This coming Tuesday Californians will cast ballots in a recall election to decide if Gavin Newsom should remain in office. As socialists in California, we consider Gavin Newsom and the Democratic Party he leads to be one of the major opponents we face in many of our campaigns and projects. Nevertheless, it does not follow from this that our politics will be advanced by his ouster in a clearly undemocratic farce, where whoever succeeds him is virtually guaranteed by California’s absurd electoral system to be a true reactionary with far less popular support than Newsom has to remain in office in the first place. Our comrades in DSA Los Angeles have issued a statement that sums up well how a successful recall would represent a strategic obstacle to much of what DSA is working on and we encourage you to read it
We wish to draw out two additional points to add to what our southern California comrades have said.
First, as we saw last year with the recall of two progressive city council members here in Santa Cruz, California’s recall laws are deeply broken, undemocratic, and prone to racist manipulation by elites. However, the take away from this should not be that the recallability of elected officials as such is itself a bad thing.
California’s broken system was cited in a recent DSA National debate as a reason to reject a recall provision for our own organization’s highest leadership body. But as socialists we have a long history of demanding the recall of corrupt government officials as well as the instant recallability of delegates to socialist bodies. Indeed, this was one of the central pillars of the democracy of the Paris Commune and is a core tenet of socialist ideas about democracy. While we should absolutely oppose a system like we have in California that allows elites to essentially buy a do-over on terms wholly favorable to the right, we shouldn’t elevate this to a principled opposition to recalling officials as such.
Second, while we are urging everyone to vote NO on the recall of Newsom, we do not do so with recourse to such liberal cliches as “The lesser of two evils”. As always, it is important to avoid rhetorically reinforcing the arguments that we know are going to be used against us as we try to build an independent working class politics, and the singularity of this political moment should not cause us to forget that.
We oppose this recall not because Gavin Newsom is the lesser of two evils, but because we recognize that a successful recall here will be a material setback and will strengthen right-wing and far right-wing organizing in California. This may be a subtle distinction, but it is key: our opposition to this recall is based on an analysis of the balance of forces at this particular moment, not on a judgment about the relative virtue of two different representatives of the capitalist class.
Finally, we wholeheartedly agree with our comrades in LA who sum up the stakes of this election as follows:
Ultimately, voting in recall elections, just like all elections, are one battlefield on which socialists have to assess and make tactical choices based on what gives us the best opportunity to win real power. There’s no power that can be won for the Left in this election, but a successful recall will hand more power to our most barbarous opponents on the fascist right.
Vote No on the recall! But let’s not let it distract us further. We have other organizing to do…