Against the Left

Arguing with the Left is not always a useful way for socialists to spend their time,”We’ve got the wrong leadership” is the perpetual cry of the left-wing. Many political groups believe themselves to be the “leaders” of the working-class. We do not. We say that workers should spurn these would-be vanguards and organise for socialism democratically, without leaders.

Their basic dogma is that most workers cannot understand socialism (or at least, not without the constant tutelage of the vanguard) which implies that the vanguard must be recruited from outside the working-class. Therefore, the vanguard groups reject the Marxist contention that there are only two classes in advanced capitalism. Vanguardists may protest at this description but an examination of their propaganda shows that “consciousness” means merely following the right leaders. When it is suggested that the majority of the population must attain a clear desire for the abolition of the wages system and the introduction of a worldwide moneyless community, the vanguardists reply that this is “too abstract” or “too academic.” But members of the vanguard do understand it, (or so they claim). They are the “intelligentsia”, the revolutionary officer corps.

It has been a common experience in our controversies with the many parties of the Left that their spokespeople accepted the World Socialist Movement’s definition of socialism and confined their attacks to questions of method, whether socialism could be an immediate practical objective and what to do “in the meantime”. They urge a policy of getting “something now”, that “half-a-loaf is better than no bread.” In the early days of our movement, we were frequently disparaged partly because we could not make a mistake because we did not take part in the day-to-day struggles of workers on the industrial field and the struggles for reforms. The World Socialist Movement’s guiding principle is not hostility to reforms but hostility to capitalism; and since its aim is socialism its whole policy in regard to reforms is dictated solely by the needs of the class struggle for socialism, and must continue to be so dictated. It declines to be side-tracked into raising mere hostility to reform or the advocacy of them into equal importance with its object. The policy of the WSM is to convince the working class of the need for socialism and to organise them for its realisation. We have no qualms about using any measure the capitalists provide to prosecute that war to a successful conclusion. As to the support of a particular measure, that would be decided at the time according to its merits. We would, indeed, be traitors to our cause did we not endeavour to take advantage of every weakness of our class enemy but we will not parley and bargain with our enemies. The socialist does not possess any feeling of gratitude toward his exploiters when we take the fullest advantage of reform for the furtherance of the workers’ cause. What is given with one hand is often snatched back by the other hand state of the reformed is often worse than, his first. Our lack of enthusiasm and critical attitude toward reforms is that we know them to be, in the main, fraudulent. A major reason why the S.P.G.B. broke away from the Social Democratic Federation was the S.D.F.’s support of reforms. The first issue of the “Socialist Standard” in September 1904 contained the following about the S.D.F.

“Today for all purposes of effective socialist propaganda they have ceased to exist, and are surely developing into a mere reform party”

In our past, we were challenged that it is necessary to engage in the workers’ day-to-day struggle. What now has come of the parties and groups that advocated “getting among the workers”’? The S.D.F., the Clarion Fellowship, the Herald League, the Independent Labour Party, and the Socialist Labour Party have all disappeared while the Labour Party and the Communist Party imploded. Between the wars, many more groups cropped up claiming to find shortcuts to socialism by engaging in the workers’ day-to-day struggles and disappeared after a short existence. G.D.H. Cole formed or joined in some thirty such bodies.

We can produce evidence ad nausium to show, that focusing the working-class mind upon piece-meal proposals, simply plays into the camp of the capitalist-class. Every palliative measure can be conceded to a working-class without endangering the central position. Because, excepting if the workers are class-conscious, they will, and do, treat such concessions as proof of the concern of capitalism for labour. The class position is, for a time, at any rate, abandoned. The class struggle is obscured. That is one of the lessons that the history of reform movements teaches. That is the reason and the justification for the existence of parties claiming to be socialist. Moreover, and this point merits all the emphasis that can be applied to it, many of these palliatives are directly advantageous to capitalist interests. In such cases, the workers are therefore at a double disadvantage. However, with the workers educated and organised on the basis of their class position and alive to the irreconcilable antagonism of interest existing between them and their exploiters, any palliative measure secured would mean the strengthening of their position and the facilitation of their advance.

To the objection that the working-class is not prepared to accept the whole socialist idea and must be brought along on the sops of reform before they can be fed on the flesh of revolution, the answer is that understanding the simple facts of socialism involves no great mental exertion.

Many World Socialist Party of United States members in the 30s and 40s were active unionists: Ralph Roberts and “Chubi” Kligman were both organizers for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (ILGWU); Frank Marquart worked as Educational Director for different United Auto Workers’ locals and many other comrades were very involved in their unions. The early members of the Socialist Party also had wide experience in the unions. Fitzgerald was involved in the Bricklayers union and its delegate to the TUC. Countless others can be cited. We are a working-class organisation ourselves, and we are part of the working class. This fact, in itself, compels the socialist movement to support the struggles of our fellow workers to the extent that we do.

