“The Rich Will Never Let You Vote Away Their Wealth” – Victorian Socialists; An Anarchist Response

via ASF

ASF Geelong

February 2019

With the looming federal election, the campaign circus ramps up again. ASF Geelong contributes this article in order to clarify its anti-electoral stance. This is made more important given the development of new electoral groupings in Victoria drawing substantial support from activists on the far left.

On the 16th
of February 2019 the Victorian Socialists held their first official ‘founding’
conference. Commitment to the new electoral project was formalised by Socialist
Alternative, Socialist Alliance, and individual activists. After their first
electoral efforts (during the last state elections), the conference decided to
continue the electoral project and contest the upcoming Australian federal
elections. The regroupment of the larger Trotskyist organisations in Victoria
into the Victorian Socialists project has created the most significant
electoral socialist presence in the country since the original Communist Party.
Large numbers of volunteers have been mobilised, some progressive unions gave
relatively significant financial support, and the initial campaign garnered a
reasonable amount of media attention. In some electorates, the Victorian
Socialist project brought in a larger portion of the vote than socialists have
received in a long time, and only missed out on one seat because of
preferencing. While performing stronger than socialist electoral efforts in
recent decades, this is not an earth shattering result. As anarchists, we can
draw lessons from the achievements of the Victorian Socialist campaign in
mobilising people around working class issues, but we are not here to sing
praises for the project. It is more important is to remind ourselves of the
reasons we believe electoral politics is a dead end for the working class.

Anarchists do not
hold anti-electoral politics for no reason. We have always been well aware that
the state cannot become a path to liberation – attempts to use it as such by
the socialist left results in the individuals in parliament becoming, at best,
an irrelevance with their campaigns a waste of time and resources, and at
worst, becoming the most virulent defenders of the state and privilege. Despite
the undoubtable integrity of some genuine revolutionaries entering parliament,
a principled position in parliament can only last so long.

“The political arena leaves one no
alternative, one must either be a dunce or a rouge.” – Emma Goldman

Given that a government of socialists, either in the minority or majority, do not control the entire apparatus of the state under bourgeois democracy, they must attempt to implement a minimum plan. As standard practice, socialists argue to increase taxes on the rich, or to use funds from other state sectors and invest them in poorer communities. This is all well and good, but by involving themselves in this task, they suddenly find themselves burdened with running the very system they claim to want to overthrow. Consider what would happen if a Victorian Socialist candidate is elected and achieves some of the aims of their manifesto, for example, the proposed recycling plant in the northern suburbs. Though the plant will provide some positives – it will create jobs, and meet environmental needs – in a capitalist system, workers will inevitably struggle with their pay and working conditions. Subsequently, the socialist councilors will have to mediate the struggle and potentially discipline striking workers. This highlights an inherent contradiction when ‘revolutionaries’ in government have no choice but to administer the capitalist state. The greatest idealism is shipwrecked on the shores of the reality of capitalist economics. It may sound like quite an abstraction, but historical precedence would indicate this is a very real concern. Throughout history workers have had to face ‘socialist’ strikebreaking many times.

Some of the groups and members within the Victorian Socialist tent will point out that as revolutionaries they should be using parliament to denounce bourgeois democracy (the best line in this situation), but others will see the small reforms as achievements. They will push the party to continue this line of ‘progress’, drawing more and more resources and activists towards parliamentary activity. Given that the Victorian Socialists are a broad project and not an explicitly Leninist organisation, there will be more space for reformists to manoeuvre and rise within the ranks of a growing party apparatus, pushing increasingly conservative demands on the basis of ‘practicality’, that is, what will get them elected. This presents yet another tension between electoral needs and the maintenance of revolutionary principle.  

When a party measures progress by the vote tally they can become obsessed with chasing numbers. Imagine a campaign that may have initially started with a radical program. As the party gains seats and power, it is likely to drop its more radical ideals in order to maintain its positions in parliament. Though supposedly progressive, in its last terms of government Labors inability to legislate for gay marriage was a clear example of acting from fear of being ‘too radical.’ In the end, it was the conservatives that legalised gay marriage – after decades of pressure from social movements. We see the same process taking place today with the rightward shift of the Greens, from an activist party to one of ‘professional politicians’. Slowly but surely, Victorian Socialists, like every socialist party before them, will become more invested in the running of, and for positions within, the state, until such a situation that they become the very defenders of electoral democracy. At this stage, the Socialist Equality Party have a better position in regards to participation in bourgeois democracy!

