Its often not easy explaining Marxist dialectics to people educated in a culture of syllogistic logic, or to put it in simple words people brought up to see things in simple black and white terms – either this or that, but it can't be both. Of course, in reality things usually are both, rarely can anything be properly understood in pure black and white terms. Take Marxist attitudes to Capitalism. We are opposed to it – right? Well not exactly. Marx even in the Communist manifesto spoke about its revolutionary role. In his writings on India, even while slamming its brutality, he also spoke about how British Capitalism had brought about the only real social revolution in India's history. We are opposed to it compared with our goal of creating Socialism, but we are not opposed to it in relation to all of the previous more reactionary modes of production and forms of society.
The same is true of bourgeois democracy and bourgeois freedoms. We recognise that bourgeois democracy is bogus. It masks the rule of the bourgeoisie, who will, as the experience in Germany, Italy, Spain and elsewhere demonstrates, throw it aside if necessary to protect their rule. The same is true of the basic bourgeois freedoms, such as free speech, freedom of association and so on. These freedoms, like Capitalism, bourgeois democracy were great revolutionary advances compared to the Monopoly State power of feudalism, but now that Capital rules it does not even provide these basic freedoms consistently, even when its rule is not directly threatened. Every day Capital demonstrates that it continues to want these freedoms for itself, whilst denying them to workers. The Tories latest plans to introduce new anti-union laws are a classic example of that.
Yet, despite the fact that we recognise that bourgeois democracy is a sham, despite the fact that we recognise that we only enjoy bourgeois freedoms so lo0ng as we struggle to defend them every day, we do defend bourgeois democracy, and bourgeois freedoms against attack by reactionary forces, because if those reactionary forces succeed, some of the basic gains that have been made, gains that themselves are important for workers to be able to organise, and to defend themselves would be lost. We don't defend them by sowing any illusions in workers minds about bourgeois democracy, on the contrary, the classic example of how to defend bourgeois freedom against Fascism was given by Trotsky in his Action programme For France, where he argued for defence of bourgeois freedoms by setting up Factory Committees, Peasant Committees, Workers Militia and so on, in other words by measures of proletarian struggle, and workers democracy.
And, of course, despite recognising that bourgeois democracy is a sham, for the reasons that Lenin set out in Left-Wing Communism, we are in favour of participation in elections and parliaments, because, although we recognise that they are obsolete, the workers do not, and we have to go through these experiences with them, to enable them to learn those lessons.
It makes sense then that as Marxists, whilst saying to the workers that bourgeois democracy is a sham, we also say, we recognise that at the moment you don't accept what we say. We are not in a rush, we will walk with you along this road. We will keep you company, confident that as we walk, and as we discuss the things we see along the way, you will come to agree with us. It makes sense that as part of that process we argue that this bourgeois democracy should at least meet its own standards. We should be consistent democrats. As consistent democrats we cannot possibly support an electoral system that denies to large numbers of voters, the right to have their voice heard in the corridors of bourgeois power. There is a downside to that. In a parliament of 600, a fascist party like the BNP, if it got 5% of the vote, would in a truly proportional system, get 30 seats. That is not an argument against PR, it is an argument for ensuring that the fascists are not able to win 5% of the vote.
The Liberal-Tories are proposing to hold a referendum next year on whether to introduce the Alternative Vote system for parliamentary elections. But, it is an even bigger sham than bourgeois democracy itself. What kind of referendum is it that only allows voters to choose between two options. Even current bourgeois democracy allows as many parties to stand who can obtain a minimum number of proposers! How can the Liberals put forward such a sham, and run roughshod over their own supporters with such a stitch-up, when AV is not a Proportional system at all, and therefore does not meet the very criteria that Liberals have always insisted on for electoral reform. Worse still, were the vote to go in favour of AV, it would almost certainly rule out any further change in the electoral system for more than a generation, if not forever.
Its suggested that had their been AV at the last election it would have made little difference. The Tories would have probably got around 15 fewer seats, Liberals 15 more, and Labour a couple more. But, no one really knows, because it would encourage all kinds of weird tactical voting. Imagine a 6 way seat, where Labour and Tory have similar support. A Labour Voter might Vote Labour 1, AWL 2, Monster Raving Loony 3, BNP 4, Liberal 5 and Tory 6. The reason for voting in this order would not be because the AWL was their second most preferred candidate, but because they knew they would be likely to get less votes than any of the remaining candidates, so voting for them second would be like wasting their second vote, ensuring it didn't go to a party that might have a chance of winning, and so on for the remaining selections. A Tory voter might vote in a similar way. The result would be that some of the no-hope parties would get lots of second or third preference votes, not because any body actually preferred them, but simply in order to waste their second preference votes!
I have no reason to vote for such a flawed alternative to the current flawed system. If we are to vote for an alternative voting system, then we should be able to vote on a range of voting systems so that we can choose the most democratic. I am all in favour of such a vote. I am all in favour of such a discussion on a renewal of democracy, but without such a discussion, without such a vote I will not give credibility to such a sham referendum. In fact, the Liberal-Tories have said that they want to introduce a range of democratic reforms. Good, but we should have a wide ranging discussion of those too. They propose to reform the House of Lords. But, the most democratic reform would be to just abolish it altogether. Why can't we vote on that? Come to that, why can't we vote on that even greater affront to democracy – the Monarchy? Why can't we vote to abolish that too? The Liberal-Tories say they want to introduce the right of electors to recall their MP's, but they have not rushed to allow David Laws that right! They say they want to introduce greater democracy over the Police – good. But, why should not the Public have the right to directly elect not only Police Chiefs, but the top Civil Servants, the Military Top Brass, Judges etc? Many of those things are even enshrined in the Constitution of the United States, as is that other democratic right, the right to bear arms as part of a well-regulated Militia.
British democracy and political institutions developed as a hodge podge, introduced by edict from above, ceding certain rights to wider sections of the population, only as and when the ruling-class believed they had sufficient power, sufficient sway over the masses to be able to control it. In other countries, their written Constitutions were the product of extensive public debate and discussion. The United States Constitution, for all its deficiencies, was based on all of those discussions about freedom that people like Tom Paine, and Jefferson, and Rousseau and others conducted, and wrote about. We should demand no less for a liberal and democratic bourgeois Constitution in Britain in the 21st Century. Whilst conceding nothing to bourgeois democracy, whilst continuing to argue that only a direct workers democracy can truly advance the interests of workers and the middle classes, Marxists should be at the forefront in proposing such a democratic revolution in Britain.
In fact, at the same time as organising meetings in every workplace, on every street and estate, through every Trades Council, every District Labour party, and in every town to discuss our alternatives to the Liberal-Tory cuts, why not include discussion of just these elements, which could also provide alternatives. Our basic demand should be for the convocation of a Constitutional Convention to discuss the establishment of a British Written Constitution and Bill of Rights. It should be composed of delegates directly elected in each locality at similar Conventions, each delegate firmly mandated of how they must vote. If the Liberal-Tories are serious bourgeois democrats rather than just charlatans it is the least they should concede.