The Need for a Workers’ Government

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Karl Marx said:

‘The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time…instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to misrepresent the people, universal suffrage was to serve the people, constituted in Communes as individual suffrage serves every other employer in the search for the workmen and managers in his business’.
(Karl Marx, The Civil War in France)

We speak of “democracy” very fervently in this country, we put it on a pedestal, we do valiant and noble deeds in its name. But what are we advocating? Democracy in the UK means a duty once every four years to put a cross in a box, next to a name of a faceless party-appointed candidate, who will serve the current stifled agenda of maintaining the status quo. Once we have fulfilled our democratic right, which countless people throughout history have died for, we trudge back to our 9-5, and spend the next 4 years excluded from the democratic system. Did fighters for universal suffrage- votes for all, not just land-owning men, really die for a once every four year right? Democracy must mean more than this. What Marx calls “The Commune” is surely the epitome of the term “democracy”. Turning the “talking shop” of parliament, into a “working body” that serves the people not the interests of one party- but of society as a whole; with workers councils making consensus decisions. The Conservatives talk of cutting down on central government and returning power to local authorities, shown crudely in their naming of their 2010 manifesto- “An invitation to join the government in Britain”. But this is a code word for privatisation and spending cuts, so the government can axe taxes for the rich. If we redefine and reimagine “democracy”, we can put the cause of the exploited and excluded people of Britain onto the agenda, and rather than three parties telling us the issues we should be concerned about, we can take control of the workings of democracy. This is why we need a Workers Government.

People will argue that positive reforms can be made through the existing parliament and there is no need to get rid of our existing system. It is true that in the UK there is a strong pride and support of parliamentarianism and a conservative Labour force, so if a Workers Government is going to be possible, elected representatives will have to enter parliament, seen with the Workers Party in Brazil under Lula. Lula has become President of Brazil, but the struggle for a Workers Government has not stopped there. And why should the struggle stop there? Why should we be content to have a representative sitting in a building in Westminster? Workers and ordinary people need to organise themselves outside of the rhythms, norms and constraints of parliamentary politics, and realign themselves into workplace committees and unions. “Revolution is never going to happen, it’s too radical” they will say. But imagine this, and tell me this is a radical unachievable dream- workers of a company running and owning the company, each worker having an equal share. Each worker has one vote, and things are decided democratically. Everyone earns the same, there is no one in complete control- the workers are in control. Is this such a radical dream? This is democracy. Democracy running throughout society, not just confined to Westminster. If we love democracy so much, why not apply it to our workplace? Why not run our communities in this manner?

Many people will have been saying before the election last month that electoral reform will save British politics. Proponents of the Liberal Democrats were spouting the messianic qualities of proportional representation, and how it will save our “broken politics”. I am not trying to argue that it will be a step in the wrong direction, but all this anger at the current draconian system and the desire for it to change, surely can’t just amount to proportional representation? Yes, it would be a small step in the right direction to break down the Etonian, private school networks that dominate our system, but it is a very small step. Surely we should be demanding more. Surely we should be demanding more democracy, more control over the running of our country, we shouldn’t settle for one vote every four years. Electoral reform fetishists have now suffered quite a blow, with the Conservative-Liberal coalition deciding on a measly referendum on AV- possibly the least proportional PR system one could imagine; and if the referendum is passed I wonder how long it will take them to realise that nothing will change. So let’s turn this hunger for a better democratic system into something that is long-lasting and achievable. If we rely on politicians in power to allow us to have more democracy, it will never come. Why should we have to ask for our decision making power to be given back to us? Let’s get democracy back into the hands of the people, and thus we will never have to ask for it again. Never again will we have to lobby parliament to make them change things, we will be able to implement change ourselves.

The way out of the parliamentary dead end is not, of course, the abolition of the representative institutions and the electoral principle, but to take this power back into our own hands. For this to be possible, we need to radically reform society and take our workplaces, our communities, our universities into our own hands. The experience of running our everyday lives to the tune of democracy will be contagious. Once we see that we can run our own lives through communal democracy, we will see that this can apply to society as a whole. No longer will we have to wait four years before we can have our say, no longer will we have to rely on a faceless politician who doesn’t represent us, and no longer will we see democracy as a once every four year right. We will be told that we don’t have enough time to run society ourselves, that politicians are better placed to make our decisions; but if we took control of our workplaces into our own control, we could structure our jobs and lighten our workloads, so we would have time to engage in politics. We will be told it can’t be done, but only because the current political elite are worried what will happen if things are out of their control. If we can take the principles of the Commune- people living together, sharing common interests, property, possessions, resources, work, income, and thus communal economy, consensus decision-making, non-hierarchical structures and ecological living; and apply to them to wider society, I believe we can realise the full potential of democracy.

Article by Jonny Keyworth. Edited by Marc Geddes.