”I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don’t want, and get it.”– Eugene V. Debs
”Even where there is no prospect of achieving their election the workers must put up their own candidates to preserve their independence, to gauge their own strength and to bring their revolutionary position and party standpoint to public attention. They must not be led astray by the empty phrases of the democrats, who will maintain that the workers’ candidates will split the democratic party and offer the forces of reaction the chance of victory. All such talk means, in the final analysis, that the proletariat is to be swindled.” – Karl Marx
Democracy under capitalism is reduced to people voting for competing groups of professional politicians, to giving the thumbs-up or the thumbs-down to the governing or opposition party. Political analysts call this the “elite theory of democracy” since, under it, all that the people get to choose is which elite should exercise government power. This contrasts with the original theory of democracy which envisages popular participation in the running of affairs and which political analysts call “participatory democracy”.
This is the sort of democracy the World Socialist Movement favour but we know it’s never going to exist under capitalism. The most we will get under capitalism is the right to vote, under more-or-less fair conditions, for who shall control political power — a minimalist form of democracy but not to be dismissed for that since it at least provides a mechanism whereby a socialist majority could vote in socialist delegates instead of capitalist politicians.
The original Social Democratic parties had in addition to the “maximum” programme of socialism what they called a “minimum programme” of immediate reforms to capitalism. What happened is that they attracted votes on the basis of their minimum, not their maximum, programme, i.e. reformist votes, and so became the prisoners of these voters. In parliament, and later in office, they found themselves with no freedom of action other than to compromise with capitalism. Had they been the mandated delegates of those who voted for them (rather than leaders) this could be expressed by saying that they had no mandate for socialism, only to try to reform capitalism. It was not a case of being corrupted by the mere fact of going into national parliaments but was due to the basis on which they went there and how this restricted what they could do. In short, it is not power as such that corrupts. It is power obtained on the basis of followers voting for leaders to implement reforms that, if you want to put it that way, “corrupts”.
We advocate only socialism and nothing but socialism, nothing less than socialism – the “maximum programme”
When the worker acquires revolutionary consciousness he is still compelled to make the non-revolutionary struggle of every-day life. It is the propagating of the idea that THROUGH a policy or programme of reforms that the workers’ situation can somehow be intrinsically improved or that it can progress towards the establishment of a socialist society that the World Socialist Movement adamantly refuses to recognise.
The WSM reject ALL forms of minority action to attempt to establish socialism, which can only be established by the working class when the immense majority have come to want and understand it. Without a socialist working class, there can be no socialism. The establishment of socialism can only be the conscious majority, and therefore democratic, the act of a socialist-minded working class. Whereas you can make people do what they do not wish to do, you cannot make them adopt a set of social relations which require their voluntary cooperation if they do not voluntarily cooperate. In these circumstances, the easiest and surest way for such 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. There is little doubt, at the same time, working people will also have organised themselves, at the various places of work, in order to keep production going, and in their communities to ensure services continue without serious disruption 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.
Naive, if you wish to be critical of the WSM, but what are the alternative strategies which are deemed worthy?
The vote is not a gift granted to the people from governments out of the goodness of their hearts. We don’t advocate de facto disenfranchisement of the worker by promoting political abstention. The right to vote can become a powerful instrument to end our servitude and to achieve genuine democracy and freedom. Working people with an understanding of socialism can utilise their vote to signify that the overwhelming majority demands change and to bring about social revolution. The first object of a socialist organisation is the development of the desire for socialism among the working class and the preparation of the political party to give expression to that desire. What our capitalist opponents consequently do when the majority wish to prevail will determine our subsequent actions. If they accept defeat, well and good. If they choose not to accept the verdict of the majority which is given through the medium of their own institutions and contest that verdict by physical force, then the workers will respond in kind, with the legitimacy and the authority of a democratic mandate.
