Democratic control in socialism: extent and limits

April 2024 Forums General discussion Democratic control in socialism: extent and limits

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  • #104831
    SocialistPunk
    Participant

    AdamIf you want to talk about playing into the hands of "our opponents" then why not ditch references to Marx. He is misrepresented at every opportunity so to align the SPGB with his ideas would be playing into the hands of opponents. So it is silly to think talking of dismantling parliament gives any amunition to opponents they don't already have.

    Steve colborn wrote:
    It will be in and on, a facility like the "internet". Parliament is OK for "representative democracy", where we, the sheep, vote for "representatives" to take decisions on "our" behalf. For a method of direct participartive democracy, "Parliament" is a fucking joke and moreover, a farce.Technology offers us the chance for "real" democracy. Why be hindbound by the restrictions of "the past". Why not be set free, by the possibilities of the future? After all, as Soicialists, we want "the future", not the fucking 'decayed' past!!!
    Alanjjohnstone wrote:
    Talk of "Parliament" or "Congress" continuing frightens me because the changes in democracy will transform it so radically that it simply won't be "Parliament" that is recognisable so why stick to the old terminology, …plus it reinforces an anglophile image! The cautionary note on Supreme Soviet certainly applies to the other institutions, none of which really possesses genuine trust by people.New forms of democracy i think wil arise, or older ones assuming new roles…parish councils, for instance, in parts of England, neighbourhood councils.

    Both Steve and Alan put this in a better way than my crude earlier fumbling.I should point out that I understand and accept the idea of using existing democratic structures to get to socialism, but if democracy changes dramaticaly from what we see today, why would any socialist think the old structures would have a place in a socialist future?As for the idea of delegates meeting in a physical environment, if that where to happen, then why on earth would any such meetings take place in a corner of this island, surely a meeting place would be better located in a more central place and that place would be made fit for the purposes of a full on socialist democracy. Westminster Palace is steeped in the history of monarchy, royal courts being held there as well as the early parliaments. The whole place is a celebration of the power of the state.Oh, I nearly forgot, someone earlier asked about other socialist groups with reference to one of my posts on this page. Until I joined this forum, I was not aware of any other groups with similar ideas to the SPGB/WSM. I think it was ALB who first brought my attention to others who shared similar views, with main disagreements about using the parliamentary route. So it would be more appropriate to ask ALB who the others are 

    #104832
    ALB
    Keymaster
    William Morris wrote:
    We came presently into a large open space, sloping somewhat toward the south, the sunny site of which had been taken advantage of for planting an orchard, mainly, as I could see, of apricot trees, in the midst of which was a pretty gay little structure of wood, painted and gilded that looked like a refreshment-stall. From the southern side of the said orchard ran a long road chequered over with the shadow of tall old pear trees, at the end of which showed the high tower of the Parliament House, or Dung Market.
    Quote:
    "Now," said I, "I have come to the point of asking questions which I suppose will be dry for you to answer and difficult for you to explain; but I have foreseen for some time past that I must ask them, will I 'nill I. What kind of a government have you? Has republicanism finally triumphed? or have you come to a mere dictatorship, which some persons in the nineteenth century used to prophesy as the ultimate outcome of democracy? Indeed, this last question does not seem so very unreasonable, since you have turned your Parliament House into a dung-market. Or where do you house your present Parliament?"The old man answered my smile with a hearty laugh, and said: "Well, well, dung is not the worst kind of corruption; fertility may come of that, whereas mere dearth came from the other kind, of which those walls once held the great supporters. Now, dear guest, let me tell you that our present parliament would be hard to house in one place, because the whole people is our parliament."
    #104833
    LBird
    Participant
    SocialistPunk wrote:
    I should point out that I understand and accept the idea of using existing democratic structures to get to socialism, but if democracy changes dramaticaly from what we see today, why would any socialist think the old structures would have a place in a socialist future?

