What is the WSM 3/3

Against the Left

Arguing with left-wingers is not always a useful way to spend our time. Lack of political progress and success leads to the perpetual plea from the left-wing, “We’ve got the wrong leadership”. Many political groups pose as “leaders” of the working class. We do not.

The World Socialist Movement (WSM) say that fellow workers should spurn would-be vanguards and democratically organise for socialism without leaders. 

The basic dogma of the left-wing is that the mass of the workers cannot understand socialism (or at least, not without the constant guidance of the intellectual cadres) which implies that the vanguard must be recruited from outside the working-class. Vanguardists may be indignant at such a description but an examination of their literature shows that “consciousness” merely means to them, following the right leader and correct party line, spouting the proper slogans.

When it is suggested that the majority of the population must attain a clear desire for the abolition of the wages system and the introduction of a worldwide money-free community, their reply is that such a political position is “too theoretical”, “too abstract” or “too academic.” But the leadership of the vanguard claim to understand it. They are the elite “intelligentsia”, the revolutionary officer corps, the professional cadres, claiming that the working-class is not intellectually able to accept the socialist idea and must be led along using the sops of reform before they can be fed on the flesh of revolution. The fact of the matter is that understanding the simple facts of socialism involves no great mental exertion.

It has been a common experience in our arguments with the Left that their spokespersons formally accepted the WSM’s definition of socialism and confined their criticism of ourselves to questions of method, whether socialism could be an immediate practical objective and what to do “in the meantime”. They urge a policy of getting “something now” and that “half-a-loaf is better than no bread.”

The World Socialist Movement’s prime directive is not hostility to reforms but hostility to capitalism and since its aim is socialism, our whole policy in regard to reforms is dictated solely by the needs of the class struggle for socialism. We decline to raise mere hostility to reform or the advocacy of them into equal importance with our objective.

The purpose of the WSM is to convince fellow workers of the need for socialism and to organise them for it. We use whatever means the capitalists have been obliged to provide to prosecute the class war to a successful conclusion.

As to a particular reform, support or opposition would be decided at the time, according to its merits. We would, indeed, betray our cause if we did not endeavour to take advantage of every weakness of our class enemy but we will not parley and bargain with our foes. The World Socialist Movement does not possess any gratitude toward exploiters when we take the fullest advantage of reform for the furtherance of the workers’ cause. What’s given with one hand is snatched back by the other hand. Our lack of enthusiasm and critical attitude toward reforms is that we know them to be fraudulent. A major reason why the Socialist Party broke away from the Social Democratic Federation was the S.D.F.’s support of reforms. The first issue of the “Socialist Standard” in September 1904 contained the following about the S.D.F.

“Today for all purposes of effective socialist propaganda they have ceased to exist, and are surely developing into a mere reform party”

In our past, we were challenged that it is necessary to engage in the workers’ day-to-day struggle. But what now has come of all the parties and groups that advocated “getting among the workers”? They have all disappeared while others imploded into various splinters. Those parties which cropped up claiming to have found short-cuts to socialism by engaging in the workers’ day-to-day struggles have faded away.

The World Socialist Movement produced ample evidence to show that to focus the working-class mind upon palliative proposals, simply plays into the camp of the capitalist class. Every amelioration can be conceded to a working-class if it does not risk endangering the core of capitalism because they will treat such concessions as proof of the concern of capitalists for workers. The class struggle is abandoned and obscured. That is one of the lessons that the history of reform movements teaches. That is the reason and the justification for the existence of parties claiming to be socialist. Moreover, and this point merits all the emphasis that can be applied to it, many of these palliatives are directly advantageous to capitalist interests. However, when workers are educated, organised, we are alive to the irreconcilable class antagonism.

 We are a working-class organisation ourselves, and that we are part of the working class. This fact, in itself, compels the socialist movement to support the struggles of our fellow workers to the extent that we do. The World Socialist Movement has never opposed trade-union action as ‘reformist’. Far from it; right from the start the WSM declared that it was in agreement with “working-class action on the industrial field when based on a clear recognition of the position of the workers under capitalism and the class struggle necessarily resulting therefrom”, but that it was opposed to “all activities of unions in support of capitalism or tending to sidetrack workers from the only path that can lead to their emancipation”. What the WSM has done for the trade unions has been far more valuable than anything “concrete” could have been. It applied Marxian economics and political teaching to show trade unionists the possibilities and limitations of trade union action.

