Democratic control in socialism: extent and limits

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

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  • #104846
    alanjjohnstone
    Keymaster
    Quote:
    I don't see why talking about retaining parliament in a thoroughly democratised form should have been a red rag to anybody here

    I think the point is, as i said earlier, is that a thoroughly democratised form of social administration would not resemble "Parliament" and therefore the word is superfluous and its usage will tend to offer a misleading impression of what we aspire towards. Your quote from SAPA correctly does not employ the term and we should not either. Socialist "parliaments" would not be a parliament and even putting in the apostropes, ".." , won't make them so. It is a new democratic decision-making structure "…would replace centralised control by governments Such a system would be adaptable, for any purpose,…" I'll stick to the concept of 332 "parliaments",…but they will not be called parliaments….perhaps talking houses…parle-maisons

    #104847
    LBird
    Participant
    gnome wrote:
    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.

    There is some analytical overlap here between 'parliament' and 'the state'.'Parliament' is only one aspect of 'the state', and whilst any parliament is the focus of legitimate decision-making in socially-peaceful times, in more revolutionary periods of increasing class warfare, there always seems to emerge a 'shadow' decision-making body which is ready to usurp 'the power to employ socially-sanctioned physical force', when the moment is right. This is most often some sort of 'junta', composed of other arms of the state, like the military generals, judiciary, top civil servants, chief police officers and heads of local councils. At the moment of the final triumph of 'democracy' (ie. an SPGB revolutionary majority), the shadow body will spring into action (during the '70s in the UK, perhaps Column 88 in the armed forces and 'Clockwork Orange' in NI are relevant historical pointers). At this point, 'parliament' becomes useless as a tool of 'power', and the junta then heads 'the state' and its coercive bodies.What parliament does retain, is democratic legitimacy, and this 'legitimacy' can act as a pole of attraction for those members of the state who wish to retain democracy, are already at least partially disposed to Communist ideas, have now had it proven to them by popular vote that Communism is what 'the people' want, and are opposed to military juntas.In line with this legitimacy, as parliament is held to be the supreme body in constitutional theory, then that body can dissolve itself and hand 'legitimacy' over to the parallel Workers' Councils, which necessarily will have developed during the period when the SPGB was also gaining more votes, ending in a parliamentary majority.Thus, those members of the armed forces, judicial machinery, police bodies and civil and local authority workers, who wish to adhere to 'democracy', 'legitimacy' and peaceful means, will have a route which allow them to follow their wishes.The alternative will be an undemocratic, unknown, constitutionally-illegitimate junta, which only has a violent coup as its means of political action.Our 'coercive institution' must be Workers' Councils, as the newly legitimate authority set above the other components of the state, and which will immediately proceed to democratise all power and authority within those bodies, so that any 'officer ranks' are elected and revokable. This will, of course, be the end process of the confidence building of the 'non-officers' within those state bodies of their own abilities to run those bodies. There will have been parallel development by all workers, both outside and inside of the state, and links would already exist between emergent Workers' Councils and Councils of soldiers, civil servants, judicial workers, and, even if perhaps a minority in this case, the police; the handing over of 'legitimacy' from parliament to Workers' Councils would already have been part of proletarian propaganda, and openly stated as the only aim of voting for the SPGB (or other proletarian parties), the strategy of 'Parliamentary Suicide'.This act of parliamentary self-destruction won't come as a surprise.The assumption by Workers' Councils of the legitimate control of state organs, with the aim of destroying any old elite power mechanisms within them too, and only retaining whatever functions we perhaps temporarily need (eg. police SPG/DSU disbanded, detective/forensic capabilities retained?), would be the ultimate symbol of the destruction of bourgeois rule.

    #104848
    ALB
    Keymaster

    That seems one reasonable strategy in the event of a pro-capitalist coup against the election of a socialist majority in parliament (though I think keeping parliament in being would help re-inforce the "legitimacy" of the revolution). In any event, something like that would have to happen.Here's how the Socialist Standard answered this precise question in November 1933 (see: http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/1930s/1933/no-351-november-1933/parliament-and-constitution):

