Correspondence: Does Parliament Matter?
As a lifelong dissenter from the parliamentary system extolled as democracy I totally disagree with SPGB contention that the only road to socialism can be the parliamentary one, as your September issue—The Power of the Vote—propounds.
Parliament since its inception just over 700 years ago under Simon de Montfort has never been anything but the visible manifestation of the power of vested interests—be these rapacious sovereigns, pillaging barons, extorting merchants or exploiting capitalists. Mistaking the accidental for the substance can in certain circumstances have fatal consequences for the unwary!
Parliament has ever been a purely administrative instrument devised by ruler and ruling class for wielding power. But it is not an indispensable instrument, as a study of history testifies, nor can it in any way be described as “the seat of power”. Kings have ignored it in the past, transnational corporations do so now. When “sanctions” can be circumvented quite simply, though decreed by Parliament, and “unauthorised” military or police actions are either ignored or, if impossible to do so, retrospectively “legalised” then clearly the notion that Parliament is the scat of power is a mistaken one.
R. Cox—“The Parliamentary Road to Socialism” — whose championing of the cause of parliamentary democracy (as in a previous issue) is such as to produce a most un-Marxist statement “this fallacious belief that class rule is based on economic power,” holds that “parliamentary democracy is sustained by a general concensus of support for such a tradition.” Another instance of mistaking the accidental for the substance. Given an anti- or extra-parliamentary TV network, a mass circulation newspaper and a paperback publishing house the superficiality of such “concensus” would quickly be seen. The pre-conditioned “turn outs” at elections and the media contrived “interest” in Parliament belie the widespread cynicism and contemptuous scepticism about it which most people feel.
Even with 600 plus candidates, which is a necessary prerequisite for winning an election in order to bring about socialism (your theory), how is it envisaged that the working class can see through the one-liners, the potted cliches and the TV-pop press electioneering standards to understand and embrace the socialist case? For the “how” and “why” of the SPGB formula that the great majority of the population will be disposed favourably to socialism before the final election is always glossed over.
More reasons are adduced by ALB, to his own satisfaction, for the need to vote our way to socialism in “Violence and the State.” While clutching at a single straw to insist that Marx recognised that workers can achieve social revolution by peaceful means the writer makes a preposterous claim in refuting Lenin’s view that violence was inescapable by suggesting that political changes in the last 100 years have been “in favour of using ‘the force of law’ rather than the ‘law of force’. . .” There has been no change of system in any country where force has not prevailed during this period whereas the converse is true. Every political change, outside of North America, has on the contrary been either a direct or an indirect consequence of world war, civil war or armed insurrection since 1870. But in debasing his argument, poor as it is, with cheap sneers at those who oppose his ‘peaceful road’ theory AI.B forfeits respect and the right to be taken seriously.
In conclusion I would suggest that every objection and criticism made of the anarchist position (in an unconvincing side-swipe at them in your “election issue”) can be levelled at the SPGB. What will the police and armed forces which maintain and defend the capitalist status quo be doing when the working class is voting in socialist delegates—playing football against each other? What will the owners of capital and the transnational corporations do when the socialist majority decrees the abolition of money —play Monopoly with pounds sterling?
“As long as capitalism lasts, workers will be plagued with well-meaning idealists who rebel against the double standards and violence of the system.” A fitting description of the SPGB today.
Of course Parliament cannot make something happen simply by passing laws: otherwise there would be no crime. And some laws — for example, parking regulations — are widely ignored. (It is not yet safe to class “sanction busting” along with these however — there may still be prosecutions.) But Parliament has the power to enforce its decrees and to punish those who go against them; if Parliament chooses not to use its powers, that is not evidence that that power does not exist.
Parliament controls the state machine, which means the armed forces, the police, the prisons, and so on. If socialists were to ignore this and seek to seize power by some means other than capturing Parliament and so controlling the state machine. we would be courting disaster.
The passage from the article “The Parliamentary Road to Socialism” should not be read out of context; the article went on to point out, correctly, that the capitalist class have economic power only because “. . . . the immense majority support capitalism by voting for capitalist parties . . .”. If the working class ceased to vote for capitalism, the economic power of the capitalist class would also cease.
If there is cynicism and scepticism about political activity and about the power of Parliament (which is not borne out by the large turn-out in important elections) this is a side effect of the evident futility of what Parliament does. And far from “glossing over” the problems of persuading the working class to see through the propaganda for capitalism and to consciously opt for a new society, this is our preoccupation (and at times a frustrating one) as the only socialist party.
Whatever the circumstances surrounding former revolutions, the fact is that they have all been in the interests of one minority against another (we assume that by “political change” is meant “revolution”). The overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by Socialism must be the act of a conscious majority of the working class and will therefore be democratic and not based on violence — although, if a minority were to try to obstruct the will of the majority, they would of course be dealt with.
Workers who are in the police and armed forces are as susceptible to the case for Socialism as anyone else. With the development of socialist consciousness the state machine’s power will progressively decline to the point at which, when the majority are socialists, it will disappear. The few policemen or soldiers who are left may well prefer to play football to trying to defend a discredited inhuman system at death’s door.
Finally, the case for socialism is based on a materialist interpretation of the evidence of history. Idealism, well-meaning or otherwise, it certainly is not.
Where are you SPGBers? OK, your paper is excellent, your theory is excellent. But while you are sitting around discussing the social surplus value, Asians are being stabbed, women are being attacked and gays are being intimidated. While you are sitting on your backsides in a smug, self- righteous way, the National Front could win electoral power and your paper and meetings will be smashed like those of other organisations who are working for a humane society. You may be right in saying that capitalism breeds racism, sexism etc., but capitalism also breeds parties like the National Front and the threat of the removal of the limited freedoms we now have.