Some theory Part 3
In the conscious political battle to abolish Capitalism, and introduce Socialism, some means must be utilized in effecting the change. The Socialist preferred method is the vote or ballot. History teaches us this method is revolutionary and effective. In modern society, where civilized custom prevails, the vote is invariably resorted to in order to translate thought and desire into action. The Socialist knows that the vote is not merely a token, or gesture, or means of measurement, or scrap of paper, but a potent and effective weapon providing, of course, that there is an educated, determined individual behind the vote.
The State is the centralized organized power of the capitalist class. In the interests of that class it performs a dual function – administers the property affairs of the various sections comprising the class, and takes whatever steps are considered necessary to keep the working class in order. It is the latter coercive function of the State that concerns us here. It controls every department of the armed forces, all the way from the policemen’s clubs up to the colossal force of the atomic bomb. So long as the capitalist class is allowed to remain in control of the military, there would be no chance of dispossessing the capitalists, or abolishing their system. The primary move on the part of a revolutionary working class entails gaining control of the armed forces. The House of Commons, Reichstag, Congress or Dail, these so-called popular assemblies control the armed forces. Every bill presented, and every law passed, regarding every phase of military expenditure, reduction, or increase, has to go through the parliamentary channels.
There is no possibility of the workers successfully engaging the capitalist class on the basis of brute force or violence. If the capitalist means of combat rested merely and solely of police clubs, then, we might well organize workers’ battalions ( such as the Irish Citizens Army ) equipped with the same weapons, and prepared by ten easy lessons in ju-jitsu, and give a good account of ourselves on the ﬁeld of action. But the tremendous and destructive nature of military weapons in society today preclude the possibility of successful competition. The owning class has a supreme and invincible weapon within its grasp: political power, – control of the army, navy, air and police forces.
That power is conferred upon the representatives of the owners at election times and they, recognizing its importance, spend large amounts of wealth and much time and effort to secure it. In countries like Britain and the U.S.A. (and many more) the workers form the bulk of the voters; a situation the employers are compelled to face and deal with. Hence the intense stream of opinion-forming influences which stems from their ownership and control of press, radio, schools to influence the workers to the view that Capitalism is the best of all possible social forms. And that only political groups who accept this view are worthy of workers votes. All of capitalism’s power, including its coercive power, is in the hands of the working class.
Given a working class that understands the nature of Capitalism and Socialism, and the revolutionary action that is essential to change one into the other, we need have no fear concerning the weapon of emancipation – the vote. Workers have at their disposal a very powerful lever called the ballot box. If the majority of the eligible voters agreed on one course of action and expressed themselves at the polls, they could mould the world into a fit place to live, devoid of war , poverty and exploitation.
We are not pacifists. We considered violence a possible, if not unavoidable, outcome of revolutionary change; but we argue that the more that the workers understood, the more educated they became in socialist ideas, the less likelihood there would be of violence. Historically the battle of ideas has been waged both in the mind – in debates and discussions – and on the streets. We of course favour the first approach, and do all we can to keep activity there. This is not just a matter of aesthetics. Fighting can only firstly divide us and secondly weaken us. Authoritarian parties rather than defending their own ideas create their own political ghettoes, such example are the old Communist Parties which denigrated and suppressed their opposition so as not to compete (and fail) at the level of demonstrating the relative values of their ideas. This is where street-fighting plays its role: physically removing opposition that one cannot overcome in a battle of hearts and minds, whilst destroying the climate in which the working class can find its way. The revolution is aborted in the process, not defended. This is another reason why a socialist revolution must be peaceful, at least as far as our class is concerned.
By contrast, a genuine revolutionary party is a party of the working class. A depoliticised working class cannot make a socialist revolution. It must be a party that operates at the level of discussion between workers, not so as to fetishise a particular political form but because a successful socialist revolution is made by the working class coming to revolutionary ideas.
“Revolutionary violence” is a sign of weakness in the working class. Our assumption is that significant numbers of capitalists will see the futility of resisting a well-educated, well-organised working-class majority . The capitalist class cannot continue it’s rule – even through violence or bribery – when enough workers decide to break with the capitalists’ legitimacy and the capitalist system. The WSM believes that the capitalist’s legitimacy comes from their ‘democratic’ rule, thus we believe that the capitalist’s legitimacy can be totally be broken by taking a majority in Parliament . But “capturing” Parliament is only a measure of acceptance of socialism and a coup de grace to capitalist rule. The real revolution in social relations will be made in our lives and by ourselves, not Parliament. The first, most important battle is to continue the destruction of capitalism’s legitimacy in the minds of our fellow class members. That is, to drive the development of our class as a class-for-itself, mindful of the fact that capitalism is a thing that can be destroyed and a thing that should be destroyed.
What do Socialists do in the meantime, until the majority become convinced of their case? Will the Socialists win over the majority of people to their case by fighting to improve their lives under capitalism ? Or by expending all their energy and resources in educating the workers to the necessity of eliminating capitalism and establishing socialism?
We Socialists are often accused of being opposed to reforms: social legislation to ameliorate some more or less intolerable situation – The Welfare State , Social Security, NHS or whatever . “Not so,” we respond.
