by Daevid Glass
As a market anarchist, I’ve always believed the electoral process has little to offer me, but for one reason or another, I couldn’t help myself from voting. Being passionate about politics, the mainstream discourse had an allure for me. The fact that no parties represent my views made deciding which was the least evil a fascinating puzzle. My conclusion was something like this: (a) in a safe seat, vote for a regionalist party if available, (b) if not, vote Green (as they have some decentralist policies, advocate Universal Basic Income and are non-interventionist), or (c) if in a marginal, vote towards the Left to help alleviate poverty. I’ve been asking myself some questions to reconsider my views, and have now changed my mind.
Q1: Should I vote for decentralist, secessionist or non-interventionist parties?
The party closest to my heart is the Wessex Regionalist Party. I think decentralism is something of a panacea – or to be more precise, I think centralisation is the disease of modern society; inefficient top-down control of unfeasibly large groups of people (nation-states) which cause the erosion of communities and the anomie of disempowerment. I’ve enjoyed supporting the progressive heptarchy movement, which appeals to my warped sense of traditionalism. In Oxfordshire, I have the choice of being claimed by Wessex or Mercia and have registered as a citizen of Mercia at www.independentmercia.org. If I lived in Witney I would be sorely tempted to back the Wessex Regionalist Party, to support their efforts for decentralisation. Living under their government would be preferable to what we have now, but it isn’t the end goal for me – I would then want to secede further until we as individuals can all secede from the state. Voting for them would serve an educational purpose in getting localist ideas out there, but there is the danger with using elections as public relations that you are also promoting electoral politics as a viable method and thus diverting energy away from other tactics. There is also the worse danger that you will win, and will find your candidates corrupted or just unable to make the change you want to see. That failure could drive voters back to the previous status quo.
I don’t have the option of voting for any regionalist parties in my constituency anyway, nor can I vote for (usually racist) English secessionist parties, nor can I support the SNP with their nanny state policies like the Named Persons Scheme. My only secessionist option is UKIP, if leaving the EU counts as secession.
It’s been said that foreign policy should be the most important consideration for libertarians, and as UKIP is unclear about their policy on this, the Green Party is the largest non-interventionist party. They also have some decentralist policies and are meant to be opposed to big government (though vigorously campaigned to remain in the EU) but there is a lot to dislike about them, and voting for them outside of Brighton is pointless anyway.
These considerations are idle distractions. If I lived in constituencies where the likes of the Wessex Regionalist Party, the Northern Party or Mebyon Kernow were on the ballot, I’d probably chuck them a vote, but would try to resist any more investment than that.
Q2: Should I vote for libertarian-leaning candidates on the Right?
Chris Shaw has advocated supporting candidates with libertarian principles, such as Steve Baker and Douglas Carswell. Unless the (right-)Libertarian Party fields candidates, you are probably looking at the Conservative Party or UKIP. It would be very hard for me to swallow voting for these parties, but I have given it serious thought in this circumstance – and rejected the idea. Right-wing parties by definition support the continuation of economic inequality. The economic liberalism and ‘free market’ these parties advocate is newspeak, for they advocate the continuation of an unfree market, as I illustrate below:
None of these libertarian candidates would go after the big primary interventions, like intellectual property – they can only tinker around the edges with lower taxation, removing the DCMS, abolishing the TV license fee and reforming welfare and employment regulation in ways the poor can only hope doesn’t screw them over. In any case, the most libertarian candidate in UKIP will still be subject to their populist social conservativism (ban the burkha, a referendum on the death penalty), while libertarians in the Conservative Party will still be subject to their overriding mission to protect the wealth of the wealthy – but alas this is true of any party, since the state’s raison d’être is to exploit, and even the most saintly libertarian Prime Minister could not tame such a beast.
If we vote in such candidates to gain exposure for our ideas, do we not want someone extremely good to represent us? For me, as a left-libertarian, there would be something of a taint in associating libertarian ideas with the Tories and UKIP, similar to the impression of libertarianism a Labour Party member that I met at a wedding had; “that’s all Americans and guns, isn’t it?”. While I have nothing against Americans or guns, there are more positive ideas I would like to associate libertarianism with, and similarly I wouldn’t like to support the correlation of libertarian ideals with xenophobia or big business apologists.
I am a gradualist and would like to see the state disappear but in the right order, with the shackles gone before the crutches, and cannot trust right-wing candidates to achieve this. The welfare state is an evil, but I want us to end it from below by replacing it with counter-institutions, not have it decimated from above by the economic Right.
Q3: Should I vote towards the Left?
This brings me back to my original strategy – all things being equal, I might as well vote towards the Left to ensure the less well-off are financially supported, while trying to choose the party likely to grow the state the least (sorry Jeremy). This is now an option I reject. Voting for a lesser evil would still be voting for an evil. For one thing I don’t live in a marginal in which my vote is likely to count for much, but even if it did, what would I be achieving? While I’d be sanctioning the use of force to plunder taxpayers, the benefit payments come with the culture of the servile state – a safety net people can’t climb out of and are fearful of immigrants climbing into. The welfare state has co-opted, eroded and replaced the mutual networks of reciprocity that gave people a sense of agency, belonging, community and meaning. The statist Left will do nothing for us, and the only legitimate defence for voting it in is to defend the less affluent against the Right. Keeping out the Tories by voting in a different bully, like Labour (who brought us the Iraq War and tried for identity cards) is understandable, but truly a last resort – and a wake-up call that our situation is truly dire. While I don’t condemn anyone who votes Left to save their own skin and I think the moral arguments against voting are weak, I would like to see people worrying about it less and instead engaging in more community-building (education) to fight economic inequality with direct action, and to replace the sickly teat of government welfare with the building of counter-institutions.
The problem of who to vote for is insoluble for me, because it is asking the wrong question. It was a great relief to give up on answering it by replacing it with another question.
Q4: Should I vote?
You’ll note electoral politics didn’t appear in the above diagram. I’ve never believed there’s much point in voting, but have usually done it. Why? Largely because of social pressure that I’ve non-consciously introjected into my value system I expect, but also because I’m fascinated by politics so find it fun. Therein lies the problem for me. It is a distraction. Howard Zinn says, “Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes – the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.” Alas, thinking these things through I realise such a tactic isn’t possible for me. For one thing, British polling stations don’t have levers, but more pressingly, I simply cannot limit myself to two minutes. I will get caught up in researching political parties in Wikipedia, reading party manifestos, checking candidates out on Twitter, following the news stories about who said what about whom, watching the autoplaying Channel 4 News videos on Facebook and reading newspaper links on the weekly leadership contests. I believe that electoral politics is bourgeois politics with nothing to offer ‘the 99%’ and the idea of following that idea through and giving all the above shit up sounds refreshing.
I could spend that two minutes going to spoil my ballot to prove that I’m abstaining and not just apathetic, but I see no point. If there were ever enough people spoiling ballots to give it statistical worth, there would always be far more people not bothering, which would make it easy for the government to use the same statistics against us.
What then should replace the trip to the polling station and the consumption of mainstream political media? Perhaps the freedom from said nonsense will serve as a reminder that:
[…] anarchists urge abstentionism in order to encourage activity, not apathy. Not voting is not enough, and anarchists urge people to organise and resist as well. Abstentionism must be the political counterpart of class struggle, self-activity and self-management in order to be effective — otherwise it is as pointless as voting is. http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/secJ2.html#secj29
Thanks to Chris for the invitation to contribute. This is where I am at the moment. Nothing is fixed. I welcome dialogue.