We know that it is
social movements and struggle that force politicians left, not parliament. If that
were not true, we wouldn’t have seen significant reforms benefiting the working
class come from conservative politicians during periods of mass movement and
rebellion. On February 19th this was proven once again with the
striking teachers in West Virginia, USA, defeating market-oriented reforms by
Republican politicians. By contrast, we wouldn’t have seen leftist parties
around the world implement tragic and authoritarian laws and punishments upon
the working class again and again, betraying them at pivotal moments.

Where Victorian Socialists are leading people is a dead end. If we really want socialism, the working class must learn to organise and lead struggles themselves. Placing hope in politicians is misleading when workers would be developing militant class consciousness based on their direct actions. Victorian Socialists members will certainly argue that this is not what they are attempting to achieve. Rather, they believe they are playing the ‘inside, outside’ game; where they leverage parliamentary office to help build social movements. This was famously Adam Bandt’s justification for becoming a Greens MP. Participation in electoral politics is the socialist’s shortcut, just as insurrectionism is the shortcut of ‘anarchists’. Both seek to skip the slow, often painstaking work of building the consciousness of a class that can fight for itself, and organise its own structures to run the world. Elections are not just another ‘tool in the toolbox’, rather they are a tool that actively harms the other work a revolutionary organisation is engaged in.

Elections build the
idea that you sign someone up, everyone votes, and when the preferred representative
gets into parliament, the party’s demands are implemented. It’s fun and it’s
easy to hand out ‘how to vote’ cards – to spruik the virtues of your preferred
candidate against the others – but it doesn’t develop the critical relationship
with electoral and capitalist politics we have to work towards. Millions of
people today are disaffected with politicians. Adding socialists to the list of
vultures that ‘get voted in and do nothing’ will not help us build
revolutionary ideology. Parliamentary activity does very little to build the capacity
of the working class itself to struggle, let alone the idea that the working
class can run the world.  As MAC-G have written “A Victorian Socialist in the Legislative Council of
Victoria might make stirring speeches in support of grassroots struggles and
might fight hard to get reforms out of this neo-liberal Labor Government, but
if they don’t explain to the working class that this isn’t how we’ll win Socialism,
they’ll be leading workers in the wrong direction.”

In practical terms, consider the example of Kasama Sawant, the Socialist Alternative (unrelated to the Australian grouping of the same name) councillor in Seattle. Kasama was elected in 2013, hailed as a major breakthrough as the first ‘socialist’ elected anywhere in the USA for generations. She was elected around a demand for “$15 Now”, that is $15 an hour minimum wage within the Seattle region. She faced significant hostility from business interests, and was funded by the unions to fight for this platform. Though elected, she failed to get this reform through and ‘$15 now’ became ‘$15 later..’ Whilst in Seatac, a city basically next door, the labour movement maintaining autonomy managed to get a republican to pass the legislation without sacrificing themselves to parliamentary limits. The limits of relying on politicians is clear; we see Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez voting to fund ICE in the USA, while simultaneously claiming to want its abolition. The DSA project is yet another example of a growing anti-capitalist consciousness kneecapped by electoral politics. While it is as much a reflection of the current limits of politics within our unions, and paltry compared to the donations to the Labor party, the funds given to the Victorian Socialist project could have gone into ‘on the ground’ organising efforts, fighting campaigns and strike funds.

We can only wonder at
the wisdom of the Victorian Socialist campaign at this time. No one from any
group within the Victorian Socialist tent has put out a significant theoretical
piece explaining their decisions to engage as ‘Victorian Socialists’ in
parliamentary politics yet. Socialist Alternative refused to participate in
elections until only last year and haven’t yet justified their change of
tactics publicly with a material analysis. The closest thing one can find to
Socialist Alternatives position on electoral participation being articulated is
Mick Armstrong’s 2016 piece from Marxist Left Review ‘The Broad Left Party After SYRIZA.’ While promoting a healthy understanding
of the limits of SYRIZA, Armstrong defends the actions of DEA, Socialist
Alternatives sister organisation in Greece that participated in the SYRIZA
coalition, with the ‘inside, outside’ (or ‘fighting with both fists’) strategy
(struggle inside parliament, struggle outside in the movements),

When SYRIZA enacted its historic betrayal of the Greek people, DEA led a revolt
that split away from the party… only to repeat the tactic and participate in
the formation in a new coalition, Popular Unity. The difference is that now
they take a miniscule amount of the vote, losing any position in parliament and
having virtually no influence on the struggle. First as folly, then as farce.

