Election season is upon us (does it ever really stop any more?). In a short while the voters in the United States are asked to choose their next despot. The Ghanese will vote in December. Several months later the Netherlands is to follow with general elections tailed shortly by the French general elections (which may turn out interesting). Of course, there are many other elections going on, too many to list them here. Some of them will be considered 'fair,' or at least 'a victory for democracy,' according to the exacting standards of the Corporate Media, others will undoubtedly be branded a sham. Anarchists, historically, have branded all elections a sham to the point it's become our signature election campaign.
However, anarchists are divided over the issue, some bitterly so. For some, voting seems to be tantamount to class treason while others consider anti-election campaigns the most useless waste of time the movement has ever and could ever engage in. In my opinion, the act of voting tends to get too much attention. Moreover, to most outsiders, anarchists seem out of touch with reality. Maybe it's time to reconsider anarchist anti-voting campaigns.
Where's the Alternative?
Most anarchists I see will have an answer ready to questions about what we envision the world would look like. They're usually along the formulaic line of self-organized communities in which we control the means of production ourselves, democratically, and in which we engage with each other in co-operative mutual aid instead of competition. There are countless varieties, but none of them quite compare to the simple "hope," "change," "better together," "new trust," "make America great again," or even "stick to your ideals." The latter is a translation of the slogan from the Dutch Party for the Animals. It's a slogan that tends to fit anarchists quite well, given anarchism's emphasis on direct action (link opens PDF file). What makes these slogans great is their simplicity and the ability to catch the attention. We can cry shame on voters for 'falling for such mindless crap,' but such a snobbist attitude merely feeds capitalist alienation and widens the gap between anarchists and "the people." If our movement is small, we can lash out at the rest of the world for not understanding us or we can try and figure out why they don't and won't.
Why, then, don't people care about our anti-voting message? One of the standard anarchist slogans that comes to mind is 'it doesn't matter who you vote for, the government always gets in.' This is an indisputable fact, but not every government is the same. The party in power can make a real, tangible difference to even the poorest of voters. For our own purposes, we also need to recognize that there is an enormous difference between an openly fascist regime and even a neo-liberal regime which continues to maintain some pretenses of the idea of rule of law. Voting strategically can be a valid political strategy and this is true even for anarchists, no matter how much we loathe the process and everything it symbolizes. For many, the difference between parliamentary left-wing and parliamentary right-wing is a life-or-death matter. If we don't recognize the differences between governments and party policies, the charge that we are 'out of touch' is fully legitimate. If we do recognize these differences, then the underlying argument that 'voting doesn't matter' no longer matters itself, as we'd be forced to admit it does, even if only marginally.
Of course, this doesn't change anything about the fact that voting can't bring us a free society. It is in this realization that we need to rediscover one of the strengths of anarchism. The fact is, we shouldn't care so much about whether or not people vote. It usually only takes a few minutes of people's time, in most European countries at least. What we should care about is what people do before and after voting. Elections are the way in which mainstream politics drain all life and hope from the people. When politicians use "hope" as a slogan, it means all hope is lost. When they say "stick to your ideals," it means there are no more ideals left. When they promise "change," people will sit back and nothing will change. These meaningless slogans are a symptom of a terminally ill system and reflect the utter despair that capitalist society brings. The pit of darkness is using its own antitheses to sell itself: despair is using hope to sell us continued desperation.
People waiting for the change they were told to hope for are likely to become dejected when that change doesn't come. The pie in the sky remains high in the sky, always just out of reach. Time and again, we are told that we need to wait just a little bit longer. Conditions are never quite right for us to begin sharing in the wealth that we created. The fact is that we need to keep reminding people that we can, through mutually beneficial organisation, bring worthwhile changes ourselves. The standard reply that most, if not all, anarchists have by now grown used to is that humans simply "aren't good enough." This tired dogma only shows us how completely the disease of desperation has infected society. At one end, the ideology we have been raised in praises co-operation while on the other end co-operation is decried as impossible and utopian. In reality, a co-operative society merely requires us to be aware of the need to take responsibility ourselves. Instead of waiting for others to solve things for us, we must take charge of our own lives and living environment. Unfortunately, we've been taught to just keep waiting all our lives. It's not easy to stop waiting on our own, we need each other to help us forward. Our new society can only begin with active and conscious co-operation, in the here and now. Only when we begin taking responsibility ourselves, only when we begin to organize with each other, can we bring change. Against repression and exploitation we are, truly, "stronger together." "Yes, we can" as long as we remember that we includes each and every person reading this. "It is in our hands," so we need to take it into our hands.
Anarchists talk a lot about building communities and, certainly, some of us put in a lot of effort to try and build various forms of communities. THe effort many anarchists put into the creation of libraries, mutual aid collectives, community centers, and so forth cannot be underestimated. However, an anti-voting campaign can, at best, help when we take some people along on their first postering run and share skills we probably learnt when we were dragged along on our first postering run. Putting up the next anti-voting poster is rarely revolutionary, nor is it counter-revolutionary. It doesn't require much organizing, nor does it build alternatives. As a tactic, it is mostly just sterile, puerile, and a waste of our time. Anti-voting rhetoric can only be useful if we, primarily, help build visible alternatives. Only when there are clear and visible alternatives, can we build a counter-power and truly make elections as pointless as we say they are. From the moment people experience mutual aid and solidarity, every bureaucrat and politician is easily unmasked as a tyrant. Every second spent on the tired anti-voting campaigns that we've seen a thousand times before could be spent on creative prefigurative projects instead that, I expect, will be much more worthwhile.
Libcom has some excellent guides on organising: here.