Revolution seems a frightening concept but it doesn't have to be scary. In fact, we should not need to use the adjective "revolutionary" in regards to socialism because by its nature is a revolutionary theory. To attempt a revolution without majority support is almost inevitably bound to result either in a counter-revolution or in a dictatorship which destroys the goals for which the revolution was undertaken. No doubt as the socialist revolution approaches people will be organising in all kinds of informal bodies ready to take over and run society after the end of class rule, but as long as democratically-elected parliament exist winning control of them through the ballot-box must surely be central to the strategy of any socialist party.
When the workers first won the franchise many of them voted for their masters out of a sort of feudal loyalty, and others were cheaply wooed with flattery and petty bribes: only a few saw that they had in their grasp the instrument to gain their emancipation. You may have noticed that whoever gets elected, nothing really changes. This is because politicians have no intention of changing anything. We give the politicians a blank cheque to do what they want or can get away with. They're really doing very nicely out of the system, recession or no recession. Fewer and fewer people are bothering to vote in elections, for example, correctly realising that it will have little effect on their everyday lives. Attempts to reform capitalism, whether through parliament or dictatorship, have failed. This leaves conscious majority revolution as the only way forward.
Are elections and voting a waste of time? After all, don’t anarchists say that if voting changed anything it would be illegal? The standard anarchist argument against the revolutionary movement contesting elections is that this inevitably leads to it becoming reformist; revolutionary politicians, whatever may have been their original intention, end up merely administering capitalism - the lame explanation of “power corrupts”. Anarchists, in their criticism, tend to argue that all "parliamentary" parties, within which they include the Socialist Party of Great Britain, have in the past, and in the present, betrayed the working class; that Parliament is not the real seat of power but a "talking-shop"; that the Socialist Party contests elections aims at parliamentary majorities and so on it perpetuate what anarchists see as harmful illusions about law, the state and parliamentary democracy and are therefore no different from all other parties.
Voting has not changed the most fundamental reality that needs to be changed - the reality that is capitalism, for it is this economic system that is ultimately responsible for the inequality and desperation that currently exists in so much of the world. On the other hand, voting has occasionally made things better for some on some occasions. Social Democracy never satisfactorily settled the problem of reform and revolution, of whether or not a party aiming at socialism ought also to campaign for reform of capitalism. They tried to combine the two, having a maximum programme of Socialism and a minimum programme of reforms. This minimum programme was called variously "immediate demands", "partial demands" and "reforms". The question the Social Democrats did not face was: did campaigning for reforms hinder the struggle for Socialism? All the evidence seemed to show that it did. The policy adopted by Social-Democratic parties has generally been described as "parliamentarianism". By which is meant the idea that a parliament dominated by working-class representatives can, through various types of legislation, control the existing system of society in the interests of the community as a whole. Whilst workers have made some gains this way, more and more people are becoming aware that such a path offers no solution to any of the major problems they face because it leaves untouched the basic structure of society which is their root cause. The failure has been attributed, as much to the mechanism of parliamentary elections as to the nature of social reformism itself. It has been argued that the experience Social-Democratic governments prove the uselessness of parliamentary institutions to the workers. We can agree that this is what happened to these parties but offer an explanation: that such parties were co-opted because they advocated reforms of capitalism and not its abolition. 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, we contend, 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”. There is no reason to suppose that the electoral process necessarily corrupts. On the other hand, we contend, a reform programme does corrupt. The appropriate approach is contesting elections only on the basis of delegates being given an instructive mandate for the sole purpose of carrying through the formalities involved in winding up capitalism.
While elections may seem to be irrelevant, workers should not turn their back on the electoral system as such. Once the world’s working people demand socialism, the electoral system can be utilised to effect the revolutionary act of abolishing capitalism by signalling that a majority of ordinary people fully understand and want to effect that change. So we should not be fooled by the myth that there is no alternative to capitalism, that it will always be with us. It will not, it is true, simply collapse. But its structure rests primarily on the effective control of public thought aimed at persuading people that the society that exists is ‘good’ and works in their interest. Yet, ultimately, force is always on the side of those who are governed and when ordinary people decided to end the misery and change society the numerical superiority of ordinary working people will make their demands unstoppable. Critics of the Socialist Party's position fail to appreciate the different content of the term "parliamentary" as applied to orthodox parties and to the Socialist Party. We indeed hold it essential that the transformation to a new society be started by formal democratic methods—that is, by persuasion and the secret ballot. For there is no other way of ascertaining accurately the views of the population. The result of a properly conducted ballot will make it clear, in the event of an overwhelming socialist vote, to any minority that they are the minority and that any attempt to oppose the desires of the majority by violence would be futile. The formal establishment of the socialist majority's control of the state avoids the possibility of effective use of its forces against the revolutionary movement. An attempt to establish a socialist society by ignoring the democratic process gives any recalcitrant minority, the excuse for possibly violent anti-socialist action justified by the claim that the alleged majority did not in fact exist or that the assumed majority was not likely to be a consistent or decisive one.
