J.2 What is direct action?

Direct action, to use Rudolf Rocker's words, is "every method of immediate warfare by the workers [or other sections of society] against their economic and political oppressors. Among these the outstanding are: the strike, in all its graduations from the simple wage struggle to the general strike; the boycott; sabotage in all its countless forms; [occupations and sit-down strikes;] anti-militarist propaganda, and in particularly critical cases,... armed resistance of the people for the protection of life and liberty." [Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 66]

Not that anarchists think that direct action is only applicable within the workplace. Far from it. Direct action must occur everywhere! So, in non-workplace situations, direct action includes rent strikes, consumer boycotts, occupations (which, of course, can include sit-in strikes by workers), eco-tage, individual and collective non-payment of taxes, blocking roads and holding up construction work of an anti-social nature and so forth. Also direct action, in a workplace setting, includes strikes and protests on social issues, not directly related to working conditions and pay. Such activity aims to ensure the "protection of the community against the most pernicious outgrowths of the present system. The social strike seeks to force upon the employers a responsibility to the public. Primarily it has in view the protection of the customers, of whom the workers themselves [and their families] constitute the great majority" [Op. Cit., p. 72]

Basically, direct action means that instead of getting someone else to act for you (e.g. a politician) you act for yourself. Its essential feature is an organised protest by ordinary people to make a change by their own efforts. Thus Voltairine De Cleyre's excellent statement on this topic:

"Every person who ever thought he had a right to assert, and went boldly and asserted it, himself, or jointly with others that shared his convictions, was a direct actionist. Some thirty years ago I recall that the Salvation Army was vigorously practicing direct action in the maintenance of the freedom of its members to speak, assemble, and pray. Over and over they were arrested, fined, and imprisoned; but they kept right on singing, praying, and marching, till they finally compelled their persecutors to let them alone. The Industrial Workers [of the World] are now conducting the same fight, and have, in a number of cases, compelled the officials to let them alone by the same direct tactics.

"Every person who ever had a plan to do anything, and went and did it, or who laid his plan before others, and won their co-operation to do it with him, without going to external authorities to please do the thing for them, was a direct actionist. All co-operative experiments are essentially direct action.

"Every person who ever in his life had a difference with anyone to settle, and went straight to the other persons involved to settle it, either by a peaceable plan or otherwise, was a direct actionist. Examples of such action are strikes and boycotts; many persons will recall the action of the housewives of New York who boycotted the butchers, and lowered the price of meat; at the present moment a butter boycott seems looming up, as a direct reply to the price-makers for butter.

"These actions are generally not due to any one's reasoning overmuch on the respective merits of directness or indirectness, but are the spontaneous retorts of those who feel oppressed by a situation. In other words, all people are, most of the time, believers in the principle of direct action, and practicers of it. . ." [Direct Action]

So direct action means acting for yourself against injustice and oppression. It can, sometimes, involve putting pressure on politicians or companies, for example, to ensure a change in an oppressive law or destructive practices. However, such appeals are direct action simply because they do not assume that the parties in question we will act for us - indeed the assumption is that change only occurs when we act to create it. Regardless of what the action is, "if such actions are to have the desired empowerment effect, they must be largely self-generated, rather than being devised and directed from above." [Martha Ackelsberg, Free Women of Spain, p. 33]

So, in a nutshell, direct action is any form of activity which people themselves decide upon and organise themselves which is based on their own collective strength and does not involve getting intermediates to act for them. As such direct action is a natural expression of liberty, of self-government for "[d]irect action against the authority in the shop, direct action against the authority of the law, direct action against the invasive, meddlesome authority of our moral code, is the logical, consistent method of Anarchism." [Emma Goldman, Red Emma Speaks, pp. 62-63] It is clear that by acting for yourself you are expressing the ability to govern yourself. Thus its a means by which people can take control of their own lives. It is a means of self-empowerment and self-liberation:

"Direct action meant that the goal of any and all these activities was to provide ways for people to get in touch with their own powers and capacities, to take back the power of naming themselves and their lives." [Martha Ackelsberg, Op. Cit., p. 32]

In other words, anarchists reject the view that society is static and that people's consciousness, values, ideas and ideals cannot be changed. Far from it and anarchists support direct action because it actively encourages the transformation of those who use it. Direct action is the means of creating a new consciousness, a means of self-liberation from the chains placed around our minds, emotions and spirits by hierarchy and oppression.

Because direct action is the expression of liberty, the powers that be are vitally concerned only when the oppressed use direct action to win its demands, for it is a method which is not easy or cheap to combat. Any hierarchical system is placed into danger when those at the bottom start to act for themselves and, historically, people have invariably gained more by acting directly than could have been won by playing ring around the rosy with indirect means.

Direct action tore the chains of open slavery from humanity. Over the centuries it has established individual rights and modified the life and death power of the master class. Direct action won political liberties such as the vote and free speech. Used fully, used wisely and well, direct action can forever end injustice and the mastery of humans by other humans.

In the sections that follow, we will indicate why anarchists are in favour of direct action and why they are against electioneering as a means of change.

J.2.1 Why do anarchists favour using direct action to change things?

Simply because it is effective and it has a radicalising impact on those who practice it. As it is based on people acting for themselves, it shatters the dependency and marginalisation created by hierarchy. As Murray Bookchin argues, "[w]hat is even more important about direct action is that it forms a decisive step toward recovering the personal power over social life that the centralised, over-bearing bureaucracies have usurped from the people... we not only gain a sense that we can control the course of social events again; we recover a new sense of selfhood and personality without which a truly free society, based in self-activity and self-management, is utterly impossible." [Toward and Ecological Society, p. 47]

By acting for themselves, people gain a sense of their own power and abilities. This is essential if people are to run their own lives. As such, direct action is the means by which individuals empower themselves, to assert their individuality, to make themselves count as individuals. It is the opposite of hierarchy, within which individuals are told again and again that they are nothing, are insignificant and must dissolve themselves into a higher power (the state, the company, the party, the people, etc.) and feel proud in participating in the strength and glory of this higher power. Direct action, in contrast, is the means of asserting ones individual opinion, interests and happiness, of fighting against self-negation:

"man has as much liberty as he is willing to take. Anarchism therefore stands for direct action, the open defiance of, and resistance to, all laws and restrictions, economic, social and moral. But defiance and resistance are illegal. Therein lies the salvation of man. Everything illegal necessitates integrity, self-reliance, and courage. In short, it calls for free independent spirits, for men who are men, and who have a bone in their back which you cannot pass your hand through." [Emma Goldman, Red Emma Speaks, pp. 61-62]

In addition, because direct action is based around individuals solving their own problems, by their own action, it awakens those aspects of individuals crushed by hierarchy and oppression - such as initiative, solidarity, imagination, self-confidence and a sense of individual and collective power, that you do matter and count as an individual and that you, and others like you, can change the world. Direct Action is the means by which people can liberate themselves and educate themselves in the ways of and skills required for self-management and liberty. Hence:

"anarchists insisted that we learn to think and act for ourselves by joining together in organisations in which our experience, our perception and our activity can guide and make the change. Knowledge does not precede experience, it flows from it. . . People learn to be free only by exercising freedom. [As one Spanish Anarchist put it] 'We are not going to find ourselves. . . with people ready-made for the future. . . Without continued exercise of their faculties, there will be no free people. . . The external revolution and the internal revolution presuppose one another, and they must be simultaneous in order to be successful.'" [Martha Ackelsberg, Free Women of Spain, pp. 32-33]

So direct action, to use Murray Bookchin's words, is "the means whereby each individual awakens to the hidden powers within herself and himself, to a new sense of self-confidence and self-competence; it is the means whereby individuals take control of society directly." [Op. Cit., p. 48]

In addition, direct action creates the need for new forms of social organisation. These new forms of organisation will be informed and shaped by the process of self-liberation, so be more anarchistic and based upon self-management. Direct action, as well as liberating individuals, can also create the free, self-managed organisations which can replace the current hierarchical ones. In other words, direct action helps create the new world in the shell of the old:

"direct action not only empowered those who participated in it, it also had effects on others. . . [including] exemplary action that attracted adherents by the power of the positive example it set. Contemporary examples. . . include food or day-care co-ops, collectively run businesses, sweat equity housing programmes, women's self-help health collectives, urban squats or women's peace camps [as well as traditional examples as industrial unions, social centres, etc.]. While such activities empower those who engage in them, they also demonstrate to others that non-hierarchical forms of organisation can and do exist - and that they can function effectively." [Martha Ackelsberg, Op. Cit., p. 33]

Also, direct action such as strikes encourage and promote class consciousness and class solidarity. According to Kropotkin, "the strike develops the sentiment of solidarity" while for Bakunin it "is the beginnings of the social war of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. . . Strikes are a valuable instrument from two points of view. Firstly, they electrify the masses, invigorate their moral energy and awaken in them the feeling of the deep antagonism which exists between their interests and those of the bourgeoisie. . . secondly they help immensely to provoke and establish between the workers of all trades, localities and countries the consciousness and very fact of solidarity: a twofold action, both negative and positive, which tends to constitute directly the new world of the proletariat, opposing it almost in an absolute way to the bourgeois world." [cited in Caroline Cahm, Kropotkin and the Rise of Revolutionary Anarchism 1872-1886, p. 256, pp. 216-217]

Direct action and the movements that used it (such as unionism) would be the means to develop the "revolutionary intelligence of the workers" and so ensure "emancipation through practice" (to use Bakunin's words).

