Recently we have witnessed two polarised positions, the now dormant Occupy protests and the current melt-down of the Socialist Workers Party. Autonomism versus the Central Committee, or more simply put, "do what you want" against "do what we say"
This is the time to have an open an honest discussion on the structures and method that workers should adopt. Debates on democracy should be fought out openly, for the mutual benefit of all.
Too Little Democracy - The SWP
Many on the Left are criticising the Socialist Workers Party organisation model but it is based upon them not applying "democratic centralism" properly. Its rivals on the Trotskyist Left are making criticism of the SWP as part and parcel of a defence of democratic centralism. The Alliance for Workers Liberty clearly spell out what "democratic centralism" means to them in practice -- a hierarchical organisation dominated by its leaders. "To be effective, our organisation must be democratic; geared to the maximum clarity of politics; and able to respond promptly to events and opportunities with all its strength, through disciplined implementation of the decisions of the elected and accountable committees which provide political leadership."(our emphasis) They have two levels of membership: "candidates" and "activists" activist". Members are required to, among other things engage in regular political activity under the discipline of the organisation and sell the literature of the AWL regularly. They have to ask "leave of absence" if they can't do this for some reason which requires ratification by their Executive Committee and the activist must still continue to pay financial contributions to the AWL. If they fail to sell the AWL's paper they may be lapsed from membership or even have a fine imposed impose fines or reprimands for lesser breaches of discipline.
The Socialist Party criticism is however more fundamental: we are critcising the whole principle of "democratic centralism" as such.
Democratic centralism has as its central idea that a group or party will have a discussion on an issue and eventually make a decision whether by a vote, a delegate assembly or by the election of representatives. If the vote is contentious the losers should agree to commit to the majority line externally while being free to push for their own line internally. Moreover every effort should be made to hold such debates publically in front of both the party membership and class, this may not be possible in all situations, but it is in most. On the face of it "democratic centralism" seems reasonable: Conference votes for something; this is binding on all members and an elected executive body is responsible for carrying out the decision. This is how our party functions. This conception of democratic centralism can be described as a sensible option of how to organise any serious collective group who are bound to have disagreements. However the discussion needs to happen before the decision is made and members should have the opportunity to express their view democratically whether through direct voting, delegation or representation. This does not happen, what tends to happen is a leadership executive body makes a decision and then passes that decision onto the membership. Democratic centralism thus resembles the dictatorial notion of just doing what you are told. In some organisations you are perfectly free to discuss the issue and it will be ‘patiently explained’ to you by an executive member. But the key fact is the decision is made and the only option for the member who disagrees is to comply or resign. This is how the SWP (and other Leninist and Trotskyist groups) operate. The SWP Conference decides is what is proposed to it by its executive body and this executive body is "elected" as a slate and co-opts its successors and new members. This is certainly "centralism" but is not democratic. But merely invoking the term “democratic centralism” does not tell you anything about which level of decision get made by which people, how frequently decisions are made or what mechanisms should exist for review, let alone how to elect a Central Committee or of whom it should consist.
The SWP tradition is distinguished by organisational norms contrary to the best interests of the labour movement. SWP members on joining accept a constitution which says that a member: "works within and under the direction of the appropriate party bodies." and "the sovereignty of Conference, decisions taken by the Central Committee (CC), National Committee (NC) and Party Council are binding on caucuses, districts and branches, and individual members." In other words, they agree to be foot soldiers carrying out the orders of "higher-ups" in the organisation. Secrecy under the guise of security is characteristic of a sect not a party (no matter number of members) (cf. SWP Rule 10). Rule 5 of its Constitution, explains that its supreme body, the Central Committee, is elected by the following procedure: "The outgoing Central Committee selects and circulates a provisional slate for the new CC at the beginning of the period of pre-Conference discussion. This is then discussed at the district aggregates where comrades can propose alternative slates. At the Conference the outgoing CC proposes a final slate (which may have been changed as a result of the pre-Conference discussion). This slate, along with any other that is supported by a minimum of five delegates, is discussed and voted on by Conference." The Central Committee – the leadership – sets the agenda for the Conference. No trade union has such an undemocratic constitution and nor would ordinary trade union activists wish to join any party they have no say in, led by a secretive executive body. The branch delegates meet, therefore, to discuss only what is put before them by the Central Committee. Not that the delegates are delegates in the proper sense of the term as instructed representatives of the branches sending them: “Delegates should not be mandated . . . Mandating is a trade union practice, with no place in a revolutionary party”. Since voting on motions submitted by branches is dismissed as a “trade union practice”, another procedure, more open to manipulation by the leadership, is operated: “At the end of each session of conference commissions are elected to draw up a report on the session detailing the points made. In the event of disagreement two or more commissions can be elected by the opposing delegates. The reports are submitted to conference and delegates then vote in favour of one of the commissions. The advantage of this procedure is that conference does not have to proceed by resolution like a trade union conference”. So there we have it. No branch motions, no mandated delegates and certainly no ballots of the entire membership either. No official of the SWP above branch level is directly elected by a vote of the members. The SWP likes to avoids votes. The CC slate is circulated, and ambitious members who come forward will just be added, there are no votes at conference just summaries of debate. There is no way to quantify dissent (an important tool for anyone seeking to build a new majority). Of course, SWPers condemn head-counting. This could be sold as an attempt to build consensus (indeed, wasn't that how Occupy worked as well), but we soon see that without the right to be out-voted, a determined minority can come to dominate discussion.
