In elections people talk incessantly about “The System”, “The System has failed”, “The System must be changed”, “Vote for us, because we are going to end The System”.
What system, exactly?
Democracy under capitalism is reduced to people voting for competing groups of professional politicians, to giving the thumbs-up or the thumbs-down to the governing or opposition party (or parties). Political analysts call this the “elite theory of democracy” since under it all that the people get to choose is which elite should exercise government power. This contrasts with the original theory of democracy which envisages popular participation in the running of affairs and which political analysts call “participatory democracy”. This is the sort of democracy socialists favour but we know it’s never going to exist under capitalism. The most we will get under capitalism is the right to vote, under more-or-less fair conditions, for who shall control political power—a minimalist form of democracy but not to be dismissed for that since it at least provides a mechanism whereby a socialist majority could vote in socialist delegates instead of capitalist politicians.
The only form of politics that is an effective antidote to bureaucracy is the kind of socialist politics that contains a strong element of radical democracy, radical in the sense that it is not simply concentrating on the issue of democracy but upon the whole concept of leadership.
Eugene Debs was one political party leader who recognised this.
“I am not a labor leader. I don’t want you to follow me or anyone else. If you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of the capitalist wilderness you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into this promised land if I could, because if I could lead you in, someone else could lead you out.”
And elsewhere he says:
“I never had much faith in leaders. I am willing to be charged with almost anything, rather than to be charged with being a leader. I am suspicious of leaders, and especially of the intellectual variety. Give me the rank and file every day in the week… I would be ashamed to admit that I had risen from the ranks. When I rise it will be with the ranks, and not from the ranks.”
Democracy must be the basic principle of both the movement to establish socialism and of the socialist society itself. If a majority of workers really were as incapable of understanding socialism as many on the Left maintain, then socialism would be impossible since, by its very nature, as a society based on voluntary cooperation, it can only come into being and work with the conscious consent and participation of the majority. Socialism just cannot be imposed from above by an elite as envisaged by the Left. Political action must be taken by the conscious majority, without depending upon leadership. It is upon the working class that the working class must rely upon their emancipation. Working-class emancipation necessarily excludes the role of political leadership. Even if it could be conceived of a leader-ridden displacing the capitalist class from power such an immature class would be helpless to undertake the responsibilities of a democratic socialist society.
Valuable work may be done by individual teachers, writers and speakers, and this work may necessarily raise them to prominence, but it is not to individuals that the working class must look. The movement for freedom must be a working-class movement. 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 for them.
For the Left, all union activity (and community struggles, etc) should be mediated by the Party, whereas, it is NOT the Party’s task to lead the workers in struggle or to instruct its members on what to do in trade unions because class conscious workers and socialists are quite capable of making decisions for themselves. Indeed, the failure of the Russian Revolution can be described as premature – the material ground-work had been insufficiently developed, one of the pre-conditions required for socialism. However let us not overlook while this obstacle no longer applies in the modern world, the other pre-requisite remains, the need for majority understanding and the desire for socialism.
Unlike left-wing parties, the WSM has no programme of assuming leadership of such social struggles and its only advice is simple – such movements have to be democratic, and adding the caveat, that such victories which are achieved will never fully satisfy aspirations and may indeed be only transitory and require constant defending.
“Even where there is no prospect of achieving their election the workers must put up their own candidates to preserve their independence, to gauge their own strength and to bring their revolutionary position and party standpoint to public attention. They must not be led astray by the empty phrases of the democrats, who will maintain that the workers’ candidates will split the democratic party and offer the forces of reaction the chance of victory. All such talk means, in the final analysis, that the proletariat is to be swindled.” – Karl Marx
“I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don’t want, and get it.” – Eugene Debs
The World Socialist Movement advocates the maximum programme of socialism and nothing less than socialism.
As socialists, we possess no illusions about the alleged democratic credentials of the politicians of the Left, the Right or the Centre. What the capitalist class, and the political parties that serve that class, call democracy is a contrived form of consensus in which the political parties conspire to ensure that the maximum number of people accept a system of law that guarantees a minority class in society the legal right to own and control the means of life of the great majority. To achieve and maintain that system of Law – and the Order that ensures the right of that minority to exploit and impoverish the majority – capitalism must have political control of the state machine.
