The Fool’s Golden State: California’s Recall Election Staggers to an End

By Comrade Redbeard

There are many upsides to living in California. We have breathtaking, diverse natural landscapes, many of which are on fire on a regular basis. Other states envy our fields that feed millions, and the immigrant farmworkers worked to exhaustion by landowners. Do you want to meet some of the nastiest police departments in a country full of them, or urban centers seemingly designed by drunk, cruel eight year olds? How about crushing poverty only minutes away from obscene wealth, punctuated by performative liberalism? Come on over. Did I mention the fire? Everything’s on fire all the time.

If you’re very lucky, you’ll get to experience a time-honored California tradition: the statewide recall election. Attempted 179 times since it was added to the state constitution in 1913, the process basically works as follows. Say you want to send some public official packing before their term ends. First you have gather a legally designated number of valid signatures on a petition within a specified time frame. If you get enough according to the state, the recall goes to the ballot, where voters choose whether or not the targeted official keeps their job by majority vote. That’s the first part. Simultaneously, voters are allowed to decide which candidate gets to replace the official if the recall wins. This is the fun part, since the standards for candidacy are quite low and all you need to win is a plurality of votes. As far as California governors are concerned, only one has ever lost a recall election: the middling Gray Davis in 2003. 

This time around, the target of the recall is Democratic governor Gavin Newsom, the multimillionaire former mayor of San Francisco, who’s liberal in the ways that multimillionaires are typically liberal. The Republican-led recall campaign is supposedly motivated by the notion that Newsom has transformed California into a miserable hotbed of crime, homelessness, corruption and “left-wing” tyranny. This is a very silly thing to believe and should be treated as such. In reality, it’s the only way a Republican can win a statewide election in California these days, which means this recall functions as an anti-democratic putsch.  

In the other crowded corner, we have 46 other candidates. You read that right: 46. The ballot sheet looks like one of the world’s worst multiple choice tests. The packed field means that theoretically, someone could receive a fraction of the vote and become the chief executive of a state larger and richer than many nations. In some ways, it’s a more honest version of the federal Amerikan election system. By far, the most popular of this batch is Larry Elder, a right-wing radio host and self-described libertarian. Others have described him as “the Black face of white supremacy.” He has referred to Donald Trump as a godsend, vowed to immediately revoke public health measures such as vaccine and mask mandates, suggested that the ideal minimum wage is $0, and built his career on being a Black man denying the existence of racism. In short, he’s a reactionary through and through, supported by the most right-wing whites and tiny pockets of oppressed nationalities. As with all adult libertarians, he should be treated as a danger to himself and others. For much of the year, opinion polls showed that Newsom’s chances were essentially 50/50, with Elder running neck to neck with him once his candidacy took off. In liberal circles, many people fretted and wringed their hands over this, as well as the apparent “enthusiasm gap” between conservative supporters of the recall and the Democratic base.

Now, it isn’t the responsibility of communists to cover for the liberal wing of the bourgeoise, or trail behind in their shadow. When they’re outmaneuvered by their far-right rivals, that’s their failure, not ours, and certainly not the fault of the masses. No amount of vote-shaming, finger-wagging, and worn-out Chicken Little rhetoric can change that.  When the deck is stacked in your favor and you still manage to blow the game, who’s to blame?

As things stand now, however, it appears the recall will be defeated, perhaps in a blowout. Polls indicated that the race was a toss-up between Newsom and Elder only weeks ago, and it was only after the Democrats deployed tens of millions of dollars in Elder and Trump-centric advertising, sent top party celebrities to the front lines, and Larry Elder continued to open his mouth that the polls turned decisively in Newsom’s favor. The COVID crisis has been a major factor as well. Similar to the 2020 election, I think this apparent shift in public opinion can be best understood as a rejection of Elder and Trumpian politics more than an embrace of the governor. The most sincere argument you can make for the Democrats continues to be that they are not Republicans-a sad, pitiful argument that only carries weight in the absence of a significant organized alternative to the left and right wings of fascism. 

The fact that Democrats can only muster electoral enthusiasm in their favor when they have money to burn and a ridiculous cariacture like Larry Elder to point to speaks volumes. They have no real connection to the people they pretend to represent and fight for. Considerable portions of the public understand this. The relationship of the party to the masses is parasitic at best, predatory more often than not.  I’m reminded of what Malcolm X said about the dynamic between New Afrikans and white conservatives and white liberals: “One is the wolf, the other is a fox. No matter what, they’ll both eat you.” To the fox, the masses are nothing but passive, stupid pests activated only when it’s time to rally round the voting booth and defeat the Big Bad Wolf. After that, it’s back into the fox’s mouth.

Communists know better. It is the responsibility of communists to the masses to educate, agitate, and demonstrate the alternatives all oppressed and exploited people can make for themselves. Our three main weapons in this fight are the united front (against the ruling classes and their fascist mobs, not the Republican devil of the day), a militant Communist Party, and eventually, a protracted people’s war. Building these weapons is painstaking, difficult work, much more so than dropping off a ballot sheet, but the potential rewards for humanity are far greater.

Recall Newsom? Keep Newsom? Vote for Elder? Damn the whole lot of them. Recall imperialism, colonialism, and capitalism!

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