The following critique of electorialism in the context of Ontario in so-called Canada was originally published on North-Shore.Info.
There are many ways in which the recent Ontario election is disappointing, and the new leader is barely even one of them. No – though Doug Ford is a despicable rich jerk whose own entitlement to power was strong enough to persuade others to give it to him, the situation is actually much worse.
As the election approached, the political system deployed every trick to get people to put aside their disgust and participate. It’s understandable that someone trying to sit in the halls of power would claim that Ford is so bad that you’re wicked too if you don’t grab a ballot and try to stop him. But to see this kind of lazy thinking and moralistic manipulation repeated by so many who should know better is truly depressing.
Because vote or don’t vote, it doesn’t really matter. As a political act, it ranks about equal with other gestures that take ten minutes and are mostly symbolic: like holding up a protest sign as a camera pans across a crowd, taking the time to argue your opinions with a stranger, or throwing up a few agitational stickers on a bus shelter. Vote or don’t vote, because we’re going to fight hard against whoever gets in, right?
And yet it seems like many people transformed into actual NDP supporters for a month or so there, sounding as if that party wasn’t just a lesser evil, but could actually act on your behalf to bring about the kind of world you want to live in. Which is unsurprising if you’re a social democrat or a middle-of-the-road progressive of the kind that make up the baseline Canadian political position. But so many of the election season orange-coloured shapeshifters wouldn’t say that about themselves: “we’re anarchists”, they might say, or “we’re socialists”, “we’re revolutionaries”.
I believe you, I want to believe you’re radicals and that I’m not so alone, which is why I’m bothering to write to you and not to those folks who feel perfectly represented by the views on CBC radio. I was genuinely shocked how many people were repeating things along the lines of, “Go vote because the blue team wants to hurt marginalized people so you’re super fucked up if you don’t”. I’m not trying to say there was no difference between the positions of the parties, but if your desires go any further than cautious income redistribution, there is nothing for you to vote in favour of in Ontario politics. So why such insistence?
And for those of us who call ourselves anarchists or anti-authoritarians, how change comes about matters. It’s not that I oppose the specific choices made by leaders; I oppose the ability of anyone to control the lives of others. I’m against leaders. I push back against Trudeau for exactly the same reasons I did Harper, like how my pals in the States were no less hostile to Obama than they are now to Trump.
Yeah, my income went up when Wynne raised the minimum wage and I’m thinking about going back to school because I’d get tuition free now. But I don’t actually want either of those things – I don’t want a boss, I don’t want a wage, I don’t want a diploma, I don’t want job training. These measures promote equality within the existing system, so go ahead and vote for them if that feels worthwhile. But don’t forget that they also legitimate the system as a whole: better wages let the wage relation itself off the hook; better access to education contributes to the illusion of a meritocracy.
So if you care so deeply about some (frequently hypothetical) ultra marginalized person who needs your protection from Doug Ford, don’t pretend your advocacy for voting does anything to get that person out of the situation where they need protecting, where they are dependent on the benevolence of voters or of the powerful. It’s going to be a long four years and I expect things will heat up quite a bit before they’re through, so we need to be clear about where we stand. Are we fundamentally comfortable with the system and just asking for moderate reforms? Or are we anti-capitalists and anti-authoritarians who carry the seed of something radically different? Are we making requests of the powerful, or are we working for a world in which there are no rulers or ruled? These choices have consequences in how we live and how we organize, and if Horwath had been elected instead of Ford, none of that would be any different.