Who we are 1/3

Towards a better understanding of the world, in order to change it.

Ideas are social and artificial national borders cannot contain them, as we are presently seeing. When the World Socialist Movement (WSM) talk about revolution we are not using the word as a recruitment gimmick. The sort of world we want there will be no private or government ownership, no money and no countries. This kind of change indeed deserves the name “revolution.”

The WSM has never been in the business to win popularity contests and jump on any old band-wagon for the sake of recruitment and many of the political organisations that did have disappeared, having had no lasting impact. Events have only confirmed its case that understanding is a necessary condition for socialism, not desperation and despair. There is no easier road to socialism than the education of the workers in socialism and their organisation to establish it by democratic methods. Shortcuts have proved to be dead-ends.

Has history actually proved this position wrong? We doubt it. Until the knowledge and experience of the working class are equal to the task of revolution there can be no emancipation.

Street fighting on the barricades and other methods of insurrection are doomed to failure and only lead to a bloodbath to those workers who would be rash enough to attempt them. Class conscious political action to get control of the State machine is the only viable method open today. Political action is necessary to end the system, and the act of revolution is political. The State will not commence to “wither away” until it is in the hands of the revolutionary workers who will slowly but surely build up the new order of society thus abolishing the State functions. If the question of who controls parliament is empty rhetoric, then the ruling class spend an inordinate of time and effort vying with other sections of the ruling class for control of it and making sure workers endorse them with their vote.

The World Socialist Movement welcomes any upsurge in the militancy and resistance and organisation of our class. The skirmishes in the class war must be fought. Our theory of socialist revolution is grounded in Marx’s – the position of the working class within capitalist society forces it to struggle against capitalist conditions of existence and as the workers gained more experience of the class struggle and the workings of capitalism, the labour movement would become more consciously socialist and democratically organised by the workers themselves and would require no intervention by people outside the working class to bring it.

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 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 “workers-party-to-be” would be a mass democratic movement of the working class with a view to establishing socialism.”

Few in the present WSM would claim that mantle. Nevertheless, the fact of the longevity of our organisation as a political organisation based on agreed goals, methods and organisational principles seems to suggest that we indeed represent some strand of socialist thought that some people are drawn towards. We accept that it is the task of the WSM to challenge capitalist apologists and pseudo-socialists in the battle of ideas and that requires talking and engaging with our fellow workers.

The workers’ acceptance of capitalist political and social ideas, like their other ideas, is learned from other people–their parents, their school-teachers, their workmates, the press, television–and so derived from society so it follows therefore that the struggle against capitalist ideology must also be a struggle to spread socialist ideas – a role taken on by the WSM. Socialist ideas arise when workers begin to reflect on the general position of the working class within a capitalist society. They do then 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 socialist ideas amongst their fellow workers. We see socialist consciousness as emerging from a combination of two things – people’s experience of capitalism and the problems it inevitably creates but also the activity of socialists in making hearing the case for socialism a part of that experience.

The World Socialist Movement has never held that merely a formal majority at the polls 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 secondary to this. The issue of methods 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 actions of our capitalist opponents will determine our subsequent course.

Given that the socialist idea is firmly set in the mind of the working class, any action taken by the ruling class to prevent the realisation of socialism would be countered by the workers if solidly organised. Faced with the hostility of a majority of workers (including, of course, workers in the civil service and armed forces, as well as workers in all the productive and distributive occupations), the capitalist minority would be unable, in the long run, to enforce its commands as 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.

Elections are an useful expedient when the alternative is bloody failure on some barricade. But we’re not legalists so if the capitalists withdraw the franchise or change its rules we’ll have to act without it. Being dependent on the bourgeois offering us a voting opportunity for socialism is not the party case.

The World Socialist Movement’s case in this present world and not some hypothetical future scenario is that any attempt to establish a socialist society by ignoring the democratic process gives a recalcitrant minority the excuse for anti-libertarian direct action itself. We don’t think when faced with a massive majority vote for socialism, and a working-class outside parliament organised to back it up, the ruling class would put their life and liberty on the line by resorting to violence to try to resist the inevitable. Maybe there’ll be a few isolated acts of violence by fool-hardy individuals, but these could easily be contained and the socialist revolution should be able to pass off essentially peacefully.

