According to politicians parliamentary democracy is the best of all possible worlds, particularly its homegrown British version. So much so that whenever imperialism sets it sights on a poor country's resources, its leaders think they can conceal their gunboat diplomacy with the pretence of bringing "democracy" to the population - in Iraq they call it "regime change".
However, politics, politicians and the institutions of "parliamentary democracy" are probably more discredited today among the British working class, and in fact among the vast majority of the electorate, than they have been for many decades. Since Labour came to power in 1997, the turnout in most elections has been shrinking to record lows, particularly in those working class strongholds that the Labour party has always taken for granted. So much so that, the level of abstention rose above 75% in many of the country's poorest working class areas in the last general election.
Usually, politicians shrug off any responsibility for this by blaming what they call voters' "apathy". But how many among them have bothered to question the real causes of this so-called "apathy"? And yet, after six years of Blair's government, during which Labour has betrayed every single one of its election manifesto commitments, while pushing the Tories' pro-business agenda beyond the Tories' own wildest dreams, how could it be otherwise? How indeed could working people not feel disenfranchised in the so-called "democratic" process? The evidence of the system of patronage which lies behind the workings of government makes a farce of this so-called "democracy". And Blair's contemptuous disregard for public opinion over the Iraq war, together with the subsequent exposure of his lies and manipulation of the media, have only added to the discrediting of politics.
Of course, there is no shortage of politicians lining up to blame "New Labour" and, more specifically, Blair's style of government, as the only culprits. This is what Robin Cook, Clare Short, Michael Meacher and a host of other newfound proponents of the so-called Labour "left" have been arguing over the past months. Significantly this is also what a long-standing right-winger like Roy Hattersley has been churning out for years in the columns of The Guardian. And it was the case made implicitly by Brown in his speeches to this year's TUC and Labour party conferences, when he made a point, which was immediately picked up by all the media, of not referring even once to Blair's "New Labour". Whether from the left, the right or the centre, this cohort of more or less closet anti-Blairites has nothing to offer the working class other than a return to "Old Labour" language as a means of "reinstating democracy in British politics", to quote one of them.
However, while all these people blame much of the discredit affecting politics on Blair's "dictatorship" over the party and elected institutions, this style of government is not as new as they claim. Not only was Thatcher's style very similar to Blair's, but even under Harold Wilson's "Old Labour" government, back in the 1970s, a popular paperback devoted to the description of Britain's political institutions, noted already that "today the suggestion is frequently made - although just as frequently denied - that the modern constitution has become a virtual prime ministerial dictatorship, tempered only by public opinion, group pressures, and the prospect of the next election." So there is nothing really new under Britain's Blairite clouds!
Nor is the discredit of politics specific to Britain. Very low turnouts have been a constant feature of US elections for a long time. A large proportion of the US electorate sees no difference between the Republicans and the Democrats and, therefore, no point in expressing its support for either - much like a growing section of the working class electorate here, which has come to see no difference between Labour and the Tories.
In other countries, however, the vacuum has been partly filled by various far-right currents - for instance in France, Austria, Italy and Belgium. The underlying phenomenon is the same, despite the different forms it takes. In these countries, fringe far-right groups have simply managed to tap the discredit of traditional political parties by posing as anti-establishment forces.
Cynicism towards politics, however, does not only feed on the corrupt nature of the political system. It also results from a balance of class forces which has become increasingly unfavourable to the working class over the past two decades. Without this anti-working class shift in society, the Labour leadership would not have been able to pursue its present policies, or at least not without facing serious resistance and risking the emergence of new sizeable forces to its left. But with this rightward shift, the capitalists felt confident enough to demand and obtain from Labour its commitment to its present course. By the same token, however, in order to accomplish what was expected from it by the capitalist class, the Labour government has had to shed some light, possibly somewhat more crudely than in previous periods, on the inner workings and the social nature of "parliamentary democracy".
The fact is that, in Britain, the institutions of "parliamentary democracy" make up a well-oiled machinery which has been perfected over centuries in order to both exercise and conceal the rule of the capitalist class. It is a machinery which is perfectly adapted for the purpose of imposing an iron heel on the capitalists' workforce, thanks in particular, to the appendage it has developed deep within the ranks of the working class itself, in the form of the trade union bureaucracy. But it is also a machinery well adapted to imposing the rule of British capital over the world's poor, at gunpoint if need be, as is shown by Blair's war in Iraq or even his intervention in Sierra-Leone, for that matter.
How this machinery has developed into its present form, how it has adapted to changes in the social balance of forces, while always protecting the class interests of the privileged against the overwhelming majority of the population - is the focus of today's forum. As an old saying goes: "he who knows his enemy best, stands the best chance of defeating him."
What is in the word "democracy"
The phrase "parliamentary democracy" combines two words and two concepts which both carry a huge amount of ambiguity - for good reason, as this helps to conceal what is really behind it. So, for instance, the word "democracy" and the underlying concept come from ancient Greece - it means something like "rule by the people". The real question is what "people" and what sort of "rule"?
When the concept of democracy emerged in Greece, Greek society had been on the verge of collapse for some time. The growth of the money economy had dissolved the old communitarian social organisations. Coming in the footsteps of money, credit had led to a brutal social division. The tiny nobility of Athens, which had a virtual monopoly over money through its control of maritime trade, held to ransom the vast majority of Greek citizens through the use of credit. Small farmers who defaulted on their debts had to hand over up to 80% of their harvests. And if this was not enough, their land was repossessed and they or their children sold abroad as slaves. As a result the acreage of cultivated land declined and agricultural production dropped to dangerously low levels.
Solon's reforms, some 2,600 years ago, were designed to extricate Athens from this catastrophic situation. His first move was to win support for the cancellation of all mortgages and debts. Thereafter, limits were set to the amount of land that landowners could own, as well as to the amount of money that the wealthy could lend. A political constitution was adopted, providing for a system of direct democracy in which all important decisions were taken collectively in mass meetings where all citizens had an equal right to speak and vote. The functionaries who were responsible for implementing these decisions were elected during these meetings and accountable to them - although they still had to belong to the richest layer of society.
However, although formally very democratic, the constitution of Solon only applied to those whose parents were both citizens. And even in its period of greatest prosperity, Athens had no more than 90,000 or so such citizens. By contrast, the constitution of Solon recognised no rights whatsoever for its 365,000 slaves and 45,000 recent immigrants, who carried out most menial tasks and labour-intensive activities. While being based on a constitution which, formally, was one of the most democratic ever formulated in history, behind this "democracy" was nothing but a minority dictatorship of the citizens of Athens over a much larger population of slaves.
