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Why don't anarchists vote?

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Devrim's picture
Devrim
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May 29 2007 09:25
Why don't anarchists vote?

From another thread:

jeremytrewindixon wrote:
Devrim earlier:
Quote:
even the principle of abstentionism in bourgeois elections is beginning to be questioned in some quarters of NEFAC

Don't know that this really is a principle at all Devrim, shocking though this opinon may be to some. Its a pragmatic position, and like all pragmatic positions there may be exceptions and qualifications...."nuances" if you like. (And I do, its a great word. "Nuance" )

In fact I thinbk we should be suspicious wherever we hear the word "principle". Too often it is invoked whenever a position is too patently absurd to be rationally argued for (or when the invoker is his heart thinks the position is such even when it may not be, or when the invoker is mentally lazy). Such invocations are unlikely to convince anyone.

Bernard Shaw, that witty old illuminatus, remarked that when stupid people are doing something they are ashamed of, they always say they are doing their duty. One could develop a similar epigram about principle; something like when smart people are behaving stupidly they always say they are acting on principle.

Which is not to say there is no such thing as principle, nor for that matter that there is no such thing as duty.

I know this is a bit off the overt subject of the thread but it touches on relevant foundational issues.

Somebody from NEFAC was questioning abstentionism, in another thread. Jeremy says that he doesn't really know if 'this really is a principle at all'.

When elections, and the BNP are discussed, someone will advocate voting to keep them out.

So why don't anarchists vote? For the communist left the issue is clear. No factions of the bourgeoisie are progressive, and there can be no permenant, real reforms. I get the feeling though that anarchists may have different reasons.

Devrim

ticking_fool
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May 29 2007 09:29

I think there's often a touch of 'not in my name' about abstaining from elections.

Mike Harman
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May 29 2007 09:35
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No factions of the bourgeoisie are progressive, and there can be no permanant, real reforms.

Well I agree with that. Although the permanence or otherwise of reforms I think is down at least as much to militancy as capitalist whim, in that sense nothing is permanent though.

Who said they'd vote to keep the BNP out? I must have missed that one. Even on pragmatic terms that's pretty stupid - Labour are far more efficient at bringing in anti-working class measures than the BNP ever will be.

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thugarchist
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May 29 2007 09:36

Those nefacers are some sorry ass anarchists.

Mike Harman
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May 29 2007 09:40
Jack wrote:
But it's also the reason I don't give the slightest shit if someone votes or not.

Have to say in general terms, I also think "don't vote" campaigns are a waste of time. If you're clear about not voting because

Quote:
No factions of the bourgeoisie are progressive

, then it shouldn't be reduced to the kind of moral arguments you hear sometimes (and yes, mainly from anarchists).

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May 29 2007 10:11

I agree with Jeremy. Especially when he says this:

Quote:
In fact I thinbk we should be suspicious wherever we hear the word "principle". Too often it is invoked whenever a position is too patently absurd to be rationally argued for (or when the invoker is his heart thinks the position is such even when it may not be, or when the invoker is mentally lazy). Such invocations are unlikely to convince anyone.

in fact no I agree with all of it. I was going to bring this up on a nationalism thread where you used anarchist parliamentary abstentionism as a parrellel with left communist errr national liberation abstentionism.

Its a question of pragmatics. Based on a materialist analysis how do we help our class advance from here. I'm not that interested in 'principles'.

Also disagree with this:

Devrim wrote:
there can be no permenant, real reforms.

Once again, decadence theory is full of shit.

Terry
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May 29 2007 10:21

The Anarchist argument against electoralism that I'm familar with goes...

(1) An electoral strategy encourages people to see a solution to their problems as residing outside of themselves or their co-workers or neighbours, e.g. a shining white knight in parliament, that is indirect, as opposed to direct, action.

(2) It encourages the idea that the system works, ie that you are free to vote someone into parliament to solve the problem.

(3) The electoral game is a game of getting more votes, therefore radical groups going down that path invariably end up diluting their politics to get more votes.

