Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Basic Principles of Socialism (1973)

From the July 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (i.e. land, factories, railways, etc) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

"You take my life if you do take the means whereby I live", wrote Shakespeare. This is precisely the position today for the great majority of people. The means whereby they live — society’s natural and industrial resources — are monopolized by a minority who thus form a privileged class. This is the basis of present-day society the world over, In countries like Britain this class monopoly takes the form mainly of legal property titles granted to individuals. In countries like Russia the predominant form is actual control of access to the means of production through control of the State. But, whatever the form, the position of the excluded, non-owning majority is basically the same; to live they must sell their mental and physical energies for a wage or salary; they are dependent on the owning class for a livelihood. But more. They also produce all the wealth of society, including that consumed by the owning class. So they, like the slaves of the ancient world, work to maintain in privilege and dominance a minority class who monopolize the means of production; they are, in short, wage slaves. Because they produce the wealth of society they are properly called the working class. A word of caution is in order here.: The term “working class” is often used in ordinary conversation in a narrower sense than this, to mean industrial workers only. But in the scientific sense used here it is much broader than this and includes all those who depend on a wage or salary to live, irrespective of the kind of job they are employed to do. So the vast majority of those who are popularly regarded as “middle class”, professional and white collar employees of all kinds, are really working class. In fact the middle class is a myth. In the industrialized parts of the world there are only two classes: this working class, comprising over 90 per cent of the population, and the monopolizing or capitalist class (so called because they use the means of production as capital, that is, to extract from the labour of the producers a profit which is accumulated as more capital).

2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce, and those who produce but do not possess.

Built-in to present-day society is a struggle between these two classes over the possession and use of the means of production. The one, using political power and ideology, to maintain its dominant position; the other, at first somewhat blindly and without fully realizing it, struggling against it. At the moment the obvious signs of the class struggle are trade-union negotiations and strikes when workers bargain over how much they shall be allowed to have of the wealth they produce. But the class struggle is not about the division of the newly-produced wealth between wages and profits; it is about the ownership and control of the means of production themselves, as the next Principle makes clear.

3. That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into the common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.

The class struggle will only end when the working class take over the ownership and control of the means of production from the capitalist class (a political act, as a later Principle explains). This done, classes are abolished and the means of production become common property under the democratic control of all the people; Socialism has been established. So ultimately the class struggle is a struggle over whether there should be capitalism or Socialism, class or common ownership of the means of production, with the working class championing common ownership, even though at first they don’t realise this.

4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.

“The history of all hitherto existing society”, wrote Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto, “is a history of class struggles”. Like everything else, human society has been subject to constant change. The basis of any society is the way its members are organized to produce and reproduce their basic conditions of life. This has two aspects, the actual technical methods of production and the social relations of production by which classes are defined according to how they stand with regard to the control and use of the means of production. As technology develops, so this social organization of production changes too: old classes lose their dominant position as new classes, based on new more productive methods, arise to challenge them. In the course of history, at least in Western Europe and the Mediterranean, class society has evolved, very broadly, through the following states: ancient slave society, feudalism and now capitalism. The presently dominant capitalist class, the last class to have won its freedom, had to fight its way to power against the landed aristocracy whose power rested on their private ownership of the land, the main means of production till the growth of modern industry. But the revolutions in which the capitalist class seized power — Britain in 1688, France in 1789 — were, despite all their talk of “freedom” and “liberty”, changes from rule by one minority class to rule by another minority class. The mass of the people remained unfree, downtrodden and exploited; these were later to develop into the modern wage-earning working class of today. This working class is now itself engaged in a struggle for its freedom. Its struggle is not simply one to replace one ruling class by another since, as we saw, the working class can only free itself by establishing the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production, so abolishing all classes (including itself). The working class can only achieve its freedom by establishing a classless society in which every member of society, no matter what their race or nationality or sex, will stand in the same position with regard to the control and use of the means of production and will have an equal say in the way social affairs are conducted. This is why Socialism necessarily involves what is called “women’s liberation”, “black liberation”, “national liberation”, etc. and why all other oppressed groups; should recognise that they are the working class and struggle for Socialism, a frontierless world community where the resources of the world, natural and industrial, will become the common heritage of all mankind;

