The fact of the longevity of the World Socialist Movement as a political organisation based on agreed goals, methods and organisational principles seems to suggest that we indeed represent some strand of socialist thought that some people are drawn towards. One cannot talk with workers unless one is WITH them. It is not enough to be one OF them.
We welcome any upsurge in the militancy and resistance and organisation of our class. But we also know, from bitter experience, that work of an altogether quieter, patient, more political kind is also needed. The skirmishes in the class war must be fought if we are not to be reduced to beasts of burden. But as human animals capable of rational thought and long-term planning, we must also seek to stop the skirmishes by winning the class war, and thereby ending it. This is only possible if the capitalist class is dispossessed of its wealth and power. That means that the working class as a whole must understand the issues, and organise and fight for these ends themselves. We say it has to be by organising a political party for the conquest of state power.
What we steadfast state is that to achieve socialism requires a clear understanding of socialist principles with a determined desire to put them into practice. For socialism to be established the mass of the people must understand the nature and purpose of the new society. Our theory of socialist revolution is grounded in Marx’s – the position of the working class within capitalist society forces it to struggle against capitalist conditions of existence and as the workers gained more experience of the class struggle and the workings of capitalism, the labour movement would become more consciously socialist and democratically organised by the workers themselves and would require no intervention by people outside the working class to bring it. Socialist propaganda and agitation would indeed be necessary but would be carried out by workers themselves whose socialist ideas would have been derived from an interpretation of their class experience of capitalism. The end result would be an independent movement of the socialist-minded and democratically organised working class aimed at winning control of political power in order to abolish capitalism.
A person’s acceptance of capitalist political and social ideas, like their other ideas, is learned from other people, their parents, their school-teachers and college tutors, their co-workers, the media and to a far lesser extent these days from the pulpit and so derived from society so it follows therefore that the struggle against capitalist ideology must be also be a struggle to spread socialist ideas – a role taken on by the World Socialist Movement.
Socialist ideas arise when workers begin to reflect on the general position of the working class within capitalist society. They do then have to be communicated to other workers, but NOT from outside the working class as a whole. They have to be communicated by OTHER workers who, from their own experience and/or from absorbing the past experience of the working class, have come to a socialist understanding. It’s not a question of enlightened outsiders bringing socialist ideas to the ignorant but of socialist-minded workers spreading socialist ideas among their fellow-workers. We see socialist consciousness as emerging from a combination of two things – people’s experience of capitalism and the problems it inevitably creates but also the activity of socialists in making hearing the case for socialism a part of that experience.
We regard socialism not as a purely political theory or economic doctrine, but as one which embraces every phase of social life.
The World Socialist Movement are not against co-ops, trade unions, or any other ways in which workers struggle. What we do say, is that these are not means towards socialism, and we advocate socialism as the better and lasting answer.
The World Socialist Movement have always stood for the argument that what will be necessary is a world-wide socialist revolution, not one country in isolation.Ideas are social, artificial national borders cannot contain them. The World Socialist Movement can be proud of its long history in exposing the oxymoron of the “workers state” and attacking the concepts of Leninism (and its off-springs, Stalinism and Trotskyism).
The World Socialist Movement has never been in the business to win popularity contests and jump on any old band-wagon for the sake of recruitment and many of the political organisations that did have disappeared, having had no lasting impact. Events have only confirmed our case that understanding is a necessary condition for socialism, not desperation and despair. There is no easier road to socialism than the education of the workers in socialism and their organisation to establish it by democratic methods. Short-cuts have proved to be dead-ends. Until the knowledge and experience of the working class are equal to the task of revolution there can be no emancipation.
The World Socialist Movement does not minimise the necessity and importance of the worker keeping up the struggle over wages or to resisting cuts. There are some signs that union membership and general militancy are rising. And let’s not forget that this is vital if our class is to develop some of the solidarity and self-confidence essential for the final abolition of wage slavery. We recognise the necessity of workers’ solidarity in the class struggle against the capitalist class, and rejoice in every victory for the workers to assert their economic power. But to struggle for higher wages and better conditions is not revolutionary in any true sense of the word; and the essential weapons in this struggle are not inherently revolutionary either. It demands the revolutionising of the workers themselves. If there were more revolutionary workers in the unions—and in society generally—then the unions and the host of other community organisations would have a more revolutionary outlook,
This does not mean that we say workers should sit back and do nothing, the struggle over wages and conditions must go on. But it becomes clear that this is a secondary, defensive activity. The real struggle is to take the means of wealth production and distribution into the common ownership. Only by conscious and democratic action will such a socialist system of society be established. This means urging workers to want something more than what they once thought was “enough”. The World Socialist Movement is accused of wanting “too much” because our aim is free access and common ownership. Our task is to show workers that in fact it is a practical proposition. To transform this desire into an immediacy for the working class.
