Voting in 2016: Compassionate Pragmatism Versus Ideology

The following is a modified version of comments I posted on Louis Proyect’s website (blog), “The Unrepentant Marxist,” where I was arguing against the Marxists’ idea of: not voting for Bernie Sanders (or anybody), on the principle of not supporting the capitalist electoral system because doing so would drain away activist energy that should instead go into forming an “authentic” socialist revolutionary movement. Proyect himself is a lively intellect, an amazing researcher and scholar, and a prolific author who frequently publishes penetrating insights about politics and culture. We both used to write essays for (between 2003 to 2013, for me). Here are those comments (from 18 April 2016):

I had the unfortunate experience in 1968 of being called by the draft for induction into the US military during the height of the Tet Offensive (Vietnam War). My initial draft deferment was soon revoked because I was confused with some other New York Puerto Rican, who had flunked out of school (I was on the Dean’s list). This error could not be changed because “once we start the process we just keep going” (how the Draft Board explained it to me on the phone).

I was 1A (classified as ready for immediate use), holding out on month-to-month appeals (you were allowed a hearing, and there was a big backlog!) until the draft lottery of December 1969 gifted me with a very high number (they drafted people whose birthdays fell into the first 200+ picked out of a big jug, as in bingo; my birthday was in the 360s). And so, like a small-fry catch-and-release trout, I was tossed back into the wild.

I have never had illusions about Democrats or Republicans or anyone else. My point about voting (one way or the other, or even not at all) is very simple: I believe in pragmatic action, “people over ideas,” especially given unusually favorable opportunities like the wildly popular Bernie Sanders campaign (a rarity). I believe in being pragmatic instead of hewing to an inflexible ideology, which is basically a fundamentalist religion, “ideas over people.”

Here is one example of what I mean. When Louis Proyect — the “Unrepentant Marxist” — allowed himself to be moved by his heart, instead of his supposedly rigid anti-US-imperialism Western-leftist comfort-zone isolationist “intellect,” and “ideology,” over the imminent (and subsequently thwarted at the last minute by NATO intervention) Benghazi massacre by Gaddafi (in March 2011 during the Libyan Civil War), and also over the continuing war and atrocities by Assad against the majority of Syrians who don’t want Assad as their dictator, he (Louis) was pilloried by many of his Marxist colleagues because he broke ranks with the ideology (anti-interventionism regardless of circumstances). He had blasphemed against the word-as-law, really “the word” as secular god. I have unbounded admiration for Louis because of this display of compassion, which causes him now to have so many rhetorical and semantic difficulties (on his blog) in doing the verbal origami necessary to fashion a “logical” argument for these stands being correct and direct conclusions based on the ideology supposedly shared by the Marxist (argumentative and disunited) community he has been a lifelong activist and author in.

By the way, the argument I am giving here is the central moral principle of Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn (“a book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision, and conscience suffers defeat”). So, if you can view voting as a tactic (even if perhaps often trivial) rather than a Holy Sacrament or a potential Mortal Sin, and you can feel solidarity with most of the people (the actual people, even though I personally don’t like most people) who have awakened to Bernie Sanders’ message, then given a sound heart you easily chuck “the word” and vote to help make this magnificent (and never-to-be perfect) revolution succeed, because it is both a once-in-a(my)-lifetime opportunity, and it is BIG and REAL.

Are you really going to suffer by “going against your principles” in this situation? Is the question of voting “all about me” regardless, even over participating in a genuine popular movement to overturn much of the enslavement and corruption imposed on us today? Do you realize what a real revolution $15/hour nationally, and Medicare-for-all, and socialized public college would be for perhaps 100,000,000 Americans today?

Instead of waiting for the perfect revolution to drop into you laps sometime in the future (never, basically), don’t you think you would have much more influence in organizing for that grander revolution from within the movement that has captured popular enthusiasm today: the Sanders revolution? And we all know that Bernie is just the current flag-bearer of this revolution, we may need to find new personifications of it after July, or November. It is clear Bernie knows this too.

What makes Bernie run?: he has 7 grandchildren, he cares about their futures, which is NOW. What makes me spend this time writing to you?, I have three children and am far more concerned about their futures (which is NOW) than about the purity of my ideological allegiances and cohesiveness of my intellectual constructs: people over ideas.

The ideas (and “faiths”) are useful to give you a sense of direction, and sharpen your awareness and remind you of compassion, but the realities of your life and the currents and incidents of the history (and chaos) you live through should be the actual forces you dance with to produce your actions. It’s all very simple: is it about me, or is it about us? “I rebel, therefore we exist.”