Statement to a Conference of German Workers in Augsburg (September 1969)
1. We state below some of the principles on which, from our point of view, a genuine socialist party must be based and we hope by making a useful contribution to your discussions. We have divided our report into three parts:
IIPath to Socialism
IIIReform Capitalism .
2. A socialist party must first be clear that Socialism is a system of society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments of production and distribution and in the interest of the entire community. Socialism is a world community without frontiers, where wealth will be produced solely for use. Buying and selling, and with it prices, wages, money, profits and banks will disappear. Instead, everybody will have free access from the common store according to their needs. Socialism is a fully democratic society. The coercive state machine of class society will be replaced by the simple democratic administration of society’s affairs.
3. Government ownership of industry, or nationalisation, is state capitalism. In state-run industries workers are still exploited for profit through the wages system and still need to organise into unions and to strike to protect their interests. Nationalised industries are run on capitalist lines producing wealth for sale. They have nothing in at all to do with Socialism.
4. Socialism and Communism are not different systems of society ; both describe the same society based on the social or common ownership of the means of production. The false distinction which sees Socialism as a stage in social evolution between capitalism to Communism is a fabrication of Lenin‘s.
5. Russia is not and never has been a socialist society. Its social system has all the essential features of capitalism, viz., class monopoly of the means of production, class rule through the state, the wages system, capital accumulation and production for profit. Russian society is best described as state capitalism.
6. The 1917 revolution was not a working class or socialist revolution . It was merely the Russian equivalent of the English Revolution of 1688 and the French Revolution of 1789. Like them, it brought to power a class whose task was to clear away the obstacles to the further development of a market economy based on wages and profits, i.e. capitalism. Despite their socialist talk, the Bolsheviks had to develop capitalism in Russia. No matter how ruthless their dictatorship, they could not overcome the laws of social evolution which said that Russia, as a backward country with a predominantly peasant economy, was ripe only for capitalism and not for Socialism.
7. Nor has Socialism been established anywhere else, not in East Europe, China, Yugoslavia or Cuba for instance. The “socialism” of the privileged rulers of these states is ultimately derived from the Lenin-Stalin distortion. Their policy of national state capitalism has nothing in common with genuine Socialism.
8. The various parties so-called Communist Parties of the world are not socialist organisations, but have functioned primarily as overseas agents of the Russian capitalist class and its government.
II. The Path to Socialism
9. Socialism can only be established by the majority political action of a working class that wants and understands it. To establish Socialism, the working class must first win control of political power and to do this they must organise as a political party.
10. That the majority must want and understand Socialism has been a principle which has distinguished us from all other parties who have claimed to be socialists. The Social Democrats did indeed that they wanted majority backing but did not insist that this be of a socialist nature while the Bolsheviks never believed that it was even possible for a majority to reach socialist understanding.
11. Once the nature of Socialism, as a free society based on voluntary work and free access to all the fruits of that work, is grasped, that it can only be set up by conscious majority action should be obvious. The voluntary cooperation and social responsibility that Socialism demands cannot be imposed by a minority of leaders; the people must cooperate to make it work because they want to.
12. This is why leadership is an anti-socialist principle. Once again, Lenin’s pernicious influence on working class political thought is evident. For he believed that by themselves workers could only reach a trade unionist or reformist political consciousness and that socialist understanding had to be brought to them by leaders, his “vanguard party”. As a result Lenin’s conception of the socialist revolution — a conscious minority leading a discontented majority by means of well-chosen slogans in an assault on the state, smashing it and building another with the conscious minority as the new rulers — was a caricature of the bourgeois revolution. In fact, Bolshevism is really a twentieth century theory for bourgeois revolutions in peasant countries.
13. Lenin’s pamphlet The State and Revolution is a gross distortion of Marx’s views on the state in which he tries to demonstrate that Marx argued that workers should stage an armed rising against the “bourgeois” state and then construct a “socialist” state in its place. To us (as for Marx), the phrase a “socialist state” is a contradiction in terms. Where there is Socialism there is no state ; where there is a state there is no Socialism.
14. Traditionally, the discussion on peaceful versus violent methods to achieve power for Socialism has been conducted between people who were all committed to minority action in one form or another — the Bolsheviks, the Social Democrats and the anarchists. To us, as advocates of majority action, such a debate is largely academic, but we can readily admit that a minority has much more need to resort to violence to achieve power as than a majority .
15. The discussion takes a completely different dimension when based on the recognition that first there must be a majority of convinced Socialists. For, with majority socialist understanding, violence is unnecessary, unless the pro-capitalists resort to it . The socialist majority can use universal suffrage both to show that it is a majority and to send its delegates to parliament and local councils, thus gaining control of the state machine.
