After over a century of reform activity, and the sincere efforts of a multitude of reformers, the world is in a greater mess than ever it was. The Socialist Party is often accused of being opposed to reforms, social legislation designed to ameliorate some intolerable situation. Not so. We are not opposed to reforms per se, any more than we advocate them. The position of a revolutionary is to reject reformism - the advocacy of reforms - which is not the same thing as opposing reforms themselves. Reformism is the promotion of reforms and it is this that revolutionaries should not be engaged in. Trying to mend capitalism is incompatible with trying to end capitalism. For ourselves, radicalisation entails the conscious propagandisation of the socialist alternative under each and every circumstance thrown up by capitalism. It an interactive process between thought and practice are driven by a clear and unambiguous conception of what we are to replace capitalism with. Nothing less will do. Unless we know what to replace capitalism with, capitalism will not be replaced. We will be stuck with it. It is literally a case of one or the other.
We make a very clear distinction between reformist struggle and other forms of struggle. We are 100 % behind militant industrial struggle. fully support militant struggle by workers as a class and as individuals in the economic domain to resist the downward pressures of capital. In fact, in our view, the trade union movement has largely compromised and weakened itself by blurring this distinction as for example in the UK where many unions are affiliated to the capitalist Labour Party. Trade unions should stick to the economic domain where they work much better as militant organisations of the working class.
Of course, socialist consciousness comes through struggle not just propagandising. This is not an either/or situation. It is actually mutually reinforcing. The struggle gives rise to the ideas and the ideas in turn help to clarify and strengthen the struggle. Part of my argument against reformism is that it actually weakens the position of workers. It doesn't radicalise them at all. It ties them politically to capitalism via capitalist political parties that aim to garner support through the advocacy of reforms. This is what workers need to reject. They will actually become much more militant in my view if they completely rejected the reformist illusion that capitalism can be moulded to accommodate their interests and if they came to recognise that the interests of workers are diametrically opposed to the capitalists. This is what revolutionaries should be doing - saying how it actually is not trying to dishonestly socially engineer workers into coming over to them by dangling reforms in front of them which they know full well are not going to modify the position of the exploited class. In the end, if you do not break with the logic of capital completely and in ideological terms, if you do not explicitly advocate a genuine alternative to capitalism, there is no way on earth that you will ever create an alternative to capitalism. You will remain forever stuck in the reformist treadmill going nowhere.
Although the ultimate aim of the radical fighting for a reform may be the self-emancipation of the working class, it will never ever come to self-emancipation of the working class precisely because fighting for reforms is a trap from which you will never ever escape unless you stop fighting for reforms and raise your sights higher. Capitalism cannot be reformed in the interests of workers so fighting for reforms in the interests of the workers is foredoomed. There is no real evidence that it does lead to a socialist outlook. Many radicals ultimately end up in in the ghetto of worthy liberal causes which only serve to fragment working class solidarity in a plethora of separate struggles each demanding attention at the expense of others. Or they become disillusioned old cynics in later life and join the establishment.
We dont say socialists need to stand on the sidelines and tell workers to drop their illusions and follow us. Firstly we reject the whole principle of vanguardism and leadership. Secondly, we don't say we should stand on the sidelines. No revolutionary ever is on the sidelines anyway. This is a meaningless way of looking at this anyway. We are all involved in the class struggle whether we like or not or whether we are aware of it or not. As workers, we will join with our fellow workers in a union to fight the bosses in the industrial field. We are simply members of the working class who has come to communist conclusions. We don't exist in some sense outside of the working class telling the working class what to do. This is an elitist Leninist perspective. As Socialist Party members we will put across socialist ideas - about socialism, about rejecting nationalism, racism, and sexism and so on and so forth. Spreading ideas is essential. Everybody without exception believes their ideas are the right ones - otherwise, they would not hold or express them. Its got nothing to do with "leadership". Its what human beings do - talk, discuss, argue. If it is elitist to express an idea then what you are trying to say is that we really should not express ideas at all. We should keep silent about our political views. That is quite absurd. If everyone followed that advice there would be discussion about anything. People do develop their ideas as a result of hearing other ideas. This is not "idealist". Materialism does not deny the role of ideas, what it denies is the "independent" role of ideas, that social developments are completely explicable in terms of the impact of ideas alone. This is false but nevertheless, it is quite true that all social developments involve an exchange of ideas between historical actors and could not happen without that.
The Left has a fetish about "action" and that there is something latent or inherent in the acts one carries out that somehow drives one forward into becoming a socialist. This is wrong. Strikes, protests demonstrations and all these sorts of activities don't carry any necessary socialist implications whatsoever. It is the interaction of ideas and actions which is what is needed. If you ignore the importance of ideas and the necessity for a clear and explicit alternative to capitalism you will never ever pose a serious threat to capitalism. Never. Workers can be actively engaged in reformist struggles to get governments to introduce measures that they perceive to be in their economic interests. But in the end, they actually help to weaken not strengthen the working class by tying it ideologically to capitalism, fostering the illusion that capitalism can be run in the interests of workers and entrench their dependence on capitalist governments to do it for them.