By Mark E. Smith
It has happened many times, in the United States, in Spain, in Egypt, and many other places. First there is a revolution with a lot of bloodshed. Eventually the people seem to be winning or even to have won. Then the government says, “Okay, we give up. We’ll let you have elections and let the people rule democratically.” So they have elections and nothing changes or things get worse. But now it is no longer the fault of a tyrannical government, but the fault of the people for having elected bad leaders. Or is it?
I don’t think so. What happens when they have elections is only those who seek power compete in the elections. So the only choices on the ballot are undemocratic power seekers. What’s democratic about having to elect one of several undemocratic leaders?
The only time that voting is worthwhile is when people get to make decisions by voting directly on matters of importance. Should we go to war? Do we need something? Is there a problem we need to fix, and if so, what’s the best way to fix it? Voting is evil when people vote for leaders, for political parties and candidates to make their decisions for them. That’s when the decisions that get made do not have to represent the will of the people, but instead can represent the will of the candidates, their political parties, or the moneyed interests who funded the political campaigns.
One of the ways that colonialist powers conquered indigenous peoples was to go into communal villages and say, like extraterrestrials in a silly sci-fi movie, “Take me to your leader.” When the people say, “We don’t have a leader, we have a community and when there is a problem, we all get together to solve it,” the aliens say, “You need to have a leader in order to be civilized so that we can deal with you.” If the people refuse to name leaders, the “civilized” invaders kill them. If they name leaders, the invaders then trick or bribe those leaders into selling out their own people. As Idle No More is making clear, those who assume illicit power in order to sell out their people are traitors, not leaders.
Genuine leaders lead from below, by obeying, as one of the people, and do not set themselves above the people or do things contrary to the common interest in the name of the people. Genuine leaders are part of the same class as the people and do not set themselves above the people as a ruling or governing class. Those are the people that colonialists and neocolonialists target as subversives or troublemakers and kill, because they really are representative of the people instead of being representative of a ruling or governing class.
To elect someone to govern you is to enslave yourself. Political parties see people as slaves and tell people that they are slaves and are always going to be slaves, so the best they can do is to try to choose more benevolent masters. We were not meant to be slaves. In order to abolish slavery, we need to abolish the ruling classes, not elect them to govern us. The first and indispensable step towards liberation and abolition is to stop voting. Once there is no longer a ruling or governing class, we will no longer be ruled or governed and will be free. This may seem terrifying to some because they’ve never known anything except slavery, but to those who have experienced freedom it isn’t frightening at all. It is, in fact, quite liberating, and is the only thing that really is. Having a more benevolent master isn’t liberating, because you are still owned rather than free.
Watching the Egyptian revolution succumb to elections was heartbreaking. While some people saw through the ruse and tried to boycott the elections, many others bought into the lies and believed that if they elected a civilian government, they’d be free of the dictatorship of the military junta. They have a civilian government now, but the military junta still owns much of the country’s land and industries, still gets $1.3 billion a year in military aid from the United States to protect Israel and suppress civil dissent, and is still the real power of the Egyptian government. The President can fire some generals, but he can’t force the US to give that money to the civilian government for economic purposes instead of to the military junta for military purposes. The violent suppression of civil dissent has not stopped, the prisoners have not been freed, and the government is still suppressing workers’ strikes for better pay. The political party that won the election, The Muslim Brotherhood, has been able to hand out plenty of patronage jobs, but otherwise Egypt is no better off today than it was before the elections.
In fact, a court recently overturned some of Mubarak’s convictions and, if he lives long enough, he could yet be restored to power. But this time it would be democratically, either as someone elected or someone appointed by those who were elected, and he could exercise the same powers he had as a dictator but appear to the entire world to be the leader of a democratic form of government, like Obama.
As Emma Goldman said, “If elections could change anything, they’d make them illegal.”