A vital part of the process that maintains the illusion of democratic choice is the power to confine political knowledge – and, thus, political options – to those parties whose policies are firmly rooted in an acceptance of capitalism.
When it comes to elections, the choice is governed by information and knowledge and, since the allegedly democratic parties have ensured that the public have information about, and knowledge of, the present system and the politicians offering themselves to run this system capitalism goes unchallenged. Like Henry Ford’s Model T, which was available in any colour providing it was black, current “democratic” practice is to allow us the widest possible choice as long as it is capitalism. Of course, capitalist politicians and the people to whom capitalism entrusts the control of news and information will hotly dispute this. A party stating a case for an alternative way of running society would be disadvantaged, for capitalist politics, its parties and its media, are not based on a rational examination of ideas but on the performance of media celebrities.
But there is one heartening thought: unlike the parties of capitalism whose purpose is a permanent struggle, to gain power and, when power has been lost, struggle to regain it, our purpose is to make that initial breakthrough which will finally overcome the ability of capitalism’s political agents to lie, confuse and misinform and unlike politicians elected to service capitalism, socialist delegates will not be observing parliamentary meaningless rituals but real participative democracy in the administration of social affairs, at local, regional and world levels, will be the order of the day.
We are the “No Leader Party”. As far as we are aware there is just one political party that every time it stands for election insists that no one votes for it unless they understand and accept and want what they want, which is free access socialism. We are a political movement that is an organisation of equals. Working-class emancipation necessarily excludes the role of political leadership. The World Socialist Movement has an absolute need of supporters with understanding and self-reliance. Our aim is to persuade others to become socialist and act for themselves, organising democratically and without leaders, to bring about the kind of society that we advocate. We reject the idea that people can be led into socialism. Socialism will not be established by good leaders but by thinking men, women and children. There can be no socialism without socialists.
Democracy and majority decision-making must be the basic principle of both the movement to establish socialism and of the socialist society itself. If a majority of workers really were as incapable of understanding socialism as many on the Left maintain, then socialism would be impossible since, by its very nature as a society based on voluntary cooperation, it can only come into being and work with the conscious consent and participation of the majority. Socialism just could not be imposed from above by an elite as envisaged by the Left. Democracy is not the mere counting of noses, it is the only principle of organisation compatible with a class-free society.
Real democracy is fundamentally incompatible with the idea of leadership. It is about all of us having a direct say in the decisions that affect us. Leadership means handing over the right to make those decisions to someone else. We don’t vote for leaders to implement this or that decision; we vote according to our ideological inclinations to give them a “free hand” to make decisions. The point is that the very mechanism of decision-making we have today is a product of the social system we live under. The market economy, with its built-in contradictions and conflicting interests, has massively complicated the process of decision-making itself. It has moved it further and further from the ambit of “ordinary people” as the system itself has become more and more globalised. It is this that has made the paper pledges of our elected leaders seem increasingly irrelevant and ineffectual.
Uninformed voting has disastrous consequences. Voters say blame someone else. They say that they do not have time to research the issues. An uninformed voter is dangerous and should stay home on election day. It is better to not vote at all than to cast an uninformed ballot.
The originally Marxist Social Democratic parties had in addition to the “maximum” programme of socialism what they called a “minimum programme” of immediate reforms to capitalism. What happened is that they attracted votes on the basis of their minimum, not their maximum, programme, i.e. reformist votes, and so became the prisoners of these voters. In parliament, and later in the office, they found themselves with no freedom of action other than to compromise with capitalism. Had they been the mandated delegates of those who voted for them (rather than leaders) this could be expressed by saying that they had no mandate for socialism, only to try to reform capitalism. It was not a case of being corrupted by the mere fact of going into national parliaments but was due to the basis on which they went there and how this restricted what they could do. In short, it is not power as such that corrupts. It is power obtained on the basis of followers voting for leaders to implement reforms that, if you want to put it that way, “corrupts”.
