Why Boycott? | Pourquoi boycotter l’élection?

ENGLISH: [LE FRANÇAIS SUIT UN PEU PLUS BAS]

Why boycott?

Doesn’t this play into the strategy of the right?

Why not run left-wing or revolutionary candidates?

Wouldn’t the best strategy be to “change the system from the inside”?

Why not vote for the “lesser-evil”?

Isn’t the boycott the same as not doing anything?

Isn’t it only privileged people that are able to afford to boycott?

How will the boycott help?

Why not spoil your ballot?

FRANÇAIS (réponses à quelques objections):

«Si vous n’allez pas voter, vous n’aurez plus le droit de chialer!»

«Il faut aller voter “stratégique” pour s’assurer que le moins pire sera élu.»

«Peu importe ce qu’on en pense, nous vivons dans un système démocratique où le gouvernement est décidé lors des élections. En attendant que cela change, il faut aller voter!»

«Le problème, c’est le système électoral: il faudrait le vote proportionnel.»

«C’est grave de voir qu’il y a de moins en moins de gens qui vont voter. Il faut absolument contrer cela, c’est un danger pour la démocratie.»

«On doit faire notre devoir citoyen et contribuer à la démocratie en allant voter. Dans d’autres pays, des gens meurent pour cela!»

«Oui, mais en attendant votre révolution, là il faut absolument battre Charest!»



Why boycott?

The current electoral system –what we refer to as “bourgeois democracy”, that is to say democracy for the capitalist class and no democracy for the rest of us- is a fundamentally flawed way of running society. The electoral system as it currently exists necessarily excludes the participation of the vast majority of working class Canadians and indigenous people, precisely because it is by design controlled by a small minority of very rich people. Working class Canadians and indigenous people respond in kind. The steady decline in Canadian elections turnout (the lowest turnout in the history of federal elections was reached in the 2008 elections with 58.8%, and the lowest turnout in the history of Ontario elections was reached in 2011 with 49.2%) surely indicates that a large portion of the masses have lost their faith in the Canadian bourgeois parliament as well as in the different parties who have sat there for nearly 150 years. For most of the masses and the poorest among them, this disaffection shows a basic understanding: elections will not change their lives. This lack of interest is also the result of the repeated lies, of broken promises, of abuses of power, of more and more corruption, of the unabashed wealth of fraudsters who remain unpunished and of privileges and preferential treatment for the bourgeois class and its political elite, while a significant portion of the population suffers from poverty. Even when they have access to a little more, the majority of people continue to struggle to pay for basic necessities of life including housing, food and clothing for their families. At the same time the wealthy minority live lives of grotesque, and environmentally damaging, excess.

The situation described above is only worsening, and will continue to worsen regardless of what party is elected. Each party, when elected, is just as anti-people as the next, and the track record of the Liberals and NDP (at both the the federal and provincial levels) demonstrates that this is the case. This reality speaks less to the qualities of any particular party or party leader, but rather to the fact that right now, capitalism requires that anti-people austerity measures are adopted in order to secure the ability of capitalists to produce profit in the future.

With the understanding that the electoral system is fundamentally undemocratic, that no party running presents an alternative, and that even if such a party were elected it would be unable to enact any substantial change, we boycott in order to send a message that we reject the current bourgeois so-called democratic electoral system. The boycott is a means by which we can organize those people that want real, fundamental changes to our society –namely the end of capitalism. The boycott is a means of saying “Enough is enough! We won’t be fooled by the current fake democracy any longer!”, but most importantly, the election boycott lets us put forward the question of what kind of democracy and society we want: a people’s democracy and an egalitarian society free from all forms of oppression and from class exploitation.

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Doesn’t this play into the strategy of the right?

