Committee For A Socialist Program

What Is Socialism?

First Published: April 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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This is the introductory chapter of a book “The English Revolution – Why we need it, How to get it” to be published by C.S.P. shortly [EROL Note: It is not clear if this book ever appeared].

* * *

Socialism is rule by the working people. They will decide how socialism is to work. This was how Marx and Engels defined socialism, as a scientific term in sociology or social history, to differentiate it from the multitudinous social schemes or daydreams that men have produced since social classes first developed and so split humanity into the haves and have nots.

The task of socialists therefore is to help and guide the transfer of power from capitalists to working people. As working people, socialists have and will continue to have the duty both to initiate working people’s power, by revolution, and to continue to increase it – “permanent revolution”.

The Cultural Revolution in China was illustration and proof both of this need and of its practicability. The Soviet Union is an illustration and proof of the social failure of a revolution if this is not done. There is counter-revolution in the Soviet Union because there can be no social standstill. If a society is not advancing to socialism it is inevitably retreating into capitalism.

The founders of scientific socialism made no attempt to proclaim in advance how a socialist society is to be developed. From the days of the Communist Manifesto (1848) Marx and Engels proclaimed on the contrary that the makers of a socialist society will be the workers (proletarians) and that it is the task of revolutionaries (or Communists) to help the workers to power but not to decide for them what a classless society is to be like. Shortly thereafter (1850) Marx added the necessity of a period of proletarian dictatorship, and stressed this very strongly after the experience of the Paris Commune.

To use the word “socialism” for anything but working people’s power is to misuse the term. Nationalisation of mines, railways, steel, etc. in a capitalist class society is not socialism, nor does this constitutes “the socialist sector of a mixed economy”. Such nationalisation in a capitalist society is simply a degree of state capitalism, with no relation to socialism.

Nor is the “Welfare State” socialist. A socialist state (the working people in power) will certainly give high priority to health, education, art, science, and the social wellbeing of all its members. That is why it exists, that is the purpose of its economy. But “welfare” in a capitalist state, to improve the efficiency of that state as a profit-maker, is not socialism but a form of state capitalism. It can be an improvement on capitalism with no welfare, just as a 40-hour week is an improvement on a 60-hour week. But it is not socialism. (As capitalist crisis develops the “Welfare State” also inevitably turns into the Means Test State.)


The organised workers of Britain are, and have been for the past half century, in a position to take over the responsibilities of state power, on the one condition that they themselves wish to do so, i.e. that they understand that this is both necessary and possible.

This has nothing to do with parliamentary elections, which are at best a useful indication of how people are thinking. The parliamentary system was developed – from the days of the Tudor monarchy up to the 1960s which gave the vote at the age of 18 – in order to establish and maintain the rule of the capitalist class. To pretend that it can be used to abolish that class rule is as absurd as it would have been to propose feudal armies to defeat Charles I. Cromwell defeated Charles by creating his New Model Army. If we want a classless society, we have to create a new model political structure.

In 1917 Lenin in Russia organised the seizure of state power by the very small percentage of the Russian people who were then working in industry. He was able to do this because he had understood both the need to take power and the only way to do so – by winning over the overwhelming majority of the Russian people, who were peasants. That both workers and peasants thereafter lost that power to an organised elitist bureaucracy is not directly relevant to our argument. What is directly relevant is that Lenin’s revolution both started off revolutionary movements elsewhere and also was taken as the model for attempted revolution anywhere – except in China (after bitter lessons) and later in Albania and then in Cuba. Throughout Europe (except Albania) the revolutionary model created by Lenin was a failure. But in 1926 something happened in Britain that contradicted previous revolutionary theory. A general strike took place, without any attempt at armed struggle, that brought the organised workers into direct confrontation with the state power of the organised exploiters. For nine days the strike advanced and expanded on a national scale with apparently increasing success. Then on the tenth day it suddenly collapsed in abject defeat – because its leadership had never intended to win. But those nine days showed very clearly that the strike could have been won on the one condition that its leadership should have wanted to win and been prepared for the one essential necessary step – the taking over of state power for the reorganisation of the whole of industry.

