Year 2001 No. 95, June 4, 2001
Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :
The Need to Renew the Political Process and Provide it with Modern Content
The Stand of the Party Is One of Participating in the Election by Opposing Tony Blair Pushing through the "Third Way" by Reducing the Issue to One of Process
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Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)
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A the 6th National Consultative Conference of RCPB(ML) on the work of the Party in intervening in the political life of the country, a presentation was given on the need to renew the political process and provide it with modern content. We are reproducing the presentation herewith. With this we conclude our coverage of the 6th National Consultative Conference, held in Birmingham on March 31 April 1. The other articles relating to the work of intervening in the political life of the country, as discussed at the Conference, are to be found in WDIE No. 61, April 9, 2001, No. 65, April 13, 2001, No. 70, April 23, 2001, and No. 85, May 21, 2001.
The Political Report to the Third Congress The Line of March to a New Society points out that on the basis of its theory and the concrete analysis of the objective conditions, the Party is of the opinion that the struggle going on in society can be characterised as that between the Old and the New. As we approach the imminent general election it is increasingly obvious that that this contention clearly manifest itself in the political sphere, in the political life of the country just as in every other sphere. The political process is anachronistic and outdated, yet the forces of the Old although prepared to make a few reforms in this political process, such as those related to House of Lords, or those of the Assemblies in Wales, Scotland and London and so on, reforms which themselves aim to bolster the system, such as those in the electoral law, registration of parties and so on. But the forces of the Old refuse to recognise that the process itself needs a modern content commensurate with the needs of the times. The assertion is in fact made to the contrary, that through the current procedures, through the political process as it exists which they claim are the last word in democracy the consent of the governed is obtained for all the measures that the bourgeoisie takes, and in fact this consent is also obtained for the political process itself.
Of course behind this assertion lie the powers of coercion and domination including armed force which the bourgeoisie maintains a monopoly on and of which we are well aware.
Even the reforms which the Labour Party and others have carried out, or the promised referendum on various questions such as of entry into the Euro are an admission that a modern consciousness has developed amongst the people, the consciousness that people must have a say in all the key issues that affect their lives and that the political process needs to be renewed. There is recognition that people are disillusioned with the entire political process as it exists at the present time, a process which favours the big parties and behind them the big monopolies, which is so open to corruption and manipulation by the rich and powerful and which leaves the masses of the people marginalised and disempowered. It is now not uncommon to hear people complain that they do not have a say in how decisions are made. They do not have a say in the government of the country and in the government of those affairs which concern them. There is a growing recognition that now people demand their right to exercise such control over their lives, to rule themselves and that there is a growing recognition that this is actually a right that people should have by dint of being human. But the forces of the Old rather than providing the political process with a modern content do everything possible to shore up that which is antiquated.
The central issue here is how can people have the power to make decisions over the direction of the economy, over the education system, the health service or indeed over all the important decisions that affect their lives and the society they live in. It is clear that the present political process, in particular the present party system does not provide this power. The fact is that this system has been perfected to keep the people out of power. Today at the start of the 21st century it is 17th century political arrangements, although updated in the 19th century that still define the political life of the country. Under these arrangements it is the height of democracy simply to vote every five years for one of the parties of the bourgeoisie, the programmes of which the people have played no part in formulating or adopting and for candidates that they have had no part in selecting. Even the date of the election is kept a secret from the people and various other mechanisms are put into place to make it difficult for them to stand for election, let alone to actually exercise power.
One of the arrangements that the bourgeoisie hangs on to is that of the system of representative democracy, the notion that the main role that people have in the political process is to elect a representative through which means the electorate hand over their right to govern to somebody else, who will then do what they wish or whatever their party instructs them to do. Such a representative does not represent the interests of the people and is not subject to recall. The electorate has no control over their actions. Representative democracy creates a mandate for the elected political party, legitimates party government but does not vest sovereignty, political power in the people.
