A Political Statement of the Libertarian Socialist Collective

Winter 1979

This statement should not be seen as a comprehensive analysis, or as a substitute for one. It is a sketch of the most basic outlines of our politics and their fundamental orientation, and a indication of the basic political criteria for membership in the LSC. The discussion regarding the nature of socialism, in particular, is only an attempt to indicate some of the most basic pre-conditions and principles of socialism, as we see them. They are an absolute minimum, in no way an attempt to elaborate on the creative possibilities that will be able to emerge in a socialist world. We see this statement as a beginning, nothing more.

1. Women and men make history, but they do so in circumstances not of their own choosing. Their activities, the lives they lead, shape society, but the nature of their activities and their lives has already been shaped by society. All societies in existence are class societies, societies based not on freedom but on the organized unequal distribution of power and wealth.

2. The fundamental basis of all class societies is the relations of production: the relations people enter into to satisfy material needs, to produce and reproduce life itself.

3. In all countries in existence the fundamental relation of production is wage labour, the sale and purchase of labour power. This relation presupposes and determines the relation of capital, and the existence of two basic classes: the class which owns and controls the means of production, and which lives from the profit it derives from that control, and the class which to survive must sell its ability to work and produce, its labour power: the working class.

4. Tied to that fundamental relationship is the whole network of relationships which taken together comprise the totality of social life: political, cultural, psychological, sexual, and so on. These relations in turn react upon and change the relations of production.

5. The result is a class society in which the vast majority of people have no control over the decisions that affect their lives, over their activities at work, over the general development and use of their productive and creative powers. Their own powers are alienated from them, and produce results alien to them and opposed to them. Their human powers become things, commodities that have a value only insofar as they have a value for capital.

6. The alien power that stands opposed to them is increasingly centralized and integrated into the framework of the state. In a number of countries, this dynamic of capitalism to increased centralization of power has taken the form of a state-dominated society in which the capitalist class itself has been swept away. Whether the term capitalism still applies to such societies is perhaps debatable. What is not debatable is that these societies are still class societies based on wage labour in which the fundamental relations of production and domination typical of traditional capitalism still exist. Ironically, some of these states were created partly through the efforts of a working class aiming at the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. Their inability to carry the revolution its successful conclusion, the creation of socialism, resulted in the most concentrated expression of capitalist alienation: their own revolutionary efforts ended by producing results alien to and opposed to them.

7. The tendency to an increased role and power for the state is a world-wide phenomenon. The different forms it has taken at different times and in different countries are all indicative of the universality of the general trend. The experiences of different "socialist" and "communist" countries such as the USSR, Yugoslavia, China, etc., of social-democratic regimes, of fascism, of liberal welfare-state capitalism, of "revolutionary" third world regimes, make it clear that world-wide forces are involved. In underdeveloped countries in particular a centralized authoritarian state has frequently emerged, often under the control of regimes calling themselves "socialist" or "revolutionary" to carry out the tasks of capital accumulation that traditionally was seen as the role of the bourgeoisie.

8. Capitalism is a world-wide system which can only be overthrown on a world scale. Socialism in one country or a group of countries is impossible so long as economically or militarily significant capitalist nations or multinational corporations remain in existence. This is not to say, however, that significant progress toward socialism is not possible in particular countries or areas prior to a world-wide revolution. As even a failure such as the Popular Unity government in Chile demonstrated, a leftist or left-social-democratic government can be a great advantage for a working-class movement, in the way it adds to the momentum and possibilities of a popular movement, in the way it represents the increased strength of the movement, in the way it creates international repercussions and an international example. Such achievements can be the basis for moving on to further victories, if the movement remains aware that it has to keep moving ahead, if the movement does not come to see this step along the road as a goal.

9. The basis of capitalist society (including the so-called "socialist" countries) is wage labour. People who sell their labour power, and who have no significant control over the work they do, whether or not they produce surplus value, whether their collars are blue, white or pink, together comprise the working class. The working class has a central role to play in the struggle for the overthrow of the society based on capital, because it is in direct daily contact with the exploitative core of that society, and because its numbers and collective strength give it a unique position of power at the controlling centres of society.

10. In the revolutionary overthrow of the social system based on wage labour, the working class plays a crucial role but the participation of many other sectors of the population is vital as well. Housewives, children, pensioners and non-working-class people such as farmers, students, professionals and other members of the petty-bourgeoisie have important roles to play as well. Revolution must be the work of all oppressed people, not the working class alone. This is especially true in countries where the working class does not comprise the majority of the population.