(4) Also radical groups taking the parliamentary path end up having some people in their ranks promoted into a de facto leadership - the parliamentarians, whose position, and whose high profile, makes them unaccountable.

Quote:
No factions of the bourgeoisie are progressive

I'm not sure where that comes into it. Well yes I suppose with voting Kerry rather than Bush.

However the typical left argument for electoralism I come across is -

(1) Participating in elections or going into parliament is for a platform, a form of propaganda, a Socialist Party member of parliament isn't gonna vote for the government so it is not a matter of 'factions of the bourgeoisie'.

(2) It can be a means to put pressure on the government, ie if they think they will loose a seat or two over a particular issue they are more likely to back down on it.

I don't see how

Quote:
No factions of the bourgeoisie are progressive, and there can be no permenant, real reforms.

would preclude an electoral strategy based on either of those arguments.

The point of 'don't vote' campaigns is simply to make propaganda. It is not that there is a point to not voting.

posi
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May 29 2007 10:45

Good post Terry.

Devrim wrote:
No factions of the bourgeoisie are progressive, and there can be no permenant, real reforms.

Nothing is permanent - why is something not being permanent a criticism of achieving it? Obviously any reforms that really happen are, in the most obvious sense of the term... real. What different definition of 'real' is at work here? If reforms (however temporarily) ameliorate the suffering of the class, or increase its opportunities to organise, these are real gains (unless, obviously, one cares nothing about the suffering or organisation of the class).

And I'm not sure what 'progressive' means here...

I imagine what you’re saying is that it is the position of the communists that the working class should demand ‘permanent, real’ reforms – i.e. a revolution. But it’s unclear why not voting will make a revolution less likely, or imminent, especially in the present climate. Or even why you think it’s impossible to adopt a subject-position which is in favour of both voting and social revolution. (i.e. I don't think point (1) in Terry's Anarchist argument need hold at all for voting, and possibly doesn't even necessarily hold for organisations which seek votes as part of a broader political strategy. After all, I vote, and I believe in no Shining White Knights who'll save us from on high. And if I can believe this, I assume others are capable of it too.)

Mike Harman wrote:
Who said they'd vote to keep the BNP out?

I would - though as we all know, I'm not an anarchist. And plenty of other people when the discussion came up. Lazy Riser systematically votes Labour, IIRC, on the grouds that it's likely to leave his area better off. If I lived in Hackney, I'd vote Hackney Independent.

It seems to me that the Left Communists are the best anarchists…

Mike Harman
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May 29 2007 11:26
georgestapleton wrote:
Also disagree with this:
Devrim wrote:
there can be no permenant, real reforms.

Once again, decadence theory is full of shit.

I don't think this is anything to do with decadence theory, or at least not DecadenceTM Theory.

Please name a permanent, real reform.

Ones I can think of are the eight hour day (oops), NHS (oops), council housing (oops), final salary pensions (oops). All reforms are contingent.

Mike Harman
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May 29 2007 11:37
posi wrote:
Mike Harman wrote:
Who said they'd vote to keep the BNP out?

I would - though as we all know, I'm not an anarchist.

Why though? I think New Labour (let alone the Tories) have at least as tough a stance on immigration etc., they've encouraged segregated schooling etc. etc., and they're actually in power and carrying these out whereas the BNP at best gets a bit of media attention. AFAIK most BNP councillors, when elected, haven't lasted long due to generally having no interest in day-to-day council activities. So all that tactical voting against them (would you vote Tory if that was the choice?) does is give another anti-working class, nationalist party a bigger majority.

Quote:
If I lived in Hackney, I'd vote Hackney Independent.

Well I helped out with Hackney Independent for about a year, and I wouldn't - I think they've done some good things but running for elections is at best a distraction from that and at worst undermines it.

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May 29 2007 11:44

Yeah obviousl society isn't static and every reform can be reversed, but I don't think that was devrims point his point was that

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No factions of the bourgeoisie are progressive, and there can be no permenant, real reforms.

I don't think this was a point about the permanence of working clas victories. If it was I don't see the relevance of it. I think it was an argument that no faction of the bourgeoisie will acceed real reforms to the working class because no factions of the bourgeoisie are progressive. I'm sure Devrim would accept that there was a time in history that the bourgeoisie was 'progressive', but not now. Because in one word or another capitalism has become decadent. This is bullshit.

