Chris Harman


A Revolutionary Socialist Manifesto

(June 1968)

Unpublished manuscript, June 1968.
Edited by John Rudge.
Final version: 21 July 2020.
Marked-up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

This manuscript was found amongst Colin Barker’s papers after his death. The document is untitled, undated and has no details of authorship. The original has Colin’s handwritten signature at the top. There are a number of editorial comments made by an unknown person in the text – not the least of which appears at the very end as “a more cheery and more positive ending, please!” The piece is therefore a draft, but clearly one that it was important enough for Colin to keep for 50 years.

A torturous process of detective work has led to the conclusion that the document is a draft pamphlet written by Chris Harman titled A Revolutionary Socialist Manifesto. This pamphlet was presented to the I.S. Executive Committee meeting held on 1 June 1968 where a motion to publish it was lost in favour of it being referred to the I.S. Political Committee for further consideration.

In the event the pamphlet was never published and it was transformed over the ensuing couple of months into an internal document titled the I.S. Manifesto (see Appendix 1). This, in turn, has left no mark on I.S. history it, almost certainly, having been overtaken by the hectic events of the second half of 1968.

Arguably, Harman’s pamphlet may not reflect his finest writing but it is important. It represents an accurate analysis of the I.S. position during 1968 – a pivotal year in I.S. history.

Apart from a number of corrections for mistyping, the pamphlet text remains exactly as it was written.

My thanks to Ewa Barker, Ian Birchall, John Palmer, Richard Kuper, Geoff Brown, Ian Allinson and James Bowen for their assistance with the “detective work”.

John Rudge

July 2020

* * *

I. Introduction

The capitalist world drifts, like a drug addict between “fixes”, from crisis to crisis. When nuclear war is not threatening to erupt and destroy us all over barely understood incidents in Cuba or Korea, Berlin or the Middle East, conventional warfare can be relied upon to burn populations, reduce towns to rubble and fields to barren wastes. Even the most prosperous countries are afflicted by periodic bouts of feverish anxiety as the scrambling’s of businessmen and speculators for currencies or gold threaten to bring the economy to a halt and to disrupt the lives of millions. For the mass of mankind in the more underdeveloped countries there seems to be little alternative to the grinding poverty of economic stagnation.

Modern industry produces wealth undreamt of in previous eras. It can send spaceships to the moon; it physically moves whole mountains; vital organs are transplanted from one human being to another. In some countries governments deliberately plan to prevent “overproduction” of food. Yet tens if not hundreds of millions starve. The richest nation in human history forces whole sectors of its population to try and live in rat infested slums. In Britain housing programs are cut back as the number of slums in the larger cities actually grows.

Everywhere the response of the rulers of society to this situation is the same, to demand of the mass of the population a speed up in the tempo of work and restraint on wages in the interests of efficiency and competitiveness. In Britain real wages are cut so that “our” exports can compete with those of Germany. In Germany wage restraint is enforced to stave off Japanese competition. In Japan bosses refuse increases because of the need to compete with Britain. Everywhere more is produced and everywhere the share of those who produce it declines. Production and efficiency in the interests of production and efficiency are demanded of the entire working population.

The whole of society is dominated by the same inhuman logic that demands that lives of the mass of people be subordinated to the drive to maintain profits and to accumulate capital in order to accumulate more capital. Where human needs are met, this is merely a transitory by-product of this system. Where instead it is demanded that peasants be starved or burnt, that the possibilities of workers obtaining work be done away with, that minority groups be persecuted in order to maintain the system, these policies are assiduously followed by its rulers. Only the ruling classes themselves benefit from these relentless drives – and even they cannot control the monster they have created; they have proved singularly incapable of preventing either continual outbreaks of war or the development of international financial or economic crises.

Modern capitalist society emerged in an unplanned manner. It remains unplanned and unplannable. The means of production are still owned by competing groups of capitalists. The mass of the population still have to sell themselves to the capitalists hour by hour in order to live. Despite the immensity of individual firms (many being as large as national states), and the increasing tendency towards planning within each country, competition between capitalists on an international scale remains unchecked. The “balance of payments”, the ability of each national block of capitalists to compete with each other block determines the internal economic decisions governments take.

There is nothing intrinsic in society that produces this state of affairs. Capitalism has only existed for at most four hundred years, while men have been on earth for half a million. There were many differing forms of social organisation before this. All suffered, however, from one major difficulty; the low level of material production meant that the progress of the culture of civilisation depended on one class forcing down the living standards of the rest. The only alternative was for everybody to share the same low level of livelihood, with no group having the resources necessary for widespread communication, culture, or development of the means of production.

The huge developments of human production that capitalism has brought about offer the possibility of a completely new form of society which suffers from none of these faults. There is no intrinsic reason why all those who produce should not together decide what they want to produce. But none of this is possible without first radically changing society. Those privileged classes that benefit from the present organisation of society steadfastly oppose such changes. The immense resources of modern society that are at their command are used to prevent change and to suppress others who fight for change. Every conceivable means, from slanderous press campaigns and witch-hunts to napalm and gas chambers, have been used by these rulers in different circumstances to keep down those forces pressing for a reorganisation of society. Even in reputedly “liberal” England, troops and police have frequently been used to break strikes and demonstrations.

Yet despite this, capitalism has in its relatively short history, been shaken more by the threat of revolt and revolution than any previous form of class society. In the thousands of years in which apparently more oppressive slave societies existed on large areas of the earth’s surface there were only two large scale revolts – that of Spartacus in ancient Rome and that led by Toussaint L’Ouverture in San Domingo eighteen hundred and fifty years later. Capitalism on the other hand, has constantly been threatened by revolts, some major some minor, by the exploited majority of society. Every year, even in times of “industrial peace”, there are thousands of strikes in every capitalist country. Periodically these escalate into sustained and brutal battles of one class against the other – as in the General Strike in Britain in 1926 or in Belgium in 1960. At times, the working class has even risen to the heights of seizing complete control of factories, towns, or even whole countries – as in Paris in 1871 or Russia in 1917.

Of course the class struggle is not always or even most often at this level of intensity. Throughout the history of capitalism there have been periods when most of the working class has seemed to accept passively its allotted role. In England, after the decline of Chartism in the 1850s strikes were few and socialist parties non-existent. Similarly in America in the 1920s. But the very nature of capitalism means that such situations cannot last. Both of the periods of “peace” referred to above ended with the outbreak of mass struggles, the first with the dockers and gas workers’ strikes that were the beginnings of the modern trade union and labour movement, the second with the bitter and violent conflicts that gave rise to the mass industrial unions of the CIO. Just as surely, the last two decades, which have been characterised by a relative lack of violent class conflict in the advanced western countries are giving way to a new upsurge of militancy and consciousness. To understand how this is, we need to analyse the nature of capitalism and the changes it has undergone over the last fifty years.

II. Economics of Capitalism

In modern society the great mass of the population is involved in common productive activity. There is hardly anything produced that does not involve the combined effort of hundreds or thousands of people in up to a dozen or more countries. Yet control of production remains concentrated in the hands of small groups of competing capitalists. Most people cannot produce unless they can sell their labour power (by the hour, day, or week) to these.

It is from this single fact that all the contradictions, anomalies and parodies that characterise our society develop.

While all the fruits of thousands of years of civilisation, the technological advances of numerous generations, the combined initiative of the whole of humanity, produce an unprecedented level of production, its organisation is determined by the narrow interests of these small groups. Their aim is not the satisfaction of human needs, but the creation of profits. These are obtained by paying those who produce goods, the workers, less than the value of their product. The difference, that Marx called surplus-value, accrues to the capitalist and is the source of interest, profit, and rent. It is the possibility of extracting this that determines the nature and extent of production, not the needs of those who produce. The individual worker is treated merely as an object of production. Only his ability to work interests the capitalist – and only then when there is a profit to be made from it. He is “free”, but only to choose which employer he is going to sell himself to. Even an individual capitalist enjoys only a very restricted control over production. He gains because he can use part of his profit to enjoy a high standard of living. But his very need to continue making profits limits his freedom to dispose of most of them. For each capitalist is involved in an endless and bitter competition with other capitalists for resources and markets.

This necessitates a constant attempt to reduce the cost of the production of goods. Profits constantly have to be used to improve machinery and equipment, to keep up with the most modern techniques, so as to be able to sell goods cheaply so as to make more profits. Wage costs have to be forced as low as possible.

If this does not happen, the concern faces the threat either of bankruptcy or of a take-over by another concern. Regardless of the intentions of those who own and control it, capital has to be accumulated so as to produce more while the wages paid out to workers have to be restricted. Production has to be continually expanded, while consumption by workers is limited. “Incomes policy” and “wage freeze” are only the most modern names for this centuries old process.

Slump and Boom

This central need of capitalism is also its central dilemma. Capitalists do not produce merely in order to see goods piling up in warehouses and shops. They produce in order to sell. But if each is increasing production while limiting the consumption of its own workers, the total demand for goods must fall. The question must arise: to whom can they be sold? The mere fact of having to make profits seems to prevent a market existing for goods produced and make the transformation of goods into money impossible.

In the short term there were always ways in which this dilemma could be overcome. For instance, providing capitalists were expanding their productive plants there was a market for the surplus product left after workers’ consumption in the form of the market for means of production. If these in turn produced a preponderance of further means of production, rather than unsellable consumer goods, then the market would not be limited. There were, however, two difficulties with such a solution to the dilemma. Firstly, it presupposed that all the individual decisions to invest in quite diverse sectors of industry would produce an even development, whereas in fact, an uneven development that would cause a breakdown in the balance between what was produced and what was sellable was always possible. Secondly, accumulation of means of production in this way meant each good produced involved an ever greater amount of fixed investment per unit of living labour employed. But it was precisely living labour that produced surplus value and profits. This being so, the rate of profit (although not the absolute level profits) is likely to decline and with it investment in fixed capital. Again a breakdown of the system would occur, although not immediately.

