Max Shachtman


The Fight For Socialism


The Need for a Revolutionary Socialist Party

IT HAS already been shown that the working class must constitute itself as an independent political force in order to advance its interests. In a country like the United States, where the bulk of the workers still supports the parties of capitalism, this means the formation of an Independent Labor Party. If such a party is to represent the working class, it must be based primarily upon the organized workers, that is, upon the labor unions. They are the already existing class organizations of the workers. They are the most representative and democratic organizations of the working class. They are the most important and most powerful organizations in the country. If they were to set up a political party of their own, it would represent a tremendous step forward. The workers would thereby break away as an organized class from the capitalist parties and proclaim that they are an independent political force with a political program and political aims of their own.

However, no such party has yet been formed in this country. The working class still follows the capitalist parties, still pursues capitalist politics. What assurance is there that such a party will come into existence?

All the capitalist politicians, their spokesmen and defenders, do everything they can to persuade the working class not to form a political party of their own. They do not limit themselves to persuasion, but put direct obstacles in the path of such a step.

They are not the only ones who act this way. Virtually all the official labor leaders join them in advising the workers against forming their own party and fighting every attempt to take this forward step. These labor leaders are tied up with the capitalist system; they think along capitalistic lines; their aim is to keep labor within the confines of capitalism, which means within the confines of capitalist politics. They are afraid that if the workers form their own class party, there is no telling how far it will go. They have a hard enough time preventing the labor unions from acting on militant class-struggle lines. If there were also a Labor Party, their difficulties might only be increased.

The very idea of the workers breaking away from the capitalist parties and forming their own class party is so revolutionary that it terrifies the labor bureaucracy. In the next stage, the workers would give their class party a clear-cut, conscious class goal – a workers’ government and socialism. Then where would the conservative labor leaders be? What would happen then to their special privileges and power? The thought of this keeps them working with might and main to hold labor to capitalist politics and to prevent the formation of an Independent Labor Party.

But suppose the organized labor movement does form such a party. The understanding of the need for it, and the demand that it be set up, will grow so strong among the membership of the unions that they will override the opposition of the leadership. Will that not be enough? It will be a big step forward, but far from enough.

The chances are that the labor bureaucracy, seeing that the workers are heading for a break with capitalist politics, would follow its usual course. It would try to head the movement in order to head it off. How? In two ways.

First, it would try to establish and consolidate its leadership of the Labor Party. If it succeeded, it would follow the same policy it does in the labor unions. It would restrict the democratic rights and the power of the rank-and-file membership. It would stand in the way of a bold and aggressive fight against the capitalist class, its parties and its government. It would take the steel out of the organization and replace it with putty.

Second, toward the same end, it would try to water down the aims of the party, to make them as harmless as possible so as not to offend the “good capitalists.” It would write the program and platform of the party in such a way as to keep it within the framework of capitalism. It would resist a program for struggle against capitalism and for workers’ power, and restrict the aims of the party exclusively to a little reform here and another one there. It would make the party a mere bargaining agency for miserable deals with the capitalist parties, instead of a fighting instrument against them. It would try to do to the Labor Party what it has done to the labor unions – make it tame, keep it in a state of bureaucratic paralysis, prevent it from fighting vigorously and consistently for the interests of the working class.

If it succeeded, the very aim of independent working-class political action would be defeated in the end. We would have a party such as existed in the capitalist countries of Europe and elsewhere. It would be incapable of giving a radical solution of the social problem that is imperatively required. It would be a reformist party. That is, it would try to tinker with the broken-down social system instead of replacing it with a new one. It would try to save the bankrupt society of capital, when it can be saved only at the expense of the workers and the middle classes. Its timidity would only make the capitalist class bolder and more confident, and encourage it to take most reactionary steps against the working class. The same timidity would prevent the working class from resisting this reaction successfully. The capitalist reaction would say: If the party of the workers is so afraid of taking political power, and concerned with keeping capitalism alive, we can do anything we want and worry about nothing. The workers would be confused, disorganized and discouraged.

We have seen this happen in one European country after another, especially in times of social crisis. The reformist workers’ parties either came to the rescue of capitalism, at great cost to the workers; or else, when capitalism was in such a crisis that it could no longer afford democracy, it crushed these parties and all other labor movements with the bloody aid of fascism. In either case, the reformist parties defeated the very aim of independent working class political action – which is to raise the working class to political power – and brought terrible suffering to the working class itself.

Does this mean that the working class cannot establish itself as an independent political force, or that, if it does, this force is doomed to defeat under the leadership of reformism? Yes, this is exactly what it does mean, unless there is an organized, conscious, disciplined, militant force capable of counteracting the ideas and policies and spokesmen of capitalism inside the working class. Without such a force, every forward step taken by the workers will sooner or later be cancelled out by a backward step and sometimes by two of them.

What is this force? It is the revolutionary socialist party, organized in this country as the Workers Party. What kind of party is it, and why is it needed?

The Importance of Socialist Consciousness

Capitalism, by its method of production, has brought isolated workers together and constituted them as a class in society. Capitalism has made the workers a class in themselves. That is, the workers are a distinct class in society, whether they recognize this fact or not. Historical development calls upon this class to reorganize society completely and establish socialism. To do this, the workers must become a class for themselves. They must acquire a clear understanding of their real position under capitalism, of the nature of capitalist society as a whole, and of their mission in history. They must act consciously for their class interests. They must become conscious of the fact that these class interests lead to a socialist society. When this takes place, the workers are a class for themselves, a class with socialist consciousness.