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May 29 2007 11:46
Mike Harman wrote:
running for elections is at best a distraction from that and at worst undermines it.

pretty much my thoughts

Mike Harman
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May 29 2007 11:48
Quote:
I think it was an argument that no faction of the bourgeoisie will acceed real reforms to the working class because no factions of the bourgeoisie are progressive. I'm sure Devrim would accept that there was a time in history that the bourgeoisie was 'progressive', but not now. Because in one word or another capitalism has become decadent. This is bullshit.

I personally don't think any factions of the bourgeoisie have been progressive at any point, not in any real sense. Yes reforms were granted but always as concessions to class conflict or the threat of it. I also think you're getting Devrim confused with the ICC

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May 29 2007 11:54
georgestapleton wrote:
I'm sure Devrim would accept that there was a time in history that the bourgeoisie was 'progressive', but not now. Because in one word or another capitalism has become decadent. This is bullshit.

I have never written here, or anywhere else that "there was a time in history that the bourgeoisie was 'progressive'".

If you had actually read anything that I had written on this issue, you would know that I have deep reservations about this idea.

Devrim

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May 29 2007 11:59

I have read a lot of what you've written on this issue. And yeah you have reservations but you take the idea seriously and its ridiculous.

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Devrim
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May 29 2007 12:03
georgestapleton wrote:
I have read a lot of what you've written on this issue. And yeah you have reservations but you take the idea seriously and its ridiculous.

Yes, I do take it seriously. You may feel that it is ridiculous. I think that it is a coherent system. I don't agree with it though, and have certainly never talked about "there [being a time in history that the bourgeoisie was 'progressive'".

Devrim

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May 29 2007 12:07

Do you think that there never was a period when the bourgeoisie was 'progressive'? If not then how are you using the term progressive when you write:

Quote:
No factions of the bourgeoisie are progressive, and there can be no permenant, real reforms.
posi
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May 29 2007 12:13
Mike Harman wrote:
Why though? I think New Labour (let alone the Tories) have at least as tough a stance on immigration etc., they've encouraged segregated schooling etc. etc., and they're actually in power and carrying these out whereas the BNP at best gets a bit of media attention. AFAIK most BNP councillors, when elected, haven't lasted long due to generally having no interest in day-to-day council activities. So all that tactical voting against them (would you vote Tory if that was the choice?) does is give another anti-working class, nationalist party a bigger majority.

New Labour may be bad, but as tough a stance on immigration as the BNP? I just don't think that's true. I think that Labour/Tory/BNP, whatever the rhetoric, do still represent very different political tendencies... I think you'd struggle to compare BNP and Laboru immigration policies and identify them. Not least because the BNP's immigration policies are driven by a critique of the status quo. Margaret hodge may be a scumbag. her housing comments were endorsed by the BNP - but they were reviled and condemned by the large part of the parliamentary Labour Party.

Are you sure that New Labour have encouraged segregated schooling? I don't know, but this recent article tends to suggest that it's been driven by racist parents' "white flight": http://politics.guardian.co.uk/publicservices/story/0,,2089190,00.html

I would not vote Tory to keep the BNP out. Though I would consider it convenient for potential BNP voters to vote Tory instead, in such a situation. About Labour actually being in power... yes, but the whole question is whether your vote would be part of an effort to keep the BNP out of power. Also, in giving an individual candidate a bigger majority, you don't give the government as a whole as a bigger majority (though in general I am in favour of MPs having small majorities, because it keeps 'em on their toes).

BNP councillors, ratchet up local working class division along ethnic lines a whole big step further than Labour.

Umm, actually, I think the question of the BNP is a marginal distraction from the real debate - they aren't a significant issue in most places. In the absence of a left alternative (not including RESPECT) I'd vote Labour to keep Tories out (unless it was a particularly disgusting Labour person). I'd vote, for instance, for the SP if I got the chance. Crude as they are, it's good for Labour to see votes bleeding to its left.

