Review: Parliament or Democracy?

Modern government is based on the idea that we elect the great and the good to rule over us, trusting that they have our best interests at heart and that they are wise and good enough to know what's needed. We elect our representatives based on their policies and promises, and trust that once in power, they'll do as promised and carry out our wishes.

One of the main problems with this system is that the people we elect, once in power are separated from those that elected them and are under no obligation to do what they said. Indeed governments and politicians are, legally, perfectly entitled to do quite the opposite.

Representative democracy removes people's direct control over their own lives and replaces it with the governance of an elite.

In this pamphlet Kevin Doyle traces the establishment of parliamentary democracy and shows how after events like the English Civil War and the French Revolution it was developed as a mechanism for control by the 'responsible elements' of society.

After all, once the 'divine right' of kings to rule was abolished a new problem became apparent: if royalty were no longer entitled to rule then who was? If full equality was brought in, then, since the poor outnumbered the rich, wouldn't they be in a position to end the privilege of the latter?

The solution to this problem was the 'qualified' vote, whereby access to the vote was curtailed using any arbitrary difference - sex, race, possession of property etc. In this way the vote was restricted to those sections of society that acted 'maturely', i.e. they had an interest in society remaining as it was.

Never conceded, the power to elect new masters had to be fought for. Social Democratic Parties worked mainly to extend the vote, and this became the priority of large sections of the left. Once representation in Parliament was achieved the job of building socialism fell into the 'capable' hands of the parliamentary socialists.

The emergence of parliamentary socialism alienated the working class from it's own independent means of bringing about change. A tokenistic form of democracy became the order of the day - a definite achievement for the 'rich and privileged'. More radical democratic ideas such as direct democracy and direct action, which were a threat to the social order, were successfully sidelined and mostly ignored.

Finally in the last chapter Doyle sketches a picture of the libertarian alternative to representative democracy - direct democracy, which flourished for a while in revolutionary Spain (1930's), where there was a radical working class which refused support for a political party and which relied on its own power to change society.

Throughout the history of parliaments there have been 'radical' candidates for election who promise to change society, once we put them into power. This pamphlet goes some way towards explaining why such candidates can't create effective change and puts forward the anarchist idea that without volunteering any of our power away we have the ability to effect real change.

Brian Skinner

Read it online at

This page is from the print version of the Irish Anarchist paper 'Workers Solidarity'. We also provide PDF files of all our publications for you to print out and distribute locally

Print out the PDF file of this issue

Print out the PDF file of the most recent issue

As well as writting a letter to us at WSM, PO Box 1528, Dublin 8 you can also comment on any of the articles in this issue at

You can find out when new issues of the paper come out by joining the Ainriail list

This edition is No70 published in June 2002

WS cover