The Alliance for Workers' Liberty are socialists. We organise our
daily activity mainly around two big ideas:
1. workers' struggles;
2. consistent democracy.
Working class struggle
Everything we do starts from workers in struggle. Capitalism, the
present social system, is based on organising people into
wage-labour, i.e. on having their time, energy, and skills used to
create fat profits in return for a thin wage. By its very nature, it
organises workers in large workplace and urban concentrations,
exposes them to ideas and literature, and compels them to struggle
for their wages and conditions. Those workers' struggles, once they
reach a certain size, can and do spill over into a struggle for
workers' control over production. Workers' control points the way to
a new society, producing for democratic social provision and not for
By "working class" we mean anyone who lives off a routine
wage - not just blue-collar workers in factories, on building sites,
in the mines and on the docks, but also white collar workers like
teachers, public servants, nurses and shop assistants.
The working class is best understood in the context of other
classes. The capitalist class, or bourgeoisie, lives off its
ownership of property and by exploiting the labour power of others.
Highly-paid executives who control and manage workers on behalf of
the capitalists get a slice of the loot.
And then there are the "petty bourgeois", e.g. self-employed
professionals like doctors, accountants, or lawyers; small farmers;
truck owner/drivers; small shopkeepers, etc. - some of them as badly
off as wage-workers, but without the same socialist potential.
Working-class households are more than a third of the world's
population, outstripping the peasantry for the first time in history.
As capitalism spreads across the globe, new working classes have
emerged in South Korea, Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Brazil, China,
We believe Karl Marx's central idea, that all history is the history
of class struggles, is truer today than ever.
Working-class struggle is not a thing of the past. We can see
this by looking at the new workers' movements in developing
countries, at working-class resistance in Stalinist China, and at
recent big strikes in developed countries like France.
One of the major problems of the 20th century was that much
of the left looked to forces other than working-class struggle to
bring about socialism. According to this view, Stalinist leaders were
OK. So was and is almost any group which opposes the US-dominated
capitalist status quo. We think this position is fundamentally
The AWL argues for socialist politics based on working-class
struggle. In every social or political battle, our perspective is to
organise the working-class movement as an independent factor, a
"Third Camp" independent of employers and the governments of this or
that competing country.
What does this mean in practice? Most of our comrades are
active in the trade union movement. When our student members leave
college, they're encouraged to get jobs in industry: and that can
mean anything from being a civil servant to a postal worker, from a
teacher or a nurse to a train driver. We fight to transform the
existing labour movement, not build something outside it as some
leftists do, or to settle in as patient citizens of it, as others do.
We produce regular bulletins and newsletters in particular industries
and workplaces. Our Postalworker and Tubeworker bulletins have played
an important role in major struggles.
We advocate a fight for the creation of an independent
workers' party and for the establishment of a workers' government.
This would be a government based on and accountable to the labour
movement, which pushes through policies like free trade unions and
universal, high-quality public services paid for by taxing the rich,
and can thus open the way for directly revolutionary workers'
We aim to build up working-class solidarity in Britain and
all over the world. In international conflicts, we take a position
based on international workers' solidarity, rather than simply saying
yes whenever our own government says no. During the Iraq war for
instance, we said "No to war, no to Saddam", and we are now active in
building solidarity with Iraqi socialists and trade unionists.
We have played a central part in No Sweat, an activist
campaign against sweatshop labour all over the world - from Britain
to Indonesia, Mexico to Haiti.
We also organise in colleges and universities and in the
National Union of Students. We campaign for free education as a
socialist principle, working with others on the left and pressing the
official student movement to fight.
The second big idea is consistent democracy. The working class, as a
class, cannot govern society without democracy.
Socialism means collective ownership of social wealth. There
can't be collective ownership of social wealth without collective
democracy. In North Korea or the old Stalinist USSR, the state owns
everything. And because there's little or no democracy, a privileged
bureaucracy owns and controls the state. So, in fact, a privileged
minority owns the social wealth.
In many capitalist societies, a limited amount of political
democracy exists. But the majority of people have no say as to the
fundamental economic basis of society. At work, capital dictates. We
want a much fuller democracy.
