What kind of revolutionary party do socialists need? Part 2

Submitted by dalcassian on 24 January, 2010 - 1:51 Author: Max Shachtman

Our organisational structure corresponds to our political principles and its aim.

The fight for socialism is not a parlour game but the most serious struggle in history. A party that aims to lead this fight must be constructed accordingly. It must have firm and tested principles. It must have its army of militant adherents and a leadership, which work out the strategy and tactics of the fight. It must have discipline, so that everyone is not working at cross-purposes. It must have the fullest democracy, so that everyone contributes freely to working out the program and plan of action of the party and understands them intelligently. The socialist who is merely obedient and disciplined, and has no conscious understanding, cannot work to make non-socialist workers conscious of their task. The socialist who understands the principles, but does not work for them in a disciplined way, cannot hope to overcome the tremendous power of the class enemy.

We are a strictly disciplined organisation, but not a totalitarian organisation based on the unquestioning obedience of the parade-ground or the blind obedience of the membership to the Fuhrer. We are a democratic organisation, but not a loose collection of talkers who do nothing, or who act in the labour movement in any way they please.

As a militant part of the working class and an active participant in the class struggle, we require full responsibility and systematic activity of all our members. Reformist parties are constructed differently. Their members are not organised to work and fight in the labour movement for socialist principles, because these parties do not want to come into conflict with the conservative labour bureaucrats. Their members are not organised to participate militantly in the daily class struggle, because these parties are primarily election machines, which operate once a year to gather votes for their candidates. The rest of the year is devoted mostly to discussing the results of the last election and planning for the next one.

We favour active participation in election campaigns. We do not deceive people into believing that socialist freedom can be achieved by nothing more than a ballot. But we seek to utilise every election campaign to acquaint workers with our program, to mobilise them for class political action, and to elect the greatest number of workers' representatives who can use their office to work for labour's interests and to tell the truth to wider masses of people.

Election campaigns are not the only, or even the most important, form of political action. Meetings, delegations, public demonstrations, strikes and other methods of struggles are just as important, and often far more important, political activities for the working class.

We are therefore a self-disciplined, democratic organisation which requires of our members continual education, responsibility, and systematic, organised participation in the class struggle. By our day-to-day activity in the class struggle, by showing in practice our devotion to the interests of the working class, our militancy, our readiness to sacrifice, the superiority of our program, we seek to demonstrate that we deserve the confidence and support of the workers.

Our principal field of activity is in the labour unions. Every member who is qualified is obliged to join a union and to be active in it. Our aim in the unions is to win the workers to the principles of socialism and the conscious, militant waging of the class struggle. We are therefore active in building up the unions, in uniting those that are divided, and in organising those workers who are still unorganised. We support every progressive movement inside the unions aimed at strengthening them organisationally and politically. We work to eliminate from the union movement all capitalist ideas, capitalist methods, capitalist politics and capitalist politicians.

We are irreconcilable opponents of bureaucratism and bureaucrats in the labour movement, and supports every effort of the membership to establish democratic control over its organisations.

Socialism cannot be achieved, and the workers cannot effectively promote their interests, without class consciousness. Class consciousness means an understanding working class, a self-confident and self-reliant working class. Bureaucratism is a capitalistic substitute for the self-reliance of the working class and an obstacle to it. It relies on bureaucratic maneuvers at the top, on ordering the membership around "for its own good", in place of the conscious, mass action of the workers themselves. It seeks to preserve its special privileges by curbing and stifling the workers and preventing them from acting independently with their organised strength. The fight for democracy in the unions and against bureaucratism is regarded by us as an inseparable part of its fight for the interests of the working class and the victory of socialism.

We are not a sectarian organisation that stands aloof from the daily struggles for the daily needs of the working class and confines itself to the preaching of the socialist ideal. We not only participate actively in every daily struggle, but have a program of action to meet the requirements of the people while capitalism still prevails. This program of action is the "minimum program," containing our immediate demands. In many cases, the same demands are presented by other labour organisations and parties. Where this is the case, we are ready to join with all other organisations to achieve the demand they make in common.

