Palmiro Togliatti

Parliament and the Struggle for Socialism

Written: 1956
First Published: Pravda on March 7, 1956, and reprinted by Rinascita on August 27, 1976.
Source: Marxism Today, 1977, pp284-7
Translated: Derek Boothman
Transcription/Markup: Steve Palmer
Proofread: Unknown
Copyleft: Internet Archive( 2014. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons License.

Reprinting the article Rinascita noted: "This text of Togliatti (was) extremely significant for the date and the place in which it was published, and for its clarity and the force with which he formulates the developments of a policy which 'came from afar and was going far' (words used to describe the policy of the Communist Party when Togliatti returned from Moscow in 1943 (Translator's note). In re-reading it today, we find an immediacy that goes beyond the merely formal; and because of this we are again submitting it to our readers.") MT

The proposition, formulated by comrade Khrushchev in his report to the 20th Congress of the CPSU, according to which it is possible to make use of the parliamentary road for a transition to socialism, is provoking enormous public interest, amongst the masses of the people and particularly among workers, who are, more than ever, setting their sights on a socialist society.

This proposition is an example and proof of how Marxist-Leninist doctrines, if understood in a creative sense, closely tied to the development of actual reality and the practice of class struggle, are capable of opening up new fields and perspectives of work for the socialist transformation of society.

Marxism-Leninism is for a variety of forms of passage to socialism, and, in given conditions, allows the possibility of the peaceful development of revolution.

New Relation of Forces

The essential thing is to succeed in grasping and understanding what is basically new in objective relations and in the position of class and political forces, and to draw from these factors the necessary consequences for the general orientation and practical activity of those who are fighting for socialism. In the course of historical development, important transformations have already taken place as regards Parliament, its tasks and its function. We must take account of these, with the aim of understanding what could happen in the future.

Also as regards Parliament, what was once true, at a time when the socialist movement was hardly yet developed, and the bourgeoisie ruled unchallenged both throughout the world and in every single country, can no longer be true now, when a socialist camp, embracing a third of humanity, exists, when capitalism, shaken by a general crisis, has lost the authority which it once enjoyed, and, instead, the idea of socialism and the necessity for it, is penetrating ever more deeply into the working masses.

Two Aspects of Parliament

Let us examine, in general outline, what changes have taken place in the field of interest to us, and try to understand what one can foresee in the future.

If we give careful attention to Parliament, we may see that it has two aspects. On the one hand, it is a representative organ of the people, constituted by the free expression of the will of the electors. On the other, it is (or ought to be) the directive organ of the state, in so far as it is up to Parliament to issue laws, decide on the budget, and oversee the operation of the executive power, that is of the government.

But how in fact do things stand in reality in these two fields? An attentive examination of the existing situation today, in almost all the capitalist countries, or at least in those European ones where the workers' movement is highly developed, and the political situation is unstable, shows us that, for one aspect just as much as for the other, the increasingly dominant tendency among the ruling groups of the bourgeoisie is that of taking importance away from the institution of Parliament, of changing its nature, and even, little by little, of putting it aside.

Fight for the Franchise

As is well known, the concession of the vote has come about differently in various countries in different historic periods. There is no general line of development, identical for almost all the capitalist countries.

During the nineteenth century, when Parliaments arose in the climate of the bourgeois revolutions, those who had the franchise were very limited in number. For example, in Italy, not only those who could not read or write (the majority of the population at the time), but also those who did not own property or have a fixed income, were excluded from the franchise. Thus it was that only a few hundred, or at most a few thousand, were able to vote in each constituency. Votes could therefore be obtained by the use of illegal pressure on individuals, corruption and other intrigues. One cannot say that Parliaments elected in this way were really representative of the people. They were, rather, the representative organ of a capitalist oligarchy.

