Anarchism - Yes and No

I experience myself as constantly wobbling on the fence. At times I feel it useful to define myself as an anarchist, but often I feel it just leads to being stigmatised as a way-out bomb thrower or ultra-leftist. Among my heretical views is that I have argued that elections can make things worse or less worse, or potentially even a bit better if we know how to follow up on them. Therefore without cultivating illusions we should encourage the better tendencies - which aren't all to be found in one party. In addition because we aren't hidebound by exclusive membership of one particular party I feel we can help the better (or least bad) parties avoid being trapped in the divide and ruloe system of first-past-the-post - STV with open lists is a much less divisive electoral system.

In summer 2004 I wrote (as Les Ismore) a couple of articles for the anarchist paper, Freedom, making the case for a limited 'anarchist electoralism'.

In late 2004 and the first months of 2005 I worked on a 'strategicvoter' website, which aimed to help people work out how to achieve a hung - or balanced - parliament, aka 'No overall control'. The following articles stem from that project.

However, where there are doubts about the transparency of the voting mechanism itself, as with computerised voting and counting or e-voting, then I think voting becomes not a civic duty but a badge of slavery, and thus rejoin the anarchists in calling for abstentionist - or refusal to vote.

In any case, the main question is how we live and organise throughout the rest of the four-year cycle.  I contributed the following article to the g8 alternatives discussion forum in early 2005.

Why vote?, it only encourages them!

One of the currents of thought which has contributed to the current climate of public cynicism and distrust about anything to do with ‘politics’ is the Anarchist tradition, which (at its best) believes in a way of society organising ourselves responsibly without a ‘sphere of separate power’ - and hence without a class of full-time politicians.

Anarchism is far from the main such influence, which principally stems from landowners, captains of industry and other ‘haves’ who would be happy if no one voted as it would leave them to run the country with the free hand they hanker for. From their point of view, low turn-outs mean a weakening of any possible challenge from democratic politicians. And we have seen how the Divide and Rule, Winner Take All electoral system has also contributed to the loss of trust in politics and politicians.

Although there has been some recent discussion in the anarchist press, questioning the usual anti-voting line, most anarchist, ‘autonomist’ and ‘direct action’ groups remain strongly opposed and will continue to influence certain social groups who are well pissed-off with authority (often very understandably, to be sure, but who are any of us to patronise and judge people?).

Although condemning the condemners is a useless activity, there is nevertheless a place for sober, forthright criticism, spoken with goodwill and in sadness. Catch-phrases like ‘If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal’ and ‘Vote for Guy Fawkes, the only man to enter into Parliament with honest intentions’ do more to momentarliy cheer the disillusioned than offer any practicable raft for getting from here to wherever we need to go to.

One particularly wrong-headed argument draws comfort from the record numbers of non-voters by claiming them as having ‘voted for anarchism’, even though the great majority of nonvoters are demoralised and in pain or else firm believers in the Nation State, racist immigration controls, prisons, etc, etc who merely didn’t bother to turn out.

At its best anarchism is a philosophy of personal responsibility and human solidarity.

Although identified in the public mind as ‘bomb-throwers’, most anarchists (like Muslims today) have been no more or less violent than adherents of other political philosophies. (Also like Islam) many anarchists have a beautifully constructive and broadly non-violent vision of societal co-ordination and social change: Peter Kropotkin, Paul Goodman and Colin Ward to name but three.

That said, it is also true that, like all other intellectual traditions, Anarchism has its fair share of ‘true believers’, dogmatists, people who get angry if you disagree with something they say (I speak from personal experience, having been there, done that, got the T-shirt!).

When we are stuck in such a mindset (whatever our ‘ism’) then our beliefs no longer help us to view the world in its changing complexity but mainly serve to confirm our individual and group self-righteousness.

They seal us within ever-smaller circles of the like-minded, rather than enabling us to link up with other widening circles of people of good will with whom we share so much - as we would recognise if we could only allow ourselves to open to our common human needs and our common societal and ecological predicaments!

Open Letter to the politically disaffected

What constructive openings might follow with No Overall Control?

2) Let’s hang the Parliament, not the politicians! - An open letter to the tribes of the politically pissed-off.

Elections are not the be-all and end-all, far from it. But if we are constructively motivated, then along with other ways of defending and affirming our ‘Mother’ Society, voting can help us forge a path towards a participatory and consultative political culture, embodying much more equal respect, more equal freedom, greater social inclusion, nonviolence and planetary responsibility.

In this website we make the case that a hung or balanced Parliament is something which could help us get on that path, not as some automatic escalator which is going to magically transform society’s problems for us but rather as something which could serve as a raft or an opportunity for us to work with others to press for some more changes, and for us then use those changes to introduce further constructive changes.

You well know how many of you there are who are passionately disaffected or principled non-voters, possibly as many as vote for Respect and the Green Party combined. You care passionately about how society is going and along with many other ‘tribes’ of the disaffected you gave marching a go to try to stop the Iraq war in the biggest demonstration ever seen in the UK.

Hitherto you have ‘voted’ expressively by just not voting (or maybe by spoiling your ballot papers or by voting Monster Raving Loony).

Unfortunately, your refusal is all too often interpreted and seen by others as a sign of public demoralisation and indifference. Even worse, certain folk seem to be determined to use your non-voting as a pretext (’boosting turn-out’) for introducing ‘voter-friendly’ (tamper-friendly) systems such as all-postal voting, computers, internet voting, etc. Forward to Florida!

Tactical Unstrike?
Both in the light of the current global emergency and in the light of the current opportunity this election could afford us all, we dare to hope that many of you who have hitherto been ‘on strike’ against voting on ideological grounds or because you didn’t see any credible electoral strategy, will want to adopt a more flexible position. A bit like the Zapatatistas, not wanting themselves or anyone else to hold political power but who were and are up for surprise raids on the Big City to block the worst politicans!

Chomsky and others have recently called global public opinion ‘the second superpower’. Perhaps that is rather ‘aspirational’ for now, but if all the peace-minded non-voters did come in from a new angle, they could certainly tip a few balances!

Nobody is wanting you to give your souls to any One True Party or One True Tactic (even tactical voting!). Rather by dipping into conventional electoral politics (less a ‘tactical unwind’ than a ‘tactical un-strike’), and intervening against the pro-Bush war-mongers on that one day (or for that short period) on your own non-party and non-conventional terms, you could play the role of surprise king-makers (or President-blockers), and make voting an expression of creative autonomy, along with our other activities and involvements all the other days of the year, to be sure!

Besides, it could be fun!

May all beings be free, may all beings be cherished.

Keith Mothersson

Why do politicians kiss babies?

So what might constructive openings might we be able to develop if we balance the Westminster Parliament?