However, there is an important difference between us and the other organisations even when they advocate the same immediate demand. We believe that even the most modest demand or reform put forward by the workers can be realised soonest, most thoroughly and most durably only by the method of independent class struggle. The reformist organisations seek to achieve such demands by the method of "class collaboration." Also, these organisations aim at reforms in order to convince the workers that capitalism is fundamentally sound, or that it can be made to work in the interests of the people by means of a series of reforms. To us, the fight for reforms is aimed at improving the position of the workers as a class, at heightening their class consciousness, confidence and militancy, at creating more favourable conditions for the continuation of the class struggle, which means more favourable conditions for continuing the struggle for socialism.

We are an internationalist party. Capitalism is a world system, and it can be thoroughly destroyed only on a world scale. We are internationalist because we consider national chauvinism reactionary and the sisterhood and brotherhood and equality of all peoples of the human race the highest social aim. We are internationalist because we consider that national frontiers have become a reactionary obstacle to further economic and social progress and a direct contributing source to imperialist conflicts and wars.

We are internationalist because we understand that the classless socialist society cannot be established within the framework of one country alone. The workers of one country can begin the work. They can lay the foundations of socialism. But socialism cannot be established on a lower plane than capitalism. If capitalism has developed a world market and become the dominant world order, socialism cannot conceivably be restricted to one country, no matter how big it is. Socialism is world socialism, or it is not socialism at all. Just as a socialist economy could not exist side by side with a capitalist economy in one country, so a socialist nation could not exist side by side with capitalist nations in one world. One or the other would have to win in the end.

That is why we endeavour to promote the international organisation, unity and solidarity of the working class. We are only one link of a world chain of similar parties and organisations that aim to establish an international union of revolutionary socialists.

Finally, it is well to emphasise once more that we do not limit ourselves to preaching the ideal of a socialist tomorrow. We support and take an active part in every daily and immediate struggle of the working class. We take part on the basis of our own principles and our own program. We endeavour at all times to widen the struggle and make it more clear-cut. Our activities are based on the knowledge that the class struggle, followed through logically and consistently, necessarily brings the workers to the establishment of their own government and to the inauguration of those economic and political measures that lead to socialism.

This is shown plainly in the position taken by us on the question of democracy and fascism and other forms of authoritarianism.

The revolutionary socialists are the staunchest and most consistent champions of democracy. They are opponents of capitalist democracy only because it is a class democracy, because, at its best, it is only political democracy which cloaks the economic dictatorship of monopoly capital. Genuine democracy is possible only upon the basis of economic democracy. But it does not follow that the revolutionary socialists are indifferent to democracy under capitalism. Nothing of the sort is true. The struggle for socialism can best be conducted under conditions that are most favourable to the working class. The most favourable conditions are those in which the working class has the widest possible democratic rights. Hence, it is to the interests of socialism and of the working class to fight for the unrestricted right to organise, the right of free speech, free press and free assembly, the right to strike and the right to vote, the right of representative government, and against every attempt to curb or abolish these rights.

The social position of the workers, and their class interests, make them the most democratic class in society. The revolutionary socialists, contrary to the malicious falsehoods and misrepresentations spread against them by capitalists and their dupes, are the most consistent and militant champions of democracy. It would be ridiculous and criminal if they were not. The more extensive and less restricted the democratic rights, the greater the opportunities for the revolutionary socialists to speak, to write, to meet, to organise. The same applies, of course, to the working class as a whole.

It is the capitalist class which is, by the very nature of its position in society, anti-democratic. Its monopoly of wealth and power denies the common people real equality in the exercise of the formal democratic rights that are written into the law and the constitution.

But that is not all. The more critical the position of capitalism and the sharper the class struggle, the more the capitalist class seeks to restrict even the formal democratic rights. In critical times, when its bankruptcy becomes clearer, it rightly fears the consequences of the workers being able to meet freely, speak and write freely, organise, vote and demonstrate freely. To keep itself safely in power, it is compelled to reveal its fundamentally dictatorial rule more openly by cutting down political democracy and resorting to naked force.