Some people, particularly those campaigning for old and tired so-called “leftist” or “progressive” parties like the NDP, like to use this slogan to scare-monger people into voting. We are told that boycotting plays directly into the strategies of right-wing parties like the Conservatives, because they benefit from having fewer people vote. In reality, every single bourgeois political party, including the NDP, is committed to the maintenance of capitalist exploitation and the current false democracy. The Conservatives try and “get out the vote” just as much as the NDP does; boycotting does not help or hurt any single bourgeois political party more than others.

To add to this, we reject that there are any fundamental differences between the main political parties. All of the main bourgeois political parties –the Conservatives, Liberals, NDP, and Green Party- support capitalism, Canadian imperialism, and colonialism. While on paper these different bourgeois parties may disagree on certain policy choices, when they are elected they behave nearly identically to one another. And now, in 2015, the fact that the other two parties seem even less distinct from Harper than they have been in the past. So when the NDP’s leader, Tom Mulcair, celebrates Thatcher’s legacy in Britain and vows to put more police on the streets it is difficult to not imagine the same words spoken by Harper. Insofar as the bourgeois political parties are nearly the same politically, the boycott represents a conscious break from the bourgeois political system and all its parties.

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Why not run left-wing or revolutionary candidates?

Real political change does not happen through the ballot box. This is especially true of the type of political change required to end capitalism, but is also true of minor reforms: the history of Canada and indeed progressive movements around the world shows us that change only happens when the bourgeoisie is forced to act, through mass movements and revolutionary movements. By extension, we can make the observation that political parties of different political tendencies, both in Canada and around the world, when elected, have all instituted the same types of austerity measures (in Canada we can compare the NDP in Manitoba, the Liberals in Ontario, and the Conservatives federally; worldwide we can talk about the “Socialists” in France, liberals of the Democratic Party in the USA, and the Conservative-led coalition in the UK). Why is it the case that change seems to happen from outside of the electoral process, while parties from different ideological tendencies put forward the same policies when in power? It is because parliaments, especially in imperialist countries, have actually very little power to control the direction a country takes; legislative power is increasingly transferred to the executive branch of the government (state bureaucracy), and what little power is left within the legislative branch is curtailed by anti-democratic international agreements (like NAFTA). Even if a party does manage to get elected and implement some progressive policies, the capitalist class can simply begin a capital strike –withhold investments- undermining the democratic process. This very process happened when the NDP was unexpectedly brought into power in Ontario in 1990. Simply electing left-wing or revolutionary candidates does nothing to restore power to parliament, does nothing to undermine the entrenched and reactionary bureaucracy, and does nothing to challenge the anti-democratic power of private property; simply put, elections are not an effective or viable way of achieving positive changes.

Furthermore, revolution –the end of capitalism- requires that an ideological break with the current system be made by the masses. By trying to get the working class to vote for left-wing or progressive candidates, we are not only refusing to make an ideological break with bourgeois democracy, but are actually trying to pull the working class and indigenous peoples back into a system they have already largely abandoned. The boycott allows us to organize those people that have already abandoned bourgeois democracy rather than trying to pull them back into an electoral system they recognize as undemocratic.

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Wouldn’t the best strategy be to “change the system from the inside”?

The modern capitalist state is an elaborate structure which contains within it many checks-and-balances to ensure that capitalist order is maintained. Even if a progressive or revolutionary party managed to get elected to a parliamentary majority, it would simply control the legislative body of the state; there would remain in place a massive bureaucracy which was structured to operate in an anti-people manner, staffed with bureaucrats with their own political inclinations, defended by a judiciary, police force, and army designed to maintain capitalist “order”, and ultimately operating at the whim of capital, which is capable of effecting policy through direct bribery, capital strikes, and other forms of anti-democratic action. The structural barriers to change within the bourgeois state –which points to the anti-democratic nature of bourgeois democracy!- caused Marx to remark as early as 1871 that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the bourgeois state machinery and wield it for its own purposes”.

Given that the possibilities to “change the system from the inside” are quite limited, more-often-than-not the opposite happens: those intending to change the system are in fact changed! The historical experience of the electoral left attests to this fact.

