Who we are 3/3

Never in history has there been such a glaring contrast between what could be and what actually exists.

The World Socialist Parties of the United States, New Zealand and India, the Socialist Party of Great Britain and the Socialist Party of Canada are companion parties in the World Socialist Movement (WSM) – which sadly remains an aspiration than reality. We advocate production for use, common ownership and free access which entails the end of private property, of the wages system and a money-free world.

We also possess a long (and frequently unpopular) background of exposing the misrepresentations of those who describe themselves as “socialists” and “communists” as well as those reformers who relegate “from each according to ability, to each according to need” to some far-off utopian future and in its stead substitute nationalisation within a “workers’ state” or “peoples democracy” as an immediate objective.

The WSM is not anarchist but there are many points in which its ideas coincide with the anarcho-communist attitude. The WSM is agreed as to the general object for which we are striving – the ownership of all the means of production by the community; that community to be organised on the most democratic basis possible. But, beyond this, we are not specifically concerned with the details and intricacies of the organisation of the new society; and it is possible that in the conception of what that organisation will be there may be the widest divergence of views.

The point of difference here between the WSM and anarchists is not on the form of organisation of the future society, or of the details of such organisation. It is not that the World Socialist Movement wishes to impose on the future society a huge bureaucratic system, dominating all the arrangements of social life, crushing all individuality, and reducing every detail of existence to rule and plan. But we do stand for social ownership and social control, as do the anarchists. We are, however, not called upon to lay down rules for that future society. We shall let that society take care of itself in that respect. It is very interesting, no doubt, to speculate on the future arrangements of society, whether it will be based on workers’ councils, federations of communes, decisions made by general assemblies or delegated committees but it is not in our power to insist that these arrangements be this or that. Any discussion on this we leave to comradely debate.

The essential difference between the WSM and anarchists is the methods and means of achieving the revolutionary transformation of society. We view it that here, today, political means are practically the only means practicable. But the anarchists will disagree. Those in the WSM propose to use all the legislative and administrative machinery within the state and which the working class endeavour to take into its possession as the method of emancipation. We accept the vote and parliamentary action as revolutionary. The value of political action by a socialist party is called in question by anarchists who suggest what they consider to be more speedy means or more effective methods to be adopted. They expect nothing and never expected anything from parliamentary action. They maintain that participation in parliamentary action is a waste of time and effort, and they relish the disappointing and the poor results parliamentary action has so far has achieved for the World Socialist Parties. We cannot expect results unless voters themselves get the understanding and the spirit of organisation, which has yet to develop. Where people cannot imagine a way out of intolerable conditions there cannot be a great political movement and no amount of political propaganda can produce a movement.

In recent years, we have heard a great deal, in this connection, about direct action, the general strike, the economic struggle and so on, as if the method of action denoted by these terms constituted something quite new and original, instead of harking back to syndicalist tactics which had been tried and tested and frequently found futile, the ineffectiveness of which has been demonstrated by experience.

The trade unions are receding more and more into purely defensive activity. They lose members and become weaker. A much more energetic policy is possible in the struggle against the employers, but even with more militancy, trade union action alone is not adequate.  The actual work of the unions is based upon an acceptance of capitalism. They are not organised for the purpose of liberating the working class from the condition of exploitation and oppression to which it is doomed under capitalism. Instead, they confine themselves to the attempt to raise the wages of the workers and obtain favourable social legislation while keeping the capitalist profit system. The trade unions are pushed toward the road of political action which is a generalisation of economic action.

Our primary function, however, is to organise as a political party, independent, class-conscious,  and democratic. The function of anarcho-syndicalists lies with the unions and the workers-councilists with their factory committees. These functions are not absolutely distinct and separate, they are co-ordinated, and to some extent interdependent. Yet they are not identical. The trade unions can help us, we can help them. Socialists should be the subordinate partner in the matter of supporting industrial disputes. The WSM declines to dictate the policy of the trade union in conducting the strike unlike the Trotskyist interventionists. Nor do we  expect the trade unions to abandon the immediate objects and demands in order to make the socialist revolution, as the early Socialist Labor Party and the Industrial Workers of the World did.

