Who we are 2/3

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” 

The World Socialist Movement (WSM) are not the socialist “party” that Marx (or even our Declaration of Principles) envisages, ie the working class as a whole organised politically, for socialism. That will come later.

At the moment, the WSM can best be described as only a socialist campaigning or socialist education organisation and can’t be anything else (and nor would it try to be, at the moment). Possibly, we might be the embryo of the future mass “socialist party” but there’s no guarantee that we will be (more likely just a contributing element). But who cares? As long as such a party does eventually emerges. In 1904 the Socialist Party of Great Britain raised the banner for such a single, mass socialist party and proclaimed itself as the basis of such a party. Not only did the working class in general not “muster under its banner” but neither did all socialists. So although with a long history as a political party based on agreed goals, methods and organisational principles we were left as a small propagandist group, but still committed to the tenets 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 WSM is not a socialist. There are socialists outside the WSM, 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 how they are proposing for the working class should do to get socialism – and, of course, the opposite is the case too – they’re opposed to what we propose. Nearly all the others who stand for a classless, state-free, money-free, wages-free society are anti-parliamentary (the old Socialist Labour Party being an exception).

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

Those who know of the World Socialist Movement would have noticed that we don’t go out of our way to recruit members. Some could, in fact, say we do just the opposite. At first sight, we seem to have an odd approach to recruitment of any political party in existence – we actually have a test for membership. The WSM will not allow a person to join it until the applicant has convinced the branch applied to that she or he is a conscious socialist. Surely it must put some people off? Well, that may be, but it can’t be helped. There would be no point in a socialist organisation giving full democratic rights to those who, in any significant way, disagreed with the socialist case. The outcome of that would be entirely predictable.

This does not mean that the World Socialist Movement has set itself up as an intellectual elite into which only those well versed in Marxist scholarship may enter. It, however, has good reason to ensure that only conscious socialists enter its ranks, for, once admitted, all members are equal and it would clearly not be in the interest of the movement to offer equality of power to those who are not able to demonstrate equality of basic socialist understanding. Once a member, s/he has the same rights as the oldest member to sit on any committee, vote, speak, and have access to all information. Thanks to the test all members are conscious socialists and there is genuine internal democracy and of that, we are rightly proud.

Many have equated socialism with dictatorship, yet, with the coming of the modern industrial state, most of the world’s population has lived under dictatorship. In the world today there are many countries under dictatorships of varying degrees of ruthlessness; that is to say, countries in which the government is not responsible to the electorate and in which political parties and trade unions are suppressed, or are allowed to exist only as organs of the government itself, and in which freedom of speech and opposition propaganda are denied. The World Socialist Movement, in conformity with its adherence to democratic principles, is opposed to all dictatorships. The WSM has always insisted on the democratic nature of socialism, and on the value that the widest possible discussion of conflicting political views has for the working class. We do not minimise the importance of democracy for the working class or the socialist movement.

Dictatorship does not exist in a vacuum: like every other social phenomenon, it is related to and has its origin in, a social background. That background is capitalism which inevitably gives rise to working-class problems, consequent frustration, prejudices and bitterness which can be exploited by the opponents of democracy. With equal inevitability, it also gives rise to problems of a specifically capitalist nature: such as maintaining the profitability of production; securing new and retaining old markets; the necessity of forging ‘national unity’ when faced with war with rival capitalist groups, and so on. It is precisely in an attempt to solve these problems that the ruling class in certain circumstances has recourse to dictatorship. As long as the workers support capitalism and capitalist policies they will be tempted ultimately to give their support to the policy best calculated to meet the political and economic needs of capitalism, though that policy may be one of dictatorship.

Dictatorship in various forms exists at the present time, basically because of the political immaturity of most of the working class all over the world. Instead of being united by worldwide class consciousness, they are everywhere divided: divided between the nations by the poison of nationalism; divided inside the nations by religious, racial and other superstitions; divided also by the failure of many to appreciate the importance of democracy.

Nationalism plays a powerful role in thwarting the growth of class consciousness; by inducing workers such as in the newly created countries of Africa to accept oppression for the supposed benefits they will later receive when industrial development has been speeded up; by the readiness of the workers in countries holding colonies to condone what is in effect a dictatorship imposed on the colonial peoples.

We are convinced that democracy cannot be defended by the adoption of the ‘lesser evil’, that is, a policy of concessions to and compromise with non-fascist parties and elements of capitalism. We do not unite with non-socialist organisations which claim to be defending democracy. Democracy for the working class can only be consolidated and expanded to the extent that the workers adopt the socialist standpoint. To renounce socialism so democracy may be defended means ultimately the rejection of both socialism and democracy. Looking at the vast sums of money involved in our allegedly democratic elections we can hardly claim that they are “free”. In fact, in most of the so-called democratic countries, it could be said that the astronomical costs of challenging for political power have been deliberately manipulated in order to ensure that those who cannot attract rich backers will be denied meaningful access to the democratic process. Effectively this means that in the same way as people in dictatorships are denied the right to make real political changes, in allegedly democratic societies prohibitive financial restrictions are placed in the way of the working class organising politically to effect real economic change.

The idea of fair and free elections would give the ruling class political apoplexy. This does not mean that socialists equate dictatorship and bourgeois democracy. Within the latter, we are free to organise politically and to develop our support to the extent where we can eventually overcome the embargoes and impediments that capitalism’s restricted democratic forms impose on us, whereas in the former any socialist work is necessarily clandestine and can invoke severe penalties. The democratic state has been forced, against its will, to bring into being methods, institutions and procedures which have left open the road to power for workers to travel upon when they know what to do and how to do it. In this country, the central institution through which power is exercised is a parliament. To merely send working-class nominees there to control it is not sufficient. The purpose must be to accomplish a revolutionary reorganisation of society, a revolution, in its basis, which will put everybody on an equal footing as participants in the production, distribution and consumption of social requirements as well as in the control of society itself. So that all may participate equally, democracy is an essential condition. Free discussion, full and free access to information, means to implement the wishes of the majority which have been arrived at after free discussion, and the means to alter decisions if the wishes of the majority change. Socialist production needs to be organised democratically – a dictatorship organising production for use would not be socialism.

 At some stage, for whatever reason, socialist consciousness will reach a “critical mass”, at which point it will just snowball and carry people along with it. At the 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. When the idea of socialism catches on, we’ll then have our united movement. With the spread of socialist ideas, all organisations will change and take on a participatory-democratic and socialist character, so that the majority organisation for socialism will not be just political and economic, but will also embrace all aspects of social life, as well as interpersonal relationships. We’re talking about a radical social revolution. It may even come about without people actually giving it the label of socialism.

The crucial part of the WSM case is that understanding is a necessary condition for socialism and we see our movement’s task as to shorten the time, speed up the process – to act as a catalyst.