The practical option

The practical option

A look at the alternatives to electoral politics

Many people will agree with some of our arguments, but still say you should vote anyway, because it's the "practical" or "realistic" thing to do. But we're convinced that voting is not a realistic way to solve anyone's problems. Most of the time, voting comes down to picking a politician because you like some of the things they promise to do – or maybe just dislike them a bit less than the other candidates – and then hoping that they'll live up to their promises, even though you have no way of forcing them to, and they're often unable to do so even if they want to. When it comes to solving your problems, voting is about as effective as wishing on a star.

So what alternatives do anarchists suggest? Most of what we propose can be described as "direct action". This is exactly what it sounds like: people acting together to solve their problems directly, without relying on anyone else to do it for them.

Perhaps the best-known and most obvious type of direct action is the traditional workplace strike. There are many examples of strikes winning real victories quickly, from the Tower Hamlets College staff who saved jobs through strike action last year, to the low-paid tube cleaners who managed to win a living wage by bringing the London Underground to a halt in 2007. How many examples can you think of where people have improved their pay or saved their jobs by asking a politician for help?

Traditional strikes aren’t the only way to take direct action in the workplace. There are also "good work strikes", which are designed to minimise disruption to the public while putting as much pressure as possible on employers. At Mercy Hospital in France, instead of endangering patients by going on strike, staff just refused to fill in the paperwork to charge them for treatment. The hospital's income was cut by half, and the bosses gave in to all their demands in three days. In New York, restaurant workers took strike action and lost, so instead they started giving customers double helpings and undercharging them for their meals, until the restaurant owners gave in to some of their demands.

But direct action isn't just something that happens in the workplace. For example, when the local council threatened to close down a school in Lewisham, parents reacted by taking direct action: they occupied the school building and forced the council to back down. Another example of direct action is when people refuse to put up with unaffordable rents and decide to squat instead. Direct action can also be taken against high prices, such as in Italy in the 1970s when people in large groups would go into supermarkets, take what they wanted from the shelves, and pay what they considered to be a fair price instead of what the supermarket was asking. And one of the most famous examples of effective direct action on a massive scale here in the UK was when Thatcher's poll tax was beaten in the 1990s. Many people at the time were claiming that the only way to stop the poll tax was to vote Labour, but it was scrapped years before Labour got in, thanks to a massive campaign based around people simply refusing to pay.

So, are anarchists impractical dreamers? It's true that we're still a long way from achieving our goals. But when you look at all the victories that direct action has achieved, it seems a lot more practical than just putting your trust in a politician and hoping that things will turn out all right.

Posted By

Farce
Apr 9 2010 18:59

Share

Attached files

Comments

Invictus_88
Apr 12 2010 18:40

You could vote for a Party which backs the MP-recall proposal, which would change the system to allow an MP to be pulled down by their electorate at any time. A step in the right direction, for certain.

I'm not sure, either, that strike action is as effective a move toward the anarchist ideal future as such movements as Transition Towns and permaculture movements, because whereas strike action occurs within the paradigm of capitalist power-relations, the evolution toward increasingly self-sufficient local communities subverts that paradigm of capitalist power-relation and places the local community in a position of strength and security much greater than that enjoyed by employees who've merely won that extra 5%.

It is certainly something worth considering...

Django
Apr 12 2010 19:01
Invictus_88 wrote:
You could vote for a Party which backs the MP-recall proposal, which would change the system to allow an MP to be pulled down by their electorate at any time. A step in the right direction, for certain.

The labour party?

Invictus_88 wrote:
I'm not sure, either, that strike action is as effective a move toward the anarchist ideal future as such movements as Transition Towns and permaculture movements, because whereas strike action occurs within the paradigm of capitalist power-relations, the evolution toward increasingly self-sufficient local communities subverts that paradigm of capitalist power-relation and places the local community in a position of strength and security much greater than that enjoyed by employees who've merely won that extra 5%.

I'd argue that it's actually the other way round: class struggle poses our interests against those of capital, and our material needs against the needs of the capitalist system. This antagonism (in the long run) poses a break with capitalism and the possibility of a world centred on human needs, and more importantly for the here and now the possibility of defending our standards of living in the face of the attacks on our living standards that we all face in the immediate future.

As far as I can see, permaculture is only a paradigm for sustainable farming, and transition towns for equipping towns for energy scarcity within the overall framework of capitalist social relations. In fact the kind of green austerity politics associated with the movement strike me as the kind that could be easily mobilised by capital to justify attacks on living standards.

Invictus_88
Apr 12 2010 21:04

I suppose that's where we differ; I don't have much time for the idea of class struggle, I don't see that it's particularly important anymore, and see it as a Marxist shibboleth which should be overcome. The antagonism is merely antagonistic, because if it ever pushes far enough to negate the capitalistic need for profit margins, the industry will close, the market will move on, and jobs will be lost.

By contrast, if a community becomes more able to stand free from the State then it has a real power which goes beyond having merely been an irritation for the shareholders and managers. Far from being a top-down attack on living standards, it is the mobilisation of individuals in support of their communities in order to ensure their future security and promote their future independence as the petroleum foundations of capitalism begin to wither.

From such communities, a genuinely an-archistic sort of municipalism would be able to exist, in a way not at all promoted by strike action.