Anarchists have traditionally opposed voting for a variety of ideological reasons. For many, not voting is held as a badge of honor - a way of signaling one's commitment to anarchist theory. I've often thought that this belief in not voting almost represents a sort of religion for some anarchists, due to how they uphold "not voting" as the *one true* anarchist position.
If you vote, then you can't possibly be "a true anarchist." Not voting is essentially a purity test among the anarchist faithful, and this hegemony over the spectrum of acceptable thought is often reinforced by other anarchists, who make sure that anyone that disagrees understands that they are not "one of us."
A couple years ago, I was banned from Infoshop News for simply posting pro-voting arguments on their Facebook page. The idea of not voting as a tenant of the anarchist religion was cemented to me in that moment, seeing how utterly intolerable such views were to at least one of the admins of that page. After writing about that experience, I found out many other followers of that page had been banned for similar disagreements. But Infoshop's stance is not uncommon.
This tradition of promoting ideology from hundreds of years ago to explain why they're not voting continues today in 2017.
But recently, when I came across the two posts below, I was heartened to see that a full-on revolt against this type of thinking is starting to take shape among the anarchist peasant class. I say that lightheartedly, but by that I mean ordinary anarchists who follow anarchist pages, rather than the admins of anarchist pages, who most often promote the official line, either out of obligation or sincere commitment.
Seeing this sea change in attitude gives me hope for a fresh, non-dogmatic anarchism in 2017 and beyond.
I've often said that true anarchism (to me) also includes freedom from dogma and rigid rules about what tactics are and are not deemed acceptable if you're an anarchist. Rather than adhering to the same ideology, tactics and strategies decade after decade, I believe anarchism is at its best when we are free to employ a variety of tactics, experiment with new strategies, and form new holistic approaches based on the present political terrain. Direct action and voting are not jealous lovers, and it's high time we stopped treating them as such.
Reading the comments below, it's wonderful to see that more and more anarchists agree.
Eoin O'Connor: How do you defend them yourself when you're disabled and the Tories have you living a subhuman existence?
Reclus' specific alternative to voting was armed insurrection. Unless you're actively planning one of those in Britain, I'd say do what little you can to make peoples lives more tolerable.
I agree that direct action is more important than electoral action, but it's downright delusional to pretend that (1) there'd be no difference at all between a Corbyn government and a May government, and (2) that not taking the few minutes it takes to cast a ballot once every few years is somehow a waste of time, or, worse, taking time away from other more anarchistic activities.
Like what? Ranting about the Tories in Facebook chat groups? Get real.
Jehiel Lomaz: I feel like I have to really stress how flawed the anarchist position is on elections, because Libcom's position on relating to reformist workers seems to be dismissive, elitist, and generally shite. It's like the crap with "revolutionary" unionism. The British election represents so much more than just '4 years of Corbyn' in itself, and failing to see that is a real shame.
This kind of elitist dismissal of the most significant political phenomenon for the british left is what you get if you have no intention of trying to relate to and mobilise the working class.
Yes, Corbyn being for only "fairly controlled" immigration is a thing we should be openly against. Yes, his reformism has stunted his capacity to shove off the blairites. Yes, the fact that he supports increasing police presence is a bad thing. But to miss out on the opportunities that the rise of Corbyn presents to the far-left by simply turning away from the whole situation is far worse.
The rise and potential fall of Corbyn is about so much more than just his policies being implemented; it's about the rise and potential fall of a future in which we actually have left-wing policies being put forward by a major party that can give people something to fight for. If Labour was to revert to being Blairite, we would just be returning to a situation in which the major parties both pushed for or capitulated to neoliberalism, racism, imperialism, etc.
The fact is that in Britain today, the vast majority of people look to electoralism as the centre of politics. This doesn't mean that Corbyn can't inspire ordinary people to organise in workplaces and in demonstrations to defend the good policies that Corbyn holds, putting them into positions that give them a better sense of their potential power as workers. To see Corbyn torn down at this point in history is not going to inspire the vast majority of people to be revolutionary socialists; it's going to instill hopelessness, and that puts us as the far-left in a much worse situation than simply having Tory legislation being passed through parliament.
