Never has distrust for politicians been so widespread. Never has ‘apathy’ about the democratic process been so strong. The political parties, from right to left, are getting more and more anxious about this. They are desperately trying to convince us that we must do our duty as ‘citizens’ and get involved in the coming round of national and local elections. They are particularly concerned about the younger generation. Copying P Diddy’s ‘Vote or Die’ campaign in the US, Jesse Jackson and British ‘urban’ musicians have been roped in to get black youth to the ballot box; George Galloway and Respect focus on the young in general and disaffected Asian youth in particular.
Millions of people have the feeling that ‘all the politicians are the same’ and that voting for them won’t change anything. And they are right.
We live in a capitalist social system where, in all countries, a tiny minority rules an exploited majority. In such a system, democracy is a cover for the dictatorship of the ruling class. What’s more, capitalism has been in decay for almost a hundred years. Since the early part of the 20th century, it has held itself together by vastly increasing the power of the state in all areas of society. When it comes to all the serious decisions to do with its very survival – decisions about going to war, or about suppressing the threat of revolt by the exploited class – parliament has no say in the matter. The decision to invade Iraq was only the latest example of that. As for the political parties, they are nothing but extensions of the capitalist state. That’s why they all agree on the fundamentals.
All the parties are pro-war. The Tories backed Blair to the hilt over the Iraq war. The Liberal Democrats pose as an ‘anti-war’ party but as soon as the fighting started in Iraq they told us ‘we have to support our troops’. The leftists of Stop the War, the SWP or Respect tell us to support the ‘Resistance’ in Iraq. In short, all of them tell workers that they have a country to defend, that they must take sides in capitalism’s conflicts. And they have been doing this in every imperialist massacre since 1914!
All the parties preach austerity and sacrifice. In a world system racked by economic crisis, any party managing the capitalist state has to call on workers to accept cuts in their living standards, for the ‘good’ of the national economy. New Labour like the Thatcherite government before it makes savage cuts in social benefits. Old Labour and the leftists tell us that sacrifices would be OK if more of the economy was nationalised: then we would be working for ‘socialism’. In reality we would still be wage slaves and the capitalist state would still be our overseer.
All the parties are racist. Tory and Labour try to outdo the BNP in stirring up fear about asylum seekers, immigrant, or gypsies. The leftists trumpet their support for the Islamic fundamentalists who propagate hatred of ‘Jews and Crusaders’. All of them accept the existing division of the world into competing nation states which is at the root of all racist attitudes towards ‘foreigners’.
So what’s the alternative? We are not preaching apathy. The world is in far too dangerous a state to think that political questions can be avoided. Apathy can also be used by the ruling class to keep the exploited in their place, to press ahead with its military adventures and its attacks on living standards.
Against bourgeois politics, we are in favour of working class politics. Turning our back on the political game of our exploiters is part of this. But abstention from the election farce is only one side of the coin. The working class has to assert itself as an independent force, standing in opposition to capitalist society.
Today, faced with all the propaganda about the ‘end of the working class’, about the class war being a thing of the past, the proletariat cannot become an independent force without first recovering its basic identity as a class. So while the capitalist state tries to bury this identity by driving us into the polling booths as isolated citizens, we need to fight as a class.
All of us, employed and unemployed, public sector and private sector, male and female, native and immigrant, are under attack. The dismantling of Rover shows that there are no safe jobs, and that nothing is to be gained by going cap in hand to the bosses – whether they are British, German or Chinese, state or private. In all countries the social wage - sick pay, unemployment benefits, etc - are being restricted or reduced. The assault on pensions in particular is very clear proof that this society has no future to offer us.
If we are to resist these attacks, we must overcome all divisions between workers – divisions which the politicians left and right are constantly trying to widen.
Our future lies in massive, common struggles around unifying demands, opposing all the different facets of the attacks: wage-freezes, lay-offs, speed-ups, cuts in social benefits, repression and victimisation.
We need to unite; and this means organising ourselves because the official representatives of the working class, the trade unions, have - just like the political parties - become organs of the capitalist state which divide us and police us. We need to get used to holding our own general assemblies, open to all workers, where we can take decisions about how and when to struggle. 100 years ago, assemblies of striking workers in Russia sent delegates to the first workers’ council or soviet. That form of organisation is still the future of our struggles, and has made both parliament and trade unions useless for the working class.
All this is already working class politics because even when we are only fighting for our economic interests, we will have the whole force of the capitalist state - police, legal system, army and trade unions - arrayed against us. It’s politics because when the working class is fighting on its own ground, it acts as a barrier to the capitalist drive to war, and you can’t be more politically subversive than that.
Above all, the class struggle is politics because we will only be able to take this struggle forward by posing fundamental questions about the whole direction of the present social system - a system that is threatening to destroy the planet through war and ecological disaster. A system that cannot be reformed. A system that can only be overcome through a global political revolution and a radical social transformation.
Already there is a whole new generation asking these questions, even if only a minority of them have seen that the key to mankind’s fate still lies in the conflict between the classes. But that minority is already the expression of a movement towards a real working class party – a party not for electoral politics or for taking power on behalf of the workers, but for pointing the way towards the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism worldwide.
AGAINST ALL ILLUSIONS IN CAPITALIST DEMOCRACY!
AGAINST THE ELECTION FARCE!
FOR THE INDEPENDENT STRUGGLE OF THE WORKING CLASS!
World Revolution, April 2005.