We believe they made
a fundamental mistake by participation in the first place. The left can be more
effective in power at implementing capitals agenda than the right, as social
movements that become invested in a party take their foot off the gas in order
to allow the new government to ‘perform.’ As such, all the resources that went
into the struggles within SYRIZA who would inevitably betray the Greek people
by virtue of participation in the state could have gone into developing an even
more militant element to the class struggle in Greece. To the union movement
and building strikes, to the anti-fascist struggle, to the countless
occupations and direct action struggles, to defending the worker controlled
factories like VioME – where we see embryonic forms of workers democracy and expropriation
of capitalist interests. As Fred Hampton points out, you have to build power
where the people are. As anarchists we know that these new forms of social
power are infinitely more important than the struggle within parliament.

Armstrong would disagree,
arguing in the MLR piece ‘To directly counterpose building strikes and
radical movements in the streets as the alternative to a political intervention
in a radical left party like Syriza is to lapse into a syndicalist or movementist
error that fails to see the dialectical connections between the two. The forces
needed for a revolutionary party are not going to be accumulated simply by
building mass movements and strikes; and conversely mass movements and strikes
are ultimately not going to be successful in challenging capitalist rule
without a mass revolutionary party being built.’

Armstrong would
appear to see the dialectic incorrectly. Rather than a project like Victorian
Socialists acting as a foothold for radical ideas in a broader workers
movement, participation in parliament establishes a foothold for reformist
ideas in revolutionary organisations. We believe in building mass social
organisations that can overthrow capitalism – but they are not the vanguard

“…according to the Syndicalist view,
the trade union, the syndicate, is the unified organisation of labour and has
for its purpose the defence of the interests of the producers in the existing
society and the preparing for and the practical carrying out of the reconstruction
of social life after the pattern of [libertarian] Socialism. It has, therefore,
a double purpose…”
– Rudolph Rocker

As such, the accusation of syndicalist and movementist errors only holds true to a socialist who believes that only the vanguard party can lead the working class to make the revolutionary rupture with capitalism. However as anarchists and libertarian socialists, we know that historically this is untrue. Syndicalism also provides a mass organisation where workers take up the battle of ideas in all facets of society, making the critique of both capitalist and state socialist visions, and promoting the vision of a free and equal world. It is only the narrow view of socialists who believe revolutionary unions cannot play this role. Despite eventual failure of the classic workers revolutions, the working class has nonetheless shown its capacity to overthrow the state and capitalism without the ‘vanguard party.’ Revolutionary experiments in the Ukraine ‘19-21 and Spain in ‘36 attempted to establish a society where ‘the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things’. It would be facetious to argue that the Bolsheviks were the only ‘successful’ example of working class revolution when what they achieved was a bloody and repressive failure certainly no worse than the failure of the libertarian revolutions. If your only criteria of revolutionary success is the crushing of counter-revolutionary military forces, then the Bolsheviks were indeed successful. However if your criteria is the building of a workers democracy from the bottom up, then they failed almost from the very start. World revolution has not been achieved, but we can remain certain that socialists in parliament is a strategy that cannot lead to socialism.

“We assert that social problems can
only be resolved by a revolutionary movement that transforms the economy while
at the same time destroying bourgeois political institutions.”
– Garcia Oliver

While within the libertarian movement we can debate various forms of anarchist organisation from syndicalism to especifismo, anarchists all seek to propagate the idea of self-management and direct action, and assist the working classes to build new forms of self-governance beyond capitalism. This differs vastly from the Leninist party. After all, the state and party have proven in the last instance to be the defenders of bourgeois interests and the gravediggers of the social revolution. Even if we agreed with Lenin, we doubt very much that the defence of electoral participation by the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917 in any way translates to a strategy for today – especially for a ‘mass socialist party’ that isn’t yet much more than a coalition of propaganda groups based out of the universities.

