It’s an election year. Time to trot out the cynic’s motto again: “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal”. That little bumper sticker was given to us by Emma Goldman, a Lithuanian-born Russian anarchist who emigrated to the USA in 1885, aged 16. Her involvement in radical left-wing activism eventually saw her imprisoned and then deported to Russia in 1917. She fought for the Communists in the revolution, but later became thoroughly disillusioned with the Soviet Union and wrote a book denouncing it. She was also active among the anti-Franco forces (ie, the democratically elected losers) in the Spanish Civil War, so she’d seen enough revolutions begun with high idealism degenerating into brutal contests over wealth and power to form a strong opinion.
And she did know how to boil down a whole tangle of political theory into one snappy eight-word epigram. Russell Brand tried to say much the same thing a while ago, but he needed an entire page of The New Statesman and a thesaurus. It’s becoming obvious to even the most idealistic all over the world that it doesn’t really matter which party wins an election. They all serve their corporate paymasters – I beg your pardon, donors – much more faithfully than they do the electorate.
“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal” - Emma Goldman
Before we throw up our hands and join the “no point in voting” brigade, however, we must remember Plato: “The punishment which the wise suffer who refuse to take part in the government, is to live under the government of worse men.” He makes a good point: get involved, or have someone else decide your fate for you.
So I will vote. The alternative would be starting a popular movement to reform our entire economic and political system at grassroots level, from the Neighbourhood Watch Committee up – but that would involve meeting and getting to know my neighbours. There are some sacrifices a middle-class suburbanite shouldn’t have to make, even to change the world.
The question is, which party can an antisocial socialist vote for these days? I voted ANC back in 1994, when the party still was socialist, if the Freedom Charter was to be believed. However, AIDS denialism, arms deal dirt and the swamp of self-enrichment, wasteful spending and personality cult into which the movement has sunk now leave me stymied. How can I trust Mr “I Only Want One Term – Unless I Can’t Rake Off Enough For A Luxurious Retirement In Five Years” again?
The alternatives are not inspiring. Cope hasn’t lived up to expectations and the EFF makes all the right noises but shows no sign of the functional, administrative competence needed to make their ideas work (he said, diplomatically). It would be nice to be able to vote for an actual labour or communist party, but the ANC’s alliance partners do like their Mercs and Beemers, so they’re unlikely ever to contest elections independently.
The DA has the skills and a modicum of transparent accountability, but I can’t trust them on social/economic policy – and the Agang merger fiasco just made them look ludicrous. Apparently, it was “a joint mistake”. Never take serious political decisions stoned, kids... The IFP, FF+ and ACDP are simply out of the question, I’m afraid – the Nats encouraged tribalism and theocracy, and look where that got us.
Which disqualifies all the serious contenders – although who knows what bold new alliances will have been announced by the time you read this? Perhaps I’ll just vote for the Dagga Party, on the grounds that at least it’s crystal-clear about its priorities. After all, voting isn’t the only tool of fundamental change that shouldn’t be illegal.