A question the cadres (and the future party) must pay particular attention to is the well-being of the masses; cadres must fight for the well-being of the people in their locality and see to it that their needs are met. Currently, the revolutionary workers’ movement lacks an organic link with the masses. The masses fail to see a future for themselves in revolutionary socialism for revolutionary militants have failed to give the people answers to problems in their daily lives. During the Chinese Revolutionary War, Mao Zedong said:
“If we want to win … we must do a great deal more. We must lead the peasants’ struggle for land and distribute the land to them, heighten their labour enthusiasm and increase agricultural production, safeguard the interests of the workers, establish co-operatives, develop trade with outside areas, and solve the problems facing the masses — food, shelter and clothing, fuel, rice, cooking oil and salt, sickness and hygiene, and marriage. In short, all the practical problems in the masses’ everyday life should claim our attention. If we attend to these problems, solve them and satisfy the needs of the masses, we shall really become organizers of the well-being of the masses, and they will truly rally round us and give us their warm support.”
We must only look at the recent history of the revolutionary workers’ movement in the United States to see this theory validated. During the late 60’s and 70’s, the Black Panther Party was truly the vanguard of the oppressed of the nation. Historical analysis shows that many things point to the reason why the BPP rose to such a position (an entire book can be written on it, in fact, it has) but one reason for certain was their focus on the question of the well-being of the masses. Where chapters were located, the Panthers organized free breakfast programs, medical clinics, day care facilities, schools, committees for the self-defense of their community (including armed patrols) to combat police brutality and abuse. These programs were so successful in rousing the support of the people that they became a central focus of the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program.
Today, we must see to it that cadres are providing answers to questions of the people in their locality, they must serve and pay attention to the well-being of the masses. There are many ways to go about doing so. Cadre members can take active roles in already organized community advocacy and defense groups, or form their own. Many radical community programs have already been organized around the country and have shown to be a success: anti-eviction campaigns, language classes, day-cares, anti-slumlord campaigns, etc (We cannot help but give a shout out to the Philly Socialists, whose model of serving the people deserves to be emulated.) Cadres must work in these programs, recruit, propaganize, conduct ideological struggle, etc… By struggling with the masses and providing them with guidance, answers, assistance, etc. cadres — and above all revolutionary socialism — may be realized as the voice of the people.
The Marxist-Leninist approach to participation in bourgeois elections is simple; it is impossible to rid the democratic republic of bourgeois control through the ballot box, but at the very same time it must not be ruled out as a tool for revolutionary struggle. Lenin wrote in State and Revolution that,
“A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capital has gained possession of this very best shell it establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it.”
And in “Democracy” and Dictatorship,
“[Y]ou must take advantage of bourgeois democracy which, compared with feudalism, represents a great historical advance, but not for one minute must you forget the bourgeois character of this “democracy”, it’s historical conditional and limited character. Never share the “superstitious belief” in the “state” and never forget that the state even in the most democratic republic, and not only in a monarchy, is simply a machine for the suppression of one class by another.”
To completely ignore electoral work is one-sided, incomplete, and non-dialectical. A balance must exist between the two, determined always by the present conditions. Cadres must seek to cement an alliance of the most class-conscious and politically active workers within a locality who can begin to run independent, working class candidates who will fight for the immediate gains of the workers and their class allies. However, we must first ask some important questions in order to ensure that the use of elections as one tool in the revolutionary struggle does not degenerate into vulgar electoralism, where the simple election of “socialist” candidates functions as the main goal of an organization or party. Some examples of fundamental questions the cadres must ask follows: What do we do if a candidate is elected? How can we ensure the candidates continue to reflect our positions? How do we make sure an ideology of vulgar electoralism doesn’t take root before a mass revolutionary party is even in its infancy? How can we ensure that participation in elections effectively develops class consciousness?
What it really comes down to is having specific details, based on materialist analysis, not of why we think we should use elections, but how we will use elections. There is a fine line between using elections productively as a tool in the class struggle and falling into the trap of vulgar electoralism. Cadres must thoroughly study the class composition, political and economic situation, etc. of the particular area in question and develop specific tactics for the use of elections before taking spontaneous and hasty steps which could be detrimental. At this stage, inaction in the arena of bourgeois elections on the condition that it coincides with developing solid tactics for their use, is acceptable.
Keeping in mind the reservations made above, if used properly, elections can serve as another opportunity to expose the class struggle within society, the role of the state and bourgeois ideology, and to win the working class some immediate gains. This can all be done prior to, and in anticipation of, the development of a nation-wide revolutionary party.