Inevitably new broad workers’ parties are not likely – certainly initially – to be united around a rounded-out approach to how to achieve socialism. The Socialist Party has a clear programme for the ending of capitalism and the socialist transformation of society.
While we argue for our programme at each stage, we also understand that a new workers’ party with a more limited approach will be a step forward, acting as a forum, a ‘workers’ parliament’, within which democratic debate can take place about how to win a new world. In today’s era of capitalist crisis, a wing of the party supporting a clear programme for socialist transformation would grow, aided by the Socialist Party, laying the basis for the development of the type of mass workers’ party that will be necessary to lead the way to and through that transformation.
Particularly important will be for a new broad party to be based on the working class, be independent from all pro-capitalist parties, and to have a democratic and welcoming approach to new forces attracted to it. We would also call for all of its elected representatives to take only a worker’s wage. The experience of the Corbyn years will mean that, in the coming era, the debate around these issues will start on a far higher level than over the last five years.
The huge hostility Corbyn faced from the capitalist elite gives a glimpse of what a left government would face. In reality, Jeremy Corbyn’s programme was modest by the past standards of the socialist and workers’ movement. It was limited to some relatively small measures to tilt the balance in society towards the working class. However, the capitalists were not prepared to accept even those limited reforms, and feared that workers ‘appetite would grow with the eating’, pushing Corbyn to take more far-going socialist measures.
The era we live in today bears no resemblance to the post-war upswing from 1950 to the early 1970s. Then, a combination of factors, including the world balance of forces in the era of Stalinism and rapid economic growth, created a situation where the capitalist class was forced to concede significant concessions to the working class over a few decades.
During the post-war upswing Keynesian policies dominated, and, today again, countries that can afford to have taken some ‘Keynesian’ measures, particularly the hugely increased state expenditure during the pandemic. There the resemblance ends, however. Today’s measures are desperate attempts to try and prop up the system in an historic era of capitalist decline. The capitalist class is determined to ensure that it is the working class that pays the price for those policies, through a combination of the post-Covid austerity we face in Britain and increased inflation undermining wages. It will also not prevent the capitalist class trying to stymie any left government that tries to implement a programme which threatens its interests. That poses the question what programme is necessary to successfully fight for a society, as Corbyn aimed to, ‘for the many not the few’.
How to win
The pressure exerted on the Syriza government in Greece which was elected in 2015 gives an idea of the challenges. It is true that being one of the weakest economies in the Eurozone was a major lever used by international capitalism to bully the Syriza leadership, but that does not mean that international capitalism would shrug its shoulders if Britain, the fifth largest economy in the world, elected a left-wing government.
No amount of pressure could prevent socialist policies from being implemented, however, provided there was a determined movement of the working class and a clear-sighted leadership. In Greece the outcome could have been entirely different had the leadership of Syriza not capitulated but shown the same determination as the Greek working class and poor. What was needed was a refusal to pay the state debts, and the nationalisation of the banks and finance companies under democratic workers’ control and management. This would have ensured the credit required to develop all sectors of the economy. There would also have had to be capital controls to prevent any flight of capital. Such measures would have undoubtedly met the entrenched resistance of the capitalist class. This would have unavoidably raised the need for nationalisation of the major corporations, and the introduction of a state monopoly of foreign trade, to form the basis of a democratic plan of production run by elected representatives of the workers and the wider community.
Greece would then have needed to make an appeal to the workers and poor of the world to stand in solidarity with them. At that time, when the countries of the EU’s ‘periphery’ were all suffering terrible austerity and general strikes were rocking southern Europe, such a stance would have generated huge international support, and been a major inspiration to workers across the EU and beyond to take the same road.
The Syriza experience is not the only example of left governments that remain within the framework of capitalism retreating under pressure. Another is the Parti Socialiste government, led by president François Mitterrand, in France in 1981. Swept to power on a wave of enthusiasm, Mitterrand’s election led to celebrations on the streets. The government’s programme included a 10% increase in the minimum wage, the introduction of a 39-hour week, increased pensions and the nationalisation of a number of major corporations and banks. Initially, a number of these reforms were implemented, but the government came under wholesale attack from French and international capitalism and from the markets. After only a hundred days in office the government went into reverse. In June 1982, a freeze on wages was introduced and public spending was cut by 20 billion francs as part of a general turn to what today would be called austerity.
For any left government to implement its programme it would therefore require extra-parliamentary action, that is, the mobilisation of the working class in support of the government’s policies. This could win important victories. However, as long as the levers of power remain in the hands of the capitalists, policies implemented under that mass pressure would be temporary.
Nationalise the ‘commanding heights’ under workers’ control
That is why the Socialist Party stands for not just the nationalisation of a few companies, but the major monopolies and banks that dominate the economy; around 150 in the case of Britain, with compensation paid only on the basis of proven need. This would be vital to breaking the power of the capitalist class, and laying the basis for the development of a socialist plan of production, which could really meet the needs of humanity while protecting the planet.