The WSM campaigns are only for “maximum programme”. We do not advocate that the State be used to create socialism, but that the State is used to abolish capitalism and used to abolish itself. To prevent the use of the State in the suppression of socialism by capturing it and emasculating it
A socialist revolution first must take place in the heads of the workers, then will follow the conquest of political power, the overthrow of the capitalist system and the establishment of socialism. Certain characteristics distinguish the socialist revolution from all previous revolutions. For the first time has a social revolution become possible and necessary in the interests of the great bulk of the population, the working class. The lack of socialists is all that stands in the way of socialism. The revolution cannot be rammed down the throats of the workers against their understanding or desire. In the name of building up a socialist movement among the masses, some have emasculated and compromised socialist principles. The only factor in all the material conditions of today that we can see standing in the way of socialism is the political ignorance of the workers.
Socialism is possible, necessary and practical today the moment the great majority become conscious of their interests. The notion that the workers are dumb is plain hogwash but often confused, especially by the “friends” of socialism, speaking in the name of socialism. In order to fit themselves for this task, the workers must acquire the consciousness which alone can enable them to do so. This consciousness must comprise, first of all, a knowledge of their class position. They must realise that, while they produce all wealth, their share of it will not, under the present system, be more than sufficient to enable them to reproduce their efficiency as wealth producers. They must realise that also, under the system they will remain subject to all the misery of unemployment, the anxiety of the threat of unemployment, and the cares of poverty. They must understand next to the implications of their position – that the only hope of any real betterment lies in abolishing the social system which reduces them to mere sellers of their labour-power, exploited by the capitalists. They will see then since this involves dispossessing the master class of the means through which alone the exploitation of labour-power can be achieved, there must necessarily be a struggle between the two classes – the one to maintain the present system of private (or class) ownership of the means of living and the other to wrest such ownership from them and make these things the property of society as a whole. This is the struggle of a dominant class to maintain its position of exploitation, on the one hand, and of an enslaved and exploited class to obtain its emancipation, on the other. It is a class struggle. A class that understands all this is class-conscious. It has only to find the means and the method by which to proceed, in order to become the fit instrument of the revolution.
The lure and fascinations of protest demonstrations and making demands is very attractive. It indicates how deep-rooted discontent with capitalism really is, and it demonstrates the latent strength of socialism once the masses wake up to the need for changing the system instead of adjust to it. The bond that makes us as one and inspires us is the recognition that capitalism can no longer be reformed or administered in the interest of the working class or of society, and the understanding that conditions are now ripe for socialism, which is the solution for society’s problems. All that is lacking is a socialist majority. This is the essence of our principles. The socialist movement is not only heart but is a combination of heart and head.
Socialism is not the result of blind faith, followers, or, by the same token, vanguards and leaders. Nothing is more repugnant to socialism than clever strategy and conspiratorial tactics. Socialism is not possible without socialists. What makes socialist work stirring and inspiring is not that there are shortcuts, but that there is nothing else worth a damn. The seeming failures, the disappointments and discouragements, the slow growth, only indicate that socialist work is not an easy task. There is no shortcut to socialism, short of socialist determination. Our latent strength lies in the fact that science, truth, and above all, necessity, is on the side of the revolutionary socialist movement.
But the alternative facing us is either socialism or chaos.
Basically, there are only three ways of winning control of the State: (a) armed insurrection; (b) more or less peaceful mass demonstrations and strikes; (c) using the electoral system.
The World Socialist Movement has adopted (c), but without ruling out (b) or even (a) should conditions change (or in other parts of the world where conditions were different).
But this is not simply putting an “X” on a ballot paper and letting the Socialist Party and its MPs establish Socialism for workers. The assumption is that there will be a “conscious” and active Socialist majority outside Parliament, democratically organised both in a mass Socialist political party and, at work, in ex-trade union type organisations ready to keep production going during and immediately after the winning of political control. The most important precondition to taking political control out of the hands of the owning class is that the majority are no longer prepared to be ruled and exploited by a minority and they must withdraw their consent to capitalism and class rule and they must want and understand a socialist society of common ownership and democratic control. The vote is merely the legitimate stamp that will allow for the dismantling of the repressive apparatus of the States and the end of bourgeois democracy and the establishment of real democracy. It is the Achilles heel of capitalism and makes a non-violent bloodless revolution possible. What really matters is a conscious socialist majority outside parliament, ready and organised to take over and run industry and society; electing a socialist majority in parliament is essentially just a reflection of this. It is not parliament that establishes socialism, but the socialist working-class majority outside parliament and they do this, not by their votes, but by their active participation beyond this in the transformation of society.
