Sunday, May 06, 2007

What I actually think about voting

I've written two posts recently about the persistent awfulness of the Democrats, neither of which mentioned voting. Despite that the discussion on both of them has turned to voting.

I would say voting is completely irrelevant in a discussion on the extent to which the Democrats suck. First you discuss how much the Democrats suck, then once you've reached consensus (or not) on that you discuss what impact that would have on your voting habits.

On the thread about Freedom Movement Amanda's first question was:

What’s “support”, then? Are we permitted to steal into the election booth and shamefacedly vote for Democrats while publically condemning them and helping them lose elections by increasing the number of people who don’t vote on the theory that they’re all the same?

My answer is it doesn't matter.

Well it matters if people don't publicly critique the Democrats because they're afraid of the consequences. It's unprincipled and bad politics. One of the first jobs of the left (wherever you are on the left) has to be to raise people's expectations. Part of raising people's expectations means saying that left-wing governments are not good enough.

But it doesn't matter whether or not people steal into the election booth and vote. Sometimes it really doesn't matter - since she's from Texas Amanda's vote in the Presidential election will be as important as mine.* At other times voting may have an effect, but if it's the most important, or anywhere near the most important, political act you take, then you're unlikely to achieve what you're going for.

A lot of my friends don't vote ever; I think even that is giving voting too much weight. Voting doesn't do any harm (and America is proof that not voting doesn't give the government any less legitimacy). I've no problem with people voting, or not voting, on the flimsiest of reasons. I've voted for the most left-wing party in parliament up until now, but at the next election I won't do so, because of the co-leader of that party.**

But, and this really shouldn't come as a surprise based on what I write, I don't think real positive change comes from voting, which is why I see political energy focused on changing voting patterns, as wasted energy. I'm hardly the first person to observe that progressive change is driven from below, not given from above. That means that we should focus our energy below, not above.

* I'm from NZ; I don't get a vote

**I should point out that New Zealand has a welfare system, and a national health system. Our Prime Minister even acted like a feminist for a few days this year (it's not going to last). The parties I've voted for have been to the left of the Labour party, which is turn to the left of the government

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:42 pm

    Interesting discussion. I agree with your comments, but not many other peope would - and that's an important point to consider, I think.

    Most folks in NZ, I think, see elections and political action as one and the same. If they don't like something, they use their vote to try to change it. They'll only do something else when they feel their vote has been betrayed.
    Protesting for or against something is a sort of extraordinary measure.

    For these reasons, I don't think the far left can really avoid the question 'Who should I vote for?'
    Of course, if we're going to be perfectly consistent and principled, we're going to have to answer the question with 'no one' or 'the Workers Party' or some other small far left group.

    I wouldn't give that sort of answer because I don't think it has any effect. I think that the vast majority of the people that have the potential to effect progressive change in this country support the Labour Party. This was shown very dramatically last election, when maps of voting patterns showed vast tracts of National blue frustrated by small red dots in urban working class areas like South Auckland.

    I wish that most people in South Auckland supported a far left party, or even a left social democratic party like the Alliance, rather than Labour, but I don't think I can change their minds with a few leaflets or blogposts or flea market conversations. People have trying that for a long time, without a great deal of success. I think that, by and large, people have to learn through their own experiences.

    In particular, they need to learn that Labour is no real alternative to National, and that its programme of continued neo-liberalism and support for the broad outlines of US foreign policy abroad runs directly counter to their own interests.
    A new party that generally represents them has to come into being.

    I hope you can see, then, why I'd rather have Labour in power than the Nats. As long as the Nats are around, Labour can pose as the workers' champion, without having to make any hard calls. They need to be put in the hotseat and made to squirm, as their supporters make demands they can't meet.

    The argument I'm making goes back to Lenin, who said in the early '20s that the new Communist Party of Great Britain should support the Labour Party 'like a rope supports a hanged man'.

    I think that the period from 1984-95, when Labour was split and almost destroyed as a result of Rogernomics, shows the potential for exposing the party by putting it in government and campaigning against its policies when they betray Labour voters. More recently, I think the massive split from the German Social Democrats and the establishment of a new mass left party in that country also counts for the 'hanged man' argument.

    A critic of the argument might point out that Labour has been in power for nearly eight years, and hasn't lost much support from its base. I think that'd be a fair point, but in response I'd say that the party has lost a good chunk of its Maori vote (though whether that vote has gone in the best direction is another question), and that the economic upturn that has ballasted relations with the unions looks like ending soon.

    The situation in the US is complicated by the fact that the Democrats are not, and never have been, a 'bourgeois workers party' (Lenin's terminology again), like the Labour Parties of Britain and New Zealand were and (probably) still are.

    The Democrats attract union support and appeal to working class voters, but they have their foundations in a liberal section of the bourgeoisie and they are not dependent on the muscle power and membership of the unions. The unions can't throw the party into crisis by revolting against anti-worker policies, in the way that the British and Kiwi unions could probably still do to their Labour Parties (in Britain, the union bloc vote is still extremely important to eladership outcomes and conference decisions; in New Zealands, unions do much of the legwork for the Labour Party at election time).