Waiting for the revolution?

The final part in a series looking at and debunking specific 'tactical voting' strategies and election narratives from an anti-electoral perspective.

If anarchists, as a rule, don’t vote – or at least don’t go in for all the wasted energy and fruitless illusion of electoral politics – then what do we do? Are we, as those who earnestly see voting as a social duty might suggest with a condescending chuckle, just sitting around waiting for the revolution?

Bluntly, no.

This false dichotomy is ever present. You can either sit around waiting for the revolution, with a V for Vendetta mask or Les Miserablés soundtrack ready according to taste, or you can suck it up and vote. An X in a box or the heads of the bourgeoisie on pikes – there is no in-between.

Aside from being transparent nonsense, this line of non-thought ignores the main reasons that people consciously reject voting in the first place. That is, that voting on the individuals who run the state doesn’t change the fundamental nature of the state itself and that social change doesn’t come from the ballot box but as a result of organisation and struggle.

Anarchists are revolutionaries. That much is apparent from the fact that existing capitalist society cannot be incrementally reformed into anarchist communism. But revolution isn’t a “moment,” something that happens out of the blue and has a definite start and end point. Societal upheaval isn’t like baking a cake – there’s no set recipe and no pre-determined length of time in the oven which guarantees success.

Even aside from this, improvements in our present conditions come overwhelmingly from extra-parliamentary activity. Sure, it’s the politicians who enshrine our victories in law, but not because we voted for them. They do it because our strength as an organised movement made that the least disruptive option available.

In the workplace we win, advance and defend our pay and conditions by forming unions and pitting our collective strength against the bosses.

A powerful, militant campaign by workers at Ritzy Cinemas last year forced bosses to pay the London Living Wage. Cleaners at the Royal Opera House scored a similar victory with their own campaign of action. Both of these results, as well as improving the lot of the workers directly involved, has also served as an inspiration to other workers to advance similar demands.

The knock on effect of this is felt by even the likes of David Cameron declaring that he supports the idea in principle1 and a number of parties putting minimum wage rises in their manifestos.

But, of course, this doesn’t mean you can vote for the living wage – it means that as we win by exercising our class power, those managing or seeking to manage the state will try to divert any possible momentum from these wins towards electoral politics. The fact remains that the impetus for this change grows with the victories won through direct action, and wanes when the pressure that creates goes away.

This isn’t just evident in the workplace, but in the community too. The Focus E15 Campaign successfully resisted eviction by Newham Council and residents of the New Era Estate in Hackney saw off a corporation looking to evict them and treble the rent, both of which put housing on the national agenda. Organised community campaigns have made the Bedroom Tax one of the least popular measures of this government and built a cohesive, tangible solidarity that has seen off a number of attempted evictions. Workfare came to the brink of collapse as a result of campaigning and pickets, forcing Iain Duncan Smith to change the law in order to revive its shambling corpse.

These are a few, recent examples. The point is that where people organise and take action together they can resist attacks, win improvements, and force change.

While the #NoVoteNoVoice position is that not voting lets politicians off the hook, in fact it is defining politics as something external which happens in parliament that lets the state off the hook. If we want change, we need to organise – to build a movement which can resist attacks on our rights and conditions and fight for positive improvements.

By organising and taking direct action, we can win improvements ranging from extra benefits at work to the passing of beneficial laws. More than that, by organising and building a movement on such a basis, we build the consciousness and the confidence of the class in its own power. This is a necessity if we are to take seriously the idea of revolutionary change.

At the moment, that movement is embryonic. It needs to grow, and it needs to be acknowledged that electoralism isn’t an accompaniment to that but a competitor for time and resources.