Anti-parliamentarism has failed — and needs to be reinvented

I feel it’s safe to say at this point that recent generations’ “treat electoral politics as irrelevant and they will lose their power over us” approach has not only proven ineffective, but actually boosted the neoliberal shift of power from public to private hands.

While many of us were off ignoring electoral politics, politicians were cozying up with corporations and transfering ever more assets, power, and decision-making into their hands.

Meanwhile fascists were working their ideas into mainstream centrism and setting up slick suits to sell their old top-down bullshit as rebellion, actively feeding on the common sentiment — actively stoked by the far left — that mainstream politics was bullshit.

Does this mean we should abandon the Anarchist tradition? No, because this attitude of disengaged faux rebellion was never more than a bastardization of that tradition (at best). Anarchism means “challenge the powerful by building independent power from the bottom up” not “abandon power to the rich”.

Anarchism means actually taking away bourgeoise electoral politics’ monopoly on power, not playing make-believe and expecting our wishes to manifest, The Secret-style. It means a ton of hard work organizing with your neighbors, not retreating to the Internet and its bubbles. (And I’m probably more or less the worst example in this respect — this is self-crit first and foremost.)

Revisiting parliamentarism

As for the way forward, if anything I think it’s the traditional Marxist focus on capturing state power that needs revisiting at the end of this decade, not Anarchism’s rejection of parliamentarism.

Capturing state power is a doomed endeavor in this neoliberal era; the state is far too vulnerable to being disciplined by the markets (i.e. by the 0.001%) whenever politicians dare to glance to the left for more than a second. Recall the fate of SYRIZA, the Greek Coalition of the Radical Left, which came to power in 2015 to fight the lender powers and was forced to submit within the year, finally losing power to the current right-wing government four years later.

Our concern should be giving governments under the thumb of finance capital something else to worry about — us — while also supporting and defending whatever gains are won for working people and building independent structures resilient to all of that, so we can hang on while capital and reaction do their worst.

I suspect what we should be aiming for is not setting up far-left parties and candidates as a central strategy (that is, parliamentarism), but organizing outside of parliamentary politics while actively engaging with it.

This means challenging the parliamentary left in whatever way makes sense in your given context, while offering support and solidarity against capital and reaction; uniting behind the candidates most friendly to our cause, but not unconditionally; taking seriously the proposition that elections aren’t “choose your fighter” but “choose your enemy” — and fighting like hell to get an opponent who might give a shit, so that we can keep fighting.

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