The 'lesser of two evils' argument for voting

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light emitting diode
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Jun 5 2015 16:09
The 'lesser of two evils' argument for voting

An argument often employed in favour of voting in elections is, you may not like any of the options, but you should vote for the 'lesser of two (or several) evils' As far as I know anarchists rubbish this argument and advocate abstaining from all elections. But is this justified?

Take for example, the last UK general election, and Labour's manifesto. Of course I am no labour supporter and I realise they are part of the problem as much as any other political party, but the fact remains that they made several key promises, which, if implemented, could have a not inconsequential effect on people's lives. For example, repealing the bedroom tax, dropping student fees to £6000, the energy price freeze, rent controls etc. Now of course I know the standard libertarian response to this is that there is no guarantee they would actually implement these promises, which is true. But I fail to see that this is a persuasive argument for not voting. Say you voted Labour at the last election and they got in- best case scenario, they implement these changes which would have a positive affect on many working people's lives. Worst case scenario, they don't implement them, and the status quo remains. Nothing has been lost. I fail to see what harm voting would do in this scenario? Can anyone tell me why I'm wrong?

You can come up with tons of hypothetical scenarios that are similar to the above. One party supports banning abortion, the other supports legalising it. One party supports decriminalising homosexuality, another supports banning it etc etc. These are things that have very big impacts on people's lives, and shouldn't be dismissed. The way I see it, if you vote for the party that would help you out, the worst case scenario is nothing changes.

I should say I'm not an anarchist or libertarian but I'm slowly being won around to that point of view. I just have a few reservations that I still need answering before I'll feel able to fully accept anarchist/libertarian communism.

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Soapy
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Jun 5 2015 16:43

I don't think there is a single thing that all anarchists think on this topic.

My own personal opinion is you can do whatever you like, vote or not, it doesn't matter because there are so few of us anyway and wasting time arguing over it is pointless. Again, just my personal opinion.

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Noah Fence
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Jun 5 2015 16:47

http://libcom.org/blog/electoralism-or-class-struggle-01032015

You should find some good answers there LED.

Personally, just the idea of giving it credibility by taking part is enough to stop me.

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plasmatelly
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Jun 5 2015 16:54

The problem isn't with following this lesser of two evils approach - for libcommers it would be advocating support for the capitalist system by asking others to vote, whilst weakening our own arguments against the very system we are asking others prop up.
Personally I would have preferred Labour to the Tories - its incidental that I didn't vote, but it's important that anarchists, etc aren't seen to try and cut it both ways (heed ye, SPGB and Class War!).

light emitting diode
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Jun 5 2015 17:51

Thanks for the link webby, the 'active abstention is not the answer either' section was particularly illuminating smile

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Noah Fence
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Jun 5 2015 20:18
light emitting diode wrote:
Thanks for the link webby, the 'active abstention is not the answer either' section was particularly illuminating :)

No problem. This is probably my favourite article on Libcom addressing this issue;

http://libcom.org/blog/dear-messrs-webb-lustig%E2%80%A6-01112013

The comment thread is well worth a read too.

Scallywag
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Jun 5 2015 20:26

I don't think there is any logic behind this argument, and the only reason people keep bringing it up I think is due to feelings of powerlessness and that we are not doing enough.

But lets imagine that we did consider voting as a tactic to keep out the lesser of two evils who then should we vote for?

I don't think there is any single party which would benefit all of us, some might stand to benefit and others would lose, electoral politics is designed to split us apart and pit us against each other based on things like age and ethnicity so I don't think its possible for us to vote as a class.

Seen as its designed to divide and conquer us, bothering to engage in it and debating amongst ourselves as to which party really is the lesser of evils and which party we should vote for and then trying to persuade others to vote for them, is a complete distraction from our politics and would only serve to give creditability to the status quo.

Whatever government comes into power we would still have to fight against them.

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Khawaga
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Jun 5 2015 20:40
Webby wrote:
No problem. This is probably my favourite article on Libcom addressing this issue;

http://libcom.org/blog/dear-messrs-webb-lustig%E2%80%A6-01112013

The comment thread is well worth a read too.

