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."
Labels: IWW, parliament, SPGB, syndicalism, The State, trade unions, unions, voting