Criticisms of electoral politics

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"Anti-electoralism" redirects here. For the use of term "electoralism" in the context of a dominant-party system, see Electoralism.

Although highly controversial at various points in history, representative democracy (and electoral systems in general) has become the modern civics global-standard. Nevertheless, criticisms of electoral politics continue to come from both within the Western world and the developing world. In the Global North, criticism comes primarily from the anarchist, revolutionary communist, and left-libertarian ends of the political spectrum.


A People's History of the United States, 1492 to Present by Howard Zinn provides a historical analysis of electoral politics as a corporate statist (not his term) mechanism for co-opting grass-roots action and organizing, which primarily has been engendered by discontent with the social effects of disproportionate disposition of economic benefit and risk.

Libertarian criticism[edit]

Anarchists and some other libertarians typically argue against the legitimacy of political representation although most libertarians accept the concept of delegation. This is primarily due to their belief that majority rule voting systems will erode the liberty of social and political minorities. Libertarians argue that any truly just political system must include voluntary association to prevent the oppressive enforcement of law. Additionally, libertarians argue that the election of representatives creates a priest-class of political administrators while disempowering and alienating the general public, for which voting is a highly mediated form of political engagement that diverts energy away from more effective means of political and social reform (or, for some anarchists, revolution in the form of Direct Action). Some libertarians argue that representation is philosophically impossible due to the unique nature of each individual, distinct from social, political, and economic class interests.

Social anarchists support consensus-based direct democracy as an alternative to an electoral system, and direct action as a means to implement decisions made individually or collectively.

Autonomism, horizontalism, and "topless federation" are related concepts. There also exists a non-elective procedure for electing a democratic representation called sortition, in which representatives are drawn at random from the citizen population.

Revolutionary Marxist/Communist criticism[edit]

Revolutionary communists generally argue against elections under capitalism as being, at best, insufficient for revolutionary change, and at worst as diverting the personal, economic, and mental resources of the working class individual towards dead end politics when that same energy could be used to foment a communist revolution and create a proletarian dictatorship. Communists see the global-standard status of elections in the current world as clear evidence that market society has entrenched itself and been, for the moment, completely victorious over armed struggle and other truly grassroots forms of change. For Marxists, the overthrow of the entire ruling class means not just a seizure of their state power, but the establishment of an entirely different sort of state, one structured to protect working class control of production—such a fundamental change, it is usually argued, cannot take place within the electoral system of a state designed foremost for the protection of private property.

This is not, however, a critique of elections in general, and most communists hold that elections of some sort are compatible or even necessary for workers' democracy. Friedrich Engels argued that a Communist society could only exist with a representative constitution.[1] Election of leaders at the local level and, in turn, for wider leadership on the global level, would to a communist undoubtedly make fully participatory elections absolutely necessary. However, the difference under such circumstances as compared to capitalism would be that communist elections would reject the representative democracy model as a residual of capitalism; that model, in the view of communists, would make it more likely for the new society to revert to profit and the market if fully participatory democracy were not pursued.

It is also not the case that Marxists necessarily shun capitalist elections altogether. The question of whether fighting for reforms is worthwhile and, if so, how much energy should be devoted to them has been an ongoing debate within Marxism from the beginning, and a broad spectrum of positions has resulted. Communists may consider some reforms within capitalism to be tactically important—a civil rights struggle, for instance, may help to overcome divisions that hurt and weaken all workers. In the most extreme cases of "reformism", a party may actively work to curb more "revolutionary" activity, whether out of momentary caution or genuine commitment to other methods—during the 1968 General Strike of France, Marxist and Communist Parties urged workers to return to their jobs, and express their dissatisfaction with the power of voting. On the other hand, groups such as the Progressive Labor Party make a point of abstaining completely from elections. Finally, many Marxist parties run candidates without regard to their chances of winning, purely as a means of disseminating their message.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Principles of Communism, The," by Engels, section 18,

Further reading[edit]