Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Socialist Labour Party

Prior to about 1903, the SLP was a true socialist party. However, around 1903, DeLeon made the “discovery” that the Industrial Union is not only a more effective type of economic organization for the workers, but that it is a revolutionary weapon and the nucleus of the new society, socialism. Up until that time, with some minor and relatively moot exceptions, the SLP was sound on political action, reforms, and Marxian economics. Prior to about 1903, there would have been no reason to establish a WSP in the United States. The World Socialist Party is not in competition with other organizations for the privilege of inaugurating socialism, and the SLP was such an organization until then. Should there ever appear, at any time, an organization dedicated to socialism, we would immediately make overtures for combining forces. How can there be two socialist parties in one country? We recognise that it is not the WSM, but the working class itself that will use its political victory to overthrow capitalism. It is the politically organised conscious socialist majority that will use the World Socialist Movement as their instrument. As the Communist Manifesto emphasises: it is the party of the working class. The bond that binds us together.

On the surface, it would appear that there are so many basic points of agreement between the Socialist Labor Party and the World Socialist Party that there is really no justification for two socialist parties in the United States, both of whom claim to be Marxist, revolutionary and scientific. Both parties agree on the futility of reforms and on the validity of the Law of Value and the economic lessons it teaches. Both organizations accept the Materialist Conception of History and the Class Struggle. Granted, there are some differences between the two parties. The WSP holds that socialists are materialists and cannot be religious, at the same time. We do not regard the founding fathers of the United States with the same high esteem as the SLP. We consider Russia to have the social relations of state capitalism, and that the material conditions in 1917 were not ripe for any socialist characteristics; and the World Socialist Movement has taken this position. Further criticisms of the SLP are their position that religion is a private matter and not a social concern, thereby ignoring the scientific, materialistic basis of socialism; their “reverence” for the American founding fathers; and their dogmatic sectarianism, in the sense of ignoring reality and looking at history to prove their ideas instead of making their ideas harmonize with an understanding of historic forces.

But the basic and primary distinction between the two organizations is that we have different objectives. If both the SLP and the WSP had the same goals, there would be no valid reason for the existence of the World Socialist Party in the United States. Up until the early years of the 1900s, the SLP was the voice of Marxian socialism in the United States. DeLeon’s “What Means This Strike?” is a classic of socialist analysis. The object of the World Socialist Party is “The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of society as a whole.” The object of the Socialist Labor Party is “To inaugurate the Socialist Republic of Labor.”

But to make bad matters worse, the SLP, strange as it may seem, do not want socialism and have no concept of socialism as a system of society. They certainly do not have the same object that we have and are not fighting for the same things we are. Whilst we cannot make a blueprint of socialism, we can realise its general process because of our knowledge of the laws of motion of society. It is fundamental and basic to recognise that socialism would be but a fantastic, utopian dream if it were not for the fact that man has solved the problem of production and has become potentially the master over nature. Mankind is not confronted with the problem of how to plan and organise production. If he were, he would not yet be ready for socialism. In other words, the conditions for socialism would not be ripe, if the problem was how to organise the productive forces and processes. This blueprint chart with the wheel of the various industries in socialism is merely the projection of capitalism into socialism. This SLP wheel demonstrates that they have no concept of even the outlines of a socialist society. Even a superficial view of the world today, under capitalism, already reveals that the world is an integrated, socialised, interrelated unit, economically, and is not divided industrially. Socialism means a classless society (not an industrial union society), where the very social interrelationships are so closely intertwined that production cannot be conceived as functioning industrially.

History has passed the SLP by. The problems of a socialist society are everything but that of production, in spite of all those detailed charts of the clairvoyants. In socialist relationships the arrangements are for leisure, culture, refinements, sanity, each day being an adventure in living, square pegs in square holes, social behavior; in short, the identity of interests of every individual and of society as a whole. How ludicrous to those living in a socialist society will appear the SLP worries about industrial divisions and voting from where you work. The SLP doesn’t realise that when plenty and abundance become the order of the day, it completely changes people’s behavior and attitudes. But to show how far from having any grasp of socialism the SLP are, and how they are thinking in terms of capitalism, consider their notion that workers, under socialism, get the full product of their toil. In the first place, there are no “workers” under socialism. There is no working-class section of society, but all are equally members of a classless society. No problem of equal share with equal work could possibly exist in socialism; people in a sane society would not be that limited in vision or behavior. Just the reverse, the inspiration of socialism is that, being social animals, people give according to their abilities and receive according to their needs (without any thought of getting their “full” share — a meaningless concept in a sane society).

