In an era of falling voter turnout and general political apathy, calls are once again growing for workers to re-engage with bourgeois democracy; to put their faith in the British electoral process in order to express their will and fix their problems.
Rishi Sunak, former chancellor under Boris Johnson, has ascended to the position of prime minister without a single ballot being cast. For the millions of workers across Britain who long ago lost faith in parliamentary politics, this news brings forth nothing more than a resigned shrug and a passing: “Oh, another one already?”
Despite this growing trend of disillusionment, a majority of those workers who are registered to vote do still turn out at election time. Many are scathing critics of the system. However, when the opportunity arises, they’ll make the trip to the polling station, telling themselves that ‘realistically’ this is the only way to ‘make a difference’.
After all, what other option is there?
This feeling of powerlessness continues to grow, and not by accident: it has been manufactured by our corporate media and political class precisely in order to disempower workers and stop them understanding the very real power they have as a class (rather than as isolated individuals). We are groomed all our lives to believe the lie that our only ‘hope’ for ‘change’ is via a bourgeois ballot box.
When even this sorry concession is undermined, organisations such as the People’s Assembly take to the streets with indignant demands for a ‘general election now’. Let us delve into why the democracy delusion persists.
People’s Assembly demands general election
On 5 November, thousands gathered in central London to demand an immediate general election.
‘We must protect our democracy,’ such groups demand. The reply comes back from increasing numbers of disenfranchised workers: ‘What democracy?’
The democracy in which parties and politicians of all stripes are just the same?
The democracy in which during the last ten years there has never been a popular government?
The democracy in which overwhelmingly popular policies are time and again shelved by ‘our’ elected ‘representatives’?
The democracy in which fully half of British prime ministers have been appointed rather than elected?
The democracy in which every dirty political and propagandist trick in the book is used to prevent the election of candidates who threaten even the slightest upset to the status quo – such as the campaign that was waged against George Galloway when he stood for the Workers Party in the 2021 Batley and Spen by-election?
An alternative government
Let us imagine for a moment that we do live in a democracy. What is the concrete meaning of the demand for a ‘general election now’? It can only be that a majority Labour government, or a Labour-led coalition, should replace the Tories in office.
This is no alternative.
A section of our ruling class also backs this demand, which has been repeated not only on the streets but on the pages of perfectly respectable newspapers. Clearly these representatives of capital feel that the endless shenanigans and nose-diving public approval of the ruling party of choice is not serving their best interests at this time of deepening crisis and accelerating war drive.
Perhaps Keir Starmer, with a long record of efficient and faithful service to British imperialist interests, would be a safer hand on the tiller at this precarious time?
But what will such a change do for workers? On what point of principle that might improve our lives do Keir Starmer and co differ from Rishi Sunak’s cabinet? What about the LibDems? The SNP? Plaid Cymru? The Greens?
And it’s not only Starmer. Since its inception, the Labour party has proved itself time and again to be the most abject servant of British imperialism – the brutal wars launched during the Blair years being not an aberration but business as usual for these blood-soaked career criminals.
And Labour has betrayed the workers just as often on the home front. To name just a few cardinal examples: it backed the industrial slaughter of workers during the first interimperialist war. It sabotaged both the 1926 general strike and the 1984 miners’ strike, the most significant working-class struggles of the 20th century, working assiduously against the class it was supposed to represent. It bailed out finance capital in 2008, transferring billions pounds from the poor to the bankers … a bail-out for which we continue to pay the price in impoverishment, destruction of our services, and rampant inflation.
Do we need to go on?
Electoral reform and proportional alternatives
There exists a liberal school of thought which admits the flaws of the current crop of mainstream political parties, asserting that their problems is a symptom of the way that ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’. These critics assert that if we could just get a few new parties into power that were (somehow) run differently, we would arrive at a flourishing democracy.
The solutions they offer are various schemes for electoral reform, with proportional representation most popular of these.
Until now in Britain, general elections have been waged on a winner-takes-all basis, also known as ‘first past the post’. Owing to the nature of this system, voters really have only two choices: Labour or Tory. Voters on each side console themselves with the thought that voting for their preferred option from these two non-choices is the ‘lesser of two evils’.
Here enters the idea of proportional representation, which posits that, instead of electing a single candidate in a first-post-the-post election, we instead allow for multiple winners in each constituency.
Under the present system, an MP can be elected with as little as 25 percent of the votes cast (if the rest of the votes are sufficiently split). By allowing for more than one winner, the multiple elected representatives would more fairly reflect the votes cast.
Its supporters claim that proportional representation would eliminate the possibility of people feeling constrained to vote for the ‘lesser of two evils’, and that this would open the floodgates for a plethora of new and more ‘representative’ parties
Many of these reformers seem to be suffering from short-term memory loss. Proportional representation briefly reappeared in the news when Labour members voted at their recent conference to include it in the party’s next manifesto.
Those familiar with the legacy of PR might have been scratching their heads, wondering why this sounded so familiar.
Ah, yes. The 1995 Labour conference voted on the same issue. Two years later, the party was elected to government on a manifesto that had promised a referendum on a ‘proportional alternative’ to first past the post.
But the referendum was never called. After all, why would a party that only survives because of the first-past-the-post system, and which had so recently been the beneficiary of said system, go to work to overturn it?
Labour party members don’t give their beloved leadership the credit its deserves. The bourgeois Labour party’s leaders have decades of experience in duping workers with the promise of this or that concession. They do this sort of thing in their sleep.
The leadership does not want electoral reform, and nor does the class it represents, which has an excellent machinery in place for assuring outcomes via the present system. And so a Labour government is extremely unlikely ever to implement PR.
But in the unlikely event that proportional representation did somehow make it to Britain, well … most of the rest of Europe already uses it. So how’s that turning out for the Europeans? Where in mainland Europe can we find a government actually representing the wishes of the people?
Nowhere. Because no matter what formula is used to appoint ‘representatives’ on the basis of votes; no matter what reforms are put in place to increase ‘accountability’, there still exists the question of the fundamental nature of the state in a capitalist society.
Class against class
The truth is that we live not in a democracy, but in a dictatorship – a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. And this dictatorship is exercised via the capitalist class’s hold on all the levers of power. Not merely on the parliamentary talking shop, but on the civil service, the police, the army, the judiciary, the media, the education system and more.
A class analysis brings forth the solution: flip the system on its head.
Overthrow the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, and establish our own power: establish the dictatorship of the working class, of the proletariat. In which workers in power can actually implement meaningful change. Where voting and elections – devoid of the scourge of capitalist control – actually mean something for workers’ lives.
And, crucially, the dictatorship of the proletariat means a system in which the workers keep power – enduringly. What good is the election of a left-wing government under a capitalist system whose rulers can and will do everything to subvert it, from sabotage to assassinations and civil war?
It is time the ‘leaders’ of the working class desisted from banging their heads against the same unfeeling Labour party brick wall that has for decades tricked well-meaning workers into its ranks. The working class deserves better.