By Kevin Henry
September 11 marks the 50th anniversary of a murderous coup by Pinochet backed by US imperialism against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile. Chilean people, led by the working class, built up a powerful, revolutionary movement over decades which brought Allende to power. It was this movement, which achieved the nationalisation of more than 40% of the economy, and which threatened a revolutionary change throughout Latin America. The response of the ruling class was the barbaric slaughter of thousands of activists. There are many lessons from this movement for revolutionary socialists, the two most important are the limits of reformism and crucially the need for a revolutionary party.
Socialists base ourself on the need to mobilise the mass of working-class people in a struggle to end capitalism. Over the last number of years there have been important mass struggles of workers, women and young people. This includes last year when a mass movement erupted in Iran which threatened the theocratic regime. While the movement went far in challenging the backwards regime of the Ayatollah, unfortunately Capitalism and the Islamic state remain in place. The key ingredient missing from this struggle and others is a revolutionary party with the bold socialist ideas necessary to assist the movement in developing a clear alternative to capitalism.
This was a key lesson from the 1917 Russian revolution when a revolutionary party was key to acting decisively so that the working class could take power.
In February 1917 a mass movement overthrew the five hundred year tsarist regime after 2.5million people died during world war one. Over a period of a year workers councils or Soviets were built. There were 300 Soviets in Russia in March (1917) ,to 1,200 in October. These were forums where delegations elected by workers in factories or districts would come together to discuss how to defend and take the revolution forward. The Petrograd soviet, for example, had 1,200 delegates which met fortnightly and elected a 110 person executive. In one form or another, this has been seen in other revolutionary movements, like in Chile,1973, they were called cordones.
It was in this context that the Bolsheviks went from a small force in the Soviets, with 12,000 members, to over 200,000 between February and October 1917. In the Soviets they were able to grow in influence under clear slogans like ‘all power to the soviets’ and having no faith in the provisional government. This allowed it to win a majority and carry out a second revolution in October 1917. A revolutionary party is essential in allowing the masses and particularly the most advanced layers to act in a disciplined fashion, but as Trotsky put it
“Without a guiding organisation, the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston box. But nevertheless, what moves things is not the piston or the box but the steam”.
The history of defeated revolutions also points to the necessity of a revolutionary party. The lack of a revolutionary party or one without significant weight in society contributed to the defeats of revolutionary movements.
Need to be organised now
While a revolutionary party can fill out in times of revolutionary struggle it is unlikely it could be built from scratch. There is an urgent need to get organised now. It’s important that such a party is built beforehand. Not as a passive organisation but one which is made up of an active committed membership that is educated in marxist ideas and capable of equipping movements with the marxist and revolutionary ideas necessary to succeed in struggles and challenge capitalism.
The last few years has seen a revival in workers struggles, a new feminist wave, black lives matter, environmental movements and many other struggles. Socialists energetically intervene into these movements seeking to advance them as much as possible, challenging the leaderships, when they do not put forward a clear plan to win or capitulate to the interests of capitalism and crucially, patiently explaining why it is necessary to link these struggles to a challenge against capitalism.
Recent years have also seen the growth of reformist ideas such as Corbyn in Britain. Socialists intervene into these movements not as cheerleaders of Corbyn but to highlight limitations. For example in Corbyn’s case the problem of taking on the old Blairite wing which sought to bring down Corbyn. We also seek to win people to our revolutionary perspectives.
Joining the Socialist Party is not something that should be done lightly, it’s a serious commitment. However if you agree with what we say then you should contact us to discuss our idea and how you can be involved.