Elections: Shouldn't We 'Fight on All Fronts'?

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Anarchists are in favour of grassroots organising rather than engaging in electioneering. Some crticise this position, stating something along the lines of:

'But what about social housing, free education, and an increased minimum wage? That's change which will make a big difference to people's lives. And electoralism and grassroots organising aren't mutually exclusive. We shouldn't concede that ground to the right, we should fight on all fronts'.

Social housing, free education, increased minimum wage - there are worthwhile reforms which might be achieved by a left wing government, or might not, but they're fairly beside the point. It's worth remarking though that the best way even to achieve reforms through the state is by having strong social movements which can apply pressure to politicians.

A clarifying question is 'where is all of this heading?'. If your goal is to radically transform society it's unclear, to say the least, how a left government advances that goal. It depends on your model for change. If you think that the current power systems can be gradually reformed away by prudent leftist management of the capitalist institutions then electoralism makes sense. In that view, making reforms like raising the minimum wage by 10% are one step forward on a linear timeline to a new society.
 
If you think that a radical transformation of society requires a clean break from the present order, whereby the masses organise themselves and create new democratic institutions, then electoralism is not required by or helpful to the change-making process. The conditions we are trying to develop are a working class which has confidence in itself and no outside agent as change-makers, which has experience in the practice of direct democracy, direct action, and co-operative work necessary to run the future society, and which is organised in collective bodies rather than being atomised.
 
While electoralism satisfies the psychological need to feel like we're doing and achieving something in the present, it's not taking us closer to revolution. In fact, it holds the working class back, encouraging the masses to have faith in the system, to hope that leaders will make the world better for them, and to have a very limited idea of political change.
 
Electoralism does not build working class autonomy. The way the parliamentary system functions requires a capitalist organisational model, with a small elite of decision makers (for instance, the politicians) effectively in charge of the party, and a large majority of passive order takers. Electoralism exacerbates a culture of political opportunism, whereby left parties use grassroots struggles to suit their short-term organisational ends rather than the other way around, very frequently at great expense to those social movements, which are consistently de-radicalised and centralised as per the needs of the party leadership. Electoralism is focused on lobbying, i.e. asking those in power to make changes, rather than making change ourselves.
 
Revolutionaries should be undermining the whole premise of electoral politics, yet by engaging in that system political groups re-enforce it.
 
The WSM has never argued that electoralism and grassroots organising are absolutely mutually exclusive and in absolute contradiction. There is a limited compatibility. However, mere compatibility doesn't a good strategy make, it's hardly cause for celebration. Despite that limited compatibility, ultimately there is a major conflict between the methods of electioneering and grassroots campaigning which builds the confidence and independence of the working class.
 
The fact is that the study of social movements and electoralism worldwide over the past century demonstrates a very clear pattern. Social movements can bolster an electoral campaign, but electoral politics don't create movements (calls to create a new movement of the left from the Dáil notwithstanding). The closer a party gets to power, the more watered down their politics necessarily become. Once in government, the party faces the dictatorship of the market, and the fundamental reality that a social relationship can't be legislated away. Not unexpectedly every other general political organisation in the south has abandoned the practical pursuit of revolution in favour of the false pragmatism of reformism.

It's the height of naivety to think that the moral grit of one particular cadre of socialist politicians can withstand the systemic forces which have prevented hundreds before for very predictable reasons. 'Struggle on all fronts' is a nice slogan, but if we are in the business of diverting struggle toward management of capitalist institutions why neglect the 'front' of getting socialists into corporate boardrooms?

Anarchists are sometimes accused by state socialists, and others, of being utopian for foregoing parliamentary politics, but it's actually just common sense: invest our energies as directly as possible in building working class autonomy. Another clarifying question is 'what would happen if political organisations put all their resources into grassroots organising rather than electoralism?'. The answer is that the working class would be in a much stronger position. Rather than conceding ground to the right by side-stepping the electoral circus, we are avoiding getting sucked into a contest in the heartland of capital and the right's territory, playing 'their own game' on the terms of the powerful.

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