What happens when there is a socialist majority?
My early political education as a child came partly from listening to SPGB speakers – notably Harry Baldwin – on the corner of East Street in South London. I enjoy reading the Socialist Standard, which often feels like an island of relative sanity in a sea of media hysteria. I’ve never joined the party, much as I learnt from and sympathise with many of its views. I’m afraid I wandered off into anarcho-syndicalism. But one thing I have often wondered. If the Socialist Party were to gain a majority in Parliament what would come next? I realise this would not happen without a majority of workers having come to see the sense of moving from capitalism to socialism. I realise too that nobody can – or should – paint a detailed picture of the future choices the working class will make. But I still wonder – what will happen when the first SPGB majority House of Commons meets?
Harry Harmer, Shrewsbury
It won’t be the Socialist Party as an organisation separate from the working class that would have a parliamentary majority, but the socialist-minded working class. It is they who will have won political control and the socialist MPs will be their delegates. This presupposes, as you say, a socialist majority outside parliament, one which will have organised itself not just into a socialist political party, but also in places of work ready to keep useful production going. Also, there would be similar movements in control of political power or about to be in other advanced capitalist countries.
So what would the majority of socialist delegates do? The main reason for going into parliament, as an elected central law-making body, is to be in a position to control the machinery of government; not for the purpose of forming a government as under capitalism but, as a minimum, to prevent the powers of the state being used against the movement for socialism. But, as the state is not just the public power of coercion but also the centre of social administration, to use this aspect to co-ordinate the social revolution from capitalism to socialism as well as to keep essential administrative services going.
There is no need to create from scratch a central co-ordinating body – as the syndicalists and others have proposed, whether based on industrial unions or some central workers’ council – when one that can be adapted and used already exists. In our view, winning control of the existing political structure is the most direct route to socialism. Trying to smash it would be suicidal; trying to ignore it risks violence and unnecessary disruption. Why try to set up alternative central departments to deal with such matters as agriculture, education, energy, health and transport? The same at local level: why can’t existing elected councils continue to administer local services?
So a socialist majority in parliament would have to decide to adapt the existing central administrative structure to make it fully democratic. The main measure, though, would be to withdraw the state’s sanction and backing for the capitalist class ownership of the means of production. Because most productive resources are vested in limited liability companies this will be relatively straightforward. Companies are legal institutions created by the state which gives them an artificial legal personality that can own property. All that would be required would be to declare that all companies are dissolved and that henceforth their physical assets are the common property of all the people. The capitalist class will have been dispossessed and all their legal titles, all their stocks and shares will have become useless, unenforceable pieces of paper. As an immediate measure, those working in places producing something useful or providing a useful service would continue running them, producing for direct use and no longer for profit.
Assuming that there is no attempt by some minority to try to thwart by force of arms the democratically expressed will of the people for socialism, the working class’s use of the state would then be over. The state would in fact cease to exist as such and its administrative side would become an unarmed, democratic administrative centre. Socialism will have been established. – Editors.