Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Socialist Option

We neither delude nor attempt to delude anybody with fake promises. Neither do we buoy them up with false hopes. We ask only for votes from those who were prepared to endorse the position set out in our manifesto in its entirety. We do all that was humanly possible to prevent any but the class-conscious recording their votes for us. No other party putting forward candidates in any election can say as much or nearly as much. To them, therefore, every X on the ballot paper is of an unknown quantity. But we can say with truth that there is very little of the unknown quantity about our votes, they were votes for principles—class-conscious votes.

Our critics condescendingly repeat, parrot like, the formulae: “Don’t ask for the moon. You must be prepared to work with anybody who is going even a little way in your direction. It is nonsense to talk of revolution. You must work for your socialism in small doses, such as nationalisation as practical steps .” Our critics seeks socialism on the instalment plan. Reformist deny the class struggle, mistaking the progressive reorganisation of production for the progressive improvement in the lot of the working class, and ignores the fact that the fruits of increased organisation of production are denied to the wage-slaves. The great problems would, however, be untouched by the majority of the reforms proposed. Various sections of the exploiting class would benefit, but, even though these reforms were inscribed upon the tablets of the law, the workers would remain competitive wage slaves and a subject class. We have always to remember that all energy spent on these side-tracks is lost to the great movement forward. 

The simplest characterisation of a socialist mode of production is that, unlike all class societies, there is no ruling class that extracts surplus labor from the direct producers. Socialism means simply post-capitalism, an economy that disallows private property of the means of production and has no social divisions.

Our mission is simple. We have to proceed with our educational propaganda until the working class have understood the fundamental facts of their position—the facts that because they do not own the means by which they live they are commodities on the market, never bought unless the buyers (the owners of the means of life) can see a profit to themselves in the transaction, always sold when the opportunity offers because in that only can the necessaries of life be obtained. We have to emphasise the fact that no appreciable change is possible in the working-class condition while they remain commodities, and that the only method by which the alteration can be wrought is by the working class taking the means of life out of the hands of those who at present hold them, and whose private ownership is the cause of the trouble. Before this can occur the workers will have to understand the inevitable opposition of interests between them and the capitalist class, who, because of their ownership of the means of life, are able to exploit them, so that they will not make the mistake of voting into power, as they have always done hitherto, the representatives of the interests of those owning the means of life, because those who dominate political power dominate also the armed forces that keep the working class in subjection. Therefore are we in opposition to all other political parties, holding on irrefutable evidence, that these other parties are confusing what must be clear to working-class minds before a change can be effected. This is our mission, and we shall conduct it with all the energy we have at our command. 

The State is, by its very nature, a fundamentally coercive set of institutions which must be removed immediately before anything like socialism can be established". The big question is: how? How can the State be removed? Some anarchists share our aim of a state-free society of common ownership and popular participation where the principle of “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs" will apply and where money will be redundant. This is the view put forward, in the past, by such anarchists as Kropotkin, Rudolf Rocker and Alexander Berkman and. today, by Murray Bookchin. The main differences between us and them is over how to get to a class-free, stateless, money-free society. We favour majority democratic action on the grounds that the establishment of a society based on voluntary co-operation and popular participation has to involve such co-operation and participation (i.e. democratic methods) and say that when such a majority comes into being it can use existing political institutions (the ballot box and parliament) to establish a socialist/ communist society. They are opposed to this, but are not able to offer a viable alternative. The anarcho-communists pose a spontaneous mass popular upsurge, the anarcho-syndicalists a general strike and mass factory occupations—both of which ignore the State and the need to at least neutralise it before trying to change society from capitalism. Can we work with them? Well, if they can abandon their prejudice against democratic political action via elections, we invite them to join us in campaigning for a cooperative commonwealth.

We can only think of three possible ways of achieving a socialist society, two of which in our view wouldn’t work. The first would be to try to smash the State in an armed uprising. To do this the revolutionaries would have to be able to defeat militarily the forces of the State and so have to build up their own army, organised, as armies must be on a hierarchical basis. In the event of victory this new coercive force would have to be dissolved; otherwise it would turn into a new State. And it would be back to square one. We have to say, however, that we see no prospect of an armed uprising being either successful or even likely in the developed capitalist parts of the world. In fact, for countries like Britain, it's a quite mad idea.

A second possibility would be to refuse to co-operate with the State, to withdraw support from it so that it would just become an empty shell. It makes more sense than trying to defeat the State militarily but, to succeed, it would require the support of the overwhelming majority of the population.

But why not take the third way of using existing electoral and semi-democratic institutions—which, imperfect as they are and must be under capitalism, do still allow a majority to get its way—to win control of the State. Not, as you seem to think, to form some "socialist government" or "workers' state", but to dismantle it, by lopping off its coercive features and retaining and democratising any useful administrative features? That would be much easier, more direct and less risky. Which is why we favour it.

As Rosa Luxemburg contended, until a socialist revolution is successful, the most important result of any struggle is the building of working-class self-confidence and organisation which expresses an understanding of self-emancipation of the working class as both means and end

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