Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Socialist Party Explained

The world is crying out for change. Millions of children die each year of starvation while those with millions spare themselves no indulgence. People say that we in the Socialist Party are utopian because we hold to the view that a new society is the only lasting solution to the mess we're in and because we dare to suggest that we could run our lives in a much more rational and harmonious way. Some people on the "Left" decline to define socialism because they think that any account of a future society is a waste of time and that we should concern ourselves with present-day struggles. But unless you do talk about where you're going, how will you know when you've arrived?  More and more people today recognise that the present system of production for profit makes our lives needlessly painful and is ruining the planet.  Unless you do have a clear idea of socialism then anyone can claim it, defame it and say it doesn't work. And unless we keep the idea of working directly for a worldwide co-operative community on the agenda people will always be sidetracked. It is essential that the ideal of the new society should always be kept at the fore. It cannot be stressed enough, that without a widespread and clear idea among workers of what a socialist society entails, it will he unattainable. The reason is simple. The very nature of socialism—a money-free, wage-free world of unrestricted access to the goods and services provided by voluntary cooperative effort—necessitates understanding. There is absolutely no way in which such a sweeping fundamental transformation of social relationships could be thrust upon an unwilling, unknowing majority by some minority, however, enlightened or well-meaning. The Socialist Party is not prepared to associate with organisations which carry on propaganda for the amelioration of capitalism, recruit members on that basis and seek the votes of reformists. Our case is that work for socialism is the essential end and it cannot be combined with reformism. Socialism cannot be achieved without a social revolution, that is a change in the property basis of society, from private ownership to social ownership and democratic control.  Alone, we have stood for a social revolution to overturn capitalist society and replace it with socialism. There is no way that an anti-capitalist social order can be constructed without seizing state power, radically transforming it the constitutional and institutional framework that currently supports private property. To ignore the state is a ridiculous and dangerous idea for any anti-capitalist movement to accept.

The Socialist Party holds that the only way workers can end their conflict with our masters is to build on our economic and social power and organise collectively and politically to end the madness of the market system once and for all.  Class struggle is the motor that drives change. Built into capitalism is a class struggle between those who own the means of wealth production and those who don't and who are therefore forced by economic necessity to sell their ability to work to those who do. The class war, between the owners of the means of production (the capitalists) and those compelled by threat of poverty to sell their capacity to work (the workers), is an essential and continual feature of capitalist society.  This class struggle is not just over the price and conditions of sale of the commodity workers are selling, their labour power. Ultimately, it's about control over the means of production. The problem we have to face is that, in the class struggle, the odds are nearly always against us, and that to build a socialist future, we need a mass organisation of people who know what it is they want and are prepared to work to achieve it. 

Those pursuing the tactic of trying to reform capitalism by concentrating on humanising it are wasting their time since the entire system is based on a minority exploiting a majority. To expend all energy in demands for a more "friendly" capitalism is not what socialists should aim for, as, even in the event of success, the primary evils of capitalism would still remain i.e. production for profit and extraction of surplus value. The main effort of socialists should be aiming for socialism itself. The end of capitalism can only come as a result of a consciously socialist political movement winning control of political power with a view to abolishing all capitalist property rights and ushering in the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. The preconditions for ending capitalism are a majority socialist consciousness and workers democratically self-organised in a large-scale socialist party. Neither of which, unfortunately, currently exist. 

During the election campaign, questioning the future of capitalism ought to be in the forefront of the debate. Socialist ideas have to be communicated to other workers, but not from outside the working class as a whole. They have to be communicated to other workers who, from their own experience and/or from absorbing the past experience of the working class, have come to a socialist understanding. It is not a question of enlightened outsiders bringing socialist ideas to the benighted workers but of socialist-minded workers spreading socialist ideas amongst their fellow workers.  The Socialist Party's mission is to show clearly both how we are robbed and exploited by the system ruled by capital and how we can tap the wealth of our collective productive power by taking control of the means of production directly.

The Socialist Party’s conception of revolution is often criticised for its lack of credibility since it is falsely assumed that people have to wait for the overwhelming majority necessary to “enact” socialism before doing something about their immediate problems. The Socialist Party recognises the necessity of workers' solidarity in the class struggle against the capitalist class, and rejoice in every victory for the workers to assert their economic power. Workers must engage with the issues of pay and work conditions and pensions, but the main issue is the overthrow of capitalism, not picking away at it and then having our gains eroded sooner or later. In thinking of the class war as an actual war, the drive for a socialist understanding in the working class and the creation of a socialist society should be the main front, demanding the most effort, while everyday issues of pay and conditions and defending the gains that have been made would be a secondary front. We should never lose track of the actual aim of the socialist movement, the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by a democratic association of peoples.

