From exchanges on Libcom here
ZANTHORUS in a comment asserts "The SPGB imagine, on the contrary, that first of all the working-class will have to have had 'the message' drilled into them through propaganda before we can do anything."
How often does this assertion require refuting?
"We welcome any upsurge in the militancy and resistance and organisation of our class. But we also know, from bitter experience, that work of an altogether quieter, patient, more political kind is also needed. The skirmishes in the class war must be fought if we are not to be reduced to beasts of burden. But as human animals capable of rational thought and long-term planning, we must also seek to stop the skirmishes by winning the class war, and thereby ending it. This is only possible if the capitalist class is dispossessed of its wealth and power. That means that the working class as a whole must understand the issues, and organise and fight for these ends themselves" but, yes, unlike some here we do say it has to be "by organising a political party for the conquest of state power" http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/dec10/index.html
What we have indubitably stated is that to achieve socialism requires a clear understanding of socialist principles with a determined desire to put them into practice. For socialism to be established the mass of the prople must understand the nature and purpose of the new society. Our theory of socialist revolution is grounded in Marx's - the position of the working class within capitalist society forces it to struggle against capitalist conditions of existence and as the workers gained more experience of the class struggle and the workings of capitalism, the labour movement would become more consciously socialist and democratically organised by the workers themselves and would require no intervention by people outside the working class to bring it. Socialist propaganda and agitation would indeed be necessary but would 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. Marx’s “the workers’ party to be", would be the mass democratic movement of the working class with a view to establishing socialism" the SPGB no longer claim that mantle.) We however fully accept that it is the responsibility of the SPGB to challenge capitalist apologists and pseudo-socialists in the battle of ideas and that requires talking to, leafleting and debating and engaging with our fellow workers.
The workers' acceptance of capitalist political and social ideas, like their other ideas, is learned from other people--their parents, their schoolteachers, their workmates, the press, television--and so derived from society so it follows therefore that the struggle against capitalist ideology must be also be a struggle to spread socialist ideas - a role taken on by the SPGB. Socialist ideas arise when workers begin to reflect on the general position of the working class within capitalist society. They do then have to be communicated to other workers, but NOT from outside the working class as a whole. They have to be communicated by OTHER workers who, from their own experience and/or from absorbing the past experience of the working class, have come to a socialist understanding. It's not a question of enlightened outsiders bringing socialist ideas to the ignornant workers but of socialist-minded workers spreading socialist ideas amongst their fellow workers. We see socialist consciousness as emerging from a combination of two things - people's experience of capitalism and the problems it inevitably creates but also the activity of socialists in making hearing the case for socialism a part of that experience.
The SPGB have written that
"In considering the question of how realistic it is to expect a socialist revolution, it is important to consider the hidden history of events that most people are unaware of. It was in the Paris Commune of 1871 that French workers actually created organisations of mass control which challenged the old system for a brief space of time. In the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, workers and peasants developed similar structures of direct workers' control such as the workers councils and factory committees. The Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917 eventually destroyed this, and ushered in a system of state capitalism. Similarly, in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the workers set up workers' councils when they took on their so-called "communist" oppressors. During the May of 1968 in France, workplaces and universities were taken over and in many cases run in a way that is of immense inspiration to socialists.
What happened on these occasions? Not socialist revolutions, as some claim. But they were significant in the history of the struggles of our class. They are significant because the sort of people who dismiss the possibility of revolutionary upheavals were dismissing it seconds before these events blew up in their faces. No one is in any position to dismiss the prospect of revolution who has not carefully examined these movements. In none of these cases was a socialist revolution achieved, but in each case there was a fundamental interruption of the ruling order and the appearance of new forms and conceptions of everyday life. To ignore them because of their failure is to miss the point. Individual revolts are bound to fail until they are accompanied by a widespread and growing—and ultimately worldwide—socialist consciousness.
What we hope these brief examples show is that real change can be brought about by workers. Socialism is not a utopian dream. It is an ever-present undercurrent in working class practice. The task is to make it the main one. That these revolts did not go farther is hardly surprising. What is inspiring is that they went as far as they did." http://www.worldsocialism.org/articles/past_revolutions.php
We regard socialism not as a purely political theory, nor as an economic doctrine, but as one which embraces every phase of social life.