In the long term the inbuilt disparity between limitless expansion of productive capacity and restriction of consumption has always asserted itself.

In the nineteenth century this took the form of periodic breakdowns in the whole system of production. There was a continual alternation (roughly every ten years) between booms, when investment, production and consumption increased frenetically and slumps, when investment decreased, production declined and millions were thrown out of work. This was the society described by Marx in Capital.

Today the basic features of the economic system remain the same. The aim is still production for the sake of profit. Although firms grow ever bigger and states increasingly plan internal production, there is still bitter and unceasing competition between firms and between states. The huge increases in the total level of production over the last century have led to increases in workers’ living standards (at least in the advanced countries), but these are as subordinate as they ever were to the need of capital for profit.

Above all the contradiction between the unparalleled level of production and its concentration in few hands remains. But changes have taken place in the way in which this expresses itself.


Towards the beginning of the twentieth century, capitalism entered a stage which in some features differed from its classic form. Competition between firms produced a situation where increasingly production in each sphere was dominated by a few great monopolies. These more and more operated not just on a local or even national scale, but on an international scale. At the same time, a rapid expansion in the area of direct capitalist control took place. From the 1830s onwards the advanced capitalist countries began dividing the rest of the world up between them. All but a minute area of Africa was divided into colonies. China was divided into “spheres of interest”. The British hold on India was consolidated. The remnants of the Spanish empire in Latin America was taken over forcibly by the U.S. The French imposed their rule on Indo-China, while the Russian Empire was extended over the whole of northern Asia. These developments helped the capitalists of the advanced countries in three crucial ways. Firstly, they opened up fields for investment of the surplus being produced by the exploitation of the workers in the old capitalist countries. In the period before World War I fifty percent of savings of British investors went overseas, and half of these to the Empire. In this way, goods produced in the capitalist countries did not need to be immediately consumed there for their production to be profitable. Instead they could be used to build a railway in Africa or a tea plantation in Bengal. Secondly, this direct domination over the underdeveloped world permitted the capitalists of the west to establish monopolies over the production of raw materials in these countries. This enabled them to reduce their raw material costs and counteract tendencies for the rate of profit to diminish. Finally it provided protected markets for the products of western industry.

All this served to mitigate the most vicious features of capitalism in the advanced countries. It was at this time that the first claims that capitalism had changed fundamentally and that ideas about socialism were “old fashioned” were advanced (by the Fabians in England, Bernstein in Germany, etc.). But in fact this viciousness was merely exported to the colonies. Governments that preached moderation and class peace to workers at home, used the crudest forms of uncloaked violence in their dealings with the colonial peoples, whether in Algeria or Vietnam, China or Rhodesia, Nigeria, or Ireland.

Nor did such expansion do away with the central difficulties of capitalism. The need of the monopolies in each country for further opportunities to invest, for extended sources of raw materials, for greater markets, forced their governments to try to expand their spheres of influence at the expense of others. Tensions between rival blocks of capitalist powers built up until they exploded in August 1914 into the bloodiest and most futile war in human history. Minor amelioration of economic contradictions had only been possible through their transformation into military ones. Capitalism proved that it could only deal with the immense development of productive forces that had taken place by indulging in frenzied bouts of self-destruction. But this was not all. Any softening of the economic contradictions of capitalism for the advanced western states was to prove short lived. These asserted themselves in an unprecedented fashion in the great slump of the early 1930s. In every capitalist country, millions were thrown out of work. Whole areas were laid waste, not by plague or natural famine or even war, but by the inability of capitalism to organise production so as to permit the unemployed millions using the run down factories to produce the goods they so urgently needed.

Permanent Arms Economy

Throughout the last thirty years one thing and one thing alone has prevented reversion to the pattern of boom and slump in an even more pronounced and catastrophic form: war and the threat of war.

Capitalism always faces the problem of the gap that opens up as it expands production, but limits the ability of workers to consume. The slump used to solve this by periodically bringing production to a halt. War and preparation for war solves this problem by producing goods that are made to destroy and be destroyed. The demand for weapons can be insatiable.

Every technological advance makes the existing arms stock obsolete, necessitates the production of new arms. Capitalists can always get rid of a sizeable proportion of what is produced without having to worry about the low consuming power of the workers.

In fact in every capitalist country expenditure on arms is enormous. In the years 1957–59 (before the Vietnam war) 9.8% of the total production of the U.S. and 6.5% of that in Britain was made up of military expenditure. In the United States more is spent every year in producing means of destruction than in investment to extend, improve and replace means of production of other goods. On a world scale, something like half the surplus created by the gap between the consumption of the workers and what they produce disappears as arms expenditure.

For the capitalist, arms expenditure has one great advantage over other ways of disposing of this surplus (e.g. giving it to the workers, or to the underdeveloped world, or even digging holes in the ground with it). In the short term all capitalists are forced to dispose of it in the same way. Inside each country this occurs through state imposed taxation. All profits are cut equally, all production costs equally increased. But the same effect is brought about externally. If one state (or power block) expends huge sums of money on a particular sort of weapon, other states will have to do the same if they are not to be dominated by the first. For instance, the fear of each that the other may get ahead is forcing both Russia and the U.S. to spend huge sums on anti-missile missile systems. The ruling group of each country is forced to spend a similar proportion of its resources upon weapons. This prevents any of them investing more than the others in means of production and thus undercutting the others in economic competition. No other means of disposing of the surplus would have the same effect.

The impact of the permanent arms economy has been clear. Since 1940 capitalist economy has undergone a period of unprecedented expansion. Unemployment of the order of the 1930s has been virtually unknown. For masses of workers in the advanced countries there has been a period of considerable and rising prosperity.

These facts have led many people to consider that capitalism has now stabilised itself (or even been replaced by a completely different system). Others have come to consider the fight for socialism either to be irrelevant or at least doomed in the advanced countries. Such arguments ignore two central features of the permanent arms economy.

Firstly, if arms production does away with the classical economic crises, it only manages this by transforming itself into a succession of military crises. The whole system is pivoted upon continual military, strategic and economic competition between rival nations and blocks. Only this compels the capitalists inside each to use their surplus for arms production. But this both presupposes and creates the permanent possibility of war. “Minor” conventional wars, in which millions are killed are fought as the powers attempt to maintain and extend their spheres of influence, as in Vietnam, or come into conflict along the demarcation lines that divide them, as they did in Korea. Escalation of these into a nuclear Armageddon is always a threat. Such is the price of capitalist “stability”.

But this is not all. For even the arms economy does not provide a complete solution to all of capitalism’s economic difficulties. Competition between capitalists and capitalist countries continues. The tendency for them to spend similar amounts on arms does not operate uniformly. Within the western block, the U.S. spends far more than any other country, (9.8% of its Gross Domestic Product as against Britain’s 6.5%; Germany’s x%; Japan’s x%) – the others depend on it to varying extents for military support. At the same time, the huge sums it spends on arms provides a market for many of their products. Thus Japan for instance, can have a relatively low arms budget, invest more in industry, cut production costs, compete successfully against those with higher arms budgets. The price the Japanese ruling class pays for this is an inability to pursue an independent foreign policy. Again, similar levels of arms expenditure hit some countries (the less efficient and more slowly growing) more than others. Similarly within each country, different industries benefit to different extents from the production of arms.

The owners of some industries milk huge profits out of the state; others see their profits cut by the level of taxation. Whenever competition between the monopolies of different countries for markets intensifies, many of these begin to exert pressure upon their respective governments to reduce the burden on them of taxation for arms production. If the governments give way it means a reduction in the total demand for goods and a further intensification of competition. In the long run the arms economy can lessen the economic impact of the contradictions of capitalism and postpone their effects, but cannot do away with them. This has most recently been revealed in the troubles of the international monetary system. The American ruling class has been attempting to maintain the central role in the world it acquired after World War II. This has involved it undertaking to subdue national liberation movements wherever they develop – hence it has been committed to waging an expensive war in Vietnam that it could never win. At the same time it has to maintain and develop its full nuclear weaponry so as to persuade the rulers of the U.S.S.R. not to challenge its global hegemony. Finally, it seeks to extend and develop its economic interests, particularly in the other advanced capitalist countries, in competition with foreign ruling classes. A large section of the French ruling class represented by de Gaulle claim that in fact the U.S. has not the resources for all of these tasks and is using the dominant position of the dollar in world trade to do them, particularly the last, on the cheap. That is why they have endeavoured to damage the present system of international monetary organisation, so as to force a devaluation of the dollar. In effect, they are attempting to reduce the power of U.S. interests and increase their own. Discussions over the price of gold conceal a naked clash of interests, a crude struggle for the most profitable areas of investment between different national groups of capitalists. The existing balance between different capitalist groups is threatened, and with it the relative economic stability that has characterised capitalism since the war.

III. The Struggle of the “Third World”

Yet if capitalism is plagued by insoluble contradictions and threatens irredeemable catastrophe, it also has another effect: it creates men who try and replace it by something else. Its very irrationality and inhumanity gives rise to classes that are forced to fight against it. Whatever else it does it cannot prevent this, for its central life process, the extraction of surplus value, depends upon the exploitation of man. In the advanced countries it compels millions to work daily in the factories to this end, thus creating and recreating a working class. In the underdeveloped world, it oppresses and exploits whole nations for the same purpose.

Exploitation does not however always engender revolt. If the forms it takes are fixed, with the repetitiveness of natural processes, people accept them as inevitable, are not forced to question them. But exploitation under capitalism can never have these features. The continual changes in the techniques and forms of organisation of production, the jostling between competing enterprises, the conflicts that develop between nations, prevent this. In an unstable and unplanned system, even oppression cannot be planned and stabilised on a long term basis. Those who are exploited are the objects of the system, to be disposed of according to the inhuman forces that move it at any moment. Capitalism cannot even guarantee on a long term basis the expectations it itself develops in those it exploits. It can make sections of workers relatively content for quite long periods of time, but as soon as profitability demands it, their conditions have to be changed, their contentment transformed into discontent. Whether they like it or not they are forced to fight back, if only to get what capitalism itself has taught them to want. That is why the history of capitalism has been also a history of revolt.