The World Socialist Movement are not opposed to reforms per se, any more than we advocate them. We do not set ourselves up as opposing the attempts of the workers to improve their status under capitalism. We know the limitations of these attempts, and the limitations of the unions. But it is one thing to say that socialists should not oppose the non-Socialists fighting for reforms, and quite another to state that Socialists should place themselves in a position of trying to make capitalism work in the interests of the workers, when all along they know it cannot. Not only is it inconsistent, in our opinion, for socialists to seek to solve problems for the workers under a system which they say cannot solve these problems, but in a practical sense, such a two-directional approach would never bring about Socialism. And it is the latter which is our goal.
Suppose the World Socialist Movement were to embark on a high-powered campaign to obtain better housing, hospitals, roads, and so forth. Perhaps we would get a lot of people to join our organization. On what basis would they join? The same basis on which we appealed to them. We would in the end have an organization consisting of workers who were seeking continual improvement under capitalist methods of production and distribution, under a price, profit, and wage economy. What happens when such an organization is voted into political power as a majority? It merely uses the power of the State to carry on capitalism under different forms such as state-ownership or 'nationalisation'. It cannot use the control of the State to abolish capitalism, because its own members who joined on a reform basis, would be in opposition to it. The Party would have to carry out reform of capitalism, or lose its members to another organization which advocated remedial measures. We say capitalism cannot be reformed in the interest of the majority but that it can be abolished .
We see the technological perfection in modern society – automation. And we see also a productive apparatus capable of producing more than a sufﬁciency for all. The age-long problem facing man – production – has been solved. The very evolution of capitalism itself has solved the problem of production. The material conditions are now ripe for the establishment of Socialism. Poverty, chaos, war and social strife can be eliminated by doing away with the root causes of these horrors. This is our objective: To abolish capitalism, not vainly attempt to reform it. The method advocated by the Socialists is to appeal for members on the one sole platform of obtaining state power for the purpose of abolishing capitalism. If elected , we would not oppose social reforms but at the same time we would not advocate them.
By putting forth a program of immediate demands, we would not be educating any workers to the necessity for Socialism. We would instead be educating on the need to get all they can under the capitalist system. This latter type of education has never produced Socialists from among the workers, although it has contributed more than its share of members to the trade union officialdom. If you but take a glance around your union , you would see many union leaders who started out in the unions with your idea of “reforms today, socialism tomorrow.” They originally viewed reforms as a means to an end, but reforms became ends in themselves.
The Socialists, where they are employed in work-shops and factories which are organized, do not spurn the day- to- day struggle. Are the workers to sit down and have their wages reduced? Are they to starve while capitalism lasts? This, if we believe our opponents, is our attitude. The charge rests on the failure to distinguish between economic and political demands. First of all, it should be obvious, that even if we wished to avoid the day-to-day struggle, we HAVE to take part in it. It is not something created by Socialists or something we can ignore, but part and parcel of capitalism. Socialists take part in every struggle in the economic field to improve conditions. We are as militant as anybody else. But we point out its limitations. That’s why we are members of the World Socialist Movement . The function of the Party is to make Socialists, to propagate Socialism, and to point out to the workers that they must achieve their own emancipation. It does not say: “Follow us! Trust us! We shall emancipate you.” No, Socialism must be achieved by the workers acting for themselves.
Unions are the workers most effective means of defence under capitalism. In the absence of unions, the workers have no way of braking the downward pressure on their living standards and their working conditions. Only by means of their combined numbers in labour unions are the workers able to put up same form of resistance against the insatiable drive of capital for more surplus value. Only through unions can the workers ease the strain on their nerves and muscles in the factories, mills, and mines. Since surplus value is produced at the point of production, the most violent manifestations of the class struggle break out at that point. At that point the organized resistance of labour meets the combined onslaught of capital. The history of the labour movement proves the Marxian contention that wages are not regulated by any “iron law” but can be modified by organised militant action on the part of the workers, the value of the workers labour-power is not only determined by biological limitations of the human organism, but also by what Marx calls historical and social factors. One of the most weighty of these factors is the relationship of the class forces, the interplay of social conflict.
Those Socialists who argue that unions are only institutions of capitalism ( such as the ICC ) are correct, but they miss a salient point. Unions are class struggle institutions, and as such serve as a fertile field for Socialist education and propaganda. To be sure, participation in the class struggle does not automatically make workers class conscious. This brings us to the question of the role of the Socialist in the trade unions. As a union member the Socialist can participate in union affairs and in the course of doing so he can clarify events for his fellow workers in the light of Socialist knowledge. No matter what issue happens to be under consideration, the Socialist can explain it from the standpoint workers of class interests. Is the union engaged in negotiating with management for a wage increase , for example ? Then the Socialist can make clear that wages represent only a portion of what workers produce, and that the unpaid portion is surplus value appropriated by the employing class. Another task of Socialists in the unions is to wage an unceasing fight against the trend towards bureaucracy, urging the workers to be eternally vigilant in the defence of their democratic rights, opposing high salaries for the officials , proposing limited tenure of office, insisting that all major decisions be ratified by the membership – demanding that the unions be conducted of, for and by its members in fact as well as theory. Socialists should consistently impress upon the workers the urgency of restoring the union to the membership, in whose democratic control it belongs. The character of the leadership is to a large degree a reflection of the maturity or lack of maturity of the rank and file. Socialists should seek to raise the understanding of the rank and file, to imbue them with an awareness that their elected representatives should be the servants, not the masters, of the membership. The unions should belong to the members, and not be dominated by any clique, political or otherwise. Unions are first last and all the time economic organizations operating within the framework of capitalism. Attempts to use them for purposes other than this can only react to the detriment of the unions and their members.