The issue here is that through such means in this bourgeois democracy the people are reduced to the role of spectators. Whatever political activity they may have been engaged in, when it comes to elections they are expected to behave as voting cattle permitted to chose between the two major parties in a kind of beauty contest, but it is not considered that they should empower themselves and be sovereign in their own right. It might be questioned how if the people are trusted with such an important decision as allegedly takes place during an election why they should not also make all the other important decisions in society. The fact is that sovereign power does not reside with the people but rather, in this antiquated system, with the monarch in parliament, or more exactly with part of the executive, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. So we have a situation where a political process and system that was first installed at the end of the 17th century, when only the men of property had a say in political affairs, still exists in the country. Suffrage has been extended since that time but the party system has been perfected, and the political process retains the character of withholding power from the masses of the people.
The fact is that this political system designed for the class rule of the rising bourgeoisie now longer meets the needs of the times and is in crisis. In the economic sphere, since that time, the social process of production has developed to a high degree, while ownership remains private this itself has produced a crisis which can only be resolved by the people taking centre stage and creating a new kind of society that puts the peoples needs and interests in first place rather than those of the financial oligarchy. So too the growth of the productive forces and their socialisation has led to the rise of a new class, the working class, which is excluded even from the semblance of political power and this too has produced a crisis in the political sphere, a crisis which calls for the renewal of the political process which must be provided with a modern content. So this is what the objective and subjective conditions are pointing towards. But rather than creating the conditions for empowering the people the various governments of the rich have taken measures to consolidate the present undemocratic system, to depoliticise and further marginalise the people and block the path to progress.
As the Party has pointed out, the bourgeoisie and Labour as the governing party will try to use the election to claim a mandate for their Third Way programme, a programme of increasing attacks on the rights of the people both at home and abroad, and which is against their fundamental interests. It will aim to set the agenda for the election, to depoliticise the people and line them up behind the interests of the bourgeoisie.
It is in this context that the Party can utilise the opportunity of the election to wage struggle against the bourgeoisie, to oppose the de-politicisation of the people and further the work to end their marginalisation and facilitate their empowerment. Amongst other things it provides the opportunity to raise amongst the people the question of what the objective and subjective conditions are pointing towards the fact that democratic renewal of the political process is a necessity if the people are to govern themselves and end the crisis not just in the political system but it the economic system too. It presents an opportunity for the workers to show that that can become political, that they can become worker politicians, that they have a say and that their independent political programme holds the solution to the present crisis, to the anti-social offensive of the bourgeoisie and opens up the path of progress to a new society.
On the question of what this modern content of the political process should be, the work of the Party, and in particular the demand of the Draft Programme of the Working Class adopted by the Partys 3rd Congress, points to some of the elements of this modern content, that a new political system should be brought into being and new arrangements put into place. For example, there should be no election without selection of candidates. Candidates should be chosen, for example, from the workplaces, colleges and universities. The choosing of candidates should not be the prerogative of the political parties, but those that elect them should also mandate the candidates. Such a system would enable the people to initiate legislation and dictate the business of parliament and recall candidates that did not carry out their mandate. It also raises questions about the modern definition of a political party, that it should be engaged in politicising the members of the polity, assisting citizens to participate in governing society and encourage citizens to become the decision makers and exercise control over their own affairs and those of the polity.
So this work to expose the nature of the political process, and the needs of the time in the political as well as in the economic sphere, is something which the election provides an opportunity for the Party to take up, to intervene in the political affairs of the country. It is an area where the positions of the Party are very strong, and where the fight with the bourgeoisie can be conducted. It is an area which it part of occupying the space for change, to raise the perspective of the new arrangements which are needed in society to advance the interests of the working people, the questions relating to the need to renew the political process.
In the discussions which followed the presentation on the Political Process, this intervention was given on the stand of RCPB(ML) in participating in the elections.