Having adopted (c), various other options also follow.
Obviously, if there’s a socialist candidate people who want socialism are urged to vote for that candidate.
But what if there’s no socialist candidate?
Voting for any other candidate is against the principles. So what to do? The basic choice is between abstention and spoiling the ballot paper. Not voting at all is a valid option, but casting blank ballots or some other form of actively announcing not voting is better. One or two spoilers/blank voters can be ignored, tens of thousands or even millions could not be – especially if backed by a vocal movement explaining the situation. A concerted campaign of spoiling the ballot paper by writing “socialism” across it would signify a write-in vote (of course, now with electronic voting, this choice is now denied us).
What we say is that democracy can and does change things, that it is not democracy that is the problem, but rather that it is the system underlying the democracy, that makes it imperfect. What we have to do is push for more democracy, not less. We want to protect the idea of democracy but not the idea that voting someone into power will solve your problems for you. Nor the idea that voting for something is in itself enough. We protect the idea of democracy by propagating the case for it and by practising it. And also by calling for an organised and collective campaign of spoilt ballot papers.
The World Socialist Movement has never held that a merely formal majority at the polls will give the workers power to achieve Socialism. We have always emphasised that such a majority must be educated in the essentials of socialist principles and have a party democratically organised. It is the quality of the voters behind the vote that, in the revolutionary struggle, will become decisive. Socialism, where workers are liberated and empowered, is not just identical to the existing level of class struggle. The ideas about the aim derive from, are shaped by, the class struggle, but they also transcend it. It is hard to see how the working class would develop the ability to figure out how to reorganise society if they don’t talk about and discuss and clarify their ideas of this, their vision of where they would like to go. It is highly unlikely that an entirely new social order emerges suddenly, spontaneously in some crisis. More likely that people would “spontaneously” fall back into old habits inculcated by class society, such as giving power to leaders to make decisions for them. We need to know where we are going if we set out on a journey, otherwise, we all risk ending up in different places. Agreeing on a consensus on the route and the mode of transport would also be desirable. We all must learn from our own particular exploitation but it is also necessary to go further and recognise the commonality of how we are controlled and conditioned. Then we seek common cause and action. We cannot create a hierarchy of the degree of individual exploitation.
The World Socialist Movement does not deny that certain reforms won by the working class have helped to improve our general living and working conditions.
Indeed, we see little wrong with people campaigning for reforms that bring essential improvements and enhance the quality of their lives, and some reforms do indeed make a difference to the lives of millions and can be viewed as ‘successful’. There are examples of this in such fields as education, housing, child employment, work conditions and social security. Indeed, how could a party composed of workers and committed to the working-class interest be opposed to any measure that improved, however marginally and temporarily, conditions for workers – but our opposition is to reformism, in the sense of a policy of actively seeking reforms. However, in this regard, we also recognise that such ‘successes’ have in reality done little more than to keep workers and their families in efficient working order and, while it has ameliorated the problem, it has rarely managed to remove the problem completely.
Reformism means political pressure put on the state to modify the economic behaviour of capitalism. For example, voting for the Labour Party to introduce a minimum wage is reformist; joining your local self-help movement is not. There is no attempt to influence the state to introduce reforms therefore it is not reformist – any more than joining a trade union is “reformist”. Another example could be advocating the abolition of the death penalty which would not be reformist.
What we are opposed to is the whole culture of reformism, the idea that capitalism can be made palatable with the right reforms, By that, we mean that we oppose those organisations that promise to deliver a programme of reforms on behalf of the working class, often in order that the organisation dishing out the promises can gain a position of power. Such groups, especially those of the left-wing, often have real aims quite different to the reform programme they peddle. In this, they are being as dishonest as any other politician, from the left or right. The ultimate result of this is disillusionment with the possibility of radical change.
