Why Socialists aren’t part of the Left
When someone comes across the Socialist Party for the first time, a common reaction is to consider us as just another left-wing political organisation. From one point of view this is not surprising, as the left use similar terminology to us, talking of Socialism, class struggle, exploitation, etc, and invoking Karl Marx. But digging a little deeper will show that our political position is very different from that of the left. By ‘the left’ we mean the Socialist Workers Party, the Workers Revolutionary Party, the Socialist Labour Party, all the groups with a name that’s a variation on Communist Party, Militant (dishonestly using the name ‘Socialist Party’), and the Scottish Socialist Party, among others. All quotations in this article are taken from the websites of the organisations referred to.
The first difference is that of our aims, the kind of society we wish to see established. Socialists are quite clear and uncompromising on this — our aim is a society without wages, money, countries or governments, based on common ownership of the means of production (land, factories, offices, etc.). Production would be for use, not profit, and there would be free access to what had been produced. The result is quite simple: no poverty, no homelessness, no starvation, no war. Such a society would be fully democratic, with no ruling class or vested interests.
Do the left stand for this kind of society? The simple answer is No. Militant, for instance, say they wish to ‘take into public ownership the top 150 companies, banks and building societies that dominate the economy, under democratic working-class control and management.’ Forget the rhetoric about democratic control — this is a recipe for state-run capitalism. Socialism, as a moneyless society, will have no need for banks or building societies. In general, in fact, the left stand for a version of capitalism where the state is the main employer. This makes no difference to members of the working class, who still have to work for wages, but will now be exploited by the state and those who run it rather than by private capitalists. The left are admirers of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, which ushered in over 70 years of state capitalism and a police state. They differ on when and why they think things ‘went wrong’ in Russia, but they all support the regime established in 1917.
It’s true that there are minor variations on the theme of state-run capitalism. The SSP, for instance, advocates ‘the break-up of the British state and the creation of a free Scottish socialist republic.’ But a single Socialist country in a hostile capitalist world is just impossible, and this quote just reveals that the SSP aim is state capitalism — Scottish state capitalism. Many of the left are in fact nationalistic in one way or another.
It is also true that some left-wing organisations pay lip service to the idea of a moneyless society. The CPGB, for example, refers to ‘communism — a system which knows neither wars, exploitation, money, classes, states nor nations.’ But, like the rest of the left, this is for them a paper aim that bears no relation to their everyday activity or the ideas set out in their publications. They make no effort to explain how Socialist/Communist society would work, and no effort to convince workers of the advantages of such a way of organising things. Instead they combine a set of immediate demands with the aim of a so-called proletarian dictatorship, which in reality means state-run capitalism.
This takes us on to a further point. In spite of all their revolutionary posturing and calls for a fundamental change in society, the left actually devote their time to chasing reforms of capitalism. If you look at the programmes or manifestos of left-wing parties, you will find them full of reforms of a wide variety of types. A random list of examples: ‘Right to retirement from age 60 for all workers’ (CPGB); ‘a Scottish Service Tax — a fair alternative to the council tax that will make the rich pay their share’ (SSP); ‘An immediate 50% increase in the pension as a step towards a living pension for all pensioners’ (Militant); ‘Renationalise the railways’ (WRP).
The left generally draw a distinction between ‘immediate demands’ such as those just listed and longer-term goals. We’ve already seen that the longer-term goals in any case involve a continuation of capitalism, but they are usually given second place to the short-term demands. The justification normally provided is that fighting on the immediate demands will win workers over to the longer-term ideas of the organisation. ‘The struggle for reforms can tip over into revolution. Battles for reforms are vital preparation for social revolution’ (SWP). But no evidence is offered for such a position, and the task of revolutionaries is not to jump on the bandwagon of reforms but to expose their inadequacies, to show that reforms cannot solve working-class problems. Indeed, some left-wing groups deliberately and dishonestly go for short-term aims that they know cannot be met under capitalism, as a way of fuelling working-class discontent. In other words, they deliberately lie to workers as a way of getting them into their party!
Lastly, Socialists differ from the left in our attitude to leadership and democracy. Socialism will be democratic, with all having an equal say in how things are run; it follows that the movement for Socialism must be democratic too. The Socialist Party has no leaders and is run by its membership. We have an executive committee, elected each year by ballot of the members; their role is not to make policy but to administer the Party in accordance with decisions made by members. The left, however, adopt a Leninist view and support leadership: they see themselves as leaders of the working class, and are organised internally with a division between an inner circle of leaders and ‘ordinary’ members. For instance, they see the need for ‘authoritative and influential leaders who have been steeled over a long period of time’ (CPGB). Most left-wing groups do not operate as cults (see the November Socialist Standard), but they still have a distinction between rank-and-file members and the leadership. They are often rather coy about their role as would-be leaders, but as Leninists they all support the idea of a vanguard. A leadership-based organisation is not going to be any use in establishing an egalitarian society without leaders. But, as we’ve said, that’s not what the left aim for anyway.
The left, then, stand for state-run capitalism rather than Socialism; they advocate reforms rather than revolution; they are in favour of leadership rather than democracy. The Socialist Party, in contrast, does not aim at reforming capitalism but at replacing it by a new democratic way of organising the world, Socialism, brought about by a revolution, and we do not see ourselves as leaders. It should be clear that the Socialist Party is quite unlike the left wing, and that we are definitely and for good reason not part of the left.