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The Socialist Party of Great Britain Polemic - Report on Party's Attitude to Violence
(August 1977)

A floor resolution was carried (10-12) as follows:

"That the EC be requested to prepare, in the light of present conditions, a more detailed statement of the Party'' attitude to violence subsequent to the establishment of Socialism, for submission to the 1977 Annual Conference".

At its meeting on 20th April, 1976 the EC carried a resolution:

"That the EC draw up a statement along the lines of the Conference recommendation".

Note on floor resolution

This floor resolution was on the Agenda as an addendum to a Glasgow resolution. (See Para. 2 below.) Because an amendment to Glasgow's resolution was carried, this addendum (move by Camden) was not voted on as an addendum, but was then moved as a floor resolution.

Other Relevant Resolutions at 1976 Conference

The final Agenda contained a resolution moved by Glasgow, and an amendment moved by Lewisham. The amendment was carried (27-17).

Glasgow Branch Resolution

"That this Conference re-affirms the statement on violence approved by the 1955 Annual Conference, viz:

'This Conference re-affirms the Party's attitude to violence viz: .. That only a democratically elected Socialist majority can introduce Socialism after the capture of the machinery of government; violence will only be used in the event of a recalcitrant minority attempting to forcibly overthrow Socialism'.

Amendment, Lewisham Branch

"Delete all after the word 'Conference' on line one and replace with the words ' .. affirms that only a democratically elected Socialist majority can introduce Socialism after the capture of the machinery of government. Should an anti-Socialist, undemocratic minority attempt to sabotage or disrupt social organisation and administration, a Socialist society would necessarily take such action as was requisite to ensure social harmony".
(Carried 27-17)


The possible use of violence by a minority in the post-revolutionary period is quite distinct from the issue of the overthrow of Socialist society and restoration of Capitalism.

The first of these two hypotheses can be accepted, but the second does not follow as a matter of course. Acts of violence sabotage or any other form of anti-social activity will not be tolerated at any stage. Assuming that we are mainly dealing with acts of violence during the immediate post-revolution period, obviously force would be used if argument and reason failed.

The second hypothesis is untenable and utopian. The barriers to the establishment of Socialism exist in the minds of the working class, and capitalist control of the machinery of government is a consequence. When the working class have emancipated themselves from the ideology of a society based on private property, their conquest of political powers and the subsequent dispossession of the capitalist class would follow.

To reverse the process the vast mass would have to be re-converted to capitalism by means of propaganda. The capitalist class would already have lost the battle of propaganda and would no longer control the organs of propaganda. Their social influence will have gone, together with their property.

To suggest that at some point individuals will be able to appropriate socially owned property and force members of the community to work for wages is a complete abandonment of logical reasoning, and to argue that the same result could be obtained by violent minority action is playing with words. The fact that a recalcitrant violent minority could act in unawareness of the utter futility of their action does not justify describing it as an 'attempt' to destroy Socialism and restore capitalism.

Socialism could not be forcibly overthrown, neither could it be 'attempted', any more than we would describe the action of the lunatic who jumped from the top of St Paul's Cathedral as an 'attempt' to fly to the churchyard below, although we had his word for it.

Conditions for the Establishment of Socialism

The Party's principle governing the establishment of Socialism has always been, in the terms of Clause 6 of the Declaration of Principles, that the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that the machinery of government, including the armed forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation. Implicit in this conception has always been recognition that, in the period of changeover, control of the armed forces would be continued for as long as necessary in the light of conditions then existing. It has never been the Party's case that simultaneously with gaining control the armed forces would at once be wholly dismantled.

(In Engel's words: "The State is not abolished. It dies out.) (SOCIALISM, UTOPIAN AND SCIENTIFIC. Page 77 in the Allen and Unwin edition).

This has not meant that the armed forces would have to be used. As was pointed out in the Statement drawn up by the EC and published in the SS in April, 1955 - "The control of the armed forces during this period will be an effective deterrent .. without these forces having necessarily to be used". (This Statement is reproduced in full as an Appendix.)

The main determining conditions that will have been met by the time of the establishment of Socialism are predictable. That is to say the long, arduous process of making the socialist case known, or meeting and defeating the capitalist case, and of winning over the mass of the workers, will have been completed and the democratic conquest of the powers of government will have taken place.

In the words of the 1955 EC Statement "The overwhelming mass of the people will participate, or fall in line with, the process of reorganisation (in other words that while the workers will participate in the movement and probably individual capitalists, the capitalists as a whole will realise that the gam is up, as they have lost the power of effective resistance)",

It is against this background that the hypothesis of possible violent obstruction by an undemocratic minority has to be considered.

