Kirsten West Savali, an editor at the website The Root, has written a few excellent articles on Angela Davis’s semi-endorsement (or, in fact, non-endorsement) of Hillary Clinton:
In her last article, Kirsten West Savali quotes Angela Davis at length:
“Now as a person who has been involved in radical politics all of my life, I have never seen the electoral arena as the place where I can express my radical revolutionary politics.
“And it’s kind of hard to imagine being revolutionary within the existing electoral system. Am I right?
“So I think we need a new party. I think we have to start imagining and building a political party that is not linked to the capitalist corporations; a party that is feminist; a party that is anti-racist; a party that is opposed to the occupation of Palestine by the state of Israel; a party that will represent the true needs of the people not only of this country but the people of the world.”
To me, Angela Davis seems to be showing a grasp of material reality at a level that white socialists sometimes do not. It’s a little surprising– although, not entirely– that so many whites on the left suddenly believe that a vote for Jill Stein, or any other socialist candidate, would change conditions in any significant way. After all, every one of the candidates is running to be President, or boss, of this system– capitalism. The enemy. If they won (and they won’t), they would be forced to work within the rules of the game determined by the bourgeois ruling class, as a lone or solitary figure in a sea of reactionaries. I’m not sure how this can be considered a revolutionary view.
At the same time, we might consider the potential outcomes if Jill Stein were to receive a larger percentage of the vote than expected. While it’s clear that the next President will be either Trump or Hillary, or at least a Republican or a Democrat (in the event one of them is replaced), a strong performance by Jill Stein at the polls might signal the beginning of a mass revolutionary movement– the building of a “new party,” like the one Angela Davis has described.
Capitalism will not be overthrown by socialist revolutionaries in November. That’s safe to say. Since revolution is a process, and a long process at that, a vote for Jill Stein might be considered just one necessary step in that process. That seems realistic enough.
But the danger of voting for Jill Stein– from a revolutionary or materialist perspective– is that it will simply be the expression of individualistic, philosophical idealism: we are voting for Stein because it makes us feel good about ourselves. Our vote is precious. We love her views on the issues. We’re sick of greedy, imperialistic Democrats like Hillary. “I’m so mad I’m voting third party!” That mindset seems to be taking us in a reactionary direction. As socialist revolutionaries, it seems that our vote for Jill Stein would need to be strategic.
To me, Angela Davis is the person who is being strategic, as well as realistic and materialist, in her analysis. And why not? Unlike a white woman who is a physician with a bachelor of arts degree and a doctoral degree in medicine from Harvard University, Angela Davis is a Black woman who grew up in Birmingham (or “Bombingham”) and who was once hunted down by the entire capitalist system of the U.S. Angela Davis was falsely charged and imprisoned, and was targeted for execution by a future President, Ronald Reagan. Angela Davis worked with the Black Panther Party and has spent decades organizing, writing, speaking, teaching, and leading. Her words come from that experience.
These biographical facts aren’t meant to diminish Jill Stein’s efforts, and, after all, Angela Davis also has a doctoral degree (from Humboldt University of Berlin). Jill Stein has done more than most to advance the revolution. I’ve done almost nothing in comparison.
But who we are matters when it comes to what we say. I believe the revolution won’t be led by a white woman (trans or cis). As white people, we can say the most revolutionary things, and have wonderful ideas, but still be part of the bourgeoisie or the petit bourgeoisie. We are still shaped by the system. Our ideas still come from where we are positioned within the overall hierarchy of capitalist society.
No matter what we say– and how good it sounds– the main question is: how does our political identity benefit from the current system of power? Or are we, in fact, harmed and oppressed by this system?
A socialist revolution led by middle-class or wealthy white people is not possible in materialist terms (it’s even debatable whether impoverished whites can lead such a revolution). We must experience firsthand systemic oppression before we can know what it means to move in a revolutionary direction against the source of our oppression. As long as we are gaining the most from a white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist system, and living off the stolen resources, labor, and land of colonized communities (Black people, indigenous peoples, people of color– the majority of humanity), then our political identity (as opposed to our biological identity) will be inherently reactionary, no matter what ideas are in our heads.
Angela Davis is speaking from her experience as a Black woman, a Black feminist, and a Black revolutionary. She is teaching us that “the electoral arena” is not where this transformative change will take place. Angela Davis is encouraging us to “start imagining and building a political party that is not linked to the capitalist corporations; a party that is feminist; a party that is anti-racist; a party that is opposed to the occupation of Palestine by the state of Israel; a party that will represent the true needs of the people not only of this country but the people of the world.”
This imagined new party can be contrasted with the philosophical idealism of “voting third party.” It seems to me, we don’t need a third party– or a fourth, or a fifth. We need one party: one-party rule. A dictatorship of the proletariat.
Kwame Nkrumah, the great Pan-African socialist revolutionary, and the first President of independent Ghana, wrote:
“A people’s parliamentary democracy, with a one-party system, is better able to express and satisfy the common aspirations of a nation as a whole, than a multi-party parliamentary system, which is in fact only a ruse for perpetuating and covering up the inherent struggle between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’.”
A political party is the organized expression of class interests. In the United States, the Democratic and Republican parties express the interests of the bourgeoisie– the capitalists, who are highly organized.
The petit bourgeoisie and the proletariat depend on the rule of the bourgeoisie. We may influence how we are ruled, but we do not have real power. In order to gain this power, the masses of oppressed people would have to organize a movement based on the principles of egalitarian rule, in opposition to the oligarchical rule of capitalism.
This one party would become an expression of the interests of the oppressed class. And as long as the oppressor class had any hope of regaining power, it would seek to further divide and isolate the people of the oppressed class: the workers. So a dictatorship of the working class is necessary in order to enforce the true majority interests of the proletarian masses. Any additional parties would be counterproductive– that is, counterrevolutionary.
The emphasis on “voting third party” shows that the capitalist ruling class is still dividing us and isolating us. Capitalism is compelling us to think in individualistic terms, as if choosing a favorite candidate is like picking out a favorite flavor of ice cream.
But this is not our fault. Every structure and institution of the bourgeois society is permeated by the ideology of the ruling class, so it’s understandable that our reaction to the current election would be to choose an alternative, a personal favorite– from within the system. The system is still making the rules. It has the power to do this. We’re still just going along by voting for anyone.
However, a vote for Jill Stein may bring us closer to one-party rule, as the global proletariat rises up to overthrow the current system of white supremacist, patriarchal colonial capitalism. In that case, such a vote would be strategic.
It seems Angela Davis is also being strategic: stop Trump. That makes sense. But we may not like what she is saying because we’re so caught up in our own subjective reality of how distasteful it would be to vote for Hillary. And then we don’t pay attention to the other half (or, actually, the largest part) of what Angela Davis is saying: “we need a new party.”
Additionally, white leftists may be arrogantly disregarding a lifetime of principled organizing by Angela Davis, a Black woman who embodies intersecting oppressed identities and whose ideas are reinforced by her experience as a Black woman in the United States.
Any Tom, Dick or Becky in the so-called white community can say all the right things. But we will still be white.
Angela Davis– like Assata Shakur, Elaine Brown, Fannie Lou Hamer, Marsha P. Johnson, Amílcar Cabral, Ella Baker, George Jackson, Walter Rodney, Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Thomas Sankara, Huey Newton, Steve Biko, Sékou Touré, and Kwame Nkrumah– not only speaks the revolution, but lives the revolution through her identity and experience.
Black Lives Matter.