On the other hand, a concession wrung from the capitalists without compensation, such as a reduction of the working day with no loss of daily pay, is a triumph.
The World Socialist Movement has always drawn a distinction between reformism and trade unionism (economic action, against employers, over the price and conditions of sale of labour-power). We oppose the former (even if we don’t necessarily oppose all reform measures as such) and support the latter as long as it is one sound lines (democratically organised, recognising that employers are the class enemy, etc).
As socialists, we see in this something that is to the good in the class struggle. These efforts of the workers to combine, either to resist the onslaughts of the master class or to gain whatever they can, must meet with the support of all workers who understand their class position. The struggle in the economic field must be looked to and encouraged. The particular form of the economic organisation through which the struggle is conducted is one which the circumstances of the struggle must mainly determine. The chief thing is to maintain the struggle as long as capitalism lasts. (Things get complicated when trade unions start getting involved in reformist political action, but then our members in the unions oppose such actions as unsound.)
The World Socialist Movement also wholeheartedly supports the efforts of workers everywhere to secure democratic rights against the powers of suppression. Whilst we avoid any association with parties or political groups seeking to administer capitalism we emphasise that freedom of movement and expression, the freedom to organise in trade unions, to organise politically and to participate in elections, are of great importance to all workers and are vital to the success of the socialist movement.
In other words, although individual reforms may be worthy of support, the political strategy of reformism—promising to win reforms on the behalf of others—is a roundabout that leads nowhere. Some improvements are made and some problems are alleviated. Yet new kinds of problems arise which require addressing in a society that is forever changing. Or of defending the status quo against some ‘anti-reform’ when gains are being undermined. For the reformer’s work is never done under capitalism.
Another factor to be considered is that organisations that have a commitment to socialism but who also advocate a reform programme were in practice swamped by people who were attracted by their reforms rather than their supposed commitment to abolishing capitalism. In these circumstances,and those who viewed reforms as a stepping-stone to socialism were themselves swamped by people for whom reforms were simply an end in themselves, alleviating the worst excesses of the system.
In 1890 William Morris wrote an essay ‘Where are we now?’, as he left the Socialist League and looked back over his time in that organisation and the Social Democratic Federation. He saw two ‘methods of impatience’, as he termed them.
One was futile riot or revolt, which could be easily put down.
The other was, to use the then-popular label, ‘palliation’, what we would now call reformism.
Morris (and the WSM) resolutely opposed both, since they would be carried out by people who did not know what Socialism was and so would not know what to do next, even if their efforts were successful on their own terms. Instead, he advocated propagating socialist ideas:
“Our business, I repeat, is the making of Socialists, i.e., convincing people that Socialism is good for them and is possible. When we have enough people of that way of thinking, they will find out what action is necessary for putting their principles in practice. Until we have that mass of opinion, action for a general change that will benefit the whole people is impossible.”
As for reformism to fight for present existing life, resisting capital’s encroachment and improving our economic condition does not delay the overthrow of the present social system. When the worker acquires revolutionary consciousness he is still compelled to make the non-revolutionary struggle of everyday life. It is the propagating of 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 that the WSM adamantly refuses to recognise.
The conditions of existence of the wage-workers depend upon their wages. It is not determined by the legal law, but by the economic law of supply and demand.
The condition of existence of the wage-workers is determined by the progress of the development of machinery, the concentration of capital, the proportion of the unemployed industrial reserve army.
Although the bettering 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. The difference is real. Some reforms would render the attacks of the proletariat more powerful, those of capitalism weaker – the right to strike, the right to picket, for instance. The class struggle is, therefore, both industrial and political but the WSM consider the latter as being its ultimate form and its revolutionary form.
William Morris also wrote:
“The palliatives over which many worthy people are busying themselves now are useless because they are but unorganised partial revolts against a vast, wide-spreading, grasping organisation which will, with the unconscious instinct of a plant, meet every attempt at bettering the conditions of the people with an attack on a fresh side.”
“I believe that the Socialists will certainly send members to Parliament when they are strong enough to do so; in itself, we see no harm in that, so long as it is understood that they go there as rebels, and not as members of the governing body prepared to pass palliative measures to keep Society alive.”
