We are faced with the fact that Parliament exists and that the mass of the population, despite their criticisms, look to it for change. In 1940 Trotsky, while discussing the question of war, explained how Marxists must make use of bourgeois institutions like parliament. “The courts are bourgeois but we don’t boycott them as the anarchists. We try to use them and fight within them. Likewise with parliaments. We are enemies of the bourgeoisie and its institutions, but we utilise them.”
Trotsky carried the argument forward – to the question of war: “War is a bourgeois institution a thousand times more powerful than all the other bourgeois institutions. We accept it as a fact like the bourgeois schools and try to utilise it.” He continues:
“In the union I can say I am for the Fourth International. I am against war. But I am with you. I will not sabotage the war. I will be the best soldier just as I was the best and most skilled worker in the factory. At the same time I will try to convince you too that we should change society.” (Writings, 1939-40, p. 256).
So with parliament. There is no contradiction between understanding, from a revolutionary point of view, the true nature of a bourgeois parliament and at the same time fighting for every crumb, every concession we can gain from it. In the same sense as Trotsky in 1940 advocated that the members of the Fourth International, while opposing the war; in the case of that particular war should be the “best soldiers,” we must be the “best parliamentary representatives,” the most effective in squeezing every possible concession and, at the same time, the most resolute in revealing its limitations. If we are to expose the limits of change through parliament we have to struggle within it to reach those limits and thereby bring them into the view of the working class.
Instead of such sterile ultra-leftism we explain that we are fighting to become the majority in parliament and go on to spell out what we would do if we had that majority. We say we would pass legislation to take the wealth out of the hands of the ruling class. But, as the bitter experience of Chile showed, the ruling class will not peaceably surrender their wealth and power. They would use their control of the armed machinery of the state to resist. Under those circumstances we would mobilise the working class to confront them, just as the Bolsheviks did in August 1917. Part of this resistance would be the formation of workers’ councils, of committees in the army, in short of the emergence of an alternative state based on the independent power of the working class. In this way the real question of power would be posed.
The sociaist party and its sisters organisations in the CWI have had people elected to parliaments in the past and still do currenty have 2 TD's in Ireland and a MEP in the European parliament. We dont see this as a end goal but a way of fighting for concessions for the working class in the most critical way of the system possible.
The election of Joe Higgins is not the first occasion that we have participated in parliament. In Britain, Dave Nellist, Pat Wall and Terry Fields, all members of Militant, sat as Labour MPs and were able to use parliament as a tribune for socialist ideas. Terry Fields went to prison for refusing to pay his poll tax. None of these representatives succumbed to the parliamentary pressures. Sadly, Pat Wall died while an MP and the Labour leadership saw that he was replaced by a right-winger. Terry Fields and Dave Nellist were expelled from the Labour Party and eventually lost their seats because they refused to abandon their ideas and their principles.
Like Terry Fields, Pat Wall and Dave Nellist, Joe Higgins has not adopted the lifestyle or adapted to the customs and norms of bourgeois politics. He lives on a workers wage and provides the Dublin West electorate with an account of where the rest of his salary and all his allowances go. He has used the Dáil chamber to challenge the establishment. He has brought the scent of the class struggle into the otherwise rarefied atmosphere of the Dáil, as with his handcuffed gesture in solidarity with jailed building workers. He has used his position to promote working class struggle outside the Dáil, speaking at countless meetings, protests and pickets. He has intervened in debates on legislation, with opposition proposals and amendments. On top of this he has carried a huge constituency case load, trying to use his influence to help working class people in Dublin West with day-to-day problems.
The CWI has 20 sections and a number of other supporting groups. We work in a total of 35 countries and on every continent. Our World Congress brings together delegates from all sections and is the supreme decision making body of our International. Points of difference are debated in a democratic manner and decisions arrived at through debate.
A debate on any major issue is not the property of a small circle at the top of the organisation, but is something in which the membership needs to be involved. Whenever differences have arisen within our International, or when it has been necessary to adjust our position or to correct past mistakes, we have involved the full membership in the discussions. International Discussion Bulletins, containing all the material from all sides of a debate, have been produced and made available to every member. Only in this way can we educate and involve the membership and only then can the members, in turn, become fully informed, intervene and act as a check on all decisions made.
But when it comes to participating in such roles we will always keep a firm grip on democracy and keep it with us at all times.
In order to withstand the pressures of moods, temporary or longer lasting, which develop within the working class, it is essential that a revolutionary party maintains a democratic centralist structure. This means the fullest internal discussion on all issues including points of difference, but unity in action when it comes to putting agreed decisions into effect.