Thursday, April 1, 2010

Past Tense Election Leaflet

The text below contains what is the traditional anarchist position on elections, written and published by Past Tense. As a general election approaches it is important that all those of the libertarian left (anarchists and libertarian socialists) discuss this important issue, please feel free to add your comments.



Oh God it’s another General Erection!
We know – all elections are a waste of time. Politicians of all parties fill their pockets, you couldn’t tell their policies apart without a microscope, the power of the rich, the global corporations and financiers continues merrily whoever is elected; well-meaning do-gooders get elected, then become sucked in or ground down by the weight of the system. While the meaningless circus at Westminster rattles on, our lives are at the mercy of their economic upturns and downturns, grinding away at work just to survive. While the rich and their parliamentary puppets wine and dine, whoever gets in next time will slash the NHS and other services many of us need to get by, to balance the national debt – at our expense, again.

The question is, what do we DO? Sink into apathy and distrust, giving up even the controlled lack of interest our rulers hope to kindle in us...? or take back the power in our own lives, now, every day, at work, in the streets, in our relations with each other, not every five years on a bit of paper but for real? We could do away with all politicians, bosses, bureaucrats, and run the world ourselves for the pleasure of us all and love of each other…


How things don’t change…
In the 18th century, the vast majority of the population were excluded from power by a corrupt political elite, who had the parliamentary processes all sown up in the interests of the rich, ie themselves and their mates (sound familiar?). The poor could see the electoral circus meant nothing to them. In response some set out to take the piss out of the whole charade. In the South London village of Garratt (in modern Wandsworth), from the 1740s to the 1790s, mock elections were held for the fictional office of “Mayor of Garratt”. Huge crowds flocked to a rowdy and fantastic parade and drinking spree, centred on a fake contest, featuring ridiculous candidates making grandiose speeches, promising the impossible if elected,and swearing oaths filled with sexual innuendo… The candidates were always poor tradesmen, usually with a drink problem and sometimes with a physical deformity. The main qualification was a quick wit and lively personality. Candidates assumed fake aristocratic names, and members of the crowd dressed up in gaudy clothes mocking the finery of the rich. From the 1760s the elections were associated with radical politics: demands for reform of the political system and protests against economic hardships and the lack of liberty for the labouring classes began to appear in the speeches. Gradually the fake elections became more and more subversive, especially in the 1790s, following the French Revolution and widespread agitation for reform or even revolution in England. The governing classes, scared stiff of uprisings, the loss of their wealth, property and control of society - and the removal of rich heads, as in France - cracked down on the reformists; the Garratt election didn’t escape. In 1793, Jeffrey Dunstan, the drunken, satirical Mayor of Garratt, 4 feet tall, funny, filthy and wildlypopular, was jailed for seditious speechifying… The Garratt election gradually died out. The idea was so much fun though that in 1827 inmates in the Kings Bench Prison in Southwark organised their own election for an MP to represent them… It went so well the prison governor sent in the warders to beat them all up and a riot followed…

Now of course the emperor wears new clothes; we are sold democracy, persuaded that voting once every four or five years means we decide… But the emptiness of this lie is becoming clearer to more and more of us.


It may not change the world: but why don’t we revive the Garratt tradition, with a vengeance this time, everywhere? We could hold mock elections, in the streets, parks, or even inside the polling stations on election day (till they chuck us out!), at work, school or on the bus, we could stir up a huge non-stop mickey-take of the meaningless parliamentary smokescreen, disrupting, engaging with others, having a laugh, but showing we aren’t taken in? Why not elect your ranty mates, or whoever; maybe they could all turn up at the House of Commons on opening day and claim to be an Honourable Member too? Would your pet gerbil make a good MP?

We could also revive other fun practices from our history: like the Suffragettes’ were fond of following   candidates they opposed around and disrupting all their elections speeches; which would be a laugh too, especially with megaphones or sound systems. These are just two ideas – there’s a million more ways to trash the dash for cash. Let’s use our imaginations, go for it, and not get nicked!

Having fun together is more real than parliamentary puppet shows… The more chaos and disorder, the more disruption, the more open rejection of the empty lie  of democracy, the more fun we’ll have the more potential for real change.

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