Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Revolutionary Vote

Even where there is no prospect of achieving their election the workers must put up their own candidates to preserve their independence, to gauge their own strength and to bring their revolutionary position and party standpoint to public attention. They must not be led astray by the empty phrases of the democrats, who will maintain that the workers' candidates will split the democratic party and offer the forces of reaction the chance of victory. All such talk means, in the final analysis, that the proletariat is to be swindled. - Karl Marx

Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost. - John Quincy Adams

I'd rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don't want, and get it. - Eugene V. Debs

The Socialist Party has never held that a merely formal majority at the polls will give the workers power to achieve socialism. We have always emphasised that such a majority must be educated in the essentials of socialist principles and have a party democratically organised .

William Morris wrote:
"It should be our special aim to make Socialists by putting before people, and especially the working classes, the elementary truths of socialism… before any definite socialist action can be attempted, it must be backed up by a great body of intelligent opinion — the opinion of a great mass of people who are already socialists…"

It is the quality of the voters behind the vote that, in the revolutionary struggle, will be decisive.

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. The attitude of fetishism which some on the Left show towards armed struggle or insurrection, their advocacy of street battles against overwhelming odds only serves to make more difficult the socialist education and organisation of the workers.

An either-or approach to activism is self-defeating. There appears to be disagreement on what form of resistance to capitalism is the most effective. Direct action or party political work through the electoral system. Such views have always divided anarchists and socialists. Some now argue that both forms of resistance not only complement each other but are also essential in the pursuit of class struggle. For the Trotskyist and Lenininist Left, all activity should be mediated by the Party (union activity, neighbourhood community struggles, etc.), whereas for ourselves, the Party is just one mode of activity available to the working class to use in their struggles, a tail to be wagged by the dog.

The 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 (the only way Parliaments have been used up till now), but for the single revolutionary purpose of abolishing capitalism and establishing socialism by converting the means of production and distribution into the common property of the whole of society. No doubt, at the same time, the working class will also have organised itself, at the various places of work, 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. As the Socialist Party stated in 1915 (yes, we do have a long history as a political party based on agreed goals, methods and organisational principles):
 "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" .

Political democracy is not, or is not just only, 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. The ballot box is a tactical but never a strategic (and the only) option (and that is true for capitalists as well for socialists.) The working class is the key political class, whoever wins its support wins the day, hence why the factions of the capitalist party vie for working class votes

According to our analysis of society, the capitalist class are the dominant class today because they control the State (machinery of government/political power). And they control the state because a majority of the population allow them to, by, apart from their everyday attitudes, voting for pro-capitalism parties at election times, so returning a pro-capitalism majority to parliament, so ensuring that any government emerging from parliament will be pro-capitalism.

If the workers (the vast majority of the population) are to establish socialism they must first take this control of the state (including the armed forces) out of the hands of the capitalist class, so that it can be used to uproot capitalism and usher in socialism. The Socialist Party has always said that, in countries where there exist more or less free elections to a central law-making body to which the executive, or government, is responsible, the working class can do this by sending a majority of mandated delegates to the elected, central legislative body. Just as today a pro-capitalism majority in parliament reflects the fact that the overwhelming majority of the population wants or accepts capitalism, so a socialist majority in parliament would reflect the fact that a majority outside parliament wanted socialism. The Socialist Party contest elections making no promises and offering no reforms except for using parliament as a tool for the abolition of capitalism .

Anarchists and Leftists have to envisage some other means of expressing the popular will/public demand than a parliament elected by and responsible to a socialist majority amongst the population. But what, exactly? It would have to be something like the Congress of Socialist
Industrial Unions or a Central Council of the Federation of Workers Councils. That's not to deny that it could be one of these (because bodies such as these will exist at the time), but would any of these bodies be more efficient and more effective (and even more democratic) in controlling the state/central administrative machinery than a socialist majority elected to parliament by universal suffrage in a secret ballot.

It is hardly conceivable when there is, say, 10 percent of the population who are socialist, that at election times they will not decide to put up candidates against those favouring capitalism.