The job of revolutionary socialists is to see how the political climate we face today can inspire people to engage in activity that brings about an awareness of class, and of their potential power in society, that brings people a step closer to our kind of politics, while also not compromising our capacity to maintain a revolutionary-socialist perspective and organisation. We have to figure out what can be done today so that the political situation we face now can be a step forward towards better things, centred around the activity of workers and ordinary people more generally. No, this doesn't mean embracing opportunistic political positions or liquidating into the Labour Party, but it also doesn't mean being a complete elitist and outright dismissing the people who support Corbyn but aren't actually socialists. You have to stand as the far-left differentiated from everyone to your right, but be willing to stand with those workers who aren't socialists yet to prove the supremacy of revolutionary politics in being able to actually form a better society. This can be done for many political questions, and it can still be done in a way that left reformism encourages people who hold those views to become active; refugee rights, anti-racism, anti-fascism, workers rights in and outside of unions, whatever else.
This is obviously still done while having a far-left that exists as an independent organisation, but still tries to mobilise and relate to people who are inspired by a left-wing break from Blairite Labourism. Telling people to not vote, when there is an option that will clearly put the left on a better footing for fighting against demoralisation and for better demands, is fucking ridiculous
Publishing the cynical crap that libcom.org does is completely counterposed to inspiring non-revolutionaries to become politically active.
Lukáš Kuchta: So glad that comment section is full of radical leftists who are able to think beyond old dogmatic 'truths'. From my anarchist point of view I'd say let's not give the ruling class the legitimacy, however as of now we don't have any viable parallel structures, revolution is not around the corner nor will really low voting turnout change the state-people relationship.
Still no avant-guarde is justifiable and not a single party will change the game. But much can be done towards the poor with a vote. Who says you can't do both organizing yourself with a radical group and cast a bloody vote?
Justin Ward: Emma Goldman said "If voting were effective, they would make it illegal," which is kind of ironic because, in her day women couldn't vote and white people in the South used violence, intimidation, poll taxes and literacy tests to prevent black people from voting up until the end of Jim Crow. While I don't think voting is a panacea, it does have its usefulness, and some anarchists have argued that it was a form of defense against the state. Voting should be seen as a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. You shouldn't vote and just expect the candidate to protect your interests, but on the other hand elected office does serve as a "bully pulpit." Also, if a movement can get an official elected, it can serve to legitimize it.
Joren FJ: This kind of cynicism is a luxury the poor can't afford.
J.M. Nejtek: As a revolutionary socialist, I think it's important to try and both raise people's horizons about what's possible and also to exacerbate the contradictions within the capitalist system. In the present moment, a Corbyn win or near-win is the obvious goal for anyone who desires a heightened state of class struggle in the UK.
That's the same way I felt about Sanders in the US. It's not that I thought he was gonna "save" my class, or that I thought his policies where all just swell...it's that I want to see my class raise its head, move into a sharper confrontation with the bosses, and draw revolutionary conclusions in the course of combat.
Instead, here in the states we have a situation where the Democrats are repairing their image as "opposition" to Trump, instead of a party that can't/won't deliver.
Don't let this opportunity slip by!
Phil Pope: "Corbyn, rather than being the saviour of the working class in Britain..." I don't think I have heard anyone claim that he is the saviour - just different enough from the Tories to justify 5 minutes at the polling station. After going wrong in the very first sentence, the rest of this article is a brain fart. Well done for finding a lame way to be edgy and different you utter bell-ends.
"Don't vote in bourgeois elections. The labour party is just another bourgeois party. Change is impossible without revolution. But you leftists will never understand this."
Tim Hjersted: This comment is a great example of how ideology can prevent a clear-thinking assessment of the political moment in 2017. Some anarchists would rather lose ground their entire lives and pontificate about how 'only revolution' can save us than spend 5 minutes working on the material realities which might improve the political terrain on which actual, real revolutions are built. It's very sad. But actually, all of the comments in this thread challenging centuries-old dogma is quite heartening.
Chris Lowe: We've a choice to finally change direction from 40 years of a strengthening Thatcherite consensus. Put that before feeling all intellectual while doing nothing.
Rowan Thomas: I'm about to be guilty of commenting based on click bait without reading the article. What a fucking stupid position. Take whatever moral high ground you want... America fucked it up and France got it right. You vote to keep the terrible people out. The lesser of two evils is a reality.