Participation in the class struggle does not automatically make workers class conscious. Militancy on the industrial field is just that and does not necessarily lead to political militancy, but ebbs and flows as labour market conditions change – and militants in the work-places can in no way count on their supporters on the political field. Yet one school of thought in the working class political movement sees strikes, particularly the unofficial wildcat kind, as bona fide rebellions, not only against the labour leaders, but against the capitalist system itself. This school views it as the beginnings of a real rank and file movement which will eventually result in the workers throwing out the union bureaucrats, taking over the factories, establishing workers’ councils and ultimately a “workers society” based on these councils. We beg to differ.
Another school of thought believes industrial militancy can be used as a lever to push the workers along a political road, towards their “emancipation.” How is this possible if the workers do not understand the political road, and are only engaging in economic struggles? The answer is the “leaders in-the-know” who will direct the workers. But these leaders lead the workers in the wrong direction, toward the wrong goals (nationalisation and state capitalism), as the workers find out to their sorrow.
The World Socialist Movement approach of education can point out to the workers that strikes arise out of the nature of capitalism, but that they are not the answer to the workers’ problems. These economic struggles settle nothing decisively because in the end the workers remain wage slaves. It is the political act of the entire working class to eliminate the exploitative relations between workers and capitalists which can furnish a final solution and remove the chains. It’s not the same as Leninist leadership, to point these things out, as someone seemed to believe earlier on this thread. It is educating workers to understand the nature of both capitalism and socialism, so that, with this understanding, the workers themselves can carry out the political act of their own emancipation. These struggles can be used as a means of educating workers to the real political struggle – socialism.
How the struggle acquires this political expression of clear opposition to the capitalist state. How does it arise? Are you saying that there is a degree of automaticity in the process? No other possibilities for worker to take as a perceived solution such as fascism, or nationalism or religion? The World Socialist Movement would argue that it is about engaging people with the idea of socialism, to talk about a revolution in social relations, and i think part of my earlier post indicated that if workers are already involved in actual struggle they would be more receptive to the idea more effective it would become. But not inevitable. There is nothing automatic about social change, it has to be struggled for.
For many left groups, the World Socialist Movement’s conception of revolution lacks credibility and that they claim to possess a theory of revolution that does not expect people to wait for the overwhelming majority necessary to ‘enact’ socialism before doing something about their immediate problems.
The World Socialist Movement position is honest in that we don’t know what the characteristics of revolution will look like in detail but we do think we know what it won’t look like. Some expect ourselves to be soothsayers. The problem is that it is rather useless for us today to declare what tomorrow exactly is going to happen when socialism in imminent. Will the working class (even a socialist one that is highly politically educated) wait for the declaration of its elected representatives or delegates in Parliament and legislatures? What happens when say 55 per cent of the working class says “Let’s do it now!” What happens if the majority of workers in the UK and Europe start to elect socialist majorities, but not in the U.S.A, Japan, etc.? And what if the State do begin to exert their powers to stifle the movement? Do we then sit and wait again for our chance? What constitutes a working class majority wanting Socialism. Is it 51 per cent? 60 %? 75%?
We simply cannot foresee the events that take place even when say 30 % of the working class becomes socialist. And, furthermore, socialism and its construction will not simply be a legal enactment (even though feudal property rights were abolished in France during the night of 4 August 1789 and in Russa at 2.30 am on the morning of 9 November 1917.)
