So, with the State revving up its’ electoral gears, there have been a lot of pieces on the broader election landscape, how this impacts the polling industry, and, you know, whether the parties are on Snapchat. For the first time, however, in a long time… I don’t seem to care much at all.
For those who are not linked in to my mind like the Borg, you might not have heard that I am not planning to vote in this upcoming election. As well, some folks seem to have forgotten a lot of my general positioning on elections, election systems, and so forth. For a TL;DR just know that I still intend to engage in elections within member-led organizations or so, forth… but I am ceasing my engagement in the broader electoral system, because of my broader political convictions.
Ok, so everyone who didn’t really want to read on is gone, let’s get into this.
Part I: Elections and Anarchism
If you’ve been following my political positioning from 2011 to now, this shouldn’t be a terrible shock, but I’ve left behind my general faith in the electoral Left. Instead, I’ve come to reconcile myself with a broad interpretation of anarchism, as its anti-statist and anti-dogmatic elements appeal to me greatly. That being said, me being me, I have never found a home in any one of its various elements or branches, prefering a distanced path.
Though, truth be told, these are things that I’ve come to before. I have identified with ‘libertarian socialism’ before, before my last mainstream party engagement, and have been deeply impacted by Wilde’s The Soul of Man under Socialism (link)—this being before I realized that Soul was a loving Kropotkin-fan-fiction of sorts.
Now, the act of voting cannot be said to be entirely anathema to these spheres of politic. Many anarchists vote, whether as part of a platformist contingent, or amid the labour movement, or just as a non-coerced individualist act. I can’t say I agree, any more, with those notions (but who knows–maybe I’ll feel so in a different riding—University-Rosedale is not, really, worth fighting over—or different time in my life).
But, if one does reject ‘the State’ then a case beyond apathy is to be made to not vote. As Phil Dickens of The Property Is Theft Blog (link) notes,
It is a long-established truism that anarchists are opposed to electoralism. A myriad of slogans such as “whoever you vote for, government wins,” “don’t vote, it only encourages the bastards,” and “if voting changed anything they’d abolish it” have entered the public psyche. So much so, that they are taken up by cynics and the disenfranchised as well as by the anarchist movement.
The downside is that, by most people across the political spectrum, not voting is seen less as a conscious withdrawal from the framework of mainstream politics and more as apathy and ignorance. Anarchism, by extension, is dragged into the same category. It only helps reinforce – in the minds of our detractors – the myth that we are just mindless hooligans out for a riot, who neither have nor want a positive alternative to the status quo.
As such, there is one anti-voting slogan which remains exclusive to anarchists: don’t vote, organise!
Honestly, I’d much rather try to sort out my position in organizing and get to it, rather than situate myself within an electoral party (or, really, any party system). Does that mean I have faith in local organizers to counter the elections with some mass show of people power? Oh glorb, no. But, I think that this is a better basis for where I’m coming from—and I am far from alone.
In my heart of hearts, I could only hope to grow with communities I care about and be better at being engaged than I have been both now and in the years to come—where ever I find myself. This, then, is a point I am setting for myself—to broaden my own capacity. With that, too, comes a desire to focus efforts not in a party (electoral or otherwise) and instead build towards those ends. Intersecting, then, my personal ideals, my personal growth, and broader goals. These stances, after all, cannot be based in some individualism, but instead a desire to explore with others the ways and means of collective organizing.
Shall I condemn others for voting against this basis? No, but this is my ideal and where I’m sitting on these matters. I mean, for myself, if I just don’t believe in it… what business do I have voting? Why should I take part in a system that repulses me? Is it principled to engage in pantomime to appease others? The last part of this, I admit, I struggle with deeply in other areas of my life, but I think the point stands. If I view myself as not with the State then, to be intellectually and forthrightly honest, I simply should not. But, as should be clear, this is not my only reasoning.
Part II: Elections and First Nations
For those who don’t know, I am a member of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation. Across First Nations circles, there has been much intense debate over the role of our peoples in these very elections. I side with those who, as you can imagine, say we should not act to vote in this election. Indeed, whether you are from treaty-territory, unceded land, or those fully expropriated from our peoples—as L’nu then upon the Island of Newfoundland were hived from our place in Mi’kma’ki.
