Statements of Radical Socialist

Resolution on Revolutionary Organization and Electoral and Parliamentary Politics

Published on Sunday, 17 July 2022 10:07
Written by Radical Socialist

[Adopted by All India Conference, May 27-29, 2022]

 

I.                The Historic Experience:

Classical Marxism has insisted on the maximum expansion of democracy. By designating the Paris Commune as an example of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat,  Marx and Engels indicated that the term was equivalent for them to workers’ democracy. But the historic experience has also been that the road to workers’ democracy does not lie through a simple expansion of democracy by peaceful, especially electoral means. Classical Marxism has therefore stressed the need to prioritise and combine mass mobilizations and extra-electoral struggles with elections and parliamentary activities. It has rejected pure legalism, i.e., it has supported ‘illegal’ or ‘wildcat’ strikes, opposed state regulation of unions which ensure tame, pro-government trade unions, it has supported road blockages, occupation of public spaces, and so on. In cases of open dictatorships it has also supported mass resistance to dictators (as in Nazi occupied Europe, or in colonies, etc) while keeping the focus on proletarian and popular resistance, not individual or small group substitutionist actions. Electoralism was not historically the main arena for Marx-Engels, Luxemburg, Lenin or Trotsky. But they took elections seriously, for specific purposes.

 

II.              Boycottism:

Boycotts are historically justified under specific circumstances. Thus, when elections are held under conditions of complete absence of rights (not merely restriction of rights), or when elections are presented as alternatives to actual revolutionary upsurges, they can be boycotted. Even referenda can be boycotted, as when the Indian takeover of Sikkim was followed by a referendum that asked the people of Sikkim to vote jointly for a rejection of the monarchy (which they mostly disliked) and joining India instead of making these the subjects of two separate votes. However, making boycott of elections a matter of ‘principle’ has nothing in common with the classical Marxist position.

 

III.           The Uses and Abuses of Lenin’s Left-wing Communism—An Infantile Disorder

The lessons of the Russian revolution were often misread in the early years of the Communist International. This was the context in which Lenin wrote his pamphlet, stressing the need to work in trade unions, to work in the electoral arena, and so on. He emphasized that participation in a bourgeois parliament is obligatory and specifically for educating the working class, in particular its more backward, politically less conscious elements, because they have great illusions about the benefits conferred by bourgeois democracy. Hence there is a need for demystification from within the institutions of bourgeois democracy. But this must be coupled with two core Marxist arguments—that the emancipation of the working classes must be a task of the working classes themselves, and that to achieve this goal the starting point must be independence of the working class from bourgeois politics and ideology. Accordingly, when Lenin’s arguments about participating in elections, supporting the Labour Party, are twisted to call for votes for bourgeois parties, or when Lenin’s call to enter the British Labour Party is distorted into calls to join bourgeois parties, these go against the basic politics of Marxism.

IV.           The Long-Term Success of Bourgeois Democracy and its Implications for Revolutionary Politics:

(a)  Arguments from the late 19th and early 20th centuries need to be re-examined in the light of the experience of the past one hundred years. Contrary to what Engels or Lenin had thought, bourgeois democracy proved more durable and tenacious. On one hand, the very existence, however briefly, of workers’ democracy made the ruling classes take bourgeois liberal democracy as a form seriously, even as they strove to dilute its content more and more. From rule of the people as it had been with the Greeks, democracy was reduced to the act of voting, and that too in as undemocratic a way as the ruling classes could manage (the First Past the Post [FPTP] system in many countries, the large-scale role of money power, restrictions on who can vote, and other kinds of measures).  On the other hand, the masses wanted to sustain and strengthen it from below. The historical experience of the extreme right (fascism in Germany and Italy, fascist-turned Bonapartist and other extreme right regimes in Spain, Portugal, Hungary, and elsewhere) in Europe, the experience of colonialism and the hegemony of bourgeois/petty bourgeois forces in most newly independent countries, all imbued large parts of the working classes across the world with more parliamentary illusions than before. The existence of parliamentary elections periodically made them a key ideological component masking the reality of the rule of capital. Fighting against this illusion in a sustained manner is a vital task. The very durability of bourgeois democracy, however dilute, has meant that real prosects of proletarian revolution have receded, making engagement with and in practice showing the limits of bourgeois democracy essential tasks of revolutionaries.

(b)  This prolonged power of bourgeois democracy has left its mark on working class parties as well. Not only the social democratic/reformist left but even those who position themselves on the radical left often feel the need to support bourgeois parties electorally, painting them as ‘lesser evil’ as well as enter into extra-electoral agreements with them. Our perspective sees the tasks of revolutionary Marxists as being based on the following:

·       Whenever possible, a revolutionary organization should seriously consider standing their own candidates. This is an important way to get recognition as an independent political force, even if the chances of getting elected are low. Many working people, burdened with the cares of everyday life, take elections as the only period when they take participation in politics seriously, even though in a very atomized and passive manner by simply casting their votes. This therefore is a time when we can reach out to them.

·       When the party/group is small, it should still take part, even if it is only to call for a NOTA. The function of participation is to deliver a revolutionary message, to promote independent class action.

·       For small groups, but even for parties, not only is the task the presenting of a general slogan on who to vote or not vote, but also the task of winning over the more conscious or advanced sections of the working class and wider radical circles already open to revolutionary  ideas.

·       If the revolutionary group/party does not or cannot put up its own  candidates, but extends support, that must always have a critical edge. This has to have practical articulations as well. Thus, a revolutionary party asking workers and the popular masses to vote for a reformist party must use mass meetings, leaflets, etc, to explain why that support is limited and in what ways critical.