Some party members are more equal than than others - "the existence of a leadership is a necessity. Uneveness in terms of experience, confidence and clarity of ideas exists not just inside the working class as a whole, but also within the revolutionary party. The more roots the party has inside the working class, the more it is able to intervene in the class struggle, the greater this uneveness will be." The leadership is assumed to be the pinnacle of this uneven consciousness, and instead of seeking to challenge the "unevenness", seeks instead to work within it, and in effect justifies a technocratic/theocratic elite dictating to the ignorant, rather than a two-way dialogue between revolutionaries and workers. After all, for all we assume that we are right, we enter into debate, and have to withstand the possibility that we may be proved wrong. The real decisions about actual policy – to establish united fronts, to join electoral coalitions – are almost always made by the CC itself between conferences, with conference asked to ratify them after the event. It is this "strong" leadership which can manoeuvre and shift quickly, and opportunistically build alliances that may well be repugnant to their membership, such as Islamic fundamentalists, coupled with the capacity to provide the apparatus to gerry-build an organisation enables the SWP to intervene and control. The fundamental democratic principle that a minority should try and turn itself into a majority is denied. Instead, the minority should impose its view on the majority.
It is easy to see how all this means that the central committee – the supreme leadership of the organisation – is a self-perpetuating body renewal in effect only by co-optation. This is justified on the grounds of continuity and efficiency – it takes time to gain the experience necessary to become a good leader, so that it would be a waste of the experienced gained if some leader were to be voted off by the vagaries of a democratic vote. Choosing the leadership officer cadre by a competitive vote is evidently something else with "no place in a revolutionary party”. This was the practice of electing the politburos of the "Communist" Parties everywhere. The SWP in fact has consciously modelled itself, as far as both tactics and organisation are concerned, on the Communist Party of Great Britain of the 1920s seeing itself as that party's modern equivalent. That's why the have an undemocratic constitution with an all-powerful Leadership "elected" as a slate and with no chance of being defeated, either in elections to it or over the "orientation" it puts before Conference. and with the power to order the membership to follow its line.
The Socialist Party welcomes what may appear to be moves towards rejecting the democratic centralist model. We can only wish well any attempt to form a genuine, broad (however you define it) socialist movement. Our advice is the same as we offered to the Occupy Movement: you need to have a democratic mechanism to co-ordinate such a movement (we can call such a mechanisms a "Party"), and you need to aim for political action: you can't abandon the field of elections. Nothing would give members of the Socialist Party greater pleasure than a call to dissolve ourselves into a bigger, democratic and socialist organisation but until such a movement adequately addresses the question of Party, political action and anti-reformism, we'll continue to stand our ground and argue our case. The trouble is that many of the critics still look back to the Bolshevik party that usurped power in November 1917 as their model. Hopefully, it will be a case of them learning one step at a time that Bolshevism and Leninism should not be regarded as models to follow. We suggest that critics of "democratic centralism" should go the whole way and throw Lenin out with the dirty bathwater, as well. Marx believed as the workers gained more experience of the class struggle and the workings of capitalism, it would become more consciously socialist. It would not require the intervention by people(leaders) or parties(vanguards) outside the working class to bring it about. But workers can never win the class struggle while it is confined simply to militancy. It has to be transformed into a socialist consciousness. It means talking about it, sharing ideas about it - in short educating ourselves and our fellow workers about it. We depend for the success of our message on people who are prepared to THINK. We cannot do what in Lenin's day the Bolsheviks would have done, that is to seize power by a minority, and then lead the sheep into the promised land.
We have seen a century of cruelly extinguished hopes of those who heaped praise upon the state-capitalist hell-holes which posed as "socialist states" which pseudo-socialists promoted. We have witnessed a system which has persistently spat the hope of humane capitalism back in the face of its advocates. The progressive enthusiasm of millions has been stamped out in this way. How different it could have been if all that work which has gone into trying to reform capitalism had gone into struggling to abolish it ? Historically, reform activities have dissipated the earnest energies of so-called socialists from doing any socialist work, whatsoever. The need for reforms is an all-time job. The SPGB is not going to do anything for the working class except to arouse their fervor, determination and enthusiasm for socialist objectives. Working-class understanding is at a very low ebb, therefore the membership in the SPGB is puny. Apart from the feeble voices of the Socialist Party, the great mass of the workers are not exposed to socialist fundamentals. Nevertheless, the greatest teacher of all is experience. Eventually, all the groping and mistaken diversions into futile efforts of reforming and administering capitalism will run their course. People learn from their mistakes. Necessity is the latent strength of socialism. Truth and science are on the side of socialism. Socialism is no fanciful utopia, but the crying need of the times; and that we, as socialists, are catalytic agents, acting on our fellow workers and all others to do something about it as speedily as possible, the triggering agent that transforms majority ideas from bourgeois into revolutionary ones. The seeming failures, the disappointments and discouragements, the slow growth, only indicate that socialist work is not an easy task. What makes socialist work stirring and inspiring is not that there are short cuts, but that there is nothing else worth a tinker’s damn. No serious socialist group can afford to abandon the hard slog of socialist education to acquire a sense of how to get from "here" to "there"
Although the Left persist in claiming that the masses require "revolutionary" leadership, we can see from the struggle of the "Arab Spring" and the Spanish indignados and the Occupy Movement that protest and resistance does not require political party leadership. In fact, in most revolutions 1905 and February 1917 in Russia, Paris 68 or the fall of the Soviet bloc, political parties were never initially in the forefront. Most on the Left believes class struggle militancy can be used as a lever to push the workers along a political road, towards their "emancipation." How is this possible if the workers do not understand the political road, and are only engaging in economic struggles? The answer is the Leninist "leaders in-the-know" who will direct the workers. But these leaders lead the workers in the wrong direction, toward the wrong goals (nationalisation and state capitalism), as the workers find out to their sorrow. Our interaction with the world around us is mediated by ideas. How are we supposed to become a "revolutionary" without engaging - and eventually agreeing - at some point with the IDEA of socialism?
