Monday, May 30, 2011

smash cash

Many people mistakenly believe that money has always existed and that it therefore always will. Many people think that money has always existed and therefore it always will. Wrong. Human beings have lived on this planet for hundreds of thousands of years without using money. When they were hungry, they ate. When they were thirsty, they drank. Whatever was available to anyone was available to everyone.

When people first hear of a new radically different society being proposed, with all work being voluntary, and free access to whatever we need, most immediately view this as bizarre and impossible. Unsurprising, given that we have spent our entire lives being brainwashed and conditioned by the education system, by the media, by politicians and employers, into swallowing capitalism’s propaganda that this is the natural way of things. We are even influenced into accepting the capitalist employment-wages-money-buying status quo by our own parents. Which is why capitalism is so utterly vile; perpetuating itself by getting the preceding generation of indoctrinated victims to raise the following generation to become victims themselves.

Many people see money simply as a useful tool to facilitate the exchange of goods giving people a wider choice of things to consume and there is an element of truth in this. Without cash, and bank accounts and credit cards, exchange at existing levels would be impossible, and wage and salary earners are better off being paid in money than in kind as it means that they, not their employer or the government, can decide what to consume. Money is a social relation. It links together people and their work, but, it's an insidious social relation. Once introduced into society it tends to spread and undermine and ultimately dissolve all other social relationships. Removing money from the current economic equation would strike most people as impossible, unthinkable, absolutely imponderable. Everything we do, every transaction we make, from a simple cup of tea to sending a space probe to Mars, from birth to death and at every step in between, money has become a necessary part of getting what we require. It has become an accepted, entrenched method of acquiring anything and everything. Money is vital to the capitalist system, if you have capitalism people need money, but capitalism is not indispensable to human society.

A “World Without Money” describes one essential aspect of socialism. But to get a clearer idea of how society can function without money we need a better understanding of money and why it must exist under capitalism. Money – its origins, its nature, and its functions – is a subject laden with superstition and wild theory. Even those who are supposed to know all that is worth knowing about it, the economics experts, frequently find themselves tangled in the intricacies of their explanations. Most economics textbooks more or less try to define money by listing up a number of its functions as reflected by the Wikipedia entry: “Money is anything that is generally accepted as payment for goods and services and repayment of debts. The main functions of money are distinguished as: a medium of exchange, a unit of account, a store of value, and occasionally, a standard of deferred payment.”

True enough, but listing the functions or attributes of something is not equivalent to arriving at an essential or conceptual definition of something. We need to understand the fundamental role of money and its reason for existing. That fundamental role comes down to what might be called the expression of a commodity’s value. That is, money gives tangible shape to the worth of a commodity. Marx in Capital revealed that the value of a commodity is in fact determined by the amount of (average socially-necessary ) labour expended on its production. Yet there is no way to hold a commodity up to the light to see exactly how much labour it contains. Instead of that “substance” of value being directly expressed, it is expressed in a more roundabout way, with money serving as the material for expressing value. We all know that money is used in this way to express the worth of any commodity. Money, then is the universal unit of measurement, the "general equivalent" that allows everything to be compared with everything else under all circumstances but, only in terms of their labour-time cost or the total time needed on average to produce them from start to finish.The power of money and the great mystery surrounding it stems from its role as the material used to express or give concrete shape to value. The strange power of money is not the result of a human weakness for shiny metal objects. So long as production is designed for the purpose of sale on the market with a view to profit money will be necessary. Value will have to be estimated in order that the commodities can exchange, one with another. A universal equivalent will also be needed as a standard of price and as a means of payment.

Before money existed people satisfied their everyday concrete needs (meals, clothes, a roof over our head) directly by concrete means, by themselves working or by sharing the fruits of the work of the other members of their community. With money this changes. Because money is a universal equivalent—something that can be spent on anything—the needs of its owners cease to be concrete and limited and become abstract and limitless. A money-owner's desires are no longer limited to what they can personally consume but only by the amount of money they possess. The more money they possess the greater their "needs" and, since there is no theoretical limit to the amount of money they can own, there is also no limit to their needs or, more accurately, to their "desires". Put another way, people come to desire more than they reasonably need or consume. However, although there are no theoretical limits to the amount of money a person can own there are severe practical limits to what most people can. So, with money, most people are going to be constantly and permanently dissatisfied, and they are generally, without hope of relief. Although money does give people a wider variety of choice, it is only a choice of things that have a price tag on them and so doesn't—in fact can't—include non-monetary considerations such as friendships, relationships, sense of belonging to a community, artistic values and other non-material satisfactions. In fact, the choice of these things, which most people value higher than material things, is diminished since they don't count in a monetary economy which either makes them disappear or else devalues them by trying to pin a price tag on them. At first money freed of people from all obligations towards other people and was a liberating process: serfs and workers were freed from dependence on feudal and religious hierarchies; women's dependence on men was reduced. But the process didn't stop there and continued and still tends to dissolve all non-economic relations between humans not just hierarchical and discriminatory ones, everything coming to have a monetary price and to everything being judged in monetary terms. Instead of recoiling in horror from the prospect of all relations between people being reduced to monetary ones, society now positively welcomes this and indeed proclaims and preaches it, arguing that the pursuit of short-term monetary gain by individuals is the most efficient way to organise the production and distribution of wealth. This leads not only to all social relationships being poisoned but to nature being raped.

Given a new and different type of social system, however, money will no longer be required. How can one measure value for exchange when goods are produced for use and not for exchange? The very concept of value will not arise. For what reason is a standard of price required when goods will have no price? Wherein lies the need for a means of payment when all the earth is commonly owned by all mankind instead of – as now – the property of a minority? Money has been an unnecessary, wasteful and divisive way of ordering world communities. Actually, socialists don’t want to “abolish” money. What we want is to see established a system of society where money would become redundant, as it would in a society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means for producing wealth. In such a society the principle “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs” could apply. People would cooperate to produce what was needed to live and enjoy life and then have free access to this. Socialism will have no need to abolish money. The need for money will have vanished with the abolition of capitalism.

Although money will disappear in socialism this does not mean that there will no longer be any need to make choices, evaluations and calculations. Our argument is that these evaluations and calculations, including those conceding the non-monetary "cost" of objects in terms of the effort and materials used to produce them, will be done directly in kind, without any general unit of account or measurement, neither money nor labour-time. Wealth will be produced and distributed in its natural form of useful things, of objects that can serve to satisfy some human need or other. Not being produced for sale on a market, items of wealth will not acquire an exchange-value in addition to their use value. In socialism their value, in the normal non-economic sense of the word, will not be their selling price nor the time needed to produce them but their usefulness. It is for this that they will be appreciated, evaluated, wanted… and produced. So estimates of what is likely to be needed over a given period will be expressed as physical quantities of definite types and sorts of objects. Decisions apart from purely personal ones of preference will be made after weighing the real advantages and disadvantages and real costs of alternatives in particular circumstances. The belief that without money nothing can work is flawed. The truth is that production is carried out by people not money. Problems are solved by human beings, not money.

To advocate monetary calculation is to advocate that only one consideration—the total average production time needed to produce goods—should be taken into account when making decisions about which productive methods to employ. This is patently absurd but it is what is imposed by capitalism. Naturally, it leads to all sorts of aberrations from the point of view of human interests. In particular it rules out a rational, long-term attitude towards conserving resources and it imposes intolerable conditions on the actual producers. Socialists, as opponents of monetary calculation, say that it is not monetary or market values, in the end total average production time, that is the most important thing about a good but its usefulness in satisfying some human need; that the real values are use-values, human values. We are saying that these are the factors that should be taken into account when making choices and calculations about production, not simply production time. This presupposes that calculations concerning production can be carried out without money or without some money-substitutes some other general unit such as labour-time. (Such non-monetary calculation of course already happens, on the technical level, under capitalism. Once the choice of productive method has been made according to expected profitability as revealed by monetary calculation then the real calculations in kind of what is needed to produce a specific good commence so much raw materials, so much energy, so much labour.) In socialism choice will be made in real terms, in terms of the real advantages and disadvantages of alternative methods and in terms of, on the one hand, the utility of some good or some project in a particular circumstance at a particular time and, on the other hand, of the real "costs" in the same circumstances and at the same time of the required materials, energy and productive effort.

