The vote is a gain, a potential class weapon, a potential “instrument of emancipation” as Marx put it.
Despite Leninist distortions, Marx and Engels always held that the bourgeois-democratic republic was the best political framework for the development and triumph of the socialist movement. This is a socialist position we see no reason to abandon.
Certainly, political democracy under capitalism is not all that it is purported to be by many supporters of the system and it is severely limited, from the point of view of democratic theory, by the very nature of capitalism as an unequal, class-divided society. Certainly, “democracy” has become an ideology used to give the capitalist rule a spurious legitimacy. But it is still sufficient to allow the working class to organise politically and economically without too much state interference and also, we would argue, to allow a future socialist majority to gain control of political power.
In a vote between the lesser of two evils, “Vote Cholera or Vote for Typhoid”, not voting at all is valid, but casting blank ballots or some other form of actively announcing not voting is better. One or two spoiled or blank votes can be ignored, hundreds of thousands or even millions could not be – especially if backed by a vocal movement explaining the situation.
In Britain and the EU, we don’t think we hold any fundamental objection to the electoral system; the provisions for voter registration, the nomination of candidates, counting of votes, declaration of result, etc can be inherited by socialism and, with modifications, continue to be used. We also think, of course, that the present electoral mechanisms can be used to express and count, more or less fairly and accurately, a majority desire for socialism. So we’ve no interest in running down the system as such. The way to show that you accept the electoral system but reject the sham choice is to go and use it but not vote for any of the candidates.
There is nothing inherently elitist about the electoral approach. It is how you use that approach that makes it elitist. The World Socialist Movement is not asking people to vote for them so they can solve the problems the electorate have to contend with. The WSM it is saying quite clearly that workers need to understand and support socialism themselves in order for it to come about It cannot be imposed from above. Furthermore, we constantly make the point to workers in elections that if they don’t understand or support socialism then they should not vote for the WSM. The WSM does not propose to come “into office”, i.e. to form a government and so does not propose “to vote itself into office”. Nor do we propose that other people should “vote us into office” either. What we do propose is that people should, amongst other things, use the vote in the course of the social revolution from capitalism to socialism; that they should, if you like, vote capitalism out of office. To do this they will need to stand recallable mandated delegates at elections but these will be just this: messenger boys and girls, not leaders or would-be government ministers, sent to formally take over and dismantle “the central State”. The situation we envisage in which a majority vote in socialist delegates is one where the revolution, in respect of socialist ideas has already begun to accelerate. The vote is merely the legitimate stamp that will allow for the dismantling of the repressive apparatus of the State and the end of bourgeois democracy and the establishment of real democracy. It is the Achilles heel of capitalism and makes a non-violent revolution possible. What matters is a conscious socialist majority outside parliament, ready and organised to take over and run industry and society, electing a socialist majority in Parliament is essentially just a reflection of this. It is not Parliament that establishes socialism, but the socialist working-class majority outside Parliament and they do this, not by their votes, but by their active participation beyond this in the transformation of society.
Basically, there are only three ways of winning control of the State: (a) armed insurrection; (b) more or less peaceful mass demonstrations and strikes; (c) using the electoral system.
The World Socialist Movement adopted, in the light of then-existing political conditions, for (c), but without ruling out (b) or even (a) should these conditions change (or in other parts of the world where conditions are different). But this was never understood as simply putting an “X” on a ballot paper and letting the Socialist Party and its MPs establish socialism for workers. The assumption always was that there would be a “conscious” and active socialist majority outside Parliament, democratically organised both in a mass Socialist political party and, at work, in ex-trade union type organisations ready to keep production going during and immediately after the winning of political control. Having adopted (c), various other options follow. Obviously, if there’s a socialist candidate people who want socialism are urged to vote for that candidate.
But what if there’s no socialist candidate? Voting for any other candidate is against the principles. So what to do? The basic choice is between abstention and spoiling the ballot paper by writing “socialism” across it. The policy adopted and confirmed by the WSM is the latter, a sort of write-in vote for socialism.
The first step towards taking over the means of production, therefore, must be to take over control of the state, and the easiest way to do this is via elections. But elections are merely a technique, a method. The most important precondition to taking political control out of the hands of the owning class is that the useful majority are no longer prepared to be ruled and exploited by a minority, they must withdraw their consent to capitalism and class rule-they must want and understand a socialist society of common ownership and democratic control. We need to organise politically, into a political party, a socialist party. We don’t suffer from delusions of grandeur so we don’t necessarily claim that we are that party. What we are talking about is not a small educational and propagandist group such as ourselves, but a mass party that has yet to emerge. It is such a party that will take political control via the ballot box, but since it will in effect be the useful majority organised democratically and politically for socialism it is the useful majority, not the party as such as something separate from that majority, that carries out the socialist transformation of society.
They will neutralise the state and its repressive forces and as stated there is no question of forming a government, and then proceed to take over the means of production for which they will also have organised themselves at their places of work. This done, the repressive state is disbanded and its remaining administrative and service features, reorganised on a democratic basis, are merged with the organisations which the useful majority will have formed to take over and run production, to form the democratic administrative structure of the state-free society of common ownership that socialism will be.
This is perhaps a less romantic idea of the socialist revolution as portrayed by street barricade insurrectionists but thousand times more realistic. This is why we think this is the way it will happen. When the time comes the socialist majority will use the ballot box since it will be the obvious thing to do, and nobody will be able to prevent them or persuade them not to. At that time it will be the anti-electoral who will be irrelevant.
Real democracy is fundamentally incompatible with the idea of leadership. It is about all of us having a direct say in the decisions that affect us. Leadership means handing over the right to make those decisions to someone else. We have at our disposal today the very means, in the form of modern telecommunications, that could enable us to resuscitate the ancient model of Athenian democracy on a truly global