The World Socialist Movement (WSM) has never held that a merely formal majority at the polls will give the workers power to achieve socialism. We have always emphasised that such a majority must be educated in the essentials of socialist principles and have a party democratically organised.
William Morris wrote:
“It should be our special aim to make Socialists by putting before people, and especially the working classes, the elementary truths of socialism… before any definite socialist action can be attempted, it must be backed up by a great body of intelligent opinion — the opinion of a great mass of people who are already socialists…”
It is the quality of the voters behind the vote that, in the revolutionary struggle, will be decisive.
The World Socialist Movement stress the necessity of capturing the machinery of government including the armed forces. That is the fundamental thing. The method, though important, is second to this. The attitude of fetishism which some on the left express towards “armed struggle”, their agitation for street warfare against overwhelming odds only serves to make more difficult the socialist education and organisation of the workers.
This either-or approach to activism is self-defeating. There appears to be disagreement on what form of resistance to capitalism is the most effective. Direct action or party political work through the electoral system. Such views have always divided left-wing militants and ourselves. Some now argue that both forms of resistance not only complement each other but are also essential in the pursuit of class struggle. For the Trotsky-Lenin-Maoist Left, all activity should be mediated by the Party (union activity, neighbourhood community struggles, etc), whereas for the WSM, the Party is just one mode of activity available to the working class to use in their struggles, a tail to be wagged by the dog.
The easiest and surest way for a socialist majority to gain control of political power in order to establish socialism is to use the existing electoral machinery to send a majority of mandated socialist delegates to the various parliaments of the world. This is why we advocate using Parliament, not to try to reform capitalism (the only way Parliaments have been used up till now), but for the single revolutionary purpose of abolishing capitalism and establishing socialism by converting the means of production and distribution into the common property of the whole of society. No doubt, at the same time, the working class will also have organised itself elsewhere but nothing can be done here until the machinery of coercion which is the state has been taken out of the hands of the capitalist class by political action. As the WSM affiliated Socialist Party said in 1915:
“The workers must prepare themselves for their emancipation by class-conscious organisation on both the political and the economic fields,the first to gain control of the forces with which the masters maintain their dominance, the second to carry on production in the new order of things.”
Political democracy is not, or is not just only, a trick whereby the capitalist class get the working class to endorse their rule. It is a potential instrument that the working class can turn into a weapon to use in ending capitalism and class rule. The ballot box is a tactical but never a strategic (and the only) option. The working class is the key political class, whoever wins its support wins the day, hence why the factions of the capitalist party vie for working-class votes
According to our analysis of society, the capitalist class are the dominant class today because they control the State (machinery of government/political power). And they control the State because a majority of the population allow them to, by, apart from their everyday consent, vote for pro-capitalism parties at election times, so returning a pro-capitalism majority to Parliament, so ensuring that any government emerging from Parliament will be pro-capitalism.
If the working people are to establish socialism they must first take this control of the State (including the armed forces) out of the hands of the capitalist class, so that it can be used to uproot capitalism and usher in socialism. The WSM has always said that, in countries where there exist more or less free elections to a central law-making body to which the executive, or government, is responsible, the working class can do this by sending a majority of mandated delegates to the elected, central legislative body. Just as today a pro-capitalism majority in Parliament reflects the fact that the overwhelming majority of the population wants or accepts capitalism, so a socialist majority in Parliament would reflect the fact that a majority outside Parliament wanted socialism. The WSM contest elections making no promises and offering no reforms except for using parliament as a tool for the abolition of capitalism.
Anti-Parliamentarians have to envisage some other means of expressing the popular will and the public demand than a parliament elected by and responsible to a socialist majority amongst the population. But what, exactly? It would have to be something like the “Congress of Socialist Industrial Unions” or a “Central Council of the Federation of Workers Councils”. That’s not to deny that it could be one of these (because bodies such as these will exist at the time), but would any of these bodies be more efficient and more effective (and even more democratic) in controlling the State/central administrative machinery than a socialist majority elected to Parliament by universal suffrage in a secret ballot.
It is hardly conceivable when there is, say, 10 percent of the population who are socialist, that at election times they will not decide to put up candidates against those favouring capitalism.
What would be the point of boycotting elections? There would be nothing to gain (in fact there could be something to lose in terms of political stability). When it came down to it, when they felt that something important was at stake, not even the anarchists in the one place where they did have appreciable support (Spain in the 1930s) were able to maintain their boycott position: they allowed, even encouraged, their supporters to take part in both the 1931 and 1936 elections there (in the one case to kick out the monarchy and in the other to secure a parliamentary majority favourable to the release of anarchist political prisoners)
No one can be exactly sure which form the revolutionary process will take but the World Socialist Movement has always held that the potential use of parliament as part of a revolutionary process may prove vitally important in neutralising the ruling class’s hold on state power. For us, this is the most effective way of abolishing the State and ushering in a revolutionary society. The working class cannot enter the class war with one arm tied behind its back.
Disagreeing with the Industrial Workers of the World deletion of the political clause in 1908, James Connolly remarked “just try and stop them ” or as he later elaborated:
“I am inclined to ask all and sundry amongst our comrades if there is any necessity for this presumption of antagonism between the industrialist and the political advocate of socialism. I cannot see any. I believe that such supposed necessity only exists in the minds of the mere theorists or doctrinaires. The practical fighter in the work-a-day world makes no such distinction. He fights, and he votes; he votes and he fights. He may not always, he does not always, vote right; nor yet does he always fight when and as he should. But I do not see that his failure to vote right is to be construed into a reason for advising him not to vote at all; nor yet why a failure to strike properly should be used as a gibe at the strike weapon, and a reason for advising him to place his whole reliance upon votes.”