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If you vote, you can’t complain

By Colin Ibu

Voting is a waste of time and energy better spent being genuinely political. For those of you who are so disempowered that you understand political participation to be limited to drawing an X twice a decade, and maybe signing an online petition when they get sent directly to your inbox, feel free to look into alternatives before you bother to say something as thoughtless as “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain”.

A bunch of lovely anti-politicians we all should know have, among many other things, this to say of elections: “By confining political participation to the isolation of the voting booth, the democratic system prevents people from learning how to wield power and work out conflicts collectively. Consequently, political conflicts can be framed as disagreements between people within the same economic classes, rather than between the classes themselves.”

And really, along with class struggle, what we should be doing is destroying all structural inequalities. Do electoral politics do this? Nope. Any time you can point to an election apparently having changed something, you can point to the real cause: the mass of actively political people getting involved in organising and mobilising for that change.

Whenever you get a group of people to represent your interests for you, be they politicians or union leaders (or pick any other person you task with giving you your freedom), they’ll soon find themselves in a long-standing system that makes it far easier for them to serve themselves than to engage in their responsibilities in good faith. Usually what ends up happening is that the people with money buy out these representatives in some way or other and use the representatives’ own institutions to bury any real change in red tape.

Unfortunately, for most people, “representative democracy” does not appear to be a contradiction in terms. Unfortunately, for most people, being free means choosing prefabricated options instead of actively participating in establishing your own options. You can pick Coke or Fanta or Sprite or even Stoney, but at the end of the day you’re only picking a product of the Coca-Cola company. Coca-Cola wins, nobody points out that its variety is contrived and fake, nobody feels insulted that the only real reason we buy it is because its advertising covers the globe.

We are so far from a world where we’d even have real control over what we drink!

Some people try to put in effort. The fairly-weak left in this country was reminded by Lonmin and the state of how things go when bureaucracy gets bored of condescendingly placating people looking to live like human beings. We could all use a bit more outrage. And if we can direct it away from electoral politics, and into the lives we lead daily, right now, all the better.

If the freedom for which so many generations have fought and died is best exemplified by a man in a voting booth checking a box on a ballot before returning to work in an environment no more under his control than it was before, then the heritage our emancipating predecessors have left us is nothing but a sham substitute for the liberty they sought.

If you think things are OK then you’re either used to suffering or you’re benefiting off of other people’s suffering or both. Poverty and alienation and marginalisation in this country are immense and unacceptable and that’s that.

State capitalism is a disaster that is literally making the world uninhabitable, and has already made life desolate for an unbearable number of people. State socialism does little more than make the capitalists and the state the same thing. Marx’s dream of a state that withers away on its own once the working class gets the vote has proved to be a big mistake. The fact is — there’s a lot of room for us to take control of our own lives, to participate outside of a system that pretends to work in our interest and give us options.

Voting is the act of handing responsibility for your own freedom to others, it is complicity in your own oppression, it is subscription to a system of hierarchy that does no good for anyone.

Have a look into the literature that radically opposes all structural hierarchy. Have a look at their current methods. The anarchists and the situationists are a sharp bunch, and they’re nothing like those stereotypes sold to you by the people they’re against. When you do, resist the objections the spring from deep in your mind as if they were your own, and be honest with yourself. Experiment with what works in actual practice instead of what you’ve been taught works. Maybe you’ll find yourself creating the world you really want to live in — when you do, you’ll forget all about ballots.

Colin Ibu is an anarchist based in Cape Town.

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