Everyone thinks they can control money until it starts to control them. Today, money is an integral part of the capitalist system. Yet a civilised society in which people’s needs are routinely met absolutely does not need money to function: only trade and commerce needs money to function. Human beings do not need money to operate combine harvesters, to run power stations, to build houses, to drive delivery trucks, to carry out surgical operations, and do all the other necessary work. We are perfectly capable of working for ourselves, and producing goods and services for direct use by whoever requires them without the requirment of handing over money or a bank or credit card. You just take what you need. For those who can get beyond the initial shock of first hearing about moneyless real socialism, by simply comparing what both the present and new system offer the majority of us, it should be obvious that outdated capitalism must be scrapped and replaced with the real socialist alternative.

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

THE PRICE OF RICE

The Indian government proposed a Food Security Act that will provide subsidised grains only to those who earn less than Rs 20 a day (if you live in a city and less than Rs 15 a day if you live in a village) - the BPL - below poverty line. The reason the poverty line matters so much is because it determines how many Indian can claim welfare, which, in turn, determines the fiscal burden the State will have to bear. The government says it can’t afford to feed everyone – hence the manipulations with the BPL. But for the poor, the BPL is not some statistical term: it is a lifeline. Rs 20 a day is somehow supposed to feed whole families. Ferrari dealerships and Louis Vuitton stores spring upto cater to the new urban rich but leave hundreds of millions of others struggling without access to adequate food and clean water.

Economists Pravin Jha and Nilachal Acharya have estimated that if rice/wheat were made available to 200 million households in India at Rs 3 a kilo, it would add Rs 84,399 crore to the Budget, just the price of two Commonwealth Games.

The World Bank global poverty line, at $1.25 a day or about $38 per month, is three times higher than India's urban level.

Himmat pedals his bicycle rickshaw through New Delhi's crowded streets, earning barely enough to feed his family. The 5,000 rupees ($110) he earns a month pays for a tiny room with a single light bulb and no running water for his family of four. After buying just enough food to keep his family from starving, there is nothing left for medicine, new clothes for his children or savings. Himmat is way above India's poverty line. "My existence doesn't matter to the government. They don't care if people like me live or die," he said.

The country currently spends just 2 percent of its GDP — about 29 billion — in social protection, and half of that goes to the Public Distribution System, which provides the poor with subsidized food. Even with the low poverty line, the system — riddled with corruption and mismanagement — caters to over 440 million people, more than the entire population of the United States. The World Bank poverty line would add about 60 million more people to that category.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Fake Socialism

Left-wing is a term which comes from the old French legislature, referring to that section of the membership sitting on the left side of the chamber (as viewed from the president’s chair) holding progressive liberal opinions.

Someone claimed that the lesson of history is that people never learn the lesson of history. Obviously this is untrue (otherwise there could never have been any progress, social or technical) but such a cynical view could be justified if it was based on the antics of the Left, because they never learn.

The Left, despite referring to themselves as “socialists” have no confidence in the workers to win through. They tell us, socialism will come eventually someday – presumably, when we are all dead and gone. By this, they mean the job falls not to them but to others sometime in the future. There is no logic to this whatsoever. For the world is ready now and painfully waiting – how is socialism to ever come in the future when we are never to explain it to people here now, for it takes a while? What will happen that might cause this future embrace of socialism, we are never told.

We in the Socialist Party reject the conventional method of political analysis that seeks to understand politics in terms of ‘left’ or ‘right’. The left and right are different only to the extent that they provide a different political and organisational apparatus for administering the same capitalist system. This includes those on the left who aim for socialism some time in the distant future but in the meantime demand some form of transitional capitalism. For this reason the Socialist Party cannot be usefully identified as either ‘left-wing’ or ‘right-wing’. Many political groups, somewhat disenchanted with orthodox reformist practice, fancy themselves as "the Left" . We do not. Typically the Left share the following ideas:
1. State ownership is socialism, or a step on the way to socialism.
2. Russia set out on the way to socialism.
3. Socialism will arrive by violent insurrection.
4. Workers cannot attain socialist consciousness by their own efforts, only a trade union consciousness.
5. Workers must vote for the Labour Party.
6. Workers must be led by an elite - a ‘vanguard’.
7. Workers must be offered bait to follow this vanguard in the form of ‘transitional demands’, a selective programme of reforms.

These beliefs interlock and support each other. If, for example, workers are so feeble-minded that they cannot understand socialist arguments then they need to be led. Socialism will therefore come about without mass understanding, by a disciplined minority seizing power. Widespread socialist education is not only unnecessary, it is pointless. If the best workers can do is reach a trade union consciousness and vote Labour, then this is what they must be urged to do. Since workers must have some incentive to follow the vanguard, 'transitional demands’ in the form of reformist promises are necessary, and since these tactics were successful in carrying to power the Russian Bolsheviks, it is assumed that Russia must have set out on the road to socialism. The basic dogma on which all this is founded is that the mass of the workers cannot understand socialism. When it is suggested that the majority of the working class must attain a clear desire for the abolition of the wages system, and the introduction of a world-wide moneyless community, the Left reply that this is “too abstract”, or “too academic”. Indeed, theythemselves do not strive for such a socialist system. None of the Left groups advocate the immediate establishment of a world without wages, with production democratically geared to meeting people's needs. Some of them say, when pushed, that they look forward to such a world “ultimately”, but since this “ultimate” aim has no effect on their actions it can only be interpreted as an empty platitude. Far from specifying socialism as their aim, they are reticent and muddled about even the capitalist reforms they will introduce if they get power. The Marxist revisionist Bernstein dictum's “The movement is everything, the goal nothing” sums up the Left. The 'Left' may claim that it enjoys the best of both worlds, both supporting reforms and advocating revolution. But in fact its revolutionary posturing.

The Left put forward a whole raft of reformist demands that on paper might seem to be appealing. The only problem is that there is no plan to actually achieve these demands - for the reason they are pretend demands. Trotsky himself called these kind of demands "transitional demands" - the idea being to look at everybody else's demands and make bigger demands so they sound great. Occasionally they might achieve a demand which will make them seem sincere, however the idea isn't to achieve these demands - it is to not achieve them! This is the Troskyists' grand master plan to make workers dissatisfied, so the latter will become revolutionary and flock behind their political leadership. In other words the workers are to be the infantry led by the Trotskyist generals. The Left have real aims quite different to the reform programme they peddle. In this, they are being as dishonest as any other politician, from the left or right. The ultimate result of this is disillusionment with the possibility of radical change.

Reformist political parties in opposition always claim how much better everything would be if only they were in power. Everything would be better: the NHS, the environment, the economy, industrial efficiency and productivity. On top of all this there would be savings of many millions, even billions, of pounds, giving us all more spending power as well as big savings for businesses.And how is all this to be achieved? By two old leftist illusions; taxing the rich and nationalisation disguised as public or social ownership. If all their proposed reforms were adopted – nationalisation, the multitude of changes in the tax system, defence budget cuts, etc., we’d still be living in a money-driven, buying and selling economy, still working for wages and salaries, still insecure, being hired and fired, in short, in capitalism. The demand for reforms will often only succeed if it can be reconciled with the profit-making needs of the system. In other words, the reform will often be turned to the benefit of the capitalist class at the expense of any working class gain. The aim of the left-wing has always been to establish state capitalism, the profit system planned centrally by a miracle-performing state. The source of the wealth would still be the surplus value wrung from the working class. Lacking an honest revolutionary stance for a new society, the Left becomes caught in a pointless and frustrating circular battle with an economic system that is based on exploitation. As long as the accumulation of capital takes precedence, either in the hands of the individual capitalist or state institutions, the primary concern of exploitation of labour and making profit will take precedence over the concerns of human need.

The ideology of national capitalism, reflecting the interests of small-scale capitalists, is still strong and finds support both from the “right-wing ” and the “left-wing” who beat the same nationalist drum. The Left in effect argue that workers should support national as opposed to transnational capitalism (Cuba or Venezuela,for example). Socialists, on the other hand, don’t take sides in this conflict between different sections of the capitalist class. The Left downplays the idea of directly challenging the system and organising an alternative political economy and is working instead on the terrain of capitalism.

