From the August 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard
Socialism will be established only when a majority of workers understand and want it. It cannot be imposed upon the population "for their own good", and nor can voters be tricked into going for socialism by offering them something else as bait.
The Socialist Party stands in elections on a platform of uncompromised socialism. We do not offer to reform capitalism; we do not pose as leaders. Our position is that the workers must emancipate themselves. Only those who understand and accept socialist principles are asked to vote for socialist candidates. Furthermore, those workers who only half agree or disagree with bits of what we say or like our candidate, but not our policies, are emphatically urged not to vote for the Socialist Party. We will only take class-conscious votes; it is the capitalist parties who need the other kind in order to win political power. Of course, it is not only at election time that socialists seek support for our principles: anyone wishing to join the Socialist Party must demonstrate that they know exactly what we stand for. We will accept no second-class members - no associate comrades who go along with us some of the way, but not all. Socialist knowledge must be the basis for involvement in the serious struggle for world socialism.
Is the Socialist Party some sort of dogmatic sect which refuses to admit the impure into its hallowed temple? This question os put by those who sneer at our principles because they themselves have none and find political principle an embarrassment. No, we are not out to maintain a small, select party. On the contrary, we are anxious to recruit members, and recruit them fast into the ranks of our movement. We do not expect every new member to have read the complete works of Marx or deliver lectures on subjects of theoretical complexity. All that we require is basic socialist knowledge: What is capitalism? What is socialism? What do we mean by socialist revolution? How can it be brought about? What is our position on religion, reforms, Russia — the three Rs. In short, we will only accept socialists into the Socialist Party, in much the same way as a golf club will only accept members who want to use the grass to play golf on, not cricket. The movement must prefigure its aim; the end must determine the means.
At the moment the Socialist Party is incapable of contesting all electoral constituencies. Where we do not put up candidates we urge those who agree with our principles to write 'Socialism' across their ballot papers. This is an indication that at least some workers wish to use their votes to support ideas which none of the candidates is offering.
Is it ever permissible to vote for non-socialist candidates? Let us say that the Tory is one of the biggest swines in that party of rogues and the Labour candidate one of the finest idealists in that party of betrayed hopes and anti-socialist principles. Would it not be better to vote for the lesser evil? Not on any account. Firstly, it is the elected candidate's party which will run capitalism, and capitalism always gets its way. Secondly, when you vote for the capitalist system you cannot abstain from responsibility for the iniquitous effects of its operation. You cannot vote for capitalism without the nasty bits. Thirdly, every vote cast for capitalism is a vote against socialism: you are effectively kicking on the teeth the one real alternative to the problems of society. Indeed, by electing the so-called lesser evil, it can be argued that you are making capitalism look pleasanter. that you are helping to make the stench of the profit system smell more like a rose.
What if certain capitalist parties have policies from which socialists could benefit? For example, if they advocated a law allowing all political parties free TV time. Why then would socialists refuse to vote for such parties? Firstly, because just as you do not vote for only one candidate, so you do not vote for only one policy. The party which supports free air TV time will also support all kinds of other atrocious measures necessary for the running of capitalism. Secondly, by voting for a party advocating a policy you are voting for a leader and therefore relegating yourself to the role of follower. Nobody forces workers to follow; we have the choice not to do so. Thirdly, because capitalist leaders have every freedom to break their promises. They might tell you that they will provide free TV time for all parties. but when in power they could soon drop the policy. Or they could water it down so as to make it meaningless. Free TV time for all parties, but not for those receiving too few votes, or not those which oppose the monarchy, or which the BBC considers to hold non-serious ideas.
The Socialist Party has adhered to clear principles since its formation and will continue to be hostile to all the sordid and dishonest political tactics which typify the capitalist system, whoever seeks to run it.