Marxism & revolutionary socialism

The ideas of the AWL

The working class will rise again

Socialism is possible only from the self-organised working class realising its power as an alternative to that of its masters, the capitalist ruling class. The Paris Commune was the fruit of the first working class revolution; a first brief experience of working class power. It was democratic and egalitarian, forming the basis for Marx of his views on the need for workers' power to smash the capitalist state.

Repeatedly working-class movements have begun to form themselves into soviets or councils, as potential alternative regimes:

  • Russia in 1905 and 1917
  • Germany in 1918-19
  • Barcelona 1936
  • Hungary 1956
  • Chile 1971
  • Portugal 1975
  • Poland 1980-1

In the Russian revolution of 1917, the workers took power, but were overwhelmed in the 1920s by a bureaucratic counter-revolution. Elsewhere the possibilities of socialism and working-class freedom were crushed. But those possibilities existed. And they will exist again!

Socialism means a society restructured according to the working-class principle of solidarity. It means an economy of democratic planning, based on common ownership of the means of production, a high level of technology, education, culture and leisure, economic equality, no material privileges for officials, and accountability. Beyond the work necessary to ensure secure material comfort for all, it means the maximum of individual liberty and autonomy.

Working-class socialism - counterposed by Marx and Engels to all forms of "reactionary" or "bourgeois" socialism - builds on the best of what capitalism has achieved, in technology, economic coordination, communications, education, democracy and individual liberty. Revolutionary socialism can be far freer and more democratic than capitalism could conceivably be - through integrating economic and political power in democratic structures, through accountability and provisions for political participation, and through extensive political and individual liberties. At the same time a socialist regime would have the power and the will to allocate sufficient resources for all human needs, so that no individuals or groups would be cast off and cast out as dregs, as they are under capitalism.

Socialism is only possible as the result of direct action by the working class. When the current ruling class, the capitalists, took power from the feudal kings and lords, they did so gradually, using wealth they already owned under feudalism, and creating institutions (such as the Universities) to develop their own class so that the actual revolutions were accomplished without much difficulty. The working class has fewer advantages. We own no property in advance of a successful revolution, while our enemies control all wealth. The working class has only its strength in numbers, and the added strength it gains when it acts in solidarity. We will have to forge our own tools; build our own organisations.

To an extent the working class in many countries has already started this process. The trade unions were the product of long struggles by the working class for the right to build their own organisations to protect them from the arrogant power of the bosses. The unions represent the working class - but incompletely, unsatisfactorily, binding the class to capitalism. But the unions still remain the major organisations of the working class, the major vehicles of class struggle. There is no short-term prospect of them being replaced by new organisations. Socialists who recognise socialism as the act of the working class must focus on the trade union movement, rather than on "radical" movements without a working-class or socialist perspective. But we must develop the unions, transform them, reinvigorate them with socialism.

To accomplish all this the working class needs a party - an organisation which fights against the ruling class on all fronts of the class struggle: the industrial front (the workplace, the trade unions), the ideological front (the realm of ideas, publications and theories) and the political front (challenging the right of the ruling class to control our lives). Such an organisation would be large in number, democratic in decision making, and effective in action.

The AWL is not that party - we are small in number, grouped mostly in only one country (the UK) and limited in our impact. But no-one on the left today can claim to yet have the numbers necessary. And the first stage of building a revolutionary party is to have clear ideas which the working class can test out in practice. The AWL has those ideas - Marxist ideas - we apply them as best we can, and invite all socialists and workers to test them out: if they work for you, then join the AWL.

Read more: Why you should join the AWL!

The Alliance for Workers' Liberty

The working class will rise again.

An introduction to some of the AWL's ideas

The AWL and the labour movement

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