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Elections: Absenteeism, Boycotts and the Class Struggle
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The most striking feature of recent elections is not ‘who won or who lost’, nor is it the personalities, parties and programs. The dominant characteristic of the elections is the widespread repudiation of the electoral system, political campaigns, parties and candidates.

Across the world, majorities and pluralities of citizens of voting age refuse to even register to vote (unless obligated by law), refuse to turn out to vote (voter abstention), or vote against all the candidates (boycott by empty ballot and ballot spoilage).

If we add the many citizen activists who are too young to vote, citizens denied voting rights because of past criminal (often minor) convictions, impoverished citizens and minorities denied voting rights through manipulation and gerrymandering, we find that the actual ‘voting public’ shrivel to a small minority.

As a result, present day elections have been reduced to a theatrical competition among the elite for the votes of a minority. This situation describes an oligarchy – not a healthy democracy.

Oligarchic Competition

Oligarchs compete and alternate with one another over controlling and defining who votes and doesn’t vote. They decide who secures plutocratic financing and mass media propaganda within a tiny corporate sector. ‘Voter choice’ refers to deciding which preselected candidates are acceptable for carrying out an agenda of imperial conquests, deepening class inequalities and securing legal impunity for the oligarchs, their political representatives and state, police and military officials.

Oligarchic politicians depend on the systematic plundering Treasury to facilitate and protect billion dollar/billion euro stock market swindles and the illegal accumulation of trillions of dollars and Euros via tax evasion (capital flight) and money laundering.

The results of elections and the faces of the candidates may change but the fundamental economic and military apparatus remains the same to serve an ever tightening oligarchic rule.

The elite regimes change, but the permanence of state apparatus designed to serve the elite becomes ever more obvious to the citizens.

Why the Oligarchy Celebrates “Democracy

The politicians who participate in the restrictive and minoritarian electoral system, with its predetermined oligarchic results, celebrate ‘elections’ as a democratic process because a plurality of voters, as subordinate subjects, are incorporated.

Academics, journalists and experts argue that a system in which elite competition defines citizen choice has become the only way to protect ‘democracy’ from the irrational ‘populist’ rhetoric appealing to a mass of citizens vulnerable to authoritarianism (the so-called ‘deplorables’). The low voter turn-out in recent elections reduces the threat posed by such undesirable voters.

A serious objective analysis of present-day electoral politics demonstrates that when the masses do vote for their class interests – the results deepen and extend social democracy. When most voters, non-voters and excluded citizens choose to abstain or boycott elections they have sound reasons for repudiating plutocratic-controlled oligarchic choices.

We will proceed to examine the recent June 2017 voter turnout in the elections in France, the United Kingdom and Puerto Rico. We will then look at the intrinsic irrationality of citizens voting for elite politicos as opposed to the solid good sense of the popular classes rejection of elite elections and their turn to extra-parliamentary action.

Puerto Rico’s Referendum

The major TV networks (NBC, ABC and CBS) and the prestigious print media (New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times and Washington Post) hailed the ‘overwhelming victory’ of the recent pro-annexationist vote in Puerto Rico. They cited the 98% vote in favor of becoming a US state!

The media ignored the fact that a mere 28% of Puerto Ricans participated in the elections to vote for a total US takeover. Over 77% of the eligible voters abstained or boycotted the referendum.

In other words, over three quarters of the Puerto Rican people rejected the sham ‘political elite election’. Instead, the majority voted with their feet in the streets through direct action.

France’s Micro-Bonaparte

In the same way, the mass media celebrated what they dubbed a ‘tidal wave’ of electoral support for French President Emmanuel Macron and his new party, ‘the Republic in March’. Despite the enormous media propaganda push for Macron, a clear majority of the electorate (58%) abstained or spoiled their ballots, therefore rejecting all parties and candidates, and the entire French electoral system. This hardly constitutes a ‘tidal wave’ of citizen support in a democracy.

During the first round of the parliamentary election, President Macron’s candidates received 27% of the vote, barely exceeding the combined vote of the left socialist and nationalist populist parties, which had secured 25% of the vote. In the second round, Macron’s party received less then 20% of the eligible vote.

