Building a new revolutionary organisation
Stuart King makes some proposals for debate in the revolutionary unity process. A document from Luke Cooper and Simon Hardy can be read here.
The purpose of the following is to be a basis of discussion between the groups who want to develop a new united revolutionary and anticapitalist organisation. It deliberately does not avoid contentious issues – the role of elections, reform versus revolution, democratic centralism, attitude to the Labour Party, Palestine, fighting imperialism but supporting the “Arab spring”.
These are issues that any new revolutionary organisation will have to confront and take positions on – no doubt with majorities and minorities. Deciding on them will define what an organisation stands for in its majority and why people should join it – or not. Hopefully by the end of discussing these questions we will have a better idea of where we all stand on them, whether we can come up with new policies or formulations and what the parameters are of the new organisation.
I hope we don’t decide to go for the “easy option”, avoiding the issues that are likely to cause difference and argument, because it is precisely these issues that will suddenly cause schisms in the future if we ignore them at the start of a unity process.
The Political Basis of our Agreement
The socialism we want
- We are revolutionary socialists. We don’t believe in reforming capitalism but rather in abolishing it. Capitalism is a system of exploitation and oppression, here and abroad. A tiny group of super rich bankers, speculators and multinational business bosses exercise control of our economy and society and organise themselves as a ruling class.
- Despite elections, universal suffrage real power lies outside the parliamentary talking shop and in parliament itself all the major political parties do the bidding of this ruling class. In any deep and lasting crisis, especially if its power is threatened, this ruling class will resort to its “armed bodies” to protect its position – to the police and their riot squads, the officer caste and its army. If parliament really threatened its power, this too would be replaced by authoritarian rule.
- We want to replace capitalism with a socialist society where exploitation and oppression are abolished. We want to place the everyday running of society in the hands of the people, to develop a grass roots democracy where control of the economy, the workplace, the schools and housing estates are in the hands of working people and their communities. We want to abolish class rule and the inequalities that go with it and remove a system that is driven only by money and profit, replacing it with an economy where satisfying the economic and cultural needs of all the people is the goal.
- We are not “state socialists” in the sense of wanting to strengthen and use an all-powerful state as the primary agent of socialist change. Quite the opposite, we want to abolish the state and place power and control in the hands of the producers, the mass of people. From the start of the revolution we seek to decentralise the new socialist state, placing power in the hands of local workers and communities organised in democratically run workers councils, assemblies or soviets.
- We reject the notion that the USSR under the Stalin-led bureaucracy had anything in common with socialism. It was a dictatorship over the working class, as anti democratic and ruthless as any capitalist dictatorship that has ever existed. The revolutions that followed this Stalinist model after the Second World War – in Eastern Europe, China, Vietnam, N Korea, Cuba – for all their historical differences, prevented the working class and peasantry from taking real power into their own hands. They all ended with political power and control in the hands of unaccountable bureaucracies. Where such regimes still exist they need to be removed and replaced by socialist democracy.
A revolutionary organisation is necessary
- Our revolution will not be that of a minority. The urban working class now makes up a clear majority of the population both in Britain and in the world. We believe that a revolutionary organisation, a party, is a necessary instrument in the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism. This will be a mass party rooted amongst the working class and the oppressed, a party of hundreds of thousands, even millions, capable of mobilising millions more into struggle and action. While this party will have to be a “combat party”, able to take on and defeat the armed capitalists, it also needs to be a fundamentally democratic party, a party of educated and capable leaders.
- The party must be the embryo of a new and democratic society. We reject all models of party organisation that involve “top downism”, unnecessary centralisation and secrecy, the banning of factions and tendencies and narrow interpretations of democratic centralism that restrict opposition and debate. We believe that only a revolutionary organisation that promotes internal democracy, debate and discussion, difference and argument, can claim the allegiance of all those fighting for a new and democratic socialist society.
- Because socialism will not come through parliament, by socialists winning positions within local and national government, we believe that standing and fighting in elections is a secondary activity subordinate to our primary one of organising struggles in the trade unions, workplaces and communities. For us electoral work is used as an aid to build these struggles, to make propaganda, convince people to join us and measure our support.
- Parties, like trade unions and community organisations, need to be able to unite in struggle, to agree to a course of action democratically (a strike, a boycott, a picket) and carry it out together – for us this is the meaning of democratic centralism. It means full and free discussion before agreeing an action and carrying it out together in a disciplined fashion, always allowing people to express their disagreements, if they wish, even outside the party. The right to form tendencies (groupings to argue for their views in the party) and factions (groupings that fight to change an existing leadership) is absolutely fundamental to a democratic and thinking organisation.
- The working class is not homogenous, it is stratified by different skill levels, pay grades, job security and by levels of organisation in trade unions. It is also divided by oppression and discrimination: women, black workers, recent immigrants, LGBT workers, the disabled and other groups suffer differing degrees of oppression and discrimination at work and at home. These divisions are played on by the ruling class to divide and rule, encouraging racism, sexism and homophobia in society and within the working class itself.
