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Direct Action Versus Electoralism

Anarchists engage in direct action as opposed to voting. This anti-electoralism (or anti-parliamentarianism) may seem strange and even perverse to many. After all, virtually the whole left believes in the importance of voting. In the US, liberals and state socialists have voted for the Democrats with a steadfastness that is almost religious, even as the Democrats have steadily moved to the right. In Western Europe, they have voted consistently for the Socialist or Labor Parties (social democrats), or Communist Parties, or, more recently, ex-Communist Parties.
As a reward, in 1997, 12 out of the 15 members of the European Union were governed by left parties--including Britain, France, and Germany--or by coalitions with left parties in them. In the words of the old British Labor Party hymn, did they build a New Jerusalem? Was Europe on the verge of a new age of equality and justice? To ask the question is to answer it. Within two years, the social democrats showed by their actions that they were just another face of the status quo. Throughout most of Europe they cut back on the welfare rights of the poor, decreased the rights of labor, and took part in the USA's war against Serbia. Personnel had changed, but the state remained.

People throughout the world have fought and died for the right to vote. It took great suffering for the Russian people and the Black majority of South Africa to win the ballot. The fight for African-Americans to be able to vote in the South is a tale of heroism and blood. These were important victories which loosened up systems of tyranny and make it easier for the oppressed to organize. Anarchists supported these struggles and participated in them. Not because we valued the vote, but because this is what the people wanted. However, we do value the increased openness of capitalist democracy which makes it easier for the oppressed to organize.

They won the right to the vote. But anarchists point out the limitations of such victories. The peoples of Russia and South Africa, for example, now have the vote, but this has made no improvement in their living conditions: their extreme poverty, high unemployment, and threat of famine. US Blacks gained much by the end of overt Jim Crow, but they are still on the bottom of US society.

Anarchists are not always opposed to voting, and have occasionally participated in elections as anarchists (usually at a local level or in referendum) from Proudhon to Bookchin. What anarchists generally reject is voting as a strategy. However the question is not voting in the abstract, since they may expect to vote under anarchist democracy, inside communes or councils. The question is voting in the capitalist-racist-patriarchal state. Specifically, socialist anarchists reject the belief that the basic problems of society can be solved within the framework of democratic capitalism. The issue is not, "Is it good for the Russians (South Africans, US Blacks) to be able to vote?" but "Can the problems of Russia (South Africa, the US) be solved by a market economy under a bureaucratic state with representative elections (in other words, capitalist democracy)?" Anarchists do not believe that voting can be used to change democratic capitalism into socialism (what has been called "the parliamentary road to socialism").

The state is their arena. It is the agency of the corporate rich and the power elite. To participate in elections requires money, status, and a willingness to play by their rules. By its very nature it encourages passivity and elitism. It requires people to campaign for a politician (even someone who starts out on the workers' side) who will act for the people, who will get into office and represent and lead us. Instead direct action--strikes, demonstrations, etc.-- rely on peoples' ability to act for themselves, without being limited to respectability and legality. It depends on the people's strengths: numbers, organization, the ability of workers to shut down industry, the ability of the people to disorganize the smooth functioning of the social machine.

Under capitalist democracy, voting has several related purposes. It binds the people to the state, letting them feel that they are free. Actually most people usually dislike both candidates and rarely feel any enthusiasm for either. But by being offered a "choice" they feel that they are masters of the state. (It is as if people were being offered either peppermint or pistachio ice cream, instead of chocolate or vanilla or cherry, and then told that this was a free choice.) Many are disaffected with the elections and do not bother to vote, but most are still proud to believe that they live in a democracy. It legitimatizes the state. (And it is fair to call it a capitalist democracy, as compared to various types of capitalist dictatorship, such as fascism, military rule, or Communist state capitalism. Both aspects are correct-- capitalist: the rule of a few through market mechanisms; democracy: the political rule of this capitalist minority through mechanisms of representative elections.)

