Friday, May 01, 2015

Doing It Our Way

People who come into contact with the Socialist Party are often surprised that the revolution we urge is one that can be brought about by parliamentary means. They are used to associating revolution with the violent overthrow of governments, not with peaceful democratic elections. Throughout the long history of the Socialist Party we have thought long and hard about the state and its repressive forces and our understanding goes something like this:…
…We want the useful majority in society to take over and run the means of production in the interest of all. However, at the moment these are in the hands of a minority of the population whose ownership and control of them is backed up-and, when necessary, enforced-by the state and its repressive forces. The state stands as an obstacle between the useful majority and the means of production because it is at present controlled by the minority owning class. They control the state, not by some conspiracy, but with the consent or acquiescence of the majority of the population, a consent which expresses itself in everyday attitudes towards rich people, leaders, nationalism, money, etc. and, at election times, in voting for parties which support class ownership. In fact it is such majority support expressed through elections that gives their control of the state legitimacy. In other words, the minority rule with the assent of the majority, which gives them political control. The first step towards taking over the means of production, therefore, must be to take over control of the state, and the easiest way to do this is via elections. But elections are merely a technique, a method. The most important precondition to taking political control out of the hands of the owning class is that the useful majority are no longer prepared to be ruled and exploited by a minority; they must withdraw their consent to capitalism and class rule-they must want and understand a socialist society of common ownership and democratic control....

Alternative ways of dislodging the owning class have been suggested, such as the head-on clashes with the forces of the state by a determined minority that you advocate. This is foolish, not to say suicidal: the state wins every time. The plain fact is that you can't "smash the state" while it still enjoys majority support-and when those who control it no longer enjoy majority support there is no need to try to "smash" it: the majority can use the power of their numbers to take control of it via the ballot box, so that it is no longer used to uphold class ownership. To do so they will need to organise politically, into a political party, a socialist party. This is what we advocate. We don't suffer from delusions of grandeur so we don't necessary claim that we are that party. What we are talking about is not a small educational and propagandist group, but a mass party that has yet to emerge. It is such a party that will take political control via the ballot box, but since it will in effect be the useful majority organised democratically and politically for socialism it is the useful majority, not the party as such as something separate from that majority, that carries out the socialist transformation of society. They neutralise the state and its repressive forces-there is no question of forming a government-and then proceed to take over the means of production for which they will also have organised themselves at their places of work. This done, the repressive state is disbanded and its remaining administrative and service features, reorganised on a democratic basis, are merged with the organisations which the useful majority will have formed to take over and run production, to form the democratic administrative structure of the stateless society of common ownership that socialism will be.

This is the way we think it will happen. When the time comes the socialist majority will use the ballot box since it will be the obvious thing to do, and nobody will be able to prevent them to persuade them not to. At that time it will be anti-electoralists who will be irrelevant.

At the moment it is the peaceful activity of undermining people's support for capitalist ideas that is the most revolutionary and subversive activity that opponents of capitalism can engage in because it is precisely people's pro-capitalist ideas, not the repressive forces of the state, that maintain capitalism in being. Yet you consistently dismiss such revolutionary activity as mere propagandising. The socialist position on the use of parliament is summed up by the following: Once there is an organised, determined majority, the success of the socialist revolution is assured, one way or the other. It is then a question of the best tactic to pursue to try to ensure that this takes place as rapidly and as smoothly as possible. In our view, the best way to proceed is to start by obtaining a democratic mandate via the ballot box for the changeover to socialism. The tactical advantage is that, when obtained, it deprives the supporters of capitalism of any legitimacy for the continuation of their rule. Another related point to make is that the organisation of the socialist majority that develops within capitalist society will have to reflect  the essentially democratic nature of the future society it will establish. It will in fact have to prefigure that society and so be entirely democratic, and without a leadership which can impose decisions on the rest. All important decisions, in fact, will come from the majority via referendums or meetings of mandated, wholly accountable and recallable delegates.

We favour majority democratic action on the grounds that the establishment of a society based on voluntary co-operation and popular participation has to involve such co-operation and participation (i.e. democratic methods) and say that when such a majority comes into being it can use existing political institutions (the ballot box and parliament) to establish a socialist society. Many anti-parliamentarians are opposed to this, but are not able to offer a viable alternative (the anarcho-communists pose a spontaneous mass popular upsurge, the anarcho-syndicalists a general strike and mass factory occupations—both of which ignore the state and the need to at least neutralise it before trying to change society from capitalism). If they can abandon their prejudice against democratic political action via elections, we invite them to join us in campaigning for a classless, stateless, moneyless society.

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