The pitfalls of radical electoralism

The second in a series looking at and debunking specific 'tactical voting' strategies and election narratives from an anti-electoral perspective.

In the first post of this series, I dealt with the notion that voting Labour was a necessary evil in order to stop the Tories.

Disillusionment in Labour is becoming more and more widespread. However, this doesn't automatically equate to a rejection of electoralism in favour of extra-parliamentary struggle. Voting remains the expected means of social change, but now instead of simply choosing the least worst they want something more positive - and the seeming answer to this is to vote for a third party.

The major problem is the main two horse race - i.e. that whichever direction you’re defecting, so many more people will stay where they were for fear of letting the other side win. Tribalism is a powerful force, whatever the motives for it.

Then there’s the question of which one?

We’ll discount UKIP on the grounds that while reactionary parties feeding upon alienation is an important issue, this piece is about illusions in "radical" parties. That's not something those mouth-breathing, racist shit-gibbons who think that the Tories aren’t quite crap-on-small-children’s-heads evil enough for them can be accused of being.

But the SNP are booming in Scotland, the Greens are on the upswing, Left Unity appear to have got off to a strong start with 2015 as their first real test, and TUSC… Hahahahahahahahahahaha. Anyway, the point is that there isn’t one main contender to barge their way into the front running.

Forget that though. Say that one third party really can shake things up, or that a number of them can shatter the two party system for good and all. Then what?

SYRIZA's rise to power in Greece is already being touted as proof positive that this is definitely the outcome to root for. Others have already dealt in-depth with SYRIZA's limitations, but the fact that within a day they had formed a coalition with the Greek equivalent of UKIP is instructive.

No matter who gets in, you’re stuck with the fact that all of these parties are vying for the same job. That job (running the state) can be done in slightly different ways, but ultimately whoever gets the job will be bound by the same basic parameters. Much like getting a job in HMRC means you’ll collect tax rather than, say, riding on horseback through slums and tossing handfuls of money to the peasantry. Whatever your intentions, the job is what it is.

And what’s the job?

Managing capitalism. It’s easy to claim that politicians are corrupt for being funded by various different business interests who want something in return. That may well be true, but it’s not the whole story.

We live in a capitalist society. Workers have to sell their labour to survive, bosses thrive by expropriating rents or surplus value - and the state needs money to pay for its existence. That money doesn’t grow on trees, but comes from taxation and is inevitably going to reduce if the economy tanks it.

So growth is a neccessity, with GDP bankrolling the police force that defendss the state’s monopoly of violence at home, the military, trade and aid that assert the national interest abroad, the bureaucracy that keep the state functioning, and the services it provides.

Maintaining social order. This is fairly straightforward - you can’t govern a territory if you don’t control it, and unrest is a challenge to your control. The instances, prolific and global, of socialist governments crushing strikes, Green governments sending the police against environmental protests, and so on, may be surprising given the professed ideology of the parties in power. But they make perfect sense from the perspective of someone whose job is to run the state.

Balancing the books. This should also be fairly obvious. A level of debt is sustainable as long as the tax is rolling in (and this level varies depending on who’s running the show) but money’s still finite and tied to the economy. Plus you’re an employer now, and from the employer’s point of view workers are fundamentally a cost. This is nothing to do with personal malice and everything to do with material interests.

The result? In a word, cuts. Left wing and socialist governments will enforce austerity, lay off staff and cut services as readily as any other government when it’s necessary to do so.’s excellent introduction to the state goes into more depth on this. But for our purposes it is fundamental to say that any party elected to government will be pro-capitalist, enforce dominant social and property relations, and make cuts.

Further to which, assuming third parties did break the two party system, the main result would be more coalitions. And coalition, fundamentally, is compromise.

But would the presence of more third parties create pressure on the government to pull them leftward? Not a chance. See as one example the complete lack of reaction to Caroline Lucas becoming an MP versus the panicked shit storm in response to two chinless Tory chucklefucks swapping a blue rosette for a purple one.

The media and politicians will create a narrative about what is putting pressure on them which justifies them going in a direction they wanted to anyway.

Third parties can’t pull the state leftward, but mass social movements can force concessions from it. The former is a massive drain of time, energy and effort from the latter. Worse, it creates the illusion that the latter isn’t necessary since we can just vote ‘radically’ instead of all that inconvenient hard work of organising and fighting.

The Greens are the main exemplars of this right now, and we’re earnestly told that the attacks on workers, privatisation, sticking the homeless in shipping containers, evicting travellers and general wankiness of the Brighton Green Council is an aberration and not representative of the party at large.

But the party in power is always an abberation from what the party pretends to be. Ultimately, believing in a third party of any variety boils down to still believing in this:

Don’t get fooled again.