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Voting Blank Isn’t Enough to Free Palestine

Amid Israel’s genocide in Gaza, many pro-Palestine activists, leftist organizations, and Democratic politicians are urging people to “Vote Blank.” But to free Palestine, we need a direct confrontation with the capitalist state, and a political force independent of the capitalists.

Carmin Maffea

May 9, 2024
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President Biden in front of US and Israeli flags.

With Israel’s ongoing assault on Palestine backed by U.S. imperialism and both parties, there is a growing dissent against the Democratic Party and its lesser evil rhetoric. One of the greatest expressions of this developing break is the Vote Uncommitted/Blank campaign, adopted by many leftist organizations and Democratic politicians. This campaign detracts from the revolutionary potential of the masses to form an independent organization outside of bourgeois parties and instead funnels this energy back into the Democratic Party.

U.S. Loyalty to Israeli Occupation

To many pro-Palestine activists, voting uncommitted is a means of using electorism to push the momentum of the movement and utilize the leverage of their votes to force concessions. The campaign is seen as showcasing growing dissent from the policies of the current administration. 

However, this strategy for freeing Palestine neglects the imperialist, symbiotic relationship between the U.S. and the Israeli occupation, which is crucial to the U.S. bourgeois class that is represented by both parties and the state as a whole. 

The United States’ unwavering loyalty to the occupation is rooted in its geopolitical aspirations to control and influence the Middle East. The country’s alliance with Israel, giving the U.S. strategic access to markets and military launch points. This strategic value takes precedence over public opinion for the capitalists. As Kamala Harris explained, “Regardless of which political party or coalition is in power in Israel, and regardless of where public opinion in the U.S. is moving, the U.S. government’s commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad.”. 

This is why any administration, from Biden to Trump and any other Democrat or Republican, will commit as many resources as needed to maintain this strategic foothold in the Middle East, regardless of how the masses feel about it. 

In a meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Joe Biden elaborated on the rationale of this allegiance and reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to maintaining by paraphrasing words he said in 1986: “it [Israel] is the best 3 billion dollar investment we make. Were there not an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to advance her interests in the region.” 

This is why the state has criminalized expressions of public dissent and cracked down on campus protests. The White House statement on the Columbia University encampment — which has sparked similar encampments throughout the country, even internationally, demanding divestment from Israel — insisted that it is antisemitic, and vowing to repress the students. What followed were harsh nationwide sweeps of encampments around the country, at Columbia, and at the City College of New York. Now, student protesters are facing misdemeanor and felony charges. 

This violent response is meant to suppress these nascent forms of self organization. The encampments have served as poles of attraction for workers and students as a united force to discuss and discover, more deeply, the necessary organization and program to win a free Palestine — and to pose an existential threat to both the U.S. and Israeli regimes. 

This movement’s strength and fighting spirit should be seized on through national coordination of the struggles for a free Palestine and against repression and democratic organization through assemblies with a class-independent perspective. We have seen this emerge with the PSC faculty union at the City University of New York (CUNY). The people’s dissent has already been expressed in the streets and on college campuses for the world to see, and it should not be channeled toward pressuring the Democrats through the ballot. 

Given the extreme repression of the student movement, it’s worth noting that many organizations that drove the Vote Uncommitted campaign are not using their abundant time, energy, and resources to mobilize jail support for activists, phone blast college administration to stop repressing their students, and put out demands to free all activists and drop charges. This is because for the organizations that registered people as Democrats and phone-banked to get people to vote uncommitted, the goal is not to “use all tools,” but to actively keep people’s focus within the traditional structures to pressure Biden. For the average activist taking up Vote Uncommitted, there is a concrete choice: Will we put time and energy into mobilizing against repression of the student movement, or will we instead register people as Democrats and phone-bank to vote in primaries?

The United States’ alliance with Israel holds a strategic importance to U.S. imperialism that transcends a single political party’s crisis. Ultimately, to free Palestine, we need a direct confrontation with the capitalist state that requires a political force independent of the capitalists. 

Self-Organization — Independent of the Democrats

Many argue that not calling for to vote blank is divisive and ultra-left — after all, even some Palestinian-led organizations are calling for the campaign. But Palestinians, like any other oppressed group, are not a monolith. Within the general population of this oppressed sector exists multiple political sensibilities — some liberal, some reformist, some revolutionary, and therefore when discussing a program to free Palestine, the political content should take precedence over mere identity.

