While lots of working-class people have already lost interest in voting and know that we need much more than just votes to change this world, we still encounter many questions about our stance. We can address some of those here and hope to get others on board!
1. Why go so far as a boycott?
The capitalist-imperialist system is one where the ruling class holds all the power, and because of that fact, the only democracy that exists is ruling-class “democracy”: it is democratic only for the ruling class, and workers are not represented. No matter who is elected or what their intentions are or what party they represent, the interests of the very rich owners of industry are always put first.
Many workers are already aware of this fact, so many in fact that this is reflected in the voter turnout of the last presidential elections in 2012, which was somewhere around 54%. The lowest percentage of voters is found in the section of the population making less than $20k per year. The fact that only about half the population even votes, with no indication that this number is growing, means that millions and millions of working-class people do not feel that voting is a productive or useful activity. These people are not wrong. What it means to us is that the masses are losing faith in the electoral system.
One of the main explanations given by people who did not vote but were registered to vote is usually being too busy with work to either follow the political circus closely or make it to the polling station. This is due to the fact that this system makes us break our backs daily with very little to get by on. It then taxes the shit out of us and lets our schools, streets, and houses fall apart. Meanwhile, politicians who pop up on TV tell lie after lie so many times that we have come to just stop listening to them. They make plenty of campaign promises and keep almost none of them. So many people were hopeful that change would come with Obama’s election just to be disappointed when black people were still being killed by police at an escalating rate, US bombs kept falling on the poorest nations on earth, and people continued to be broke and struggling right here.
Whichever party wins—even if their election campaign theatrics vary—their practice once they take office is still the same. The jobs exported under Reagan continued being shipped out by Bush, Clinton, Bush Jr., and Obama. Whether a Democrat or a Republican was in office, US workers lost their jobs and faced harsh welfare cuts and a police force that looked more and more like an army. The military however still manages to receive enormous funding, and the gap between the working people and the rich has only increased. Some people call this “globalization” and blame secret organizations. We say that these groups are not very secret: they are the monopoly capitalist ruling class, who are few in numbers but run the country with a firm grip, and elections are just one way they exert their class dictatorship over the workers. The giant corporations and especially those who head them are engaged in a kind of decaying capitalism that spreads like a plague across the planet in search of profits and cheap resources to steal. When capitalism reaches such a stage it is what we identify as imperialism. US imperialism is the most aggressive in the world and has disastrous effects for workers here and abroad. It cannot be voted out. No matter who you vote for, the ruling class wins. No party running can be an alternative in such a rigged game.
After the same routine every four years with the exact same results, we are fed up with this shit and say enough is enough! We demand real change, which can only come about with an end to capitalism—an end to capitalism that means real democracy, for the majority, not one that is actually only for elite parasites at the top of a predatory food chain called capitalism. Every day we can feel the need for a better world where we can treat one another with love and respect, where we can all be equals. This world is not only possible, it is a necessity—only thing is, you can’t vote for it.
2. The myth that not voting helps the conservatives
There are those out there who are so drunk on voting that they will try and scare or shame others into doing it. They will tell us that by not voting we are allowing the right-wing to win. This is just illogical. Both the so-called left and the right alike use the exact same campaign measures, so not voting does not help or harm one side more than the other. This peer pressure tactic lacks analysis and clear thinking.
Both the major parties and all of the other ones for that matter support capitalism and are essentially the same on all important issues. In this system as we have seen the “third parties” do not stand a chance. This is not due to us not voting but due to the power that corporations and the ruling class possess over this so-called democracy. Even if these third parties stood a chance at winning, they still support capitalism and cannot stop imperialism just by holding office. These politicians are confined by a series of checks and balances that materially prevent them from getting rid of capitalism. Boycotting the elections is the only means at our disposal of breaking with this system, by seeing straight through this mess and identifying the whole system as the enemy.
3. Why we do not run candidates: no candidate can be a revolutionary
It’s simple: revolution means a drastic change, not a little unnoticeable one. Real change, the type this country desperately needs, does not and cannot come from the ballot box. The end of capitalism is what is required, and that requires millions of active participants. The same is true for any reforms. Reforms only happen when the ruling class is forced to act. The action that brings change always, without fail, has come from the people themselves and has been rooted in mass struggle. The capitalists and landlords may need to exploit us to live, but we do not need them at all! Real change comes from mass movements and revolutionary movements only. These movements do force the ruling class to make concessions here and there, but that is not enough, and if we stop struggling they take them back immediately. It will take a real revolution to stop the capitalists for good and liberate the people.
When they are elected all these politicians act the same. They extort taxes, go against the people, and serve their masters. They hurt people to stay in office and make more money for the rich, not just here but around the world. Due to this fact, all change comes from the outside of the electoral system. There are many examples of this. The civil rights movement is one example, where it was obviously the power of the people and not the politicians that made the changes (even though these changes were far from enough).
Revolutions do not fall out of the sky. They do not come from nowhere. They come from the intentional activity of the working class. Revolution requires a full ideological break with the ruling-class “democracy” and the electoral system that is in place. If we put up our own left-wing candidates, that would fail: it would fail to break fully with the ideology of capitalist elections, and it would also fail to help others to make this break as well. It would only add to the confusion. By refusing to help people break with what the capitalists are trying to sell us as “democracy,” we actually would perpetuate their ideology—dragging working-class and oppressed people back into the voting process, back into a system which they have already become disillusioned with and have largely abandoned. Most importantly, election boycotts allow us to organize with those who already see through the sham of capitalist “democracy” rather than pull them back into a system we see as undemocratic.
