But once it is elected there is no means of controlling MP’s, parliament or the government until the next election. If the government breaks its promises, which it always does, we cannot get rid of it, (according to the law that is), until the next election.
On a day to day basis we see how democratic our society really is. When a factory owner decides to close down a factory, the workers in that factory don’t get a vote on whether it should stay open. There is no debate about it – the factory is his to do with as he pleases. The homeless never get a ballot on whether they can occupy empty housing or change decisions to build homes instead of luxury office blocks. Black people and youth cannot decide to remove racist police who harass and attack them from their area.
Revolutionaries believe that even under the parliamentary system, real power lies outside parliament. Unelected civil servants, the owners of the press and television, judges, police chiefs, and army officers decide what is going to happen in society. The monarchy and the House of Lords, who are not elected by anyone, have the power to delay and block laws. The Queen still has the power to dismiss a government. She used it as recently as 1975, when she sacked an elected Labour government in Australia!
Real power also lies with those who own and control the wealth of society: the top bankers, financiers and big businessmen who make up the capitalist class. It is they who decide how the resources of this country are dished out. As most wealth and property is in their hands they want to keep it that way.
The real apparatus of decision making and law enforcement – the state – is completely outside any democratic control. It is answerable only to the rich capitalists. It exists to protect the whole system of private property from the rest of us.
So when the media say we live under the “rule of the people”, we reply: which people? Certainly not the majority of us. We live under the rule of part of the people – the rich part. We live in a capitalist democracy.
Of course this does not mean that we have no democratic rights at all. We have the right to hold meetings and to print newspapers to get our point of view across. We can hold demonstrations to protest against things we do not agree with. Workers have the right to join a trade union. But these rights were not just granted to us from above out of the goodness of our rulers’ hearts. Every one of them, including the right to vote, had to be fought for from below.
Today the government is trying to restrict our rights. That is what the Criminal Justice Bill is about. Over the last years the Tories have brought in a series of laws which limit the ability of trade unions to strike in defence of their jobs and conditions. They have given the police more powers to attack demonstrators and break up picket lines. They have brought in powers to censor what we can say, for example banning Sinn Fein speakers from the airwaves.
While we fight for the broadest possible democratic rights, we do not believe that real and lasting change can come through parliament A government that tried to take wealth and property out of the hands of the rich would soon meet with opposition from within the state itself.
That is what happened in Chile in 1973. The people elected a government that said it would really change things for the better. The workers demanded that the government take over the wealth and property of the rich and put it in the hands of the people. The army overthrew the government, brought in a military dictatorship and murdered thousands and thousands of their opponents.
Many people might think that this could only happen in South America and that the British army and police would never disobey the rule of democratic law. But they would be wrong. All of the unelected top civil servants, judges, police chiefs and army officers in Britain come from the same class. They and their families have enormous personal wealth. They go to the same private schools together and then on to top Oxford or Cambridge colleges. They have the same outlook on life – that they have the right to own most of the wealth. They are determined to keep it and if that means getting rid of elected governments then so be it.
That is why throughout history the most determined sections of the working class have rejected the idea that the system can be peacefully reformed and have fought for revolution. To transform society the working class will have to break the power of the unelected state, dissolve the army and police and bring in its own government with its own military force based on the armed population.
This idea is not pie in the sky. We know it can be done because the working class of Russia did it in 19I7. They broke up the old state and formed their own government led by the Bolshevik (Communist) Party. This government took over the factories and put them under the control of the workers. They gave the land to the peasants.
We are usually told in school that the Bolshevik government was a totalitarian dictatorship right from the start. But in its early years it was the most democratic system ever seen. The government was based on the power of soviets. Soviets were councils of workers in every town and city, made up of delegates elected directly from all the different factories and areas.
The delegates to these soviets were accountable and recallable. They had to report back to mass meetings of the workers who had elected them. If the workers thought their delegate had done something wrong or was arguing the wrong policy they didn’t have to wait five years – they could change them on the spot. ALL decisions could be discussed out in front of the workers. This was entirely different from capitalist democracy: it was workers’ democracy.
Later, when the revolution was isolated and in retreat, a layer of bureaucrats arose under Stalin, who abolished the rule of the soviets altogether. But while it lasted the democracy of the soviets gave the majority of working people more real power and control over society than has ever been seen, before or since.
All states and all governments are ways in which one class rules over another. They are bodies of armed people defending the property of a particular class. Under capitalism the real state is in the hands of a tiny minority.
In Britain we have some important democratic rights, but at the end of the day the state is still a dictatorship of the rich minority over the vast majority of the population. A state based on workers’ councils would be the opposite. It would be democratic for the majority, but it would also be a dictatorship of that majority over the tiny minority of capitalists. It would deny them their most cherished rights – the right to own all the wealth, the right not to have to do a proper day’s work, the right to have every luxury at their disposal and to treat the rest of us like dirt.
The old owners of the land, banks and factories will try to get “their” property back again. History shows that a revolutionary government will have to use force to stop them.
In Russia after the revolution, the old landowners and capitalists formed White Armies to fight the soviet government. Wherever they went they arrested and shot the delegates elected by the workers and abolished the soviets, handing the land and factories back to their former owners. In response the soviet government refused to back down. It formed the Red Army which took on and defeated the Whites.
The rise of the Stalinist dictatorship in Russia showed that no revolution can succeed if it is isolated in one country alone. But a revolution that spread across the world could gradually break the resistance of the capitalists. Democratic planning and redistribution of wealth could gradually overcome the very division of society into haves and have-nots. Because every state exists to defend the interests of one class against another, as classes disappear altogether there will be less and less need for any special state machine.
Once the capitalists disappear as a class, all the functions of a workers’ state could be taken over by society as a whole. The state would wither away. Government and authority – even of the most democratic sort – could be replaced with the simple administration of society by the people.
In this way, Marxists have the same aim as the anarchists – a society without classes and without a state. But we reject the idea that the state can just be wished away or abolished overnight. To create the conditions for a classless society, capitalism must first be abolished. For that we will need a state power of our own. Without a workers’ state to keep them down, the capitalists could easily re-assert control and re-establish themselves as the ruling class.
And if that were to happen, then the “rule of people” will remain what it is today – a fraud rather than a reality.