In fact, to all intents and purposes, the constitution of Solon marked the first emergence of a state machinery in that part of the world, albeit still in a very primitive form, with modern features such as a separate body of civil servants and a specialised police force. But this state resulted, first and foremost, from the emergence of antagonistic social classes in society. Its democratic institutions made it possible to get the citizens of Athens to close ranks around the rich nobility so as to enforce the exploitation of the huge slave population. From then onwards, the state, whatever the democratic forms it involved, was to be the instrument of one exploiting class over the rest of society.
Parliament under the monarch
Parliamentary institutions - i.e. representative institutions of some kind, which play a role in the workings of the state - are almost as old as state power itself. But they were not always associated with a form of democracy, far from it. And this is well illustrated by the myths surrounding Britain's alleged "historical tradition" of parliamentary democracy.
According to one myth, for instance, the concept of the Rights of Man was invented in England as far back as the 13th century, in the form of the Great Charter or Magna Carta. In truth, what this charter was about, however, was merely upholding the rights of feudal property.
In 1215, King John did something that virtually no other king had ever managed to do before him: he succeeded in bringing to a halt the on-going feuds between the English barons. Except that it was against him that the barons united, because of his rapacity in racketeering his subjects in order to fund his wars in France, regardless of feudal customs. When John and his allies were finally defeated in France, the barons turned against him and confronted him with the threat of a full-scale rebellion unless he subscribed to this Great Charter. The charter only attempted to formalise in writing the unwritten feudal laws and customs that John had broken so often. Its most famous clause stated that "no free man shall be imprisoned or dispossessed except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." It is this clause which is alleged to have inspired, among other things, the American Declaration of independence and the French Revolution's Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. As if the English barons gave a damn about the fate of free men other than themselves, let alone about the fate of serfs. But they did give a damn when the king exercised his law in their fiefdoms and at their expense, since this meant less revenue for them!
To talk about any form of democracy in Britain before the upheaval of the English revolution is indeed a joke. Not for lack of parliamentary institutions of all kinds, however. Right from the 13th century, English kings got into the habit of summoning parliaments according to their needs. These were not elected bodies, of course. Sometimes they were assemblies of magnates from the aristocracy and the Church, selected by the king. Sometimes, so-called "representatives" of selected shires and boroughs were summoned as well. Needless to say, the latter were knights and rich burghers who were only representative of the upper-crust of the feudal hierarchy.
The role of these summoned parliaments was not to make political decisions, since the king and his Council, a body of semi-professional advisers, were there to do the job. But these parliaments played a role in all sorts of other matters. By far their most important role was to give legitimacy to the monarchy and contribute to the consolidation of its authority and the centralisation of the state - a process which took centuries. Their members were flattered (and soon bribed with privileges) into rubber-stamping some of the king's decisions - particularly when it came to raising new taxes - or confirming obscure points of law. At the same time, they offered the king a way of playing on the differences between those with vested interests, particularly by enlisting the support of the nascent bourgeoisie against the ambitions of the aristocrats.
By the 14th century, parliaments had got into the habit of splitting into two chambers - one for the magnates, which eventually gave birth to the House of Lords, and one for the knights and borough representatives, which was to become the House of Commons. Of course, both remained dominated by the feudal classes. But by the end of the 14th century, petitions formulated by members of parliament could be presented for the king's assent. One century later, Parliament had become a permanent institution (although the king could still summon and disperse it at will) and all major changes were now legitimised through an act of Parliament, even though most were formulated by the King and his council.
In the 16th century, Parliament was called upon to save the monarchy. England had been weakened by a long dynastic war and a series of defeats in Europe and the ruling Tudor family had every reason to fear that rival contenders to the throne might seek support from abroad. What is more, the king's coffers were empty at a time when trade was seriously reduced by England's weakness at sea and its political isolation in Europe. For all these reasons Henry VIII seized on a spurious pretext to launch the Reformation - de facto, the largest nationalisation ever seen in British history, that of the Church. In November 1529, the Reformation Parliament met. It was to last an unprecedented seven years, during which it enacted 137 statutes and legislated in areas that no feudal Parliament had ever dreamed of entering.
Apart from creating a home-made Church, borrowing from Calvin's ideas, many of which were attractive for the urban bourgeoisie, in particular its celebration of individualism, the Reformation did not stop at confiscating the enormous estates of the Catholic Church. Having taken his share of the loot, Henry VIII proceeded to sell these lands both to the old aristocracy and to the emerging rich urban bourgeoisie. In so doing, not only did he fill his coffers, but he created a new class of landowners who would be beholden to his rule.
From now on, the Parliament would represent the alliance of the urban bourgeoisie turned landowner with the old aristocracy, welded behind the monarchy by their common loot. But not for long. Soon the bourgeoisie, considerably strengthened by the Reformation, was to feel confident enough to confront the monarchy and try to impose its demands on it.
King and Parliament at war
What gave the English bourgeoisie confidence to demand political independence from the monarchy was its growing economic power, based on the huge mercantile expansion during this period.
Already by the last quarter of the 16th Century, under the patronage of Elizabeth, English privateers had managed first to intercept and plunder the Spanish ships laden with loot from the Americas and then raid Spain's Caribbean and American territories and take many of them over. During the reign of the two Stuart kings in the following period, large trading companies multiplied, and with it the wealth concentrated in the hands of the bourgeoisie, particularly in London. However, the political institutions remained frozen by feudalism.
Under James 1 and then Charles 1, feudal absolutism was, if anything, reinforced, so as to allow the monarchy to fill its own coffers with the growing abundance of filthy lucre from the slave, sugar, precious metals, tobacco and silk trade. Using their royal prerogative, the kings levied high taxes and established all kinds of monopolies over the production and sale of goods in common use, granting courtiers special patents and licences. This affected both merchant and consumer, by pushing up prices. The result was the emergence of a significant parliamentary opposition of the landed gentry and trading bourgeoisie against their rule.
The confrontation between Parliament and Charles 1, came to a head when Parliament declared the king's decision to make non-payment of taxes subject to imprisonment illegal. In 1629, the king dissolved Parliament and, for the next 11 years, ruled on the back of alliances with London financiers in return for political favour and relied on seeking Catholic allies at home and, more importantly, abroad - thereby putting English trade in a precarious position.
With these policies, Charles sealed his own fate. The consequence was a bourgeois rebellion, both in Scotland and England. His attempt to suppress this by convoking the so-called "short parliament" in 1640, as a means to rally Anglican forces against the Presbyterian Scots failed. He had no option but to re-institute a new parliament, which lasted for the next 12 and a half years (the so-called "long" parliament) and presided over the revolutionary civil war against his regime, ending in his defeat and decapitation in 1649.
