December 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard
When a party, group or movement presents itself as "revolutionary" it is necessary to ask some questions about it:
- Does it possess an understanding of the capitalist system?
- Does it possess a serious conception of the socialist alternative?
- Does it propose a serious strategy for the revolutionary transformation of society?
In relation to most of the so-called revolutionary groups these questions are easily answered, always in the negative. For example, the Communist Party does not understand what capitalism is. has a wholly mistaken and misleading conception of socialism and cannot even agree within its own ranks about how to achieve revolution.
The situation was different when The Socialist Party was formed in 1904. There were groups in various parts of the world which did possess a considerable degree of understanding about what capitalism is and what socialism means. In the early days of our party it was recognised that there were others who were close to our aim and the main disagreement with them was about how to achieve a wageless, moneyless, stateless society. In the 1980s there are again some revolutionaries existing in parts of the world with whom socialists would not need to argue much about what socialism is but with whom we are in major disagreement on the question of how socialists must go about the task of working for the revolutionary transformation of society, and what “revolution" means.
Reading the new pamphlet produced by the Manchester-based group, Wildcat, it becomes clear that much of what these "council communists" have to say about capitalism and socialism is not very different from what The Socialist Party says. Their criticism of capitalism is elementary but correct, quite properly making the point that "Nothing could be further from the truth than the idea that state capitalism equals socialism, or a step towards it". (Capitalism and its Revolutionary Destruction — A Statement by Wildcat) What they say about socialism or communism — like The Socialist Party they use the words interchangeably — is reasonable enough: "A communist society such as we envisage is only possible on the basis of material abundance . . . Goods will be freely available and free of charge. Money will disappear . . . Work will be done because we want it to be done and want to do it. . ." But the most beautiful visions in the world are of no value unless they are accompanied by serious ideas and action to make them real. It is on that point that Wildcat must be criticised.
Within the first three sentences of the pamphlet there is the best and the worst of Wildcat. Sentence one: "Wildcat stands for the abolition of capitalism by communist revolution". Good. And what this means in practice is stated in sentence three: "We struggle in favour of strikes, riots and all other acts of rebellion against capitalism". But strikes are not "acts of rebellion against capitalism". In general, they are sectional efforts to obtain better wages and conditions for workers within capitalism. Neither are riots "acts of rebellion against capitalism". If Wildcat is committed to "struggle in favour of riots" we must assume that they recommend workers to have more riots — to indulge in more futile street fights in which workers always get hurt.
They also struggle for "all other acts of rebellion against capitalism". Such as assassination? Sabotage? We are sure the strikers and the rioters are waiting for further details. But why would workers, when we can take action against capitalism as a whole, waste time striking or rioting? Once enough workers understand and want socialism it will not be time to strike — stop work — but to work hard because the means of wealth production and distribution at that stage will become ours. Why riot against capitalism once you have understood that its real power will not be beaten by smashing workers' heads and workers' possessions?
According to Wildcat, the revolution will come about as a result of workers forming councils:
From the mass struggles which have occurred in East Germany '53, Hungary '56, France '68, Spain in the late Seventies, Poland '81 . . . as well as the historical experience of the Russian and German Revolutions — we can see what the basic form of this organisation will be. It will be based around mass assemblies of everyone actively involved in the struggle, both in the workplaces and neighbourhoods, meeting daily or in permanent session. These assemblies will elect delegates to regional and inter/national assemblies to coordinate the struggle.
Firstly, it must be noted that all these examples of workers' councils were failures: they failed to oppose capitalism as a system or to prepare for socialism or to prevent themselves from being smashed by the state. Why is this? Because if you leave armed power in the hands of the state and then proceed to ignore the state by forming alternative councils (or soviets) the class which controls the state will use it to crush the councils. That is why it is vital for revolutionaries to gain control of the state — by democratic means. But Wildcat, with emphatic dogmatism, asserts that "revolutionaries do not. under any circumstances. participate in parliament or elections". Not "under any circumstances": even if there is a socialist majority which could send delegates into parliament for the single act of dispossessing the capitalist class Wildcat is opposed to such a politically wise course of action.
Furthermore, "under no circumstances" do revolutionaries participate in elections, we are told. Why not? If we are a minority we can use elections to publicise our alternative outlook and discover how many (more to the point, how few) of our fellow workers agree with us. If we are in a majority what have we to lose by winning the election? If the statement quoted is read literally and we are to assume that Wildcat is opposed to participation in any election — ever, under any circumstances — then we wonder how these "mass assemblies" will make decisions. Is voting to be rejected in principle? Can we assume that Wildcat never delegates any of its members to perform a function; if it does, do members refuse to elect such delegates? And what of the reference to electing delegates if revolutionaries, "under no circumstances" participate in elections?
Of course, there is one strong reason for opposing electoral methods and that is if it is thought that the revolutionaries will be in a minority at the time of the revolution. At times Wildcat seems to think like that:
For a while the fate of an entire struggle may depend on the courage and resolve of a small minority of militants. They need to organise themselves independently to carry out whatever actions are necessary. They are in the forefront of attempts to raise the aims and broaden the scope of the struggle.
No Leninist would disagree with that. Nor with the assertion by Wildcat that "the revolution itself will inevitably be a bloody affair". Brave talk. But who is going to spill this blood? If workers are in a majority in establishing socialism, as they must be if it is to be established, it is hardly likely that the minority which is non-socialist will last long in putting up bloody, undemocratic resistance to the revolution — even if they were foolish enough to try, which is not "inevitable". It is possible that an anti-socialist minority at the time of the revolution, seeing that they are up against a conscious majority which controls the coercive force of the state, will simply give up the struggle. Even if this recalcitrant minority does have to be contained, while The Socialist Party accepts the possible need to use force for that purpose, that is a very different matter from "a bloody affair". If, on the other hand, a minority under capitalism which has no conscious support from the working-class majority attempts to enact a revolution without winning electoral victory and gaining control of state power, we can be sure that "a bloody affair" would follow: the ruling class would crush the minority. It is all very well for Wildcat to announce that "We call for mutinies in the armed forces of all warring states" but this misses the point that wars are not commenced or directed by the workers in uniform but by the capitalist-controlled state.
The Socialist Party does not claim to have a blueprint for socialist revolution. Many of the crucial decisions regarding the transformation of society will need to be made by socialists as the movement grows to thousands, millions and then a majority. But in the late 1980s. while the world socialist movement is for the moment only a small minority, we have a responsibility to present a strategy for revolution which is credible. Maybe workers in the future will evolve better methods of transforming society but they will not look back on our Principles and accuse us of proposing a revolutionary means which is out of line with the revolutionary end. As for Wildcat and others in their tradition, their strategy amounts at best to adventurist phrase-making and at worst to a recipe for another crushed workers' rebellion.