16. We maintain that the further development of the economic and political trends Marx himself saw as making for a peaceful revolution has made the barricade and the street battle outmoded as a revolutionary tactic. In modern political conditions — the overwhelming numerical superiority of the working class, universal suffrage, political democracy, an army and civil service recruited from the workers — the working class can, and should, use elections and parliament as the way to winning power for Socialism. A socialist party should contest elections whenever it can, but only on a socialist programme. Where there are no socialist candidates, the party should advocate the casting of blank or spoiled voting papers and never engage in anarchist-type anti-election propaganda.
17. The anarcho-syndicalist idea of a general strike of industrial unions as a means of overthrowing capitalist rule is obviously impractical since it leaves the means to crush any such strike, the state machine, in the hands of the capitalists.
18. Much the same can be said of the use of Soviets or workers’ councils as an alternative to parliament. After 1917 Lenin (somewhat hypocritically since he knew that the Bolsheviks had seized power not through the Soviets but through a well-planned military coup in which the Soviets were used only as a facade) proclaimed that in the Soviets the specific method of working class emancipation had at last been discovered. But the soviets were only, as was pointed out in a brilliant series of articles by the Russian Menshevik Martov, an expression of the lack of political development in Russia. Tsarist oppression was so far-reaching that once it was ended the workers and peasants had to create makeshift institutions to express and carry out their wishes; in more developed political conditions this would have been unnecessary since such institutions, in trade unions, political parties and local councils, would already have been in existence.
III. Reform of Capitalism
19. The party which the working class will use as an instrument for winning political control must be organised on a democratic basis. Control of policy and administration must be entirely in the hands of its members; there must be no leaders and those chosen to carry out various functions must be answerable to the membership. There must be the fullest opportunity for free discussion of party policy. Such is the basis of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
20. At some stage in the development of the socialist movement in each country socialists must organise as a party, with its own rules and democratic discipline, in place of the discussion groups and journals or educational societies they may at first find convenient.
21. Since a political party can only be what its members are, if a socialist party is to remain such it must recruit only socialists to its ranks. This is especially necessary in a democratic party where all members have an equal say in forming policy. Passing a test of basic socialist knowledge should be a condition for joining the party.
22. Again in order to remain socialist, the party must only seek support on a socialist programme. Inevitably, hi present circumstances, this will result in the party being comparatively small, but there is no other sound way to build a genuine socialist party. This is shown by the fate of Social Democratic parties all over Europe which, despite an original paper commitment to Socialism as an “ultimate aim”, admitted non-socialists to membership and sought votes on a programme of capitalist reforms rather than of Socialism. In order to retain their non-socialist support they themselves were forced to drop their talk of Socialism and to become ever more openly reformist. Today the Social Democratic parties are as firmly committed to capitalism, in theory as well as in practice, as those who have never pretended otherwise. We say this was the inevitable result of admitting non-socialists and of advocating reforms of capitalism.
23. This is why we have always advocated Socialism alone and never reforms of capitalism. We are not saying that all reforms are anti-working class, but that for a socialist party to advocate reforms would be its first step towards becoming a reformist party.
24. This is one of the important points on which we disagree with Rosa Luxemburg. In her Reform or Revolution she presents a good case against reformism but still argues that socialists should advocate reforms on the ground that socialist understanding will grow out of the struggle for reforms. We submit that experience has proved her wrong.. It does not matter why pr how reforms are advocated the result is the same : confusion of working class thought rather than growth of socialist understanding.
25. Rosa Luxemburg was wrong on a number of other points, for instance, her economics of the collapse of capitalism. Capitalism will never collapse of its own accord, as she suggested, it will stagger on from crisis to crisis till the working class consciously organise to bring it to an end. She was wrong too on “spontaneity” when she suggested that “mass action” often failed because of the conservative and restraining role of the parties the workers supported rather than on the non-socialist ideas of the workers themselves. Nevertheless, we recognise that on a number of other points like reformism, Bolshevism, the first world war slaughter and nationalism she reached much the same conclusions as us.
26. A socialist party must oppose nationalism in all its forms and refuse to compromise with it in any way. Talk of “Socialism in Germany” or “Czechoslovakia for the Czechs and Slovaks” is dangerous nonsense. Socialists should always make clear that the workers have no country and that Socialism can only exist on a world scale.
27. A socialist party must also expose religion and its role as a prop for class society. Religion tries to prevent the spread of a scientific view of the world, man and his history and must be opposed by a clear statement of the case for scientific materialism. However, a socialist party should not get bogged down in mere anti-clericalism by advocating such reforms as the separation of Church and State or secular education.
28. There are many other aspects of our case we should like to have presented (such as on war, fascism, anarchism, trade unionism, whether a transition period is still needed) but this statement is already long enough. We invite you to send us any comments and criticisms on what we have written above and to ask for our views on any subject we have not been able to cover.
Yours for Socialism,
THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE,
The Socialist Party of Great Britain