If the crisis and the social conflict become exceptionally sharp, it does not hesitate to wipe out democratic rights and institutions altogether. It brings into existence, encourages and finances reactionary mobs like the fascists. It is prepared to let these mobs take political power, even at a cost to itself, provided the fascists succeed in crushing every vestige of the labour movement and of capitalist democracy itself.

Totalitarian fascism always finds warm support in the capitalist class, but it is unable to sink its roots in the working class. This symbolises the reactionary, anti-democratic character of modern capitalism, and the progressive, democratic character of the working-class movement.

We therefore fight at all times for maintaining and extending democratic rights. As revolutionary socialists, we fight for these rights more consistently than anyone else, for it is under socialism that democracy is truly and fully realised. By the same token, we are uncompromising enemies of fascism, and all other forms of reactionary capitalist dictatorship. As in the case of all the immediate needs of labour, we call tirelessly upon all workers' organisations, economic and political, and regardless of their differences in program and opinion, to form a united front to smash the fascist bands before they seize power and become strong enough to smash the working class.

We are thus committed to the defence of democracy against fascism.

Naturally, we do not support one imperialist power in a war against another merely because one power is fascist and the other pretends that it is crusading for democracy. But, for example, in a civil war between fascism and democracy, where the main issue really is the preservation of democratic rights and the labour movement, and when the working class is not yet able or prepared to establish its own government, the revolutionary socialists do not hesitate for a moment to join the rest of the working class in defence of democracy - even capitalist democracy - and in crushing fascism.

As in other fundamental struggles, so in the struggle for democracy, the revolutionary socialists continue to remain true to their principles. If the rest of the workers do not engage in this struggle with the full, clear-cut socialist program, the revolutionists nevertheless put this program forward. As against those who use the wishy-washy methods of liberalism and reformism, the revolutionary socialists advocate the militant methods of the class struggle. As against those who want the "progressive capitalists" and other highly respectable people to lead the fight against fascism, the revolutionary socialists advocate the leadership of the working class. As against those who limit the fight to maintaining capitalist democracy, the revolutionary socialists advocate going beyond this limit to the goal of a Workers' Government. The same is true in the fight against Stalinist dictatorship.

To us, the struggles for immediate reforms, for democratic rights, against fascism are only part of the greater, liberating struggle for socialism.

In addition to the party of revolutionary socialism, there are other political groupings in the working class which speak in favour of socialism. Let us examine them briefly.

First, there are the Social-Democrats, or reformist socialists. They do not believe that capitalism and the capitalist state machine must be overthrown in order to establish socialism. They declare that capitalism and the capitalist government can be gradually reformed by progressive legislation to the point where socialism has been peacefully introduced. They want socialism, but not the class struggle, which is the only road to socialism. They want capitalist democracy as the basis for socialism, but they will not defend even democracy with the militant methods of the class struggle for fear of antagonising their partners, the "democratic capitalists". They fear the socialist revolution so much - because the Workers' Government would end all special privileges, theirs included - that they find themselves attacking it on the side of the capitalist reaction. In one country after another, their theories have so drugged and paralysed the working class that it proved incapable of militant and effective resistance to reactionary assaults upon it. It had to pay for these theories and practices in the form of fascist dictatorship and indescribable agonies. The Social Democrats did not gain socialism and they cannot gain it.

Neither did Stalinism. To understand Stalinism, it is necessary to examine what happened to the Russian revolution. The Russian Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 was undoubtedly the most important event in human history. For the first time, the working class took state power and began planfully to usher in the socialist society. The revolution was a living triumph of the principles of Marxian socialism and showed that the idea of a working-class government is not a utopian dream.

Regardless of what happened to this government in the end, the Russian Revolution revealed to the working class of the entire world the road it must travel to reach workers' democracy and socialism.

