Power and Protest: The Electoral Tactics of Leftist Social Movements

Wallerstein, Immanuel
Date Written:  2017-12-05
Publisher:  Toward Freedom
Year Published:  2017
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX21841

The central difficulty for left social movements is determining electoral tactics that will enable them to win both in the short run and in the middle run. On the surface, it seems that winning in the short run conflicts with winning in the middle run.



Engaging in elections has two negative effects on left social movements. It distracts them from organizing for the battle to win the middle run. And it disillusions members who see it as selling out because they are being called upon to vote for persons who are not committed to transforming the world-system.

Is there any set of electoral tactics that makes it possible to escape these consequences? I think there may be. The first and in a sense the easiest thing to do is to discuss at length within the left movement the difference between the short-run and middle-run temporality and the place of electoral tactics in the struggle.

Just discussing this issue within the left social movement would help holding the left movement together and restoring mutual confidence. The discussion should be about the two greatest dangers. In the short run, winning elections requires the votes of many who have no interest whatsoever in transforming the world. These persons will demand a price for their support.

How big a price will vary. How minimal a payment can be made by the left social movement will vary as well. Each electoral battle is different.

The other danger is that of disillusionment. Again, each situation varies. But the way to combat disillusionment is always to avoid illusions. National or local victories should of course be celebrated. But they should never be treated as more than stopgap victories aimed at protecting the poorest strata.

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