What is the role of a revolutionary organisation except to bring under its umbrella all the struggles of the working class into a mass movement? To unify towards one goal.
The abolition of capitalism.
With or without revolutionary organisations, workers and oppressed peoples will and do resist and they discover for themselves the best means of that struggle.
So, therefore, understanding that the working class (and, of course, it accepted that we are a diverse class – with conflicting interests at times and in certain places) do engage in the class struggle and require no declaration of class war from any political group, what then is the role of a revolutionary party but to advocate and educate , until itself is in a position of being a mass movement that can go on to organise as the expression of the class.
And what is it we advocate and educate for? A new society that is an alternative to the existing one. And if you consider that as abstract propaganda, so be it, we plead guilty. But we stand accused alongside many others.
“…It’s very seldom that a revolutionary organization can “convince” people that they should make fundamental changes in society. The need to make changes, not to speak of the conviction that they should make them , is overwhelmingly the work of historical forces, such as serious economic crises, social instability, ecological breakdown , and the like. But it is one of the tasks of a revolutionary organization to offer them hope , the sense that the world could be better if they acted as social beings. People must sense that they need not forever beleaguered by the demands of modern capitalism, that insufferable conditions need not exist , that better world is possible if they act…A serious revolutionary movement can provide to discontented people who feel oppressed by bourgeois society but do not clearly know why by making the problems created by capitalism explicable to them and providing them with a clear direction that they understand and pursue…” Murray Bookchin
A tiny insignificant sect, perhaps, but at least we understand the limitations of a revolutionary organisation in our present time and make no grandiose claims of our own organisation’s importance to the workers actual battles in the class struggle, that they can and do conduct without the intervention of a revolutionary political party.
The crime is to forget what we struggle for.
Revolutionary Voting – peacefully if possible, forcefully if need be
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. Without a socialist working class, there can be no socialism. The establishment of socialism can only be the conscious majority, and therefore democratic, the act of a socialist-minded working class.
Whereas you can make people do what they do not wish to do, you cannot make them adopt a set of social relations which require their voluntary cooperation if they do not voluntarily cooperate.
In these circumstances, the easiest and surest way for such a socialist majority to gain control of political power in order to establish socialism is to use the existing electoral machinery to send a majority of mandated socialist delegates to the various parliaments of the world. This is why we advocate using Parliament. Not to try to reform capitalism (the only way Parliaments have been used up till now), but for the single revolutionary purpose of abolishing capitalism and establishing socialism by converting the means of production and distribution into the common property of the whole of society.
No doubt, at the same time, the working class will also have organised itself, at the various places of work, in order to keep production going, but nothing can be done here until the machinery of coercion which is the state has been taken out of the hands of the capitalist class by political action.
Naive reformism, some insurrectionists wish to claim, but can they offer alternative strategies that are not flawed.
The vote is not a gift to the masses from the Government out of the beneficence of its heart. We don’t advocate de facto disenfranchisement of the worker by promoting political abstention. The right to vote can become a powerful instrument to end our servitude and to achieve genuine democracy and freedom. Working people with an understanding of socialism can utilise their vote to signify that the overwhelming majority demands change and to bring about social revolution.
The first object of a socialist organisation is the development of the desire for socialism among the working class and the preparation of the political party to give expression to that desire. What our capitalist opponents consequently do when the majority wish to prevail will determine our subsequent actions. If they accept defeat, well and good. If malcontents choose not to accept the verdict of the majority which is given through the medium of their own institutions and contest that verdict by physical force, then the workers will respond in kind, with the legitimacy and the authority of a democratic mandate.
The important thing is for the workers to gain control of the political machinery because the political machine is the real centre of social control – not made so by capitalist rulers but developed and evolved over centuries and through struggles.
The power over the means of life which the capitalist class has is vested in its control of the political machinery. Ownership of the world’s economic resources is certainly an economic factor, but that ownership, if challenged, will find its means of enforcement by and through the State political machine, which, as everybody should know, includes the armed forces.