How are the workers to acquire this consciousness – this clear, thoroughgoing understanding of capitalist society, their position in it, and the need to replace this society with socialism?

In the factory, the worker tries to get better wages and working conditions from the employer. If he cannot get them by a simple request, he soon learns the need of union organization with which to enforce his requests and to defend himself from attacks by the employer. He learns, too, that the workers must resort to political action in order to influence the government in their interests. He and all other workers are forced by capitalism to engage in the class struggle.

But the fight of the working class up to this point is spontaneous, it is elementary. The thinking of the workers, which guides their fight, is based upon the ideas of the capitalist class, acquired directly from the capitalist press, schools and the like, or indirectly from the middle classes, the official leaders of the unions and the reformist parties of labor. What the workers still lack is a fundamental and thorough understanding of their real position in society and of their historic mission to establish socialism. This lack of a socialist consciousness reduces the effectiveness of their organization, of their struggle, and prevents them from accomplishing their mission in society.

To imbue the workers with this rounded-out class consciousness, or socialist consciousness; to organize and lead the struggle for socialism – that is the specific function of the revolutionary socialist party.

Such a party is therefore the vanguard of the working class. It is composed of those workers who already understand the nature of capitalism and the historical task of the working class. Their aim is to develop the same understanding among all the workers, so that they no longer fight blindly, or with only one eye open but with a clear and scientific knowledge of what their class enemy is, of what the working class itself really is and of what it can and must do in society. They and their party therefore have no interests separate from the interests of the working class as a whole. They merely represent its most advanced, most conscious, most militant section.

The Workers Party does not limit itself to preaching the great ideal of socialism. As an inseparable section of the working class, it takes an active part in every economic and political struggle of this class. It defends the working class from every capitalist attack. It supports every working class fight, even if the fight is led by conservative and anti-socialist labor leaders.

But the revolutionary socialist party also has a special function in every one of these working class struggles. It makes clear to the workers the full meaning of their fight. It shows how even the local struggles, against one capitalist, are really class struggles against capitalism; how the local struggles must be extended on a national and international scale if the workers are to win a lasting victory. It points out the political meaning of the economic struggle. It shows how the workers must organize as a class to take political power, and use it to inaugurate socialism. It combats the open and the insidious ideas of capitalism so that the working class as a whole may be better equipped to fight its enemy. It aims to improve the position of the working class, to strengthen it, to clarify it and supply it with the most effective weapons in the struggle, to lead it in every battle in order that it may most speedily and successfully win the final battle for socialism.

The Workers Party supports every step forward, no matter how small, that the working class can take. If the capitalist class and the capitalistic labor leaders resist the efforts of the workers to establish an Independent Labor party, the revolutionary socialist party does all it can to help the progressive workers break this resistance. If a Labor Party is formed under a conservative leadership, the revolutionary socialist party works with the progressives for a militant leadership, just as it does in the labor unions themselves. If a Labor Party is formed with a reformist program that does not meet the requirements of the working class, the revolutionary socialist party works for the adoption of a program based on the class struggle. Against the ideas of capitalism and reformism in the working class, the revolutionary party works for the ideas of socialism.

To put it briefly, a revolutionary socialist party is needed to win the working class to the principles of socialism, to so-called socialist methods of struggle against capitalist exploitations and oppression, and finally to the socialist victory itself. Socialism will never come by itself. It must be fought for. Without an organized, conscious, disciplined, active revolutionary socialist party, the triumph of socialism is impossible.

The Workers Party is not the only political organization which advocates socialism. There are several parties which proclaim the same goal. This is often very confusing to a worker. He will say: “How am I to tell which party is the right one for me to join or support?” Or, “Why don’t all those who are in favor of socialism unite into a single party?” Or, “If you cannot agree among yourselves, how do you expect me to agree with any of you?”

It should not be too hard to answer these questions. When a worker learns that a tool is useful and necessary, he does not throw up his hands in despair merely because there are many varieties of that tool offered to him. He reads carefully the claims made for each party and the description given of what it can do, and he judges from experience which one really serves the purpose best.

If there is sickness in the family, he learns that there are all sorts of “schools” of healing. One insists that illness can be cured by the science of modern medicine; another emphasizes adjustment of the bones; still another, pressure on nerve centers; a fourth, treatment by sun rays; a fifth, treatment by the faith of mind and heart; and there are the believers in cures by magic incantations and movements of the hand. He would not, because of all this, cry out: “Why don’t they all get together on the question of cures?” Or, “How am I to tell which to choose?” Instead, he would examine to the best of his ability the methods and the results of each “school,” making the most scientific possible test of which is most scientific.

It is not so very much different in politics. To judge the different parties, it is necessary to check on their words and their deeds. That is, to examine the programs of the different parties, what they are for and what they are against, and to see if what they do in practice corresponds to what they say in words. On that basis, it is easy to conclude which one best serves the interests of socialism.

The Principles and Program of the Workers Party

The Workers Party represents a long and rich tradition. It is proud of the fact that its principles and program are founded on the teachings of the greatest scientific thinkers and leaders of the international working class, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky. Marx and Engels laid the foundations of the scientific socialist movement a hundred years ago. Their analysis of capitalist society has never been successfully refuted. The principles they set forth for the working class struggle to achieve socialism have passed the most critical tests a hundred times over. Lenin and Trotsky applied the analysis of Marx and Engels to modern capitalism, strengthened the fundamental principles of scientific socialism, and successfully applied them in the great Russian Bolshevik Revolution.