Direct action, therefore, helps to create anarchists and anarchist alternatives within capitalism and statism. As such, it plays an essential role in anarchist theory and activity. For anarchists, direct action "is not a 'tactic'. . . it is a moral principle, an ideal, a sensibility. It should imbue every aspect of our lives and behaviour and outlook." [Murray Bookchin, Op. Cit., p. 48]

J.2.2 Why do anarchists reject voting as a means for change?

Simply because electioneering does not work. History is littered with examples of radicals being voted into office only to become as, or even more, conservative than the politicians they replaced.

As we have discussed previously (see section B.2 and related sections) any government is under pressure from two sources of power, the state bureaucracy and big business. This ensures that any attempts at social change would be undermined and made hollow by vested interests, assuming they even reached that level of discussion to begin with (the de-radicalising effects of electioneering is discussed below in section J.2.6). Here we will highlight the power of vested interests within democratic government.

In section B.2 we only discussed the general nature of the state and what its role within society is (i.e. "the preservation of the economic 'status quo,' the protection of the economic privileges of the ruling class," in the words of Luigi Galleani). However, as the effectiveness of the vote to secure change is now the topic we will have to discuss how and why the state and capital restricts and controls political action.

Taking capital to begin with, if we assume that a relatively reformist government was elected it would soon find itself facing various economic pressures. Either capital would disinvest, so forcing the government to back down in the face of economic collapse, or the government in question would control capital leaving the country and so would soon be isolated from new investment and its currency would become worthless. Either way, the economy would be severely damaged and the promised "reforms" would be dead letters. In addition, this economic failure would soon result in popular revolt which in turn would lead to a more authoritarian state as "democracy" was protected from the people.

Far fetched? No, not really. In January, 1974, the FT Index for the London Stock Exchange stood at 500 points. In February, the miner's went on strike, forcing Heath to hold (and lose) a general election. The new Labour government (which included many left-wingers in its cabinet) talked about nationalising the banks and much heavy industry. In August, 74, Tony Benn announced Plans to nationalise the ship building industry. By December of that year, the FT index had fallen to 150 points. By 1976 the British Treasury was spending $100 million a day buying back of its own money to support the pound [The London Times, 10/6/76]. The economic pressure of capitalism was at work:

"The further decline in the value of the pound has occurred despite the high level of interest rates. . . dealers said that selling pressure against the pound was not heavy or persistent, but there was an almost total lack of interest amongst buyers. The drop in the pound is extremely surprising in view of the unanimous opinion of bankers, politicians and officials that the currency is undervalued" [The London Times, 27/5/76]

The Labour government faced with the power of international capital ended up having to receive a temporary "bailing out" by the I.M.F. who imposed a package of cuts and controls which translated to Labour saying "We'll do anything you say", in the words of one economist [Peter Donaldson, A Question of Economics, p. 89]. The social costs of these policies was massive, with the Labour government being forced to crack down on strikes and the weakest sectors of society (but that's not to forget that they "cut expenditure by twice the amount the I.M.F. were promised." [Ibid.]). In the backlash to this, Labour lost the next election to a right-wing, pro-free market government which continued where Labour had left off.

Or, to use a more recent example, "[t]he fund managers [who control the flow of money between financial centres and countries] command such vast resources that their clashes with governments in the global marketplace usually ends up in humiliating defeat for politicians. . . In 1992, US financier George Soros single-handedly destroyed the British government's attempts to keep the pound in the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). Soros effectively bet, and won, that he could force the British government to devalue. Using his huge resources, he engineered a run on the pound, overwhelming the Bank of England's attempts to use its reserves to keep sterling within its ERM band. The British government capitulated by suspending sterling's membership of the ERM (an effective devaluation) and Soros came away from his victory some $1bn richer. Fund managers then picked off other currencies one by one, derailing the drive for European monetary union, which would, incidentally, have cut their profits by making them unable to buy and sell between the different European currencies." [Duncan Green, The Silent Revolution, p. 124]

The fact is that capital will not invest in a country which does not meet its approval and this is an effective weapon to control democratically elected governments. And with the increase in globalisation of capital over the last 30 years this weapon is even more powerful (a weapon we may add which was improved, via company and state funded investment and research in communication technology, precisely to facilitate the attack on working class reforms and power in the developed world, in other words capital ran away to teach us a lesson - see sections C.8.1, C.8.2, C.8.3 and D.5.3).

As far as political pressures go, we must remember that there is a difference between the state and government. The state is the permanent collection of institutions that have entrenched power structures and interests. The government is made up of various politicians. It's the institutions that have power in the state due to their permanence, not the representatives who come and go. In other words, the state bureaucracy has vested interests and elected politicians cannot effectively control them. This network of behind the scenes agencies can be usefully grouped into two parts:

"By 'the secret state' we mean. . . the security services, MI5 [the FBI in the USA], Special Branch. . . MI6 [the CIA]. By 'the permanent government' . . . we mean the secret state plus the Cabinet Office and upper echelons of Home and Foreign and Commonwealth Offices, the Armed Forces and Ministry of Defence, the nuclear power industry and its satellite ministries; and the so-called 'Permanent Secretaries Club,' the network of very senior civil servants - the 'Mandarins.' In addition. . . its satellites" including M.P.s (particularly right-wing ones), 'agents of influence' in the media, former security services personnel, think tanks and opinion forming bodies, front companies of the security services, and so on. [Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsay, Smear! Wilson and the Secret State, p. X, XI]

These bodies, while theoretically under the control of the elected government, can effectively (via disinformation, black operations, bureaucratic slowdowns, media attacks, etc.) ensure that any government trying to introduce policies which the powers that be disagree with will be stopped. In other words the state is not a neutral body, somehow rising about vested interests and politics. It is, and always will be, a institution which aims to protect specific sections of society as well as its own.

An example of this "secret state" at work can be found in Smear!, where Dorril and Ramsay document the campaign against the Labour Prime Minister of Britain, Harold Wilson, which resulted in his resignation. They also indicate the pressures which Labour M.P. Tony Benn was subjected to by "his" Whitehall advisers:

"In early 1985, the campaign against Benn by the media was joined by the secret state. The timing is interesting. In January, his Permanent Secretary had 'declared war' and the following month began the most extraordinary campaign of harassment any major British politician has experienced. While this is not provable by any means, it does look as though there is a clear causal connection between withdrawal of Prime Ministerial support, the open hostility from the Whitehall mandarins and the onset of covert operations." [Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsay, Op. Cit., p. 279]

Not to mention the role of the secret state in undermining reformist and radical organisations and movements. Thus involvement goes from pure information gathering on "subversives", to disruption and repression. Taking the example of the US secret state, Howard Zinn notes that in 1975

"congressional committees. . . began investigations of the FBI and CIA.

"The CIA inquiry disclosed that the CIA had gone beyond its original mission of gathering intelligence and was conducting secret operations of all kinds . . . [for example] the CIA - with the collusion of a secret Committee of Forty headed by Henry Kissinger - had worked to 'destabilize' the [democratically elected, left-wing] Chilean government. . .

"The investigation of the FBI disclosed many years of illegal actions to disrupt and destroy radical groups and left-wing groups of all kinds. The FBI had sent forged letters, engaged in burglaries. . . opened mail illegally, and in the case of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, seems to have conspired in murder. . .

"The investigations themselves revealed the limits of government willingness to probe into such activities. . . [and they] submitted its findings on the CIA to the CIA to see if there was material the Agency wanted omitted." [A People's History of the United States, pp. 542-3]

Also, the CIA secretly employs several hundred American academics to write books and other materials to be used for propaganda purposes, an important weapon in the battle for hearts and minds. In other words, the CIA, FBI [and their equivalents in other countries] and other state bodies can hardly be considered neutral bodies, who just follow orders. They are a network of vested interests, with specific ideological viewpoints and aims which usually place the wishes of the voting population below maintaining the state-capital power structure in place.

This can be seen most dramatically in the military coup in Chile against the democratically re-elected (left-wing) Allende government by the military, aided by the CIA, US based corporations and the US government cutting economic aid to the country (specifically to make it harder for the Allende regime). The coup resulted in tens of thousands murdered and years of terror and dictatorship, but the danger of a pro-labour government was stopped and the business environment was made healthy for profits. An extreme example, we know, but important ones for any believer in freedom or the idea that the state machine is somehow neutral and can be captured and used by left-wing parties.

Therefore we cannot expect a different group of politicians to react in different ways to the same economic and institutional influences and interests. Its no coincidence that left-wing, reformist parties have introduced right-wing, pro-capitalist ("Thatcherite/Reaganite") policies at the same time as right-wing, explicitly pro-capitalist parties introduced them in the UK and the USA. As Clive Ponting (an ex-British Civil Servant) points out, this is to be expected:

"the function of the political system in any country in the world is to regulate, but not alter radically, the existing economic structure and its linked power relationships. The great illusion of politics is that politicians have the power to make whatever changes they like. . . On a larger canvas what real control do the politicians in any country have over the operation of the international monetary system, the pattern of world trade with its built in subordination of the third world or the operation of multi-national companies? These institutions and the dominating mechanism that underlies them - the profit motive as a sole measure of success - are essentially out of control and operating on autopilot." [quoted in Alternatives, # 5, p. 10]

Of course there have been examples of quite extensive reforms which did benefit working class people in major countries. The New Deal in the USA and the 1945-51 Labour Governments spring to mind. Surely these indicate that our claims above are false? Simply put, no, they do not. Reforms can be won from the state when the dangers of not giving in outweigh the problems associated with the reforms. Reforms can therefore be used to save the capitalist system and the state and even improve their operation (with, of course, the possibility of getting rid of the reforms when they are no longer required).