Their Industrial Union concept altered their concept of socialism and of the socialist revolution in a way that is not borne out by either evidence or analysis. the SLP “campaigns for Industrial Unionism.” That is one of the major points in the SLP analysis that not only distinguish it from the WSM but demonstrate the unsound understanding of the nature of capitalist society by the SLP. If the SLP were content merely to state that within the framework of capitalism industrial unionism might be a more effective form of resistance to the encroachments of capital than the craft unions, there would not be any serious quarrels and there would be no justification for two organisations on that score, itself. But to them industrial unionism is something far more than that. It constitutes a new contribution to Marxism. (Not that Marx is a biblical prophet and that there couldn’t be further contributions to Marxian science, since his days.) But, industrial unionism does not constitute any new addition to socialist science. In fact, it is erroneous, when examined scientifically in light of the workings of capitalism.

In this Industrial Republic of Labor, workers cast industrial ballots for a gradation of councils from a plant council, to a local industry council, to a national industry council, and finally to an all-industry council, the socialist Industrial Union Congress, composed of manufactures, public service, construction, food supply, lumber, farming and transportation. It also includes wages of a sort, in the form of checks which represent the “full” product of their toil.
The concept of socialism held by the companion parties of the World Socialist Movement is a social system which is possible, practical and necessary today, here and now. Due to the workings of capitalism, mankind has already solved the problem of production. Potential abundance prevails today. If this were not so, the material conditions of existence would not be ripe for socialism. Socialism is not a blueprint or a utopia, but a product of social evolution. The times are now propitious for a harmony of interests between all members of society and society as a whole. It is now possible for everyone to live useful, interesting and meaningful lives where everyone gives to the best of his abilities and receives according to his needs. The real problem of socialism will be not the organization of the productive process, but the enjoyment of genuine, meaningful leisure. Socialists, as social beings, will come to grips with problems as they arise democratically, because all are imbued with the common interests. Socialism is an administration of affairs by the members of society.
Unwittingly, the SLP projects the extension of capitalist relationships into its socialist society. The separate branches of industry of the 1904– 1905 period no longer typify the closely interrelated socialized technology and production of 1966. The SLP chart, like so many other plans, has been bypassed by the march of events. But equally sad is their stress on Labor in a socialist system. Socialism is a stateless society. It is also a classless society. Labor, as such, is a meaningless term in describing socialist relationships. The discovery of the Industrial Republic of Labor proved to be merely a matter of sounder union tactics within the framework of capitalism and nothing more.

It is no wonder that the SLP has never really described the economy of Soviet Russia. For a long time, they maintained a critical but friendly attitude to the “socialist” nature of the Bolshevik Revolution. Later, because of unfolding events, they branded Russia as “bureaucratic statism,” and other similar terms, none of which described the social relations. At no time, up to the present, have they recognized that the system that prevails in Russia is state capitalism. This attitude flows from the similarity of the SLP’s concept of the industrial union basis of the “Socialist Republic,” and the Russian Soviets’ form of the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat.” One of the finest descriptions of the transition period that has ever come to my attention: “The political organization necessary to vote capitalism out and to vote socialism in. (our emphasis.). It is Sunday Supplement stuff that the Russian Revolution did stir and inspire large segments of our own members? Have we forgotten the sneers and scorn heaped on us by those who should have known better because we “did not recognise a socialist revolution when it took place”? In light of developments, which revealed a healthy “instinct” (groping) for a society, the World Socialist Movement would be a far greater force and factor today had it not been for the wasted energies and illusions of the Bolshevik counterfeits as far as a genuine socialist revolutionary movement is concerned.