    Quote:
    "What would the SPGB do in the event of them obtaining a majority in Parliament and Parliament was suspended by Royal decree or some other such trick by the Capitalist class?"Our correspondent asks us to deal with the hypothetical situation of a capitalist minority attempting to suspend Parliament after they had allowed an election to be held in which Socialists obtained a majority of seats. If the capitalists were so obliging as to wait until after the election before making the attempt to suspend Parliament, they would, of course, be weakening their own position and strengthening that of the Socialist majority. In our reply we have assumed the less improbable situation of the capitalist minority making their attempt without waiting for elections to take place which would demonstrate their (the capitalists') minority position. If we assume the other hypothesis, then the position of the Socialist majority would be even stronger than we have stated it to be.This question has often been answered in the SOCIALIST STANDARD. In essence, it boils down to this: “Can a capitalist minority which happens to have control of the machinery of Government continue indefinitely to govern and make capitalism function, in the face of the organised opposition of a majority of Socialists?” If that were possible, then, it would be a sheer waste of time to consider Socialism at all or the method of achieving it.However, it is not possible for a minority to maintain its hold in those circumstances. Faced with the hostility of a majority of workers (including, of course, workers in the civil and armed forces, as well as workers in productive and distributive occupations), the capitalist minority would be unable, in the long run, to enforce its commands and the workers would be able to dislocate production and transport. In such circumstances the capitalists would themselves be divided. Not all of them would be disposed to provoke chaotic conditions in an heroic last-ditch struggle.A look at the way in which governments do behave in face of a hostile majority under existing conditions will show how impossible it is for any minority to retain cohesion and to act decisively when it is conscious of being actively opposed by the majority.A few years ago, for example, the King of Spain and his immediate supporters, in spite of having organised a so-called military dictatorship, lost their nerve and fled the country merely because some municipal elections had gone against their candidates.In Russia, in 1917, we saw Kerensky throw in the sponge as soon as he saw the Bolsheviks voted into control of the chief Soviets.We invite our correspondent to name a single instance of a capitalist minority managing to maintain its hold on the machinery of Government for any length of time in face of the organised and united opposition of a majority of the population. We know of no such instance.We would then ask him to consider how much more clear and certain the outcome would be if the organised and united opposition is composed of convinced Socialists who have gained their majority in face of a long drawn-out struggle with all the defenders of capitalism. So far, of course, such a majority of Socialists has not existed at any time or in any country.

    It remains to speculate how likely some such action by a recalcitrant pro-capitalist minority is likely to be. In any event, once there's a socialist majority outside parliament the game is up for the capitalist class whatever some of them might choose to do.

    #104849
    LBird
    Participant
    ALB wrote:
    In any event, once there's a socialist majority outside parliament the game is up for the capitalist class…

    [my bold]Doesn't this statement rather undermine the SPGB strategy?That is, if a 'socialist majority' comes into existence within society whilst socialists are still a minority in parliament (for example, workers don't follow the SPGB strategy of 'electing MPs', but concentrate on building extra-parliamentary Councils), the 'game is up' anyway.I would have expect you to have said "In any event, once there's a socialist majority inside parliament the game is up for the capitalist class… "

    #104850

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delegative_democracyAlso known as Liquid Democracy (aka Delegable Proxy Voting) is sueful to look at, with people opting into and out of various layers of decision making, i.e. while things are running smoothly, we leave well enough alone, and when things go wrong, we intervene.  So, while the bins are being collected, all well and good, when they start exploding, we vote together.  This is the same as any manager/CEO does now, delegate what you can and leave it alone until you have to intervene.  the difference is that society as a whole will be the CEO.

    #104851
    ALB
    Keymaster
    LBird wrote:
    ALB wrote:
    In any event, once there's a socialist majority outside parliament the game is up for the capitalist class…

    [my bold]Doesn't this statement rather undermine the SPGB strategy?That is, if a 'socialist majority' comes into existence within society whilst socialists are still a minority in parliament (for example, workers don't follow the SPGB strategy of 'electing MPs', but concentrate on building extra-parliamentary Councils), the 'game is up' anyway.