The WSM urged trade unionists to abandon their trust in the leadership of full-time officials; to keep control in their own hands, and have a ballot before a strike and on the acceptance of the employers’ offers; to recognise that the dominant power in society is with those who control the machinery of government, including the armed forces, and that consequently, the employers backed by the government can always win if they regard the issue as vital and are prepared to fight it to the end; that therefore if a strike does not succeed quickly it should be called off and a more favourable opportunity awaited; that trade union action cannot dispossess the capitalist class or lead to socialism, and that support for any party of capitalism should be abandoned.

The history of trade unions shows how right we are. If trade unionists had used the Marxian analysis to understand how capitalism works they would have saved themselves from the futility of their belief in past years that capitalism can be “managed”.

As workers, we are all individuals engaged in the struggle to improve or defend our wages and conditions of labour but the World Socialist Movement itself is only concerned with one struggle; the struggle for socialism. To this end, it must keep the struggle as clear as possible of misunderstanding, and from running up blind alleys. In our view, trade-union action is necessary under capitalism but is limited by being of an essentially defensive nature. To overcome this limitation the workers need to organise themselves into a socialist political party aiming solely at the capture of political power to establish socialism (i.e. the so-called maximum programme).

 The struggle for socialism is primarily a working-class problem. If we have any capitalists in the Party, it is only because they have risen above their class interests and come over to the party of the working class as did Engels. Our political case 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 growth of socialist consciousness and organisation will allow workers to prosecute the class struggle more effectively. The WSM is aware 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.

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 World Socialist Movement must guard against appearing to be the sole agent of the socialist transformation; in general, we do avoid the well-known sectarian error of giving that appearance.

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 which socialists often encounter.

Some people on the Left are more concerned with who is to govern tomorrow, or next year, than with the question of what kind of society we should live in. In election campaigns, our campaign frequently goes so far as to tell the voters that they should not vote for our candidate unless they genuinely want socialism. 

The WSM rejects every feature of existing society; class division, the state, police, law, money, national frontiers, domination and leadership. It maintains that poverty, unemployment, war and the other familiar features of our society, cannot be ended without a complete change to socialism; that this must be brought about on a worldwide basis i.e. that socialism cannot be established in one country alone and that it cannot be brought about by reforming existing institutions – the change must be a revolutionary one.

The WSM is consistently hostile to “all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist,” as the final clause of its Declaration of Principles puts it. It has always refused collaboration of whatever kind and for whatever purpose, with all other political parties. It is no accident that we are consistent in all these ways, for they are all consistent with one another. They all stem from a single stance of extreme antagonism to the whole basis of the present system of society, and rejection of the inconsistencies of other parties.

From its Marxist analysis of this capitalist system, the WSM concludes that it is bound to produce poverty, unemployment, economic crisis, environmental destruction and war, and that it cannot be reformed or planned or managed so as to avert these consequences. It deduces that only the establishment of the common ownership of the mean of production (quite different from State control or private ownership) can end such evils; that only a convinced socialist majority of those who have to sell their energies in order to live can, by electoral action, establish such common ownership; and that only, a party dedicated to nothing but socialism can enlighten the workers adequately about their position and how to change it. It is a very consistent position.

In “Value, Price and Profit,” Marx says, “To clamour for equal or even equitable retribution on the basis of the wages system is the same as to clamour for freedom on the basis of the slavery system.”  

In his criticism of the Gotha Programme, Marx writes “The system of wage-labour is therefore a system of slavery and a slavery that becomes more and more arduous as the socially productive forces of labour develop, and independently of the question whether the labourer is better paid or worse.”

Don’t trust what anybody tells you, not even the World Socialist Movement. But please we invite all to study our works and to think about it, Criticise what we write and say. Be suspicious for as Marx said, “doubt everything”.

If you decide we are right, join with us.