One very frequent argument I hear when I suggest that people, and especially anarchists should abstain from voting is that by doing this, we only play into the hands of fascists who use the lower turnout to get a bigger influence in electoral politics and therefore actual power. It is claimed that if the fascists manage to get in the government, things can only end up being worse than if a liberal or social democrat was there. It’s suggested then that it is a a better option to vote for the lesser evil just so that things don’t deteriorate even more.
However this argument, especially when coming from anarchists, seems to suggest the the slugginess and ineffectiveness of the state somehow is lifted when a extremist right-wing party is in power. That somehow fascists will be able to push through measures that other governments couldn’t without a hassle and that they would be even more in league with the ruling elite than every other politician.
I do not see any of this as very likely. The state will remain ineffective and the fascists will not be able to change either the constitutions or the legal system. Much like the conservatives and the social democrats, they will be mired in parliamentarism and forced to sing the capitalist’s tune like every other politician. This means that they will be unable to boost their support in the working class by making things any better for them in any practical way and they will be unable to crony up to the capitalists without risking working class direct action.
Perhaps the fear is that they’re going to try to pass more xenophobic and authoritarian measures while they’re in force, but to tell you the truth, I don’t see this as any different than what the current governments are doing already. Perhaps you fear that they’re going to accelerate this? I doubt it, not only because it’s unlikely that they’ll have enough electoral majority to do this without the usual degree of incompetence but even if there’s enough people abstaining from elections (in favour of direct action) to give them a powerful parliamentary majority, then it would also mean that there’s a lot of people to resist and consciously ignore any new fascist rules.
Perhaps the fear is that through Parliamentarism, they’ll be able to gather popular support by gaining visibility and/or funds from the laws that provide state funding to parties. History should have proven how useless the former is. Marxist-Leninist parties have been in the parliament for ages and it has done nothing to increase their support or their visibility. They only end up sounding antiquated and largely ignored except by those who are already convinced. Using parliamentarism for propaganda is a failure. As for the latter, this is not really going to empower them any more than any other party. At best they’ll simply abuse the money for their own personal expenses and destroy their own trust and at worst they’ll use it to fund extra-parliamentary activities with an amount that is less than what they would have if they put their efforts there in the first place.
Perhaps the fear is that they’ll increase and intensify the corporate cronyism, but this in turn would simply make them indistinguishable as a party from any other right-winger. History has shown how much the state is a tool for capital anyway, regardless of which position the ruling party espouses rhetorically. A Fascist party will at best sell the interests of the working class to the capitalist at an unsustainable rate, that is, a rate of exploitation that will quickly radicalize the working class to the point of rebellion, rather than the slow erosion of conservatives or the sweet palliatives of the social democrats. This in turn will only marginalize the Fascists more and turn more people towards the only thing that can actually work for change: Direct Action.
Perhaps the fear is that the parties of the early 20th century will be revived in different forms and enact similar atrocities. However this misses a few very important differences with that time. First of all, those parties manage to do what they did, exactly because they had significant support from the populace at large, who at that time was clueless about the intentions of Fascists. This was in fact the reason why they managed to gain power even while not being democratically elected and why they didn’t have to. Their power did not stem from elections but by the large number of citizens who, even when not supportive, were willing to passively accept their rule, even when they voted against them during elections.
In fact, elections had very little to do with the power of those regimes. Mussolini practically grabbed power by the throat through fear and terror. Franco simply maneuvered himself into position within the Rebel forces during the Spanish revolution and then conquered all the outside opposition – and was not even a fascist to boot. Hirohito was a monarch and assumed power via birthright. Hitler was the only one who could be said to have been elected, but that is seriously stretching the meaning of democracy and ignores the significant maneuvering and terror he had to manufacture in order to place himself into power. It’s ignoring the real material circumstances that surrounded his rise to power (the economic situation in Germany particularly) and how those don’t exist in most areas which have fascists running for office. It was the material circumstances, combined with a reign of terror, ignorance of fascism, handy scapegoats and the still heavy religious and traditional populace which could be dragged along via their delusions and respect for authority.
In almost every area where people claim that we need to vote just to prevent the fascists, almost none of these circumstances exist and in fact, many can’t exist anymore. For most of the first world nations, respect for religious authority and especially organized religion is in decline. Traditionalism is fading and only Nationalism is poised to regain some credence given worsening economic conditions. But nationalism cannot carry the ball alone. Furthermore, there’s no handy USSR and evil commies to use an as external threat, although I’m certain China might come in handy for that purpose if push comes to shove. Fascism has also been severely discredited in the minds of most humans by now, making it even more unlikely that they’ll ever enjoy the mindless support of the 20s and 30s.
So at the end, you have a toothless threat. I’m not saying it’s not a threat at all of course, but the issue will not come through elections, but by them gathering popular support and/or pushing through an agenda via terror and lies. And those direct action tactics will not be defeated by counter-electioneering any more than voting prevented Mussolini, Hitler or Franco from coming into power. They will not be defeated by simple arguments either for that matter as Fascism is far more about emotion than it is about reason.
No, the only thing that can prevent fascism from ever coming back to power is the same thing they will use to practically do so: Direct Action. By countering their terror through mutual aid. By countering their shows of power via counter-rallies. By striking back on their acts of violence. In short, by not letting people believe that the Fascists are the only ones willing to take action in difficult situations when words are not enough.
Suggesting to take part in elections in order to oppose the fascists is not only useless, but is furthermore playing into the hands of the state which uses a handy boogieman to gain votes for the lesser evil parties at best or simply provide itself with legitimacy at worst. And anarchists especially, should know better than to play into the hand of the ruling elite just because fascists are considered to be the greatest evil.