For example, both the reformist governments of 1930s USA and 1940s UK were under pressure from below, by waves of militant working class struggle which could have developed beyond mere reformism. The waves of sit-down strikes in the 1930s ensured the passing of pro-union laws which while allowing workers to organise without fear of being fired. This measure also involved the unions in running the capitalist-state machine (and so making them responsible for controlling "unofficial" workplace action and so ensuring profits). The nationalisation of roughly 20% of the UK economy during the Labour administration of 1945 (the most unprofitable sections of it as well) was also the direct result of ruling class fear. As Quintin Hogg, a Tory M.P. at the time, said, "If you don't give the people social reforms they are going to give you social revolution". Memories of the near revolutions across Europe after the first war were obviously in many minds, on both sides. Not that nationalisation was particularly feared as "socialism." Indeed it was argued that it was the best means of improving the performance of the British economy. As anarchists at the time noted "the real opinions of capitalists can be seen from Stock Exchange conditions and statements of industrialists than the Tory Front bench . . . [and from these we] see that the owning class is not at all displeased with the record and tendency of the Labour Party" [Neither Nationalisation nor Privatisation: Selections from Freedom 1945-1950, Vernon Richards (Ed), p. 9]

So, if extensive reforms have occurred, just remember what they were in response to militant pressure from below and that we could have got so much more.

Therefore, in general, things have little changed over the one hundred years since this anarchist argument against electioneering was put forward:

"in the electoral process, the working class will always be cheated and deceived. . . if they did manage to send, one, or ten, or fifty of them[selves to Parliament], they would become spoiled and powerless. Furthermore, even if the majority of Parliament were composed of workers, they could do nothing. Not only is there the senate . . . the chiefs of the armed forces, the heads of the judiciary and of the police, who would be against the parliamentary bills advanced by such a chamber and would refuse to enforce laws favouring the workers (it has happened [for example the 8 hour working day was legally created in many US states by the 1870s, but workers had to strike for it in 1886 as it as not enforced]; but furthermore laws are not miraculous; no law can prevent the capitalists from exploiting the workers; no law can force them to keep their factories open and employ workers at such and such conditions, nor force shopkeepers to sell as a certain price, and so on." [S. Merlino, quoted by L. Galleani, The End of Anarchism?, p. 13]

Moreover, anarchists reject voting for other reasons. The fact is that electoral procedures are the opposite of direct action - they are based on getting someone else to act on your behalf. Therefore, far from empowering people and giving them a sense of confidence and ability, electioneering dis-empowers them by creating a "leader" figure from which changes are expected to flow. As Martin observes:

"all the historical evidence suggests that parties are more a drag than an impetus to radical change. One obvious problem is that parties can be voted out. All the policy changes they brought in can simply be reversed later.

"More important, though, is the pacifying influence of the radical party itself. On a number of occasions, radical parties have been elected to power as a result of popular upsurges. Time after time, the 'radical' parties have become chains to hold back the process of radical change" ["Democracy without Elections," Reinventing Anarchy, Again, Howard J. Ehrlich (ed.), p. 124]

This can easily be seen from the history of the various left-wing parties. Ralph Miliband points out that labour or socialist parties, elected in periods of social turbulence, have often acted to reassure the ruling elite by dampening popular action that could have threatened capitalist interests [The State in Capitalist Society, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969]. For example, the first project undertaken by the Popular Front, elected in France in 1936, was to put an end to strikes and occupations and generally to cool popular militancy, which was the Front's strongest ally in coming to power. The Labour government elected in Britain in 1945 got by with as few reforms as it could, refusing to consider changing basic social structures. In addition, within the first week of taking office it sent troops in to break the dockers' strike. Labour has used troops to break strikes far more often than the Conservatives have.

These points indicate why existing power structures cannot effectively be challenged through elections. For one thing, elected representatives are not mandated, which is to say they are not tied in any binding way to particular policies, no matter what promises they have made or what voters may prefer. Around election time, the public's influence on politicians is strongest, but after the election, representatives can do practically whatever they want, because there is no procedure for instant recall. In practice it is impossible to recall politicians before the next election, and between elections they are continually exposed to pressure from powerful special-interest groups -- especially business lobbyists, state bureaucracies and political party power brokers.

Under such pressure, the tendency of politicians to break campaign promises has become legendary. Generally, such promise breaking is blamed on bad character, leading to periodic "throw-the-bastards-out" fervour -- after which a new set of representatives is elected, who also mysteriously turn out to be bastards! In reality it is the system itself that produces "bastards," the sell-outs and shady dealing we have come to expect from politicians. As Alex Comfort argues, political office attracts power-hungry, authoritarian, and ruthless personalities, or at least tends to bring out such qualities in those who are elected (see his classic work Authority and Delinquency in the Modern State: A Criminological Approach to the Problem of Power).

In light of modern "democracy", it is amazing that anyone takes the system seriously enough to vote at all. And in fact, voter turnout in the US and other nations where "democracy" is practiced in this fashion is typically low. Nevertheless, some voters continue to participate, pinning their hopes on new parties or trying to reform a major party. For anarchists, this activity is pointless as it does not get at the root of the problem. It is not politicians or parties which are the problem, its a system which shapes them into its own image and marginalises and alienates people due to its hierarchical and centralised nature. No amount of party politics can change that.

However, we should make it clear that most anarchists recognise there is a difference between voting for a government and voting in referendum. Here we are discussing the former, electioneering, as a means of social change. Referenda are closer to anarchist ideas of direct democracy and are, while flawed, far better than electing a politician to office once every four years or so.

In addition, Anarchists are not necessarily against all involvement in electoral politics. Bakunin thought it could sometimes be useful to participate in local elections in relatively small communities where regular contact with representatives can maintain accountability. This argument has been taken up by such Social Ecologists such as Murray Bookchin who argues that anarchists, by taking part in local elections, can use this technique to create self-governing community assemblies. However, few anarchists support such means to create community assemblies (see section J.5.14 for a discussion on this).

However, in large cities and in regional or national elections, certain processes have developed which render the term "democracy" inappropriate. These processes include mass advertising, bribery of voters through government projects in local areas, party "machines," the limitation of news coverage to two (or at most three) major parties, and government manipulation of the news. Party machines choose candidates, dictate platforms, and contact voters by phone campaigns. Mass advertising "packages" candidates like commodities, selling them to voters by emphasising personality rather than policies, while media news coverage emphasise the "horse race" aspects of campaigns rather than policy issues. Government spending in certain areas (or more cynically, the announcement of new projects in such areas just before elections) has become a standard technique for buying votes. And we have already examined the mechanisms through which the media is made dependent of government sources of information (see section D.3 ), a development that obviously helps incumbents.

Therefore, for these related reasons anarchists reject the voting as a means of change. Instead we wholeheartedly support direct action as the means of getting improvements in the here and now as well as the means of creating an alternative to the current system.

J.2.3 What are the political implications of voting?

At its most basic, voting implies agreement with the status quo. It is worth quoting the Scottish libertarian socialist James Kelman at length on this:

"State propaganda insists that the reason why at least 40 percent of the voting public don't vote at all is because they have no feelings one way or the other. They say the same thing in the USA, where some 85 percent of the population are apparently 'apolitical' since they don't bother registering a vote. Rejection of the political system is inadmissible as far as the state is concerned. . . Of course the one thing that does happen when you vote is that someone else has endorsed an unfair political system. . . A vote for any party or any individual is always a vote for the political system. You can interpret your vote in whichever way you like but it remains an endorsement of the apparatus. . . If there was any possibility that the apparatus could effect a change in the system then they would dismantle it immediately. In other words the political system is an integral state institution, designed and refined to perpetuate its own existence. Ruling authority fixes the agenda by which the public are allowed 'to enter the political arena' and that's the fix they've settled on" [Some Recent Attacks, p.87]

We are taught from an early age that voting in elections is right and a duty. In US schools, children elect class presidents and other officers. Often mini-general elections are held to "educate" children in "democracy". Periodically, election coverage monopolises the media. We are made to feel guilty about shirking our "civic responsibility" if we don't vote. Countries that have no elections, or only rigged elections, are regarded as failures [Benjamin Ginsberg, The Consequences of Consent: Elections, Citizen Control and Popular Acquiescence, Addison-Wesley, 1982]. As a result, elections have become a quasi-religious ritual.

As Brian Martin points out, however, "elections in practice have served well to maintain dominant power structures such as private property, the military, male domination, and economic inequality. None of these has been seriously threatened through voting. It is from the point of view of radical critics that elections are most limiting." ["Democracy without Elections," Social Anarchism, Reinventing Anarchy, Again, Howard J. Ehrlich (ed.), p. 124]

Benjamin Ginsberg has noted other ways in which elections serve the interests of state power. Firstly, voting helps to legitimate government; hence suffrage has often been expanded at times when there was little popular demand for it but when mass support of government was crucial, as during a war or revolution. Secondly, since voting is organised and supervised by government, it comes to be seen as the only legitimate form of political participation, thus making it likely that any revolts by oppressed or marginalized groups will be viewed by the general public as illegitimate. [The Consequences of Consent]

In addition, Ginsberg argues that, historically, by enlarging the number of people who participate in 'politics,' and by turning this participation into the "safe" activities of campaigning and voting, elections have reduced the risk of more radical direct action. That is, voting disempowers the grassroots by diverting energy from grassroots action. After all, the goal of electoral politics is to elect a representative who will act for us. Therefore, instead taking direct action to solve problems ourselves, action becomes indirect, though the government. This is an insidiously easy trap to fall into, as we have been conditioned in hierarchical society from day one into attitudes of passivity and obedience, which gives most of us a deep-seated tendency to leave important matters to the "experts" and "authorities."

