What is the WSM 2/3

The World Socialist Movement (WSM) is not the socialist “party” that Marx had envisaged, that is, the working class as a whole organised politically for socialism. This will come later. For the moment, the WSM can be described as only socialist advocates or an educational organisation and it can’t be anything else (and nor would it try to be) at the moment. Possibly, we hope the WSM might be the embryo of the future mass “socialist party” but there’s no guarantee that it will be (more likely it will be just a contributing element.)

At some stage, for whatever reason, socialist consciousness will reach a “critical mass”, at which point it will snowball and carry people along with it. It may even come about without people actually giving it the label of socialism.

The World Socialist Movement cannot be described as  Social Democrat 2nd Internationalist, Leninist 3rd Internationalist, or Trotskyist 4th Internationalist political organisation.

The socialists who formed the WSM accused the 2nd International of being non-socialist, throwing cold water over the 2nd International when the Kautskys and Lenins of the world were still extolling the mistaken strategies and tactics. When the First World War broke out and the resulting rush to patriotism, the Impossiblist socialist parties didn’t have to depart the 2nd International because they were never in.

The failure of the 2nd International only confirmed the WSM 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. Shortcuts have proved to be dead ends.

The World Socialist Movement share in common with the Industrial Workers of the World the view that labour unions should not be used as a vehicle for political parties. The WSM has always insisted that there will be a separation and that no political party should, or can successfully use, unions as an economic wing until a time very much closer to the revolution when there are substantial and sufficient numbers of socialist conscious workers. And that is not in the foreseeable future. Yet for Leninism, Trotskyism and Maoism, all activity should be mediated by the Party including union activity.

When a worker acquires revolutionary consciousness, the World Socialist Movement acknowledges that it is still necessary to engage in the non-revolutionary struggle of everyday life. But it is NOT advocating the idea that THROUGH a policy or programme of reforms that the workers’ situation can somehow be intrinsically improved or that it can progress towards the establishment of a socialist society. 

Wage-workers depend upon their pay and it is not determined by legal law, but by the economic law of supply and demand. Working conditions are determined by the progress of the development of technology, the concentration of capital, the proportion of the unemployed industrial reserve army. Social realities that are outside the remit of parliaments. Although the permanent betterment of the conditions of existence by way of political reform is impossible, it is not the same as regards the conditions of fighting. To distinguish between the conditions of fighting and the conditions of existence is not to split hairs. There is a real difference. Some reforms would render the struggle of the proletariat more powerful, weakening capitalism – the right to strike and the right to picket, for instance.

The WSM reject ALL forms of minority action to attempt to establish socialism, which can only be established by the working class when the immense majority have come to want and understand it. This is why we advocate using parliament. Not to try to reform capitalism but for the single revolutionary purpose of abolishing capitalism. What our capitalist opponents consequently do when the majority prevails will determine our subsequent actions. If they accept defeat, well and good. If they choose not to accept the verdict of the majority which is given through their own institutions and contest that verdict by force, then the workers will answer in kind, with the legitimacy and the authority of a democratic mandate.

Those who know of the World Socialist Movement will have noted that it doesn’t go out of its way to sign-up members. Some would say we do just the opposite. At first sight, we seem to have an odd approach to recruitment of any political party in existence – we actually have a test for membership. The WSM will not allow a person to join it until the applicant has convinced the companion party applied to it that she or he is a conscious socialist. Surely, it must put some people off? Well, that may be, but it can’t be helped. There would be no point in a socialist organisation giving full democratic rights to those who, in any significant way, disagreed with the socialist case. The outcome of that would be entirely predictable.

This does not mean that the WSM has set itself up as an intellectual elite into which only those well versed in Marxist scholarship may enter. The WSM has good reason to ensure that only conscious socialists enter its ranks, for, once admitted, all members are equal and it would clearly not be in the interest of the Party to offer equality of power to those who are not able to demonstrate equality of basic socialist understanding.

 Once a member, that individual has the exact same rights and status as the longest member to sit on any committee, vote, speak, and have access to all information. Thanks to the test all members are conscious socialists and there is genuine internal democracy, and of that, we are fiercely proud.

Consider for a moment what happens when people join other political groups which don’t have this test. The new applicant has to meet the other members’ approval as being “all right”. The individual is therefore judged by the group according to a range of what might be called “credential indicators”. Commitment usually in the task of paper selling and obedience to more senior Party-officials by new members is the main criterion of trustworthiness in the organisation. In these hierarchical, “top-down” groups the leaders strive at all costs to remain as the leader and reward only those with proven dedication to the “party line” with preferential treatment, more responsibility and more say. New members who present the wrong indicators remain peripheral to the party structure and find themselves unable to influence decision-making at any level, eventually, give up and leave, often embittered by the hard work they put in and the hollowness of the party’s claims of equality and democracy.

