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<HTML>
<HEAD>

<TITLE>J.2 What is direct action?</TITLE>
</HEAD>
<BODY>

<H1>J.2 What is direct action?</h1>
<p>
Direct action, to use Rudolf Rocker's words, is <i>"every method of
immediate warfare by the workers [or other sections of society] against
their economic and political oppressors. Among these the outstanding are:
the strike, in all its graduations from the simple wage struggle to the
general strike; the boycott; sabotage in all its countless forms;
[occupations and sit-down strikes;] anti-militarist propaganda, and 
in particularly critical cases,... armed resistance of the people for 
the protection of life and liberty."</i> [<b>Anarcho-Syndicalism</b>, p. 66]
<p>
Not that anarchists think that direct action is only applicable within
the workplace. Far from it. Direct action must occur everywhere! So, in 
non-workplace situations, direct action includes rent strikes, consumer 
boycotts, occupations (which, of course, can include sit-in strikes by 
workers), eco-tage, individual and collective non-payment of taxes, 
blocking roads and holding up construction work of an anti-social nature 
and so forth. Also direct action, in a workplace setting, includes strikes 
and protests on social issues, not directly related to working conditions 
and pay. Such activity aims to ensure the <i>"protection of the community 
against the most pernicious outgrowths of the present system. The social 
strike seeks to force upon the employers a responsibility to the public. 
Primarily it has in view the protection of the customers, of whom the 
workers themselves [and their families] constitute the great majority"</i> 
[<b>Op. Cit.</b>, p. 72]
<p>
Basically, direct action means that instead of getting someone else to act 
for you (e.g. a politician) you act for yourself. Its essential feature is 
an organised protest by ordinary people to make a change by their own efforts.
Thus Voltairine De Cleyre's excellent statement on this topic:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"Every person who ever thought he had a right to assert, and went boldly and
asserted it, himself, or jointly with others that shared his convictions,
was a direct actionist. Some thirty years ago I recall that the Salvation
Army was vigorously practicing direct action in the maintenance of the
freedom of its members to speak, assemble, and pray. Over and over they were
arrested, fined, and imprisoned; but they kept right on singing, praying,
and marching, till they finally compelled their persecutors to let them
alone. The Industrial Workers [of the World] are now conducting the same 
fight, and have, in a number of cases, compelled the officials to let them 
alone by the same direct tactics.
<p>
"Every person who ever had a plan to do anything, and went and did it, or who
laid his plan before others, and won their co-operation to do it with him,
without going to external authorities to please do the thing for them, was a
direct actionist. All co-operative experiments are essentially direct
action.
<p>
"Every person who ever in his life had a difference with anyone to settle,
and went straight to the other persons involved to settle it, either by a
peaceable plan or otherwise, was a direct actionist. Examples of such action
are strikes and boycotts; many persons will recall the action of the
housewives of New York who boycotted the butchers, and lowered the price of
meat; at the present moment a butter boycott seems looming up, as a direct
reply to the price-makers for butter.
<p>
"These actions are generally not due to any one's reasoning overmuch on the
respective merits of directness or indirectness, but are the spontaneous
retorts of those who feel oppressed by a situation. In other words, all
people are, most of the time, believers in the principle of direct action,
and practicers of it. . ."</i> [<b>Direct Action</b>]
</blockquote><p>
So direct action means acting for yourself against injustice and oppression.
It can, sometimes, involve putting pressure on politicians or companies, for 
example, to ensure a change in an oppressive law or destructive practices. 
However, such appeals are direct action simply because they do not assume
that the parties in question we will act for us - indeed the assumption is
that change only occurs when we act to create it. Regardless of what the
action is, <i>"if such actions are to have the desired empowerment effect,
they must be largely self-generated, rather than being devised and 
directed from above."</i> [Martha Ackelsberg, <b>Free Women of Spain</b>, p. 33]
<p>
So, in a nutshell, direct action is any form of activity which people
themselves decide upon and organise themselves which is based on their 
own collective strength and does not involve getting intermediates to act 
for them. As such direct action is a natural expression of liberty, of
self-government for <i>"[d]irect action against the authority in the shop,
direct action against the authority of the law, direct action against 
the invasive, meddlesome authority of our moral code, is the logical,
consistent method of Anarchism."</i> [Emma Goldman, <b>Red Emma Speaks</b>, 
pp. 62-63] It is clear that by acting for yourself you are expressing 
the ability to govern yourself. Thus its a means by which people can
take control of their own lives. It is a means of self-empowerment and
self-liberation:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"Direct action meant that the goal of any and all these activities was 
to provide ways for people to get in touch with their own powers and 
capacities, to take back the power of naming themselves and their lives."</i>
[Martha Ackelsberg, <b>Op. Cit.</b>, p. 32]
</blockquote><p>
In other words, anarchists reject the view that society is static and that
people's consciousness, values, ideas and ideals cannot be changed. Far from 
it and anarchists support direct action <b>because</b> it actively encourages
the transformation of those who use it. Direct action is the means of
creating a new consciousness, a means of self-liberation from the chains
placed around our minds, emotions and spirits by hierarchy and oppression.
<p>
Because direct action is the expression of liberty, the powers that be are 
vitally concerned only when the oppressed use direct action to win its 
demands, for it is a method which is not easy or cheap to combat. Any 
hierarchical system is placed into danger when those at the bottom start 
to act for themselves and, historically, people have invariably gained more 
by acting directly than could have been won by playing ring around the 
rosy with indirect means.
<p>
Direct action tore the chains of open slavery from humanity. Over the 
centuries it has established individual rights and modified the life and 
death power of the master class. Direct action won political liberties
such as the vote and free speech. Used fully, used wisely and well, 
direct action can forever end injustice and the mastery of humans 
by other humans.
<p>
In the sections that follow, we will indicate why anarchists are in
favour of direct action and why they are against electioneering as
a means of change.
<p>
<a name="secj21"><h2>J.2.1 Why do anarchists favour using direct action to change things?</h2>
<p>
Simply because it is effective and it has a radicalising impact on those
who practice it. As it is based on people acting for themselves, it
shatters the dependency and marginalisation created by hierarchy. As
Murray Bookchin argues, <i>"[w]hat is even more important about direct action 
is that it forms a decisive step toward recovering the personal power 
over social life that the centralised, over-bearing bureaucracies have 
usurped from the people... we not only gain a sense that we can control 
the course of social events again; we recover a new sense of selfhood 
and personality without which a truly free society, based in self-activity 
and self-management, is utterly impossible."</i> [<b>Toward and Ecological 
Society</b>, p. 47]
<p>
By acting for themselves, people gain a sense of their own power and 
abilities. This is essential if people are to run their own lives. As
such, direct action is <b>the</b> means by which individuals empower themselves,
to assert their individuality, to make themselves count as individuals. It 
is the opposite of hierarchy, within which individuals are told again and 
again that they are nothing, are insignificant and must dissolve themselves 
into a higher power (the state, the company, the party, the people, etc.) and
feel proud in participating in the strength and glory of this higher power.
Direct action, in contrast, is the means of asserting ones individual
opinion, interests and happiness, of fighting against self-negation:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"man has as much liberty as he is willing to take. Anarchism therefore
stands for direct action, the open defiance of, and resistance to, all 
laws and restrictions, economic, social and moral. But defiance and
resistance are illegal. Therein lies the salvation of man. Everything
illegal necessitates integrity, self-reliance, and courage. In short, it
calls for free independent spirits, for men who are men, and who have
a bone in their back which you cannot pass your hand through."</i> [Emma
Goldman, <b>Red Emma Speaks</b>, pp. 61-62]
</blockquote><p>
In addition, because direct action is based around individuals solving their
own problems, by their own action, it awakens those aspects of individuals
crushed by hierarchy and oppression - such as initiative, solidarity, 
imagination, self-confidence and a sense of individual and collective
power, that you do matter and count as an individual and that you, and others
like you, <b>can</b> change the world. Direct Action is the means by which people 
can liberate themselves and educate themselves in the ways of and skills 
required for self-management and liberty. Hence:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"anarchists insisted that we learn to think and act for ourselves by joining 
together in organisations in which our experience, our perception and our
activity can guide and make the change. Knowledge does not precede
experience, it flows from it. . . People learn to be free only by 
exercising freedom. [As one Spanish Anarchist put it] 'We are not going 
to find ourselves. . . with people ready-made for the future. . . Without
continued exercise of their faculties, there will be no free people. . .
The external revolution and the internal revolution presuppose one
another, and they must be simultaneous in order to be successful.'"</i>
[Martha Ackelsberg, <b>Free Women of Spain</b>, pp. 32-33]
</blockquote><p>
So direct action, to use Murray Bookchin's words, is <i>"the means whereby each 
individual awakens to the hidden powers within herself and himself, to a new 
sense of self-confidence and self-competence; it is the means whereby 
individuals take control of society directly."</i> [<b>Op. Cit.</b>, p. 48] 
<p>
In addition, direct action creates the need for new forms of social 
organisation. These new forms of organisation will be informed and shaped
by the process of self-liberation, so be more anarchistic and based upon
self-management. Direct action, as well as liberating individuals, can also
create the free, self-managed organisations which can replace the current
hierarchical ones. In other words, direct action helps create the new world
in the shell of the old:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"direct action not only empowered those who participated in it, it also
had effects on others. . . [including] exemplary action that attracted 
adherents by the power of the positive example it set. Contemporary
examples. . . include food or day-care co-ops, collectively run businesses,
sweat equity housing programmes, women's self-help health collectives, urban
squats or women's peace camps [as well as traditional examples as industrial
unions, social centres, etc.]. While such activities empower those who
engage in them, they also demonstrate to others that non-hierarchical
forms of organisation can and do exist - and that they can function
effectively."</i> [Martha Ackelsberg, <b>Op. Cit.</b>, p. 33]
</blockquote><p>
Also, direct action such as strikes encourage and promote class consciousness
and class solidarity. According to Kropotkin, <i>"the strike develops the
sentiment of solidarity"</i> while for Bakunin it <i>"is the beginnings of the
social war of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. . . Strikes are a
valuable instrument from two points of view. Firstly, they electrify the
masses, invigorate their moral energy and awaken in them the feeling of
the deep antagonism which exists between their interests and those of
the bourgeoisie. . . secondly they help immensely to provoke and establish
between the workers of all trades, localities and countries the consciousness
and very fact of solidarity: a twofold action, both negative and positive, 
which tends to constitute directly the new world of the proletariat, 
opposing it almost in an absolute way to the bourgeois world."</i> [cited
in Caroline Cahm, <b>Kropotkin and the Rise of Revolutionary Anarchism
1872-1886</b>, p. 256, pp. 216-217]
<p>
Direct action and the movements that used it (such as unionism) would be 
the means to develop the <i>"revolutionary intelligence of the workers"</i> and 
so ensure <i>"emancipation through practice"</i> (to use Bakunin's words). 