Anarchists also criticise elections for giving citizens the false impression that the government serves, or can serve, the people. As Martin puts it, "the founding of the modern state a few centuries ago was met with great resistance: people would refuse to pay taxes, to be conscripted or to obey laws passed by national governments. The introduction of voting and the expanded suffrage have greatly aided the expansion of state power. Rather than seeing the system as one of ruler and ruled, people see at least the possibility of using state power to serve themselves. As electoral participation has increased, the degree of resistance to taxation, military service, and the immense variety of laws regulating behaviour, has been greatly attenuated" [Op. Cit., p. 126]

Ironically, however, voting has legitimated the growth of state power to such an extent that the state is now beyond any real popular control by the form of participation that made that growth possible. Nevertheless, as Ginsberg observes, the idea that electoral participation means popular control of government is so deeply implanted in people's psyches "that even the most overtly skeptical cannot fully free themselves from it" [The Consequences of Consent, op. cit., p. 241].

Therefore, voting has the important political implication of encouraging people to identify with state power and to justify the status quo. In addition, it feeds the illusion that the state is neutral and that electing parties to office means that people have control over their own lives. Moreover, elections have a tendency to make people passive, to look for salvation from above and not from their own self-activity. As such it produces a division between leaders and led, with the voters turned into spectators of activity, not the participants within it.

All this does not mean, obviously, that anarchists prefer dictatorship or an "enlightened" monarchy. Far from it, democratising state power can be an important step towards abolishing it. All anarchists agree with Bakunin when he argued that "the most imperfect republic is a thousand times better that even the most enlightened monarchy." [cited by Guerin, Anarchism, p. 20] But neither does it mean that anarchists will join in with the farce of electioneering, particularly when there are more effective means available for changing things for the better.

J.2.4 Surely voting for radical parties will be effective?

There is no doubt that voting can lead to changes in policies, which can be a good thing as far as it goes. But such policies are formulated and implemented within the authoritarian framework of the hierarchical capitalist state -- a framework which itself is never open to challenge by voting. To the contrary, voting legitimates the state framework, ensuring that social change will be mild, gradual, and reformist rather than rapid and radical. Indeed, the "democratic" process will (and has) resulted in all successful political parties becoming committed to "more of the same" or tinkering with the details at best (which is usually the limits of any policy changes).

Therefore, given the need for radical systemic changes as soon as possible due to the exponentially accelerating crises of modern civilisation, working for gradual reforms within the electoral system must be seen as a potentially deadly tactical error. In addition, it can never get to the root causes of our problems. Anarchists reject the idea that our problems can be solved by the very institutions that cause them in the first place! What happens in our communities, workplaces and environment is too important to be left to politicians - or the ruling elite who control governments.

Because of this anarchists reject political parties and electioneering. Electioneering has always been the death of radicalism. Political parties are only radical when they don't stand a chance of election. However, many social activists continue to try to use elections, so participating in the system which disempowers the majority and so helps create the social problems they are protesting against.

"It should be a truism that elections empower the politicians and not the voters," Brian Martin writes, "yet many social movements continually are drawn into electoral politics." There are a number of reasons for this. "One is the involvement of party members in social movements. Another is the aspirations for power and influence by leaders in movements. Having the ear of a government minister is a heady sensation for many; getting elected to parliament oneself is even more of an ego boost. What is forgotten in all this 'politics of influence' is the effect on ordinary activists." ["Democracy without Elections", Reinventing Anarchy, Again, Howard J. Ehrlich (ed.),p. 125]

Rudoph Bahro gives an example of how working "within the system" disempowered grassroots Green activists in Germany during the early eighties, pointing out that the coalitions into which the Greens entered with Social Democrats in the German legislature often had the effect of strengthening the status quo by co-opting those whose energies might otherwise have gone into more radical and effective forms of activism [Building the Green Movement, New Society Publishers, 1986].

No doubt the state is more complicated than the simple "executive committee of the ruling class" pictured by Marxists. There are continual struggles both within and without the state bureaucracies, struggles that influence policies and empower different groups of people. Because of this, many radical parties believe that it makes sense to work within the state -- for example, to obtain labour, consumer, and environmental protection laws. However, this reasoning ignores the fact that the organisational structure of the state is not neutral.

To quote Martin again:

"The basic anarchist insight is that the structure of the state, as a centralised administrative apparatus, is inherently flawed from the point of view of human freedom and equality. Even though the state can be used occasionally for valuable ends, as a means the state is flawed and impossible to reform. The nonreformable aspects of the state include, centrally, its monopoly over 'legitimate' violence and its consequent power to coerce for the purpose of war, internal control, taxation and the protection of property and bureaucratic privilege.

"The problem with voting is that the basic premises of the state are never considered open for debate, much less challenge. The state's monopoly over the use of violence for war is never at issue. Neither is the state's use of violence against revolt from within. The state's right to extract economic resources from the population is never questioned. Neither is the state's guarantee of either private property (under capitalism) or bureaucratic prerogative (under state socialism) -- or both" [Op Cit., p. 127]

But, it may be said, if a new political group is radical enough, it will be able to use state power for good purposes. While we discuss this in more detail later in section J.2.6, let us consider a specific case: that of the Greens, many of whom believe that the best way to achieve their aims is to work within the representative political system.

By pledging to use the electoral system to achieve change, Green parties necessarily commit themselves to formulating their proposals as legislative agendas. But once legislation is passed, the coercive mechanisms of the state will be needed to enforce it. Therefore, Green parties are committed to upholding state power. However, our analysis in section B.2 indicated that the state is a set of hierarchical institutions through which a ruling elite dominates society and individuals. And, as we have seen in the introduction to section E, ecologists, feminists, and peace activists -- who are key constituencies of the Green movement -- all need to dismantle hierarchies and domination in order to achieve their respective aims. Therefore, since the state is not only the largest and most powerful hierarchy but also serves to maintain the hierarchical form of all major institutions in society (since this form is the most suitable for achieving ruling-class interests), the state itself is the main obstacle to the success of key constituencies of the Green movement. Hence it is impossible in principle for a parliamentary Green party to achieve essential objectives of the Green movement. A similar argument would apply to any radical party whose main emphasis was social justice, which like the goals of feminists, radical ecologists, and peace activists, depends on dismantling hierarchies.

And surely no one who even is remotely familiar with history will suggest that 'radical' politicians, even if by some miracle they were to obtain a majority in the national legislature, might dismantle the state. It should be axiomatic by now that when a 'radical' politician (e.g. a Lenin) says to voters, "Give me and my party state power and we will 'wither away'" it's just more campaign rhetoric (in Lenin's case, the ultimate campaign promise), and hence not to be taken seriously. And, as we argued in the previous section, radical parties are under pressure from economic and state bureaucracies that ensure that even a sincere radical party would be powerless to introduce significant reforms.

The only real response to the problems of representative democracy is to urge people not to vote. This can be a valuable way of making others aware of the limitations of the current system, which is a necessary condition for their seriously considering the anarchist alternative, as we have outlined in this FAQ. The implications of abstentionism are discussed in the next section.

J.2.5 Why do anarchists support abstentionism and what are its implications?

At its most basic, anarchists support abstentionism because "participation in elections means the transfer of one's will and decisions to another, which is contrary to the fundamental principles of anarchism." [Emma Goldman, "Anarchists and Elections", Vanguard III, June-July 1936, p. 19]

If you reject hierarchy and government then participating in a system by which you elect those who will govern you is almost like adding insult to injury! And as Luigi Galleani points out, "[b]ut whoever has the political competence to choose his own rulers is, by implication, also competent to do without them." [The End of Anarchism?, p. 37] In other words, because anarchists reject the idea of authority, we reject the idea that by picking the authority (be it bosses or politicians) makes us free. Therefore, anarchists reject governmental elections in the name of self-government and free association. We refuse to vote as voting is endorsing authoritarian social structures. We are (in effect) being asked to make obligations to the state, not our fellow citizens, and so anarchists reject the symbolic process by which our liberty is alienated from us.

For anarchists, then, when you vote, you are choosing between rulers. Instead of urging people to vote we raise the option of choosing to rule yourself, to organise freely with others - in your workplace, in your community, everywhere - as equals. The option of something you cannot vote for, a new society. And instead of waiting for others to do make some changes for you, anarchists urge that you do it yourself. This is the core of the anarchist support for abstentionism.

In addition, beyond this basic anarchist rejection of elections from a anti-statist position, anarchists also support abstentionism as it allows us to put across our ideas at election time. It is a fact that at election times individuals are often more interested in politics than usual. So, by arguing for abstentionism we can get our ideas across about the nature of the current system, how elected politicians do not control the state bureaucracy, now the state acts to protect capitalism and so on. In addition, it allows us to present the ideas of direct action and encourage those disillusioned with political parties and the current system to become anarchists by presenting a viable alternative to the farce of politics.

And a sizeable percentage of non-voters and voters are disillusioned with the current set-up. According to the US paper The Nation (dated February 10, 1997):

"Protest is alive and well in the growing non-electorate, now the majority (last fall's turnout was 48.8 percent). According to a little-noticed post-election survey of 400 nonvoters conducting by the Polling Company, a Washington-based firm, 38 percent didn't vote for essentially political reasons: they 'did not care for any of the candidates' (16 percent), they were 'fed up with the political system' (15 percent) or they 'did not feel like candidates were interested in people like me' (7 percent). That's at least 36 million people--almost as many as voted for Bob Dole. The nonvoting majority is also disproportionately liberal-leaning, compared with those who did vote."