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Why not vote for the “lesser-evil”?

First and foremost, we reject that any of the bourgeois political parties represent a “lesser-evil”. Experience has shown that all of the bourgeois parties, when in power, act nearly identical to one another. For example, many would suggest that Harper’s conservative austerity agenda must be defeated by any means necessary. While we oppose Harper, we also point out that both the Liberals and the NDP are committed to austerity measures and public service cuts.  Indeed, Mulcair’s admiration of Margaret Thatcher’s policies reveals where even the NDP now stands when it comes to the public sector. So while the different bourgeois political parties may disagree over the extent to which cuts need to happen (even this is debatable!), all of the bourgeois political parties agree that austerity is necessary. In fact, bourgeois media sources, attempting to influence the elections in favour of the Liberals, have run story after story pointing out the right-ward shift of the NDP; by some counts the NDP is running to the right of the Liberals! Even if we accept that election promises translated into policy choices (see the above question), who is the lesser evil here?

To this we can add the recent controversy over Bill C-51 that would grant increased surveillance and disciplinary powers to the Canadian state with decreased oversight. Although Mulcair is the only candidate who has expressed “concern” over this bill, he has also qualified this concern by claiming his problems are only about the “vagueness” and “ineffectiveness” of the Bill.  Hence, he has pledged to fine tune it, rather than scrap it… Even worse, in order to demonstrate his commitment to security, he has also pledged to but 2,500 more police officers on the streets.

Voting for the “lesser-evil” is a cowardly way of doing politics that sacrifices political principles and, in the end, results in race-towards-the-centre. After-all, if we’re voting for the “lesser-evil”, would it not make sense for all progressive forces to liquidate themselves into the Liberal Party because the Liberal Party isn’t the Progressive Conservatives? Surely supporters of the NDP will disagree and suggest that all progressives liquidate themselves into the NDP; we are left wondering why. Lesser-evilism results in a defense of the status-quo: this is unacceptable for those of us that want to see the end of capitalism. We believe that people should be honest about their politics, and promote their political line openly.

And, at the end of the day, voting for the “lesser-evil” is still voting for an “evil”.

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Isn’t the boycott the same as not doing anything?

On the surface, it is easy to deride the boycott campaign as simply telling people to not do anything. Indeed, the majority of the working class and indigenous people already engage in a passive boycott, effectively “doing nothing”. This is why we are explicit in calling for an active boycott, that is to say a boycott which is not the end of a person’s political activity, but the beginning of political engagement with the revolutionary movement in Canada. We are not simply calling for people to do nothing, but rather to organize themselves around revolutionary, progressive, and democratic political organizations to continue their political activity after the elections are over. The boycott is a call to organize, not a call for inaction.

Ironically, we would hazard that many of the people who work on the boycott campaign are far more politically active around the elections than many of those that support the bourgeois political parties and deride the boycott.

In turn, we flip this on its head: given how ineffective voting is, if anything to vote is to do nothing and change nothing. To boycott is to break ideologically with bourgeois democracy; no small feat!

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Isn’t it only privileged people that are able to afford to boycott?

A common argument is that only those in comfortable positions can afford to not vote, as no matter who gets elected the privileged will be able to maintain their privilege. We disagree with this on a number of fronts.

First, capitalism –bolstered by white supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and other systems of oppression- is the single largest force maintaining the privilege of a small minority against the vast majority of oppressed people. Only strategies designed to end capitalism –which necessarily requires an ideological break with bourgeois democracy- are capable of overcoming the privilege of a small minority and restoring power to the vast majority.

Second, we disagree that voting will result in any fundamental changes, and instead understand that policy changes happen as a result of extra-parliamentary mass and revolutionary movements as well as the current conditions of capitalism at any given time. Austerity measures are a product of the relatively low level of class struggle in Canada combined with capitalism’s chronic instability following the 2008 crisis and the need for capitalists to continue to generate profit, rather than the product of having a Conservative government federally or a Liberal government provincially (indeed, the provincial NDP governments in Manitoba and Alberta promote the same austerity measures as their Liberal and Conservative counterparts elsewhere in Canada, and internationally, “progressive” bourgeois parties institute the same austerity measures as the Conservatives in Canada). The only way to enact change –either revolutionary or reformist- is to organize outside of parliament; voting has very little effect one way or the other.

