Parliament and Power
Recently the I.L.P. published a pamphlet “The Way To Workers’ Control,” which is a reprint of chapter 6, section II., of the book “Workers’ Councils ” by Anton Pannekoek. In an introduction the I.L.P. states:—” This pamphlet is necessary as an antidote for those who have stressed the importance of the Parliamentary struggle. It is important to remind M.P.s who believe that their power rests on a mathematical majority of seats that real power exists outside Parliament (and the courts, as Sir Hartley Shawcross found when he tried to prosecute the dockers in February, 1951).” They also state:— “We believe that the tasks of a political party today do not preclude Parliamentary action. It is our view and, we believe, that of the author, that Socialist policy should not be determined by Parliamentary expediency …”
There is also a new journal, “Revolt,” published by so-called Marxist Groups, which is putting forward old ideas which have helped to mislead the working class in the past.
We therefore once again have to refute the idea that Socialism can be established before the understanding and acceptance of it by the majority of the workers. Despite all the defeats, hardship and bloodshed experienced by workers in trying to oppose the powers of the State machine by force, these so-called Marxist Groups are once again advocating methods which, if put in effect, could only lead to further defeats. Despite all the experience they have to draw upon, they appear to have learned nothing from the errors of the Anarchists and Communist Parties.
The S.P.G.B. has since its foundation stressed the need for the working class to organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government in order that the machinery of government, including the armed forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation. The importance of Parliament as the centre of power is dealt with in our pamphlet “Questions of the Day.”
What does the I.L.P. mean by the statement “That Socialist policy should not be determined by Parliamentary expediency?” Gaining control of Parliament to introduce Socialism is not Parliamentary expediency. When we of the S.P.G.B. have contested an election we have always put the Socialist case. We have always requested the working class not to vote for the Socialist candidate unless they understand and accepted Socialism. It is the I.L.P. whose election campaigns are determined by Parliamentary expediency, it is the I.L.P. which fails to put the Socialist case to the electors, it is the I.L.P. which puts forward what they believe to be vote catching reforms only to find that the majority of the workers believe that the Labour Party is more likely to obtain these reforms. The I.L.P. is wrong in stating that real power exists outside Parliament.
Power and the Law
Clearly the strongest power in the State, wherever it resides, cannot be limited by law or anything else, since otherwise it would not be the strongest. Parliamentary sovereignty in Britain means that the validity of an Act of Parliament cannot be called in question in any court of law. There is no legal limit to the power of Parliament in Great Britain and consequently no court of law can ever declare, as can an American court with an Act of Congress, that an Act of Parliament is unconstitutional and therefore cannot be enforced.
Sir H. Shawcross, as the Attorney General in the last Labour Government, did not fail in his attempt to prosecute the dockers, because the power of the courts was greater than that of Parliament, but because he was in too much of a hurry. The Labour Government could have changed the law, it had a majority in the House of Commons, but it was bound by previous laws which it had not changed. The Labour Government knew that if they did change the law it would have to bear the consequences in the next general election.
“The working classes will have learned by experience that no lasting benefit whatever can be obtained for them by others but that they must obtain it themselves by conquering, first of all. political power. They must see now that under no circumstances have they any guarantee for bettering their social position unless by universal suffrage which would enable them to send a majority of working men in the House of Commons (“The Ten Hours Question” by F. Engels).”
“But universal suffrage is the equivalent for political power for the working class of England, where the proletariat form the large majority of the population, where, in a long, though underground, civil war, it has gained a clear consciousness of its position as a class, and where even the rural districts know no longer any peasants, but landlords, industrial Capitalists (farmers) and hired labourers. The carrying of universal suffrage in England would, therefore, be a far more Socialist measure than anything which has been honoured with that name on the Continent.
“Its inevitable result here is the political supremacy of the working class.”