Political democracy is not, or is not just only, a trick whereby the capitalist class gets the working class to endorse their rule. It is a potential instrument that the working class can turn into a weapon to use in ending capitalism and class rule. No-one can be exactly sure which form the revolutionary process will take but the Socialist Party has always held that the potential use of parliament as part of a revolutionary process may prove vital in neutralising the ruling class's hold on state power. For us, this is the most effective way of abolishing the state and ushering in the revolutionary society. The working class cannot enter the class war with one arm tied behind its back. People who come into contact with the Socialist Party and learn that we advocate revolution are often surprised that the revolution we urge is one that can be brought about by parliamentary means. We stand for democratic revolutionary political action and the two futile policies of insurrection and reformism can be avoided by building up a socialist party composed of and supported by convinced socialists only. When a majority of workers are socialist-minded and organised, they can use their votes to elect to Parliament delegates pledged to use political power for the one revolutionary act of dispossessing the capitalist class by converting the means of production and distribution into the property of the whole community. Our argument is that, if socialists are in a minority, any attempt at armed uprising would be suicidal folly. If on the other hand, socialists are in the majority then an armed insurrection is unnecessary as the majority can use the ballot box to send delegates to parliament to take over political control.
The Socialist Party has always emphasised that a majority must be educated in the essentials of socialist principles and have a party democratically organised to achieve socialism. In our Declaration of Principles, we stress the necessity of capturing the machinery of government including the armed forces. That is the fundamental thing. The method, though important, is second to this. We have never held that a merely formal majority at the polls will give the workers all the necessary power to establish socialism. Rather, it is the quality of the voters behind the vote that, in the revolutionary struggle, will be decisive. Our position is that easiest and surest way for a socialist majority to gain control of political power in order to establish socialism is to use the existing electoral machinery to send a majority of mandated socialist delegates to the various parliaments of the world. This is why we advocate using Parliament; not to try to reform capitalism but for the purpose of abolishing capitalism and converting the means of production and distribution into the common property of the whole of society. The working class will also organise itself, at the various places of work, in order to keep production going, but nothing can be accomplished there until the machinery of coercion which is the state has been taken out of the hands of the capitalist class by political action. As the SPGB said in 1915 "The workers must prepare themselves for their emancipation by class-conscious organisation on both the political and the economic fields, the first to gain control of the forces with which the masters maintain their dominance, the second to carry on production in the new order of things".
There are a wide variety of potential scenarios for revolution. We would be fools if we limit ourselves to what is theoretically perfect rather than asking the question "what do we actually need to make a revolution?" and proceeding on that basis. The problem is not getting people to think "socialism is a good idea" but also transforming that into mass social action. We need to be able to act in an imperfect world rather than waiting for a perfect one. Revolution is not merely an announcement of a successful ballot, it is a process, and the process itself will draw our fellow-workers into the struggle. The revolution makes the mass party - the actual date that power can be seen to shift to ourselves is not the beginning, but the beginning of a different phase. The revolution has a snowball effect. The more change is imminent, the faster and bigger it grows and rolls, without conscious direction of leaders, as many vanguardists and social democrats have often found. You cannot stop an idea when its time has come, as it is frequently said. In the event that the capitalist class faced with defeat proceeded to disfranchise the workers and constitutional methods are closed to us and the only course left open is secret organisation and force – so be it. The methods to be adopted must be determined by the circumstances of the time. The actions of our class enemies against the successes of the socialist movement must determine our own subsequent responses. The Socialist Party position is honest in that we don't know what the characteristics of revolution will look like in detail but we do think we know what it won't look like. For so long as capitalist political parties and their agents control the law-making bodies, the armed forces, courts and police, the administrative and tax-gathering departments, local councils, etc, all organisations and actions, whether industrial or political, are strictly limited in their scope because whenever the government decides that a vital capitalist interest is seriously threatened it will use all of its powers to protect capitalist property and privilege. The government's ability to take such action depends on the willingness of the workers in government administration, the armed forces, and police, etc to carry out orders. When the socialist movement becomes much stronger among the working class generally it will increasingly influence the outlook and sympathies of workers in the administration, armed forces, etc and the government's freedom of action will be correspondingly lessened.
The State is the form taken by the centre of social administration without which modern industrial society couldn't function. We want the working class to take it over and convert it into an unarmed democratic administration of things. We want to see an end to capitalist class rule not the breakdown of society. The workers en masse don't need to create a different and more democratic decision-making structure from the ground up. What they need to do is to take over and perfect the existing, historically-evolved structures. We don't need to construct socialist society from scratch; this is not the way social evolution works; there will be a degree of continuity between what exists now and what will exist in socialism as there always has been between one system of society and another. We are not utopian system-builders. You don't abolish the state, getting rid of your control of your society at the point of actually having won the thing, and then play at utopias. You grab it and hang on against anything the global capitalist class might throw at you. During this process, you are transforming the institutions you hold from capitalist into socialist ones.
What is indubitably understood by the Socialist Party is that to achieve socialism a clear understanding of socialist principles is required with an accompanying determined desire to put them into practice. Our theory of socialist revolution is that the position of the working class within capitalist society forces it to struggle against capitalist conditions of existence and as the workers gained more experience of the class struggle and the workings of capitalism, the labour movement would become more consciously socialist and democratically organised by the workers themselves and would require no intervention by people outside the working class to bring it. Socialist propaganda and agitation would indeed be necessary but would be carried out by workers themselves whose socialist ideas would have been derived from an interpretation of their class experience of capitalism. The end result would be an independent movement of the socialist-minded and democratically organised working class aimed at winning control of political power in order to abolish capitalism.
The workers' acceptance of capitalist political and social ideas, like their other ideas, is learned from other people--their parents, their schoolteachers, their workmates, the press, television--and so derived from society so it follows therefore that the struggle against capitalist ideology must also be a struggle to spread socialist ideas - a role taken on by the SPGB. Socialist ideas arise when workers begin to reflect on the general position of the working class within capitalist society. They do then have to be communicated to other workers, but not from outside the working class as a whole. They have to be communicated to other workers who, from their own experience and/or from absorbing the past experience of the working class, have come to a socialist understanding. It's not a question of enlightened outsiders bringing socialist ideas to the ignorant workers but of socialist-minded workers spreading socialist ideas amongst their fellow workers. We see socialist consciousness as emerging from a combination of two things - people's experience of capitalism and the problems it inevitably creates but also the activity of socialists in making hearing the case for socialism a part of that experience. The Socialist Party cannot control whether or not workers become socialists. What we can provide, and what we have continuously provided, is a theory of revolution which, if taken up by workers, will prevent incalculable misery to millions.