The important thing is for the workers to gain control of the political machinery because the political machine is the real centre of social control – not made so by capitalist rulers but developed and evolved over centuries and through struggles. The power over the means of life which the capitalist class has is vested in its control of the political machinery. Ownership of the world’s economic resources is certainly an economic factor, but that ownership, if challenged, will find its means of enforcement by and through the State political machine, which, as everybody should know, includes the armed forces. Of course, elaborate legal machinery exists whereby claims on private property are settled among the capitalists themselves, but behind the Judiciary and the Legislature stands the means of enforcing the decrees. The political arm of capitalism rules the economic body of the system in the final analysis: which reveals the chief reason why the capitalist class concern themselves so much about political action; they realise that in this field their economic interest finds its ultimate, if not immediate, protection. Thus, the political organisation of the workers for socialist purposes is thrust upon us as a primary and imperative necessity.
The World Socialist Movement, in aiming for the control of the State, is a political party in the immediate sense. The workers’ political organisation must precede the economic, since, apart from the essential need of the conquest of the powers of government, it is on the political field that the widest and most comprehensive propaganda can be deliberately maintained. It is here that the workers can be deliberately and independently organised on the basis of socialist thought and action.
“The irony of history turns everything topsy-turvy. We, the ‘revolutionists’, thrive better by the use of constitutional means than by unconstitutional and revolutionary methods. The parties of law and order, as they term themselves, are being destroyed by the constitutional implements which they themselves have fashioned.” – Engels .
To sum up, the so-called parliamentarianism of the WSM transforms elections from a method of deceit into a means of emancipation.
“…the more the proletariat matures towards its self-emancipation, the more does it constitute itself as a separate class and elect its own representatives in place of the capitalists. Universal suffrage is the gauge of the maturity of the working class. It can and never will be that in the modern State. But that is sufficient. On the day when the thermometer of universal suffrage reaches its boiling point among the labourers, they as well as the capitalists will know what to do.” – Engels .
The World Socialist Movement’s position is consistent with Marx’s presuppositions to recognise parliament as an institution geared to the needs of capitalism, and therefore inappropriate as the vehicle for a fundamental transformation of society, but that its connected electoral practices coincide with the principles involved in that transformation which creates the possibility of a peaceful transition to a new society.
The institution of parliament is not at fault. It is just that people’s ideas have not yet developed beyond belief in leaders and dependence on a political elite. Control of parliament by representatives of a conscious revolutionary movement will enable the bureaucratic-military apparatus to be dismantled and the oppressive forces of the state to be neutralised, so that socialism may be introduced with the least possible violence and disruption. Parliament and local councils, to the extent that their functions are administrative and not governmental, can and will be used to coordinate the emergency immediate measures to transform society when socialism is established. Far better, is it not, if only to minimise the risk of violence, to organise to win a majority in parliament, not to form a government, but to end capitalism and dismantle the State.
Capitalist democracy is not a participatory democracy, which a genuine democracy has to be. In practice, the people generally elect to central legislative assemblies and town councils professional politicians who they merely vote for and then let them get on with the job. In other words, the electors abdicate their responsibility to keep an eye on their representatives, giving them a free hand to do what the operation of capitalism demands. But that’s as much the fault of the electors as of their representatives, or rather it is a reflection of their low level of democratic consciousness. It cannot be blamed on the principle of representation as such. There is no reason in principle why, with a heightened democratic consciousness (such as would accompany the spread of socialist ideas), even representatives sent to state bodies could not be subject – while the State lasts – to democratic control by those who sent them there. The argument that anarchists sometimes raise against this is that “power corrupts”. But if power inevitability corrupts why does this not apply also in non-parliamentary elected bodies such as syndicalist union committees or workers councils?
”I believe that the Socialists will certainly send members to Parliament when they are strong enough to do so; in itself I see no harm in that, so long as it is understood that they go there as rebels, and not as members of the governing body prepared to pass palliative measures to keep Society alive.” – William Morris