T. A. Jackson

Why Bother About Parliament?

Source: The Communist, November 04, 1922.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

IS it illogical for the Communist Party to take part in Parliamentary elections?

The question is only possible to those whose opinion of Communism has been moulded by a study not of Communism but of anti-Communist versions of what the Communist Party proposes.

The Communist Party faces the fact that if Society is to be changed from what it is into what the workers must wish it to be, many other things are involved than a mere minority in the House of Commons.

To make it so that all men work whether they wish to or not, that wealth is produced not for money-sale but for the direct satisfaction of the ascertained needs of the whole co-operating community of owning-workers involves a complete change in every detail of social life.

It means a change in the relative quantities of things produced—the scrapping entirely of the production of such luxuries as are possible only to a privileged few living in magnificent ease at the expense of the toiling and suffering many, and the multiplication of the number of things necessary to the health and well-being of the toiler of which they are deprived by the poverty inseparable from the existing system.

It means, therefore, the transference of workers from one industry to another, the creation of new plants, new methods of distribution and a new social morale to enable the transition to be effected with the minimum of friction, dislocation, hardship and delay.

It is because it means all these things that the Communists say that the emancipating transition must be the work of the working class itself.

It cannot be done by a few decrees issued by a few wiseacres from a Cabinet operating through a hierarchy of official underlings whose only concern in the process is to enforce an order regardless of consequences. At every stage it will require understanding, judgment, discernment, sympathy, and goodwill for the working mass in whose interest the change must be undertaken. Hence the preparation for the workers’ emancipation involves a whole series of considerations—whole worlds of experience—which do not come into the picture in an orthodox Parliamentary election.

If Parliament be examined in detail it will easily be seen that it owes its very usefulness to the existence of different classes, each with its distinct and divergent interest, and the proudest plea of its apologists is that it is an institution for reconciling the claims of contending classes.

In its heroic age Parliament was the institution wherewith the then subject bourgeoisie (now grown into the Plutocratic or Capitalist class) barred the path and ultimately thwarted the ambitions first of the King and Court and then of its allies the landed aristocracy. As a means for the revolutionary creation of capitalist property at the expense of feudal property—now all but utterly extinct—Parliament left nothing to be desired.

The very illusion of equality that it erected helped to push into the background the latent economic antagonisms in the ranks of the “Commons.” Small producers destined to become big manufacturers and small producers doomed to pass through bankruptcy into the position of wage-workers for their former “equals” were alike induced to hope for everything once their common enemy put down (and “out”).

The poor who hoped to become rich, and the rich who hoped to become still richer once a parasite court and a plundering aristocracy were overthrown could all accept Parliament as their common denomination in that it was against their enemies. Even now Parliament is still theoretically a “check” on the arbitrary power of kings and lords, and the protector of the Commons from illegal exactions. But no machinery exists (now that the aristocracy are simply titled bourgeois, with the king the number one in their team) to prevent Parliament becoming the instrument for the most drastic coercion ever imposed upon a subject mass.

Parliament was (and is) effective for arranging compromises between conflicting tendencies upon an agreed basis of capitalist property—as a means for the extinction of that property and the creation of a workers’ commonwealth it is a cumbrous and complicated anachronism.

The Communist therefore has, as part of his programme, not only the abolition of the Monarchy and of the House of Lords, but the abolition of the House of Commons likewise.

This being so, why does the Communist Party run candidates for Parliament?

Firstly because the Boss Class will use Parliament to give a show of fair play and legality to every act of dictatorial repression against the workers until the workers rob them of that pretence by taking Parliament away from them. Every working class candidate elected who is man enough to protest against and expose these atrocities can use the very authority of his position as member of Parliament to expose the fraud and humbug of Parliament itself—to show the immorality concealed behind the Law and the brutality and class-savagery camouflaged as government impartiality.

This is especially important in the case of strikes and lock-outs, and here a vote for a workers’ candidate—provided it be the vote of a man who means to back his vote with deeds of determination—is a challenge to the dictatorship of the Big Boss class.

Secondly the Communist Party takes part in elections in order to put the whole issue to a practical test.

The majority of the workers at present “believe in” Parliament and see the necessity for the disciplined, planned and purposeful struggle which will be necessary if they are ever to be freed. To cure them of this illusion is impossible without a practical test. Therefore the Communist Party promotes candidatures, and urges the support of others of such a character as will test definitely the question whether Parliament can be used as an instrument of working class emancipation or whether it must be scrapped as an instrument designed for oppression and capable of nothing else.

The Communist Party, for instance, urges you to pledge your Labour candidate to support the demands of the unemployed and to fight for them. Enforce that pledge. Elect your Labour candidate; make them fight for the demands of the Unemployed. Whether the Labour Party are strong enough to enforce them or not—in either case the results will show why the Communist Party holds that in the workers’ march to emancipation. Parliament must be treated as an enemy castle to be taken and dismantled.