The quality of the Party in its intervention is a question of its stand. When you look at all the political forces that are genuinely fighting the onslaught of the anti-social offensive, it is a question of their stand that is important, and so our stand on participating in the election is very necessary at this time. All the different considerations that we have been going into are subordinate to that stand, that here is this "Third Way" programme of Tony Blair being launched against the people, and you have all these forces that are conciliating with it, all these forces that do not get to the heart of the matter, that it is a matter of indifference to them that these onslaughts are going on and it is just a question of changing the direction of Labour. The whole question is to take this stand that this programme must not go through and this is the essence of our participation in this election. And the same thing will be true at every stage of the political intervention of the Party. It will underlie all our practical politics in the future. We are a party of class struggle, and so it is this spirit that is going to transform the situation.
This is connected with the presentations on the issue of process, and the question of what is the new historical basis, does it relate to us, does it relate to the masses of the people or what does it relate to.
The bourgeoisie reduces everything to process. This is the point of Tony Blair using process to maintain the status quo. Everything in society is reduced to process, there is no basis, no content to what is being put forward, or rather the content is covered over. This political process which all the bourgeois parties make the issue will you have this process or that process it extends to consultation or becomes a word. You see it in the working class movement. You have had a delegate conference, you have passed your motions, your composite committees and that is it, we have done our job and what more can you ask of us. And the whole content of taking a stand against this "Third Way" programme is left out of account.
When we talk about the new historical basis, we are talking about the new content coming into being. And this conference is an example of it, that this is the content of the new democracy, proletarian democracy in action. It is not a process of people coming together, sharing experiences, reaching a consensus and then whatever the consensus is goes. In other words, that is putting process before content. The social form that we develop is developed precisely in order to safeguard this new content, the New coming into being. Right from the beginning the Party has taken this view. Content is what is primary and the social form safeguards this and you work out what particular social form is necessary. Then once you have worked it out, to fight for that social form is crucial. But if the content is changed, the old form goes against the content, as happened in the Soviet Union. We talked about the old historical basis, where socialism is taken as a given. What was going on in the Soviet Union was not discussed in terms of what is the content of the socialist democracy. In the end, the shell only of the basic organisations was maintained, and then everything was transformed into bourgeois democracy.
In all these things, the content is the crucial thing and this is really what the new historical basis represents. That it is the appropriate basis and the appropriate form. We have the slogan which comes from the days of the Internationalists, that understanding requires the conscious participation of the individual, an act of finding out and this is the new historical basis, but it has to be fought for again in each period with its own content.
In this period, this is what we are fighting for right now and, yes, it starts with us. Unless we have this new historical basis how can we take it out, how can we build a mass communist party. So, it has to start with us that we implement this principle, starting from the content, starting from the stand, and then the conscious participation of everyone in the decision making process.
The other reason why it is so important to emphasise this is that process is something objective. It relates to objective phenomena and things in their change, development and motion. It cannot be reduced to saying that the political process needs to be reformed in the sense of giving the people "more say", reforming the House of Lords so that it is elected and not hereditary, and all this. It does come about that the reforms are responding to the peoples struggles, but then to keep it on that level reduces what these struggles are all about to one of non-consciousness. So, we say the conscious element is the primary element. The content is the new society which is in embryo, and we say this should be carried out everyone should participate in building the new society on this new historical basis, beginning from here, challenging the "Third Way", and putting forward that people should get together and make the decisions, and then going from step to step. This is the Party's plan.
So the contribution that was made about the stand the Party is taking in this election goes to the heart of the matter. If one keeps this in mind, if one grasps this point, then we will be able to establish a new historical basis not only in our Party but progressively through the whole of society. Then this will be the content, this will be the content of the new society that we talk about. This is the consummation of this line of march. Then human beings will begin to make their own history rather than being reduced to this process of one thing following another, which, yes, has its own motion and development. But the greatest crowning glory will be the new socialist society where the people are the decision makers, with this content of defending the rights of the people.
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