From the October 1970 issue of the Socialist Standard
To the Marxist, Socialism is the result of social development and is seen as evolving from capitalism in much the same way as previous forms of society have evolved, that is, growth and development up to the point where change, a complete change, is essential — a revolution. Capitalism, by its own development of large-scale organisation and high technical efficiency, its production of a working class owning no property in the means of production, has performed its historical task and must give way to its successor, a system of society based upon the common ownership of the means of production — Socialism.
No social system, however, has ever disappeared in a mechanical fashion, out of recognition of historical necessity as it were, and there is no evidence that suggests capitalism is an exception. The class position of the capitalists generally make it impossible for them to understand that their social usefulness has ended; they are deaf to all Socialist appeals because such appeals are in essence appeals for them to commit social suicide. The poverty and destitution of a large portion of the world’s population, wars, economic crises and financial panics contain no lesson for the capitalists who will use all the power they possess to keep the present system in being. Expecting only opposition from the capitalist class, the Socialist is compelled to turn to the working class, the class which produces all the wealth, performs all the necessary services in modern society yet suffers all the social indignities of to-day, the class which has nothing to lose by a change in the system, but everything to gain. The only class which can make a revolution.
The working class is always in conflict at numerous points with capitalism. In this conflict, however, the working class lacks the understanding of its basic cause. It is and must be the work of present-day Socialists to place such understanding at the disposal of their fellow workers. Workers do not need convincing of the necessity to establish Socialism by Utopian experiments or plans, as capitalism itself gives many practical reasons as to the need to change society. The details of the future society on which Utopians love to dwell, fade into insignificance in face of the importance of gaining political power.
Political power is centred in governments as is demonstrated in the ability to make and enforce laws by means of the judiciary, police and armed forces. This power is used when necessary to protect the interest of one national group of capitalists against a competing foreign group. This can and often does, lead to war. In this modern capitalist world the educational system is under the control of the central power and in many parts of the world the whole medium of propaganda and communication is included.
This form of power which exists in all those countries where the capitalist mode of production prevails can only be maintained by the active or passive consent of the majority of the population, that is the working class. This consent must be withdrawn and replaced by the deliberate and conscious act of taking over this power in order that the basis of society can be transformed from a capitalist one to a Socialist one.
The refusal to continue capitalism and the readiness to replace it with the new form of society presupposes that a class which has become revolutionary has at its disposal the requisite organisation to carry out its purpose. In those countries which have developed a political party system, a party which has for its object the establishment of Socialism, with a built-in refusal to compromise with capitalism, will if not already in existence, have to be formed. In those parts of the world which have developed a different political form, the struggle for political power must take place in line with such development.
In 1891, Engels wrote in his preface to Marx’s Civil War in France,
The state is nothing else than a machine for the oppression of one class by another [and] at the best it is an evil inherited by the proletariat after its victorious struggle for class supremacy and whose worst features it will have to lop off at once.
This opinion of the state arose out of the experience of the Paris Commune of 1871. Although the state machine has developed a complexity and power which no one living in 1891 could have foreseen, it is still true that the state is fundamentally as Engels defined it, a machine for the oppression of one class by another. It also has to function as the executive committee of the ruling class.
As it becomes imperative for society to progress and remove the last form of slavery, the state which is a barrier in its present form must be taken over, altered and shaped for the task of social revolution. Once this has been achieved it can fade away.
The taking of political power and transforming it from a means of oppression to one of emancipation is the historical mission of the working class. This mission requiring as it does the conscious understanding by that class, places the responsibility on present day Socialists for creating and maintaining the organisation which can be used by the revolutionary class. Also to make available political knowledge to speed the development of revolutionary consciousness.
The false and dangerous notions about barricades and armed risings must be exposed and the difference between revolts and revolution understood and explained. For modern capitalism has been compelled to provide the weapon which can be used for its destruction. The ballot used by a sophisticated working class can make possible the use of political power to establish a world society where the problem of access to food and shelter will be solved by making these freely available to all.