IV. Imperialism and the “Third World”

As capitalist production expanded from the end of the nineteenth century onwards it broke through the narrow confines of national boundaries. Investors scoured the world in the search for profits. The pre-capitalist societies that existed outside of Europe and North America had to be subordinated to their demands. Boundaries preventing access for exploitation and trade had to be destroyed by the direct or indirect use of force; societies not yet dominated by the single motivation of profit making had to be ravaged; populations that resisted these forces had to be “pacified”, if necessary exterminated. In the process the whole of the world was carved up between the rival powers.

The effects on the subjected areas cannot be exaggerated. They were forcibly dragged into the capitalist era. All their old institutions were smashed, their customary ways of organising social life transformed. In their place was every barbarity of capitalism – crude exploitation of man by man, dependence of the livelihood of the masses on the fluctuation of an unstable market, periodic involvement in brutal imperialist wars – without the one advance capitalism had brought to the metropolitan countries – continual increases in human productivity and human potentiality. Instead whole societies were mercilessly exploited from outside. Granted some investment took place and even limited industrialisation. But this was determined by the needs of the imperialist ruling class, not of any local interests. Investment in the main was in industries concerned with the extraction and transport of cheap raw materials for the industries of the metropolitan countries. Exploitation of mining concessions and plantations flourished, but few industries (textiles being the chief exception).

Virtually all classes in the oppressed nations suffered. Old ruling groups saw their power eroded by the colonial and semi-colonial administrators. Indigenous capitalist elements found opportunities of profitable investment blocked by the power of foreign monopolies. Workers and peasants found themselves doubly exploited, by international imperialism and by local ruling classes. Only those capitalist or landowner elements who were content to be the junior partners of imperialism were happy with the situation. The rest of the population resented, to different degrees of bitterness and for differing reasons, the external oppression.

After the initial shock of colonisation these different interests began to fight back. Millions rose in revolt throughout China in the twenties, in India in the early forties, in Africa in the fifties and are still fighting in Vietnam today.

Imperialism has not been willing to readily give up possibilities for exploitation anywhere. It has used all the power of modern technology to try and maintain its hold. Torture, the bombing of civilians, the establishment of concentration camps, have been used successfully by the British in Kenya, the French in Algeria, the Americans in Vietnam. Whatever the ostensible reason for such policies (to prevent “African savagery”, to protect an “integral part of France”, to “keep back Communism”), the real motive has always been to defend profits.

When direct control over such areas becomes impossible, imperialism makes certain concessions to some groups in the population. It allows them a nominal independence – provided they guarantee its ability to continue exploiting the rest of the population. Throughout central and northern Africa a narrow stratum of African politicians has been allowed to take over from white settlers the job of being imperialism’s policemen. This has only been possible because direct domination of the underdeveloped world is not as crucial to metropolitan capitalism in the period of the permanent arms economy as it used to be. If the system gets stability from arms production, imperialist exploitations remains a welcome arena for profit-making, but is not central to the continuance of the system. Raw materials can increasingly be synthesised in the advanced countries themselves and modern technology tends to make investment in general more profitable in the advanced countries, with their skilled labour forces and their proximity to markets for sophisticated goods. While foreign investment constituted 8% of the British Gross National Product before World War I, it is now only 2% – and more than half of this goes to other advanced countries. Returns on investment abroad are now only 2% of the national income, as against a peak of 10% in 1914.

In this sense the permanent arms economy enables the ruling classes of the advanced countries not to be tied to absolute domination over the third world. Colonial revolution no longer threatens the whole capitalist system. Thus Holland could lose all political and economic control over its huge Indonesian territories in 1954 and actually prosper as a result.

But if the fate of Metropolitan capitalism becomes independent of that of the underdeveloped world, the converse is not true. The very processes which bring economic growth and prosperity to the imperialist powers condemn the underdeveloped countries to economic stagnation and dependence. Investment and industrial growth are concentrated in the former. There is even a tendency for raw material production to move to the industrialised countries. The share in world trade of backward countries declined from 27% to 20.2% (14% if oil is excluded) between 1953 and 1964. The ex-colonial areas, in which the mass of the world’s population live, are being transformed into stagnant and poverty-stricken backwaters of the world capitalist economy.

Profits from the oppressed areas are no longer crucial to the maintenance of capitalism. But this is not to say either that capitalism will not do its utmost to keep control of them or that they are not central to the problems of the underdeveloped world. In most cases, domination by foreign capital continues to distort the economies of these countries and to prevent economic development. This is clearly the case, for instance, in the Middle East, where the huge profits to be made out of oil are divided between international oil companies and feudal monarchs – leaving the mass of the Arab population in poverty. So called “aid” does nothing to alter this. Not only is its size miniscule – in 1964 only 0.65% of the national incomes of the advanced countries, (less than one-twelfth of what they annually spend on means to destroy one another) – but its impact is to further distort economic development. It is used either to prop up despotic and parasitic ruling classes (much of it in the form of direct military aid to them) or to service the needs of extensions of the monopolies of the advanced world in the underdeveloped. At the moment, the backward countries return about half the aid they get as interest etc. on previous “aid”, and this is expected to rise to 100% of aid within 15 years (already the figure for Latin America is 96%). Furthermore such sums as do go in aid are quickly wiped out as downward fluctuations in world market prices reduce the income obtained from raw material production.

For the peoples of the underdeveloped world there is only one possible way out of this impasse: revolution. The hardships that a struggle against imperialism involves are enormous – but they are few compared with the hardships of continued subservience. There are few precedents in history that compare in savagery and brutality with the war waged by the U.S. against Vietnam – yet the suffering of Vietnam is less than that of the millions who starve in India, or even of the Vietnamese themselves during the last World War (when an estimated two million starved to death as a result of the superimposition of Japanese imperialist exploitation upon French). Only by seizing control of the governments and resources of their societies for themselves can the mass of the population of the third world begin to confront the problems that plague them. That they can do so, the successes of the Vietnamese are demonstrating.

It would be wrong however to confuse a necessary step towards the solution of the problems of the third world with the solution itself. Victory in the national liberation struggle enables a serious attempt to grapple with the problem of poverty to be made. But it does not do away with poverty. Political victory prevents imperialism squandering meagre resources; it does not make the resources any less meagre. It neither provides markets for the raw materials produced internally nor supplies the resources needed for rapid industrialisation. For the latter remain concentrated in the heartland of imperialism.

This leaves two possibilities open to the successful national revolution. One is that followed first by Russia with the rise of Stalin, then by China, Yugoslavia, etc. That is to concentrate on national development. The resources for industrialisation have then to be laboriously gathered together internally. Food and raw materials have to be moved in massive quantities from the countryside to the town so as to permit industrial construction. But this cannot be done on a voluntary basis for any length of time. Peasants who are already half-starved cannot be expected to starve themselves and their wives and children further for an indefinite period to build factories which they cannot see that produce products they cannot buy. The peasant makes the revolution so that he can individually own more land and pay less rent and taxes. He is concerned with his own concrete and limited problems not with abstract ideas of national development. This leaves only one course open to those who rule the country: to squeeze the surpluses necessary for industrialisation out of the peasants and what workers there are forcibly. This requires the creation of a whole stratum in society that takes over the means of production and directs them in opposition to the desires of the mass of the population. Although such regimes may claim to be socialist they are nothing of the sort. They are a response to a situation where capitalism continues to predominate on an international scale and to control the mass of resources (including resources previously squeezed from the underdeveloped world). Their basic functioning presupposes initiating internally precisely the pattern of organisation of capitalism itself. The division between those that control society and those who are controlled remains. Some make decisions, some are compelled to accept them. The mass of the population produce value and surplus value, a minority determines how this is utilised.

This is the development that took place in Russia after the Civil War and foreign invasions of 1918–21 destroyed most of Russian industry and decimated the working class that had made the October revolution. Its consequences are plain for all to see. Industry and production have expanded at an unprecedented speed. But those who have benefited have not been the working class. Instead, the new class that exploited the workers and peasants to carry through industrialisation controls and benefits from the economy. Its members have salaries many times those of the ordinary workers, luxury villas in the countryside, look and dress just like western capitalists. To protect their privileges against inroads from the rulers of the west they are willing to threaten the use of weapons that would destroy the whole working class of the west. Yet the only revolutions against the western rulers they support are those they can control themselves. (They never gave full backing to revolutionary efforts in Yugoslavia, Cuba or China until the Communist regimes were certain to take power. In China they gave more aid to Chiang Kai Shek in 1945–47 than they ever gave to Mao Tse Tung). When faced with opposition from the working classes they themselves dominate, they oppress it as ferociously as any western regime – 6,000 tanks were used to batter the workers of Budapest into submission in 1956.

In a backward country considered in isolation, exploitation by one class of others may be necessary for industrialisation. But a fast rate of economic growth is not socialism (if it were, Japan with the fastest rate of economic growth of any country in the world would be socialist). In the short term it may overcome the worst aspects of poverty. In the long term it merely recreates all the class oppression and destructive force of capitalism.

There is an alternative. But not on a national scale. The resources to abolish poverty everywhere already exist – but on a world not a national scale. Capitalism has concentrated the wealth of mankind in a few advanced countries. While it controls this it can continue to dictate to even the most independent of regimes in the rest of the world – either directly through “aid” and direct military control, or indirectly by threatening such force against them that so much of their internal expenditure is concentrated on building up an armaments industry that exploitation of the rest of the population is inevitable.