    That's what I meant to say and, no, it doesn't. Yes, as you repeat, the existence of a socialist majority outside parliament would mean that the game is up for the capitalist class. But that doesn't undermine "the SPGB strategy". Assuming that more or less fair elections are possible, a socialist majority outside parliament would reflect itself as a socialist majority inside parliament. So why not go for it? Why take the longer and more risky route of trying to ignore or by-pass parliament and so lose the "legitimacy" aspect you emphasised?Not that I think that, when there is a socialist majority outside parliament, the dogmatic anti-parliamentarists would get much of a following. As James Connolly put it, when in 1908 he left the DeLeonist SLP to join the IWW and

    Quote:
    was asked if he approved of its repudiating the principle of political action. He laughed, "It will be impossible to prevent the workers taking it." (G. Desmond Greaves, The Life and Times of James Connolly, p. 228)
    #104852
    LBird
    Participant
    ALB wrote:
    Assuming that more or less fair elections are possible, a socialist majority outside parliament would reflect itself as a socialist majority inside parliament. So why not go for it? Why take the longer and more risky route of trying to ignore or by-pass parliament and so lose the "legitimacy" aspect you emphasised?

    Of course, I've said before many times (and it's at least one reason why I moved to this site to discuss) that while 'more or less fair elections are possible', it's one way of illuminating the growing 'socialist majority outside parliament', and thus, through this illuminating, of also strengthening it. It's basically free propaganda, organised and paid for by the bourgeoisie.But where we differ is not the 'road' (although I'd characterise it as a 'twin-track' of parallel parliamentary and external activity, so perhaps our 'road' is different, too), but what happens when we reach the terminus.The purpose of 'the parliamentary road', to me, is to destroy the parliament.There seems to be both of these tendencies being expressed on this thread, both by non-members and SPGB members.That is, 'Capture Parliament to Use it' versus 'Capture Parliament to Destroy it'. It's the same means, but different ends.I think that if the SPGB was to emphasise the latter (if that is what SPGB members actually envisage), this will go a long way to undermine other Communist/Socialist groups criticisms of the SPGB as being 'parliamentarian cretins' (or whatever the phrase is, that's in vogue with the Anarchists/Left Communists, who otherwise agree with the SPGB about 'free access' Communism).

    #104853
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    gnome wrote:
    "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."

     I think the development social media may have confused this a little. For example, are we supporting such groups by following them on 'twitter' or joining their 'facebook' page?I myself am a member of the Zeitgeist facebook (as I believe other members are) and follow the major parties and media groups on twitter.I don't 'support' any of them, it is just a way of debating with them and getting our ideas across. I have to say that the the second resolution could suggest that we  leave the Zeitgeist facebook and follow only socialists on twitter . Perhaps another conference resolution?  

    #104854
    SocialistPunk
    Participant
    gnome wrote:
    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"?

    Gnome, I happen to think the SPGB strategy is the safest way for the socialist majority to take control of the state so that it can be neutralised effectively. So I agree with the parliamentary route to socialism. I was a party member at one time, so I think I must have agreed with it then. But if it was decided otherwise by a non SPGB socialist majority that would be fine with me.As for the idea that parliament should be retained I happen to think it should not. Two reasons come to mind. Firstly as Alan has put it, democracy will likely be a lot more democratic following a socialist revolution than anything the SPGB originals ever dreamed up. The internet would allow democracy to be accessed much quicker and easier than ever before. Our friend on the recent TZM discussion placed a lot of faith in the power of the internet and they are correct.Secondly as parliament has always been an arm of the state, for pure symbolic reasons I expect socialists would prefer to reject the parliamentary model totally. As for adapting it, what is there to adapt when socialist democracy  leaves the parliamentary model way behind?Most of the work of parliament is regarding law making, commerce enhancing, issues of national and international security and defence, arguing over s[pending, blah, blah, blah. Food production, medicines, clothes, housing and energy is all left to capitalist business for the most part. So most administration will be decentralised anyway.

    #104855
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    LBird wrote:
    But where we differ is not the 'road' (although I'd characterise it as a 'twin-track' of parallel parliamentary and external activity, so perhaps our 'road' is different, too), but what happens when we reach the terminus.The purpose of 'the parliamentary road', to me, is to destroy the parliament.There seems to be both of these tendencies being expressed on this thread, both by non-members and SPGB members.That is, 'Capture Parliament to Use it' versus 'Capture Parliament to Destroy it'. It's the same means, but different ends.

    I don't think there is a contadiction. The party's position has always been that workers need to take control of the state via parliament for the sole purpose of dispossesing the ruling class. Once the earth and its resources are in the hands of the community, the capitalist state including parliament will not have a function and will have been destroyed. The bricks and mortar may remain – to some – a symbol of oppression. The following distinguishes the WSM from the anarchists. We do not propose to destroy the state or parliament while capitalism existsThat as 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, the working class must organize consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.But your statement 'capture parliament to destroy it' is also accurate and you are probably right in that it may be more attractive to anarchists but I think it would be misleading them.  