Damn, how did I miss this the first time around? Rob Roy killed it.

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Jun 5 2015 20:58

Scallywag wrote:

Quote:
But lets imagine that we did consider voting as a tactic to keep out the lesser of two evils who then should we vote for?

Anarchists don't have these hyperthethical discussions, so its a bit of a non-starter tbh. Well, hopefully nobody who publicly described themselves as anarchists are doing this - but I suspect there will be some plonkers.
When the BNP were on the ascendency, I was involved in a group that leafleted every ward under threat of a BNP candidate winning a seat in Wearside and Tyneside, a mammoth task - along with meetings, postering, fund raisers and a load more besides. In all that time, none of us asked anyone to vote for a political party as either the best of a bad bunch or as an anti-fascist tactic - though several of us did for the latter reason on a private level.
It's simply not true that all political parties are the same - but I agree that class politics are not parliamentary.

light emitting diode
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Jun 5 2015 21:19

Scallywag, surely there are certain policies advocated by particular parties that would benefit our class as a whole? Say rent controls, abortion rights etc? I'm not advocating libertarians/anarchists getting together as a group and deciding which party to vote for, obviously that would be pointless, but perhaps occasionally it is OK for pragmatic reasons for individuals to vote for a particular party on the basis of a single issue or cause? Whilst of course recognising that ultimately parliamentary politics and electoralism are not the answer.

I really like the argument mentioned in the link webby posted above- the 'don't advocate voting, but don't advocate not voting either' argument.

Scallywag
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Jun 6 2015 00:36
light emitting diode wrote:
Scallywag, surely there are certain policies advocated by particular parties that would benefit our class as a whole? Say rent controls, abortion rights etc? I'm not advocating libertarians/anarchists getting together as a group and deciding which party to vote for, obviously that would be pointless, but perhaps occasionally it is OK for pragmatic reasons for individuals to vote for a particular party on the basis of a single issue or cause? Whilst of course recognising that ultimately parliamentary politics and electoralism are not the answer.

I really don't think there is, all the parties whether they actually stick to their promises or not seem to favour a particular age group, most of them are anti-immigration and they would all make cuts in some areas whilst increasing spending in some others in order to gain votes, which is going to work to the detriment of some, but the benefit of others. If someone really thinks it would be for the best if a particular party wins though and votes for them not expecting much, but hoping for the best then I’ve no real problem with that, but it’s an individualist thing and to me seems a bit pointless to be concerned with.

Quote:
I really like the argument mentioned in the link webby posted above- the 'don't advocate voting, but don't advocate not voting either' argument.

Taking that line means equally dismissing arguments that we should vote and that we can get something out of it.

I think most feel that arguing that we shouldn’t vote is a pointless exercise when we seem to have little else to offer people, and because the act of not voting doesn’t accomplish anything.

Personally though I have a bit more sympathy with people who would argue that we actively shouldn’t vote, because I think we need to argue against parliamentary voting and argue that it’s not a means through which we can gain as a class, or the argument that we can reform it and use it to bring about a revolution. I think we should be very vocal about that and the need for revolutionary change, and a general election is a chance to be vocal about it, ‘don’t advocate not voting either’ I think could prevent our views from being heard.

'Don't vote organize' seems a better slogan than 'don't tell people to vote, but don't tell them not to vote either'

Lucror
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Jun 6 2015 13:08
Scallywag wrote:
I don't think there is any logic behind this argument, and the only reason people keep bringing it up I think is due to feelings of powerlessness and that we are not doing enough.

[...]

I don't think there is any single party which would benefit all of us, some might stand to benefit and others would lose, electoral politics is designed to split us apart and pit us against each other based on things like age and ethnicity so I don't think its possible for us to vote as a class.

[...]

If I was to write a post on this thread it would look like this ^^^^.

I cringed every time I saw the "I have just voted" announcement on facebook during this years' election.

boomerang
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Jun 9 2015 07:43

Who among us wouldn't prefer to be ruled by Tommen than Joffrey?