This means that the future of the underdeveloped world depends upon what happens in the advanced countries. A national liberation struggle can stimulate an opposition and resistance to imperialism in the latter which can begin to open up new possibilities. The Vietnamese by their self-sacrifice and heroism have demonstrated how this can happen. Not only have they brought to light many of the economic contradictions of U.S. capitalism, thus forcing whole sections of the American working class to fight their employers, but their example has inspired much of the agitation among American negroes. If these developments should continue the result of the Vietnam struggle could be other than a new and more efficient form of class exploitation. Should such a revolution fail to spread (either because of the policies of its leaders, as in Stalin’s Russia, or because of the objective situation) then the options for it are closed. What is nationalised remains poverty, not wealth. For thousands of years men have had to live in class society because the material means did not exist for anything else. Socialism was a utopian dream, not a practical possibility. This remains the situation of the masses of the third world considered in isolation. Alone they can no more enter the realm of freedom than a horse-drawn plough can launch itself into space.

This needs reiterating again and again. The future of Vietnam depends as much upon what happens in Detroit or Coventry or the Ruhr as what happens in Saigon. That is why consideration of the plight of the masses of the oppressed nations leads us back to consideration of the working class of the west.

V. The Working Class Movement

There was a time when the political life of most of the advanced capitalist countries was characterised by a large organised Labour Movement competing for parliamentary power with well organised bourgeois parties. The U.S. was the only major exception.

But the lines of political class struggle are no longer as clear. Elections are not fought between competing socialist and capitalist programmes. Increasingly apathy rather than socialist conviction seems to be the key feature of the working class voter. The programmes of the different parties now are little more than variations on the same theme. This has led many people to argue that there has been a disappearance of class or at least a diminution in its importance. Yet this is just not the case. The top one per cent of the population still owns 81% of all company stocks and shares, and the top ten per cent 79% of all private wealth. The degree of concentration of ownership could hardly be more marked. And it is increasing. While the top 5% owned 68% of property in 1951-–56 this had risen to 75% in 1960 (Lydall & Tipping, Oxford Bulletin of Statistics).

Those who have this wealth benefit from it directly. Professor J.E. Mead has estimated that the top 1% of the population get 12–16% of total income after tax – the same figure as the bottom 36% (Efficiency, Equality and Property Ownership, 1964). The effects of this inequality are immediate. Twice as many children die in the first few months of life among unskilled workers than among those in the professional and managerial class. This is the same ratio as 100 years ago; it is also the same as that between slave owners and slaves in the southern United States of 1860. The average life expectation of manual workers is still 10 years less than that of their rulers. Advances in science and technology have improved the situation of most people. But they have done nothing to eliminate the gap between those who control industry and commerce and those who do not. The “welfare state” established straight after the last war has done nothing to alter this. Even before the welfare cuts of the 1960s Professor Abel-Smith and Titmus were able to conclude that:

“The middle classes get the lion’s share of the public social services” (Abel-Smith in Conviction, 1958)

and that:

“Those who have benefited most (from the welfare state) are those who have needed it least” (Titmus, Irresponsible Society, 1960).

In many industries scientific and technological advances have merely served to make the conditions of the workers worse. For instance, in mining the accident rate has risen more than thirty per cent in the last ten years.

The extent of the continued indifference of the rulers of our society to the situation of ordinary people is more clearly shown in the plight of the “submerged fifth”. Even before the period of the “freeze” and the cuts, in 1960:

“... approximately 18% of households and 14.2% of persons in the United Kingdom, representing nearly 7,500,000 persons were living below a defined “national assistance” level of living” (Abel-Smith and Townsend, The Poor and the Poorest, London 1965).

When one adds to this number (nearly 2 million households) just receiving the standard level of national assistance, it is clear that even at the height of the boom, a substantial portion of the population remains in poverty. Because the mass of the working population has not been affected, as in the thirties, the poor are not always visible. They remain on the margins of society – the aged, the chronic sick, the widows, deserted and unmarried mothers, the unemployed and disabled – although a sizeable section consists of those working in unorganised industries. But they exist – and the “welfare state” has done little to improve their situation. In fact:

“the individual payments to adult workers for sickness and unemployment are worth less today than before the Second World War” (Titmus, Essays on the Welfare State, 1958).

In fact, the prosperity many workers have experienced since 1945 is a result of one cause only – full employment. The mass of the working class has not had to face periodic bouts of unemployment. Those sections that have, for instance in old mining areas where last year alone 14,000 were made redundant, most of them older than 55 with no chance of ever getting another job, while productivity per man-shift increased 8.7% (The Times, 6.5.68) have found that after a few months on wage related benefit and redundancy pay, their condition can be as hopeless and their needs as ignored as in the thirties. Full employment not the “welfare state” or “increased equality” has been the cause of the recent improvement in the living standards of many workers. And this in turn has been a result of capitalism being able to expand through the permanent arms economy. Under capitalism the price of a limited prosperity for many workers is the permanent threat of nuclear war.

The Permanent Arms Economy and the Labour Movement

If there has not been a withering away of class, neither has there been a withering away of class conflict. The 1950s and early 60s were very far from being years of industrial “peace”. The number of strikes every year climbed to virtually unprecedented heights (in Britain):



Average Number
of Strikes











Similarly, the average number of workers involved in strikes in each year grew from 306,000 in 1927–38 to 984,000 in 1951–64 (although less than in 1919–26).

But associated with the expansion of the economy and near full employment there was a radical change in the forms class conflict took. Long national strikes were increasingly replaced by short, local strikes. In the 1950s the average strike only involved about a quarter as many workers as the strikes of the early 1920s and lasted an average of a tenth of the time (3.2 days as against 32.2 days).

Given full employment and an expanding demand for his products, each individual employer was above all concerned to keep production going. He was usually able to pass on any increase in wages he paid to whoever bought his goods. A long strike or lockout would be unlikely to cost him less than a wage increase. The workers on the other hand were in a strong position. Except in the declining industries, such as railways and mines, the labour shortage was such that even if they were sacked for militancy, they were likely to be able to get other jobs fairly easily. There was no massive pool of unemployed waiting outside the gates to take their place. This had one very important consequence. While militancy increased, it became increasingly localised. It was through their individual shop organisations that workers fought to improve their wage and conditions, not usually through the national organisations of the unions. The shop steward became the most important union figure to the individual worker, not the national “leaders”. While 10% is considered a high turnout for national union elections, surveys have shown that shop elections for stewards involve 89% or more of workers.

The other side of this localisation of militancy has been decreased concern with national industrial and political questions. The most militant local organisation could easily win much more than the government would give or take away through, say, welfare legislation. Instead of a unified working class struggle, there was a militant but fragmented one.

This had advantages. It meant that workers had to be self-reliant and active themselves, not depending on MPs or national officials to fight for them. But it also had enormous defects. Those sections of the working class outside of industry (the pensioners, the sick, the unemployed), those in declining industries, those in industries unorganised or difficult to organise, did not benefit. We have already referred to the plight of the poor. Groups such as the busmen, who could not directly affect the profitability of industry when they struck also suffered.

While militancy grew and self-reliance increased, old traditions of class wide solidarity were eroded. Some militant workers even began to feel able to vote Tory. Certainly, generalised political opposition to capitalism declined. The militant socialist in industry was in a paradoxical situation. While he talked about militancy within the shop or factory he was likely to get considerable support. A considerable proportion of stewards and convenors were convinced socialists of one sort or another. But when they talked about wider issues, they remained relatively isolated. The political demonstrations of the fifties and sixties were not mass workers’ ones, but composed chiefly of middle class youth and students, with a sprinkling of individual industrial militants. It was for this reason that, say, CND and the Committee of 100, were short-lived. In electoral terms the situation was similar. There was a more or less even decline in the Labour vote (the result of elections usually depended on whether the Conservative vote declined less), while Communists got an increasingly minute proportion of the vote. The left in the Labour Party was listened to by smaller and smaller audiences.

This situation depended upon a continuous and stable expansion of capitalism. This in turn depended upon the mitigating effects of the permanent arms economy upon the classical economic contradictions of capitalism. But as we have shown above, this has its own inbuilt problems. These are increasingly revealing themselves. The old pattern of stability and growth is no longer fully guaranteed. The environment in which industrial militancy takes place is changing.

On a world scale there is a trend for the rate of growth of the world market to decrease. Combined with this there is a growing tendency of the ruling classes of countries such as France to begin to question the built-in predominance of the U.S. in the international economic and financial set-up. This has meant a sharpening of competition between monopolies and states on an international scale. In country after country attempts have been made to weaken the power of the organised workers through “incomes policies” and welfare cuts.

British capitalism shares the problems of the rest of the capitalist world – but in a magnified form. There are a variety of reasons for this. They all flow from the fact that British capitalism is used to being a dominant (at one time the predominant) economic and political power. Its traditional trade was with the underdeveloped world. With the permanent arms economy and the increasing tendency for industrial development to take place in the advanced countries, attempts have had to be made to change this. The abandonment of “Commonwealth” for Common Market was part of such an attempt. Similarly, expenditure on military forces throughout the world to protect the imperialist interests that used to raise the levels of profits, now impedes them in the growing sectors of the economy that concentrate on trade with other developed countries. (The huge sums spent internationally on arms helps capitalism in general, but are seen as a drag on profits by each individual capitalist and capitalist state). A further residue of past dominance of the role of sterling in international trade serves to magnify every minor difficulty.

The result of these forces has been the series of crises that have faced successive governments. In the 1950s and early 60s these forced each government in turn to impose periodic “credit squeezes”, that slowed down economic expansion and increased unemployment for a short period. Over the last three years these crises have become more pressing. The government and big business see only one way out – cuts in working class living standards and a systematic reduction in the strength of the organised workers. Should the world-wide problems of capitalism worsen, they might be forced to attack even more.

A New Need for Politics

There are several methods involved in this new approach. Wage freeze and wage restraint are imposed, with the threat of the cuts for those who do not comply. Police and judges begin to treat strikers more harshly. Unemployment is increased to nearly twice the height of a few years ago. In the engineering industry, measured day work is introduced so as to reduce the bargaining strength of the workers. Everywhere demands for wage increases are met by offers of “productivity deals”, which offer increases only if productivity and thus profits are further increased while total available employment is reduced.