The class struggle is a political struggle. It cannot be fought successfully by the workers unless they have a political weapon, which means, their own political party. The capitalist class has its own political parties and interest groups and sees to it that they remain committed to its basic interests, the maintenance of the capitalist system. The capitalists see to it that they remain under their control. They provide them with media exposure,  provides them with funds, running into millions each year. In some places, the capitalists are in direct control of these parties, in others, their allies are in control. Those anarchists who argue against a workers’ party have so little confidence in the working class in whose name they presume to speak, that they cannot conceive of it winning the support of the bulk of the people. That it should be run by millions of workers is inconceivable to them.

We do not pretend that our commitment to elections and voting is applicable everywhere and at all times. We say it is foolish not to let circumstance determine tactics, foolish to admit one method and exclude another without regard to the situation that prevails. Simply because the WSM counsels workers to organise politically, to conquer and use the political power that the capitalist class has learned to be so effective in imposing their rule, that is no reason why workers should abandon strike action, or should not resort to “direct action” whenever circumstances justify such strategy. Industrial and political action should be complementary to each other. The mistake is in attaching too much or too little importance to one or the other. It is beneficial to workers if both these means of action are to be made the best use of. Collaboration between the two forms of organisation, the party and the unions, is essential to enable the working class to advance.

Without the party, the unions would be limited to partial and isolated struggles for reforms. Political action is something more than parliamentary action and the World Socialist Movement’s intent is not to become a voting machine. The function of the socialist parties is not simply to elect members to Parliament or Congress to act as politicians and “statesmen,” but as rebels, and not to co-operate with capitalist parties in carrying out measures of reform in the mistaken belief that, perhaps, socialism might, at last, be realised; but in truth will put off that realisation for as long as possible. The WSM wants to see a class-conscious One Big Union on the industrial field (members of the Socialist Party of Canada contributed to the creation of the Canadian OBU) and one class-conscious socialist party on the political field, each the counterpart of the other, and both working together in harmonious cooperation to overthrow the capitalist system and emancipate the workers from wage slavery.

We believe we can win a majority of the people to support a change in the system. Socialism is not the regime of a minority. It cannot, therefore, be imposed by a minority. Our whole case rests on the assumption that violence comes, as, indeed, it generally does, from the side of the ruling class. We have no respect for the established order of things, knowing full well its ruthless disregard for human life and its indifference to human suffering and misery. We may at times sympathise with the crimes of the outlaw, created a criminal by society. But we know that the crimes and violence inflicted upon our class enemies only serve to strengthen them and that they are not revolutionary but reactionary in their effects. We may excuse, but we cannot advocate violence. Violence can only be resorted to in self-defence. Great social changes that are called revolutions cannot (or rather can no longer) be accomplished by a minority. A revolutionary minority, no matter how intelligent and determined, is not enough, in today’s world to bring about a revolution. The cooperation and adherence of the majority are needed. The socialist revolution will not be accomplished by the action, or the sudden blows of a militant minority, but by the defiant and harmonious will of the immense majority. Whoever depends on physical force to bring about the revolution and gives up the method of winning over the immense majority to our ideas, will give up at the same time any possibility of transforming the social order.

Workers and socialists have struggled long and hard for universal suffrage. Elections indicate the strength of the different parties. A minority that, having taken part in the elections and having accepted them as a gauge, should then attempt to do violence to the majority, would be opposed by a majority that, aware of the legitimacy of the ballot would not yield. The socialist’s task is to organise the revolution through the conquest of political power. We are by no means fanatics of democracy. The Parliamentary franchise is not an end in itself, but only a means to an end. We hold no illusions as to the value of the vote. Those votes are but the outward and visible sign of an inward invisible class consciousness; the expression of a working-class revolutionary organisation. The power of the ballot depends, not upon the process, but upon the person behind the vote. That is not to say that the winning of seats is of no importance at all. It is important for it enables us to capture control of the machinery of the state to deprive the capitalists of its use and it legitimises the appropriation of the capitalist class. Parliamentarianism is simply the most effective and appropriate means to that end at the present time.