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Khawaga
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Jun 9 2015 14:33

Curious Wednesday
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Jun 10 2015 09:54

elections 1983

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Cooked
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Jun 10 2015 10:57

I don't vote and is quite anti-voting.

However... sitting here at the beginning of my 8 months paternity leave with 80% pay makes me kind of glad a lesser evil made that legislation happen at some point in the past. wink

Khawaga: Nice one!

Scallywag
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Jun 10 2017 20:13

Bringing this thread back rather than making a new one on the same issue.

Its an argument that I've seen a lot being used recently in the general election so I think worth considering again and being given fair treatment.

I also don't think anyone's addressed the OP's point in this thread, like when its crystal clear who the lesser evil is because one supports something like bringing the death penalty back or making abortion illegal whilst the other doesn't.

If we can apply the lesser evil argument to that, then can we in other places, like we could look at the party manifestos and see that ones is clearly better than the other?

I still agree with my point though in #7 that all the parties pit us against each other and that's its impossible to vote as a class, and I am still opposed to voting.

ajjohnstone
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Jun 11 2017 06:10

I think the question is, do we decide who we vote for on personal or sectional interests and then perhaps the lesser evil applies, but if we vote for our class, a class that transcends national boundaries, then the question is more complex.

It is perhaps Scallywags observation that it is often difficult to distinguish class interests due to the inevitable clashes within the workers' movement that the SPGB approach is the more prescient ....Only campaign for socialism and nothing else - there the class interest is clearly expounded.

And it is rarely ever crystal clear in lesser an greater evils .Wouldn't we have been tempted to vote for Woodrow "he will keep us out of the war" Wilson...only to be deceived soon after.

Or to be up-to-day, need i refer to Greece and despite their intentions, the promises were unable to be kept.

Capitalism runs politicians, not the other way around

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explainthingstome
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Aug 23 2018 12:36

I feel a conflicted when it comes to the question of voting on the "least bad" significant party.

On the one hand, it would arguably be worse to have (for example) Le Pen as president than Macron. Immigrants would probably be in a worse position under her.

Some would perhaps compare the choice to being told by God "I'm going to either kill 500 babies or 600 babies, pick one of these options. If you don't choose an option I will instead."

On the other hand, isn't voting on a party the same as giving consent to their government? When they do stuff that you strongly oppose, do you just shrug and go "sure, I voted for George Bush but Hitler would have killed more people, what else could I have done?"

Perhaps this issue is not that relevant right now, considering the fact that my opinions aren't held by many people in my country (i.e. my vote will probably not matter that much in future elections) but I still feel very troubled about being kind of indecisive.

ajjohnstone
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Aug 24 2018 10:31

Eugene Debs - "It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don't want and get it.'

Karl Marx - "Even where there is no prospect of achieving their election the workers must put up their own candidates to preserve their independence, to gauge their own strength and to bring their revolutionary position and party standpoint to public attention. They must not be led astray by the empty phrases of the democrats, who will maintain that the workers' candidates will split the democratic party and offer the forces of reaction the chance of victory. All such talk means, in the final analysis, that the proletariat is to be swindled."

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darren p
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Aug 24 2018 11:44

In the absence of a mass workers movement for communism how one votes or not is of little significance. There could be and have been situations which justify lesser evilism, everything depends on context. Those who make a big deal out of it one way or another are only exposing their fetishes.

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Aug 24 2018 12:49
darren p wrote:
In the absence of a mass workers movement for communism how one votes or not is of little significance. There could be and have been situations which justify lesser evilism, everything depends on context. Those who make a big deal out of it one way or another are only exposing their fetishes.

Arguably, voting on Trump would be of little signifiance, but I would still judge someone if they made that decision. What is your opinion on anarchists who vote Labour but don't like Labour?

***
If you were a Hungarian and the two big parties were Fidesz (right wing nationalists) and a social-democratic party, would you vote on the social-democrats?

I guess I am making a big deal out of this but what can I say, I have a fetish

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darren p
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Aug 24 2018 14:59
explainthingstome wrote:
Arguably, voting on Trump would be of little signifiance, but I would still judge someone if they made that decision.