The heroic efforts of the Russian workers were sufficient to bring them to power in the country. But by themselves, they did not suffice to establish a socialist commonwealth. To attain that goal, they needed the aid of workers' governments in the other, more advanced, countries of Europe and America. They knew this, and the Bolsheviks, or Communists, who led the revolution and were thoroughgoing international socialists, repeated it a thousand times. Revolutionary situations developed in one country after another. The capitalist system was bankrupt and capitalist governments broke down one after the other.

To organise the workers to fight for power all the revolutionary socialists, inspired by the victory in Russia, broke away from the old Social-Democratic parties and began to build up the new Communist Parties.

These parties were united in the Communist, or Third, International. (The Social-Democratic parties had been united in the so-called Second International, which collapsed when the war of 1914 broke out and practically all the parties rushed to the support of their respective imperialist governments, betraying the principles and interests of socialism.)

Capitalism managed to survive throughout the world. It was not so much because of the strength and vigor of its economic system that it survived. It was saved by the Social-Democratic parties, which stood like a rock in the road to socialist revolution. The Communist Parties were too young and inexperienced or too weak to clear this rock out of the way.

The Russian Revolution was thus left in isolation and a state of terrible exhaustion. The Russian people had gone through three years of war that took a heavy toll. Then they had to go through two revolutions and a destructive civil war against the monarchists, bankers, industrial magnates and landlords who tried to overturn the Workers' Government by violence. In addition, they had to ward off the armed intervention of almost every capitalist government in the world.

When this was over, and the first big wave of revolutions in Europe subsided, a great weariness and reaction set in in Russia. Bureaucrats in the Bolshevik party and the Soviet government became the conservative voice of this weariness. Little by little they departed from the revolutionary principles on which the Soviet Government had been founded. They abandoned the idea of international revolution and replaced it with the nationalistic idea of "socialism in a single country."

The faithful revolutionists who opposed this desertion of revolutionary internationalist principles were led by Leon Trotsky. But they could not win, because the bureaucracy around Stalin had reactionary social winds in its sails. Little by little it crushed these revolutionists. It drove them out of the party, then exiled or imprisoned them, and finally wiped them out physically in a series of the most monstrous frame-ups in history. Every fragment of the old Communist Party which had made the revolution possible was ruthlessly wiped out. Every trace of the great workers' democracy which the revolution had established, was just as mercilessly wiped out.

The Workers' Government was completely destroyed. The reactionary rule of the bureaucracy was installed in its place. Not a vestige of democratic rights remained - not the right to organise, to strike, to free speech, free press or free assembly. The whole Soviet system was eliminated.

Elections were a farce, in which the people have the right to vote only for the candidates appointed by the bureaucratic dictators. The unions built up by the revolution were crushed. Their place was taken by organisations completely dominated by the government bureaucracy, and their only function was to help in the speed-up and exploitation of the workers. Everybody and everything was dominated by the most vicious police and spy system in the world, the GPU.

The Stalinist USSR was neither a workers' government nor a socialist society. It was a new, reactionary social order. There was no private ownership of industry, as under capitalism. The state owned all the means of production. But the autocratic bureaucracy had the state completely in its hand. The workers and peasants had not an iota of control over it. Industry and agriculture were planned and operated only in the interests of the bureaucracy, swelling its power and privileges. Like every ruling class, it reached out greedily for more power, for imperialist conquests wherever it could. It completely betrayed and crushed the great Russian socialist revolution, and established a new and monstrous totalitarian tyranny in its place.

The process which wrecked the Russian Revolution also wrecked the Communist International. Every genuine revolutionist was driven out of it. The condition for membership and above all for leadership, in the Communist Parties throughout the world became unquestioning obedience to the Stalinist bureaucracy in Russia. The parties were transformed from leaders of socialist revolution into instruments of totalitarian reaction. From champions of the interests of the working class in every country, these parties became the servile agents of the Russian bureaucracy and its foreign policy.

Neither Social-Democracy nor Stalinist totalitarianism leads to socialism.

The road to freedom is marked out by the principles and program of revolutionary socialism, and no other road exists.

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