What would be the point of boycotting elections? There would be nothing to gain (in fact there could be something to lose in terms of political stability). When it came down to it, when they felt that something important was at stake, not even the anarchists in the one place where they did have appreciable support (Spain in the 1930s) were able to maintain their boycott position: they allowed, even encouraged, their supporters to take part in both the 1931 and 1936 elections there (in the one case to kick out the monarchy and in the other to secure a parliamentary majority favourable to the release of anarchist political prisoners)

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 vitally important 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.
And disagreeing with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) deletion of the political clause in 1908, James Connolly remarked "just try and stop them " or as he later elaborated in this article:
"I am inclined to ask all and sundry amongst our comrades if there is any necessity for this presumption of antagonism between the industrialist and the political advocate of socialism. I cannot see any. I believe that such supposed necessity only exists in the minds of the mere theorists or doctrinaires. The practical fighter in the work-a-day world makes no such distinction. He fights, and he votes; he votes and he fights. He may not always, he does not always, vote right; nor yet does he always fight when and as he should. But I do not see that his failure to vote right is to be construed into a reason for advising him not to vote at all; nor yet why a failure to strike properly should be used as a gibe at the strike weapon, and a reason for advising him to place his whole reliance upon votes."

Democracy under capitalism is reduced to people voting for competing groups of professional politicians, to giving the thumbs-up or the thumbs-down to the governing or opposition party. Political analysts call this the "elite theory of democracy" since under it, all that the people get to choose is which elite should exercise government power. This contrasts with the original theory of democracy which envisages popular participation in the running of affairs and which political analysts call "participatory democracy".

This is the sort of democracy socialists favour but we know it's never going to exist under capitalism. 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 but not to be dismissed for that since it at least provides a mechanism whereby a socialist majority could vote in socialist delegates instead of capitalist politicians.

The original Marxist social democratic parties had in addition to the “maximum” programme of socialism what they called a “minimum programme” of immediate reforms to capitalism. What happened is that they attracted votes on the basis of their minimum, not their maximum, programme, i.e. reformist votes, and so became the prisoners of these voters. In parliament, and later in office, they found themselves with no freedom of action other than to compromise with capitalism. Had they been the mandated delegates of those who voted for them (rather than leaders) this could be expressed by saying that they had no mandate for socialism, only to try to reform capitalism. It was not a case of being corrupted by the mere fact of going into national parliaments but was due to the basis on which they went there and how this restricted what they could do. In short, it is not power as such that corrupts. It is power obtained on the basis of followers voting for leaders to implement reforms that, if you want to put it that way, “corrupts”.

We, in the Socialist Party advocate only socialism and nothing but socialism - the so-called “maximum programme”

When the worker acquires revolutionary consciousness he is still compelled to make the non-revolutionary struggle of every-day life. It is the propagating of the idea that THROUGH a policy or programme of reforms that the workers' situation can somehow be intrinsically improved or that it can progress towards the establishment of a socialist society that the Socialist Party adamantly refuses to recognise. The conditions of existence of the wage-workers depends upon their wages. It is not determined by the legal law, but by the economic law of supply and demand. The condition of existence of the wage-workers is determined by the progress of the development of machinery, the concentration of capital, the proportion of the unemployed industrial reserve army. Social realities are outside parliaments. Although the bettering of the conditions of existence by way of political reform is impossible, it is not the same as regards the conditions of fighting. To distinguish between the conditions of fighting and the conditions of existence is not to split hairs. The difference is real. Some reforms would render the attacks of the proletariat more powerful, those of capitalism weaker- the right to strike , the right to picket , for instance. The class struggle is, therefore, both industrial and political but the Socialist Party consider the latter as being its ultimate form and its revolutionary form. The Socialist Party rejects ALL forms of minority action to attempt to establish socialism, which can only be established by the working class when the immense majority have come to want and understand it. Without a socialist working class, there can be no socialism. The establishment of socialism can only be the conscious majority, and therefore democratic, act of a socialist-minded working class. Whereas you can make people do what they do not wish to do, you cannot make them adopt a set of social relations which require their voluntary co-operation if they do not voluntarily co-operate. In these circumstances 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. This is why we advocate using parliament. Not to try to reform capitalism (the only way parliaments have been used up till now), but for the single revolutionary purpose of abolishing capitalism and establishing socialism by converting the means of production and distribution into the common property of the whole of society. No doubt, at the same time, the working class will also have organised itself, at the various places of work, 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.

