From the October 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard
The World Socialist Movement does not support the Labour Party or the Democratic Party. In our view, these parties are organizations with confused and vague ideas about changing society and improving the lot of working people. It has now become little different from the Conservative Party or the Republicans — another “team” to administer capitalism.
We are also opposed to the so-called “Communist” Parties and to left-wing groups such as those describing themselves as “Trotskyists”.
We have to explain these points because unfortunately the word “socialism” has been used in many different ways, often very woolly, whereas we are quite clear about what we mean by socialism, and about how to get it.
The World Socialist Movement is connected with parties and groups in other countries. It is democratically run, with all members having an equal say and no secrecy.
What we mean by “Capitalism”
By capitalism, we mean commercial society, a society based on buying and selling. This exists all over the world, with the exception of pre-capitalist societies which still survive, for instance, tribal communism, and subsistence-level peasant societies. Capitalism rules in China, Cuba, and other countries falsely claimed to be “socialist” or “communist.”
Capitalism has not always existed, and it will not exist forever. Capitalism is not an evil conspiracy (though as a matter of fact, it is fertile ground for malicious conspiracies) but a type of social order which has been necessary for the progress of our species.
The function of capitalism was to put human beings through a great deal of anxiety, loneliness, boring work, shoddy food and housing — a generally insecure and frustrated existence — in order to screw wealth out of them. Capitalism developed science and technology with brilliant success, united the world (for communications purposes) into a “global village” and trained more people than ever before to a high level of know-how and adaptability.
But capitalism has not, in the main, fully applied its science and technology for the benefit of the majority of the population, and in our view, it cannot. Capitalism has not united the world politically — wars go on all the time. Capitalism has not employed its knowledge and expertise in useful, dignified and happy productive activity, but has put a curse on work.
Capitalism has created a potential abundance of wealth, capable of satisfying human wants on a scale undreamed of. But capitalism cannot realize its own potential. This is because the capitalist economic system is best suited to rationing scarcity by means of the market. It goes haywire at the threat of abundance — as witness the “problem” of millions of tons of “surplus” food in a world where much of the world’s population is hungry.
Who the workers are
To many people “the working class” is defined by occupation or education. These may be useful classifications for some purposes, but to the socialist “working class” has quite a different meaning, based on the analysis of Karl Marx. By this definition, the working class is composed of those who do not own enough to live off their possessions and therefore have to sell themselves. The working class is a class of wage-slaves. This includes the great majority of the population if we count dependents (such as housewives and babies) and trainee wage-slaves (such as schoolchildren, apprentices and students).
Capitalism has tidied up classes. All other classes apart from capitalists and workers (such as peasants) readily dwindle away under capitalism — usually by their members being recruited into the working class. Workers are exploited. By this, we don’t mean that they always live in Dickensian conditions, or that foremen stride about brandishing whips. We mean simply that workers are a source of wealth, which is taken from them. This may seem fairly obvious, but many people appear to live in a make-believe world in which captains of industry” “financial wizards” or (increasingly) “the authorities” somehow “give” workers employment.” The fact is that the world’s wealth is produced by the working class, but does not belong to them.
In Britain, for example, 10 per cent of the population owns over 90 per cent of the wealth and gets 99 per cent of the property income. The rich and powerful (the capitalist class) have interests opposed to those of the workers. They gain where workers lose: if wages rise, profits fall. And of course, the capitalists will lose their privileged position in socialism, where all men and women will be social equals.
It is the working class which must establish socialism because they are the majority of the population because they do all the essential work of operating capitalism and are therefore trained to a high degree and because they are driven by their conditions of life to challenge the status quo — though to date it has usually been fairly easy for workers’ discontent to be channelled in a reformist, rather than revolutionary, direction.
Self-styled “realists” are apt to point out that the majority of workers are “contented” or “apathetic” — though of many workers it might be truer to say that they are worried so sick that they do not care. What the pessimists forget is that capitalism is a dynamic society, indeed a revolutionary society, always, changing.
Many workers adopt the habit: of “Anything for a quiet life.” But most of them find this impossible, capitalism says: “You cannot have a quiet life” because of ever-recurring recessions. There is of course no guarantee that workers will turn to socialism as the answer to their problems. All we can say is that certain long-term trends in capitalism make it increasingly likely that they will. For the moment they may take refuge in television, drugs, mental and psychosomatic illness, feelings of personal guilt and feverish pursuit of “success.” It is up to the socialists to dis-illusion people.
What unions can do
As long as capitalism stays, there will be class struggle. Workers don’t ask for it. Socialists don’t start it. Strikes and other forms of industrial action are unavoidable if workers are to defend their living standards and occasionally raise them.
We advise workers to be militant in the sense that they should press for the highest wages and shortest hours they can gain, and should not make concessions in this struggle because the government says there is an economic crisis. But trade union militancy in itself does nothing to threaten the continued existence of capitalism, though it may threaten particular regimes or schemes of capitalism.
Strikes are necessary for our defence but are limited even for this. The general level of wages is largely fixed by the pattern of capital investment, and negotiable only within relatively narrow limits. The operation of capitalism’s trade (and employment) cycle is a running tide in relation to which the trade union activist is little more than a King Canute. In addition, trade unionism by itself may set one group of workers against another.