Inside the factory the working conditions deteriorate; outside the chances of the unemployed getting jobs diminish. For the first time for decades skilled men find it difficult to find work as even in the “prosperous south” the number of closures increases. Further, every large scale economic strike is soon confronted with the opposition of the government. It intervenes to stop employers giving workers who are in a relatively weak position (such as busmen, who cannot directly affect the economy) wage increases. It threatens the use of troops against other groups of workers. The most important of strikes are spoken of as being something akin to high treason.

The old methods of localised, fragmented struggle are less appropriate against this new sort of employers’ offensive. At best they offer limited protection to those in one shop or factory, while their friends or relatives in nearby factories lose their jobs or see their wages cut. Strong organisation in one factory is no protection against a closure – and the number of these must grow as British capitalism brings itself up to date at the expense of the workers. In this situation, a generalised, not a fragmented movement is needed just to protect the conditions won over the last 25 years. Industrial militancy alone cannot build that. A new form of working class politics is needed as well.

VI. A Parliamentary Road to Socialism?

Within the British Labour Movement when people have talked of politics, they have generally meant parliamentary politics. In the past the Labour Party has been considered the embodiment of political action. Within it, both the “left” and the “right” have accepted the “inevitability of gradualness”. In recent years even the Communist Party has come to accept the same general approach. It speaks of the possibility of socialism being brought about through “our traditional institutions” (British Road to Socialism, 1957, p. 9). Such ideas have always ignored what the existing parliamentary structure is in reality. This has not been something that has developed independently of the rest of society and could remain untouched if the rest of society were radically transformed. Rather it has been developed in a society in which all the means of production and the mass of the means of communication have been controlled by a small ruling class. Capitalist society is a society in which the majority of people have no say in most of the decisions affecting their everyday life. The owners of industry determine what happens during people’s working lives, where people will be able to find jobs, how many will be employed. The owners of the press determine what people will be able to read, the ideas they can encounter. Everywhere it is assumed that decisions are made by a small group at the top of society and handed down to the rest. Normally people are not expected and do not expect to control their own lives. Parliamentary democracy as it exists now completely accepts this situation – except that it gives people the “right” once every five years to vote as to who they want to hand down the decisions within the very narrow area of life directly affected by parliamentary politics. But even here the presumption is that the mass of the people are not really capable of running things. In theory and in practice those elected are not subject to those who elect them. If they fail to follow the policies they were elected on, they cannot be voted out until years have passed. For 1,460 days people have to obey decisions they cannot affect. Then they are allowed one day in which they are permitted to write a cross on a piece of paper. Even then they cannot object to particular policies or decisions, but only replace one individual by another.

But this is not all. Even in the narrowly political field the powers of those elected are limited. In the sphere of legislation the House of Lords continues to exist to delay laws it does not like, and the Queen can (at least in theory) refuse to enact “rash” decisions by Parliament. But more to the point, laws passed have to be put into effect. The state machine that does this is dominated by those who accept all the tenets of capitalist society – by leading civil servants not subject (even in theory) to Parliamentary control, by judges who have previously made small fortunes from being highly-paid barristers, by army officers, by police chiefs who have made their careers through safeguarding the property of the rich. None of these are elected. Most come from similar backgrounds. 76% of judges, 59% of leading civil servants, 67% of Governors of the Bank of England, 70% of ambassadors went to the same public schools as 64% of the chief executives of the hundred largest companies. The mass of people have no say as to how any of them act. Each individual voter has little control over who his MP is and no control over what he does when elected. Each individual MP has little control over decisions taken and no control over those who implement them (judges, for instance, are completely immune to parliamentary decisions). This means even on the rare occasion that the ordinary worker is not just on the receiving end in relation to the state, he cannot affect what happens. He is faced with constant frustration of his efforts to change things as those he elects, no longer subject to control from below give way to pressures from above and endorse directly or indirectly the status quo. Not surprisingly most workers respond to this by virtually ignoring Parliament. They lose interest in a political game they cannot influence. When they vote they do so more out of habit than out of any positive commitment. The fact is that the parliamentary system is not meant to express the interests of the worker. Those who were involved in the development of “our traditional institutions” from Gladstone and Disraeli to Lloyd George and Churchill – were all well-integrated both in their interests and their ideas with this ruling class. What they wanted was a mechanism which would give the mass of people the impression that they controlled the state, while in fact those that did were representatives from different interests within the ruling class itself. This has been provided by the parliamentary system. In fact of course, the power of parliament is declining. MPs rarely influence government decisions nowadays. Cut off from those that elect them by the nature of the parliamentary system itself, they increasingly become dependent for their positions upon the party leaders. The policies of these are not determined from below (just look at the way the Labour leaders have ignored conference decisions, even when as over Vietnam, they coincide with the desires of the mass of the population). The big international companies, the large scale investors, the international bankers are much more in a position to influence government decisions than any MP. Every year since the Labour Government was elected, these have been able to impose on the government policies that are aimed at hurting precisely those that elected it.

The state as it exists at present has grown up under capitalism and is designed to implement its policies. Both the personnel that man its executive organs and the extremely limited and circumscribed powers of the mass of the population are indicative of this. That is why at best the election of working class representatives to parliament has been able to obtain reforms from the ruling class without curtailing their power and privileges. And even these have depended upon the external economic situation. When the needs of profit have demanded it, even these have been cut back – thus a “Labour” Prime Minister cut the dole in the thirties and a “Labour” government attempts to cut working class living standards today. The state machine does not in any sense operate independently of classes. Rather it aims to regulate society and to maintain law and order to ensure social cohesion when maintaining law and order means maintaining the position of the ruling class. In the process it has to perform certain functions necessary in any sort of society – for instance maintaining a minimal level of welfare services – but these are subordinate to its overall concern with the needs of the ruling class. This does not mean that it necessarily functions as a direct servant of every particular capitalist interest. Frequently it has to impose on individual members of the ruling class policies they themselves do not like. But this is in the interest of the ruling class as a whole. For instance, mine owners objected to the nationalisation of the mines – but this was necessary if the owners of other industries were to be guaranteed an efficient and cheap source of fuel. But this does not and cannot mean that the state machine at present existing could act for the working class against the ruling class. It is not merely that its personnel would systematically sabotage such actions – although they most certainly would not follow orders designed to damage the interests of their friends and relatives in big business. More importantly its very structure and mode of operation is diametrically opposed to that required for the struggle of socialism.

The major strength of the rulers of any advanced society lies not in their ability to use physical force against opposition forces, although they do not hesitate to use this where necessary. Rather it lies in their ideological dominance. Because people have always lived in a society where orders come down from above, where decisions are made by a privileged few, where the division between mental and manual labour exists, they tend to take this situation for granted. They believe that there is something “special” about those who run society at present that means they are irreplaceable – except perhaps by others from the same background. The means of communication controlled by those from this “special” background systematically encourage such beliefs. This view that the mass of people are incapable of running society is the major ideological defence of the ruling class. And it is built in to the parliamentary system. Why else the “privilege” of MPs which protects them from being influenced by those who put them into office; why else the subordination of MPs themselves to the party whips; why else the “constitutional” restrictions on the House of Commons? A minority of the working class can come to see that this ideology is nonsense through a scientific study of society. But most workers have neither the time nor the inclination for this. It is only at certain moments when they themselves are beginning to exercise power that they throw it overboard. When engaged in mass struggles against capitalism they begin to see the possibilities of a radically different organisation of society. Workers’ organisations begin to challenge the power of the old rulers. Those that have built them and to whom they are responsible begin to actively take initiatives themselves. They become aware of their power and their ability to shape their own futures.

When the old state steps in to aid the owners of industry it does not only mean defeat for the workers in the immediate battle. Often it also means destruction of the working class organisation built up in the battle, or at least a weakening of the links between it and the mass of the workers. Having lost direct power in opposition to capitalism, many of these cease to be aware of their ability to run society themselves. Once again they have to accept the dictates of capitalism in their everyday lives. They are no longer a collectivity consciously shaping their own future, but a mass of individuals each trying to make his own way in an alien world. Many retreat back into their private lives, effectively accepting this existing organisation of society. At the same time, all the forces of the old society reorganise to take advantage of the situation. The press begins to play upon the private fears and prejudices of the workers. The ruling class uses every trick it has learnt over hundreds of years to reimpose its ideology on the workers. While the workers are solid and fighting it has little effect on them. Once they are defeated and fragmented many are easily led to accept the sorts of habits and ideas cultivated by capitalism. Militancy in struggle is only rarely reflected in the detached and rarefied atmosphere of the ballot box. This situation is not inevitable. It can be prevented. But only by realising that the struggle against the existing state has to develop out of direct class conflicts. After a certain point in the most crucial of these either the existing ruling class uses its state to crush the workers’ struggle and fragment the elements of their organisation and consciousness, or the workers organise and mobilise such force on their side as to be able to neutralise and overthrow the power of the old state machine. They cannot isolate these two processes from each other. They cannot wait for elections to a parliament whose very structure reflects the needs of another class and in which many of them have lost faith to fight back against a state machine that is out to destroy their organisation and confidence. Whenever workers have been led to wait in this manner – as in Italy in 1919–20, in Germany in 1923, in Spain in 1936, in France and Italy after the last war – their organisations have been undermined and their self-confidence has ebbed, while the capitalist class has reasserted its authority. Workers organisations that wait for the political processes of the bourgeois state to hand power to them merely pave the way for their own defeat.