    [my bold]Yeah, I can see the revolutionary logic of 'using existing democratic structures to get to socialism', as propounded by the SPGB, but I'd replace SP's 'if' with 'when'. To me, it's clear that 'parliament', and all its electoral and procedural 'old structures', will be useless for the proletariat.Once this route is accepted, the inevitable and necessary destruction of the bourgeois anti-democratic institution (in our socio-economic terms) should be stressed by the SPGB, to help undermine or even forestall entirely the criticisms made by other (sometimes broadly sympathetic) Communist groups, of the supposed 'SPGB parliamentary reformist route'.I'd recommend that the SPGB adopts a clear strategy of 'Parliamentary Suicide', and clearly states that "a vote for the SPGB is a vote to dismantle parliament".To me, this is the essence of 'using existing democratic structures to get to socialism'.Let's face it, if that strategy alienates our 'constituency', we'd be better (in the spirit of Brecht's view that the East German Stalinists should dismiss the people and elect a new one), to find a 'constituency' other than the proletariat, and, as SP joked, really ditch Marx!

    #104834
    LBird
    Participant
    Bertolt Brecht, The Solution, wrote:
    After the uprising of June 17thThe Secretary of the Authors' UnionHad leaflets distributed in the StalinalleeWhich said that the peopleHad forfeited the government's confidenceAnd could only win it backBy redoubled labour. Wouldn't itBe simpler in that case if the governmentDissolved the people andElected another?
    #104835
    SocialistPunk
    Participant
    ALB wrote:
    In any event, why can't parliament, made more democratic, as an elected central decision-making body survive into socialism? There will have to be such a body anyway, so why not democratise parliament rather than create such a body from scratch? Which was my original point.

     

    ALB wrote:
    Quote:
    "Now," said I, "I have come to the point of asking questions which I suppose will be dry for you to answer and difficult for you to explain; but I have foreseen for some time past that I must ask them, will I 'nill I. What kind of a government have you? Has republicanism finally triumphed? or have you come to a mere dictatorship, which some persons in the nineteenth century used to prophesy as the ultimate outcome of democracy? Indeed, this last question does not seem so very unreasonable, since you have turned your Parliament House into a dung-market. Or where do you house your present Parliament?"The old man answered my smile with a hearty laugh, and said: "Well, well, dung is not the worst kind of corruption; fertility may come of that, whereas mere dearth came from the other kind, of which those walls once held the great supporters. Now, dear guest, let me tell you that our present parliament would be hard to house in one place, because the whole people is our parliament."
    #104836
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    I can't see a democratically organised working class being afraid of some bricks and mortar, so perhaps it could become a  (class) war museum to remind the free people of socialism where the representatives of the old ruling class met to administer  their oppressive and exploitive system called capitalism.

    #104837
    SocialistPunk
    Participant

    What I was saying earlier Vin. Such a place could even be set up like Madame Tussards with waxworks of the pompous politicians throughout the history of the place, with their ridiculous ceremonies etc. Be a fun day out for the kids.

    #104838
    ALB
    Keymaster

    Of course in socialism power will be in the hands of the people. I am just saying that, inevitably given the number of people involved and the large number of decisions to be made, some of this will have to be delegated to elected, accountable and recallable delegates. That's still democratic control. It is just inconceivable that most decisions could be made by direct democracy (whether a general assembly or internet voting). So there will have to be elected councils including regional (ex-national) ones.I don't care where the regional council for the British Isles (which, presumably, will form a regional unit of world socialism if only because all its inhabitants will be English-speakers) meets. It wouldn't have to meet in one place but could rotate between different places. I don't care either what it's called. The basic point that I'm trying to make is that there will have to be such a council, whether directly elected or composed of delegates from councils covering smaller regions within the British Isles.When we had a debate with some anti-parliamentary socialists (insofar as they too stand for a classless, stateless, moneyless world) in Birmingham last year, they argued that even local councils should be dissolved and replaced by "workers councils" that would spring up in the course of the socialist revolution. That's a possibility but I don't see why this has necessarily to be the case.The establishment of socialism/communism is not the implementation of some ideal scheme to reconstruct society from scratch. Quite apart from the fact that that's not how history happens, there is bound to be some institutional continuity between capitalism and socialism, especially in the early days. So some institutions which existed under capitalism will continue into socialism, though obviously in a modified form. I suggest that, unless the revolution is completely chaotic, local councils could be one of these.I think the idea of replacing every existing institution under capitalism by something new arises from the experience of what happened in Russia in 1917. The workers did have to create makeshift local decision-making bodies then (as they had done too in 1905) because Tsarism had been an autocracy which didn't allow the existence of more or less democratically-elected local councils. But we are not in this position today and probably won't be in the future. The Russian revolution of nearly a hundred years ago has never been a useful model for a real socialist revolution. Anyway, one of the demands of the Russian revolutionaries was for the election of a country-wide Constituent Assembly (is that any good for a new name!)

