As We See It
The revised version
5. Socialism is not just the common ownership and control of the means of production and distribution. It means equality, real freedom, the end of oppression based on restrictive male/female social roles, reciprocal recognition and a radical transformation in all human relationships. It is people's understanding of their environment and of themselves, their domination over their work and over such social institutions as they may need to create. These are not secondary aspects, which will automatically follow the expropriation of the old ruling class. On the contrary they are essential parts of the whole process of social transformation, for without them no genuine social transformation will have taken place.
6. A socialist society can therefore only be built from below. Decisions concerning production and work will be taken by workers' councils composed of elected and revocable delegates. Decisions in other areas will be taken on the basis of the widest possible discussion and consultation among the people as a whole. This democratisation of society down to its very roots is what we mean by 'workers' power'.
Self-managed institutions and collectivities will be the living framework of a free society. There can be no socialism without self-management. Yet a society made up of individual self-managed units is not, of itself, socialist. Such societies could remain oppressive, unequal and unjust. They could be sexist or racist, could restrict access to knowledge or adopt uncritical attitudes towards 'expertise'. We can imagine the individual units of such a society - of whatever size or complexity (from chicken farms to continents) - competing as 'collective capitalists'. Such competition could only perpetuate alienation and create new inequalities based on new divisions of labour.
Genuine freedom will only be possible when our lives are no longer the object of economic, cultural and political forces which we experience as external to ourselves, and which constantly tend to regenerate capitalist or authoritarian social relations. A socialist society would therefore abolish not only social classes, hierarchies and other structures of domination, but also wage-labour and production for the purpose of sale or exchange on the market. Th fulfil their needs and desires, people would live and work in free co-operation. The national frontiers of armed states would be replaced by a democratic human community, on a world scale. The elimination of competition (and the decay of competitive attitudes) would have profound social effects which we can hardly imagine today.
As We Don't See It
5. This section differentiates our concept of socialism from most of those prevailing today. Socialism, for us, is not just a question of economic reorganisation from which other benefits will 'inevitably' follow, without consciously being fought for. It is a total vision of a completely different society. Such a vision is linked to the total critique of capitalism we have previously referred to.
Social-democrats and Bolsheviks denounce equality as 'utopian', 'petty.bourgeois', or'anarchist'. They dismiss the advocacy of freedom as 'abstract', and reciprocal recognition as 'liberal humanism'. They will concede that the radical transformation of all social relations is a valid ultimate objective, but cannot see it as an essential, immediate ingredient of the very process of meaningful change.
When we talk of people's understanding of their environment and of themselves, we mean the gradual discarding of all myths and of all types of false consciousness (religion, nationalism, patriarchal attitudes, the belief in the rationality of hierarchy, etc.). The pre-condition of human freedom is the understanding of all that limits it. Positive self-consciousness implies the gradual breakdown of that state of chronic schizophrenia in which-through conditioning and other mechanisms-most people succeed in carrying mutually incompatible ideas in their heads. It means accepting coherence, and perceiving the relation of means and ends. It means exposing those who organise conferences about 'workers control' . . . addressed by union officials elected for life. It means patiently explaining the incompatibilities of 'people's capitalism', 'parliamentary socialism', 'christian communism', 'anarcho-zionism', 'Party-led "workers councils"', and other such rubbish. It means understanding that a non-manipulative society cannot be achieved by manipulative means or a classless society through hierarchical structures. This attempt at both gaining insight and at imparting it will be difficult and prolonged. It will doubtless be dismissed as 'intellectual theorising' by every 'voluntarist' or 'activist' tendency, eager for short cuts to the promised land and more concerned with movement than with direction.
Because we think people can and should understand what they are doing, IT FOLLOWS that we reject many of the approaches so common in the movement today. In practice this means avoiding the use of revolutionary myths and the resort to manipulated confrontations, intended to raise consciousness. Underlying both of these is the usually unformulated assumption that people cannot understand social reality and act rationally on their own behalf.
Linked to our rejection of revolutionary myths is our rejection of ready-made political labels. We want no gods, not even those of the marxist or anarchist pantheons. We live in neither the Petrograd of 1917 nor the Barcelona of 1936. We are ourselves: the product of the disintegration of traditional politics, in the advanced industrial world, in the second half of the 20th century. It is to the problems and conflicts of that society that we must apply ourselves.