<p>
Direct action, therefore, helps to create anarchists and anarchist
alternatives within capitalism and statism. As such, it plays an 
essential role in anarchist theory and activity. For anarchists, 
direct action <i>"is not a 'tactic'. . . it is a moral principle, an ideal,
a sensibility. It should imbue every aspect of our lives and behaviour
and outlook."</i> [Murray Bookchin, <b>Op. Cit.</b>, p. 48]
<p>
<a name="secj22"><h2>J.2.2 Why do anarchists reject voting as a means for change?</h2>
<p>
Simply because electioneering does not work. History is littered with 
examples of radicals being voted into office only to become as, or even
more, conservative than the politicians they replaced.
<p>
As we have discussed previously (see <a href="secB2.html">section B.2</a> and related sections) any 
government is under pressure from two sources of power, the state bureaucracy 
and big business. This ensures that any attempts at social change would be 
undermined and made hollow by vested interests, assuming they even reached 
that level of discussion to begin with (the de-radicalising effects of 
electioneering is discussed below in <a href="secJ2.html#secj26">
section J.2.6</a>). Here we will highlight 
the power of vested interests within democratic government.
<p>
In <a href="secB2.html">section B.2</a> we only discussed the general nature of the state and 
what its role within society is (i.e. <i>"the preservation of the economic
'status quo,' the protection of the economic privileges of the ruling
class,"</i> in the words of Luigi Galleani). However, as the effectiveness of 
the vote to secure change is now the topic we will have to discuss how and
why the state and capital restricts and controls political action.
<p>
Taking capital to begin with, if we assume that a relatively
reformist government was elected it would soon find itself facing 
various economic pressures. Either capital would disinvest, so forcing 
the government to back down in the face of economic collapse, or the 
government in question would control capital leaving the country and so 
would soon be isolated from new investment and its currency would become 
worthless. Either way, the economy would be severely damaged and the 
promised "reforms" would be dead letters. In addition, this economic 
failure would soon result in popular revolt which in turn would lead 
to a more authoritarian state as "democracy" was protected from the 
people.
<p>
Far fetched? No, not really. In January, 1974, the FT Index for the 
London Stock Exchange stood at 500 points. In February, the miner's went 
on strike, forcing Heath to hold (and lose) a general election. The new 
Labour government (which included many left-wingers in its cabinet) talked 
about nationalising the banks and much heavy industry. In August, 74, Tony 
Benn announced Plans to nationalise the ship building industry. By December
of that year, the FT index had fallen to 150 points. By 1976 the British
Treasury was spending $100 million a day buying back of its own money to 
support the pound [<b>The London Times</b>, 10/6/76]. The economic pressure 
of capitalism was at work:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"The further decline in the value of the pound has occurred despite the high 
level of interest rates. . . dealers said that selling pressure against the 
pound was not heavy or persistent, but there was an almost total lack of 
interest amongst buyers. The drop in the pound is extremely surprising in 
view of the unanimous opinion of bankers, politicians and officials that the 
currency is undervalued"</i> [<b>The London Times</b>, 27/5/76]
</blockquote><p>
The Labour government faced with the power of international capital ended up 
having to receive a temporary "bailing out" by the I.M.F. who imposed a 
package of cuts and controls which translated to Labour saying <i>"We'll do 
anything you say"</i>, in the words of one economist [Peter Donaldson, <b>A 
Question of Economics</b>, p. 89]. The social costs of these policies was
massive, with the Labour government being forced to crack down on strikes
and the weakest sectors of society (but that's not to forget that they <i>"cut 
expenditure by twice the amount the I.M.F. were promised."</i> [<b>Ibid.</b>]). In
the backlash to this, Labour lost the next election to a right-wing, 
pro-free market government which continued where Labour had left off.
<p>
Or, to use a more recent example, <i>"[t]he fund managers [who control the 
flow of money between financial centres and countries] command such vast
resources that their clashes with governments in the global marketplace
usually ends up in humiliating defeat for politicians. . . In 1992, US
financier George Soros single-handedly destroyed the British government's
attempts to keep the pound in the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). 
Soros effectively bet, and won, that he could force the British government
to devalue. Using his huge resources, he engineered a run on the pound,
overwhelming the Bank of England's attempts to use its reserves to keep
sterling within its ERM band. The British government capitulated by
suspending sterling's membership of the ERM (an effective devaluation) and
Soros came away from his victory some $1bn richer. Fund managers then 
picked off other currencies one by one, derailing the drive for European
monetary union, which would, incidentally, have cut their profits by making
them unable to buy and sell between the different European currencies."</i>
[Duncan Green, <b>The Silent Revolution</b>, p. 124]
<p>
The fact is that capital will not invest in a country which does not meet 
its approval and this is an effective weapon to control democratically 
elected governments. And with the increase in globalisation of capital over
the last 30 years this weapon is even more powerful (a weapon we may add 
which was improved, via company and state funded investment and research in 
communication technology, precisely to facilitate the attack on working class 
reforms and power in the developed world, in other words capital ran away
to teach us a lesson - see sections <a href="secC8.html#secc81">C.8.1</a>, <a href="secC8.html#secc82">C.8.2</a>, <a href="secC8.html#secc83">C.8.3</a> 
and <a href="secD5.html#secd53">D.5.3</a>).
<p>
As far as political pressures go, we must remember that there is a difference 
between the state and government. The state is the permanent collection of 
institutions that have entrenched power structures and interests. The 
government is made up of various politicians. It's the institutions that 
have power in the state due to their permanence, not the representatives 
who come and go. In other words, the state bureaucracy has vested interests
and elected politicians cannot effectively control them. This network
of behind the scenes agencies can be usefully grouped into two parts:
<p>
<i>"By 'the secret state' we mean. . . the security services, MI5 [the FBI in 
the USA], Special Branch. . . MI6 [the CIA]. By 'the permanent government' 
. . . we mean the secret state plus the Cabinet Office and upper echelons 
of Home and Foreign and Commonwealth Offices, the Armed Forces and Ministry 
of Defence, the nuclear power industry and its satellite ministries; and
the so-called 'Permanent Secretaries Club,' the network of very senior
civil servants - the 'Mandarins.' In addition. . . its satellites"</i>
including M.P.s (particularly right-wing ones), 'agents of influence' in 
the media, former security services personnel, think tanks and opinion
forming bodies, front companies of the security services, and so on.
[Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsay, <b>Smear! Wilson and the Secret State</b>,
p. X, XI]
<p>
These bodies, while theoretically under the control of the elected government,
can effectively (via disinformation, black operations, bureaucratic slowdowns,
media attacks, etc.) ensure that any government trying to introduce policies 
which the powers that be disagree with will be stopped. In other words
the state is <b>not</b> a neutral body, somehow rising about vested interests
and politics. It is, and always will be, a institution which aims to protect
specific sections of society as well as its own. 
<p>
An example of this "secret state" at work can be found in <b>Smear!</b>, where 
Dorril and Ramsay document the campaign against the Labour Prime Minister of 
Britain, Harold Wilson, which resulted in his resignation. They also indicate 
the pressures which Labour M.P. Tony Benn was subjected to by "his" Whitehall
advisers:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"In early 1985, the campaign against Benn by the media was joined by the
secret state. The timing is interesting. In January, his Permanent Secretary
had 'declared war' and the following month began the most extraordinary
campaign of harassment any major British politician has experienced. While
this is not provable by any means, it does look as though there is a clear
causal connection between withdrawal of Prime Ministerial support, the
open hostility from the Whitehall mandarins and the onset of covert
operations."</i> [Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsay, <b>Op. Cit.</b>, p. 279]
</blockquote><p>
Not to mention the role of the secret state in undermining reformist and 
radical organisations and movements. Thus involvement goes from pure 
information gathering on "subversives", to disruption and repression. 
Taking the example of the US secret state, Howard Zinn notes that in 1975 
<p><blockquote>
<i>"congressional committees. . . began investigations of the FBI and CIA.
<p>
"The CIA inquiry disclosed that the CIA had gone beyond its original mission
of gathering intelligence and was conducting secret operations of all kinds
. . . [for example] the CIA - with the collusion of a secret Committee of
Forty headed by Henry Kissinger - had worked to 'destabilize' the 
[democratically elected, left-wing] Chilean government. . .
<p>
"The investigation of the FBI disclosed many years of illegal actions to
disrupt and destroy radical groups and left-wing groups of all kinds. The
FBI had sent forged letters, engaged in burglaries. . . opened mail 
illegally, and in the case of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, seems to
have conspired in murder. . .
<p>
"The investigations themselves revealed the limits of government willingness
to probe into such activities. . . [and they] submitted its findings 
on the CIA to the CIA to see if there was material the Agency wanted 
omitted."</i> [<b>A People's History of the United States</b>, pp. 542-3]
</blockquote><p>
Also, the CIA secretly employs several hundred American academics to write
books and other materials to be used for propaganda purposes, an important
weapon in the battle for hearts and minds. In other words, the CIA, FBI
[and their equivalents in other countries] and other state bodies can hardly 
be considered neutral bodies, who just follow orders. They are a network of 
vested interests, with specific ideological viewpoints and aims which usually 
place the wishes of the voting population below maintaining the state-capital 
power structure in place.
<p>
This can be seen most dramatically in the military coup in Chile against
the democratically re-elected (left-wing) Allende government by the military,
aided by the CIA, US based corporations and the US government cutting economic
aid to the country (specifically to make it harder for the Allende regime). 
The coup resulted in tens of thousands murdered and years of terror and 
dictatorship, but the danger of a pro-labour government was stopped and the 
business environment was made healthy for profits. An extreme example, we 
know, but important ones for any believer in freedom or the idea that the 
state machine is somehow neutral and can be captured and used by left-wing 
parties. 
<p>
Therefore we cannot expect a different group of politicians to react in 
different ways to the same economic and institutional influences and 
interests. Its no coincidence that left-wing, reformist parties have 
introduced right-wing, pro-capitalist ("Thatcherite/Reaganite") policies 
at the same time as right-wing, explicitly pro-capitalist parties introduced 
them in the UK and the USA. As Clive Ponting (an ex-British Civil Servant) 
points out, this is to be expected:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"the function of the political system in any country in the world is to
regulate, but not alter radically, the existing economic structure and
its linked power relationships. The great illusion of politics is that
politicians have the power to make whatever changes they like. . . On a
larger canvas what real control do the politicians in any country have 
over the operation of the international monetary system, the pattern of
world trade with its built in subordination of the third world or
the operation of multi-national companies? These institutions and the
dominating mechanism that underlies them - the profit motive as a sole
measure of success - are essentially out of control and operating on
autopilot."</i> [quoted in <b>Alternatives</b>, # 5, p. 10]
</blockquote><p>
Of course there have been examples of quite extensive reforms which
did benefit working class people in major countries. The New Deal in 
the USA and the 1945-51 Labour Governments spring to mind. Surely these
indicate that our claims above are false? Simply put, no, they do not.
Reforms can be won from the state when the dangers of not giving in
outweigh the problems associated with the reforms. Reforms can therefore
be used to save the capitalist system and the state and even improve their
operation (with, of course, the possibility of getting rid of the reforms
when they are no longer required). 