Mike Harman wrote:
Well I helped out with Hackney Independent for about a year, and I wouldn't - I think they've done some good things but running for elections is at best a distraction from that and at worst undermines it.

That would not be a reason not to vote for them. It would be a reason to encourage them to, or yourself only, focus on other stuff.

georgestapleton wrote:
I don't think this was a point about the permanence of working clas victories. If it was I don't see the relevance of it. I think it was an argument that no faction of the bourgeoisie will acceed real reforms to the working class because no factions of the bourgeoisie are progressive. I'm sure Devrim would accept that there was a time in history that the bourgeoisie was 'progressive', but not now. Because in one word or another capitalism has become decadent. This is bullshit.

I take the point, but in that case what was the function of the word 'permanent' in his sentence - you don't give an alternate explanation? And I thought that Devrim didn't believe in decadence theory - he's EKS not ICC? Anyway, I'm sure he'll resolve that one!

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May 29 2007 12:18
Posi wrote:
BNP councillors, ratchet up local working class division along ethnic lines a whole big step further than Labour.

so it's a coincidence that after a decade of labour screwing the working class, far-right parties are making gains in the said-screwed areas? it's a bit like voting chum to keep out the sharks

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May 29 2007 12:22

It should probably be mentioned, just for balance's sake, that the local NEFAC group that includes the member who put his wondering about electoralism in writing actually did a big anti-electoralist campaign this past year...

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May 29 2007 12:23
posi wrote:
georgestapleton wrote:
I don't think this was a point about the permanence of working clas victories. If it was I don't see the relevance of it. I think it was an argument that no faction of the bourgeoisie will acceed real reforms to the working class because no factions of the bourgeoisie are progressive. I'm sure Devrim would accept that there was a time in history that the bourgeoisie was 'progressive', but not now. Because in one word or another capitalism has become decadent. This is bullshit.

I take the point, but in that case what was the function of the word 'permanent' in his sentence - you don't give an alternate explanation? And I thought that Devrim didn't believe in decadence theory - he's EKS not ICC? Anyway, I'm sure he'll resolve that one!

I presume catch is partially right about the function of the word 'permanent' in his sentence, but thats not the word I have a problem with. Its the sentence the word is in that I have a problem with and the idea that 'real' reforms are impossible. Its an absurd idea. In the context of left communist theory permanent reforms are impossible because no development from capitals decadent condition is possible short of communist revolution. This is absurd because history is not defined by abstract social forms and structures that are veered away from and returned to but by determinate social forms that are thrown up by the limits of class struggle.

posi
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May 29 2007 13:02
Joseph K. wrote:
so it's a coincidence that after a decade of labour screwing the working class, far-right parties are making gains in the said-screwed areas? it's a bit like voting chum to keep out the sharks

Right, I am only guessing at the meaning of the last sentence, I've never heard that before. But look, just because liberal governance has prepared the terrain for fascists doesn't at all imply that there's nothing worse about the fascists than the liberals... it doesn't imply that the development from liberalism to fascism is inevitable, or that we shouldn't seek to oppose the murmurings of any move in that direction. You don't deny my claim;

posi wrote:
BNP councillors, ratchet up local working class division along ethnic lines a whole big step further than Labour.

... you're just implying (but not actually saying - that would sound too implausible) that there's no important difference between fascists and liberals in terms of impact upon working class welfare and organisation. That's the question - is there such a difference? Yes!

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May 29 2007 13:37
Posi wrote:
You don't deny my claim;

"BNP councillors, ratchet up local working class division along ethnic lines a whole big step further than Labour."

i really don't know that's true, it certainly isn't self-evident - haven't BNP councillors mostly not bothered turning up then got kicked out asap next election? my point is that labour use the BNP to do their dirty work and say the things they can't say. labour want a low wage flexible economy, so they want migrants to work for cheap. migrants won't work for cheap if there's any kind of solidarity with the local working class, so a handy dose of racist divide and rule from the BNP, occasionally augmented by a cabinet minister works a treat.