There followed 11 years of the first and only English Republic, under Oliver Cromwell. It is these events which placed the English bourgeoisie in power, 140 years before the French Revolution did the same for the French bourgeoisie. It is these events, too, which laid the basis for today's so-called "parliamentary democracy" in Britain. However, this is not what most students of history are told, even three and a half centuries afterwards.
Today, the uncomfortable fact that there was indeed a bloody English bourgeois revolution which executed a king, abolished the monarchy and the House of Lords, and instituted a military dictatorship for 7 years in order to bring itself to lasting political power - is still obscured completely. The version of history we are meant to swallow is that this was a religious "civil war" between Cavaliers and Roundheads as a result of the fanatical puritanism of Cromwell and his followers, and that everything was put right in the best and most gentlemanly English tradition by a bloodless "Glorious Revolution" in 1688 - which resulted in the forerunner of today's constitutional monarchy under a democratic parliament.
Of course, it is quite true that the English Revolution, unlike the French equivalent did not annihilate the feudal aristocracy - they are still around to prove it! But as Marx pointed out in a polemic against a French historian who sought to compare these two revolutions, "the conservative nature of the English revolution, can be found in the enduring alliance between the bourgeoisie and the landowners, an alliance that constitutes the major difference between it and the French Revolution, which destroyed the great land holdings with its parcelization policy. The English class of great landowners allied with the bourgeoisie which, incidentally, had already developed under Henry VIII, did not find itself in opposition as did the French feudal landowners in 1789, but rather in complete harmony with the vital requirements of the bourgeoisie. In fact, their lands were not feudal, but bourgeois property. On the one hand, they were able to provide the industrial bourgeoisie with the manpower necessary for manufacturing, and on the other, they were able to develop agriculture to the standards consonant with industry and commerce. Thus their common interest with the bourgeoisie, thus their alliance with it."
The bourgeoisie doesn't know what's good for it
It must be said that the English bourgeoisie only went down the road of revolution very reluctantly and so did Cromwell. For their final, irreversible political victory to be achieved against the king, the bourgeoisie was forced into taking a series of steps which then had their own inexorable historical logic. And it was thanks to Cromwell that these steps were indeed taken in spite of the cowardice of those who would ultimately benefit and, above all, thanks to his "New Model Army". In fact, this body of well-trained and highly-motivated puritans, brought together the radical core of revolutionary leaders of the period, whose ability to win over the rank and file was based on what they stood for.
At first, the Long Parliament continued to attempt to negotiate with the king, even after the victory of the parliamentary army and house arrest of Charles in 1647. Of course, it feared the "monster" it had created in the New Model Army and one of its first acts in 1647 was to order that the army be disbanded. Cromwell however, was canny enough to recognise that the army, having won parliament its victory would still be needed in the wings if the victory was to be sustained, as long as Charles and his royalists were alive and plotting their return to power.
In the Army, the most influential current was that of the Levellers, which in the main expressed the aspirations of the disenfranchised lower middle class for a more equitable distribution of wealth and property and for the franchise. Just as Parliament was demanding the Army's dissolution, the Levellers were holding a series of meetings at Putney. They knew very well that Parliament would never deliver the reforms they wanted, and the order to disband confirmed this. They also anticipated Cromwell's betrayal and were ready to by-pass him. Large demonstrations and conventions were held and the soldiers then elected what amounted to their own parallel government in the form of the Council of the Army.
But again, it was circumstance which forced the next historical step. When Charles made another attempt to restore his rule, there was no choice but to call on the New Model Army to defend Parliament and bourgeois interests. This, to some extent at least, refurbished Cromwell's image among the army rank-and-file. And this time, he also recognised that the job had to be finished. He thus acceded to the popular demand for the abolition of the monarchy and the execution of the king.
Parliament without a king
Cromwell's achievement as commander of the parliamentary army was to create the conditions for a system of government designed to rule according to the interests of the bourgeoisie. But because of the bourgeoisie's lack of class consciousness, as it were, this necessitated, for a whole period, what amounted to a military dictatorship in their name.
The new republic of 1649 had a narrow social basis, therefore. The Levellers excluded themselves to form a radical opposition. The landowning bourgeoisie only supported Cromwell for opportunistic reasons. And indeed, despite the abolition of the House of Lords, the first parliament (known as the "rump"), still included peers who were opposed to the reforms now demanded by the middle classes. What is more, recently defeated Scotland was threatening opposition and a new Irish revolt was already under way. To achieve stable bourgeois government, Cromwell had to launch new wars, and act both against his left and his right at home. So the Levellers, who, to crown it all, had refused to fight in Ireland, were brutally suppressed and selected leaders were imprisoned and shot. A policy of land confiscation to finance the military was undertaken and recalcitrant royalists also imprisoned.
Cromwell's economic and foreign policies were less controversial. His "Commonwealth", as the republic was referred to, meant anything but "wealth in common". It reformed the economy to allow the bourgeoisie the legal freedom to accumulate capital, which had been denied them under the monarchy. Charles' domestic monopolies were abolished, instituting the free competition which allowed industry in England to grow unhampered - and later lead the world in the Industrial Revolution. The East India Company, which had been on the brink of bankruptcy as a result of Charles' greed, was restored to prosperity and was granted the benefit of Cromwell's naval support. In 1651 he passed the Navigation Act, which banned all foreign ships from carrying exotic goods for the English market and then, by the series of wars against the Dutch and a policy of gunboat diplomacy against the French set the stage for the English and Scottish bourgeoisies' control of world trade.
At the same time, however, religious tolerance was proclaimed - including the welcoming back into Britain of the Jews who had been expelled under Charles 1. Freedom of speech was introduced, the burning of heretics and witches was stopped, etc. But the cost of Cromwell's military and naval establishment was enormous, and he too resorted to increased taxation.
By 1652, the alienation of the lower and middle classes, due to the lack of reform reached a peak, when among the army officers a movement emerged calling for the abolition of tithes, complete law reform and the immediate dissolution of Parliament. The possible splintering of the fragile unity of the property owning and middle classes now led Cromwell to look for a way to prevent a new Parliament undoing what had been achieved. At the time he was even quoted as asking "What if a man should take it upon himself to be King?"
So, while supporting the dissolution of Parliament he proposed that it be replaced by an interim, appointed assembly which would, in the future, when the population was ready for it, preside over elections.