Left-wingers reject the Party’s concept of revolutionary change as “impossible”. Their argument is that a working class government could set society on a course of change in the direction of socialism. In control of the state and all legal processes, such a government would grant the widest freedom of action to the trade unions and thus set up a partnership with the trade unions pursuing working class interests on the industrial field and a government doing the same on the political field. The unions would maximise the workers’ share of the social product at the point of production. The government would provide housing, health care and education, etc. At the same time, such a working class government would begin the process of establishing common ownership through the nationalisation of the means of production and through “taxing the rich out of existence”.

The Socialist Party rejected this gradualist policy at the beginning of the last century and it has been vindicated by experience. With a growing socialist majority, the class struggle will take new forms, not least because the ruling class will become ever more cunning and ruthless as its hegemony is more and more threatened. Critics have accused the Socialist Party with some foolish ideas such as Parliamentary “cretinism”, as they call it . The Socialist Party is aware that the use of parliament by a socialist majority is just one part of a much broader movement for change in which the revolutionised ideas and activities of millions of class-conscious workers will be rather more important than the actions of delegates in parliament. Nor does the Socialist Party rely simply upon the agency of ‘abstract propaganda’. Our propaganda is not abstract: we relate to the real experiences of workers today, constantly making clear at our meetings and in our literature that socialism is the immediately practical solution to workers’ so-called “short-term interests”. We present our objective as an immediate solution to the problems of the present and not as some far-off futuristic utopia. Our appeal to workers is on the basis of class interest and our appeal will be successful because the class struggle generates class consciousness in workers.   

These left-wing critics accuse the Socialist Party of being unconcerned with short-term interests within capitalism and offer the example of our failure to be directly involved in trade unions. The reason for this is that as socialists we are engaged in a necessarily contradictory struggle: on the one hand, we propose the abolition of the wages system as an immediately practical alternative, but on the other, we recognise the need for workers to fight the wages struggle within capitalism. But, as socialists, our main energies must be directed towards the former objective. We could, of course, remove this distinction between the trade union struggle within capitalism and the socialist struggle against capitalism by adopting the ideas of the De Leonists, who at one time advocated that socialists should form their own socialist unions. This would be an example of breaking down the false dichotomy between short and long term interests. But the result proved an utter failure when De Leonist trade unions which were set up in the USA and, to a lesser extent, in Scotland. Indeed, the failure of  “socialist industrial unionism”  is a very important case study of the danger of imagining those capitalist institutions such as trade unions can be easily converted into socialist bodies. They demonstrate that capitalism cannot be transcended from within.

The Socialist Party rejects the gradualist theory and policy because it does not accept the political premise that the economic operation of capitalism can be controlled in a manner which would allow for any gradual realisation of working class interests.  The force of the Party’s arguments has not diminished with the passing of time; on the contrary, as capitalism has continued to develop as a world system, it has become more compelling.

Criticism of the Socialist Party's “aloofness” has also been by those who promote a co-operative movement which they intend will supplant their capitalist competitor. Socialism is a non-property system, and systems which accept and reject property cannot co-exist. Regardless. These critics propose that “socialistic” relationships will spread within the capitalist economy and as socialist consciousness develops these co-ops will be gradually be gutted of their capitalist content. They will be run eventually upon the basis of “free production” and ultimately they will link together and evolve “towards a totally socialist society”.  Such a revolutionary change is incompatible with what capitalism can allow.  Where is the financing of these co-ops to come from? Presumably not from workers’ savings where impoverished workers can “buy out” the bosses. If capitalist banks are to provide loans to finance these co-ops is it not certain that they will make demands upon them which will undermine their “socialistic” nature?

 Existing within the cut-throat environment of the world market, is it not inevitable that the economic goodwill of the co-operators will be swamped by the iron laws of the profit system, with all of the exploitative demands which it places upon enterprises? Indeed, far from being able to demonstrate a better life to workers trapped in the remaining units of capitalism, the workers making an inevitable failure of running “free production” under capitalism would provide an ideal case study for the anti-socialist propagandists — even more so if such enterprises failed having had the backing and endorsement of the Socialist Party. How do these co-ops, locked into the capitalist economy, evolve towards a totally socialist society? It seems incredible to think that institutions which are tied into capitalism for existence are going to evolve out of it. If developing the new within the kernel of the old alternative scenario is an example of pragmatism, Socialist Party’s be justifiably accused of lacking credibility and naivity? The economic laws of capitalism will continue to operate, essentially unaltered until the very eve of socialism. The growth of socialist consciousness and organisation will allow workers to prosecute the class struggle more effectively and to this extent the limited freedom of maneuver which the economic laws of capitalism allow the employing class will be limited even more. But the suggestion that a “socialistic” co-operative sector of the economy would be able to defy the economic laws of capitalism to the extent of being able to disengage from the market and operate on the principle of free production goes way beyond this. It amounts to asserting that the economic laws of capitalism can be overcome by a mere act of will.

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