The WSM hostility clause,” to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist” is certainly unique and even within the WSM it has always been subject to regular debate. Concerning the hostility clause, it is one issue that can justifiably put down to the 19th century our social democrat roots since it arose from the experience of the Social Democratic Federation and the Socialist League. William Morris together with Eleanor Marx, Edward Aveling, Belfort Bax and some other members of the SDF, resigned and issued a statement giving their reasons, for “a body independent of the Social Democratic Federation”. Yet they added the caveat, “We have therefore set on foot an independent organisation, the Socialist League, with no intention of acting in hostility to the Social Democratic Federation”.

The main weakness, as some saw it, of the Socialist League, was that it “had no intention of acting in hostility” to the SDF. When the Socialist Party was formed, its members made certain that their Declaration of Principles would include a hostility clause against all other parties such as the SDF who advocated palliatives, not socialism. Given the context when it was drawn up that the early members of the SDF breakaway envisaged the party developing fairly rapidly into a mass party, not remaining the small educational group that it has done up to the present, what it says is that when the working class form a socialist party this party is not going to do any election or parliamentary deals with any other political party, either to get elected or to get reforms. Basically, the hostility clause applies to political parties, organisations aiming at winning control of political power. In fact, in the eyes of those who drew it up, it was about the attitude that a mass socialist party (such as along the lines of the German Social Democratic Party was then seen to be albeit with its warts and all) should take towards other political parties.

Importantly, the hostility clause doesn’t mean that we are hostile to everything. There are a whole range of non-socialist organisations out there, ranging from trade unions to claimants unions to environmentalist and community groups to which we are not opposed. It does not mean that if you are not with the WSM, somehow you are automatically anti-socialist.

 Of course, there are, and always, have been socialists outside the party in the sense of people who want to see established, like us, a class-free, state-free, money-free world based on common ownership and democratic control with production solely for use, not profit. The WSM has always recognised this, right from the start, seeing some other groups as socialists with a mistaken view of how to get there. Clearly, such people and such groups are not in the same category as openly pro-capitalist groups. Of course, there are socialists outside the WSM.

 That doesn’t mean that we are not opposed to the organisations they have formed, but we are not opposed to them because we think they represent some section of the capitalist class. We are opposed to them because we disagree with their proposed method of getting rid of capitalism rather than because of the hostility clause. That opposition doesn’t have to go as far as hostility. Our attitude to them is to try to convince them that the tactic they propose to get socialism is not the correct approach and invite them to join us in building up a strong socialist party. If we think that the tactic they advocate (such as minority action by an uprising or a general strike involving non-socialists) is dangerous to the working-class interest then we say so loudly.

The World Socialist Movement does not claim that socialist consciousness will come to dominate the working-class outlook simply as a result of the activity of socialists. The movement for socialism must be a class movement of working people. It must depend upon the working class vitality and intelligence and strength. Until the knowledge and experience of the working class are equal to the task of the revolution there can be no emancipation. Our task in the WSM is to shorten the time, to speed up the process – to act as a catalyst. This contrasts with those who seek to substitute the party for the class or who see the party as a vanguard that must undertake alone the sectarian task of leading the witless masses forward.

We need to organise politically, into a political party, a socialist party. We don’t suffer from delusions of grandeur so we don’t necessarily claim that we are that party. What we are talking about is not a small educational and propagandist group such as ourselves, but a mass party that has yet to emerge. It is all about understanding limitations and they will be subject to change when conditions change.

The main purpose of the WSM at the moment is to 

  •  argue for socialism 
  •  put up candidates to measure how many socialist voters there are.

We in the WSM do not go around creating false hope at every strike or walk-out but will remind workers of the reality of the class struggle and its constraints within capitalism and as a party unfortunately suffers the negative consequence of this political honesty.

Anton Pannekoek, the Dutch writer on Marxism, said: “The belief in parties is the main reason for the impotence of the working-class…Because a party is an organisation that aims to lead and control the workers”. 

He qualified this statement. “If…persons with the same fundamental conceptions (regarding Socialism) unite for the discussion of practical steps and seek clarification through discussion and propagandise their conclusions, such groups might be called parties, but they would be parties in an entirely different sense from those of to-day.”

The WSM position is that it was not parties as such that had failed, but the shape all parties (except our own) had taken as groups of persons seeking power above the worker. Because the establishment of socialism depends upon an understanding of the necessary social changes by a majority of the population, these changes cannot be left to parties acting apart from or above the workers.

The workers cannot vote for socialism as they do for reformist parties and then go home or go to work and carry on as usual. To put the matter in this way is to show its absurdity. The World Socialist Movement’s companion parties, therefore, reject all comparisons with other political parties. We do not ask for power, we help to educate the working-class itself into taking it.

Pannekoek wished workers’ political parties to be “organs of the self-enlightenment of the working class by means of which the workers find their way to freedom” and “means of propaganda and enlightenment”.

That is almost exactly the role and purpose hoped for by the members of the World Socialist Movement.