In other words, the anti-Macron rejectionists represented over three quarters of the French electorate. After these elections a significant proportion of the French people – especially among the working class –will likely choose extra-parliamentary direct action, as the most democratic expression of representative politics.

The United Kingdom: Class Struggle and the Election Results

The June 2017 parliamentary elections in the UK resulted in a minority Conservative regime forced to form an alliance with the fringe Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a far-right para-military Protestant party from Northern Ireland. The Conservatives received 48% of registered voters to 40% who voted for the Labor Party. However, 15 million citizens, or one-third of the total electorate abstained or spoiled their ballots. The Conservative regime’s plurality represented 32% of the electorate.

Despite a virulent anti-Labor campaign in the oligarch-controlled mass media, the combined Labor vote and abstaining citizens clearly formed a majority of the population, which will be excluded from any role the post-election oligarchic regime despite the increase in the turnout (in comparison to previous elections).

Elections: Oligarchs in Office, Workers in the Street

The striking differences in the rate of abstention in France, Puerto Rico and the UK reflect the levels of class dissatisfaction and rejection of electoral politics.


The UK elections provided the electorate with something resembling a class alternative in the candidacy of Jeremy Corbyn. The Labor Party under Corbyn presented a progressive social democratic program promising substantial and necessary increases in social welfare spending (health, education and housing) to be funded by higher progressive taxes on the upper and upper middle class.

Corbyn’s foreign policy promised to end the UK’s involvement in imperial wars and to withdraw troops from the Middle East. He also re-confirmed his long opposition to Israel’s colonial land-grabbing and oppression of the Palestinian people, as a principled way to reduce terrorist attacks at home.

In other words, Corbyn recognized that introducing real class-based politics would increase voter participation. This was especially true among young voters in the 18-25 year age group, who were among the UK citizens most harmed by the loss of stable factory jobs, the doubling of university fees and the cuts in national health services.

In contrast, the French legislative elections saw the highest rate of voter abstention since the founding of the 5th Republic. These high rates reflect broad popular opposition to ultra-neo-liberal President Francois Macron and the absence of real opposition parties engaged in class struggle.

The lowest voter turn-out (28%) occurred in Puerto Rico. This reflects growing mass opposition to the corrupt political elite, the economic depression and the colonial and semi-colonial offerings of the two-major parties. The absence of political movements and parties tied to class struggle led to greater reliance on direct action and voter abstention.

Clearly class politics is the major factor determining voter turnout. The absence of class struggle increases the power of the elite mass media, which promotes the highly divisive identity politics and demonizes left parties. All of these increase both abstention and the vote for rightwing politicians, like Macron.

The mass media grossly inflated the significance of the right’s election victories of the while ignoring the huge wave of citizens rejecting the entire electoral process. In the case of the UK, the appearance of class politics through Jeremy Corbyn increased voter turnout for the Labor Party. However, Labor has a history of first making left promises and ending up with right turns. Any future Labor betrayal will increase voter abstention.

The established parties and the media work in tandem to confine elections to a choreographed contest among competing elites divorced from direct participation by the working classes. This effectively excludes the citizens who have been most harmed by the ruling class’ austerity programs implemented by successive rightist and Social Democratic parties.

The decision of many citizens not to vote is based on taking a very rational and informed view of the ruling political elites who have slashed their living standards often by forcing workers to compete with immigrants for low paying, unstable jobs. It is deeply rational for citizens to refuse to vote within a rigged system, which only worsens their living conditions through its attacks on the public sector, social welfare and labor codes while cutting taxes on capital.


The vast majority of citizens in the wage and salaried class do not trust the political elites. They see electoral campaigns as empty exercises, financed by and for plutocrats.

Most citizens recognize (and despise) the mass media as elite propaganda megaphones fabricating ‘popular’ images to promote anti-working class politicians, while demonizing political activists engaged in class-based struggles.

Nevertheless, elite elections will not produce an effective consolidation of rightwing rule. Voter abstention will not lead to abstention from direct action when the citizens recognize their class interests are in grave jeopardy.