In 1926 the strike leadership – the T.U.C. – had been forced into the strike and was as anxious to see it defeated as was the Tory government. Both T.U.C. and government were equally determined to maintain the capitalist system, the system of classes.

The failure in 1926 was paid for by the unemployed millions of the 1930s.

Then in 1936 the lesson was repeated in France. Following the electoral triumph of the Popular Front -the nearest approach to this in Britain has been the 1945 election – the French workers went on strike and occupied their factories (this had not been done in 1926). The French Communist Party, instead of at once seizing the opportunity, seeing the necessity to take the next step by proclaiming “Power to the People” whined ”one must know how to finish a strike” and left state power in the hands of the capitalists.

The outcome of a General Strike is never to be seen in economic terms. In 1936 the French workers – in contrast to the British workers in 1926 – won not only a wage rise but holidays with pay and other benefits which have proved permanent.

But their real defeat was shown when two months later they were powerless to prevent that same “Popular Front” government co-operating with the British Tory government to help fascism to power in Spain, and payment was completed when France itself was occupied by Hitler in 1940.

In 1968 came a yet more unexpected explosion. The French students started a revolt against their university conditions. The Government, instead of negotiating, tried to crush them. The students fought back, they defeated the police in street battles – unlike Ireland, no shooting – they were spontaneously joined by workers and then practically all of France went on general strike with occupation of work places – colleges, schools, railways, the post office, the customs, the radio and the telly, the banks, the big shops and most of the state bureaucracy itself (including the Treasury). The police had been fought to a stand-still and were reported in the capitalist press finally themselves to be on the point of striking. Then the Government and the C.G.T. (French T.U.C.) were together able to call the strike off by offering the key section, the Renault car workers, a 30% wage rise as well as other benefits, and the millions of the French people went back to work and to defeat. The 30% wage rise was swallowed up by prices within six months. The price of leaving the capitalist class in power has still to be paid.

But the political lesson is as clear as could be to anyone who understands the appalling danger of leaving capitalism dominant. The failure in 1936 was paid for not only by the French (and Spanish) peoples but by almost all Europe. The price was World War II. The failure in 1968 may yet be paid for by the whole world.


This book has been written to enable the English – and the Scottish, Welsh and Irish peoples – and especially their organised workers, to understand both their opportunity and their national and international duty to take power from the irresponsible capitalist class and to take over the responsibilities of power themselves. Capitalism – with its dangers not only to us but to the world – will not disappear spontaneously. Like Charles I, it has to be removed. To understand this is to be, like Marx, a revolutionary. All those who fail to understand this, whatever they may call themselves, are not Marxists, creating history, but are trailing behind events and will therefore be destroyed by those events.

The first duty of socialists here in imperialist western Europe is to put forward a practical program for survival. The people themselves will improve it, through practice.

Above all, trade unionists must understand the danger that comes from not putting forward a policy to fit the situation.

The situation of world imperialism and of capitalist Britain as a still important part of this system of the exploitation and subjection of man by man is getting worse and worse. It is a collapsing system that only needs a good push to bring it tumbling down, to make possible its immediate replacement by a different and better system, desperately needed if the progress of mankind is to continue. Indeed, qui t e possibly needed for mankind to survive at all. But it will not fall down by itself.

To see the wage struggle as the main task in the present situation of ever-increasing crisis is like being concerned about what’s for dinner when the house is on fire. First put out the imperialist capitalist fire, the class policy that subordinates everything to profit and threatens to destroy our country and our people, and perhaps our world. Then we can all breathe freely again and set about reconstruction. To concentrate on the wage struggle within capitalism today is to betray the working class, and thus the whole people.

If socialists do not put forward such a program for power, then inevitably it will be falsely and treacherously done from the right as it was in Italy in 1922 and in Germany in 1933. If militant trade unionists do not put forward a national policy, but only a policy of militancy for themselves, the trade unionists will be seen by millions as concerned for their own members, not for the British people or the British working class.

