Another round of elections is taking place. As usual posters have been put up in the area and leaflets stuffed through letterboxes. I’ve had them all: Tory, Labour, Lib Dem, Green, UKIP, even BNP. Thankfully no-one has knocked on the door yet but there’s still time I suppose.
I have a record I’m proud of – voting for nobody at every election for which I’ve been eligible to cast a ballot going back to the eighties. I have never voted for anyone else. So “nobody” always gets my vote!
The first general election I could have voted in was 1983. That was the one just after the Falklands War when Michael Foot was Labour leader. Labour was hammered and the party’s left wing manifesto – described by one of its MPs as “the longest suicide note in history” – was blamed.
This was the turning point when the party changed from a social democratic one into a new one that accepted the neoliberal consensus of Thatcherism, the point at which New Labour was conceived (though two more lost elections meant the pregnancy was long and difficult).
I lost count the number of times I was told during the 18 years of Tory rule how different it would be when we had a Labour government. When it finally arrived in May 1997 people danced in the streets because they thought “things can only get better”. Little did they know.
So why do anarchists believe that government is part of the problem, not the answer? If the answer can be distilled into two words it is: class and power.
Put simply our society – and the whole world come to that – is controlled by a dominant, ruling class. They are the ones who have the power, wealth and control. The latest Sunday Times Rich List was published on Sunday and showed the wealth of the 1000 richest people had jumped by 15% in the last year. They are now worth £520bn or about one third of GDP.
Capitalism enables people to accumulate such vast fortunes and global capitalism is controlled by transnational corporations alongside national and international agencies such as the EU, IMF, World Bank, etc. Capitalism is a very good system for generating wealth but very poor at distributing it. And it causes all sorts of other environmental, human rights and animal protection problems too.
Those at the top of the pile don’t want the system to change which means governments have to comply with their wishes. That means low taxation on wealth and light regulation so they can move their assets to where they will be most profitable. It also means higher pay for bankers and company executives even as workers’ pay is being squeezed and benefits and public services frozen or cut.
The ConDem government likes to pretend austerity is necessary due to the economic crash of 2008 but in reality it’s ideologically driven and another phase in the neoliberal project of the last 30 years or so. This project and its ideology is that of the ruling class.
Anarchists believe that politicians of the left can make no difference to this situation since it is rooted in capitalism. Political parties and their leaders may start out with noble aspirations to change society for the better but the closer they come to achieving power, the more compromises are made.
Tony Blair was first elected to Parliament in 1983 when the Labour Party’s manifesto included unilateral nuclear disarmament, withdrawal from the EEC and nationalisation of key industries. By the time he came to power 14 years later all those policies had vanished and instead New Labour was a party that advanced neoliberalism and was – in the words of one of its architects Peter Mandelsson – “intensely relaxed about people being filthy rich.”
Which brings us nicely to the second reason why anarchists don’t believe in government: power and to quote a famous old phrase: “power corrupts”.
Anarchism as an ideology is based on human behaviour in the real world. It is a tool with which we can analyse actually existing politics and society. It says simply this: when people have power and authority over they nearly always dominate and repress them. The solution is to eliminate hierarchy and encourage equality, to treat people fairly and with respect; on the whole humans are decent and reasonable animals although of course not every individual acts in this way for a variety of reasons.
Anarchism is also an empirical ideology that is easily falsifiable. If governments were treating people fairly and increasing their happiness and contentment and we all had a decent standard of living with access to enough food, shelter, warmth, love, education, health, etc. – in other words if humanity was fulfilled and thriving – then anarchism would clearly be wrong.
But it isn’t. The weight of repression, both economic and political, bears down on the vast majority of us, the planet is under threat from eco-catastrophe and non-human animals are exploited on a vast, almost unimaginable scale.
The ruling class has created this crisis, yet it is the politicians of that class who claim they can make things better for us. Parties of the right blame the poor, immigrants, benefit claimants, etc, – the weakest and most vulnerable – for the mess we’re in. A lot of people believe them because they want easy scapegoats.
Parties of the left – and I include the Greens here – say the fault lies with capitalism and promise to reform it, clean up its worst faults. But they can’t. No matter what they promise, give them a whiff of power and they change. That’s because once they enter government they become part of the ruling class: chewed up and spat out to do its wishes.
So elections are really no more than swapping one set of gaolers for another. The system remains the same: capitalism is still there, the ruling class is still there, and hierarchy, inequality and domination are still there.
Anarchists believe only ordinary working class people can change this, meeting and organising in ways based not on hierarchy, authority or political power but instead on cooperation, equality, mutual aid and respect. This entails seeing through the distractions and obfuscations of elections and “democracy”. It isn’t easy; in fact it can be downright challenging – but it has to begin in our lives, now.