Elections are also ways for the people to blow off steam, to express their dissatisfaction, especially when they get very dissatisfied. In the US, this is mostly done through insurgent candidacies within the two parties, although occasional third parties have surfaced. In the rest of the world, people can vote for socialist parties. If people are really unhappy, they can force the rulers to make some minor concessions. But the system works best at bringing the dissidents into the fold, getting them involved in working the system rather than fighting it.

This is not to say that elections are simply frauds (although there is a lot of fraud involved). Elections are also ways in which competing factions of the ruling class fight out their disagreements over state policy. The corporate rich and their paid agents have internal differences: shall they beat back the poor or throw them some crumbs? shall they expand military spending a lot or a little? shall they emphasize international trade or internal development? shall they bring a layer of Blacks into the system or push them all to the margins? and so on. Through elections, these disputes can be settled without bloodshed (usually). Of course, the real disputes are rarely openly discussed. Rather the voters are offered political entertainment to attract them to one faction or another.

Continued at www.dualpower.net . . .

homepage: homepage: http://www.dualpower.net

Great article, but... 04.Aug.2002 15:49


I enjoyed this article greatly! It expresses much of what has made me so fed up with the downward spiral of electoralism amongst the american left.

It is funny though I have seen this article posted and reposted to like 6 different websites :) At least it is getting good exposure.

what now 04.Aug.2002 18:32

heard it before

Yes, yes, yes. We realize that you cannot chang the whole system using its mechanisms. Many different people will willingly point this out, not all anarchists. A proactive way to deal with a problem is to offer a solution. You can't change things by not voting, whining, and acting superior.

heard it before is right 05.Aug.2002 07:53


you're right voting is no good you need to STAND for election,- guarantee that if elected you wont participate in the chararde of politics but will channel your salary to sociAL causes.

bullshit 05.Aug.2002 22:36


So why do "anarchists" "green communists" and "socialist libertarians" or whatever they chose to call themselves reject elections? Because they cannot win.

Yes, there are ballot access problems. Maybe this is the barrier -- but the reality is, if you can't collect the signatures needed to get a small party candidate on the ballot, you don't have the support to be a serious contributor to the process.

If people really want to vote for socialist parties, they will. These parties exist, and as you well know, at least two parties in Oregon are fighting eachother to decide which can call themselves "socialist." In the end, it doesn't matter, because both can only hope to offer weak candidates who end up as footnotes to the grand totals. They are insignificant.

This faction is the minority, no matter how much they might like to convince themselves otherwise. But being the minority does not neccessarily mean that you are voiceless. Do you know who your state rep is, or more importantly, do they know who you are?

Who is your representative on the county council?

How about the metro council?

Is voting important? No, of course not. It's a tiny fraction of elections that are decided by a few votes. Simply voting or not voting doesn't make a lick of difference.

But not voting and not dealing with the reality of the modern political world is foolish. Belive it or not, local politicians are accessible. You can call them or drop in, you don't have to slather yourself in fake blood in their offices, or scream and shout and carry on. They are there, and they're pretty bored, and eager to hear about the latest outrage -- well presented, of course. Try it.

Anarchists have won, every now and again. In Somalia and the Congo anyhow. Some wise young man, who sounded something like Buddy Holly once sung, "I fought the law, and the law won"

The law always wins, for good or for ill. Until the spirited anti-government leftist factions can realize this, and learn to work with it, they will remain, forever on the sidelines.

? 05.Aug.2002 23:05


Andy is that you?

Vote or Fight- it may take both 06.Aug.2002 16:38

android9 android9 (subject:agitprop)

I always use my own handle when posting, and usually provide my e-mail address. Anyone who is paying any attention knows who I am, and where I am coming from, more or less. I'm not trying to sneak up on anyone.

That's more than can be said for those who keep insinuating that I'm lurking around, posting under other names, most of whom have provided no identifying info or introductions at all, and are incapable of maintaining an intelligent, relevent discussion.

