1. Parliamentarism is the form of political representation characteristic of the capitalist regime. In the field of principle the critique of the Marxist Communists in regards to parliamentarism and bourgeois democracy in general shows that the franchise granted to all citizens of all social classes in the elections of the representative organs of the State cannot prevent the whole governmental machinery of the State constituting the committee of defense of the interests of the ruling capitalist class, nor can it prevent the State from organizing itself as the historical instrument of the bourgeoisie in the struggle against the proletarian revolution.
2. The Communists categorically reject the possibility of the working class conquering power by a majority in Parliament instead of attaining it by an armed revolutionary struggle. The conquest of political power by the proletariat, which is the starting point of the work of Communist economic construction, implies the violent and immediate suppression of the democratic organs, which will be replaced by the organs of the proletarian power, the workers’ councils.
With the exploiting class being thus deprived of all political rights, the dictatorship of the proletariat, that is to say, a system of class government and representation, will be realized. The suppression of parliamentarism is therefore a historic goal of the communist movement; still more, it is precisely representative democracy which is the first structure of bourgeois society which must be overthrown, before capitalist property, before even the bureaucratic and governmental State machinery.
3. The same goes for the municipal or communal institutions of the bourgeoisie, which are falsely regarded as liable to be opposed to the governmental organs. In fact their machinery is identical with the state mechanism of the bourgeoisie. They must also be destroyed by the revolutionary proletariat and replaced by local Soviets of the workers’ deputies.
4. While the executive, military and police machinery of the bourgeois State organizes direct action against the proletarian revolution, representative democracy constitutes a means of indirect defense which works by spreading among the masses the illusion that their emancipation can be attained through a peaceful process, and the illusion that the form of the proletarian State can also have a parliamentary basis with the right of representation for the bourgeois minority. The result of this democratic influence on the proletarian masses has been the corruption of the socialist movement of the Second International in the domain of theory as well as in that of action.
5. The task of Communists at the present moment in their work of ideological and material preparation for the revolution is above all to remove from the minds of the proletariat those illusions and prejudices, which have been spread with the complicity of the old social-democratic leaders in order to turn it away from its historical path. In the countries where a democratic regime has held sway for a long time and has penetrated deeply into the habits and mentality of the masses, no less than into the mentality of the traditional socialist parties, this work is of a very great importance and comes among the first problems of revolutionary preparation.
6. Possibilities of propaganda, agitation and criticism could be offered by participation in elections and in parliamentary activity during that period when, in the international proletarian movement, the conquest of power did not seem to be a possibility in the very near future, and when it was not yet a question of direct preparation for the realization of the dictatorship of the proletariat. On the other hand in a country where the bourgeois revolution is in course of progress and is creating new institutions, Communist intervention in the representative organs can offer the possibility of wielding an influence on the development of events in order to make the revolution end in victory for the proletariat.
7. The present historical period was opened by the end of the World War with its consequences for the social bourgeois organization, by the Russian Revolution which was the first realization of the conquest of power by the proletariat, and by the constitution of a new International in opposition to the socialdemocracy of the traitors. In this historical period, and in those countries where the democratic regime achieved its formation a long time ago, there is no possibility of using the parliamentary tribune for the communist revolutionary work, and the clarity of propaganda, no less than the efficiency of the preparation for the final struggle for the dictatorship, demand that Communists conduct an agitation for an election boycott by the workers.
8. In these historical conditions, where the main problem of the movement is the revolutionary conquest of power, the whole political activity of the class party must be devoted to this direct end. It is necessary to shatter the bourgeois lie according to which every clash between opposing political parties, every struggle for power, must necessarily take place within the framework of the democratic mechanism, that is through elections and parliamentary debates. We cannot succeed in destroying that lie without breaking with the traditional method of calling the workers to vote in elections side by side with members of the bourgeoisie, and without putting an end to the spectacle where the delegates of the proletariat act on the same parliamentary ground as the delegates of its exploiters.
9. The dangerous idea that all political action consists of electoral and parliamentary action has already been spread too widely by the ultraparliamentary practice of the traditional socialist parties. On the other hand, the distaste of the proletariat for the treacherous practice has lent favourable ground to the mistakes of syndicalism and anarchism which deny all value of party’s political action and role. For that reason the Communist parties will never obtain great success in propagandizing the revolutionary Marxist method if the severing of all contacts with the machinery of bourgeois democracy is not put at the basis of their work for the dictatorship of the proletariat and the workers’ councils.
10. In spite of all the public speeches and all the theoretical statements, the very great importance which is attached in practice to the electoral campaign and its results, and the fact that for a long period the party has to devote to that cause all its means and all its resources in men, in the press, and even in money, helps to strengthen the feeling that this is the true central activity to achieve the aims of communism; on the other hand, it leads to complete cessation of the work of revolutionary organization and preparation. It gives to the party organization a technical character quite in opposition to the requirements of revolutionary work, legal as well as illegal.
11. For the parties which have gone over, by a majority resolution, to the Third International, the allowance of the continuation of electoral action prevents the necessary sorting out and elimination of social-democratic elements, without which the Third International would fail in its historic role, and would no longer be a disciplined and homogeneous army of the worldwide revolution.
12. The very nature of the debates which have parliament and other democratic organs for their theatre excludes every possibility of passing from a criticism of the policy of the opposing parties, to a propaganda against the very principle of parliamentarism, and to an action which would overstep parliamentary rules – just as it would not be possible to get the right to speak if we refused to submit to all the formalities established by electoral procedure. Success in the parliamentary fencing will always depend only on the skill in handling the common weapon of the principles on which the institution itself is based, and in dealing with the tricks of parliament procedure – just as the success in the electoral struggle will always be judged only by the number of votes or seats obtained.
Every effort of the Communist parties to give a completely different character to the practice of parliamentarism cannot but lead to failure the energies spent in that Sisyphean labour, whereas the cause of the Communist revolution calls these energies without delay on the terrain of the direct attack against the regime of capitalist exploitation
Third (Communist) International
Second Congress 1920
PRESENTED BY THE COMMUNIST ABSTENTIONIST FRACTION OF THE ITALIAN SOCIALIST PARTY