The Workers Party is called a Marxist, or Leninist or Trotskyist, or Bolshevik party. These names are quite applicable. They merely signify that the Workers Party stands firmly on the basic principles of the greatest teachers in the history of the working class.

(The name “Bolshevik” is used by the capitalist press like the word “red” – to scare little children. In itself, “Bolshevik” is simply a Russian word meaning “a member of the majority.” It was the name given to those who supported the majority in the split that took place in the Russian socialist movement in 1903. Politically, of course, it means a socialist who stands solidly for the principles of Karl Marx, and of Lenin, who was the leader of the majority in the split.)

The Workers Party was formed as an independent organization in 1940. But its roots reach much further back. Many of its members and leaders belonged to the Communist Party from its earliest years, when it was still a revolutionary socialist movement standing on the principles of Marx and Lenin. These members continued to defend the same principles as put forward by Leon Trotsky and other Russian revolutionists after the death of Lenin and the beginning of the decline of the Russian Revolution. For upholding these views, they were expelled from the party by the leadership which followed the policies and instructions of the Stalinist bureaucracy. The formation of a separate organization, generally called the Trotskyist group, followed. This group won to itself many working class militants, including those of the American Workers Party, who merged with it in 1934, and many members of the Socialist Party and the Young People’s Socialist League, who joined in 1936.

In 1939, with the outbreak of the war, a sharp dispute took place in the Trotskyist movement, organized under the name of the Workers Party. Many members opposed the policy of supporting Stalinist Russia in the war, on the ground that it was part and parcel of one of the imperialist camps, was itself engaged in imperialist conquest and therefore should not be supported by the working class and revolutionary socialists. The bureaucratism prevailing in the party was also opposed by these members. The dispute came to a head in 1940, when the leaders and members of the opposition were arbitrarily ousted from the party by the bureaucratic majority, thus precipitating an open split. The result was the formation of the Workers Party on a national scale.

As a Marxist organization, the Workers Party champions the idea of revolutionary workers’ power as the road to socialism.

The word “revolution” brings forth a storm of abuse from the capitalist class. Revolution? Why, that means violence, bloodshed, killing, destruction! No, anything you want in the world – but not revolution!

Its indignation at revolution and violence is the height of hypocrisy. In the first place, the capitalist class came to power in society and destroyed feudalism in a number of modern countries by means of a revolution, and not a very peaceful one. What its spokesmen mean, of course, is that a revolution that brought it to power was a good, progressive, respectable revolution; whereas a revolution that relieves it of its power is the very work of the devil. In the second place, the capitalist class could not exist for a minute without the violence that it exercises against the masses. Its exploitation of the masses is based on the forcible maintenance of its property by the armed state machinery. Its exploitation of millions of backward, colonial peoples is maintained by the most gruesome violence. And periodically, it plunges innocent millions all over the world into the most violent wars until the surface of the earth is covered with bloody and shattered corpses. A fine picture it presents, whining piously about revolution and violence!

What is a social revolution? It is the replacement of one ruling class by another. History is filled with such revolutions and in almost every case they made possible the progress of society. The socialist revolution is simply the overthrow of capitalist despotism and the establishment of workers’ rule.

Will this overthrow, this revolution, be accomplished by violence or can it be achieved peaceably? Reform socialists say that socialism can be established by the workers gaining a majority of the votes for their candidates to public office. Once they have been elected in sufficient number they will adopt laws introducing socialism little by little and painlessly. These are not genuine socialists, but utopian reformists. They create illusions that are fatal to the working class.

The Workers Party holds a radically different point of view. It is of course in favor of the workers participating in elections to all public offices and trying to win the largest number of votes for the socialist program. But it knows the nature of the capitalist class and its long, brutal history, some of which is known to every worker.

When the workers ask for a modest raise in wages, the capitalists fight against it as hard as they can. When workers strike for the most modest improvement in their conditions, the capitalists do not hesitate to use violence against them, in the form of the armed forces of their government or of hired thugs and strikebreakers.

If that is how the capitalists act when only a little fraction of their profits is at stake, how will they act if all their social power is in peril? It stands to reason, and bloody experiences in many countries confirm it, that the capitalists will not hold back from every conceivable form of violence against the working class when it is about to take power and even after it has taken it. They do not care about who has the majority. They are concerned only with the preservation of their profits and power. If the armed forces of the government are not enough to suppress the workers by violence, they will arm their private bands, the fascists, to do that job for them. They are the source from which violence and bloodshed are threatened.

The Workers Party therefore says: If the violence and shedding of blood are to be averted or reduced to the tiniest proportions when the workers have the support of the people and are ready to take power, they must be so well trained, so well organized, so well equipped with a bold program and a bold, firm leadership, as to make the violent attacks of capitalist reaction hopeless from the very outset. If the workers realize in advance that the reactionaries will try to cheat them out of victory by force and violence and by suppressing democratic rights; and if the workers are determined in advance to defend these rights and to deal firmly with the reactionaries – violence will be reduced to zero, or next to zero.