Libertarian Socialism
11. The aim of the revolutionary overthrow of existing society is socialism. However, to call oneself a socialist today is meaningless unless one specifies what one means by socialism. We define ourselves as libertarian socialists. The socialist perspective, as we see it, implies a total critique of human society as it is presently constituted. Socialism means a total transformation of life and social institutions - a project of collective self-transformation. It means a thorough critique of authoritarianism, hierarchy, and bureaucracy, of capitalist technique, forms of organization, and technology, of the orientation to the environment that attempts to dominate and manipulate it rather than living in ecological harmony with it. Socialism means recognition of the centrality of creativity, play, art, and sexuality. It involves awareness of all forms of social life, struggle against all forms of oppression and repression, work on developing alternatives in the process of the struggle itself. Libertarian socialism implies the following:

12. The idea that socialism is first and foremost about freedom, and therefore about overcoming domination, repression and alienation that block the free flow of human creativity, thought and action. We do not equate socialism with planning, state control, or nationalization of industry although we understand that in a socialist society (not 'under' socialism) economic activity will be collectively controlled, managed, planned and owned. Similarly, we believe that socialism will involve equality, but we do not think that socialism is equality, for it is possible to conceive of a society where everyone is equally oppressed. We think that socialism is incompatible with one-party states, with constraints on freedom of speech, with an elite exercising power 'on behalf of' the people, with leader cults, with any of the other devices through which the dying society seeks to portray itself as the new society.

13. Libertarian politics concerns itself with the liberation of the individual because it is collective, and with the collective liberation because it is individualistic.

14. An approach to socialism that incorporates cultural revolution, women's and children's liberation, and the critique and transformation of daily life, as well as the more traditional concerns of socialist politics. A politics that is completely revolutionary because it seeks to transform all of reality. We do not think that capturing the economy or the state lead automatically to the transformation of the rest of the social being, nor do we equate liberation with changing our lifestyles and our heads. Capitalism is a total system that invades all areas of life: socialism must be the overcoming of capitalist reality in its entirety, or it is nothing.

15. Being a socialist is not only an intellectual thing, a matter of having the right ideas or to the right intellectual approach. It is also a matter of the way you lead your life.

16. A politics that is revolutionary because, in the words of Marx and Engels, "revolution is necessary not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew."

17. Because revolution is a collective process of self-liberation, because people and society are transformed through struggle, not by decree, therefore "the emancipation of the working class can only be achieved by the working classes themselves", not by a Leninist vanguard, a socialist state or any other agent acting on their behalf.

18. A conception of the left not as separate from society, but as part of it. We of the left are people who are subjected to social oppression like everyone else, who struggle for socialism because our liberation is possible only when all society is liberated. We seek to bring others to our socialist project not to do them a favour, but because we need their help to achieve our own liberation. Cohn-Bendit's comment that "It is for yourself that you make the revolution" is not an individualistic position but the key to a truly collective politics based on joy and the promise of life, instead of on the self-sacrifice that is often the radical's version of the white man's burden.

19. We of the left see ourselves as equal participants in the struggle, not as the anointed leaders of it. We put forward our socialist vision as part of our contribution, but we do not think that our belief in socialism means that we have all the answers. We deal with people honestly, as equals, not presuming the right to dictate what they shall think or do, nor presuming that we have nothing to learn from them. We have enough faith in our politics that we do not seek to manipulate people to our conclusion.

20. As socialists, we form organizations with other people who share our ideas. This is necessary and valid, but it represents a situation that we should try continually to overcome, not one that we should accept and even institutionalize in the Leninist mode. Socialism implies not only the withering away of the state, but also the withering away of the left and its organizations as separate entities. Power in a socialist society must be exercised in ways allowing the participation of everyone, not only those belonging to a given organization. This must be prefigured in the political forms and movements that emerge before the revolution. The ultimate goal of the left and its organizations must not be to rule society, but to abolish themselves.

21. The most important component of socialist consciousness is critical thought. We must learn to think about everything critically, to take nothing for granted, nothing as given. Consequently we do not want people to accept socialist ideas in the way they now accept, partially or completely, bourgeois ideas. We want to destroy all uncritical acceptance and belief. We think that a critical examination of society leads to socialist conclusions, but what is important is not simply the conclusions but equally and even more so the method of arriving at them.

22. We base ourselves on the heritage of marxism. This does not mean that we accept all the ideas of Marx, let alone of those who claim to be his followers. Marxism is a point of departure for us, not our predetermined destination. We accept Marx's dictum that our criticism must fear nothing including its own results. Our debt to Marxism will be no less if we find that we have to go beyond it.

