Members of the SPGB will of course individually engage in the struggle to stop cuts to their jobs, to keep their kids schools open, to stop their university fees rising, to oppose their hospitals closing, as individuals and as local community members but we don’t parachute in as an organisation to create and control such resistance – we do not offer ourselves up as the leaders of it. We do not seek to lead such struggles but limit ourselves to urging workers to organise any particular struggle in a democratic way under the control of those directly involved.
There are two kinds of reformism. One has no intention of bringing about revolutionary change. The other being the one that cherishes the mistaken belief that successful reforms will somehow prepare the ground for revolution are to be seen as necessary first steps on the long road to eventual revolution. That socialist consciousness will develop out of the struggle for reforms within capitalism: when workers realise that they can’t get the reforms they have been campaigning for they will turn to the “cadres” of the Fourth International for leadership. Quite apart from the fact that this has never happened, this argument is more of a rationalisation by shamefaced reformists who imagine that they are revolutionaries. “The movement is everything, the goal nothing” sums up it. The Left may claim that it enjoys the best of both worlds by both supporting reforms and advocating revolution. But in fact its revolutionary posturing. Left-wing reformists always claim how much better everything would be if only they were in power. Everything would be better: the NHS, the environment, the economy, education. And how is all this to be achieved? By two old Leftist illusions; taxing the rich and nationalisation disguised as public or social ownership. The aim of the Left has always been to establish state capitalism, the profit system planned centrally by a miracle-performing state. Yet the source of the wealth would still be the surplus value wrung from the working class.
Lacking an honest revolutionary stance for a new society, the Left becomes caught in a pointless circular battle with an economic system that is based on exploitation. As long as the accumulation of capital takes precedence, either in the hands of the individual capitalist or state institutions, the primary concern of exploitation of labour and making profit will take precedence over the concerns of human need. The Left downplays the idea of directly challenging the system and organising an alternative political economy and is working instead on the terrain of capitalism. “Socialist activists” have claimed impressive “successes” and “victories” in every field except one. History have proven beyond any shadow of doubt that they have not remotely convinced the workers of the need for socialism. From the activities carried on in the name of socialism, the one thing conspicuous by its absence has been any mention of the socialist case. The efforts of “socialist activists” has been geared to an attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable contradictions of capitalism.The Left-winger behaves as if he was Moses, laying down the commandments in stone for ignorant followers to obey. Left -wing propaganda offering leadership presents 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 of the Left. There is no such manipulation or dishonesty. We have always been opponents of nationalisation. We do not advocate that the working class should experience the disillusionment of yet another Labour government to realise that it would be once again anti-working class. It is interesting how small the memberships of the other so-called revolutionary parties are. It makes a shambles of the misconception that the SPGB is small because of our procedures or lack of participation in “the struggle”, or our “unsound” or that favourite criticism aimed at us for being too “dogmatic and sectarian” that we lost members and influence. 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 programmess only lead to disillusionment.
Are socialists supposed to unite with those who want to reform and administer capitalism? Or do we unite with those who claim socialism can be established by a well-meaning leadership without a class-conscious working class? Do we unite with those who see socialism as a system based on state-control and state-ownership of industry, a cetralised command economy and lastly, do we unite with those who refuse to recognise the importance of capturing the State machine as the path to socialism? Revolutionaries must reject this appeal if they are to remain revolutionaries. If there is no common ground upon which agreement can be reached then there can be no unity.