A shorter reply should have been that the SPGB are not against co-ops, the unions, or any other way in which workers struggle. What we do say, is that these are not means towards socialism, and we advocate socialism as the better and lasting answer.
Not wishing to get too involved in Irish nationalist politics but didn't Sinn Fein engage in the electoral process quite successfully and were never banned, and even the Bobby Sands seat was held, with an increased vote, by Sinn Fein, who were never legally excluded from participation in elections. Successes convinced republicans that they should contest elections and led to the armalite and ballot box phase of their politics and then led to a resurrection of the old Sinn fein boycott of the London parliament strategy for elected MPs and eventually lead to their integration fully with parliamentary democracy in Northern Ireland.
Regardless though, the SPGB position is that we would change our tactics if the law on elections is changed to the workers detriment, but until that day, we will show our commitment to democracy and let the capitalist class prove themselves to be un-democratic. We won't stand idly by if the constitution is changed. It wouldn’t stop socialism being eventually established, one way or another.
"We have never held, as a matter of fact, that a merely formal majority at the polls under no matter what circumstances, will give the workers power to achieve Socialism... we stress the necessity of capturing the machinery of government including the armed forces. That is the fundamental thing. The method, though important, is second to this." http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/etheory/1933-93/html/33Hook.html
Way back in 1909 we answered the question “What would be the action of the S.P.G.B. if the capitalist class, in view of the possibility of an adverse vote, disfranchise the workers?”
Our reply was that "in such an event we would be faced with a new problem; the whole aspect has changed; constitutional methods are closed to us; and we are forced to adopt methods of secret organisation and physical violence. And that is the only course left open if the workers disfranchise themselves by baulking at any of the formulae imposed by the capitalist government to hinder the political return of their social and economic opponents in the class struggle. But there is little likelihood of the master class being so blind...Not that the master class will hesitate at bloodshed if they deem it necessary to the maintenance of capitalist privilege...Actually the problem of the methods to be adopted must be determined by the circumstances of the time. Our first move is the development of the desire for Socialism among the working class and the preparation of the political party to give expression to that desire. The move of our opponents against the successful action of that political party must determine our subsequent actions. If the fight is kept to the political field within constitutional limits, the rulers taking the defeat when it comes in a spirit of contrition and resignation – well and good. If they choose not to accept the verdict of the nation when given through the medium of their own institutions, but contest that verdict by physical force, the workers must be depended upon to repeat their verdict upon that field, and if the capitalist class follows its predecessors into the limbo of the forgotten past through an exit of blood and carnage, its blood must be on its own head. The important thing is for the workers to gain control of the political machinery, because the political machine is the real centre of social control...Given, then, the Socialist idea firmly set in the mind of the working class, any action taken by the masters to prevent the realisation of that idea would be checked by the workers if solidly organised into the Socialist Party; while a final appeal to physical force hastened by the destruction of constitutional means would leave the victory with the workers, who, “vastly outnumber their tyrants in war”. In view of all the facts, the Socialist Party of Great Britain enters the field of political activion determined to wage war etc, etc." http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/20C/09atactics.html
An oft repeated and inaccurate criticism of the SPGB is that faced with an impending socialist election victory the capitalist ruling class would abolish political democracy and, even if they let things go so far as an actual socialist election victory, would not respect it and would carry on ruling regardless yet recent events in North Africa, like those previously in Eastern Europe even if a pro-capitalist minority were to try to prevent a change of political control via the ballot box, the socialist majority will still be able to impose its will by other means, such as street demonstrations and strikes.
"Faced with the hostility of a majority of workers (including, of course, workers in the civil and armed forces, as well as workers in productive and distributive occupations), the capitalist minority would be unable, in the long run, to enforce its commands and the workers would be able to dislocate production and transport." http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/apr11/reflect_revolution.html
The 2002 coup against Chavez failed because people were prepared to take to the streets to back up their vote and because the bulk of the armed forces remained loyal to the constitution and the constitutionally-elected president. The theory that power obtained by the ballot box to effect radical changes can’t be retained was disproved by actual experience. It confirmed our view that a socialist majority can both win and retain power via the ballot box if that majority is sufficiently organised and determined and if there is no question as to their democratic legitimacy.
