After the 1926 General Strike, an article in the Socialist Standard explained
"The outlook before the workers is black, indeed, but not hopeless, if they will but learn the lessons of this greatest of all disasters. " ‘Trust your leaders!’ we were adjured in the Press and from the platforms of the Labour Party, and the folly of such sheep-like trust is now glaring. The workers must learn to trust only in themselves. They must themselves realise their position and decide the line of action to be taken. They must elect their officials to take orders, not to give them!...”
Our advice to fellow-workers has always been “Organise democratically to achieve your aims, without reliance on leaders, who will sell you down the river”. The typical Leftist behaves as if he was Moses, laying down the commandments in stone for ignorant followers to obey. Left-wing propaganda offering leadership portrays the worker as an inferior incapable of thinking, organising and acting and imbues further the master-and-servant mentality of the worker. 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.
The Socialist Party is not on "The Left". There is no such manipulation or dishonesty. It is interesting how the Socialist Party is accused of being insignificant yet just how large are the memberships of the so-called revolutionary parties? Their scant numbers exposes the hollowness of their criticism that the Socialist Party is small because of our lack of participation in "the struggle", or our “dogmatism and sectarianism”. This is a historic and social phenomenon. The myriad parties of the Left all have serious declines in membership. It can be ascribed to a public's apathy that arises when high hopes raised by social reform programs only lead to disillusionment. Many of the Left persist in claiming that the masses require "revolutionary" leadership , yet we can see from the spontaneous struggles of the Arab Spring , The Occupy Movement and the Spanish indignados that protest and resistance does not require political party leadership. In fact, in most revolutions - 1905, February 1917, the fall of the Soviet bloc, political parties were never initially in the forefront.
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. Instead of standing clearly for socialism, the Left have aped official Labourism, seeking to steer non-socialist workers through tactical manipulation rather than convince them to change their minds. They argue that the ‘united front’, provides an opportunity for ‘revolutionaries’ to discuss and convert reformists and that the immediate aim of the ‘unity’ is to provide the most effective fighting organisation for both reformists and revolutionaries. Vanguardists accept the notion that the workers are incapable of developing socialist consciousness, and so the "revolutionaries" have to work with reformists in order to influence them and draw off the most active workers into their own ranks. That there is an "uneven consciousness" among workers that necessitates the need for leaders and for an organisation that can bring it together with non-socialist workers in the name of immediate given ends, be those organisations trade unions or anti-cuts alliances. The reality is that any sort of success involves hiding the disagreements between their constituent organisations, specifically about means and motives. They succeed by making demands that are supported by significant numbers of workers, meaning that any ‘revolutionary’ content will be buried into the need for immediate victory. As such, it is small ‘c’ conservative, taking political consciousness as it is found and seeking to manipulate rather than change it. Such a tactic affords the ‘Left’ an opportunity to extend their influence. As a tiny minority, they get to work with organisations which can more easily attract members and can thus be part of campaigns and struggles that reach out well beyond the tiny numbers of political activists in any given situation. But the relevant fact remains that, despite providing all this assistance, the "revolutionaries" are incapable of taking these campaigns further than the bulk of the members are willing to go. The Socialist Party, however, argue that political 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 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 - 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. Genuine socialists get tarred with the same brush.
The great strength 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, they cannot be imposed upon others with possible worse consequences. The history of Leninism/Trotskyism blames all on the lack of leadership or the wrong leadership or a traitorous leadership. The Socialist Party are 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 or who see the party as a vanguard which must undertake alone the task of leading the masses forward. The crucial part of the Socialist Party case is that understanding is a necessary condition for socialism. The Socialist Party’s job is to make a socialist society an immediancy for the working class, not an ultimate far-off ideal. Something of importance and value to people’s lives now, rather than a singular "end".
Writers or speakers are not leaders. Their function is to spread knowledge and understanding, as teachers. Quite a different proposition from the one that people must have leaders (great men) to direct their followers (blind supporters) into a socialist society. Socialism is not the result of blind faith, followers, or, by the same token, vanguard parties. Simply check the two published histories of the Party to see on just how many occasions and on how many issues those “prominent” members, the so-called leaders, had their positions and proposals defeated at conferences or in referendums.
The Socialist Party has a test for membership, not to ensure that its ranks are an intellectual elite into which only those well versed in Marxist scholarship may enter. One purpose of it is to place all members on an even basis. The Socialist Party's seeks 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 this test all members are conscious socialists and there is genuine internal democracy, and of that we are fiercely proud.
Consider what happens when people join other groups which don't have this test. The new applicant has to be approved as being "all right". The individual is therefore judged by the group according to a range of what might be called "credential indicators". Hard work (often, paper-selling) and obedience by new members is the main criterion 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 the "party line" with preferential treatment, more responsibility and more say. New members who present the wrong indicators remain peripheral to the party structure, and finding themselves unable to influence decision-making at any level, eventually give up and leave, often embittered by the hard work they put in and the hollowness of the party's claims of equality and democracy.
The Socialist Party is a leader-free political party. Its executive committee is solely for housekeeping admin duties and cannot determine policy. An EC that is not even permitted to submit resolutions to conference. All conference decisions have to be ratified by a referendum of the whole membership. The General Secretary has no position of power or authority over any other member being simply a dogsbody. 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, but with mandated delegates – to achieve it. In rejecting these procedures what is being declared is that the working class should not organise itself democratically.