Monday, June 17, 2024

Organization and Socialism (1976)

From the June 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since the nineteenth century the capitalist world has been swamped with organizations. Political parties, trade unions, religious sects and nationalist groups have gained mass membership or support. All these organizations have been expressions of conflict, dissatisfaction or grievances among sections of the population. Trade unions were formed to try to safeguard the interests of groups of workers against pressure on wages by the employers. As capitalism brought under its sway more and more of the population, so did the belief spread among these workers that organizations like trade unions were necessary to protect their interests. Consequently these organizations grew, both in number and support.

But the workers were wrong in believing that these organizations could solve their problems. Because the organizations were based on attempts to solve economic problems only within the existing capitalist system, they took on the character of that social system. They lost democratic intentions which existed at their origin and became bureaucratic. Leaders arose to control them. Workers found that they had to accept organizational structures which reflected the class society they lived in.

In Germany, the Social Democratic Party gradually dropped the pretensions which a small number of members had for changing society. It adopted the objectives of the German trade unions, which were to gain immediate benefits for their working-class supporters within the capitalist system. The consequence of this was that the class nature of capitalism with its division of society into capital and wage-labour, owners and producers, leaders and led, was reflected in the structure of the Social Democratic Party. A large bureaucracy arose to control the organization.

Some theorists, like Michels in his work Political Parties have seen this development as an inevitable result of organization. But in arriving at this view he neglected the type of society in which the organizations have arisen. He saw their structure as reflecting the nature of man rather than the nature of the particular society. In looking at them without accounting for either the capitalist basis of society or the reformist objectives which the organizations had, he neglected those factors which determine their fundamental structure.

Many organizations have complained of apathy among the working class. Attendance at meetings of trade unions, political parties and other organizations has declined; “Leftists” and other reformists have declared that the lack of interest displays a lack of political consciousness among people. But all it shows is the absence of understanding. “Leftists” look to the odd clauses in the manifestos of reformist parties, like the Labour Party, to try and show that these parties are not reformist but have socialist origins. They fail to see that the original role of the organizations, and one they maintain, was as an expression of the wish for reforms of capitalism. They fail to see that the leadership nature of organizations was and is a reflection of these reformist aims.

What a decline in active involvement in these organizations shows is that numbers of the working class no longer believe that devoting their time to participation in reformism is worth while. Socialists agree with them. We have always advised the working class that involvement with these organizations can never solve the basic problems of society. At most, trade unions make gains which can quickly be eroded by developments like inflation. The reforms which political parties implement are introduced largely to facilitate the further development of capitalism. Even the National Health Service, that “sacred cow” of the Labour Party, has primarily served to ensure that the illnesses which workers have do not result in an excessive loss of labour-power from productive employment.

Socialists say that in the light of the failure of these organizations to solve the fundamental problems facing the working class, people should now take a further step and put an end to the capitalist system, which has been the cause of their problems throughout the period of mass organization. The Socialist Party of Great Britain has continuously and consistently put forward that those problems can only be solved by the establishment of Socialism. Throughout the SPGB’s existence it has opposed all other political organizations because it recognizes that the aims of these organizations were limited to obtaining reforms within capitalism. But unlike other organizations, the members of the SPGB do not see the political party and its structure as being maintained within a Socialist society. It exists solely to work for Socialism among the working class in order that they themselves can abolish capitalism. Consequently the organizational structures which reflect the class basis of capitalism will not be transferred to Socialism. Because it means that everybody will own and control the means of production, instead of a minority as in capitalism, the democratic structure of Socialism will reflect the very different purpose of the society. This is the aim of fulfilling human needs, as opposed to the aim of capitalism, which is to produce profits for a minority of the population.
M. D.

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