One of the immediate consequences of the growth of a mass socialist movement will be a more effective labour movement, which will take no notice of such distractions as the national interest.
In keeping with our opposition to leadership, we say that the people best qualified to decide a particular strike strategy are the workers directly involved, who have to live with the consequences. It is not the function of our Party to lay down detailed trade union tactics — indeed our trade unionist members may have differences of opinion about this.
There are, however, importantly two general aims which socialists pursue: working-class democracy and unity.
Socialists are more concerned with giving the members increased power over their unions. Narrow craft or regional interests should be subordinated to the interests of all the workers.
Government anti-union legislation may subdue but cannot end trade union action because too many workers are in favour of it. Nevertheless, lacking socialist understanding, some workers find scapegoats for their problems. Union-bashing can win some working-class votes. But enforcing anti-union laws is another matter.
Capitalism never runs out of reforms. On the contrary, it needs perpetual reforming. Capitalist political parties do not declare that the existing state of affairs is fine. On the contrary, they use words like “radical,” “dynamic,” “landmark” etc. to describe the reforms they advocate.
A socialist party does not, of course, oppose all reforms any more than it advocates them. On the contrary, socialists recognize that reforms inside capitalism may sometimes benefit the working class — though never by as much as what is claimed for them.
But it is not the function of a socialist party to campaign for reforms or to seek support on the basis of reforms. Historically, we have seen parties which started out with socialism as their primary goal turning into ordinary capitalist parties (for instance, the Social-Democratic Party in Germany.) They fell for the “Why not advocate reforms — just in the meantime?” policy. This must attract the support of those who want reform, but aren’t supporters of the revolution. A “socialist” party which grows in numbers ahead of the depth of socialist understanding among the workers, is placed in a position where it is obliged to administer capitalism and engage in political horse-trading with capitalist parties. For a party to canvass the support of non-socialists is the first step to becoming a party of non-socialists.
A socialist party analyses closely the likely effects of reform measures, and gives a sober assessment of the extent to which they will benefit or injure the majority of the population.
Because socialism will be a democratic society, in which the majority will get its way, with full rights of dissent and arguments for minorities, it follows that socialism can only be set up democratically. That is to say, socialism cannot be handed to the majority of people by an elite which thinks it knows what’s good for them.
Although socialism is the culmination of trends within capitalism, this does not mean that socialism will somehow come about irrespective of people’s wishes. On the contrary, one of the ways in which capitalism tends towards socialism is by creating a large organized, informed working class. It is these people (i.e. it is we, the workers) who will establish socialism, but we will not do it by accident or improvisation: we will do it consciously, because we want it and see the necessity for it.
The chief job of socialists at this stage is therefore to spread socialist ideas and expose the false remedies of capitalism. At present socialists are in a tiny minority, but as we have pointed out, capitalism is unlike previous societies in that it is a system of constant agitation and rapid change in which nothing is sacred and no ideas are safe.
“Revolution” to the socialists is not a violent event, with street-fighting behind barricades. Such a view of revolution is from the nineteenth-century. Today, no insurrectionary putsch could possibly withstand the might of the modern State. in any case, there is no need, because in advanced countries, capitalism, has already provided certain political rights. We can see where capitalism is impeded by outdated political apparatus; and faced with instability, it results in the granting of democratic privileges, albeit reluctantly.
Socialists are not pacifists, and we are in no position to guarantee that the socialist revolution will be altogether free from violence. Violence is improbable as we view it, but that will depend upon the reactions of the minority who are still opposed to socialism. If there are people desperate and foolish enough to try violence to obstruct the plans of the socialist majority, then defensive action of some sort might have to be taken against them.
What we mean by socialism
Socialism means the end of buying and selling, the end of money and the wages system. As long as these things remain, there will be economic crises, wars, bitter class struggles and day-to-day violence. In our opinion, these problems cannot be cured by charities, social reforms or a personal “change of heart” on the part of individuals. Neither can they be solved by nationalisation or “workers’ control”, since these are merely different ways of administering the same economic system.
Socialism will mean sweeping changes in many spheres of life: education, the family, and social administration — but these will all be based on the abolition of production for sale (what Marx called “commodity production”), and the introduction of democratically planned production according to people’s wants.
Socialism will be a society of voluntary cooperation. There will be sexual freedom and equality. Work will be voluntary, and people will take freely what they need to consume. This is technically feasible because capitalism has already developed the potential for abundance.
Socialism will be a fully democratic society, with complete freedom of expression for everyone. And, of course, socialism will be a society without economic classes — there will be no capitalist class and no working class.
Socialism can only be worldwide. Attempts to set up socialism in one part of the world would fail — the remaining capitalist powers would see to that if nothing else. On the other hand, the world is now so closely connected in terms of communications and the exchange of ideas, that if the people in one place were ready for socialism, the rest of the world could not be far behind.
A world community founded on the concept of a cooperative commonwealth is the only solution to the major problems of modern life. We ask you to give it serious consideration if you wish and seek an end to war, poverty and oppression.
The revolution begins when you decide that it is.