Say, for example, that we reached the stage where a third of the adult working population was indeed socialist. That would be an incredible achievement and there would be a sudden rise in working class militancy in immediate issues, there would be a new “socialist culture” being built, changes within the entire labour movement, in daily life and how people thought politically. At 40% we would still not be the “overwhelming majority” but this would be such a sizeable significant and politically powerful base. And here quantitative changes would mean qualitative changes. The “movement” we have now would not be the same movement under those circumstances. It might move in directions we have never even considered. And it has profound implications. It is too difficult for us to simply say that when the overwhelming majority of people around the world want socialism they will create it because there will indeed rise these very revolutionary situations or critical revolutionary crisis or juncture that have not followed the formal logic of the propositions we put forward. The “movement” will take on a life of its own.
The World Socialist Movement cannot control whether or not workers become socialists. What we can provide, and what we have continuously provided, is a theory of revolution which, if had been taken up by workers, would have prevented incalculable misery to millions.
Over the years, our organisation has formed a body of knowledge which has been consistently capable of accurate political and economic predictions. For example, in 1917, the Bolsheviks were convinced that they were setting society in Russia on a course of change towards socialism. We argued that socialism was not being established in Russia. What followed was the horrendous misery of the Stalinist years. It was a similar view put forward of the events in China in 1949. What has happened in Russia and China now? The rulers of these state capitalist regimes introduced free market capitalism. We warned against situations where groups or sections of workers try to stage the revolution or implement socialism when the rest of the working class is not prepared. They will only be prepared when they accept the need to capture political power and THEN the implementation of Socialism based on majority support can begin. Otherwise you may have a situation where a minority may push the majority into a situation it is not prepared for and the results could be disastrous.
What comes to mind is the situation in Germany in 1919 when large groups of workers supported the Spartacus group while the majority of the working class still supported the Social Democratic Party. The uprising was put down brutally and the working class was divided. In regards to gradualism and reformism when in 1945 the Labour Party was elected with the objective of establishing a “socialist” Britain, the Party, again arguing from its theory, insisted that there would be no new social order. In fact, that Labour Government steered capitalism in Britain through the post-war crisis, enabling it to be massively expanded in the boom years of the 1950s. What is happening in the Labour Party now? Confused and direction-less, it stands utterly bankrupt of ideas. The Labour Party even abandoned its adherence to Keynesian theories which the Party always insisted could never provide policies which would remove the anarchy of capitalism. Its ideas on the progressive introduction of socialism are now only a distant memory.
We have stated that the use of parliament (or other suitable bodies) by a socialist majority is just one part of a much broader movement for change in which the revolutionised ideas and activities of millions of class-conscious workers will be rather more important than the actions of delegates in parliament. Nor is it right in stating that the World Socialist Movement relies simply upon ‘abstract propaganda’. Our propaganda is not abstract: we relate to the real experiences of workers today, constantly making clear in our speaking and writing that socialism is the immediately practical solution to workers’ so-called “short-term interests”.
The World Socialist Movement is well aware that revolution will not “simply” be the result of our propaganda efforts. Our appeal to workers is upon the basis of class interest and our appeal will be successful because the class struggle generates class consciousness in workers. The growth of socialist consciousness and organisation will allow workers to prosecute the class struggle more effectively. Socialist consciousness won’t entirely emerge “spontaneously” out of the day-to-day struggle, which is given as an excuse for not advocating socialism by those on th Left who think it will. It has been claimed by some of them that all socialists need to do is to get involved in the day to day struggle. The justification for advocating socialism as such is that socialist ideas do have to be brought to workers, though not from outside, from the “bourgeois intelligentsia” or the “proletarian vanguard”, but from inside, from members of the working class who have come to see that socialism is the way-out.
We socialists are members of the working class spreading socialist ideas amongst our fellow workers. We are part of the “spontaneous” process of the emergence of socialist consciousness.
Of course, socialist understanding evolves over a period of time.
There are two models of revolution prevalent in the World Socialist Movement:
- the snowball theory, that once a certain stage has been reached, socialist consciousness will grow at exponential rate and a majority will be reached in a relatively short time, and
- the avalanche theory, that once that certain stage has been reached mass socialist consciousness will come suddenly.
Both these views reject the view that the growth of socialist consciousness will be a simple 1+1+1 progression as individual workers are “converted” one by one, which is attributed to us.