These tactics, of trying to cast dispersion on me personally, with false diversonary attacks on my character, or the length of my posts, or my sometimes harsh and polarizing style, are fairly typical of idiots like this shithead Heck, who doesn't have the actual brains to actually address the actual positions taken. He's the first really obsessive and abusive whack spammer I've had the pleasure to meet, novice to the medium that I am.

Heck, et al: let me give you a clue for your de-coder ring:

Consider for a moment the fact that Republicans always do everything they can, to limit voter turnout. Now, why do you suppose they do that? Go figure.

Think about it, then come back and try to compose a coherent sentence, Heck.

Consider whose interests are best served by such cynicisms as "don't vote, it only encourages the bastards", and "if voting worked, it would be illegal". Consider where that has gotten us now, with 100 million people boycotting the electoral process, and everything we've worked for all our lives now in serious jeapordy.

Consider for a moment the fact that we forced the death of Jim Crow, an end to the war in Vietnam, recognition of womens' rights, the establishment of the EPA and ESA, and even the decriminalization of marihauna, all by democratic process.

If you think things are bad now, consider for a moment where you would be right now, if these things had not been accomplished. What would our society look like now, if we still had Jim Crow, if Vietnam and other armed conflicts could be launched with no discussion, debate or opposition whatsoever, women's lib had never happened, there were no EPA or ESA, and they could still lock you up for 10 years, for 3 seeds?

Is it utopia yet? It is not. Many of the same problems persist, despite the overwhelming democratic mandate. Does this prove that electoral process is useless, and even counter-revolutionary? I think not. It proves that the Bourgeoisie are intransigent anti-democratic pigs, who refuse to submit to the popular democratic will of the People.

This is a good thing, to prove this, beyond any reasonable doubt, over and over, relentlessly. This is the only legitimate and ethical basis for genuine popular democratic revolutionary struggle.

It proves that revolution is necessary, to destroy capitalism and suppress the Bourgeoisie. It does not prove that the electoral arenas are absolutely useless for engaging the enemy on a tactical basis, to poignantly press the inherent contradictions of capitalism.

The fact that bourgeois "democracy" (or "Communism") are bogus does not therefore prove that democracy itself is non-viable. It only proves that anti-democratic tendencies must be suppressed.

Why accomodate the pigs, by not voting, and telling everyone else not to vote? Whose side are you on?

The fact is that we have thrown a wrench into the works, by means of democratic process, even if it has not solved all our problems in the continued context of bourgeois manipulation and corruption. The struggle for democracy has forced the pigs into a defensive position, on all of these issues, and they hate it. It portends the death of capitalism.

They are screaming bloody murder about no longer being "politically correct". They're even calling for civil war and (counter-)revolution! We are winning, big time, as bad as it looks on the surface.

Bush having to steal the election, and staging 911, proves that the pigs are absolutely desperate, and that we are kicking their ass, politically, where it counts, in the hearts and minds of the People.

Should people drop everything else they are doing, and work only in the electoral arenas? I have never proposed any such ridiculous notion.

I believe we must engage the enemy on all fronts, more, faster, harder, better, including in the streets and in the woods, and includng bringing lawsuits, and even organizing neighborhoods to provide more crosswalks and street lights, or whatever, wherever, whenever you can, as long as you recognize that your tactics are not the be-all and end-all of the struggle. Build IMC, to make sure the world is watching, every step of the way.

Press the contradictions, relentlessly, and remember that it's all tactical, within the broader strategic objective of forcing actual real democracy upon the ruthless anti-democratic counter-revolutionary Bourgeoisie pigs.

While nature, life, and this struggle may be chaotic, and we can even use the chaos of capitalism to our own advantage, chaos also causes organizational entropy, and is not desirable as a method of collectivization.

