Yet again the mish-mash of self-interested organisations which passes itself of as a revolutionary left in this country is once again turning on itself as we are encouraged
to vote for this or that party. This or that "unity coalition". This or that anti-war candidate. Perhaps even the Labour Party. No doubt this is all very exciting for the participants, but not for me.
“self-described anarchist” (to borrow the phrase so popular amongst corporate
media journos) I have no problem dismissing the whole charade as the largely
irrelevant exercise it is. Which serves as a very good excuse for avoiding the
in light of all this many readers will expect me to encourage you to abstain
come the election or perhaps to spoil you ballot. In fact my approach to voting
is more nuanced than that. Perhaps it might initially be useful, however, to
rehearse the arguments against voting.
Anarchists are by definition anti-state. It follows that they reject the concept
of elections, considering the institutions to which candidates are elected to be
fundamentally illegitimate. They point out that even genuinely decent people
entering the system will be unable to effect serious change and will be forced
to compromise in order to remain within the locus of power. The Green Party's
experiences in government in Germany, support this analysis. It can also be
pointed out that nearly every progressive development brought about by
Parliament (or indeed any legislative institution) has in fact been forced on
them by movements beyond its wall (witness the successes of the suffragettes,
the gay rights movements, the anti-hunting campaign etc.).
this analysis is shared by others on the left, even amongst many Marxists.
Further, the turn-out at recent elections suggests that the fundamental truths
which is expresses are becoming increasingly obvious to huge numbers of ordinary
established then that the system is fundamentally illegitimate and that
participation in it is of little if any value. Taking this as a starting point,
anarchists usually argue for a boycott of elections, calling instead for people
to engage in direct action and mutual aid. (That said, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
did sit in the National Assembly in France, but the exception merely proves the
rule.) The problem with this approach of course is that it is far from clear
that the structures of power care if we don’t vote, rhetoric to the contrary
aside. This is a particular problem in light of the decision to no longer count
spoilt ballots. A large scale co-ordinated boycott campaign might be able to
surmount the problem, but is hardly realistic in the present political context.
the Don’t Just (Not) Vote campaign around the Presidential Elections in the
States last year were probably right when they argued that elections
reddest of red herrings. Liberals have been so fixated on them as to forget most
other means of applying power; losses in elections have demoralized and
disempowered the Left in general. Anti-authoritarians, on the other hand, while
claiming not to recognize the sovereignty of any officials, elected or not, have
nonetheless developed their own mythology around voting, attributing to it the
mystical power to “legitimise” authority figures thus elected. But it is not
voting that gives power to politicians, just as it is not not-voting that could
take it away from them; they have power because we place our power in their
hands, because we fail to apply it deliberately ourselves.
question then is not who you do or don’t vote for, but what you do during the
period between the quadrennial spectacles.
If you want to go and vote, that’s your choice. Even I may do so, if only
because I’ve never done so before. But don’t con yourself – or anybody else -
that it makes any real difference. If you want to see the world changed then
you’re going to have to get out there and do it yourself. Nobodies going to do
it for you. No matter how impressive their manifesto sounds.