Thus came to an end the so-called "Long Parliament". 140 persons appointed "by myself with the advice of my Council of Officers" now formed a new assembly which was meant to enact the reforms which no parliament would dare to. This was the so-called "barebones" parliament and its first task was to reform the system of law and codify it. But its proposals, which would have extended the rights of the common man, went far beyond what Cromwell felt he could get away with, in front of the conservative bourgeoisie, without risking a reversion to civil war.
The threat of revolt by the conservatives forced Cromwell's hand. He dismissed the "barebones" parliament and proclaimed himself Lord Protector, on a basis which was agreeable to both the officers and the conservative bourgeoisie. It was only a small step from Lord Protector with a parliament, to direct military dictatorship without one - a step which Cromwell took in 1655.
The military dictatorship, whereby the country was divided into 11 regions each under 11 Major-Generals appointed by Cromwell, restored order, but at a high cost. They conscripted the population by force, put the poor to work, threatened the landed gentry and took local militias under their own control. Among other unpopular measures were their enforcement of the Sabbath and their interference with horse-racing and cock-fighting on the grounds of public safety (no, not because they thought it cruel or "ungodly"!). But Cromwell was still doing a satisfactory job for the wealthiest among the commercial bourgeoisie - in 1655, for instance, Jamaica was captured by the British, and by 1659, the long war with the French was to be concluded with a British victory.
Cromwell's death on 3 September 1658 left a vacuum which his son Richard could not fill. The expense of foreign wars had drained the state's coffers, even if this had laid the basis for the British Empire and the ascendancy of the British bourgeoisie on the world stage. The bourgeoisie at this point certainly wanted their parliament back, but were also quite prepared to restore a king, as long as they could decide on taxation and generally take care of their own interests. And this was entirely possible thanks to Cromwell. Over the 11 years of the English Republic, he had irreversibly tilted the balance of forces in favour of bourgeois political power against the reactionary feudal monarchy.
The king under parliament's rule
The conclusion of the war with France over Spain, and the treaty signing Dunkirk over to the English allied France to England. This allowed Charles 2 to return from French exile in the middle of a power vacuum. He assumed the mantle offered to him by a cowardly bourgeoisie - which did nothing to prevent the reign of terror he then mounted against the so-called "regicides" i.e. king killers. Cromwell's corpse (with 2 year's decay on it) was dug up and hanged at Tyburn.
However, his attempt to restore absolutism along French lines was a dismal failure. He brought back the House of Lords and the Anglican bishops, and tried elevating the status of the Catholic Church, thereby merely precipitating a repetition of history, by renewing severe tensions between the state and parliament. There was no way that the newly empowered bourgeoisie was going to lose its gains. Charles tried, but failed to reinstitute feudal tenures. James 2, who followed Charles was foolish enough to go even further and attempt to restore the rights of Catholics. He was met with Parliament's "Test Act" which from then onwards excluded all non-Anglicans from public office by law. Soon after that Parliament suddenly discovered that Holland's protestant William 3rd of Orange had a right to the English throne and he was quickly summoned to take over, while James was sent fleeing to France.
This is what the history books call the "Glorious Revolution"! In fact after 48 years of cowardice, Parliament finally decided to take some responsibility for the destiny of the propertied classes it represented. And it could do so without any outside threat as the state of the English bourgeoisie was now the world's leading commercial and financial power.
Why did it choose to have a constitutional monarchy rather than a republic? Simply because the bourgeoisie has never done anything radical unless it was absolutely forced into it. In this case, William gratefully accepted a constitutional monarchy and the primacy of parliament, as formulated in the 1689 Declaration of Rights: that parliament would approve taxation; that there would be freedom of speech; that there would be no standing army and that the powers of the state would be divided into legislative and executive arms. By this time Parliament had more or less organised itself into two distinct parties, the Tories and the Whigs (the ancestors of today's Liberals), representing respectively the landed gentry and the commercial bourgeoisie which formed, for the time being, a political alliance on the basis of common interests.
Industrialists versus landowners
This alliance lasted for quite some time. Even when, in the first quarter of the 18th century, government by party began to develop, with ministries composed of members of the parliamentary majority, headed by a prime minister, the two parties in government were more or less able to live comfortably with each other's policies.
However as the industrial revolution proceeded the differences in outlook and in economic interests between the Whigs and Tories led to serious conflict. This began to come to a head early in the 19th century over the issue of free trade - advocated by the Whigs, representing mainly the industrial capitalist class - versus protectionism - advocated by the Tories, who represented the land-owning classes. The Tories wanted tariff barriers against the cheaper foreign agricultural imports although these imports were necessary, both to feed a voracious industry and the growing urban population.
The population increase was remarkable in fact, from 7.8m in 1750 to 14.3m by 1820. And while the bourgeoisie itself enlarged, parliament, which made the laws remained an exclusive club, increasingly corrupt through its system of patronage and unadapted to the changing needs of a society which had been transformed beyond recognition by industrialisation.
Of necessity, a movement for parliamentary reform emerged, demanding representation for the bourgeoisie of the new towns. This was denied them as a result of the persistence of anachronistic "rotten boroughs" which allowed the mostly Tory landowners who remained in the now depopulated rural areas disproportionate political representation.
As a result the Whig "free traders" had little chance of winning a parliamentary majority for their policy. In 1815 the Corn Laws were passed which prevented the import of cheap wheat.
But there was now another significant and so far untested factor to take into account. The industrial revolution had created a huge new class of urban wage labourers to supply the needs of manufacturing industry.
Although this modern proletariat comprised the majority of the population by the early 19th century, it had no say whatsoever in the political and economic system which controlled every aspect of its life. The capitalist class had sat idly by as towns and cities grew into enormous squalid slums occupied by workers who barely survived on the wages they were paid while the unemployed scavenged a living as best they could by begging, borrowing and stealing. But in the vast factories, mines and iron foundries, the capitalists had concentrated workers together on a grand scale - providing a natural ground for these workers to organise themselves against their exploiters.
By 1800, the bourgeoisie tried to counter the emerging threat by the passing of the Combination Act, forbidding workers from forming any kind of society or union. Predictably this failed to deter workers from combining, which they initially did secretly and then on the strength of their success began to do openly. Between 1800 and 1822 a state of near social war developed, with rioting, strikes, and violent demonstrations, despite the repression. And it was not long before workers began to demand not only better wages and conditions for themselves and their families, but also political rights.
By 1824, the then Tory government, now under the influence of a moderate grouping around Robert Peel, had no option but to revoke the Combination Act and allow local trade unions to organise legally. Then, in 1832, a Whig cabinet passed a reform bill which transferred 143 of the 200 "rotten boroughs" seats to urban districts. It also extended the franchise, thus enlarging the electorate by about 50%.