Instead of standing clearly for socialism, the Left have aped official Labourism, seeking to influence non-socialist workers through tactical manipulation rather than convince them to change their minds. They argue that the ‘united front’ of the TUSC, for instance, provides an opportunity for ‘revolutionaries’ to discuss and convert reformists and that the immediate aim of the ‘unity’ is to provide the most effective fighting organisation for both reformists and revolutionaries. Vanguardists accept the notion that the workers are incapable of developing socialist consciousness, and so the ‘revolutionaries’ have to work with reformists in order to influence them and draw off the most active workers into their own ranks. That there is an ‘uneven consciousness’ among workers that necessitates the need for leaders and for an organisation that can bring it together with non-socialist workers in the name of immediate given ends, be those organisations trade unions or anti-cuts alliances. The reality is that any sort of success involves hiding the disagreements between their constituent organisations, specifically about means and motives. They succeed by making demands that are supported by significant numbers of workers, meaning that any ‘revolutionary’ content will be buried into the need for immediate victory. As such, it is small ‘c’ conservative, taking political consciousness as it is found and seeking to manipulate rather than change it. Such a tactic affords the ‘Left’ an opportunity to extend their influence. As a tiny minority, they get to work with organisations which can more easily attract members and can thus be part of campaigns and struggles that reach out well beyond the tiny numbers of political activists in any given situation. But the relevant fact remains that, despite providing all this assistance, the ‘revolutionaries’ are incapable of taking these campaigns further than the bulk of the members are willing to accept.
The SPGB, however, argue that minorities cannot simply take control of movements and mould and wield them to their own ends. Without agreement about what it is and where it is going, leaders and led will invariably split off in different directions. We say that since we are capable, as workers, of understanding and wanting socialism, we cannot see any reason why our fellow workers cannot do likewise. The job of socialists in the here and now is to openly and honestly state the case rather than trying to wheedle and manoeuvre to win a supposed ‘influence’ that is more illusory than real.
The Left's formula can be summed up in the following:
1) The working class has a reformist consciousness. 2) It is the duty of the "Revolutionary Party" to be where the masses are. 3) Therefore, to be with the mass of the working class, we must advocate reforms.
4) The working class is only reformist minded. 5) Winning reformist battles will give the working class confidence. 6) So that, therefore, they will go on to have a socialist revolution.
7) The working class will learn from its struggles, and will eventually come to realise that assuming power is the only way to meet its ends. 8) That the working class will realise, through the failure of reforms to meet its needs, the futility of reformism and capitalism, and will overthrow it. 9) That the working class will come to trust the Party that leads them to victory, and come a social crisis they will follow it to revolution.
No other possibilities for worker to take as a perceived solution is suggested such as fascism, or nationalism or religion? The SPGB would argue that it is about engaging people with the idea of socialism. There is nothing automatic about social change, it has to be struggled for. The Left relies upon a notion of the inherently revolutionary nature of the working class and that through the class struggle this inherently revolutionary character will show itself. Although, it hasn't.
Its also flawed because it shows no reason why, due to the failure of reform, the workers should turn to socialism. Why, since it was people calling themselves socialists who advocated that reform, don't they turn against it, or even to fascism? Under the model of revolution presented by the Trotskyists the only way the working class could come to socialist consciousness is through a revolution is made by the minority with themselves as its leaders.This, then, explains their dubious point about needing to "be" where the mass of the working class is. It is the reason why a supposedly revolutionary party should change its mind to be with the masses, rather than trying to get the masses to change their minds and be with it. They do not want workers to change their minds, merely to become followers. Their efforts are not geared towards changing minds, or raising revolutionary class consciousness. The idea that the worse things get, the better they will be for revolutionary prospects dominates the thinking of many on the Left. If conditions become so dire, the blinkers with fall from the eyes of the misled masses. It's a logic that if worsening conditions make it more favourable for radical change, then it requires radicals to make things worse to hasten it, regardless that it may bring repression down on others and lends itself to developing various forms of authoritarianism within the Left.
Periods of radical social upheaval have followed economic crises and—especially—war. But there is nothing preordained about this relationship. Immiseration and eroding living standards do not automatically prompt workers to radical collective action. Workers find different ways to cope, some which would not win the approval of the Left. Historically, workers often take actions, even collective ones, to shut other workers out of better jobs based on race, ethnicity, or gender—such as “hate strikes” by white workers against the hiring or promotion of workers of color. Innumerable acts of solidarity and resistance, of course, mark the history of capitalism. But they are not the only recourse to which members of the working class resort in hard times.