    #104839
    steve colborn
    Participant

    What is being missed, (in my humble opinion) is the necessary prerequiste of a Societal transformation. It is that it will be brought about by a collection of conscious, self aware individuals, working in their own interests from a "powerful" position of self knowledge. Everything, to my mind, springs from this. When one comprehends the power involved in this, it makes ones head spin.In this context, I would have no problem leaving one particular decision or another, to a group of fellow human beings, who possess the knowledge required to come to a decision/decisions, that are in the best interest of Humanity as a whole. For instance, a decision on medicines or a particular surgical treatment.What is also being missed, is that we cannot think about "democracy" in a new Society, with the same mindset as we consider it in Capitalism. It is like considering Socialism, by using the same mindset implicit today.  The new society will most assuredly "not" be anything like Capitalism. It will be different, root and branch and the same goes for "democracy, or indeed anything else.In conclusion, we could do worse than emphasising the power that class consciousness really possesses and the usefullness of thinking of Democracy and the new society, in a totally different way and with a totally different mindset, than we employ today.

    #104840
    SocialistPunk
    Participant

    Nothing wrong with what you've just stated Adam, I think your earlier reference to the continued use of "parliament" was like waving a red flag at a bull.But it is important to discuss this stuff.

    ALB wrote:
    When we had a debate with some anti-parliamentary socialists (insofar as they too stand for a classless, stateless, moneyless world) in Birmingham last year

    Now who was asking about the existence of other groups with similar views?

    Gnome wrote:
    SocialistPunk wrote:
    If party members go around talking of not dismantling parliament, I'm not surprised there is disagreement on this issue, from other socialist groups.

    Which 'socialist' groups would they be?

    #104841
    rodshaw
    Participant
    Vin Maratty wrote:
    I can't see a democratically organised working class being afraid of some bricks and mortar, so perhaps it could become a  (class) war museum to remind the free people of socialism where the representatives of the old ruling class met to administer  their oppressive and exploitive system called capitalism.

    Parliament could be moved to Westminster Abbey instead.I'll get my coat.

    #104842
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    SocialistPunk wrote:
    ALB wrote:
    When we had a debate with some anti-parliamentary socialists (insofar as they too stand for a classless, stateless, moneyless world) in Birmingham last year

    Now who was asking about the existence of other groups with similar views?

    There are a number of groups and organisations who claim to have these objectives including Money Free Party, The Zeitgeist Movement, Socialist Studies and many anarchists.  That, of itself, doesn't make them socialists as understood by the SPGB. Many of them lack internal democratic processes and structures, as well as, in the case of TZM, have supporters (they don't have members as such) – arguably the majority – who hold views more focused on attempts to reform capitalism (and its banking system, etc) than on the only solution to the social and economic problems of our time – real socialism.2011 Conference declared its opposition to TZM, for example, in no uncertain terms:"This Conference rules that the Zeitgeist Movement is a political organisation within the meaning of rule 6." "This Conference considers that active support of the Zeitgeist Movement is incompatible with membership of The Socialist Party." Members of the SPGB (as distinct from its would-be advisors) are also required to adhere to a set of principles:http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/our-object-and-declaration-principlesWhat distinguishes us, amongst all those who claim to want a classless, stateless, wageless, moneyless society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of life, is our view that parliament can, and should, be used in the course of establishing such a socialist society. This position is based on our understanding that before socialism can be established there has to be a majority actively in favour of this, and that it is essential for this majority to win control over the machinery of government (political power, the state) before trying to establish socialism. In developed capitalist countries, it is control of the law-making assembly (parliament) that is the way to the control of the machinery of government. Since control of parliament is obtained via elections based on universal suffrage, a socialist majority can win control of the machinery of government through winning a parliamentary majority via the ballot box. 

