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Future Socialist Society

John Molyneux

The Future Socialist Society

1. The conquest of political power

The first and most immediate task confronting a successful workers’ revolution is that of consolidating its own rule and defending itself against capitalist counter-revolution. This is crucial – indeed a matter of life or death – for the experience of every revolution from the Paris Commune onwards shows that the bourgeoisie is prepared to resort to the most ruthless violence to retain its power or to regain power it has lost.

In order to break the fierce resistance of the dispossessed ruling class, which will be backed by the rest of international capitalism, the working class will have to create its own state. This state, like any other, will be a centralised organisation exercising ultimate authority in society and having at its disposal decisive armed force.

But here the resemblance between the new workers’ state and the preceding capitalist state ends. The old capitalist armed forces and police will be disbanded – in essence they will already have been in a state of collapse for the revolution to have succeeded. They will be replaced with organisations of armed workers – workers’ militias.

The foundation of these militias will probably have been laid in the course of the revolution and it is likely that they will be drawn from, and remain linked to, the major factories and workplaces. Unless the revolution has to fight an all out civil war or invasion, service in the militia will be on a rota basis so as to train and involve the maximum number of workers in the armed defence of their power, and to ensure that the militia do not separate themselves off from the working class as a whole.

The militia will also be in charge of everyday law and order-a task which, because of their roots in the community, they will perform far more effectively than the capitalist police.

All officers in the militia will be elected, be subject to regular re-election, and be paid average workers’ wages – principles which will apply to all the officials of the new state.

However, the core institutions of the new state will be not the workers’ militia but the network of workers’ councils. Workers’ councils are regional bodies of delegates elected from workplaces which in turn will send delegates to a national workers’ council. It is this latter body that will be the highest power in the land. The government, the militia and all other state institutions will be responsible and accountable to the national workers’ council.

Different political parties, providing they accept the basic framework of the revolution, will operate freely within the councils, with the party which has the majority support from the workers forming the government. In all likelihood this will be the party which has led the revolution.

The reason that we can predict this role for workers’ councils is not that it has been laid down in tablets of stone by Marx (indeed Marx never mentioned workers’ councils), but that every workers’ revolution and every attempted workers’ revolution in this century has created such bodies or the embryos of such bodies.

The first workers’ council or soviet, as it was called, arose in St Petersburg in Russia during the 1905 revolution. Later examples are the Russian soviets of 1917, the workers’ councils of Germany in 1918–19, and the Central Workers’ Council of Budapest in 1956. Examples of embryonic councils are the factory councils in Italy in 1919–20 and the cordones in Chile in 1972.

For the same reason it would be pointless to attempt to go into further detail about the organisation of workers’ councils. Such councils arise not after the revolution in accordance with some preset plan but in the course of the revolution in order to enable the working class to coordinate its forces. As organs of struggle their initial structure will necessarily be improvised to meet the requirements of the day and will thus vary enormously depending on circumstances.

At this point a vital question arises. How democratic will workers’ power be?

It is true the rule of workers’ councils will not be, in formal terms, an absolute democracy. There will not be complete universal suffrage because the nature of the system will exclude the old bourgeoisie and its main associates from the electoral process. But what is lacking in formal terms will be more than made up for in terms of real democratic participation by the mass of people.

The democracy of workers’ councils will be based on collective debate and discussion and on the ability of the electors, because they are a collective, to control their representatives. The mechanism of this control will be very simple. If delegates do not represent the will of their electors they will simply be recalled and replaced by mass meetings in the workplaces.

Naturally this kind of control is impossible with area based constituencies in a parliamentary system. Instead of one day’s democracy every five years for everyone, in a socialist society there will be ongoing involvement in actually running the state for the vast majority.

Sometimes people worry that a system based on workplaces would exclude sections of the working class, such as housewives, pensioners, the unemployed, etc, who are not in workplaces.

Yet one of the great virtues of workers’ councils is their flexibility and adaptability to the changing structure of the working class.

In the Spanish Revolution of 1936, for instance, among the key organs of workers’ power were the neighbourhood committees set up in each working class district of the major cities. These bodies, representing the whole population of the district, organised and controlled workers’ militias, food distribution, education and many other areas of everyday life.

Providing the core of the structure is rooted in the workplaces, there will be no reason why other groups should not form collectives and their delegates be incorporated in the councils.

The fundamental feature of the workers’ state will be that it relies upon and mobilises the self activity, organising ability and creativity of the mass of the working class to build the new society from the bottom upwards. In this way it will be a thousand times more democratic than the most liberal of bourgeois democracies which, without exception, depend on the passivity of working people.

All this sounds marvellous and rightly so – it will be marvellous, as the brief periods when workers have taken control have shown. Read, for instance, John Reed’s account of Russia in 1917 in Ten Days that Shook the World or George Orwell on Barcelona in 1936 in Homage to Catalonia. But how much repression will there have to be? What freedom will there be for those who think differently?

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Last updated: 15 November 2015