Title: Abstention is Justified when the Crime is Genocide. Image: Background, 1968 Democratic National Convention. Foreground: Ballot box with person voting "uncommitted" instead of Joe Biden.

Abstention is Justified When the Crime is Genocide

by Jean Allen

The following article is opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of Rochester DSA.

I am writing on Sunday the 25th of February, having arrived home from a walk. Before that walk, I saw a poll that showed majority support for a ceasefire within both Muslim American and Jewish American communities. Along that walk I saw a dozen signs put up by organizations who’s names I have never heard of, charging President Biden with genocide and calling for a ceasefire. And as I get home I see news that Aaron Bushnell has self-immolated in front of the Israeli embassy.

I write this to say that the movement for a ceasefire, and the split that it is creating within the Democratic base—young people, people of color, and union members—is not being brought into existence by some outside actor. It is a natural response to the horror unfolding before our very eyes. As Neil Meyer notes in his Substack, nearly 30 million young voters are expressing disdain and distrust toward the Biden administration for supporting Israel’s genocide morally and materially, and that was three months ago. The movement to fight for a ceasefire exists regardless of our actions, and it is beginning to express itself in an explicit movement to vote ‘Uncommitted’ in Michigan’s Democratic primary. I think that DSA should take this call and run with it—that we as an organization must call on our members not to vote for Biden so long as he perpetuates the war in Gaza, a framing called “No Votes For Genocide.” This is the best way for our organization to move forward, and is the best use of our collective vote.

Every election cycle these sorts of discussions about voting occur, and they are almost always posed in a liberal-individualist way, where voting is akin to making a consumer purchase. Sure, we’ll criticize Biden; but when we’re in the voting booth we’ll pull the right lever, right? But that individual vote is really a small show of power. I personally have not voted for a Democrat for president since 2012, and wrote in the name of the chapter chair for the 2020 election. But that does not matter since we live in upstate New York—a state where if my vote in the presidential election “matters” in any way, Biden has already lost. So if our individual, private votes do not matter, it is only through collective action that they have power, which reveals the real purpose of the “won’t you vote for Biden” conversation: it’s asking us not to criticize in any way that really matters. If that wasn’t the case, why are we being browbeaten now, nine months before the election? Because ultimately it is our collective vote, our ability to influence others, that matters so much more.

Protestors at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. (Credit: Los Angeles Times)

I think that in this election we’re choosing between two people who are worse than fascists, they’re US presidents. We have lived through four years of Trump and four years of Biden, and during both administrations we have seen rights scaled back, minorities attacked, militarism retrenched, and now a genocide unfolding in front of our eyes—a genocide that most Americans do not want and who are seeking a way to voice their opposition. I think that we should be that voice, that we should take the head of the movement and call on people to withhold their votes so long as Gaza burns.

To those who think that the presidential election, or Gaza is some form of distraction, that we should just put our nose to the grindstone and organize while taking an agnostic position on the election, I disagree on pragmatic grounds (alongside the obvious ethical grounds: it is cowardice and tacit support for Biden’s foreign policy). The movement for a ceasefire exists and commands tens of thousands of activists and millions of people’s imaginations, and the state’s reaction to pro-peace protests will define the work that all of us do. If we choose to stand on the sidelines and hope to be hailed as leaders, that is taking a position, but not a ‘pragmatic’ one. DSA should take the lead in calling to use our votes in the most effective manner; particularly, holding them ransom against the Biden administration.

To those who think that this will prompt attacks on DSA and cause a full break from the Biden administration—I agree, and I think this is good. To be attacked for having the correct position is a good thing, and the idea that supporting the Biden administration ‘gets’ us anything rests on mistaken premises. Because although I think ransoming our vote in exchange for a ceasefire is the best route available to us as a socialist organization to get one, I harbor no illusions concerning the Biden administration’s commitment to Zionism. I think that Biden will continue funding and arming the Israeli army despite the crisis of legitimacy these actions are causing. So the ultimate question is not “who do we want to be president,” or even “how do we make sure that the ceasefire occurs,” it is how we organize the people opposed to this war; how we cohere the oppressed and exploited. That can only be done by taking an oppositional stance to the imperial state that is aiding and abetting this genocide and doing all it can to avoid listening to the people.

The Biden administration has clearly demonstrated its position to the left: they have no intent on changing their minds, no desire for the votes from the left, and nothing to offer besides the threat of a Trump presidency. Biden’s presidency has been one of the solidification of every Trump policy, down to the acceptance of Trump’s chauvinistic migrant policy as a part of an idiotic ‘gotcha’ campaign, and because of that the Biden administration is the least popular presidential administration since the beginning of modern polling. They have made their bed, and it is not our job to support them in it. It is our job, as socialists, to unite the working class under a policy that articulates and acts upon these grievances. We can do that only through full support of the ‘Uncommitted’ campaign.

One thought on “Abstention is Justified When the Crime is Genocide

  1. I agree with these sentiments of Jean Allen regarding Biden and the slaughter going on in Gaza. But I’m dismayed that there’s *no* mention of the Green Party and their candidate Jill Stein. Without cooperation, we will lose, after all ‘United we stand, divided we fall’. The capitalist war mongers are all well united, so they’ll probably win. We need a ‘Chamber of Politics’ to recognize our common beliefs and unite around them to defeat the murderous cabal running our country.

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