The World Socialist Movement has never opposed trade-union action as ‘reformist’. Far from it; right from the start, we have declared that we are in agreement with working-class action in the industrial field when based on a clear recognition of the position of the workers under capitalism and the class struggle necessarily arising, but that it was opposed to all activities of unions in support of capitalism or tending to sidetrack workers from the only path that can lead to their emancipation.

What the WSM has done for the trade unions has been far more valuable than anything “concrete” could have been. It applied Marxian economics and political teaching to show trade unionists the possibilities and limitations of trade union action. The Party urged trade unionists to abandon their trust in leadership; to keep control in their own hands, and have a ballot before a strike and on the acceptance of the employers’ offers; to recognise that the dominant power in society is with those who control the machinery of government, including the armed forces, and that consequently, the employers backed by the government can always win if they regard the issue as vital and are prepared to fight it to the end; that therefore if a strike does not succeed quickly it should be called off and a more favourable opportunity awaited; that trade union action cannot dispossess the capitalist class or lead to socialism, and that support for Labour or any other party of capitalism should be abandoned.

Two centuries of trade union action shows how right we are. If trade unionists had used the Marxian analysis to understand how capitalism works they would have saved themselves from the futility of their belief in the past thirty years that capitalism can be “managed”.

As workers, we are all individually engaged in the struggle to improve or defend our wages and conditions of labour but the World Socialist Movement itself is only concerned with one struggle; the struggle for socialism. To this end, it must keep the struggle as clear as possible of misunderstanding, and from running up blind alleys. In our view, trade-union action is necessary under capitalism but is limited by being of an essentially defensive nature. To overcome this limitation the workers need to organise themselves into a socialist political party aiming solely at the capture of political power to establish socialism (i.e. the so-called maximum programme).

 The struggle for socialism is primarily a working-class problem. If we have any capitalists in our movement, it is only because they have risen above their class interests and come over to the party of the working class as did Engels. Our campaigning 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 growth of socialist consciousness and organisation will allow workers to prosecute the class struggle more effectively. The WSM 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.

The World Socialist Movement 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. World Socialists must guard against appearing to be the sole agent of the socialist transformation; in general, we do avoid the well-known sectarian error of giving that appearance. 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 retain our confidence in the face of the immense frustration that socialists often encounter.

Some people on the Left are more concerned with who is to govern them tomorrow, or next year, than with the question of what kind of society we should live in. In election campaigns on the hustings, we frequently go so far as to tell the voters not to vote for us unless they really want socialism.

The WSM rejects every feature of existing society; class division, the state, police, law, money,  national frontiers, domination and leadership. It maintains that poverty, unemployment, war, and the other familiar features of our society, cannot be ended without a complete change to socialism; that this must be brought about on a world-wide basis i.e. that socialism cannot be established in one country alone and that it cannot be brought about by reforming existing institutions – the change must be a revolutionary one.

The World Socialist Movement can justifiably claim to be consistently democratic not only in principles but in the procedure.  On the first of these sides, it maintains that socialism can be established only when a majority of workers understand and want it ~ hence the Party’s rejection of leadership and “vanguard” action. 

The companion parties within the WSM ARE consistently hostile to “all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist,” as the final clause of the Declaration of Principles puts it. It has always refused all collaboration, of whatever kind and for whatever purpose, with all but its companion parties. It is no accident as it stems from a single stance of extreme antagonism to the whole basis of the present system of society, and rejection of the inconsistencies of other parties.

From its Marxist analysis of this capitalist system, the WSM concludes that it is bound to produce poverty, unemployment, a crisis and war and that it cannot be reformed or planned or managed so as to avert these consequences. It deduces that only the establishment of the common ownership of the mean of production (quite different from State control or ownership) can end such evils; that only a convinced socialist majority of those who have to sell their energies in order to live can, by electoral action, establish such common ownership; and that only, a party dedicated to nothing but socialism can enlighten the workers adequately about their position and how to change it. It is a very consistent position.

In “Value, Price and Profit,” Marx says, “To clamour for equal or even equitable retribution on the basis of the wages system is the same as to clamour for freedom on the basis of the slavery system.” 

 In his criticism of the Gotha Programme, Marx writes, “The system of wage-labour is therefore a system of slavery and a slavery that becomes more and more arduous as the socially productive forces of labour develop, and independently of the question whether the labourer is better paid or worse.”

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