The SPGB case in the present world and not a hypothetical future scenario is that any attempt to establish an socialiist society by ignoring the democratic process gives any recalcitrant minority the excuse for anti-libertarian direct action itself. We insist on the necessity of majority understanding behind socialist delegates with a mandate for socialism, merely using the state and parliament for one revolutionary act, after which the Socialist Party has no further existence.
The SPGB have always stood for the argument that what will be necessary is a world-wide socialist revolution, not one country in isolation. It's why the SPGB often uses the other name World Socialist Movement. Ideas are social, artificial national borders cannot contain them, as we are presently seeing in the influence of the "Arab Spring" that's now spread to Spain.
We have often disparaged those who call for some form of minority revolution and have also dismissed any nationalist solutions to the workers problems because of what you describe as the "internationally united" opposition which would indeed strangle any attempt at expropriation. Our view on the army (and police) is basically that they are workers in uniform, as receptive to revolutionary ideas as civilians are.
The SPGB, as we have often said, engage in the parliamentary process not to take and hold political office and form a government but for the purpose of seizing control of the state for its abolishment. Others may question the validity of such an approach, and doubt the possibility of success, but it makes the SPGB more than your average run-of-the-mill parliamentarian political party, elected to administer capitalism or offer palliatives, in the way Chavez presented himself and we shouldn't be confused as such.
The issuing of orders, the appointment and control of officials, and everything else connected with the operation of the State, is in the hands of the majority group in Parliament who go on to constitute the Government. Underlying your argument is idea that there is somehow a power behind or beyond elected governments that in reality controls them (some kind of shadowy group or committee or boardroom that is really in control) and that, therefore, if its position is seriously threatened it has the means at its disposal to clamp down on those threatening it and will not hesitate to use violence to do so, perhaps in the form of a coup or a military takeover. Its why we sometimes counter that it is a conspiracy theory.
We don't think faced with a massive majority vote for socialism, and a working class outside parliament organised to back it up, the ruling class would put their life and liberty on the line by resorting to violence to try to resist the inevitable. Maybe there'll be a few isolated acts of violence by fool-hardy individuals, but these could easily be contained and the socialist revolution should be able to pass off essentially peacefully. Your hypothetical scenario of the military and police being turned upon the workers since they too would be influenced by socialist ideas, as civil servants and administrators and all who work within the state-machine. As i have said , a recalcitrant minority or as Marx and Engels described them "pro-slavery rebels" will not hold back socialism because there'd be strikes there'd be mass civil disobedience (refusal to obey the rebels' edicts) and street demonstrations and there would be army mutinies. As stated ad nauseum, our object of taking political control of the state is not in isolation with events outside parliament. Socialist ideas will overspill into the military. Is a soldier is something less than other workers? Do we over-look the sailors of 1918 Hamburg , or the Kronsdadt, or all the "Red Army" councils. Please, no psychological profiling that the mentality of a worker in uniform is fundamentally and qualitatively different for a whole host of other occupiations.
The SPGB can be proud of its long history in exposing the oxymoron of the "workers state" and attacking the concepts of Leninism (and its offspring Stalinism and Trotskyism). A quick search of our website should suffice to prove that.
The SPGB has never been in the business to win popularity contests and jump on any old band-wagon for the sake of recruitment and many of the political organisations that did have disappeared, having had no lasting impact. Events have only confirmed the SPGB case that understanding is a necessary condition for socialism, not desperation and despair. There is no easier road to socialism than the education of the workers in socialism and their organisation to establish it by democratic methods. Shortcuts have proved to be cul de sacs. Has history actually proved this position wrong? i doubt it. Until the knowledge and experience of the working class are equal to the task of revolution there can be no emancipation.
The fact of the longevity of the SPGB as a political organisation based on agreed goals, methods and organisational principles seems to suggest that we indeed represent some strand of socialist thought that some people are drawn towards.
The state does indeed represent the ruling dominant class, it's why workers strive for its control and why a revolution thats out to abolish classes also means the end of the state. If who controls parliament is empty rhetoric, then the ruling class spend a helluva lot of effort vying with other sections of the ruling class for control of it and making sure workers endorse them with their vote.
What happened in Chile is not relevant to our case that capitalism can be abolished by a democratically-organised socialist majority using Parliament. First, Allende and the People's Unity (Unidad Popular) alliance which supported him did not enjoy majority support (the election result was a 3-way split). Second, Allende did not stand for socialism but for state capitalism. Third, it was an attempt to improve things within the context of a single country on its own, which we have already said is not possible. Quite different conditions that will obtain on the eve of socialism - mass support for socialism throughout the world - which will be sufficient to deter latter-day Pinochet.
For every sucessful coup, how many failed ones? I already mentioned Chavez.
We are told that revolution is a process culminating in socialist consciousness, well - i can accept the rolling snowball theory that things will grow bigger and go faster - but excuse me for decrying other groups activities, but until that critical mass is reached, just what do they do that's so different from the SPGB...propaganda. And again please, don't refer me to claims of organising the workers, attempts to do so from the early days of traditional syndicalism to nowadays with SolFed and the IWW has not made any effective inroads, apart from propagandaising.
[Zanthorus] can blow the trumpet about ICC interventions all he wants, i can easily counter with historic examples of the participation of socialist party members, from the OBU in Canada to other strikes and union organising. I see no merit in chest baring and pissing contests since i think it can be conceded that the thin red line is very thin, indeed. I wish it wasn't the case because then it may give some clue to what group's tactics and methods is the better option for workers. The SPGB has one view and approach, those here have others, but, fact is, painful as it is, so far the working class has not been convinced by any of us. There exists to-day, so many factions claiming each to lay down the course necessary to be taken by the working class towards its emancipation and so far its all fallen on deaf ears.
The Socialist Party does not minimise the necessity and importance of the worker keeping up the struggle over wages or to resisting cuts. There are some signs that union membership and general combativity are rising. And let's not forget that this is vital if our class is to develop some of the solidarity and self-confidence essential for the final abolition of wage slavery. We recognise the necessity of workers' solidarity in the class struggle against the capitalist class, and rejoice in every victory for the workers to assert their economic power. But to struggle for higher wages and better conditions is not revolutionary in any true sense of the word; and the essential weapons in this struggle are not inherently revolutionary either. It demands the revolutionising of the workers themselves. If there were more revolutionary workers in the unions—and in society generally—then the unions and the host of other community organisations would have a more revolutionary outlook,
This does not mean that we say workers should sit back and do nothing, the struggle over wages and conditions must go on. But it becomes clear that this is a secondary, defensive activity. The real struggle is to take the means of wealth production and distribution into the common ownership. Only by conscious and democratic action will such a socialist system of society be established. This means urging workers to want something more than what they once thought was "enough". The SPGB are accused of wanting "too much" because our aim is free access and common ownership. The task of the Socialist Party is to show workers that in fact it is a practical proposition. To transform this desire into an immediancy for the working class.
Participation in the class struggle does not automatically make workers class conscious. Militancy on the industrial field is just that and does not necessarily lead to political militancy, but ebbs and flows as labour market conditions change – and militants in the work-places can in no way count on their supporters on the political field. Yet one school of thought in the working class political movement sees strikes, particularly the unofficial wildcat kind, as bona fide rebellions, not only against the labour leaders, but against the capitalist system itself. This school views it as the beginnings of a real rank and file movement which will eventually result in the workers throwing out the union bureaucrats, taking over the factories, establishing workers' councils and ultimately a "workers society" based on these councils. We beg to differ.
Another school of thought ( mostly the Trots) believes industrial militancy can be used as a lever to push the workers along a political road, towards their "emancipation." How is this possible if the workers do not understand the political road, and are only engaging in economic struggles? The answer is the Leninist "leaders in-the-know" who will direct the workers. But these leaders lead the workers in the wrong direction, toward the wrong goals (nationalisation and state capitalism), as the workers find out to their sorrow.
The SPGB approach of education can point out to the workers that strikes arise out of the nature of capitalism, but that they are not the answer to the workers' problems. These economic struggles settle nothing decisively because in the end the workers remain wage slaves. It is the political act of the entire working class to eliminate the exploitative relations between workers and capitalists which can furnish a final solution and remove the chains. It's not the same as Leninist leadership, to point these things out, as someone seemed to believe earlier on this thread. It is educating workers to understand the nature of both capitalism and socialism, so that, with this understanding, the workers themselves can carry out the political act of their own emancipation. These struggles can be used as a means of educating workers to the real political struggle - socialism.
Prove to me a better way.
How the struggle acquires this political expression of clear opposition to the capitalist state. How does it arise? Are you saying that there is a degree of automaticity in the process? No other possibilities for worker to take as a perceived solution such as fascism, or nationalism or religion? The SPGB i think would argue that it is about engaging people with the idea of socialism, to talk about a revolution in social relations, and i think part of my earlier post indicated that if workers are already involved in actual struggle they would be more receptive to the idea more effective it would become. But not inevitable. There is nothing automatic about social change, it has to be struggled for.
I think we can quote Marx from the Manifesto in regard minorities and majorities. "The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement."
"Pushes forward" i think is the key phrase...Marx didn't say lead forward.
For many the Socialist Party's conception of revolution lacks credibility and that they claim unlike the SPGB to possess a theory of revolution that does not expect people to wait for the overwhelming majority necessary to 'enact' socialism before doing something about their immediate problems. I hope this provides another angle of the discussion.
The WSM position is honest in that we don't know what the characteristics of revolution will look like in detail but we do think we know what it won't look like. Some expect the Socialist Party to be soothsayers. The problem is that it is rather useless for us today to declare what tomorrow exactly is going to happen when socialism in imminent. Will the working class (even a socialist one that is highly politically educated) wait for the declaration of its elected representatives or delegates in Parliament and legislatures? What happens when say 55 per cent of the working class says "Let's do it now!" What happens if the majority of workers in the UK and Europe start to elect Socialist majorities, but not in the U.S., Japan, etc.? And what if the State (the
state capitalist State and private capitalist State) do begin to exert their powers to stifle the movement (and they will)? Do we then sit and wait again for our chance? What constitutes a working class majority wanting Socialism. Is it 51 per cent? 60 %? 75%? I feel this is a futile exercise to make. We simply cannot foresee the events that take place even when say 30 % of the working class becomes socialist.
And, furthermore, socialism and its construction will not simply be a legal enactment ( even though feudal property rights were abolished in France during the night of 4 August 1789 and in Russa at 2.30 am on the morning of 9 November 1917.)
Say, for example, that we reached the stage where 20% of the adult working population was indeed socialist. That would be an incredible achievement and there would be a sudden rise in working class militancy in immediate issues, there would be a new "socialist culture" being built, changes within the entire labour movement, in daily life and how people thought politically. At 40% we would still not be the "overwhelming majority" but this would be such a sizably significant and politically powerful base. And here quantitative changes would mean qualitative changes. The "movement" we have now would not be the same movement under those circumstances. It might move in directions we have never even considered. And it has profound implications. It is too difficult for us to simply say that when the overwhelming majority of people around the world want socialism they will create it because there will indeed rise these very revolutionary situations or critical revolutionary crisis or juncture that have not followed the formal logic of the propositions we put forward. The "movement" will take on a life of its own.
The World Socialist Movement cannot control whether or not workers become socialists. What we can provide, and what we have continuously provided, is a theory of revolution which , if had been taken up by workers, would have prevented incalculable misery to millions. Over the years, the Party's theory has led to the formation of a body of knowledge which has been consistently capable of accurate political and economic predictions. For example, in 1917, the Bolsheviks were convinced that they were setting society in Russia on a course of change towards socialism. The Party argued that socialism was not being established in Russia. What followed was the horrendous misery of the Stalinist years. The Party put forward the same view of events in China in 1949. What is happening in Russia and China now? The rulers of these state capitalist regimes introduced free market capitalism. We warned against situations where groups or sections of workers try to stage the revolution or implement socialism when the rest of the working class is not prepared. They will only be prepared when they accept the need to capture political power and THEN the implementation of Socialism based on majority support can begin. Otherwise you may have a situation where a minority may push the majority into a situation it is not prepared for and the results could be disastrous. What comes to mind is the situation in Germany in 1919 when large groups of workers supported the Spartacus group while the majority of the working class still supported the Social Democratic Party. The uprising was put down brutally and the working class was divided. In regards to gradualism and reformism when in 1945 the Labour Party was elected with the objective of establishing a "socialist" Britain, the Party, again arguing from its theory, insisted that there would be no new social order. In fact, that Labour Government steered capitalism in Britain through the post-war crisis, enabling it to be massively expanded in the boom years of the 1950s. What is happening in the Labour Party now? Confused and directionless, it stands utterly bankrupt of ideas. The Labour Party even abandoned its adherence to Keynesian theories which the Party always insisted could never provide policies which would remove the anarchy of capitalism. Its ideas on the progressive introduction of socialism are now only a distant memory.
We have stated that the SPGB 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. Nor is it right in stating that the Socialist Party relies "simply upon the agency of 'abstract propaganda' Our propaganda 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 Socialist Party 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. The growth of socialist consciousness and organisation will allow workers to prosecute the class struggle more effectively. Socialist consciousness won't entirely emerge "spontaneously" out of the day-to-day struggle, which is given as an excuse for not advocating socialism by those such as Trotskyists who think it will. It has been claimed by some of them that all socialists need to do is to get involved in the day to day struggle. The justification for advocating socialism as such is that socialist ideas do have to be brought to workers, though not from outside, from the "bourgeois intelligentsia" or the "proletarian vanguard", but from inside, from members of the working class who have come to see that socialism is the way-out. We socialists are members of the working class spreading socialist ideas amongst our fellow workers. We are (if you like) part of the "spontaneous" process of the emergence of socialist consciousness.
Of course, socialist understanding evolves over a period of time. There are two models of revolution , i think prevalent in the SPGB (a) the snowball theory, that once a certain stage has been reached, socialist consciousness will grow at exponential rate and a majority will be reached in a relatively short time, and (b) the avalanche theory, that once that certain stage has been reached mass socialist consciousness will come suddenly. Both these views reject the view that the growth of socialist consciousness will be a simple 1+1+1 progression as individual workers are "converted" one by one, which is attributed to us.
All theoretical mysteries find their rational solution in human practice and the comprehension of this practice. Hence the idea of choosing between "abstract propagandism" and "doing something now" is as false a choice as choosing between theory and practice. We must have some theory linking the capitalist present and the socialist future. Some theory yes, but not just any theory. This theory must be based both on the class struggle as the motor of social change and on an understanding of the economics of capitalism and the limits it places on what can be done within the framework of the capitalist system. As socialists we are engaged in a necessarily contradictory struggle: on the one hand we propose the abolition of the wages system as an immediately practical alternative, but on the other we recognise the need of workers to fight the wages struggle within capitalism. But, as socialists, our main energies must be directed towards the former objective. We could endeavour to remove this distinction between the trade union struggle within capitalism and the socialist struggle against capitalism by adopting the ideas propounded by DeLeon, who at one time advocated that socialists should form their own "revolutionary unions" but their failure is a very important case study of the danger of imagining that capitalist institutions such as trade unions can be easily converted (or substituted) into socialist bodies. They demonstrate that capitalism cannot be transcended from within.
It is very probable that as more socialists come into the movement groups of them will have involvements in all kinds of areas of the class struggle, ranging from strike committees to anti-racist or anti-sexist awareness groups to people's theatre projects to libertarian education projects. However involved individual members may or may not be in what is going on outside the Socialist Party, we certainly need to be aware that workers are doing things which, often unknowingly, are contributing to the evolution of class consciousness. Not everything has to have the stamp of approval of the
SPGB for it to be non-reformist and contributory to the evolution which precedes revolution. The Socialist Party tries to guard against appearing to be the sole agent of the socialist transformation. 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 to retain our confidence in the face of the immense frustration and pessimism which socialists often encounter.
Some perceive a problem problem they can't see how workers who have become socialists can be expected to sit back and wait for a majority to join them before being able to do something constructive. But no-one's asking them to do this. There will be a whole series of "practical" actions, apart from socialist propaganda activity, that will become possible when once there is a substantial minority of socialists (as opposed to the tiny minority we are today). Our pamphlet "Socialist Principles Explained" says "The organisation and day-to-day running of socialist society will be a completely separate issue. It will have been discussed and planned at great length by everybody before the actual take-over of power takes place. " and "As the old regime is abolished, the new, really democratic, social order, discussed and planned for so long beforehand , will come into operation".
For instance there will be involvement in:-
* the challenges of the practice of democracy within the socialist political party, and the broader socialist movement generally.
* the task within the trade unions to prosecute the class struggle on the economic front in a more class-conscious and democratic way as well as drawing up plans for keeping production going during the period of social revolution while political action is being taken to end the monopoly exercised by the capitalist class over the means of production.
*participation within the numerous associations, clubs and mutual aid groups that will flourish at this time, to discuss and prepare the implementation of plans in such fields as town planning, education and culture both after and to a certain extent even before the establishment of socialism.
The growing socialist movement would be preparing for the change-over to socialism and drawing up of plans to reorganise decision-making on a fully democratic basis and to reorient production towards the satisfaction of needs once class ownership and the operation of capitalism's economic laws have been ended. People working in organisations like the WHO and the FAO and the host of other NGOs and charities would be dusting off plans to eliminate world hunger and unnecessary disease. Socialist educational and media ventures would be coming into existence.
We in the SPGB can can picture a socialist party and movement growing in the future along with many working class organisational forms including trade unions, councils, the old IWW idea of One Big Union but not without certain caveats. Workers' councils has, in the past, been a very independent body of workers created at the workplace itself (Russia 1905, 1917, Germany 1919, Hungary 1919, the British General strike, council movements in Ireland and Scotland in the same period, in Italy, Hungary 1956, Poland 1970). They usually arise in situations of economic and political crises. They also often rise in opposition to the established trade unions. They are very much spontaneous organisations that do not have any clearly defined political goal (in our case, socialism). Their existence can challenge the State, but not necessarily so. Their inherent problem is that they can be political organisations (again not necessarily so), but tied to the prevailing economic structure of capitalism.. And because they arise in response to whatever crisis, their co-ordination is difficult, and the political consciousness of the workers not necessarily socialist in the end. In past revolutions the councils have swayed back and forth between political parties and movements and there is no "conscious" action other than a responsive one.
Whereas, a socialist party has the advantage because its interest and actions do not revolve around this or that section of the working class, but of the working class as a whole. And it functions as the instrument to "take hold of the state machine", to seize the levers of government. Councils do not nor cannot do that. They can set themselves up as a dual power to the government or State, but the State still has the control of bureaucracy, army, police force, all forces of oppression. What has to be captured is the State itself to dismantle all this "bureaucratic-military machine". The State already exists as a class institution, the representative of the capitalist class. It exists as a creation that "administers" capitalism and thus a Socialist party must come to the fore which challenges the capitalist class in the political arena in order to seize this administration, "lop off its worst parts" and be provided with the institutions already in place to implement socialism. Now this is where councils, if they are established, could come into play.
Again, the advantage of the Party is that it is the interest of the whole class and does not, in the process, disenfranchise anyone. The working class needs a political organisation, not one segmented on the basis of how industry is set up under capitalism. An organisation of Socialists is needed. As it grows then the dynamic of the class struggle changes and goes off into new directions. We cannot see a council system now, or an industrial union system like the IWW advocates providing the same. The latter organisational forms are determined themselves by capitalist industry and are not necessarily the ideal forms for socialist construction. Both they and Workers councils disenfranchise those sectors of the population not organised into industrial unions or councils.
I don't want this contribution to appear that the SPGB and WSM are without faults. We are only too painfully aware of them as Marx was about the boils on his bum. We are more or less invisible to the working class because too often we are an organisation on the outside looking in. We look upon workers' self-organisation (for reforms, for wage rises, or whatever) and we say "It doesn't go far enough! They're not advocating socialism. Don't they understand that socialism is the solution?" and then we step back from the real struggle in front of our us for fear that either we will be tainted with the smudge of reformism or that somehow will recreate the interventionism of the Leninists. Perhaps a grain of truth in that but i would assert that it is to be with the approach and attitude which requires addressing and not the content or validity of SPGB thought and principles. Where we as a political party and movement often fail is in our own activism, in not "being there" with the working class, alongside them, when it is fighting its battles - that invisibility again! One cannot talk with workers unless one is WITH them. It is not enough to be one OF them. What we have to be is the movement (as i earlier quoted) the group which points out the way, which "pushes forward". With the SPGB by focussing mainly only on the "end aim", the role of the "movement" itself has been neglected. I hold my hands up and plead guilty. But if the revolution is a process, the SPGB is going to be part of the process and will certainly not be the unmoving monument it's made out to be, since it too evolves and has done so and will again.