A socialist more than ever today must be a “tribune of the people”, not a mere wage negotiator. His aim has to be not a better wage, but people’s power. Millions are already beginning to understand this, even if Jones and Birch and Scanlon don’t.


Almost the whole working people today in our country are capitalist-minded. Why is this? Because they have been capitalist-educated in a capitalist society. (It will take at least a whole generation to change this, to produce a new generation who are not capitalist-minded).

Hence the immense importance of the present revolt against the whole morality/immorality of capitalist society by a large section of the youth, so far chiefly the students, but also increasingly involving the most oppressed young people, the casualties of our capitalist education system, and also of women as the oppressed sex who are now beginning to react in a revolutionary manner, not against their low wages – as an “economist” have believed – but against the whole ideology of sex discrimination.

This rebellious youth does not in general accept or seek socialism, but it does reject capitalism and its values. It is therefore ready for socialism in a way that no previous young generation has ever been before. It is up to socialists to win them.

How did Mao win the youth of China?
(1) By giving clear and simple explanation of socialist theory in terms which can be grasped by anyone with intelligence not vitiated by a ruling class education – what has come to be called the Thought of Mao Tsetung.
(2) By showing in practice how to defeat reaction – first Chiang and the Kuomintang, then Liu and the C. P. bureaucracy, in both cases at the same time giving the fullest opportunity to well-meaning persons – patriots or party cadres who had made mistakes and so lost the confidence of the people – to join or rejoin the revolution.

To win the youth in imperialist countries such as Britain, France and Italy, socialists must do the same. They must first show by correct analysis that the socialism for which they stand really is working people’s democracy and nothing else, and secondly show and prove in practice how it can be done.

The tragedy of May 1968 in France and December 1969 in Italy was the absence of such an effective revolutionary leadership. It could also be a tragedy in the U.S. if the imperialist defeat in Vietnam, and the capitalist world economic crisis that has followed it, should lead to a potentially revolutionary situation in that country before the emergence of a nationally recognised revolutionary party. We have to remember that a potentially revolutionary situation is also necessarily potentially reactionary. The price of not having an effective revolutionary leadership can be terrible. That price was paid from 1919 to 1945 not only by Germany, but by most of Europe. We must not allow a repetition.


The world about us – the capitalist world that calls itself the “free world” – is falling to pieces, and our country with it and as part of it.

The need for revolution is widely realised. What else put the whole of France in 1968 into several weeks of “indefinite general strike with occupation”, with everyone then expecting a revolution but the supposed revolutionaries, the official Communist Party, determined at any cost to avoid it and to maintain the capitalist set-up? Why else was most of Italy on strike (December 1969) with fascists staging bomb outrages to provide the excuse for a military coup like two years previously in Greece – the Italian version of Hitler’s Reichstag fire?[1]

The most powerful capitalist country of today, the most powerful of all time, has been forced to abandon its attempted conquest of Vietnam. 10% of its people, the Black Americans, have been for several years simmering in revolt, and its economy has been leading the capitalist world into its present economic crisis, already (1974) politically comparable to that of 40 years ago. (See Ch. 4)

In general, the new generation, the under-thirties, understand that their parents’ world is collapsing, but they do not know what to do about it.

This book sets out to analyse the nature of the collapse by using the analytic technique handed down to us by the only successful political scientists, the revolutionary Marxists, whose present leading practitioner heads that one-quarter of the world’s population which the whole world, friends and enemies alike, increasingly recognises as the most successful nation of this century – the Chinese. For the capitalist world they are the most dangerous. For most of the world they are simply the best.

Next we set out to show how the crisis can be met and how we can emerge from it into a new phase of human history. Marx called, this new phase the beginning of the real history of mankind, all that has preceded it being pre-history. Man for the first time will be taking charge of his own destiny. He will no longer have things happening to him. He will be deciding what is to happen.

