Build movements not elections

First published as “Victorian Election 2022”, in The Anvil, Vol. 11, No. 5, September-October 2022.

The Victorian State election will be held on 26 November.  The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group is not participating, of course, but the occasion provides an opportunity to reflect on capitalist democracy, on how to build a movement to change society and how not to build it.

Capitalist democracy exists because the capitalist class is too big to meet in a single palace.  They need Parliament and democratic rights to work out what they themselves think.  Working class struggle has extended those rights to the whole population, but the capitalists don’t greatly mind, provided government policy is overall tolerable.  They have also learnt the great propaganda value of a Parliamentary election with universal suffrage.  Public opinion is an unruly beast, but it can often be kept within capitalists’ parameters by the mass media.  Freedom of the press is an excellent thing, but under capitalism, it is restricted to those who own one.

The last Victorian election was in 2018.  Labor presented themselves as mildly progressive neo-liberals, while the Liberal Party ran hard on law and order.  Unfortunately for the Liberals, the previous year their leader had sat down to lunch with a well-known alleged Mafia figure.  The Lobster with a Mobster affair exposed their campaign as a racist beat-up and they were thoroughly trounced.  Labor won its biggest ever victory in Victoria.

Four years later, opinion polls predict a similar result.  Labor has mostly performed to the satisfaction of the capitalist class in Victoria. The Liberals, whose sole reason for existence is to represent Big Business, are lost and flailing around for a strategy.  They are beset by internal divisions because they are being taken over at their grassroots by religious reactionaries, keen to foist policies on them the vast majority of the population reject.

Most people who want something better than what Labor is offering support the Greens, who offer policies usually better than the major parties. But the Greens suffer from a disqualifying illusion.  They believe a just and sustainable capitalism is possible.  Consequently, they are incapable of carrying out reforms that capitalists strongly oppose.  And when particular reforms are burning necessities for the working class, workers need to look elsewhere.

The most prominent group to the left of the Greens in this election is the Victorian Socialists.  They offer a 21st Century version of what Parliamentary socialists had over a century ago: a minimum program of demands, mostly supportable but often stopping short of what’s needed, plus a rhetorical commitment to an eventual goal of socialism.

Unlike some Anarchists, the MACG is prepared to concede it’s possible to enter a capitalist Parliament with honest intentions and even do a little bit of good, but that’s still a very long way from justifying running for election.  An honest socialist in Parliament would need to refuse confidence in all capitalist governments, Liberal or Labor; oppose war expenditure or borrowings (not a factor in State elections); use the Parliamentary platform to support working class struggles; attempt to secure worthwhile reforms without horse-trading other essential positions away; and explain to the working class that, no matter what reforms are secured through Parliament, socialism can only be achieved through workers’ revolution.

We have two main problems with VS in this election.  Firstly, getting elected requires a massive amount of the time and energy of socialist activists, energy therefore not available to be used building grassroots workers’ struggles.  Electoralism doesn’t build struggles, but lives off them.  Some VS activities have built the struggle, but others haven’t.  One recent example is how VS built a counter-mobilisation against the “March for the Babies”, a rally by extreme Right wing anti-abortionists – but dispersed the demonstration before the Right turned up!  This was an election stunt, not a contribution to the class struggle.

Secondly, VS don’t meet the criteria we set out for honest socialists.  While they pass most, they conspicuously fail the last criterion about being up-front with workers.  The act of running for Parliament conjures illusions that a parliamentary road to socialism exists. We can get there, apparently, by electing enough socialists to Parliament. It is the duty of VS to dispel those illusions and explain socialism can only be achieved by workers’ revolution.  Workers need to take power into their own hands, not pass it to Parliamentary representatives.  VS don’t say that, but deliberately encourage the membership of people who do believe in Parliament.  That’s a deal-breaker.

The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group says it’s not possible to lodge a principled vote for the Victorian Socialists in the one electorate where they have a slight chance of winning, the Northern Metropolitan province of the Legislative Council.  We won’t get to socialism through Parliament and VS won’t get us any closer to it.  We must build the struggle instead.


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