By the very nature of the fact that WSMers are workers we participate in the fight for better wages and working conditions. But with two qualifications which arise from the fact that we are Socialists first, and members of unions second.
First, Socialists understand that this economic struggle against the capitalists is merely a defensive struggle, to keep capital from beating the working class living standards down , as stated earlier . For this reason we couple our struggle on the economic front with political education of the workers on the shop floor or in the offices . We point out the limitations of wage increases that it will merely stimulate employers to introduce new methods so that they will have fewer workers or higher productivity so ready and prepare for the next battle .
Second, socialists in unions do not advocate political legislation to reform capitalism. To do so would put the socialists in a position, not only of advocating reforms – which is opposed to socialist thinking – but also of educating, or rather mis-educating, the workers to believe that the capitalist state can function in their interests, when it is in the final analysis the agency by which the capitalist class maintains its domination over the working class.
So the Socialist is involved in the economic struggle by the fact that he is a member of the working class which naturally resists capital. But this is not the same thing as stating that the socialist party engages in activity for higher wages and better conditions. This is not the function of the Socialist party. Its task is to fight for Socialism, and the method it employs is education of the majority. The Socialist party is not concerned with reforms under capitalism. This is the concern of the ruling class which uses reforms to bribe off the working class, and the concern of those groups, such as the unions and their political arms, which seek to get all they can out of the present system. Were the Socialist movement to vanish from the earth, the capitalist, by the very class nature of the system, would still grant reforms to forestall the development of revolutionary thought among the workers. On the other hand, a rapidly rising socialist movement would force the capitalist class to grant more and more reforms
The Socialist movement is the natural umbrella for all humanity, the vast majority of which desire a peaceful harmonious world. All the single issues are seen by Socialists as effects, the cause of which is capitalism. Effects can be ameliorated but it is better to eliminate the cause and prevent the effects returning. Go to the root of the problem and not the symptoms . Once the decision is made by the majority to press forward to cooperative life in a peaceful world based upon the common ownership of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interests of the whole community people will be in place who have the knowledge, skills and passion to bring reality to their long-held dreams of solutions to each single issue, in full recognition that theirs is just one small but significant part of an entity much greater than the sum of its parts. Socialism as an economic system is green without being green. A system designed to meet the needs of the entire human population would actually be working against itself by polluting the planet and its people, so negative environmental impact costs must be factored into a Socialist administration of production.
“How would you Socialists suggest, right now, on organising production?" To which we replied, “Production is already organised, there is no problem in that area. There is no anarchy in production today. Anarchy appears when the products reach the market.” So production, we suggest, would be carried on as it is now but with the capitalist owner out of the picture. But, there being no problems in production – only in distribution – these important changes would occur:
(1) Distribution of goods and services instead of exchange; thus “use” instead of “proﬁt” .
(2) Administration of things instead of government over people.
(3) A complete social body; not one divided into ruler and ruled.
(4) An entire economy administered democratically in the interest of the entire community.
‘A World of Abundance’ often referred to by Socialists has never referred to the open-ended consumerism encouraged by the advertisers but has rather as its target a stable and more satisfying way of life in which the scramble to accrue things is no longer central. With material survival removed from the marketplace by the abolition of commodity production we can expect that individuals will calm down their acquisitive desires and pursue more satisfying activities.
The abolition of the cause which enslaves the working class,( i.e. the private ownership of the means of life) and the introduction of the new organization of society with its basis of the common or social ownership of the means of wealth production, MUST entail organisation without leaders or leadership. The act of abolition of capitalist society requires a primary prerequisite: knowledge on the part of the individual as to what it is that is responsible for his or her enslavement. Without that knowledge s/he can only blunder and make mistakes that leave their class just where they were in the beginning, still enslaved. That knowledge must precede intelligent action. And intelligent action in this instance means intelligent organisation. The very nature of modern political organization in most countries makes this imperative. To be sure the powers of government, the machinery of the State can be captured by any group providing they are the majority. But the result has always been the same. A lack of unity of ideas and purpose that always ends in defeat even for the non-socialist, non-revolutionary aims of such groups and parties. However, some have profited by such movements and these generally are the self-appointed leaders, with position and self-gain as their rewards. Others, with more honourable motives have ended their careers as leaders in disillusionment and disgust. Few, either followers or leaders have learned too much for their emasculated efforts. But all of their experiences have added fresh evidence to the Socialist contention, that leadership is not only unnecessary but dangerous. It is a diversion of working class energy to ends that cannot serve them in any way.