'Voting Changes Nothing'

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D's picture
D
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May 18 2010 11:55
'Voting Changes Nothing'

I am trying to work out the logics behind why voting changes nothing and cannot change anything

In practice from what I've seen this seems pretty obvious but I cant quite work why this would be completely true

It seems to me the only argument that voting cannot even hypothetically change anything rests on the idea that politicians don't have any real power - as in they don't make the actual descisions - if they did then different polticians would or at least could do things differently thus making voting at least a potential source of change

I completely see that economic factors control goverment policy but whilst it is obvious that those with economic power have a huge influence over the economy and thus over the state and that the market itself dictates what politicians can do

this still leaves for me 2 things

1. the fact those with economic power make the real descisions/ the market imposes itself on politicians doesn't inevitably mean that all solutions to the economy will be the same. Different sects of the economic ruling class can have different demands for the economy and politicians can have different answers to dealing with pressures brought about from the economy - doesn't this mean that its possible politicians can have at least a slightly different policies which would mean a change in the politicians = an actual change however small

for eg

1 sector of capital considers it best to provide a form of welfare and another doesn't or one proposed solution to an economic problem is investment in this particualr public service

If politicians represent different factions of the ruling class or have differing ways of dealing with economic pressures then this issue (of wheather said welfare is mainteained/introduced) could surely depend on which party is in power? meaning voting makes a sort of difference

2. What about issues that aren't principally economic - like abortion, gay marriage rights etc. As they generally don't effect (at least not a lot) the economic sphere surely a goverment would be able to change stances on this as they are of little interest to capital. again meaning who is in power could potentially make small differences

another eg

With the Iraq war quite a lot of MP's voted against the war but not enough to stop it happening. If there were enough MP's that had been anti war surely the war (at least in terms of Britain's involvement) wouldnt have happened? meaning who is in power can have an effect

It seems to me that logically voting could, hypothetically, make small changes but never more than that but I think im probably lacking something in my analysis

This is no way a defence of liberal democracy and tbh I would like to see these arguments knocked down but I can't think atm of why they are illogical but I hope others can show me why

Toms's picture
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May 18 2010 13:39

i usually vote blanc to say that no party or politician represents me or my ideals

Steven.'s picture
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May 18 2010 16:51

I think you are forgetting two key things:
- as you point out, the market has the most power over government policy. If you did hypothetically elect a more left-wing government who made a serious effort to institute a progressive programme, say introducing a citizens wage for all, then the market would speak. Taxes would have to go up, causing capital flight and wealth to flow out of the country, causing unemployment. And the benefits of a citizens wage would end up getting eaten up by inflation or increased taxes (examples of this occurring the Dutch government introducing improved environmental controls in the 1990s, or the Labour government threatening to nationalise the shipbuilding industry in the 70s).
- on top of that, sometimes left-wing governments can introduce neoliberal reforms or cuts more effectively than the right, by incorporating the unions and recuperating dissent. An example of this would be Labour managing to privatise large swathes of the education system and NHS, which the Conservatives were unable to do.
- finally, and this is a less significant issue, but often having a left-wing government causes the population to swing to the right when it doesn't match up to its claims. Conversely, having a right-wing government in power can cause the population to swing more to the left and in favour of collective action.

So basically it is impossible to assess one way or the other which capitalist party is most in the interests of the working class, as our interests and those of capital are not the same, and it is impossible to manage capital in the interests of workers.

On the Iraq war, that was embarked on without a vote from Parliament IIRC. Or if the war was necessary for economic reasons, but it seemed likely that a parliament would vote against it, then it could be declared by the Cabinet or Prime Minister alone.

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May 18 2010 17:28
Steven. wrote:
I think you are forgetting two key things:
- as you point out, the market has the most power over government policy. If you did hypothetically elect a more left-wing government who made a serious effort to institute a progressive programme, say introducing a citizens wage for all, then the market would speak. Taxes would have to go up, causing capital flight and wealth to flow out of the country, causing unemployment. And the benefits of a citizens wage would end up getting eaten up by inflation or increased taxes (examples of this occurring the Dutch government introducing improved environmental controls in the 1990s, or the Labour government threatening to nationalise the shipbuilding industry in the 70s).
- on top of that, sometimes left-wing governments can introduce neoliberal reforms or cuts more effectively than the right, by incorporating the unions and recuperating dissent. An example of this would be Labour managing to privatise large swathes of the education system and NHS, which the Conservatives were unable to do.
- finally, and this is a less significant issue, but often having a left-wing government causes the population to swing to the right when it doesn't match up to its claims. Conversely, having a right-wing government in power can cause the population to swing more to the left and in favour of collective action.

So basically it is impossible to assess one way or the other which capitalist party is most in the interests of the working class, as our interests and those of capital are not the same, and it is impossible to manage capital in the interests of workers.

On the Iraq war, that was embarked on without a vote from Parliament IIRC. Or if the war was necessary for economic reasons, but it seemed likely that a parliament would vote against it, then it could be declared by the Cabinet or Prime Minister alone.

is it not possible a similar thing as this is true in terms of Industrial action as well? I'm not an expert in economics but i would imagine if hypothetically workers wages in the whole of the Uk went up as a result of labour struggle victories then the market would react. It would cause inflation, investment would be moved to other places as labour costs could be saved and companies wouldnt exactly like the idea of investing somewhere where working class activism was high leading to unemployement, job losses etc

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May 18 2010 17:32

yes, that is true, but if workers have taken action to improve their conditions then they can also take action to defend them - whereas if they thought they achieved something by voting and then came under attack they would be powerless to prevent it.

On top of that, waves of class struggle go up and down, but often on a world scale. So if we won very high pay, for example, by taking industrial action and German workers were weak and consequently very cheap, you might get capital flight from the UK to Germany. However, if the German workers were as well organised as us they would not get a competitive advantage and so you would not get the capital flight.

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May 18 2010 17:49

yeh good point

but in terms of defedning conditions surely there is quite little workers can do within capitalism to actually stop the flight of capital (unless organized internationally on a big scale) . I mean the right to private property/ wealth means that people can do effectively what they want with their money

If someone or a company wants to withdraw their money from something and put it somewhere else they can (apart from some state regulations restricting foreign investment etc)

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May 18 2010 18:27

Correct: workers can't stop capital flight exactly, but they can defend their material conditions - possibly forcing employers governments into deficit.

And like I outlined above, capital flight only happens if workers in one country are significantly weaker than another - so effectively it can be stopped by workers' struggle on an international level.