Saturday, May 20, 2017

To vote or not to vote

There exists to-day so many factions claiming each to lay down the course necessary to be taken by the working class towards its emancipation. The anti-parliamentarian, by whatever new name he or she may choose to be known, shuns the political side of the struggle and is endeavouring to blind the working class to the most effective weapon it has in the prosecution of the class struggle.  By ignoring politics they adopt a farcical policy of abstention. The capitalist class retain their economic power by their political power, by means of which they will always be able to beat the working class . The potential force to achieve working-class emancipation lies principally in the political field for the reason that the capitalists are compelled to obtain the vote of the working class in order to continue its political control.  To receive that working-class sanction of capitalist society, our masters are reduced to numerous sleight of hands to fool the workers to the fact that they are in no real sense interested in the maintenance of capitalism; in a word, to prevent the workers from becoming class conscious. The political machine is the source of the masters' strength. And it is to control that for which they most need your support! It is for that they tell you all kinds of lies, make all kinds of false promises, and employ the most cunning scoundrels the country holds. Don't be deceived by the fact that a vote is simply a piece of paper. So is a bank note or a police summons! But behind the paper is the power! Capitalists are practical men; they don't ask you to vote for fun. They know that when the workers cease to vote for them and send to Parliament, instead, the representatives of a revolutionary class, the game will be up. It will be the turn of the "respectable” people to turn rebel—if they have the guts. The worst they are likely to achieve, however, is to bribe a few fools to do their dirty work for them; but the machinery of government includes the armed forces of the nation. The workers supply the guns and all the equipment of the fighting forces, in addition to the personnel of the rank and file. All that is necessary, therefore, to control those forces is the organisation of the workers themselves.

The Socialist Party's reasoning goes something like this. 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 into being over centuries.

We want the useful majority in society (workers of all kinds) 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 has 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.

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 anti-parliamentarians 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. 

In the sixth clause of its Declaration of Principles, the Socialist Party states: " . . . the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers . . . " That is to say that Parliament, which passes the laws, the Cabinet, which frames them, the officials at Whitehall and elsewhere who execute them by giving orders to generals and judges, who in turn direct soldiers and policemen, all have one common object, which is to protect property. "The working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government . . . in order that this machinery . . . may be converted . . . into the agent of emancipation . . . " This is the Socialist Party policy in a nutshell. We suggest that a change in tactics from mere defence (varied by surrender on important occasions) to a vigorous attack is necessary. And the proper place to deliver an attack is against the enemy's weakest spot—the ballot box. It is not enough to strike—the bosses can sack you and starve you! It is not class war to build a little barricade on a street-corner and start an insurrection, in which only the workers' blood is shed and a capitalist will only get hurt incidentally. Such policies are the least practicable.

The Socialist Party does not fetishise parliament. But neither do we see any contradiction in including it as an essential part of the tool-kit for making a democratic revolution. The vote in the hands of the working class has only one real use – as a means to unambiguously express majority support when that happens for the revolutionary change from production for profit to production for need. We don't see the vote as the only part of the sort of peaceful and democratic revolution we seek. Far from it, but while it is there we think it should be used. Socialism will only work with the active, informed participation of the many in stark contrast to the sideshow in people’s lives that this June the 8th election will be. Socialism can be established by voting. This is an idea that will not be highlighted by the capitalist press because it would not frighten workers.

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