The extension of the right to vote to the masses of the people was the consequence of the development of a democratic movement, radical in tendency, and of the appearance on the political scene of a mass socialist and workers' movement. Only after hard-fought struggles, which in some countries took the character almost of an insurrection of the people against conservative governments, was equal, direct and universal suffrage won. Then, numerous groups, composed of advanced democrats, socialists and, finally, after the First World War, communists too began to appear. Parliamentary struggles acquired a new liveliness, and attracted the attention of the working masses more and more.

Proportional Representation

But winning universal suffrage has not yet, in many countries, given the masses of the people the chance of having a number of representatives that effectively correspond to the number of votes obtained. For this to happen, it is necessary to win the introduction of the proportional representation system. If a simple majority system is in force, the minority cannot have a representation corresponding to its effective force; its representatives crumble away into little parliamentary groups to the point of sometimes even disappearing.

The proportional representation system on the other hand makes Parliament a 'mirror reflection' of the country, in so far as each party receives, quite scrupulously, as many seats as are due to it on the basis of its real support. In France and Italy, where the socialist and communist parties enjoy great influence among the masses, when the elections took place on the proportional system, the political groups of socialist orientation had a third to a half of the Parliamentary seats. It is easy to understand that in this given situation, the parliamentary activity of these groups had to assume a quite different character than in the past, when Parliament was considered to be only a tribune for agitation.

New Possibilities

This made it possible to pose the question of carrying on positive work on the parliamentary terrain in favour of socialist transformations. This, partially at least, has been done. For example, in Italy, we have, by means of using agreements with other political groupings, succeeded in inserting into the Italian constitution the principle of carrying through profound social reforms: the guarantee of the right to work, agrarian reform, the nationalisation of the most important capitalist monopolies, etc.

Naturally, the ruling groups of the bourgeoisie use all the means at their disposal to stop the electoral success of the advanced workers' parties. Lenin made a profound study of this question and made a masterly exposure of what these means are and how they act. Today, however, it is a fact that socialist ideas have penetrated so deeply into the minds of the people, and the bourgeois parties are so compromised and discredited, that it is much easier than in the past to tear the masses of the people away from the influence of reactionary groupings. One further has to recognise that when the working class succeeds in having at its head great parties, that have large memberships, are well organised and well led by combative cadres, these parties are able to neutralise a considerable part of those means of intimidation and corruption pointed out by Lenin.

Attempts to Falsify Electoral System

In this new situation, the conduct of the ruling bourgeois groups, and the parties and the governments that represent them, is totally characteristic. They cannot, today, eliminate Parliament from political life, as the fascists did, because, after the tragic catastrophe of the regimes of Hitler and Mussolini, the great majority of public opinion would not allow it. To prevent the advanced popular forces having yet stronger representation in Parliament, they therefore, instead, have recourse to new methods, and in particular, to falsifying the electoral system. To this end, special laws are being introduced to prevent the minority having the seats that are due to them, and to reduce them to a negligible entity. In terms of these laws, Parliament would no longer have to be the political 'mirror reflection' of the country. It would have to return to being the instrument of a conservative and reactionary bourgeois oligarchy.

Bourgeois Fear of Parliament

On this subject, the most striking example is the law approved in Italy, on the initiative of De Gasperi, called the �legge-truffa� (the 'trick law'). According to that law, it was sufficient for the governing parties to receive just half of all the votes plus one, for them to have two thirds of the parliamentary seats! In France, a year before, a similar law had been issued, in whose terms, the parties of the government, by 'unifying' their lists in the electoral constituencies, and obtaining (following on this unification) more than half the votes, could then divide up all the seats among themselves and exclude the opposition completely. These tendencies tie up to a certain extent everywhere, and in particular in West Germany.