23. Nothing could be more foreign to us than the "traditional Marxist" idea that all important questions have been answered. On the contrary we have yet to formulate many of the important questions.

24. We have to try to maintain a balance of theory and practice which seeks to integrate them, and which recognizes that we must engage in both at all times.

25. The centre of gravity of our politics has to be where we are, not in the vicarious identification with struggles elsewhere. Solidarity work is important, but it cannot be the main focus of a socialist movement.

26. We don't know if we'll win: history is made by human beings, and where human beings are concerned, nothing is inevitable. But because people do make history, we know that it is possible to build a new world, and we strive to realize that possibility. "There is only one reason to be a revolutionary - because it is the best way to live."


Socialism and Socialist Strategy

27. We have much to learn from previous revolutionary efforts, from their successes or failures, but none of these efforts have been ultimately successful. There are no socialist countries or "workers' states" (deformed, degenerated, or otherwise) in existence today. All social, political, and economic systems in existence are oppressive and exploitative, and must be overturned. All states must be overthrown, including those that now call themselves socialist, such as the USSR, and its bloc, Yugoslavia, Cuba, China, Albania, Mozambique, etc. There are significant social and economic differences between countries, but these are differences within the oppressive system built on wage labour.

Nevertheless, the differences between countries and types of social structures are important, and our political attitudes will take them into account. For example, liberal democracy or social democracy are preferable to fascism or military dictatorship. A regime promoting literacy, modern health care, and economic development is more progressive than one offering nothing except corruption and social decay. Internationally, we support the efforts of nations to gain independence and resist imperialist domination, even though we do not support the regimes of these nations or the programmes of the national liberation movements. In other words, our opposition to all existing regimes and social structures does not mean abstention from all political choices prior to their overthrow. The fact of their sameness does not blind us to their differences.

28. We reject social democracy and social democratic organizations, but we may support reforms of various kinds. However, we never see them as ends in themselves, but always as part of a process leading to revolution.

29. We oppose a parliamentary or reformist strategy for bringing about socialism, but at times it may be tactically correct to participate in elections, or parliaments, as part of an overall strategy.

30. In cases where socialists are elected, they must be strictly subordinated to the program and decisions of the organization as a whole. The normal freedom to disagree belonging to members of an organization is severely restricted in their case, because they are public spokespeople for the organization. Elected representatives who do not follow the decisions and policies of the organization must be recalled and/or expelled. The same holds true for people holding posts in other political or labour bodies after being elected as members of the group. The group must be consulted before any member runs for a political position.

31. Because revolution must take place in all spheres of life, revolutionary activity must also take place of all fronts: economic, political, social, cultural, ecological, etc. Socialist activity is not merely a matter of political or workplace organizing. Forms of 'extra-parliamentary' action such as community and workplace organizing are necessary forms of socialist activity although they are not of themselves revolutionary.

32. The process of advancing to socialism involves many people in many different activities, and for that reason alone cannot be primarily a matter of elections or preparing for elections. But it is possible that in a country such as Canada, a liberal democracy, at a certain point in the process, socialist candidates will win a electoral victory. This would be an occasion for working people to implement the socialist program - i.e., continuing the struggle both outside and inside parliament. It is extremely likely that in such a situation the forces of reaction would discard bourgeois legalities and attempt to destroy the socialist forces by any means available. Such an attack will be resisted by whatever means necessary that are consistent with socialist principles. In principle, however, the possibility of a relatively peaceful transition to socialism cannot be absolutely ruled out. It depends largely on the actions of the bourgeoisie.

33. Socialism is not state ownership of the means of production. It is not the extension of the role of the state. While society will not be stateless immediately after a socialist conquest of power - although the bourgeois state must be immediately dismantled and destroyed - the nature and activities of the transitional state apparatus will be radically different.

34. The first task of the transitional administration is to co-ordinate the defeat and repression of the bourgeoisie and its allies and agents, internal and external. It is not the primary agent of the reconstruction of society on socialist lines - this can only be the work of the people as a whole, working directly through the organizational and social forms they find appropriate.

35. The second task of the transitional state is to participate in its own dismantling as social, political, and economic life is organized on a radically different basis.

36. While there cannot be blueprints for the socialist future, it is possible to talk about certain basic pre-conditions and principles. Foremost among these must be direct popular control of social life: workers' control and management of the workplaces, community control of the community, students' and staff control of the schools, etc.