Third, recognizing that voting for change is a failed strategy, we turn this accusation on its head and say that only those in comfortable social positions –those that are relatively privileged- can afford to rely on electoral politics. Voting for change is a failed strategy; those most in need of change have nothing to gain by wasting their time with bourgeois democracy, and those most well-off have everything to gain through the maintenance of the current system. This reality is reflected in voter turnouts; those in the most precarious positions in capitalist society (the working class and indigenous people) have consistently lower turnouts than those that can be considered to be privileged. The working class and indigenous people largely recognize that the solutions to their very real problems cannot be solved by bourgeois democracy, and so don’t waste their time voting.

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How will the boycott help?

We have no illusions that the boycott on its own will result in any sort of change, either minor reforms of the revolutionary end of capitalism. However, the boycott gives us an opportunity to promote an ideological break with bourgeois democracy and begin organizing those forces –the working class and indigenous people- that have a real interest in overthrowing capitalism and the capitalists’ state. The boycott is only the beginning of other political efforts; it is not an isolated act.

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Why not spoil your ballot?

We boycott not just to express our dissatisfaction with the current bourgeois parties running, but rather with the falsely democratic bourgeois electoral system as a whole. Spoiling one’s ballot is simply sending a message within the framework for voicing dissent established by the bourgeoisie; the elections. We suggest instead that people break with the bourgeois electoral system through boycotting the elections, not simply expressing their dissatisfaction through the electoral process.

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«Si vous n’allez pas voter, vous n’aurez plus le droit de chialer!»

Au contraire, c’est en allant voter qu’on perd le droit de chialer! En votant, et peu importe pour qui, on accrédite le résultat. Est-ce vraiment cela le sens de nos luttes? Non. Il faut au contraire tout faire pour discréditer ce système pourri, au lieu de lui redonner quelque légitimité que ce soit. Après l’élection de 2003 au Québec, des groupes populaires et syndicaux avaient lancé une campagne contre le gouvernement élu sous le thème «J’ai jamais voté pour ça!» Mais en fait, ils avaient voté pour ça: un gouvernement bourgeois qui pouvait grâce à eux se réclamer d’un mandat populaire fort et légitime, élu avec la complicité d’une gauche confuse.

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«Il faut aller voter “stratégique” pour s’assurer que le moins pire sera élu.»

N’est-il pas là le cynisme tant décrié par tout le monde? «Entre deux maux, il faut choisir le moindre». Sauf qu’à force de voter pour le moins pire, on a droit au moins pire. Et il se trouve que le «moins pire» est de moins en moins raisonnable. Selon cette logique, un mort vaut mieux que dix, et 10 000, c’est «moins pire» qu’un million. Bref, on part du point de vue que le changement est impossible et qu’il faut se résigner à peu.

Cette perspective conçoit le système parlementaire comme une fin en soi, et le vote comme un simple moyen de minimiser les dégâts. Nous refusons ce cynisme et ce défaitisme. Choisir consciemment le boycott et envisager la lutte générale contre le système, c’est tout sauf cynique et c’est faire preuve d’optimisme pour la lutte qui est devant nous.

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«Peu importe ce qu’on en pense, nous vivons dans un système démocratique où le gouvernement est décidé lors des élections. En attendant que cela change, il faut aller voter!»