Effective workers' struggle is impossible without democracy.
More than any other class, the working-class needs its democratic
rights - the right to organise itself, to strike, to demonstrate, to
publish freely - if it is going to defend and advance its interests.
Unions will not respond to the needs of their members, will
not be effective in struggle, unless they are democratic. Big strikes
tend to bring into existence rank-and-file committees far more
democratic than either unions (as they are traditionally run) or
parliamentary institutions, making possible the establishment of a
new type of democracy.
We fight for a socialist form of democracy based on mass
workers' organisations, as existed in the early stages of the Russian
revolution. In the meantime we campaign to win democratic reforms
within the existing parliamentary system - for instance, the
abolition of the monarchy and House of Lords, and proportional
representation - as an essential part of the fight for a workers'
government. We are for every gain workers can make, no matter how
We believe that the struggle for democracy - in the workers'
movement, in society, in the state - is inextricably linked with the
struggle for socialism. No real socialism without democracy - and no
real democracy without socialism.
We support all struggles for democracy - women's rights and
women's equality, oppressed minorities and oppressed nations - both
as ends in themselves and as an essential part of building an
effective workers' movement.
We are opposed to national oppression. We support equal
rights for all nations - including the right to national
self-determination. This is an issue on which we disagree with much
of the left.
When communities or nations are at war, only a movement that
unites workers on both sides in a struggle for democratic solutions
can drain the poison of nationalism and chauvinism. During the German
occupation of France in the 1940s for example, Trotskyists organised
discussion groups with German soldiers. The French Stalinists, on the
other hand, said "the only good German is a dead German".
An approach based on "good peoples" and "bad peoples" will
never succeed. The AWL is for equal rights for both nations in
Israel/Palestine - two nations, two states. The Palestinians have the
right to self-determination. So do Israeli Jews.
Left unity and differences
The AWL's socialism is based on working-class struggle and consistent
democracy. These themes underlie all our arguments and activities.
We differ from much of the left in how we organise. Our
policies and organised actions are decided by majority vote, but any
minority has the right to argue and organise for its ideas inside the
AWL and to express its views publicly, outside the AWL, too, so long
as it does it in a way that does not disrupt the majority-decided
collective action. The AWL website and our printed publications are
open for debate. That was the norm for revolutionary Marxists before
Stalinism (like the Russian Bolsheviks), but today it is unusual on
Socialists need to be organised. Individual socialists and
activists - no matter how correct their politics or good their
intentions - can never be as effective as an organised, educated,
activist socialist group.
We know that in the last hundred years there have been
situations in which socialism was possible - and that because of an
absence of effective socialist organisation, opportunities were
We believe in left unity. For us, it is possible for left
groups to unite in a single, democratic socialist organisation. In
fact, such unity is essential if socialism is to become a real force.
We propose our model of democratic organisation - where there is
collective discipline in action, but minorities are not asked to
pretend in public to believe in ideas different from what they
actually think - as the basis on which left unity could be achieved.
But we do not believe in unity at any price.
To be effective, the left needs to rethink and redefine its
ideas. It makes no sense to ignore the experiences and debates of the
20th century and start from scratch.
The 20th century has left us with many self-styled
"socialist" traditions. Some, like Stalinism, discredit the left.
That's why an effective socialist organisation needs to redefine the
left's political vocabulary, establishing clearly what we mean by
words like "socialist".
We describe ourselves as Marxist and Trotskyist, in the same
sense that a scientist will say she or he works in the tradition of
Einstein and Darwin. We're determined to learn from earlier socialist
thinkers and struggles.
Do we agree with everyone who describes themselves as
"Marxist" or "Trotskyist"? No. In practice we're closer to some who
do not call themselves Trotskyist. For example, we have more in
common with some class-struggle anarchists than with Stalinists and
some would-be Trotskyists.
We want left unity wherever different socialist currents can
agree. And free and open debate where we can't. So: debate with us.
Work with us. And, if you find yourself in agreement with a lot of
what we do, join us.