Yesterday was election day in my country so I thought I would outline exactly why “exorcising” your “democratic rights” does precisely nothing. I mean this very literally. Your vote has literally no impact on the political-economic system, nor even the trends that push it forward. This conclusion is very jarring for those who believe in the political system known as “representative democracy”. This is especially true in America where that “democracy” is celebrated as the mechanism which keeps state power accountable. The idea behind representative democracy is that by electing the officials that staff the state the public effectively controls the state from below. If you buy into this idea then you no doubt expect that the public can very easily effect politics and the economy by voting for certain politicians with certain political platforms. There are even radical leftists who believe that voting is vital in “harm-reduction”, i.e. preventing right wing attacks on workers and oppressed people.
This idea that simply writing someone’s name on a ballot and handing it in can fundamentally affect society has galvanized it’s adherents to, what I would call, evangelize the vote. These people preach to others about the necessity of voting. They say “if you don’t vote then welfare and union packages will be cut!” and “if you don’t vote some right winger will get into office!”, or if said people are right wing themselves they say “if you don’t vote then the leftists will destroy our country!”. This idea and practice of voter evangelism is based on two fundamental presuppositions; that when you vote you have a meaningful political choice and that politicians can be expected to carry out the platforms they are elected on. My contention is that both of these presuppositions are wrong.
Is There A Meaningful Political Choice When I Vote?
In the United States there are two big parties that mutually control the political system; the Republican and Democratic parties. Theoretically third parties, or independents can run in elections, but the two big parties take decisive action to marginalize, or even sabotage any efforts in this direction.1 Really, if you want your vote to matter it comes down to a choice between the republicans, or the democrats. How meaningful is this choice?
To put it bluntly; not at all. Both parties are political machines which perform the function of providing ideological legitimacy to the status quo (capitalism) by mobilizing the masses of people to politicaly engage with one or the other party. This is done through employing activists who campaign for the party. Politically the Democratic Party claims to be a progressive party of the people that fights for people of color, queer people, women, peace, and the working class. In reality the Democratic Party has simply channeled movements for peace, labor, and civil rights under it’s control to secure electoral victories and public support. When in power the democrats declaw these movements and carry out the repression of civil rights, waging wars internationally, and repression of the labor movement as needed by the capitalist economy. The Republican Party politically claims to be for the defense of the patriarchal family unit and the cultural values that uphold it. In reality the republicans enact the same, or similar policies the democrats do in service of capitalism. In addition, the patriarchal family system the republicans appeal to is based on the marginalization of people of color, women, and queer people, which also serves capitalism by providing a marginalized and thus easily exploitable labor force and/or marginalizing the surplus population that can’t be integrated into the capitalist economy. In the United States, your choice when voting is effectively two capitalist political machines that carry out more or less the same policies in pursuit of economic interests.
Now, not all countries have the same restrictive political system as the United States. Many countries have multiple political parties to choose from. Unfortunately, each one of these countries have the same sociological forces at play that have led to the restrictive two-party system in the United States. That is that every country on earth, even “socialist” regimes such as Cuba, or North Korea, have capitalist economies.
Every country on earth, and certainly every country with a “representative democracy” has a system of production and distribution based on buying and selling to produce a return. This system of production and distribution is called “capitalism”. The fluctuations of buying and selling in capitalism form what is called the “economy”. Every nation has an economy and every nation participates in the large global economy. The governments of every nation are set up to ensure that economy is in good health producing a financial return that keeps production running smoothly and expanding. Thus, every and any politician who ever gains an official position in the capitalist state is first and for most a maintenance man and technocrat for the capitalist economy. Effectively the only “choice” you have in any “democratic” state is between agents of capitalism. This shows us that there is no meaningful choice to be made when casting your ballot.
Can I trust The Politicians I vote For To Carry Out Their Political Platforms?
A key part of “representative democracy” is that politicians run their campaigns for election on certain platforms. They say that they will do x if the public elects them. The only way that voting would make a political difference is if the politicians that are elected can be trusted to do the things they got elected to do. So can they be trusted to do those things? Lets revisit the point about the capitalist economy.
As we have seen the state in capitalist society is instituted to secure the health of the capitalist economy. If the state doesn’t do this the system of production will falter leading to the state’s power possibly being compromised. This means that the bureaucracy of the state, i.e. politicians, will always pursue policies that are conducive to the health of the capitalist economy. If a politician promises to do x to get elected, but y would be more conducive to a lucrative capitalist economy then said politician will always go for y instead of x absent popular pressure (or sometimes even in the face of it). To find a real world example of this we need only look to the latest two presidents of the United States.
One of Barack Obama’s promises during his campaign was a national healthcare system paid for by the government. Note that government encroachment on private health insurance companies would threaten their profits to a certain degree. In Obama’s two terms in office he failed to implement even the most watered down form of national healthcare called “public option”. Instead he instituted his Obamacare which essentially meant forcing each American to have a private insurance policy. Lance Selfa called this a “corporate give away”. One of president Trump’s campaign promises was that he would ramp up pressure on companies to keep jobs in the United States. This would mean that corporations would be barred from moving production to locations of cheaper labor in the third world. Despite his promises Harley Davidson has carried out a huge relocation of jobs to the third world under Trump. Ultimately the only way politicians will actually enact the things they promise to do is if they are conducive to a lucrative capitalist economy.
Conclusion, Forget The Ballot, Organize!
If, as we have seen, you have no meaningful political choice when you vote and politicians can’t necessarily be trusted to do the things they are voted in to do then whether you vote, or don’t vote, has no meaningful social impact. This is jarring because we are in dire need of social change. The world we inhabit is based on oppression and class exploitation. The very foundation of the “economy” is that the mass of people have no control over social production and must labor for capitalist firms in order to receive a wage, or salary to survive. Thus the very basis of capitalist society is subservience and exploitation. So what can make social change?
The only way those in power have ever conceded to the interests of the masses of people is that the masses of people have mobilized to put pressure on those in power. Racial segregation between white and black people only ended in the US and South Africa through a militant civil rights struggle. Countries with the highest living standards are those with the most militant workers movements. Whether you vote, or don’t vote couldn’t matter less. Whether you mobilize people in your community and workplace to demand from the state and bosses what we deserve couldn’t matter more.
1. In 2004 the Democratic Party forced Ralph Nadar’s campaign to pay over 80,000 dollars in legal fees and overturned thousands of his signitures based on technicalities such as voters writing their names as “Bill” rather than “William”.
Why Bad Government’s Happen To good People, Danny Katch
Democrats: A Critical History, Lance Selfa
State Capitalism: The Wages System Under New Management, Adam Buick and John Crump, 1. What Is Capitalism?
State: and introduction, Libcom
Wage Labor and Capital, Karl Marx
Class: an introduction, Libcom
Direct action: and introduction, Libcom