Only coherent and
combative anarchist organisations with distinct class politics can become an
alternate pole of attraction to fill the space on the revolutionary left –
anarchism is becoming a stronger revolutionary current around the world once
again, given the abysmal failure of Marxist politics in the 20th Century, and with ‘21st
Century Socialism’ proving to achieve either nothing, futile reform, or some
meaningful reform but no capability to move beyond capitalism (Socialist
Alliance in the UK, SYRIZA, and Venezuela come to mind respectively.)

Internally to
Victorian Socialists, fractures within the revolutionary cadres of Socialist
Alternative and Socialist Alliance will begin to become more pronounced as
resources are pulled from practical needs and in the situation of a Victorian
based party – other state branches. Revolutionary socialists who understand the
dead ends of electoral politics will break away from electoral projects like
Victorian Socialists in time, and we must be there to meet these militants who
have always had the right idea in understanding the many problems of
capitalism. What they will need is a better perspective of the state.

Far more important
than winning over militants from the socialist groups however is winning new
workers over to the anarchist movement. For too long the anarchist movement in
Australia has been internal looking. Our struggle as libertarians should be
where the working class itself is fighting, and our ideas should inform our
action. It will be our motion that draws people in, not just our ideas – this
for example is part of the initial explosion of ‘success’ of the Victorian
Socialist project.

Anti-capitalist ideas
are growing traction around the world, and we want anarchism to become the
dominant form of revolutionary politics once again. It is easy to forget that anarchism
was once the predominant ideology of the revolutionary left, a far cry from the
liberal mess we find passing for much
of anarchist politics
today. To return to relevance, we require insertion into the important
movements and struggles of our time to help build their mass character, and
playing a leading role in the redevelopment of a labour movement. To counter
the growth of electoral projects anarchists
also need easy ‘on ramps’ to politics too, but not ones that will channel
workers into handing their fate over to political parties. To build our
own organisations and militant movements requires developed and specifically
anarchist politics to guide our strategies and tactics. It is our task to
reveal the fatal flaw of following strategies like the Victorian Socialists
electoral attempts, and reaffirming that the revolution can only be made by the
struggle of the workers themselves.

“The working class has no Parliament but the street, the factory, and the workplace, and no other path than social revolution.” – Buenaventura Durruti

ASF-IWA Geelong Section.

For a more
comprehensive understanding of the limits of electoral politics we recommend
the pamphlet “Socialist Faces in High Places”, by the Black Rose / Rosa Negra
Anarchist Federation.

There are 44 Comments

Sometimes, I go to the graveyard and yell at the dead people about their foolish decisions.

Don't judge me!

Avenues all lined with trees
Picture me and then you start watching
Watching forever
Watching love grow, forever
Letting me know, forever

Anon writes, "This essay, Its so like Wayne Price, WOW, He isn't alone." Whether these Australian anarchists sound like me or I sound like them, it is true that revolutionary anarchists oppose electoralist approaches (by anarchists, let alone Trotskyist state-socialists). Why this "anon" person, who is posting on an anarchist site, objects to this is beyond my understanding.

*whispers* Maybe he's a lowlife crackhead nihilist who steals his mom's opioid suppositories so he can get some sleep?

Wayne is a gentleman and a scholar. He's worth at least 100 snarky @news trolls and I should know!

i hope you thought of me among those 100 @news anons

What the hell is going on? Guy Fawkes 400yrs ago was wanting to blow up Parliament, and now anarchists want to become Westminster shills?
What was Guy Fawkes, an anarcho-nihilist, a nihilo-communist, a Spanish syndicalist? Nothing makes sense anymore!

things fall apart and are recycled in the future in slightly different configurations. There's also back flow from the future into the past or current observer moment. I'm afraid it might be an adverse simulation. There are upgrades and mods available though.

“The political arena leaves one no
alternative, one must either be a dunce or a rouge.” – Emma Goldman

This one makes me think of long-time San Francisco housing activist James Tracy.

This is @news, one of the many beaches of anarchy! You'll find more than a few washed up dunces and rogues here. You could argue Emma herself fit this description at certain points of her life.

Tiredoldtroll writes, "You could argue Emma herself fit this description at certain points of her life." I would not call her either, which is not to deny that she made mistakes, at various times of her life ("mistakes" defined as advocating things with which I disagree). This includes her early support of the Bolsheviks, until she learned from direct experience, or her holding back on openly stating her criticisms of the FAI-CNT in the Spanish Revolution (their joining the Popular Front government). She wasn't perfect, just a great example of revolutionary class-struggle anarchist-communism.

