Wednesday, September 23, 2009

To vote or not to vote, that is the question. To make this question a bit easier let's restrict it to voting in 'political elections' ie local, state/provincial or national. No one should (but I'm sure some will) doubt that, if anarchists take part in other organizations (unions, community groups, etc.) where voting is part of normal procedure, they should vote within these groups. The big question is what positions of responsibility anarchists should act in in such groupings. Leave that aside for the moment. Let's also leave aside the question of how decisions should be reached in an anarchist organization. The big debating point there is voting versus consensus. The latter is actually quite great provided that 1)the group is small and intends to stay that way, 2)the group is made up of personal friends, 3)there is basically nothing to decide as the group is of one general opinion anyways, 4)whatever decision the group makes doesn't matter much anyways and MOST IMPORTANTLY 5)the group contains absolutely NO, none, nada people who think that making decisions this way has any significance whatsoever. They should, preferably have never heard the word "consensus" in their lives. As I said, if all of these conditions are fulfilled then consensus is great. If only one condition is not met, especially the latter where those with a certain type of personal ethics disguised as politics make life intolerable for others, then it is destructive and very painful for anyone who has to endure their "righteous presence".

But...political elections ?? The "anarchist general line" has usually been that elections should be boycotted. Anarchists have often actually run 'Don't Vote' campaigns, and I've helped with a few of these in the past myself. There are, however, exceptions. Proudhon was actually a Deputy in the French Assembly before he came to a stricter anti-political point of view. In our own time the Communalist/Social Ecologist followers of Murray Bookchin made voting in municipal elections pretty well the key point of their strategy. There are actually many others, but the most telling one is the Spanish anarchists in the CNT and FAI in early 1936 when they deliberately "muted" their traditional anti-electoral stand in order that the Popular Front would win the election. I have read different versions of the actual organizational responsibility of this decision. One version says that the CNT carried out the low key campaign. The other said that the responsibility was passed on to the FAI. They had their reasons, most particularly the hope of release for thousands of political prisoners should the popular front win. In any case this may have been an unique situation, one where anarchists were influential enough so that their decision about whether to vote or not (or whether to tone down their rhetoric so that-wink,wink,nudge,nudge many would vote) actually made a significant difference. There is certainly no country in the world today where whatever anarchists say or don't say will make a tinker's damn to the results of an election. That's a reality, and recognizing reality is the first step to changing it.

Which brings me to some observations of 'votophobia'. The first observation is that voting or not voting is not a principle; it is a means to an end. Whatever their opponents may think of them anarchists are, by and large, a very moralistic bunch, and they far too often confuse means with ends. As a matter of fact that confusion is part and parcel of standard anarchist theory, and it has great merit- up to a point. The means very much influence the end result, and it is unrealistic to expect any political party, reformist or revolutionary, to usher in the sort of democratic, egalitarian, decentralized society that anarchists want. That being said there is a vast ocean of difference between the two poles of total stasis and total change. Some outcomes are more desirable than others. What anarchists far too often fail to do, however, is ask the hard question: "what do we actually hope to accomplish by publicly urging people not to vote ?" There is, of course, a trend in anarchism, most prevalent in the USA, which views any hard questions as something akin to treachery, and they do their damnedest to reply to such in as abusive and pseudo-intellectual form as they can muster.

In the presence of a large, dynamic and influential anarchist organization(s) with a well thought out course of action and the influence to at least carry out some of its plans there is actually an alternative that can be offered to the question from John Q. Sceptic, "What do you have as an alternative ?". Outside of Spain, and even there to a great degree there is no such organization on Earth today. The offer of benefiting from an identification with the anarchist movements, such as they are, is plainly pretty skimpy fair, and it's best that some of the more narcissistic elements get over their self love enough to recognize the absurdity of this 'alternative'. An organization can use an anti-electoral campaign to offer their own plan of action, but a vague subculture can not. All that it has to offer is its own proselytism. All that I can say to this is that we live in a world where at least images are transmitted to most of the world's population. If a certain anarchist subculture was inherently so much more attractive than ordinary life well then we would all be walking around with tongue piercings and eating nothing but vegan food today. As a matter of fact identifying anarchism with a subculture has more minuses than it does pluses. It recruits those who want such identities, but it also repells those who have no need of such crutches.
But back to 'voting'. What do we hope to accomplish by mounting a 'Don't Vote' campaign ? If we are realistic the answer is obviously "very little". If such campaigns are carried out in the absence of a legitimate anarchist organization, an alternative to dependence on political parties and at least the bare bones of a realistic 'plan' then the proper answer is "nothing". In such situations one is reduced to rather petty considerations ie whether an anti-voting campaign can "recruit" members for an organization or whether it can get publicity for same. The idea of recruiting 'members' to a vague, and often repulsive, subculture is absurd. That's best done by social contact in the non-political venues in which things properly belong.
So where do I stand today ? Presently I don't see the utility of mounting anti-election campaigns in either my own country, the USA or most of Europe. I'm inclined to view such things via the old commie label of "diversionary". There may indeed be situations where such campaigns are appropriate, especially as recruiting devices, but I haven't seen such in the last little while. As somebody who, from habit and inclination, takes a 'long view' I think that elections should basically be ignored. This wasn't my opinion years ago. It is my opinion now. If anarchism is going to be a potent reality it has a long road ahead of it, of building at the base. I see little reason to put effort into campaigns that cannot have any effect because of our present small numbers. If anarchism is ever a serious competitor for the 'public mind', which it is not today, then other, more Machiavellian considerations might come into play. I personally, however, don't expect to see such a situation in my lifetime, except perhaps in Spain.