Radical leftist election worries Ruthless Criticism

Radical leftist election worries:
Does one betray one's anti-state beliefs by voting?

[Translated from GegenStandpunkt 1-10]

From a reply to the education efforts of the GegenStandpunkt editors on the 2009 election in Germany:

... I was at the lecture “The 2009 crisis election demonstrates the achievement of democracy: citizens choose the sacrifices that the state and capital demand from them.” Several questions have come up for me ... First, I want to briefly play back something from the lecture and its contents so that my question is better understood:

I can't vote for statelessness, but only make a check-mark which has no meaning. The state can not be voted out of office. My interests are not represented by this election, but only interests that ultimately strengthen capital. There is also no good or better capitalism, and therefore there are also no good rulers. The scope of their work is prescribed to the politicians by the Constitution, and they have to uphold and orient themselves by certain rules such as “growth creates jobs” (something I don't want to address at this point). In addition, the way the vote takes place implies considerable powerlessness, because my one voice has no impact anyway. This way the vote is used as the means of the state and capital in order to make the citizens into subjects and not vice versa, as is maintained in the media. And then as a result … the outcome: voting means “to endorse.”

But something can still follow from it: consequently, I consider the whole election debate of the so-called “left,” whether one votes or not, a theoretical construct. The vote that I cast is just one of 62.2 million votes. In practice, it is therefore not decisive. Furthermore, it doesn't make sense to me why I endorse democracy if I vote. The criticism, as I just restated it above, is clear to me, and I also agree with it. First of all, my vote does not count anyway, because it is only one of so many. Furthermore, there can be reasons that could lead me to vote. Here I would like to make a plug for these reasons. First, I can choose with my vote, for example, parties like the Left Party which have non-profit foundations. These in turn sponsor educational work for anti-capitalist lectures, perhaps by the Gegenstandpunkt publishers. In addition, a vote in the direction of the “social” camp can make the conditions for class struggle easier. Here, for instance, the minimum wage comes to mind, which would give people more time to grapple with anti-capitalist / anti-democratic criticism, to implement this in practice and to reflect. So they would have more time to contemplate and could then grapple with themselves and people of their own kind. Because of this, voting for the “lesser evil” can also be a “small step” in the preparation of the bigger class struggle. (I know that I'm spinning in circles with “my vote doesn't count anyway” because then voters or non-voters make no difference anyway, but I want to shed light on the whole election debate from different angles.) If then I go to vote, this is nevertheless not the same as endorsing this rule, if I have understood the criticism. After all, it depends on the reasons which motivate me to do it. That is why, whether I “endorse” it or not, it depends on the question whether the reasons stand up to this criticism and therefore it can also not be sweepingly said that anyone who votes “endorses democracy.” The question of “endorsing” should instead be focused on everyday life and not a single decision. When people live anti-capitalism, go dumpster diving, organize themselves into food coops, support free spaces or free shops and talk and explain criticism of the system with a lot of people from many different circles, this is not an endorsement, even if they go to vote for the mentioned reasons (or other, maybe even egotistic, reasons that however withstand the criticism). What I mean to say: that one's own reflected thinking as well as everyday class struggle is less an “endorsing” of democracy than one day to go vote for the reasons mentioned. I therefore think that the concluding words of the lecture “don't vote” are inappropriate, and it would make more sense to call upon the people to self-organize their lives in a self-critical and reflective way with the bases of their lives and the arguments mentioned in the lecture. Because otherwise the facts and conclusions could be agreed to by listeners of the lecture without reflecting on it themselves.

Reply by the editors


You have evidently understood the lecture as a complicated plea for election boycotts as an anti-capitalist practice and consider the so-interpreted “concluding words of the lecture” to be “inappropriate.” Here we can agree with you: we also do not consider abstention from voting a political act and nothing like a demonstrative or real blow against capitalism. We only maintain that anyone who has understood what voting is, and what the point of it is, can no longer have any interest in participating in this democratic circus.

We know, however, that the vast majority of citizens, who will vote, and also the minority that does not vote for no better reasons, see the matter differently. That's why in this event the intention of proof was first of all the explanation and critique of the institution of the vote: in a democratic state, citizens are periodically called to the polls so that they elect candidates for political office, ie who they entrust with the exercise of power. These voters are offered alternative personalities and political parties which they may choose between. After they have given a party or a candidate their vote, they may think whatever they want; with this act, they empower a politician who sovereignly carries out state necessities – even against his own voters. The voter prefers the offer of one party over another, votes for the party or person he finds more competent or likable, but in doing so agrees to be governed in every case; yes, he commissions it, so to speak, by his vote. And he is asked to do this: in election campaigns and really all the time he is encouraged to translate his discontent with the state-established order, with the hostile interests which this order licenses and the disappointments which he suffers again and again, into an interest in good and better government; so that he chooses the people whom he trusts with good governance.