A socialist plan would create the basis to transform people’s existence. Hunger and poverty would quickly become a thing of the past. The science and technique created by capitalism could be harnessed and developed to meet the needs of all.
Things that seem no more than a daydream under capitalism would become reality. To give one example, when he was Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell put forward the aspiration of a four-day week, which was widely ridiculed by the capitalist media. Many workers, unable to make ends meet while working five, six or even seven days a week, were also understandably sceptical. On the basis of a socialist plan of production, however, such a proposal would be entirely realistic. New technology could be used, as it never is under capitalism, to share out the work with no loss of pay rather than to throw workers on the scrapheap. At the same time the unnecessary work created by capitalism – different companies competing against each other to develop identical products, vast sums spent on advertising those identical products, plus of course the abhorrent arms industry – could all be eliminated.
Combined with a huge expansion of public services, the nightmare of unemployment would be brought to an end. From 2010 to 2018 alone 800,000 public sector jobs were lost in Britain. The resulting catastrophic cuts to public and health services were a major factor in worsening the quality of our lives – from raising the Covid death rate to increasing flood risk. A socialist government could go far further than reversing the cuts, however. Some measures could include providing good, free, public sector social care for all that need it; implementing a massive programme of building high-quality, carbon-neutral council housing; hugely expanding public transport and making it free in order to lower car usage. This could be combined with major public investment into the development of clean, socially-useful production and infrastructure. This is just a tiny glimpse of what would be possible if all the technology created by capitalism was harnessed and developed further for the good of the whole of society.
The capitalist state
Despite the capitalist class’s attempts to smear socialists as ‘violent’ or ‘dictatorial’, it is they who have a record of overturning democratic elections if they threaten the rule of capital, and of using the most brutal violence imaginable. Look at the experience of Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity government in Chile which, from 1970 to 1973, nationalised approximately 30% of industry. The Chilean capitalist class, backed by US imperialism, carried out an incredibly brutal coup establishing the Pinochet dictatorship. Thatcher openly said this was justified because of the “threat” of “communism”. Today Allende, murdered by Pinochet’s thugs, is rightly remembered as a hero by the new generations of Chileans and also internationally. He is often praised by Jeremy Corbyn, for example. The most important lesson of the Chilean experience, that conciliating with the capitalist class does not work, has not, however, been learnt by Corbyn. The Pinochet coup could have been prevented by the active mobilisation of the mass of the working class to break the stranglehold on power of the capitalist class.
In a country like Britain, where the working class makes up a big majority of society, an entirely peaceful transformation of society would be possible, provided that the full power of the working class was mobilised to effect that change. The ominous public statements by a number of serving army generals about the prospects of a Corbyn government – like Britain’s most senior general expressing his “worry” that Corbyn’s programme might ever be “translated into power” – are a warning of how far the capitalist class would be willing to go against a democratically elected government.
The generals are one thing, however. They would not get support from the working-class ranks of the army to take action against a government that had the active support of working class people and was acting to provide decent jobs, housing, and living wage for all. That is why the Socialist Party stands for the right of members of the armed forces to join a trade union and to organise to defend their interests against the tops, including fighting for the right to elect their own officers.
Massively extend democracy
The machinery of the capitalist state is not neutral but ultimately exists to defend the existing capitalist order. The unelected House of Lords and the monarchy are both means by which the capitalist class would try and block a democratically elected socialist government. Anyone who doubts that the reserve powers of the monarchy could be used in this way only needs to look back to 1975, when the Queen’s representative in Australia – the Governor-General – dissolved parliament, removed the then Labour Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, and appointed a right-wing replacement. The abolition of the House of Lords and monarchy would therefore be an important immediate step a socialist government would need to take.
This is only one way in which the Socialist Party argues for a massive expansion of democracy from the very limited and truncated form it takes under capitalism; where we get to vote every few years for MPs who do what they like once they are elected, not least lining their own pockets. Levels of cronyism and corruption have reached new heights as the Tories hand out contracts to companies that have donated to their party. A democratic workers’ state would be entirely different. All of the existing democratic conquests won by the working class could be extended, such as the right to strike and protest, always limited and now more and more curtailed under Johnson’s Tories.
In a workers’ state, nationally, regionally and locally, elected representatives would only receive a workers’ wage, and be accountable, subject to instant recall at any time. There is another crucial sense in which democracy would be far fuller. In a capitalist ‘democracy’ most of the important decisions are not taken in Westminster or local council chambers, but in the boardrooms of the big corporations. By nationalising the major corporations, together with the creation of decision-making bodies consisting of representatives from workplaces and communities at all levels, it would open up the possibility of real workers’ democracy with mass participation in every aspect of decision making – from planning housing, to education, to the development of clean, green production. A socialist plan could be drawn up involving the whole of society working out what was needed.