VII. The Workers’ Councils

When we say that the economic struggle has to become political we mean that it has to be conscious that the attacks of the existing state apparatus require a corresponding class-wide organisation from the workers. Just as every strike against an individual employer requires organisation and centralisation of decision-making, so a struggle against the full force of the state machine and the employers requires the development of forms of centralised organisation that include the whole working class. These have to be able to match the power and organisation of the state and the old ruling class – but be based upon entirely different principles. Instead of being based upon a narrow group cut off from the rest of society, obeying decisions made from on high, they have to be based upon the struggling majority of society, enabling this to co-ordinate and discipline itself. They have to enable millions of people to collectively arrive at decisions and implement them, to articulate their differing wills and opinions, and to prevent any privileged group exercising power over and above the rest.

In every great working class struggle of the past these forms of organisation have begun to emerge. They have typically developed as workers’ councils. These reached their peak in the Soviets of Russia in 1917, but were also present to differing degrees in the German and Austrian revolutions of 1918–19, in Spain in 1936, in Poland and Hungary in 1956. Because they have been organically linked to the day-to-day struggles of workers (in a way that MPs, however “left” are not), they have been able both to direct these and to take on the essential, administrative functions of the old state. They have really been able to embody the attempt of the mass of society to organise itself from below. The basis of these is that the workers themselves, usually in their place of work, elect representatives that are directly responsible to them. These bodies are not separated off from those who elect them but directly subordinated to them, their members being subject to instant recall. Their policies are constantly discussed by the workers themselves. They are not implemented by special bodies cut off from the ordinary people, but by elected delegates. The so-called “division” of powers that characterised bourgeois democracy, allowing one elected official to shelter behind another, so that non-elected forces decide effective decisions, is done away with. It is immediately clear who is responsible should democratically-decided policies not be implemented.

In this situation the administrative body is not something distinct from the rest of society. Instead it merely exists to centralise and make effective decisions of the majority. For instance, for the state of the old ruling class an army and a police force are needed to protect it either from foreign ruling classes or exploited classes at home or to defend property that does not belong to the mass of society. For this reason. These forces have to be separated off from the rest of society. Within them a rigid discipline operates. The most basic rights are denied their members (for instance, they are not allowed to form trade unions); the most sadistic and inhuman practices are often encouraged within them. None of this is necessary once the interest of the centralised body are the interests of the majority. Force might be needed (and in this sense an administration of workers’ councils constitutes a “state”) – but it is a force to be used by the majority against a minority. The situation is like that in a strike where the strike committee uses force – but against the employers and those workers who side with them (scabs or policemen) not against the mass of strikers. Unless force is used in this way, the force of that minority that has run society in the past, exercised through their state, prevails and the struggle is lost. It has to be emphasised again and again that this use of force is not something that takes place independently of or behind the backs of workers. It is not exercised for them by someone else over whom they have no control. Rather it is exercised by the workers themselves though by delegate bodies that are subject to constant recall and cannot begin in any way to develop into a stratum apart from the ordinary workers. (This separation could only take place in Russia after 1917 because the working class was physically decimated by civil war and invasion).

A government of workers’ councils does not do away with democracy. Rather it extends it and gives it a meaning it could never have under the present system. The organisation of every sphere of life is determined by those affected by it. For instance, how each factory produces is determined by discussion between the workers’ councils in charge of production within the factory and the central workers’ council representing the consumers of the product (i.e. workers of other industries, etc.). Nor would such a system be inefficient. Experts and specialists would have a role; just as they now prepare alternative plans for the managers and shareholders of individual firms to choose between, they would under this form of organisation prepare alternatives for the workers’ councils to choose between. Present inefficiencies arising from lack of planning between firms would be done away with. Above all, with those carrying out production controlling it, there would be no need for the external discipline which prevents initiative and creativity being applied in the work process. Controlling industry themselves, workers would have no need to limit production so as to protect themselves against profit-seeking bosses.

VIII. The Task Now

Revolutionary socialists do not counterpose an abstract utopia to the capitalist society, they see the elements for constructing the new society as existing in the here and now. In the thousands of struggles that take place every year even in the most pacifistic and complacent of capitalist societies, the least political of workers are forced to counterpose their own organisations and ideas to those of present society. Shop stewards organisations are a good instance of this. Regardless of the intentions of individual shop-stewards (and many of them are in it to get the foreman’s job), they have to defend the interests of the men in their shop if they are to remain in office. This constantly brings them into opposition with both the bosses and the “official” trade union structure. In Britain, for instance, 90% of strikes are “unofficial”, led by stewards. When massive struggles against capitalism develop, it is likely to be committees of shop stewards that lead them, that begin to do for the workers what the state with its police force does for the employers. The elements for a political alternative to capitalism have to be built at the points where workers can and do begin to act for themselves. In the period of expanding capitalism this is something they have done – but, as we have pointed out above, in a fragmented fashion. What now has to be done is to unify and generalise the fragments of working class resistance. Links have to be established between different struggles, those involved made aware that they cannot win any longer if they fight on their own. Organisations have to be established that can frame strategies and tactics such as to permit workers to begin to choose their own ground for fighting the new extended battles that are beginning to take place. In the struggle itself such links will often be formed by representatives of workers in different spheres. Such solidarity committees or defence committees or action committees are essential. But they rarely live on after the immediate struggle is over. Unless those involved are interested in more than the immediate struggle, that is by more than immediate economic problems, however urgent, they will not usually sacrifice the time and energy needed to maintain such organisations. In fact continuing links will only be formed by industrial militants who are also political militants. They have to see that what is involved is not only immediate economic gain, but the struggle against a decaying and inhuman society that takes place on many fronts and has a history and meaning of its own. They have to see the organisation of workers as a class not just as necessary for the immediate defence of living standards, but as the only alternative to economic or nuclear catastrophe under capitalism.

Any concentration on parliamentary politics as such will prevent the development of such organisation. Over recent years concern of most workers with what goes on in Westminster has diminished. Few people expect MPs to really solve their problems for them. They know that if meaningful action is to be taken, they have to take it themselves. Disillusionment with parliamentary socialism is part of an awareness that whoever is in “power” at Westminster or the local town hall, rents and prices will rise, and train and bus fares will go up, there will be continual exhortations, often with legal backing, for wage restraint, the condition of, for instance, the old age pensioners will deteriorate. If people are “apathetic” it is because they often just do not care which of two virtually identical alternatives they choose.

The political alternative to capitalism has to be put forward in relationship to struggles people are really involved in and interested in. It has to make explicit what they learn implicitly through their own experience. This means not appealing for votes in parliamentary elections but being involved in the fighting of real battles. It is here that workers really can learn for themselves about existing society and the alternative they themselves can pose to it.

It is here that socialists have to be, fighting alongside other workers, always generalising the experiences of other workers throughout the world to control their own lives. The fact is, of course, that such political organisation does not exist yet. In the boom conditions of the permanent arms economy, much of the old socialist movement disappeared. The Labour Party was more or less reduced to being an electoral machine, to what is now surely no more than a second capitalist parliamentary party. The Communist Party, which at its foundation tried to be the sort of body of revolutionary militants we referred to, now concerns itself almost entirely with attempts to get into parliament. Many of its members only stir themselves every two or three years for the elections; many do not even do that much. In industry its chief preoccupation is with electing friendly national officials, not with developing working class self-activity.

For the rest there are a variety of small groups that have in the main replaced looking at the real world with their own pretensions. The isolation of socialist politics from the mainstream of the working class movement over the last 20 years is reflected within them in terms of their own narrowness and sectarianism. Unable to lead real struggles, they boast about their ability to lead imaginary ones. Others despair completely of success in this country, and identify with whatever foreign leader happens to be fashionable at any particular moment.

International Socialism does not pretend to have been immune to the stultifying effects of isolation. We are a small organisation and do not pretend to stand at the centre of the class struggle. But we do believe that there is vital work for revolutionary socialists to do and we attempt to do it. We attempt to analyse present reality in a scientific fashion, to make socialist propaganda, to lead partial struggles and generalise their lessons, to provide journals in which militants can discuss society and the right to change it. This means involvement in many fields of activity. We participate in all movements against imperialist aggression abroad (for instance, against the U.S. war in Vietnam). We support student demonstrations. We actively oppose every manifestation of racialism. We try to participate in every attempt by workers to defend their conditions, whether against employers, landlords, local councils, or governments. Above all, we attempt to establish groups of militants active in the different areas of fragmented struggle who make continual revolutionary socialist propaganda, demonstrating to others involved the links with the struggles of other workers. Only in this way is it possible to begin to develop the sort of organisation and discussion necessary if a conscious socialist strategy is to be counterposed to policies of the ruling class.

There is nothing inevitable about the development of socialist consciousness among workers. If the ruling class is able to take on one sector of the working class at a time, it can defeat and demoralise them. Then, instead of developing their own alternatives to the ideology of the ruling class, whole sectors of workers can begin to accept elements in this as offering solutions to their problems. Above all the chauvinistic and racialist myths that centuries of capitalism and imperialism have inculcated into workers can be utilised by sections of the ruling class to lead some of the most oppressed sections of the population into battle against other workers, not against capitalism.

Only the constant posing of realistic socialist alternatives to workers that develop out of their own situations and struggles can prevent this. If we fail to build organisations that develop these alternatives reactionary and racist elements can be relied upon to try and capitalise on the frustrations and anxieties caused by capitalism itself.

IX. Conclusion

Those who consider themselves revolutionary socialists are not great in number. Nor are we anything like a dominant influence in the working class movement. But this does not mean our efforts need be futile.

The old order is slowly but surely disintegrating. In the Unites States the stability and class “peace” of the last 20 years, always predicated upon the threat of complete nuclear destruction, is cremated in the burning ghettos. City after city has experienced negro uprisings and looting in which poor whites have joined. For the first time for decades, national trade union officials are threatened by unofficial movements from below. Official society knows only one response to this – crude violence, whether against Malcolm X and Luther King or against Dow Wilson, the murdered unofficial painters’ leader. East of the “Iron Curtain”, the same fear grips the ruling class. In Moscow, intellectuals are imprisoned, although all they did was circulate hand-written poems. Warsaw sees students and young workers demonstrating together despite savage attacks by the security police and mass arrests. Crude anti-Semitic propaganda is churned out by the rulers in the hope that they can discredit the movement. They shudder at the memory of Hungary 1956, when 6,000 Russian tanks and the killing of at least 20,000 Hungarians (80–90% of them young workers) were necessary to prevent the population taking power into its own hands. In the underdeveloped countries, Vietnam has proven beyond all doubt that it is possible to fight back against imperialism. Other oppressed nations will not be long in heeding the lesson.