But this still left the working class high and dry in terms of political rights and representation. What is more, at the same time the Liberal parliament passed new Poor Laws which brought in forced labour for paupers who were now more or less imprisoned in workhouses.
In 1836, a cabinet-maker by the name of William Lovett founded the London Working Men's Association and formulated the popular demands which were to comprise the so-called People's Charter, with its six main demands: universal male suffrage, equal electoral districts, annual parliamentary elections, secret ballots, payment of MPs and abolition of the property qualification for MPs. This petition was presented to parliament in 1838, and promptly rejected, thus opening up a period during which the Chartist movement took direct action leading to an insurrection being attempted in Newport and an attempted general strike in 1842. However, in the meantime the Anti-Corn Law League had successfully drawn in a section of the Chartist movement behind it, advocating peaceful agitation and promising further parliamentary reform. The Corn Laws were finally repealed in 1846, as a result of a split in the ruling Tory party which stole the political clothes of the Whigs. This victory of the free traders removed the last obstacle to the development of a modern state tailored to the needs of the now dominant industrial bourgeoisie.
The mid-19th century also saw the beginning of the age of imperialism with a huge extension of the colonial Empire and an enormous growth of the bourgeoisie's wealth. This age of prosperity allowed the capitalist class to make some concessions to the working class, now represented by large new trade unions, both in economic and political terms. The vote was granted to many town workers in 1867 and the efforts of working class organisations now became almost wholly devoted to securing a better legal position for the unions and sending a small number of working men to parliament, usually on a Liberal or a Radical ticket. This helped to channel working class activity from direct action to the electoral field - even though male universal suffrage was only won in 1918, at the same time as the right to vote for women over 30 was granted. Universal women's suffrage was only won in 1928.
Reformism and Labour
That said, we should remember that there was a significant section of the working class, which after the decline of Chartism, did not give up their revolutionary ideas.
In September 1864 the First Communist International had been founded in London - with its rules and address formulated by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. By the time of the Paris Commune, in 1871, the International had 20 branches in Britain and its aim was to try to form a revolutionary Workers' Party in Britain. However the defeat of the Paris Commune and the panicked resignation of the British trade union leaders who were afraid to be associated with an organisation which defended the idea of the working class destroying a government by violent means, splintered this new and still fragile organisation.
The idea of a workers' party, representing working people, did not disappear, however. In the meantime, because a substantial number of workers had the franchise, the parliamentary parties vied for their votes and therefore passed legislation strengthening union rights - for instance the Tory government in 1875 actually legalised peaceful picketing , a right which had been withdrawn under the previous Liberal government.
By the 1880s new political organisations had been set up to pursue the interests of working people - the Social Democratic Federation in 1881 and the Fabian Society in 1880. The SDF prided itself in having been inspired by Marx, even if Marx himself dismissed this claim, whereas the Fabians expressly favoured the retention of a wages and profit system and later formulated a reformist programme of gradual evolution to socialism via parliament.
The economic slump in mid-the 1880s gave a boost to the SDF, but it never managed to build a wide enough activist organisation on the ground, mostly due to the political limitations of its leadership. In the meantime, Keir Hardie, a Scottish miner who had initially hoped to win a seat in parliament by being adopted by the Liberal Party, came to the conclusion that workers would have to insist on independent representation. But having helped found the Scottish Labour Party, the most socialist it got was to demand the nationalisation of the railways and banks. Like the Fabians, his idea was that workers first had to recognise the need to have their own representation in parliament and from there, recognise the need to adopt socialism. It was Hardie who initiated the formation of the Independent Labour Party in the 1890s whose main objective was to get working class candidates into the House of Commons.
In fact it was this political trend which came to dominate the working class political organisations of the time - that by using the existing municipal and parliamentary institutions it would be possible to gradually introduce socialist reforms. So, when the Labour Representation Committee was formed by trade union leaders, in 1900, in order to gain their own representation in Parliament, a section of socialists supported this move and joined the Labour party when it was established as such in 1906.
A constitution shrouded in secrecy
Having outlined the evolution of the political system in England over the past 800 years or so, the time has come to look at the result - the famous unwritten British constitution, which politicians promote so often as an example for the rest of the world to follow.
According to the definition given by the Oxford law dictionary, a constitution is the set of "rules and practices that determine the composition and functions of the organs of central and local government in a state and regulate the relationship between the individual and the state." In fact the British constitution covers even more than that. But its main peculiarity is that, unlike the constitutions born out of the bourgeois revolutions in other industrial countries, the British constitution is not a single document or set of documents which can only be amended through a special, relatively complicated procedure.
The reason for this can be traced back to the fact that at the time of the English revolution, the bourgeoisie did not see the need to start from a clean sheet, as was the case in America, where British law had to be replaced after the war of independence, or in France, where the highly centralised monarchy and its huge bureaucracy had to be broken up for the bourgeoisie to take political power. By contrast, the English bourgeoisie was able to impose on the old landed classes a radical reorientation of the feudal legal system, by using the flexibility of this system and adapt it to its needs.
As a result, today's British constitution is a bewildering patchwork of contradictory rulings made by judges over centuries. These rulings are themselves based on past rulings and acts of Parliament. And the parliamentary acts are generally sufficiently vague and riddled with loopholes to be open to diverse interpretations which, in turn, become part of the country's unwritten constitution.
Another peculiarity of this unwritten constitution is the existence of so-called "constitutional conventions" - that is practices that are not legally enforceable but are commonly followed by the state institutions as if they were. Among these for instance, is the obligation for the monarch to exercise his constitutional powers only in accordance with the advice of ministers who collectively command the support of a majority of the House of Commons. Or that Parliament must be summoned at least once a year. The advantage of such conventions is, of course, that they can be changed to meet changing circumstances, without the need for formal debate, let alone a vote in Parliament. So much for governmental transparency and accountability!
The British constitution is usually hailed as the most sophisticated achievement of "reason" and is supposed to be backed by general consensus due to its historical "legitimacy". But, in fact, it is a monument of antiquated absurdity and this is not just due to its origins.
The obvious example that comes to mind is the monarchy. As Friedrich Engels wrote back in 1844, "nowhere is a non-ruling personage more revered than in England." Thanks to the respectful support of all governments, the monarchy has been allowed to survive, even though it plays no role whatsoever in the political system, except as an expensive monument to parasitism. Why? In 1844, Engels could still argue that "the word king is the essence of the state, just as the word God is the essence of religion, even though neither word has any meaning at all. The essential thing about both of them is to make sure that (..) man who is behind these words is not discussed." Indeed, the fiction of the monarchy had already no justification other than to give legitimacy to the state and its political institutions, regardless of their policies. But today, it is doubtful that the queen can still play such a role, despite the kind of super-star coverage she gets from the tabloids. At most she is a chauvinist symbol, and is used as a flagpole on which to hang the Union Jack.