The Question of Re-establishing Capitalism

After the process of establishing Socialism has been completed the idea that capitalism might be re-established is remote from reality, nevertheless, opponents of the Party ask us to consider how Socialist society would deal with an attempt to achieve this be force.

This was to be considered against the predictable conditions existing at that time as already described.

The state machinery, including the armed forces, will have passed out of the control of the capitalists and come under social control; Socialists will constitute the majority in all occupations in which the working class predominate - in production, transport, communications, police and armed forces. The supporters of capitalism will have been reduced to a minority and the mass of society will be made up of people who either want or accept the new system.

A minority who may wish to return to capitalism will be free to propagate their views and to organise democratically to win over the majority, but they will operate against the tremendous disadvantage that they will already have lost 'The bottle of ideas'. Those who take the line of propagating capitalism's return will present no problem to Socialist society. They will be a minority even of the minority who would have preferred capitalism, because the bulk of the capitalists will already have been convinced that such a movement has no future and it is inconceivable that any number of workers will support such a movement. The worker's economic problems will have been solved by Socialism - a return to capitalism could have nothing to offer him. And not all of the hypothetical minority working to restore capitalism would be prepared to take violent action for that purpose.

The Question of Sabotage and Disruption

There remains the hypothesis of a small minority who might attempt to sabotage or disrupt social organisation and administration.

It is necessary to set this in proper perspective for what it would be, not a threat to the existence of Socialist society though a threat to the well-being of other people. To the extent that this violent minority had as their purpose to force a return to capitalism, it would be necessary to convince them that they could not succeed because of their total isolation from society (including isolation from those opponents of Socialism who limited their action to democratic propaganda and organisation).

If the hypothesis includes a residue of people 'at war with society' who make mindless attacks endangering the well-being and lives of other people then the means to deal with them would exist and would be used as necessary.

Such situations already exist under capitalism, but with this difference, that while capitalism has no solution because capitalist conditions create the problem, for socialist society the problem - a hangover from capitalism - would be a passing phase of short duration.

We have been asked to give an interpretation of Clause 6 of our Declaration of Principles on the ground that a part of it has been taken to imply an authoritarian suppression of all opposition, actual or potential, including freedom of expression, by armed force - after the fashion of the Bolsheviks and Fascists.

This clause has already been gone into at length in our Pamphlet "The Socialist Party: Its Principals and Policy". However, we will give a brief interpretation of it in relation to the point raised.

The State is the governmental power that makes and enforces the laws and regulations of society. Since it developed it has always represented the social class that is dominating. The armed forces of this State were organised for the purpose of defending the interests and the social arrangements that suited the dominating social class.

Every rising social class has had to struggle for control of, or influence in, this State power in order to abolish or modify the existing political arrangements that hindered the further development of the rising class.

In present society this holds true of the working class movement which seeks to overthrow the domination of the Capitalist class; a domination that keeps the working class in a subject position. The fact that most of the workers do not yet recognise the source of their subjection, or only vaguely do so, does not effect the question. Thus, before the workers can throw off this domination they must obtain control of the State power in order to take out of the hands of the dominating class the power that defends this domination.

Parliament is the centre of state power in modern 'democracies' and the workers, who comprise the great majority of each nation, vote the representatives to these parliaments. Therefore, when the workers understand the source of their subject position and the action they must take to abolish it, they can do so by sending representatives to Parliament to take control of the State power for this purpose. By doing so they will take out of the hands of the Capitalist class the control of the powers of government, including the armed forces.

Once the workers have obtained control of the governmental power what then? They will proceed to reorganise society on a Socialist basis. Now we come into the region of conjecture. While we hold the view that the overwhelming mass of the people will participate, or fall in line with, the process of re-organisation (in other words that, while the workers will participate in the movement and probably individual Capitalists, the Capitalists as a whole will realise that the game is up, as they have lost the power of effective resistance) we make allowance for a theoretically possible attempt in some form of violent sabotage during the revolutionary reorganisation. The control of the armed forces during this period will be an effective deterrent to any such violent attempt without these forces having necessarily to be used. Should a violent minority attempt to destroy Socialism they would have to be forcibly dealt with. While at full liberty to advocate a return to Capitalism, no violent minority could be allowed to obstruct the will of the majority. Hence the phrase in the 6th Clause "in order that this machinery including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation". There will be no suppression of speech, opinion, or peaceful organisation.


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