Anarchists and the 2012 US Elections
By Adam Quinn
It’s always been easy for anarchists to demonstrate the absurdity of the US elections since the two major parties have had very few actual differences. Though each party has been using more heated and divisive rhetoric in recent months, Obama’s continuation of many Bush-era policies indicates our essentially one-party system remains intact.
However, to many Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy displays a significant shift to the right in the Republican Party. Romney and Ryan very clearly represent the interests and ethos of the 1%, and make no efforts to hide this. Together, they overtly defend the interests of the ultra-rich and advocate the destruction of many liberal rights and reforms. While the Obama administration has been the quintessential neoliberal empire, Romney and Ryan present themselves as some of the most economically and socially conservative candidates possible. It may not be as stark a contrast as the Fascists and Communists we saw in the recent elections in Greece, but many are portraying this as most ideologically contentious US election we’ve seen in our lifetimes.
As anarchists, how should we respond to this seemingly unique election? Some argue we should vote for the Democrats as the lesser evil, or vote Republican so people will fight back, while others focus on a boycott of the election altogether and even campaign towards this goal. This article argues that the decision between Obama and Romney is an ambiguous question that isn’t entirely about the lesser of two evils, and the decision between voting and not voting is highly individualized and insignificant. Instead, what matters is what we do instead of or in addition to voting.
Romney vs Obama
Though Romney may seem like a paragon of conservatism and Obama has been using more liberal rhetoric in recent months, it’s important to remember three important realities:
1: Both candidates defend the interests of the corporations that fund their campaigns and the ruling class more broadly. Some of the top contributors to each candidate are even the same corporations. Despite divergent rhetoric, both candidates still primarily serve the interests of the same people in power and the same power structure. Both are the Business Party, and neither is a labor party (as we clearly saw in Chicago last week), a reproductive rights party, a gay rights party, or a racial equality party. Obama has deported a record number of people, killed tens or hundreds of thousands in unjust wars, and fought against unions and for the privatization of schools, and Democrats even successfully pushed Obama to restrict the use of federal funding for abortions. The absurdly reactionary rhetoric of the Republicans even plays into Democrats justifying their rule and getting away with the continuation of imperialism, domination, and exploitation that benefits many of the same people, while harming many of the people Democrats claim to defend.
2: Obama may have less horrendous stances than Romney, but he can rule (and oppress) more effectively than Romney or any other Republican ever could. Obama expanded Bush-era policies of war and repression while receiving far less flak for it. He is a charismatic and emphatic leader and can rule in the shared interests of the ruling class (and against the interests of marginalized groups when they conflict with the former) more effectively and with less resistance than a Romney administration could. So, while he may be less evil, Obama is better at being evil.
3: The positions that presidential candidates advocate in the months preceding Election Day is never wholly representative of how they will act in office. In 2008, Obama promised to increase the federal minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, pursue progressive tax policies which would raise taxes on the rich and not raise taxes on families making under $250,000 a year, ban the replacement of striking workers, reform immigration laws to be more lenient, end NAFTA, and have a public option for his healthcare plan. Obama has kept none of these promises, and there’s no reason to expect he would keep the same and similar promises this time around. Fortunately, the same goes for Romney: Romney may have deplorable and absurd stances, but his more extreme promises would probably not be fulfilled if he were to actually become President.
Still, though their expressed stances may not reliably reflect policy, Obama has publicly defended some of the same issues surrounding reproductive freedom, gay rights, and racial equality that Romney has attacked. Both candidates do represent many of the same interests, and neither are as left or right as they seem, but Obama might still seem like the lesser of two evils to some, if only just for the impact of his words.
The choice (if you want to call it that) between Obama and Romney is ambiguous for more reasons than just the standard, “They’re both the same!”, but that still holds true more than our polarized political climate tends to indicate. But, should we even vote to begin with, is it right to vote and does it matter?
Class Struggle Anti-Electoralism
Most anarchists do not vote on principle, they are opposed to both the political system and the two major parties. To anarchists, voting symbolizes a delegation of their power to the state and a violation of their ideals. However, simply not voting, though it may be considered more principled, is about as insignificant and individual act as voting itself. To equate not voting with posing a threat to the electoral system is to deny so many more possibilities. Our anti-electoralism should not be reduced to a boycott of the ballot. Anti-voting rhetoric can be useful for agitation, and to others it seems like one of our more bizarre stances, so this is not to say that we shouldn’t discuss not voting at all, but that our anti-electoralism is so much more than that. Our communism (or syndicalism, or whatever you prefer) is not a boycott of our current economy, but an opposition to it and the creation of something else while improving our lives now. Likewise, our anti-electoralism is not just a boycott of the ballot, but a call for a struggle against it and a new world to replace it, one that we build together now. And our anarchism is not just an abstinence from the electoral system, but taking politics out of the sphere of the government and placing it into our personal lives and communities.
We shouldn’t let elections be a distraction by allowing them to make us focus on defeating Romney or boycotting the vote. Through direct action and militant organizing in our communities, workplaces, and schools, we should continue to struggle against the state, its current administrators, and the myriad of social hierarchies and organized violence used to dominate us. It’s not about the inconsequential choice of whether or not we vote or who we vote for, it’s about what we actually do. We shouldn’t organize around the elections, but organize directly around the issues that affect us, allowing us to change our situation ourselves as well as apply more pressure to the state and show people another world is possible. We should create the methods and forms of decisions making and organizing we wish to see instead of electoralism, such as direct democracy in neighborhood assemblies, and we should use these methods to decide upon and take the kinds of actions we’d like to see happen ourselves.
In recent times, the rise of national and local movements surrounding foreclosure resistance, anti-debt and anti-banking, anti-globalization, education reform, fighting landlords and bosses, anti-racism, anti-sexism and reproductive freedom, prisoner support and prison abolition, and countless other forms of resistance have all showed us what we can do outside of the ballot box, why stop now?