The most damaging thing to the cause of true democracy is the repeated assurances that what we have nowadays is democracy, and so all the sleaze, all the dumbing down, all the secret negotiations and dirty deals get lumped together to suggest in people's minds that democracy is not all that great. Our masters wouldn't want it any other way.
Given the low turnouts in many elections there has been talk of introducing compulsory voting. This would amount to a state forcing its citizens to legitimize it and runs totally counter to any real notion of democracy. Proportional representation in some form or other such as transferable votes , if instituted, would just be a way of further institutionalising parties, and changing the question from representation to one of balancing the parties' share in the executive. It would merely mean that it would become more difficult for one party to dominate the government and thus go against the overall ruling class interest.All of these changes, however, are merely cosmetic. They represent changes to formal democracy, which has no real power to affect the course of events. At the moment a small group of people control all the wealth and property, and it is upon their interests that everything hinges. It is only by removing such people, and not by tinkering with the form, that true democracy can be reached.
It is the continual boast of modern politicians that we live in a democratic State. When they say “we” they mean, of course, the ruling class. But the so-called democracy conferred on the working class is not a semblance even of the real thing. Two thousand years ago Athens boasted in similar fashion of the democratic State, and the chief principle of the Athenians was that while there existed one man in the community who suffered in justice through the operation of the state laws, the others should not rest until his wrongs had been righted. An injury to one held possibilities of injury to all. But beneath this free and high-principled class was another class, chattel-slaves to them, who had no rights but what were willed to them by their owners.This same description applies to the working class of to-day.
Can the act of electing a government result in a democratic society?
Governments work for the privileged section of society. They make the laws which protect the property rights of the minority who own and control natural resources, industry, manufacture and transport. These are the means of life on which we all depend but most of us have no say in how they are used. Behind parliament governments operate in secret. They are part of the division of the world into rival capitalist states. With the back-up of their armed forces they pursue national capitalist interests. Though the politicians who run it may be elected, the state is the opposite of democracy. Production is owned and controlled by companies, some of them multinational corporations with massive economic power making the decisions on what should be produced for the markets for sale at a profit. Through corporate authority they decide how goods should be produced and the conditions in which work is done. Again, this is the opposite of democracy.
For socialists the rule of government can never he democratic. To govern is to direct, control and to rule with authority. Operating as the state this is what governments do. But to say that democracy is merely the act of electing a government to rule over us cannot be right because democracy should include all people in deciding how we live and what we do as a community. Democracy means the absence of privilege, making our decisions from a position of equality. Democracy means that we should live in a completely open society with unrestricted access to the information relevant to social issues. It means that we should have the powers to act on our decisions, because without such powers decisions are useless.
The vote they were compelled to give, though they made a virtue out of necessity and said they gave it because they loved the principles of democracy. But no matter how they got them, the workers have far more votes than their masters. With the knowledge of their slave-position and the courage to organise, these votes can be used as the means to their emancipation. The capitalist class cannot rescind what they have established. The vote was given to secure their own domination; if they discard it they lose control and have no sanction to govern.By constitutional methods the workers can win their freedom. They have no need to go outside the constitution until they finally destroy it. So the party system together with the franchise pave the way for working-class victory.
Democracy is not a set of rules or a parliament; it is a process, a process that must be fought for. The struggle for democracy is the struggle for socialism. It is not a struggle for reforms, for this or that political system, for this or that leader, for some rule change or other—it is the struggle for an idea, for a belief, a belief that we can run our own lives, that we have a right to a say in how society is run, for a belief that the responsibility for democracy lies not upon the politicians or their bureaucrats, but upon ourselves.
Real democracy will come with socialism. The party system will be exposed as a fraud, consciously practised by the ruling class in their own interest . Real democracy, where people run their neighbourhoods, schools and workplaces democratically from the bottom up, never existed in capitalist society . Socialism will involve people making decisions about their own lives and those of families, friends and neighbours - decisions unencumbered by so many of the factors that have to be taken into account under capitalism. Real democracy is fundamentally incompatible with the idea of leadership. It is about all of us having a direct say in the decisions that affect us. Leadership means handing over the right to make those decisions to someone else.