Workers are human beings and individuals in themselves; they are not dumb masses to be tricked, led, deceived, and lied to, for the greater good. That's why, actually, we are not sectarian and the Left are. We join workers struggles as workers. We take part in the democratic process as equals with our fellows. We do not join for purposes of our own; we have no programme of demands hidden up our sleeves to be produced at a later date, nor a one-party dictatorship to produce as a nasty surprise at an even later date. That's why, when we join workers struggles as individuals and not as a leadership party, and reject the left, we are not being sectarian -- quite the opposite. We are being principled socialists. Workers do not need any advice or leadership from socialists when it comes to struggling to defend their own interests within capitalism. They do it all by themselves all the time. However, such struggles have their limits within capitalism: they cannot go beyond the law of value, and the combined forces of the capitalists and the state can almost always defeat them if they put their mind to it. Workers who realise this tend to become socialists. As they become socialists, they see the necessity for going beyond such day to day struggles (these unavoidable and incessant guerilla battles, as Marx put it) and the need for a political party aimed solely for socialism. This political party must not advocate reforms, not because it is against reforms (how on earth could a working class party be against reforms in the working class interest?), but because it wants to build support for socialism, and not for reforms. The party's task is NOT to "lead the workers in struggle" or even to instruct its members on what to do in trade unions, tenants' associations etc, because we believe that socialists and class-conscious workers are quite capable of making decisions for themselves. As socialists we do not impose our position upon the working class, so thankfully, if we as an organisation are wrong, the consequences are not transferred to others of our class by a leadership or party vanguard.
Too much Democracy - Occupy
The Left has had a problem of a fetishising organisation, a belief that one kind of organisation is sufficient, following a Democratic-centralist model that they didn’t deviate from. In a seeming reaction to that we now see are many radicals who resist any form of structured organisation. They insist that everything has to be horizontal and openly democratic. The world-wide Occupy movement raised an awareness about political issues and their direct effect on everyday lifeIt is drew attention to the vast inequalities of the system with the rich getting richer. If they have no clear goals that could mean that they still had open minds and that they were wary of following the same old tried, tested and failed reformist formulae. They were free to discuss and debate issues and think about problems from any possible angle. Again they should be commended for taking their time and discussing seriously and democratically in the hope of finding a solution. There was immense pressure for them adopt a program. . More importantly, it introduced discussion about the radical idea of no leaders. They should be commended for their refusal to follow political leaders particularly when pressured by the media to create their own. The Occupy movement can look back with pride on what was accomplished in just a few months. Occupy Movement proved different and involved new ways of organising and new tactics. It challenged everybodys previous positions and demanded re-evaluation of them. Every once in a while, we experience a massive breakthrough, an evolutionary leap, in how the world around us is defined. Occupy did that. Our challenge is to use the fertile ground to foster new growth.
The Socialist Party applaud people taking action which is essentially democratic and anti-capitalist. No-body is born a socialist and people start protests with lots of the ruling ideologies in their heads. It is a learning process. So let us be clear that the Socialist Party stood in full solidarity with the protesters, recognising their actions inspired some much-needed debate. Because of the crisis people are actually questioning capitalism, because they’re being forced to. Capitalist "truths" are being delegitimatised by experience on the ground. People are talking, reading, and thinking. People need to use that education intelligently. If they do not become part of the solution, they may become part of the problem. The protesters may be asked all the right questions, but had they discovered the right answers? They are educating themselves but because of the nature of the economic crisis as seen as a breakdown in Wall St some have become fixated on banking and finance capitalists. So-called ‘experts’ offer solutions to the economic woes of capitalism. But many of the remedies and supposed cures are throw-backs to earlier populist movements during previous depressions. Such remedies if they were introduced would not help the majority of people.
David Graeber explains that Occupy Wall St. "From the very beginning, too, organisers made the audacious decision to operate not only by direct democracy, without leaders, but by consensus.The first decision ensured that there would be no formal leadership structure that could be co-opted or coerced; the second, that no majority could bend a minority to its will, but that all crucial decisions had to be made by general consent"
This is the old individualist anarchist nonsense about "the tyranny of the majority" answered by William Morris over a century ago in News From Nowhere "matters which are merely personal which do not affect the welfare of the community - how a man shall dress, what he shall eat and drink, what he shall write and read, and so forth - there can be no difference of opinion, and everybody does as he pleases. But when the matter is of common interest to the whole community, and the doing or not doing something affects everybody, the majority must have their way; unless the minority were to take up arms and show by force that they were the effective or real majority; which, however, in a society of men who are free and equal is little likely to happen; because in such a community the apparent majority is the real majority, and the others, as I have hinted before, know that too well to obstruct from mere pigheadedness; especially as they have had plenty of opportunity of putting forward their side of the question."
The question of accountability of Occupy democratic procedures was focussed upon by the Socialist Party. In advocating that we don't need formal decision-making rules and structures Occupy Wall St were at risk of fostering a perilous illusion, perilous because it can permit people being manipulated by some self-appointed vanguard. We insist that, on the contrary, "self-organisation" is only possible as democratic self-organisation, involving formal rules and structures, precisely to prevent the emergence of unaccountable elites. Consensus decision-making can be useful in small groups and in committees but it is not practicable everywhere or at all times (sometimes consensus just cannot be reached) and the decisions reached will tend to be the lowest common denominator. As it happens, the working class movement developed procedures for democratic decision-making, as incorporated in Citrine's ABC of Chairmanship. Perhaps not as quaint as the hand-waving signals involved in consensus decision-making but much more practicable and safer since it avoids the "tyranny of structurelessness". For all the jazz-hands, what lacked was the simple basic show of hands, in a majority vote to determine decisions. Occupy's rules of discussion that are currently are good for small groups, because you can have an assembly. But if you want to create an assembly that includes the entire population of New York City, you can’t. You have to then think about whether there will be regional assemblies, or a mega-assembly. If Occupy Movement truly accept that they speak for the 99% then the 99% cannot be excluded from the decision makiing. Sympathy with the Occupy phenonomen discouraged many to challenge the content and the consequences of its weaknesses. Without spokespersons authority the who speaks for the movement and who stops usurpers from talking for it? Without some sort of organisation we can't repudiate political mavericks and cowboys, participants who were pushing there own platform. Fringe ideas took root, many "solutions" with long histories such as Henry George, Major Douglas to more up-dated models such as Parecon and Robin Hood Tax advocates. Occupy has inherited a lot of American populism’s obsession with finance as the root of all evil, without connecting it to the rest of the system. All the hand-waving had its problems when contesting and irreconcilable views were to be decided. We argue for a more structured and formal means of democracy and that the decision of a majority, (and we leave it up to them to agree what a majority should entail), is a necessary requirement for authorising and approving actions. As events panned out over the months, it was the means of decision-making and how it legitimised or did not legitimise certain statements and certain protests by various Occupiers that often became an issue. In its dealings with the media, the Occupy movement suffered from the media being able to selectively choose the spokespeople.