the point is the BNP thrive on the very real material grievances suffered by the working class on labours watch, falsely saying it's the governments fault for giving all the money to immigrants. insofar as voting does anything, voting labour is simply perpetuating the situation, hence opting for chum (= shark bait) to keep away the sharks

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May 29 2007 13:41
Posi wrote:
... you're just implying (but not actually saying - that would sound too implausible) that there's no important difference between fascists and liberals in terms of impact upon working class welfare and organisation. That's the question - is there such a difference? Yes!

no i'm not, but where the BNP have got councillors i haven't seen jackboots and gas chambers. meanwhile the home secretary suspends haebus corpus, pushes through a mandatory internal passport, threatens a state of emergency etc etc. even in terms of lesser evilism its pretty mental to rank the BNP as more anti-working class than Blairs government, given as they are absolutely nowhere near any actual power

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May 29 2007 13:45
posi wrote:
BNP councillors, ratchet up local working class division along ethnic lines a whole big step further than Labour.

Honestly, I think this is bollocks.

"Working class division along ethnic lines" comes from concrete social conditions that are created by Labour (and the Tories and the Lib Dems and the whole fucking lot of them, but we're talking Labour here), by voting Labour, you're making things far worse.

It's not like BNP councillors fall from the moon and turn everybody in their ward into racists, they are in power as a result of ethnic tension, they don't create it.

lem
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May 29 2007 13:48
Quote:
I have read a lot of what you've written on this issue. And yeah you have reservations but you take the idea seriously and its ridiculous.

why?? because 'the falling rate of profit' hasn't worked out? I certainly don't theink rediculous is the right word, and its use shows a hint of dogmatism.

fwiw, i don't vote because i can't be bothered/was not really raised to care about politics beyond newspapers.

Mike Harman
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May 29 2007 13:50
posi wrote:
New Labour may be bad, but as tough a stance on immigration as the BNP?

Well I know my wife is having to sit the Life in the UK test and pay double for indefinite leave compared to April 1st, in practice Labour's policies are having a real negative effect on immigrants.

Quote:
Are you sure that New Labour have encouraged segregated schooling? I don't know, but this recent article tends to suggest that it's been driven by racist parents' "white flight": http://politics.guardian.co.uk/publicservices/story/0,,2089190,00.html

Foundation schools and city academies pave the way for it yes. Diane Abbott has suggested as much (becuase white teachers are all racist or something). I think there's been a backtrack though, Jack Straw et al.

Quote:
BNP councillors, ratchet up local working class division along ethnic lines a whole big step further than Labour.

I think the election of BNP councillors is often a result of division along ethnic lines caused by Labour via communitarian policies - the de facto segregated housing in some northern communities for example.

lem
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May 29 2007 14:01
Quote:
fwiw, i don't vote because i can't be bothered/was not really raised to care about politics beyond newspapers.

thought it may not be my place to say, i think that this demonstrates that communism is clearly understandable by people in their daily living as different to "politics".

Mike Harman
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May 29 2007 14:05
georgestapleton wrote:
I presume catch is partially right about the function of the word 'permanent' in his sentence

only partially??

Quote:
Its the sentence the word is in that I have a problem with and the idea that 'real' reforms are impossible. Its an absurd idea.

The words are together,"real, permament". I think some 'real' reforms can be won, but only on a very temporary and contingent basis, and probably only for very small numbers of people. Some reforms which aren't "real" (in terms of a real reform, and hence threat, to capital), might be permament though.

For example in the context of this thread, universal suffrage - it's a reform, I don't think it's going away any time soon (so quite permanent), but I don't think it's any threat to capital whatsoever - in fact to some extent it's been a prerequisite to stable, advanced capitalism. In fact there's plenty of bourgeios campaigns for the voting age to be reduced, presumably to try to head off some of the teenage disaffection with Politics.

Quote:
In the context of left communist theory permanent reforms are impossible because no development from capitals decadent condition is possible short of communist revolution. This is absurd because history is not defined by abstract social forms and structures that are veered away from and returned to but by determinate social forms that are thrown up by the limits of class struggle.