- We do not claim these divisions do not exist, nor do we claim that they will disappear if we just “unite and fight”. Even a socialist revolution will not remove these divisions over night, it will cut the material roots of oppression but will demand a conscious struggle to eliminate it completely from a newly emerging society.
- Because of this we support the right of all oppressed groups to organise themselves in struggle against their oppression – in the workplace, in the trade unions, in local communities, and within the revolutionary organisation. All oppressed groups should have the right to caucus to discuss incidents of prejudice and oppression that occur within a revolutionary organisation and put forward measures to end such abuses.
Our attitude to trade unions and Labour
- We recognise that the trade unions are one of the most important arenas of struggle, one where we need to root our organisation. The TUs perform a dual role under capitalism. At their best they play an important role in defending their members against the bosses attacks on wages and conditions, organising a collective spirit and consciousness and a belief in the power of workers acting together in their own interests. At their worst, the TU leaders undermine workers struggles, sell out wages and conditions and demobilise and demoralise their members. This is because the TU leaders form a conservative and well-paid bureaucracy whose role is to bargain within capitalism, not to overthrow it. They work “within the law” despite the fact that the anti trade union laws introduced by Thatcher, and maintained by successive Labour governments, restrict the ability of workers to organise and strike to defend pay and conditions.
- Our aim in the trade unions is to turn them into militant class struggle organisations. This will mean transforming them into really democratic organisations, breaking the power of the TU bureaucracy, placing decisions on strikes and industrial action in the hands of the local members and directing the finances and organisation of the unions to supporting such struggles. To carry out this change we need to build rank and file organisations in the unions fighting to transform them from the bottom up, demanding annual elections for all officials, the right of recall, and that no TU official should be paid more than the average salary of their members. We reject the strategy of building “broad lefts” in the unions which has always meant hoisting left talking new leaders into top positions only to watch them sell out the struggles, as recently with the “left” NUT leadership on pensions.
- Millions of workers, especially young workers, are no longer in trade unions and have little knowledge of their purpose. This reflects the conservatism of the existing trade unions that have concentrated on “mergers and acquisitions” instead of actively campaigning in the new industries and workplaces for trade unionism. The big general unions are no longer fit for purpose – we fight for unions that unite workers across a single industry or sector. Where necessary, if we cannot transform an existing union because of ongoing repression and expulsions designed to prevent democratic change, we do not shrink from organising a break from an existing union to form a new fighting trade union.
- The Labour Party has always been a pro-capitalist party since its foundation but it has also been a federal party with many tendencies within it – some right, some left. The trade unions, through the mediation of the TU bureaucracy, remain the major financial and political support for the leadership of the party, which is now only mildly reformist and thoroughly neoliberal. While there remain handfuls of good socialists and militants in the LP, who we seek to work with, we see no purpose of socialists working in the LP with a perspective of “winning it back to socialism”.
- Our task is to build an anticapitalist and revolutionary alternative to the LP. Where there are no anticapitalist or class struggle candidates standing in elections we call for a vote for the LP on the basis that it is still the party that the majority of workers see as better representing their interests against the Tories and Lib Dems.
- Capitalism is a world system that currently takes the form of imperialist globalisation. A number of major imperialist powers, G8, dominate the world both economically and militarily, with the United States playing the predominant role. These powers sometimes act in concert, via the United Nations, or more often in opposition to each other where spheres of interest are being challenged or re-divided. The most powerful bloc of imperialist nations are now organised in NATO, an alliance that has extended its military role as far as Afghanistan.
- Imperialism through its trans and multi nationals roams the world in search of cheap labour and bigger profits. It demands untrammelled access to world markets and economies and keeps subordinate or imperialised countries locked into the system through a series of international organisations it dominates and controls – the IMF, World Bank, GATT etc. Countries that challenge this imperialist world order are subject to investment boycotts, embargos, sanctions and a thousand other pressures to conform as is the case with Venezuela and Iran. If this fails military action is used to reassert control – Iraq, Afghanistan.
- Because of the international nature of this system of capitalism the idea of establishing socialism in one country is a non-starter. Any socialist revolution will be subject to a massive imperialist blockade and potential invasion. Therefore the building of a revolutionary socialist international is fundamental to the overthrow of capitalism in any one country. Only a mass international having the loyalty of workers world wide could defend a socialist revolution in any one country.
- We are socialist internationalists first and foremost. That is why we oppose all forms of migration controls which restrict the right of workers to cross national frontiers. Just as capital demands complete freedom of movement across the world so do we for the working class. Racism developed as an ideology alongside merchant capitalism and slavery and was systematised by imperialism from the late 19th century on. It justified the oppression and exploitation of the “inferior races” and encouraged the colonists and working classes of the imperialist nations to view themselves as superior to the colonial peoples – “jingoism”. Racism as an ideology has mutated with the ending of direct colonial rule but is alive and well in demands for ever stricter immigration controls, UKIP, and ever more dangerous Islamophobic currents, EDL/”Clash of Civilisations”.