Our analysis of the Left is not based upon some narrow sectarianism — it’s based upon principle. We do not, nor have we ever, supported capitalist parties, especially those that dress up in militant garb in order to hoodwink the workers. The Left is an expression of all the political mistakes made by the working class last century — from the Labour Party to the Soviet Union. We do not doubt that well-meaning individuals get caught up in such chicanery for no other reason than a desire to see a better world. However, sentiment can never be a substitute. “Unity” has no meaning unless based on the common realisation that its sole object is to introduce socialism. A socialist organisation will get nowhere without a firm grasp of democracy, sound Marxist principle, a disdain to conceal its socialist objective, and a membership in full possession of the facts about current society and the revolutionary alternative. Unlike the Left we openly advocate common ownership and democratic control. It is not the wish of the Socialist Party to be separate for the sake of being so. It is ridiculous to think of a rivalry between socialist parties competing to emancipate the workers. If another socialist organisation appeared on the scene, then the only possible action that we could take would be to make immediate overtures for a merger. We would offer them the open arms of comradely greetings and unity. But the position is that we cannot be a popular reform party attempting to mop up immediate problems, and revolutionary at the same time. We cannot have a half-way house; nor can we accommodate the more timid members of our class who abhor what they describe as “impractical” or “impossible” policies, and spend their time looking for compromises. We do oppose all the so-called working-class parties which compromise with capitalism and do not uphold the socialist case. The socialist case is so fundamentally different, involving as it does the literal transformation of society, that we must expect mental resistance before socialist ideas have finally become consolidated in the mind.We have seen a century of cruelly extinguished hopes of those who heaped praise upon the state-capitalist hell-holes which posed as “socialist states” which pseudo-socialists promoted. We have witnessed a system which has persistently spat the hope of humane capitalism back in the face of its advocates. The progressive enthusiasm of millions has been stamped out in this way.
How different it could have been if all that work which has gone into trying to reform capitalism had gone into struggling to abolish it? Historically, reform activities have dissipated the earnest energies of so-called socialists from doing any socialist work, whatsoever. The need for reforms is an all-time job. The SPGB is not going to do anything for the working class except to arouse their fervor, determination and enthusiasm for socialist objectives. Working-class understanding is at a very low ebb, therefore the membership in the SPGB is puny. Apart from the feeble voices of the Socialist Party, the great mass of the workers are not exposed to socialist fundamentals. Nevertheless, the greatest teacher of all is experience. Eventually, all the groping and mistaken diversions into futile efforts of reforming and administering capitalism will run their course. People learn from their mistakes. Necessity is the latent strength of socialism. Truth and science are on the side of socialism. Socialism is no fanciful utopia, but the crying need of the times; and that we, as socialists, are catalytic agents, acting on our fellow workers and all others to do something about it as speedily as possible, the triggering agent that transforms majority ideas from bourgeois into revolutionary ones. The seeming failures, the disappointments and discouragements, the slow growth, only indicate that socialist work is not an easy task. What makes socialist work stirring and inspiring is not that there are short cuts , but that there is nothing else worth a tinker’s damn.
If our critics persist in claiming that the masses require “revolutionary leadership, we can see from the spontaneous struggles of the “Arab Spring” or the Spanish Indignados or the Occupy Movement that protest and resistance does not require political party leadership. In fact, in most revolutions, for example Russia in 1905 and February 1917, the fall of the Soviet bloc, political parties were never initially in the forefront.
Nor is there is any reason in their interactions with capitalism that dictates that workers in struggle must necessarily become revolutionary socialists. Experience could just as easily turn us to the populist right. Our interaction with the world around us is mediated by ideas. How are we supposed to become a “revolutionary” without engaging – and eventually agreeing – at some point with the IDEA of socialism? Most on the Left believes class struggle militancy can be used as a lever to push the workers along a political road, towards their “emancipation.” How is this possible if the workers do not understand the political road, and are only engaging in economic struggles? The answer is the Leninist “leaders in-the-know” who will direct the workers. But these leaders lead the workers in the wrong direction, toward the wrong goals (nationalisation and state capitalism), as the workers find out to their sorrow.
Instead of standing clearly for socialism, the Left have aped official Labourism, seeking to influence non-socialist workers through tactical manipulation rather than convince them to change their minds. They argue that the ‘united front’ for instance, 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 accept.
The SPGB, however, argue 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 Left’s formula can be summed up in the following:
1) The working class has a reformist consciousness.
2) It is the duty of the “Revolutionary Party” to be where the masses are.
3) Therefore, to be with the mass of the working class, we must advocate reforms.
4) The working class is only reformist minded.
5) Winning reformist battles will give the working class confidence.
6) So that, therefore, they will go on to have a socialist revolution.
7) The working class will learn from its struggles, and will eventually come to realise that assuming power is the only way to meet its ends.
8) That the working class will realise, through the failure of reforms to meet its needs, the futility of reformism and capitalism, and will overthrow it.
9) That the working class will come to trust the Party that leads them to victory, and come a social crisis they will follow it to revolution. No other possibilities for worker to take as a perceived solution such as fascism, or nationalism or religion?