Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The New Voice

Communist Work in Elections

First Published: The New Voice, Vol. IX, No. 8, July 21, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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At this time in U.S. history the electoral arena is one of the clearest examples of capitalism’s growing inability to rule in the old way. Not since Eisenhower has there been a full two-term president. The number of voters declines each year. The system verges on crisis.

Despite the general political and economic crisis, a significant and active minority of workers still participate in bourgeois politics. As Lenin says (see page six), wherever there is a large number of workers, communists must be there as well.

But what is correct communist work in this arena? The New Voice says, as it says for other aspects of the mass movement: Make the Workers’ Struggles the Party’s Struggles; Make the Party’s Outlook the Workers’ Outlook. This key point is an important part of the strategy for revolution in the U.S. In electoral politics as in anything else, the task is to merge Marxism-Leninism with the working class in struggle.


Workers confront real and important issues in the voting booth. The clearest instances of electoral class, struggle involve attacks on workers’ democratic rights or livelihood. Tax cuts for the rich, busing controversies, public service cutbacks and anti-rent’-control ordinances are examples from recent years.

Ruling class attack draws the contradictions sharply for all to see and understand. Winning reforms through the ballot box is a bigger problem, since the monopoly capitalists have firm control over the politicians, judges and resources necessary to implement new measures. More often than not people think they have voted in a reform only to find it sabotaged or turned around in practice.

Even so, there is no reason for communists to disdain positive measures which call for true reforms, not fraudulent tricks. Does the measure counterpose the interests of the working class to those of the capitalist class? Does it arise out of and supplement the mass movement? Electoral campaigns in several states to control nuclear energy represented valid reforms, and communists have supported them.

Concerning bourgeois politicians, Marxist-Leninists avoid the liberals’ “lesser of two evils” approach, but they may on occasion support a candidate–or run candidates themselves.

The purpose is not to make the system work but to carry on agitation and education around the issues of the day. The mass struggle comes first–but if electoral work can serve that struggle, what is wrong with it? During the Vietnam war a number of local candidates ran on a single-issue antiwar platform. It was correct for communists to support them and gain an increased audience for Marxist-Leninist agitation on the war.

In each election communists must decide to boycott or participate. No hard and fast rules make this decision for them. The central question is this: how do communists become one with the workers and exercise revolutionary leadership among them?


Workers learn from their own experience that bourgeois democracy is a fraud and deception, but this education does not happen spontaneously. Marxist-Leninists do not rest con-Cent with joining the masses in struggle; their distinctive task in the electoral arena or any other one is to raise consciousness for revolution and socialism.

Working in bourgeois politics forces communists to tread carefully between two pitfalls. On their right, the fraud of bourgeois democracy can make socialists into reformists who preach social change through the ballot box. On the extreme left, petty-bourgeois revolutionists (like those Lenin talks about in “Left-wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder) abandon workers to the bourgeoisie. Either way the result is the same: workers have no revolutionary leadership, and revolution becomes that much harder.

How do communists avoid the pitfalls and keep to the correct path? The answer is to unite practice with Marxist-Leninist theory. Communists build up their skills and knowledge for electoral work by doing it, then evaluating the results with criticism and self-criticism. They should also diligently study revolutionary theory to guide their work, especially Lenin’s teachings on the state and revolution. Armed with criticism/ self-criticism and correct theory, revolutionaries should have no fears about going among the workers, wherever that takes them.

The working-class goal is revolutionary socialism, the dictatorship of the proletariat. That objective requires a class-conscious vanguard of workers prepared to smash the bourgeois state along with its fraudulent “democracy.” The key point of making the workers’ struggles the Party’s struggles and making the Party’s outlook the workers’ outlook can help develop that vanguard.