The Macron regime’s parliamentary majority will turn into an impotent minority as soon as he tries carry out his elite promise to slash the jobs of hundreds of thousands of French public sector workers, smash France’s progressive labor codes and the industry-wide collective bargaining system and pursue new colonial wars.

Puerto Rico’s profound economic depression and social crisis will not be resolved through a referendum with only 28% of the voter participation. Large-scale demonstrations will preclude US annexation and deepen mass demands for class-based alternatives to colonial rule.

Conservative rule in the UK is divided by inter-elite rivalries both at home and abroad. ‘Brexit’, the first step in the break-up of the EU, opens opportunities for deeper class struggle. The social-economic promises made by Jeremy Corbyn and his left-wing of the Labor Party energized working class voters, but if it does not fundamentally challenge capital, it will revert to being a marginal force.

The weakness and rivalries within the British ruling class will not be resolved in Parliament or by any new elections.

The demise of the UK, the provocation of a Conservative-DUP alliance and the end of the EU (BREXIT) raises the chance for successful mass extra-parliamentary struggles against the authoritarian neo-liberal attacks on workers’ civil rights and class interests.

Elite elections and their outcomes in Europe and elsewhere are laying the groundwork for a revival and radicalization of the class struggle.

In the final analysis class rule is not decided via elite elections among oligarchs and their mass media propaganda. Once dismissed as a ‘vestige of the past’, the revival of class struggle is clearly on the horizon.

(Republished from The James Petras Website by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Elections, Neoliberalism 
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  1. A much needed analysis by Mr. Petras. Here in Brazil it is becoming increasingly apparent that extra-electoral manifestations are the only path left for the destitute classes. The only name to which the Left seems able to garner votes is the eternal Luiz da Silva, who has pandered to Capital all through his political career, and will possibly become inelectable anyway, by upcoming criminal convictions.

    • Replies: @jilles dykstra
  2. “In the final analysis class rule is not decided via elite elections among oligarchs and their mass media propaganda. Once dismissed as a ‘vestige of the past’, the revival of class struggle is clearly on the horizon.”

    Globalism is the new Feudalism. In the U.S. the serfs still think they are “middle class”.

    Only the working class can help the working class. This truism is being re-learned.

    • Agree: jacques sheete
  3. We see in any country with a district voting system how democracy does not function: USA, GB and France.
    The Dutch equal representation system is far superior, the present difficulties of forming a government reflect the deep divisions in Dutch society.
    These deep divisions should be clear anywhere, now that the struggle between globalisation and nationalism is in full swing.

    • Replies: @Wizard of Oz
  4. @Brás Cubas

    In nearly the whole of S America elections just reflect the struggle between two or more groups of rich people for power.

  5. The vast majority citizens (sic) in the wage and salaried class do not trust the political elites. They see electoral campaigns as empty exercises, financed by and for plutocrats.

    And they’d be correct.

    What amazes me is how many “professional” people still smugly retain faith in an obviously rigged and parasitic system even as their independence is relentlessly eroded. Also, most of them, even the non-TV watchers, seem to slurp the usual propaganda about who the enemies supposedly are.

    Self reflection obviously ain’t their shtick. Maybe there’s comfort in denial and mythology.

    • Replies: @Drapetomaniac
  6. The DUP would be very quick to insist that they are not para-militaries. As would their Tweedledee, Sinn Féin (invariably referred to as ‘Sinn-Féin-I-R-A’ by the Unionist factions; not even banter).
    It is undeniable that in the past they have had links to UVF/UDA, both straight-up rightwing paramilitary thug outfits formed to mirror and combat the Provisionals and latterly the Continuity IRA and self-styled “Real IRA” nationalist/socialist thugs. And presumably do so to this day.
    “Everybody knows” that each political group is pretty much furtively hand-in-glove with their respective heavy mobs, and who’s in which one. It’s a wee tiny place, the Six Counties.

  7. Corbyn has definitely struck a rich vein of popularity (if not populism) among the “don’t vote it just encourages them” tendency, and a healthy majority of wealthy and not so wealthy young Brits. Listen to the Glasto crowd. He gets this everywhere now in public (and maybe at home, IDK).