But who says voting for Trump is the lesser evil? Perhaps someone might foolishly do it for accelerationist reasons but that's another thing.

explainthingstome wrote:
What is your opinion on anarchists who vote Labour but don't like Labour?

Who, when, why, etc? Context is everything. But do many people that call themselves anarchist do that? Not many, though more since the appearance of saint-Corbyn I suppose.

explainsomethingstome wrote:
If you were a Hungarian and the two big parties were Fidesz (right wing nationalists) and a social-democratic party, would you vote on the social-democrats?

Possibly this could be a situation where lesser evilism is true. Like I said, it all depends on the wider context. Consequentialism seems to be the right approach to take on these matters.

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Aug 24 2018 17:03
ajjohnstone wrote:
Eugene Debs - "It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don't want and get it.'

There are things we want, things we may not want but will not be disastrous if we get them, and things that we do not want and it will be disastrous if we get them. So there are definitely *some* times where it may be better to get one thing you do not want compared to another thing that you do not want.

I may want to vote world socialist. But if the only real players in town are the social democrats or the ethnic nationalists (who want to send all the Muslims 'home') there is a real case for lesser evilism... Or, for a real historical example the popular front in Spain in 1936..

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Aug 24 2018 18:06
darren p wrote:
But who says voting for Trump is the lesser evil?

I was just using Trump as an example of how, while 60 anarcho-communists voting or not voting in a national election won't affect said election in any significant way, they still have to defend

1) why they voted or didn't vote

and

2) why they chose to vote on a particular party or person

If a socialist would vote on the British National Party, I don't think that it would be a good defence of that person to say "well, my vote is of little significance so it's allright" when people argue that his choice was immoral.

My opinion is that even if my or your vote doesn't matter that much, it's still important to defend ones actions (voting or not voting or voting on A or B). I'm not saying that you don't do this, I just reacted to you saying "in the absence of a mass workers movement for communism how one votes or not is of little significance" in response to whether or not it's right to vote on a non-socialist party that will do things that a socialist will not approve of (for example maintaining economic relations with Saudi Arabia, a country that is killing people in Yemen).

darren p wrote:
if the only real players in town are the social democrats or the ethnic nationalists (who want to send all the Muslims 'home') there is a real case for lesser evilism...

What would you reply if someone said "you're voting on a capitalist party, therefore you're consenting to capitalism"?

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Aug 24 2018 18:35
explainthingstome wrote:
darren p wrote:
What would you reply if someone said "you're voting on a capitalist party, therefore you're consenting to capitalism"?

I've thought about that one. I think voting for candidate or option A because you want to vote *against* candidate or option B could be valid in some situations. I don't think you can necessarily infer consent from a vote because there are multiple reasons why someone might vote one way or another.

If you want to take the "consenting to capitalism" to its logical conclusion then you then you can infer consent to capitalism every time you turn up to work or buy something from a shop. We are not voluntarily in this situation and only have a certain amount of ways that we can navigate around it.

Capitalist social relations are reproduced in the productive process, not in the voting booth.

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Aug 24 2018 18:40
explainthingstome wrote:
darren p wrote:
If a socialist would vote on the British National Party, I don't think that it would be a good defence of that person to say "well, my vote is of little significance so it's allright" when people argue that his choice was immoral.

I was thinking of "significant" more in terms of it's effect in bringing about transformative social change, rather than in terms of being morally significant.

Yes I agree, some things probably can't be justified. But I don't think it's ever a simplistic calculation.

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Aug 25 2018 09:10
darren p wrote:
If you want to take the "consenting to capitalism" to its logical conclusion then you then you can infer consent to capitalism every time you turn up to work or buy something from a shop.

Hmm. I think that people are more or less forced to work for a wage, because the probable alternative is a miserable life as a beggar or a thief.

Not voting on the least crappy party won't lead to a very negative outcome for me. Unless possibly if I'm old or an immigrant or something like that. I guess that not all bad policies will "have to" exist under capitalism. The extermination of Jews and Romani during Nazi rule didn't have to happen in order for capitalism to survive, for example.

Also, I guess I've bought plenty of stuff that I didn't need for my survival, such as DVD:s. That's an interesting point to make.