In contrast to capitalism, workers’ democracy would also give nations a real right to self-determination. A clear majority of the working class and young people in Scotland now support independence, seeing it as a means to escape cuts and austerity. Such an escape would not be on offer from a capitalist independent Scotland, but would be on a socialist basis. In Wales, there is not currently the same level of support for independence, although it has risen recently, particularly among young people. That is why we call for an independent socialist Scotland and for a socialist Wales, both part of a voluntary socialist confederation of Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland. Some organisations on the left argue against support for self-determination on the grounds it would cut across workers’ unity. In reality, however, the best way to ensure maximum unity in struggle is for the workers’ movement in England to support the right of self-determination for all nations.
The so called ‘free press’
The myth of a capitalist ‘free press’ is laughable when it is owned and controlled by a handful of billionaires together with the state broadcaster, the BBC, increasingly losing the veneer of supposed ‘neutrality’ it had in the past, and instead blatantly defending the interests of British capitalism. The current director-general is a former Tory council candidate! The bile piled on Corbyn is evidence enough of their bias.
As disillusionment with traditional media grows, many increasingly look to social media for information. This too, however, is ultimately owned by a few billionaires, and is governed by algorithms that set parameters about what can be posted and viewed. When they fear that capitalism is under threat, access to social media can be removed altogether – in the 2011 Egyptian revolution, for example, Facebook was simply shut down for the duration. The Socialist Party stands for the nationalisation of all of the facilities of the media – printing presses, radio, TV and the internet – under democratic workers’ control and management. All political parties and views could then democratically be given access on the basis of their support in the population in elections.
Socialist internationalism instead of capitalist conflict
Capitalism is a global system, and the struggle for socialism also has to be global. While the working class in one country will be able to make a beginning, it will be essential that socialism spreads beyond the borders of one country. Otherwise, the forces of global capitalism would eventually be able to overwhelm an isolated workers’ state, while the pollution created by global capitalist production would continue to poison the air and oceans.
However, in a globalised world, where the productive forces have long since outgrown not just the narrow limits of private ownership, but the straitjacket of the nation state, it is inconceivable that socialism would remain within the confines of one country. The enormous similarities between the struggles facing the working class worldwide would mean that support for socialism would spread like wildfire around the globe.
We’ve already had many glimpses of the internationalist outlook of the working class today, from the global character of BLM to the way the Middle East and North African revolutions spread rapidly across the whole region.
The role of the Socialist Party
At this stage there is an enormous gap between the crisis in the capitalist system and the levels of anger against its consequences on the one hand, and working-class cohesion, organisation and understanding of its potential power on the other. Support for socialistic ideas in a broad sense has risen dramatically, but conclusions about what that means and how to achieve it have not yet been drawn by the majority. We are heading into a period of major stormy struggles as the working class does its best to defend itself from the onslaught on living conditions and wages that is coming. There is no doubt that, with or without the Socialist Party, as a result of the brutal experience of those struggles – both defeats and victories – further lessons will be learnt on how to ensure that the further big movements to come will more seriously challenge capitalism.
However, the Socialist Party in England and Wales, along with our co-thinkers around the world in the Committee for a Workers’ International, has a crucial role to play in speeding that process up and making sure that the lessons of the past are used to build mass revolutionary parties which can successfully lead the way to end this rotten capitalist system and begin to build a new democratic socialist world. Right now we are able to play a very important role in numerous areas of struggle: including in the trade union movement, initiating and building Youth Fight for Jobs, on the university campuses, and participating in numerous local community campaigns against evictions, gentrification, cuts to local services, in defence of the NHS, on the environment, and much more. We also play a key role in the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition as part of the struggle for a new mass workers’ party. We produce a weekly newspaper and monthly magazine, plus numerous leaflets and pamphlets, which reflect all the struggles that workers and young people are involved in, as well as the role of the Socialist Party in far more depth than this short pamphlet is able to.
We aim to be the most effective fighters on every immediate issue facing the working class, but always to link those struggles to the need for socialism and the central role of the working class in achieving it. As Marx and Engels put it in The Communist Manifesto (1848), we fight for the “attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present also represent the future of that movement.”
Even with our current modest numbers, we are able to punch well above our weight, because of our clear programme, our base in the workers’ movement, and because we don’t just act as individuals but are regularly discussing the best paths forward, and can then act collectively to pursue them. In the coming period we will have opportunities to grow exponentially. In 1981 we had less than 2,000 members, but within nine years we had led the council in Britain’s eighth biggest city in a mass struggle against the government, and organised the millions-strong anti-poll tax movement that brought down Margaret Thatcher. What we subsequently achieved was muted by the objective fact of the ideological triumph of capitalism after the collapse of Stalinism and its impact on workers’ consciousness and their organisations. But the next period will be completely different to the 1990s. We urge everyone who has read this pamphlet and agrees with it to join us today and help to build the Socialist Party. Our strength is not only important for its own sake, but because of the difference it will make in the numerous class battles that are ahead. As Corbynism demonstrated, general support for socialist ideas will not be enough. We are aiming to build a party with the clear programme, strategy and tactics required for victory.