The Establishment of Socialism
Socialism is a society in which all social affairs, including the production and distribution of wealth will be democratically controlled by the people as a whole. There will be no ruling class nor any permanent administrative élite but rather the active participation of all the people, at all levels and in all fields, in the planning and running of their various common affairs.
This is why Socialism can only be established democratically, both in the sense of being what the vast majority want and in the sense of being established by their own democratically-organised action. Any attempt by a minority to establish Socialism is bound to fail because, without a population who want to participate in social decision-making themselves and not leave it to an élite, the minority would be forced to become the exclusive decision-makers and eventually a new ruling class. The very fact that only a minority wanted Socialism would be a sign that Socialism was not yet possible. Indeed, the fact that a minority should think it could establish Socialism before a majority wanted it would show that they didn’t understand the full implication of Socialism themselves and so were not really Socialists.
A look at the various theories of minority, or minority-led, action to establish ‘socialism’ — essentially Lenin’s Bolshevism and its various offshoots, Stalinism, Trotskyism, Maoism, Castroism, etc. — confirms that in practice these were the ideologies of would-be national ruling classes aiming to industrialize economically backward parts of the world through a policy of state capitalism, mistakenly called ‘socialism’. Their tactics — vanguard party, violent insurrection, ruthless measures against the old rulers and all opponents — are thus quite irrelevant for a genuine Socialist movement, though superficially attractive to those who want radical social change yet despair of ever winning over a currently indifferent or conservative-minded working class. In the unlikely event of them being successful in some highly industrialised country the outcome would be some form of state capitalism, certainly not Socialism.
Any adequate theory as to how to establish Socialism must have as its basic premise that this must be the work of a democratically-organised, socialist-minded working class majority. That the socialist revolution, in other words, must be a majority revolution. Let us follow through the implications of this.
The State machine, being both the public power of coercion and the centre of social administration, must be taken over before capitalism can be abolished and Socialism established, first to prevent it being used to resist this change and, secondly, in order to centrally co-ordinate it. This would not be denied by many of those who advocate minority action. But from here on a basic difference emerges. They repudiate the policy of trying to convince, by peaceful persuasion, a majority to join them in their struggle; in short, they reject democratic methods. Instead they favour minority action, first to disrupt society and undermine the majority-supported government and, then, to take advantage of the resulting social and political instability to seize government power themselves in an armed uprising.
Those who realise that the Socialist revolution can only be a majority revolution have no need to consider such a method of winning State power (which would almost certainly fail anyway with the loss of many innocent working class lives). Once capitalist conditions, including the persuasive efforts of a one-time Socialist minority, have created a Socialist majority the question is: What is the easiest method of winning control of the State?
In the most advanced capitalist parts of the world, such as Britain, where economic circumstances and working class pressure have forced the ruling class to grant a certain degree of political democracy, the answer is obvious. Use the existing political institutions which provide for members of parliament, local councillors and other public offices to be elected by universal suffrage, limited and incomplete as these institutions are from the point of view of democratic theory.
This would involve the Socialist majority organising themselves as a political party, but one completely different both from existing parliamentary parties and from Leninist vanguard parties. The workers’ socialist party must be democratic through and through: its policy and all its activities must be under the complete control of its members and it must have no leader or leaders. Being the actual movement of the working class to establish Socialism it must reflect, as far as is possible under capitalism, the organisational forms of Socialism, namely, democratic control and popular participation. And far from being a vanguard party seeking to lead the working class with attractive slogans, is would merely be the instrument they can use to win political power once a majority of them have become Socialists.
Naturally, such a party would have to appoint candidates to contest the elections for public offices. But those appointed would simply be mandated delegates from the working-class Socialist majority. The position would be the exact reverse of that in existing, parliamentary parties. Instead of the party outside Parliament being essentially only vote-catchers for the parliamentary leadership, Socialist MPs and councillors would merely be the messenger boys of the Socialist working class outside Parliament, democratically-organised in their Socialist political party. And, of course, the aim of sending Socialist delegates to Parliament would not be to form a ‘socialist government’ (a contradiction in terms) but to abolish capitalism as smoothly and peaceably as possible.
Once in control of State power the Socialist majority can abolish the capitalist class’s monopoly over the means of production by making them the common property of the whole community under the democratic control of all the people. And the State machine — as a public power of coercion — would be abolished by its coercive institutions (the armed forces, police, law courts, jails) being dismantled. The remaining administrative institutions (health, education, the State-run industries) would be fully democratised and extended to cover all industries. This done, the centre of social administration has ceased to be a ‘State’, properly so-called, and become simply an unarmed clearing-house for democratically settling social affairs.
Socialism will have been established.