by Richard Bos
‘All bourgeois elections are the manipulation of the largest number of votes by the smallest number of people’ – Andy Brooks
THE MARXIST concept of the state is fundamental to understanding that bourgeois state power (which in the last instance is based upon force) can only be abolished by use of force from the oppressed class. The working class can not simply inherit the bourgeois state, it must be “smashed” and the working class must create its own state organs. This was one of Marx’s most important conclusions after studying the uprising and eventual defeat of the Paris Commune.
The State is not neutral and devoid of class interests. It exists to defend the interests of the ruling class.
Lenin said, “The working people are barred from participation in bourgeois parliaments (they never decide important questions under bourgeois democracy, which are decided by the stock exchange and the banks) by thousands of obstacles. And the workers know and feel, see and realise perfectly well that the bourgeois parliaments are institutions alien to them, instruments for the oppression of the workers by the bourgeoisie, institutions of a hostile class, of the exploiting minority.” (VI Lenin, Collected Works 28, p. 247)
On the “left,” in Britain petty-bourgeois illusions and reformist ideas have always flourished, especially since the Second World War when, during the post-war reconstruction and imperialist exploitation of the third world, the working class was able to extract concessions from the ruling class. Even though social democracy can no longer deliver the goods and the earlier concessions have been grabbed back, those illusions still persist.
Marxist-Leninists will always make use of what exists to fight for democratic rights and liberties in the interest of workers, but never believing that those demands may be obtained other than partially and incompletely under capitalist conditions. The struggle for peace, popular action opposing the attacks of imperialism against national sovereignty, the struggle to defend the environment, the defence of the right to strike and other democratic rights will always be central to our tactical programme.
At the same time, Communists are clear that any success in such struggles under capitalist conditions will only be partial and of limited permanence, depending on the forcefulness, unity of action, and the fighting ability of the working class and the masses at that time. Lasting reforms and significant progress are part and parcel of an entirely different social and economic system: socialism.
Therefore, involvement in, and reform of, institutions of the bourgeois state (that means Parliament, the military, the courts and so on) are never included as any part of a revolutionary strategy, but are tactical matters. The attitude of Communists where these institutions are concerned (for example taking part in elections or not, military service or not (where it exists), and so on) are tactical issues, and our attitude would depend on the situation, on the “temperature” of the class struggle and balance of forces. In short, depending on what, at the given moment, under changing circumstances, best helps forward the realisation of our strategic aims.
The Communist Party of Greece, KKE, operating in a capitalist country that is dominated by the imperialist powers and working in accordance with the balance of forces as they exist there, has no illusions about the system. They answer the following question: Is free will under capitalism a deception?
“Engels said that free will means our ability to decide based on knowledge of facts. Thus it is an illusion to talk of the free will of the broad masses, even in those capitalist countries in which the right to choose formally exists. The middle class is proud of its bourgeois parliament, which it presents as a Temple of Democracy, and local government as approximating the institution of a people’s republic.
“During the past ten years in particular, very rapid developments have taken place with the result that the bourgeois parliament, both national and European, and the organs of local government have become transformed formally into organs and sub-organs of the bourgeois state. A number of institutions which had emerged within the framework of the bourgeois democracy through the struggle of the labour movement, have been transformed into blind organs of capital, into organs of class collaboration, into organs of buying off, bribery, manipulation.
“The great majority of trade union movement institutions have gone downhill on this wave. It is not accidental that the peoples of Europe do not feel any respect for bourgeois institutions. Our party is not content with this view which, deprived as it is of all political content, and does not represent any threat to the system. On the contrary, it may lead to the dissemination of even more reactionary, fascist views. We are working hard in Greece to prove why and how the bourgeois democracy has exhausted any leeway it may have had, and why and how the people, through their struggle, will push forward independent institutions generated by the people, which they will utilise to bring about revolutionary change in the society.”
Different revisionist currents claim that the “new world order” as well as the experience of the counter-revolutions in Eastern Europe, prove that the violent revolution is no longer a probability, that it is a hopeless dream, or not at all “necessary”. Somehow they will get a majority vote in parliamentary elections, and the popular will of the masses will prevent the return of the old order.
The new European Left Party formation comprises a hotchpotch of communist, socialist, Trotskyist and green parties. It is completely devoid of any Marxist analysis of the nature of the capitalist state and imperialism. It seeks to “transform” the EU into “another kind of Europe” of lots of nice things that no one disagrees with. It is another social-democratic project, desperately seeking the acceptance of its Brussels paymasters.
