In the wake of the resounding defeat of the UK Labour party and that many people are questioning electoralism as a strategy I would like to add some more argumentation to this discussion, perhaps ones that people on the pro electoralism side haven't thought much about before. I am firmly in the anti electoralism camp, I was never a huge fan of it but the UK election has solidified my position that even advocating voting is counterproductive. I will here list my reasons why:
- Electoralism has a high chance of failing, a lot higher than most people think. First it relies upon there being candidates with policies even remotely worth supporting, then those candidates have to win a primary or a leadership election. Then they have to win a national election with the bourgeois media and opposition doing everything in its power to stop you. Then you have to win with a majority and if you dont you have to go into coalition, which means more compromise. Even if you do win a majority, you can’t pass anything too radical or the forces of the state will move against you, think Gough Whitlam or Salvador Allende.
- Electoralism means compromising our positions. Especially on things which we cannot compromise over like decolonisation and anti-imperialism. There is no major left wing party in the global north that is anti imperialist. They may offer some concessions like when UK Labour proposed to give chagos islands back, but they won't ditch Trident or remove UK troops from Afghanistan (which they put there in the first place). Bernie Sanders won't advocate an end to israeli aparteid and has said nothing about indigenous sovereignty. Not only this but it is impossible to defeat imperialism without defeating capitalism. You cannot eliminate the export of capital or unequal exchange which underpins all of this with social democracy.
- Electoralism means treating liberals and fascists with a level of tolerance that is harmful. Nearly all social democrats abide by the rules of bourgeois democracy, and that means being civil to the opposition, even if they are literal fascists. Nearly every time a social democratic party has come to power, they have let liberals and (to a lesser degree) fascists keep the power they have and even expand it. Every Left wing government in the global north has tolerated fascists and reactionaries even when they do great harm to us and the oppressed as a whole. Embracing electoralism means conceding to this position, and being unable to advocate (let alone carry out) actual revolution or even violence of any kind for otherwise you will break the rules of ‘respectability’ and lose or even be forced out of the electoral space. It de facto means treating the Tories and Republicans and legitimate parties with legitimate people and abandoning the correct position which is that they should be banned and everyone in them sent to reeducation camps at the very least.
- Electoralism means giving more power to social democrat parties. They are the ones who have the power to set policies, choose leaders (remember superdelegates?) and set the agenda. We have no power there, we can only take whatever crumbs they give us. If we focus on our own organisations we have the power to do whatever we want and suddenly don't have to compromise or settle for shit policies. We have power and autonomy there and can do what we want.
- Electoralism in the long term prolongs the capitalist system and delays or even arrests the development of revolutionary forces. If all of your time and resources are spent campaigning for someone who is going to raise the minimum wage by a few dollars, you have less time to explain to people why waged labour means they will always be struggling to pay rent and organising them into a revolutionary organisation. This is why the lesser evilism argument doesn't work, if you spend all of your time trying to put out fires, you won't have time to be able to fix the leaky gas pipe causing them in the first place, and in the long term that leads to more fires and more dead/harmed people. So in a sense, the lesser evil option is to do revolution because it will mean no more fires, thereby stopping harm that had the potential to be done.
If the left wants to gain real power, we need to ditch electoralism. It has been shown throughout history and recently that there is nothing to be gained from it for us. We would be better off dropping the idea and focusing our energy and attention on things that we do have control over, and things that will bring lasting permanent, positive change for our class.