At election time, some radical candidates talk incessantly against “The System”, “The System is bad”, “The System must be changed”, “Vote for me, because I am going to change The System”. What is The System?
Socialists have no illusions about the democratic credentials of the politicians of the Left, the Right or the Centre. What the capitalist class, and the political parties that serve that class, call democracy is a contrived form of consensus in which the political parties conspire to ensure that the maximum number of people accept The System which guarantees a minority class in society the legal right to own and control the means of life of the great majority. To achieve and maintain The System capitalists must have political control of the state machine.
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. In our form of “democracy” elections means handing over the right to make those decisions to someone else. We don’t vote for leaders to implement this or that decision we desire but, instead, we vote to give MPs a “free hand” to make decisions. The very mechanism of decision-making we have today is a product of The System we live under. The market economy, with its built-in contradictions and conflicting interests, has massively complicated the process of decision-making itself. It has moved it further and further from the ambit of “ordinary people” as The System itself has become more and more globalised. It is this that has made the paper pledges of our elected leaders seem increasingly irrelevant and ineffectual. Uninformed voting has disastrous consequences. An uninformed voter is dangerous and on June the 8th should stay home. It is better to not vote at all than to cast an uninformed ballot.
Democracy under capitalism is reduced to people voting for competing professional politicians, to giving the thumbs-up or the thumbs-down to the governing Tories or opposition Labour Party. Political analysts call this the "elite theory of democracy" since all that the people get to choose is what 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. Democracy must be the basic principle of both the movement to establish socialism and of socialist society itself. If a majority of workers really were as incapable of understanding socialism as many maintain, then socialism would be impossible since, by its very nature, as a society based on voluntary cooperation, it can only come into being and work with the conscious consent and participation of the majority. A socialist revolution first must take place in the heads of the people, then will follow the conquest of political power, the overthrow of the capitalist system and the establishment of socialism. A socialist society cannot be imposed from above by an elite. Socialist ideas cannot be rammed down the throats of people against their will or understanding. Socialism is not the result of blind faith. Nothing is more repugnant to socialism than clever strategy, conspiratorial tactics and scheming slogans.
There is one political party that does take the issue of leadership seriously and has had no leader. The Socialist Party is like no other political party in Britain. It is made up of people who have come together because we want to get rid of the profit system and establish real socialism. The Socialist Party is leader-free. For sure we have a General Secretary and an Executive Committee but these elected positions are solely for administration and cannot determine policy or even submit resolutions to our conferences (and all the EC meetings are open and the minutes available for public scrutiny on the web as proof of our commitment to openness and democracy). All conference decisions have to be ratified by a referendum of the whole membership. The General Secretary has no position of power or authority over any other member. Despite some very charismatic writers and speakers in the past, no personality has held undue influence within the Socialist Party. It is a political party that is an organisation of equals.