The strategic goal of revolutionary struggle is not chaos. Nor is it to destroy all civilization and return to the stone age. That's what the pigs have always said we are all about, and it has always been a lie, until those "Green Anarchist" COINTELPRO pig-bait fools show up on the set, running amok.

Catastrophic apocalypse is not the strategic goal of anybody but misanthropic conservative throwback fundamentalist reactionary elitist mystic hustlers, which come in all colors and stripes. They are whack, and should be refuted.

It costs nothing to vote, even for the "lesser of evils".

What is your goal? More evil, or less evil?

Would you rather get rousted by a nice cop, or a mean cop?

It may be a "choice" that sucks, but I'd much rather contend with the "nice cop", who might cut me a little slack, than to just get my ass kicked, or even killed, merely for existing.

It's all about maintaining an objective perspective on the strategic goal, and conducting oneself in a principled manner, to avoid co-optation.

Dealing in a principled manner precludes becoming a snitch, or being so foolish as to think that merely voting is enough. It's about remembering that it's an adversarial relationship, not being a sucker.

Urging people not to vote is a serious error.

Not stepping forward to contend, where you may have a substantial chance of wresting a lever of power from the hands of the pigs, even momentarily, to cut the People some slack, is a serious error

Refusing to even try to do this, ever, or to even offer whatever selective and qualified support you can, to more or less progressive people who do run for representative positions, is a serious error.

Electoral politics, as it now stands, cannot be the solution.

But neither can boycotting the elections do us the slightest bit of good. Not voting can only help the pigs.

The more people who vote, the less of a "mandate" the pigs recieve for their rapacious programs and policies, every time, on every critical issue.

Check the records! How the hell do you think we defeated Jim Crow, established the EPA, decriminalized pot, even, for crying out loud! If you think these are difficult issues now, just think for a minute about how difficult they were then!

These changes happened because a whole lot of people started voting all of a sudden! That's why the pigs always try to restrict and minimize voter turnout!

This is not 1917 Russia, or Hitler's Germany. Literacy and access to information are higher here, now, than anywhere, ever. And the same is also true worldwide.

Just because no country has ever successfully achieved absolute genuine democracy does not prove that it's impossible, or undesirable. It is a revolutionary, theoretical concept. IMC is a key element.

Just because the Bourgeoisie have never been overthrown, anywhere, without them precipitating a vicious and debilitating civil war, does not prove that it is impossible to achieve democracy without civil war or some other complete collapse of all social organization.

A massive and overwhelming popular democratic electoral mandate for justice and peace, to save the planet, combined with a resolute determination to swiftly and thoroughly suppress antidemocratic elements, could concievably avoid civil war, or minimize it substantially.

Complete collapse of the system down around our ears is the scenario most avidly advocated by extreme rightwing bigots who are armed to the teeth and poised to leap into the vacuum of power. Collapse would cause a degeneration to feudalism.

They will no doubt resist mitlitarily, requiring military suppression. But a fast transfer of power, and a firm determination to suppress counter-revolutionary elements quickly, could reduce this to sporadic scattered skirmishes.

We could conceivably seize power without a shot fired, arrest all the Republicans, revoke their corporate charters, and seize thier assets, and begin building the revolution, for real!

If such an unprecedented phenomenon can ever happen anywhere, it should be able to happen here, in the US.

Such an overwhelming electoral mandate may, no doubt, very well still require a general strike, to force democracy on the pigs. But without that coherent and explicit mandate, a general strike would be nothing but more of the same meaningless symbolic posturing, in futile protest and defiance, that has tended to characterize narrow "take it to the streets" tactical strategies in the past.

We owe it to ourselves, and to the future, and especially to the rest of the world, to keep trying to achieve the best concievable scenarios, even as we prepare for the worst. And to post it IMC, because the world is watching.

Revolution is a breakthrough, an evolutionary transcendence of previous paradigms. It goes in cycles.

Democracy is our last, best hope, to save the planet.