In this situation the old ruling classes can only attempt to divide movement against movement, one group of workers against the other. Their aim is to complete the struggle against them fragmented. In the last resort they are willing to utilise any method, however irrational and loathsome, to achieve this. They deliberately encourage chauvinistic tendencies in order to divide the workers of one country against those of another. If in really tight straits, they will resort to crude racialism, in the hope that a mass movement against them can be diverted by scapegoats. In Hitler’s Germany, the Jews were blamed; the blatantly racialist immigration legislation in this country and the speeches of Enoch Powell and Duncan Sandys are attempts to blame coloured migrants.

The old society will not just collapse under its own weight. Its rulers will use all the power at their disposal to try to ensure its survival – even if they have to bring all of civilisation down with them. Their nuclear paranoia and their willingness to resort to racialism show that they prefer a return to barbarism to a loss of profits. Conscious socialist action by the exploited mass of humanity is needed to prevent this. It may seem a long and not very hopeful struggle, but the alternatives are too ghastly to even imagine.

* * *

Appendix 1

I.S. Manifesto


The history of the 20th century has been a history of war, hunger, economic crisis, and unemployment. As capitalism has developed production, it has also developed the means by which it can threaten to destroy society altogether. In the attempt to expand and safeguard its interests it is forced to intensify existing antagonisms and to press all the organisations of society in to the service of the state.

In the period up to the Second World War there was ample evidence to confirm the predictions of Marxists about the basic instability and the imminent collapse of capitalism; the Russian Revolution of 1917, which marked the first major advance of the socialist movement, the world economic crisis of 1929, the rise of fascism, the general strikes in Britain and France, the Spanish Civil War.

The Russian Revolution gave added impetus to a growing wave of militancy throughout the world. It led to the formation of mass Communist parties and greatly furthered the development of the anti-colonial struggle. In Germany and Hungary, workers’ revolutions were suppressed only by the full mobilisation of reaction. Workers’ Councils were formed in Italy and a number of other countries. Pre-1939 society was riddled with crisis, contradiction, and conflict.

In the period since the Second World War, capitalism – in the West – displayed an apparent stability. This stability was bought at the expense of the under-developed countries, a massive growth in arms expenditure and the intensification of work in the work place.

The first cracks in the smooth surface of capitalist stability have begun to appear. The growing anti-imperialist struggle in the “third world” has reached new heights. These “third world” developments have been reflected in the Russian satellites – the East German uprising of 1953, the Hungarian and Polish events of 1956 and the growing antagonism between Russia and China. And in the West, we have seen the massive strike wave in Italy and France, growing industrial militancy in Britain and France and the crisis in Northern Ireland. Even in the very heartland of capitalism – the United States – the armed struggles in the ghettoes and the tremendous anti-war movement assert the masked, but still basic, instability of society and capitalism’s clear inability to solve the fundamental problems of peace, social justice, and prosperity.

What socialists have been saying for so long is more relevant than ever today. The only alternative to capitalism, both East and West, is a revolutionary transformation of society. To carry through this task it will be necessary to build a mass revolutionary party of the working class on a world scale.

In this document we will be attempting to provide an analysis that will assist in the building of such a movement.

The Capitalist Crisis

Viewed unemotionally, in terms of world history, capitalism did, in its time, fulfil a necessary and progressive role. In a few short years, the whole relation between men and production, and men and society, was transformed. These developments carried through arbitrarily and at the expense of massive human suffering, were, however, accompanied by deep and sharp contradictions.

Within capitalism, no one is really free. The individual worker is but a small cog in the process of production. His freedom is limited to a choice of to whom he should sell his labour. Even an individual capitalist has little freedom. His need to continue making profits, to compete successfully for resources and markets, his need to reduce the cost of production, his need to improve machinery, equipment and techniques force him to re-invest as high a share of his profits as possible. Regardless of the intention of those who own and control it, capital has to be accumulated so as to produce more while the wages paid out to workers have to be restricted. To this end machinery is continuously employed to replace workers.

Capitalism has an internal “logic” of its own: production for the sake of capital accumulation and not for consumption. This logic is also its central difficulty. If each capitalist is increasing production while limiting consumption of his own workers, the total demand for goods must be lower than the total production. Thus capitalism has a continuous tendency to overproduce.

In the short term there are always ways in which this dilemma can be overcome. A programme of intensive investment etc. could take up this surplus. In the long term, however, the inbuilt contradiction between the trend to expand productive capacity and to restrict consumption has always re-asserted itself.

The boom and slump pattern so characteristic of the nineteenth century clearly showed the capitalist contradictions at work.


From the eighteen eighties onwards a period of capitalist expansion began. Most of the advanced capitalist countries began dividing up the rest of the world between them. This helped them in three crucial ways. A programme of capital investment in the colonies took up much of the surplus being produced. In the period immediately preceding World War One for example, about fifty percent of savings of British investors went overseas. The acquisition of protected markets for the products of western industries also helped by taking up large quantities of goods which could not otherwise be sold in the metropolitan countries. Lastly the direct control over the production of raw materials allowed western capitalists to reduce their costs of production and keep up profit rates. However, the need for the capitalists of each country to secure new markets, sources of raw materials and investment opportunities led their governments to attempt to expand their spheres of influence at the expense of others. The central contradiction of capital reasserted itself albeit in a different form. The bloodiest and most futile war in human history was the result in 1914.

Since 1940 the capitalist economy has undergone a period of unprecedented expansion. This period has been characterised by the absence of the traditional booms and slumps. The explanation: war and the constant preparation for war. In the US, arms production has accounted for about ten per cent of all production and more significantly about fifty per cent of all the funds available for investment.

Because weapons have to be replaced by more up-to-date models at an ever increasing rate there is a constant cycle of – production, obsolescence, production. In this way a high proportion of the productive forces of Society never appear on the Market and cannot therefore contribute to the crisis of over-production. With the division of the World between the two power blocs, both sets of ruling classes are forced to devote similar proportions of their resources to their arms. This prevents either Bloc from investing more than the other in means of production and so under-cutting in economic competition.

We do not suggest that the permanent arms economy was deliberately embarked upon by the ruling class to stabilise the system. What is suggested is that they stumbled on it accidentally but that it alone explains the present stability.

Yet there are signs that the permanent arms economy is declining as a way of keeping the system functioning.

As weapons become much more advanced the same outlay of investment tends to employ fewer workers. Certain countries have been able to benefit from the markets created by the permanent arms economy whilst themselves spending relatively little on “Defence” (e.g. Japan, Italy, Germany). This has enabled them to devote more resources to building up industry and capture a growing share of world markets; this in turn forces the others to attempt to increase their competitiveness by cutting their arms expenditure. But this inevitably reduces the overall stabilising effect of the permanent arms economy.

The Degeneration of the Russian Revolution

The time and place of the Russian Revolution were products not of capitalism in Russia alone but of capitalism as a world system. Lenin, Trotsky, and the other Bolshevik leaders knew this and they repeatedly argued the revolution must spread to the West or else it was doomed. For this reason they worked hard at the building of a new world revolutionary organisation, the Third Communist International.

The Russian Revolution was followed by a revolutionary wave throughout Europe. But the new revolutionary parties in the West were too young and inexperienced to succeed in time in winning the mass of workers away from their traditional social democratic institutions and perspectives. The revolution was defeated, the chance was missed and by the twenties the tide of change had receded.

Thus, the Russian workers were left isolated in a capitalist world and within their own country made up overwhelmingly of small property-owning peasants, hostile to the socialist aspirations of the working class. The small working-class, less than 10% of the population was exhausted by the trials of revolution, civil war, and famine. In the vacuum thus created, a new privileged bureaucracy emerged. They abandoned the internationalism of October 1917 and proclaimed a national theory of “socialism in one country”. Increasingly, the parties of the Comintern were transformed into instruments of the bureaucracy’s foreign policy, and this led to missed revolutionary opportunities in Germany in 1923, in Britain in 1926 and in China in 1927. In this situation there were two possibilities; the first represented by the Left Opposition, led by Trotsky, fought for an end to bureaucracy, a revival of the independent activity of the workers and return to a fighting policy against world capitalism. The other represented by Stalin based itself on the exhaustion of the workers and the rise of the new bureaucracy. By 1928 this had gathered all power into his own hands and driven all other tendencies out of the Party.

From this time onwards, the Stalinist bureaucracy defended its control over Russia against Western capitalism by imitating the methods of capitalism. The peasants were driven at gun-point into collective farms and the produce seized in order to build up heavy industry. The workers in the factory lost the last traces of workers control and all trade union rights. Wages were driven down and productivity stepped up. A ruthless censorship was clamped on the country and all dissident opinion silenced. Finally, a ruthless purge of the entire party and state apparatus eliminated all those that could be suspected of any opposition to Stalin or any sympathy for the original working class goals of the Revolution.

From that day to this the driving force of the Russian economy has been the accumulation of capital. The workers produce a surplus of which they are robbed by a state which they do not control and at a rate determined by the level of international military, political and economic competition. The basic dynamic of Russian state capitalism and its impact on the working class is thus the same as that of capitalism in the West. The Russian bureaucrats take part with other ruling classes in the imperialist struggle for the division and re-division of the world. Thus in 1945 at Yalta, Stalin divided Europe with the Americans. In Eastern Europe he installed puppet regimes in the Russian image and exploited the workers of these countries ruthlessly in the interests of the Russian state.

