Abstention: A Class Response to Capitalist Elections

By abstaining from bourgeois electoral politics and building our own revolutionary organizations we are best placed to build our own political forces up to take advantage of the political crisis of bourgeois rule that manifests itself in disaffection from the ruling parties. For workers, elections are an exercise of ritual humiliation perpetrated upon them by those who exploit them.

Submitted by Internationali… on September 12, 2019

Since certain media forums have taken it upon themselves to censor calls for abstention in the next presidential election1 , we take upon ourselves the task of calling for abstention in the next election. The true decision making processes in any state today do not lie in the hands of representatives of the people. The true power isn't located in the halls of congress or the oval office; it is found in the machinery behind the office.

Participation in elections legitimizes the capitalist ideology behind them. Even the "revolutionary parliamentarism" of Lenin was primarily aimed at delegitimizing the Czar's Duma. The activity of radical reformists who exist to draw people into support for a ruling political party lends both legitimacy to the reactionary capitalist clique they support but it also leads to the demoralization of those who are drawn into it.

The bourgeoisie collectively picks out who gets on the ballot, who gets to run in the election. Then they demand that everyone vote for their parties on their terms. While citizens vote on the basis of who might be regarded as the least evil liar on the ballot. To call for abstention from the political theater of our ruling class actually does threaten some capitalists after all, given that a major social media enterprise saw fit to ban such political speech.

The reasons for this reaction are found in the political competition between the two factions at the helm of the American state that is so fierce that it has impressed a need for a consensus on greater censorship on the part of the ruling class. It is a reaction to a perceived loss of control of the political script during the last presidential election where masses of people failed to go vote for another Clinton.

In contrast to this we have examples of workers' democracy from the Paris Commune to the St. Petersburg Soviet. This was proletarian democracy with recallable delegates that operate on the basis of fulfilling a mandate rather than being a political time server occupying a post in an oligarchical capitalist political formation. Workers' democracy is a "dictatorship" in the sense that it must systematically exclude the bourgeoisie from power. For the capitalists, any form of social organization from which they are excluded will be seen as a dictatorship.

The rise of the political machinery of capitalism, its political parties comes along with formation of police departments and the rise of nationalism in the nineteenth century. During the revolutions of the enlightenment being a man "of party" meant one who puts the good of one's own political faction above that of the people. Prior to the French Revolution this meant siding with one faction of the old aristocracy or another. The loose political formations of immediately after the American revolution, with its Whigs and Republican-Democrats, hardly constituted the same rigid political structures that had come clearly into being by the late nineteenth century. Despite this, a segment of the political left of capital would have us believe that one can just enter into the oldest political vote-getting machine of any bourgeois republic and alter its course towards the formation of a mass party. This comes with the ideological bullying that they direct against any political formation that maintains political autonomy from that apparatus. In this the true sectarians level the charge of sectarian upon any manifestation of political autonomy.

When workers abstain from voting it is not because revolutionaries were writing tracts against participating in the bourgeois political theater of a capitalist election. It is because they are disconnected from any personal political leanings and alienated entirely from the process. This manifests in apathy and disaffection. It could be seen as a defensive mechanism on the part of workers who are under intensive ideological assault. We go further than to call for people to abstain. We call on workers to take up the struggle against their ruling class using their own means on their own social terrain.

What drives the censorship of expression on the dominant medium of the internet is a desire to constrain political expression to a polling place that offers two flavors of capitalist and everyone can vote for the bourgeois warmonger of their choice. The fact of this restriction of political expression means that someone finds this proscribed abstentionist rhetoric threatening. In the past such rhetoric was tolerated and ignored. The bourgeois crisis drives the loss of control over the script. While forging off into a future of endless accumulation the bourgeoisie has been creating its own antithesis as a response to their collective actions.

A campaign of xenophobia has been perpetrated on workers within the American republic. It seeks to attack all dissent and social protest as being inspired by a rival imperialist power. This isn't anything new though it represents a synthesis of all the means and methods the bourgeoisie has historically used in its previous marches towards imperialist war. It builds a case for war abroad while increasing political censorship and repression at home. We have seen every social movement of the last ten years be said to have been the product of divisions sown by a certain opponent on the imperialist world stage. If you don't like getting shot by the police it is because you were duped by country "X". If you are tired of war, it must be the fault of country "Y".

We know these divisions were always there. All nations, all ethnic national groupings, all identities are divided by class. Bourgeois ideologues attempt to obscure these class distinctions but in the end class divisions run far too deep to erase, even for their identity politics. The two dominant groupings of capitalist in the US, the donkeys and the elephants, both confront a political crisis of faith in the ranks of their citizenry in differing but equally reactionary ways. What has changed is that some people, in control of a large social media machine, have singled out all calls for abstention from the next elections as forbidden speech.

Any vote in the US election legitimizes the imperialist war machine as both the ruling wings of the bourgeois executive are wholly dedicated to the expansion and maintenance of their class interests abroad. That is to say they are devoted to a situation of permanent war that eventually will result in a conflict breaking out between core capitalist states. We call on workers to drop this pretense of democratic choice and show this system for what it is; picking who runs the executive committee for the resolution of the political affairs of the bourgeoisie.2

Political abstention represents a break from the ideological control of the ruling capitalist factions. For the class to start becoming conscious of itself as a class for itself3 a political break is the first start. Eugene V. Debs didn't become politically "relevant" by joining the Democratic Party, rather he left it. Indeed his early participation in it he came to regard as a source of personal shame, particularly in the bloody wake of the Pullman Strike. Nor did the early Bolsheviks enter into the Duma with the aim of reforming the Czarist police state. They used what positions they had to denounce support for imperialist war and used the platform to denounce the bourgeois regime. Our "Democratic Socialists of America" whose name is a relic of the Cold War, and whose support for imperialist war is well documented, would have us all on our knees in the oldest capitalist political party in the world. The DSA is the end product of the destruction of American social-democracy in its final collapse into the party of capitalism and imperialist war. They would stare into an open grave and tell you it is a cradle.

By abstaining from bourgeois electoral politics and building our own revolutionary organizations we are best placed to build our own political forces up to take advantage of the political crisis of bourgeois rule that manifests itself in disaffection from the ruling parties. For workers, elections are an exercise of ritual humiliation perpetrated upon them by those who exploit them. When the liberals cry out that workers aren't voting in their own interests, we point out that there is no way for workers interests to be represented in any capitalist election.

Boycott the bourgeois election!


  • 1Clymore, A. Facebook will ban ads that tell people in U.S. not to vote. Reuters. June 30, 2019. reuters.com
  • 2From the first chapter of the Communist Manifesto: "The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie." - Marx
  • 3 From the Poverty of Philosophy: "This mass is thus already a class as against capital, but not yet for itself." - Marx