Battle of Ideas 3/3

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, the WSM’s theory has led to the formation of 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. The WSM argued that socialism was not being established in Russia. What followed was the horrendous misery of the Stalinist years. The Party put forward the same view of events in China in 1949. What is happening in Russia and China now? The rulers of these once 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 lacking direction, 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 World Socialist Movement 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. Nor is it right in stating that the WSM relies simply upon the agency of abstract propaganda. Our campaigns are not abstract: we relate to the real experiences of workers today, constantly making clear that socialism is a immediately practical solution to workers’ so-called “short-term interests”.

The WSM 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 such as Trotskyists 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 (if you like) 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 within our 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 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 strikes to anti-racism or anti-sexism groups. How much involved individual members may be or may not be in what is happening in World Socialist Parties, we certainly need to be aware that workers are doing things which, often unknowingly, are contributing to the growth and evolution of class consciousness. Not everything has to have the stamp of approval of the WSM for it to be non-reformist and contributory to what precedes revolution. The WSM 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.

Some perceive a problem problem they can’t see how workers who have become socialists can be expected to sit back and wait for a majority to join them before being able to do something constructive. But no-one’s asking them to do this. There will be a whole series of “practical” actions, apart from socialist propaganda activity, that will become possible when once there is a substantial minority of socialists (as opposed to the tiny minority we are today). Our pamphlet “Socialist Principles Explained” explains:

 “The organisation and day-to-day running of socialist society will be a completely separate issue. It will have been discussed and planned at great length by everybody before the actual take-over of power takes place. ” and “As the old regime is abolished, the new, really democratic, social order, discussed and planned for so long beforehand , will come into operation”.

Socialist Principles Explained – (

For instance there will be involvement in:-
* the challenges of the practice of democracy within the socialist political party, and the broader socialist movement generally.
* the task within the trade unions to prosecute the class struggle on the economic front in a more class-conscious and democratic way as well as drawing up plans for keeping production going during the period of social revolution while political action is being taken to end the monopoly exercised by the capitalist class over the means of production.
*participation within the numerous associations, clubs and mutual aid groups that will flourish at this time, to discuss and prepare the implementation of plans in such fields as town planning, education and culture both after and to a certain extent even before the establishment of socialism.

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 in the WSM can can picture a socialist party and movement growing in the future along with many working class organisational forms including trade unions, 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, Hungary 1919, the British General strike, council movements in Ireland and Scotland in the same period, in Italy, Hungary 1956, Poland 1970). 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 IWW 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.

We don’t wish it to appear that the WSM is without faults. We are only too painfully aware of them, just as Marx was about the boils on his bum.

 We are more or less invisible to the working class because too often we are an organisation on the outside looking in. We look upon workers’ self-organisation (for reforms, for wage rises, or whatever) and we say “It doesn’t go far enough! They’re not advocating socialism. Don’t they understand that socialism is the solution?” and then we step back from the real struggle in front of our us for fear that either we will be tainted with the smudge of reformism or that somehow will recreate the interventionism of the Leninists.

Perhaps a grain of truth in that but we would assert that it is to be with the approach and attitude which requires addressing and not the content or validity of WSM thought and principles. Where we as a political party and movement often fail is in our own activism, in not “being there” with the working class, alongside them, when it is fighting its battles – that invisibility again! One cannot talk with workers unless one is WITH them. It is not enough to be one OF them. What we have to be is the movement (as i earlier quoted) the group which points out the way, which “pushes forward“. With the World Socialist Movement focused mainly only on the “end aim”, the role of the “movement” itself has been neglected. But if the revolution is a process, the WSM is going to be part of the process and will certainly not be the unmoving monument it has been made out to be, since it too evolves and has done so and will again.