The International Socialists and Parliamentary Action

The “International Socialists” and their journal Socialist Worker declare that “There is . . . no parliamentary road to Socialism”. (See “What We Stand For” in any issue of Socialist Worker.) They use several different arguments to support their position. One of them was put in an article by Paul Foot published in The Times of 14th August 1975.


Mr. Foot’s theme was that “the parliamentary road to Socialism has turned into another blind alley”. To support this argument all that he had to do was to give us his example of a socialist working class having tried to use the parliamentary road to achieve Socialism and having failed. But Mr. Foot and I.S. do not know of any such example. What he did give was the British Labour Government, that is to say a party which rejects Socialism and tries to run capitalism. In his typically confused way Mr. Foot is half aware of this, because his description of Labour ministers and their supporters is that they are people “who have imagined that capitalism could be reformed by the periodical election of Labour governments”. But what has reforming capitalism got to do with Socialism?


In another muddled passage Mr. Foot wrote that these are dreadful times “for socialists who put their trust in Labour governments”; but Socialists did not and do not put their trust in Labour governments. It isn’t Socialists who have been led “down another blind alley” but the unfortunate workers who are bamboozled by Foot and is into voting for the Labour Party at each General Election.


But I.S. has another case against the parliamentary road. It was set out in Socialist Worker (21st July 1973) in an attack on another organization which, like I.S., urges the workers to vote for the Labour Party — the Communist Party of Great Britain. There it was argued that the working class cannot gain control through parliamentary elections because the working class is only a minority.


A majority of workers may want a complete transformation of society . . . but in parliamentary elections, with the middle class and ruling class voting against them, they would lose.


This is of course a nonsensical statement. The working class consists of all who get their living by selling their mental and physical energies, their labour-power, for a wage or salary. With dependents and working-class pensioners they constitute at least 85 per cent. (34 million) out of the 40 million electors on the parliamentary register; and on the same percentage basis they constituted about 25 million out of the 29 million who used their votes at the last General Election. (The remaining 4 million voters consisted of capitalists, the “self-employed”, and their dependents.)


So how did 4 million outvote 25 million? Even if we assumed that all of the 11½  million electors who voted Labour were working-class (and that is certainly not true) it would mean that more working-class voters (over 13 million) voted Tory, or Liberal or for the Welsh, Scottish and Irish Nationalist parties, than voted for the Labour Party. (To avoid possible misunderstanding, all of these 29 million supported private capitalism or state capitalism.)


Ruling out the possibility that I.S. cannot count, the basis for their peculiar conclusion appears to be the probability that for them “working-class” means only those workers actually producing goods, to the exclusion of the big majority of workers not so employed. (On this basis of course Mr. Foot and many of the members of I.S. would not be working-class.)


However, what is of most importance is the conclusion that follows from the I.S. view of “working class”. It is that is I.S. consciously basing its case on minority action, the forcible imposition of the will of the minority on the majority. This is carried a stage further in the I.S. declaration “What We Stand For”, where it is stated that the achievement of Socialism is to be by the organization in a revolutionary socialist party of “the most militant sections of the working class” — in other words, a minority of a minority. It is significant that “What We Stand For” never once uses the words “democracy” or “democratic”.


I.S. has in fact largely taken over from the Communist Party what was that party’s position half a century ago. Like the Communist Party then and now, the objective of I.S. is not Socialism but a variety of state capitalism. It differs from traditional Labour Party ideas on state capitalism, the nationalized boards, in that I.S. lays emphasis on workers’ councils — capitalism run by shop stewards.


Edgar Hardcastle