Because socialism can only come about when a majority want it and organise to get it, and because there is clearly not yet a majority desire for socialism. we see the role of socialists today as being primarily educational in the broadest sense, "making Socialists” as William Morris put it.
But we have never imagined that a majority desire for socialism will arise purely as a result of our own educational activities (and certainly not from our classes and lectures in Marxian theory, which are mainly aimed at our members anyway). Our view is that hearing the case for socialism can speed up the process whereby people come to realise that capitalism cannot serve their interests since it always has to put making profits before satisfying needs.
Fortunately, it is capitalism that does most of the work. Because it is based on exploitation and because it puts profits before needs, it inevitably generates discontent, protest and struggle but also the idea of an alternative society based on common ownership and production for use instead of class ownership and production for profit socialist theory and principles are in fact the distilled experience of past generations of working-class opponents of capitalism. And it is this past experience that we in the Socialist Party see ourselves as trying to transmit to our fellow workers.
The educationalists are concerned with the process of learning from others and, insofar as socialists are engaged in this sort of education work, no doubt there is something we could learn from their methods. But some say that we should also get involved in struggles against the effects of capitalism to, as it were, take people through the experience of coming up against the barriers that capitalism places in the way of satisfying people's needs.
We are not against people fighting back against what the ruling class tries to impose on them. In fact we are all in favour workers fighting the bosses at work for better wages and working conditions and for similar bread-and-butter struggles by tenants, claimants, students. But we say that conducting these struggles is the task of trade unions, tenants associations, claimant unions and the like, not that of the socialist political party (whose task is to advocate socialism). For us to intervene in them as a party would be to assume a vanguardist, leadership role, attracting the support of people who only wanted improvements within capitalism.
Our members participate in such struggles as individual workers who are personally affected by the particular problem. Naturally socialists involved in such struggles will put the socialist case but as a party we confine ourselves to general principles, urging that the struggles be conducted under the democratic control of those involved and pointing out that capitalism is the cause of the problem and socialism the solution.
These are bread-and-butter struggles which people are forced to be involved in, whether or not they are socialists, just because they are propertyless in a society where you must get money to survive. So we have no problem over workers’ strike actions. Our Party and its members are behind them.
As to other, political (rather than economic) struggles, we are of course against nuclear weapons, wars, homelessness, racism, pollution, etc., but that's the point; we are against all of them and don’t want to have to give priority to any one over all the others, putting them in competition as the various single-issue campaigns in effect do.
In fact our task as socialists is precisely to point out the link between all these problems — their shared origin in capitalism — and the shared solution to them in the establishment of a society of common ownership and production to satisfy people’s needs. This is a task no one else can do, but is essential if the people involved are to come to a socialist understanding as quickly as possible.
Somebody must be there to ensure that hearing the case for socialism also becomes part of their experience. We don’t need to take them through the experience of the failure of reformist struggles. Capitalism itself will do that. But we do need to ensure that they hear the case for socialism. Which only a separate, independent body of convinced socialists can do.
To be able to do this with any degree of credibility we have to practise what we preach and not give priority to any one of the various competing single-issue campaigns by supporting them as a party or joining them as individuals.
This isn’t necessary anyway since it is possible to make contact with those involved in such campaigns by being present at their meetings and demonstrations with leaflets and pamphlets which at the same time express agreement with their general aim and point out that this aim cannot be achieved under capitalism. This was the position we took up with regard to CND in the 1960s and over similar campaigns more recently.
In any event, we are not into either vanguardist politics (trying to take over and lead struggles) or reformist politics (trying to pressure capitalist governments into doing something). This means that we have a quite different political practice to that of those groups which adopt the "entryist" tactic of joining such campaigns.
They end up getting involved in the internal politics of such organisations, either trying to take them over or to stop some other group doing so. When one campaign peters out they have to look around for another bandwagon to jump on. And they are shouting "Stop This" or "Stop That" so much that they have no time to consider. let alone argue for, the idea of an overall change in the basis of society as the global solution to all the various problems.
We, on the other hand, are entirely free to do this and in fact are the only people who do so, fulfilling an essential role which no one else can: putting over the straight case for socialism and making hearing this a part of people’s experience.