Common ownership will mean everybody having the right to participate in decisions on how global resources will be used. It means nobody being able to take personal control of resources, beyond their own personal possessions.Democratic control is therefore also essential to the meaning of socialism. Socialism will be a society in which everybody will have the right to participate in the social decisions that affect them. These decisions could be on a wide range of issues—one of the most important kinds of decision, for example, would be how to organise the production of goods and services. Socialism means democracy at all levels of society, including the workplace. Democracy means having the opportunity to intervene in making proposals, amending them and finally deciding upon them - as well as in implementing them. The more people can exercise a say in those actions, the more democratic the process becomes. Information must flow freely, so all can have an opportunity of reaching a decision, of judging the performance of delegates and appointees, of deciding to challenge the actions of one body in a higher authority; and in real democracy, the higher authorities are those bodies which contain more members of the community concerned. Everyday life must be the signalling system that lets people know what their fellows want, the way of co-ordinating votes and decisions. A society of common ownership would have no need of constricting decision-making. We would share a common interest, and most people's actions and decisions would be immediately related to their day-to-day outcomes. Democracy would be an everyday process, just as the management of workplaces is now for the appointees of the owners. Just as appointees now are accountable to and removable by the owners, when we own all the wealth in common we will have structures to ensure that we retain control of all decision-making levels where we feel we have need to intervene, not ritualistically handing that control over to rulers periodically.We say that direct democracy such as mass meetings need not be the only form of democratic control in socialism. For many choicies , decision-making by a committee or council of elected delegates will be more appropriate. In socialism there will certainly be elected assemblies and perhaps some elected officials. In the socialist conception of democracy, such elected people would be subject to recall if, in the opinion of a majority of those who elected them, they have failed to carry out the mandate conferred on them. For, in socialism, all elected persons will be delegates chosen by the community to carry out some task on their behalf. It is therefore only normal that, if they fail to carry out this task properly, the people who elected them should have the power to revoke their mandate, i. e. to recall them and mandate someone else in their place.
Socialists reject all forms of minority action to attempt to establish socialism, which can only be established by the working class when the immense majority have come to want and understand it. Without a socialist working class, there can be no socialism. The establishment of socialism can only be the conscious majority, and therefore democratic, act of a socialist-minded working class. Real democracy is fundamental to socialists. The revolutionary transformation of society must be brought about by the will of the great majority of the people if it is to succeed. Political democracy is the greatest tool (next to its labour-power) that the working class has at its disposal. When the majority of workers support socialism, so called "revolutionary" war will not be required. It is dangerous and futile to follow those who support violence by workers against the armed force of the state. Violent revolution has always meant dead workers, and never meant the liberation of the working class. Unless workers organise consciously and politically and take control over the state machinery, including its armed forces, the state will be ensured a bloody victory.The capitalist class control the state, not by some conspiracy, but with the consent or acquiescence of the majority of the population, a consent which expresses itself in everyday attitudes and, at election times, in voting for parties which support class ownership. It is such majority support expressed through elections that gives the capitalist's control of the state its legitimacy. The minority rule with the assent of the majority, which gives them political control. The first step towards taking over the means of production, therefore, must be to take over control of the state, and the easiest way to do this is via elections. But elections are merely a technique, a method. The most important precondition to taking political control out of the hands of the owning class is that the majority are no longer prepared to be ruled and exploited by a minority; they must withdraw their consent to capitalism and class rule-they must want and understand a socialist society .
What we conspicuously lack is the will and the imagination to look beyond the crippling assumption that capitalism is here to stay. We can change things, by taking matters into our own hands and organising to send mandated socialist delegates to elected bodies instead of falling for the empty promises of capitalist politicians. We make up the vast majority of the electorate but have not yet learned to use the vote in an intelligent way - not to elect capitalist politicians to govern capitalism in the only way it can be, as a system that has to put profits before people - but to send delegates into all elected assemblies mandated to put an end to capitalism. Of course, this assumes that people outside the elected bodies have also mobilised themselves and are ready to play their part in establishing socialism. Taking the decisions away from cliques and into the hands of a community means we would finally move into a collectively conscious, democratic society.