<p>
For example, both the reformist governments of 1930s USA and 1940s UK
were under pressure from below, by waves of militant working class
struggle which could have developed beyond mere reformism. The waves 
of sit-down strikes in the 1930s ensured the passing of pro-union laws 
which while allowing workers to organise without fear of being fired. 
This measure also involved the unions in running the capitalist-state 
machine (and so making them responsible for controlling "unofficial"
workplace action and so ensuring profits). The nationalisation of roughly 
20% of the UK economy during the Labour administration of 1945 (the most 
unprofitable sections of it as well) was also the direct result of 
ruling class fear. As Quintin Hogg, a Tory M.P. at the time, said, 
<i>"If you don't give the people social reforms they are going to give you 
social revolution"</i>. Memories of the near revolutions across Europe after 
the first war were obviously in many minds, on both sides. Not that 
nationalisation was particularly feared as "socialism." Indeed it was
argued that it was the best means of improving the performance of the 
British economy. As anarchists at the time noted <i>"the real opinions of 
capitalists can be seen from Stock Exchange conditions and statements of 
industrialists than the Tory Front bench . . . [and from these we] see that 
the owning class is not at all displeased with the record and tendency of 
the Labour Party"</i> [<b>Neither Nationalisation nor Privatisation: Selections 
from Freedom 1945-1950</b>, Vernon Richards (Ed), p. 9]
<p>
So, if extensive reforms have occurred, just remember what they were in
response to militant pressure from below and that we could have got so
much more.
<p>
Therefore, in general, things have little changed over the one hundred years 
since this anarchist argument against electioneering was put forward:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"in the electoral process, the working class will always be cheated and
deceived. . . if they did manage to send, one, or ten, or fifty of
them[selves to Parliament], they would become spoiled and powerless.
Furthermore, even if the majority of Parliament were composed of workers,
they could do nothing. Not only is there the senate . . . the chiefs of
the armed forces, the heads of the judiciary and of the police, who would
be against the parliamentary bills advanced by such a chamber and would
refuse to enforce laws favouring the workers (it has happened [for example
the 8 hour working day was legally created in many US states by the 1870s,
but workers had to strike for it in 1886 as it as not enforced]; but 
furthermore laws are not miraculous; no law can prevent the capitalists
from exploiting the workers; no law can force them to keep their factories
open and employ workers at such and such conditions, nor force shopkeepers
to sell as a certain price, and so on."</i> [S. Merlino, quoted by L. Galleani,
<b>The End of Anarchism?</b>, p. 13]
</blockquote><p>
Moreover, anarchists reject voting for other reasons. The fact is 
that electoral procedures are the opposite of direct action - they 
are <b>based</b> on getting someone else to act on your behalf. Therefore, 
far from empowering people and giving them a sense of confidence and 
ability, electioneering <b>dis</b>-empowers them by creating a "leader" figure 
from which changes are expected to flow. As Martin observes:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"all the 
historical evidence suggests that parties are more a drag than an 
impetus to radical change. One obvious problem is that parties 
can be voted out. All the policy changes they brought in can simply be 
reversed later. 
<p>
"More important, though, is the pacifying influence of the 
radical party itself. On a number of occasions, radical parties have been 
elected to power as a result of popular upsurges. Time after time, the 
'radical' parties have become chains to hold back the process of radical 
change"</i> [<i>"Democracy without Elections,"</i> <b>Reinventing Anarchy, 
Again</b>, Howard J. Ehrlich (ed.), p. 124]
</blockquote><p>
This can easily be seen from the history of the various left-wing parties.
Ralph Miliband points out that labour or socialist parties, elected in
periods of social turbulence, have often acted to reassure the ruling
elite by dampening popular action that could have threatened capitalist
interests [<b>The State in Capitalist Society</b>, Weidenfeld and Nicolson,
1969]. For example, the first project undertaken by the Popular Front,
elected in France in 1936, was to put an end to strikes and occupations
and generally to cool popular militancy, which was the Front's strongest
ally in coming to power. The Labour government elected in Britain in 1945
got by with as few reforms as it could, refusing to consider changing
basic social structures. In addition, within the first week of taking office
it sent troops in to break the dockers' strike. Labour has used troops to 
break strikes far more often than the Conservatives have. 
<p>
These points indicate why existing power structures cannot effectively be
challenged through elections. For one thing, elected representatives are 
not <b>mandated,</b> which is to say they are not tied in any binding way to 
particular policies, no matter what promises they have made or what voters 
may prefer. Around election time, the public's influence on politicians is
strongest, but after the election, representatives can do practically
whatever they want, because there is no procedure for <b>instant recall.</b> 
In practice it is impossible to recall politicians before the next
election, and between elections they are continually exposed to pressure
from powerful special-interest groups -- especially business lobbyists,
state bureaucracies and political party power brokers. 
<p>
Under such pressure, the tendency of politicians to break campaign
promises has become legendary. Generally, such promise breaking is blamed
on bad character, leading to periodic "throw-the-bastards-out" fervour --
after which a new set of representatives is elected, who also mysteriously
turn out to be bastards! In reality it is the system itself that
produces "bastards," the sell-outs and shady dealing we have come to
expect from politicians. As Alex Comfort argues, political office
attracts power-hungry, authoritarian, and ruthless personalities, or at
least tends to bring out such qualities in those who are elected
(see his classic work <b>Authority and Delinquency in the Modern State: A Criminological Approach to the Problem of Power</b>). 
<p>
In light of modern "democracy", it is amazing that anyone takes the system
seriously enough to vote at all. And in fact, voter turnout in the US and
other nations where "democracy" is practiced in this fashion is typically
low. Nevertheless, some voters continue to participate, pinning their
hopes on new parties or trying to reform a major party. For anarchists,
this activity is pointless as it does not get at the root of the problem.
It is not politicians or parties which are the problem, its a system
which shapes them into its own image and marginalises and alienates 
people due to its hierarchical and centralised nature. No amount of party
politics can change that.
<p>
However, we should make it clear that most anarchists recognise there is a 
difference between voting for a government and voting in referendum. Here 
we are discussing the former, electioneering, as a means of social 
change. Referenda are closer to anarchist ideas of direct democracy 
and are, while flawed, far better than electing a politician to office 
once every four years or so.
<p>
In addition, Anarchists are not necessarily against all involvement in 
electoral politics. Bakunin thought it could sometimes be useful to 
participate in local elections in relatively small communities where 
regular contact with representatives can maintain accountability. This
argument has been taken up by such Social Ecologists such as Murray
Bookchin who argues that anarchists, by taking part in local elections,
can use this technique to create self-governing community assemblies.
However, few anarchists support such means to create community assemblies 
(see <a href="secJ5.html#secj514">section J.5.14</a> for a discussion on this).
<p>
However, in large cities and in regional or national elections, certain 
processes have developed which render the term "democracy" inappropriate. 
These processes include mass advertising, bribery of voters through government 
projects in local areas, party "machines," the limitation of news coverage to 
two (or at most three) major parties, and government manipulation of the news. 
Party machines choose candidates, dictate platforms, and contact voters by 
phone campaigns. Mass advertising "packages" candidates like commodities,
selling them to voters by emphasising personality rather than policies,
while media news coverage emphasise the "horse race" aspects of campaigns
rather than policy issues. Government spending in certain areas (or more
cynically, the announcement of new projects in such areas just before
elections) has become a standard technique for buying votes. And we have
already examined the mechanisms through which the media is made dependent
of government sources of information (see <a href="secD3.html">section D.3
</a>), a development that obviously helps incumbents. 
<p>
Therefore, for these related reasons anarchists reject the voting as a
means of change. Instead we wholeheartedly support direct action as
the means of getting improvements in the here and now as well as the
means of creating an alternative to the current system.
<p>
<a name="secj23"><h2>J.2.3 What are the political implications of voting?</h2>
<p>
At its most basic, voting implies agreement with the status quo. It
is worth quoting the Scottish libertarian socialist James Kelman at
length on this:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"State propaganda insists that the reason why at least 40 percent of
the voting public don't vote at all is because they have no feelings one 
way or the other. They say the same thing in the USA, where some 85
percent of the population are apparently 'apolitical' since they don't
bother registering a vote. Rejection of the political system is 
inadmissible as far as the state is concerned. . . Of course the one
thing that does happen when you vote is that someone else has endorsed an
unfair political system. . . A vote for any party or any individual is
always a vote for the political system. You can interpret your vote in
whichever way you like but it remains an endorsement of the apparatus. . .
If there was any possibility that the apparatus could effect a change 
in the system then they would dismantle it immediately. In other words
the political system is an integral state institution, designed and
refined to perpetuate its own existence. Ruling authority fixes the 
agenda by which the public are allowed 'to enter the political arena'
and that's the fix they've settled on"</i> [<b>Some Recent Attacks</b>, p.87]
</blockquote><p>
We are taught from an early age that voting in elections is right and a
duty. In US schools, children elect class presidents and other officers. 
Often mini-general elections are held to "educate" children in "democracy".
Periodically, election coverage monopolises the media. We are made to
feel guilty about shirking our "civic responsibility" if we don't vote. 
Countries that have no elections, or only rigged elections, are regarded
as failures [Benjamin Ginsberg, <b>The Consequences of Consent: Elections,
Citizen Control and Popular Acquiescence</b>, Addison-Wesley, 1982]. As a
result, elections have become a quasi-religious ritual.
<p>
As Brian Martin points out, however, <i>"elections in practice have served
well to maintain dominant power structures such as private property, the
military, male domination, and economic inequality. None of these has been
seriously threatened through voting. It is from the point of view of
radical critics that elections are most limiting."</i> [<i>"Democracy without
Elections,"</i> <b>Social Anarchism</b>, <b>Reinventing Anarchy, 
Again</b>, Howard J. Ehrlich (ed.), p. 124]
<p>
Benjamin Ginsberg has noted other ways in which elections serve the
interests of state power. Firstly, voting helps to legitimate government;
hence suffrage has often been expanded at times when there was little
popular demand for it but when mass support of government was crucial, as
during a war or revolution. Secondly, since voting is organised and
supervised by government, it comes to be seen as the only legitimate form
of political participation, thus making it likely that any revolts by
oppressed or marginalized groups will be viewed by the general public as
illegitimate. [<b>The Consequences of Consent</b>] 
<p>
In addition, Ginsberg argues that, historically, by enlarging the number
of people who participate in 'politics,' and by turning this participation
into the "safe" activities of campaigning and voting, elections have
reduced the risk of more radical direct action. That is, voting
disempowers the grassroots by diverting energy from grassroots action. 
After all, the goal of electoral politics is to elect a representative who
will act <b>for</b> us. Therefore, instead taking direct action to solve
problems ourselves, action becomes indirect, though the government. This
is an insidiously easy trap to fall into, as we have been conditioned in
hierarchical society from day one into attitudes of passivity and
obedience, which gives most of us a deep-seated tendency to leave
important matters to the "experts" and "authorities." 
<p>
Anarchists also criticise elections for giving citizens the false
impression that the government serves, or can serve, the people. As
Martin puts it, <i>"the founding of the modern state a few centuries ago was
met with great resistance: people would refuse to pay taxes, to be
conscripted or to obey laws passed by national governments. The
introduction of voting and the expanded suffrage have greatly aided the
expansion of state power. Rather than seeing the system as one of ruler
and ruled, people see at least the possibility of using state power to
serve themselves. As electoral participation has increased, the degree of
resistance to taxation, military service, and the immense variety of laws
regulating behaviour, has been greatly attenuated"</i> [<b>Op. Cit.</b>,
p. 126]
<p>
Ironically, however, voting has legitimated the growth of state power to
such an extent that the state is now beyond any real popular control by
the form of participation that made that growth possible. Nevertheless,
as Ginsberg observes, the idea that electoral participation means popular
control of government is so deeply implanted in people's psyches <i>"that
even the most overtly skeptical cannot fully free themselves from it"</i>
[<b>The Consequences of Consent</b>, op. cit., p. 241].
<p>
Therefore, voting has the important political implication of encouraging
people to identify with state power and to justify the status quo. In 
addition, it feeds the illusion that the state is neutral and that
electing parties to office means that people have control over their
own lives. Moreover, elections have a tendency to make people passive,
to look for salvation from above and not from their own self-activity.
As such it produces a division between leaders and led, with the voters
turned into spectators of activity, not the participants within it. 
<p>
All this does not mean, obviously, that anarchists prefer dictatorship 
or an "enlightened" monarchy. Far from it, democratising state power
can be an important step towards abolishing it. All anarchists agree
with Bakunin when he argued that <i>"the most imperfect republic is a 
thousand times better that even the most enlightened monarchy."</i> [cited
by Guerin, <b>Anarchism</b>, p. 20] But neither does it mean that anarchists 
will join in with the farce of electioneering, particularly when there 
are more effective means available for changing things for the better.
<p>
<a name="secj24"><h2>J.2.4 Surely voting for radical parties will be effective?</h2>
<p>
There is no doubt that voting can lead to changes in policies, which can
be a good thing as far as it goes. But such policies are formulated and
implemented within the authoritarian framework of the hierarchical
capitalist state -- a framework which itself is never open to challenge by
voting. To the contrary, voting legitimates the state framework, ensuring
that social change will be mild, gradual, and reformist rather than rapid 
and radical. Indeed, the "democratic" process will (and has) resulted in all
successful political parties becoming committed to "more of the same" or 
tinkering with the details at best (which is usually the limits of any
policy changes). 
<p>
Therefore, given the need for radical systemic changes as soon as possible 
due to the exponentially accelerating crises of modern civilisation, working 
for gradual reforms within the electoral system must be seen as a potentially 
deadly tactical error. In addition, it can never get to the root causes of
our problems. Anarchists reject the idea that our problems can be solved by 
the very institutions that cause them in the first place! What happens in 
our communities, workplaces and environment is too important to be left 
to politicians - or the ruling elite who control governments.
<p>
Because of this anarchists reject political parties and electioneering. 
Electioneering has always been the death of radicalism. Political parties 
are only radical when they don't stand a chance of election. However, many
social activists continue to try to use elections, so participating in the
system which disempowers the majority and so helps create the social problems
they are protesting against.
<p>
<i>"It should be a truism that elections empower the politicians and not the
voters,"</i> Brian Martin writes, <i>"yet many social movements continually are
drawn into electoral politics."</i> There are a number of reasons for this. <i>"One is 
the involvement of party members in social movements. Another is the 
aspirations for power and influence by leaders in movements. Having the 
ear of a government minister is a heady sensation for many; getting elected 
to parliament oneself is even more of an ego boost. What is forgotten in 
all this 'politics of influence' is the effect on ordinary activists."</i> 
[<i>"Democracy without Elections",</i> <b>Reinventing Anarchy, Again</b>, 
Howard J. Ehrlich (ed.),p. 125] 
<p>
Rudoph Bahro gives an example of how working "within the system"
disempowered grassroots Green activists in Germany during the early
eighties, pointing out that the coalitions into which the Greens entered
with Social Democrats in the German legislature often had the effect of
strengthening the status quo by co-opting those whose energies might
otherwise have gone into more radical and effective forms of activism
[<b>Building the Green Movement</b>, New Society Publishers, 1986]. 
<p> 
No doubt the state is more complicated than the simple "executive
committee of the ruling class" pictured by Marxists. There are
continual struggles both within and without the state bureaucracies,
struggles that influence policies and empower different groups of people. 
Because of this, many radical parties believe that it makes sense to work
within the state -- for example, to obtain labour, consumer, and
environmental protection laws. However, this reasoning ignores the fact
that the organisational structure of the state is not neutral.
<p>
To quote Martin again:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"The basic anarchist insight is that the structure
of the state, as a centralised administrative apparatus, is inherently
flawed from the point of view of human freedom and equality. Even though
the state can be used occasionally for valuable ends, as a means the state
is flawed and impossible to reform. The nonreformable aspects of the state
include, centrally, its monopoly over 'legitimate' violence and its
consequent power to coerce for the purpose of war, internal control,
taxation and the protection of property and bureaucratic privilege.
<p>
"The problem with voting is that the basic premises of the state are never
considered open for debate, much less challenge. The state's monopoly over
the use of violence for war is never at issue. Neither is the state's use
of violence against revolt from within. The state's right to extract
economic resources from the population is never questioned. Neither is the
state's guarantee of either private property (under capitalism) or
bureaucratic prerogative (under state socialism) -- or both"</i> [<b>Op 
Cit.</b>, p. 127]
</blockquote><p>
But, it may be said, if a new political group is radical enough, it will
be able to use state power for good purposes. While we discuss this in
more detail later in <a href="secJ2.html#secj26">section J.2.6</a>, let us consider a specific case:
that of the Greens, many of whom believe that the best way to achieve 
their aims is to work within the representative political system. 
<p>
By pledging to use the electoral system to achieve change, Green parties
necessarily commit themselves to formulating their proposals as
legislative agendas. But once legislation is passed, the coercive
mechanisms of the state will be needed to enforce it. Therefore, Green
parties are committed to upholding state power. However, our analysis 
in <a href="secB2.html">section B.2</a> indicated that the state is a set of hierarchical
institutions through which a ruling elite dominates society and
individuals. And, as we have seen in the introduction to <a href="secEcon.html">section E</a>,
ecologists, feminists, and peace activists -- who are key constituencies
of the Green movement -- all need to <b>dismantle</b> hierarchies and
domination in order to achieve their respective aims. Therefore, since
the state is not only the largest and most powerful hierarchy but also
serves to maintain the hierarchical form of all major institutions in
society (since this form is the most suitable for achieving ruling-class
interests), the state itself is the main obstacle to the success of key
constituencies of the Green movement. Hence it is impossible <b>in
principle</b> for a parliamentary Green party to achieve essential objectives
of the Green movement. A similar argument would apply to any radical
party whose main emphasis was social justice, which like the goals of 
feminists, radical ecologists, and peace activists, depends on dismantling
hierarchies. 
<p> 
And surely no one who even is remotely familiar with history will
suggest that 'radical' politicians, even if by some miracle they were to
obtain a majority in the national legislature, might dismantle the state. 
It should be axiomatic by now that when a 'radical' politician (e.g. a
Lenin) says to voters, "Give me and my party state power and we will
'wither away'" it's just more campaign rhetoric (in Lenin's case, the 
ultimate campaign promise), and hence not to be taken seriously. And, as
we argued in the previous <a href="secJ2.html#secj23">section</a>, radical parties are under pressure
from economic and state bureaucracies that ensure that even a sincere
radical party would be powerless to introduce significant reforms.
<p>
The only real response to the problems of representative democracy is to 
urge people not to vote. This can be a valuable way of making others aware 
of the limitations of the current system, which is a necessary condition 
for their seriously considering the anarchist alternative, as we have
outlined in this FAQ. The implications of abstentionism are discussed
in the <a href="secJ2.html#secj25">next section</a>.
<p>
<a name="secj25"><h2>J.2.5 Why do anarchists support abstentionism and what 
are its implications?</h2>
<p>
At its most basic, anarchists support abstentionism because <i>"participation
in elections means the transfer of one's will and decisions to another,
which is contrary to the fundamental principles of anarchism."</i> [Emma
Goldman, <i>"Anarchists and Elections"</i>, <b>Vanguard</b> III, June-July 1936,
p. 19]
<p>
If you reject hierarchy and government then participating in a system
by which you elect those who will govern you is almost like adding insult
to injury! And as Luigi Galleani points out, <i>"[b]ut whoever has the political
competence to choose his own rulers is, by implication, also competent
to do without them."</i> [<b>The End of Anarchism?</b>, p. 37] In other words,
because anarchists reject the idea of authority, we reject the idea that
by picking the authority (be it bosses or politicians) makes us free.
Therefore, anarchists reject governmental elections in the name of
self-government and free association. We refuse to vote as voting is
endorsing authoritarian social structures. We are (in effect) being asked
to make obligations to the state, not our fellow citizens, and so anarchists
reject the symbolic process by which our liberty is alienated from us.
<p>
For anarchists, then, when you vote, you are choosing between rulers. 
Instead of urging people to vote we raise the option of choosing to rule 
yourself, to organise freely with others - in your workplace, in your 
community, everywhere - as equals. The option of something you cannot
vote for, a new society. And instead of waiting for others to do make some 
changes for you, anarchists urge that you do it yourself. This is the 
core of the anarchist support for abstentionism.
<p>
In addition, beyond this basic anarchist rejection of elections from a
anti-statist position, anarchists also support abstentionism as it allows
us to put across our ideas at election time. It is a fact that at election
times individuals are often more interested in politics than usual. So,
by arguing for abstentionism we can get our ideas across about the
nature of the current system, how elected politicians do not control
the state bureaucracy, now the state acts to protect capitalism and so
on. In addition, it allows us to present the ideas of direct action and
encourage those disillusioned with political parties and the current
system to become anarchists by presenting a viable alternative to the
farce of politics.
<p>
And a sizeable percentage of non-voters and voters are disillusioned
with the current set-up. According to the US paper <b>The Nation</b>
(dated February 10, 1997):
<p><blockquote>
<i>"Protest is alive and well in the growing non-electorate, now the majority
(last fall's turnout was 48.8 percent). According to a little-noticed
post-election survey of 400 nonvoters conducting by the Polling Company, a
Washington-based firm, 38 percent didn't vote for essentially political
reasons: they 'did not care for any of the candidates' (16 percent), they
were 'fed up with the political system' (15 percent) or they 'did not feel
like candidates were interested in people like me' (7 percent). That's at 
least 36 million people--almost as many as voted for Bob Dole. The nonvoting 
majority is also disproportionately liberal-leaning, compared with those 
who did vote."</i>
</blockquote><p>
So, anarchist abstentionism is a means of turning this negative reaction
to an unjust system into positive activity. So, anarchist opposition to 
electioneering has deep political implications which Luigi Galleani addresses 
when he writes that the <i>"anarchists' electoral abstentionism implies not 
only a conception that is opposed to the principle of representation 
(which is totally rejected by anarchism), it implies above all an absolute 
lack of confidence in the State. . . Furthermore, anarchist abstentionism 
has consequences which are much less superficial than the inert apathy 
ascribed to it by the sneering careerists of 'scientific socialism' 
[i.e. Marxism]. It strips the State of the constitutional fraud with 
which it presents itself to the gullible as the true representative
of the whole nation, and, in so doing, exposes its essential character 
as representative, procurer and policeman of the ruling classes.
<p>
"Distrust off reforms, of public power and of delegated authority, can lead
to direct action [in the class struggle]. . . It can determine the 
revolutionary character of this . . . action; and, accordingly, anarchists 
regard it as the best available means for preparing the masses to manage their 
own personal and collective interests; and, besides, anarchists feel that even 
now the working people are fully capable of handling their own political and
administrative interests."</i> [<b>The End of Anarchism?</b>, pp. 13-14]
<p>
Therefore abstentionism stresses the importance of self-activity and
self-libertarian as well as having an important educational effect in
highlighting that the state is not neutral, but serves to protect class
rule, and that meaningful change only comes from below, by direct action. 
For the dominant ideas within any class society reflect the opinion of the 
ruling elite of that society and so any campaign at election times which 
argues for abstentionism and indicates why voting is a farce will obviously 
challenge these dominant ideas. In other words, abstentionism combined with 
direct action and the building of socialist alternatives is a very effective 
means of changing people's ideas and encouraging a process of self-education 
and, ultimately, self-liberation.
<p>
Anarchists are aware that elections serve to legitimate government. We
have always warned that since the state is an integral part of the system 
that perpetuates poverty, inequality, racism, imperialism, sexism, 
environmental destruction, and war, we should not expect to solve
any of these problems by changing a few nominal state leaders every four
or five years (See P. Kropotkin, <i>"Representative Government,"</i> <b>The
Commonweal</b>, Vol. 7, 1892; Errico Malatesta, <b>Vote: What For?</b>, Freedom
Press, 1942). Therefore anarchists (usually) advocate abstentionism
at election time as a means of exposing the farce of "democracy", the
disempowering nature of elections and the real role of the state.
<p>
Therefore, anarchists urge abstentionism in order to <b>encourage</b> activity,
not apathy. The reasons <b>why</b> people abstain is more important than the act.
The idea that the USA is closer to anarchy because around 50% of people
do not vote is nonsense. Abstentionism in this case is the product of
apathy and cynicism, not political ideas. So anarchists recognise that 
apathetic abstentionism is <b>not</b> revolutionary or an indication of anarchist
sympathies. It is produced by apathy and a general level of cynicism at 
<b>all</b> forms of political ideas and the possibility of change. 
<p>
Not voting is <b>not</b> enough, and anarchists urge people to <b>organise</b> and 
<b>resist</b> as well. Abstentionism must be the political counterpart of class
struggle, self-activity and self-management in order to be effective - 
otherwise it is as pointless as voting is.
<p>
<a name="secj26"><h2>J.2.6 What are the effects of radicals using electioneering?</h2>
<p>
While many radicals would be tempted to agree with our analysis of the
limitations of electioneering and voting, few would automatically
agree with anarchist abstentionist arguments. Instead, they argue that
we should combine direct action with electioneering. In that way (it is
argued) we can overcome the limitations of electioneering by invigorating
the movement with self-activity. In addition, it is argued, the state
is too powerful to leave in the hands of the enemies of the working
class. A radical politician will refuse to give the orders to crush
social protest that a right-wing, pro-capitalist one would.
<p>
This reformist idea met a nasty end in the 1900s (when, we may note, social 
democracy was still considered revolutionary). In 1899, the Socialist 
Alexandre Millerand joined the cabinet of the French Government. The 
Marxian-Socialist Second International approved of this with such leaders 
as Lenin and Kautsky supporting it at the 1904 conference. However, nothing
changed:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"thousands of strikers. . . appealed to Millerand for help, confident that,
with him in the government, the state would be on their side. Much of this
confidence was dispelled within a few years. The government did little 
more for workers than its predecessors had done; soldiers and police were
still sent in to repress serious strikes."</i> [Peter N. Stearns, <b>Revolutionary
Syndicalism and French Labour</b>, p. 16]
</blockquote><p>
In 1910, the Socialist Prime Minister Briand used scabs and soldiers to again 
break a general strike on the French railways. And these events occurred 
during the period when social democratic and socialist parties were 
self-proclaimed revolutionaries and arguing against anarcho-syndicalism 
by using the argument that working people needed their own representatives
in office to stop troops being used against them during strikes!
<p>
Looking at the British Labour government of 1945 to 1951 we find the same
actions. What is often considered the most left-wing Labour government 
ever used troops to break strikes in every year it was in office, starting 
with a dockers' strike days after it became the new government. And again 
in the 1970s Labour used troops to break strikes. Indeed, the Labour Party 
has used troops to break strikes more often than the right-wing Conservative 
Party. 
<p>
In other words, while these are important arguments in favour of radicals
using elections, they ultimately fail to take into account the nature of 
the state and the corrupting effect it has on radicals. If history is 
anything to go by, the net effect of radicals using elections is that by 
the time they are elected to office the radicals will happily do what they 
claimed the right-wing would have done. Many blame the individuals elected
to office for these betrayals, arguing that we need to elect <b>better</b> 
politicians, select <b>better</b> leaders. For anarchists nothing could be more
wrong as its the means used, not the individuals involved, which is the 
problem.
<p>
At its most basic, electioneering results in the party using it becoming
more moderate and reformist - indeed the party often becomes the victim 
of its own success. In order to gain votes, the party must appear "moderate"
and "practical" and that means working within the system. This has meant
that (to use Rudolf Rocker words):
<p><blockquote>
<i>"Participation in the politics of the bourgeois States has not
brought the labour movement a hair's-breadth nearer to Socialism, but
thanks to this method, Socialism has almost been completely crushed
and condemned to insignificance. . . Participation in parliamentary
politics has affected the Socialist Labour movement like an insidious
poison. It destroyed the belief in the necessity of constructive Socialist
activity, and, worse of all, the impulse to self-help, by inoculating 
people with the ruinous delusion that salvation always comes from above."</i> 
[<b>Anarcho-Syndicalism</b>, p. 49]
</blockquote><p>
This corruption does not happen overnight. Alexander Berkman indicates how 
it slowly develops when he writes:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"[At the start, the Socialist Parties] claimed that they meant to use politics
only for the purpose of propaganda. . . and took part in elections on order
to have an opportunity to advocate Socialism
<p>
"It may seem a harmless thing but it proved the undoing of Socialism. 
Because nothing is truer than the means you use to attain your object soon
themselves become your object. . . [so] There is a deeper reason for this
constant and regular betrayal [than individual scoundrels being elected]
. . . no man turns scoundrel or traitor overnight.
<p>
"It is <b>power</b> which corrupts. . . Moreover, even with the best intentions
Socialists [who get elected]. . . find themselves entirely powerless to
accomplishing anything of a socialistic nature. . . The demoralisation and
vitiation [this brings about] take place little by little, so gradually
that one hardly notices it himself. . . [The elected Socialist] perceives
that he is regarded as a laughing stock [by the other politicians]. . .
and finds more and more difficulty in securing the floor. . . he knows
that neither by his talk nor by his vote can he influence the proceedings
. . . His speeches don't even reach the public. . . [and so] He appeals to 
the voters to elect more comrades. . . Years pass. . . [and a] number . . .
are elected. Each of them goes through the same experience. . . [and]
quickly come to the conclusion. . . [that] They must show that they are
practical men. . . that they are doing something for their constituency. . .
In this manner the situation compels them to take a 'practical' part in the
proceedings, to 'talk business,' to fall in line with the matters actually
dealt with in the legislative body. . . Spending years in that atmosphere,
enjoying good jobs and pay, the elected Socialists have themselves become
part and parcel of the political machinery. . . With growing success in
elections and securing political power they turn more and more conservative
and content with existing conditions. Removal from the life and suffering
of the working class, living in the atmosphere of the bourgeoisie. . . they
have become what they call 'practical'. . . Power and position have
gradually stifled their conscience and they have not the strength and
honesty to swim against the current. . . They have become the strongest
bulwark of capitalism."</i>[<b>What is Communist Anarchism?</b>, pp. 78-82]
</blockquote><p>
And so the <i>"political power which they had wanted to conquer had gradually
conquered their Socialism until there was scarcely anything left of it."</i>
[Rudolf Rocker, <b>Op. Cit.</b>, p. 50] Not that these arguments are the result
of hindsight, we may add. Bakunin was arguing in the early 1870s that
the <i>"inevitable result [of using elections] will be that workers' deputies,
transferred to a purely bourgeois environment, and into an atmosphere
of purely bourgeois political ideas. . . will become middle class in their
outlook, perhaps even more so than the bourgeois themselves."</i> [<b>The
Political Philosophy of Bakunin</b>, p. 216] History proved Bakunin's 
prediction correct (as it did with his prediction that Marxism would
result in elite rule).
<p>
History is littered with examples of radical parties becoming a part of
the system. From Marxian Social Democracy at the turn of the 19th
century to the German Green Party in the 1980s, we have seen radical
parties, proclaiming the need for direct action and extra-parliamentary
activity denouncing these activities once in power. From only using
parliament as a means of spreading their message, the parties involved
end up considering votes as more important than the message. Janet
Biehl sums up the effects on the German Green Party of trying to combine 
radical electioneering with direct action:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"the German Greens, once a flagship for the Green movement worldwide, 
should now be considered stink normal, as their <b>de facto</b> boss himself
declares. Now a repository of careerists, the Greens stand out only for
the rapidity with which the old cadre of careerism, party politics, and
business-as-usual once again played itself out in their saga of 
compromise and betrayal of principle. Under the superficial veil of their
old values - a very thin veil indeed, now - they can seek positions and
make compromises to their heart's content. . . They have become 'practical,'
'realistic' and 'power-orientated.' This former New Left ages badly, not
only in Germany but everywhere else. But then, it happened with the S.P.D.
[The German Social Democratic Party] in August 1914, then why not with
Die Grunen in 1991? So it did."</i> [<i>"Party or Movement?"</i>, <b>Greenline</b>, no.
89, p. 14]
</blockquote><p>
This, sadly, is the end result of all such attempts.  Ultimately,
supporters of using political action can only appeal to the good intentions
and character of their candidates. Anarchists, however, present an analysis
of the structures and other influences that will determine how the character
of the successful candidates will change. In other words, in contrast to
Marxists and other radicals, anarchists present a materialist, scientific 
analysis of the dynamics of electioneering and its effects on radicals. 
And like most forms of idealism, the arguments of Marxists and other 
radicals flounder on the rocks of reality as their theory <i>"inevitably
draws and enmeshes its partisans, under the pretext of political tactics,
into ceaseless compromises with governments and political parties; that is,
it pushes them toward downright reaction."</i> [Bakunin, <b>Op. Cit.</b>, p. 288]
<p>
However, many radicals refuse to learn this lesson of history and keep 
trying to create a new party which will not repeat the saga of compromise 
and betrayal which all other radical parties have suffered. And they say
that anarchists are utopian! In other words, its truly utopian to
think that <i>"You cannot dive into a swamp and remain clean."</i> [Alexander 
Berkman, <b>Op. Cit.</b>, p. 83] Such is the result of rejecting (or 
"supplementing" with electioneering) direct action as the means to
change things, for any social movement <i>"to ever surrender their commitment 
to direct action for 'working within the system' is to destroy their 
personality as socially innovative movements. It is to dissolve back 
into the hopeless morass of 'mass organisations' that seek respectability 
rather than change."</i> [Murray Bookchin, <b>Toward an Ecological Society</b>, 
p. 47]
<p>
Moreover, the use of electioneering has a centralising effect on the
movements that use it. Political actions become considered as parliamentary
activities made <b>for</b> the population by their representatives, with the
'rank and file' left with no other role than that of passive support.
Only the leaders are actively involved and the main emphasis falls upon
the leaders and it soon becomes taken for granted that they should
determine policy (even ignoring conference decisions when required - how
many times have politicians turned round and done the exact opposite of
what they promised or introduced the exact opposite of party policy?). In
the end, party conferences become simply like parliamentary elections,
with party members supporting this leader against another.
<p>
Soon the party reflects the division between manual and mental labour
so necessary for the capitalist system. Instead of working class
self-activity and self-determination, there is a substitution and
a non working class leadership acting <b>for</b> people replaces self-management
in social struggle and within the party itself. Electoralism strengthens
the leaders dominance over the party and the party over the people it
claims to represent. And, of course, the real causes and solutions to
the problems we face are mystified by the leadership and rarely discussed
in order to concentrate on the popular issues that will get them elected.
<p>
And, of course, this results in radicals <i>"instead of weakening the false 
and enslaving belief in law and government . . . actually work[ing] to
<b>strengthen</b> the people's faith in forcible authority and government."</i>
[A. Berkman, <b>Op. Cit.</b>, p. 84] Which has always proved deadly to encouraging
a spirit of revolt, self-management and self-help -- the very keys to creating
change in a society. 
<p>
Thus the 1870 resolution of the Spanish section of the <b><i>
First International</i></b>
seems to have been proven to be totally correct:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"Any participation of the working class in the middle class political
government would merely consolidate the present state of affairs and
necessarily paralyse the socialist revolutionary action of the proletariat.
The Federation [of unions making up the Spanish section of the International]
is the true representative of labour, and should work outside the political
system."</i> [quoted by Jose Pierats, <b>Anarchists in the Spanish 
Revolution</b>, 
p. 169]
</blockquote><p>
Instead of trying to gain control of the state, for whatever reasons, 
anarchists try to promote a culture of resistance within society that
makes the state subject to pressure from without. Or, to quote Proudhon,
we see the <i>"problem before the labouring classes . . . [as] consist[ing of]
not in capturing, but in subduing both power and monopoly, -- that is, in
generating from the bowels of the people, from the depths of labour, a
greater authority, a more potent fact, which shall envelop capital and
the state and subjugate them."</i> For, <i>"to combat and reduce power, to 
put it in its proper place in society, it is of no use to change the
holders of power or introduce some variation into its workings: an
agricultural and industrial combination must be found by means of which
power, today the ruler of society, shall become its slave."</i> 
[<b>System of 
Economical Contradictions</b>, p. 398 and p. 397]
<p>
To use an analogy, 
the pro-election radical argues that the state is like an person with
a stick that intends to use it against you and your friends. Then you notice 
that their grasp of that stick is uncertain, and you can grab that stick 
away from them. If you take the stick away from them, that does not mean 
you have to hit them. After you take the weapon away from them, you can 
also break it in half and throw it away. They will have been deprived of 
its use, and that is the important thing.
<p>
In response the anarchist argues that instead of making plans to take their 
stick, we develop our muscles and skill so that we don't need a stick, so 
that we can beat them on our own. It takes longer, sure, to build up 
genuinely libertarian working class organs, but it's worth it simply
because then our strength is part of us, and it can't be taken away by 
someone offering to "wield it on our behalf" (or saying that they will
break the stick when they get it). And what do socialist and radical
parties do? Offer to fight on our behalf and if we rely on others to
act for us then we will be disarmed when they do not (and instead use
the stick against us). Given the fact that power corrupts, any claim
that by giving the stick of state power to a party we can get rid of
it once and for all is naive to say the least.
<p>
And, we feel, history has proven us right time and time again.
<p>
<a name="secj27"><h2>J.2.7 Surely we should vote for reformist parties in order to show them up for what they are?</h2>
<p>
Some Leninist socialists (like the British Socialist Workers Party and their
offshoots like ISO in the USA) argue that we should urge people to vote for
Labour and other social democratic parties. This is because of two reasons.
<p>
Firstly, it is argued, radicals will be able to reach more people by 
being seen to support popular, trade union based parties. If they do not,
then they are in danger of alienating sizeable sections of the working class 
by arguing that such parties will be no better than explicitly pro-capitalist 
ones. 
<p>
The second argument, and the more important one, is that by electing reformist 
parties into office the experience of living under such a government will 
shatter whatever illusions its supporters had in them. In other words, by 
getting reformist parties elected into office they will be given the test of 
experience. And when they betray their supporters to protect the status 
quo the experience will radicalise those who voted for them, who will then 
seek out <b>real</b> socialist parties (namely the likes of the SWP and ISO).
<p>
Anarchists reject these arguments for three reasons. 
<p>
Firstly, it is a deeply dishonest tactic as it hides the true thoughts of 
those who support the tactic. To tell the truth is a revolutionary act. 
Radicals should not follow the capitalist media by telling half-truths or 
distorting the facts or what they believe. They should not hide their 
politics or suggest they support a system or party they are opposed to. If 
this means being less popular in the short run, then so be it. Attacking 
capitalism, religion, or a host of other things can alienate people but few 
radicals would be so opportunistic as to hold their tongues attacking these.
In the long run being honest about your ideas is the best way of producing
a movement which aims to get rid of a corrupt social system. Starting such
a movement with half-truths is doomed to failure.
<p>
Secondly, anarchists reject the logic of this theory. The logic underlying
this argument is that by being disillusioned by their reformist leaders
and party, voters will look for <b>new,</b> "better" leaders and parties. However,
this fails to go to the root of the problem, namely the dependence on
leaders which hierarchical society creates within people. Anarchists do not
want people to follow the "best" leadership, they want them to govern 
themselves, to be <b>self</b>-active, manage their own affairs and not follow 
any would-be leaders. If you seriously think that the liberation of the 
oppressed is the task of the oppressed themselves (as these Leninists claim 
to do) then you <b>must</b> reject this tactic in favour of ones that promote 
working class self-activity.
<p>
And the third reason is that this tactic has been proven to fail time and
time again. What most of its supporters seem to fail to notice is that 
voters have indeed put reformist parties into office many times (for example, 
there have been 7 Labour Party governments in Britain before 1997, all of 
whom attacked the working class) and there has been no movement away from 
them to something more radical. Lenin suggested this tactic over 70 
years ago and there has been no general radicalisation of the voting 
population by this method, nor even in reformist party militants. Indeed, 
ironically enough, most such activists have left their parties when its 
been out of office and they have become disgusted by the party's attempts 
to appear "realistic" in order to win the next election! And this disgust
often expresses itself as a demoralisation with socialism <b>as such</b>, 
rather than with their party's watered down version of it.
<p>
This total failure, for anarchists, is not surprising, considering the
reasons why we reject this tactic. Given that this tactic does not attack
hierarchy or dependence on leaders, does not attack the ideology and
process of voting, it will obviously fail to present a real alternative 
to the voting population (who will turn to other alternatives available
at election time and not embrace direct action). Also, the sight of a 
so-called "socialist" or "radical" government managing capitalism, imposing 
cuts, breaking strikes and generally attacking its supporters will damage the 
credibility of any form of socialism and discredit all socialist and radical
ideas in the eyes of the population. And if the experience of the Labour
Government in Britain during the 1970s is anything to go by, it may result 
in the rise of the right-wing who will capitalise on this disillusionment. 
<p>
By refusing to argue that no government is "on our side," radicals who urge 
us to vote reformist "without illusions" help to disarm theoretically the 
people who listen to them. Working class people, surprised, confused and 
disorientated by the constant "betrayals" of left-wing parties may turn 
to right wing parties (who can be elected) to stop the attacks rather 
than turn to direct action as the radical minority within the working 
class did not attack voting as part of the problem.
<p>
How many times must we elect the same party, go through the same process,
the same betrayals before we realise this tactic does not work? And, if
it <b>is</b> a case of having to experience something before people reject it, few
state socialists take this argument to its logical conclusion. We rarely
hear them argue we must experience the hell of fascism or Stalinism or the
nightmare of free market capitalism in order to ensure working class people
"see through" them.
<p>
Anarchists, in contrast, say that we can argue against reformist politics 
without having to associate ourselves with them by urging people to vote for 
them. By arguing for abstentionism we can help arm theoretically people who 
will come into conflict with these parties once they are in office. By arguing 
that all governments will be forced to attack us (due to the pressure from 
capital and state) and that we have to reply on our own organisations and 
power to defend ourselves, we can promote working class self-confidence in 
its own abilities, and encourage the rejection of capitalism, the state and 
hierarchical leadership as well as encouraging the use of direct action.
<p>
And, we may add, it is not required for radicals to associate themselves with 
the farce of parliamentary propaganda in order to win people over to our 
ideas. Non-anarchists will see us use <b>direct action,</b> see us <b>act,</b> see 
the anarchistic alternatives we create and see and read our propaganda. 
Non-anarchists can be reached quite well without taking part or associating 
ourselves with parliamentary action.
<p>
<a name="secj28"><h2>J.2.8 Will abstentionism lead to the right winning elections?</h2>
<p>
Possibly. However anarchists don't just say <i>"don't vote"</i>, we say <i>"organise"</i>
as well. Apathy is something anarchists have no interest in encouraging. So,
<i>"[i]f the anarchists could persuade half the electorate to abstain from
voting this would, from an electoral point of view, contribute to the 
[electoral] victory of the Right. But it would be a hollow victory, for 
what government could rule when half the electorate by not voting had 
expressed its lack of confidence in all governments?"</i> [Vernon Richards,
<b>The Impossibilities of Social Democracy</b>, p. 142]
<p>
In other words, whichever party was in office would have to rule over a
country in which a sizeable minority, even a majority, had rejected 
government as such. This would mean that the politicians <i>"would be 
subjected to real pressures from people who believed in their own power"</i> 
and acted accordingly. So anarchists call on people <b>not</b> to vote,
but instead organise themselves and be conscious of their own power 
both as individuals and as part of a union with others. Only this 
<i>"can command the respect of governments, can curb the power of government 
as millions of crosses on bits of paper never will."</i> [<b>Ibid.</b>]
<p>
As Emma Goldman pointed out, <i>"if the Anarchists were strong enough to
swing the elections to the Left, they must also have been strong enough
to rally the workers to a general strike, or even a series of strikes. . .
In the last analysis, the capitalist class knows too well that officials,
whether they belong to the Right or the Left, can be bought. Or they are
of no consequence to their pledge."</i> [<b>Vision on Fire</b>, p. 90]
<p>
The mass of the population, however, cannot be bought off and if they
are willing and able to resist then they can become a power second to none. 
Only by organising, fighting back and practicing solidarity where we live 
and work can we <b>really</b> change things. That is where <b>our</b> power lies, that 
is where we can create a <b>real</b> alternative. By creating a network of 
self-managed, pro-active community and workplace organisations we can 
impose by direct action that which politicians can never give us from 
Parliament. And only such a movement can stop the attacks upon us by whoever 
gets into office. A government (left or right) which faces a mass movement 
based upon direct action and solidarity will always think twice before 
proposing cuts or introducing authoritarian laws.
<p>
Of course, all the parties claim that they are better than the others
and this is the logic of this question - namely, we must vote for the
lesser evil as the right-wing in office will be terrible. But what this 
forgets is that the lesser evil is still an evil. What happens is that 
instead of the greater evil attacking us, we get the lesser evil doing 
what the right-wing was going to do. And, since we are discussing the
"lesser evil," let us not forget it was the "lesser evil" of the Democrats 
(in the USA) and Labour (in the UK) who introduced the monetarist and
other policies that Reagan and Thatcher made their own (and we may add
that the US Air Traffic Controllers union endorsed Reagan against Carter
in 1980 because they thought they would get a better deal out of the
Republicans. Reagan then went on to bust the union once in office). Simply 
put, we cannot expect a different group of politicians to react differently 
to the same economic and political pressures and influences.
<p>
So, voting for other politicians will make little difference. The reality
is that politicians are puppets. As we argued above (in 
<a href="secJ2.html#secj22">section J.2.2</a>) 
real power in the state does not lie with politicians, but instead within 
the state bureaucracy and big business. Faced with these powers, we have 
seen left-wing governments from Spain to New Zealand introduce right-wing
policies. So even if we elected a radical party, they would be powerless 
to change anything important and soon be forced to attack us in the 
interests of capitalism. Politicians come and go, but the state bureaucracy 
and big business remain forever!
<p>
Therefore we cannot rely on voting for the lesser evil to safe us from 
the possible dangers of a right-wing election victory brought about by
abstentionism. All we can hope for is that no matter who gets in, the
population will resist the government because it knows and can use its
real power - direct action. For the <i>"only limit to the oppression of
government is the power with which the people show themselves capable
of opposing it."</i> [Errico Malatesta, <b>Life and Ideas</b>, p. 196]
Hence Vernon Richards:
<p><blockquote><i>
"If the anarchist movement has a role to play in practical politics
it is surely that of suggesting to, and persuading, as many people
as possible that their freedom from the Hilters, Francos and the
rest, depends not on the right to vote or securing a majority of
votes 'for the candidate of ones choice,' but on evolving new
forms of political and social organisation which aim at the direct
participation of the people, with the consequent weakening of the
power, as well of the social role, of government in the life of
the community."</i> [<b>The Raven</b>, no. 14, pp. 177-8]
</blockquote><p>
We discuss what new forms of political and social organisations anarchists
encourage in <a href="secJ5.html">section J.5</a>.
<p>
<a name="secj29"><h2>J.2.9 What do anarchists do instead of voting?</h2>
<p>
While anarchists reject electioneering and voting, it does not mean
that we are politically apathetic. Indeed, part of the reason why
anarchists reject voting is because we think that voting is not part of 
the solution, its part of the problem. This is because it endorses an 
unjust and unfree political system and makes us look to others to fight 
our battles for us. It <b>blocks</b> constructive self-activity and direct 
action. It <b>stops</b> the building of alternatives in our communities and 
workplaces. Voting breeds apathy and apathy is our worse enemy. 
<p>
Given that we have had universal suffrage for well over 50 years in many
countries and we have seen the rise of Labour and Radical parties aiming
to use that system to effect change in a socialistic manner, it seems
strange that we are probably further away from socialism than when 
they started. The simple fact is that these parties have spent so much
time trying to win elections that they have stopped even thinking about
creating socialist alternatives in our communities and workplaces. That
is in itself enough to prove that electioneering, far from eliminating
apathy, in fact helps to create it.
<p>
So, because of this, anarchists argue that the only way to not waste your vote 
is to spoil it! We are the only political movement who argue that nothing 
will change unless you act for yourself, take back the power and fight the 
system <b>directly.</b> Only direct action breaks down apathy and gets results -
and its the first steps towards real freedom, towards a free and just
society.
<p>
Therefore anarchists are the first to point out that not voting is not 
enough - we need to actively struggle for an alternative to both voting 
<b>and</b> the current system. Just as the right to vote was won after a long 
series of struggles, so the creation of a free, decentralised, self-managed, 
libertarian socialist society will be the product of social struggle. 
<p>
Anarchists are the last people to deny the importance of political
liberties or the importance in wining the right to vote. The question we
must ask is whether it is a more a fitting tribute to the millions of people 
who used direct action, fought and suffered for the right to vote to use 
that victory to endorse a deeply unfair and undemocratic system or to use 
other means (indeed the means they used to win the vote) to create a system
based upon true popular self-government? If we are true to our (and
their) desire for a real, meaningful democracy, we would have to reject 
political action in favour of direct action. So, if we desire a truly 
libertarian and democratic society then its clear that the vote will not 
achieve it (and indeed put back the struggle for such a society).
<p>
This obviously gives an idea of what anarchists do instead of voting,
we agitate, organise and educate. While we will discuss the various
alternatives anarchists propose and attempt to organise in more detail
in section J.5 (<a href="secJ5.html">What alternative social organisations do anarchists 
create?</a>) it is useful to give a brief introduction to anarchist activity
here, activity which bases itself on the two broad strategies of encouraging
direct action and building alternatives where we live and work.
<p>
Taking the first strategy, anarchists say that by using direct action we
can force politicians to respect the wishes of the people. For example,
if a government or boss tries to limit free speech, then anarchists would
try to encourage a free speech fight to break the laws in question until
such time as they were revoked. If a government or landlord refuses to
limit rent increases or improve safety requirements for accommodation, 
anarchists would organise squats and rent strikes. In the case of 
environmental destruction, anarchists would support and encourage attempts
at halting the damage by mass trespassing on sites, blocking the 
routes of developments, organising strikes and so on. If a boss refuses 
to introduce an 8 hour day, then workers should form a union and go on 
strike or stop working after 8 hours. Unlike laws, the boss cannot ignore
direct action (and if such action is successful, the state will hurry to
pass a law about it).
<p>
Similarly, strikes combined with social protest would be effective means of 
stopping authoritarian laws being passed. For example anti-union laws would 
be best fought by strike action and community boycotts (and given the utterly
ineffectual defence pursued by pro-labour parties using political action
to stop anti-union laws who can seriously say that the anarchist way would
be any worse?). And of course collective non-payment of taxes would ensure
the end of unpopular government decisions. The example of the poll tax
rebellion in the UK in the late in 1980s shows the power of such direct
action. The government could happily handle hours of speeches by opposition
politicians but they could not ignore social protest (and we must add
that the Labour Party which claimed to oppose the tax happily let the
councils controlled by them introduce the tax and arrest non-payers). 
<p>
As Noam Chomsky argues, <i>"[w]ithin the constraints of existing state
institutions, policies will be determined by people representing
centres of concentrated power in the private economy, people who,
in their institutional roles, will not be swayed by moral appeals
but by the costs consequent upon the decisions they make -- not
because they are 'bad people,' but because that is what the 
institutional roles demands."</i> He continues by arguing that <i>"[t]hose
who own and manage the society want a disciplined, apathetic and
submissive public that will not challenge their privilege and the
orderly world in which it thrives. The ordinary citizen need not
grant them this gift. Enhancing the Crisis of Democracy by organisation
and political engagement is itself a threat to power, a reason to
undertake it quite apart from its crucial importance in itself as an
essential step towards social change."</i> [<b>Turning the Tide</b>, p. 251-2]
<p>
In this way, by encouraging social protest, any government would think 
twice before pursuing authoritarian, destructive and unpopular policies. In
the final analysis, governments can and will ignore the talk of opposition
politicians, but they cannot ignore social action for very long. In
the words of a Spanish anarchosyndicalist, anarchists 
<p><blockquote>
<i>"do not ask for any concessions from the government. Our mission and our 
duty is to impose from the streets that which ministers and deputies are 
incapable of realising in parliament."</i>[quoted by Graham Kelsey, 
<b>Anarchosyndicalism, Libertarian Communism and the State</b>, p. 79]
</blockquote><p>
The second strategy of building alternatives flows naturally from the
first. Any form of campaign requires organisation and by organising in
an anarchist manner we build organisations that <i>"bear in them the living
seed of the new society which is replace the old world"</i> (to use Bakunin's
words). In organising strikes in the workplace and community we can create a 
network of activists and union members who can encourage a spirit of revolt 
against authority. By creating assemblies where we live and work we can create 
an effective countering power to the state and capital. Such a union, as the 
anarchists in Spain and Italy proved, can be the focal point for recreating 
self-managed schools, social centres and so on. In this way the local 
community can ensure that it has sufficient independent, self-managed 
resources available to educate its members. Also, combined with credit 
unions (or mutual banks), cooperative workplaces and stores, a self-managed 
infrastructure could be created which would ensure that people can directly 
provide for their own needs without having to rely on capitalists or 
governments.
<p>
In other words, an essential part of anarchist activity is (in the
words of a C.N.T. militant):
<p><blockquote>
<i>"We must create that part of libertarian communism which can be created 
within bourgeois society and do so precisely to combat that society with 
our own special weapons."</i> [quoted <b>Op. Cit.</b>, p. 79] 
</blockquote>
<p>
So, far from doing nothing, by not voting the anarchist actively encourages 
alternatives. 
As the British anarchist John Turner argued, anarchists <i>"have
a line to work upon, to teach the people self-reliance, to urge them to
take part in non-political [i.e. non-electoral] movements directly started
by themselves for themselves. . . as soon as people learn to rely upon
themselves they will act for themselves. . . We teach the people to place
their faith in themselves, we go on the lines of self-help. We teach them
to form their own committees of management, to repudiate their masters,
to despise the laws of the country. . ."</i> [quoted by John Quail, <b>The
Slow Burning Fuse</b>, p. 87] In this way we encourage self-activity,
self-organisation and self-help -- the opposite of apathy and doing
nothing.