No matter the circumstance, we are sovereign peoples. No matter the pull and temptation of the State that occupies our collective territories, we should stand aside and take to our own affairs—on the island, we have enough to fix and work on ourselves. I would prefer, then, to work in concert with the peoples upon whose lands I reside and work with my own people in seeking new and better ways forward.
As Dr. Pam Palmater states in her piece, The power of Indigenous peoples has never come from voting in federal elections (link, not original—no views for Rabble),
I believe strongly in our sovereignty and right of self-determination as Indigenous Nations. The United Nations emphasizes that we not only have the right of self-determination, but that this includes the right to freely determine our political status. That means we choose how we want to relate to the Canadian state — as citizens, Nations or something else. It is internationally recognized law that citizens don’t sign treaties with their nation-states — treaties are reserved for nation-to-nation relations. Both the Royal Proclamation of 1763 (which is now constitutionally protected) and the historical treaties recognize our status as Nations. When I think about how I want to be represented at the negotiation table with Canada, I would much rather engage in nation-to-nation negotiations than as a stakeholder, interest group, or ethnic minority Canadian citizen.
Being a Canadian citizen has historically meant giving up one’s Indigenous identity, culture, spirituality, traditions, customs, practices, connection to the land, community, and Nation. For a short period, this was a voluntary choice — but for the majority of history, this has been a choice made for us by often brutal means. Defending our lands in Mi’kmaw territory meant being scalped. Speaking our languages in residential schools meant beatings, starvation, and sometimes death. Giving life to new generations of our people meant forced sterilizations for our women or the theft of our children by the thousands into foster care.
Like Dr. Palmater, I cannot support the notion that our people would simply sacrifice ourselves, our independent spirit, on a beard, some hair, and a sweater-vest. Those who vie for power will not undo the centuries of injustice visited upon us and cannot simply claim us as theirs to gain sway over. Even if you place little stock in treaties, among our peoples we have done better through resistance than through a ballot box, every single time and instance.
Part III: The Left, the Left, the Left is on fire!
Now in the days of Corbyn and with some in the US being bewitched by Bernie Saunders (who, by the way, are not equivalent on the political spectrum) some would expect new life to rattle through the NDP rank and file. However, from acting with a hand of lead to those who’d speak from party policy that Mulcair does not seem to like, to increasing police spending, to giving tax credits to “union-sponsored venture capital firms” it would seem clear that the NDP has no aim to firm themselves in real, progressive politic. It can be no wonder that even Barry Weisleder of the NDP Socialists/Socialist Action makes public his critiques of his party.
Mind you, I care not for the ‘socialist’ wing of the NDP—as I have no faith in their ability to break from the existing system and status quo if they embrace the party—but the point stands that the NDP has drifted rightward. Similarly, even if they had not been called on such things outwardly, it would still be the case that the detritus of the Canadian Federation of Students (George Soule, Brad Lavigne, Lucy Watson—of all people!—and more) all clog the party with their distrustful toolbox of bad faith and bad actions.
And, every other leftist electoral party or sect (because, Fightback) is a non-possibility, an implausibility, or just dangerous to hand the reigns to (because, authoritarianism). The electoral left is a house on fire. Even if—even if!—they win, I worry what will arise and how it will demobilize and co-opt people into its service, rather than for themselves.
Part IV: I Don’t Vote, But When I Do…
All said, though, I have not given up on our ability to enact democratic-ish processes on a smaller scale. I will always vote, as I can, in organizations I am part of. Similarly, I might well engage on a municipal level—in practical terms. Why? Because these are smaller, more direct and manageable communities. It would be my own ideal that many of these spaces (save large metro. areas) would be more directly and communally led.
This will still require some processes and procedures to enact. Such processes, if collectively determined, then, should so remain. For me, it is not the act of voting I am against. I am against serving a system that is both against my principles and against my people—particularly as any alternative will only lead to a re-enforcing of this statist, anti-sovereign position within these societies.
So then, I hope this post has been helpful in coming to see my position. Perhaps, you feel the same and wanted to know if others have? If so, here I am.Perhaps, you are looking simply to understand those of us who do not vote? If so, here I am again. I hope this has been enlightening and helpful. Whatever you decide to do for yourself, stick to your principles and your ideals. These will not lead you astray.
All the best,