James Connolly


Parliamentary Democracy


Workers’ Republic, 22 September 1900.
Republished in James Connolly: Lost Writings, (ed. Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh), Pluto Press 1997.
The notes, which are © 1997 Pluto Press, have not been included.
HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Parliament is dissolved! By whom? By whom was Parliament elected? By the voters of Great Britain and Ireland. Was it then the voters of Great Britain and Ireland who called upon Parliament to dissolve? No, it was the Prime Minister of England, Lord Salisbury to wit, whom nobody elected and who is incapable under the laws of his country of being a parliamentary representative; it was this gentleman with whom lay the power of putting an end to the deliberations of Parliament and sending its members back to the ordeal of the hustings.

This ridiculous situation is highly illustrative of many anomalies and absurdities with which the English Constitution abounds. Eulogised by its supporters as the most perfect constitution yet evolved it is in reality so full of illogical and apparently impossible provisions and conditions that if presented to the reasoning mind as the basis of a workable constitution for a new country it would be laughed out of court as too ridiculous to consider.

Let us examine a few of its provisions in order that we may the more effectively contrast this parliamentary democracy with the democracy of the revolutionist. Parliament is elected by the voters of Great Britain and Ireland. When elected that party which counts the greatest number of followers is presumed to form the Cabinet as representing a majority of the electorate. But it by no means follows that a majority in the House represents a majority of the people. In many constituencies for instance where there are more than two candidates for a seat it frequently happens that although a candidate polls a larger vote than either of his opponents and so obtains the seat, yet he only represents a minority of the constituents as the vote cast for his two opponents if united would be much greater than his own. The cabinet formed out of the members of the party strongest numerically constitutes the government of the country and as such has full control of our destinies during its term of office. But the Cabinet is not elected by the Parliament, voted for by the people, nor chosen by its own party. The Cabinet is chosen by the gentleman chosen by the Sovereign as the leader of the strongest party. The gentleman so chosen after a consultation with the Queen (who perhaps detests both him and his party) selects certain of his own followers, and invests them with certain positions, and salaries, and so forms the Cabinet.

The Cabinet controls the government and practically dictates the laws, yet the Cabinet itself is unknown to the law and is not recognised by the Constitution. In fact the Cabinet is entirely destitute of any legal right to existence. Yet although outside the law and unknown to the Constitution it possesses the most fearful powers, such as the declaration of war, and can not be prevented by the elected representatives of the people from committing the nation to the perpetration of any crime it chooses. After the crime has been perpetrated Parliament can repudiate when it meets the acts of the Cabinet, but in the meanwhile nations may have been invaded, governments overturned, and territories devastated with fire and sword.

The powers of Parliament are also somewhat arbitrary and ill-defined. Every general election is fought on one or two main issues, and on these alone. It may be the Franchise, it may be Temperance, it may be Home Rule, or any other question, but when Parliament has received from the electors its mandate on that one question it arrogates to itself the right to rule and decide on every other question without the slightest reference to the wishes of the electorate.

If Parliament, elected to carry out the wishes of the electors on one question, chooses to act in a manner contrary to the wishes of the electors in a dozen other questions, the electors have no redress except to wait for another general election to give them the opportunity to return other gentlemen under similar conditions and with similar opportunities of evil-doing.

The democracy of Parliament is in short the democracy of Capitalism. Capitalism gives to the worker the right to choose his master, but insists that the fact of mastership shall remain unquestioned; Parliamentary Democracy gives to the worker the right to a voice in the selection of his rulers but insists that he shall bend as a subject to be ruled. The fundamental feature of both in their relation to the worker is that they imply his continued subjection to a ruling class once his choice of the personnel of the rulers is made.

But the freedom of the revolutionist will change the choice of rulers which we have to-day into the choice of administrators of laws voted upon directly by the people; and will also substitute for the choice of masters (capitalists) the appointment of reliable public servants under direct public control. That will mean true democracy – the industrial democracy of the Socialist Republic.


Last updated on 11.8.2003