Isn’t politics about winning seats in the National Assembly?

The third part of 20 chapters on some of the basic politics of Socialist Labour for discussion by its members.

Why insist on the need for a socialist revolution? Surely, there must be a better way? Why not set out to elect socialist representatives to the National Assembly who can legally and constitutionally vote in the principles of a new society? Wouldn’t that be more in line with good governance? Wouldn’t it save a lot of unnecessary violence?

How did British workers first gain the vote? With mass demonstrations and riots. How did women get the vote? Through the battles of the suffragettes. Similarly, it took decades of struggles for ‘Western democracy’ to be introduced in to Nigeria and for all adults to have the vote.  Every small step in the expansion of popular rights and democracy has been won through mass collective action.

Second, the question of violence can’t be discussed in the abstract. What is remarkable about workers’ movements throughout history is how peaceful they have been. It is the ruling classes who have – in defence of their power and privileges – regularly turned to violent means.  So, the #EndSARS protests were peaceful, it was the army attacks in Lekki and elsewhere that resulted in deaths.

Faced with threats of police and army violence, workers do need to develop means to try and defend themselves. But the most important such means is not the brick, the bullet or the barricade. It is the mass nature of the protests and the political argument with soldiers and police, that they should abandon the ruling class and come over to the people.

The ‘parliamentary road to socialism’ has a number of fatal weaknesses. Once elected, representatives in the National Assembly immediately fall out of the control of those who elected them. There are no rights of recall. Representatives may be loyal to their party, not the wishes of the people who voted for them. In 2015 Nigerians voted for change and things only got worse.

The schedule of National Assembly elections, every four years, does not match the real tempo of social and political struggle. A government can be massively unpopular, yet remain in office – as with Buhari now.

The National Assembly does not even control the state. Senior civil servants, police and army officers, judges and the like are appointed, not elected. Often they pursue their own anti-democratic agendas.

A large part of the real decisions that matter in our lives are, anyway, made outside the National Assembly, in the boardrooms of private companies or state agencies, where members of the National Assembly have no more say than you or I. The National Assembly may pass laws, but the real work of government deals with specific cases: contracts with private companies, schemes for privatising agencies like NEPA, recruitment to the civil service, court cases.

These all involve issues of fundamental importance to people’s lives, yet remain beyond the reach and power of our ‘elected misrepresentatives’, members of the National Assembly.

As the great German socialist Rosa Luxemburg suggested a century ago, those who argue for a parliamentary road to socialism are actually proposing a different goal altogether – nothing more than a slightly modified version of capitalism.  If we don’t think there’s a ‘parliamentary road’ to socialism, are we against using the National Assembly under all circumstances? Not at all.

It is not easy for socialists to be elected to the National Assembly or even a local government council.  But a few make it one way or another and can use their position to publicise our ideas and support popular struggles.

The National Assembly is a refuse dump. But if you stand on top of it, your voice carries further. A socialist who is elected to the National Assembly (or as a local councillor) wins a megaphone which is useful for socialist agitation. It doesn’t make the National Assembly any less of a refuse dump full of over-paid, corrupt money bags.

We want to build a real popular alternative to the politics of the APC/PDP for 2023, but we know that this will not be easy.  We also know we don’t need to wait until then to begin to change our world.  We can provide solidarity for the ASUU strike and the strikes in public hospitals.  If they win, this will begin to change our lives for the better.  It will also give confidence to the popular classes to make it more likely that they will vote for a radical alternative in 2023.