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I. S. Stand For ... Confusion

“Socialist Worker”, the weekly paper of the International Socialists, regularly publishes a statement of their main principles called “What We Stand For”.(1) We would expect this organization to stand for Socialism. Surprisingly, Socialism is nowhere defined in the statement and it only appears as a word upon which various people and organizations have placed many different interpretations. Still it is possible to get some idea of what IS stand for by a careful reading of their statement. It is also possible to get very confused. For instance, the statement starts off:

    "We believe that socialism can only be achieved by the independent action of the working class."

Whereas, the last part says they are

    "For the building of a mass workers’ revolutionary party . . . which can lead the working class to power . . ."

    (our emphasis both times)

Now, unless the workers are supposed to be getting power for something other than Socialism, it is simply ridiculous to say that someone who is being led is taking independent action. Could IS tell us which statement they stand for and which is this week’s deliberate mistake? It would also be interesting to know just how large a “mass” the workers of this “revolutionary party” are to be. Presumably, if it attracted too many workers the working class would be leading themselves!

The second part of the statement reads:

    "We believe in overthrowing capitalism, not patching it up or gradually trying to change it. We therefore support all struggles of workers against capitalism and fight to break the hold of reformist ideas and leaders."

We would wholeheartedly agree with this although we wonder if they only mean reformist leaders in the last bit. However, IS don’t appear to agree with this part of the statement themselves. Later on they say they are:

    "Against unemployment, redundancies and lay-offs. Instead we demand five days’ work or five days’ pay, and the 35-hour week. For nationalization without compensation under workers’ control."

What is this if it is not an appeal to patch up capitalism? No form of nationalization ever has or could solve the problem of unemployment in capitalism. This is a strange way to fight reformist ideas. As another example, at the two general elections this year they have supported the return of a Labour government. This is despite acknowledging (although their election posters made no mention of the fact) that such a government would be anti-working class and reformist. This is another strange way of supporting all struggles of workers against capitalism and fighting reformist ideas. Again, perhaps IS could explain?

The fifth part of the IS statement at least gives us some idea of what they stand for. It contains the sentence:

    "The experience of Russia demonstrates that a socialist revolution cannot survive in isolation on one country."

This holds the definite implication that a Socialist revolution took place there. So, we must go back to the Russia of 1917 to find out what they mean by a Socialist revolution. There, in a backward, predominantly agrarian country which was collapsing under the strains of a modern twentieth century war, the Bolsheviks took power in a minority insurrection. They did so on the promise that they would provide “Peace, Bread and Land” and not Socialism. The Bolsheviks had also expressed the wildly optimistic hope that the workers of other countries would follow their example and take power also. When these workers, who at the time were butchering each other in defence of their masters’ interests, did not do so any hope of establishing Socialism was obviously futile. In this situation, which could have been predicted from the start, the Bolsheviks consolidated their position by establishing a dictatorship which suppressed all opposition and under Lenin’s guidance, embarked on a program me of state capitalism.

If this is the IS idea of a Socialist revolution it is easier to understand their opposition to parliamentary democracy with an almost universal franchise and their preference for soviets (or “councils of workplace delegates” as they put it) which have at best only a haphazard democracy. Their stated reasons are that

    "The state machine is a weapon of capitalist class rule and therefore must be smashed. The present parliament, army, police and judges cannot simply be taken over and used by the working class."

True, the state machine is a weapon of the ruling class but there is little logic in saying that because someone uses something as a weapon then nobody else can use that weapon. And of course the present parliament, army, etc. cannot simply be taken over and used by the working class. In the words of Engels:

    ". . . the victorious proletariat must first refashion the old bureaucratic, administratively centralized state power before it can use if for its own purpose . . .(2)"

The IS preference for soviets may also be due to the fact that they are less representative and thus provide a better opportunity for a minority to come to power as the Bolsheviks did. It is to be hoped that IS have a greater love for democracy than their counterparts of 1917 who dissolved the first and last completely democratically elected Russian assembly (the Constituent Assembly of 1918) when they found they were in the minority.

To return to the point about “the independent action of the working class”. The statement also says that

    "To achieve socialism the most militant sections of the working class have to be organized into a revolutionary socialist party . . ."

Taken in conjunction with the apparent endorsement of the Bolsheviks’ tactics this would seem to indicate that IS hold the Leninist “vanguard” theory. This theory says that far from taking independent action for Socialism, the mass of the present working class will never understand Socialism anyway and will have to be led by professional revolutionaries who will introduce it from above. Whatever way you look at it, the IS statement is either confused or dishonest. Quite possibly it is a mixture of both as any "vanguard" can only survive on the confusion of its followers.

The Socialist Party, in contrast to IS, has a clear line on what Socialism is, and how it will be achieved. Socialism will be a society in which all the means by which wealth is produced and distributed will be under the common ownership and democratic control of the whole community. Of necessity, it will be a worldwide system because the means of production and distribution are worldwide. There will be no wage or price system as things will be produced solely for use and not for sale. People will work to the best of their ability and take according to their needs. The nature of Socialism shows that it can only be achieved by the conscious and independent action of a clear majority. It is the job of Socialists to help build that majority. We do not deprecate the struggles of workers but we insist that they must understand the class basis of those struggles. Without that consciousness all their efforts will eventually be futile.

Once Socialists are in the majority they will have to get hold of the state machinery to prevent it being used against them. Socialist delegates elected to the various assemblies of the capitalist nation-states by a Socialist working class would have this control, and would leave any recalcitrant capitalists in a virtually helpless position. The capitalist class only maintain their order with the active support or acquiescence of the workers. Once they lose this and are faced with an organized, uncompromising working class it will be plain to all what they are—a socially useless, parasitic minority living off the backs of the workers.

Con Friel

(1) The quotations in this article are taken from the statement as it appeared on 24 August, 1974.

(2) Extract of a letter from Engels to Bernstein on 1 January, 1884.