But suppose the workers are completely unprepared for the violence of the capitalist reactionaries and fascists, because they are doped with illusions about how meekly they will submit to the will of the people. Suppose the workers believe that everything will be perfectly all right as soon as they show that they have fifty-one per cent of the votes, and that the capitalist beast of prey thinks more of democracy than he does of his loot and power. The beast would then catch them unawares. It would drown them in a sea of blood, as it did once in Finland, and again in Hungary, Italy, Germany, Austria and Spain. It is the ideas of the reformists that lead the defenseless, unprepared workers to a blood bath and defeat.

The revolutionary socialists are not bloodthirsty maniacs, as the capitalist slanderers would have workers believe. They analyze society and politics scientifically. They understand what the ruling class will try to do. They know that history proves that no privileged class has ever been removed from domination without the bitterest resistance. They therefore warn the workers and prepare them, so that when the time comes for the workers to take to take power, it will be done with a minimum of violence, a minimum of bloodshed of disorder and destruction. A socialist would indeed be insane to want bloodshed and destruction when his aim is an orderly society!

The Workers Party therefore differs from the other parties in its conception of the road to workers’ power and socialism.

The Workers Party differs from the other parties in its view of the governmental form of the workers’ power.

In a capitalist democracy, we have the parliamentary form of government (Congress and President, Parliament and Prime Minister, Chamber of Deputies and Premier, etc.). Such a form of government is well suited to frustrate the will of the people and to facilitate the rule of the capitalist class.

In the United States, for example, the government is so organized as to make it impossible for the masses of the people to achieve what they want at any given time. The legislative branch is divided in two. Every two years, the voters have a chance to change the House of Representatives. To change the membership of the Senate, the voters must wait six years. Two senators are elected from every state in the Union, so that the tiniest or least populated state has as much power as the largest or most populated state. This makes it possible for senators representing a small minority of the people to veto any legislation adopted by the House of Representatives. Even if it passes both Houses, the President is empowered to veto the legislation. Even if he signs the bill, the Supreme Court, which is not elected at all, is empowered to declare the legislation unconstitutional. To change the Constitution requires years of continuous effort, and an amendment can be killed by the negative vote of states representing a small minority of the country’s people. The two legislative bodies are divided; the legislature is divided from the executive; the judiciary is divided from both. On top of it all, the vast and constantly growing bureaucracy which carries out the actual work of government is almost completely separated from the people and beyond their control. The people can recall their representatives only after two years; their president only after four; their senators only after six. The Supreme Court and the bureaucracy they cannot recall at all.

The parliamentary form of government, supposed to be the best expression of the will of the people, is nicely suited to cover up the actual rule of the enormously wealthy minority which monopolizes industry, banking and transportation.

The workers cannot possibly rule by means of such a governmental machine. It will have to be replaced from top to bottom by an entirely different form and machinery of government. A workers’ government has as its main task the centralization and planned organization of production, under democratic control, for the welfare of the people. This task can be accomplished only if there is a form of government suited to it.

If the workers are to be assured of control of the administration of industry, and if the centralized planning of production and distribution is to be under their democratic control, it follows that the government must be based directly on the workers and under their constant control. The only way in which this can be effectively done is by having the government elected directly by the workers in the industries. Just how would this work?

Every factory and other center of production or distribution would be administered by a Council, elected by the workers and subject to recall at any time. These Workers’ Councils themselves would run the factory and see to it that the plans and other decisions of the national planning council, or board, are carried out promptly and properly. At the same time, however, these Councils, which are the direct representatives of the producers, would have to have the power to participate democratically in the selection of the national planning council and in the decisions that it makes. Without such democratic participation and control, planning would soon become bureaucratic and would not represent the interests of the masses.

The municipal, state and federal governments would therefore be composed of direct representatives of the Workers’ Councils, elected by popular ballot and likewise subject to recall at any time. (In the agricultural regions, the Councils would of course be elected by the agricultural workers and farmers.) The National Congress of Councils would elect its officers, committees and boards, again under its direct control and subject to recall. Legislative and executive functions would be exercised by a single power. The decisions of the Council government would not be carried out by a professional bureaucracy, separated from the people and beyond their control. They would be carried out, instead, by the state, municipal and industrial Councils, composed of workers themselves and constantly subject to their control.

Only under such a form of government can we have a genuine workers’ democracy, in which millions and ten of millions actually rule, in contrast with the most advanced capitalist democracy in which thousands, or tens of thousands at most, are the actual rulers.

If the laws adopted or the work carried out by the National Councils’ Congress are not satisfactory, it can be recalled and replaced by the direct action of the Workers’ Councils, without having to wait for two or four or even six years to change the government. If the decisions and plans of the National Congress are satisfactory, but are not being carried out satisfactorily by the Municipal or Factory Council, the latter can be recalled and replaced by the same direct action.

Every worker becomes a direct part of the government administration. His power is not confined to marking a ballot once a year. He exercises his power, his control, his participation in making decisions and carrying them out, every day in the year, year-in and year-out.

There is another, very important aspect of the Workers’ Councils. It is not the part they play in the established Workers’ Government, but the part they play in establishing such a government. As the class struggle grows sharper, and the working class openly and directly challenges capital for control of the nation, the reactionaries will undoubtedly mobilize all possible forces to crush the workers. Good common sense and all historical experience show that this will be the case. The workers will have to mobilize all their forces as well. The enormous advantage that the workers have always had and always will have over the capitalist exploiters lies in labor’s vastly superior numbers. Its victory is guaranteed if it organizes these numbers in the firmest and most democratic way.