The socialism the present SLP envisages is but an extension of capitalist relations, even though they retain the language of a “classless” society, much as do the Bolsheviks. No wonder Lenin praised DeLeon’s “contribution” of Industrial Unions as the basis for the “Soviets.” Their socialism is the Industrial Republic of Labor and they have a blueprint (the famous wheel) to illustrate its operation.
The outstanding historic factor that lays the groundwork for socialism is that socialism is based upon abundance made possible by the strides in the means of production: technology. This very technology is no longer industrial but overlapping and integrated into a cohesive whole; production is socialized, in almost a literal sense, today. Socialism is not confronted with problems of the organisation of production, but rather with problems of leisure, full lives and conditions worthy of human beings. (How far superior and more scientific is the Marxian projection of socialism.)
The SLP and the WSM do not have the same objective.

Further, this misconception of socialism arises from their viewing the Industrial Union as the revolutionary weapon. It can be conceded that the industrial union has advantages as economic organizations of resistance for workers within capitalism over craft and trade unions. But the SLP goes on to project the industrial union as a revolutionary weapon: “The ballot is as weak as a woman’s tears unless backed up by the economic might of the workers.” This splitting of the workers into two sections presumes that the majority of socialists who vote for socialism will support capitalism in their economic activities. In spite of some fine SLP pamphlets on the nature of the state, they have forgotten that whoever controls the central organ of power, the state, gains control of economic power, by the same token. Peculiarly enough, they have confused economic bases, economic influence, etc., with economic power. It is the development of economic social relations that gives rise to the state, but it is state power that gives rise to economic power. In order to get economic power, the new rising social class must first get in possession of the state powers. (The classic illustration, of course, is the revolution from feudalism into capitalism. For example, with all their economic influence the rising capitalist class in France and England were economically and politically shackled by feudalism and the absolute monarchy. It was necessary for them to achieve political supremacy in order to make secure and extend their economic power, as the French bourgeoisie did in the French Revolution. Also note that no two revolutions are the same, but here we are dealing with the Materialist Conception of History.)

Let us examine industrial unionism in two aspects: As the road to power and as the germ of the new society. The Socialist Labor Party stated their practical program:— “Not a ‘general strike’ of the workers but a ‘general lockout’ of the Capitalist Class is our slogan. And this can only be done by organizing the workers, industrially, to take and hold the means of production.” Of course, “only” eliminates any other means. The SLP Manifesto of 1921 is stated flatly: — “the might of the Working Class lies on the economic field and there alone” (emphasis theirs).The lip service the SLP have always paid to what they term the “political arm of labor” is seen here in its true colors. A study of history will show that control of economic resources is only made secure by control of the State. The SLP can say “Without the industrial might and organization, the political vote would be nothing…” But is it conceivable of a worker being a socialist in the factory and not, at the same time, a socialist in the voting booth, or vice versa? And just what strength has the worker got industrially? He has two alternatives: either starve or be driven back to work by the armed forces.
What gives title and deed to ownership of the factory? It is the state, the central organ of power! The highest expression of the class struggle is the political phase. On the economic field, the working class is impotent. What do they possess, aside from their muscles and brains? They are propertyless. All that the workers can do on the economic field is to attempt to slow down the worsening of their condition, so far as wages, hours, shop conditions are concerned; but they cannot stop the direction: downward. If they go out on a strike, who starves first, the workers or the owners? The trouble is not that the workers are not organized into the proper kind of economic organization, but that they are not socialists. Socialists know what to do and will utilise all the tools and weapons that are available. Actually, the essential thing is the realisation that in order to introduce socialism, the workers must first gain control of the state machinery in order to transfer the means of living from the hands of the capitalists to the hands of society — after which the state disappears and in its place we have an administration of affairs.

The SLP maintains that the ballot is as weak as a woman’s tears unless it is backed up by the economic might of the workers. This concept presupposes that workers who are clear-thinking socialists politically will not be socialists economically. It is inconceivable that people who are socialists in the political field are not likewise socialists everywhere they may be, whether at work in the shop, going to the movies, or wherever they may be. People are not divided in half, one half of the body socialist and the other half not. Once they are socialists politically, they are by the same token socialists economically. Whoever gains control of the state machinery (and the gaining control of the state machinery is a political act) also, by the very same act, gains control of the economic resources. The capitalist class itself maintains its control and ownership of the economic resources through their control of the state machinery. The revolutionary act is the political victory of the workers, which puts them in a position of power, with the resulting control of the military, every organ of propaganda, the police, courts, etc. The objective of the socialist movement, i.e., a socialist working class majority, is accomplished, by the conquest of political power. This is the essence of understanding the nature of the state, the central organ of power.

Furthermore, to talk of the economic might of the workers in their industrial unionism is not correct when society itself is examined. On the economic field, the working class is impotent. What do they possess, aside from their muscles and brains? They are propertyless. All that the workers can do on the economic field is to attempt to slow down the worsening of their condition, so far as wages, hours, shop conditions are concerned; but they cannot stop the direction: downward. If they go out on a strike, who starves first, the workers or the owners? The trouble is not that the workers are not organised into the proper kind of economic organisation, but that they are not socialists. Socialists know what to do and will utilise all the tools and weapons that are available. Actually, the essential thing is the realisation that in order to introduce socialism, the workers must first gain control of the state machinery in order to transfer the means of living from the hands of the capitalists to the hands of society — after which the state disappears and in its place we have an administration of affairs.

It is impossible for the working class to take and hold industry as long as the state is in the hands of the capitalist class. All the industrial unions in the world are powerless in face of the armed forces of the modern states with their machine guns, cannon and tanks. Moreover, this power is placed in the hands of the capitalist class by the workers themselves. To expect these workers to do two diametrically opposite things simultaneously, is going it a bit too strong. On the economic side the working class is weak. They are propertyless. They own nothing but their ability to work, which they must sell to the capitalist class in order to live. The objectives of a union are confined to questions of hours, wages and conditions, problems within the four walls of capitalism. A union, regardless of type, to be effective today must depend primarily on numbers rather than understanding. Ever changing productive methods as well as the continuous introduction of new industries, make unions powerless to cope with even their immediate problems. Their view that the industrial union is the only means of taking and holding industry, is but the pipe dream of the SLP. In the light of this review, it should be apparent that our concern is not what “practical” measures to advocate. Our task at the moment is to carry on the work of socialist education. The capitalists rule today because the workers sanction and uphold the existing form of property relationships.

What stands in the way of socialism, today? It is not the limitations of technology, nor of the material conditions of existence. It is not the lack of literacy, scientific information or democratic forms. The only material condition lacking is a majority of class-conscious revolutionary socialists determined to inaugurate the new social system. Building that majority is the task of the socialist movement. Our great ally is the workings of capitalism and the lessons of experience. That is the latent strength of socialism. Once the workers wake up and the ideas of socialism spread like wildfire, they have the tools ready to hand — the ballot. All that the capitalist class can do is to submit to the inevitable. It is significant, isn’t it, that there is no reference in any major work of Marx and Engels to the “Transition Period.” The first step in the socialist revolution is to capture the powers of the state for the sole purpose of transferring the control of the means of living from the hands of the ruling class to where it belongs, the hands of society.

“The possessing class rules directly through universal suffrage. For as long as the oppressed class, in this case the proletariat, is not ripe for its economic emancipation, just so long will its majority regard the existing order of society as the only one possible … On the day when the thermometer of universal suffrage reaches its boiling point among the laborers, they as well as the capitalists will know what to do.” (Engels, Origin of the Family, p. 211.)

Also based on the work of Isaac Rab

1 comment:

unionsocialist said...

greetings! I am an outspooken supporter of socialist industrial unionism. while I do agree that after De Leons death SLP stoped being relevant, primarly because of leninist domination of marxian politics around the world after the bolshievek revolition. your "critique" of the socialist industrial union consept are not only ridiculus but also unscientific. the WSM teaches that the political organization of the working class is sufficent to capture the capitalist political state and redo it reorganize it to a socialist republic. as well as this you reject the consept of central economic planning. this would fall into semi utopian socialism and oppurtunist anarchism. if a socialist party were to win the general elcetion in a government it is foolish for you to belive that the capitalist state would just give up its power to the socialists. the class struggle demands that the workers collectivly have to rely on themselfs to capture and reorganize society with their collective streanth, this require organization, not only a political organization such as the socialist party, but also an economic organization, without economic organizing of the working class you could just as well give up the cause as you dont have any means to backup and enforce the political demand. SWM have failed to addopt to the western material conditions, just as leninism ignores that it only works in the third world one. but in different from WSM leninism have a place in the world. Good day and thank you for your time