The interrogation room
Imagine you are a suspect in a criminal investigation, and two police officers are interrogating you. Trying to elicit incriminating information, they are using the old “good cop/bad cop” routine. When the one playing bad cop is in the room, he screams at you, insults you, and roughs you up a bit for good measure. Good cop, on the other hand, comes with kind words and a friendly smile. He makes bad cop leave the room so you get some peace and quiet. He even brings you hot coffee and fresh donuts. In this situation, the claim that good cop and bad cop are the same would seem rather silly. Beatings are surely worse than donuts.
Still, it would be just as silly for someone to advise you to talk to good cop in order to keep bad cop out of the room. After all, what could you say to good cop that would keep bad cop out, without thereby harming your ability to regain your freedom? The answer is obvious: nothing. Good cop will only keep bad cop out if it helps get a conviction. He wouldn’t be a very effective interrogator if he did otherwise.
The analysis is no different if we assume that the person playing good cop is truly as nice as they seem. We can stipulate that when good cop goes home, he rescues puppies, volunteers at a soup kitchen, and helps little old ladies cross the street. He could be sincerely kind and caring in every way possible. But as long as he is a police officer, he will still attempt to take away your freedom. That’s his job.
It also makes no difference if the person playing bad cop is as bad a person as he seems to be. In fact, he might hate you even more than he lets on, might secretly want to kill you, and this would do nothing to change what you should do. Ultimately, both good cop and bad cop answer to the same superiors within the department, and so they will both pursue the outcome that those superiors desire. To deny that is to deny the original premise: i.e., that they are both cops, running a “good cop/bad cop” routine.
Certainly, your life will be more pleasant when good cop is in the room. There is no sense in denying that fact. But your main problem remains the same: you are still stuck in a room with a cop.
The ballot box
Arguments against electoral participation are often met with the objection that there are dramatic differences between various bourgeois parties and politicians, and that refusing to choose one over the other risks tremendous avoidable harm. Of course, it is hard to dispute that there are significant differences to be found. A quick look at the two major parties in the US shows how stark the distinctions can be.
On one side, we have Democrats, the “good cops” of capital. Most of them are pro-choice, support LGBT rights, and want Americans to have health insurance. They would likely appoint Supreme Court justices with similar leanings. Some Democratic candidates in the upcoming primaries, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, invert the old libertarian complaint that public schools, universal healthcare, etc. are “socialism”: They announce that they support these things, and therefore proudly claim the label of “socialist.”1 Of course, none of them have any intention of supporting international proletarian revolution, so any optimism regarding their candidacies should be restrained.
On the other side, we have Republicans, the “bad cops” of capital. Most of them oppose reproductive rights, harbor reactionary views about the LGBT community, and would rather let people die than provide them with free healthcare. Their Supreme Court appointees would probably vote to outlaw abortion, and would support various other reactionary policies. And some Republican candidates in the upcoming midterms advocate for positions so extreme that Republican Party leaders have publicly denounced them. Some of the most prominent and troubling of these fringe candidates are John Fitzgerald and Arthur Jones.
John Fitzgerald will be on the ballot as the Republican candidate for California’s 11th congressional district in the upcoming midterms. On his campaign website, Fitzgerald describes his view that “the holocaust is a pernicious LIE,” and that it was Eisenhower, not Hitler, who presided over World War II death camps.2 Holocaust denial aside, he rejects the label of white supremacist, even offering the following nod to multiculturalism: “I love all moral, good, decent, respectful people of the world no matter what their ethnic or religious backgrounds might be: Irish, Jewish, Chinese, Middle Eastern, white, black, Muslim, Buddhist or otherwise. In my campaign, I am strictly going after those that devise, finance, and foment unnecessary [sic] wars for their own benefit and at the detriment or peril of everyone else.”3 How reassuring.
Less reassurance is available in the case of Arthur Jones. He will be on the ballot as the Republican candidate for Illinois’s third congressional district. Jones was once a leader of the National Socialist White People’s Party, formerly known as the American Nazi Party. He currently describes himself as a “white racialist,”4 insisting that he no longer calls himself a Nazi. Of course, his actual positions make this distinction rather tenuous. His website features many photos of Jones participating in neonazi and KKK rallies.5 It also has a page featuring a flyer that details his position on the Holocaust, which is called “the biggest, blackest, lie in history.”5 The flyer goes on to allege that “Jewish International Communism and Jewish International Zionism” are to blame for the deaths of three hundred million people.6 It continues in the same vein. At length.
The Republican Party has responded to these candidates with sharp denunciations. Fitzgerald raised the ire of the California GOP and the Republican Jewish Coalition, who issued joint statements condemning Fitzgerald as an antisemite and encouraging voters to reject him.7 Jones drew fire from Ted Cruz, who took to Twitter, calling Jones an “avowed Nazi,” and insisting that voters should either write in another candidate or vote Democrat.8
It should be noted that both Fitzgerald and Jones are running in reliably Democratic districts, and neither are expected to win election. Of course, unexpected events happen in politics all the time, so nothing can be ruled out entirely. And if those arguing for abstention manage to convince enough people, the entry of openly fascist politicians into Congress could happen within months. Should we allow this to happen, if there were any way that we could influence the vote to prevent it?