Of course, an elaborate legal machinery exists whereby claims on private property are settled among the capitalists themselves, but behind the judicature and the legislature stands the means of enforcing the decrees. The political arm of capitalism rules the economic body of the system in the final analysis: which reveals the chief reason why the capitalist class concern themselves so much about political action; they realise that in this field their economic interest finds its ultimate, if not immediate, protection. Thus, the political organisation of the workers for socialist purposes is thrust upon us as a primary and imperative necessity. The WSM, in aiming for the control of the State, is a political party in the immediate sense.
The workers’ political organisation must precede the economic, since, apart from the essential need of the conquest of the powers of government, it is on the political field that the widest and most comprehensive propaganda can be deliberately maintained. It is here that the workers can be deliberately and independently organised on the basis of socialist thought and action. In other words, socialist organisation can proceed untrammelled by ideas other than those connected with their revolutionary objective.
The World Socialist Movement claims to be Marxist.
“The irony of history turns everything topsy-turvy. We, the ‘revolutionists’, thrive better by the use of constitutional means than by unconstitutional and revolutionary methods. The parties of law and order, as they term themselves, are being destroyed by the constitutional implements which they themselves have fashioned.” – Engels .
To paraphrase, our “reformist parliamentarianism” transforms elections from a means of deceit into a means of emancipation
“…the more the proletariat matures towards its self-emancipation, the more does it constitute itself as a separate class and elect its own representatives in place of the capitalists. Universal suffrage is the gauge of the maturity of the working class. It can and never will be that in the modern State. But that is sufficient. On the day when the thermometer of universal suffrage reaches its boiling point among the labourers, they as well as the capitalists will know what to do.” – Engels again.
The WSM position is consistent with Marx’s presuppositions to recognise parliament as an institution geared to the needs of capitalism, and therefore inappropriate as the vehicle for a fundamental transformation of society, but yet to regard its connected electoral practices as coinciding with the principles involved in that transformation that adds the possibility of a peaceful transition to a new society.
Having agreed that the socialist revolution requires the endorsement of the majority, the most obvious response is that there is no way of how, without counting individuals’ preferences as in a ballot, a majority is determined.
We would like to take issue with some historical examples that the general will of the majority is always thwarted by the capitalist class.
There has been much analysis of the Nazi’s and the one thing that is clear is that Hitler rejected putschism after 1923 and concentrated on the constitutional methods of achieving political power and became the largest party within the Reichstag, albeit not a party with an overall majority, although he did achieve the necessary two-thirds majority vote required to suspend the German constitution and pass the “Enabling Act” that supposedly was meant to delegate just temporary power to him. It was through the capture of political power by the vote that the Nazi’s could impose and exercise their dictatorship and regardless of any attempt to re-write history,
“…The overwhelming majority of Germans did not seem to mind that their personal freedom had been taken away…The Nazi terror in the early years affected the lives of relatively few Germans…On the contrary, they supported it with genuine enthusiasm…” [The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William Shirer].
Many other citations can be offered to demonstrate that the Nazis held power because they did have the support (granted perhaps in cases passive support) of the majority.
Spain and Franco are often offered up as evidence of the might of the military in the pay of the capitalist class but the first blood spilt was the summary execution of 200 senior officers who would not go against the Republic.
Also just how many of Franco’s Moorish troops would have obeyed orders if the Spanish Republic had promised Moroccan its independence.
Also contrary to what many now think that Spain was a hotbed of anarchists.
“Not only did the CNT lack the support of a majority of the Spanish people, they argued, but it lacked the support of the majority of the Spanish working class. Anarchosyndicalists were a minority within a minority. Even within the CNT membership, a large number of workers and peasants shared only a nominal allegiance to libertarian ideals. They were members of the CNT because the union was strong in their localities and work places. If these people, and the Spaniards generally, were not educated in Anarchist principles, warned the moderates, the revolution would simply degenerate into an abhorrent dictatorship of ideologues” The Spanish Anarchists. The Heroic years – Murray Bookchin
Not the big majority of support that is a pre-requisite for socialism.