5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

This is the shortest, but perhaps the most important Socialist Principle. It expresses the fact that Socialism can only be established by the action of the working class (remember, all those compelled to work for a wage or salary). It is a decisive rejection of all leadership and an assertion of confidence in the ability of the working class to act for itself and work out its own salvation without needing to be guided by condescending or “intellectual” leaders or vanguards. History shows that leadership a conscious minority at the head of an unconscious majority — has been the feature of those revolutions that have merely transferred power from one minority ruling class to another, as was the case in France in 1789 and again in Russia in 1917, The very nature of Socialism, as a society based on common ownership run by and for all the people, means that it can only be established by people who have already learned to do without leaders and to manage their affairs democratically. Socialism cannot be established by an √©lite, but only by a conscious, participating working class. '

6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exist only to conserve the monopoly of the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

The establishment of Socialism must be a political act. Not in the sense of being legislated into being by professional politicians (or of being legislated into being at all), but in that the socialist-minded and democratically - organized working class will have to use political power to do it. For one simple reason. Once the vast majority of workers have become socialist-minded there will only be one obstacle in the way of establishing Socialism: the fact that the machinery of government will still be in the hands of the capitalist class. One of the biggest political myths of today is that governments exist to serve the interest of all the people. In class society this is impossible; the government’s job is to preserve the status quo, to maintain the established basis of society: at the moment, the capitalist class monopoly of the means of production and their exploitation of the working class. Parliament passes laws in the interests of the capitalist class, and the civil service, the courts, and if necessary the armed forces, carry out and enforce those laws. But in countries like Britain Parliament is elected by all the people, the great majority of whom are workers. At the moment, unfortunately, they elect people pledged to maintain and work within capitalism. But it needn’t be like this. Once the workers have become Socialists they will obviously stop electing capitalist politicians and parties. Instead, they will have to think about how to take control of the machinery of government out of the hands of the capitalist class. The way to do this will be to organize themselves in a mass, democratic, Socialist party and to themselves put up candidates for parliament and the local councils. In accordance with the previous principle that “the emancipation of the working class . . . must be the work of the working class itself”, these candidates must be mandated delegates under the strict democratic control of the politically-organized working class outside parliament. Their task will be to carry out the democratically-expressed will of the working class outside Parliament, they will take over the machinery of government, convert it for Socialist use by lopping off its many undemocratic features and then use it to end capitalist ownership and control of the means of production (along with any vestiges of aristocratic privilege, such as the monarchy, that may still be existing at that time). Should there be any attempt on the part of an undemocratic minority to use violence to resist the abolition of capitalism, then the Socialist working-class majority will have to be prepared, as a last resort, to deal with them by employing armed force (suitably re-organized on a democratic basis of course). But there is no question of there being a “socialist government”. This would be an absurd contradiction in terms. The Socialist working class will simply be using the machinery of government for the one purpose of replacing class ownership by common ownership. This done there is no longer any need for a coercive governmental machinery to protect the interest of a ruling class. With the establishment of Socialism government over people gives way to the democratic administration of social affairs by and for all the people.

7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.

A political party is an organization seeking to win control of the machinery of government. Since, in the end, such political power can only be used for one of two basic purposes — either to maintain capitalism or to abolish it — then parties either represent the interest of the capitalist class (or rival or would-be sections of it) or they represent the interest of the working class. The major parties in Britain today (and, for that matter, the various minor parties too) all stand for the interest of the capitalist class because they stand for the maintenance of capitalism. They all in practice accept class ownership and production for the market with a view to profit; they all work within and seek only to patch up and reform the capitalist system. For this reason the working-class, socialist political party, envisaged by the previous Principle, must be uncompromisingly opposed to all other parties.'

8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action, determined to wage, war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain, as the one uncompromising, Socialist, working-class party operating in Britain, declares its opposition to all other British political parties and calls on the working class here to join with a view to quickly establishing Socialism, a society of freedom and equality in which no one will go without adequate food, clothing or shelter. Socialism of course cannot be established in Britain, but the working class in any particular nation-state must organize to take control of that State out of the hands of its capitalist class. At the same time as the Socialist Party is organizing here so will similar Socialist parties be organizing in the other countries of the world. At a certain stage these Socialist parties will unite as a world socialist movement — and, most likely, a single World Socialist Party — to co-ordinate the final establishment of world Socialism. 
Adam Buick



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