Many are put off by our label “Socialist Party” and rightly should be suspicious, considering the “party-machine” manipulations of capitalist political parties and the left-wing “democratic centralism” structure. However, those who know the party understand it to be almost “anarchist” and utmost democratic in its organisation. Our political movement does not advocate reforms, not because it is against reforms (how on earth could a working-class party be against reforms in the working class interest?), but because it wants to build support for socialism, and not for reforms. The party’s task is not to “lead the workers in struggle” or even to instruct its members on what to do in trade unions, neighbourhood associations etc because we believe that socialists and class-conscious workers are quite capable of making decisions for themselves. As socialists we do not impose our position upon the working class, so thankfully, if we as an organisation are wrong, the consequences are not transferred to others of our class by a cadre leadership or party vanguard.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain was the product of lessons its founding members had learned within the Social Democratic Federation from which they concluded that a socialist party had to be leader-free. A truly revolutionary position for its time and for today. Its structure was designed to avoid the rise of leaders and became an organisation that made individual leaders superfluous and has been emulated by the other companion parties in the WSM. It denied aspiring leaders any dominance by such means as private ownership of the party’s journal or executive powers of control over the offices they were elected to. They instituted a knowledge test to place all members on a level footing.

The Socialist Party has an executive committee solely for housekeeping administrative duties and cannot determine policy. It is an EC that is not even permitted to submit resolutions to conferences, only branches hold that right. All conference decisions have to be ratified by a referendum of the whole membership. Its General Secretary has no position of authority over any other member, being again responsible for some of the day-to-day running of the organisation. Mandating delegates, voting on resolutions and membership referendums are democratic practices for ensuring that the members of an organisation control that organisation – and as such key procedures in any organisation genuinely seeking socialism.

Socialism can only be a fully democratic society in which everybody will have an equal say in the ways things are run. This means that it can only come about democratically, both in the sense of being the expressed will of the working class and in the sense of the working class being organised democratically – without leaders, but with mandated delegates – to achieve it. In rejecting these procedures what is being declared is that the working class should not organise itself democratically.

 Members of the WSM do engage in the struggle to stop attacks on job conditions, schools closing, university fees rising, and hospitals shutting, as individuals and as local community members but we don’t parachute into campaigns as an outside organisation to control such resistance – we do not offer ourselves up as the leaders of it. We do not seek to direct such struggles but limit ourselves to urging workers to organise any particular struggle in a fully democratic way under the control of those directly involved.

Nor does the World Socialist Movement recruit at any political cost. We actually have an entrance test for membership. This does not mean that the WSM sets itself up as an intellectual elite into which only those well-versed in socialist scholarship may enter. One purpose of it is to place all members on an even basis. The WSM’s reason is 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, each person holds the exact same privileges as the oldest member, able to sit on any committee, vote, be listened to and have access to all information. Thanks to this test all members are conscious socialists and there is genuine internal democracy and of that, we are fiercely proud. Consider what happens when people join other groups which don’t have this test. The new applicant has to be approved as being “all right”. The individual is therefore judged by the group according to a range of what might be called “credential indicators”. Hard work (often, paper selling) and obedience by new members is the main criterion of trustworthiness in the organisation. In these hierarchical, “top-down” groups the leaders strive at all costs to remain as the leadership, and reward only those with proven commitment to the “party line” with preferential treatment, more responsibility and more say. New members who present the wrong indicators remain peripheral to the party structure and finding themselves unable to influence decision-making at any level, eventually give up and leave, often embittered by the hard work they put in and the hollowness of the party’s claims of equality and democracy.

WSM propaganda concentrates upon education and teachers are no more leaders than writers or speakers are leaders. Their function is to spread knowledge and understanding, as teachers, so that the workers may emancipate themselves. Our purpose as an organisation is to help bring forth the latent strength of the movement. Quite different from that we must have leaders (great men) to order their followers (blind supporters) toward a socialist society. Socialism is not the result of blind faith in individuals or, by the same token, vanguard parties. Despite some very charismatic writers and speakers in the past, no personality has held undue influence over the WSM. Simply check the two published histories of the Socialist Party (“The Monument” by R Barltrop and D Perrin’s “The Socialist Party of Great Britain”) to see on just how many occasions and on how many issues those so-called leaders have not gained a majority at conferences or in referendums.

 We, as socialists, are simply presenting choices to the working class, for them to reject or accept, that is all we can do but without a choice being offered, there is no choice. The WSM is not so presumptuous as to think that the whole future of the world depends on us. What we do say is that people will come to a realisation that capitalism needs to be replaced by socialism quicker if there’s already an organised group arguing for this. Words are our weapons.

The above naturally only gives an overview to the WSM case for socialism. You can read more on our comprehensive websites.

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