That's Why They Call It The Franchise
Socialist Review 2001
Should we vote in the next election? The first thing to note is that this is a purely academic question. We have already been dis-enfranchised. Place a cross next to your right-wing, neo-liberal, corporate-controlled party of choice. Complete the following sentence in not more than one 'X': "I would like the gap between rich and poor to be widened by these people ...." Therefore, what's under discussion here is what we choose to do with our dis-enfrachisement.
The argument that we should 'vote Labour to keep the Tories out' is not a socialist one. Parliamentary politics, as we know, works like this: each party bids for the tender of leased government from corporate rule which owns the franchise. And New Labour wins its contract from the financial markets with this pitch: "We can do things for you which the Tories could not and cannot. We can scrap free university education. We'll sedate the unions, privatise underground and air, close schools and hospitals. You won't get any Poll Tax Riots or Orgreaves with us. We can hand more power to unelected business leaders than the right-wing ever could." Of course, no-one ever says these actual words, just as no newspaper editor ever actually says to advertisers "We'll absolutely fill our paper with shite about how great shopping is. I swear ya! Even if we have to go out and recruit a whole new generation of journalists with no self-respect and lose all our good ones." No-one says it because no-one has to say it. Institutions select only those individuals who can align their interest with the institution. We call these people 'successful'. They become prime ministers and editors of Newsnight. They are shown respect. They are 'serious people'. My point is this: we may have been told that the phrase "executive committee of the ruling-class" can no longer be used in polite society, but that doesn't change the fact that it's true.
There's another argument against tactically voting Labour. If Labour has your vote it has your approval. Tacit, reluctant, it doesn't matter. It's support for a Home Secretary who incites racial hatred by talking about refugees "defecating in shop dooways". Approval of a Prime Minister indicted for war crimes at the World Court (by the Indian Council of Jurists); and of the forced starvation of Iraqi children and of terrorist attacks on Baghdad. (I could go on.) "No," runs the argument, "I don't approve of New Labour, but I'm being tactical." Well, Robin Cook doesn't approve of Turkish human rights abuses, but he's being tactical, too. (He has an oil pipe-line to the Caspian Sea at stake.) To put it another way - Dr. Martin Luther King said that if we do not oppose evil we collaborate with it. He didnšt say: "We'd best all vote for LBJ, my friends, or else it's the KKK for us, I fear! " And for good reason...
Parliament isn't democracy, but its check. No change has ever come from parliament, only from outside. Rights are never granted, they are taken, they are won. Direct action, non-hierarchical, revolutionary, grassroots organisations like Movimento Sem Terra, People's Global Action, Confederation Paysanne, Ya Basta! are able to work together in a global network, precisely because capitalism is trying the same shit everywhere. Pictures taken from outer space reveal that our planet's surface is covered in people who see that parliamentary poltics is a fix but still believe deeply in social justice. The possibilities for popular organising and agitation are unprecedented. Or we can keep our sentimental illusions alive down the local church hall.
You can read the full version of this in the new issue of Socialist Review. You can read this article in full here again if you like. Just go back to the top of the page.