Obviously, nobody in their right mind would want fascists to gain a foothold in Congress. And it would be quite troubling to see even the more garden-variety reactionaries of the Republican Party gain much more influence than they currently already have. But again, this is equally true of seeing bad cop walk through the door of the interrogation room: nobody is relieved at the sight, since it heralds a number of painful and unpleasant experiences. That does nothing to change the fact that siding with good cop to stop this from happening would only make your situation worse in the long term.
What remains to be shown is that Democrats and Republicans are, in fact, running a “good cop/bad cop” routine. If they are, then what superior are they both serving?
The superior that both Democrats and Republicans serve is capital — parasitic wealth that tends to grow without limit by feeding off the labor of workers, extracting surplus value to power its prolific expansion. In order to do this, capital requires only that workers continue to perform wage labor. Capital coerces businesses and entire nations into serving its interests by withdrawing resources from those that serve its interests poorly, and providing resources to those that serve its interests well. The proof that both major parties serve the interests of capital would be that their policies, no matter how different, invariably have the effect of preserving the existence of wage labor. A quick look at the policy proposals of major party candidates, even at the extreme edge of each party, shows that the continued existence of wage labor would be guaranteed regardless of which party triumphs in the upcoming elections.
On the Republican side, Arthur Jones is almost certainly the most reactionary candidate to land on a ballot in these midterms. His campaign site details some of his policy proposals, which clearly indicate that wage labor is an integral part of his vision for America. His position on trade treaties is to “Repeal all Treasonous Trade Treaties that have caused 93 million Americans to lose their jobs. Negotiate new Fair Trade Treaties that will create American jobs.”9 Also, while calling for an end to “amnesty for illegal aliens”, he states that they are “taking jobs away from American workers and driving down wage rates with cash-only labor they perform, while paying NO taxes.”10 His factual claims may be farcical, but a clear thesis emerges all the same. If his proposals were enacted, and if they did what he claims they would, many more American workers would be able to get jobs, and their wage rates would increase. In other words, American workers would still be doing wage labor, but for better wages.
On the Democratic side, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an avowed socialist, and widely considered one of the more progressive democrats on the ballot in the upcoming midterms. She also clearly supports the continuation of wage labor. Specifically, her campaign website includes the following proposal to combat unemployment: “A Federal Jobs Guarantee would create a baseline standard for employment that includes a $15 minimum wage (pegged to inflation), full healthcare, and child and sick leave for all.”11 In other words, American workers would still be doing wage labor, but for better wages and benefits.
Proponents of democracy cloaking their allegiance to capital in seemingly socialist rhetoric is not a new phenomenon. In 1850, Marx and Engels warned against just this sort of trickery. In the “Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League,” they say:
The democratic petit-bourgeois, far from wanting to transform the whole society in the interests of the revolutionary proletarians, only aspire to a change in social conditions which will make the existing society as tolerable and comfortable for themselves as possible. As far as the workers are concerned one thing, above all, is definite: they are to remain wage laborers as before. However, the democratic petty bourgeois want better wages and security for the workers, and hope to achieve this by an extension of state employment and by welfare measures; in short, they hope to bribe the workers with a more or less disguised form of alms and to break their revolutionary strength by temporarily rendering their situation tolerable.12
Looking back at the “Federal Jobs Guarantee” that Ocasio-Cortez proposes, it would be difficult to more perfectly summarize the sort of policies that Marx and Engels warned about. Capital could not hope for a more suitable set of good cops than the most recent crop of democratic socialists has provided.
If we are to free ourselves from the grip of capital, we must resist the temptation to side with capital’s friendlier lackeys. Only by struggling independently as a class can workers finally achieve the emancipation of labor.
Laser 637, Columbus OH
September 16, 2018
1 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “Socialist is Part of What I Am: It is Not All of What I Am.” Real Clear Politics. (July 1, 2018).
2 Emphasis in the original. John Fitzgerald’s campaign site can be found here.
4 Elaine Godfrey. “How a Nazi Made the Ballot in Illinois.” The Atlantic. (February 8, 2018).
5 Arthur Jones’ campaign site bio can be found here.
6 See the section of Arthur Jones’ campaign site dedicated to Holocaust denial.
7 Republican Jewish Coalition. “GOP Joint Statement on CA-11.” (May 29, 2018).
8 Andrew O’Reilly. “Nazis and Antisemites Slip Through GOP Primaries, Causing Headaches for Party.” FOX News. (July 20, 2018).
9 Arthur Jones’ campaign issues can be found on his site.
11 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign site can be found here.
12 Karl Marx. “Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League.” (March 1850).