The Value of the Vote
Parliamentary Elections in any part of the world are ever watched with keen attention and invariably occupy much space in the press. This is understandable since with the world-wide interests and ramifications of capital, investors in every civilised country depend for the security of their holdings on stable governments and the continued acquiescence of the mass of the people in things as they are, i.e., wealth and a comfortable life without the necessity to work for a favoured few, and a life of poverty and insecurtiy for the mass of the workers not only at home but also abroad. In a class society such as ours, any upsetting of the government or any upheaval with the ever-present danger of the flouting of established authority by the poverty-stricken masses, strikes apprehension and fear into the hearts of property-holders; the cry goes up that “law and order" must be maintained at all costs. When, for example, Germany collapsed and Austria found herself without a government, the Viennese populace joined wherever they could the invading military forces in plundering to their hearts' content since there was nothing to stop them. Shops and warehouses were stripped bare—the sacred rights of property thrown to the winds, forgotten for the time being, until a government and law and order had been re-established. The old staunch upholders of capitalism, with the late Dr. Renner at their head, assisted by the occupying Powers, saved the situation and the beloved fatherland for the exploiters, as they had done before at the end of World War I. Since then the Austrian statesmen have so thoroughly convinced the foreign investors of their capability of safeguarding their private interests that, but for the distrust of one occupying Power, the other three would probably long have withdrawn their troops.
The general election in February (consequent on the resignation of the coalition government after some discord between the Conservatives and the "Socialists”) with the big and costly propaganda efforts made by a medley of parties, the specious promises of better times, the long lists of reforms dangled before the eyes of the people and dinned into their ears by the radio, bear witness to the concern of the propertied class and their State to get its subjects (mark the term "subjects') to vote for the peaceful continuation of their social order which guaranteed them their privileges. The election over, great satisfaction was expressed by the press of what is now called the free world, over the return of a new government that, whatever its eventual composition, guarantees the continuance of the Trinity of rent, interest and profit in Austria.
While the Austrian electors were extravagantly thanked by the home press for their good sense, the foreign press, with the exception of that behind the iron curtain, joined in the great chorus of praise for the political wisdom and maturity shown by the people. If Socialists cannot join in this eulogising concert and sing-song of the Austrian workers’ political ripeness, our reasons are, of course, very different from those prompting the attitude behind the iron curtain and their agents regarding the Austrian elections. Unlike Socialists, the Russians are not concerned with the workers’ understanding or lack of class-consciousness; all they are concerned with is commercial interest, to maintain the strategic position and control of the rich provinces which they have attained as a result of the war. And this is where they fall out with the other thieves.
It is true that Austrian workers have often fought and suffered for the democratic ideal, i.e., at least for freedom of organisation and association, free discussion, freedom of the press, etc. Who has forgotten the Austrian workers’ tragic heroism in 1934? (see Socialist Standard for March, 1934). But, withall, can one say that the workers of Austria are politically enlightened and mature any more than the mass of the workers in other lands? The answer must, unfortunately, be no. The fact alone that the numerically huge S.D.P. collapsed like a house of cards at the outbreak of World War I, and again even in times of peace, in 1934, at the hands of a mediocre clique led by a political dwarf like Dollfuss, proves their political backwardness. One can reasonably agree with the Austrian S.P. member who wistfully said to this writer at the time of the 1934 defeat: “ If only 10 per cent, of our members had understood and been imbued with the democratic and Socialist ideal, we would have had more fighters than we needed to crush the Schuschnigg-Dollfuss gang.” To which one might add that, if there had been 10 per cent class-conscious workers in the party, such a clique of usurpers could never even have raised its ugly head, and the working-class would have been spared the awful sacrifice and punishment that was inflicted upon it.
Political maturity! What with all the past promises of better times remaining unfulfilled, with the promise of full employment having turned out to be mass unemployment, and yet the people continuing to vote for the bankrupt upholders of a social order that produces all the misery and conflicts—one may well ask: Where does die political enlightenment and maturity come in? Were it not so tragically serious, one might consider it a joke. Why, a ripe and alert working class would surely not waste their time and energy listening to the worn-out platitudes and piffle of capitalist politicians and being taken in by their cliche programmes, which invariably include, of course, a "fight for the country’s freedom and independence,” “securing its economic future,” "increased production,” "social justice,” "peace, the rights of man” and so on, ad nauseam.
With some 300,000 men and women on the dole in a country of only about 6 million people, and with the problem of the unemployed youth, which will add another quarter-million to those seeking work, and knowing, on the other hand, as people must by now, the utter impotence of the existing political parties to effect any improvement in this dreary picture and appalling outlook, a people politically ripe and understanding the Socialist message, would consider that the time had come for revolutionary political action to end the sorry farce of capitalism instead of keeping on supporting and inflicting it on their children. As it is, however, about half of the electors were probably quite at a loss to know how to vote, since there is nowadays hardly any difference between the various political set-ups.
Even the much-vaunted improvements in housing conditions must be viewed against the background of the dreary picture of the general position of the workers. Does anyone imagine that there is happiness and a sense of security behind the facades of these huge blocks of council houses ? Gone is the time of the low rents; the screw has been put on, and anybody thinking that the “red city administration” and their banks, who control this property like everything else, have softer hearts than other capitalist overlords, is woefully mistaken. Even when in work, the tenants have to fight their life long to keep the wolf from the door, but woe betide when the breadwinner falls on evil days and becomes even less able to face the bills for gas and electricity and the rent collector! He will then discover how much of all this “public property“ belongs to him.
Political maturity! Only those are mature who have realised that the present social order has come to a hopeless impasse and that all attempts by the existing political parties and their spokesmen and statesmen to improve conditions, or avoid the terrible conflicts engendered by and raging within the framework of that competitive system, are doomed to failure; only those who have realised that what is needed is a fundamental change in the constitution of present-day society, as advocated by the S.P.G.B., their companion parties and by the great pioneers of scientific Socialism, Marx and Engels; only those who have the will and who will work for that fundamental change; only such people can lay claim to political maturity. All else is quackery and confusion and illusion.
Until the people have succeeded in overthrowing the present grotesquely stupid and inhuman social order, the mass of the people will remain what they are—heirs to the slavery of ages, exposed to all the evils and vicissitudes of a system based on property and production for profit. It is the height of folly on the part of the working class to continue placing their trust in mealy-mouthed professional politicians and glib-tongued “personalities,” and to fall again and again for their propaganda, despite all past disillusions and these leaders' glaring failure everywhere to deliver the goods. With the technical achievements and mass production that the last 100 years have brought to mankind, the social adjustment to this technical development, i.e. the fundamental change in the constitution of society as taught and advocated by scientific socialism, is now the only thing that matters. That teaching is that the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution must be converted from private and state control to the common property of the whole people, if poverty, insecurity, class-conflict and war is to be effaced from the face of the earth. It's as simple as that.