The Forum: Is the ballot-box a necessity of the present system?

We have received from a correspondent in Berlin the following query, which we were unable to deal with earlier on account of pressure on our space.

[To the editor.]

Dear Sir,—Will you please answer the follow­ing question in the next number of “S.S.”

In No. 113 “S.S.,” page 35, third column, you criticise the quotation: “If putting a piece of paper into a tin box would effect a revolution, you can bet your boots that the State (i.e., the bosses) wouldn’t supply the box” (“Daily Herald,” 27.11.13), as follows: “Which is quite forgetting the fact that the ballot box is a necessity of the present system, and is provided by the masters as a receptacle for the votes of the working class after they have been kidded into voting for them. When this method no longer suits their purpose they may endeavour to change it.”

Now, (1) if it is a fact that the ballot-box is a necessity, then it must also be a fact that the present system cannot exist without it. (2) The State (i.e., the bosses) therefore, cannot change this method even if it does no longer suit their purpose, or else you are wrong by stating it is a fact that the ballot-box is a necessity of the present system. (3) If again, it be no necessity, has your organisation an alternative to voting?

Sincerely yours,


The use of the term “necessity ” in a Jottings paragraph must, of course, be taken in a rela­tive sense. While the existence of capitalism without the ballot-box may be conceivable, no evidence of its existence without it has yet been known.

Under the circumstances in which capitalism came into existence, the ballot-box was a neces­sity for its establishment, and its use and value to the capitalist system grow, rather than dimi­nish, with the development of that system.

The reason for this is clear to the Socialist, or anyone else who has made a fair study of capi­talism. With the increasing complexity and interdependence of the various parts, it becomes more and more imperative to extend the delega­tion of various functions to larger numbers of the working class. This is the more necessary as the capitalists have long ceased to be capable of running capitalism, and have to depend upon the working class to do it.

Every extension of this delegation requires that, sooner or later, an extension of the basis of representation must take place. Hence the con­tinual, if somewhat lop-sided, “democratisation of the franchise ” that is sometimes pushed for­ward by Liberals and sometimes by Tories. The only alternative in front of the capitalist class is chaos. Unable to manage capitalism themselves, they must arrange for the workers to do it or see the system collapse.

Now the more desperate, or stupid, of the capitalist class may attempt to change the ballot-box in the last stages of the struggle, but it will then be too late in itself, while the majority of the class will waver, hesitate, flounder, and—be overwhelmed by the workers.

What Kroll fails to see is that a factor of a system may be forced out of that system—with resultant collapse—and yet be a “necessity” for its smooth continuance. Hence the statement, though brief, was correct in essence. The Ballot is a necessity for the smooth working of capi­talism. Conceivably it could be removed, but only at the cost of the collapse of the system.

The Socialist position is, therefore, obtain control of power through the use of the ballot, because it is the easiest, speediest, and surest way.


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