Labor’s strength does not lie in each individual worker while he is at home in his residential section. It lies with the masses of workers as they are assembled together in industry. It is therefore in industry, on an industrial basis, that the workers are most effectively organized. Setting up Workers’ Councils throughout industry, connecting them up by plants and by cities into a powerful national movement, will make it possible to mobilize the whole working class for any action that may be required at any moment. If the reactionaries then try to crush the democratic will and decision of the majority with armed force exercised by Fascists and counter-revolutionists, the organized Workers’ Councils can deal with them without much trouble, and thus assure the working class of control of the nation when they have decided democratically to take over control.

Workers’ Councils are thus required for two purposes: one, to achieve and guarantee the victory of the struggle for workers’ power; and two, to function as the foundation of the Workers’ Government once it is established.

(The word “Council” is another bogeyman that the capitalist press shrieks about. “Why, that is pretty near like a Soviet!” In fact, it is exactly like a Soviets. What is a Soviet? It is simply a Russian word meaning “council” – that’s all. Many of our cities are run by a municipal council. A Russian would naturally call it a municipal Soviet, which would probably scare the life out of the child-minded Councilmen. The intelligent worker need not be frightened by words. He will examine what they really mean and what they represent. Workers’ Councils are the basis of workers’ democracy, nothing more.)

The Workers Party therefore advocates democratically-organized Workers’ Councils as the means for achieving the Workers’ Government and as the basis for that Government.

The structure of the Workers Party corresponds to its political principles and its aim.

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

The Workers Party is a strictly disciplined organization, but not a totalitarian organization based on the unquestioning obedience of the parade-ground or the blind obedience of the membership to the Führer. The Workers Party is a democratic organization, but not a loose collection of talkers who do nothing, or who act in the labor movement in any way they please.

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

The Workers Party favors active participation in election campaigns. It does not deceive people into believing that socialist freedom can be achieved by nothing more than a ballot. But it seeks to utilize every election campaign to acquaint workers with its program, to mobilize them for class political action, and to elect the greatest number of workers’ representatives who can use their office to work for labor’s interests and to tell the truth to wider masses of people.

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

The Workers Party is therefore a self-disciplined, democratic organization which requires of its members continual education, responsibility, and systematic, organized participation in the class struggle. By its day-to-day activity in the class struggle, by showing in practice its devotion to the interests of the working class, its militancy, its readiness to sacrifice, the superiority of its program, the party seeks to demonstrate that it deserves the confidence and support of the workers.

The principal field of activity of the Workers Party is in the labor unions. Every party member who is qualified is obliged to join a union and to be active in it. The aim of the Workers Party in the unions is to win the Workers to the principles of socialism and the conscious, militant waging of the class struggle. The Workers Party and its members are therefore active in building up the unions, in uniting those that are divided, in merging craft unions in modern industrial unions, and in organizing those workers who are still unorganized. The Workers Party supports every progressive movement inside the unions aimed at strengthening them organizationally and politically. It works to eliminate from the union movement all capitalist ideas, capitalists methods, capitalist politics and capitalist politicians.

The Workers Party is an irreconcilable opponent of bureaucratism and bureaucrats in the labor movement, and supports every effort of the membership to establish democratic control over its organizations.

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

The Workers Party is not a sectarian organization that stands aloof from the daily struggles for the daily needs of the working class and confines itself to the preaching of the socialist ideal. It not only participates actively in every daily struggle, but has a program of action to meet the requirements of the people while capitalism still prevails. This program of action is the “minimum program,” containing the immediate demands of the party. In many cases, the same demands are presented by other labor organizations and parties. Where this is the case, the Workers Party is ready to join with all other organizations to achieve the demand they make in common.

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

From this point of view, the Workers Party favors all progressive social legislation, like old-age pensions, unemployment insurance, health insurance, the widest extension of free education, industrial protection and security laws, maximum hours and minimum wage laws, laws recognizing the unrestricted right to organize and bargain collectively, laws recognizing the right to strike, laws against industrial espionage and private company armies, laws giving special protection to women and young workers in industry or forbidding their employment in heavy industry and dangerous occupations, laws for federal housing programs, etc., etc.

The Workers Party opposes all forms of taxation which reduce the standard of living of the workers, the poor farmers and the lower middle classes, such as taxes on food, clothing and furnishings, sales taxes, taxes on popular amusements, and the like. It favors placing the burden of taxation upon those who have economic shoulders broad enough to bear it, and not upon the little people. There should be a floor under income taxes so that they do not come out of the little people with modest incomes. The tax rates on big capitalists, corporations and monopolies, on large incomes, on large inheritances, should be increased at a progressively stiffer rate. As for wartime, all war taxes should be borne by the war profiteers, and not by the little people, who suffer enough in wartime as it is.

The Workers Party emphatically favors an alliance between the workers and the bulk of the agricultural population. It is necessary for the achievement of socialism. It is necessary for the defense of both from the exploitation and oppression of monopoly capital. The working-class movement should take the leadership in a program to relieve the agricultural population from the burdens imposed upon it and to improve its economic position. The program of the Workers Party is directed first to the agricultural laborers, who are merely propertyless workers on the farms, then to the sharecroppers and the tenant farmers and finally to the owners of small farms.

