Not Voting is a Political Act



A Redline supporter and occasional contributor, Andy Warren, has set up a Facebook page called Not Voting is a Political Act.

You can check it out at:

Join in the discussion there, and here.

And, if you’re down south, don’t forget the meeting:

Saturday evening, September 13, 7pm
Dunedin Community House, 283 Moray Place

Dr Bryce Edwards (Otago University*; NZ politics commentator);
Malcolm Deans (Sec, Unions Otago* and member of Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement);
Colin Clarke (former member, Independent Working Class Association* in Britain; member, editorial group of Redline blog)
(Organisations/institutions mentioned for identification purposes only)



  1. And that’s fine.

    It’s much better for people to help themselves – and they’ll need a different set of institutions for that purpose. Namely, institutions they make, own and control.


    • Combined with them being adequately politicised institutions as well, since there is always the tension between resilient community organisations being a positive force – but also the basis to withdraw support across the board (where some of these community orgs may not have the same development).

      • Them being highly political was directly implied in them being made by, owned by and controlled by the mass of people. The mass of people won’t make such institutions until they are already at a rather more advanced political level than is the case today.

        Unfortunately, there are no signs in NZ that many people are interested in creating such institutions, the ultimate logic of whose creation would be a dual power situation. However, class-struggle marxists and class-struggle anarchists can propagandise for this as a more realistic way forward than the parliamentary circus.


      • Phil I’m not so sure, or I guess I’m more concerned that it will still be very possible for the capitalist state to coopt any positive stuff in the future if we’re not pretty damn vigilant?

  2. “Not voting” can’t be a “conscious political act” — it’s not an act at all.

    Simply abstaining from voting cannot have any meaning or send any kind of message, because protest non-votes are indistinguishable from apathy non-votes. So why dress it up as some kind of activism?


    • Well, since you feel strongly that your first statement is true, the rest must follow, eh Jill?

      That is referred to as a “Straw Man” argument – build it up as you want it, knock it down.

      Well – in reality – I have consciously decided to not vote. It is a conscious decision. I’ll be gardening instead. You’re right about “simply abstaining” – that’s why I’m not, simply abstaining, I’m engaged politically and doing my bit to convince others. I am politically active, and this is political activism. A million people didn’t vote in the last election – what’s your best guess on the makeup of that group?

    • Thomas wrote: “Phil I’m not so sure, or I guess I’m more concerned that it will still be very possible for the capitalist state to coopt any positive stuff in the future if we’re not pretty damn vigilant?”

      This is a reason why political clarity is so important. Of course, all kinds of radical movements can be co-opted. Political clarity, high levels of political consciousness and, as you say, vigilance, are all important.


  3. ‘Not Voting is a Political Act’ is not dialectical but a fanciful wish. Rather, there is a spectrum between apathy and not caring apoliticalness (individualism) on the one extreme, and it being a conscious political act. Not voting can be a political act, when it is accompanied with political and community direct action! Especially when such action exposes the fraud of bourgoise democracy. We should be advocating grassroots and participatory, community and workplace democracy that strives to achieve consensus. That is human.

    In Britain, before the late 1980’s there was space to influence the Labour Party and therefore the working class as a whole. I was in it and experienced incredible infights. But after the mid-late 1980s defeats of the miners, then council workers, then printers – all of which I was heavily active in – and when Tony Blair and New Labour (neo-liberalism) took over, the representative democracy morphed into pretence democracy – and it is now universal. Total capital control took over. We have to make a No Vote a political act, which amongst the majority of no voters it is not, not yet.

    I have followed the vote debate on Redline and am pleased that the vast bulk of contributions are for the no vote – I’ve especially liked Don Franks contribution.

    comradely – steve

  4. I don’t think Andy – or those of us at Redline who have decided not to vote – are saying that everyone who doesn’t vote is automatically making a clear and conscious political statement.

    Rather, we’re saying *We* are not voting, *we* are making this choice as a political act, and *we* are encouraging other people to not vote as a conscious political choice, rather than just not voting because they can’t be bothered or whatever (although even that is political in some small way; it reflects the fact that a sizeable section of the population is not engaged by the existing very narrow ‘democratic’ process).

    So it’s not a “fanciful wish” (to Steve) and it’s not “not an act at all” (to Jill). Nor are we trying to send a message, in the sense that we have no interest in sending messages to the powers that be.

