The SWP/SPEW and their ilk are convinced that the workers cannot understand and want socialism so they have orientated themselves towards working with reformist organisations. Instead of standing clearly for socialism, they ape the manoeuvres and sounds of official labourism, seeking to influence non-socialist workers through tactical manipulation, rather than convince them to change their minds. They argue that “united front” work provides an opportunity for “revolutionaries” to discuss and convert reformists and that the immediate aim of the united front is to provide the most effective fighting organisation for both reformists and revolutionaries. That is, whatever front is going to be built must always give precedence to the struggle at hand, and its immediate success. We have had a fore-taste of what is intended with the Stop The War Coalition. The vanguardists accept the notion that the workers are incapable of developing socialist consciousness , and so the “revolutionaries” have to work with reformists in order to influence them, and draw off the active workers into their own ranks. There is an “uneven consciousness” among workers that necessitates the need for leaders, and for an organisation that can bring it together with non-socialist workers in the name of immediate given ends, be those organisations trade unions or anti-cuts alliances.
The reality is that these fronts can only attain any sort of success by hiding the disagreements between their constituent organisations, specifically about means and motives. They succeed by making demands that are supported by significant numbers of workers, meaning that any “revolutionary” content will be buried into the need for immediate victory. As such, it is small-c conservative, taking political consciousness as it is found, and seeking to manipulate it, rather than change it. Such a tactic, however, affords the Trots an opportunity to extend their influence. As a tiny minority, they get to work with organisations which can more easily attract members, and can thus be part of campaigns and struggles that reach out well beyond the tiny numbers of political activists in any given situation. But the relevant fact remains that despite providing all this assistance, the “revolutionaries” are incapable of taking these campaigns and trade unions further than the bulk of the membership are willing to accept. Without a decent anti-capitalist argument, and an idea of what we are for, we've lost before we’ve begun.
The SPGB, however, argue that minorities cannot simply take control of movements mold and wield them to their own ends. Without agreement about what it is and where it is going, leaders and led will invariably split off in different directions. That means, the SWP/SPEW must be committed to using subterfuge and deceit against the majority in order to achieve their aims. Nonetheless, the Left continue to attach themselves to larger movements in the hope of providing alternative leaderships and of being at the heart of the struggle. We, in the SPGB say that since we are capable, as workers, of understanding and wanting socialism we cannot see any reason why our fellow workers cannot do likewise. The job of socialists in the here and now is to openly and honestly state the case, rather than trying to wheedle and manoeuvre within bigger parties to win a supposed “influence” that is more illusory than real.
We fully accept that it is the responsibility of socialists to engage with workers in a battle of ideas but it is to point out that capitalism is the root cause of social and ecological troubles and therefore the course of action is to concentrate on removing the cause rather than trying to deal with a particular problem as a single issue, since as long as the cause remains so, inevitably, will the particular problems. Lacking an honest revolutionary stance for a new society, reformism becomes caught in a pointless and frustrating circular battle. It fetishises the crisis for all the "activists" who long for a campaign to throw themselves into.
Many might think they are united in common cause but protesters can become victims of a seductive but deadly process. The capitalism constantly throws up issues that demand action amongst those who are concerned and by many people who think of themselves as socialists. As a result, protest tends to become a demand for an “improved,better model” of capitalism that leaves the long-term reasons for protest intact. This has been the history of protest. Protest tends to set a stage for further protest and further demonstrations. Though the issues may vary the message stays the same: “We demand that governments do this, or that or the other!” The spectacle of thousands demanding that governments act on their behalf is a most reassuring signal to those in power that their positions of control are secure. In this way, repeated demonstrations do little more than confirm the continuity of the system. The point is to change society, not to appeal to the better nature of its power structures.
