The argument for "political realism" goes something like this: the political independence of the working class is a nice idea, but I live in the real world, so we need to do what is possible, improve things as much as we can under the given circumstances. We are realists, as opposed to you pie-in-the-sky idealists.
There are several problem with this. The first is, while they speak about "the given circumstances," they rarely mention what they actually are. So let's quickly review the "given circumstances:" We have a war that is opposed by the overwhelming majority of Americans. We have a president who is obviously guilty of war crimes. We have increased attacks on basic freedom through illegal wiretaps, the Patriot Act, infringement and denial of the right to due process among those accused of being "illegal aliens or "terrorists." Science, and, with it, the separation of Church and State, is under seige. Amazing profits are being pulled down by richest 1%, while the poorest 50% drop lower and lower in standard of living, while facing increased lack of security, lack of basic healthcare, and poorer education. We have two parties, one of which is the unabashed servant of big business, and the other is, perhaps, a bit abashed. The Republicans staged a massive lie campaign to start the war, the Democrats backed it at every stage. The Republicans demanded the anti-democratic Patriot Act and the Democrats voted for it. The Republicans launched a war against the poorest Americans and those who come across the border, and the Democrats apologize for them where they don't actively help. Only one Democratic candidate, Kucinich, has declared himself in favor of immediately ending the war, and we can judge how seriously he takes that by his actions in the last election.
Nevertheless, cries our realist, the Democrats are all we have to work with.
Here, their method is at its most virulent. What we have is what we have. They see, in other words, what is before them, and deny the existence of anything else, including the historical and social conditions that led to what we have. Hell, they even deny the existence of some things that are right before them. They make no effort to see what is underneath, or even think about what it means that there is a President who has disapproval ratings around 65%, and what that indicates about the anger of the masses, because, like most of the middle-class, they hate, fear, and distrust the masses. Also, our realist doesn't bother to study history; it doesn't occur to him to consider what it means that the Republican Party didn't exist in 1855, but elected a president in 1860; or that the Bolsheviks comprised a handful of individuals in 1914 and led a popular revolution in 1917. These two political parties, in many ways so different, had at least one thing in common: they started from the position of political principles, confident that because they were speaking in the interests of the masses, the masses would sooner or later come to them.
When looking at a political party, how do we attempt to understand it? That is, what is it? To me, a political party is group of individuals united by a common program, which program, in turn, has a social--that is to say, a class--basis. It is a political representative of the interests of a certain social class. To understand a political party, it is first necessary to understand what social class it represents. I believe that the Democratic Party represents big business. I've yet to see a convincing argument that a Democrat could get elected to a national (or even a State) office without the contributions of major corporations.
Others may view parties differently. Let's see. What other positions are there?
1. Parties are formed by people who just happen to think alike. (En passant--that hardly describes the Democratic Party if the membership is really that far to the left of its leaders). Okay, but suppose that is so. You still need to answer: where do these thoughts come from? I claim that ideas have, ultimately, a class origin, and that the ideas of the Democratic Party represents the class of big business. Or, perhaps your idea of ideas is...
2. It's much more complex than just "classes. You are oversimplifiying a complex situation -- there are many factors that all (at random, perhaps) affect the position of a political party in society, or where ideas come from." It's amusing to note how often the petty bourgeois intellectual makes the jump from "the class struggle is just one factor of many," to, "the class struggle is not a factor at all." But leave that for now. Let's just accept this proposal for the sake of argument. Please to explain: what are those factors? Name three of them. That should be easy enough. Okay, now, when you have done so, push them back and explain where THEY came from, and what determines their content, if not class relations?
Let me be more precise. Before you can have an idea, you need a brain for the idea to set up shop in. For Man to think, he must first exist. To exist, he must eat, have shelter, and reproduce. Being of a species that is born premature, he must do these things socially. Thus we have the development of food storage, food production, herding, division of labor, and eventually the breakdown into antagonistic classes organized around means to secure the necessities of existence. Ideas--whether the fanciful flights of the Thomist, or the drudgery of the Empiricist, or the vile frothing of the racist, or the platitudes of the Buddhist, or the ranting of the Creationist, or the analysis of the dilettante pseudo-Marxist (that would be me), have origins in a society of antagonistic classes.
