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Gordon Haskell

What a Workers’ Government Means:
Real Democracy for theFirst Time

(14 June 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 24, 14 June 1948, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

My friend, Jack, says to me one day: “The Workers Party has made a very good analysis of what is wrong with the capitalistic system and how the government is nothing hut a tool of the fat boys to keep the workers down.

“But what I want to know,” he says, “it exactly what kind of a government setup do you advocate which wouldn’t be full of graft and corruption and politicians that is feathering their on nest and keeping some clique in power on the backs of the people?”

“Well,” I says, “we advocate a workers’ government.”

“I read Labor Action every week,” says Jack, “so you don’t have to tell me that. But even if you elect workers to Congress and have a president who used to be a longshoreman, what is to prevent them from selling out to the capitalists or some gang like Stalin’s bureaucrats?”

“It takes two men to make a corrupt politician,” I says. “One man who has the money or the power to buy him by cash or favors, and the politician himself who can sell out and still keep his position because the voters who elect him have no control over him once he is in office.

“So the only way to make any government set-up really serve the workers is first of all to eliminate the capitalists whose control over industry and trade gives them the money and power to control the government; and secondly to organize things in such a way that the common people have constant control over their representatives and can remove them anytime they don’t like what they are doing.”

“Well,” says Jack, “we have the right to impeach politicians and in California, at least, to recall them. But just try and get one of them out. If they are smart they get their payoff legally. And if they aren’t that smart, it still takes so much dough to recall one of them that we don’t have a chance.”

A Different Machinery

“That’s right,” I says. “That is why we advocate not only ending the economic power of the capitalists by nationalizing industry and putting it under the control of the workers, but also a completely different government machinery by which the workers can constantly control both industry and all parts of the government including the legislative, executive and judiciary.”

“That’s what I want to hear about,” says Jack. “What kind of a setup can actually keep the government serving the people instead of some clique?”

“A government based on councils of workers, farmers, housewives, professional people and the like,” I says. “Take it first on the local level. Now we elect a city council once every so many years on a district basis. In a workers’ government the municipal affairs would be run by a council made up of delegates from the unions, housewives and professional organizations. Each delegate would be responsible to the members of his own organization. He would be elected for a very short term, would serve at the same wage or salary as the people he represents, and could be recalled any day of the week by a simple majority vote of his organization.

“To recall him his constituents wouldn’t have to prove that he had taken a bribe or committed some other crime. Any time a majority of his organization felt he had voted the wrong way in the council, or that someone else would represent them more vigorously, they could replace him.”

“Well,” says Jack, “that sounds pretty good tome so far as councilmen are concerned. But how could you keep your mayor and chief of police and all the city department heads in line? After all, it wouldn’t be efficient to change the head of the health department every time somebody’s kid caught the measles.”

Everybody Represented

“No, it wouldn’t, and you can count on the workers to understand this as well as you and I do. But the important thing is to keep full control over all the departments in the hands of the common people through their complete and constant control over the council. That means that there should be no artificial division between the council and the departments and the courts. City health, direction of traffic, the schools, fire protection, city planning and all the other municipal functions can use technical experts to advise the people and their council on what needs to be done and how best to do it. They can also be in charge of directing the carrying out of the policies laid down by the delegates in the council. As long as they carry out their duties to the satisfaction of the council, OK. But the important thing is that as long as the council has complete control over them, and constant and complete responsibility to the working people organized in unions and other organizations, they won’t have much chance to work for some small clique or interest group.”

“Maybe you have something there,” says Jack. “But why wouldn’t it work just as well to have the delegates elected on a ward or district basis as it present, with everything else run like you described it. That way everybody would have a vote. Under our setup there might be a lot of people who wouldn’t belong to any organization which has a delegate. Wouldn’t they be robbed of their right to vote?”

“Every citizen who does anything useful would have the right to belong to some organization with a delegate,” I says. “Because every enterprise would be run not by a capitalist or a board of directors, but by the people who work in it.

“Housewives would band together not just to elect delegates to the city council, but also because the housewives organizations would most likely be in charge of such things as watching over prices, quality and service in the stores, neighborhood child care and recreational facilities and services, and other things about which they know best because they have to contend with them everyday. Any citizen who either contributes nothing to the community, or who can’t be bothered to look after his own welfare by joining and being active in the organization which controls that welfare would automatically disfranchise himself.”

Common Interests

“Well, that sounds OK,” says Jack, “but I still don’t see why you insist on delegates being elected by organizations instead of by wards or districts. Maybe it is just a pet theory of yours.”

“It may be a theory,” says I, “but everything’s a theory till it’s been put into practice. Like universal suffrage or atomic fission. The point is this:There are very few things which concern neighbors just because they are neighbors. In one neighborhood you may have an auto worker, a dentist, a longshoreman, a carpenter and a schoolteacher. Each of them has much more in common with people of their own occupation who may live on the other side of town than they have with each other.

“When the delegates from all the organizations meet, you can be sure that all interests will be represented in proportion to the number of men and women concerned with each. You can be sure, for instance, that the longshoreman will be in a much better position to keep tab on the longshore delegates to the council and to instruct them how to vote than he would be to keep tab on some doctor or carpenter who might come from the ward or district in which he lives.”

The First Step

“It seems to make sense,” says Jack. “I guess one of the reasons the capitalists and the politicians can run things as they please is because they are well organized and have plenty of time and money to maneuver elections. And when we go to vote we usually don’t know any more about each candidate or the real issues than what they tell us in their campaign literature.”

“That’s right,” I says to my friend Jack.“The district basis of voting is made to order to give the appearance of democracy while ensuring that the real strings of power remain in the hands of those who control concentrated wealth.

“And the first step toward a workers’ government.” I says, “is to organize a labor party so that at least all the workers will recognize that they must act according to their class interests politically just as they do economically in their unions. Once such a labor party has taken power in America, we can proceed to reorganize the whole political machinery to serve the interests of the vast majority instead of the few.”

“Give me some of them Labor Action subscription blanks,” says Jack. “I know a couple of guys I want to reorganize into some political machinery right now,” he says. “I mean into the Workers Party.”

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Last updated: 3 March 2018