In Britain some revisionists state that violent revolution may still be a necessity in other parts of the world. However, according to them, the history, culture and tradition of Britain make this Leninist teaching obsolete and that there is a British Road to Socialism, to which the rules of the rest of the world do not apply! This, of course, is a fraud.
According to the Communist Party of Britain programme Britain’s Road to
Socialism: “What is needed instead is a new type of left government, based on a Labour, socialist and communist majority in the Westminster Parliament, one which comes about through the wide-ranging struggles of a mass movement outside Parliament, demanding the kind of policies contained in the AEPS (Alternative Economic and Political Strategy).”
They assume that support would be so overwhelming that the state, military, and financial institutions would have to allow themselves to be “democratised”. Those were the assumptions made in Chile during the Allende government of the early 70s which did all the things called for in Britain’s Road to Socialism, and, like the CPB, completely disregarded Marxist understanding of the nature of the bourgeois state and was drowned in blood.
The Socialist Labour Party sees itself sweeping the Labour Party aside, and winning a majority for socialist change by itself alone being elected as government.
Respect, led by the Socialist Workers’ Party, doesn’t even mention socialism in its policy documents, and looks to a liberal/reformist mixed economy agenda. Interestingly they don’t have anything to say about the EU.
What they all have in common is that they believe that they can win by imitating social democracy and playing the bourgeois election game. And they would all like proportional representation so they can boost their egos by having their own little slice of power as a reward for playing that game!
Real reality, unlike the “virtual reality” of the revisionists, tells us otherwise.
“The civilisation and justice of bourgeois order comes out in its lurid light whenever the slaves and drudges of that order rise against their masters. Then this civilisation and justice stand forth as undisguised savagery and lawless revenge. Each new crisis in the class struggle between the appropriator and the producer brings out this fact more glaringly.”
(Marx: The Civil War in France)
The democratic facade of the bourgeois state is worth nothing more than a house of cards. It will immediately fall to the ground if threatened by social unrest. This understanding is essential if one is to develop a revolutionary strategy.
The Communists and the working class must be clear about what sort of enemy we actually stand against. The bourgeoisie will not wait a second to consider before it will make use of its violent state machinery to crush any serious attempt at revolt – in parliamentary traditional Britain as in any other country. The velvet glove soon reveals the mailed fist time after time, in any part of the world where imperialism is challenged.
Another quote from Lenin: “Take the fundamental laws of modern states, take their administration, take freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, or ‘equality of all citizens before the law’, and you will see at every turn evidence of the hypocrisy of bourgeois democracy, with which every honest and class-conscious worker is familiar. There is not a single state, however democratic, which has no loopholes or reservations in its constitution guaranteeing the bourgeoisie the possibility of dispatching troops against the workers, of proclaiming martial law, and so forth, in case of a ‘violence of public order,’ and actually in case the exploited class ‘violates’ its position of slavery and tries to behave in a non-slavish manner. Kautsky shamelessly embellishes bourgeois democracy and omits to mention, for instance, how the most democratic and republican bourgeoisie in America or Switzerland deal with workers on strike.” (VI Lenin, Collected Works 28, p. 244)
Exactly the same can be said of the industrial relations laws in this country, which are designed to create impotence in the trade union movement. The Prevention of Terrorism Act Section 44 has been used to expel Walter Wolfgang from the Labour Party Conference this year, and was used 4000 times by Hampshire police in September alone!
For many years the state has used it’s agents to infiltrate and subvert all working class organisations whenever they are considered a threat. It is reputed that, at one stage, almost half the membership of the Communist Party of the United States of America were government agents. Only this month, Edward Woodward, the former head of the Australian ASIO (the Australian state intelligence service), said that the problem in the Communist Party of Australia during the late 70s and early 80s was that often the most active member of the local branch was the government agent! The same kind of thing went on in Communist Parties throughout Scandinavia, Western Europe, and other parts of the world. The British experience will have been no different.
The ruling class completely disregards its own laws and regulations whenever it finds this convenient. Of course illegal surveillance is going on and will continue, probably in new forms and by different means. Regardless of this, the core of the matter is that preparations to “deal with” political opposition is regarded as appropriate and quite legal as long as this opposition is considered to be “endangering national security”.