 If 30% or so of the population ACTIVELY supporting the revolution outweighs the opposition sufficiently to achieve its goals, with the rest of our class either passively supporting us or just only sitting on the fence waiting to see what comes to pass, that constitutes a sufficient majority of socialists. It should be defined as “functional majority”, or such terms, and also not put in the bondage of the capitalist process. Capitalist politics, when they interact with our class at all, are fraught with ballot rigging and gerrymandering. The franchise, even when considered “universal”, always excludes large sectors of our class. We should also allow for the large possibility that any transition will not be that orderly – by the time we have succeeded there will be no need for such a ballot because the outcome will be obvious and have been the result of class warfare. It is essential for the revolutionary process that this majority is sufficient to make socialism work as a system of society and the deciding factor on the ‘majority’ is going to be how many of the population will be willing to make socialism actually work.

We cannot assume that all of our class will want to be physically involved – many for purely personal social or health reasons but for whatever reason will not want to stick their heads above the parapet. Also, lots of our class will be in organisations that have interpreted the situation differently, whether, anarchists, Trotskyists or what-not , and would be as likely to cooperate in many aspects of a revolution. We should have a revolutionary model which refers to socialism being brought about by a sufficient majority of socialists – sufficient in their political willingness and awareness, not a 100% at the polls or even a 51% active support. We talk of, as in  1955 Socialist Party’s EC Statement, of “The overwhelming mass of the people will participate, OR FALL IN LINE, the process of reorganisation ” [our emphasis]. Class societies only persist because a majority support or acquiesce to the social system. Once these start to be withdrawn we can expect a revolution.

 The WSM is accused of being Impossiblists by demanding “too much” –  free access and common ownership. The role of the WSM is to show workers that in fact, it is a practical proposition. To transform this desire into an immediacy for the working class. The World Socialist Movement is honest enough to admit that we don’t know what the characteristics of revolution will look like in detail but we do think we know what it won’t look like. Some expect the socialists to be soothsayers. The problem is that it is rather useless for us today to declare what tomorrow exactly is going to happen when socialism is imminent. We simply cannot foresee the events that take place even when say 30 % of the working class becomes socialist.

Say, for example, that we reached the stage where 20% of the adult working population was indeed socialist. That would be an incredible achievement and there would be a sudden rise in working-class militancy in immediate issues, there would be a new “socialist culture” being built, changes within the entire labour movement, in daily life and how people thought politically. At 40% we would still not be the “overwhelming majority” but this would be such a significant and politically powerful base. And here quantitative changes would mean qualitative changes. The “movement” we have now would not be the same movement under those circumstances. It might move in directions we have never even considered. And it has profound implications. It is too difficult for us to simply say that when the overwhelming majority of people around the world want socialism they will create it because there will indeed rise these very revolutionary situations or critical revolutionary crises or junctures that have not followed the formal logic of the propositions we put forward. The “movement” will take on a life of its own.

 The World Socialist Movement cannot control whether or not workers become socialists. What it can provide, and what it has continuously provided, is a theory of revolution that, if had been taken up by workers, would have prevented incalculable misery for millions. Over the years, the movement’s theory has led to the formation of a body of knowledge which has been consistently capable of accurate political and economic predictions.

Its propaganda 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 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 world 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 in the thinking of WSM members:

  • the snowball theory, that once a certain stage has been reached, socialist consciousness will grow at an 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 propagandism” 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 toward 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 of the American Socialist Labor Party, 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 those 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 they will have involvements in all kinds of areas of the class struggle, ranging from strike committees to anti-racist or anti-sexist awareness groups, from environmental campaigns to libertarian education projects. However involved individual members may or may not be in what is going on outside the World Socialist Movement, we certainly need to be aware that workers are doing things which, often unknowingly, are contributing to the 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 the evolution which 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 that socialists often encounter.

Some perceive a problem in that they cannot 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). The pamphlet “Socialist Principles Explained” says “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”.

 The World Socialist Movement is not without faults. We are only too painfully aware of them as Marx was about the boils on his ass. 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 about our approach and attitude does require to be addressed, but far more important is that it is not the content or validity of WSM thought and principles which require changing. 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. One cannot talk with workers unless one is WITH them. It is not enough to be one OF them. While the WSM may be overly focused on the “end aim”, the role of the “movement” itself may have been neglected, as a consequence.  But if the revolution is a process, the World Socialist Movement is going to be part of the process and will certainly not be the unmoving monument it’s made out to be, since it too evolves and has done so and will again.