So cuddly-bear author of kids’ comics Alan Moore has decided to abandon his long-standing anarchist position of don’t vote; it only encourages them and throw his support behind the Labour Party in the forthcoming general election.
[The use of ‘kids-comic’ above is purely an habitual, knee-jerk wind up to fans of the ‘graphic novel’, and not worth getting into an argument over in the far more important context here; ignore him, Ed]
It’s an old quandary and one your humble and far less influential blogger wrestles with every time any form of ‘democratic’ exercise comes around. To those who think I just can’t be arsed to use what Ambrose Bierce called the instrument and symbol of a freeman’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country [that’s his vote, Ed], I do protest that I think long and hard every time the question comes around. This time indeed presents an even harder struggle than usual.
Perhaps oddly for an anarchist, I would be happy with the imposition of a compulsory (though secret) vote, as long as there was the option of spoiling one’s paper or, preferably, the addition of a none of the above box. And of course the true disciple of Tolstoy, who advocated refusing to pay tax or serve on juries, could always flout the rule and consider going to jail a valid act of defiance. Another opportunity to make sacrifice for the cause. But the opportunity for my lack of voting, as a positive choice, to be taken into account and distinguished from the lazy, the feckless and those who think it’s hilarious to draw a cock and balls on a ballot paper, would be quite welcome.
There is a long and illustrious history of anarchists wrestling with this quandary: can and should an anarch participate in the process of government in the hope of dismantling it from within? Is to play along a complete betrayal of Proudhon’s assertion that anyone who lays a hand on me to govern me is a usurper and a tyrant, and I declare that person my enemy [updated to avoid sexist bias typical of the mid 19th C, Ed].
Indeed, Proudhon himself altered his initial position of non-participation and allowed himself to be elected to the Assembly. Whether this was sensible or a retrograde step is highly debatable, and has been picked over ever since. Would we (ie the general populace) be now more open to the ideas of anarchism had he not been too ‘weak’ to continue a principled fight? Or did his other pronouncement that we should aim for ‘Utopias never; reforms always!’ fit in with a more pragmatic approach?
But in the present climate, I can certainly appreciate Moore’s desperation. We are faced with a government of a vicious, alt-right nature, determined to move towards the kind of devil-take-the-hindmost society that Ayn Rand would have wanted, a world of oppressed ‘losers’ supporting a parasitic group of self-appointed Übermenschen where the things the liberal bourgeoisie would call ‘human rights’ are progressively redefined as not just privileges but artificially scarce commodities. Who would not want to exercise anything that gave an indication of resistance, an attempt at refutation, even if it had little hope of reversing the tide?
When it comes to referendums, your rationalising correspondent does admit to taking part (so you can’t remotely blame him for Brexit!). But in this case, it’s not about electing a ‘representative’, and, strictly speaking, under the UK constitution, anything more than advising the powers-that-usurp of the general public feeling [We won’t repeat all the arguments about validity and numbers and persuasion from posts like Last Look-In to Brexit, if you don’t mind, Ed]. I’m happy to have my opinion noted, however angry I feel about how the result is treated.
But the final road-block, when all the humorous badge slogans like Whoever You Vote For, the Government Always Gets In have been brushed aside, is the fact that if you vote, you are by implication saying I agree to accept and be bound by the results of this competition. It’s an old pro-voting cliché to say that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain about the result. But in a very real sense it’s truer to say this if you do vote.
But it’s not enough, in that case, to stand aside wearing an anarchist badge and decrying the whole process of democracy, representative, fptp, direct or indirect as a manipulated sham. One has to be active in promoting alternatives and means of practical resistance.
And that’s where it all falls down of course. ‘Cos I don’t actually do any of those things — unless you count putting my badly-worded case to a tiny handful of readers of this blog as ‘fighting the fight’.
Which no one in their right mind does.
You go for it, Mr Moore!