What To Do With Your Vote
In a few short weeks you will again be invited to attend at various schoolrooms and public buildings labelled: “Polling Booth,” and there inscribe against the name of some individual or other a little cross. Quite a simple little process, and one which, in our dull world, becomes every now and then invested with an air of excitement and festivity. Some of you will be voting for the first time in your lives, most will have voted at several previous elections. The great majority will feel that the occasion is such a rare one, and the excitement so general, they must, if only from a sense of duty, affix their little cross upon the ballot paper. There will be no lack of advisers. The hoardings will groan beneath ten-feet posters calling your attention to the enormous achievements of the party whose power is expiring, and, in contrast, to the millennium about to dawn if you vote for the other side this time. Each side—so called—will call your attention to the shocking lies now being disseminated by the other. Each will tell you that a vote for the other is a vote for catastrophe. Little windows in shabby streets will break out in a rash of cards, begging the passer-by to “Vote for Spoofem,” or some other. Halls and schoolrooms will be hired, street corners and market places annexed, whereat hoarse and fervent orators will pour forth tales of their opponents’ rascality and the stained-glass, saintly purity of themselves. The newspapers and the Press generally will join in the national fever, and if report be true, the ether will be exploited by means of the radio. Leather-lunged loud-speakers are to squawk their message from touring vans, and altogether we are in for a hell of a time.
In the face of all this racket and excitement, to ask you to make no use of your vote seems rather feeble, doesn’t it? In point of fact, we do not ASK you to do anything. When you try and quietly figure it all out, the feebleness lies in a rather different direction.
In the first place, why all this bother, why this hectic atmosphere, why these repeated emphatic appeals for your vote? Very briefly, it is because they want to GOVERN you. There is a tremendous emphasis on that word “govern.” Familiarity has dulled appreciation of its essential meaning to most people, but it is worth pausing just there, and saying the word “govern” over and over again to yourself until it takes on a little flavour if strangeness, and you try and realise what government means. Time was when people were not asked to vote for government. They got it, hard and heavy, and they knew it. And when it hurt too much, rebellion was born, and riot, insurrection and discontent. Now, after generations of struggle, you have gained the right of being asked whom you wish to govern you. But notice, in particular, you are still to be governed. Even the Labour Party promises you a Labour Government. Now, if you still retain enough of the flavour of strangeness about that common word, government, you should ask yourself, “Who are the governors, pray, and who are the governed?” and “Why Government at all?” A critical survey of the world around you should supply you with the answer. The governors are the rich, those who hold the keys to our means of life. The governed are the poor, those who have to hire themselves for wages to the rich and powerful. The rich govern the poor, that is, they keep you in order and stamp upon any sign of revolt or discontent, and by long experience they have found that the way of retaining their power to govern you is by getting your assent to its continuance. So they arrange themselves into two or three groups, whose opinions differ upon trifling administrative details, and represent themselves to you as dire and bitter antagonists and ask you to choose or the other for master. Now, in theory, this is a dangerous proceeding, for you might see through the trick and say “A plague on all your houses.” In practice, it has worked out very satisfactorily for the rich, for as they own the Press, the Pulpit, the Schools, the Broadcasting service, and your means of livelihood, any alternative opinion is heavily handicapped. But in spite of all, no monopoly can be complete, or eternal. The little sheet you are now reading is a proof of that.
The system in which a small rich class own the means whereby all live, and a large class have to hire themselves for wages in order to live, is called Capitalism. It is the system in which we are living to-day. The Socialist Party of Great Britain suggests as an alternative that the means of living should be taken away from the small parasitic class at present owning them, and commonly owned and administered by the whole people. That alternative is called Socialism. You will be asked some day to vote for the one or the other. That question will not be asked of you at the next General Election. What you will be asked is: “Do you still want to be governed; do you still believe in Capitalism? If you do, it will not matter to Capitalism whether you put your little cross against the Conservative, the Liberal, or the Labour candidate. They will have secured your voluntary assent to the continuance of Capitalism, and your willing acceptance of the fact of being governed. That is all that matters to them. If, where a Socialist candidate is not running, you write the word “Socialism” across your ballot paper, your vote is spoiled. True, but at any rate you have not signified that you are a willing supporter of Capitalism. The best thing, of course, is to join the Socialist Party and see that at the next General Election there is no need to spoil any ballot paper.
W. T. Hopley