4. Why we don’t believe in changing the system from the inside
The whole system from the bottom to the top is set up to maintain capitalism. Even if a lot of progressive or “revolutionary” candidates were elected, the gigantic government bureaucracy with its millions of staff and managers and directors would still be in place, keeping things running business as usual—keeping the people down, no matter what. The loyal government staff sharply control the actions of anyone who gets elected. The state also rules through the courts, the police, the military, and the prison system, and none of them would sit idly by as real pro-people reforms were attempted. When socialists have been elected to high positions in countries around the world, they have most often been overthrown by their own military. There are also other things in place that are designed to safeguard capitalism—these include the school system, which insists on teaching racist, capitalist history regardless of the facts. There is a whole ideology of capitalism that rules over us on the TV, in the news, online—and all of them are controlled by corporations and the ruling elite. These servants of the ruling class cannot be voted away, and their power cannot be returned to the people only on the good intentions of a single progressive politician.
The state has one primary function—to serve capitalism, no matter who heads it up. We have never, not even once, seen the system truly change from “working on the inside.” And in almost every case it is the system that changes those who go into it, even those who start with the best intentions.
5. Why we don’t vote for “the lesser of two evils”
It is already evident that all this system offers us is shit, so why should we eat it? While candidates and parties differ on some issues, both operate within the boundaries of what is acceptable to the ruling class—without exception. There is really no lesser evil when both parties agree on robbery and war as a means to sustain capitalism. To vote for “the lesser of two evils,” we would have to sacrifice our politics and principles. We feel that everyone should be honest and open about their politics and not be forced to sacrifice their integrity every four years and cast votes for people who they still consider evil. The goalposts keep moving, and it seems with every four years that past, the lesser of two evils has become just as evil as the greater evil was last time! So we must ask: when the hell are we going to start actually fighting evil?
6. Boycotting vs. doing nothing
The reality is that almost half the population already engage in a passive boycott, just by not voting. This is why we insist on turning this passive boycott into an active boycott. An active boycott is not a call to do nothing: it is most clearly a call to get organized in an active, truly democratic, and revolutionary way. The way we see it, with how little voting has ever accomplished, voting is far closer to doing nothing, while actively organizing a boycott is no small task because it directly confronts and challenges the whole idea of this ruling-class “democracy” with revolutionary activism and revolutionary ideology. In short, we would rather spend our time building for revolution than continue for a moment to pretend the votes they give us mean anything.
Voting once every four years to see which stooge of the rich gets to lord over us is undesirable when it is put next to the unlimited possibility of an organized and militant working class. When we really consider our options we come to the conclusion that it is better to do everything in our power to change this system and not give in to the nothingness of voting.
7. The myth that only privileged people do not vote
Capitalism and its supporting structures—sexism, racism, and white supremacy—are what keep privilege intact, so only what stands in opposition to capitalism has any chance of restricting or abolishing privilege, domination, and exploitation. While voting alone cannot result in any serious changes, mass struggle will, and that is exactly what we are promoting by supporting a boycott.
On the contrary, we feel that those who are comfortable enough with the way things are have a certain amount of privilege that allows them to feel secure with the extremely limited methods the system offers. For poor working people and specific oppressed groups, voting does not offer liberation, security, or equality. So it is mostly white middle-class people who have enough privilege to rely exclusively on voting. The rest of us have to struggle a lot harder for something better.
8. How is boycotting any better?
While we do not think that boycotting the vote by itself will offer up any significant change—this boycott is part of a much larger strategy. Most importantly, it offers us a chance to promote an ideological break with this system, its elections, and its phony democracy. It offers us the opportunity to organize with others in the interest of building a real revolutionary movement that neither relies on nor operates within the perimeters of what is acceptable to the rich. It expresses our issues in a way that does not seek the approval of those who would keep us down. We see no need to appeal to the oppressor. The boycott is just one small aspect of our work. It is the start of something, not the end of it. We also actively run pop-up free stores and free food and grocery programs, and we are engaged in a number of pro-people activities, and we never ask for permission from this crooked system of the criminals at its helm. We are building people power every day and helping the working people in the city break from depending for their basic survival on the exact same system that keeps people down. Again, this system needs us, but we do not need it. There are so many organizations that put their own agendas before what the people need, but the people are our only agenda. We are not asking for votes, and we are not trying to sell anything.
9. On the question of throwing away our votes
Again, in actuality, we are expressing our anger much more clearly than voting—we are expressing an anger not just at the way these electoral politics work only for the rich but also at the whole system and at the rich themselves. We encourage a full break with this system—not casting blank votes, not voting for mock candidates who cannot win, and not writing in the names of people who do not exist. We are choosing to not vote because voting in any way gives legitimacy to a system that half the population already sees as illegitimate. We refuse to vote for an evil. We refuse to vote for the Green Party or a “socialist,” because all of them would be throwing away our votes. We are choosing to not vote because voting has lost meaning to us and has come to mean participation in this bogus system. By choosing to not vote, we demand revolutionary change and start out on that course. When we do finally vote, it will not be to toss our choice away on someone who could not care less about people and only cares about profit; when we do finally vote it will mean something, because it will be in a radical new revolutionary society where the workers are on top.
Contact Serve the People – Austin to see how you can get involved!