Since that piece was published, Bernie lost the Democratic nomination, and I have seen many of my fellow Bernie supporters shout down at Hillary supporters, both at the convention and on social media. No more than three weeks ago, I too was telling a good friend that there simply was no way I would ever vote for HRC as I proceeded to list our differences on Latin America, the Middle-East, her tardy evolution on LGBT rights, her seeming cozy relationship with big banks, and her insensitivity on matters pertaining to criminality and the prison industrial complex. Her words at a convention won’t change my mind about these issues since I see her as having a long history of saying what suits her politically at the moment.
These are some of the same reasons that people on the Left, including many of my closest friends, still refuse to vote for her. And on this point, in my opinion, they are not only misguided; they are forgetting one of the most critical pieces written by the Leftist revolutionary, Antonio Gramsci.
Gramsci, an Italian Marxist imprisoned by Mussolini in the 1920s, is a commonly assigned theorist in college courses on political theory and social movements. He is mostly known for his concept of an “organic intellectual,” those people who exercise their political awareness and critique of governmental power outside of the structures of state sponsored training, including standardized educational paths and technical training. That’s an over-simplification of course, as is this short reminder to other liberals and Leftists about Gramsci’s concepts of War of Maneuver and War of Position.
We might benefit here of thinking about Gramsci’s War of Maneuver as direct action: protests, marches, rallying at electoral meetings, and ensuring our voices are heard and bodies are seen by people who would rather we not take space. Bernie supporters have been effective at this type of strategy, as has the #blacklivesmatter movement, just to name a couple examples. Writing from prison, Gramsci offered another mode of achieving political revolution: a War of Position. The long and slow battle for political revolution, for Gramsci, required people to switch from one type of strategy to another, depending on the social context. In the War of Position, people wanting social change would focus on gaining influence in society, in securing a more opportune future for more direct action at a later point, and in mapping out how to shift power relations for the longer, more substantial structural changes.
If you care about Bernie Sanders’ positions, you now have a decision to make. Of course you could refuse to vote for Hillary because you want to prove a point about the lack of democracy exercised by the Democratic Party. But then you would be hurting your long-term goals, because one viable candidate gets you closer to those goals (while possibly not sharing the goal with you), and the other not only takes you farther away, but also erodes viable paths toward those goals. (If you don’t think a Trump presidency would be that bad, simply read the news about Turkey these days, or look at what happens in despotic regimes).
Sanders already pivoted to a War of Position with his backing of Hillary Rodham Clinton. He pivoted when he created his “Our Revolution” plan. He knows that we need more people to engage politics locally. He knows that we need to consider which senators and representatives need our support. He knows that Supreme Court changes are too valuable to throw to chance. To achieve his goals, Sanders knows he needs a Hillary Clinton presidency. Now if only his supporters would pivot with him.
To those of you on the Left: Hillary may not be your candidate of choice. She may even espouse positions you find morally reprehensible. Her nomination may evidence for you all the gross aspects of a two-party political system in the U.S.A. But her presidency is the singular path forward at this point to change the nation to more closely reflect your ideals. Vote begrudgingly if you must. Keep in mind that you have more power in the larger political struggle to not only privately pull the lever for HRC, but convince others to do so as well. Pivoting to Hillary is not an end; her presidency is a means, a temporary position if you will, towards an end.
Author: David Shorter