People talk incessantly about “The System”. “The System is bad”, “The System must be changed”. “Vote for me, because I am going to change The System”. What system, exactly?
The original theory of democracy envisaged popular participation in the running of affairs, what is called "participatory democracy". This is the sort of democracy the Socialist Party of Great Britain favour but we know the most we will get under capitalism is the right to vote, under more-or-less fair conditions, for who shall control political power— a minimalist form of democracy that at least provides a mechanism whereby a socialist majority could vote in socialist delegates instead of capitalist politicians. This form of politics is an effective antidote to bureaucratism, radical in the sense that it is not simply concentrating on the issue of democracy but upon the whole concept of leadership. Socialism is not the result of blind faith, followers, or, by the same token, vanguards and leaders. Nothing is more repugnant to socialism than clever strategisms and conspiratorial tactics. Socialism is not possible without socialists.
Political action must be taken by the conscious majority, without depending upon leadership. It is upon the working class as a whole that the working class must rely for their emancipation. Valuable work may be done by individual teachers, writers and speakers, and this work may necessarily raise them to prominence, but it is not to individuals that the working class must look. The movement for freedom must be a working class movement. It must depend upon the working class vitality and intelligence and strength. Until the knowledge and experience of the working class are equal to the task of revolution there can be no emancipation for them. Democracy and majority decision-making must be the basic principle of both the movement to establish socialism and of socialist society itself.
The lure and fascinations of protests,occupations and making demands is very attractive. It indicates how deep-rooted discontent with capitalism really is, and it demonstrates the latent strength of socialism once the masses wake up to the need for changing the system instead of adjusting to it. The bond that makes us as one and inspires us is the recognition that capitalism can no longer be reformed or administered in the interest of the working class or of society, and the understanding that conditions are now ripe for socialism, which is the solution for society’s problems. All that is lacking is a socialist majority. This is the essence of our principles. The socialist movement is not only heart, but is a combination of heart and head.
What the Socialist Party says is that democracy can and does change things, that it is not democracy that is the problem, but rather that it is the system underlying the democracy, that makes it imperfect. What we have to do is push for more democracy, not less . We want to protect the idea of democracy but not the idea that voting someone into power will solve your problems for you. Nor the idea that voting for something is in itself enough. We protect the idea of democracy by propagating the case for it and by practising it. It is not merely a formal majority at the polls will give the workers power to achieve socialism. It is the quality of the voters behind the vote that, in the revolutionary struggle, which is decisive.
The easiest and surest way for such 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. No doubt, at the same time, the working class will also have organised itself, at their various places of work and in their communities, in order to keep production going, but nothing can be done here until the machinery of coercion which is the state has been taken out of the hands of the capitalist class by political action. The political machine is the real centre of social control - not made so by capitalist rulers but developed and evolved over centuries and through struggles. It is on the political field that the widest and most comprehensive propaganda can be deliberately maintained. It is here that the workers can be deliberately and independently organised on the basis of socialist thought and action. In other words, socialist organisation can proceed untrammelled by ideas other than those connected with its revolutionary objective.
To repeat once again the SPGB case, the institution of parliament is not at fault. It is just that people's ideas have not yet developed beyond belief in leaders and dependence on a political elite. Control of parliament by representatives of a conscious revolutionary movement will enable the bureaucratic-military apparatus to be dismantled and the oppressive forces of the state to be neutralised, so that socialism may be introduced with the least possible violence and disruption. Parliament and local councils, to the extent that their functions are administrative and not governmental, can and will be used to co-ordinate the emergency immediate measures to transform society when socialism is established. Far better, is it not, if only to minimise the risk of violence, to also organise to win a majority in parliament too, not to form a government , but to end capitalism and dismantle the state. Political democracy is not just, a trick whereby the capitalist class get 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.
Capitalist democracy is not a participatory democracy, which a genuine democracy has to be. In practice the people generally elect to central legislative assemblies and local councils professional politicians who they merely vote for and then let them get on with the job. In other words, the electors abdicate their responsibility to keep any eye on their representatives, giving them a free hand to do what the operation of capitalism demands. But that’s as much the fault of the electors as of their representatives, or rather it is a reflection of their low level of democratic consciousness. It can’t be blamed on the principle of representation as such. There is no reason in principle why, with a heightened democratic consciousness (such as would accompany the spread of socialist ideas), even representatives sent to state bodies could not be subject – while the state lasts – to democratic control by those who sent them there.