the Disillusioned kid: Don't Just (Not) Vote
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Monday, February 21, 2005

Don't Just (Not) Vote

I hate election campaigns. The inanity of self-obsessed careerists swaning around the country kissing babies, spouting nonsense and doing everything in their power to avoid the real issues makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a rusty spoon. This being the case, I am less than happy about the prospect of a General Election this year, which seems to put me at odds with many of my "comrades". Nobody knows when the election will be. Those in the know seem convinced that it'll take place on May 5 (which means another two and a half months of campaigning!). At the recent Stop the War Coalition National Council, however, Tony Benn suggested that the it might fall on March 17, thereby taking place before an anti-war rally on March 19 and public sector strikes on pensions on march 23.

Given my distaste for the whole spectacle I have no intention of dedicating much coverage to it here. I do however think it might be worth making a few comments about elections and voting generally, so that people understand where my disinterest stems from.

The label I use to identify my politics varies almost weekly, but I currently describe myself as a small 'a' anarchist (drawing my inspiration from this article). Whatever the exact term I have used, a strong affinity with anarchic ideas has been a constant. As such my thoughts on elections and everything which comes from them have been heavily influenced by various anarchist thinkers.

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 or be forced out. 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.). On this basis, 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.)

So far so good. It is obvious from the turn-out at recent elections that huge numbers of people have come to realise the truth of this analysis and given up on the whole charade. The problem of course is that many people don't vote because they can't be arsed and there is no way to distinguish them from those who don't vote on principle. A movement (anarchist or otherwise) which was in a position to call for a mass boycott of the election would allows us to surmount the problem. Unfortunately no such group exists in this country and many of the largest progressive groups are busy mobilising people to vote for this or that candidate (see e.g. George Galloway's Respect Coalition, which in truth is little more than an SWP front-group; the Green Party etc.).

This realisation that not voting is likely to be as irrelevant as voting seems to have been a factor in the organisation of the Don't Just (Not) Vote campaign around the elections in the States last year, which raised the slogan, " Like they say - if voting could change anything, it would be illegal! ...and that goes for not voting, too":
Elections in this country [and elsewhere - Dk] are the 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 "legitimize" 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.
All of which sounds very sensible.

You may by this point be a little confused as to exactly what I am advocating. Given the slightly muddled argument so far, this is understandable, but bear with me as I move towards a conclusion.

The arguments over whether or not to vote and if we do who to vote for will no doubt come to dominate leftist discourse over the coming weeks and months (a prospect I view with dread). The truth is that the whole thing is pretty irrelevant. Elections are in truth of little importance and provide far less influence on the machinations of the system than we are often told. What is important is not who you do or don't vote for on polling day. What's important is what you're doing in the time in between the quadrennial spectacles. (As an aside, I might vote at the forthcoming election, if only because I've never done so before. I can't help but feel I should try it on before I decide it doesn't fit.) As Don't Just (Not) Vote point out the key thing is to apply power oursleves, which means getting organised and giving the government a good kicking. It's been done before (see the examples above) and it can be done again.

I'll see you on the barricades!

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