So, anarchist abstentionism is a means of turning this negative reaction to an unjust system into positive activity. So, anarchist opposition to electioneering has deep political implications which Luigi Galleani addresses when he writes that the "anarchists' electoral abstentionism implies not only a conception that is opposed to the principle of representation (which is totally rejected by anarchism), it implies above all an absolute lack of confidence in the State. . . Furthermore, anarchist abstentionism has consequences which are much less superficial than the inert apathy ascribed to it by the sneering careerists of 'scientific socialism' [i.e. Marxism]. It strips the State of the constitutional fraud with which it presents itself to the gullible as the true representative of the whole nation, and, in so doing, exposes its essential character as representative, procurer and policeman of the ruling classes.

"Distrust off reforms, of public power and of delegated authority, can lead to direct action [in the class struggle]. . . It can determine the revolutionary character of this . . . action; and, accordingly, anarchists regard it as the best available means for preparing the masses to manage their own personal and collective interests; and, besides, anarchists feel that even now the working people are fully capable of handling their own political and administrative interests." [The End of Anarchism?, pp. 13-14]

Therefore abstentionism stresses the importance of self-activity and self-libertarian as well as having an important educational effect in highlighting that the state is not neutral, but serves to protect class rule, and that meaningful change only comes from below, by direct action. For the dominant ideas within any class society reflect the opinion of the ruling elite of that society and so any campaign at election times which argues for abstentionism and indicates why voting is a farce will obviously challenge these dominant ideas. In other words, abstentionism combined with direct action and the building of socialist alternatives is a very effective means of changing people's ideas and encouraging a process of self-education and, ultimately, self-liberation.

Anarchists are aware that elections serve to legitimate government. We have always warned that since the state is an integral part of the system that perpetuates poverty, inequality, racism, imperialism, sexism, environmental destruction, and war, we should not expect to solve any of these problems by changing a few nominal state leaders every four or five years (See P. Kropotkin, "Representative Government," The Commonweal, Vol. 7, 1892; Errico Malatesta, Vote: What For?, Freedom Press, 1942). Therefore anarchists (usually) advocate abstentionism at election time as a means of exposing the farce of "democracy", the disempowering nature of elections and the real role of the state.

Therefore, anarchists urge abstentionism in order to encourage activity, not apathy. The reasons why people abstain is more important than the act. The idea that the USA is closer to anarchy because around 50% of people do not vote is nonsense. Abstentionism in this case is the product of apathy and cynicism, not political ideas. So anarchists recognise that apathetic abstentionism is not revolutionary or an indication of anarchist sympathies. It is produced by apathy and a general level of cynicism at all forms of political ideas and the possibility of change.

Not voting is not enough, and anarchists urge people to organise and resist as well. Abstentionism must be the political counterpart of class struggle, self-activity and self-management in order to be effective - otherwise it is as pointless as voting is.

J.2.6 What are the effects of radicals using electioneering?

While many radicals would be tempted to agree with our analysis of the limitations of electioneering and voting, few would automatically agree with anarchist abstentionist arguments. Instead, they argue that we should combine direct action with electioneering. In that way (it is argued) we can overcome the limitations of electioneering by invigorating the movement with self-activity. In addition, it is argued, the state is too powerful to leave in the hands of the enemies of the working class. A radical politician will refuse to give the orders to crush social protest that a right-wing, pro-capitalist one would.

This reformist idea met a nasty end in the 1900s (when, we may note, social democracy was still considered revolutionary). In 1899, the Socialist Alexandre Millerand joined the cabinet of the French Government. The Marxian-Socialist Second International approved of this with such leaders as Lenin and Kautsky supporting it at the 1904 conference. However, nothing changed:

"thousands of strikers. . . appealed to Millerand for help, confident that, with him in the government, the state would be on their side. Much of this confidence was dispelled within a few years. The government did little more for workers than its predecessors had done; soldiers and police were still sent in to repress serious strikes." [Peter N. Stearns, Revolutionary Syndicalism and French Labour, p. 16]

In 1910, the Socialist Prime Minister Briand used scabs and soldiers to again break a general strike on the French railways. And these events occurred during the period when social democratic and socialist parties were self-proclaimed revolutionaries and arguing against anarcho-syndicalism by using the argument that working people needed their own representatives in office to stop troops being used against them during strikes!

Looking at the British Labour government of 1945 to 1951 we find the same actions. What is often considered the most left-wing Labour government ever used troops to break strikes in every year it was in office, starting with a dockers' strike days after it became the new government. And again in the 1970s Labour used troops to break strikes. Indeed, the Labour Party has used troops to break strikes more often than the right-wing Conservative Party.

In other words, while these are important arguments in favour of radicals using elections, they ultimately fail to take into account the nature of the state and the corrupting effect it has on radicals. If history is anything to go by, the net effect of radicals using elections is that by the time they are elected to office the radicals will happily do what they claimed the right-wing would have done. Many blame the individuals elected to office for these betrayals, arguing that we need to elect better politicians, select better leaders. For anarchists nothing could be more wrong as its the means used, not the individuals involved, which is the problem.

At its most basic, electioneering results in the party using it becoming more moderate and reformist - indeed the party often becomes the victim of its own success. In order to gain votes, the party must appear "moderate" and "practical" and that means working within the system. This has meant that (to use Rudolf Rocker words):

"Participation in the politics of the bourgeois States has not brought the labour movement a hair's-breadth nearer to Socialism, but thanks to this method, Socialism has almost been completely crushed and condemned to insignificance. . . Participation in parliamentary politics has affected the Socialist Labour movement like an insidious poison. It destroyed the belief in the necessity of constructive Socialist activity, and, worse of all, the impulse to self-help, by inoculating people with the ruinous delusion that salvation always comes from above." [Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 49]

This corruption does not happen overnight. Alexander Berkman indicates how it slowly develops when he writes:

"[At the start, the Socialist Parties] claimed that they meant to use politics only for the purpose of propaganda. . . and took part in elections on order to have an opportunity to advocate Socialism

"It may seem a harmless thing but it proved the undoing of Socialism. Because nothing is truer than the means you use to attain your object soon themselves become your object. . . [so] There is a deeper reason for this constant and regular betrayal [than individual scoundrels being elected] . . . no man turns scoundrel or traitor overnight.

"It is power which corrupts. . . Moreover, even with the best intentions Socialists [who get elected]. . . find themselves entirely powerless to accomplishing anything of a socialistic nature. . . The demoralisation and vitiation [this brings about] take place little by little, so gradually that one hardly notices it himself. . . [The elected Socialist] perceives that he is regarded as a laughing stock [by the other politicians]. . . and finds more and more difficulty in securing the floor. . . he knows that neither by his talk nor by his vote can he influence the proceedings . . . His speeches don't even reach the public. . . [and so] He appeals to the voters to elect more comrades. . . Years pass. . . [and a] number . . . are elected. Each of them goes through the same experience. . . [and] quickly come to the conclusion. . . [that] They must show that they are practical men. . . that they are doing something for their constituency. . . In this manner the situation compels them to take a 'practical' part in the proceedings, to 'talk business,' to fall in line with the matters actually dealt with in the legislative body. . . Spending years in that atmosphere, enjoying good jobs and pay, the elected Socialists have themselves become part and parcel of the political machinery. . . With growing success in elections and securing political power they turn more and more conservative and content with existing conditions. Removal from the life and suffering of the working class, living in the atmosphere of the bourgeoisie. . . they have become what they call 'practical'. . . Power and position have gradually stifled their conscience and they have not the strength and honesty to swim against the current. . . They have become the strongest bulwark of capitalism."[What is Communist Anarchism?, pp. 78-82]

And so the "political power which they had wanted to conquer had gradually conquered their Socialism until there was scarcely anything left of it." [Rudolf Rocker, Op. Cit., p. 50] Not that these arguments are the result of hindsight, we may add. Bakunin was arguing in the early 1870s that the "inevitable result [of using elections] will be that workers' deputies, transferred to a purely bourgeois environment, and into an atmosphere of purely bourgeois political ideas. . . will become middle class in their outlook, perhaps even more so than the bourgeois themselves." [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 216] History proved Bakunin's prediction correct (as it did with his prediction that Marxism would result in elite rule).

