The right to vote is enshrined in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections.” It is a right that was hard won. Without question, the struggle for voting rights was a noble struggle and its achievements go beyond simply casting a ballot. Organising themselves and vigourously fighting for a political goal gave workers (and in particular women and blacks) a social and political presence that had been denied them for centuries. The struggle waged to win the vote set examples for those who wish to engage in political struggle, regardless of the cause. But the vote itself, what it literally meant, what it produced, who it benefited, what its value was to society in political and social terms was not submitted to careful study. And so it is conceivable that many of those who risked their lives to gain the right might now question the wisdom of relying upon such a system for selecting those who govern.
The fact that a people participates in electoral assemblies does not mean that they direct the government or that the class that is ruled chooses its own rulers. When we say that the voters ‘choose’ their representative, we are using a language that is very inexact. We end up voting for those who are pre-selected. The voter, for his vote to have meaning, ends up having to choose from among a very small number of contenders, the two or three who have a chance of succeeding, and the only ones who have any chance of succeeding are those whose candidacies are already championed by party committees and by lobby groups. The relative handful who are selected to speak for the citizenry are rarely, if ever, a random selection. They are rarely, if ever, representative of the population at large. And they are rarely, if ever, open to the wishes of their constituencies. Instead, those selected to speak for the citizens speak not for their constituency but for the organised minorities who put them in power, minorities with certain values in common, based on considerations of property and taxation, on common material interests, on ties of class. If you are bold enough and fool hardy enough to try and run for higher office on an independent ticket you will have very limited press coverage and you will be denied access to televised debates. You will be sidelined in every way conceivable way as insignificant. The official election campaign is a travesty of democracy. Whatever the make-up of the next government, its agenda has already been determined. Finance capital, big business and the major parties agree that working people must be made to pay for the economic crisis that is not of their making.
What does the Socialist Party do? This can be ascertained from the practice of socialists around the world. While conditions differ from country to country, one common element is that socialists contend with the bourgeoisie in every place and in every way possible to win the hearts and minds of the working class, and challenge for political power. An important field of struggle is elections. Many dismiss running because socialist candidates cannot win. This is true, today. But we lay the groundwork for tomorrow, today. There is a distinction between running and winning. We know we can't win. But we know that by running we gain access to the notice of tens of thousands. At the hustings we can even confront the capitalist candidates directly. Elections are one of the best ways for socialists to get a public hearing. Elections should be seen as a great arena to publicise and populise socialist ideas. It is marvelously morale–raising to discover while canvassing that there are already a great many socialists out there, and many more potential socialists. It would be difficult to campaign for election without making new contacts, new recruits and increasing the working class' understanding of political realities and socialist ideas. Party members and volunteers grow immensely as speakers, and organizers. And voters are refreshed by real solutions. If we socialists don’t speak up for socialism in the electoral arena, who will? And if not now, when? The Socialist Party appeals to real socialists, those who, to quote the Communist Manifesto, “disdain to conceal their aims.” We take on those phony socialists who pin their hopes on backing capitalist reformers as a way to build for socialism. Why go south to reach the north. A socialist is not a member of, or supporter of, any capitalist party whatever. This is the first test of socialist seriousness and sincerity. The problem is this gives socialist cover to a capitalist party. For example, though the Greens may desire a kinder, gentler capitalism, the practical outcome of their dreams can be seen in Europe where they have been in coalition. Greens prosecute wars, impose austerity, and more. Why would socialists feed the Green Party’s false hopes that capitalism can be fixed?
The Socialist Party and its 10 candidates are alone in speaking for the working class and fighting for its interests in the 2015 election campaign. The working class cannot defend its independent class interests except through a complete political break with all the parties and organisations that defend the profit system—above all from the Labour Party. Workers must reject all forms of racism, nationalism and xenophobia, including the demonising of migrant workers and political refugees. The aim of our campaign is to develop a working class, imbued with socialist consciousness, and armed with the understanding that nothing less than the abolition of the capitalist profit system and the establishment of world socialism can provide a future for humanity as a whole; free of war, poverty and oppression.
Some on the Left are less than enthusiastic about throwing themselves into the battle for votes, not seeing the viability of change through elections. Their approach doesn't see the need for for elections relying more on the idea that radical change and the revolutionary transition to socialism will not occur via the electoral path but via a general strike during a crisis of capitalism. The capitalist state will be smashed in one blow and a “socialist state” established in its place through force and violence. The Socialist Party has long argued against this mischaracterization and misrepresentation of socialist political action. Just like the socialist society we envision - peaceful, humane and democratic - so too must be the path as it will shape every aspect of the new society. Marx and Engels foresaw the possibility of peaceful transition particularly under conditions of the democratic or bourgeois republic. Engels wrote in Critique of the Erfurt Program:
"One can conceive that the old society may develop peacefully into the new one in countries where representatives of the people concentrate all power in their hands, where, if one has the support of the majority of the people, one can do as one sees fit in a constitutional way; in democratic republics such as France and the USA..."
The contest for power involves winning the ideological and political battle in civil society and the institutions of state as well, chief among them the democratic legislative arena. With the decisive conquest of political power, the working class will use this power to "wrest by degrees all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state..." wrote Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto. The state it seems is not smashed but "reshaped" (in the words of Engels) in accordance with the balance of class and social forces from an instrument of class oppression and repression, into one of liberation. In the process the state is transformed, and the foundations are laid for its withering away. In this view, power is attained through democratic means, through the working class electing its representatives to legislative bodies and through political action, including strikes and demonstrations. Democratic institutions are transformed in the process - existing ones become more democratic and new ones arise to extend and deepen participation. Political power is wielded to transform the state apparatus at every level, curbing the capitalist power to restrict their ability to resist, obstruct and use violence against a revolutionary working class movement. Marx foresaw the possibility of achieving socialism through universal suffrage:
"A historical development can remain 'peaceful only for so long as its progress is not forcibly obstructed by those wielding social power at the time. If in England, for instance or the United States, the working class were to gain a majority in Parliament or Congress, they could, by lawful means, rid themselves of such laws and institutions as impeded their development, through they could only do so insofar as society had reached a sufficiently mature development."