    #104843
    SocialistPunk
    Participant

    I wasn't aware that the SPGB had the monopoly on socialism?The definition of socialism given on this site, quoted below, says nothing of the route to socialism. Democracy is spoken of, but it says nothing about a parliamentary route or some other democratic peoples uprising.The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.And as has been said a number of times on this forum by various party members, it is the workers themselves who will create socialism and not the SPGB, and that the SPGB may play only a small part of a democratic socialist revolution.I would hope SPGB members would never dare question the socialist credentials of someone who agrees with the above definition, yet does not agree with using parliamentary democracy to get there?  

    #104844
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    SocialistPunk wrote:
    I wasn't aware that the SPGB had the monopoly on socialism?

    Live and learn, eh? 

    SocialistPunk wrote:
    I would hope SPGB members would never dare question the socialist credentials of someone who agrees with the above definition, yet does not agree with using parliamentary democracy to get there?

    So would I.The reason why we say it is essential to win control of the machinery of government, which in countries such as the UK is parliament or its equivalent, is that the state is both the historically-evolved centre of social administration and, in class-divided societies like capitalism, the institution with the power to employ socially-sanctioned physical force. The state is an expression of and enforcer of class society.  Intrinsically it is a coercive institution. What's your favoured alternative scenario workers might use "to get there"?

    #104845
    ALB
    Keymaster
    SocialistPunk wrote:
    Nothing wrong with what you've just stated Adam, I think your earlier reference to the continued use of "parliament" was like waving a red flag at a bull.

    I don't see why talking about retaining parliament in a thoroughly democratised form should have been a red rag to anybody here or at least not to anyone taking part of the discussion (it might be our dogmatically anti-parliamentary friends) since we are all agreed here that workers should organise to win control of "parliaments" through elections.What workers should do then will be up to them, but I would have thought the easiest option would be to retain parliament rather than set up some other elected central decision-making body. I know that the old DeLeonist SLP in America argued that congress, once there was socialist majority in it, should be dissolved and central decision-making power handed over to the central council of the "socialist industrial unions" they advocate. And that LBird is proposing something similar except that central decision-making power be handed over to a Central Workers Council. These are both possibilities of course but, to me anyway, seem like going the long way round.Actually, we have said something about how we think decision-making might be organised (might of course not will since the final decision is not ours) in chapter 3 of our pamphlet Socialism As a Practical Alternative. Here's a couple of extracts:

    Quote:
    A democratic system of decision-making would require that the basic unit of social organisation would be the local community which could elect is delegates to a local council which could be given the responsibility for local administration. If, for example, local communities in socialism began by operating from the basis of the existing structure of district councils in England, this would give 332 local communities. This would be a democratic development of the existing procedures for electing local councils which could become the basic means for dealing with day-to-day local issues. Then, regional councils could provide organisation through which decisions affecting wider populations could be made at the regional level. Similarly, global decisions could be made by delegates elected to a world council.
    Quote:
    The procedures for electing delegates to the various councils could vary, but would include machinery whereby the councils could be instructed by majority poll. On an everyday basis, the responsibility for deciding upon routine matters could be delegated to such councils, and providing they had sufficient members, they would broadly reflect general opinion. But, in certain circumstances councils would want to ascertain the view of the whole community on specific questions. In these cases a majority poll could be carried out, and the same method could be used to challenge council decisions where this was thought necessary. With modern communications the means for carrying out majority polls would be straightforward and would present no difficulties. In their final detailed form, which would doubtless vary from region to region, the arrangements made for everyday decision making would be the outcome of the democratic wishes of the whole community. Society could delegate certain decisions to people who take on the responsibility for running particular parts of production or services. For example, in workplaces committees could be chosen to co-ordinate and organise production, subject to democratic control by all of those involved. Where the numbers of people are few, for example, in the running of small-scale services, no doubt work will be organised along more informal lines. But wherever responsibility has been delegated to an individual or group, this would only be with the consent of the whole community. Democratic checks on councils, committees, groups or individuals to whom responsibility has been delegated, would mean that ultimately control would still be exercised by the community as a whole. The important point to be made about an integrated world system of cooperative decision-making is that decisions would flow throughout the structure upwards from local communities. This would replace centralised control by governments Such a system would be adaptable, for any purpose, on any intermediate scale between the local and world levels.

    This of course is only a suggestion and reflects the time at which it was written, 1987, when the internet was not so widespread. It also doesn't say anything about whether the regional councils should be directly elected or be composed of delegates from local councils (though it does seem to imply the latter). But, then, do we need to?

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