It has not been the first time that socialists have been confronted by the fetish of the new "revolutionary" forms of decision-making or tactics such as the soviets and workers councils of the past or factory occupations. The SPGB has had a good history of deliberately NOT getting swept into the moment too soon and taking time to provide a clear analysis of the situations as they develop whilst still propagating the essential ideas of socialism. The human mic public meeting style was praised but it is forgotten that it was simply a localised way of getting around New York City's by-laws, not a universal requirement for elsewhere if a PA system is available. We also begin to wonder if this comment has any truth in it that it only works when the speaker expresses a message that the audience wants to hear. "He started by saying that the occupation was great and we should all be proud (lots of happy twinkle fingers). Then he began to question the assumptions and strategy of the protest in very comradely terms...the 'people's mic' trailed off after the word 'limitations' as downward facing fingers rose up throughout the crowd. Therefore more than half the audience was unable to hear his critique and he was immediately shuttled off so the next speaker could address the crowd..."
There was ample evidence that due to the manner of the decision-making Occupy was NOT democratic in the sense that minorities (often very small minorities) could thwart the majority will or subsitute for it by claiming a legitimacy they did not possess. This type of "formless" was not desirable but detrimental and arguing that Occupy had to remedy its "structurelessness" dealt with actualities and practicalities not just abstract theory - revolutionary fluff. If Occupy Movement truly accept that they speak for the 99% then the 99% cannot be excluded from the decision makiing. If politics is to be decided on the streets and on the barricades, what about those unable to physically join in and participate, do their voicies get ignored? Electoral involvement helps to bring those people into the decision process - marking a cross on a bit paper should be considered as legitimate as jazz hands. Some could justifiably describe Occupy of being exclusive in the sense that we are all part of the 99% and that those who claim to act and speak for us need to have our permission and authority to do so by some democratic means.
Many Occupy activists were still wedded to capitalist economics and propose various reforms to it. Nor was it only ourselves who offered such criticism. Our fundamental message appears to be echoed by Alexander Cockburn.
"It was very hard not to be swept away by the Occupy movement which established itself in New York’s Zuccotti Park last September and soon spread to Oakland, Chicago, London and Madrid. And indeed most people didn’t resist its allure. Leninists threw aside their Marxist primers on party organisation and drained the full anarchist cocktail...Cynicism about Occupy was not a popular commodity. But new movements always need a measure of cynicism dumped on them. Questions of organization were obliterated by the strength of the basic message – we are 99 per cent, they are one per cent. It was probably the most successful slogan since ‘peace, land, bread’.
The Occupy Wall Street assembly in Zuccotti Park soon developed its own cultural mores, drumming included. Like many onlookers, I asked myself, Where the hell’s the plan? But I held my tongue. I had no particular better idea and for a CounterPuncher of mature years to start laying down the program seemed cocky. But, deep down, I felt that Occupy, with all its fancy talk, all its endless speechifying, was riding for a fall......and I definitely didn’t like the enormous arrogance which prompted the Occupiers to claim that they were indeed the most important radical surge in living memory. Where was the knowledge of, let along the respect for the past? when one raised this history with someone from Occupy, I encountered total indifference.There also seemed to be a serious level of political naivety about the shape of the society they were seeking to change. They definitely thought that it could be reshaped – the notion that the whole system was unfixable did not get much of a hearing....People have written complicated pieces trying to prove it’s not over, but if ever I saw a dead movement, it is surely Occupy...Everything leftists predicted came true, just as everything hard-eyed analysts predicted about the likely but unwelcome course of ecstatic populism in Tahrir Square also came true.·I do think it’s incumbent on those veteran radicals who wrote hundreds of articles more or proclaiming a religious conversion to Occupyism, to give a proper account of themselves, otherwise it will happen all over again."
Clear goals are a must at some point. The ultra-democratic form of the Occupy Movement has to be linked to its goal and if that purpose is simply to re-shape capitalism into another form then we must be critical. The strengths we saw in Occupy, the leaderlessness, the lack of reform demands, are now being re-evaluated as its weaknesses. I think we have to defend Occupy's beginnings but repeat our original criticism that Occupy's structurelessness would create a void that leaders fill and it lacked the defined goal of establishing socialism/communism/anarchism which would lead to lesser objectives substituting. We do not advocate a return to Eduard Bernstein's dictum - "The goal is nothing; the movement is everything."
The Socialist Party has never claimed that 'the revolution' can start in parliament without first starting in the minds (and therefore actions) of the masses. It is foolish to think that the socialist party is the source of revolutionary consciousness. It is equally foolish to think that 'Occupy' camps will automatically lead to an upsurge in socialist understanding. Revolution is of course a process and not an event. A few people making decisions that affect everyone else is not what revolution looks like; it's what capitalism looks like. The Party may not be the possessors of the Holy Grail, but we do hold valuable insights from the past. Thus we canmore readily facilitate the understanding of other workers. That is all we can realistically do. How effective we have been, no-one will make claims of success but what we can do differently for a greater influence in the future is up for debate. There should not be an either/or approach but a varied mix.