    #104856
    Brian
    Participant

    What about a self-destruct strategy?  Capture parliament to use it, to destroy it?

    #104857

    At heart is the old 6th Form saw: "If a democratic society voted democratically to execute you, what would you do?" To which the obvious answer is to dodge the question, and point out that if an overwhelming majority of people want you dead, you will be killed, whether you submit or fight.  However, that dodge isn't as weak as it first sounds, since it brings up the essential point that democracy is also about power.  We cannot vote to hold back the tide, and we cannot vote the moon out of the sky.  If we deny a democratic society a means of enforcing its views, then the vote doesn't really matter, its what boots on the ground say (I can think of at least one or two resolutions of Party conference that have been ignored into the long grass).  Votes have to be useful to those that are effectved by them.  If society has no means of compelling labour, then it can vote till it's blue in the face if people simply refuse to enforce them.  It becomes much like Wikipedia (despite it's protest that Wikipedia isn't a democracy (they actively discourage voting) because the free consensus that rules there is the self=-organisation of editors.  Now, of course, there are admins, who have extra power becuase they control the code (much as our beloved moderators have power).So, the limit of democracy is our capacity to carry out the results of a vote (including willingness) and the utility to us of holding such votes in rder toc o-ordinate action.  Democracy is about more than nose counting, it is about the open ended debate, and the capacity of people to join in that debate (thus, it means decisions should be made in a way in which they are readily revocable, but compatible with actual decisions being made).

    #104858
    steve colborn
    Participant

    Once again, I will point out the most important pre-requisite, before a Societal change is on the cards. The existence of a majority of humans who both understand and want the alternatve and just as importantly, work to bring it about. It will be up to this informed, conscious majority who will, at the time we are talking about decide how the revolution will be enacted and its aftermath. Will they keep "Parliament" as a monument, museum or an adjunct to the truly democratic society we envisage. Will the state, as was debated within the SPGB in the 80's, be destroyed or allowed to whither away?All of the answers to these questions can and will be answered in the fullness of time. As for now, all we can do is hypothesise as to conditions and outcomes. As the movement for change grows and ideas evolve, so the possibilities before us will increase.What we must not do, IMHO, is to be so insular and inward looking as to miss oppurtunities for this growth. Nor must we be so "touchy" with regards to others who do not share every "crossed T and dotted i, with ourselves. And before anyone suggests or asks, yes I do accept and stand by the principles of The Socialist Party, as at present laid down. As a Socialist and moreover, a human being, I have an open and enquiring mind and do not intend to restrict either, for the sake of "custom and usage"! That is not to say, I intend to abondon mine, or the Party's principles, I do not.

    #104859
    ALB
    Keymaster
    Brian wrote:
    What about a self-destruct strategy?  Capture parliament to use it, to destroy it?

    This is the same sort of debate, about the state, we've had in the Socialist Party for 30 or so years. The position at the moment (Conference resolution carried in 2004):

    Quote:
    That the 1984 Conference Resolution, 'This Conference affirms that socialism will entail the immediate abolition and not the gradual decline of the State', be rescinded and replaced with: 'That as the State is an expression of and enforcer of class society, the capture of political power by the working class and the subsequent conversion of the means of living into common property will necessarily lead to the abolition of the state, as its function as the custodian of class rule will have ended. Those intrinsically useful functions of the state machine in capitalism will be retained by socialist society but re-organised and democratised to meet the needs of a society based on production for use'.

    I know it doesn't specifically mention parliament as an "instrinsically useful function", though personally I'd have thought a central, elected decision-making body would be …I can understand why some members and sympathisers don't like us talking of "parliament" surviving into socialism as today, in view of the antics and ineffectiveness of MPs, "parliament" has become a dirty word. I'm not sure that this is an encouraging development as it is not just anarchists who are anti-parliament but fascists too. In fact, hadn't the rise of fascism in Germany in the 1930s something to do with many workers blaming "democracy" rather than capitalism for their problems? So I don't think it's in our interest to go along with any anti-parliament sentiment.

    #104860
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    An imprtant point, ALB, I cannot see local councils being abolished by socialist delegates. That would be insane.  

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