    Remarkable transformation for somebody who only few years ago was a dull grey teadrinker from Camden Council, with a half-century-old cardigan and a Catweazle beard.
    Even The Demon Blair could never raise this sort of adulation.

    • Replies: @Wally
  8. eD says:

    I want to like the article, but Petras gives three examples, all of which are bad examples for different reasons.

    In the case of Puerto Rico, opposition parties campaigned, not for people to vote and to vote against the government position, but to abstain altogether. This is a long standing political tactic of opposition parties and other examples can be found. Its not used that often because its usually a better tactic to just try to get people to get out and vote against the government. However, it can work if there is a minimum turnout requirement for the election to be valid, which is often the case in referenda and seems to be here. But this is evident of people rejecting the government position, not the entire system. Voters obviously responded to the pro-Commonwealth status campaign. By the way, usually referenda on things like independence, or in this case statehood, get unusually high turnout, it was the opposite this time because of the opposition tactic.

    On the other hand, in the 2017 French elections there really was a high amount of non-organized or dis-organized abstention on the part of pissed off voters. The problem with Petras account is that this was in fact widely covered in French media and by French political analysts, with commentary along the lines of “these people must be really pissed off not to vote!”.

    In the recent UK elections turnout was both quite high and increased, so I have no idea wtf Petras is talking about here.

    If the examples used weren’t so ridiculously bad the article could be OK I guess.

    High abstention rates occur when big chunks of the electorate suspect that the elections are rigged, usually by means of vote counting fraud, but effective or legal restrictions on who can run or who can vote can do the job. The rigging might even take the form of discarding ballots, which is the most common form in the US, which means turnout would be recorded as low even if people tried to vote!

    Keep in mind that with universal suffrage, it seems consistently that about a quarter of the electorate has no interest in participating in electoral politics whatever the situation. If forced to vote by law, they will spoil their ballots, vote for parties that campaign to end the democratic system, or not vote anyway and suffer whatever legal penalties are imposed. Reasonably healthy democracies can get to turnouts of around 70% fairly consistently. Anything less should be taken as evidence of widespread electoral fraud.

    • Replies: @Wizard of Oz
  9. TG says:

    Modern “Democracy” is a system for privatizing power and socializing responsibility. The elites get the power, the masses have to take responsibility for the consequences. because, of course, it’s a ‘democracy.’

    Bottom line: political systems are to a great extent irrelevant. Putting your faith in any system: monarchy, socialism, representative democracy, parliamentary democracy, checks and balances, etc., is a mistake. There is (almost) no system that cannot be made to muddle through if the elites have some consideration for the society as a whole. And there is absolutely no system that cannot be easily corrupted if the elites care only about themselves.

    • Agree: Wizard of Oz
  10. Daniel Thom says: • Website

    I recommend not voting because it is not ethical to send a non-corrupt person to Washington. The United States is too powerful.

    I did not like Donald Trump because he had a pro-business agenda which he executed immediately when he gained the presidency.

    However, it was obvious that by April he was following a different agenda.

    I will not be responsible to see anything happen to Jill Stein or anyone else.

    • Replies: @Wally
  11. @jilles dykstra

    In nearly the whole of S America elections just reflect the struggle between two or more groups of rich people for power.

    The same could be said for the revolution of 1776, and it continues in the US today.

    I said, “No, there is a great difference. Taft is amiable imbecility. Wilson is willful and malicious imbecility and I prefer Taft.”
    Roosevelt then said : “Pettigrew, you know the two old parties are just alike. They are both controlled by the same influences, and I am going to organize a new party ” a new political party ” in this country based upon progressive principles.
    “Roosevelt then said : “Pettigrew, you know the two old parties are just alike. They are both controlled by the same influences…”

    – R. F. Pettigrew, “Imperial Washington,” The story of American Public life from 1870 to 1920 (1922), p 234;id=yale.39002002948025;view=1up;seq=7;start=1;sz=10;page=search;orient=0

  12. I recommend not voting because it is not ethical to send a non-corrupt person to Washington. The United States is too powerful.

    Good recommendation and for a good reason.

    I’d say that it’s unethical to send anyone to Washington since there is too much wealth and power concentrated in the hands of too few, ethical or not.