Although there are Palestinian-led organizations calling for the uncommitted campaign, their strategy has a political consensus with reformism and Democrats who are making the same call. But the campaign does not challenge the existence of the occupation itself. 

If the goal is to free Palestine, these organizations falling in line with the Democrats’ program that is pro-occupation — but more controllable — must be challenged. These strategic shortcomings are detrimental to a movement fighting for liberation from the river to the sea.

We need to unify the movement into a force that represents our class interests as workers of the world who are faced with oppressive state violence — from police murder to imperialism, occupation, and state-sanctioned genocide. The vote uncommitted campaign works to divide the movement by giving people illusions in a state that is actively murdering Palestinians — and has vowed to continue to do so — as well as repress dissenters for the sake of its geopolitical interests. 

Our goal to liberate Palestine is a working class-led revolutionary mass movement. But wanting something is not the same as winning it. In order to win, we need to gather those who are fighting for this goal in the streets and discuss methods of combat required to succeed and massify the movement.

That means having political interventions that aren’t based on being diplomatic, but rather discuss and debate methods through practices like assemblies and public debates that bring us closer to victory — even if that requires bumping heads with those most directly impacted by struggles, such as Palestinian-led organizations with a reformist strategy. This is the essence of self organization: fighting repression, organizing campaigns and actions, and making decisions as a unit through a process of discussion, debate, reflection, and democracy as those united over a goal. 

Like eyes to guide where the body is going, these debates help find and fight for a perspective that will lead the movement that is fighting for a free Palestine to exactly where it needs to go rather than leading it astray. 

Voting Uncommitted Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Finally, the rationale of the uncommitted campaign works within the framework of lesser evilism. It places hopes in bargaining with the supposedly more rational sector of capitalists, represented by the democrats and co-opts social movements while simultaneously dishing out violent physical repression towards them. It does not do enough to break the movement from this graveyard path. 

We need look no further than how lesser evilism was utilized at the time of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) 2020 uprising that won Biden the presidency to see where this rationale leads us. The Democratic Party consolidated itself as a champion of social justice by taking the knee and donning Kente cloth — even as they dispatched police to brutalize protesters

Biden also won because figures like Angela Davis called the movement that was directly confronting the state in the street to vote for Biden with the perspective that he can be most pressured. These interventions led the movement to Biden as an endpoint, and Biden responded with four years of greater repression, suppression of worker strikes, and a genocide. 

Police budgets have inflated under Biden as the number of murders by police have steadily increased. Those same police budgets are being utilized today to also repress students, faculty, medics and journalists at pro-Palestine encampments at universities across the country — similar to how they did protesters during BLM, but this time with a larger police budget than there was under Trump. 

Furthermore, Trumpism didn’t end under Biden as his campaign promised it would. In fact, Trumpism has only grown under Biden and has propped Trump back on to the electoral stage with far greater control of the GOP than he had during his first presidency. The growing Far Right can’t be defeated through elections, but through our power in labor and within the social movements that Biden is currently repressing. 

Both the Far Right and liberals, unified in their fight for imperialism and capital, stand between us and liberation. Therefore, with the passion of this growing movement that yearns to break from lesser evilism and to fight for what it wants, we can organize a force that is independent of capital and guided by a program for revolution and liberation. Electoral seats of independent socialists in congress can be an effective tactic in building this force by discussing programs to a large audience looking for political clarity. For example, our comrades of the FIT-U in Argentina joined and helped lead mass movements in the street against austerity, and faced brutal police repression side by side with protesters of the movement. Our comrades also used the electoral stage to denounce the far right and agitate for workers and students to organize against them and the capitalists as a real way towards victory. 

The construction of an independent fighting force made of workers and students is paramount if we are to ever defeat the Far Right and the capitalists that are dead set on occupying Palestine forever. Freeing Palestine means defeating the U.S. war machine and all the parties that keep it running. So let’s use the fervor of this moment of widespread dissent to build the fighting political organization that uses the power of the working class to shut down and control production. Workers and students have the political potential of it to organize a revolutionary force that can end imperialism, oppression and capitalism. This potential can free Palestine and create a society oriented towards our collective interest as the working class and oppressed of the world. 

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Carmin Maffea

Carmin is a revolutionary socialist from New York.

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