Naive reformism , if you wish, but what are the alternative strategies which are themselves not flawed .

The vote is not a gift to the masses from the government out of the beneficence of its heart. We don't advocate de facto disenfranchisement of the worker by promoting political abstention. The right to vote can become a powerful instrument to end our servitude and to achieve genuine democracy and freedom. Working people with an understanding of socialism can utilise their vote to signify that the overwhelming majority demand change and to bring about social revolution. The first object of a socialist organisation is the development of the desire for socialism among the working class and the preparation of the political party to give expression to that desire. What our capitalist opponents consequently do when the majority wish to prevail will determine our subsequent actions. If they accept defeat, well and good. If they choose not to accept the verdict of the majority which is given through the medium of their own institutions and contest that verdict by physical force, then the workers will respond in kind, with the legitimacy and the authority of a democratic mandate. The important thing is for the workers to gain control of the political machinery, because 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. The power over the means of life which the capitalist class has, is vested in its control of the political machinery. Ownership of the world's economic resources is certainly an economic factor, but that ownership, if challenged, will find its means of enforcement by and through the state political machine, which, as everybody should know, includes the armed forces. Of course, an elaborate legal machinery exists whereby claims on private property are settled among the capitalists themselves, but behind the judiciary and the Legislature stands the means of enforcing the decrees. The political arm of capitalism rules the economic body of the system in the final analysis: which reveals the chief reason why the capitalist class concern themselves so much about political action; they realise that in this field their economic interest finds its ultimate, if not immediate, protection. Thus, the political organisation of the workers for socialist purposes is thrust upon us as a primary and imperative necessity. The Socialist Party, in aiming for the control of the state, is a political party in the immediate sense. (No doubt, at the same time, the working class will also have organised itself, at the various places of work, 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 workers' political organisation must precede the economic, since, apart from the essential need of the conquest of the powers of government, 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.

"The irony of history turns everything topsy-turvy. We, the ‘revolutionists’, thrive better by the use of constitutional means than by unconstitutional and revolutionary methods. The parties of law and order, as they term themselves, are being destroyed by the constitutional implements which they themselves have fashioned.” - Engels .

To sum up, our so-called parliamentarianism transforms elections from a means of deceit into a means of emancipation
"...the more the proletariat matures towards its self-emancipation, the more does it constitute itself as a separate class and elect its own representatives in place of the capitalists. Universal suffrage is the gauge of the maturity of the working class. It can and never will be that in the modern State. But that is sufficient. On the day when the thermometer of universal suffrage reaches its boiling point among the labourers, they as well as the capitalists will know what to do.” - Engels .

Our position is consistent with Marx's presuppositions to recognise parliament as an institution geared to the needs of capitalism, and therefore inappropriate as the vehicle for a fundamental transformation of society, but that its connected electoral practices coincide with the principles involved in that transformation which creates the possibility of a peaceful transition to a new society .

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 organise to win a majority in parliament, not to form a government , but to end capitalism and dismantle the state.

I qualified my endorsement of parliamentarianism , criticising bourgeois democracy as the best we can hope for under capitalism but not the ideal model possible for the revolutionary. 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 cannot 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. The argument that is sometimes raise against this is that “power corrupts”. But if power inevitability corrupts why does this not apply also in non-parliamentary elected bodies such as syndicalist union committees or workers councils?

The vote is a gain, a potential class weapon, a potential "instrument of emancipation" as Marx put it. Despite Lenin's distortions, Marx and Engels always held that the bourgeois democratic republic was the best political framework for the development and triumph of the socialist movement. This is another pre-1914 socialist position we see no reason to abandon.

Certainly, political democracy under capitalism is not all that it is purported to be by many supporters of the system and it is severely limited, from the point of view of democratic theory, by the very nature of capitalism as an unequal, class-divided society. Certainly, "democracy" has become an ideology used to give capitalist rule a spurious legitimacy. But it is still sufficient to allow the working class to organise politically and economically without too much state interference and also, we would argue, to allow a future socialist majority to gain control of political power.

