Trade unions co-operate in the exploitation of their members by accepting the premise that the international capitalist class has the unquestioned and legally enforceable ‘right’ to exploit the working class. Of vital importance is the mental conceptions of revolutionary change held by workers and without a change in what people think about the prospects for change, there can be no alternative other than a continuance of some form of capitalism. Socialists claim, that there is a way to reconcile our conflict with our masters, and it is to build on our economic and social power and organise collectively and politically to end the dangerous madness of the market system once and for all, rather than trying to beat the capitalists at their own game. Any gains made in the class struggle for better pay and conditions are still open to being eroded by the inevitable capitalist counter-attack, and without a socialist understanding, the workers will not be able to climb out of the rut of capitalism. So the cycle would continue, with workers making some gains, but then the capitalist class launches a counteroffensive by either attacking the gain itself or attacking from some other direction.
A fundamental Marxian position is that 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 the threat of poverty to sell their capacity to work (the workers), is an essential and continual feature of capitalist society. The class struggle is the irrefutable antagonism of interests in present society between the class that owns and profits from the means of production, and the class that creates the wealth but does not possess any means of producing a wealth of their own. Those who yearn for change are aware of some form of injustice or antagonism inherent in present-day society. This class struggle is not just over the price and conditions of sale of the commodity workers are selling. Ultimately, it's about control over the means of production. The strength of the argument is that it puts the power and potential for change back where it belongs and where it in fact really lies: in our own hands. 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. As Engels put it, “The period for sudden onslaughts, of revolutions carried out by small conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses, is past. Where the question involves the complete transformation of the social organisation, there the masses must be consulted, must themselves have already grasped what the struggle is about, and what they stand for.”
Groups pursuing the tactic of trying to reform capitalism by concentrating on adjusting it is a wasted effort, 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. Socialists should get involved in industrial struggles but without illusions, in particular, the illusion that they can have a revolutionary outcome. The socialist revolution may start from some strike over wages spreading to the whole of the working class and certainly, workers can learn from the experience of industrial struggles against employers that socialism is the only way out so, in this sense, strikes can contribute to a growth of socialist consciousness. But so can the many other experiences of the way capitalism works against the interests of workers (bad housing, poor health care, pollution, wars, etc).
Which leads to the importance of who controls the state. At the moment, this is in the hands of people favourable to the continuation of capitalism, itself a reflection of the fact that most workers, too, don't see any alternative to capitalism. The state, therefore, upholds legal private property rights. 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, exist. 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 the private property. To ignore the state is a ridiculous and dangerous idea for any anti-capitalist movement to accept.
Questioning the future of capitalism ought to be at the forefront of the current 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 by 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. Our mission is to show clearly both how we are robbed and exploited by the system ruled by capital and how we can untap the wealth of our collective productive power by taking control of the means of production directly. Socialists recognise 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. Both raising and defending workers' wages affects the amount of time and resources at the disposal of workers for control of their own lives. Romantic notions of class struggle – of battles on the barricades – concentrate on the exceptional forms, rather than the dull reality of the class struggle of everyday life. Workers do have to 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.