed as such in front of the masses.


There is nothing progressive to be found in capitalism. There is nothing valid for the working class to find in the capitalist electoral arena. The whole electoral process is for the reproduction of bourgeois democracy/dictatorship, reinforcing their domination over society.


All the candidates are reactionary; all of them are to be exposed by us. Going after one, or one party, is simplistic and hides a reactionary agenda that will inevitably favor other candidates. Bernie Sanders is a reactionary social democrat, and it is energy misspent [reformism] to either support him or to go after him specifically while being silent about other candidates. Either approach is objectively participating in the competitive electoral process.


At this time, the genuine revolutionary is not to get caught up in the electoral process, but to expose it. Our main task is to participate in constructing an alternative based on the fundamental contradiction of capital and labor.