The Left like to act as though they are Moses, and lay down the commandments in stone for ignorant followers to obey. Left Wing propaganda offering leadership adds to the impression that the worker is an inferior being who is incapable of thinking, organising and acting and imbues further the master-and-servant mentality of the worker. As already stated all Left organisations start from the premise that workers are too stupid to understand or want socialism by their own volition. Therefore, revolutionary ideas have to be introduced from outside the working class by all-knowing "professional revolutionaries" who will lead workers to the promised land.

When someone comes across the Socialist Party for the first time, a common reaction is to consider us as just another left-wing political organisation. The Left use similar terminology to us, talking of socialism, class struggle, exploitation, etc, and invoking Karl Marx. But digging a little deeper will show that our political position is very different from that of the Left. The Socialist Party is not on The Left. There is so much manipulation, dishonesty, and downright erroneous thinking connected with the Left that we would not wish to be associated with them in any way. We are not and never have been connected with Lenin, Trotsky or Stalin. We are not related in any way to The Socialist Worker's Party, or The Socialist Labour Party . We've never had any connection with the Communist Party, or any of it's offshoots. We have always been opponents of nationalisation and the idea that capitalism can be reformed away. Unlike the Left, we did not feel that the working class should have to experience yet another Labour government to realise that it would be anti-working class. We are a party that consciously does not have leaders and our members are all members of the working class. There's nothing wrong with contesting elections, but if socialists are going to do this it should be done on a sound basis: getting elected on a straight socialist programme but not about trying to get elected through non-socialist votes on a programme of attractive-sounding reforms to capitalism. It should be clear that the Socialist Party is quite unlike the Left , and that we are definitely and for good reason not part of the Left. We in the Socialist Party are very much a different breed from all those others who like to use the term “socialist”.

We have often been told that the real problem is the lack of unity of the working-class movement. Some say to revolutionaries “Don't split the Left. We are all working for the same goal, so why don't you join us? We can get strength through unity.” What we are not told is what basis there can be for unity. It is not the wish of the SPGB to be separate for the sake of being so. Are socialists supposed to unite with those who want to reform and administer capitalism? Or do we unite with those who claim socialism can be established by a well meaning leadership without a class-conscious working class? Do we unite with those who see socialism as a system based on state control and state ownership of industry: and lastly, do we unite with those who refuse to recognise the parliamentary road to socialism? Revolutionaries must reject this appeal if they are to remain revolutionaries. If there is no common ground upon which agreement can be reached then there can be no unity. Our analysis of the Left is not based upon some narrow sectarianism—it's based upon principle. We do not, nor have we ever, supported capitalist parties, especially those that dress up in revolutionary garb in order to hoodwink the workers. The Left is an expression of all the political mistakes made by the working class last century—from the Labour Party to the Soviet Union. We do not doubt that well-meaning individuals get caught up in such chicanery for no other reason than a desire to see a better world. However, sentiment can never be a substitute. However, a socialist organisation will get nowhere without a firm grasp of democracy, sound Marxist principle, a disdain to conceal its socialist objective, and a membership in full possession of the facts about current society and the revolutionary alternative. Unlike the Left we openly advocate common ownership and democratic control.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

SOCIALISTS AND THE UNIONS

In 1906 the main French trade union confederation of the time adopted at its Congress in Amiens a charter which, spreading far beyond France, became the doctrinal basis of a theory of unionism and revolution known as "syndicalism" (this is in fact merely the ordinary French word for trade unionism, so in France this doctrine is known as "revolutionary syndicalism"). This doctrine has played an important historical role in working class thinking and organisation. Feeding upon the disillusionment of parliamentary action that had not brought any fundamental difference in the lot of the worker, in spite of the showy promises, and with parliamentary leaders deserting to the enemy camp, syndicalists claimed that their method would by-pass political apostasy and they vigorously pressed their claim that the General Strike was a short and sharp road to social salvation for the workers. Industry was to be brought to a standstill by the workers not only refusing to work but also engaging in the wholesale sabotage of machinery and transport facilities. It was a movement to secure ownership of the means of production by the workers through "direct action". The syndicalist unions were seen as providing the means both of defending workers' interests under capitalism and, once capitalism had been overthrown in a general strike, of administering the new society. Syndicalism was powerful in France in the years leading up to the First World War, to a lesser extent in Britain during the same period and in the USA with the Industrial Workers of the World (The Wobblies), established in 1905 as ‘one great industrial union … founded on the class struggle’. Syndicalism was influential in Spain during the Civil War, but is only active now anywhere as anarcho-syndicalism. Although the sincerity of the syndicalists' desire to end capitalism cannot be questioned, their understanding of the future society to replace it can be. If the syndicalists were content merely to argue that within the framework of capitalism it might be a more effective form of resistance to the encroachments of capital than the present craft trade unions, there would be little quarrel between the SPGB and themselves. But for many syndicalism and industrial unionism is something far more. It constitutes a new contribution to proletarian politics. But, it does not constitute any new addition to socialist ideas. In fact, it is erroneous, when examined in light of the workings of capitalism. With syndicalism, in general, the SPGB has always insisted that the structures and tactics of organisations that the working class create to combat the class war will be there own decision and will necessarily be dependent on particular situations. The SPGB avoided the mistake of the syndicalists, the IWW, the American SLP - and later of the CPGB during the "Third Period" after 1929 - of "dual unionism", i.e. of trying to form "revolutionary" unions to rival the existing "reformist" unions (although some SPGB members have been involved, on an individual basis, in breakaway unions. It is often overlooked by the critics of the SPGB that many in its companion party, the Socialist Party of Canada, were instrumental in the founding of the One Big Union.)
What we have stated is that: "The particular form of economic organisation through which the struggle is conducted is one which the circumstances of the struggle must mainly determine. The chief thing is to maintain the struggle whilst capitalism lasts.The spirit of the craft form of Trade Union is generally one which tends to cramp the activity and outlook of the workers, each craft thinking itself something apart from all others, particularly from the non-skilled workers. But capitalist society itself tends to break down the barriers artificially set up between sections of the working class, as many of the so-called "aristocrats of labour" have been made painfully aware. The industrial form of union should tend to bring the various sections of workers in an industry together, and thus help level the identity of interests between all workers so organised."
History has beared this approach out with the rise and growth of what was once called "new unionism" and in America during the 30s with the birth of the CIO.

In suggesting that society should be organised on the basis of trade unions syndicalists merely project into socialism the industrial and professional divisions of workers which exist under capitalism. Since socialism is based on the social ownership (= ownership by society as a whol) of the means of production, the trade union ownership proposed by the syndicalists (the mines for the miners, railways for the railmen) was not socialism at all but a modified form of sectional ownership. A society run by syndicates/ industrial unions would be a society which would perpetuate the occupational divisions which capitalism imposed on workers. Such a form of organisation would divide the workers on the basis of the industries in which they were engaged, with the inevitable consequence that the industrial interest must triumph over the social interest which socialism so fundamentally demands. In addition, the relations between the separate union-run industries, it has been argued, would have to be regulated either by some central administration, which would amount to a government and so give rise to a new ruling class or by some form of commercial exchange transaction (even if conducted in labour-time vouchers rather than money as many syndicalists proposed.) In other words, a syndicalist society would be a sort of capitalism run by the unions. 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 syndicalists 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).

The likes of Tom Mann, Jim Larkin and James Connolly were what was called at the time syndicalists, which meant someone who believed that the way forward for workers was combined industrial action on the basis of "an injury to one is an injury to all". In practice it meant that other workers – ideally, all other workers – should take action in support of any group of workers on strike by blacking goods produced by or supplied to their employers – the "sympathetic strike". It can be conceded that the industrial union has advantages as economic organisations of resistance for workers within capitalism over craft and trade unions. But they went on to project the industrial union as a revolutionary weapon. Syndicalists such as they sought to combine all workers in each industry, to raise them all nationally and internationally, so as to take over control of the whole economic system. In that way the proletariat could fix the number of working days, the abolition of employers, capitalists and government and the ideal of the co-operative commonwealth will be realised. This was all very well in theory but to be effective it would require a very high degree of class consciousness, so high in fact that, if it existed, workers would be in a position to take direct political action to end capitalism. The syndicalists, however, advocated the use of this tactic by workers who were not fully class-conscious, i. e., not socialist-minded and who still thought in sectional rather than class terms, plus leaving the state in the hands of the representatives of the capitalist class.

Trade unions arise out of the wage-relation that is at the basis of capitalism. The wage which workers receive is the price of their labour-power and the price of this commodity fluctuates. Combining together in trade unions to exert collective pressure on employers is a way workers can prevent their wages falling below the value of their labour-power. Put another way, it is a way of ensuring that they are paid the full value of what they have to sell. They can ensure that wages are not reduced to or below the subsistence level. In the absence of unions, the workers have no way of putting a brake on 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 organised 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.This is the usefulness of trade unions. What they can achieve for the working class under capitalism is very limited. They can - and do - enable workers to get the full value of their labour-power, but they cannot stop the exploitation of the working class. It must be understood that the price of the commodity labour-power, or what is commonly known as wages, together with hours of working and all the many other questions connected with the workers' employment, are not a matter which is settled by chance or the automatic working out of some indefinable economic law, but is one which is largely to be accounted for by the degree of resistance made by the workers. The trade unions are essentially defensive organisations with the limited role of protecting wages and working conditions and it is by this criterion that their effectiveness or otherwise ought to be judged. Trade unions, in order to be effective, must recruit all workers a particular industry or trade regardless of political or philosophical views. A union, regardless of type, to be effective today must depend primarily on numbers rather than understanding. Ever changing productive methods and technology as well as the continuous introduction of new industries, make unions almost powerless to cope with even their immediate problems.

The syndicalist movement claim to be out for the overthrow of the system but yet, at the same time, profess to be able to fight the workers' battle for better conditions more successfully, it would therefore draw into its ranks those who agreed with its object and also those who thought it offered a better medium for gaining improvements in conditions. If the movement attracted a large number of workers, the first group would of necessity be very small, while the second would be so large that it would swamp the organisation and turn it into a pure and simple trade union movement. We also have to be minded that even within syndicalist unions the more effective the union is in achieving victories against capitalism, the more the non-radical workers will join it for the trade union benefits and this could just as likely water down its revolutionary aspects as to militantise those new recruits. And it is also just as likely that they will desert the union if the revolutionary aspirations of the union hinder the practicalities of the daily bread and butter fight. The chance of large numbers of workers, pragmatic proletarians, resigning from established unions for small radical organisations that can show no evidence of power, which is an immediate question for them, is poor. Getting round this by striving to organise the unskilled non-unionised workers is reaching out to just the workers who stand the least chance of stopping the wheels of industry. Another factor working against its success was that under capitalism the employers always have the whip-hand. If they so choose they can, because they own so much wealth, always break any strike by starving the workers back to work. It was James Connolly who spoke of full wallets against empty stomachs. Militant class struggle has clear limits to what can be achieved and most workers know this full well.

The backbone of syndicalism was the General Strike as a proposed means to achieve the workers' emancipation ( some have called it a a "General Lockout" of the capitalist class) . The General Strike cannot be used to get socialism. We have adopted a frankly hostile policy to this idea of a revolutionary role of the General Strike for the simple reason that we are a socialist party. To get socialism requires a class conscious working class democratically capturing state power to prevent that power being used against them. Workers who would not vote for socialism will not strike for it. Whilst the strike, local or industrial, may effect improvement for the time, slavery remains. Whilst the threat of a general strike may induce concessions, it cannot bring a solution. The best results of economic unity can only be effected by class-conscious toilers who recognise the need for class action, class union, for working class ends; who realise that, as the road to emancipation lies in control of political power, political action is a vital necessity. Time after time the power of governments to smash big strikes has been demonstrated. Sometimes naked power has been used, sometimes concessions are made, and sometimes the workers have been starved into submission. 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. Moreover, this power is placed in the hands of the capitalist class by the workers themselves. The capitalists rule today because the workers sanction and uphold the existing form of property relationships. All of capitalism’s power, including even its coercive power, is in the hands of the working class.

Our task at the moment is to carry on the work of socialist education. 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.

Syndicalism to be effective would require a very high degree of class consciousness, so high in fact that, if it existed, workers would be in a position to take direct political action to end capitalism. Yet the syndicalist case was being advocated for use by workers who were not fully class-conscious, i. e., not socialist-minded and who still thought in sectional rather than class terms, and leaving the state in the hands of the representatives 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. On the economic field, the working class is impotent. What do they possess, aside from their muscles and brains? If they go out on a strike, who starves first, the workers or the owners? They have two alternatives: either starve or else be driven back to work by the state's forces of coercion. workers do not have “economic power” as long as they are wage slaves. Economic power has no meaning when it is confined to just withholding your labor power from production, which still leaves economic power in the hands of the masters. Economic power flows from having political control of the state machinery.

Upon the formation of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, its membership immediately took up the question of trade unionism. The SPGB regards socialism not as a purely political theory, nor as an economic doctrine, but as one which embraces every phase of social life. However , we argue that the political arm of capitalism rules the economic body of the system in the final analysis. What gives title and deed to ownership of the factory? It is the state, the central organ of power (which explains the chief reason why the capitalist class concern themselves so much about political action. Remember, in spite of all their growing economic influence, prestige, and advantages, the rising bourgeoisie were choked by the control of the state by the feudal aristocracy. The success of the English and French bourgeois revolutions,capture of the state, transferred economic power into the hands of the new rising bourgeois class to achieve political supremacy in order to make secure and extend their economic 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 Thus, the political organisation of the workers for socialist purposes is the primary priorty. The SPGB, in aiming for the control of the State, is a political party but we have an economic purpose which is the conversion of the means of living into the common property of society. We have on more than one occasion pronounced ourselves in agreement with the need for an economic organisation acting in conjunction with the political ( and flatly deny the charge that the SPGB is nothing but a pure and simple political party of socialism. The SPGB insists that there should be a separation and that no political party should, or can successfully use, unions as an economic wing, until a time very much closer to the revolution and for the foreseeable that's far off in the future.) But our standpoint has been that at the present stage of workers development and consciousness, where the great bulk of the workers are non-socialist in outlook, any attempt to lay down the form of economic organisation for socialism is both idle and utopian.The trouble is not that the workers are not organised into the proper kind of economic organisation, but that they are not socialists. Those who argue that existing trade unions are only institutions of capitalism 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. But to be sure, participation in the class struggle does not automatically make workers class conscious.

To-day, on the economic field we already have the trade unions, which are a necessity to the workers under the present system, from the standpoint of their need to resist the pressure of exploitation, besides gaining whatever concessions are obtainable in the sale of their labour power. The greater they combine on the economic field, the more the workers present the capitalist with a situation which the latter cannot afford to ignore. The Socialist Party, therefore, supports and encourages such organisation by the working class. The struggle on the economic held under capitalism has to be, and is, carried on by socialists and non-socialists alike. The current small number of workers who really understand the meaning of socialism is such that any attempt to form a separate socialist economic organisation at present would be futile, for the very nature of the workers' economic struggle under capitalism compels such an organisation to associate in a common cause with the non-socialist unions during strikes, lock-outs and all the other activities on the economic side of the class struggle. The economic organisation based on socialist principles can only arise after the workers have become socialists in far greater numbers than at this moment. In the event of the trade union movement increasingly accepting the socialist position, we do not advocate, nor do we anticipate, that the day-to-day struggle on the economic field be subordinated or surrendered to the political, rather it would be intensified and more effectively conducted because of the socialist basis of the unions.

To make it clear, while we hold that the working class must be organised, both politically and economically, for the establishment of socialism, the SPGB urges that the existing unions provide the medium through which the workers should continue their efforts to obtain the best conditions they can get from the master class in the sale of their labour-power and that the trade unions accept the socialism they will provide part of the basis of the economic organisation of the working class to control and administer production and distribution when the capitalist ruling class have been dislodged from political power. When the workers are sufficiently class-conscious to capture the political machinery for the purpose of introducing socialism, the same people will also be inside the industrial organisations and will bring these organisations to a similar state of development. The more widely known, discussed, accepted the communist/socialist case is, then the more likely it is that "day to day" class conflict will escalate into a decisive mass struggle against the money system itself. This is where the importance of "education" (or promoting the socialist case) arises. Capitalism will continue to throw up situations where an escalation of class struggle towards communism is possible, but the more workers there are who are conscious communists or are aware of the alternative to capitalism, the greater the likelihood there is of getting rid of the system. 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? 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 work-shop, in their neighbourhood, 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. In the factories, co-ops, unions, we are fragmented, sectionalised and tied to our individual vested interests, but on the political field, we can make our numbers tell in a way which they cannot use the state to strangle. Trade unions can bring a great deal of experience to bear on the question of how a new society could be organised democratically in the interests of the whole community. Certainly in the developed countries they have organisation in the most important parts of production. They have rulebooks that allow them to be run locally and nationally in a generally democratic manner and they also enjoy fraternal links across the globe. All this is already in place, ready to be applied. If only trade unions set their sights beyond the next wage claim and by becoming part of the socialist movement, they could become part of the democratic administration of industry that would replace the corporate bosses and their managers who now organise production.

The ideal trade-union, from a socialist point of view, would be one that recognised the irreconcilable conflict of interest between workers and employers, that had no leaders but was organised democratically and controlled by its members, that sought to organise all workers irrespective of nationality, colour, religious or political views, first by industry then into One Big Union, and which struggled not just for higher wages but also for the abolition of the wages system. A union can be effective even without a socialist membership if it adheres to some at least of the features of the ideal socialist union already outlined , and will be the more effective the more of those principles it applies. We do not criticise the unions for not being revolutionary, but we do criticise them when they depart from the basic tenet of an antagonism of interests between workers and employers, when they collaborate with employers, the state or political parties, when they put the vested interests of a particular section of workers above that of the general interest of the working class as a whole. Workers must come to see through the illusion that all that is needed in the class war are good generals. The working class get the unions, and the leadership, it deserves. Just as a king is only a king because he is obeyed, so too are union leaders only union leaders because they are followed. To imagine they lead is to imbue them with mystical powers within themselves, and set up a phantasm of leadership that exactly mirror images the same phantasm as our masters believe. So long as the workers themselves are content to deal with such a union system, and its leaders, then such a union system and its leaders will remain, and will have to react to the expectations of the members. The way to industrial unions, or socialist unions, or whatever, is not through the leadership of the unions. The unions will always reflect the nature of their memberships, and until their membership change, they will not change. Unions are neither inherently reactionary, nor inherently revolutionary. The only way to change unions is not through seizing or pressurising the leadership, but through making sure that they have a committed membership, a socialist membership. Sloganising leaders making militant noises are powerless in the face of a system which still has majority support – or at least the acquiescence – of the working class. It would be wrong to write off the unions as anti-working-class organisations. The union has indeed tended to become an institution apart from its members; but the policy of a union is still influenced by the views of its members. It may be a truism but a union is only as strong as its members. Most unions have formal democratic constitutions which provide for a wide degree of membership participation and democratic control. In practice however, these provisions are sometimes ineffective and actual control of many unions is in the hands of a well-entrenched full-time leadership. It is these leaders who frequently collaborate with the State and employers in the administration of capitalism; who get involved in supporting political parties and governments which act against the interest of the working class. Trade unions, in general, have languished in a role which provides little scope for action beyond preparing for the next self-repeating battle with employers. They tended to be bogged down in bureaucracy and run by careerists and timeserving officials for whom the future means little more than their pensions and peerage. It has to be admitted that this does present itself as a sterile accommodation with the capitalist system.

Although it’s now clear that trade unions are not the “schools of socialism” they were once seen to be, they should not be written off. Without them, the workers have no economic weapon to defend themselves against the encroachments of capital. Capitalists would be able to consistently obtain labour-power below its value, instead of being made to pay something nearer its full price. The importance of the unions is therefore clear - a worker in a trade union will generally be closer to class consciousness than any other. They have realised their position in the world as a creator of wealth, and that some form of exploitation is going on that needs to be checked. The workers' failing is simply not bringing this realisation to its logical conclusion and organising for the complete restructuring of society to end this exploitation of which they strive against.This is where socialist action on the political field becomes an objective - action that does not simply seek to hold off some of the exploitation inherent in capitalist society, but that seeks to abolish it. Unions are economic weapons on the battlefield of class war, but unfortunately they remain committed to simply striving for economic gains within the system.

Of course, experiences in the day to day struggles lead some people to become revolutionaries. Upsurges in class struggle and periods of crisis in capitalism provide a POTENTIAL revolutionary springboard. The contradictions, class relationships and miseries inherent to capitalism inevitably lead the workers to confront capital and when this happens there is, of course the POTENTIAL for revolutionary consciousness to grow through the realisation of class position and the nature of capitalism. As the current recession within capitalism continues, squeezing and stamping down upon the working class ever more relentlessly, alongside the growing realisation of the failure of all forms of running the system; then there is definitely a growing POTENTIAL for the escalation of struggle towards the overthrow of the system. However, how many times has the potential been there in past moments of escalated struggle and capitalist crisis only to disappear or to be channelled into reformist, pro-capitalist directions? Discontent over wages or conditions can be a catalyst for socialist understanding but so can many other things such as concern about the environment or war or the threat of war or bad housing or the just the general culture of capitalism . It can be said that history has not borne out the view that there is some sort of automatic evolution from trade union consciousness to reformist political consciousness to revolutionary socialist consciousness. It's just not happened. In fact the opposite has: trade unions have dropped talking about the class struggle and socialism 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. Why is this ? 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. The SPGB does not minimise the necessity or importance of the workers keeping up the struggle to maintain wage-levels and resisting cuts, etc. If they always yielded to the demands of their exploiters without resistance they would not be worth their salt, 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. Success through striking may well encourage other workers to stand up for their rights in the workplace more. Workers' strength, however, will continue to be determined by their position within the capitalist economy, and their victories 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. Class struggle without any clear understanding of where you are going is simply committing oneself to a never-ending treadmill. Many syndicalists still think mechanistically that a sense of revolutionary direction emerges spontaneously out of "the struggle" thus circumventing the realm of ideology - the need to educate . It doesn't . The workers can never win the class struggle while it is confined simply to the level of trade union militancy; it has to be transformed into a socialist consciousness. To bring about socialist consciousness involves understanding socialism which means talking about it, sharing ideas about it - in short educating ourselves and our fellow workers about it. We come to a socialist view of the world by interacting directly or indirectly with others, exchanging ideas with them. And that is perhaps the role of the revolutionary group as being - as a catalyst in the process of changing consciousness. Conversely, socialist consciousness cannot simply rely for its own increase on ideological persuasion. It has to link up with the practical struggle. Contrary to rumour, The SPGB do not insist that the workers be convinced one by one by members of the party. 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.

Socialists, where they are employed in work-shops and factories which are organised, 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 are to believe our critics, 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. The socialist is involved in the economic struggle by the fact that we are members 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. All we are doing in the SPGB, essentially, is trying to help the emergence of majority socialist consciousness, but even if the sort of activities we engage in can't be the main thing that will bring this consciousness about, it is still nevertheless essential. People can, and do, come to socialist conclusions without us, but they can come to this more quickly if they hear it from an organised group dedicated exclusively to putting over the case for socialism. We can't force or brainwash people into wanting to be free , they can only learn this from their own experience. We see majority socialist consciousness emerging from people's experiences of capitalism coupled with them hearing the case for socialism. Not necessarily from us, though it would seem that we are the only group that takes doing this seriously. Socialists know that it is difficult for the workers to recognise their slave status because wage-slavery is cloaked with many disguises. The absence of legal forms of slavery and serfdom serve to hide the true nature of MODERN slavery. And because the capitalist class or the capitalist state owns the media of propaganda, it is indeed difficult to air the truth. This is why the worker usually believes that he lives in a free society. If the worker would but peep beneath the cloak of superficialities he would glimpse the real nature of society. Socialists are not superior to society's other members. Nevertheless, we do understand how the class society basically works. That is the difference to the majority of the working class, which do not understand and therefore do not see the need to abolish capitalism. The act of abolition of capitalist society requires a primary prerequisite and that's 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.

The State is the centralised organised 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 has concerned 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 policemen's trudgeons, then, we might well organise workers’ battalions (such as the Irish Citizens Army ) equipped with the same weapons, and possibly 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. We will need to organise politically, into a political party, a socialist party, a mass party that has yet to emerge, not a small educational and propagandist group such as the SPGB is at present. This future party will neutralise the state and its repressive forces but there is no question of forming a government and "taking office", It will proceed to take over the means of production for which the working class have also already organised themselves to do at their places of work. This done, the repressive state is disbanded and its remaining administrative and service features, reorganised on a democratic basis, are merged with the organisations which the majority will have formed (workers councils or whatever) to take over and run production, to form the democratic administrative structure of the stateless society of common ownership that socialism will be. By gaining control of the powers of state, the socialist majority are in a position to transfer the means of living from the parasites, who own them, to society, where they belong. This is the only function or need the working class has of the state/government. As soon as the revolution has accomplished this task, the state is replaced by the socialist administration of affairs. There is no government in a socialist society. “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. What really matters is a conscious socialist majority outside parliament, ready and organised, to take over and run industry and society. Electing a socialist majority in parliament is essentially just a reflection of this. It is not parliament that establishes socialism, but the socialist working-class majority outside parliament and they do this, not by their votes, but by their active participating beyond this in the transformation of society. William Morris envisaged that, at some stage, socialists would enter parliament but in his words "...so long as it is understood that they go there as rebels, and not as members of the governing body prepared to pass palliative measures to keep Society alive."

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

World without borders

Just as capitalism is a world system of society, so too must socialism be. There never has been, and never can be, socialism in just one country. Socialism will be one world-wide community without national boundaries, a united humanity, sharing a world of common interests, would also share world administration. This is the socialist alternative to the way that capitalism divides the planet into rival states and sets people against each other. But this does not rule out local democracy. It is sometimes said that world administration would mean power of central control over local democracy. In fact a democratic system of decision-making would require that the basic unit of social organisation would be the local community. However, the nature of some of the problems we face and the many goods and services presently produced, such as raw materials, energy sources, agricultural products, world transport and communications, need production and distribution to be organised at a world level. One of the great technical developments under capitalism has been communications and the rapid processing and distribution of information. This will alter our awareness of being in the world and the boundaries between what is local and distant are shifted or become blurred. So, as well as the face-to-face contacts of our daily lives at home and at work with friends, neighbours and relatives, and as well as our part in local affairs, at the same time we would be involved with all other people in world issues and events of every kind.

The motivation for this new world comes from the common class interest of those who produce but do not possess. An important part of this motivation comes from the global problems thrown up by capitalism. There are no national solutions to world problems like world poverty, hunger and disease. Ecological problems make a nonsense of the efforts of governments. War and the continuing threat of nuclear war affect us all. The problem of uneven development means that many producers in the underdeveloped countries suffer starvation, disease and absolute poverty. All of these problems of capitalism can only be solved within the framework of a socialist world.

One of the great technical developments under capitalism has been communications and the rapid processing and distribution of information. This will alter our awareness of being in the world and the boundaries between what is local and distant are shifted or become blurred. From one moment to another we are able to take in local news, issues and events and those on the regional or world scene. Socialism will be a co-operative world wide system. Nations and frontiers and governments and armed forces will disappear. Groups of people may well preserve their languages and customs but this will have nothing to do with claiming territorial rights or military dominances over pieces of the world surface. To move forward, the dispossessed majority across the world must now look beyond the artificial barriers of nation-states and regional blocs, to perceive a common identity and purpose. .

Because political power in capitalism is organised on a territorial basis each socialist party has the task of seeking democratically to gain political power in the country where it operates. This however is merely an organisational convenience; there is only one socialist movement, of which the separate socialist organisations are constituent parts. When the socialist movement grows larger its activities will be fully co-ordinated through its world-wide organisation. It is suggested that socialist ideas might develop unevenly across the world, and that socialists of only a part of the world were in a position to get political control. This relates to the possibility that the socialist movement could be larger in one country than in another and at the stage of being able to gain control of the machinery of government before the socialist movements elsewhere were as far advanced. The decision about the action to be taken would be one for the whole of the socialist movement in the light of all the circumstances at the time. It would certainly be a folly, however, to base a programme of political action on the assumption that socialist ideas will develop unevenly and that we must therefore be prepared to establish "socialism" in one country or even a group of countries like the European Community. For a start, it is an unreasonable assumption that socialist ideas will develop unevenly. Given the world-wide nature of capitalism and its social relationships, the vast majority of people live under basically similar conditions, and because of the world-wide system of communications and media, there is no reason for socialist ideas to be restricted to one part of the world. Any attempt to establish "socialism" in one country would be bound to fail owing to the pressures exerted by the world market on that country's means of production. Those who become socialists will realise this and also the importance of uniting with workers in all countries. The socialist idea is not one that could spread unevenly. Thus the socialist parties will be in a position to gain political control in the industrially advanced countries within a short period of each other. (It is conceivable that in some less developed countries, where the working class is weak in numbers, the privileged rulers may be able to retain their class position for a little longer. But as soon as the workers had won in the advanced countries they would give all the help needed elsewhere. The less developed countries might present socialism with a problems, but they do not constitute a barrier to the immediate establishment of socialism as a world system.)

"...By creating the world market, big industry has already brought all the peoples of the Earth, and especially the civilized peoples, into such close relation with one another that none is independent of what happens to the others...It follows that the communist revolution will not merely be a national phenomenon but must take place simultaneously in all civilized countries – that is to say, at least in England, America, France, and Germany.... It is a universal revolution and will, accordingly, have a universal range...The nationalities of the peoples associating themselves in accordance with the principle of community will be compelled to mingle with each other as a result of this association and thereby to dissolve themselves, just as the various estate and class distinctions must disappear through the abolition of their basis, private property." Engels

There is but one world and we exist as one people in need of each other and with the same basic needs. There is far more that unites us than can ever divide us along cultural, nationalistic or religious lines. Together we can create a civilisation worth living in, but before that happens we need the conscious cooperation of ordinary people across the world, united in one common cause—to create a world in which each person has free access to the benefits of civilisation, a world without borders or frontiers, social classes or leaders and a world in which production is at last freed from the artificial constraints of profit and used for the good of humanity—socialism. There is in reality only one world. It is high time we reclaimed it.

"I have no country to fight for; my country is the Earth, and I am a citizen of the World." - Eugene V. Debs

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Vote as Weapon

People who come into contact with the Socialist Party and learn that we advocate revolution are often surprised that the revolution we urge is one that can be brought about by parliamentary means. To many, the word 'revolution' conjures up visions of barricades. They are used to associating revolution with the violent overthrow of governments, not with peaceful democratic elections. This is understandable given that, historically, revolutions of whatever kind have tended to be accompanied by bloodshed and violence and most organisations or political parties calling for revolution still envisage, whether explicitly or otherwise, violent means. The Socialist Party pamphlet, "What’s Wrong With Using Parliament? The Cases For and Against the Revolutionary Use of Parliament" , makes it clear that, for the establishment of the wageless, moneyless free access society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of life that defines socialism, it is essential for the revolution to be brought about by a majority using democratic means. And since such means are available in most countries in the form of elections by universal suffrage, there is no reason why these should not be used in order for that majority to take control of governments and establish a worldwide socialist society. This pamphlet puts the case for a revolutionary use of the ballot box to establish socialism and in so doing provides arguments against those who seem to share the socialist aims of a stateless, free access society but still think that parliament cannot be the route to achieve it because the ruling class will never give up power without the use of armed force. Such a organisation is the The Communist Workers’ Organisation who in their magazine Revolutionary Perspectives describe ourselves as "the only genuinely socialist organisation which attempts to sell us the parliamentary road to socialism." and that we share with them "a real understanding of what socialism is." However, it is not enough to agree upon the objective, but it is necessary to agree with the method of obtaining this object. Thus we cannot hold a sympathetic view towards those whom adhere to the socialist objective, but argue that this object cannot be obtained through political action in Parliament. If this is untrue, then the question is posed as to why socialists in the SPGB do not unite with left-communists such as those in the CWO.

The SPGB are charged that "The increasingly derisory electoral performance of the SPGB over the last 107 years might be taken as sufficient proof of the point that there is no route to socialism via bourgeois institutions but it is a lesson that the SPGB refuses to learn." and it is true that we have never won any election just as the CWO declare , but then, for us, elections are only a means not an end. We have never been interested in winning elections as such, in getting socialist bums on to the benches of the House of Commons at any price. Socialists will enter parliament when enough workers outside it want to send delegates there, mandated to formally wind up capitalism. But this situation has not yet arisen. But of course success and non-success is not the crux of the CWO critique since there own success has remained rather minimal.