Technically there is no major problem. (See Chapter 10). The difficulty is a social one – that man has so far been incapable of taking charge because of the class divisions that make it impossible to take decisions for the development of mankind as a whole. The result has been what we see today.

Who are the one class that no society can do without? Those who work.

Today it is those who work who have the responsibility together with the opportunity, to reorganise our country as part of a reorganised world. It is going to be difficult, but it is essential. Therefore it must be done.

We do not think it any longer necessary to attempt proof of the need for revolution if we are to achieve socialism, i.e. to develop an increasingly classless society. Fantasies or delusions such as a parliamentary road to socialism, now being peddled by the degenerate European “communist parties”, are no longer taken seriously by anyone under middle-age, and even by the elderly such fantasies are mostly put forward only cynically, without any aim that goes further than pretending still to be socialists.

Capitalism is maintained by class power and will only be displaced by other class power.

If the working people want power they will have to take it. It will not be given to them. Just as Cromwell, as representative of the English capitalists in their revolutionary ascending phase, had to take power from “that man of blood Charles Stuart”, so we will have to take power from Cromwell’s degenerate successors as forcibly as he did from Charles. Though we may be lucky and find, if we make ourselves strong enough, that opposition melts away as Stuart opposition did in 1688.


The basic strategy for the working people to obtain and then to hold state power, i.e., to make revolution, has been formulated very simply. It is “to unite all who can be united against the main enemy”. (Mao Tsetung).

This is correct strategy under all possible circumstances, unfavourable as well as favourable. Naturally the program that will achieve such maximum revolutionary unity will differ according to the circumstances, favourable or unfavourable. But the strategy of maximum unity will remain the necessary one.

To apply this strategy, it is necessary for revolutionaries to work out with the utmost care exactly who and what is the main enemy in the given situation, and also to stress with full, objectivity who are our friends and to what extent they can be relied upon to remain so, and who are our enemies and to what extent they can be neutralised or divided. These two tasks are here dealt with in the chapters on imperialism as the main enemy and on analysis of classes in England today.

It is essential for the revolutionary working people to seek the widest possible alliance against the main enemy imperialism. An alliance needs a program on which to base itself. Such a provisional program is outlined in the final chapter.

In general revolutionaries must be prepared to make their revolutions, not to wait for them to turn up. Lenin did no waiting in 1917. As he reached the Finland Station he had already prepared his “April Theses” whose implementation made possible the revolution in October.

Throughout Western Europe there is and has been for several years a potentially revolutionary situation, one that demands a revolution as the only way forward, a situation therefore in which a national crisis at once becomes a revolutionary one.

The first task of revolutionaries in England is therefore to build a revolutionary party, and to make efforts at last to discard sectarianism – that conversion of Marxism from a revolutionary force not merely into a sterile dogma, but into a counter-revolutionary force more effective than brutality, because it convinces many who should be revolutionaries.


We have to remember that all politics is about power. Power to develop a correct policy and to do good, power therefore also to make mistakes and do harm.

The revolutionary calls for power for the working people, and will fight to the death to make that possible and not to relinquish it back to the oppressor.

The reformist is a hypocrite prepared to exercise power on behalf of the oppressor, and who claims to do a little good on the side.

The libertarian calls for power for the working people for some future date. Meantime let the workers learn to govern the state, or the non-state, or to non-govern it, by fighting their own battles. He will kindly help them by publishing journals or even helping to fight a particular injustice. But of course he will not presume to offer any actual leadership. Let the workers do that too for them selves. A libertarian is too equal to lead. And so his refusal to lead as a socialist leaves him to follow behind events until the never never day when a majority of the workers miraculously become socialists.

But the most important aspect of this refusal of responsibility in the name of egalitarianism is that it is defeatist. A socialist can and should make serious criticism of the numerous political misdirections of the European communist movement from 1917 on, but unlike the anarchist he always remembers that there was and still is a war to be won against the open enemy. The correct policy has to be to win this war, and to do this must turn it into a people war, uniting all who can be united against the main enemy.

