Battle of Ideas 1/3

“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” but, yes, unlike some here we do say it has to be “by organising a political party for the conquest of state power”

 Socialism requires a clear understanding of socialist principles with a determined desire to put them into practice. For socialism to be established working people must understand the nature and purpose of the new society.

The World Socialist Movement’s theory of socialist revolution is grounded in Marxism – the position of the working class within capitalist society demands it to struggle against capitalist conditions of existence and as the workers gains more experience of the class struggle and how capitalism operates, the labour movement will become more consciously socialist and increasingly organised by the workers themselves that it would require no intervention by people outside the working class to bring it about.

 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 own 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. Marx’s “the workers’ party to be”, would be the mass democratic movement of the working class with a view to establishing socialism”. The WSM however fully accept that it has a responsibility to challenge capitalist apologists and pseudo-socialists in the battle of ideas and that requires communicating with our fellow workers.

 Workers’ acceptance of capitalist political and social ideas, like their other ideas, is learned from other people – their parents, their school teachers, college professors, their work colleagues, the media – and so derived from society  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 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 workers but of socialist-minded workers spreading and sharing socialist ideas with their fellow workers. Socialist consciousness is seen as emerging from a combination of two things – people’s experience of capitalism and the problems capitalism inevitably creates but additionally, 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, nor as an economic doctrine, but as one which embraces every phase of social life.

Our critics question the World Socialist Movement’s commitment to constitutional change where it is possible, accusing it of naivety in expecting the ruling class to grant working people access to political power, declaring that capitalists would deny the ability of workers to organise politically. If faced with an impending socialist election victory the capitalist ruling class would abolish political democracy and, even if they let things go so far as an actual socialist election victory, would not respect it and would carry on ruling regardless. The WSM response is a simple position and it is that we would change our tactics if the law on elections was changed to the workers’ detriment, but until that day happens, we shall remain committed to democracy and let the capitalist class prove themselves to be non-democratic. We won’t stand idly by if the constitution is changed. It wouldn’t stop socialism being eventually established, one way or another.

“We have never held, as a matter of fact, that a merely formal majority at the polls under no matter what circumstances, will give the workers power to achieve Socialism…we stress the necessity of capturing the machinery of government including the armed forces. That is the fundamental thing. The method, though important, is second to this.”

As far back as 1909 the Socialist Party answered the question “What would be the action of the S.P.G.B. if the capitalist class, in view of the possibility of an adverse vote, disfranchise the workers?” 

The appropriate reply was that:

 In such an event we would be faced with a new problem; the whole aspect has changed; constitutional methods are closed to us; and we are forced to adopt methods of secret organisation and physical violence. And that is the only course left open if the workers disfranchise themselves by baulking at any of the formulae imposed by the capitalist government to hinder the political return of their social and economic opponents in the class struggle. But there is little likelihood of the master class being so blind…Not that the master class will hesitate at bloodshed if they deem it necessary to the maintenance of capitalist privilege…Actually the problem of the methods to be adopted must be determined by the circumstances of the time. Our first move 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. The move of our opponents against the successful action of that political party must determine our subsequent actions. If the fight is kept to the political field within constitutional limits, the rulers taking the defeat when it comes in a spirit of contrition and resignation – well and good. If they choose not to accept the verdict of the nation when given through the medium of their own institutions, but contest that verdict by physical force, the workers must be depended upon to repeat their verdict upon that field, and if the capitalist class follows its predecessors into the limbo of the forgotten past through an exit of blood and carnage, its blood must be on its own head. 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…Given, then, the Socialist idea firmly set in the mind of the working class, any action taken by the masters to prevent the realisation of that idea would be checked by the workers if solidly organised into the Socialist Party; while a final appeal to physical force hastened by the destruction of constitutional means would leave the victory with the workers, who, “vastly outnumber their tyrants in war”…”

Even if a pro-capitalist minority were to try to prevent a change of political control via the ballot box with a “pro-slavery rebellion” as Marx envisaged according to Engels the socialist majority will still be able to impose its will by other means, such as street demonstrations and strikes.

“Faced with the hostility of a majority of workers (including, of course, workers in the civil and armed forces, as well as workers in productive and distributive occupations), the capitalist minority would be unable, in the long run, to enforce its commands and the workers would be able to dislocate production and transport.”

 Our view is that a socialist majority can both win and retain power via the ballot box if that majority is sufficiently organised and determined and if there is no question as to their democratic legitimacy.  Any attempt to establish an socialist society by ignoring the democratic process gives any recalcitrant minority the excuse for a reactionary counter-revolution. We insist on the necessity of majority understanding behind socialist delegates with a mandate for socialism, merely using the state and parliament for one revolutionary act, after which the socialist parties have no further existence.