It seems a lot of discussions have been going on lately, both in the Anarchosphere and in reddit, on the subject of voting in state elections. Surprisingly a lot of anarchists have come out in favour of voting with various arguments on the issue. Since I keep getting caught in these discussions, I’ll try to explain my own reasoning on why I refuse to participate in elections, why this is not bad and counter some of the arguments for voting commonly thrown around by anarchists.
Why I refuse to vote
I used to vote black/white and I used to vote for third/small parties. Then I wisened up. I realized that no matter who one votes for, they end up voting for the system as a whole as well. Our choice between the few bad options we’re presented within a rigged game only serve to reinforce the lie that the government is simply following “the will of the people”.
To give a more extreme example to make the point: If some random people suddenly asked your society to vote on whether you’d prefer to become chattel slaves, work in a sweatshop, or become sex slave, it’s obvious that some choice might be better than the others for you. Some of those would be the “lesser evil”. However, as a whole, all those options are worse than many other alternatives which involves neither of these three. If you society nevertheless voted on one of these three and the majority decided that they’d prefer to become sweatshop workers, you have just granted legitimacy to those random people to decide the options by which you’d have to live. The healthy option would have been to wonder why these crazy people are asking you to vote on crazy options and ignore them while you continue with your lives.
Now imagine that those random people forcefully conquered your society anyway and made you all chattel slaves. After a while, when the people in your society have increased their power and outright military control is not enough, the conquerors get “enlightened”, declare a democracy and ask you to choose from one of the three options above. Only a fool would not notice that this is a desperate ploy to defuse the situation before a revolt. Only a fool would not notice that the choices given are not as good as what preceded the military conquest.
The difference between this theoretical example and the situation we are now is only that we’ve already been forced into one of the worst choices by historical precedence (i.e. the state violence that preceded and support capitalism) and instead of outright discarding all the bad choices and laughing at the crazy people who ask us to make them, we instead vote on the slightly better choice that will naturally retain the power of those random people. The difference is that we do not see the alternatives as clearly as would those theoretical people who started out free.The difference is that the conquerors left a few generations pass so that we now consider our situation normal and voting an improvement.
In short, voting serves to masquerade the violent acts which preceded it and make the bad choices we’re presented seem as better than they truly are. The reason we should not vote is because we need to expose the farce that is representative democracy and point out that we’re not bound by the options set by conquerors. The more people that do this, the shakier the propaganda the state has to legitimize itself. Once the percentage of people voting drops below 25%1, then the government starts looking a lot less like “the will of the people” and much more than the usurpers of power and the gendarme of the ruling elite that they truly are. Once less than 25% percent of people vote, I can easily argue that a government that is ignored by 3/4ths of the population has no legitimacy to govern over me and agitate that any use of force by the police or the army is an act of aggression by an external party.
But I cannot argue this as easily when the majority of people around me continue to vote and continue to think that the government, while not exactly representing themselves, represents the collective will. And this is why it’s especially counter-productive for anarchists to vote. We’re the ones who should be setting the example for fuck’s sake. If even we can’t refrain from participating in the farce, how do we expect that non-anarchists would even consider that there’s anything horribly wrong about it? How does one then answer the question “If you think elections don’t work, then why do you participate?” by a non-anarchist? Do you tell them that they work a little instead? But if they “work a little” for an anarchist, certainly they would work a lot for a non-anarchist. If for someone who is aiming for a stateless society, elections can be useful at times, then for someone who still believes in the state, proper participation in electioneering campaigns and putting one’s efforts in that area, would be a worthwhile prospect.
Is Non-Voting Bad?
Not if one considers that “democratic” governments don’t work for us. Not voting for the bad choices that I’m presented with will not change anything about my situation. Oh we hear talk about the greater and lesser evil and rampart fear-mongering from both sides of the puppet show, but the truth of the matter is that no matter how evil the other side is to us, they end up acting very similar in actual practise. There’s very very little substantial differences between parties in power at the moment, no matter their rhetoric.
And yet it seems people still listen to their rhetoric and believe it. They still believe that labour governments will be better than “Right-wing” ones, or that conservative governments will be more responsible than liberal ones. But in the end, they end up doing practically the same and often even worse. “Labour” governments usually assault workers with harsher measures than their predecessors. Conservative governments end up spending more. Liberal democracies end up restricting more. Communist parties end up increasing the rates of exploitation. And yet, some anarchists still believe that voting for Labour over Tory or Barack over McCain is somehow going to make things be less bad.
But this is based on faith and nothing else. The basic argument after the fact is always something like: Well, so-and-so is worse than I expected but certainly he’s not as bad as the other guy would have been. But this is based on nothing more than personal delusions. Both would have been just as bad as they serve primarily the same interests. Anarchists then engage in the same self-delusion that the rest of the “moderate left” is, by simply bloating the failing of those they consider the greater evil and trivializing the ones from the lesser evil. For example, all Clinton, Bush and Obama initiated wars of aggression and intensified already existing ones, covertly committed atrocities, sold their economies, destroyed labour orgs etc etc. The idea that Gore would not have done what Bush did is silly when we see what Clinton did. The idea that Bush would have been worse than Obama is silly when we see what Obama is doing (i.e. look past his promises and to his actual acts).
So how exactly is non-voting making things worse? Only a personal delusion of what-might-have-been gives the conviction that it did. But for someone like me, who stays away from the voting process altogether, they’re all as bad as each other and I don’t expect that any of them would have done anything less than the other if the ruling elite commanded it of them.
By far, the most common argument of this sort of course is that if we don’t vote, we allow the Fascists to gain power. However I’ll counter this point in another post as I’m already getting a bit long-winded. Until then, just remember: Voting is bad, m’kay?
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- To Vote or Not to Vote? (anarchist606.blogspot.com)
- What are the political implications of voting? (AFAQ)
- The number chosen here is just an example. In practical terms, a higher or lower percent might be required to make a compelling case but we won’t know how much is needed unless we stop voting to drop this down in the first place [↩]