We belabor this agreement to being ruled which lies in the act of voting and harp on it because it is not the self-conscious motive of the voter. In this sense, you have misunderstood the talk of “endorsement,” which arouses your objection. The voters do not at all want to make an endorsement of state power and their role as subjects when they go to vote; that is not even wanted by the “loyal voters” who “endorse” their party their entire lifetime: they consider their party a community of true convictions and take the liberty to find an assumption of power by a rival association quite unbearable. In general, voters hold the election to be an offer to them and a chance to exert influence on politics on their own terms. They think they do something different than what they actually do. They delude themselves in this and we say this to them so that they refrain from doing it any longer.


Precisely in this respect, you do not differ from the normal voter. You also seem to fear that absenteeism on election day means renouncing a practical influence which the vote opens for you. Like every voter, you also regard it as possible and worthwhile to make the world a (little) bit better in your – leftist – sense by a mark on a ballot.

The calculations that you give for this are, however, artificial and constructed. Of course, you know that one can not vote for anti-capitalism and class struggle; no party offers that. But if one cannot vote for what is important to one, then one could perhaps vote for the condition of possibility for it. However, in the conditions that you want to improve by voting, the goal that you offer in your letter is not at all included in it. You vote for, eg, the Left Party; which will, if enough people do like you, send a bigger fraction to the Bundestag, perhaps even form a government. You think that is a good condition for anti-capitalist politics. However, you have to think up quite a bit more to this so that one could even regard that to be a condition. One could imagine the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation as a condition of possibility for GegenStandpunkt presentations. First, however, this already exists without the help of the Left Party, and secondly, the Left Party has its own program – and the promotion of GegenStandpunkt really does not belong to it.

Your second example is no better. Now the Left Party in power with the enactment of a nationwide minimum wage should create a condition of possibility for attention to the criticism of capitalism. This is ridiculous on both sides. An employee in the low-wage sector neither needs to increase his payment to a somehow defined minimum level in order to explain his lousy situation and seize the will to fight against it; nor – the majority of workers who receive wages above the minimum levels are the proof – does criticism of capitalism follow from better pay. Your considerations on how you could influence politics with the permitted means of the vote lead you, like all voters, to search for the personnel and political party alternative which best deserves your trust. In the vote with which you help a candidate get into office, nothing more of your considerations are to be seen; and if they had noticed it, they would in no way be obligated to it. The member of parliament is obligated only to his statesmanlike conscience. The vote cannot be misused for anti-capitalist aims.


You think that it would be more important than abstention on election night that one is otherwise active. You call that the “everyday class struggle” and see it as a much more important and appropriate, namely anti-capitalist, declaration than the throwaway act of voting every four years: you certify an anti-capitalist practice to people who – without income and without money – subsist from supermarkets dumpsters, make use of other freedoms and otherwise get by with mutual aid. All right, they live an alternative lifestyle, but what does that have to do with anti-capitalism?

Who ever does this seriously avoids some of the compulsions of earning money and a career, but instead trades them for other – measured by the average standard of living of the 21st century – radical deprivations and hardships. Even so, what somebody so chooses out of their free will as an alternative lifestyle is still a little bit harder than the misery that capitalism imposes on other people against their will and against all their efforts to earn money when they are sorted out as useless and superfluous for economic growth and are stored away in Hartz IV. But please, everyone just copes in his way with the capitalistic conditions of life and is free to pursue his own happiness. There is also a place for this lifestyle in capitalism; bohemians and bums – that's what representatives of these lifestyles used to be called – are as old as capitalism.

Capitalism itself in no way attacks this alternative way of coming to terms with it. It is based on the power of private property backed by state force, to compel humankind in the service to the steady enlargement of this power, ie capital growth, if they want to get their hands on money and access the for sale means of living. This power recognizes your alternative lifestyle and respects it if it shirks the service and therefore renounces access to the range of goods.

What you call “everyday class struggle” turns polemically not against the political-economic system of rule, but against the normal attempts to cope with it: you reproach the rest of humanity with adaptation and playing along, and think it appropriate to be a living example to them, that one in the middle of capitalism undisturbed by its constraints could live a free life that one can simply “self-organize in a self-critical and reflective way.” But ask yourself seriously: who really thinks that he does not already do that? The people in capitalism are proud of nothing more than that they – like you and your friends – make the best of often adverse circumstances, and that in these conditions they know how to wrest a self-determined, in some way successful, life. They are not interested in the system of exploitation to which they are subjected, because they never deal with capitalism any differently than by dividing it into opportunities and obstacles to their self-realization and by trying to grab the opportunities and overcome the obstacles. A reflective shaping of one's own life always comes out; it needs indeed nothing in addition but the cheap conceit that, wherever one ends up in the capitalist jungle, one has picked it for oneself. In the belief that one's life follows not the imperatives of capital, but that one cultivates a completely self-chosen lifestyle according to one's taste and “self-organizes in a self-critical and reflective way,” your nonconformist friends, who in self-arrangement in the market economy's misery have found the “right living in the wrong society,” don't differ whatsoever from the normal people whose conformist morality you find improper.

By public discussions and debates we would like to dissuade them and you from this position and draw attention to political and economic reality. This does not seem to have been successful: you subscribe to the entire criticism of the democratic vote as presented – and you immediately concern yourself with the question how the left can make the best of it.