Tag Archives: elections

Free education and the Liberal Democrats: a student’s perspective

A student member of the Anarchist Federation’s account of the Lib Dems’ promise on university tuition fees and the lessons learned.

Living in Sheffield at the time of the last election, I saw that there was massive voter turn-out and support for the Lib Dems amongst students. A tangible optimism and excitement existed in Nick Clegg’s constituency. Personally, I spoiled my ballot paper with, ‘If voting changed anything they’d make it illegal’. However, I did wonder whether a Lib-Dem rise could contest the New Labour/Conservative stalemate of neoliberal similarity.

Clegg now sports a satisfaction rating of minus-40 (Mori survey). This is well deserved. Instead of capping tuition fees he has overseen them triple to £9,000. Young people among many others who voted Lib-Dem have been left disillusioned by this, becoming disengaged from politics. What has been proven is not that young people are not interested in politics, but that politicians are not interested in young people.

Debt

I was lucky and only had to pay £3,000/year in fees. But I now owe the Students Loan Company £23,000. This increases by at least £30 a month due to interest, which started whilst I was still at university! I am persistently being hassled by them checking if I’m earning enough yet to start paying it back.

Neo-liberalisation

When I finished university I wanted to continue studying. However, funding for a social science Master’s degree is rare and most students are self-funded. I couldn’t stand the thought of incurring more debt by taking out a loan, so I gave up on the idea. I moved home and worked in a café trying to get out of my overdraft. I found out that there are no tuition fees in Sweden for EU citizens. I applied to Stockholm University and got in, paying living costs with money I’d earned in the café. I then found out I could return to the UK on an Erasmus exchange, avoiding tuition fees and even getting an EU grant!

This illustrates the lengths that you have to go to if you come from a background where higher education is unaffordable. Furthermore, it has taught me that a free education is feasible, but cannot be accomplished by relying on political parties and the establishment. The neo-liberalisation of higher education has proliferated under the Coalition. Education is becoming the preserve of the upper-middle-class. Research too must now be ‘competitive’, not expressing critical, independent thought.

To contest this, to strive for free education, the only way is to self-organise! The demise of the Lib-Dems has shown we cannot rely on any political party to deliver this. This is why we argue ‘Don’t Vote – Organise!’

 

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This is what democracy looks like?

What follows is the very rough notes that where used for the introduction to the the first of our Angry Not Apathetic discussion groups. This evening we looked at what elections are, and the role of parliamentary/representative  democracy. It would be great to carry on what was a really engaged discussion, so if you were at the talk (or even if not) it would be awesome if you could put a summation of any points you either raised or took away in the comments bellow.

scum


This is what democracy looks like?

The general election is a contest to see who will win the job of running the state, so to understand elections, you need to understand the role of the state:

  • An organisation of all the lawmaking and law enforcing institutions within a specific territory.
  • Controlled and run by a small minority of people.
  • Claims that only violence that takes place with it’s sanction is legitimate.
  • Acts to protect the capitalist interests of a specific segment of the ruling class, while also keeping capitalism in check so it doesn’t all fall apart, as the success or failure of a state rests on the success or failure of capitalism within it.
  • To maintain social order and class society.

There are a whole lot of reasons thrown up for why elections make sense, none of which stand up to even a light level of scrutiny. Here are some of the most common:

Standing in elections gives a platform to talk politics
This was the reasoning behind the German socialist parties in the early 20th century, it has been the call of many small minority parties since, and today it is used by the anarchist group Class War. The thing is it wasn’t taking part in electoral politics that contributed any success these groups had, it was direct action at the points where we had struggles in our lives. If anything for CW formal involvement in elections has weakened their argument and made their position seem contradictory and muddled, while socialist parties just get trapped in a mire of elections and don’t go beyond that. Politics and power isn’t external in the state, it is everywhere and available to us, and pretending that elections are special hides that power from us.

Voting for the lesser of two evils
No matter who you vote for, the government that forms is going to undertake the same tasks. It may present them differently; in fact New Labour were able to be far harsher than he Tories due to the lack of criticism and scrutiny given to them by the unions. Parties outside of power will always be able to look better than those in. When we look at the policies and actions of government they have never been taken in direct reply to an election so much as the militancy and power of working class movements at any given time. Rather than pretend that elections have any real meaning we should look at ways or organising ourselves so that no mater who is in power, they will need to provide concessions to us as a working class.

