WSM V. Anarchism

The political position of the World Socialist Movement (WSM) is frequently misrepresented by mistruths or misunderstandings.There are common parodies of the WSM presented rather than the genuine discussions on the disagreements which critics hold (particularly on Parliament and trade unions.)

First; lets begin with the structure and organisation of the WSM. In keeping with the tenet that working class emancipation necessarily excludes the role of political leadership, it is a leader-free. Although some wag can wise-crack that we are “museum marxists”, the longevity of the WSM as a political organisation based on agreed goals, methods and organisational principles and which has produced without interruption a monthly magazine for over a hundred years through two world wars is an achievement that most political groups can only aspire towards.

 The sole purpose of the World Socialist Movement is to argue for socialism and to measure how many socialist voters there are. We await the necessary future mass socialist party as impatiently as others and do not claim for ourselves the mantle of being or becoming that organisation. The function of the WSM  is to make socialists, to propagate socialism, and to point out to the workers that they must achieve their own emancipation.

It does not say: “Follow us! Trust us! We shall emancipate you.” Socialism must be achieved by the workers acting for themselves. We have been unique among political parties in calling on people NOT to vote for us unless they agree with what we stand for.

Contrary to rumour, the WSM does not insist that the workers be convinced one by one by members of the party.
“… if we hoped to achieve Socialism ONLY by our propaganda, the outlook would indeed be bad. But it is capitalism itself, unable to solve crises, unemployment and poverty, engaging in horrifying wars, which is digging its own grave. Workers are learning by bitter experience and bloody sacrifice for interests not their own. They are learning very slowly. Our job is to shorten the time, to speed up the process.” Socialism or Chaos

This socialist majority will elect socialist delegates to whatever democratic institutions exist ( \and these may be soviets or workers councils in some places), with the sole objective of legitimately abolishing capitalism. The WSM is well aware that if such a majority existed it could do as it well pleases, but we consider that a democratic mandate should be a smooth transition and we are also aware that the socialist majority might in certain circumstances have to use force to impose its will, but consider this an unlikely scenario.

The difference between the  World Socialist Movement and anarchists is not over the aim of abolishing the State but over how to do this. Anarchists say that the first objective of the workers’ revolution against capitalism should be to abolish the State. Socialists assert that, to abolish the State, the socialist working class majority must first win control of it and, if necessary, retain it (in albeit a suitably very modified form) but for a very short while just in case any pro-capitalist recalcitrant minority should try to resist the establishment of socialism. Once socialism, as the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by the whole people, has been established (which the WSM  has always claimed can be done almost immediately), the State is dismantled, dissolved completely. We are not talking years or decades or generations here, but as a continuation of the immediate revolutionary phase of the over-throw of capitalism .

Concerning the hostility clause in the WSM principles, it only commits the WSM to opposing all other political parties, defined as organisations that contest elections and/or make demands on governments to enact reforms. There needs to be only one working-class class party and that this must be opposed to all other parties which can only represent sections of the owning class and if there were two groups of organised socialists, with more or less the same principles, then it would be their duty to try to unite to further the coming into being of the single “ideal” socialist party, opposed to all others, mentioned in Clause 7. They would both want socialism; they would both favour democratic revolution to get it; they would both be democratically organised internally; they would both repudiate advocating or campaigning for reforms of capitalism. There would no doubt be differences over tactical questions (which presumably would be why there were two separate organisations), such as over the trade union question, the attitude a minority of socialists should adopt in parliament,even over whether religion was a social question or a private matter. But it would be the duty of the two groups to find a solution to this and form a single organisation.

In 1904,  the Socialist Party raised the banner for such a single, mass socialist party and offered itself (proclaimed itself, actually) as the basis or embryo of such a party (Clause 8). Not only did the working class in general, or in any great numbers, not “muster under its banner” but neither did all socialists. So we were left as a small propagandist group, but still committed to the principles set out in our declaration of principles. But we have never been so arrogant as to claim that we’re the only socialists and that anybody not in the SPGB is not a socialist. There are socialists outside the SPGB, and some of them are organised in different groups. 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 what they are proposing the working class should do to get socialism and of course the opposite is the case, too, they’re opposed to what we propose. Apart from the Socialist Labour Party and its offshoots, nearly all the others who stand for a class-free, state-free, money-free, wageless society (“the non-market, anti-statist sector”) are anti-parliamentary.

For the World Socialist Movement using the existing historically-evolved mechanism of political democracy (the ballot box, parliament) is the best and safest way for a socialist-minded working class majority to get to socialism. For them, it’s anathema. To the WSM, some of the alternatives they suggest (armed insurrection, a general strike) are equally an anathema.

We all present our respective proposals for working-class action to get socialism and, while criticising each other’s proposals, not challenging each other’s socialist credentials (engaging in comradely criticism). In the end, the working class itself will decide what to do.