    There is, however, a message to be sent to thinking, politically-aware people who are equivocating between voting and not voting and to people who just don’t bother to vote because it’s meaningless. Those two groups of people, the second one obviously being far, far the largest, are the folks we are interested in engaging with.

    I think suggesting people not vote and, instead, they start considering alternatives to the existing faux-democratic set-up is very positive. Much more positive than campaigning for a vote for any of the existing parties, all of whom are about administering capitalism rather than ending it. Why would anti-capitalists vote for any party which aims to administer capitalism?

    The only real weakness of this stance that I can see is that we should have taken it some time ago, so we could actively campaign for the position and start getting a bit of debate in the media, a media which is currently full of schmaltzy ads telling people to vote.

    However, there has been some stuff in the media about not voting as a perfectly legitimate course and there was an interesting debate at Otago University a few weeks back in which the not voting position was really well argued by Richard Jackson (a professor in the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies) and pols lecturer and commentator Bryce Edwards.


  5. I see this as an attempt to divide the left and disempower it. When the oligarchy see a low voter turnout they get a greater mandate. Such as the challenge to the Montreal Protocol which was protecting the ozone layer. Please see the Facebook link from this thread.

    • The left is already divided and rather exhausted, in case you hadn’t noticed Brian. Anyone “on the left” who is voting is simply deluded in my opinion. Your acceptance of Representative Parliament and elections is uncritical – the state is the machinery of Capitalist oppression that we are fighting against – the sham democracy they offer is about checking that enough of us are still asleep.

      • I suspect that the Scottish Yes vote poll (independence) is increasing after the hawkish appearance of the UK PM about Ukraine. If people don’t vote they look asleep.

      • “the sham democracy they offer is about checking that enough of us are still asleep.”

        Brilliant! I hope you don’t mind if I use this some time, great way of putting it.


    • In response to the Not Voting argument, Brian wrote: “I see this as an attempt to divide the left and disempower it.”

      Brian, who do you see as “the left”?


      • There is a strange assumption that the Left needs to be totally united on all questions. I’m not sure where it comes from but I don’t think it’s sensible really. Being able to co-exist in relatively awkward disagreement, but still comradely ways, seems like a better course to take

  6. In reply to Brian’s comments about the Scottish referendum:

    Although nothing will change for Scottish workers if the ‘Yes’ side wins, I can at least understand why people would vote in that referendum; it is about a ‘big issue’ and there will be a political change as a result of the vote (it’s not like referenda in this country).

    But there will be no similar constitutional change as a result of the 2014 election in NZ. If Labour gets in they might slightly amend the industrial legislation passed by National, but they will also lengthen the time workers have to work (by extending the retirement age).

    A scrap will be given and a bunch of scraps will be taken away. Why join in the unedifying spectacle of fighting over scraps, especially when Labour’s scraps are so unappetising anyway.


  7. If “Those who try not to externalise costs onto others” are the left, then that rules out Labour and the Greens for instance.


  8. “If “Those who try not to externalise costs onto others” are the left, then that rules out Labour and the Greens for instance.” Well those who try to get away from a system where costs are externalised on to others. Slavery, environmental degradation. Cultural deprivation. What you are saying is like it is a cost on Roger Douglas to convert his battery pig farm to a more humane farm. No it is not a cost, it is the return of a profit he never should have had.

  9. The most coherent argument I’ve encountered in favour of the strategy of Third Way mixups of social democracy (e.g. from Labour itself to eco-insipidity to Mana+’Internet’, on a scale of establishment liberalism to confused populism) that I’ve heard, by Fred Jameson, is that we should support them because they will fail, inevitably, and so, dialectically contribute with that failure to the next step.

    That position reminds me of the dilemma of Zeno’s paradox. If the tortoise is proletarian revolution, and the hare is that amorphous blob of variously coloured dissatisfaction that is the radical left, you could posit an infinite series of steps before we reach the hare.

    This seems to presume a certain mechanical conception of history, where the future is simply the (quantitative) continuance of the present situation, which excludes the possibility of an Event (1789, 1848, 1871, 1917, 1968) i.e. something that disrupts the current situation, or in more Hegelian-Marxist terms, ‘qualitative’ change in the historical situation.

    • We need a way to outwit the cost-externalisation types before they damage us irreparably. Evolution happens within niches. When the niche goes there can be no more evolution of that species. If we lose humans and are left with cockroaches is that evolution?

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