Sunday, June 16, 2019

Who only waits, does not serve the cause of socialism.

To capture the State to abolish the State.

Many people imagine that a state run on the lines of the American republic is a democratic state, that the institutions of such a state are democratic institutions, that the spirit of such a state is the democratic spirit, and that the philosophy of such a State – the “Rights of Man” is the democratic philosophy. Many people would argue that the USA is a democracy and that we all benefit from living in a democratic society. By this they would probably mean the regular holding of elections congress and town councils, the freedom to organise political parties, a media which is not beholden to the government, and the rule of law. If people object to the government or a particular politician, they can vote them out of office. If they oppose a specific policy, they can set up a protest group and hold demonstrations, without the fear of sent to prison just for voicing their views.

We are told that we live in a "democracy" in which we are free to choose what kind of society we live in. But the most important of all political decisions – what the community produces – is never subjected to any kind of democratic process. Instead Wall St investors decide which goods will deliver the greatest or most reliable profits. In other words these decisions are made by a tiny elite minority in the interests of an even smaller minority. In capitalist society the only ‘choice’ voters have is who will decide how taxes are distributed to create and maintain the state infrastructure – armies, police, road, rail, law, health and social security system and, of course, the education system. Even this choice is only ‘given’ to the people once every five years between two political parties with no important differences in ideology. And this is political democracy?
Socialists have no illusions about the democratic credentials of the politicians of the Left, the Right or the Centre. What the capitalist class, and the political parties that serve that class, call democracy is a contrived form of consensus in which the political parties conspire to ensure that the maximum number of people accept a system of law which guarantees a minority class in society the legal right to own and control the means of life of the great majority. To achieve and maintain that system of Law – and the Order that ensures the right of that minority to exploit and impoverish the majority – capitalism must have political control of the state machine. A vital part of the process that maintains the illusion of democratic choice is the power to confine political knowledge – and, thus, political options – to those parties whose policies are firmly rooted in an acceptance of capitalism.
For power to be lodged in the hands of the people does not mean merely that they are to have the widest possible franchise and equal voting power. It implies that the people are to have complete control of all social institutions, the ordering of all social activities, the domination of the whole social life. Such a condition of affairs presupposes at the very outset the ownership by the people of all the means of life, all the social products. There can be no other foundation for democracy than this common ownership of all the means of life, for where these fall into private possession social distinctions at once spring up, the owners become dominators. Real democracy - a social democracy - involves far more. The problem is that under a capitalist system there is a built-in lack of democracy, which cannot be overturned or compensated for by holding elections or permitting protest groups.

The State is organised force. On examination, that from the first it has always and at every time been a class institution. This is, perhaps hard to grasp for the average individual of today. To most of us the state and governmental organisations are things which exist to conserve the interests of, to serve, to help, the community as a whole. We are frequently told, in fact it is dinned into our ears without ceasing by all supporters of the present system, that this is so. Nothing, however could be further from the facts of the case. The state has always been a strictly class weapon used to conserve class interests. The first state organisations came into existence as a result of class (instead of, as before, communal) ownership of the means of life, slavery and exploitation. The first master class had to have some properly organised power behind them to suppress slave rebellions, etc. Therefore, to meet the needs of the case, they organised armed forces (slave guards) to protect their property rights as slave owners. In order that these forces might be employed to the best advantage they further organised themselves into what may be called “administrative councils”. Here we have the state in its infancy – the administrative council representing the brain, as it were, the slave guards the fighting or striking arm. Our modern state is much more complex, of course, though still, the same thing in another form. To govern is to direct, control and to rule with authority. Operating as the state this is what governments do. For socialists the rule of government can never be democratic. Since its establishment capitalists have identified two key elements of class power: mobilisation of public opinion and control of the State. The masters of capital have taught the working class a priceless lesson. You will not get what you want unless you mobilise in order to capture State power, i.e. power to turn the State into one whose dominant objective is to further the interests of the working population. It’s not impossible; it only looks that way. To secure class interests the goal is a political one.

The state does indeed represent the ruling dominant class, it's why workers strive for its control and why a revolution that's out to abolish classes also means the end of the state. If who controls parliament is empty rhetoric, then the ruling class spend a helluva lot of effort vying with other sections of the ruling class for control of it and making sure workers endorse them with their vote.

The Impossibilists shared some Marxist terminology such as the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, with the Leninist and Trotskyists but the “workers state” and the “transitional society” were not among them. Socialism can only be achieved by a politically conscious working class. It is the experience of workers under capitalism which drives them to understand the need for Socialism and this process is enhanced by the degree of democracy which they have won for themselves. Dictatorial power wielded by a vanguard minority, no matter how sincere its intentions, can never act as a substitute. That way the workers remain a subject class and the dictators, having acquired a taste for power, consolidate their own rule. Even now the association of socialist and communist ideas with state capitalism, minority action and political dictatorship is one of the greatest barriers to socialist understanding. As attempts to create socialism they didn’t just fail, they were positively injurious , regardless of how sincere many of their number may have been at the outset .

To establish socialism, must the workers first gain control of the powers of government through their political organisation. It is the recognition that the state is the central organ of power in the hands of the capitalist class. 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. We emphasise that the ballot is the lever of emancipation. We do this just because the conscious, socialist majority takes political action in order to be in a position to transfer the means of living from the hands of the parasites into the hands of society, as a whole.

The essence of Marx’s writing was consistent in stressing the need for political action; and this view has stood the acid test of unfolding events. Just because the state is the central organ of power, it requires the political action of a resolute, determined class conscious majority to accomplish the transfer of the means of living from the hands of the parasites to the possession of society, as a whole. That is socialist political action. What confuses the question is the activities of reformists who call themselves “socialists.” Their political activities are confined to administering the capitalist state, and instituting palliatives for the smoother operation of capitalism.

The Socialist Labor Party were also described as "Impossibilists" and the importance they placed upon political action led to the SLP departing from the Industrial Workers of the World. As their Scottish activist, William Paul, argued:
 " The constructive element in the social revolution will be the the action of the Industrial Unions seizing the means of production in order to administer the wants of the community...Thus Industrial Unionism is the constructive weapon in the coming social revolution...In order to facilitate the work of industrial organisation it is absolutely imperative for the workers to disarm the capitalist class by wrenching from it its power over the political destroying the capitalist control of the State , makes possible a peaceful social revolution...the work of the political weapon is purely destructive, to destroy the capitalist system." ( The State. Its Origins and Function,1917)

Disagreeing with the IWW deletion of the political clause in 1908 , James Connolly remarked "just try and stop them " or as he laterelaborated in this article
"I am inclined to ask all and sundry amongst our comrades if there is any necessity for this presumption of antagonism between the industrialist and the political advocate of socialism. I cannot see any. I believe that such supposed necessity only exists in the minds of the mere theorists or doctrinaires. The practical fighter in the work-a-day world makes no such distinction. He fights, and he votes; he votes and he fights. He may not always, he does not always, vote right; nor yet does he always fight when and as he should. But I do not see that his failure to vote right is to be construed into a reason for advising him not to vote at all; nor yet why a failure to strike properly should be used as a gibe at the strike weapon, and a reason for advising him to place his whole reliance upon votes." 

The Impossibilists strategy of political action also separates it from most anarchists. The difference between the Impossibilists and anarchists is not over the aim of abolishing the State but over how to do this. Anarchists say that the first objective of the workers' revolution against capitalism should be to abolish the State. The Impossibilists say that, to abolish the State, the working class majority must first win control of it and, if necessary, retain it (in a suitably very modified form) but for a very short while just in case any pro-capitalist recalcitrant minority should try to resist the establishment of socialism then the coercive elements of the State is dismantled, dissolved completely, not in a matter of decades or generations here , but as a continuation of the immediate revolutionary phase of the overthrow of capitalism .

The Impossibilist argument is that capitalism (or property/class based societies in general) necessitates a state. Hence to bring about a state-free society which is what is meant by anarchism you need to get rid of capitalism (and that logically entails getting rid of the need for money and the market as well , very much echoing Engels to Cuno in 1872:
“And since the state is the chief evil [for Bakunin], the state above all must be abolished; then capital will go to hell of itself. We, on the contrary, say: Abolish capital, the appropriation of all the means of production by the few, and the state will fall of itself. The difference is an essential one: the abolition of the state is nonsense without a social revolution beforehand; the abolition of capital is the social revolution and involves a change in the whole mode of production.”

The concept of socialism held by the companion parties of the World Socialist Movement is a social system which is possible, practical and necessary today, here and now. Due to the workings of capitalism, mankind has already solved the problem of production. Potential abundance prevails today. If this were not so, the material conditions of existence would not be ripe for socialism. Socialism is not a blueprint or a utopia, but a product of social evolution. The times are now propitious for a harmony of interests between all members of society and society as a whole. It is now possible for everyone to live useful, interesting and meaningful lives where everyone gives to the best of his abilities and receives according to his needs. The real problem of socialism will be not the organisation of the productive process, but the enjoyment of genuine, meaningful leisure. Socialists, as social beings, will come to grips with problems as they arise democratically, because all are imbued with the common interests. Socialism is an administration of affairs by the members of society.

Anarchists amongst others tend to argue that all "parliamentary" parties have in the past, and in the present, betrayed the working class; that Parliament is not the real seat of power but a "talking-shop" that the Socialist Party contests elections, aims at parliamentary majorities and so on; and that therefore will be no different from all other parties. Our reply is that these critics 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 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. We hold it to be absolutely essential that the transformation to a new society be started by formal democratic methods—that is, by persuasion and the secret ballot.

But to end with the Impossibilist case, some quotes from Marx about the abolition of the State .
In 1844 Marx wrote that "the existence of the state and the existence of slavery are inseparable" - "The King of Prussia and Social Reform",

Again, as Engels wrote in a letter to Bebel in March 1875, "Marx's book against Proudhon and later the Communist Manifesto directly declare that with the introduction of the socialist order of society the state will dissolve itself and disappear".

Then, in a circular against the Bakunin prepared for the First International in 1875, Marx wrote:
 "To all socialists anarchy means this: the aim of the proletarian movement--that is to say the abolition of social classes--once achieved, the power of the state, which now serves only to keep the vast majority of producers under the yoke of a small minority of exploiters, will vanish, and the functions of government become purely administrative"

Joseph Dietzgen (who greatly influenced the council communist Pannekoek). Dietzgen had this take on this problem which we should heed , since the "thin red line" is very thin
"The terms anarchist, socialist, communist should be so "mixed" together, that no muddlehead could tell which is which. Language serves not only the purpose of distinguishing things but also of uniting them- for it is dialectic."
June 9, 1886
And on anarchists and socialists generally, he said :

For my part, I lay little stress on the distinction, whether a man is an anarchist or a socialist, because it seems to me that too much weight is attributed to this difference...While the anarchists may have mad and brainless individuals in their ranks, the socialists have an abundance of cowards. For this reason I care as much for one as the other...The majority in both camps are still in great need of education, and this will bring about a reconciliation in time."-
April 20, 1886

1 comment:

Tim Hart said...

A very lucid and interesting article laying out the socialist case. Thanks for posting it!