With seemingly endless media coverage of the forthcoming election, it is difficult not to get swept along by the hyperbole into believing that every matter of interest to workers is going to be decided on 7 May.
Parliament vs class struggle
The prejudice that parliament is the place where all the important decisions are taken and from which the country is run goes very deep. After all, our rulers have had several centuries to inculcate us with that belief.
But, as was revealed long ago by Marx and Engels, ‘democracy’ is not an abstract or neutral concept, but a class question – so that one has always to ask: ‘Democracy for whom?’
The capitalist state, it turns out, is ‘democratic’ only for the big capitalists. For the rest of us, it is simply the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie – the means by which we are forcibly held down by our exploiters.
The real business of running the country takes place in the boardrooms, back rooms and private members’ clubs of the capitalist super-rich. Parliament, in truth, is little more than a toothless talking shop, rubber-stamping the dictates of the ruling class.
No change of elected officials could effect a serious change in this system, since the levers of power – the army, police, judiciary, media, school system etc – always remain in the hands of the ruling class.
That is why bank bailouts, wars and austerity always take priority over health care, housing or education, no matter which party is in power.
Bourgeois politicians are not ‘our’ representatives; they are hired hands who have sold themselves to our rulers in return for cushy careers. That is why Marx wrote that, in a capitalist democracy, the workers merely get to decide “once in three or six years which member of the ruling class is to misrepresent the people in parliament”.
Ever since societies emerged that were divided into exploiters and exploited, there has been a struggle going on between the tiny minority who control society’s wealth and the vast majority who work to maintain and expand that wealth.
The interests of the majority lie in destroying the existing capitalist machinery, which is designed to keep a tiny elite in control, and to replace it with our own state, which will require entirely different institutions, since it will be, for the first time, a state of the workers (the majority), aimed at expanding democracy and participation whilst keeping the displaced capitalists (a small minority) in check.
While the capitalist system remains, it is not elections, but the class struggle that will decide the fate of the working class. After all, there is one outcome we can be assured of: we had an anti-worker government in Westminster before the election and we will have another one there after the election.
Apathy vs consciousness
Having grasped this fact, there are some who declare avoidance of bourgeois elections to be a point of principle, and who even claim that the political apathy that is widespread amongst British workers (and is not confined merely to avoidance of the ballot box) constitutes a great victory.
Many workers do have a healthy distrust of all the institutions of the state, and the poorest sections are very well aware that it is neither neutral nor fair. But these instincts are too often transformed not into class-conscious action, but into a far more palatable (to the ruling class) resignation.
Many of those who should be the most active in preparing the overthrow of the system have been pacified by the repeated assertion that ‘there’s no point’ because ‘politicians are all the same’. This is a victory for the capitalists, since workers often end up being as suspicious of communist activists as of bourgeois career politicians.
It is certainly true that we can’t rely on elected capitalist governments to look after our interests, but that does not mean we should just accept the status quo. Instead, we must organise ourselves into a power that cannot be ignored.
Given the severity of the capitalist crisis, it is only by putting the fear of revolution into the hearts of our rulers that we will be able to force them to reduce their profit margins in the interests of making or retaining even the most basic provisions for our wellbeing.
If we want to save our hospitals and schools; to improve workers’ pay, pensions and conditions; to raise benefits for the unemployed; to end homelessness and rent racketeering, we need to create fighting organisations that will harness the strength of the working class to achieve these aims.
If we want to stop imperialist wars being waged in our name; to stop our rulers sending our sons and daughters to butcher our brothers and sisters abroad and facilitate the looting of their resources, we need to get organised to disrupt and sabotage the imperialist war machine.
If we want to end our rulers’ divide-and-rule scapegoating of minorities, the unemployed etc, we need to unite workers on the basis of our shared class interests.
If we don’t want foreign workers to be used to undercut our pay, we need to insist that every worker joins a fighting union, and make it impossible for the bosses to keep playing us off against each other.
If we want to free ourselves from the confusion and suffocation of bourgeois propaganda, we need to pay for and support the building of an independent, working-class press and break the information stranglehold of the ruling class.
Class consciousness does not lead to apathy but to activity. Neither demonstrations nor elections alone will achieve any of these aims – only the power of the workers, organised and determined, will frighten our rulers into granting the smallest of our demands.
We need to get educated and organised, and to build a movement that represents our true interests. We should be capable of putting up our own candidates in elections, or of calling for active, conscious boycotts, and of using parliament and every other platform presented by the system in such a way as to advance the cause of the working class.
All this work must be done. There is no quick and easy path to socialism!
In the meantime, let no worker give a vote or any credence to any party that goes along with the racist scapegoating of immigrants, with divisive nationalism, with privatisation and austerity, or with the imperialist war agenda. A spoilt ballot paper is a far preferable option than a vote for either Labour, Tory, the LibDems or Ukip, all of which are racist, pro-business and anti-worker to the core, with hardly a cigarette paper to be got between their true aims and objectives.
The demands of workers are quite modest and perfectly achievable. We have technology. We have wealth. We have incredible powers of production and innovation and infinite creativity in their application.
Whatever happens on 7 May, the class struggle will continue.
Join us and play your part in bringing about the final victory of the working class!