The Trotskyites everywhere fail to do this. At the present time the majority of students and ”intellectuals’ who think of themselves as socialists or as revolutionaries belong to one or other of the Trotskyist organisations. But these organisations (International Socialists, International Marxist Group, and the others) none of them have a program, and none of them have made any but the most superficial criticisms of “the historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat” in the Soviet Union, or shown any understanding at all of the Chinese revolution and of its practical application of the negative lessons it learned from the Soviet Union. (I.S. even denounces China).

This absence of a positive program has prevented Trotskyists here, as in France, from becoming effective revolutionaries, because it cuts them off from the decisive factor for revolution – the industrial workers. Workers are not primarily political theorists, they are, they have to be, primarily practical men strong in commonsense. They can and do organise heroically and successfully to improve their conditions. They will organise in the same way to take power, when they see the necessity, and when they see the way to do it.


It is the great tragedy of the European Communist movement of the last 50 years that it has failed to make this possible – whereas the Chinese, by taking their own independent road, have succeeded.

To be Marxist-Leninist in today’s conditions means to be Maoist, not uncritical about anything or anybody, but following Marx’s advice to criticise anything. (De omnibus dubitandum).

No revolutionary party can be successful that does not stand entirely on its own feet, with its own program fitted to the special conditions of its own time and of its own country.

Lenin’s epoch-making revolution ultimately failed to produce socialism in its own country because of inherent inadequacies in its program, and not from accidental post-revolutionary developments to be ascribed to the mistakes of one individual.

It is impossible, when doing something new, to avoid mistakes. The point is, to recognise these quickly and correct them thoroughly. It seems likely that Lenin – who was certainly a true socialist -would have been able to get back on the proletarian road to social ism with the famous 5-Year-Plan, where Stalin, with his “administrative methods”, failed to do so.

The ultimate tragedy of the Soviet Revolution was correctly analysed by Lenin’s true successor Mao Tsetung, from 1927 onwards.

The apparent change of line of the C.P.S.U. in 1956 – in reality not an essential change at all – obviously came to Mao as no surprise, and was at once correctly understood[2] and followed up by the program designed specifically to prevent the deviation back into class society and capitalism taken by the Soviet Union. This was “On the correct handling of contradictions among the people” (1957), now a necessary textbook for socialists, like the “Communist Manifesto” itself. Mao’s speech at the C.C.P. National Conference on Propaganda Work in the same year 1957 is equally relevant and almost equally important.


A move to socialism, i. e., a working class seizure of political power as the necessary first step, is most unlikely to take place in one alone of the four constituent nations of the British Isles. It will almost necessarily involve the four. Although Ireland might possibly act successfully on her own, even in such a case the political effect in Britain would be enormous, while a successful revolution in anyone alone of the three constituent nations of Britain is hardly a possibility.

This means that the revolutionary forces must also be fully co-ordinated throughout the British Isles, but excludes a single revolutionary party for “Great Britain” as the various “communist” sects – C.P.G.B., C.P.B.M.L., C.F.B.M.L., etc. – all unite in proclaiming. In doing so, they repudiate both Connolly and Maclean and consciously or unconsciously accept the imperialism and neo-colonialism of the Tory and Labour parties. At the same time their campaign against the Common Market has shown these degenerate pseudo-communists to be living in the past, as ridiculous as would have been a “socialist” campaign against protectionism to defend free trade. Revolutionary socialists in contrast must think in terms of both thoroughly supporting the genuine national struggles in Wales and Scotland as well as in Ireland, and seeking close co-operation of the revolutionary movements throughout western Europe – especially in the British Isles, France and Italy, three leading imperialist countries whose economic and political situations are remarkably similar.


[1] In 1933 when Hitler was installed as Chancellor by the then President Hindenburg, the Nazis set fire to the German parliament and accused the communists of having done it. This was their signal for starting their reign of terror.

[2] See “On the historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat” parts 1 and 2 (1956). There is an important reference to these articles and to Mao’s attitude towards them in Edgar Snow’s “Red Star over Chine” revised edition (1968) page 521.