But having said all that, we can at least draw comfort from the fact that the workers cannot now be dismissed as totally apathetic and that people can unite in common cause; that humans are at their best and will work together, when faced with the worst.We must pose our own resistance and socialist education. They started this phase of the class war, and we’re all in it together whether we want to be or not. The SPGB welcome any upsurge in the militancy and resistance and organisation of our class. But we also know, from bitter experience, that work of a more patient, more political kind is also needed. The class war must be fought but we must also seek to stop the skirmishing of the class struggle by winning the class war. That means that the working class as a whole must understand the issues, and organise and fight for these ends themselves. Here is where socialists have their most vital contribution to make to make clear the alternative is not mere utopianism, but an important ingredient in inspiring successful struggle.
Good intentions do not change the nature of organisations, and membership carries the responsibility for the actions of those organisations. The SPGB expects any working class organisation to possess democratic self-organisation, involving formal rules and structures, to prevent the emergence of unaccountable elites and endorses Jo Freeman's, Tyranny of Structurelessness. Delegation of specific authority to specific individuals for specific tasks by democratic procedures.Those to whom authority has been delegated to be responsible to all those who selected them. Distribution of authority among as many people as reasonably possible. Rotation of tasks among individuals. Allocation of tasks along rational criteria. Diffusion of information to everyone as frequently as possible. Equal access to resources needed by the group. We're not talking about the sort of structures advocated and practised by organisations such as the SWP/SPEW, where the rules and structures are designed to enshrine control by a self-perpetuating elite.
The SPGB case is that understanding is a necessary condition for socialism, not desperation and despair and we see the SPGB's job as to shorten the time, to speed up the process - to act as a catalyst. This contrasts with those who seek to substitute the party for the class or who see the party as a vanguard which must undertake alone the sectarian task of leading the witless masses forward. We await the mass "socialist party". Possibly, the SPGB might be the seed or the basis of the future mass "socialist party" but there's no guarantee that we will be ( more likely just a contributing element, IMHO). But who cares. As long as such a party does eventually emerges. 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. It may even come about without people actually giving it the label of socialism. 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. In this situation unity and fusion would be the order of the day.
[In regard to the SPGB hostility clause ,"to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist" i recognise that there are socialists outside the SPGB, 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 what they are proposing the working class should do to get socialism, and of course the opposite is the case too -- they are opposed to us and what we propose. That opposition doesn't have to go as far as hostility. Our attitude to them is to try to convince them that the tactic they propose to get socialism is mistaken and to join with us in building up a strong socialist party.]
Our Parliament pamphlet puts it thus:-
"The socialist political party (of which we are just a potential embryo) will not be something separate from the socialist majority. It will be the socialist majority self-organised politically, an instrument they have formed to use to achieve a socialist society. The structure of the future mass socialist party will have to reflect – to prefigure – the democratic nature of the society it is seeking to establish. It must be democratic, without leaders, with major decisions made by conferences of mandated and recallable delegates or by referendum, and other decisions made by accountable individuals and committees. It won’t have a leadership with the power to make decisions and tell the general membership what to do. In other words, it will be quite different both from the parties of professional politicians that stand for election today and from the vanguard parties of the Leninists....With the spread of socialist ideas all organisations will change and take on a participatory democratic and socialist character, so that the majority’s organisation for socialism will not be just political and economic, but will also embrace schools and universities, television, film-making, plays and the like as well as inter-personal relationships. We’re talking about a radical social revolution involving all aspects of social life."
Workers must acquire the consciousness which can enable them to do the above. This consciousness must comprise, first of all, a knowledge of their class position. They must realise that, while they produce all wealth, their share of it will not, under the present system, be more than sufficient to enable them to reproduce their efficiency as wealth producers. They must realise that also, under the system they will remain subject to all the misery of unemployment, the anxiety of the threat of unemployment, and the deprivations of poverty. They must understand the implications of their position – that the only hope of any real betterment lies in abolishing the social system which reduces them to mere sellers of their labor power, exploited by the capitalists. A class which understands all this is class-conscious. It has only to find the means and methods by which to proceed, in order to become the instrument of revolution and of change. class-consciousness is the breaking-down of all barriers to understanding. Without it, militancy means nothing. The class-conscious worker knows where s/he stands in society. Their interests are opposed at every point to those of the capitalist class.Without that understanding, militancy can mean little. Class-conscious people need no leaders.