No, you're conflating "the ICC" with "left communism", I know they do that as well sometimes, but that's no excuse.

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May 29 2007 18:36

This has gone a long way from a discussion of elections....oh well no harm in that I suppose.

Mike Harman wrote:
georgestapleton wrote:
I presume catch is partially right about the function of the word 'permanent' in his sentence

only partially??

Yeah only partially because I think he used that term in a certain way that carries more meaning than it would if said by someone who was not a left communist sympathetic (albeit critically) to decadence theory.

Quote:
Quote:
Its the sentence the word is in that I have a problem with and the idea that 'real' reforms are impossible. Its an absurd idea.

The words are together,"real, permament". I think some 'real' reforms can be won, but only on a very temporary and contingent basis, and probably only for very small numbers of people. Some reforms which aren't "real" (in terms of a real reform, and hence threat, to capital), might be permament though.

For example in the context of this thread, universal suffrage - it's a reform, I don't think it's going away any time soon (so quite permanent), but I don't think it's any threat to capital whatsoever - in fact to some extent it's been a prerequisite to stable, advanced capitalism. In fact there's plenty of bourgeios campaigns for the voting age to be reduced, presumably to try to head off some of the teenage disaffection with Politics.

Yeah I think you're right here but its important not to see these reforms as being insignificant. Or as reforms to a monolothic transhistorical social form. Capital is a social relation only insofar as it is reproduced, and its reproduction involves the mutually antagonistic development of the bourgeosie and the proletariat. So although yes universal suffrage is a prerequisite to stable, advanced capitalism, at least as it exists in the west, and, in a manner, is not a threat to capital. However, in another manner it is, in that it is a 'prerequisite to stable, advanced capitalism', and is therefore a restraint of the development of the bourgeosie's interests, i.e. the bourgeois state is dependent on the acquiescence of the proletariat in a manner which was not the case prior to this reform.

Essentially what I'm getting at is that although these 'reforms' can obviously be lost, to treat them as insignificant is absurd. Capital today, viewed as a totalizing social form, is very different to what it was in 1500, in 1600, in 1700, in 1800, and in 1900. And to simple dismiss the significant improvement and empowering of proletarians over that time is absurd and only makes sense in the bizarre ideology of left communist cultism.

Quote:
Quote:
In the context of left communist theory permanent reforms are impossible because no development from capitals decadent condition is possible short of communist revolution. This is absurd because history is not defined by abstract social forms and structures that are veered away from and returned to but by determinate social forms that are thrown up by the limits of class struggle.

No, you're conflating "the ICC" with "left communism", I know they do that as well sometimes, but that's no excuse.

I suppose you are right, but left communist on these forums refers to the IBRT, the ICC, EKS and a few other indivduals. Indeed left communism in the anglo-phone world refers to both a significant noble and heroic movement in the history of the working class's struggle for anarchist communism and to those who claim the legacy of those struggles who are almost invariably quacks. So in the above quote I am referring not to gorter, ruhle, pannekoek or even bordiga, but rather to left-communism as it exists today.

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May 29 2007 19:07

Agree with Posi's first post on this. But then I'm not an anarchist either.
The responses to Posi's post have been really shit - people pointing out that Labours policies are anti-working class, as if he was claiming otherwise.
All political parties are the enemy, but they dont (quite yet) all have identical policies. Some of these policy differences have effects for the working class. Voting gives the working class some influence over which policies get put into effect. This has some limited uses. Thats all.

The only real argument against voting is that it can lead to people forming some kind of irrational attachment to the ruling class faction they voted for. I dont have this problem myself -if other people feel that voting might affect them in this way, then yeah they are probably better off staying away from the ballot box. ( I'm not being entirely facetious there - obviously psychological attachment to political parties has been a real problem for a lot of people in the past. But I think this is because they werent sure that these political parties really where their enemies to begin with. No doubt voting could further confuse things for those already confused. )

To be honest I think this question really comes down to whether you approach it as an individual, or as an educator of the workers who thinks its safer to hold up simple principles for people than to trust them to deal with a complex reality. ( But if you belong to the second group, who do you find is listening to you these days anyway?)