According to Wiki “… Mussolini thus legally reached power, in accordance with the Statuto Albertino, the Italian Constitution. The March on Rome was not the conquest of power which Fascism celebrated but rather a transfer of power within the framework of the constitution…”
But, of course, it is argued that it was a “ …a transfer made possible by the surrender of public authorities in the face of fascist intimidation and the complicity of the bourgeoisie, who thought it would be possible to manipulate Mussolini…”
In Chile’s case and Allende, if you deny Hitler the right as the majority party with minority vote then Allende must be denied his right to power too since his was 36.2 percent of the vote to 34.9 percent for Alessandri and with 27.8 percent going to a Tomic .
For every coup, we can easily counter tenfold where the military stood passive or even actually provided support to the popular will.
As for alternate strategies general strikes and massed actions and “arming” of the masses, we are minded of James Connolly who believed that street fighting was the best tactic because the capitalist class would not destroy its own buildings being private property, their own bricks and mortar, and was then confronted by the British State which subsequently subjected him to artillery and cannon fire. We are also mindful of what Bookchin wrote along the lines that you can only stay on the barricades for so long, after all, even revolutionaries need to eat.
There is an assumption that those in the military are more immune to socialist propaganda, that they are divorced from civilian society, that they do not possess family and friends outside the military and therefore will be suffering from some type of ideological uneven development and that the social ideas of the general population will not be adopted by those in the armed forces. Surely, that is all up for debate. Don’t they have family and friends outside the forces? Don’t they have access to the media? If the military is singled out for this uneven development of consciousness, what other occupations should be included?
But to repeat once more the WSM case, the institution of parliament is not at fault. It is just that people’s ideas have not yet developed beyond belief in leaders and dependence on a political elite. Control of parliament by representatives of a conscious revolutionary movement will enable the bureaucratic-military apparatus to be dismantled and the oppressive forces of the state to be neutralised, so that socialism may be introduced with the least possible violence and disruption. Parliament and local councils, to the extent that their functions are administrative and not governmental, can and will be used to coordinate the emergency immediate measures to transform society when socialism is established.
If Bookchin can favour a political party, operating at the local level, organising itself on democratic, non-hierarchical lines to participate in local elections why can’t a party contesting national elections do so? Why can’t local “libertarian municipalist” parties form a federation based on the principles of delegated democracy to win control of central state power without becoming a Statist party?
And if they could, why not do it?
Surely this would be a better strategy than working to win control of local councils in the hope that when a majority of them had been won “the nation-state’s power would be sufficiently diminished that people would withdraw their support from it, and it would collapse like a house of cards”?
Far better, is it not, if only to minimise the risk of violence, to also organise to win a majority in parliament too, not to form a government, but to end capitalism and dismantle the state. Political democracy is not just, a trick whereby the capitalist class get the working class to endorse their rule, it is a potential instrument that the working class can turn into a weapon to use in ending capitalism and class rule. Bookchin’s mistake was in being inconsistent in not realising that the principles of a democratic organisation he recommends for his local municipal organisations could equally be applied on the broader political field, to the workers self-organised politically for socialism, i.e. to a workers’ socialist party in the fullest sense.
We have previously qualified our endorsement of parliamentarianism, criticising bourgeois democracy as the best we can hope for under capitalism but not the ideal model possible for the revolutionary. Capitalist democracy is not a participatory democracy, which a genuine democracy has to be. In practice, the people generally elect to central legislative assemblies and local councils professional politicians who they merely vote for and then let them get on with the job. In other words, the electors abdicate their responsibility to keep an eye on their representatives, giving them a free hand to do what the operation of capitalism demands. But that’s as much the fault of the electors as of their representatives, or rather it is a reflection of their low level of democratic consciousness.
It can’t be blamed on the principle of representation as such. There is no reason in principle why, with a heightened democratic consciousness (such as would accompany the spread of socialist ideas), even representatives sent to state bodies could not be subject – while the State lasts – to democratic control by those who sent them there. The argument that anarchists usually put against this is that “power corrupts”. But if power inevitability corrupts why does this not apply also in non-parliamentary elected bodies such as syndicalist union committees or workers councils?
Alternate strategies such as the General Strike are ones we also could employ in certain specific particular scenarios and therefore do not necessarily exclude them as tactics. What we do not do, but what some do, desire them as strategies and raise them to a point of political principle.