Although it dates from the 1950s, this article puts the case against the lesser evil argument rather well and still remains relevant today.
Critics of the Labour Government are rapidly increasing in number. With daily increases in the cost of living, whilst wages climb at tortoise pace in pursuit; with the ever growing threat of war and the prospect of devastating atomic warfare; with some essential foodstuffs and other commodities being rationed down to infinitesimal quantities, the Labour Government stands accused of being the cause of it all. That is the fate of all politicians who undertake the job of capitalist government. The government of the day, whether it be Conservative, Liberal Labour or Coalition, always bears the brunt of criticism for the prevailing bad conditions. Socialists do not subscribe to this idea. They do not claim that the problems that confront the workers today arise because of the Labour Government, but rather, in spite of a Labour Government. These problems arise from the capitalist society in which we live and governments are powerless to prevent them.
This does not mean that a government has no power to affect the prevailing conditions. The outbreak of war may be advanced or postponed by a particular government policy. Governmental action can cause the meat ration to be increased or it can cause it to dwindle to an even less amount. One government might cause a few more houses to be built than would another or one government might impose import duties where another would remove them. One could introduce harsh anti-working-class legislation whilst another could repeal it. Although a capitalist government can modify, amend, adjust and generally tinker around with the problems that confront it, it is powerless to remove them.
Amongst the critics of the Labour Party are many erstwhile staunch supporters whose votes help to put that party in power. It is not in the least unusual these days to hear Labour Party supporters vehemently denouncing the government for doing things that should have been left undone and not doing things that should be done. They will readily admit the shortcomings of Labour ministers and oppose the Labour Government’s policy. They will agree that socialism is the only solution to working class problems, but—BUT—as it is not possible to establish immediately they intend to support the lesser of two evils, the Labour Party in preference to the Conservatives. “The lesser of two evils”—how often the workers have been hoodwinked by that notion! As though one capitalist political party was even a little bit preferable to another. As though there is anything to chose between them as far as the workers are concerned. As the Irishman is reputed to have said, “The only difference between them is that they are all alike.” Looking back over the years of working class struggle, under all kinds of governments, should be sufficient evidence that the workers’ position is not altered whenever there is a change of government Giving the workers the choice of two political parties, each competing for the job of administering capitalism, is like giving the Christmas goose the choice of being roasted or boiled.
If it were true that one particular party was likely to be less harmful to working class interests than another, there is still no means of telling which one it is. The German workers in 1932 selected what they considered to be the lesser evil when they elected Hindenburg as president in preference to his opponent. Hitler. But a year later Hindenburg appointed Hitler to the chancellorship of Germany and the German workers had both evils to contend with. After nearly 30 years of Labour Government in New Zealand the workers there have apparently come to the conclusion that there is a lesser evil than the Labour Government and have kicked it out. Working class supporters of the Conservative Party will, of course, claim that their party is the lesser evil. The fact of the matter is, that all capitalist governments are evils from the viewpoint of the working class, and the minor differences that exist between them are reflections of the sectional interests of the capitalist class. The promises, plans and programmes that they present at election times are only possible of fulfilment if the capitalist system allows. Whether a particular government smites the workers with a velvet gloved hand or a mailed fist depends on the capitalist needs of the moment. In times of crisis for the capitalist class it will be as ruthless with its workers as it dares and the government then in office will have to do the dirty work. If a government is at all inclined to leniency in favour of the workers, all the might of the combined sections of the capitalist class will be turned to achieve that government’s destruction. But as Labour Parties, like Conservative Parties, are parties of capitalism, they can be relied upon to serve capitalist interests in opposition to the workers. If capital needs increased production, it is the job of the existing government to see that it is increased; if capital wants wages frozen, it is the task of the government to put them in the refrigerator; if capital is forced to fight for its fields for investment and its markets, it is the job of the government to whip up the workers and send them off to kill or be killed; and if the workers embarrass capital by striking, it is the job of the government to use the troops that it controls to “preserve law and order.”
International capital will drag governments around by their ears. The Rumanian Government, just before the last world war, was re-shuffled a number of times first at the dictates of German capitalism then at the dictates of British. The members of the political organisation known as the Iron Guard were first taken into the Rumanian Government, then turned out and later brought in again. The British Government is now leaning heavily on American Capitalism. The British army will operate under an American general and the British Atlantic fleet will take its orders from an American admiral. Because American capital wills it. Just as, where British capital holds sway, there can be found native armies officered by Britons. No matter what the politicians may say, the position would not be seriously altered if any other party formed the government.
Socialism is the solution to the workers’ problems and until they establish socialism they will have to put up with capitalism and all its attendant evils. The great need is to convince the workers of the necessity for socialism and that will not be done by telling them to support a capitalist party because it is considered to be a “ lesser evil ” than some other party. By that means they will be giving support to the capitalist class to prolong this system and delay the establishment of socialism. By supporting the capitalist parties the workers are forming the tail-end of capitalist politics. Those who urge them to do that and betraying working class interests.
The workers must be urged to break completely with the political parties of capitalism, whether openly pro-capitalist like the Conservatives or avowedly pro-labour like the Labour Party. They must be brought to realise that they must join a political party, separate from and opposed to the capitalist parties. Socialism is an immediate necessity. As long as capitalism lasts there will be wars, poverty, insecurity and all the rest of the evils that flow from this system. There is no “lesser evil ” to be found by supporting any one of the capitalist parties in preference to another.
If a man is robbed by two thieves, it is in his interest to regain his property, not to take sides with one thief or the other in their differences about the share-out of their loot, even if one of them has got a kind-looking face. When he tries to get his stolen property back he will soon find that the two robbers will sink their differences and gang up to prevent him recovering his goods. They will both be vicious and he must oppose the two of them or else find himself “between the devil and the deep blue sea.”