V. Voting the Bourgeois Lesser Evil because the Left is Weak?

(a)  As explained earlier, we do not support bourgeois parties. There have been rare cases, as when much of the French Far Left supported Chiraq against Le Pen. But this too was debated, and generalising from this, as in regularly calling upon US workers to vote for the Democratic Party candidate, first holding up a ‘progressive’ from Jesse Jackson to Sanders but ending up with a call to vote for a thoroughly rightwing candidate because ‘this is the most important election of our lifetime’, is a political hoax in support of the bourgeoisie.  

(b)  We see Social Democrats, Stalinists and Maoists who contest elections as distinct. These come from parties we characterize as working class parties, based partly on their programme, and partly on the relationship between the working classes and the party/ies. Despite their inadequacies, their unprincipled compromises, the Social Democrats/reformist Stalinists are what Lenin once called them – bourgeois workers’ parties, ie, parties  who do not move out of the bourgeois horizon, but who continue to have a working class connection in a way that bourgeois parties do not.

VI.           Against Hindutva-fascism:

(a)  In the specifically Indian context we need to realize that the old Congress hegemony has given way to a Hindutva hegemony mediated at the parliamentary level by the BJP. The BJP is the one  bourgeois party that secures votes because  of its programme. Other parties are  cynical, and by programme mean little more than periodic electoral pledges, forgotten whether elected or defeated. More, they have all accepted soft Hindutva and neoliberalism. Thus, to call upon working people to vote for these parties in the name of halting BJP’s road to power merely puts the revolutionary organization as an agent of unprincipled and degenerate bourgeois parties.

(b)  The mainstream left cannot parallel the BJPs road to power. The destruction of the BJP’s Hindutva hegemony is only possible by prioritizing class struggle on the political as well as the ideological plane. For the left to focus on political power at the parliamentary or the assembly level by raising slogans like ‘bring back the eighth Left Front government’, is to succumb to neoliberalism at best, and give up even the struggle against Hindutva at worst. It is by focusing on the extra-parliamentary struggles on a priority basis that the left can hope to change the class relationship of forces.

(c)  Rejection of both neoliberalism and Hindutva politics will then provide the necessary and sufficient preconditions for an anti-capitalist politics. To say that one must put anti-capitalism on the back-burner because fighting Hindutva is the first task makes the working class subordinate to the bourgeois opposition. To ignore the specificities of Hindutva fascism by saying that all non-revolutionary parties are fascist (including calling or implying that the reformist left is “social fascist”) is a horribly sectarian politics. But given the relative strengths between the reformist left and the far left even now, the main danger comes from not recognizing that revolutionary anti-capitalism must be highlighted.  This has to reject illusions, such as green capitalism, bourgeois secularism, or bourgeois welfare statism as adequate safeguards. Only by building a strong revolutionary left can this fight be waged. Such a fight is not mainly electoral. But our electoral struggle cannot follow a path going in a direction opposite to our principal struggles.

 

VII.        The First Past the Post, and other weaknesses of Bourgeois Democracy:

 

(a)             Bourgeois democracy with right to vote for all adults came only in the twentieth century. Immediately, the ruling class tried to minimize the democratic content of the democracy. This has been done in a number of ways. They include, the use of various means to exclude people from the list of voters, the use of political mechanisms to reduce the role of parliaments and other elected bodies, and the use of money and various mechanisms to eliminate or marginalize the leftwing or parties representing any kind of oppressed people.

(b)            The most undemocratic of the electoral systems is the system followed in India and in many other countries, often called the First Past the Post system. This is a system where there are many single constituencies, and each voter has a single vote in that constituency. This means that representation is extremely uneven. The candidate securing the highest votes is elected, even if they get much less than the majority of the total voters in the constituency or even less than the majority of the votes cast. And it becomes possible for a party to get a significant share of votes but still get no seats because their support base is spread across the province. In addition, the electoral system in India has grown increasingly worse. The huge role of money means parties on the left find it difficult to win even when they have some support on the ground. Voter choice has come to matter less and less. Voters mostly vote because of a political party. So when elected candidates move to a different party, voters have no control. Parties have a degree of control, through the Parliamentary whip and the anti-defection law, but these actually render parliament useless as a space for reasoned discussions, and since the passing of the law, time spent on debates has steadily declined, making parliament a place where the majority party simply passes laws. The arguments in favour of the FPTP system are that it increases stability, and ensures homogeneous government. In itself, a stable government need not be a sign of a healthy democracy, because it does not represent the heterogeneity of the people nor allow people’s actual views to be expressed. Moreover, in any country, but certainly in a country like India with its heterogeneous population, this parliamentary stability actually reduces real popular representation. This is why, a revolutionary democratic socialist answer must look for a better electoral system. The Proportional Representation system with an Open List party system allows voters a choice, it allows parties to send representatives in more or less the proportion of votes they get in assembly or parliament and is therefore a better system. It is opposed by the bourgeoisie and the entrenched interests in the big parties because oppressed people may get more voices, the preferred parties of big capital may not get full authority to ignore popular will.

 

VIII.      For a transitional set of demands:

In fighting elections, we must fight for democratization. At the same time, the demands we raise must increase working class awareness, and be in line with what we want for the future. We therefore fight in electoral matters for the following:

·       For a fully autonomous election commission, with provision that nobody retiring after a stint in the EC may hold any governmental position of any kind. Nor may they be allowed to contest on any party tickets.

·       For a scrapping of the contested EVM system and a return to the ballot paper.

·       For the introduction of a proportional representation with an Open List party system.

 

·       For full state funding of elections and an immediate abolition of private election funding including through election bonds.