In 6 months on 7th May 2015 we have the opportunity to vote out the shambles of the Con-Dem Coalition and condemn David Cameron to the scrapheap of “one term Prime Ministers”, and Nick Clegg to where he belongs… wherever that may be!
However I as someone who identifies as an anarchist, or anarcho-syndicalist, or anarcho-communist (depending on my mood) I am in theory opposed to voting. As the oft cited phrase, attributed to anarchist hero Emma Goldman, says “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal” the vote within a Parliamentary democracy is not democratic. As an anarchist I hold that a truly democratic society does not need and is actively oppressed by the appointment of national governments, armies, police forces and other tools of control. I believe that The People are the true authority in society from whom all power flows. To put it at it’s simplest, as Marx argued, if the working people were to withhold their labour the power structures that seem so eternal in our society would collapse overnight. Those that live off the backs of others could not continue to do so if those they live off stop producing for them.
Similarly, if we withheld our vote the political class would have no legitimacy. Thus could not weald the power with which they are endowed. Any attempt by them to impose their will through force would be the imposition of a military dictatorship. Either way this results the end of representative democracy, and potentially a popular uprising against an illegitimate government. That said of course the chances of an overwhelming majority of the electorate not turning out on 7th May is slim to none. Certainly any such change would need to be incremental and therefore begins with one person refusing to engage with and thereby legitimise the system of representative democracy.
There is a burning desire in many sections of society to be rid of this useless and heartless government which has stumbled from crisis to crisis over the last five years, through poorly executed spin and scandal. How can I therefore blame people for voting to oust this bunch of bastards from power? I can’t and I don’t. In fact I question the wisdom of my own abstentionist position instead. I want to be rid of this government. I want a fairer, and frankly, kinder society in which people no longer compete with each other in cutthroat fashion by co-operate to achieve the best for all.
I have in my hour of need and self-doubt turned to my old friend the late Colin Ward, one of the anarchist writers who introduced me to the idea of anarchists’ as something other than Black Bloc tactics when I was a mere 22 years old. In his 1987 essay “The Case Against Voting” Ward says:
“…it is the anarchists who, for well over a century, have been the most consistent advocates of conscientiously staying away from the poll. Since anarchism implies an aspiration for a decentralised non-governmental society, it makes no sense from an anarchist point of view to elect representatives to form a central government.”
So far so straightforward, I am an anarchist ergo I do not vote as I wish to delegitimise the system of centralised governance. It is telling that Ward wrote this essay in 1987 in the midst of the Thatcher Government that is as opposed to Ward’s politics as it is possible to imagine. However he makes the point that, then as now, the preceding and he imagines the following administrations would be little different:
“… the similarities between the present government and both its predecessors and successors far outweigh the differences.”
The ruling class is ever the ruling class, whether they are Labour, LibDem or Tory. The differences are there undoubtedly, but they are so minimal as to be next to pointless. The effects therefore of a change of administration will be similarly minimal. All the parties that have chance of taking power at the next election are subscribed to the fucked up wisdom of austerity, enthral to big money, committed to the monarchy (and by extension the British class system), to the maintenance of the last vestiges of the English Empire in the form of the UK; all things to which I am opposed. Most significantly they are as with all those in power determined to protect their vested interests and their own power at all costs.
My quandary is cause partly this year by the rising appeal of the Green Party. Having listened to their public announcements over the last few years and studied their manifestos (such as the one for the 2012 London Assembly Elections) they are perhaps the closest to my own political philosophy. They advocate public ownership of key industries and utilities, notably the railways, they support the public ownership of the NHS (as somebody who has spent considerable time in hospital in his life this is personal for me) and obviously their advocacy of a low carbon society. I support their campaigns for changes to fuel consumption, their pro-public transport stance (I don’t drive), and their opposition to the centralisation of power. All these policies appeal and accord with my life philosophy of Buddhism as they too represent the most humanistic, pacifist and peaceful of all the major political parties in England. They are the best political example of a group who are creating rather than destroying value in society.
So will I vote? And if I do will I vote Green?
To answer the second question first, yes; the Greens do seem the best option for any Leftist (in the broadest sense of the term) disillusioned with the Right-Wing-ism of all mainstream political parties. However under out first-past-the-post voting system one has to live in Brighton to stand any chance of electing a Green MP.
(As an aside: if we had a system of Proportional Representation I would probably be more inclined to vote as the vote may have an affect and be counted in the final tally. However again this is still legitimising a system of centralised governance.)
I have the comfort (if that is the right term) of living in a safe Labour seat, thus my vote will have no effect on the overall result of the general election. Any vote for the Green Party on my part would be gesture of defiance against the establishment parties and nothing more. It would register my support as one of less than 1000 people (going by the last election result in 2012) voting Green in my constituency and nothing more. That It may be argued, by some tortuous process of extension, influence others to vote Green in future and many years hence lead to a Green MP in Manchester, but this is a poor reason for me to break my vow of anarchism.
In the end the vote I cast in any circumstances will be the legitimising of the central government and the fallacy of representative democracy. So no, I still won’t be voting. As Colin Ward ends, quoting Petr Kropotkin writing in over 100 years ago: