Can the Left Win an Election Without an Organized People?
By Hugo Moldiz Mercado.
He is a Bolivian lawyer, communicator, university professor, researcher, Master in International Relations and correspondent for international news agencies. He has advised some commissions of the Bolivian Constituent Assembly.
April 28, 2020
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
In what way does the left have a chance of triumphing in representative (bourgeois) democratic elections? Is it an efficient and effective electoral strategy, regardless of the relation of forces between the dominant and subordinate classes, the predominant, even the only one, for a leftist candidate to be able to attract aa high percentage of the population and crown himself as the winning formula?
Is it a general political strategy, with its political-electoral correlate, that builds “from below” a favorable relationship of forces in the social struggle, to then translate it into votes greater than those received by the right-wing candidates, leading to a political-electoral victory?
It is evident that much reflection can be made on each of the questions posed. It is even possible to incorporate other questions in the same direction and make the issue even more complex. However, at the risk of appearing too simple, let us try some criteria.
The first is that the ways of doing electoral politics depend on the general political situation of the time. There is an intimate relationship between the political characteristics of a certain general historical period and the characteristics of a specific electoral situation.
A correct electoral strategy that ignores the political features of the period and the situation, however attractive it may be in the eyes and ears of the people, will not mechanically give the expected result: triumph. On the contrary, an electoral strategy based on the people as a social force with an effective territorial presence will be capable of convincing and attracting various fractions of the petty bourgeoisie and other backward sectors of the popular camp to lean towards a leftist candidate.
Second, it is true that the conditions and tools existing in this second decade of the 21st century are different, even radically different, from the conditions and tools that the left developed and used to conquer electoral victories, first, and install governments of its ideological-political court at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, later.
There is no doubt that the role of the media and social networks – as ideological state apparatuses – has an increasingly greater degree of influence in the configuration of electoral results. Whether or not it is predominant depends on the type of social formation, the nature of the class confrontation at the time, and the nature of the political strategies of the actors.
But neither the first nor the second criteria (forms of electoral participation, on the one hand, and conditions and tools, on the other), modify in substance the main aspect of representative democracy. That system, on the basis of the fetish of “one citizen, one vote”, is generally structured to ensure the reproduction of the type of capitalist state in the long term.
Except for a certain relative autonomy of the State from its dominant classes, in moments of general crisis, the left can take over the government, while previously building from “below” a relationship of favorable social and political forces.
Based on these two considerations, it is good to point out that, as a general rule, the left has been the winner of electoral competitions when its electoral strategy has succeeded in establishing or expressing the trend of social availability of the subordinate classes.
In other words, to build and condense through them a present state of mind and subjectivity of a social majority that is unwilling, for various reasons, with the government of the moment, and that is inclined to change through an option would answer the current state of affairs.
It is when the general crisis or even the indisposition with the government of the moment is made to lean to the side of a popular project. In other words, it is not only the candidate’s attributes that win over most voters but, above all, when that candidate or party synthesizes the “common sense” of what the people want and what they are fighting for at that moment.
However, this “common sense” does not arise spontaneously, even more so when the majority of the state system (repressive apparatus and ideological state apparatus) are against a leftist candidacy. It is rather the result of a patient and skillful construction of relations of forces favorable to change. This requires a conscious leadership. It is when, without abandoning modern techniques of inducing people to vote, the fragmented social tissues are gradually being articulated into a single large, strong and vigorous fabric.
The right-wing options have in an otherwise always expensive election marketing campaign the predominant way to win an election. This is because the whole state apparatus (repressive and ideological) works for their benefit. But the left, even if it is reformist, is obliged to find, in the organized strength of the people, the main source of its strategy, its tactics and its tools of triumph.
Moreover, even if the left obtained an electoral victory as a result of a high level of rejection by the population of the parties of the right, due to an unprecedented generalized crisis (ideological crisis of the classes and fractions of the block in power), its degree of stability and the possibilities of deepening its governmental measures will be very limited to face the medium and long-term challenges if it does not count on the organized people as a social force.
Does that mean that the left should abandon the use of modern techniques, such as social networks, to face an electoral competition? No, it doesn’t mean that. The progressive and leftist forces should use it to the fullest, but they should be convinced and not call themselves “self-deception” that their hypothetical victory was due to other, larger causes.
Only the naive or those who are unfamiliar with the laws of political operations are prone to be deceived by certain technical or tawdry electoral advisors who claim victory for a leftist candidate. In fact, a measurement of the level of impact of the battle on social networks will show that right-wing alternatives are the biggest beneficiaries.
The territorial work, the grassroots work, to organize the people and prepare them for a victorious battle that will translate into a vote will never be replaced by the forms of political incidence “from above”. These techniques complement, yes, but do not replace the consciousness and organization made into a material force.
For that, perhaps it is good to differentiate, as René Zavaleta did, between democracy as a mere aggregation of votes and democracy as self-determination. The sum of votes in a representative democracy can give the government, but not lay the foundations for the construction of a power different from the existing one.
This implies that a triumph within representative democracy for the right is in its condition of possibility. This is because it does not alter in any way the existing power relations. But for the left, it is insufficient since it is supposed to want the construction of power different from the capitalist one.
For the left to triumph in elections of representative democracy, it must first constitute itself as the leader of society, and this is only possible when the people become historical subjects who install their “common sense” as predominant over others.
In synthesis, it is not “from above” that the left wins the elections with the sole use of modern techniques of political incidence, but, above all, with the capacity to constitute itself “from below” as a political reference and as a part of the historical subject.
The left wins elections not only because of the charisma of a candidate, which is important but insufficient but also because of the benefit it derives from that space of representative democracy, which is not its own, to build itself as a power (hegemony translated into political practice) before becoming a government. Those are the lessons of history and that is the challenge of the present hour.