Printer-friendly versionSend by email In the ascendant period of capitalism, parliament was the most appropriate form for the organisation of the bourgeoisie. As a specifically bourgeois institution, it was never a primary arena for the activity of the working class and the proletariat’s participation in parliamentary activity and electoral campaigns contained a number of real dangers, against which revolutionaries of the last century always alerted the class. However, in a period when the revolution was not yet on the agenda and when the proletariat could wrest reforms from within the system, participation in parliament allowed the class to use it to press for reforms, to use electoral campaigns as a means for propaganda and agitation for the proletarian programme, and to use parliament as a tribune for denouncing the ignominy of bourgeois politics. This is why the struggle for universal suffrage was throughout the nineteenth century in many countries one of the most important issues around which the proletariat organised.

As the capitalist system entered its decadent phase, parliament ceased to be an instrument for reforms. As the Communist International said at its Second Congress: "The centre of gravity of political life has now been completely and finally removed beyond the confines of parliament". The only role parliament could play from then on, the only thing that keeps it alive, is its role as an instrument of mystification. Thus ended any possibility for the proletariat to use parliament in any way. The class cannot gain impossible reforms from an organ which has lost any real political function. At a time when its basic task is to destroy all institutions of the bourgeois state and thus parliament; when it must set up its own dictatorship on the ruins of universal suffrage and other vestiges of bourgeois society, participation in parliamentary and electoral institutions can only lead to these moribund bodies being given a semblance of life no matter what the intentions of those who advocate this kind of activity.

Participation in elections and parliament no longer has any of the advantages it had last century. On the contrary, it is full of dangers, especially that of keeping alive illusions about the possibility of a ‘peaceful’ or ‘gradual’ transition to socialism through the conquest of a parliamentary majority by the so-called ‘workers’ parties’.

The strategy of ‘destroying parliament from within’ through the use of ‘revolutionary’ delegates has been decisively proved to have no other result than the corruption of the political organisations who undertake such activities and their absorption into capitalism.

Finally, to the extent that such activity is essentially the concern of specialists, an arena for the games of political parties rather than for the self-activity of the masses; the use of elections and parliament as instruments for agitation and propaganda tends to preserve the political premises of bourgeois society and encourage passivity in the working class. If such a disadvantage was acceptable when the revolution was not an immediate possibility, it has become a decisive obstacle in a period when the only task on the historical agenda for the proletariat is precisely the overthrow of the old social order and the creation of a communist society, which demands the active and conscious participation of the whole class.

If at the beginning the tactics of ‘revolutionary parliamentarism’ were primarily an expression of the weight of the past within the class and its organisations, the disastrous results of such tactics show that they are profoundly bourgeois.