History is littered with examples of radical parties becoming a part of the system. From Marxian Social Democracy at the turn of the 19th century to the German Green Party in the 1980s, we have seen radical parties, proclaiming the need for direct action and extra-parliamentary activity denouncing these activities once in power. From only using parliament as a means of spreading their message, the parties involved end up considering votes as more important than the message. Janet Biehl sums up the effects on the German Green Party of trying to combine radical electioneering with direct action:

"the German Greens, once a flagship for the Green movement worldwide, should now be considered stink normal, as their de facto boss himself declares. Now a repository of careerists, the Greens stand out only for the rapidity with which the old cadre of careerism, party politics, and business-as-usual once again played itself out in their saga of compromise and betrayal of principle. Under the superficial veil of their old values - a very thin veil indeed, now - they can seek positions and make compromises to their heart's content. . . They have become 'practical,' 'realistic' and 'power-orientated.' This former New Left ages badly, not only in Germany but everywhere else. But then, it happened with the S.P.D. [The German Social Democratic Party] in August 1914, then why not with Die Grunen in 1991? So it did." ["Party or Movement?", Greenline, no. 89, p. 14]

This, sadly, is the end result of all such attempts. Ultimately, supporters of using political action can only appeal to the good intentions and character of their candidates. Anarchists, however, present an analysis of the structures and other influences that will determine how the character of the successful candidates will change. In other words, in contrast to Marxists and other radicals, anarchists present a materialist, scientific analysis of the dynamics of electioneering and its effects on radicals. And like most forms of idealism, the arguments of Marxists and other radicals flounder on the rocks of reality as their theory "inevitably draws and enmeshes its partisans, under the pretext of political tactics, into ceaseless compromises with governments and political parties; that is, it pushes them toward downright reaction." [Bakunin, Op. Cit., p. 288]

However, many radicals refuse to learn this lesson of history and keep trying to create a new party which will not repeat the saga of compromise and betrayal which all other radical parties have suffered. And they say that anarchists are utopian! In other words, its truly utopian to think that "You cannot dive into a swamp and remain clean." [Alexander Berkman, Op. Cit., p. 83] Such is the result of rejecting (or "supplementing" with electioneering) direct action as the means to change things, for any social movement "to ever surrender their commitment to direct action for 'working within the system' is to destroy their personality as socially innovative movements. It is to dissolve back into the hopeless morass of 'mass organisations' that seek respectability rather than change." [Murray Bookchin, Toward an Ecological Society, p. 47]

Moreover, the use of electioneering has a centralising effect on the movements that use it. Political actions become considered as parliamentary activities made for the population by their representatives, with the 'rank and file' left with no other role than that of passive support. Only the leaders are actively involved and the main emphasis falls upon the leaders and it soon becomes taken for granted that they should determine policy (even ignoring conference decisions when required - how many times have politicians turned round and done the exact opposite of what they promised or introduced the exact opposite of party policy?). In the end, party conferences become simply like parliamentary elections, with party members supporting this leader against another.

Soon the party reflects the division between manual and mental labour so necessary for the capitalist system. Instead of working class self-activity and self-determination, there is a substitution and a non working class leadership acting for people replaces self-management in social struggle and within the party itself. Electoralism strengthens the leaders dominance over the party and the party over the people it claims to represent. And, of course, the real causes and solutions to the problems we face are mystified by the leadership and rarely discussed in order to concentrate on the popular issues that will get them elected.

And, of course, this results in radicals "instead of weakening the false and enslaving belief in law and government . . . actually work[ing] to strengthen the people's faith in forcible authority and government." [A. Berkman, Op. Cit., p. 84] Which has always proved deadly to encouraging a spirit of revolt, self-management and self-help -- the very keys to creating change in a society.

Thus the 1870 resolution of the Spanish section of the First International seems to have been proven to be totally correct:

"Any participation of the working class in the middle class political government would merely consolidate the present state of affairs and necessarily paralyse the socialist revolutionary action of the proletariat. The Federation [of unions making up the Spanish section of the International] is the true representative of labour, and should work outside the political system." [quoted by Jose Pierats, Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution, p. 169]

Instead of trying to gain control of the state, for whatever reasons, anarchists try to promote a culture of resistance within society that makes the state subject to pressure from without. Or, to quote Proudhon, we see the "problem before the labouring classes . . . [as] consist[ing of] not in capturing, but in subduing both power and monopoly, -- that is, in generating from the bowels of the people, from the depths of labour, a greater authority, a more potent fact, which shall envelop capital and the state and subjugate them." For, "to combat and reduce power, to put it in its proper place in society, it is of no use to change the holders of power or introduce some variation into its workings: an agricultural and industrial combination must be found by means of which power, today the ruler of society, shall become its slave." [System of Economical Contradictions, p. 398 and p. 397]

To use an analogy, the pro-election radical argues that the state is like an person with a stick that intends to use it against you and your friends. Then you notice that their grasp of that stick is uncertain, and you can grab that stick away from them. If you take the stick away from them, that does not mean you have to hit them. After you take the weapon away from them, you can also break it in half and throw it away. They will have been deprived of its use, and that is the important thing.

In response the anarchist argues that instead of making plans to take their stick, we develop our muscles and skill so that we don't need a stick, so that we can beat them on our own. It takes longer, sure, to build up genuinely libertarian working class organs, but it's worth it simply because then our strength is part of us, and it can't be taken away by someone offering to "wield it on our behalf" (or saying that they will break the stick when they get it). And what do socialist and radical parties do? Offer to fight on our behalf and if we rely on others to act for us then we will be disarmed when they do not (and instead use the stick against us). Given the fact that power corrupts, any claim that by giving the stick of state power to a party we can get rid of it once and for all is naive to say the least.

And, we feel, history has proven us right time and time again.

J.2.7 Surely we should vote for reformist parties in order to show them up for what they are?

Some Leninist socialists (like the British Socialist Workers Party and their offshoots like ISO in the USA) argue that we should urge people to vote for Labour and other social democratic parties. This is because of two reasons.

Firstly, it is argued, radicals will be able to reach more people by being seen to support popular, trade union based parties. If they do not, then they are in danger of alienating sizeable sections of the working class by arguing that such parties will be no better than explicitly pro-capitalist ones.

The second argument, and the more important one, is that by electing reformist parties into office the experience of living under such a government will shatter whatever illusions its supporters had in them. In other words, by getting reformist parties elected into office they will be given the test of experience. And when they betray their supporters to protect the status quo the experience will radicalise those who voted for them, who will then seek out real socialist parties (namely the likes of the SWP and ISO).

Anarchists reject these arguments for three reasons.

Firstly, it is a deeply dishonest tactic as it hides the true thoughts of those who support the tactic. To tell the truth is a revolutionary act. Radicals should not follow the capitalist media by telling half-truths or distorting the facts or what they believe. They should not hide their politics or suggest they support a system or party they are opposed to. If this means being less popular in the short run, then so be it. Attacking capitalism, religion, or a host of other things can alienate people but few radicals would be so opportunistic as to hold their tongues attacking these. In the long run being honest about your ideas is the best way of producing a movement which aims to get rid of a corrupt social system. Starting such a movement with half-truths is doomed to failure.

Secondly, anarchists reject the logic of this theory. The logic underlying this argument is that by being disillusioned by their reformist leaders and party, voters will look for new, "better" leaders and parties. However, this fails to go to the root of the problem, namely the dependence on leaders which hierarchical society creates within people. Anarchists do not want people to follow the "best" leadership, they want them to govern themselves, to be self-active, manage their own affairs and not follow any would-be leaders. If you seriously think that the liberation of the oppressed is the task of the oppressed themselves (as these Leninists claim to do) then you must reject this tactic in favour of ones that promote working class self-activity.

And the third reason is that this tactic has been proven to fail time and time again. What most of its supporters seem to fail to notice is that voters have indeed put reformist parties into office many times (for example, there have been 7 Labour Party governments in Britain before 1997, all of whom attacked the working class) and there has been no movement away from them to something more radical. Lenin suggested this tactic over 70 years ago and there has been no general radicalisation of the voting population by this method, nor even in reformist party militants. Indeed, ironically enough, most such activists have left their parties when its been out of office and they have become disgusted by the party's attempts to appear "realistic" in order to win the next election! And this disgust often expresses itself as a demoralisation with socialism as such, rather than with their party's watered down version of it.

This total failure, for anarchists, is not surprising, considering the reasons why we reject this tactic. Given that this tactic does not attack hierarchy or dependence on leaders, does not attack the ideology and process of voting, it will obviously fail to present a real alternative to the voting population (who will turn to other alternatives available at election time and not embrace direct action). Also, the sight of a so-called "socialist" or "radical" government managing capitalism, imposing cuts, breaking strikes and generally attacking its supporters will damage the credibility of any form of socialism and discredit all socialist and radical ideas in the eyes of the population. And if the experience of the Labour Government in Britain during the 1970s is anything to go by, it may result in the rise of the right-wing who will capitalise on this disillusionment.

By refusing to argue that no government is "on our side," radicals who urge us to vote reformist "without illusions" help to disarm theoretically the people who listen to them. Working class people, surprised, confused and disorientated by the constant "betrayals" of left-wing parties may turn to right wing parties (who can be elected) to stop the attacks rather than turn to direct action as the radical minority within the working class did not attack voting as part of the problem.

How many times must we elect the same party, go through the same process, the same betrayals before we realise this tactic does not work? And, if it is a case of having to experience something before people reject it, few state socialists take this argument to its logical conclusion. We rarely hear them argue we must experience the hell of fascism or Stalinism or the nightmare of free market capitalism in order to ensure working class people "see through" them.

Anarchists, in contrast, say that we can argue against reformist politics without having to associate ourselves with them by urging people to vote for them. By arguing for abstentionism we can help arm theoretically people who will come into conflict with these parties once they are in office. By arguing that all governments will be forced to attack us (due to the pressure from capital and state) and that we have to reply on our own organisations and power to defend ourselves, we can promote working class self-confidence in its own abilities, and encourage the rejection of capitalism, the state and hierarchical leadership as well as encouraging the use of direct action.

And, we may add, it is not required for radicals to associate themselves with the farce of parliamentary propaganda in order to win people over to our ideas. Non-anarchists will see us use direct action, see us act, see the anarchistic alternatives we create and see and read our propaganda. Non-anarchists can be reached quite well without taking part or associating ourselves with parliamentary action.

J.2.8 Will abstentionism lead to the right winning elections?

Possibly. However anarchists don't just say "don't vote", we say "organise" as well. Apathy is something anarchists have no interest in encouraging. So, "[i]f the anarchists could persuade half the electorate to abstain from voting this would, from an electoral point of view, contribute to the [electoral] victory of the Right. But it would be a hollow victory, for what government could rule when half the electorate by not voting had expressed its lack of confidence in all governments?" [Vernon Richards, The Impossibilities of Social Democracy, p. 142]

In other words, whichever party was in office would have to rule over a country in which a sizeable minority, even a majority, had rejected government as such. This would mean that the politicians "would be subjected to real pressures from people who believed in their own power" and acted accordingly. So anarchists call on people not to vote, but instead organise themselves and be conscious of their own power both as individuals and as part of a union with others. Only this "can command the respect of governments, can curb the power of government as millions of crosses on bits of paper never will." [Ibid.]

