Garry Glass argues that voting for political representatives ultimately disempowers individuals and communities and is anathema to any liberatory project.
It is not so bold a venture to suggest politicians are for the most part aesthetically challenged and ontologically obtuse. They wear dull garments, read terribly boring literature and drink alcohol copiously at the taxpayers expense. Like the corporate media and the financial interests they serve, our representatives epitomise the human at its most cynical, self-interested and disingenuous. The election cycle is an edifice of self referential improvised theatre that overwhelms any right thinking person into a deep sense of boredom.
Politics is a characteristically insular scene, interlocution between the class enemies (that is to say normal working people and their rulers) is ultimately impossible. There is no fresh air in the foosty ivory towers of power, control freaks labour on their own schemes far from any cutting edge of the culture. Principles are for them a contrived exercise in public relations. The only thing that seems to qualify them is their obsequious thirst for power.
Representative democracy is a frankly horrific process that harvests all the potential despots in a population and offers them leverage over millions of lives. The result is an unmitigated avalanche of misery and bullshit that we honour as the least worst system. Reflexivity relies upon the talking heads on shows like Question Time, a program showing what a conversation between a bunch of people with no ideas looks like.
Most social conflict is centred around people imposing their will on others. Disagreements only serve to illustrate that we might want to be less involved in the affairs of others – to live and let live. If one doesn’t already find political representation questionable a good place to start is by appreciating the violence inherent to coercion of any form. Policy is little more than expedient coercion dressed as rationalism. Even with a popular mandate for a policy there are always those who get a raw deal, some of these marginalised people take up struggle as policy adversaries. The legitimacy of all impositions is surely open to interrogation and little redemption is to be found in appealing to the brut will of the masses . Governance is inherently incompetent because it removes agency and autonomy from individuals and communities.This approach stems from an impoverished anthropology and the monopolies of coercion that sustain it.
‘Politics’ is the art of managing the ‘political’ dissent which erupts as resistance to oppressive policies. Politicians will usually only move to make concessions when they feel their power and the social contract that supports it is in contention. Popular policies serve to sugar coat a package that includes the surreptitious manoeuvres of empire. Unfortunately many believe that political demonstrations are a way to apply pressure to government rather than a way for the people themselves to realise their power outside of the state. We are manageable because we consent to the logic of the so called “political reality”, without realising that this reality is reproduced by that very submission. Politicians even have the tenacity to call policy adversaries anti-democratic when they contest the government’s twisted version of “the will of the people”.
Majority rule democracy is essentially a way for a the biggest mob to silence the opposition. In the UK even the Left must accept the Tories have something of a mandate under the arrangements of this most sacred parliamentary democracy. Appealing to the democratic principle is insufficient under current conditions to combat the class rule by landlords, bankers and bosses. Brexit and Trump demonstrate that mob rule democracy can empower the most reactionary tendencies.
What do we want? Democracy!
When do we want it? As soon as we can re-establish the liberal consensus!
Neo-fascism is but the latest manifestation of mob rule. At the dawn of western civilisation Socrates was executed by the Athenian polis for his contention that the mob were not qualified to make important decisions. He was narrowly defeated by a majority of Athenians. The necessity for technocracy identified by Socrates results not from something inherent to the human condition rather it was necessary to manage the technical affairs of a war mongering empire. Rather than hold Athenian democracy as a template, or redemption myth it is better to see it as an abomination built upon slavery and genocide. The political class was granted a vote in exchange for their commitment to sacrifice in the phalanx.
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When Labour was in power they still promoted war, austerity and corporate corruption. Whatever way the political pendulum swings it’s still the state apparatus exploiting the population on behalf of the ruling class. The ongoing fragmented state of the Labour party reveals these tensions.
One is told they should participate in elections because if I don’t then someone who voted conservative will not get their vote negated. In other words, I’m expected to take responsibility for someone else’s vote even though chances are I’ve never actually met that person or befriended them or benefited from their class privilege. A non-voter is the least implicated and yet is expected to bear responsibility for the systems malfunctioning and the actions of others that they have very little influence over. Here’s the rub; by accepting that working class people must harmoniously exist within the same society as their masters, it is not a tory vote that is cancelled with your centre left vote but the very class antagonism itself that is negated. Elections then become nothing more than a mass hysterical pantomime to legitimate our enslavement as a class.
Rather than abolishing the offices of state, or even questioning their legitimacy the conversation is usually steered to the fact there are better and worse candidates, that they are not all as bad as each other. Instead of questioning the game, we are compelled by some totalising logic to take sides as though lateral thinking had become taboo with respect to so called political realities.
Tony Blair won three consecutive terms off the back of appealing to not being as bad as the Tories. This mandate enabled the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. We are sold barbarism off the back of a threat of even worse barbarism.
It is a game we are told we have to play. We are bound by a social contract we never signed and there is no get out clause. The only choice we are given is how to play within the game, not whether we want to play, it’s at this point that the “game” analogy starts to break down. Demonstrably not all players play by the rules, in this game the winners get to change the rules in their favour. Sometimes it feels less like we have a country and more like the country has us.
Anything short of building a process of direct democracy is a capitulation to this or that brand of self appointed benevolent dictator. Bottom line all political representation is about gaining power over others and can never be strategically effective for a liberatory movement. The Green party currently soaks up all those “protest votes” yet it’s a brutal irony that it cannot deconstruct power from within and suffers the same dramas as any sect of the vertical left.
