Why anarchists don't vote - Elisée Reclus

Why anarchists don't vote - Elisée Reclus

An essay explaining why anarchists don't vote written by renowned French geographer, writer and anarchist Elisée Reclus in 1885.

Everything that can be said about the suffrage may be summed up in a sentence.

To vote is to give up your own power.

To elect a master or many, for a long or short time, is to resign one's liberty.

Call it an absolute monarch, a constitutional king, or a simple M.P., the candidate that you raise to the throne, to the seat, or to the easy chair, he will always be your master. They are persons that you put “above” the law, since they have the power of making the laws, and because it is their mission to see that they are obeyed.

To vote is befitting of idiots.

It is as foolish as believing that men, of the same make as ourselves, will acquire in a moment, at the ringing of a bell, the knowledge and the understanding of everything. Of course it is so. Your elected person shall have to legislate on every subject under the moon; how a box of matches should or should not be made, or how to make war; how to improve the agriculture, or how best to kill a tribe of Arabs or a few Negroes. Probably you believe that their intelligence will grow in proportion to the variety of subjects they have to give their minds to; but history and experience teaches otherwise.

The possession of power has a maddening influence; parliaments have always wrought unhappiness.

In ruling assemblies, in a fatal manner, the will prevails of those below the average, both morally and intellectually.

To vote is to prepare shameful treachery and traitors.

Electors do certainly believe in the honesty of the candidates, and this is to a certain extent existing while the fervor and the heat of the contest remains.

But every day has its to-morrow. As soon as the conditions alter, likewise do men change. To-day your candidate bows humbly before your presence; to-morrow he will say “pish” to you. From a cadger of votes he has turned to be a master of yours.

How can a worker, enrolled by you amongst the ruling class, be the same as before, since now he can speak in terms of equality with the other oppressors? Look at the servility of any one of them, written all over his face, after paying a call to a “captain of industry,” or when the King invites him to the ante-chamber of his court!

The atmosphere of the “House” is not for deep breathing; it is corrupt. If you send one of yourselves in a foul place, you must not be surprised afterwards if he comes back in a rotten condition.

Therefore, do not part with your freedom.

Don't vote!

Instead of intrusting the defence of your interests to Others, see to the matter by yourselves. Instead of trying to choose advisers that will guide you in future actions, do the thing yourselves, and do it now! Men of good will shall not have to look long in vain for the opportunity.

To put on others' shoulders the responsibility of one's actions is cowardice.

Don't vote!

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Posted By

GrouchoMarxist
Apr 26 2012 22:15

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  • Instead of intrusting the defence of your interests to Others, see to the matter by yourselves.

    Elisée Reclus

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Comments

Jacques Roux
May 22 2014 09:36

Although this piece is timeless - obviously more interesting with a date, Marxists IA has it as "September 26, 1885".

jimsnopes
May 22 2014 13:26

Just looking out the window to see if the rain had stopped so I could walk round to the local polling station to vote in the European Parliament elections. We have a Green Party candidate too! Then I read this. Think I might stay at home now. It makes so much sense.

Rhianima
May 23 2014 08:37

All very well argued, but a bit redundant when, if you step back, you're essentially letting the fringe crazies have more voting power.

We're in this weird (and not unrelated) situation where apathy for politics is at an all time high, but this actually allows the extremists more heft, which makes it even more important to vote than ever before.

We might not like the mainstreamers, but I'd rather see them in charge (and business as usual) rather than something considerably worse. Jimsnopes was going to vote Green and (perhaps) on the strength of this article, decided not to.

That's one vote less for a legitimate, well-thought-out manifesto. This translates to one vote less against Britain First, the BNP and UKIP.

The system is flawed, yes.

But refusing to work within it (as well as outside) just stores up trouble. Voting doesn't take much effort. You can vote and still organise and still agitate and still protest.

If a neo-fascist party, or a party will no grasp of how to do their damn job (like UKIP, who are fighting on the strength of "giving Britain a voice" - by refusing to attend international meetings and thereby robbing Britain of a voice) get in, then it's also fault of apathetic non-voters and ideological abstaining mutterers as well as the people who voted them in.

If you really don't like any of the above, spoil your ballot or vote blank. Register your discontent. Nobody does their cause any good by sitting at home and feeling smug for bowing out.

orkhis
May 23 2014 13:59

So "it aint perfect, but vote for someone to keep the *real* nasties out".

Got to admit, I hadn't heard that one before. Clearly Reclus hadn't either.

Noah Fence
May 23 2014 14:08
Rhianima wrote:
All very well argued, but a bit redundant when, if you step back, you're essentially letting the fringe crazies have more voting power.

We're in this weird (and not unrelated) situation where apathy for politics is at an all time high, but this actually allows the extremists more heft, which makes it even more important to vote than ever before.

We might not like the mainstreamers, but I'd rather see them in charge (and business as usual) rather than something considerably worse. Jimsnopes was going to vote Green and (perhaps) on the strength of this article, decided not to.

That's one vote less for a legitimate, well-thought-out manifesto. This translates to one vote less against Britain First, the BNP and UKIP.

The system is flawed, yes.

But refusing to work within it (as well as outside) just stores up trouble. Voting doesn't take much effort. You can vote and still organise and still agitate and still protest.

