Editorial: What Elections Mean

What elections mean

By the time this issue of the Socialist Standard comes out, we will be halfway through a general election campaign. We will all have had leaflets through our letter boxes full of vote-catching promises and extolling the merits of some candidate. The media will have been concentrating, day after day, on the claims and counter-claims of the groups of career politicians known as ‘parties’.

But it’s a charade. People know from experience that ‘changing governments changes nothing’ and that their daily life of going to work, paying the bills and bringing up their family continues much the same whichever group of politicians forms the government. They listen to the politicians’ promises without really believing them and vote for one or other of them without illusions. They don’t consider this central to their lives; it’s something they do because they have been asked to.

However, there is a more serious side to elections. They are a time when groups of politicians compete against each other for a chance to run the capitalist state. This state is there to uphold the capitalist system, based on the ownership and control of productive resources by a few who are thereby enabled to enjoy a privileged lifestyle. Due to past pressure from the excluded many and splits in the ruling class, those who run the capitalist state have to pass via winning an election where almost the whole electorate is made up of the many. Winning an election gives them – and the capitalist system – the legitimacy of popular endorsement.

This means that elections are a time when the many are being asked to endorse capitalism by voting for politicians who, if and when they get into office, will uphold the capitalist system, even if to try to improve people’s lives. But, as capitalism is a profit-making system that can only run in the interest of the few who own society’s productive resources, no government can make it work for the many who don’t. This is why all reformist governments have failed, and will fail. From the point of view of improving people’s life, elections are irrelevant as, while governments propose, it is capitalism, via its relentless economic law of ‘profits first’ imposed by the market, that disposes.

This is why socialists refuse to participate in the charade of pretending to believe in the politicians’ promises and voting for one or other of them without illusions or as a ‘lesser evil’. We won’t vote for any of them as that is to give the legitimacy of popular approval to the continuation of capitalism. Which we refuse.

To show that we think that voting could and should be part of the process of replacing capitalism with socialism we do go to the polling station and cast a write-in vote for ‘WORLD SOCIALISM’. Where we can, we also put up candidates standing for socialism and nothing but – in this election there are two, whose election addresses can be found in this issue. There, those who want socialism can vote directly for it.