    In fact, the record shows that few men are worthy to wield much power at all and a system such as we have is almost guaranteed to produce hideous, irresponsible monsters if not downright sadistic ones (like Hillary, for instance).

    Instead of talking about draining the swamp, we should have flushed the toilet long go. Now we have to live with the stench.

  13. bluedog says:
    @jilles dykstra

    Yes indeed just like it is here in the election between Clinton and Trump, two packs of wolves fighting over the sheep…

  14. The primary reason why lots of working class people don’t vote is because they dislike the liberal policy combinations offered by the elite-controlled political parties. Most working class people are socially conservative and economically moderate, while most wealthy, educated people are socially and economically liberal, so mainstream political parties only offer liberal policy packages.

    Modern representative democracy was designed in the late 19th Century to allow for some democratic representation for the middle class while protecting the bourgeois elites from the rule of the mob. That may have been a reasonable concern at the time, but it now means tyranny of the liberal elites.

    The solution is to reduce the power of political parties, either by making political parties more accountable to their grass roots supporters or getting rid of political parties and directly electing government ministers.

  15. @eD

    A well informed comment without the kind of Marxist or other blinkers on that Petras wears. But I question the last sentence. Electoral fraud could work to add votes as well as destroy or lose them and vigilance is needed anyway. Are there highly numerate and worldly wise psephologists with adequate research funding who are acting plausibly to keep a check on the way the bureaucratic guardians of our electoral processes do their job? (All sorts of factors could make a big difference in the proportion who vote. Is it part of the culture one was broùght up in to believe that one had a duty to do one’s modest best to participate? Are there a lot of elections at sometimes inconvenient times within a short space of time? Is there a genuine problem deciding between the only candidates who might win on either grand moral or national policy grounds or even simple self interest? Is it assumed only one candidate can possibly win the seat? That last is one of the few arguments for proportional representatiion because a dutiful voter who has a preference for one party will make his infinitesimal contribution by voting).

    Even Australia with its 80 to 90+ per cent turnouts to vote in sometimes complicated elections with mixed Alternative Vote/Preferential and proportional representation for the different houses of parliament (and not much “informal” voting as protest) exhibits the growing weaknesses of democracies. That is, as I propose to write in another comment, the corruption of respect for the oligarchs (whether traditional upper and upper middle classes or labour bosses), the replacement of the class that went into politics as a duty by professiinal calculating careerists – plus opportunistic extremists – and the growth of a sense of entitlement which ptobably adds up by now to 150 per cent of all that is or can be. Thanks to China’s huge appetite for Australian resources and products Australian democracy can stagger on with scope even for absurd fantasies e.g. about Australia’s proper level of masochism in rejecting coal for energy when it can make absolutely no difference to Australia – except to make it poorer.

  16. @unpc downunder

    Your version of history differs from mine. 1832 and even 1867 in the UK still built in some protection from the unpropertied lower orders (and 100 per cent from women – publicly anyway) but Australian colonial suffrage was typically the alarming manhood suffrage with only property qualification for some upper house elections as a break on the masses’ savage expropriatory instincts – not too much to be feared amongst ambitious colonial strivers in fact. The general assumption that everyone with an IQ of 100 and a degree in Fashionable Jargon-ridden Muddled Thinking is as worth listening to as anyone from the tradional educated bougeois or landed elite has inevitably put politics into the hands of the ruthless, often arriviste careerists.

    Please think again about your last par. which I suggest is a prescription for (even worse) disaster. The idea of getting rid of political parties (how?) is as unrealistic as having the bored populace vote directly for membership of the executive government who, in parliamentary systems at least, have to command legislative majorities to be effective. And why do you think responsiveness to those few who join political parties is likely to benefit the wider public when you consider what has been wrought in the UK Labour Party by election of the leader by a flood of new young members wlling to pay £3 to join!! I believe the Tories have also moved in that idiotic direction. Imagine even the comparatively simple business of making motor cars being headed by a CEO who had campaigned for votes amingst all workers who had been employed for more than 4 weeks with promises of squeezing shareholders and doubling wages.