37. At the same time, because none of these things exist in isolation, there must also be found ways of making sure activities and institutions are accountable to society as a whole - e.g. a workplace must also be responsible to the community in which it is situated and its environmental, economic and social needs, and to the needs of the economy as a whole.

38. Therefore representative institutions deriving their mandate from and answerable at every point to, the different constituencies e.g. workplace, community - will also come into existence.

39. Organizations such as workers' councils will have key roles to play, but theirs will not be the sole role. Not everyone works, so other organizations will also be important to give everyone a say on the different levels of societal organization.

40. Socialism implies no fetish of centralization. In some things there will be a great deal more co-ordination and planning, but in many cases decentralization is often more efficient and/or suited to peoples' needs. In many areas of life, there is presently too much control and intervention. In many cases therefore, the advent of socialism will mean less control and interference, and the expansion of individual freedom and the increase of group activity outside any official or state control.

41. The creation of socialism implies the broadest political and individual freedom and democracy. This includes freedom of the press and other forms of communication, and the freedom to form various political parties and groups - a socialist pluralism. It will be necessary to ban only the parties of the extreme right and those actively working to restore bourgeois society. And even this ban can be progressively eased and finally removed as the socialist transformations proceeds.

Canada
42. Canada's position in the world capitalist system is largely defined by its relation to the United States. Canada is largely dominated by the United States, and this creates various economic, cultural, and other ramifications in this country. We therefore oppose the U.S. imperialist domination of Canada, and see the opposition to it as a component of the struggle for socialism. At the same time, we recognize that in some areas, such as the Caribbean, the Canadian state and Canadian capital themselves play an imperialistic role and we oppose this in the same way as we oppose imperialist penetration of Canada. We also recognize that the same processes of capitalism have also produced serious distortions and exploitative relations in Canada itself, for example in relation to Quebec or the Maritimes. The struggle against these inequalities is also a component of the struggle for socialism in Canada.

We reject the idea that Canada is a colony, and we reject the idea that U.S. imperialist domination is the 'primary contradiction' (a valueless concept at any rate) or that it is necessary to form a 'national liberation' movement in Canada. The effort to make Canada independent is a subordinate part of the overall struggle for socialism. Our international perspective is not that of nation against nation, but of class against class.

43. We recognize that Quebec is a distinct national entity within the Canadian state, and we thus support Quebec's right to self-determination. At the same time, we do not pre-suppose that Quebec ought to separate from Canada. We see no necessary reason why Quebec's national aspirations cannot be meet within the framework of Canada, should the people of Quebec choose that option. In Quebec, as in Canada, we are opposed to any form of nationalism, such as that of the Parti Quebecois, which claims to supersede class questions.

44. We support unions and the organization of unions insofar as they defend the interest of workers. At the same time, we recognize that unions have a dual role: they also increasingly function to discipline workers and integrate them into capitalist production in exchange for recognition and certain economic gains. We therefore recognize that in many ways unions do not serve the interests of workers, and we reject the view of unions as actual or potential vehicles of revolutionary organization. The struggle of workers is increasingly directed against unions as well as against management. We do not see a workplace strategy as being directed at capturing union office, or at bringing about changes in unions. The problems of unions are structural - a product of their role, and that of the contract, in guaranteeing consistent production - and are thus not solvable by changing leaders or by bringing about greater democracy. We do not rule out the possibility, in specific circumstances where the union has become an issue in a given workplace, that socialists will participate in organizing elections or will even run for office on the local level. But we see this as an exceptional circumstance, not a general or long-term strategy for workplace organizing.

45. We support the self-organization of people into unions, co-operatives, community and tenants' groups, women's liberation group, etc. At the same time, these organizations often tend to be partial and inclined to reformism. We support and participate in their activities, but we always strive to connect their activities to the concept and activities of a larger movement toward socialism.

46. When participating in larger organizations, common fronts, etc., we put forward our ideas. We do not seek to hide our affiliation or beliefs, or to manipulate or seize control of groups. If we participate in the running of such groups we do so on the basis of having been chosen by people who know our politics. We loyally work to support the activities decided upon even if we favoured other options, unless they are clearly reactionary. We do not seek to substitute ourselves for reactionary leaders, but to democratize the organizations to the fullest possible extent, to involve as many as possible directly. In a strike, or any action, our objective is to facilitate its development, not to bring it under our control or to get it to adopt our 'line'.