Support for democratic revolutions
- As revolutionary socialists we support all struggles for democracy and civil liberties both within Britain and internationally. Imperialism has no interest in promoting democracy unless it is pro-capitalist and “pro-free trade”. It always actively supports dictatorships that support its system – Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, Mubarak’s Egypt, Pinochet’s Chile. Its support for democratic change is hypocritical and always based on promoting and supporting pro-imperialist forces in democratic revolutions against dictatorships. This is why we oppose all imperialist interventions under whatever guise they take place – “humanitarian” interventions, no fly zones, economic sanctions, the arming and training of forces under their political/economic control.
- Imperialisms reactionary role has been demonstrated time and again especially in the democratic revolutions that have swept the middle east in recent years. As socialist internationalists we support all the struggles that have attempted to oust the corrupt dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria. In such struggles we fight for two things – to strengthen the working class and socialist forces in turning these democratic revolutions into socialist ones, the perspective of permanent revolution, and to oppose imperialist intervention which is always aimed at promoting the most conservative and pro-capitalist elements in the struggles.
- These revolutions prove once again that purely peaceful protest alone cannot dislodge an armed dictatorship ora ruling class that is determined to hold onto its power at all costs. However much we might want revolutions to be peaceful it is our rulers who will determine the degree of armed struggle and violence necessary to achieve liberation.
- As revolutionary socialists we are not pacifists. We support the right of those in struggle against dictatorship and class rule, in Syria and elsewhere, to seek arms from whatever source they choose to defend their struggles. However the imperialists and the reactionary Arab dictatorships will always have their own agendas in supplying such support.
- We support the struggle of the Palestinians to regain their land. The state of Israel was brought into being in 1947 by agreement of imperialism and the USSR through the UN. It expropriated tens of thousands of Palestinians from their land and established a Zionist state which discriminates against the Palestinians that remain and treats them as second class citizens. It is an expansionist, colonial settler state, armed to the hilt by the USA. As a result is constantly at war with its neighbours. The idea of a “two state solution” is, and always was, a dead end for Palestinians whose “mini state” if it ever came about would be similar to a South African “Bantustan” under apartheid. It would be politically and economically helpless and under the iron heel of Israel/US imperialism. We stand for a socialist bi-national and secular state in Palestine, one that would unite all national and religious groupings within a single state.
Internationalism and the European Union
- The EU is a capitalist federation that aims to strengthen the individual states, especially the major imperialist ones, by achieving a degree of unification of markets, currency and diplomatic/military integration. Against capitalist and neoliberal integration we argue for a workers Europe, for a Socialist Federation that can harness the enormous potential of the European working class to raise living standards, break the power of exploitative imperialism and support and aid the struggles against poverty and war throughout the world.
- In any “in or out” referendum on Europe we are abstentionist on the question of leaving or remaining within the EU. Within the EU Britain is part of the capitalist imperialist club, outside it Britain will remain a major capitalist power allied to the United States. The division between sections of the British capitalist class over being in or out of the EU reflects strategic differences over the potential role of British imperialism in the world. The working class has no interest in siding with one section of capital or another. We reject the “little Englandism” and anti-European aspects of UKIP and the No2EU campaigns. In any referendum on the EU will campaign for an active abstention, workers unity and a Socialist United States of Europe.
- We recognise that climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels is the major systemic crisis facing the world over the next 50 years. International capitalism has shown itself incapable of taking collective measures to tackle this problem. The Kyoto process collapsed at the UN Copenhagen conference in 2009 leaving no legally binding treaty on reducing CO2 emissions. The non-binding agreement to reduce emissions to keep world temperature increases to below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels on current trends is not going to be met. Indeed CO2 emissions are continuing to rise exponentially with all the green and renewable energy measures taken so far having virtually no impact – in the first decade of this century annual growth of carbon emissions was 2.3% compared with the 1.8% long term average.
- Climate warming of 2 °C or over will cause a major food and ecological crisis in the next century. The melting of the arctic, rising sea levels, growing desertification across the world, increasing climate catastrophes – heat waves, typhoons and tornados, flooding – will become commonplace. The ability to sustain a world population of between 9-10 billion by 2050 will be put in doubt by such developments particularly if rising temperatures lead to runaway and irreversible temperature rises – whole parts of the world will face mass famine and starvation.
- Capitalism cannot tackle this crisis because it is a profit driven system made up of competing national states which are incapable of co-operating on the sort of emergency plan that would be necessary to combat climate change. Revolutionaries must make the case for an urgent national and international emergency plan to prevent above 2 °C rises. This would based on a combination of energy consumption reduction measures, especially in the advanced industrial economies, and a turnover of the economies to non-fossil fuel power sources – solar, wind, hydro, nuclear etc. It should be combined with massive research investment into new power sources, eg nuclear fusion, and converting old sources into cleaner energy – eg carbon capture and storage. The battle to prevent dangerous climate change will be won or lost in the next 2-3 decades so it makes this issue a central and urgent question that should be at the centre of any revolutionary socialist programme.