The Third World

Imperialist exploitation has meant that throughout the “Third World” old established societies have been destroyed, natural resources plundered and possibilities for full development destroyed. Virtually all sections of these populations have suffered in one way or another. The result has been that the history of imperialism has also been the history of revolts against imperialism.

Initially these tended to be led by members of the old pre-capitalist ruling class. Later by elements who wanted to establish independent private capitalism. In both cases, however, because those leading the movements were themselves exploiters they were unwilling to fully mobilise the full mass of the population in these struggles, and instead came to terms with imperialism. In many cases this gave nominal independence, but left real economic power in the hands of Western monopolies. These continued to bleed the “Third World” dry.

More recently in a few cases new forces have taken up the struggle for full national independence. These are formed from the middle classes of the towns, who attempt to lead peasant armies against the imperialists and those elements of the local population who collaborate with them. If they are successful they then try to establish their own control over industry and agriculture through state ownership and to industrialise the countries. In order to try and do this they use the methods of pumping the surplus out of the workers and peasants through forms of exploitation pioneered by the Stalinist bureaucracy in Russia.

In the struggle against imperialism these elements fulfil a progressive role by weakening the metropolitan ruling classes. The success of such liberation struggle is only the beginning of new and more difficult problems for the mass of the population. The basic problem of underdevelopment and the heritage of colonial exploitation remains. The capital accumulated in the past at the expense of the colonial countries is held in the metropolitan centres. Only through the success of the metropolitan working class can these resources be freed for the rational and harmonious development of all the economies of the world.

The Struggle in the West and the Need for a Party

Associated with the expansion of the economy and full employment after the war there was a radical change in the forms of class struggle. Long national strikes were increasingly replaced by short local ones. The working class won the overwhelming majority of the strikes since for the capitalist the all-important question was to keep production going.

This had one advantage; it meant that workers had to be self-reliant and active themselves, not dependent on MPs or on national officials to fight for them. But it did result in a decreasing concern with wider industrial and political questions and in the fragmentation and apathy of the working class. This, in turn, reflected itself in the increasing bureaucratisation of the traditional workers’ organisations, the parties and the trade unions, and the increasing collaboration with the employers and the state.

These contradictory elements are still present today in an age when the decreasing stability of the system and the greater pressures of international competition force capital to a renewed and unified offensive. The world over governments and big business try to impose cuts in working class living standards and conditions of work and systematically attack working class organisations. There are many facets to this offensive. Wage freeze and wage restraints are imposed. Productivity deals, Measured Day Work, shift systems, speed-up etc. are introduced to break the power of factory organisations and to squeeze more out of workers. The rationalisation of capital which is bringing about mass mergers and monopolies better suited to international competition threaten large numbers of workers with redundancy.

The fragmented struggle of the past is becoming more and more inadequate to meet these new challenges. The fragments have to be united, new methods of struggle evolved.

Workers forced into united struggle by the united attack of capital do not, however, enter this new epoch without advantages from the gains and experiences of the previous period.

Twenty years of full employment and comparative prosperity has given workers a confidence in their ability to fight and improve their conditions. The experience of countless local struggles assists them in their attempts to reassert rank-and-file control of the Unions. All this in a period when the strategy of the employers and government has been to increase the power of the union bureaucracy over their members. In the political field as well the decreasing reliance on Parliament as a vehicle for reforms has meant that the “betrayal” of the Labour Party has made the more militant sections of the working class receptive to revolutionary ideas.

The all-embracing nature of the government directed employers’ offensive means to a greater or lesser extent, that organised workers experience common problems. The development of a generalised class consciousness and a strategy that will defend and advance conditions and lead on to the overthrow of capitalism can only be encompassed through a revolutionary party with its revolutionary programme.

Most workers do not throw their previous ideas overboard even when they come into opposition to the system. Rather they adapt them and accommodate in quite disparate fashion. At one and the same time their consciousness will reflect the existing ruling class ideas and contain elements and glimpses of a new socialist world view. Only a process of criticism and scientific analysis aided by an already coherent socialist perspective can cut through this maze of contradictions.

The party is not the substitute for the spontaneous activity of the class, rather a necessary complement. All revolutions in history have begun spontaneously. None have ended so. To overthrow capitalism the spontaneous uprising of the masses needs to be channelled and directed. The first will set up the democratic institutions of the class, the second will direct the smashing of the bourgeois state. The May days in Paris clearly show the inadequacies of spontaneity unaided by conscious direction.

Reform or Revolution

As Marx said, capitalism not only develops the productive forces but also produces its own gravedigger: the working class. The whole history of capitalism is one of continuous struggle between the working class and their bosses. In the process of this struggle the workers have developed their own organisations: the trade unions, the various Labour and Social Democratic parties and the rank and file Shop Stewards Committees.

From the beginning two trends of thought were apparent in the working class organisations; one saw the emancipation of labour as possible only through the revolutionary overthrow of capitalist society. The other saw its role in an attempt to reform capitalism out of existence.

In the West, the reformist school of thought has generally predominated. In this country since the war and for that matter, in almost all the advanced countries, there has been – under the influence of social democracy – reformism, a move towards the managed capitalism of the welfare state. This reflects not the interests of the working class but the requirements of a modern capitalist economy under conditions of full employment. This new “affluent”, increasingly “planned”, capitalism has given rise to superficial notions about the so-called disappearance of class war.

In fact, the comparative prosperity which many workers have experienced since the war is the result of one cause and one cause only – full employment. In this country, for example, differences amongst the classes have not changed in over 100 years. The top 1% of the population still owns 81% of all Company stocks and shares and the top 10% 79% of all private wealth. The degree of concentration of ownership is actually increasing. While the top 5% owned 68% of property in 1951/56, this has risen to 75% in 1960. The top 1% of the population get between 12 and 16% of total income after tax, the same figure as the bottom 36%.

The result is that twice as many children of unskilled workers died in the first few months of life as that of the professional and managerial class. The average age of manual workers is 10 years shorter than that of their rulers. The welfare state has done little to improve the situation. Approximately 18% of households and 14.2% of persons in the United Kingdom representing nearly 7.5 million persons were living below a defined national assistance level of living. Individual payments to adult workers for sickness and unemployment are worth less today than before the Second World War. A survey of wage rates in take-home pay between 1938 and 1968 proves conclusively that workers as a class today are getting barely as much as 30 years ago in real terms and many are below the 1938 level.

The failure of reformism is no accident. No attempt to use the existing state machine to overthrow the ruling class could possibly succeed because the state has grown up under capitalism and is designed to ensure its continuation. In no sense does the state machine operate independently of classes. Its whole aim is to regulate society, maintain law and order and ensure social cohesion in order to protect the exploitation of the ruling class. Its very structure prevents the mass of the population exercising continuous control over its functioning.

In order to transform society the workers must smash the old state machine and replace it with a new sort of administrative structure directly and continually responsive to their own demands.

The prototype of this “workers’ state” is the workers’ council by which the workers delegates from different industries, subject to recall at any time by those that elect them, come together in order to decide upon policies which the workers collectively will implement. Such councils reached their peak in the soviets of Russia in 1917, but they were present also to different degrees in the German and Austrian revolutions of 1918/19, in Spain in 1936, in Poland and Hungary in 1956. Because they have been organically linked to the day to day struggles of workers (in a way that MPs or trade union leaders, however “left” are not), the workers’ councils have been able to both direct these struggles and to take on the essential administrative functions of the old state. In this way the mass of society has been able to organise itself from below.

International Socialism

Whatever the difficulties ahead, however, new perspectives are opening up. We have to win the trust of workers by proving ourselves to them in an area familiar to them: the problems related to the demands in the factory. The intermittent nature of the present crisis of capitalism means that workers will have a long period of struggle ahead in which our ideas and suggestions will be put to the test. This, of course, is a two-way process and in the oncoming struggles, revolutionaries too will have much to verify and learn.

Despite the baneful influence of Stalinism and Social Democracy revolutionary ideas are beginning to make sense to small sections of the working class. For the first time since the war small groups of workers are moving from localised industrialised militancy to an appreciation of revolutionary politics. To win the trust of workers the revolutionary organisation has to learn from the experience of the class and its programme must make sense in the present as well as the future. Not only will a few workers be drawn immediately to revolutionary politics but also a considerably larger section of workers will be drawn into a rebirth of militant trade unionism. By the formation of groups and caucuses, of socialist revolutionaries inside factories and trade unions it will be possible to attract workers from the newly militant sections.

It is impossible and useless to attempt today to predict the possible developments of a revolutionary party in Britain. Much will depend on the way in which the class struggle will develop and the way in which all revolutionary groupings will react and adapt to these circumstances. IS has repeatedly called for the unity of the left on a minimal four-point programme:

  1. Opposition to all ruling-class policies and organisations.
  2. Workers’ control over production in a workers’ state.
  3. Opposition to imperialism and support for all movements of national liberation.
  4. Uncompromising opposition to all forms of racialism and immigration control.

Our theory of the Permanent Arms Economy is essential in avoiding two quite false ideas about the world:

  1. That capitalism has changed completely and has achieved permanent stability.

A view that leads directly to social democracy, or:

  1. The belief in the imminence of the general crisis of capitalism and the Socialist Revolution.

A view that leads to an elitist attitude to the working class, frenzied activity, and a completely unrealistic attitude towards day-to-day activity.

In our work in industry, amongst students, tenants etc. we must avoid both of these false alternatives. The building of a revolutionary party capable of challenging the system is made possible through the mutual development of revolutionary ideas and working class activity.

In an age when capitalism has outlived itself as a world system and has ceased to fulfil its essential function – the raising of the level of human power and human wealth – when the historical alternative of socialism or barbarism is posed time and time again the task of all revolutionary socialists is to commit themselves to an organisation to change the existing reality. It may seem a long and not very hopeful struggle but the alternatives are too dreadful even to imagine.

Last updated on 22 October 2020