47. We think that revolutionary organization is necessary. We see the role of such organizations as being largely to educate, to provide a common focus, theme, and analysis for the movement, a pool of resources, a means of co-ordinating activity which can be useful at certain points in the struggle. We do not see the organization as playing the dominant role in a revolutionary movement or crisis, or in the post revolutionary period. Historical experience has shown that working people create their own institutions and forms at such times, institutions that transcend party lines: the Paris Commune, the soviets thrown up by the mass strike movement in Russia, the factory councils, the workers' councils of the post-World War I period and of Hungary in 1956, the collectives of revolutionary in Spain, the worker/student action committees of France in 1968, the drive to create non-party forms in Portugal in the 1970s. Historically, the role of parties has usually been to retard the revolutionary process in moments of crisis because they attempt to take it over, "lead" it, and determine its pace. If a revolutionary organization is to assist the revolutionary process, it must place itself at the disposal of broader movements, especially in times of crisis, rather than attempt to place the movement at the disposal of its strategy.

48. We reject the idea that consciousness develops through a progression of pre-determined stages ("trade, union, political" etc.) and the idea that socialist consciousness must or can be brought to the working class from the outside.

49. The crisis of the working class movement is not a crisis of leadership, but a crisis of the self-consciousness of the working classes.

50. Leadership is not a institutionalized function in a movement, but a practical reality that can change from one day or one hour to the next, and almost certainly will change in many mass movement or dynamic situation. The attempt to institutionalize leadership in a particular organization can only result in putting a brake on the development of the revolutionary process.

51. The concept of a vanguard and its supposed monopoly of "revolutionary consciousness" is fundamentally false. It indicates a narrowly intellectual stress on formal ideas which fails to understand that consciousness is reflected and worked out in all aspects of life. Consciousness can and does differ in even the same person from time to time and from issue to issue. The left has no monopoly on consciousness: while the left understands the necessity for revolution, it does not necessarily completely understand what this entails and how it is to be brought about.

52. We reject terrorism everywhere since it is a dead end. We particularly condemn random terror (e.g. hijacking) which does not even discriminate between enemies and ordinary people. Terrorism stems from the belief that revolution is an impossible ideal, whereas we believe it is possible if the majority of people believe it to be a practical action.

53. We support civil liberties and oppose the erosion of liberal democratic forms in the direction of greater authoritarianism. We oppose bourgeois democracy, but we do so because it is not truly democratic, not because we propose to replace it with dictatorship. We seek to establish a society which is far more democratic than any existing now. In a socialist society rights such a freedom of speech, of association, of assembly, of the press, of religion, freedom to form political parties and associations, will be guaranteed. Their exercise will be protected against not only legal but economic sanction. Rights such as freedom of the press, for those who criticize the status quo as well as those who favour it, will be actively supported in ways making it possible and not merely legally permissible to exercise them.

54. We seek the replacement of liberal electoral "democracy" by forms of participatory, direct, and representative democracy that extend political power to everyone. We seek the extension of direct popular control to all parts of the economy and all social institutions.

Internal Organization and Membership
55. To be a member of the Libertarian Socialist Collective (LSC) it is necessary to accept the program and principles of the group. Disagreement with specific programmatic points is acceptable as long as the group feels sufficient basic agreement exists, and as long as the member is willing to abide by the points in question in doing political work with the group. In addition to this "Political Statement", prospective members should be in basic agreement with the political direction and approach of the group, as exemplified by The Red Menace and the practice of the LSC. If differences are felt to be unbridgeable, a member may be removed from membership by majority vote upon notice of at least one meeting being given.

56. The fundamental organizational principles of a socialist organization must always be the greatest degree of democracy, meaning active control by the membership, and the greatest degree of openness compatible with the legal confines it is working under.

57. The organizational principles of the group include the greatest possible degree of autonomy for members and local groups in undertaking activities, so long as these are compatible with the basic principles and program of the organization, and as long as actions decided on by the organization as a whole are carried out.

58. Since the activities and membership of the organization encompass more than one locality, the membership may propose and set up such central and co-ordinating bodies as are necessary. Such bodies are subject to the complete control of the membership.

59. Programmatic minorities have the right to exist and organize within the organization, as long as they remain within the basic principles of the organization, and as long as their factional organization does not interfere with their political work as members.

60. Minority viewpoints may not be presented, explicitly or implicitly, as the viewpoint of the organization.

61. Political differences within the organization are not secret - political debate with the organization is public.

62. Members of the organization are expected to participate in the activities of the group and are expected to attend meetings regularly.

63. Members may not belong to any other political party or league, or to any organization exercising centralist discipline over its members.