In a vote between lesser of two evils, " Vote Cholera or Vote for Typhoid" , (those who choose the lesser of two evils soon forget that what they chose is an evil.) Not voting at all is valid, but casting blank ballots or some other form of actively announcing not voting is better. One or two spoilers/blank voters can be ignored, tens of thousands or even millions could not be - especially if backed by a vocal movement explaining the situation.
In Britain, North America, Europe etc there isn’t any fundamental objection to the electoral system; the provisions for voter registration, nomination of candidates, counting of votes, declaration of result, etc can be inherited by socialism and, with modifications, continue to be used. We also think, of course, that the present electoral mechanisms can be used to express and count, more or less fairly and accurately, a majority desire for socialism. So we've no interest in running down the system as such. The way to show that you accept the electoral system but reject the sham choice is to go and use it but not vote for any of the candidates.

There is nothing inherently elitist about the electoral approach. It is how you use that approach that makes it elitist. The Socialist Party is not asking people to vote for them so they can solve the problems the electorate have to contend with. The Socialist Party is saying quite clearly that workers need to understand and support socialism themselves in order for it to come about It cannot be imposed from above. Furthermore, we constantly makes the point to workers in elections that if they dont understand or support socialism then they should not vote for the Socialist Party. The Socialist Party does not propose to come "into office", i.e. to form a government and so does not propose "to vote itself into office". Nor do we propose that other people should "vote us into office" either. What we do say is that people should, amongst other things, use the vote in the course of the social revolution from capitalism to socialism; that they should, if you like, vote capitalism out of office. To do this they will need to stand recallable mandated delegates at elections but these will be just this: messenger boys and girls, not leaders or would-be government ministers, sent to formally take over and dismantle "the central state". The situation we envisage in which a majority vote in socialist delegates is one where the revolution, in respect of socialist ideas has already begun to accelerate. 

The vote is merely the legitimate stamp which will allow for the dismantling of the repressive apparatus of the states and the end of bourgeois democracy and the establishment of real democracy. It is the Achilles heel of capitalism and makes a non-violent revolution possible. 
What matters is a conscious socialist majority outside parliament, ready and organised to take over and run industry and society; electing a socialist majority in parliament is essentially just a reflection of this. It is not parliament that establishes socialism, but the socialist working-class majority outside parliament and they do this, not by their votes, but by their active participating beyond this in the transformation of society.

Basically, there are only three ways of winning control of the State: (a) armed insurrection; (b) more or less peaceful mass demonstrations and strikes; (c) using the electoral system.

The early, pre-World War One members of the Socialist Party adopted, in the light of then existing political conditions, for (c), but without ruling out (b) or even (a) should these conditions change (or in other parts of the world where conditions were different).
But this was never understood as simply putting an "X" on a ballot paper and letting the Socialist Party and its MPs establish socialism for workers. The assumption always was that there would be a "conscious" and active Socialist majority outside parliament, democratically organised both in a mass socialist political party and, at work, in ex-trade union type organisations ready to keep production going during and immediately after the winning of political control. Having adopted (c), various other options follow. Obviously, if there's a socialist candidate people who want socialism are urged to vote for that candidate. But what if there's no socialist candidate? Voting for any other candidate is against the principles. So what to do? The basic choice is/was between abstention and spoiling the ballot paper (by writing "socialism" across it). The policy adopted and confirmed ever since was the latter, i.e. a sort of write-in vote for socialism.

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. We need to organise politically, into a political party, a socialist party. 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 such as ourselves, 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 will neutralise the state and its repressive forces and as stated 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 state-free society of common ownership that socialism will be.

This is perhaps a less romantic idea of the socialist revolution but a thousand times more realistic. Which is why we think this is the way 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 or persuade them not to. At that time it will be the anti-electoralists who will be irrelevant. A real democracy is
fundamentally incompatible with the idea of leadership. It is about all of us having a direct say in the decisions that affect us. Leadership means handing over the right to make those decisions to someone else. We have at our disposal today the very means, in the form of modern telecommunications, that could enable us to resuscitate the ancient model of Athenian democracy on a truly global level.

I believe that the Socialists will certainly send members to Parliament when they are strong enough to do so; in itself I see no harm in that, so long as it is understood that they go there as rebels, and not as members of the governing body prepared to pass palliative measures to keep Society alive." - William Morris

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