Non-voting: How Anarchists (Don’t) Do Elections
Well, election season is done and dusted for another year. After weeks of canvassing, leafleting and shameless electioneering leading up to Thursday 3rd May, political parties can relax for a bit until they have to do it all again next year.
It’s a pretty well-known fact that most anarchists don’t vote in elections. For this, we’ve been accused of being lazy, apathetic, abstentionist, and more, but all of these accusations are false and misguided. Non-voting is, to us, enshrined in our very ideology, and is paramount to the idea of anti-authoritarianism and self-organisation. It’s not the voting we disagree with, it’s what we’re being asked to vote for that’s the problem.
As an alternative to voting, anarchists have always pushed for direct action and self-organisation. This highlights a major criticism we hold of the electoral system. As anti-authoritarians, we would rather see the working class organise on a non-hierarchical level to take charge of our own struggles rather than voting in a ‘leader’ or ‘representative’ to do it for us. The electoral system completely contradicts this fundamental principle of the anarchist ideology, hence why we use the phrase, “Don’t vote, organise!” Some people argue that it is possible to both organise direct action on a grassroots level and vote in elections. However, we feel that the latter distracts from the former in such a way that voting in elections is actually damaging to the idea of self-organisation and direct action. Taking part in the electoral system justifies its existence, and thus undermines the need for alternative methods of resistance.
The main crux of the argument for non-voting, however, is that it doesn’t achieve anything anyway. As Emma Goldman famously said, “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” The electoral system merely allows us to choose a new set of oppressors, all of whom are essentially clones of each other anyway. The main aim of parliament is to maintain the current system, keeping those at the top where they are with the majority of the wealth and all of the power, thus allowing them to exploit the rest of us for their own benefit. Voting merely props this system up by giving it the illusion of ‘democracy’. By not voting or spoiling your ballot, you are symbolising the need for a better system, and an increasing amount of people are adhering to this idea. Voter turnout on Thursday was 32% nationally and even lower here in Lincoln at just under 27%. This isn’t because people are ‘lazy’ or ‘apathetic’, it’s because they are growing disillusioned with the current political system and waking up to the fact that their votes effectively mean nothing. People don’t hate politics, they hate politicians.
It’s also worth noting that with consistently low turnouts such as we saw on Thursday, no government can be legitimate when the majority of people did not vote for them.
This is not to say that people who vote for tactical reasons are doing anything wrong. For example, in an area where a far-right party like the BNP or National Front are standing, many people will choose to vote for a stronger candidate, despite whether or not they agree with their politics, just to increase the chances of keeping the fascists out. This desire to fight fascism is obviously commendable, but there are other, more effective methods of doing so. Fighting fascism politically requires action before polling day. This means targeting the areas they use as recruitment grounds (football stadiums, working class estates etc.) and spreading anti-fascist propaganda to ensure people really know what they are voting for when they put a cross next to a BNP candidate. In other words, more direct actions are needed in the fight against fascism. It is dangerous to rely solely on the electoral system.
With regards to the results of Thursday’s election, as predicted, Labour made huge gains across the country. Here in Lincoln, they won all but one of the council wards. This is indicative of a seemingly never-ending cycle in British politics. The Tories screw us over, people get angry and vote in Labour, Labour screw us over, people get angry and vote in the Tories and so on. Although in this election it would appear the dominant tendency was for people to get angry and not vote, which would also account for Labour achieving a higher percentage. Nonetheless, this clearly demonstrates how ineffectual the electoral system really is, hence why we continue to push for grassroots self-organisation and direct action.
Another interesting point to note is the success of UKIP. In many places across the country, the proto-fascists did better than the Lib Dems (although this is probably more indicative of the plummeting popularity of the Lib Dems rather than a particularly significant gain in support for UKIP). Due to the continual failings of the BNP, it could be that more far-right voters, including Tory voters who feel their party in its current form isn’t right-wing enough, are now switching to UKIP instead. It’s important to keep an eye on these developments. In times of austerity, there is always a surge in support for the far-right, and whilst we are making gains combatting them on the streets, it’s important to combat them politically as well, using grassroots direct action methods such as those outlined earlier in this article.
More information on the anarchist position on voting: