Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Socialist Party and "the Struggle"

Millions are turning away in disgust from the social and political status quo but, so far, only a tiny fraction of them are understanding the need for socialism. Discontent is mounting. Every day people are more repelled by the present political, economic, and social order, however, many fall into a cynical disillusionment and see no point to joining a party or in any point in voting.  It would be quite wrong, however, to believe that most people are apathetic about politics but when they look for solutions much of their  protest demands amount to mere appeals, petitioning the ruling class for more sops. Is it no wonder people quickly realise that the demands for reforms make little difference even if achieved. All the time they are campaigning for palliatives they never hear the socialist case, never discuss socialist ideas. The time spent making reformist demands is time not spent talking about the need for revolutionary change. We need to be positively advocating socialism as a practical possibility and an achievable one. The primary purpose of being a socialists is to raise people’s consciousness and to further social democracy. The organisational structures we are creating today and the means we opt to engage in will reflect the type of society the future will inherit so it is important that we should work out forms of organisation and strategies of mass action that are genuinely participatory and empowering. The question of class/party organisation and the question of class consciousness are inseparable, they are two aspects of the same development.

The 19th century Chartists organised enormous petitions, with millions of signatures. These were ignored. Still petitions circulate in political campaigns. Huge demonstrations have taken place but they too are ignored. But still we march. The Occupy movement showed a way by transforming parks into public forums and general assemblies but they too failed when faced by the coercive machinery of the state. This is unpalatable but true. Nevertheless, recent social movements are challenging many of  anti-democratic forces. Ideas are not empty gestures. Ideas provide a crucial foundation for assessing our collective strengths. Ideas offer us the opportunity to think and act , to cross over into new lines of inquiry and take new positions, without standing still. Capitalist apologists do not work with ideas, but sound bites. They don’t engage in debates; they simply present unsubstantiated opinion. The Occupy movement, Gesi Park, Tahrir Square and the Streets of Brasil showed it is time to initiate a campaign in which reason can be reclaimed, truth defended and political education connected to social change. There has never been a more important time in history to proclaim the importance of communal responsibility and to shift from a democracy of ill-informed consumers to a democracy of informed citizens. These historic recent events provide concrete evidence of the potential power of a united “people’s voice”. The world witnessed millions of people in diverse countries declaring their needs and highlighting issues of social and economic inequality, greed, financial corruption and the undue influence of corporations on government. In city squares across the world, a host of  people’s movements focus the world’s media on the plight of the "99%" and gain widespread public support in the process. The rapid spread of these mass movements reflect a growing recognition of humanity’s unity and propensity to share, and paid testimony to the power of a united struggle.

 What many Left groups can’t stand about the Socialist Party is that we do not advocate violence and therefore cannot offer a practical programme of activity based on it. We are labeled "theoretical", as if this being a term of abuse. No violence, no death or injury, will bring socialism any closer. Socialism will be brought about when the great majority of the world’s people want it to be brought about. We want to change people’s ideas. Violence will not make people into socialists. Cudgeling someone’s head is not going to alter the ideas inside that head, at least in any worthwhile way. Rational discussion will finally make socialists. We believe that by considered argument we can show how co-operation and mutual assistance will achieve what we all want to achieve – a peaceful, harmonious, and contented existence. But Socialist Party members are not Quakers or pacifists, and do not rule out the need for violence under all circumstances. We simply argue that it is quite possible, and highly desirable, for a large majority to establish socialism without bloodshed. The more violence is involved, the more likely the revolution is to fail outright, or be blown sideways into a new minority dictatorship.

In the capitalist  revolutionary struggles of 19th Century, armed insurrection for the capitalist class and their then working class allies was, in the absence of a wide suffrage, the only form of struggle available and, what is most important, the weapons and fighting methods then in use, made victory for the insurgents, under certain favourable conditions, possible. There is no possibility of the workers successfully engaging the capitalist class on the basis of military force or violence. If the capitalist combat capability rested merely and solely of police clubs, tear gas  and water cannon, then, conceivably we might well organise workers’ battalions (such as the Irish Citizens Army) equipped with the same weapons and 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 also possess the supreme  weapon: political power and the control of the army, navy, air and police forces. With the introduction of the general franchise an entirely new method of the proletarian struggle came into being. The capitalist rulers have more to fear from the legal than the illegal action of the workers' party, more to fear from the successes of the workers in elections than those of their armed rebellion.

There exists a type of fetish towards the "violence" of street warfare against overwhelming odds, and their efforts to build up a party on mere desperation and unintelligent discontent only serves to make more difficult the socialist education and organisation of the workers. Ill-timed revolts, and sloganising in place of knowledge impedes the understanding of socialism and, along with disappointment at the failure of street battles to get them anywhere, turn masses of workers to despair and to indifference to the genuine socialist message. Capitalism is the real enemy, not its managers, nor its police. If scapegoats there must be, we are all deserving. The creation of the human "enemy" in revolutionary politics is the point of departure from the the Socialist Party’s case for change, and the foundation  of all appeals to violence. In short, any solution which necessitates violence against individuals is probably wrong, not because of some pacifist moral imperative, but because it doesn’t get rid of the problem.

We considered violence a possible, if not unavoidable, outcome of revolutionary change; but we argue that the more that the workers understood, the more educated they became in socialist ideas, the less likelihood there would be of violence. Historically the battle of ideas has been waged both in the mind – in debates and discussions – and on the streets. We, of course, favour the first approach, and do all we can to keep activity there. This is not just a matter of aesthetics. Fighting can only firstly divide us and secondly weaken us. Authoritarian parties rather than defending their own ideas create their own political ghettoes, such example are the old Communist Parties which denigrated and suppressed their opposition so as not to compete (and fail) at the level of demonstrating the relative values of their ideas. This is where street-fighting plays its role: physically removing opposition that one cannot overcome in a battle of hearts and minds, whilst destroying the climate in which the working class can find its way. The revolution is aborted in the process, not defended. This is another reason why a socialist revolution must be peaceful, at least as far as our class is concerned.

A genuine revolutionary party is a party of the working class. A de-politicised working class cannot make a socialist revolution. It must be a party that operates at the level of discussion between workers because a successful socialist revolution is made by the working class coming to revolutionary ideas. The Socialist Party argues  that the capitalist’s legitimacy comes from their "democratic" rule, thus we believe that the capitalist’s legitimacy can be totally be broken by taking a majority in Parliament. But “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. The first, most important battle is to continue the destruction of capitalism’s legitimacy in the minds of our fellow class members. That is, to drive the development of our class as a class-for-itself, mindful of the fact that capitalism is a thing that can be destroyed and a thing that should be destroyed.

What does the Socialist Party do in the meantime, until the majority become convinced of their case? The socialists do not spurn the day-to-day struggle. Are the workers to sit down and have their wages reduced, their benefits cut? Are they to starve while capitalism lasts? This, if we believe our opponents, 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 is part and parcel of capitalism.

 By the very nature of the fact that members of the Socialist Party are workers we participate in the fight for better wages and social conditions. But with the qualification which arise from the fact that we are socialists foremost. Socialists primarily understand that this economic struggle against the capitalists is merely a defensive struggle, to keep capital from beating the working class living standards down. For this reason we couple our struggle on the economic front with political education of the workers on the shop floor or in the offices. We point out the limitations of wage increases that it will merely stimulate employers to introduce new methods so that they will have fewer workers or higher productivity so ready and prepare for the next battle.

 Will the socialists win over the majority of people to their case by fighting to improve their lives under capitalism, a class struggle that takes place with or without the Socialist Party? Or by expending all their energy and resources in educating the workers to the necessity of eliminating capitalism and establishing socialism? Suppose the Socialist Party were to embark on a high-powered campaign to obtain better housing, hospitals, schools, and so forth. Perhaps we would get a lot of people to join our organization. On what basis would they join? The same basis on which we appealed to them. We would in the end have an organisation consisting of workers who were seeking continual improvement under capitalist methods of production and distribution, under a price, profit, and wage economy. What happens when such an organization is voted into political power as a majority? It merely uses the power of the State to carry on capitalism under different forms such as state-ownership or “nationalisation". It cannot use the control of the State to abolish capitalism, because its own members who joined on a reform basis, would be in opposition to it. The "Socialist" Party would have to carry out reform of capitalism, or lose its members to another organisation which advocated remedial measures.

The material conditions are now ripe for the establishment of socialism. Poverty, chaos, war and social strife can be eliminated by doing away with the root causes of these horrors. This is our objective: To abolish capitalism, not vainly attempt to reform it. The method advocated by the the Socialist Party is to appeal for members on the one sole platform of obtaining state power for the purpose of abolishing capitalism. If elected, we would not oppose social reforms (in fact, we anticipate the employers to propose many in an attempt to divert workers away from socialism) but at the same time we would not advocate them.

By putting forth a program of immediate demands, we would not be educating any workers to the necessity for socialism. We would instead be educating on the need to get all they can under the capitalist system. This latter type of education has never produced socialists from among the workers, although it has contributed more than its share of members to the trade union officialdom. If you but take a glance around the trade unions and pressure groups, you would see many  leaders who started out with the idea of “reforms today, socialism tomorrow.” They originally viewed reforms as a means to an end, but reforms became ends in themselves.

The socialist movement is the natural umbrella movement for all humanity. All the single issues are effects, the cause of which is capitalism. Effects can be ameliorated but it is better to eliminate the cause and prevent the effects returning. Go to the root of the problem and not the symptoms. Once the decision is made by the majority to press forward to a cooperative life in a peaceful world based upon the common ownership of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interests of the whole community people will be in place who have the knowledge, skills and passion to bring reality to their long-held dreams of solutions to each single issue, in full recognition that theirs is just one small but significant part of an entity much greater than the sum of its parts.

For socialism to be established people must understand the nature and purpose of the new society. Such democratically-organised majority action need not be violent and can use existing political institutions such as the ballot-box and parliament. Who needs violence when you're the majority? By constitutional methods the workers can win their freedom; they have no need to go outside the constitution until they finally destroy it. Our view is that control of parliament, secured by the return of a majority of socialists in an election fought simply on the issue of socialism versus capitalism, implying as of course it does that the big majority of the working class understand and want socialism, would give effective control of the political machinery, including the armed forces. The election of working-class representatives to the parliamentary bodies (local and national), gives the proletariat an opportunity through those representatives, to combat the representatives of capitalism at close range. Those elected representatives of the workers can take advantage of their prominent position to combat and expose the nature of capitalist legislation, and to speak to the proletariat over the heads, as it were, of their political opponents. To elect our own representatives in place of the capitalists’ is also a means of hampering the capitalists in their exclusive political domain; of contesting and challenging every measure they bring forth in their own interests. The organised political majority which controls the political machinery of the modern State is in a position to dominate, and can enforce submission on minorities. There is no road to socialism except through the control of the machinery of government by a politically organised majority of socialists.

Who says “politically” also says “political party”. So we are talking about a “socialist party”. Unfortunately so associated has the word “party” come to be with conventional politics that many people (including our anarchist critics) imagine that we, too, are proposing just another organisation of political leaders for people to follow; that we’re saying “vote for us and we’ll bring in socialism for you”. But we’re not. By “socialist party” we mean a party of people who want socialism, people organised democratically to win control of political power for socialism. Obviously, a mass socialist party like this does not yet exist, but it is our view that, for socialism to be established, it should. The “socialist party” would be a mass movement of people who wanted socialism, not a party of professional politicians or a party of professional revolutionaries. The same goes for participation in elections since a mass socialist party would contest elections. Its candidates should not seek to be leaders, separate from those who vote for them, but should be standing as delegates to be mandated by those who want socialism.

It is true that the Socialist Party has never won any election 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. 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 term "parliamentary" as applied to the Socialist Party means 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

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