Marx expected the working class to develop from a mere economic category (a "class in itself" ) into a revolutionary political actor ("class for itself")—but although the process started it did get stuck on route. A "class consciousness" did develop among particular sections of the working class but this did not develop into a revolutionary socialist consciousness. It stopped short at trade-unionism and labourism. Even if a working class "for itself" has never developed, a class consciousness of a lesser sort did.
Marx believed as the workers gained more experience of the class struggle and the workings of capitalism, it would become more consciously socialist and democratically organised by the workers themselves. The emergence of socialist understanding out of the experience of the workers could thus be said to be “spontaneous” in the sense that it would require no intervention by people outside the working class to bring it about . Socialist propaganda and agitation would indeed be necessary but would come to be carried out by workers themselves whose socialist ideas would have been derived from an interpretation of their class experience of capitalism. The end result would be an independent movement of the socialist-minded and democratically organised working class aimed at winning control of political power in order to abolish capitalism. As Marx and Engels put it in The Communist Manifesto:-
“the proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority”.
The SPGB does not minimise the necessity or importance of the worker keeping up the struggle to maintain wage-levels and resisting cuts, etc. If he always laid down to the demands of his exploiters without resistance he would not be worth his salt as a man, nor be fit for waging the class struggle to put an end to exploitation. The class war is far from over but it can only end with the dispossession of the owning minority and the consequent disappearance of classes and class-divided society.However successes through such actions as striking may well encourage other workers to stand up for their rights in the workplace more but the reality remains that the workers' strength is determined by their position within the capitalist economy, and their victories will always be partial ones within the market system. Only by looking to the political situation, the reality of class ownership and power within capitalism, and organising to make themselves a party to the political battle in the name of common ownership for their mutual needs, will a general gain come to workers, and an end to these sectional battles. Otherwise, the ultimate result of the strikes will be the need to strike again in the future.The never-ending treadmill of the class struggle. Workers can never win the class struggle while it is confined simply to the level of trade union militancy. It requires to be transformed into socialist consciousness. Conversely, socialist consciousness cannot simply rely for its own increase on ideological persuasion. It has to link up with the practical struggle. The success of the socialist revolution will depend on the growth of socialist consciousness on a mass scale and that these changed ideas can only develop through a practical movement. To bring about socialist consciousness involves understanding socialism which means talking about it, sharing ideas about it, educating ourselves and our fellow workers about it.Socialism will also be established by the working class as a result of the intensification and escalation of the class struggle.To overthrow capitalism, the class struggle must be stepped up.
The awkward question that i have no answer to, is what is it that is going to provoke the working class into intensifying/escalating the class struggle and/or acquiring socialist consciousness. If we say that socialist consciousness comes from life experience then that automatically implies that every worker should achieve it and it should have happened. It leads to a belief of the old "historical inevitability" of socialism, that inevitably people will come around to becoming socialists.It is mechanistic. There is no reason in our interactions with capitalism that dictates that we must necessarily become revolutionary socialists. Experience could just as easily turn us to the BNP/ENL or in America , the Tea Party. Our interaction with the world around us is mediated by ideas. How are we supposed to become a "revolutionary" without engaging - and eventually agreeing - at some point with the IDEA of what such a revolution would entail.
This search for how revolutionary organisations arise is The Holy Grail of every sincere socialist and no one as yet has the answer. We can only hold only generalisations and just hope that our political approach will not be counter-productive or have a negative effect. The great strengths and principles of the SPGB is our opposition to leadership and our commitment to democratic practices , so whatever weaknesses or mistaken views we hold or accused of , they cannot be imposed upon others with possible worse consequences. The validity of the SPGB's ideas will either be accepted or rejected by discussion and debate, verified by actual concrete developments on the ground. The SPGB are not going to become the entryists or a vanguard who proclaim that as possessors of the Holy Grail, all must follow and then take the workers to where they neither know where they are going nor want to go.