From the Lenin’s Theses on Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat – 1st Congress of the 3rd International 1919, Collected Works
Vol28 pp 457:
1. “Faced with the growth of the revolutionary workers’ movement in every
country, the bourgeoisie and their agents in the workers’ organisations are making desperate attempts to find ideological and political arguments in defence of the rule of the exploiters. Condemnation of dictatorship and defence of democracy are particularly prominent among these arguments. The falsity and hypocrisy of this argument, repeated in a thousand strains by the capitalist press and at the Berne yellow International Conference in February 1919, are obvious to all who refuse to betray the fundamental principles of socialism.
2. “Firstly, this argument employs the concepts of ‘democracy in general’
and ‘dictatorship in general’, without posing the question of the class concerned. This non-class or above-class presentation, which supposedly is popular, is an outright travesty of the basic tenet of socialism, namely, its theory of class struggle, which socialists who have sided with the bourgeoisie recognise in words but disregard in practice. For in no civilised capitalist country does ‘democracy in general’ exist; all that exists is bourgeois democracy, and it is not a question of ‘dictatorship in general’, but of the dictatorship of the oppressed class, in other words the proletariat, over its oppressors and exploiters, in other words the bourgeoisie, in order to overcome the resistance offered by the exploiters in their fight to maintain their domination.”
Lenin further said: “The main thing that socialists fail to understand and that constitutes their short-sightedness in matters of theory, their subservience to bourgeois prejudices and their political betrayal of the proletariat is that in capitalist society, whenever there is any serious aggravation of the class struggle intrinsic to that society, there can be no alternative but the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie or the dictatorship of the proletariat. Dreams of some third way are reactionary, petty-bourgeois lamentations.”
Nowadays those opposed to the concept of Dictatorship of the Proletariat say that they are opposed to “Stalinism”. But the political forbears of the anti-Stalinist “left” used all the same arguments in opposition to Lenin long before Stalin led the Soviet Union!
Many of illusions on the Left in bourgeois democracy manifest themselves in the various groups trying to replace the Labour Party by putting up candidates in elections. On the one hand they lie to the masses by elevating it to a strategy for achieving power, and denounce us Communists as traitors to the working class for not supporting them. On the other hand they say that it is a tactic that will give them a parliamentary platform and publicity from which to build a mass movement outside Parliament. Either way they show that they have no understanding of the nature of the state machine or the purpose of bourgeois elections.
The fact is that there are only two choices in an election for which party runs the bourgeois state in this country – Labour or Conservative. Labour’s links with the trade union movement means that there is the possibility of concessions being won – how much depends on the levels of working class action. Blair and company do not represent the whole party. The Conservatives are at least as reactionary as Blair, whoever is in charge. The masses are not fools and they know this.
It is the duty of Communists to expose the nature of the state and bourgeois democracy at every opportunity. Within that system which cannot now, and will not ever deliver socialism, the best we can get is temporary reforms for the benefit of the working class, which should not be ignored. It is through those struggles that awareness can be raised. Right now, it is only the Labour Party that can deliver those temporary reforms after organised pressure.
From the 14th Congress of the NCP
“Though the Labour Party is dominated by the class-collaborating right wing in the parliamentary party and the trade union movement, the possibility of their defeat exists as long as Labour retains its organisational links with the trade unions that fund it. The defeat of right wing union blocs in most of the major unions over the past two years demonstrates this possibility.”
“We reject the “parliamentary road” and electoral politics. The old Communist Party of Great Britain abandoned the revolutionary road when it adopted the British Road to Socialism. Its successors in the Communist Party of Britain and the Communist Party of Scotland continue this essentially social-democratic and revisionist policy today. The Socialist Labour Party, Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) and the Trotskyist Socialist Alliance express essentially the same theory. (Also Respect - RB)
The paltry votes won by all these parties – including the SSP whose modest gains in the Scottish Parliament were more than matched by the non-socialist Greens – show the futility of programmes that argue that the only way to defeat social democracy is in fact to imitate it. They call for social-democratic reforms while campaigning against the only mass force capable of implementing reform, the Labour Party itself. All of them end up attacking the Labour Party rather than the ruling class as the main enemy of the working class. Objectively they end up in the camp of the class enemy.
But the masses are often much wiser than those who claim to lead them and this is why these parties remain isolated amongst the working class despite all their pretensions. The Labour Party is not the enemy of the working class nor is it a barrier to communist advance.”