If a neo-fascist party, or a party will no grasp of how to do their damn job (like UKIP, who are fighting on the strength of "giving Britain a voice" - by refusing to attend international meetings and thereby robbing Britain of a voice) get in, then it's also fault of apathetic non-voters and ideological abstaining mutterers as well as the people who voted them in.

If you really don't like any of the above, spoil your ballot or vote blank. Register your discontent. Nobody does their cause any good by sitting at home and feeling smug for bowing out.

COMPLETE AND UTTER BOLLOCKS.

Khawaga
May 23 2014 23:27

Yup bollocks, absolute bollocks.

Mlsm
May 24 2014 13:34

I think to vote or not to vote is only a tactic question. I think by voting it's impossible to override the current system, but in some cases this action may help the class struggle: we can remember tha Spanish Revolution, in whom many members of the CNT voted for the Popular Front.
I'm going to not vote in this european elections because of contingent reasons about my country (Italy). Abstention is not a dogma, as libertarian comunist nothing is a dogma.
ciao!

Tyrion
May 24 2014 17:56

Given that the Popular Front destroyed the Spanish Revolution, I'm not sure how CNTistas voting for it is supposed to have aided in class struggle.

Black Badger
May 24 2014 18:23

Just to be clear: the CNT did not engage in an abstentionist campaign in the run up to the February 1936 elections because their influential militants decided that the Popular Front's prominent inclusion in their platform of an amnesty for the ten thousand political prisoners left over from the aborted 1934 insurrection outweighed their usual stance. Voting in that election was not officially encouraged -- and certainly was not understood as a blow for class struggle -- it was just not officially discouraged.

Auld-bod
May 25 2014 05:45

Tyrion:

‘Given that the Popular Front destroyed the Spanish Revolution, I'm not sure how CNTistas voting for it is supposed to have aided in class struggle.’

I find this logic a wee bit too deterministic for my taste.
It’s like a row of dominoes: the CNT doesn’t abstain from voting, so the Republican government is elected, provoking the military uprising, resisted by the workers and sparking the revolution, which is then suppressed by the popular front.
Is not the implication of this that the CNT by not abstaining committed some form of hara-kiri?

If only living was as simple as the 20-20 vision seen in the back mirror.

Noah Fence
May 26 2014 08:52

So now UKIP have smashed it in the European elections and it's all Groucho Marxists fault - tricking jimsnopes in to staying in out of the rain when duty was calling. To think that if it wasn't for this article there could have been an extra vote registered for the Greens, the party that can be credited with one of the most amazing feats in political history, namely that they became even worse AFTER they gave David Icke the Spanish archer!!!
Reclus, Marxist and snopes, I hope you're all thoroughly ashamed of yourselves.

Reddebrek
May 30 2014 20:35
Rhianima wrote:
All very well argued, but a bit redundant when, if you step back, you're essentially letting the fringe crazies have more voting power.

We're in this weird (and not unrelated) situation where apathy for politics is at an all time high, but this actually allows the extremists more heft, which makes it even more important to vote than ever before.

We might not like the mainstreamers, but I'd rather see them in charge (and business as usual) rather than something considerably worse. Jimsnopes was going to vote Green and (perhaps) on the strength of this article, decided not to.

That's one vote less for a legitimate, well-thought-out manifesto. This translates to one vote less against Britain First, the BNP and UKIP.

Sorry but even forgetting principles and ideology the above is complete politics since that isn't how the electoral system works. For a party (any party) to be electorally viable it needs a lot of members, sources of funding and an organising with a strategy to mobilise its members and sympathisers.

So if a Fascist party is becoming a major electoral force, then voting is still irrelevant because it ignores the much greater danger of that party's rise. Which would be the size and activities of its members. Even if you could somehow vote them out at the next election that would be meaningless without tackling the party itself as a physical threat.

Quote:
The system is flawed, yes.

But refusing to work within it (as well as outside) just stores up trouble. Voting doesn't take much effort. You can vote and still organise and still agitate and still protest.

But then in your ideal scenario we'd all be busying working against the people we just helped put into power to do the very things we are now busy opposing.

Quote:
If a neo-fascist party, or a party will no grasp of how to do their damn job (like UKIP, who are fighting on the strength of "giving Britain a voice" - by refusing to attend international meetings and thereby robbing Britain of a voice) get in, then it's also fault of apathetic non-voters and ideological abstaining mutterers as well as the people who voted them in.

No it will be the fault of people who only do things once every five years.

Quote:
If you really don't like any of the above, spoil your ballot or vote blank. Register your discontent. Nobody does their cause any good by sitting at home and feeling smug for bowing out.

???? So in conclusion not voting is bad, but by spoiling ballots and thus not voting is somehow much better because we are also wasting paper?

Reddebrek
May 31 2014 09:38

DP

Spikymike
May 31 2014 12:55

Most working class people tend to vote these days if at all on the basis of what they consider to be 'the lesser evil' and, I suspect, in an intuitive understanding of their weakness as individuals to have any real impact on their social circumstance through the electoral system. It's not up to anarchists and communists in my opinion to disabuse them of this but to encourage independent collective action in our own interests wherever we can, irrespective of whether some of us occassionaly vote or not on much the same basis as the rest of our class.

But compare and contrast the abstract moral arguments around the issue with for instance the reality in dire circumstances of Greece here:

http://libcom.org/blog/election-developments-greece-30052014

Since I'm sure some anarchists and communists will have voted in these elections they don't combined make up the 40% of non-voters even in a compulsory voting system!