As Emma Goldman pointed out, "if the Anarchists were strong enough to swing the elections to the Left, they must also have been strong enough to rally the workers to a general strike, or even a series of strikes. . . In the last analysis, the capitalist class knows too well that officials, whether they belong to the Right or the Left, can be bought. Or they are of no consequence to their pledge." [Vision on Fire, p. 90]

The mass of the population, however, cannot be bought off and if they are willing and able to resist then they can become a power second to none. Only by organising, fighting back and practicing solidarity where we live and work can we really change things. That is where our power lies, that is where we can create a real alternative. By creating a network of self-managed, pro-active community and workplace organisations we can impose by direct action that which politicians can never give us from Parliament. And only such a movement can stop the attacks upon us by whoever gets into office. A government (left or right) which faces a mass movement based upon direct action and solidarity will always think twice before proposing cuts or introducing authoritarian laws.

Of course, all the parties claim that they are better than the others and this is the logic of this question - namely, we must vote for the lesser evil as the right-wing in office will be terrible. But what this forgets is that the lesser evil is still an evil. What happens is that instead of the greater evil attacking us, we get the lesser evil doing what the right-wing was going to do. And, since we are discussing the "lesser evil," let us not forget it was the "lesser evil" of the Democrats (in the USA) and Labour (in the UK) who introduced the monetarist and other policies that Reagan and Thatcher made their own (and we may add that the US Air Traffic Controllers union endorsed Reagan against Carter in 1980 because they thought they would get a better deal out of the Republicans. Reagan then went on to bust the union once in office). Simply put, we cannot expect a different group of politicians to react differently to the same economic and political pressures and influences.

So, voting for other politicians will make little difference. The reality is that politicians are puppets. As we argued above (in section J.2.2) real power in the state does not lie with politicians, but instead within the state bureaucracy and big business. Faced with these powers, we have seen left-wing governments from Spain to New Zealand introduce right-wing policies. So even if we elected a radical party, they would be powerless to change anything important and soon be forced to attack us in the interests of capitalism. Politicians come and go, but the state bureaucracy and big business remain forever!

Therefore we cannot rely on voting for the lesser evil to safe us from the possible dangers of a right-wing election victory brought about by abstentionism. All we can hope for is that no matter who gets in, the population will resist the government because it knows and can use its real power - direct action. For the "only limit to the oppression of government is the power with which the people show themselves capable of opposing it." [Errico Malatesta, Life and Ideas, p. 196] Hence Vernon Richards:

"If the anarchist movement has a role to play in practical politics it is surely that of suggesting to, and persuading, as many people as possible that their freedom from the Hilters, Francos and the rest, depends not on the right to vote or securing a majority of votes 'for the candidate of ones choice,' but on evolving new forms of political and social organisation which aim at the direct participation of the people, with the consequent weakening of the power, as well of the social role, of government in the life of the community." [The Raven, no. 14, pp. 177-8]

We discuss what new forms of political and social organisations anarchists encourage in section J.5.

J.2.9 What do anarchists do instead of voting?

While anarchists reject electioneering and voting, it does not mean that we are politically apathetic. Indeed, part of the reason why anarchists reject voting is because we think that voting is not part of the solution, its part of the problem. This is because it endorses an unjust and unfree political system and makes us look to others to fight our battles for us. It blocks constructive self-activity and direct action. It stops the building of alternatives in our communities and workplaces. Voting breeds apathy and apathy is our worse enemy.

Given that we have had universal suffrage for well over 50 years in many countries and we have seen the rise of Labour and Radical parties aiming to use that system to effect change in a socialistic manner, it seems strange that we are probably further away from socialism than when they started. The simple fact is that these parties have spent so much time trying to win elections that they have stopped even thinking about creating socialist alternatives in our communities and workplaces. That is in itself enough to prove that electioneering, far from eliminating apathy, in fact helps to create it.

So, because of this, anarchists argue that the only way to not waste your vote is to spoil it! We are the only political movement who argue that nothing will change unless you act for yourself, take back the power and fight the system directly. Only direct action breaks down apathy and gets results - and its the first steps towards real freedom, towards a free and just society.

Therefore anarchists are the first to point out that not voting is not enough - we need to actively struggle for an alternative to both voting and the current system. Just as the right to vote was won after a long series of struggles, so the creation of a free, decentralised, self-managed, libertarian socialist society will be the product of social struggle.

Anarchists are the last people to deny the importance of political liberties or the importance in wining the right to vote. The question we must ask is whether it is a more a fitting tribute to the millions of people who used direct action, fought and suffered for the right to vote to use that victory to endorse a deeply unfair and undemocratic system or to use other means (indeed the means they used to win the vote) to create a system based upon true popular self-government? If we are true to our (and their) desire for a real, meaningful democracy, we would have to reject political action in favour of direct action. So, if we desire a truly libertarian and democratic society then its clear that the vote will not achieve it (and indeed put back the struggle for such a society).

This obviously gives an idea of what anarchists do instead of voting, we agitate, organise and educate. While we will discuss the various alternatives anarchists propose and attempt to organise in more detail in section J.5 (What alternative social organisations do anarchists create?) it is useful to give a brief introduction to anarchist activity here, activity which bases itself on the two broad strategies of encouraging direct action and building alternatives where we live and work.

Taking the first strategy, anarchists say that by using direct action we can force politicians to respect the wishes of the people. For example, if a government or boss tries to limit free speech, then anarchists would try to encourage a free speech fight to break the laws in question until such time as they were revoked. If a government or landlord refuses to limit rent increases or improve safety requirements for accommodation, anarchists would organise squats and rent strikes. In the case of environmental destruction, anarchists would support and encourage attempts at halting the damage by mass trespassing on sites, blocking the routes of developments, organising strikes and so on. If a boss refuses to introduce an 8 hour day, then workers should form a union and go on strike or stop working after 8 hours. Unlike laws, the boss cannot ignore direct action (and if such action is successful, the state will hurry to pass a law about it).

Similarly, strikes combined with social protest would be effective means of stopping authoritarian laws being passed. For example anti-union laws would be best fought by strike action and community boycotts (and given the utterly ineffectual defence pursued by pro-labour parties using political action to stop anti-union laws who can seriously say that the anarchist way would be any worse?). And of course collective non-payment of taxes would ensure the end of unpopular government decisions. The example of the poll tax rebellion in the UK in the late in 1980s shows the power of such direct action. The government could happily handle hours of speeches by opposition politicians but they could not ignore social protest (and we must add that the Labour Party which claimed to oppose the tax happily let the councils controlled by them introduce the tax and arrest non-payers).

As Noam Chomsky argues, "[w]ithin the constraints of existing state institutions, policies will be determined by people representing centres of concentrated power in the private economy, people who, in their institutional roles, will not be swayed by moral appeals but by the costs consequent upon the decisions they make -- not because they are 'bad people,' but because that is what the institutional roles demands." He continues by arguing that "[t]hose who own and manage the society want a disciplined, apathetic and submissive public that will not challenge their privilege and the orderly world in which it thrives. The ordinary citizen need not grant them this gift. Enhancing the Crisis of Democracy by organisation and political engagement is itself a threat to power, a reason to undertake it quite apart from its crucial importance in itself as an essential step towards social change." [Turning the Tide, p. 251-2]

In this way, by encouraging social protest, any government would think twice before pursuing authoritarian, destructive and unpopular policies. In the final analysis, governments can and will ignore the talk of opposition politicians, but they cannot ignore social action for very long. In the words of a Spanish anarchosyndicalist, anarchists

"do not ask for any concessions from the government. Our mission and our duty is to impose from the streets that which ministers and deputies are incapable of realising in parliament."[quoted by Graham Kelsey, Anarchosyndicalism, Libertarian Communism and the State, p. 79]

The second strategy of building alternatives flows naturally from the first. Any form of campaign requires organisation and by organising in an anarchist manner we build organisations that "bear in them the living seed of the new society which is replace the old world" (to use Bakunin's words). In organising strikes in the workplace and community we can create a network of activists and union members who can encourage a spirit of revolt against authority. By creating assemblies where we live and work we can create an effective countering power to the state and capital. Such a union, as the anarchists in Spain and Italy proved, can be the focal point for recreating self-managed schools, social centres and so on. In this way the local community can ensure that it has sufficient independent, self-managed resources available to educate its members. Also, combined with credit unions (or mutual banks), cooperative workplaces and stores, a self-managed infrastructure could be created which would ensure that people can directly provide for their own needs without having to rely on capitalists or governments.

In other words, an essential part of anarchist activity is (in the words of a C.N.T. militant):

"We must create that part of libertarian communism which can be created within bourgeois society and do so precisely to combat that society with our own special weapons." [quoted Op. Cit., p. 79]

So, far from doing nothing, by not voting the anarchist actively encourages alternatives. As the British anarchist John Turner argued, anarchists "have a line to work upon, to teach the people self-reliance, to urge them to take part in non-political [i.e. non-electoral] movements directly started by themselves for themselves. . . as soon as people learn to rely upon themselves they will act for themselves. . . We teach the people to place their faith in themselves, we go on the lines of self-help. We teach them to form their own committees of management, to repudiate their masters, to despise the laws of the country. . ." [quoted by John Quail, The Slow Burning Fuse, p. 87] In this way we encourage self-activity, self-organisation and self-help -- the opposite of apathy and doing nothing.

