by Mark Harrison
The general election is only weeks away and the Trotskyist newspapers are once again calling for us to “vote Labour without illusions”, unless we can vote for a Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidate. TUSC was effectively borne out of the No2EU left-nationalist alliance between the Socialist Party (England and Wales) and the Communist Party of Britain, although this time round without participation from the soft-Stalinists.
Despite the fact that comrades on the ground may believe that this is a step towards ‘left unity’ and perhaps even the shell from which a new political party akin to the French New Anticapitalist Party could arise, nothing of the sort will happen. Both the CPGB and Workers’ Power, who wanted to join, have been excluded and little in the way of ‘unity’ shall last after the elections.
But lacking from the debate thus far is whether it is tactically correct for communists to stand in elections to bourgeois parliament. When confronted with this question, there is little doubt that Trotskyists will point us no farther than the texts of Lenin, who allegedly put ‘infantile’ types such as Sylvia Pankhurst in their place with his infamous critique of the left wing members of the world communist movement.
The Bolsheviks advocated a policy of ‘revolutionary parliamentarianism’, whereby communists would stand with a full communist manifesto and use the election period to agitate for communist ideas. However, the policies of TUSC are left-Labourism. This should come as no surprise, as those who are sponsoring the coalition (trade union bureaucrats, ex-Labour entrists and the Walsall Democratic Labour Party) want to create a new, ‘old Labour’ party. This is plainly also seen in SPEW’s Campaign for a New Workers’ Party.
It demonstrates the staleness of ideas within the British left that the principle of standing for parliament is never questioned. To do so, let us first examine the value of elections from a propaganda point of view: there is no good reason as to why the working class should be more susceptible to communist propaganda during a general election period than at any other time, an orator on Speaker’s Corner or a revolutionary pamphlet contains the same ideas no matter what the bourgeoisie are doing in Parliament.
Moreover, once in parliament if a communist MP is to make a speech how would it be communicated to the working class? Most workers do not read the stuffy Parliamentary record Hansard, and the bourgeois media would surely either ignore or misrepresent their remarks. The way for communists to win support is to demonstrate our courage and sincerity during workers’ struggles, in the workplace: outside of parliament.
Unlike Tsarist Russia, most people in Britain believe that parliament is class neutral and is a democratic institution. By calling on workers to the ballot box one can only reinforce this prejudice: we should not attempt to prove a method is obsolete by taking part in it.
Moreover, voting for another to represent you can only reinforce the idea that the way to improve your position is to leave the job to another who will fight for socialism on your behalf. An artificial division is created between ‘leaders’ in Westminster and their followers, when what we need to realise that it is only workers ourselves who can create socialism by our own self-organisation.
And once communists formed a parliamentary group, would they not be tempted to join with the social-democrats in supporting ‘progressive’ policies? Parliament is the executive of capitalism or, “The debating chamber of the master class” which is why the few MPs who represented the Communist Party did not use parliament to agitate for communism but rather became reformists themselves. For example, Willie Gallacher, once an anti-parliamentarian himself, who during an exchange with Lenin remarked that he would be incorruptible by parliament.
Workers worldwide need to understand that we ourselves hold the power to change the world: communism will come about not through Parliament, but our own organisation, workers’ councils. These would operate on a system of democratically elected and instantly recallable delegates. We need not corrupt our best comrades or misguide anyone as to the source of communism.