January 18, 2009 by Jason Brown
Recently on this blog there have been two issues raised. 1) Whether or not Mormon and anarchist are a contradiction in terms, and 2) whether or not anyone who professes to be an anarchist can participate in the electoral system of the state. In this post I would like to address the second idea.
One commenter cited the following website: http://www.infoshop.org/faq/secJ2.html#secj22 I would recommend that everyone read it. It contains a wonderful amount of information and quotes by well known and respected political thinkers. However, despite the excellence of the INFOSHOP website, they do not pretend to encompass all the many strains and persuasions of the anarchist tradition. I certainly do not condemn people who refuse to vote on political grounds, but to condemn someone for voting for a third party candidate that has renounced corporate crime such as Ralph Nader seems counterproductive. After reading the infoshop site, I was satisfied with their argument against voting, but still believe that I would be justified in choosing to vote strategically; here is why:
At one point the INFOSHOP page states: “Voting legitimates the state framework, ensuring that social change will be mild, gradual, and reformist rather than rapid and radical.” This is the most common argument against reformist social democratic and green party strategies. Once the party has been elected it is sucked into the state framework it is inevitably forced to compromise with the state and becomes “reformist.” Unfortunately this is true not simply because the state favors capitalist structures, but because the constituents that the other parties in the system represent are not anarchists. In fact, radicals are a pretty slim minority in most countries. So, if for some reason a radical party does get elected, it will inevitably have to compromise. For me this is a vital tension within this debate. Do we hold fast to the purity of non-negotiation with the state, or do we engage it on its own terms in order to push it in the right direction. Or do we as many anarchists have done, declare war on the state? This unfortunately has the potential of creating a backlash against radicalism that ironically does not hesitate to use the apparatus of the state to guarantee security. This is exactly what happened during the 1960s with radical groups such as the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Weather Underground, which arguably gave us Richard Nixon. Again I am not taking a passionate position against non-voting, I am simply adding complexity to the debate.
Another problem I have is that if it were true that anarchists had actually achieved “rapid and radical” changes worth noting, I would celebrate the strategy. But it seems to me that though they present a legitimate critique, if we do not participate in the electoral system we equally risk legitimizing the “reforms” that take place on issues that we oppose. I for one, believe voting could be a very effective strategy for getting universal health care, a living wage, action on climate change, corporate accountability, etc. But then where do I draw the line? And at what point do I become serious about abolishing the state? I guess I am simply not satisfied with the tactics and options available, and do not see a revolution coming any time soon. I am also not sure a revolution is desirable considering how the French and Russian revolutions turned out. I am of course in favor of direct action as a tactic, but for example, many of the gains by workers in the 1930s and 40s through direct action were complemented by radical, small parties that ran candidates and challenged the two-party system inside the electoral arena. This is why Ralph Nader was relevant to this group; not because The Mormon Worker endorsed him as a candidate, but because he represented an authentic voice for radical changes that were not being addressed by the major parties.
I appreciate this discussion, and value the contributions that anarchist have made to social and environmental causes throughout the years, but I reserve the right to consider myself an anarchist and to participate strategically in the electoral system. Let’s continue the discussion, and I hope to learn from you all as what practical and realistic yet radical steps we can take to improve life for all.