But what about government policies which actually do help people? While anarchists would "hesitate to condemn those measures taken by governments which obviously benefited the people, unless we saw the immediate possibility of people carrying them out for themselves. This would not inhibit us from declaring at the same time that what initiatives governments take would be more successfully taken by the people themselves if they put their minds to the same problems. . . to build up a hospital service or a transport system, for instance, from local needs into a national organisation, by agreement and consent at all levels is surely more economical as well as efficient than one which is conceived at top level [by the state]. . . where Treasury, political and other pressures, not necessarily connected with what we would describe as needs, influence the shaping of policies." [The Raven, no. 14, p. 179]

Ultimately, what the state and capital gives, they can also take away. What we build by our own self-activity can last as long as we want it to and act to protect it. And anarchists are convinced that:

"The future belongs to those who continue daringly, consistently, to fight power and governmental authority. The future belongs to us and to our social philosophy. For it is the only social ideal that teaches independent thinking and direct participation of the workers in their economic struggle [and working class people in their social struggles, we may add]. For it is only through he organized economic [and social] strength of the masses that they can and will do away with the capitalist system and all the wrongs and injustices it contains. Any diversion from this stand will only retard our movement and make it a stepping stone for political climbers." [Emma Goldman, Vision on Fire, p. 92]

J.2.10 Does rejecting electioneering mean that anarchists are apolitical?

No. Far from it. The "apolitical" nature of anarchism is Marxist nonsense. As it desires to fundamentally change society, anarchism can be nothing but political. However, anarchism does reject (as we have seen) "normal" political activity as ineffectual and corrupting. However, many (particularly Marxists) imply this reject of the con of capitalist politics means that anarchists concentration on purely "economic" issues like wages, working conditions and so forth. And, by so doing, Marxists claim that anarchists leave the political agenda to be dominated by capitalist ideology, with disastrous results for the working class.

This view, however, is totally wrong. Indeed, Bakunin explicitly rejected the idea that working people could ignore politics and actually agreed with the Marxists that political indifference only led to capitalist control of the labour movement:

"[some of] the workers in Germany . . .[were organized in] a kind of federation of small associations. . . 'Self-help'. . . was its slogan, in the sense that labouring people were persistently advised not to anticipate either deliverance or help from the state and the government, but only from their own efforts. This advise would have been excellent had it not been accompanied by the false assurance that liberation for the labouring people is possible under current conditions of social organisation . . . Under this delusion. . . the workers subject to [this] influence were supposed to disengage themselves systematically from all political and social concerns and questions about the state, property, and so forth. . . [This] completely subordinated the proletariat to the bourgeoisie which exploits it and for which it was to remain an obedient and mindless tool." [Statism and Anarchy, p. 174]

In addition, Bakunin argued that the labour movement (and so the anarchist movement) would have to take into account political ideas and struggles but to do so in a working class way:

"The International does not reject politics of a general kind; it will be compelled to intervene in politics so long as it is forced to struggle against the bourgeoisie. It rejects only bourgeois politics." [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 313]

So, anarchists reject capitalist politics (i.e. electioneering), but we do not ignore politics nor wider political discussion. Anarchists have always recognised the importance of political debate and ideas in social movements. As Bakunin argued should "the International [an international organisation of working class unions and groups]. . . cease to concern itself with political and philosophical questions? Would [it] . . . ignore progress in the world of thought as well as the events which accompany or arise from the political struggle in and between states[?]. . . We hasten to say that it is absolutely impossible to ignore political and philosophical questions. An exclusive pre-occupation with economic questions would be fatal for the proletariat. . . [I]t is impossible for the workers to stop there without renouncing their humanity and depriving themselves of the intellectual and moral power which is so necessary for the conquest of their economic rights" [Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 301]

Nor do anarchists ignore elections. As Vernon Richards argues, anarchists "cannot be uninterested in . . . election results, whatever their view about the demerits of the contending Parties. The fact that the anarchist movement has campaigned to persuade people not to use their vote is proof of our commitment and interest. If there is, say, a 60 per cent. poll we will not assume that the 40 per cent. abstentions are anarchists, but we would surely be justified in drawing the conclusion that among the 40 per cent. there are a sizeable minority who have lost faith in political parties and were looking for other instruments, other values." [The Impossibilities of Social Democracy, p. 141]

Thus the charge anarchists are apolitical or indifferent to politics (even capitalist politics) is a myth. Rather, "we are not concerned with choosing between governments but with creating the situation where government can no longer operate, because only then will we organise locally, regionally, nationally and internationally to satisfy real needs and common aspirations." For "so long as we have capitalism and government, the job of anarchists is to fight both, and at the same time encourage people to take what steps they can to run their own lives." [Vernon Richards, The Raven, no. 14, p. 179]

Part of this process will be the discussion of political, social and economic issues in whatever self-managed organisations people create in their communities and workplaces (as Bakunin argued) and the use of these organisations to fight for (political, social and economic) improvements and reforms in the here and now using direct action and solidarity.

This means, as Rudolf Rocker points out, anarchists desire a unification of political and economic struggles as the two as inseparable:

"[T]he Anarchists represent the viewpoint that the war against capitalism must be at the same time a war against all institutions of political power, for in history economic exploitation has always gone hand in hand with political and social oppression. The exploitation of man by man and the domination of man over man are inseparable, and each is the condition of the other." [Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 15]

Such a unification must take place on the social and economic field, not the political, as that is where the working class is strongest. In other words anarchists "are not in any way opposed to the political struggle, but in their opinion this struggle. . . must take the form of direct action. . . It would. . . be absurd for them [the working class] to overlook the importance of the political struggle. Every event that affects the live of the community is of a political nature. In this sense every important economic action. . . is also a political action and, moreover, one of incomparably greater importance than any parliamentary proceeding." [Rudolf Rocker, Op. Cit., pp. 65-66] Hence the comments in the C.N.T.'s newspaper Solidaridad Obrera:

"Does anyone not know that we want to participate in public life? Does anyone not know that we have always done so? Yes, we want to participate. With our organisations. With our papers. Without intermediaries, delegates or representatives. No. We will not go to the Town Hall, to the Provincial Capitol, to Parliament." [quoted by Jose Pierats, Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution, p. 173]

So, anarchists reject the idea that political and economic struggles can be divided. Such an argument just reproduces the artificially created division of labour between mental and physical activity of capitalism within working class organisations and within anti-capitalist movements. We say that we should not separate out politics into some form of specialised activity that only certain people (i.e. our "representatives") can do. Instead, anarchists argue that political struggles, ideas and debates must be brought into the social and economic organisations of our class where they must be debated freely by all members as they see fit and that political and economic struggle and change must go hand in hand.

History indicates that any attempt at taking social and economic issues into political parties has resulting in wasted energy and the watering down of these issues into pure reformism. In the words of Bakunin, such activity suggests that "a political revolution should precede a social revolution... [which] is a great and fatal error, because every political revolution taking place prior to and consequently without a social revolution must necessarily be a bourgeois revolution, and a bourgeois revolution can only be instrumental in bringing about bourgeois Socialism", i.e. State Capitalism. [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 289]

We have discussed this process of socialist parties becoming reformist in section J.2.6 and will not repeat ourselves here. Only by rejecting the artificial divisions of capitalist society can we remain true to our ideals of liberty, equality and solidarity. Anarchists "maintain that the State organisation, having been the force to which minorities resorted for establishing and organising their power over the masses, cannot be the force which will serve to destroy these privileges." [Peter Kropotkin, Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 170]. Every example of radicals using the state has resulted in them being changed by the system instead of them changing it and, to use Bakunin's words, "tied the proletariat to the bourgeois towline" (i.e. resulted in working class movements becoming dominated by capitalist ideas and activity - becoming "realistic" and "practical").

Therefore Anarchist argue that such a union of political ideas and social organisation and activity is essential for promoting radical politics as it "digs a chasm between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and places the proletariat outside the activity and political conniving of all parties within the State. . . in placing itself outside all bourgeois politics, the proletariat necessarily turns against it." So, by "placing the proletariat outside the politics in the State and of the bourgeois world, [the union movement] thereby constructed a new world, the world of the united proletarians of all lands." [Michael Bakunin, Op. Cit., p. 303, p. 305]

In addition, so-called "economic" struggles do not occur in a social vacuum. They take place in a social and political context and so, necessarily, there can exist an separation of political and economic struggles only in the mind. Strikers or eco-warriors, for example, face the power of the state enforcing laws which protect the power of employers and polluters. This necessarily has a "political" impact on those involved in struggle. As Bakunin argued social struggle results in "the spontaneous and direct development of philosophical and sociological in the International [i.e. union/social movement], ideas which inevitably develop side by side with and are produced by the first two movements [of strikes and union organising]" [Op. Cit., p. 304]. By channeling any "political" conclusions drawn by those involved in struggle into electoral politics, this development of political ideas and discussion will be distorted into discussions of what is possible in the current system, and so the radical impact of direct action and social struggle is weakened.

Therefore anarchists reject electioneering not because they are "apolitical" but because they do not desire to see politics remain a thing purely for politicians and experts. Political issues are far too important to leave to such people. Anarchists desire to see political discussion and change develop from the bottom up, this is hardly "apolitical" - in fact with our desire to see ordinary people directly discuss the issues that affect them, act to change things by their own action and draw their own conclusions from their own activity anarchists are very "political." The process of individual and social liberation is the most political activity we can think of!