Scott Walker won his recall election, and labor has suffered a genuine defeat. Maybe the words of Big Bill Haywood can give us some perspective on the place of elections in the struggle and where we might go from here:
The Industrial Workers of the World is an economic organization without affiliation with any political party or any non-political sect. I as an Industrialist say that industrial unionism is the broadest possible political interpretation of the working-class political power, because by organizing the workers industrially you at once enfranchise the women in the shops, you at once give the black men who are disfranchised politically a voice in the operation of the industries; and the same would extend to every worker. That to my mind is the kind of political action that the working class wants. You must not be content to come to the ballot box on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, the ballot box erected by the capitalist class, guarded by capitalist henchmen, and deposit your ballot to be counted by black-handed thugs, and say, "That is political action." You must protect your ballot with an organization that will enforce the mandates of your class. I want political action that counts. I want a working class that can hold an election every day if they want to. (my emphasis)
Abstaining for Change
Why I will not vote for Barack Obama this year
I voted for Barack Obama in 2008. I didn't do so because I believed the hope and change hype. Since Obama changed two key positions almost immediately after winning the nomination (telecom immunity and caving to AIPAC on Iran) I had long abandoned such naivete. Instead, I voted for Obama because I thought at least he would be restrained and judicious in charge of the imperial war machine. The attitudes of the Bush years seemed more important to repudiate than the actual policies, and everything seemed to indicate that, while he wouldn't depart too much from Bush's war policy and domestic police state, he would at least go about it in a more measured, less bellicose manner.
I think after three years of Obama at the helm, we can safely put to rest any notion that he's any substantively different. Need I list the reasons? Composing "kill lists" for drone strikes that target any "military-age males" and kill scores of innocents. Duplicity on withdrawing from Iraq. Doubling down on Afghanistan. Waging a war on whistleblowers while indeminfying torturers and other criminals. Corporatized health care for all. Continuing and extending bailouts for corporate America. Crackdowns on medical marijuana despite his campaign rhetoric. The NDAA and indefinite detention of suspected terrorists.
Just as it is unwise to be reflexively partisan when voting, it's unwise to be a reflexive voter at all. I am not the kind of anarchist who believes voting is inherently evil or violent. You have to weigh each opportunity on its own, unique merits, surveying where you can make the most difference. Even when you choose to participate, most of the time the real opportunity has nothing to do with the office being contested or the people contesting it. Because the state is tied up so intricately in the civil society we want to liberate, and engaging those people is the real task anyway, we have to meet them where they're at.
(This article was originally written for ALLiance: A Journal of Theory and Strategy.)
"If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal," declared Emma Goldman in a ringing indictment of the feeble mechanism by which the state claims to be restrained and directed. Of course, in invoking this quote anarchists argue against counting upon elections to change the status quo. We aren't going to bring about the voluntary society by listening to politicians, casting votes for them, and pressuring them to abolish their own offices. The statist means and the anarchist ends are clearly opposed.
But there's another argument against voting: that by casting a ballot, one registers endorsement of the state and its violence. Advocates of this argument do not hold that you must have chosen the politician who wields power. They disregard personal intent, interests, and any issues at hand. The argument is quite simple: by participating in the election, one is bound to its results. Given the anarchist view of those results - violence, fraud, and lies - one can only conclude that voting makes one an accessory to the crime.