BBC News reports that riots have followed elections in Nigeria, with all the usual allegations of ballot-rigging accompanying President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election. Mainstream commentators have been quick to point out “the huge division between the Muslim north and Christian south,” but we might wonder about the impact of some other divisions, namely those of class.
Though natural resources such as oil are plentiful in Nigeria, “high levels of poverty” afflict the working classes, a condition of the state allowing a small elite to capture the wealth of those resources. When the President insists “that what is happening is not ethnic, religious or regional,” then, his assurances are much more accurate than he would likely admit.
Having realized that elections and the spurious “democratic” counter-information of the state are a losing game, discouraged Nigerian youths are resorting to violent protest as an alternative to the sham political process. While their frustrations are well-justified by years of political injustice, scattered violence against the state will only bolster its claims to provide security and authority. In place of both futile elections and arbitrary violence, market anarchism points to another road to a free society, a nonviolent path based on individuals routing around the coercive impediments of statism.
Wherever it functions within the larger framework of aggression and exploitation created by the state, democracy, at least as anything more than parade of trite “civil spiritedness,” is reduced to a nullity. Only a fragmentary semblance of choice occupies the electoral spectacles of the ruling class, who remain comfortably enshrined in positions of power and privilege irrespective of each waxing and waning of the “democratic process.”
As the popular maxim teaches, if voting could change anything, it would be illegal, and — sure enough — the state renders democracy itself illegal in practice. Democracy is but an impotent invocation if it doesn’t translate into a substantive or meaningful influence within the institutions one has membership within. And especially where that membership isn’t itself predicated on a real choice, democracy ends up looking like a vacant formality.
The real democracy of market anarchism, functioning on all societal institutions, would open to real choice — to “social power” — all of those areas of human interaction that are now yoked to the coercive practices of the state. As an ethical system, market anarchism maintains that free individuals should not be indentured to the institutions that dominate their lives, but that those institutions ought to serve their members; it is the “extremist” position that sovereignty and authority begin equally in each person, and thus that organizations cannot claim any prerogatives that a lone individual couldn’t claim.
The democracy of the state, on the other hand, is premised on the idea that some people ought to rule, to make the important decisions about our lives, and that we ought to be satisfied with a periodically-presented false choice. “Apparently,” mused Gore Vidal, “a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates.”
The riots in Nigeria are an expression, however misguided, of the frustration underneath the people’s tacit knowledge that it is violence lying just below the surface of the pomp and circumstance of campaigns and ballot boxes. However much self-delusion we engage in, however enlivened by the candidates, we all take it for granted — even if only in unspoken disgruntlement — that the structural foundations of social and economic life are a constant.
Market anarchists agree that elections can offer no progress toward the goal of genuine change, but we most assuredly do not regard the state, its institutions or its systems of interaction as inevitable. To break the cycle of violence imposed by statism, we must disobey its edicts and organize for our own well-being — and do both in large enough numbers as to make it impossible for the state to stamp out our peaceful revolution.
Its counter-revolution will surely rise to meet our insubordination, but let the state own groundless, authoritarian force while we fix on cooperation and trade.