Although we consider ourselves part of the 'libertarian left' we differ from most strands of the 'cultural' or 'political' underground. We have nothing in common, for instance, with those petty entrepreneurs, now thriving on the general confusion, who simultaneously promote such commodities as oriental mysticism, black magic, the drug cult, sexual exploitation (masquerading as sexual liberation) seasoning it all with big chunks of populist mythology. Their dissemination of myths and their advocacy of 'non.sectarian politics' do not prevent them from taking up, in practice, many reactionary stances. In fact, they ensure it. Under the mindless slogan of 'Support for people in struggle', these tendencies advocate support for various nationalisms (today always reactionary) such as those of both IRAs and of all the NLFs.
Other strands, calling themselves 'libertarian marxist', suffer from middle class feelings of guilt which make them prone to workeritis. Despite this, their practice is both reformist and substitutionist. For instance, when they (correctly) support struggles for limited objectives, such as those of squatters or Claimants' Unions, they often fail to stress the revolutionary implications of such collective direct action. Historically, direct action has often clashed with the reformist nature of the objectives pursued. Again, such tendencies support the IRAs and NLFs and refrain from criticizing the Cuban, Vietnamese or Chinese regimes. Having rejected the Party, they nevertheless share with leninism a bourgeois concept of consciousness.
Because we think our politics should be coherent we also reject the approach of others in the libertarian movement who place their whole emphasis on personal liberation or who seek individual solutions to what are social problems. We dissociate ourselves from those who equate the violence of the oppressor with the violence of the oppressed (in a condemnation of 'all violence'), and from those who place the rights of strikers on the picket line on the same footing as the right of scabs to blackleg (in an abstract defence of 'freedom as such'). Similarly, anarcho-catholicism and anarcho-maoism are internally incoherent outlooks, incompatible with revolutionary self-activity.
We feel that there should be some relation between our vision of socialism and what we do here and now. IT FOLLOWS that we seek as from now, and starting with those closest to us, to puncture some of the more widely held political myths. These are not confined to the 'right'-with its belief that hierarchy and inequality are of the essence of the human condition. We consider it irrational (and/or dishonest) that those who talk most of the masses (and of the capacity of the working class to create a new society) should have the least confidence in people's ability to dispense with leaders. We also consider it irrational that the most radical advocates of 'genuine social change' should incorporate in their own ideas, programmes and organisational prescriptions so many of the values, priorities and models they claim to oppose.
6. When we say that socialist society will be 'built from below', we mean just that. We do not mean 'initiated from above and then endorsed from below'. Nor do we mean 'planned from above and later checked from below'. We mean there should be no separation between organs of decision and organs of execution. This is why we advocate workers' 'management' of production, and avoid the ambiguous demand for workers' 'control'. (The differences both theoretical and historical between the two are outlined in the introduction to our book on 'The Bolsheviks and Workers Control 1917-1921')
We deny the revolutionary organisation any specific prerogative in the post-revolutionary period, or in the building of the new society. Its main function in this period will be to stress the primacy of the Workers Councils (and of bodies based on them) as instruments of decisional authority, and to struggle against ail those who would seek to lessen or to bypass this authority - or to vest power elsewhere. Unlike others on the left who dismiss thinking about the new society as 'pre-occupation with the cookshops of the future' we have outlined our ideas about a possible structure of such a society in our pamphlet on workers councils and in discussion in our magazine.
This section seeks to evoke a fuller vision of a new society than is encompassed in the usual economistic definitions. It also seeks to rescue the term 'self-management' from those who, for various (and often contradictory) reasons, have sought to debase it. But it does more. It also raises awkward questions such as 'what is the "self" that it is to be self-managed?' However self-managed, a racist or sexist 'self' cannot abolish racism or sexism. A 'self' that accepts heirarchy will encourage the appearance of hierarchs. The ignorance of the many both allows and fosters manipulation by the few
If society is to be truly self-managed, then all aspects of collective life must be democratically controlled by the people. The persistence of market forces would remove the area of work from the control of those involved in it. Such forces would perpetuate the alienation of the producers from their product, and the state of affairs where people go-to-work-to-get-money-to-buy-the-things-that-keep-them-alive-to-go-to-work, and so on, ad nauseum.
Economic competition between 'self-managed' units would inevitably restore hierarchical social structures. Self-management in production, therefore, means the total control by the producers over their products and the ending of production for sale or exchange. A self-managed society would constantly strive to overcome the division between work and play, and would realise (in both senses of the word) the joy of creative activity.
The social institutions of the new society will not develop (or even survive) within a value system inherited from capitalism. The old will reassert itself unless specifically fought against. The process of change involves us all - and starts here and now. It implies an on-going and conscious cultural revolution in which - unlike what happened in China - there will be no taboos whatsoever, and no attempts by anyone (with or without bayonets) to restrict the 'permissible' areas of criticism, experiment or debate.