Thursday, November 07, 2019


When you think of a political organisation that aspires for its candidates to being elected to Parliament, you automatically think of a Party leader. The Electoral Commission does and requests that he or she be named. The Socialist Party was obliged to select one by a random lottery. It is also assumed that a political party’s MPs are set apart from Party democratic procedures in that they can vote as their conscience dictates. The Socialist Party has a rule which all our election candidates must abide by: Candidates elected to a Political office shall be pledged to act on the instructions of their Branches locally, and by the Executive Committee nationally.

As a matter of political principle, the Socialist Party holds no secret meetings. All its meetings, including those of its executive committee, are open to the public (all EC minutes are available on the web as proof of our commitment to openness and democracy). In keeping with the tenet that working class emancipation necessarily excludes the role of political leadership, the Socialist Party is a genuinely leader-free political party, whose executive committee is solely for housekeeping and administrative duties and cannot determine policy or even submit resolutions to conference. All conference decisions have to be ratified by a referendum of the whole membership. Our general secretary has no position of power or authority over any other member, being an elected officer to carry out instructions. Despite some very charismatic personalities, erudite writers and and eloquent speakers in the past, no individual has held undue influence over the Socialist Party. Because the establishment of socialism depends upon an understanding of the necessary social changes by a majority of the population, these changes cannot be left to politicians acting apart from or above the workers. The workers cannot vote for socialism, as they do for the conventional parties and then to go home or to work and carry on as usual.

The Socialist Party argues that minorities cannot simply take control of movements and mould and wield them to their own ends. Without agreement about what it is and where it is going, leaders and led will invariably split off in different directions. We say that since we are capable, as workers, of understanding and wanting socialism, we cannot see any reason why our fellow workers cannot do likewise. The job of socialists in the here and now is to openly and honestly state the case rather than trying to wheedle and manoeuvre to win a supposed ‘influence’ that is more illusory than real.

The Socialist Party believes that, as the workers gained more experience of the class struggle and the workings of capitalism, it will become more consciously socialist and democratically organised by the workers themselves. The emergence of socialist understanding out of the experience of the workers could thus be said to be ‘spontaneous’ in the sense that it would require no intervention by people outside the working class to bring it about. Socialist propaganda and agitation is indeed necessary, but will be carried out by workers themselves, whose socialist ideas have been derived from an interpretation of their class experience of capitalism. The end result will be an independent movement of the socialist-minded and democratically organised working class aimed at winning control of political power in order to abolish capitalism. As Marx and Engels put it in the Communist manifesto:
 “The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.”

One of the great strengths of the Socialist Party is our opposition to leadership and our commitment to democratic practices, so, whatever weaknesses or mistaken views we hold or get accused of by the left-wing, they cannot be imposed upon others with potentially worse consequences. Can the same be claimed by our critics who when their policies and practices go awry are fixated on the errors and weakness of their leaders as the cause ? The validity of the Socialist Party’s ideas will either be accepted or rejected by discussion and debate, verified by actual concrete developments on the ground. Our organisation is not going to take the workers to where they neither know where they are going nor, most likely, want to go. This contrasts with those who seek to substitute the party for the class and who see the party as the vanguard which must undertake alone the task of leading the masses forward to socialism. As the American socialist and presidential candidate Eugene Debs explained:
“I never had much faith in leaders. I am willing to be charged with almost anything, rather than to be charged with being a leader. I am suspicious of leaders, and especially of the intellectual variety. Give me the rank and file every day in the week. If you go to the city of Washington, and you examine the pages of the Congressional Directory, you will find that almost all of those corporation lawyers and cowardly politicians, members of Congress, and mis-representatives of the masses — you will find that almost all of them claim, in glowing terms, that they have risen from the ranks to places of eminence and distinction. I am very glad I cannot make that claim for myself. I would be ashamed to admit that I had risen from the ranks. When I rise it will be with the ranks, and not from the ranks.”

And another time he said:
“I am not a labor leader. I don’t want you to follow me or anyone else. If you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of the capitalist wilderness you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into this promised land if I could, because if I could lead you in, someone else could lead you out.”

The Socialist Party expects any working class organisation to possess democratic self-organisation, involving formal rules and structures, to prevent the emergence of unaccountable, self-appointed elites, who may become the de facto leaders making decisions; and it endorses Jo Freeman’s Tyranny of Structurelessness.
We’re not talking about the sort of structures advocated and practised by Leninist organisations, which are designed to enshrine control by a self-perpetuating elite. We are talking about structures that place decision-making power in the hands of the group as a whole, along the lines of the seven “principles of democratic structuring” listed by Freeman. Mandating delegates, voting on resolutions and membership referendums are democratic practices for ensuring that the members of an organisation control that organisation and, as such, key procedures in any organisation genuinely seeking socialism. Socialism can only be a fully democratic society in which everybody will have an equal say in the ways things are run. This means that it can only come about democratically, both in the sense of being the expressed will of the working class and in the sense of the working class being organised democratically without leaders - to achieve it.

The crucial part of the Socialist Party’s case is that understanding is a necessary condition for socialism and we see our task  as to shorten the time, to speed up the process - to act as a catalyst. The Socialist Party views its function to be to make socialists, to propagate socialism, and to point out to the workers that they must achieve their own emancipation. To “make socialism an immediacy” for the working class, something of importance and value to people’s lives now, rather than a singular ‘end’. We await the mass ‘socialist party’. Possibly, the Socialist Party might be the seed or the embryo of the future mass ‘socialist party’ but there’s no guarantee that we will be (more likely just a contributing element). But who cares, as long as such a party does eventually emerge?

At some stage, for whatever reason, socialist consciousness will reach a ‘critical mass’, at which point it will just snowball and carry people along with it. It may even come about without people actually giving it the label of socialism. At the later stage, when more and more people are coming to want socialism, a mass socialist movement will emerge to dwarf all the small groups and grouplets that exist today. When the idea of socialism catches on, we’ll then have our united movement. With the spread of socialist ideas, all organisations will change and take on a participatory-democratic and socialist character, so that the majority organisation for socialism will not be just political and economic, but will also embrace all aspects of social life, as well as inter-personal relationships. We’re talking about a radical social revolution.

We actually have a knowledge test for membership. We will not allow a person to join until the applicant has convinced the party that s/he understands and accepts the party case for socialism. This does not mean that we have set ourselves up as an intellectual elite into which only those well versed in Marxist scholarship may enter. Our organisation has good reason to ensure that only conscious socialists enter its ranks, for, once admitted, all members are equal and it would clearly not be in the interest of the party to offer equality of power to those who are not able to demonstrate equality of basic socialist understanding. Once a member, s/he have the same rights as the oldest member to sit on any committee, vote, speak and have access to all information. Thanks to the test, all members are conscious socialists and there is genuine internal democracy. And we are fiercely proud of that. Consider what happens when people join other groups which don’t have such a test. The new applicant has to be approved as being ‘an okay comrade’. The individual is therefore judged by the group according to a range of what might be called ‘credential indicators’. Hard work (more often than not, paper selling) and obedience and compliance by new members are the main criteria of trustworthiness in the organisation. In these hierarchical, ‘top-down’ groups the leaders strive at all costs to remain as the leadership, and reward only those with proven commitment to their ‘party line’ with preferential treatment, more responsibility and more say. New members who present the wrong indicators remain peripheral to the party structure, finding themselves unable to influence decision-making, eventually resigning, often embittered by all the hard work they had put in and the hollowness of the claims of equality and democracy.

The longevity of the Socialist Party as a political organisation is based on agreed goals, methods and organisational principles and which has produced without interruption a monthly magazine - the Socialist Standard - for over a hundred years, through two world wars, is an achievement that most socialist organisations can only aspire towards. The Left should be envious rather than dismissive. Meantime, the best thing we can do is carry on campaigning for a world based on the common ownership and democratic control of the Earth’s resources in the interests of all. We will continue to propose that this be established by democratic, majority political action. Other groups will no doubt continue to propose their own way to get there. And, in the end, we’ll see which proposal the majority working class takes up.

Another of Debs insightful observations was "I'd rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don't want, and get it." 

That is the case against the lesser of two evils argument when it comes to elections.

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