Farm laborers should have the same rights and living standards as industrial workers in the cities, whose class brothers they are. As to sharecroppers and tenants, the Workers Party, up to the time when it becomes possible to reorganize all agriculture on a full, modern socialist basis, is for the land to those who till it, and not to the parasitic absentee landlords, the banks and insurance companies. Monopolistic railroad rates, which impoverish the small farmers, should be prohibited; a moratorium declared on small farm debts and mortgage foreclosures stopped. Government aid should be extended in the form of cheap credits, extensive irrigation projects, and an even more extensive rural electrification and modernization program.

As a socialist and working-class organization, the Workers Party is uncompromisingly opposed to “Jim Crow” and anti-Semitism, or to any form of discrimination and persecution against people on grounds of color, nationality, race or religion. Socialism stands for freedom, human dignity and brotherhood. The persecution of national, racial or religious minorities is one of the most loathsome features of capitalist class society. It is reactionary to the core and an offense to civilized people. Capitalism tolerates, fosters and carries on these persecutions because it helps keep the masses of working people divided, fighting among themselves, and thus distracts them from the fight against capitalism.

The Workers Party fights for complete economic, political and social equality for all Negroes and other minorities who are disfranchised or otherwise discriminated against. It fights against anti-Semitism, all forms of chauvinism and the idea and practice of racial or national superiority. It favors making the practice of Jim Crow or anti-Semitism in any form a crime punishable by law. A Workers’ Government would outlaw and punish such abominations as vigorously and thoroughly as the crime of murder, rape or drug-peddling.

The Workers Party is opposed to chauvinism, which accompanies the oppression of one people by another. For that very reason, however, it supports the democratic nationalism of those colonial and semi-colonial peoples whom imperialism despoils and deprives of the right to national sovereignty. The working class of one country cannot be free if it tolerates the oppression of peoples of other countries. The colonial peoples and the working class of the advanced countries have a common enemy in capitalist imperialism. They should join hands in a common fight against it. The Workers Party favors the immediate independence of all colonial and semi-colonial countries. It supports such countries in every struggle to overthrow the imperialist yoke. We consider it our special duty to support such struggles as are waged against American imperialism. In the case of such countries, and in the case of all national minorities, the Workers Party champions the unrestricted right of national self-determination. It is opposed to any country annexing another people against its will or keeping them within its frontiers or under its dominion by force and violence.

Socialism means peace and freedom for the entire world. The Workers Party therefore gives no support to imperialists or imperialist wars and opposes them at all times. It is the party of peace, not war; of the brotherhood of the peoples, not the slaughter of the peoples.

However, the revolutionary socialists are not and cannot be pacifists, except in so far as pacifism means the advocacy of peace. Pacifism is the preachment of non-resistance, or passive resistance. Such a preachment is an illusion and a utopia in capitalist society, which is based on violence and war and cannot exist without them. The pacifists are welcome to preach their doctrine to the capitalist hyenas if they think they can turn hyenas into lambs. To the working class, non-resistance is fatal. It is what capital would like to see the workers adopt as their policy. To preach pacifism to the exploited and the oppressed is to do the work, willy-nilly, of the exploiter and oppressor.

Socialists, who are opposed to all exploitation and oppression, who seek to organize the masses to fight for freedom, cannot be pacifists. They oppose imperialist wars, reactionary wars, capitalist wars. But they support all progressive wars, all wars for freedom and social progress. Therefore, they support the war of the workers against capitalism; they support the workers in civil wars against fascist reaction; they support the wars of oppressed nations and peoples for freedom from their national and imperialist oppressors. Wars are inevitable under capitalism. Only socialism will bring permanent peace.

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

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

That is why the Workers Party endeavors to promote the international organization, unity and solidarity of the working class. The Workers Party itself is only the link, in the United States, of a world chain of similar parties and organizations that aim to establish an international union of revolutionary socialists. This world union they strive to create is called, as will be seen later, the Fourth International.

Finally, it is well to emphasize once more that the Workers Party does not limit itself to preaching the ideal of a socialist tomorrow. It supports and takes an active part in every daily and immediate struggle of the working class. It take part on the basis of its own principles and its own program. It endeavors at all times to widen the struggle and make it more clear-cut. Its activities are based on the knowledge that the class struggle, followed through logically and consistently, necessarily brings the workers to the establishment of their own government and to the inauguration of those economic and political measures that lead to socialism.

This is shown plainly in the position taken by the Workers Party on the question of democracy and fascism.

The Workers Party and Democracy

The revolutionary socialists are the staunchest and most consistent champions of democracy. They are the opponents of capitalist democracy only because it is a class democracy, because, at its best, it is only political democracy which cloaks the economic dictatorship of monopoly capital. Genuine democracy is possible only upon the basis of economic democracy.

But it does not follow that the revolutionary socialists are indifferent to democracy under capitalism. Nothing of the sort is true. The struggle for socialism can best be conducted under conditions that are most favorable to the working class. The most favorable conditions are those in which the working class has the widest possible democratic rights. Hence, it is to the interests of socialism and of the working class to fight for the unrestricted right to organize, the right of free speech, free press and free assembly, the right to strike and the right to vote, the right of representative government, and against every attempt to curb or abolish these rights.

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

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

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

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

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

The Workers Party therefore fights at all times for maintaining and extending democratic rights. As a revolutionary socialist organization, it fights for these rights more consistently than anyone else, for it is under socialism that democracy is truly and fully realized. By the same token, the Workers Party is an uncompromising enemy of fascism, and all other forms of reactionary capitalist dictatorship. As in the case of all the immediate needs of labor, the Workers Party calls tirelessly upon all workers’ organizations, economic and political, and regardless of their differences in program and opinion, to form a united front to smash the fascist bands before they seize power and become strong enough to smash the working class.