  17. @jilles dykstra

    Your observation seems to depend for its truth on people (and you?) seeing politics and national life as a zero sum game with no chance of increase in wealth or other good things of life. That seems to be a logical attitude only in countries which sre still Malthusian like say Niger with its TFF of 7! Is that a tealistic assessment of 2017 South America, or most of it?

  18. @jilles dykstra

    I had in mind your comment when writing part of my last par in #17 which I won’t repeat.

    But allow me to expŕess astonishment at the idea that a truly sovereign nation benefits from an electoral system which so represents irreconcilable differences in society that a government cannot be formed. The Netherlands comfortable position as a minor feature of the EU makes it perhaps less of a problem than, at least potentially, it is for Israel. Whenever Israel handles anything really stupidly it is a good bet that it is during wrangling over putting together a majority government.

    Another problem with PR well illustrated by Israel that you don’t mention is that citizens have no local member who has to show that he cares about his constituents’ concerns and actually gets to know about them. That, for the average citizen has to be a really important matter. In Australia we have just seen a pretty dodgy Chinese government aligned businessman/ donor to the New South Wales Labor Party rewarded with nomination to a winnable place in the PR election of the Senate. There is no way he would be put forward to win votes in a local electorate of thousands of voters rather than millions.

  19. eD says:

    I had seen this blog post when I read this, but didn’t think of it. But its germane and kind of fun to read:

    Why was there such low turnout in some recent elections in New Jersey? Its because the people who run New Jersey wanted there to be low turnout!

  20. @jacques sheete

    Democracy is a process of entrusting your well-being to those least worthy of being trusted.

    Only dupes needed.

  21. @unpc downunder

    My idea is to have rolling elections to decide who gets to lead the main government departments (including the position of PM). One year, we might vote on who gets to be the foreign and immigration ministers (from a selection of candidates) the next year we might vote on who gets to the education and health ministers. The year after we might decide who gets to be PM. From these elections a small executive committee meets and decides government policy, and if a particular ministers fails to push his policies very effectively, he get’s voted out in the next election cycle. Highly amateurish candidates are unlikely to be selected as they won’t be able to get along with other ministers, similarly far right or far left candidates are unlikely to get enough votes to get into power.

    I also don’t get the point of your criticism, you are basically saying that most people will vote for whoever offers the most extravagant promises, which is outdated snobbery rather than logical thinking. Most modern voters take technocratic/managerial competence very seriously (as the recent failure of populist Marine Le Pen versus the technocrat Macron illustrates). They take technocratic competence seriously because unlike 19th Century factory workers who owned nothing, they are concerned about property values and interest rates and pension funds and other matters that only rich people worried about in the past.

    The failure of populist parties in Europe to break through and deal with the looming immigration disaster is precising because a lot of people are nervous of voting for amateur parties that lack managerial experience in a number of policy areas ( I worry about the African population bomb leading to the destruction of the West, but not if voting for a populist endangers my pension fund). Given the choice, most people will vote for candidates who combine technocratic competence with policies ideas that are broadly in line with what the majority of people want. Hence, under the system I suggest a populist candidate like Le Pen can run specifically on immigration (and have a good chance of getting into government and having some influence) without having to pretend to be an expert on everything from the Euro to health care.

    If politics is being taken over by amoral careerists it is because modern political parties are increasingly two-faced organisations that pretend to listen to the concerns of ordinary people (in a saccharin liberal way) while only listening to corporations and big city left-wing NGOs. They may have been more genuinely democratic and public interest driven in the days when we had a more homogeneous society with less urbanisation and fewer super rich, but they aren’t now.

  22. Entire text can be summarized in one question: oligarchich leftist parties are not oligarchic, only those on the right??

  23. polistra says:

    Most people have learned by now that voting is a decorative filigree. All candidates are identical. Only referenda COULD make a meaningful change, but any referendum that displeases Deepstate is immediately overruled by a black-robed criminal. Even refusing to vote is futile because the “two” “parties” always design their campaigns to minimize the number of voters. The “two” “parties” want only the mechanical PartyBots voting, so they carefully disgust and repel non-mechanical voters. When you refuse to vote, you’re doing what the “parties” want you to do.

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