A radical minority can pull the state leftwards
Nah, the ruling party will spin things to justify the plans it was going to undertake whatever. A radical minority will be ignored as it can’t be used to further the agenda of those in power (unless painted as a scapegoat and villain – red scare). On the other hand a minor far-right party (such as Golden Dawn or UKIP) can be used as the excuse to drive through harsh laws and reactionary positions because that is what the government wanted to do all along. BNP got used this way without even having an MP.

We need to change the way we vote!
The voting system being the used isn’t the barrier or the key to change. No matter how they are chosen, elected officials are largely unaccountable except to their own party and the tasks of government. Regardless of how they are selected, the main way to see real changes is through organising with those around us, while the electoral process itself is still a massive distraction from building this kind of working class power.

We need to counter voter apathy
This one is half-right. Apathy is a problem, but voting or not voting is beside the point. Apathy comes from a feeling that change is not possible, a feeling that the focus on voting creates. We need to work to build a culture where people feel they can resist the state and capitalism, but that won’t happen by posing a new candidate to vote for; that will only breed more apathy.

We can change the system from the inside
The closer a group gets to executive decision making the more it’s interests start to side with the status quo. We can see this recently with the SNP, where they dropped their pledge to leave NATO, thus indicating to others in power that their commitment to scrap trident is nothing more than hollow rhetoric and that once in power they would (with a regretful face on) keep things as they are.

In Conclusion: I’d argue that anarchism should be a tool for understanding how power and hierarchy works, and as such we should use it to be truthful about elections and work to demystify them. Pretending they are somehow important just holds us back.


 

Next month (on the 15th of April) we will be looking at the question of what anarchists actively put their time into, so keep your eyes peeled on this blog  for details of our second talk in this short series: Direct action gets the goods!

Cut Military Spending? Scrap Trident?

john stewart

In 1998, the UN estimated that we would need $40 billion annually to sustain the entire WORLD population. This translates to roughly $58 billion today and would cover housing, food, clothing, health care, education, and a lot lot more. Any one of the countries listed in the picture above could provide that money if that where all it took.

You might be thinking that all that is needed is for a party to get in that will get into power that can reform the system and divert some of the money to meeting our needs, but capitalism cannot be reformed.

The closer a group gets to controlling power, or at least as groups get absorbed into the decision making structure, the divisions between rich and poor disappear from view and the status quo becomes less and less flawed. Preserving the current order (with the odd cosmetic difference here and there) becomes the goal.

As elections draw near there will be more and more calls to scrap trident, with the vulture political parties circling around our anger and horror about nuclear war and hoping to pick it apart for votes. No matter if we vote or not, or if the candidate agrees with us or not, the demand to scrap trident, by itself, is doomed to failure.

Many supporters of the SNP, the Greens, and the smaller socialist parties all think that the lip service for scrapping trident that their parties give now will translate into action if only we all get behind them and vote them into power, but lets look at what has already happened to see what will come down the line.

As the SNP have gotten closer to power they have had to change their posture so that they look appropriate for that power. This has manifested in their U-turn on leaving NATO, instead guaranteeing that an independent Scotland with them at the helm would remain a member.

The Trident missiles themselves (if not the warheads on them) are an american weapons system housed at Faslane under lease to the Royal Navy through a NATO treaty. It is impossible to scrap it without leaving NATO and the pissing off the US government.

The only reason the Greens and smaller parties can get away with still saying they would leave NATO is because they are not getting any closer to power at this time. They can remain a minority voice that will ultimately be ignored by whoever has power.

So let’s keep in mind that the cry to scrap trident is falling on deaf ears and by itself leads to a dead end of supporting political parties and electoral politics. Instead, as we shout out for trident to be scrapped, let’s also start shouting out for what we really need – a world without wars and a life where our well-being is met because we are alive – and let’s do it through building working class power with those who are around us.

After all, why back one party when we can build so that any of them would have to give us what we want least we take it for ourselves? And if we can take it for ourselves, well, that’s where real freedom lies!