The Workers Party is thus committed to the defense of democracy against fascism. Naturally, the Workers Party does not support one imperialist power in a war against another over colonies, sources of raw materials, new slaves and the like merely because one power is fascist and the other pretends that it is crusading for democracy. Revolutionary socialists are opposed to imperialism and imperialist war. But, for example, in a civil war between fascism and democracy, where the main issue really is the preservation of democratic rights and the labor movement, and when the working class is not yet able or prepared to establish its own government, the revolutionary socialists do not hesitate for a moment to join the rest of the working class in defense of democracy – even capitalist democracy – and in crushing fascism.

As in other fundamental struggles, so in the struggle for democracy and against fascism, the revolutionary socialists continue to remain true to their principles. If the rest of the workers do not engage in this struggle with the full, clear-cut socialist program, the revolutionists nevertheless put this program forward. As against those who use the wishy-washy methods of liberalism and reformism in the fight against fascism, the revolutionary socialists advocate the militant methods of the class struggle. As against those who want the “progressive capitalists” and other highly respectable people to lead the fight against fascism – which means to lead it into a ditch, as the experience of Germany and Spain has shown – the revolutionary socialists advocate the leadership of the working class. As against those who limit the fight to maintaining capitalist democracy, the revolutionary socialists advocate going beyond this limit to the goal of a Workers’ Government as the only guarantee that fascism will be crushed never to rise again.

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

Social-Democratic Parties

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

First, there are the Social-Democrats, or reformist socialists. They are organized in Germany as the Social-Democratic Party, in France as the Socialist Party, In Belgium and England as the Labor Party, in the United States as the Social Democratic Federation. Their position has already been indicated.

The Social-Democrats or reformists reject the basic principles of Marx and Engels. They have abandoned the theory and practice of the class struggle, as well as the socialist theory of the class nature of the state. They preach and practice the collaboration of the classes, that is, of the working class and the so-called “progressive” capitalists.

They believe that the road to socialism lies not through a Workers Government, but through a joint government of labor representatives and these progressive of “democratic” capitalists. They have established and participated in many such governments, in Germany, France, Belgium, England, the Scandinavian countries and elsewhere. In every country, the labor representatives proved to be the captives of the capitalists, who used them to quiet the workers while the capitalists overcame their difficulties at the worker’s expense. They do not believe that capitalism and the capitalist state machine must be overthrown in order to establish socialism. They declare that capitalism and the capitalist government can be gradually reformed by progressive legislation to the point where socialism has been peacefully introduced.

The Social-Democratic parties are based mainly on the highly skilled workers, the “labor aristocracy,” and the middle classes. They are the sections of the population that are the closest to the ideas of the capitalist class itself and suffer less than the mass of industrial workers from capitalist exploitation. In fact, to keep them apart from the mass of the workers, capitalism does not hesitate – especially in its prosperous times – to give this “labor aristocracy” a higher standard of living and special privileges. The vast wealth extracted from the merciless exploitation of the colonial countries has enabled the imperialists to give a few crumbs to this “labor aristocracy” in order to maintain the division in the working class.

It is not surprising, therefore, to see that all these parties are supporters of imperialism in wartime, as they were in 1914 and again in 1939. It is true that they want to see imperialism act more “kindly” toward the colonial peoples, but they never support the struggles for freedom of the colonies in such a way as to bring themselves into conflict with imperialism itself. It is also not surprising that in cases where the workers have engaged in revolutionary struggles for socialist power, the Social-Democrats have intervened to save capitalism in the name of democracy, either by trying to restrain the workers from the fight or by joining outright with the capitalists in shooting down the workers. These parties are always heavily bureaucratized and are invariably connected with the labor union bureaucracy. In both cases, the bureaucracy enjoys special privileges, as was pointed out in the chapter dealing with the labor unions. They are, in other words, capitalistic labor leaders.

They want socialism, but not the class struggle, which is the only road to socialism. They want capitalist democracy as the basis for socialism, but because they will not defend even democracy with the militant methods of the class struggle for fear of antagonizing their partners, the “democratic capitalists,” they soon find their democracy and their privileges disappearing. They fear the socialist revolution so much – because the Workers’ Government would end all special privileges, theirs included – that they find themselves attacking it on the side of the capitalist reaction.

In one country after another, their theories have so drugged and paralyzed the working class that it proved incapable of militant and effective resistance to reactionary assaults upon it. It had to pay for these theories and practices in the form of fascist dictatorship and indescribable agonies. The Social-Democrats did not gain socialism and they cannot gain it. They did not even maintain capitalist democracy or their position in it – they lost both.

A number of groups and parties throughout the world try to take a position in between that of revolutionary socialism and social reformism. They endeavor to mix the two, which is like mixing fire and water. The result is the obscuring steam of confusion. In the United States, these “Centrist” parties, which are neither flesh nor fowl nor good red herring, are represented by the Socialist Party. The Socialist Party in the United States is an especially confused and confusing example of “Centrism.” It is a mixture of middle class pacifism, “Christian socialism,” liberalism, “isolationism,” hostility to revolutionary socialist theory and action, and hero-worship. It sometimes speaks more radically than the Social-Democrats, but it has an even more bureaucratic leadership than they and differs less and less from them in practical policies and activities. All the experience of such in-between movements shows that if they do not adopt the program of revolutionary socialism, they degenerate completely to the Social-Democratic position. Or else they become stagnant, impotent sects which justify their separate existence mainly on the ground that they are not firm revolutionists and not complete Social-Democrats but only – in-betweeners.