What some call “the thin red line” is condemned to remain thin it seems for the time being. At a later stage, when more and more people are coming to want socialism, a mass socialist movement will emerge to dwarf all the small groups and grouplets that exist today.

 In the meantime, the best thing we in the WSM can do is to carry on campaigning for a world community based on the common ownership and democratic control of the Earth’s natural and industrial resources in the interests of all humanity. We in the WSM will continue to propose that this be established by democratic, majority political action; the other groups will no doubt continue to propose their way to get there. And we’ll see which proposal the majority working class takes up. It’s not for us, a handful of socialists/anarchists today who’re going to establish socialism, but the mass of people out there.

Until they move,we’re stymied. Until then we agree to disagree. Those who want to argue that such a society should be established through democratic majority political action based on socialist understanding, and who want to concentrate on arousing this, will join the WSM. Those argue that it will come about some other way, or want to do other things as well, will join some other group. And while at the same time addressing ourselves to non-socialists we should also keep on discussing with each other.

From the comments of some critics, there is no need for them to have a clause in their equivalent declaration of principles to express hostility against the WSM.
To paraphrase sci-fy author, Ken McLeod,  in the Stone Canal, an SPGBer answering the charge of sectarianism from a Trotskyist exclaims:
how can a member of a split from a split from a split from a split from a split from the Fourth International call US sectarian?

Such a similar reposte can be so easily directed at those on the anarcho/council communist milieu. In the main, it remains true that no other organisation or group comes anywhere near the comprehensive case which the WSM set out.

The WSM companion party, the SPGB, is the oldest existing socialist party in the UK and has been propagating the alternative to capitalism since 1904. A Marxist-based (but perhaps a William Morris – Peter Kropotkin amalgam may be a better description ) organisation. It is a non-Social Democrat 2nd Internationalist, non-Leninist 3rd Internationalist, non-Trotskyist 4th Internationalist political organisation that is a formally structured leader-free political party.(under UK electoral law, a registered political party, which we are, has to name its leader and to comply the SPGB simply draws a name out of a hat)

We share one thing in common with the Industrial Workers of the World in the sense that unions should not be used as a vehicle for political parties and have their control fought over. 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 for the foreseeable that’s far off in the future. It is NOT the WSM’s task to lead the workers in struggle or to instruct its members on what to do in trade unions, pressure groups or whatever, because we believe that class conscious workers and socialists are quite capable of making decisions for themselves. For the Lenininists, all activity should be mediated by the Party (union activity, community struggles or whatever) , whereas for us, the Party is just one mode of activity available to the working class to use in their struggles.

We agree with Anton Pannekoek who said:-
‘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’.

Class struggle without any clear understanding of where you are going is simply committing oneself to a never-ending treadmill. This is where the Leninist parties goes wrong. They think mechanistically that a sense of revolutionary direction emerges spontaneously out of “the struggle” thus circumventing the realm of ideology – the need to educate. It does not. The workers can never win the class struggle while it is confined simply to the level of trade union militancy; it has to be transformed into a socialist consciousness. Conversely, socialist consciousness cannot simply rely for its own increase on ideological persuasion. It has to link up with the practical struggle. The success of the socialist revolution will depend on the growth of socialist consciousness on a mass scale and that these changed ideas can only develop through a practical movement.

Just to reiterate, the real difference with the WSM  and various anarchists/syndicalists is over which form of activity and organisation – political or industrial – is the more important. Our view is that it is the winning of political control which is more important and that is why we emphasise this (and in the past may have made a fetish of it but there is much more of a balance on the matter these days, and just maybe, the anarchists could also shift their position in return.)

What we do share in common with anarchism, however, is failure to convince the majority of workers of the strengths of both our respective positions, and that is worth debating why.

Anyone who considers the WSM to be Leninist BECAUSE it holds a set of basic principles must also disagree with many anarchist organisations, who also have a collective identity and strategy that they understand to be the most appropriate means for establishing their libertarian society.

As said earlier, the working class will ultimately decide the means to emancipate itself. The WSM stands by its analysis that we should use Parliament, not to try to reform capitalism but for the purpose of abolishing capitalism and that at the same time, the working class will also be organising itself, at the various places of work, in order to keep production going. The WSM case of the primacy of political action has not been hidden. Its a point that we will disagree upon with anarchists and syndicalists and as we present our arguments and let the working class choose.

Another principle held by the World Socialist Movement is the need for the majority to understand and support the socialist transformation of society. Anarchists (and Leftists) have to envisage some other means of expressing the popular will and public demand than a parliament elected by and responsible to a socialist majority amongst the population. But what, exactly?