The Socialist Party's aim is a revolutionary change in society. Socialism does not mean a different kind of government or State control of industry. It means a completely different social system, based on the ownership of all the means of life by everybody. Socialism means a world where the things of life will be produced solely to satisfy the needs of mankind, instead of for the purpose of realising a profit for your bosses; a world where the whole of humanity will own and control the means of living and where wars and international strive cannot exist: a world where people will no longer be subject to the threat of unemployment and to the perpetual struggle to make ends meet—in short, a world where everyone will freely and equally associate and enjoy all the fruits of their labour. We're talking about a world community without any frontiers. About wealth being produced to meet people's needs and not for sale on a market or for profit. About everyone having access to what they require to satisfy their needs, without the rationing system that is money. A society where people freely contribute their skills and experience to produce what is needed, without the compulsion of a wage or salary. There is no need for the food we eat, or the clothes we wear, or the houses we live in, to be restricted by the size of our wage packets. There is no need for the output of factories and farms to be restricted by having to make a profit. The productive resources are sufficient to make it possible to abolish buying and selling and thus money and to go over to free distribution of the things people need.
How is the Socialist Party is going to do all this? The answer is that it is not. YOU are going to do it. No politician can help you.The only barrier to the immediate establishment of socialism is that most people, for various reasons, do not accept socialism as a practical option and prefer to keep capitalism in the forlorn hope that it can be made to serve human interests. Even though the politicians share the responsibility for keeping capitalism in being, it is no use your blaming their failures on dishonesty or incompetence since it is capitalism itself that sets the limits to what they can do. The governments you elect have to work within the constraints that profit must come before human need. When a majority use our votes to win control of political power so that class property rights can be ended and the means of production belong to the community as a whole. This new society can only come about when a majority want it and are determined to get it. Nobody can bring it about for you. In our Declaration of Principles, we say: "That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself." The Socialist Party does not present itself as a would-be ruler or a new leader. The world will not change for the working class until they themselves change it. What we propose is that workers throw off the domination of the ruling class and organise and run society in their own interests instead of in the interests of their bosses. Then and only then will we see an end to the problems that have beset the working class for so long. We need to organise to bring about a world where the Earth’s resources have become the common heritage of all and where every man, woman and child on the planet can have free access to what they need to lead a decent and satisfying life.
Despite their shortcomings, elections to a parliament based on universal suffrage are still the best method available for workers to express a majority desire for socialism. The ruling class who monopolise the ownership of wealth do so through their control of parliament by capitalist parties elected by workers. 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. Representatives elected by workers to parliament have continually compromised to the needs of capitalism, but then so have representatives on the industrial field. The institution is not here at fault; it is just that people's ideas have not yet developed beyond belief in leaders and dependence on a political elite. When enough of us join together determined to end inequality and deprivation we can transform elections into a means of doing away with a society of minority rule in favour of real democracy and equality.
The Socialist Party adopted the policy of trying to gain control of the machinery of government through the ballot box by campaigning on an exclusively socialist programme without seeking support on a policy of reforms; while supporting parliamentary action they refused to advocate reforms. This has remained its policy to this day. Mandating delegates, voting on resolutions and membership ballots are democratic practices for ensuring that the members of an organisation control that organisation – and as such key procedures in any organisation genuinely seeking socialism. Socialism can only be a fully democratic society in which everybody will have an equal say in the ways things are run. This means that it can only come about democratically, both in the sense of being the expressed will of the working class and in the sense of the working class being organised democratically – without leaders, but with mandated delegates – to achieve it. The socialist movement must stand firmly by democracy, by the methods of socialist education and political organisation, and the method of gaining control of the machinery of government and the armed forces through the vote where possible and only with the backing of a majority of convinced Socialists
We appeal is to those activists who are committed to the concept of a self-organised majority revolution without leaders to abandon their dogmatic opposition to the working class forming a political party to contest elections and eventually win control of political power, not to form a government but to immediately abolish capitalism and usher in the classless, stateless, moneyless, wageless society that real socialism will be. The socialist message is that workers should think long and hard before casting their vote. it would be difficult in one short article to prove any case beyond question, especially a case as big as this. All we can do is give you the bare bones, so don't be surprised if it doesn't convince you straight off. We're not magicians. If you don't have questions to ask at the end of this then we're not doing our job properly, or you're not giving it any thought. And if you have questions, we can only suggest you contact us to ask them. It's up to you. The future is in your hands.