But, considered basically, what does this tendency of the ruling bourgeois groups signify? It signifies that the bourgeoisie itself is realising that Parliament, in the past the instrument for the organisation and consolidation of the capitalist regime, can today become an effective instrument in the hands of the parties which aim at a socialist transformation of society. Should the right to the vote be extended to all citizens and be exercised according to an honest law, based on a proportional system, and should there exist a popular and workers' movement, led by strong, well-organised parties, one cannot - in any way - exclude the possibility of the formation in Parliament of a majority that conforms to the will of the people, that is to say favourable to profound social reforms and a policy of peace. One can understand what an enormous importance the struggle of the democratic parties against the attempts to falsify the electoral system acquires in this situation. In 1953, we conducted a mass struggle on a political basis against the trick law of De Gasperi of such vast dimensions and life that it roused the whole country.

Parliament and Executive Power

The attention of all Italy was concentrated for six months on this battle, which was crowned by a national general strike of all categories of workers. This struggle awoke the democratic sense of the people, and, in consequence, the communist and socialist parties made a new leap forward, while the government parties were not able to win a majority and the new Parliament was constituted according to the principle of proportionality.

If we look at the second aspect of the activity of Parliament, as the organ of political leadership and of control over the executive power, we see the same tendency of the ruling bourgeois groups and their governments; they again diminish the importance of parliamentary debates and decisions as much as possible.

The Bourgeoisie, Parliament and Democratic Liberties

As regards the formation of the government, or the solution of the most important economic and political problems, the government parties of the bourgeois states seek to decide them not in parliamentary sessions, but through the use of compromises and intrigues without bringing them out openly in debate. At the same time, there is a rise in the number of problems that are being resolved independently by the executive sometimes in spite of parliamentary decisions. Indeed it is the workers' parties, who form the socialist-oriented opposition, who put increasingly more value on Parliament, not only in using it as a tribune, but because they can already today succeed, if they have a strong parliamentary representation and are united, in modifying government proposals in a direction favourable to the interests of the workers.

From these propositions, which could be supported by numerous concrete examples, one can already draw some general conclusions. An analogous process is being carried out, as regards Parliament, to that carried out in its historical period, regarding, in general, democratic liberties, and their application and development. The bourgeoisie made use of these liberties to assert its power and become the ruling class. However, when democratic liberties began to be utilised by the workers to develop their organisation and give life to a socialist movement, and when this movement gradually became stronger, then the leading bourgeois groupings took to saying that democratic liberties had to be limited, controlled, reduced, and so in reality they did.

Something similar happens for Parliament too. The bourgeoisie exalts parliamentarism as long as it succeeds in keeping Parliament to the character of the representation of an oligarchy. It considers it with distrust and suspicion, when, through universal suffrage and the principle of proportional representation, important opposition forces, having a programme of profound transformations of the economic and social order, advance upon the parliamentary scene.

Parliament and Advance to Socialism

Can these forces believe in the possibility of utilising Parliament for the passage to socialism, that is to carry out these economic and social transformations? Everything depends on the relationship of forces and above all on the way how the parties of the working class can develop their action and lead the struggle of the great masses of the people. First and foremost, it is essential, by fighting in defence of democratic principles, to have Parliament elected in such a way as to be a true `mirror reflection' of the country, and therefore a true democratic Parliament. In the second place, it is necessary for the parties that fight for socialism, and the communist parties in the front rank of them, to be strong, numerous, well organised and for them to know how to work and fight in such a way as to win a decisive influence in the decisive strata of the working class and the people. In the third place, it is necessary for these parties to be united in their action, because this not only increases their numerical weight in. Parliament, but can allow them to establish a reciprocal understanding and a collaboration with those political forces that are not hostile to social reforms of a socialist type and to a consequent policy of peace.

Should these conditions be realised, in the modern situation of the victorious affirmation and continual consolidation of socialism on the world scene, it is possible to use even the parliamentary way for the passage to socialism. As can be seen, we are concerned with understanding of the present conditions of the struggle for socialism well, and knowing how to go forward, at the head of an ever broader mass movement, along the roads that at the present historical moment are opening out in front of us, by making use of all the new possibilities that the situation offers us.