We are told we should be proud of our political system, that it’s one of the best in the world. Aside from the embarrassing undertones of british exceptionalism, there is the stark fact that our system is quite unfair. The question then becomes should we work from within to change it, or from outside to smash it. It stands to reason that abolishing the institutions of state and hierarchical power is the only way to truly get rid of corruption, anything less is fatalism built upon privilege.
Hierarchical power is the greatest impediment to unleashing the potential of the human adventure. It is built upon a self-supporting fatalism which is a historical fact only because of thousands of years of violence rather than anything inherent to people’s character or desires.
Massified society systematically breeds alienation, this cannot be redeemed via legislation, only on an individual basis can we build affinity with people for cohesive social bonds outside of the mediation of capital. Revolution has got to be about the means and ends coming together, of an insistence on authenticity. The revolution has no end, it is a perpetual process of struggle.
It would be improper for an anarchist to advocate any blueprint as a solution. History seems to insist there is no singular alternative but a multiplicity of them. Better to learn as we go, of course there will be challenges to work out but those pale in comparison to the descent into fascism. The chant of the vertical left “one solution – revolution!” neglects the multiplicity of relationships which we are forming as we outgrow the former civilisation.
The argument is always diverted onto leftists having to defend their model for a post-capitalist world. The burden of justification should surely be on the ideas which inform the current order and those who defend the status quo in its fantastic tragedy. Fascists endeavour to find ways that we might desire our own enslavement. It presents an existential certitude for those not ready to release the better parts of their imagination. Fascists display an exuberance when capturing liberatory sentiment that the left has not matched in a century of defeats.
Whilst it is hard to speak for everyone in terms of what the world could be turned into, there are certainly oppressive institutions and unjust practices which may be abolished such as: wage slavery, debt servitude, rent, prisons, militarism, sexism, racism, homophobia, bigotry, torture, fossil fuel combustion, land appropriation etc What comes after is up to everyone as they live their lives by their own judgement.
Whilst mass refusal to participate in elections might not be the silver bullet it would erode the idea that the government actually had anything like a popular mandate.
The argument that it’s futile to resist condemns others now and in the future to oppression. Appeals to some kind of essential predicament erode the faculty for defiance. Solidarity is about recognising the resonances between struggles and building affinity therein. Whilst it’s important to understand the reasons for it, the fact that many are resigned fails to inform those who are not. The more who resist the formation of domination, the easier it shall be to conceive of a world where it could be eradicated.
Resistance is the prerogative of the oppressed. Domination isn’t an artifact inherent to human nature, it is enforced at the business end of a gun. States fight wars. States ARE war. It’s thought by most that people would be too disorganised to maintain the kind of planet plundering techno-barbarism that we see if there was no government. The upshot of getting rid of the government is there would be no-one left to organise mass murder on an industrial scale. No state means no war machine.
Developing our culture of critical thinking is something lots of us can agree on. It would be a breath of fresh air if people had the same attitude towards deconstructing power. Most people agree that our system doesn’t work but unless an alternative is handed on a plate then the horizon of possibilities remains concealed. If we want something beyond the state we might have to accept the state will not just give it to us.
Anyone who appeals to the fact that life in the UK is not as bad as other places must have surely neglected the fact that life here is premised on imperialism. When so much alienation is exported to the colonies of the global south it is pretty vulgar to speak of the UK situation in isolation from the ongoing slavery and planet destruction that sustains it.
We are told we should vote to give away our power to representatives because people fought for the right to vote in the past. That we should not attempt to conceive of anything better, only be glad it is not worse. Fundamentally voting is a count of people who sanction being represented. Not voting is often interpreted as laziness or disengagement. This assumes that the thing is worth engaging with, that it is central. The reality is the majority acknowledges politics as an edifice of bullshit. There is no real need to try to differentiate noncompliance from lack of interest in voting, the result is the same – the erosion of anything that looks like a mandate to rule over us.
Those who lament a lack of engagement in the political process neglect the fact that people are more concerned about friends and family than the details of government policy. Calling non-voters lazy or ignorant reeks of paternalism that barely conceals middle-class chauvinism. It is utterly disrespectful and condescending and is nothing more than base peer pressure for a lost cause. Spoiling ballots, whilst in the right spirit, is still engagement of sorts. It’s the electoral process itself that needs to be made obsolete and politics simply ignored.
Whoever gets in it’s still power legitimised, a low turnout is the best scenario in terms of actually breaking away. Political parties can never achieve or capture the density of relationships that are emerging in this movement beyond capital. The government only has power because we accept this consensus reality, and indeed reproduce it in our discourse.
A good place to start would be to see those who identify as anarchists not advocating the vote for Labour, Greens or SNP or anyone else. Not voting is not some prima facie prop for the anarchist identity rather it is essential to any liberatory praxis and indeed class solidarity. The ad hominems and appeals to socially constructed political realities offered by the Anarcho-liberals detract little from the poverty of that position.
Non-voters are the only people in the country who do not impose their will on others via political representation. It would be nice if rather than mobilising the ad nauseum arguments of pragmatism/fatalism that people step back and consider extending to others that same courtesy.