People died for your right, not your obligation

2014 and 2015 are, in a row, two big years for electoralism. I'm already fed up with it.

Submitted by Phil on January 22, 2014

This year, there will be a referendum on Scottish Independence. Next year, there will be a UK general election. Both of these events are the source of considerable hope and excitement on the left, because either or both offer the opportunity for change.

As I've detailed more than once before, I've got no time for electoralism. Primarily because the whole ritual is focused on choosing who gets the run of the state, and no matter who that is running the state means managing capitalism, maintaining the existing social order and serving the 'national interest' of the ruling class. This is the case no matter where your parliament is, which state you're talking about or which party is in power. But, we'll be told, the problem is actually just 'the Tories,' 'the big three,' or 'Westminster' and if only we get different people in doing the same thing then it'll all be just awesome.

It's all bollocks, of course. The Labour Party in power has always served the needs of the state and capital as readily as the Tories, and if you stick the Greens, TUSC, Left Unity or anybody else in there they'll do exactly the same. Without an empire, the British state is no more significant than any other state, and to believe that an independent Scottish state will do anything other than act like a state is naive. Austerity, capitalism and the class system prevail far beyond the borders of the UK in the hands of parties from across the entirety of the political spectrum. They cannot be voted away.

Not only that, but in jockeying for the chance to manage capitalism, all of the working class activists, socialists and so on wrapped up in electoral projects represent a huge diversion of time, energy and money from anything effective in terms of class struggle and forcing concessions from those in charge. Namely, direct action.

Faced with all this, the electoralist's last trump card in arguing why you should vote comes down to cheap moralism. 'People died for your right to vote,' so it's the least you can do. Owen Jones employs this today, after laying out the reasons that most people don't vote in an attempt to lay out why maybe they should. He thinks "the vote is a potentially powerful weapon, won at great sacrifice, which is why the wealthiest have done everything they can to diminish its importance."

Now, it's true that it was won at great sacrifice. The Peterloo Massacre occurred when the Duke of Wellington ordered cavalry to charge on men and women demanding representation in parliament. People did die fighting for the right to vote, as trite as that phrase has become.

However, the first point is that people died fighting for a right. They were killed so that suffrage would be extended, not so that it would become compulsory or an obligation.

The second is that they fought for this because it was a step up from what went before. The vote is a powerful thing when won from a tyranny, because it cements the reforms won through struggle - namely, the ability to choose a leader rather than be stuck with a despot. But this is not the best possible form of societal organisation, and in a liberal democracy there is no autocratic ruler to thumb our nose at with a vote.

In these two years, we will hear no end of why should vote, and why we should vote for this or that. We will be told that we ought to because our right to choose our leaders was hard won. But our right to live without leaders will be harder won, and we'll never get there as long as we busy ourselves picking between them.


Biffard Misqueegan

10 years 4 months ago

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Submitted by Biffard Misqueegan on January 23, 2014

"People died" installing most of the Britain's feudal aristocracies over the centuries.. Surely lives sacrificed doesn't equal legitimacy? If so, Im pretty sure NAZI Germany would have a monopoly on legitimacy.


10 years 4 months ago

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Submitted by hellfrozeover on January 24, 2014

I'm going to plug this article here, cos I still think it's good and didn't turn up in the "more like this sidebar" for me: