Friday, April 2, 2010

All elections are a joke - a reply by Dale Evans

The refusal of anarchists to take part in elections stems from the ideas and criticisms of the classical thinkers of anarchism from the 19th century. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was himself deputy - representing the socialist party - in France's Chamber of Deputies. His views on social questions were ignored, leaving him with a disparaging attitude to parliamentary democaracy. For Proudhon 'universal suffrage is the counter-revolution', and Bakaunin argued that the  revolutionary party would become corrupted once it had gained power through universal suffrage. Indeed, uinversal suffrage only undermined the possibility of attaining socialism. These views have been reiterated by numerous anarchist theorists since, and they form one of the basic tenets of anarchist opposition to the state.

My criticism of Past Tense's leaflet on the upcoming general election arises from 2 areas. Firstly the attitude that elections are joke, all parliamentarians are corrupt and libertarians (anarchists and libertarian socialists) should not touch them with a barge pole; and secondly that their use of history to support their argument is misplaced.

The libertarian view that parliament is an integral part of the state that defends the interests of the ruling class politically and economically is a correct one. It is also correct that voting will not  bring about fundamental changes in politics and economics desired by libertarians. This has been recognised throughout modern history. Thomas Spence (1797 The Rights of Infants and The Meridian Sun of Liberty 1796)  in his criticism of Tom Paine's support of universal suffrage recognised that such change would not undermine the position of the ruling class. Spence argued that it was necessary to give everyone a vested interest in land, only this would undermine the position of the ruling class of his day, the land owning class. Even though Spence's ideas on democracy went further than Paine's, the demand for universal suffrage was a radical demand. It was one of the Chartist demands in the 1840s and was a principle that Suffragettes were prepared to die for. Full universal suffrage for all adult men and women was inaugurated in 1928. Of course our rulers like to give the impression that Britain is the oldest democracy, but it hasn't had its centenary yet! I think that it would be fair to assume that the disenfranchised of the village of Garratt would have supported the right of all to vote.

For Past Tense not only is parliament an institution that supports the ruling class it is also corrupt, and moreover its members are corrupt careerists only wanting to line their pockets with gold. Recent scandals have shown that some of this to be true, and it probably has always been the case. All this does, however, is feed into the cynicism of the moment and coincides with all the vitriol published by the gutter press. It also does a disservice to those MPs (maybe only a handful at most) who are worth supporting, such as, Geremy Corbyn who defends the NHS, trade unionism, human rights, opposes British imperialism and racism, etc. In other words having such members of parliament as Corbyn is useful for a range of causes. But for Past Tense Corbyn is perhaps merely a pet gerbil! The point is not all MPs are corrupt and those that oppose aspects of the British State and who have progressive politics are worth supporting.

Past Tense also believes that all elections are a waste of time, 'history repeats itself - always as a farce'. In reality history never repeats itself, they are always different circumstances and actors, new organisations, nothing is ever the same as before. It also seems strage that Past Tense should use this phrase that became famous when used by that authoritarian Karl Marx in his book the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Every election changes something and has consequences for the British people. The Labour government that came to power in 1945 setup the welfare state that many of us now defend against attacks to dismantle it. The election of Thatcher in 1979 heralded in an era of reversals with attempts to undermine the welfare state, the privatisation of public services, attacks on trade unions, and changes in the status of council housing. The election of the Labour in 1997 paradoxically led to British involvement in the Iraqi war and peace in the north of Ireland. Going further back the general election of 1831 led to political reformers having the majority in parliament and assured the success of the first Reform Act, the first step on the path to universal suffrage nearly one hundred years later. The future history of this country will be different depending on who gets elected, such differences may be marginal but they will affect millions of people in many ways.

For me perhaps the most irresponsible attitude from Past Tense is to ignore the present state of politics in Britain. The fascist BNP is now making inroads and beginning to look respectable. It has European MPs, and Nick Griffin, its leader is being giving public platforms to air his views. If the BNP were to gain a sit in parliament it would be a setback for everyone from liberals to socialists to libertarians, and a great victory for fascism! The BNP is a real danger and must be taken seriously! Griffin will be opposing the Labour Party candidate Margaret Hodge - former government minister - in Dagenham. I would argue that it is the duty of all libertarians to oppose the BNP and this would mean voting for Hodge. In the UK we have certain political freedoms, fascists seek to end these. It is the duty of libertarians to defend these rights, to ignore this process would be to do so at our own cost. Wherever the BNP has a chance of winning then vote against them.

A general election is an important time, because many people start to become engaged in politics, and many for the first time. This should be an opportunity for libertarians to make interventions and propagandise, and here I agree with Past Tense. However whether libertarians chose to vote and argue for others to vote should be decided constituency by constituency. It is important that democratic rights are defended and fascism is opposed.

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