<p>
But what about government policies which actually do help
people? While anarchists would <i>"hesitate to condemn those measures
taken by governments which obviously benefited the people, unless we saw
the immediate possibility of people carrying them out for themselves. This
would not inhibit us from declaring at the same time that what initiatives
governments take would be more successfully taken by the people themselves
if they put their minds to the same problems. . . to build up a hospital
service or a transport system, for instance, from local needs into a national
organisation, by agreement and consent at all levels is surely more
economical as well as efficient than one which is conceived at top level
[by the state]. . . where Treasury, political and other pressures, not
necessarily connected with what we would describe as <b>needs</b>, influence the
shaping of policies."</i> [<b>The Raven</b>, no. 14, p. 179]
<p>
Ultimately, what the state and capital gives, they can also take away.
What we build by our own self-activity can last as long as we want it
to and act to protect it. And anarchists are convinced that:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"The future belongs to those who continue daringly, consistently, to fight
power and governmental authority. The future belongs to us and to our
social philosophy. For it is the only social ideal that teaches independent
thinking and direct participation of the workers in their economic struggle
[and working class people in their social struggles, we may add]. For it is
only through he organized economic [and social] strength of the masses that
they can and will do away with the capitalist system and all the wrongs 
and injustices it contains. Any diversion from this stand will only retard
our movement and make it a stepping stone for political climbers."</i> [Emma
Goldman, <b>Vision on Fire</b>, p. 92]
</blockquote><p>
<a name="secj210"><h2>J.2.10 Does rejecting electioneering mean that anarchists are apolitical?</h2>
<p>
No. Far from it. The "apolitical" nature of anarchism is Marxist nonsense. 
As it desires to fundamentally change society, anarchism can be nothing
but political. However, anarchism does reject (as we have seen) "normal"
political activity as ineffectual and corrupting. However, many (particularly
Marxists) imply this reject of the con of capitalist politics means
that anarchists concentration on purely "economic" issues like wages,
working conditions and so forth. And, by so doing, Marxists claim that
anarchists leave the political agenda to be dominated by capitalist
ideology, with disastrous results for the working class.
<p>
This view, however, is <b>totally</b> wrong. Indeed, Bakunin explicitly 
rejected
the idea that working people could ignore politics and actually agreed
with the Marxists that political indifference only led to capitalist 
control of the labour movement:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"[some of] the workers in Germany . . .[were organized in] a kind of 
federation of small associations. . . 'Self-help'. . .  was its slogan,
in the sense that labouring people were persistently advised not to 
anticipate either deliverance or help from the state and the government,
but only from their own efforts. This advise would have been excellent
had it not been accompanied by the false assurance that liberation for
the labouring people is possible under <b>current conditions of social
organisation</b> . . . Under this delusion. . . the workers subject to [this]
influence were supposed to disengage themselves systematically from all
political and social concerns and questions about the state, property,
and so forth. . . [This] completely subordinated the proletariat to the
bourgeoisie which exploits it and for which it was to remain an obedient
and mindless tool."</i> [<b>Statism and Anarchy</b>, p. 174]
</blockquote><p>
<p>
In addition, Bakunin argued that the labour movement (and so the anarchist
movement) would have to take into account political ideas and struggles
but to do so in a working class way:
<p><blockquote><i>
"The International does not reject politics of a general kind; it
will be compelled to intervene in politics so long as it is forced
to struggle against the bourgeoisie. It rejects only bourgeois
politics."</i> [<b>The Political Philosophy of Bakunin</b>, p. 313]
</blockquote><p>
So, anarchists reject capitalist politics (i.e. electioneering), but we 
do not ignore politics nor wider political discussion. Anarchists have 
always recognised the importance of political debate and ideas in social 
movements. As Bakunin argued should <i>"the International [an international 
organisation of working class unions and groups]. . . cease to concern itself 
with political and philosophical questions? Would [it] . . . ignore progress 
in the world of thought as well as the events which accompany or arise from 
the political struggle in and between states[?]. . . We hasten to say that it 
is absolutely impossible to ignore political and philosophical questions. An 
exclusive pre-occupation with economic questions would be fatal for the 
proletariat. . . [I]t is impossible for the workers to stop there without 
renouncing their humanity and depriving themselves of the intellectual and 
moral power which is so necessary for the conquest of their economic rights"</i> 
[<b>Bakunin on Anarchism</b>, p. 301]
<p>
Nor do anarchists ignore elections. As Vernon Richards argues, anarchists
<i>"cannot be uninterested in . . . election results, whatever their view 
about the demerits of the contending Parties. The fact that the anarchist
movement has campaigned to persuade people not to use their vote is
proof of our commitment and interest. If there is, say, a 60 per cent.
poll we will not assume that the 40 per cent. abstentions are anarchists,
but we would surely be justified in drawing the conclusion that among
the 40 per cent. there are a sizeable minority who have lost faith in
political parties and were looking for other instruments, other values."</i>
[<b>The Impossibilities of Social Democracy</b>, p. 141] 
<p>
Thus the charge anarchists are apolitical or indifferent to politics
(even capitalist politics) is a myth. Rather, <i>"we are not concerned 
with choosing between governments but with creating the situation
where government can no longer operate, because only then will we
organise locally, regionally, nationally and internationally to
satisfy real needs and common aspirations."</i> For <i>"so long as we 
have capitalism and government, the job of anarchists is to fight
both, and at the same time encourage people to take what steps 
they can to run their own lives."</i> [Vernon Richards, <b>The Raven</b>,
no. 14, p. 179] 
<p>
Part of this process will be the discussion of political, social and 
economic issues in whatever self-managed organisations people create 
in their communities and workplaces (as Bakunin argued) and the use 
of these organisations to fight for (political, social and economic)
improvements and reforms in the here and now using direct action and 
solidarity. 
<p>
This means, as Rudolf Rocker points out, anarchists desire a 
unification of political and economic struggles as the two as 
inseparable:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"[T]he Anarchists represent the viewpoint that the war against capitalism 
must be at the same time a war against all institutions of political power,
for in history economic exploitation has always gone hand in hand with
political and social oppression. The exploitation of man by man and the
domination of man over man are inseparable, and each is the condition
of the other."</i> [<b>Anarcho-Syndicalism</b>, p. 15]
</blockquote><p>
Such a unification must take place on the social and economic field, not
the political, as that is where the working class is strongest. In other words
anarchists <i>"are not in any way opposed to the political struggle, but in
their opinion this struggle. . . must take the form of direct action. . .
It would. . . be absurd for them [the working class] to overlook the
importance of the political struggle. Every event that affects the live of
the community is of a political nature. In this sense every important
economic action. . . is also a political action and, moreover, one of
incomparably greater importance than any parliamentary proceeding."</i>
[Rudolf Rocker, <b>Op. Cit.</b>, pp. 65-66] Hence the comments in the 
C.N.T.'s newspaper <b>Solidaridad Obrera</b>:
<p><blockquote>
<i>"Does anyone not know that we want to participate in public life? Does
anyone not know that we have always done so? Yes, we want to participate.
With our organisations. With our papers. Without intermediaries, delegates
or representatives. No. We will not go to the Town Hall, to the Provincial
Capitol, to Parliament."</i> [quoted by Jose Pierats, <b>Anarchists in the
Spanish Revolution</b>, p. 173]
</blockquote><p>
So, anarchists reject the idea that political and economic struggles can
be divided. Such an argument just reproduces the artificially created
division of labour between mental and physical activity of capitalism
within working class organisations and within anti-capitalist movements.
We say that we should not separate out politics into some form of
specialised activity that only certain people (i.e. our "representatives")
can do. Instead, anarchists argue that political struggles, ideas and
debates must be brought into the <b>social</b> and <b>economic</b> organisations
of our class where they must be debated freely by all members as they
see fit and that political and economic struggle and change must go
hand in hand.
<p>
History indicates that any attempt at taking social and economic issues into 
political parties has resulting in wasted energy and the watering down
of these issues into pure reformism. In the words of Bakunin, such activity
suggests that <i>"a political revolution should precede a social revolution... 
[which] is a great and fatal error, because every political revolution taking 
place prior to and consequently without a social revolution must necessarily 
be a bourgeois revolution, and a bourgeois revolution can only be instrumental 
in bringing about bourgeois Socialism"</i>, i.e. State Capitalism. [<b>The Political 
Philosophy of Bakunin</b>, p. 289] 
<p>
We have discussed this process of socialist parties becoming reformist in
<a href="secJ2.html#secj26">section J.2.6</a> and will not repeat ourselves here. Only by rejecting the
artificial divisions of capitalist society can we remain true to our
ideals of liberty, equality and solidarity. Anarchists <i>"maintain that
the State organisation, having been the force to which minorities resorted
for establishing and organising their power over the masses, cannot be
the force which will serve to destroy these privileges."</i> [Peter Kropotkin,
<b>Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets</b>, p. 170]. Every example of radicals 
using the state has resulted in them being changed by the system instead of 
them changing it and, to use Bakunin's words, <i>"tied the proletariat to
the bourgeois towline"</i> (i.e. resulted in working class movements becoming
dominated by capitalist ideas and activity - becoming "realistic" and 
"practical").
<p>
Therefore Anarchist argue that such a union of political ideas and social 
organisation and activity is essential for promoting radical politics as it 
<i>"digs a chasm between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and places the 
proletariat outside the activity and political conniving of all parties within 
the State. . . in placing itself outside all bourgeois politics, the 
proletariat necessarily turns against it."</i> So, by <i>"placing the proletariat 
outside the politics in the State and of the bourgeois world, [the union 
movement] thereby constructed a new world, the world of the united 
proletarians of all lands."</i> [Michael Bakunin, <b>Op. Cit.</b>, p. 303, p. 305]
<p>
In addition, so-called "economic" struggles do not occur in a social vacuum. 
They take place in a social and political context and so, necessarily, there 
can exist an separation of political and economic struggles only in the 
mind. Strikers or eco-warriors, for example, face the power of the state
enforcing laws which protect the power of employers and polluters. This
necessarily has a "political" impact on those involved in struggle. As
Bakunin argued social struggle results in <i>"the spontaneous and direct 
development of philosophical and sociological in the International [i.e. 
union/social movement], ideas which inevitably develop side by side with and
are produced by the first two movements [of strikes and union organising]"</i> 
[<b>Op. Cit.</b>, p. 304]. By channeling any "political" conclusions drawn by 
those involved in struggle into electoral politics, this development of
political ideas and discussion will be distorted into discussions of what
is possible in the current system, and so the radical impact of direct
action and social struggle is weakened.
<p>
Therefore anarchists reject electioneering not because they are "apolitical"
but because they do not desire to see politics remain a thing purely for
politicians and experts. Political issues are far too important to leave to
such people. Anarchists desire to see political discussion and change
develop from the bottom up, this is hardly "apolitical" - in fact with our
desire to see ordinary people directly discuss the issues that affect them,
act to change things by their own action and draw their own conclusions 
from their own activity anarchists are very "political." The process of
individual and social liberation is the most political activity we can think
of!
<p>

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