The House of Lords, that other antiquated remnant from the past, fares even worse than the monarchy, to the extent that a man of tradition like Blair reckoned he could gain credit by being seen giving it the chop. Six years after Labour's coming to power, however, Blair's plans have still to be implemented. And, after several tactical retreats, the latest version of his plan now involves a mixture of elected peers and appointed life peers, rather than just closing down this sanctimonious and useless outfit. Ironically, Blair is proving even less daring than the politicians of Engels' days whom he castigated in these terms: "The constitutional parties shrink with equal horror from the idea of abolishing this empty formality and the Radicals go no further than to observe (..) that the hereditary peerage should be replaced by an elected peerage."
Then there is the Church of England. It is ironical that politicians who condemn Third World Islamic states (albeit rightly so) for being ruled according to the medieval Sharia have no objection to Britain still being ruled constitutionally according to the Christian Bible, which is even more ancient and at least as reactionary. Of course, the religious intolerance and drastic punishments for "amorality" which existed after the "Glorious Revolution" have long disappeared. Nowadays, the Church of England is left contemplating with gloom the shrinking numbers of church-goers. But this organisation of clerics remains an integral part of the state, which is funded by taxpayers' money, despite being the country's largest landowner. And the fact that a number of other religions also receive funds from the state does not make this more acceptable. On the contrary. Nor is it acceptable that the Church of England, or any religious creed for that matter, should be able to impose their superstitions on children by being given a role in the education system. Yet this is something which is encouraged by this Labour government in order to kill two birds with one stone - to make savings on the education budget and to provide the youth with minders who can be trusted not to nurture rebellion in their ranks!
As to the rights of British citizens recognised by the constitution, these are heavily biassed in favour of the wealthy. Freedom of expression, for instance, is recognised by common law. But British libel law is one of the most severe in the world and could easily be used to bankrupt anyone who dares to criticise the system and its protagonists, without being able to rely on very large funds.
Likewise for the ancient right to be tried by one's peers. A recent study shows that over two-thirds of the country's full-time judges are public-school educated, while the same proportion went to Oxbridge. Working class people are therefore virtually always confronted with upper-class judges. Of course, there are still juries, although Blair is trying hard to get rid of them. But the rule which imposes on a jury that it reach a unanimous verdict gives considerable weight to a judge's directives - which he is not supposed to give, but does, regardless.
In the same way, the law of Habeas Corpus, i.e. protection from arbitrary arrest, which was inherited directly from the period of the English revolution, is turned on its head for the majority of poor offenders who cannot afford bail money - which is partly why prisons have filled up far beyond their capacity over the past two decades, and even more so under Labour. Meanwhile, the right to redress in the courts, which was made accessible to the majority of the population by the legal aid system introduced in 1950, is being taken away by Blair's introduction of the "no win-no fee" system - a bonanza for lawyers, who get higher fees while being encouraged to refuse "difficult" cases.
The constitution's anachronisms even undermine areas of legislation which are vital for a large part of the population. For instance, several hundred state-related bodies, including all ministerial departments, custom and excise, the prison service, the Royal Mint and a large number of quangos and other agencies, cannot be prosecuted for breaking health and safety regulations, on the grounds that they are deemed "Crown bodies" and that this would amount to the Crown prosecuting itself! So, civilian employees of the Ministry of Defence, for instance, have no redress in case of an accident on the job due to unsafe machinery. They depend entirely on the goodwill of the MoD, which says it all!
Such bias against the working class, however, has nothing to do with historical traditions. It permeates much of the legal system. So, for instance, while the limits on the right of workers to take strike action are controlled by laws which are enforceable in court, the bosses' limited duties towards their employees are usually dependent only on so-called "voluntary codes of conduct", which are not enforceable in court - this is true, in particular, of many of the so-called new rights for workers which have been introduced under Blair.
To sum up, one can only say that the anachronism of the British constitution is merely a cover for a political and legal system perfectly adapted to protect the interests of a modern capitalist class against the rest of society.
Two parties but only one role
Formally, little has changed in the Commons since the consolidation of the two-party system in the first part of the 19th century. The same ceremony is carefully observed, with the same medieval symbolism and titles, which few voters understand. But who cares among politicians, as long as this contributes to the shroud of secrecy and self-importance which surrounds parliamentary proceedings?
Of course, due to the rise of the working class as a political force at the beginning of the 20th century, Labour has taken over from the Liberals as the second largest party in Westminster. Not that the Labour party has ever expressed the political interests of the working class - which would have meant being prepared to challenge the domination of capital. But it provided the capitalist class with a convenient decoy to lure workers into thinking that their interests could be represented and upheld within the institutions of the British parliamentary system. Even then, co-opting Labour into the institutions of the state was only done reluctantly and after a long period during which the loyalty of its leadership towards the state was put to the test - a period lasting roughly from 1918, the year in which Labour came second in a general election for the first time, and 1945 with the election of the postwar Labour government.
Since then Labour has been part and parcel of the smooth running of the two-party system. The iniquitous first-past-the-post ballot system is the system's most vital element. Without it, there would be no barrier against the emergence of new parties representing the views of significant minorities at the expense of the two large parties. This system benefits Labour as much as it benefits the Tories, and sometimes even more as was the case in the last two general elections. It is not for nothing that, once in office, Labour has been so quick to forget about its pre-election promise to introduce a degree of proportional representation. Indeed, it would have as much to lose from it as the Tories!
The Tories may have spent significantly more time in office than Labour since WWII, but both parties' machineries are equally integrated into the apparatus of the state. Whether in office or in opposition both parties remain part of the machinery of government. The members of the opposition's shadow cabinet retain salaries and perks which are significantly higher than ordinary backbenchers, although not as high as those of ministers. They are constantly groomed by their opposite numbers in office and by senior civil servants so as to be able to take over instantly should the party in power be forced out by an unexpected crisis. They are even consulted or, at least, sounded out on future government decisions. And they both get their share of positions on governmental bodies and agencies, even though there is a large element of cronyism in the appointment system in favour of the party in power.