Whatever our criticisms of Occupy they were not based upon the Party's infamous hostility clause but comes from a recognition of the protests' limitations. We do not discourage class struggle day-to-day resistance. The means and methods that those on particular benefits defend themselves is for their own self-organisation to decide, not for the party to intervene in. But we do caution that those in itself do not suffice and we do not become cheer-leaders for every strike or protest as a sign that heralds the revolution. What we do is demonstrate the causes and the connections with capitalist exploitation. We make available the right ideas in sufficent depth and breadth, so that they can be picked up and used. Consciousness arises out of material conditions. The material condition of class society is the class struggle. So ALL forms of consciousness in a capitalist society arise from it's antagonistic conditions, so we have contradictory forms of consciousness; fascism, reformist, socialist, religious. In other words socialist consciousness does arise out of the class struggle, but so does fascism. By education we mean spreading our positions as widely and as clearly and accessibly as possible. But it is only because of the material conditions that we have these ideas in the first place. And it is only because of these conditions that other people will relate to them. Ideas do not magically appear out of the sky. "Men make their own history". We can't just hope that socialist ideas will become the dominant ideas. Socialist ideas have to compete with others. Yet that socialist consciousness cannot be achieved solely by ideological persuasion and propaganda. It has to link up with the practical struggle. That is the dilemma. The SPGB role is a limited one. When conditions are ripe the working class will acquire their power of self-determination.
For all extents and purposes Occupy has currently faded away and the search for the reasons should be within Occupy because that is where they are to be found. The point really missed is that the class struggle has to evolve into something more tangible than some sort of amorphous anger and all the talking and writing about it won't bring that about - it takes practical concrete steps. The Socialist Party is a propagandist party with an intimate acquaintance with the various struggles in history of our class since its foundation. Our purpose is to advocate socialism, and advance the necessary pre-requisites for a movement to achieve it, primarily, a democratic decision making structure, whilst at the same time, identifying and criticising trends that obstruct that object, which is mainly but not entirely the diversion and siren-call of reformist platforms. Our job is to provide the ideological tools (the ideas and the theory and the evidence) for those in Occupy to maintain an effective anti-capitalism. It is not to lead workers to socialism but to push them by discussion, argument and debate into reaching the inescapable conclusion that for society to go forward, free-access socialism is the only solution. We have to have a physical presence within those working class struggles which seek alternative answers to their problems. It means possessing a confidence in our politics and recognising ourselves as part of the working class and a legitimate expression of it.
People will not suddenly get out of bed one morning and find themselves convinced socialists or that it will be the result of reading the Socialist Standard, no matter how attractive and articulate it is. It will be because of struggles. Our propaganda alone will not suffice since, as often explained, the power of the prevailing ideology through dominance of education and popular culture handicaps our class in the battle of the intellect and ideas. This is not to say that socialist ideas are arrived at automatically solely through practice and it is not to say we should desist from propaganda and educational efforts. Our propaganda is vital to give expression to working class action and to validate workers' own experiences. The more socialism is discussed and debated, the more likely that protests escalate and intensify into a decisive mass movement against capitalism and its failure as a system to satisfy and fulfil real human needs and wants. We need to relate socialism to the present and demonstrate its practicability. We need to connect struggles such as Occupy with the attainment of socialism. Unlike others who present themselves as revolutionaries we do not project socialism as a remote ideal system of the future but something to aspire for to-day. Occupy's attempt at non-violent leaderless self-organisation was to be applauded and should have served as a bridge to a socialist future.
The SPGB was the product of lessons its founding members had learned within the Social Democratic Federation from which they concluded that a socialist party had to be leader-less. A truly revolutionary position for its time and for today. The SPGB structure was designed to avoid the rise of leaders and became an organisation that made individual leaders superfluous. It denied aspiring leaders any dominance by such means as private ownership of the party's journal or executive powers of control to the offices they were elected to. They instituted a knowledge test to place all members on an level footing.
The SPGB is a leader-less political party where its executive committee is solely for housekeeping admin duties and cannot determine policy. An EC that is not even permitted to submit resolutions to conference. All conference decisions have to be ratified by a referendum of the whole membership. The General Secretary has no position of power or authority over any other member being simply a dogsbody. Mandating delegates, voting on resolutions and membership referendums are democratic practices for ensuring that the members of an organisation control that organisation – and as such key procedures in any organisation genuinely seeking socialism. Socialism can only be a fully democratic society in which everybody will have an equal say in the ways things are run. This means that it can only come about democratically, both in the sense of being the expressed will of the working class and in the sense of the working class being organised democratically – without leaders, but with mandated delegates – to achieve it. In rejecting these procedures what is being declared is that the working class should not organise itself democratically. on reformism. Members of the SPGB engage in the struggle to stop cuts to their jobs , to their kids schools closing , to their university courses fees rising, to their hospitals shutting , as individuals and as local community members but we don't parachute in as an organisation to create and control such resistance - we do not offer ourselves up as the leaders of it. We do not seek to lead such struggles but limit ourselves to urging workers to organise any particular struggle in a democratic way under the control of those directly involved.