C’est en votant qu’on légitime le système électoral parlementaire et en ne votant pas qu’on le place devant une crise nécessaire à sa transformation. Élections Canada résume avec justesse cette nécessité pour la classe politique d’asseoir son pouvoir sur notre consentement: «La légitimité d’un gouvernement réside dans le fait qu’il est élu. De faibles taux de participation peuvent mettre en question cette légitimité démocratique.» Et en regardant du côté des taux de participation, on constate rapidement que les abstentionnistes «gagnent» à peu près toutes les élections, quoiqu’en disent les médias qui s’alarment chaque fois contre le cynisme, la paresse et le désintérêt, comme si ce n’étaient pas des symptômes clairs que ce système ne nous convient pas.

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«Le problème, c’est le système électoral: il faudrait le vote proportionnel.»

Les réformistes prétendent en effet qu’avec plus de démocratie, plus de représentation des petits partis, nous pourrons accéder à une société plus juste et même «dépasser» le capitalisme. Ils croient pouvoir changer le système politique sans changer le capitalisme. Mais l’un ne va pas sans l’autre. En fait, le système politique actuel est une émanation du système économique et des rapports de productions dominants. C’est pourquoi l’État n’est pas seulement constitué d’un parlement. Il y a aussi tout un appareil pour maintenir l’ordre (armée, police, justice, administration) et assurer que les rapports sociaux de production, mais aussi de domination, se reproduisent sans heurts. La superstructure inclut les lois, la culture, les rapports sociaux, l’organisation politique, l’armée, etc., alors que la base économique représente le système sur lequel la superstructure se développe. Ainsi, la superstructure est directement au service du système économique capitaliste, par le biais notamment du système parlementaire bourgeois. C’est pourquoi il est illusoire de changer le système sans toucher à la base économique. C’est pourtant ce que les réformistes essaient de faire croire.

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«C’est grave de voir qu’il y a de moins en moins de gens qui vont voter. Il faut absolument contrer cela, c’est un danger pour la démocratie.»

En effet, c’est un danger pour la démocratie… bourgeoise. Mais c’est très positif pour ceux et celles qui veulent gagner les prolétaires à la lutte et faire de l’action politique une arme réelle de changement. Les exploitées n’ont surtout pas à sauver le système qui les opprime. Au contraire, la première base pour construire une autre démocratie et changer le pouvoir pour de bon, c’est d’agir en dehors de la politique imposée par la classe dominante. De moins en moins de gens vont voter, mais les médias bourgeois ne cherchent pas à l’expliquer. Ils ne font que répéter le mantra: il faut aller voter! Alors qu’en réalité, il faut transformer complètement la politique. Et cela commence précisément par rejeter la politique bourgeoise et ses élections.

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«On doit faire notre devoir citoyen et contribuer à la démocratie en allant voter. Dans d’autres pays, des gens meurent pour cela!»

Pendant la grève étudiante de 2012 au Québec, jamais les centaines de milliers de personnes mobilisées dans la lutte n’ont autant eu le sentiment d’avoir une prise sur les politiques pourries des gouvernements. Voilà la meilleure contribution à faire pour rendre la démocratie vivante et populaire. Ce sentiment, ce n’est surtout pas les élections qui le procurent. Au contraire, le commentaire qu’on entend le plus souvent en ce moment, c’est le sentiment d’impuissance et de découragement devant le manque de choix: «peu importe pour qui je vote, c’est du pareil au même». Tout cela n’est ni mobilisateur, ni stimulant pour engager les gens à s’activer et changer les choses. Il n’y a rien d’actif politiquement à aller cocher son bulletin de vote une fois aux quatre ans.

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«Oui, mais en attendant votre révolution, là il faut absolument battre Harper!»

Nous ne voulons pas juste battre Harper: il faut battre la bourgeoisie au grand complet, quelque soit ses représentantes au parlement: Trudeau, Mulcair, Duceppe et bien sûr les libéraux. Les élections servent à redonner toute sa légitimité au parlement, en le renouvelant (en apparence). Refuser les élections, c’est préserver les acquis de nos mobilisations. On doit construire un courant de lutte qui se définit résolument en dehors du cadre parlementaire bourgeois.

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