As to the idea that electing MPs at least gives voters a measure of control over government policy, this is a complete illusion. To begin with, despite the convention of constituency-based elections, MPs are not representative of those who voted for them. Firstly because they cannot be recalled by their constituents if they fail to behave in Parliament in accordance with their election promises - at least not before five years or so are up, when they stand for re-election. Secondly, because the voting system in the Commons does not make allowances for dissent. MPs are supposed to submit to the party's whip and if they do not, they are more likely than not to be disciplined by the party leadership and barred from standing again in the next general election. In short, once elected, MPs are supposed to represent the party to which they owe their privileged position. Standing against the stream in this context is not for the faint-hearted. And party leaders ensure, as much as possible, that only the faint-hearted are selected as prospective candidates in the first place.
But even if some MPs were really serious about wanting to influence government policies, they would be unable to do so. Contrary to what most people believe, the role of the Commons is neither to hold the government to account for its actions nor even to introduce legislation. Of course, there are the "question time" sessions in which ministers are supposed to answer any questions which are put to them. But what if MPs do not like what they hear? They have absolutely no means of forcing the government to change its policy, unless the prime minister gives them a chance to vote on the issue, which he is unlikely to do if there is any chance that he might lose the vote. Quite apart from the fact that there is no obligation for ministers to provide a straight answer to the questions which are put to them. So, for instance, when asked by a Labour MP to give the Commons a list of all appointments to NHS trust boards, Blair's health secretary declined on the grounds that it would be "too costly".
As to the Commons' control over legislation, it should be recalled that its main role is to examine legislation put on the agenda by the government itself. The complex, lengthy system of committees and sub-committees is primarily intended to reach a consensus among the ruling party's MPs on the wording of an act, by allowing a limited amount of space for amendments, which the government may choose to incorporate in its proposal, put to the vote separately, or ignore. But the substance of the act itself is not up for discussion. Of course, it can be voted down, something which, when it comes to important pieces of legislation, would result in the cabinet's resignation - and that is enough to make most MPs think twice!
Finally, in theory, MPs have the right to initiate new legislation in the form of a private member's bill. But unless such a bill is endorsed by ministers and becomes a government proposal, its chance to get onto the Commons' agenda is extremely slim, on the spurious grounds that there is not enough parliamentary time for such initiatives!
In the end, Parliament ends up acting merely as a sophisticated and expensive rubber-stamping institution for the government. The dictatorial behaviour of the prime minister's office, which has become so blatant under Blair, was always there in practice, not just under Thatcher, but long before, as it is effectively built into the system itself. Only it was concealed behind the more benign appearance that prime ministers like Wilson, Heath or Callaghan chose to present to the public. The operation of parliamentary institutions and the two-party system which suggests that a political alternative is always on offer, are designed to give an illusion of democracy, while hiding the fact that, behind the scenes, the government in power, whichever party it may be, is there to carry out the same task - that is managing the affairs of the capitalist class in its best interests.
The secret state of the capitalist class
The Hutton enquiry over Iraq provided an insight into the way in which the capitalists' affairs are run by governments. The long series of characters who were interviewed by the enquiry all had something to do with the build up of Blair's lies to justify the war against Iraq. But most of them were completely unknown to the public and, apart from a few ministers, none was accountable in any way to the electorate. In fact, judging from their age, all these top civil servants must have done exactly the same kind of job under the Tories before Blair came into office.
The top spheres of the civil service are, in every bourgeois state, the one grey area that is carefully hidden away from the view of ordinary people. Yet, it is in these top spheres that policies are formulated and proposed to governments. Ministers are more often than not totally ignorant of their own domains. Being shuffled from one post to another, according to changes in the relationship of forces between factions within the government or the ruling party, they cannot be expected to have a universal knowledge of state affairs. Such is the rationale for a civil service which oversees the continuity of ministries' operation and presents ministers with pre-digested reports and briefs to use with the media and parliament.
But these top civil servants are not neutral. They are the product of social selection through which the state tests the individuals it can rely on. The fact that many of these individuals have been to public schools and/or to Oxbridge, where they have brushed shoulders with future capitalist magnates, is no coincidence. These are the channels through which the capitalist class selects its peers and trusted representatives. After this comes a complicated system of selection committees which allows the choice to be refined by senior civil servants themselves, so that the civil service perpetuates itself, regardless of political changes, on the basis of the same fundamental class bias.
However, this is only one of the many channels through which the tentacles of the capitalist class operate within the state machinery. Another is that of public sector appointments made by the government. One of the old peculiarities of the British political system is the enormous number of ad hoc non-governmental bodies which are in charge of managing public funds, thereby making political decisions in practice without being accountable to any elected body. These are the so-called quangos. Current estimates of their number varies between a thousand (the official figure) and over 5,000, depending on the definition chosen. But even taking only into account the 1,000 bodies officially admitted to by the government, they represent a total of 30,000 appointments to manage around £30bn of government expenditure. Some of these appointments carry with them a significant salary, while others do not. But they all give to the appointees some influence on policy making.
The ecologist columnist George Monbiot devoted a chapter of one of his books to listing some of the individuals appointed to quangos by Blair's government between 1997 and 2000. A few examples drawn from this list will illustrate the nature of these appointments.
Sir Peter Davis, chief executive of Prudential, but more importantly chairman of the employment agency, Reed International, was appointed chairman of the New Deal task force in charge of finding ways of coercing the unemployed youth into low-paid casual jobs. John Bowman, a director of Commercial Union, an insurance company which was responsible for the mis-selling of thousands of pensions was appointed to the Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority, which is in charge, among other things, of preventing such abuse. Paul Leinster, a director at SmithKline Beecham, a pharmaceutical company known for having polluted streams in Sussex and Gloucestershire, was appointed head of the Environmental Protection Directorate where he advocated that companies should be required to monitor their own pollution rather than being subjected to inspections. Chris Fay, chairman and chief executive of Shell UK, a company which has a terrible record for polluting Third World oil producing countries, was appointed chairman of the government's advisory committee on business and the environment. Martin Taylor, chief executive of Barclays on a modest salary plus bonuses income of £1.6m/yr, was appointed head of the Tax and Benefits Taskforce whose brief was to find ways of reducing poverty. Malcolm Stamp, chairman of the private health insurance company Norwich Union, was appointed chief executive of the Norfolk and Norwich NHS trust. David Steeds, a director of Serco group, one of the biggest beneficiaries of PFI contracts, was appointed chief executive of the Private Finance Panel, which scrutinises such contracts.
This list could go on forever. But what it shows unquestionably is that the top layers of the capitalist class are directly involved in exercising the reality of political power, without having to bother with standing in elections, including in areas such as pensions, the environment, health provisions, etc..., which affect the vast majority of the population. No wonder they are so enthusiastic about privatising everything but the kitchen sink in the public sector!