Their point is that " the state has to be destroyed in the course of the majority taking over, not via a parliamentary majority after a leisurely debate. Waiting to gain such majority will only allow those who hold all the reins of power to prepare their various contingency plans." The CWO then asks what are their nonreformist minority MPs going to do "whilst awaiting the time when they have 300 plus members in parliament (currently they have none and never have had one) to vote capitalism down? The people who elected them will expect some results in the course of a parliament, unless of course they no longer count on parliament, but then that begs the question as to why did they vote at all. Our new SPGB MPs will arrive in parliament to take the loyal oath to Her Majesty the Queen, and then what? The only concrete activity that the SPGB put forward is that they can use Parliament as a tribune to denounce the system. And after 5 years of doing that they expect to win a majority the next time round?...nothing seems further from reality than the SPGB’s cosy view of the capitalist political system...It is clear that what the SPGB stands for is social pacifism and what they stand against is genuine class action. Capitalism will be safe for ever with these comrades...The SPGB cannot conceive of a “revolution” until 50% plus 1 of the population is ready. For them “revolution” is a quiet vote, a polite discussion in parliament and the change in ownership of the means of production by legislative enactment? A splendid “tactic” which does not even actively involve most of the working class!...It is a utopian plea to participate in the arena where the
ruling class is strongest in order to defeat it."

Strong words, indeed from the CWO. But does it accurately describe the SPGB position ?

We certainly stand for democratic revolutionary political action and the two futile policies of insurrection and reformism can be avoided by building up a socialist party composed of and supported by convinced socialists only. When a majority of workers are socialist-minded and organised, they can use their votes to elect to Parliament delegates pledged to use political power for the one revolutionary act of dispossessing the capitalist class by converting the means of production and distribution into the property of the whole community.

The first moves towards control of parliament by means of elected representation emerged in England in the 17th century. The control exerted over parliament became a reflection of the property relations in society; a role that parliament has successfully fulfilled, largely unchallenged, to the present day. As capitalism emerged as the dominant social system, competition and the misery of working people intensified, so worker organisations struggled against laws that hampered their ability to defend themselves and improve their conditions. The ‘Anti-Combination Laws’ that made unions illegal were repealed in 1824, although it wasn’t until the depression of the 1870s and the Trade Union Act of 1871 that legal protection was granted to union funds. Later, peaceful picketing was allowed. Likewise, the struggle to achieve universal suffrage was slow, driven by overcrowding, excessive hours, child labour, dangerous working conditions and dire poverty. It took the Reform Acts of 1832, 1867 and 1884 to expand the franchise, but even by 1900 only 27 percent of the male population had the vote and it would take a further 30 years before full adult suffrage would be conceded to working people. This summary raises two important issues. The first is that whilst parliamentary government still operates to protect property, the concessions and the elbow room that have been won in capitalist democracy are important and of value to working people. Rights to organise politically, express dissension and combine in trade unions, for example, are valuable not only as a defence against capitalism, but from a socialist viewpoint are a platform from which socialist understanding can spread, while the right to vote the means by which socialism will be achieved. At the same time we must recognise that genuine democracy is more than these freedoms and the right to vote. Whilst ‘one person one vote’ is an essential ingredient of democratic society, democracy implies much more than the simple right to choose between representative of political parties every five years. The Chartist movement, in the 19th century, saw that gaining the right to vote was meaningless unless it could be used to effect "change". But today exercising our democratic right to vote for a conventional political party does not effect change. It amounts to little more than making a selection between rival representatives of power and class interest whose overarching function is to protect private property and make profits flow. It is representative government where all the representatives support obedience to the capitalist system. Capitalist democracy is one where the political agenda is dominated by trivial and often insignificant debate between political parties with the same class based convictions. Other exponents of capitalist democracy to keep democracy working in the interests of capital, public opinion must be moulded and manipulated to encourage obedience – to “manufacture consent”in Chomskian parliance. Ordinary working people are to be targeted with propaganda and ‘public relations’ exercises to induce acceptance of things that are contrary to our interests. The effectiveness of this propaganda is illustrated by the widening gap between people’s preferences and government policy which often result in the quiet acceptance of, say, unpopular cuts in social spending or policies clearly incompatible with their interests.

It is hardly surprising that working people become increasingly disillusioned with ‘democracy’ and politics and register their frustration by declining participation in elections. We start to believe that if our vote is so ineffective in changing things there can be little point in casting it. We become exactly what our master class wants us to be, obedient and silent. It is quickly apparent that in capitalism freedom is an illusion because freedom cannot exist when the conditions for the exercise of free choice do not exist. In capitalist democracy freedom has become a commodity strictly limited to the amount that can be purchased by a given wage or salary. In the workplace our ‘work’ organised under a strict division of labour is often tedious and repetitive; we have become an appendage to a machine or computer in industry organised on a strictly ‘top-down’ chain of authority – more fitting to a tyranny. This is what freedom means under capitalism. Today, we must view with suspicion attempts to further restrict or limit our legal rights by carefully considering the motives that lie behind such moves. For we need to use these rights to organise and spread socialist understanding so a socialist majority can capture political power, end capitalism and establish socialism. Only then will we have genuine freedom and a genuine democracy.

The realisation that genuine democracy cannot exist in capitalist society does not alter the fact that the elbow room already secured by struggle can be turned against our masters. The right to vote, for instance, can become a powerful instrument to end our servitude and to achieve genuine democracy and freedom. Working people with an understanding of socialism can utilise their vote to signify that the overwhelming majority demand change and to bring about social revolution. For while democracy cannot exist outside of socialism, socialism cannot be achieved without the overwhelming majority of working people demanding it. The capitalist form of democracy, though seriously flawed, has in fact no formal means of preventing sufficiently determined individuals representing a politically conscious majority from using the political system it has developed in order to overthrow it. operating in a different social framework from the one that currently exists, one that would be shot through with the notion of participation and democratic accountability at all levels. It expresses the idea in the following way:

“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.”

Because its establishment depends upon an understanding of the necessary social changes by a majority of the population, these changes cannot be left to parties acting apart from or above the workers. The workers cannot vote for socialism as they do for reformist parties and then go home or go to work and carry on as usual. A far more advanced form of democracy therefore than offered to us by capitalism today, where once every few years we are asked to put an X on a ballot paper to choose the best capitalist-management team from amongst competing groups of politicians, who then go away and take all the decisions that influence our lives without consulting us. Yet weak democracy is better than none and, as the pamphlet makes clear, it still provides a means for the majority to take political power once a socialist majority has emerged.

The control of society resides in Parliament, the centre of state power. Although we advocate sending delegates to parliaments as the way for the working class to gain control of political power, we are not a “parliamentary” party in the conventional sense. Our argument, in a nutshell, is that, if socialists are in a minority, to attempt an armed uprising would be suicidal folly. If, on the other hand, socialists are in the majority (as they must be before socialism can be established) then an armed insurrection is unnecessary as the majority can use the ballot box to send delegates to parliament to take over political control. In any event, as we've always said, "if people won't vote for socialism, then they'll certainly not fight for it".

The CWO insist that Parliament is not the real seat of power but a "talking-shop". Also, the SPGB participates in all the activities which perpetuate what those in CWO see as harmful illusions about law, the state and parliamentary democracy. They fail to distinguish between the different content of the term "parliamentary" as applied to orthodox parties and to the Socialist Party. They do not see, or perhaps do not want to see, that 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, subsequent action being the responsibility of society. The CWO propose to ignore the state saying. Socialists argue that it does reflect real social power and consciousness; that a majority of society comprising class-conscious socialists would effectively control its mandated delegates.

The CWO argue getting control of Parliament does not mean that the workers have gained control of the public power of coercion, the state. At such a critical moment the capitalist class (not so stupid as the S.P.G.B.) will send its "armed forces" to disperse Parliamentary representatives. The real State will show itself. The argument against the use of parliament is that the powers-that-be would never tolerate a democratic takeover by a socialist majority because of the loss of authority and privilege this would mean for them. They would therefore prevent it by force. There are many suppositions underlying such an argument but the main one is that there is somehow a power behind or beyond elected governments that in reality controls them (some kind of shadowy group or committee that is really in control and this is why the pamphlet describes it as a type of conspiracy theory) 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, in the form of a coup or a military takeover as in the case of Chile and Allende ( it can be countered that the coup against Chavez failed because he did possess majority support). How would they go about using violence against a majority that included workers from all walks of life and occupations, including the police and armed forces? Is it conceivable that they would obey orders from politicians to suppress the majority of their fellow-socialists and, even if there were enough elements from those quarters who would be prepared to take such action, would they not be overwhelmed by the majority who would oppose them in self-defence? Can a capitalist minority which happens to have control of the machinery of Government continue indefinitely to govern and make capitalism function, in the face of the organised opposition of a majority of Socialists? If that were possible, then, it would be a sheer waste of time to consider socialism at all or the method of achieving it. However, it is not possible for a minority to maintain its hold in those circumstances. 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. In such circumstances the capitalists would themselves de divided. Not all of them would be disposed to provoke chaotic conditions in an heroic last-ditch struggle. A look at the way in which governments do behave in face of a hostile majority under existing conditions will show how impossible it is for any minority to retain cohesion and to act decisively when it is conscious of being actively opposed by the majority. How much more clear and certain the outcome would be if the organised and united opposition is composed of convinced Socialists who have gained their majority in face of a long drawn-out struggle with all the defenders of capitalism. So far, of course, such a majority of Socialists has not existed at any time or in any country. supposing a majority do vote for it but that the top brass in the armed forces refuse to accept the democratically expressed majority will of the people? That would be suicidal folly on their part, as we can't imagine that the majority would simply stand by and meekly accept their will being thwarted. We can imagine that there'd be mutinies since the rank and file and even most officers are recruited from the working class and so would be influenced by socialist ideas; that there'd be strikes as workers refused to supply the armed forces with food, electricity and other essentials; that there'd be mass civil disobedience (refusal to obey the rebels' edicts) and street demonstrations. We leave it up to you to work out how long you think Colonel Blimp and his cronies could hold out in such circumstances. As someone once said, no force can hold back an idea whose time has come, and the existence of a majority vote for socialism would show that socialism's time had come. Faced with a massive majority vote for socialism, and a working class outside parliament organised to back it up, we don't see the ruling class putting 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, "a pro-slavery rebellion" as Marx termed the possibility , but these could easily be contained and the socialist revolution should be able to pass off essentially peacefully.

We are also taken to task by the CWO that we in the SPGB "cannot conceive of a “revolution” until 50% plus 1 of the population is ready."
Perhaps the pamphlet could have been more instructive and explained that when "we use terms such as “majority” and “majoritarian” this is not because we are obsessed with counting the number of individual socialists, but to show that we reject minority action to try to establish socialism – majority as the opposite of minority....a majority (yes, but in the democratic rather than mere mathematical sense)...."

It is about an effective majority, not simplistic formalism of number counting but a class struggle position ( it should be remembered that when the SPGB was formed , women did not yet possess the vote and many men did not qualify for the franchise) .

It may be acknowledging that there is an already established world majority of socialists who have, to some extent, voted with their feet and re-organised their jobs, freely distributed food and goods, refused to go to war, or whatever. We won't just sit on our arses for Jon Snow declare the success of the revolution on a swingometer. In the fall of the Communist Party governments of the Eastern Bloc no-one waited around for a massive vote of millions of people since the malaise of state capitalism was plainly evident , allowing individual revolts in each of the countries or individual Soviet republics. (Though they were the subject of competing elite groups as well, in general they were mass movements.) Legitimacy was established after the fact in the following elections. This of course raises the question if you can have the revolution first, and count the ballots afterwards, what price the parliamentary road to socialism? We argue or imply that parliament is the engine of change, whereas in reality of circumstances it might be nothing but a rubber-stamping exercise. The SPGB position is one that we do not rely on Parliament but that we use it if we can. We think it is the most effective way to get socialism with the minimum of violence. Elections are an useful expedient, when the alternative is bloody failure on some barricade. But we're not legalists - if the capitalists withdraw the franchise or change its rules we'll have to act without it. Being dependent on the bourgeois offering us a voting opportunity for socialism is not the party case.

Most revolutions of the past that have succeeded have, it is considered required no more than 20%-30% active support - which would be enough for an election of any capitalist party. If 20-30% of the population actively supporting the revolution outweighs active opposition sufficiently to achieve its goals, with the rest of our class either passively support us or just only keeping their heads down below the parapets to see what comes out of whatever crisis and comes to pass. That constitutes a sufficient majority of socialists. It should be defined as "functional majority", or such terms, and also not put in thrall of the capitalist process. Capitalist politics, when they interact with our class at all, are fraught with ballot rigging and gerrymandering. The franchise, even when considered "universal", always excludes large sectors of our class. We should also allow for the large possibility that any transition will not be that orderly - by the time we have succeeded there will be no need for such a ballot because the outcome will be obvious and have been the result of class warfare. It is essential for the revolutionary process that this majority is suffice to make socialism work as a system of society and the deciding factor on the 'majority' is going to be how many of the population will be willing to make socialism actually work.

We cannot assume that all of our class will want to be actively involved - many for purely personal social or health reasons but for whatever reason will not want to stick their heads above the parapet. Also lots of our class will be in organisations that have interpreted the situation differently, whether , anarchists, even Trots or what-not , and would be as likely to cooperate in many aspects of a revolution . We should have a revolutionary model which refers to socialism being brought about by a sufficient majority of socialists - sufficient in their political willingness and awareness, not a 100% at the polls or even a 51% active support. We talk of as in a 1955 EC Statement of "The overwhelming mass of the people will participate, or fall in line with, the process of reorganisation "[my emphasis]. Class societies only persist because a majority support or acquiesce to the social system. Once these start to be withdrawn we can expect a revolution.

Given previous revolutions, 20-30% of the population actively revolutionised is sufficient to overthrow a government. The SPGB are not utopian bean-counters. Some members have argued if we have 20-30% support why not be patient and wait a couple or three months more and lessen the possibility of violence , because then the chances are that we would have 40-50% of workers revolutionised, but it will beleft up to the revolutiuonary period to decide.

There are a wide variety of potential scenarios for revolution. We would be fools if we limit ourselves to what is theoretically perfect - and thus highly unlikely - rather than asking the question "what do we actually need to make a revolution?" and proceeding on that basis. The problem is not getting people to think "socialism is a good idea" but also transforming that into mass social action. We need to be able to act in an imperfect world rather than waiting for a perfect one. Revolution is not merely an announcement of a successful ballot, it is a process, and the process itself will draw our fellows into the struggle. The revolution makes the mass party - the actual date that power can be seen to shift to ourselves is not the beginning, but the beginning of a different phase. The revolution has a snowball effect. The more change is imminent, the faster and bigger it grows and rolls , without conscious direction of leaders, as many vanguardists and social democrats have often found . You cannot stop an idea when its time has come , as is frequently said. The Iron Heel couldn't maintain Marcos in Manila , the Shah in Tehran nor the party apparachiks in Moscow , Berlin or Warsaw , nor in Tunisia or Egypt, when people decided to move.

The State is the form taken by the centre of social administration without which modern industrial society couldn't function. We want the working class to take it over and convert it into an unarmed democratic administration of things. We want to see an end to capitalist class rule not the breakdown of society. The workers en masse don't need create a different and more democratic decision-making structure from the ground up. What they need to do is to take over and perfect the existing, historically-evolved structures. we don't need to construct socialist society from scratch; this is not the way social evolution works; there will be a degree of continuity between what exists now and what will exist in socialism as there always has been between one system of society and another. We are not utopian system-builders like Parecon or Zeitgeist. You don't abolish the state, getting rid of your control of your society at the point of actually having won the thing, and then play at utopias. You grab it and hang on against anything the capitalist class, nationally and internationally, throws at you. During this process also you are transforming the institutions you hold from capitalist into socialist ones.

Workers will use both fists to fight for socialism, and will not rely on only a right hook or be just a south-paw boxer.They will recognise it will be both parliament and non- parliament means to socialism. It is the democratic result that we want. Our case for Parliament is that it is the most efficacious application of the workers will to establish socialism. We seek the least disruptive method of revolution and in the UK at this moment in time, parliament is that route. The CWO criticism fails to convince otherwise.

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