By Daniel Dawson
As the General Election draws near, talks of public debates and the inevitable merit of each candidate being calculated by whose dog is the cutest or what their tie says about their personality are welcomed into the public arena. These dry and often cringeworthy events, in which a selection of wealthy white men attempt to represent a demographic that they cannot understand, are presented to the electorate as a means of determining the country’s immediate future; after a carnival of awkward interviews, Mean Girls style bitching and a reminder of all of the good and bad that they have each done situated within an isolated vacuum ignoring any sense of historical materialism, we, the voices of British democracy, are expected to do our part (a right gifted to us by the very men we are to decide on) and vote.
But why? Is voting all that important for achieving the social change we deserve? Is it the best means of being represented and having our needs and beliefs respected in an official parliamentary capacity?
From a liberal perspective, voting is a right. Our forefathers fought the fascists seven decades ago so that we could live in a democracy, not a dictatorship. Minorities have fought for the right to vote for over a hundred years and gosh darnit, we’d be disrespecting their honour by abstaining from the most important tradition of our generation.
And yet, from a radical perspective, one that removes all politic activity away from parliament, voting is a masturbatory act that allows a select few to feel like they’ve achieved something huge by doing very little. The idea of a vote being a right that we have earned is disgusting and condescending. The invocation of minority groups fighting for the right to vote ignores the surrounding prejudices within these so called radical groups. Voting was originally something denied to all but the rich men in society, who believed that to put such a responsibility into the hands of the lower classes would be catastrophic. But, after 1832 and the introduction of the Reform Act, men were given the right to vote regardless of class or suffrage. A success for the working classes? Maybe. But it still took close to a century for women to gain the right to vote, and even then this movement was born not out of a desire to be equal to men, but out of a disgust that black men were able to vote before they were. The Suffragette movement for all of its successes was still a movement based on the liberation of the white middle class women of British society, with no thought for those struggling beneath them. The idea of rights is, to radicals, verbose and patronising. Having to fight for scraps handed to us by the elite in order to maintain their hegemonic power over us has taken over the discourse of voting, and has trapped us in this five year cycle of expecting change through an arbitrary process.
The social stigma surrounding not voting is a damaging discourse that, ironically, trumps freedom of expression with the idea to uphold what many consider to be a democracy. “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain” says the liberal, whose uncritical eye refuses to realise the damage that voting can actually cause.
A materialist believes in the consequences of events historical and present. Historical materialism is the belief that, put simply, nothing happens without due cause; shit never just happens. By voting one is complicit in a series of events shaped by the political climate. It legitimises a system that, within our global position of power, actively removes the autonomy of other countries and other individuals. It restricts dissent within a supposed democracy. It kills brown and black children across the world, be that by drone or economic sanctions. The events of today are inherently and inextricably linked to the events of the past. Our vote allows for all of the above and more oppressions like them to continue in the name of white supremacist capitalism. Voting, to me, is nothing more than choosing the bullet least likely to kill me. Either way, I’m getting shot.
Voting is a right administered to many and if you want to engage in that right, then more power to you. The issue is that there must be a radical upheaval of our approach to voting. Public apathy is not the issue in a modern democracy, under-representation is. Middle class policies have little to give to those facing the brutal realities of austerity in Britain. What we have seen in this country since 2010 is a rising anger that takes to the streets. Single mothers occupying empty buildings. Angry students marching for Free Education. Climate justice actions against fracking. Black revolutionaries successfully stopping the flow capital to protest police brutality. Apathy is not the problem. People are realising now what a vote means for them and what they can do instead of voting, which is so much more than the ballot.
Promises made will always in the political arena be promises broken. To vote on promises alone is to naively and passively accept our own oppression. To believe that there is a single party that can fulfill our basic needs and help us to ‘build a better future’ is ridiculous. The interests of any political party are how to further expand capitalism in the interests of accumulated economic wealth. Even if the working classes were to rise and bring forward a new socialist government, the interests of outside control (i.e. The EU,see Syriza in Greece) would never allow those promises to be realised therefore denouncing any voter representation.
Emma Goldman said it long ago, and it still rings true today:
If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.
Article blogged from Here Comes Everyone – The Election Issue – read it HERE