Rachel Broady: I'm a socialist. I entirely understand the Marxist recognition of the limitations of democracy in capitalism. Also, the Tories want to sell my social housing home from under me because I can't afford a mortgage. I'll be homeless. Thanks for the solidarity, comrades.
Get back to us when you're forming an armed struggle not writing snotty articles few workers will read.
Marco Böhm: Are you aware that part of labour's new manifesto is to democratize the workplace? Like supoorting workers cooperatives. Jacobin Magazine had a good article about it.
James Boultbee: You can't just will a mass movement into existence. It has to form around something. It's not about Corbyn it's about all these people. I'd rather be standing with them and hoping to push this into more radical waters than standing on the sidelines.
Aimée Fung: Actively doing nothing at a very crucial and desperate time in Britain doesn't win you any extra captain anarchy points. I'd rather vote for Corbyn in hopes of protecting the NHS and the welfare state, instead of sitting at home writing articles about being apathetic.
Hana Lein: Refusing to vote in such a crucial election is rank selfishness. This isn't about deifying a politician or "voting Corbyn", it's about rebalancing the reality we live in. I agree with some of the points made in the article but pontificating about the flaws in our system (which most thinking voters are well aware of) isn't changing anything at this point. It's a privileged position that people being sanctioned by the DWP, nurses going to food banks, children living in abject poverty in one of the richest countries in the world, don't and will never have the opportunity of occupying. This election is not about you, it's about an attempt to wrest some semblance of humanity and equality back for the general population. Get over this intellectual masturbation.
Baldwin Maximillian Strong: It's not some binary either / or equation. You don't have to believe party politics are the be-all and end-all to have the elementary common sense not to want to inflict on the populace 5 more years of the Tories siphoning off every penny they possibly can to the wealthiest and rejecting the possibility of some policies that just maybe will put the brakes on somewhat.
Robin French: People on the right will do anything to move things closer to the way they want them, regardless of principles. They're lucky so many on the left have their heads in the clouds. It's why they get their way so often.
Merlin Hogarth: The disabled people who'll die because of cuts won't thank you for your ideological purity.
Andreas Wittel: It's a position that ignores how change happens. Often slowly. It's a position of luxury. Of someone who wants all or nothing. Ultimately it's a childish position.
Alex Barrientos: Article should be titled "Why anarchists' opinions are still irrelevant."
Felix Fiedler: Voting is about picking your opponent, not your "saviour."
Even some anarchist pages are making a break with established tradition, a sight that brings a tear to my jaded anarchist eyes...
MESSAGE FOR BRITISH SOCIAL ANARCHISTS
You're probably not going to like this post ...
But if you're able to vote tomorrow, we'd recommend voting against the Conservative Party, which means voting for Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party in each constituency where it's got the best chance of beating a Tory.
You may be asking us to hand in our anarchist cards for such a treasonous position, in which case a few explanations are in order.
The main reason social anarchists historically recommended not voting was that it made little difference. Direct action, not state action, is what really produces results. This is true.
However, events such as the Iraq War and the Tory Party's undeclared war on the disabled have shown that sometimes "little differences" can add up to a lot for many people.
This does NOT mean we are under any illusion about the New-Old Labour Party being little more than a pitiful attempt to recapture the managerial capitalism of the mid 20th century, and won't be able to significantly pose a threat to global capital, even in the unlikely event they form the next British government.
We remain committed to direct action and grassroots self-organising as our primary mode of strategy for accomplishing anarchist goals. But we can no longer fool ourselves into believing there's no difference at all between a potential centre-left government and a right-wing government, in political, economic, and societal terms.
The fact is, it would be easier for anarchists to push change on a Labour government than a Tory one.
If anarchists can support joining a trade union as a form of self-defence against capitalism, then it doesn't make sense to not use their votes to pick the "least worst" government as a form of self-defence against the state.
That doesn't mean supporting the Labour Party. It just means accepting the obvious reality that things would be more tolerable under them.
The choice between 40 lashes and 80 lashes is still lashes either way, though you'd have to be the most puritanical ideologue to refuse to choose 40 lashes on principle alone.
For these reasons and others, be an ethical consequentialist and use what little formal political power you have to destroy the possibility of another Tory government. It won't get us closer to social anarchy, but it may give us more elbow-room to achieve more of our aims outside the state system.