I recently read the 100th anniversary issue of the Socialist Standard and I wish to congratulate you for maintaining the case for socialism for a century and not falling into the traps which have ensnared so many who claimed to be socialist, such as reformism, industrial unionism, defence of state capitalism and taking sides in wars.
I have, however, two minor points of disagreement I wish to address and would like your views.
The Socialist Party contends that once having captured political power, a socialist majority is then in control of the armed forces. In fact in, I believe 1955, an article in the Socialist Standard stated: “Should a violent minority attempt to destroy socialism they would have to be forcibly dealt with . . . no violent minority could be allowed to obstruct the will of the majority.”
In my view the capitalist class controls the armed forces if they also control parliament then the services can receive their orders from the capitalists’ political errand boys and, in some cases, girls. Spain in 1936 was a clear cut case of parliament not being in control of the army and air force. I consider this is a minor point because if the majority of the working class are socialists then it logically follows that most workers in the armed forces will also be and, as such, will refuse to attack fellow socialists.
Another minor point concerns the resolution about political democracy that was debated at the 1990 conference. Though it is understandable that certain improvements within capitalism are desirable, isn’t openly stating the Socialist Party’s support for such, inviting support from non-socialists who also welcome such improvement. Doesn’t such a thing smack of reformism?
STEVE SHANNON, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
The capitalist class can indeed be said to “control” parliament, the government and the armed forces but this is not to be taken literally: there is no direct line of command, public or secret, between the Confederation of British Industry and the chiefs of the armed forces or the cabinet or parliament. The CBI in fact has to lobby the government and MPs just like any other pressure group.
Capitalist control is much more indirect since it’s a question of the government, parliament and the voters accepting capitalism and of capitalism being able to function only in the interests of the capitalist class, meaning that governments have no choice but to pursue policies, including how the armed forces are used, that are in the interest of the capitalist class. That’s why they end up being mere “errand boys and girls” for the capitalist class, not because they take direct orders from them. Since in fact the capitalist class is not a monolithic bloc but is made up of sections with differing interests over trade, taxation, etc they require a forum in which to debate and settle such differences; that forum is not the annual conference of the CBI but parliament where the section that has the support of a parliamentary majority gets its way.
In all developed capitalist countries, such as Britain and Canada, the government does firmly control the armed forces. It is only in economically backward countries (such as Spain in the 1930s and even there a part of the armed forces did obey the government – that’s why there was a civil war) where the armed forces can play an independent political role. As capitalism develops in these countries, together with a stronger and more self-confident capitalist class, the pressure arises to tell the armed forces to stay out of politics and to bring them under parliamentary control.
Capitalist control of parliament, the government and the armed forces depends, then, in developed capitalist countries, on the base of the structure – the voters, the overwhelming majority of whom are workers – accepting capitalism. When this base rejects capitalism then the structure that guarantees the capitalist class control of the government and the armed forces is bound to collapse one way or another. Our strategy is that the socialist-minded working class majority should try to bring this about with a minimum of social disruption and violence, by sending a majority of socialist delegates – socialist errand boys and girls – to parliament and take over political control, so depriving the capitalist class of the possibility of using the armed forces to protect themselves.
If a minority of recalcitrant pro-capitalists were to seek to resort to violence to defy the politically-expressed will of the majority for socialism, obviously they would have to be dealt with, as we pointed out in 1955. But, frankly, we don’t see that, faced with a socialist majority legitimately in control of political power, even the top brass of the armed forces, let alone the rank and file (who will, as you point out, also be influenced by socialist ideas) would throw in their lot with a doomed hypothetical revolt by a recalcitrant pro-capitalists minority.
As to the question of the importance of political democracy to the working class, obviously we socialists in places like Britain and Canada where this exists can’t be indifferent to the struggles of our fellow workers to get it in places where it doesn’t yet exist. This is just an expression of solidarity with our fellow workers in struggle, and not at all a bid to attract the support of non-socialists and so not in the least reformist.