You can’t change society with a ballot paper

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In Britain, as in France, the EU and soon in the USA, the electoral circus is again in full swing. We will be publishing various articles analysing the implications of these and other elections as expressions of the bourgeoise’s growing loss of control over its political machinery. But first we want to reaffirm the basic class position developed in particular by the Communist Left since capitalism entered its epoch of decline in the early years of the 20th century: that contrary to the propaganda of the ruling class, neither elections nor parliament can prevent the headlong rush of this system towards economic crisis, war and self-destruction.


The bourgeoisie wants us to vote

The arguments put forward by political parties or candidates to convince voters to give them their vote generally boil down to this: elections are a time when citizens are faced with a choice on which the development of society and, consequently, their future living conditions depend. "All men are born free and equal in rights", proclaims the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Thanks to democracy, we are told, every citizen has the same opportunity to participate in major social choices. In reality, however, this is not the case, since society is divided into social classes with antagonistic interests. One of them, the bourgeoisie, exercises its domination over society as a whole through its possession of wealth and, thanks to its state, over the whole democratic apparatus, the media, etc. It can thus impose its order, its ideas and its propaganda on the working class and all the oppressed. The working class, on the other hand, is the only class which, through its struggle, is capable of challenging the hegemony of the bourgeoisie and its system of exploitation.

Under these conditions, it is completely illusory to think that it is possible to transform the state, including its the democratic institutions, to put them at the service of the great majority of society. That's why all the parties which seek the votes of the exploited, claiming to defend their interests, help to maintain this illusion. In the same way, the "left-right" alternative is really just a false choice designed to hide the fact that, behind the electoral and parliamentary chatter, only the bourgeoisie really has the power of decision. The differences between left-wing and right-wing parties are nothing compared to what they have in common: the defence of national capital. In the service of this objective, they are able to work very closely together, especially behind the closed doors of parliamentary committees and at the highest levels of the state apparatus. In fact, public debates in parliament are only a small and often insignificant part of bourgeois debates.

It is precisely because any change in the living conditions of the exploited class is impossible through the ballot box that the bourgeoisie is so keen to convince us otherwise by hammering home the message: "yes, another policy is possible... provided you vote well".

Does the outcome of the elections have any influence on whether the situation of the exploited worsens or improves?

Even if it is not possible to use the ballot box to establish a society in which human needs can really be satisfied, is it not possible to obtain some improvements in living conditions through elections? More modestly still, wouldn't a particular electoral choice make it possible to limit future attacks?

If, for almost a century, no election has ever led to real social progress, it's because social choices are no longer determined by the outcome of elections. The deterioration in the living conditions of the working class is determined first and foremost by the depth of the crisis of capitalism and by the ability of each national bourgeoisie to make the exploited pay for it, in order to defend the competitiveness of national capital in the international arena. This is why only the eruption of class struggle is capable of hampering the attacks of the bourgeoisie and asserting the interests of the proletariat.

This is also why it is always the bourgeoisie that wins elections and the proletarians have nothing, absolutely nothing, to expect from this masquerade. No parliamentary struggle, in whatever form, is capable, in the present phase of the life of capitalism, of improving the situation of the working class. The illusions entertained on this subject by all sectors of the bourgeoisie are based on a reality of capitalism that is now obsolete:

“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”. (Platform of the ICC)

How should we fight? Atomised in the polling booths or through a united, collective and massive struggle?

The bourgeoisie knows full well that it has nothing to fear from workers' consciousness when they are passive spectators at electoral jousts featuring real political professionals who have nothing to do with the interests of the working class. Nor does it have anything to fear from their action when they are divided into so many atomised citizens in the polling booths. On the other hand, it knows that it has everything to fear from their collective strength and united action, expressed through discussion and the organisation of the struggle in the workplace, in general assemblies and in the streets. It is only in this way, and not by passively consuming electoral speeches and marking your ballot paper, isolated in the polling booths, that the life of the working class can be truly expressed.

In the general assemblies of struggle, the floor is shared, debates are open and fraternal and, above all, the elected delegates are revocable. The revocability of delegates is the means through which the assembly retains control of the struggle - particularly in the face of attempts to take this away from them by the "professionals of the struggle", the trade unions. The election and revocability of delegates can ensure that those who will represent the base assemblies are permanently the emanation of their struggle. Experiences of massive mobilisations of the working class, such as in 1905 in Russia, in the years 1917-23 in many countries on the European and American continents, and more recently during the struggle in Poland in August 1980, are the best illustrations of the fact that the weapon of the working class is collective action and not the ballot paper.

It is therefore the capacity of the working class to mobilise on its class terrain with its own methods of struggle, in defence of its interests, against the attacks of capital, which will determine its capacity to resist the attacks, and not the fact of voting massively for this or that party or candidate on the occasion of this or that election.

The working class has nothing to gain by taking part in the elections, except illusions!

Not only are elections not a means of struggle for the working class, but they also allow the bourgeoisie to turn the workers into citizen electors, to dilute them in the mass of the population by isolating them from each other and, ultimately, to make them more vulnerable to its brainwashing.

And it's precisely because electoral and democratic mystification is a prime ideological weapon that the bourgeoisie does everything in its power to maintain and renew its effectiveness through various stratagems:

  • the classic demagogic and misleading promises that will never be kept;
  • the stigmatisation of those who, because they no longer see elections as useful, are accused of trampling underfoot the sacrifices made by past generations of workers who fought to win universal suffrage (usually hiding the fact that these same representatives of the bourgeoisie, who now even go so far as to make voting compulsory in some countries, were opposed to granting everyone the right to vote in an earlier era);
  • the exploitation of feelings of insecurity within the population - which are the consequence of the very insecurity into which capitalism and its democracy are plunging the whole of society. A clear example of this is the way that the different parties aim to channel one part of the working class towards populist and extreme right-wing votes, while others call on workers to participate in elections to "block the road to the extreme right";
  • exploiting the traumatic memories left behind by fascism, making people believe that it was the weakening of the electoral system and democracy that gave rise to fascism, when in fact the opposite is true. In Germany, for example, it was the defeat of the working class, following the bloody crushing of the revolution in 1919-23 by the social democrats, which paved the way for the legal and perfectly democratic accession to power by Hitler and the Nazi party.

Today in Britain, a recent poll by the Office for National Statistics[1] has shown that many young people will not be voting in the coming election because there is a growing disillusionment with the existing political parties. The same poll also shows that mere apathy is not the main issue here: many of those interviewed expressed real concern for their future and the future of the planet but had severe doubts whether casting their votes for any of the parties would change anything. This is an important “beginning of wisdom”, although we are continually seeing the rise of “new” parties who promise truly radical measures, seeking to recuperate and distort such initial steps in consciousness. What is indispensable is the development of a clear understanding that the problem faced by the working class is not just the venality of politicians or the hypocrisy of their parties, but the existence of an entire system of production which has become a barrier to the progress of humanity.







Election circus