To recognize that much--that the origin of ideas is social and and that society is divided into classes--and then to deny the class origins of ideas, is a lot like stating that you believe in evolution through survival of the fittest but deny that this has anything to do with the form of evolved organisms. Ideas thus represent and reflect the interests of one class----or another. It is an interesting (if usually pointless) to trace the class the origins of the most trivial and apparently unrelated ideas--some of them that appear the least connected turn out to have the most profound connections. And if you're about to say that "pure science" (whatever that is) is an exception, that "pure science" exists outside the class struggle, be prepared to explain the brutal attacks that science is under today, with research funding cut in virtually every field that is not either directly related to war, or directly related to profit. To the extent that pure science exists today, it has a class interest--the proletariat--the future.
Does the class analysis exhaust the study of ideas? No, it only begins it. For a biologist to state that a particular species descended from an earlier form, hardly exhausts his discussion of it--but if he states that it exists as it does because God created it so, or even because it "somehow happened to come out that way" we have the right to wonder if he deserves the name biologist at all. My claim is that ideas--especially political ideas--have their origins in class society and serve class interests. Where, according to our political realist, do ideas come from? A drop of sweat from Zeus's brow? This represents realism in the same way that the policies of the Bush administration represent freedom. Just who is the idealist here? What I say about ideas in general, is even more obviously and directly true about political ideas--and most true of all about the programs of political parties.
And then we come to the payoff. Our political realist may not be much on theory, but, by God, he sure knows his way around practical politics! Let's see what he's going to do: "We will move the party to the left by grassroots action." How is that? Well, the method of thought goes something like this: The ultra-right was able to "take over" the Republican Party by well-organized tactics, so we will do the same with the Democrats. This brings to mind Jefferson Davis's promise that General Sherman would perish in Georgia the way Napoleon perished in Russia, and Grant's remark, "Where will he get the snow?"
The "take over" by right-wing forces was not simply a result of good organization; it was completely in line with the needs of the real base of the Republican Party: the trans-national corporations. Yet, the Democratic Party is serving those same interests, except insofar as they support slightly different versions in slightly different ways. They supported the war in Iraq until it was obviously lost, but now want to get out of Iraq but still leave a force there--in order to attack Iran! The same lies they supported in the last war we now hear them trumpeting in favor of this latest adventure. "But, no, Iran really DOES have weapons of mass destruction. This is different!" They voted for the Patriot Act, and, now that they are a majority---why hasn't it been repealed? For that matter, why hasn't Bush been impeached? Could it be because the there is no way to accuse Bush of criminal actions without at the same time accusing themselves of those same criminal actions?
And of course, if our realist does actually try to do what he claims, he finds himself against a foe he cannot defeat: the "political realist." Yes...let's "push the platform to the left." How about gay marriage? Well, hold on off that one--no point in alienating people. Okay, but certainly repeal the Patriot Act--no no; we'll be accused of being soft on terror! Okay, but at the least we can agree on no war of aggression, right? Now wait, why do you want to weaken us just when we have a chance to win? Health care? Without contributions from the insurance companies, how can we beat the Republicans? I agree with you liberals on a lot of things, but I'm a political realist....
So then, what do we have? Our "political realist" attempts to explain that it is important to vote for the Democratic Party, and he does this without an explanation of the history or development of that party, without an explanation for what a political party is, or whose needs it is serving, or where the ideas it reflects come from, or whose interests they represent, and he then goes on to blithely ignore the stated position of the leaders of his own party, instead basing himself on pure faith that somehow the "left-leaning" membership of the party will "influence" it in a direction that contradicts its very purpose for existence.
I write fantasy novels for a living--but I have never managed an exercise in pure fantastical imagination to equal that of our "political realist."