Opinion: Thoughts on Voting

By Ed Dalton

I have never voted and I never will, admitting this up front is important. Tribune of the People has promoted and supported the nationwide election boycott taken up by revolutionaries and activists in the US. While my conscience and my politics do not allow me to vote, and I am of course in full support of the editorial line of Tribune, I still find it important to walk in others shoes and imagine how most voters, at least those who work and do not live off inheritance, are feeling as November 3 rapidly approaches and immediately after. I have empathy for those who feel cornered and cowed into voting.

Some have swallowed their conscience and we have all heard numerous reasons for doing this. In good faith, we know that sometimes swallowing ones conscience makes sense as a tactical decision, but it never feels good and it never resembles vindication. The capitalist system forces upon the people countless humiliating compromises.

We should take a moment to examine some of the excuses for the torrent of bourgeois pressure that pushes voting and why. After all, it is not like the ruling class owned media spends its time telling its readers to organize or protest, telling them that no matter their views they have the right and duty to take it to the streets, so why do they reserve this only for the polls and voting? In short—to appease, to stifle, to redirect energy back into the dead system of American imperialist politics. Most importantly, they run extensive advertising campaigns for voting, because most people do not vote and the ruling class is desperate to legitimize itself through voter participation and elections. Elections which cannot ever offer anything resembling actual options to radically improve our lives.

The advertising campaigns are really like cattle prods, and we are the cattle. When enough start running, others are sure to follow—this is the logic of those who do not see workers as human beings to begin with, but as machinery. The ruling class, via its media and its businesses, use combined guilt and bribery to get people to the polls. So far, I have been accused of helping ‘voter suppression’ by encouraging others to find moral victory in not voting for evil, and on the other hand, I have been offered free pizza with proof of voting!

The idea of voter suppression is one of the liberal bourgeoisie’s favorite tactics to push guilt and fear. Voter suppression is based on legitimate history, it has certainly taken place in the most overt and covert ways, and perhaps vestiges of it still do. Those who boycott the elections do not stand for voter suppression and they do not stand for changes in laws that prohibit anyone from voting. Much like other rights, while they should be protected, they should not always be used, especially when moral and political concerns are at play. We use the example of the right to divorce, the right to terminate a pregnancy, the right to ‘free speech,’ etc.—these should be guaranteed without a doubt, but should every pregnancy be terminated? No they should not.  We defend the right to vote and on this basis defend the election boycott, a boycott without the right to participate would no longer be a conscious political decision.

Examining this issue brings us to the next point—does the imperialist ruling class want people to vote or not? They spend millions every cycle answering this question and they force their sham elections down everyone throat. No one can ignore election season, no matter how hard they try.

At one point, the US ruling class was in such contradiction with itself that there were two basic lines of thought, the first was to maintain things as they were—exclude women and Black people from voting as sections of the class feared that voting from these groups would compromise their power base. The other camp, more intelligent and more modern, but equally as exploitative, understood the utility of the vote in the interest of suppressing people’s struggles. They knew that suppressing voting would harm the ability of gaining legitimacy for their illegitimate system. Neither of these two basic views supported working or oppressed people—they only served imperialism. Eventually, the line of universal suffrage won out as the best way to protect and ensure capitalist rule. Vestiges of voter suppression remain because those old imperialist ideas have not fully surrendered to the new ones and still want to cling to their past. Make no mistake, the ruling class is, by and large, in agreement on the issue, but like always they will bend and break their own rules in service of this or that imperialist against the other.

Today, the ruling class wants desperately to stimulate voting in order to turn their miserable track record of having the lowest voter participation in any industrially developed country into a victory. They want to use everyone to do this, and by giving us no real options to begin with, they are sure to never be threatened by a vote, even if every single person who could vote did.

When we workers are given no options, even if the appearance of an option is there (work or starve) and our basic needs are not met, we have tools—the strike, the walk out, the boycott. Just because the owner of the factory also has tools—the police, the scab, the eviction, the lock out—does not mean we should relent from taking up the weapons we do have in order to combat the lack of choice in the workplace. This proletarian logic must extend to voting and elections as well. We have the illusion of choice, but we have tools too—the strike, the boycott, the walk out—and when organized correctly under strong revolutionary proletarian leadership—the sabotage and armed struggle. There are our choices!

What is certain is that, while it is unlikely that the national average of non-voters choosing to vote in this election will increase, there are going to be a great number of people, good honest people, who suffered insult to the point of voting, even though in their heart they hate both Trump and Biden. In fact, they hate the very history and foundation of this rotten system. They ceased being conscientious objectors to the election and became begrudging recruits, with low morale and no hope that things will improve—but they did not become apathetic, they still take to the streets in protest, and I believe that many are learning that this is a better approach, less of a compromise, less of an insult, and a viable way to assert their voices.

They will spend the next four years as they did the last four (or eight, etc.), suffering and in disgust of the things that come out of politicians’ mouths. They will hate what the politicians do—they will look on their friends who do not with confusion and concern.

Most of us have gone through this, we know people who voted for Obama for the first time for no other reason than that they believed he would end foreign wars—and they watched in horror as he continued and escalated them. Some of these well-meaning people voted again for Clinton in the interest of blocking Trump’s racist rhetoric and its consequences—they have to be concerned with the fact that after four years Trump still, in spite of his rhetoric, did not even match half of Obama’s numbers when it comes to deportations. It becomes clear that both parties, and in fact the entire ruling class, are going to continue with reactionary business as usual. They will lie to their support base and serve their own interests no matter what.

We saw the Black Lives Matter movement rise up under Obama, the first Black president in the US, and we saw it continue in a new expression under Trump. The very idea that Biden offers any reprieve here is ludicrous. His entire campaign boils down to the fact that he is as reactionary as Trump, but is not Trump. It is a duel of personality, not a political race.

If I were a voter, I would feel swindled. If I had spent my time campaigning and drawing people back into the electoral farce, I would feel like a scab. The only good thing about being swindled is that if you are vigilant from now on, it will be harder to swindle you next time. Scabs should be unwelcome everywhere, they should face all manner of pressure to stop scabbing and join with their brothers and sisters on the picket line. A regrettable decision should not result in lifelong loyalty to the enemy of the working class, and if it does, there is a solution to this too—the revolutionary struggle which will absolutely wipe away capitalism. I do not regret supporting the boycott of the 2020 elections. No matter which imperialist administers my exploitation, they do so without my consent—it was the only moral and political choice left, and if you, dear reader, regret endorsing this system, you have a place among us on this side of the barricade, a place in the future, brought forth by the working class of the world.


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