The fact is, however, that this involvement of big business in government affairs is not particularly new. Past Labour governments may have been in the habit of dotting trade-union officials in among the appointments they made - which Blair also does, though to a lesser extent, to the dismay of the TUC - but they were always careful to leave a lot of space for business appointees.
The trappings of local and regional government
If there is no democracy to be found in central government, what about local government? After all, while it is difficult in practice for voters to control MPs who are operating hundreds of miles away, it should be much easier for them to control their local councils, only a few miles away at most. But is it?
If the ridiculously low turnout in council elections, particularly in urban working class areas, is anything to go by, voters themselves do not think that they can expect any improvement by voting for one candidate rather than another. There are multiple reasons for this. The long tradition of entrenched cronyism and corruption in local councils, at the expense of local services, is certainly one of them. Another one is the gradual but drastic squeeze on council funding from the state, since the mid-1980s, which has resulted in large cutbacks in local services and highlighted the fact that any council majority would have its hands tied for lack of funds. Finally, the enthusiasm shown by Labour councils for Blair's privatisation of local services, after 1997, and since then, for the selling off of council housing stocks, can only have added to workers' despondency towards local government.
And the latest changes which are being introduced by Blair in the way councils are run are unlikely to reverse this trend. Indeed the last local government bill puts the running of councils in the hands of an executive comprising either a directly elected mayor or the council leader, together with at most nine councillors. The rest of the elected councillors (over 75% of them in an urban council) will be left with only consultative powers and not even the right to block a decision made by the executive. In other words, Blair is reproducing at local government level, the pattern which already exists at central government level in the relationship between the government and parliament.
One of the purposes of this change is probably to pre-empt the development of minority political groups at local government level, who, under the old system could have had some impact on local issues provided they did not cost too much money. At the same time, by strengthening considerably the powers of the council leader - or directly elected mayor where there is one - who can be selected among trusted loyalists, Blair probably hopes to deal a death-blow to the tradition of rebellious Labour councillors which has been a long-standing problem for the party leadership.
Of course, this change will do nothing to increase the accountability of local councils to the electorate, nor to reduce the corruption which plagues local government. But that is not its purpose. Corruption is not an issue for central government as long as it remains hidden and benefits business, which it does. On the other hand, this change will certainly make local councils more responsive to the government's budget demands, and local services will undoubtedly be even more at risk.
By introducing directly-elected mayors, Blair was probably hoping to revamp the democratic credentials of local government. Whether this will be successful remains to seen. But he has definitely failed in the other area where he made a similar attempt - regional devolution.
The referendum over devolution and subsequent elections showed a significant increase in turnout in Scotland, although much less so in Wales, probably due to the much more limited powers devolved to the Welsh Assembly. And there is no doubt that after years of being ruled by a Tory government, despite having consistent Labour majorities, Scottish voters had some hopes that a Scottish parliament would bring some improvement to Scotland.
But Blair knew better. Devolution provided a whole layer of Scottish politicians and professionals with ways of feathering their nests, thanks to the positions offered by the new regional institutions. By doing so, Blair was probably aiming primarily at preventing another rise of Scottish nationalism at the expense of Labour, similar to the one that took place in the 1970s, under the previous Labour governments. But Scotland's working class voters only saw the stampede for cushy jobs, the MSP's first vote aimed at increasing their own salaries and pensions and the extravagant expenses devoted to the new Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh. And by now, many of the illusions in "Scotland's devolved democracy" have probably faded away, at least in working class districts. In any case this is what the much lower turnout in this year's Scottish election seems to indicate.
The future of the state
If this overview of Britain's parliamentary democracy shows anything, and much the same could be said about the versions which exist in the rest of the industrialised world, it is that it offers working people no means whatsoever to control their own lives, let alone a say over how society is run and in whose interests.
The political institutions of the bourgeois state reflect the decay of the capitalist system as a whole. The capitalist class has become so suspicious of any form of dissent that it avoids taking the slightest risk within its political institutions. These institutions are designed to ensure that dissent, when it is allowed to express itself, has no bearing on the policies that matter to big business. Whether fox hunting is banned or not was irrelevant for the profits of capital and Blair could afford a rebellion on such an issue. But not so over the war against Iraq or over benefit cuts.
The idea that these institutions can be reformed from inside and somehow put to work at the service of the working class is a delusion. Being instruments of the bourgeoisie, the purpose of these institutions is, by design, to protect the interests of the capitalists and, therefore, necessarily, to enforce their exploitation of the working class. The fact that for the past two decades, the political institutions of the state have systematically attacked the working class' standard of living was not necessarily a reflection of what the parties in office wanted (after all, it was dangerous for their standing in elections), but a reflection of what the capitalist class demanded. And any party placed in the same conditions and willing to play in the same way by the rules of the system, would have had no other choice.
This is why the working class can expect nothing from this degenerate political system, no more than it can expect from the goodwill of a capitalist class which is busy looting what remains of public services to satisfy its greed.
When a car breaks down due to a fault in the engine, changing the driver will not get it to run. Not even if, in addition, you put in new seats and speakers for the radio and if you give the car a fresh coat of paint. The engine needs to be fixed and if the fault is serious, it probably cannot be fixed without pulling the engine apart or replacing it. The same applies to the state. It cannot be fixed by changing the tenant of Downing Street or applying cosmetic measures to make it look better. It has to be taken apart from top to bottom, by whatever means necessary, in order to make way for a new form of political power, placed directly under the control of the working population. And this is what the working class will have to do at some point, if it is to build a society which is no longer crippled by the greed of a handful of privileged capitalists.
What form this political power will take, only the future will tell as it will depend on the circumstances in which it emerges. But what we do know is that it will have to be as decentralised as possible, if it is to be democratic with respect to the working population as a whole. After all, a large number of the decisions which affect our lives could be made at local level, by those who are directly concerned by them, without having to resort to a cumbersome bureaucratic process. And once people realise that they have the power not just to make decisions, but to implement them using their resources and collective initiative, solutions will be found to all kinds of problems which remain unresolved today. Why, for instance, are so many houses empty today, either in state of disrepair or just not used by their owners, when so many people do not have adequate accommodation? Because those living in the neighbourhood do not consider that they have the right to take over these empty houses in order to make them available to those who need a decent home.
Of course, there will always be a need for a high level of centralisation in order to plan for large long-term projects and keep an accurate record of the resources available and needs to cater for. But that kind of centralisation can be rooted in a democratic decentralised organisation, with a permanent flow of information in both directions allowing the population to effectively control what is being done.
There is nothing utopian in all of this. It is merely a matter of social organisation and political will. The only obstacle is that tiny class of capitalist parasites whose greed paralyses society. But they will not hold on forever!