The Russian Revolution and Stalinism

Much more powerful – and much more dangerous – is the official Communist Party, no matter what name it operates under. To understand what this party really is, it is necessary to examine what has happened in the past quarter of a century of the Russian state, on which this party is based.

The Russian Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 was undoubtedly the most important event in human history. For the first time, the working class took state power and began consciously and planfully to usher in the socialist society. The revolution was a living triumph of the principles of Marxian socialism, and showed that the idea of a working-class government is not a utopian dream. Regardless of what happened to this government in the end, the Russian Revolution revealed to the working class of the entire world the road it must travel to reach workers’ democracy and socialism.

The heroic efforts of the Russian workers were sufficient to bring them to power in the country. But by themselves, they did not suffice to establish a socialist commonwealth. To attain that goal, they needed the aid of workers’ governments in the other, more advanced, countries of Europe and America. They knew this, and the Bolsheviks, or Communists, who led the revolution and were thorough-going international socialists, repeated it a thousand times. Revolutionary situations developed in one country after another. The capitalist system was bankrupt and capitalist governments broke down one after the other. To organize the workers to fight for power, all the revolutionary socialists, inspired by the victory in Russia, broke away from the old Social-Democratic parties and began to build up the new Communist Parties. These parties were united in the Communist, or Third, International. (The Social-Democratic parties had been united in the so-called Second International, which collapsed when the war of 1914 broke out and practically all the parties rushed to the support of their respective imperialist governments, betraying the principles and interests of socialism.)

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

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

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

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

The Workers’ Government was completely destroyed. The reactionary rule of the bureaucracy was installed in its place. Not a vestige of democratic rights exists today – not the right to organize, to strike, to free speech, free press or free assembly. The whole Soviet system has been eliminated. Elections are a farce, in which the people have the right to vote only for the candidates appointed by the bureaucratic dictators. The unions built up by the revolution are crushed. Their place has been taken by organizations completely dominated by the government bureaucracy, and their only function is to help in the speed-up and exploitation of the workers. Everybody and everything is dominated by the most vicious police and spy system in the world, the GPU.

Russia is neither a workers’ government nor a socialist society. But although it is a thousand times closer to capitalism than it is to socialism, it is not actually a capitalist country. It is a new, reactionary social order that may be described as bureaucratic collectivism. There is no private ownership of industry, as under capitalism. The state owns all the means of production. But it is the autocratic bureaucracy that has the state completely in its hand. The workers and peasants have not an iota of control over it. Industry and agriculture are planned and operated only in the interests of the bureaucracy, swelling its power and privileges. Like every ruling class, it reaches out greedily for more power, for imperialist conquests, wherever it can. It has completely betrayed and crushed the great Russian socialist revolution, and established a new and monstrous totalitarian tyranny in its place.

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

That is why the Communist parties – more accurately, the Stalinist parties, for they have absolutely nothing in common with our great ideal of Communism – today rigidly follow only those policies that promote the interests of the Russian bureaucracy. That is why the minute Russian foreign politics change, the politics of the Communist parties change automatically in every country. If Russia is allied with a capitalist government, the Communist Party of the country serves that government with the greatest vigor and does everything it can to force the workers to do the same. If Russia is opposed to another government, or if its political demands are not agreed to by a foreign government, the Communist Party of that country suddenly becomes critical and even “radical,” and clamors for all the people to force the government to give in to Russian demands. That is what accounts for the apparently ridiculous changes and somersaults of the Communist parties. They are the foreign agents of Stalinist totalitarianism.

The Communists – or Stalinists, to give them their right name – are the most reactionary force in the labor movement. To be sure, the conservative labor offcialdom is capitalistic in its outlook and policies, as has been pointed out. Nevertheless, it seeks, in its own way and in its own interests, to maintain the labor movement and to oppose totalitarian evasions of democratic rights. That is why it is both possible and necessary to join with it every time it finds itself obliged to lead the labor organizations in a fight or to defend democratic rights.

It is different with the Stalinist bureaucracy. An independent labor movement is a bone in its throat. It is anti-democratic as well as anti-socialist. It is concerned not only with the defense of the totalitarian state in Russia, but aims to establish others, cast in the same mold, in every country where it operates, so that it can enjoy the same bureaucratic rule, power and privilege as its blood-brother in Russia. Any support of its program into which it tricks the labor movement is a deadly trap for the working class. The interests of labor and the progress of socialism require that the cancer of totalitarian Stalinism be burned out of the labor movement. If it is allowed to fester and spread, only slavery will ensue.

Neither Social-Democracy nor Stalinist totalitarianism leads to socialism. The Second International of the Social-Democrats is bankrupt and in a state of collapse. The Third International of the Stalinists has been formally dissolved by decree. Revolutionary socialists everywhere work to rebuild the world-wide organization of social revolution, the Fourth International.

The road to freedom is marked out by the principles and program of revolutionary socialism, and no other road exists. The organization which proudly champions and fights for these principles and program in this country is the Workers Party.

Max Shachtman

Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 26 September 2022