Then you're far more generous than I, Wayne. As I heard, she fled in horror upon realizing just how big of a dunce she'd been!

Plus, I say all this as an anarchist who's been both dunce and rogue, many times. Isn't this pretty common for the hopeless dreamers, chasing their beautiful idea?

Based only on my reading of her bio and autobiography, I wouldn't say "she fled in horror" from the early Soviet Union. But maybe she did (to take up a position of political opposition which was quite unpopular on the Left).

Sure I have done many stupid things. Most of what I have learned has been from making mistakes, more than I like to admit. And I have done a few things, personal and political, of which I am ashamed and disgusted. I don't think that is because I am a "hopeless dreamer." At least I do not think that the "beautiful dream" of human liberation is hopeless, although it may be improbable, if we are to make predictions. I think my problem is that I am a fallible, neurotic, human, formed by this society.

That is how different we are, Stirnerians are never ashamed or disgusted with things they've done. We feel for you addicts of leftist feelgood politics, we wait with open arms for your abandonment of your futile dreams. We wish to raise you out of your fallible and neurotic condition. Renounce Marx NOW and we will introduce you to our esoteric wisdom!

"Stirnerians are never ashamed or disgusted with things they've done"

So this is why you keep posting crap on here many times a day, every fucking day of the week? Coz you cannot learn from your mistakes when none of what you're doing are mistakes to you...

Well yes, because I don't make mistakes.
"Mistakes" is a X-tian social construct arising out of a guilt driven self-depreciating indoctrination by authority!

If you throw your spear at a wooly mammoth and hit your buddy that's a mistake. Or if you stop going outside the cave to poop and start piling it up in a corner everyone is going to know there's a problem. So call it what you will there is always positive and negative feedback in life. But the concept of sin adds a whole new dimension to the psyche.

Yes, I'm referring to the mistake as seen as a sin.
So therefore I am correct and beyond the mistake.

Indigenous people don't see the accidental spearing of another hunter/gatherer as a " mistake" but as a stupidness of the person who got speared for not seeing it coming and for not making enough offerings to various guardian nature spirits.
It was never a " mistake " . That is a Western, Platonic Greek and Christian concept!

who made you spokesperson of all “indigenous people”? are you insinuating a universal experience among different cultures, across different time periods and continents?

I'm attacking the whole non-indigenous moral and ethical rationale. I would say that the organic cosmos presents us only with choice and chance, random chaos and no grounds to blame or judge actions as "mistakes" but as inevitable events.

I've researched this place Victoria, and as an example of Western non-indigenous rationale, they blame environmental degredation of their river system as a mistake of tbe climate.

is coming and AOC will lead us. Climate change is an invocation to Gaia to raise up a champion and heal mother earth.

"For it is only when the pervasive historical bond between masculinity and war is broken by effective feminist violence that it will become possible to envisage the uprooting of the patriarchal endogamies that orchestrate the contemporary world order.With the aboli­tion of the inhibition of synthesis - of Kantian thought - a sordid cowardice will be washed away, and cowardice is the engine of greed. But the only conceivable end of Kan­tianism is the end of modernity, and to reach this we must foster new Amazons in our midst." -Fanged Noumena

And I refuse to be drawn into having to explain my philosophy on the internet!

Mmk ;)

get off the internet and come with me

the latter!

22:46 isn't me, I do not agree to get off the internet!
I maintain my stance on the failure of the Western Zight-Gite and will continue to blast all moral and ethical codes they spread like psyops pestilence! :(

get ur wellchanchung sight-guys buzzword troll asses outta here!

The Xtian.moralists will never let you vote away the Evil Abrahamic Priests with their sinister Zight-Gites!

I'm also building my local Union of Pedo-Egoists, to protect ourselves against all this PC police and the SJWs. Wanna join, Major Butts? If anything goes... anything goes, right?

I assume this is a joke or parody.

That was a response to the self-absorbed, narcissist troll at 18:43, who's convinced he never sinned of any "mistake", in his paranoid obsession with the bogeymen of Xian morality.

18:43 back again to denounce all Manachian and Abrahamic dualism, and the concept of good/bad, correct/mistaken, wrong/right!!!

Add new comment