2020s >> 2020 >> no-1395-november-2020

Letters: Chomsky replies

Activist politics

Some truth to it, but wrongly put. I’ve never adopted the curious new concept of ‘lesser evil voting’ and have argued strenuously that even raising the notion, as is done here, is a sellout to the establishment. For the left, politics is activism, daily. Every once in a while an event comes along called an ‘election’. A genuine leftist asks whether some candidate is so awful that it’s worth taking a few minutes to vote against them, and if it is, does so, and then goes back to work.

Noam Chomsky in reply to ‘Lesser Evil’ article in October Socialist Standard.


But, unless this is just going to be a private gesture, it will involve much more than just a few minutes, won’t it? If you really want to stop the most awful candidate you need to work out who amongst the other candidates has the best chance of winning instead, even if there is another candidate standing who is less awful. And then you need to urge others to vote for your chosen anti-most-awful candidate. Which is what you have been doing, urging voters, at least in the swing states, to vote for Biden and not to vote, for instance, for the Green Party candidate. We would have thought that this is precisely ‘lesser evil’ politics. If we are talking of gestures, a more principled one would be to cast a write-in vote for socialism – Editors.

Socialist Standard November 2020

2 Replies to “Letters: Chomsky replies”

  1. If we want to act responsibly in light of the likely consequences of different stances, then there may be times when tactical voting for a lesser evil may merit serious consideration. Many Americans view Trump as a threat to democracy (in our terms — to democratic elements in the political system) and there are serious grounds for such concern. As we recognize the importance of democracy for social progress, that in itself might justify admitting that Trump really is a greater evil.

    It is true that if we make a habit of supporting lesser evils we shall be stuck forever in the bog of capitalist politics. It seems to me that there is a real tension here between the short-term and long-term interests of humanity and the working class. Some way is needed to balance these interests. Socialists cannot ignore the long term and remain socialists, but we can’t ignore the short term either — we have to get through the short term to reach the long term.

  2. Is this much different from the type of arguments made in 1914 about the Greater Evil? (Variously ‘Prussian Militarism’ or ‘Tsarist Barbarism’.)

    Further, for anyone whose media-sources are somewhat broader than CNN, the New York Times, the Guardian, and the WSWS, it is not at all clear that Trump is a ‘threat’ (whatever that could possibly mean) to democracy (such as it is) in the US. What is being suggested here? Is it the leftists’ thesis that Trump is a ‘fascist’?

Leave a Reply