It would have to be something like the Congress of Socialist Industrial Unions or a Central Council of Workers Councils or Federation of Communes. Possibly similar bodies such as these will exist at the time, the WSM has stated that they probably will arise, but would any of these bodies be more efficient and more effective and even more democratic in controlling the State/central administrative machinery than a socialist majority elected to Parliament by universal suffrage in a secret ballot. Simply visit Anarchist FAQ for details of how the soviets were manipulated and gerrymandered by a minority.

Some of our antagonists project a travesty of interpretation of the WSM  and its aim of capturing the State machine.

For clarity let us re-emphasise from our pamphlet:

“…the socialist working class majority must first win control of it and, if necessary, retain it (in albeit a suitably very modified form) but for a very short while just in case any pro-capitalist recalcitrant minority should try to resist the establishment of socialism. Once socialism, as the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by the whole people, has been established (which the SPGB has always claimed can be done almost immediately ), the State is dismantled, dissolved completely We are not talking years or decades or generations here , but as a continuation of the immediate revolutionary phase of the over-throw of capitalism.

And let’s be clear, there are government departments such as of health and agriculture and environment which according to anti-statists will all be relegated to history and the experience and skills and knowledge of socialists within those organisations will not be utilised to tackle the problems facing the re-structuring of society and its socialisation.

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 immediate measures to transform society when socialism is established. Far better, is it not, if only to minimise the risk of violence, to organise to win a majority in parliament, not to form a government, but to end capitalism and dismantle the state.

As for having confidence in the working class anarchists and the Left don’t even trust them with the vote

The World Socialist Movement say that the capitalist’s legitimacy comes from their ‘democratic’ rule, so we believe that the capitalist’s legitimacy can be totally be broken by taking a majority in Parliament . But “capturing” Parliament is only a measure of acceptance of socialism and a coup de grace to capitalist rule. The owning class has a supreme weapon within its grasp: political power, control of the army, navy, air and police forces.

That power is conferred upon the representatives of the owners at election times and they, recognising its importance, spend large amounts of wealth and much time and effort to secure it. In countries like Britain the workers form the bulk of the voters; a situation the employers are compelled to face and deal with. Hence the incessant stream of opinion-forming influences which stems from their ownership and control of the news outlets and other media to influence the workers to the view that capitalism is the best of all possible social forms. And that only political groups who accept this view are worthy of workers votes. It is the Achilles heel of capitalism and makes a non-violent revolution possible.Therefore , the first, most important battle is to continue the destruction of capitalism’s legitimacy in the minds of our fellow class members. That is, to drive the development of our class as a class-for-itself, mindful of the fact that capitalism is a thing that can be destroyed and a thing that should be destroyed. They must withdraw their consent to capitalism and class rule.

The WSM views its function to be to make socialists, to propagate socialism, and to point out to the workers that they must achieve their own emancipation. The abolition of capitalism MUST entail organisation without leaders or leadership. The act of abolition of capitalist society requires a primary prerequisite and that’s knowledge on the part of the individual as to what it is that is responsible for his or her enslavement. Without that knowledge s/he can only blunder and make mistakes that leave their class just where they were in the beginning, still enslaved. That knowledge must precede intelligent action. And intelligent action in this instance means intelligent organisation (a lack of unity of ideas and purpose always ends in defeat even for the non-socialist and non-revolutionary groups and parties.) The working class must want and understand a socialist society of common ownership and democratic control. We need to organise politically, into a political party, a socialist party,  a mass party that has yet to emerge, not a small educational and propagandist group such as the WSM.

This future party will neutralise the State and its repressive forces and there is no question of forming a government and “taking office”, and then it will proceed to take over the means of production for which the working class have also organised themselves to do at their places of work. This done, the repressive state is disbanded and its remaining administrative and service features, reorganised on a democratic basis, are merged with the organisations which the majority will have formed (workers councils or whatever) to take over and run production, to form the democratic administrative structure of the stateless society of common ownership that socialism will be.

However, before we are labelled pure and simple parliamentarians “capturing” Parliament is only a measure of acceptance of socialism and a coup de grace to capitalist rule. The real revolution in social relations will be made in our lives and by ourselves, not Parliament. 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 participating beyond this in the transformation of society.


The WSM is Marxist. In fact, probably the closest Marxists to Marx and Engels there is. Key issue of difference is over fighting for reforms if a socialist gets elected. They reject it, arguing it would produce reformism. Marx and Engels advocated it and it did.

The WSM agree with Marx and Engels that universal suffrage equates to the political power of the working class and that it can be used by socialists to capture the state, which would then be reformed to make it more democratic which would then quickly wither away.

In terms of goals, what it calls socialism is pretty much anarcho-communism. It just disagrees with anarchists on the best way to get there. They support, as per Marx and Engels, “political action” (voting) while anarchists support direct action.