All theoretical mysteries find their rational solution in human practice and the comprehension of this practice. Hence the idea of choosing between “abstract propaganda” and “doing something now” is as false a choice as choosing between theory and practice. We must have some theory linking the capitalist present and the socialist future. Some theory yes, but not just any theory. This theory must be based both on the class struggle as the motor of social change and on an understanding of the economics of capitalism and the limits it places on what can be done within the framework of the capitalist system. As socialists we are engaged in a necessarily contradictory struggle: on the one hand we propose the abolition of the wages system as an immediately practical alternative, but on the other we recognise the need of workers to fight the wages struggle within capitalism. But, as socialists, our main energies must be directed towards the former objective.
We could endeavour to remove this distinction between the trade union struggle within capitalism and the socialist struggle against capitalism by adopting the ideas propounded by the SLP and Daniel DeLeon, who at one time advocated that socialists should form their own “revolutionary unions” but their failure is a very important case study of the danger of imagining that capitalist institutions such as trade unions can be easily converted (or substituted) into socialist bodies. They demonstrate that capitalism cannot be transcended from within.
It is very probable that as more socialists come into the movement groups of them will have involvements in all kinds of areas of the class struggle, ranging from strike committees to anti-racist or anti-sexist awareness groups to people’s theatre projects to libertarian education projects. However involved individual members may or may not be in what is going on outside the Socialist Party, we certainly need to be aware that workers are doing things which, often unknowingly, are contributing to the evolution of class consciousness. Not everything has to have the stamp of approval for it to be non-reformist and contributory to the evolution which precedes revolution.
The World Socialist Movement tries to guard against appearing to be the sole agent of the socialist transformation. Our main task is to find better ways of expressing our message to as many workers as possible, to evolve a strategy so that we use our resources well and to retain our confidence in the face of the immense frustration and pessimism which socialists often encounter.
The growing socialist movement would be preparing for the change-over to socialism and drawing up of plans to reorganise decision-making on a fully democratic basis and to reorient production towards the satisfaction of needs once class ownership and the operation of capitalism’s economic laws have been ended. People working in organisations like the WHO and the FAO and the host of other NGOs and charities would be dusting off plans to eliminate world hunger and unnecessary disease. Socialist educational and media ventures would be coming into existence.
We can picture a socialist party and movement growing in the future along with many working class organisational forms including trade unions, workers councils, the old IWW idea of One Big Union but not without certain caveats. Workers’ councils has, in the past, been a very independent body of workers created at the workplace itself (Russia 1905, 1917, Germany 1919, general strikes and council movements across the world). They usually arise in situations of economic and political crises. They also often rise in opposition to the established trade unions. They are very much spontaneous organisations that do not have any clearly defined political goal (in our case, socialism). Their existence can challenge the State, but not necessarily so. Their inherent problem is that they can be political organisations (again not necessarily so), but tied to the prevailing economic structure of capitalism. And because they arise in response to whatever crisis, their co-ordination is difficult, and the political consciousness of the workers not necessarily socialist in the end. In past revolutions the councils have swayed back and forth between political parties and movements and there is no “conscious” action other than a responsive one.
Whereas, a socialist party has the advantage because its interest and actions do not revolve around this or that section of the working class, but of the working class as a whole. And it functions as the instrument to “take hold of the state machine”, to seize the levers of government. Councils do not nor cannot do that. They can set themselves up as a dual power to the government or State, but the State still has the control of bureaucracy, army, police force, all forces of oppression. What has to be captured is the State itself to dismantle all this “bureaucratic-military machine”. The State already exists as a class institution, the representative of the capitalist class. It exists as a creation that “administers” capitalism and thus a socialist party must come to the fore which challenges the capitalist class in the political arena in order to seize this administration, “lop off its worst parts” and be provided with the institutions already in place to implement socialism. Now this is where councils, if they are established, could come into play.
Again, the advantage of the Party is that it is the interest of the whole class and does not, in the process, disenfranchise anyone. The working class needs a political organisation, not one segmented on the basis of how industry is set up under capitalism. An organisation of Socialists is needed. As it grows then the dynamic of the class struggle changes and goes off into new directions. We cannot see a council system now, or an industrial union system like the Industrial Workers of the World advocates providing the same. The latter organisational forms are determined themselves by capitalist industry and are not necessarily the ideal forms for socialist construction. Both they and workers councils disenfranchise those sectors of the population not organised into industrial unions or councils.