Nor does the Socialist Party recruit at any political cost. We actually have a test for membership. This does not mean that the SPGB has set itself up as an intellectual elite into which only those well-versed in Marxist scholarship may enter. One purpose of it is to place all members on an even basis. The SPGB's reason is to ensure that only conscious socialists enter its ranks, for, once admitted, all members are equal and it would clearly not be in the interest of the Party to offer equality of power to those who are not able to demonstrate equality of basic socialist understanding. Once a member, s/he have the same rights as the oldest member to sit on any committee, vote, speak, and have access to all information. Thanks to this test all members are conscious socialists and there is genuine internal democracy, and of that we are fiercely proud. Consider what happens when people join other groups which don't have this test.The new applicant has to be approved as being "all right". The individual is therefore judged by the group according to a range of what might be called "credential indicators". Hard work (often, paper selling) and obedience by new members is the main criterion of trustworthiness in the organisation. In these hierarchical, "top-down" groups the leaders strive at all costs to remain as the leadership , and reward only those with proven commitment to the "party line" with preferential treatment, more responsibility and more say. New members who present the wrong indicators remain peripheral to the party structure, and finding themselves unable to influence decision-making at any level, eventually give up and leave, often embittered by the hard work they put in and the hollowness of the party's claims of equality and democracy.
Socialist Party propaganda concentrates upon the educational and teachers are no more leaders than writers or speakers are leaders. Their function is to spread knowledge and understanding, as teachers, so that the workers may emancipate themselves. Our purpose as a Party is to help bring forth the latent strength of the movement. Quite different from that we must have leaders (great men) to direct their followers (blind supporters) into a socialist society. Socialism is not the result of blind faith, followers, or, by the same token, vanguard parties. Despite some very charismatic writers and speakers in the past, no personality has held undue influence over the SPGB. Simply check the two published histories of the Party to see on just how many occasions and on how many issues those so-called leaders have not gained a majority at conferences or in referendums.
We, as socialists, are simply presenting choices to the working class, for them to reject or accept, that is all we can do but without a choice being offered, there is no choice. The Socialist Party is not so presumptuous as to think that the whole future of the world depends on us. What we do say is that people will come to a realisation that capitalism needs to be replaced by socialism quicker if there's already an organised group arguing for this. Words are our weapons.
Many people understand that we have reached a critical turning point that demands radical change in how and why we produce the means of supporting life. People demanding change are not united in focusing on the political economics at the root of most global problems but they are moving in that direction. This shows that many can understand the situation. We want as many people as possible discussing and debating ideas of a post-capitalist future so we can establish this society. We need to articulate a different future. Many doubt a socialist society is either feasible or even desirable. Socialism doesn't have to be a utopia. It's a concrete answer to concrete problems. Without such an ideal, the real world will be ever harder to change.
The Socialist Party has never claimed that 'the revolution' can start in parliament without first starting in the minds (and therefore actions) of the masses. It is foolish to think that the socialist party is the source of revolutionary consciousness. It is equally foolish to think that these 'Occupy' camps will automatically lead to an upsurge in socialist understanding. Revolution is of course a process and not an event. A few people making decisions that affect everyone else is not what revolution looks like; it's what capitalism looks like. The Party may not be the possessors of the Holy Grail, but we do hold valuable insights from the past. Thus we can more readily facilitate the understanding of other workers. That is all we can realistically do. How effective we have been, no-one will make claims of success but what we can do differently for a greater influence in the future is up for debate. There should not be an either/or approach but a varied mix.
What distinguishes us, amongst those who want a classless, stateless, wageless, moneyless society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of life, is our view that parliament can, and should, be used in the course of establishing such a socialist society. This position is based on our understanding that before socialism can be established there has to be a majority actively in favour of this, and that it is essential for this majority to win control over the machinery of government (political power, the state) before trying to establish socialism. In developed capitalist countries, it is control of the law-making assembly (parliament) that is the way to the control of the machinery of government. Since control of parliament is obtained via elections based on universal suffrage, a socialist majority can win control of the machinery of government through winning a parliamentary majority via the ballot box. What we face is the simple fact that our class enemies hold state power, and will use it, ruthlessly to protect their interests and defend themselves from the threat of democracy. Which is why the Socialist Party argues for the prime importance of taking state power out of their hands. We still have enormous freedom to agitate, organize, protest and struggle for change. The ballot box isn’t useless, it just isn’t being used nearly enough. But we still have it. And for its use to be more effective, we need a great many more people who recognize our real problems and demand that our political structures and players address them. We need to keep asking, nagging, agitating, informing, sharing information and analysis – in a word, organizing – to build a sufficient and sustained opposition to capitalism. If socialism is defined as public/government ownership of the means of production, it is no solution as the answer lies in the direction of decentralized communities, with more participatory forms of administration than we now have.
Prevailing capitalist democracy separates political power, which is formally subjected to democratic rules (even though they're often ignored or twisted in practice), and economic power, which is exercised by a small number of unelected bosses. This separation will disappear in socialism. Both the neighbourhood and workplace would provide the basic units of the new socialist democracy, electing delegates to local, regional, national and global congresses. Delegates elected from where they live and from within their place of work sent to a local committee then again sent to a regional one then up to a higher committee and so on. Representative democracy, (first developed by the emerging capitalist class when it was still revolutionary), would be extended and decisions about what and how to produce passed into the hands of elected delegates. Representatives would be subject to regular re-election and liable to instant recall, thus making them accountable in a way that current MPs never are. The master’s tools won’t dismantle the master’s house. And they surely will never build a better house.
