In Defense of Politics

by Eli Barrish

College students don’t vote. Why? Ignorance, apathy, and excessive drinking usually take the blame. But among my friends, these traits (at least, the first two) are uncommon. Young socialists tend to be politically savvy and not remotely apathetic. Yet many decline to vote. Again—why do campuses’ most politically and socially aware students refuse to participate in elections?

The short answer: They oppose “the system” (that perennial nemesis) by refusing to engage it. They have been seduced by a special brand of Leftism, which answers the unrelenting question—what is to be done?—with the snarky, fatalistic response, very little.

This is how the permanent revolution becomes a revolution permanently postponed.

When Bernie Sanders popped up as the first semi-viable socialist presidential candidate ever, socialists everywhere should have been ecstatic. Bernie exceeds all expectations—breaks all records. Eugene V. Debs, founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World, ran for president on the Socialist Party ticket five times. His best showing was in 1912, when he won 5% of the popular vote. Not much. But Quinnipiac and PPP polls from February show Sanders defeating GOP frontrunners Cruz and Trump, crushing Jeb Bush, and tying or losing by just one point to Rubio. These polls test a general election matchup that may not occur, but all the skepticism in the world would leave untarnished the simple fact of Bernie’s viability on a national stage.

Instead, socialists recoiled, especially college socialists, serious in their craft, too hip to vote. They find justifications. Bernie supports drones. Bernie dismisses Black Lives Matter. Bernie is old. And, besides, why did he run as a Democrat, anyway? That’s so uncool.

Bernie is not good enough for chic young socialists. Like groundhogs, they retreat back into their burrows, waiting for warmer weather.

When socialists refuse to vote for a self-declared socialist, it is a kink, not politics. Socialism has become a fetish for certain young theoreticians, wonks of cutting-edge radicalism. In contrast, when I go to Democratic Socialists of America meetings, which take place at the Texas State Employees Union—far from campus—I hear blue-collar workers wanting benefits, old union guys looking for a modicum of political efficacy. They think that Bernie might be able to deliver. Who are we to disagree?

Not to say that Bernie Sanders is perfect. He isn’t. But when socialism seals itself off from the lived experience of the masses, it is not only self-defeating, but actively classist.

Putting aside specific policy concerns (which, though justified, are not going to be refuted here), the most common justifications I hear from young socialists not voting for Bernie Sanders are: a.) He won’t do anything; and b.) Voting legitimizes a fundamentally unfair system.

Now, the first concern might be true. It is always possible that an elected official won’t do anything—most don’t. But that argument is, at best, defensive. Even if Bernie’s probable impact on policy is low, the alternative candidates are, at best, politically impossible, and, at worst, actively bad. Even by the most pessimistic calculation, Bernie is the best option. Not voting invites much worse options, like Cruz and Trump.

The second argument is truly wretched, and displays the navel-gazing nature of college socialism today. It hearkens back to a sort of rule utilitarianism, prohibiting any action that even slightly diverges from one’s moral principles. Thou shalt not vote “Democrat”; thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s candidate. This approach is antithetical to the organizational ethos at the heart of socialism. Moreover, it endows the individual with too much power. Young socialists enjoy the idea that their refusal to vote matters. It does not, and the delusion permits ongoing violence against the poor.

There are obvious, pragmatic reasons to vote for a Democrat—even for Hillary Clinton. Every Republican candidate has pledged two policy actions that make refusals to vote look foolish. First, any Republican president will repeal Obamacare, plunging millions of poor Americans into a precarious existence where illness and injury may tear families apart. Second, any Republican president will cancel Obama’s executive orders restricting carbon emissions, which, though inadequate to redress climate change, at least leave the door open for more regulation. Uncurbed emissions quickly make the worst effects of global warming irreversible, which will mostly severely affect the poor. When the next president appoints (several) Supreme Court justices, these changes will be engraved in legal stone.

Maybe socialists used to have the luxury of not voting for presidents. No longer. Delay begets more delay; the poor grow poorer; sea levels rise. Socialist Adventists--praying for socialist rapture, praying for a socialist messiah to snatch the levers of power--condemn the movement to irrelevance.

Come down to earth and vote.

Paid for by Democratic Socialists of America www.dsausa.org. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.


Eli Barrish is a DSA member and sophomore at the
University of Texas at Austin, studying philosophy.


Showing 1 reaction


commented 2016-04-21 07:33:54 -0400 · Flag
Great article. It’s really important to live in the real world in order to achieve real change.

Revolution at the Crossroads: Igniting the Socialist Resistance Against Trump

February 17, 2017 · $20.00 USD

Location: MayDay Space
Where: 176 St Nicholas Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11237
When: Friday, February 17th at 6 PM to Sunday, February 19th to 4 PM

Political Context

This Presidents’ Day weekend, the Young Democratic Socialists will gather for our annual winter conference in New York City titled Revolution at the Crossroads: Igniting the Socialist Resistance Against Trump. We did not choose the name lightly. In doing so, we call for leftists to collectively confront Trump and Trumpism at every possible opportunity. When a Trump administration attempts mass deportations of undocumented workers, when it attempts to register Muslims or roll back worker protections, when it attempts to take away reproductive, LGTBQ, civil, or any other rights, then we must militantly resist to prevent such measures.

To succeed, this must be explicitly socialist resistance. With liberalism having repeatedly shown itself incapable of combating the far right, it is now the time for socialists to openly declare our place in building the mass, multi-racial, and working class movement necessary for defeating the Trump administration. In this struggle, millennials will play an outsized role. That is why this conference comes at such a critical time—together we must create spaces for democratic and strategic discussion, spaces to gain organizing skills, and most importantly, spaces to form networks of young radicals for the future struggles ahead. These spaces will only come together if socialists come together. Join us this Presidents Weekend and help ignite the movement to defeat the Trump administration, continue the political revolution, and build the socialist alternative.

Key Deadlines

  • January 8th: Travel Scholarship for Air Travel (for application see below)
  • January 15th: Travel Scholarship for Non-Air Travel (ex: bus, car, train, etc.)
  • February 3rd: Early Bird Registration Ends - Tickets prices go up from $5 to $10
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Apply for a travel scholarship here! (First Deadline January 8, 2017)

Check out the working program (subject to change)