Democracy also requires open discussion and choices between genuine alternatives. Both are limited by the power of capital in contemporary society. Here again socialism would represent an extension of democracy. Access to the media would not be restricted to those with the wealth to buy newspapers and television networks. Freedom of debate, however, isn't effective without the ability to choose between political parties offering different programmes. Any party willing to work peacefully within the framework of the new socialist society would be free to compete for influence in the peoples' communes and workers' councils and would be guaranteed access to the media. Electing delegates subject to regular re-election and liable to instant recall, open discussion and choices between genuine alternatives, these are essential features of democracy
So lets say for example there are many decisions which are not very important and that people find boring, instead of calling a huge referendum for something fairly trivial we could use a demarchic system. A bit like jury duty, a certain number of people are called at random to sit on a committee who would spend some time learning about the issue in depth before voting on it. That's an option. How we vote is all up for debate such as reality TV-style text- voting or online e-democracy, but regardless of other mechanisms , the ballot box exists, public meetings and show of hands exists. However, when people vote on questions of instructions, then they have to know that the mandate will be followed. And the right to disassociate and disavow those who go counter to the wishes of the majority must also exist.
Many want to speculate and forecast the future with a view to action. How do we unite in a way where we keep the diversity of multiple movements but still work together in solidarity? The answer is a common vision. If a movement does not have some vision of what it wants to become, it cannot know whether it is heading in the right direction or not. Those of us who share Marx’s vision of socialism as a society of freely associated producers therefore have a responsibility to explain socialism. If you don’t know where you are going, no path will lead you there. We need to have a clear idea of where we are going. Socialist activity is to provide a catalyst, to increase and spur on understanding through sharing our acquired knowledge for the self-emancipation of our class. Socialists seek to take advantage of the potential for a struggle to overthrow of the system. And without a core acceptance of a libertarian socialist consciousness there always exists the threat of a movement being hijacked by reformist and gradualist leaders and diverted into a variety of pro-capitalist directions.
It is not the wish of the Socialist Party to be separate for the sake of being so. It is ridiculous to think of a rivalry between socialist parties competing to emancipate the workers. If another socialist organisation appeared on the scene, then the only possible action that we could take would be to make immediate overtures for a merger. We would offer them the open arms of comradely greetings and unity. But the position is that we cannot be a popular reform party attempting to mop up immediate problems, and revolutionary at the same time. We cannot have a half-way house; nor can we accommodate the more timid members of our class who abhor what they describe as "impractical" or "impossible" policies, and spend their time looking for compromises. We do oppose all the so-called working-class parties which compromise with capitalism and do not uphold the socialist case. The socialist case is so fundamentally different, involving as it does the literal transformation of society, that we must expect mental resistance before socialist ideas have finally become consolidated in the mind.
What is needed is to demonstrate the causes and the connections with capitalist exploitation. We have to make available the right ideas in sufficent depth and breadth, so that they can be picked up and used. Yet that socialist consciousness cannot be achieved solely by ideological persuasion and propaganda. It has to link up with the practical struggle. That is the dilemma. The SPGB role is a limited one. When conditions are ripe the working class will acquire their power of self-determination. The SPGB has written "The particular form of economic organisation through which the struggle is conducted is one which the circumstances of the struggle must mainly determine. The chief thing is to maintain the struggle whilst capitalism lasts." One lesson that has been learned and it is the need for a permanent organisation of class struggle.
The socialist measures working-class progress in terms of the development and growth of its awareness of its collective needs and aspirations. Class consciousness, in short. Are they more and more convinced for the need for a change to the very basis of present society if humanity is to survive? Do they exercise hard-won electoral rights along with the right to dissent and protest? Do workers realise the necessity of building class-struggle organisations that are independent of the ruling class? Do they know the value of the strike weapon ? But also understand its limitations that economic power has no meaning when it is confined to just withholding labour power from production. Economic power flows from having political control of the state machinery. These are our criteria.
We see little wrong with people campaigning for reforms that bring essential improvements and enhance the quality of their lives, and some reforms do indeed make a difference to the lives of millions and can be viewed as "successful". There are examples of this in such fields as education, housing, child employment, work conditions and social security. Socialists acknowledge that the "welfare" state, the NHS and so on, made living standards for some sections of the working class better than they had been under rampant capitalism of its early ideology of laissez faire, although these ends should never be confused with socialism. However, in this regard we also recognise that such "successes" have in reality done little more than to keep workers and their families in efficient working order and, while it has taken the edge of the problem, it has rarely managed to remove the problem completely. Socialists do not oppose reformism because it is against improvements in workers' lives lest they dampen their revolutionary ardour; nor, because it thinks that decadent capitalism simply cannot deliver on any reforms; but because our continued existence as propertyless wage slaves undermines whatever attempts we make to control and better our lives through reforms. Our objection to reformism is that by ignoring the essence of class, it throws blood, sweat and tears into battles that will be undermined by the workings of the wages system. All that effort, skill, energy, all those tools could be turned against class society, to create a society of common interest where we can make changes for our common mutual benefit. So long as class exists, any gains will be partial and fleeting, subject to the ongoing struggle. What we are opposed to is the whole culture of reformism, the idea that capitalism can be tamed and made palatable with the right reforms.
Imagine just how many palliatives and ameliorations will be offered and conceded by a besieged capitalist class in a desperate attempt to retain ownership rights if the working class were demanding the maximum socialist programme of full and complete appropriation and nothing less. Reforms now derided as utopian will become two-a-penny in an attempt to fob off the workers. Perhaps, even, capitalism will provide a batch of free services, on the understanding that this is "the beginning" of a free society, but, of course, workers who have acquired socialist consciousness will not be taken in.