Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Are Socialists Extremists?

Are Socialists Extremists?

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has put forward a policy proposal for the Tory manifesto to silence “extremists” by banning their access to the web and television. This proposal, added, David Cameron, will look at the “full spectrum of extremism” and not just the “hard end” of that spectrum that counter-terrorism policy has focused on up to now.

According to the Guardian:

The difference is spelled out in the detail of the policy, where it says that it is intended to catch not just those who “spread or incite hatred” on grounds of gender, race or religion but also those who undertake “harmful activities” for the “purpose of overthrowing democracy”
(30th September 2014)

This political net would seemingly catch non-violent political activists in all sorts of areas deemed to be “anti-democratic”. The Conservatives already say that the policy would include fascist organisations, (presumably the BNP and the EDL). Also, the policy could be applied to anarchists, the Socialist Workers Party and other Trotskyist groups as well as those who engage in violent direct action. But the official definition of “non-violent extremism”, according to the pressure groups Big Brother Watch, already includes the names of people who have done little more than organise meetings on environmental issues.

Already the government has told universities and other institutions that “extremists” are not to be given a platform to air their views even if what they say has no violent intent. The problem with legislation and guidelines is the way it is interpreted and used in practice by bureaucrats, the police and the courts. The state apparatus has a long history of using legislation against individuals and groups which was never the original intention of the law-makers.

The aim may to stop Islamic societies segregating audiences and inviting “scholars” who preach homophobic, and anti-Semitic narratives but other groups could also be caught in the net; those advocating either violent or non-violent direct action. And of course this might include invitations to socialists to give a talk or take part in a debate by student societies or university departments, as has been the case in the past. If lectures are to be vetted who is going to do the vetting? What if the lecture is given without notes – extemporising as it is called? Who within the university is going to say what is “extreme” or not.

This raises a number of questions. First what is “extremism”? Second what is “democracy”? And third, would the political net thrown out by a future government include socialists in its catch?


So what is “extremism”?

“Extremism” is one of those political words like “terrorism” which is politically ambiguous. Saudi Arabia applies “terrorism” to atheists yet financially underpins organisations which the US and other countries deem to be “terrorists”. Many a freedom fighter has become a terrorist and vice versa.

The same applies to “extremism”. Extremism only exists if you play the academic game of agreeing that there is a political spectrum along which all political positions are located. Conveniently for the main political parties their politics is located at the centre of the spectrum and is unquestionably considered to be “moderate” and “reasonable”.

Who imposed this spectrum? What is its validity? It was not socialists who imposed this disingenuous metaphor which forces a particular mind-set in looking at and interpreting politics within capitalism. A political spectrum has no validity in class politics where:

…there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce, and those who produce but do not possess (Clause 2, SPGB Declaration of Principles).

However the socialist view of politics is not widely known and taught and is often dismissed out-of-hand. A class politics which centres on class interest, class conflict and class struggle is the last thing politicians want to confront. Yet class politics is a proposition which describes and explains capitalist society and the conflicts within it.

The use by politicians, academics and the media of a political spectrum which categorises politics from a moderate centre to left and right extremities constrains and imprisons clear and objective thinking about politics and political parties. A political spectrum gives the false impression that there is a fundamental difference between a political party at the “moderate” centre and one far to the left or right of it. There isn’t.

This does not mean that political parties do not have entrenched and bitter differences. They do. But these differences are more to do with class interests; should the economy be regulated or not, should a monopoly be nationalised, broken up or left alone, the question of government subsidies and who receives them, whether Britain should be either in or out of the European Union and particularly the bitter question of taxation and those within the capitalist class who have to pay it.

Socialists reject to being described by the label “left wing”. We enter “the political field of action” and express working class political interests. A field of competing political parties is a far more accurate and useful metaphor than a spectrum. All other political parties in capitalism, in one way or another, accept and defend commodity production and exchange for profit; the private ownership of the means of production and distribution along with the exploitive wages system.

The SPGB’s clause 7 of the declaration of principles makes this quite clear:

That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party

Traditionally “extremism” is used as a pejorative word to describe the policies of political opponents. The media is full of political positions referred to as “the Left”, “the soft Left”, “the extreme Left” “the hard Left” “the hard core Left” and “the granite Left” (nothing denser) but which are, in practice, totally meaningless and trite expressions signifying nothing of substance. What of the political groups found located in and around the Labour Party, most of whom misleadingly describe themselves as socialist, and who pursue the imposition of large scale nationalisation programmes or state capitalism? They are referred to by newspapers like the SUN as the “loonie Left” although nothing is said about the politics of the SUN itself even though it’s content often seems to have been written from a secure and padded cell somewhere just outside of Crowthorne in Berkshire.

The labelling of opponents as “extreme” and “barking mad” has also been used against former traditional Tories now found in organisations like UKIP; once described by David Cameron as made up of: “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”. Though, it is noticeable that in the May 2015 general election UKIP was not referred to as “extremist” by the Conservatives and were treated with deference as befitting a potential junior partner in a future coalition government.

Labour, Tory and the Liberal Democrats like to portray their policies as “moderate” while any departure from this “reasonable” and “balanced” politics is depicted by the three leading capitalist parties as extreme. In fact, any criticism of class society and any form of political action against capitalism is now considered “extremist” and fair game for the security services to mount surveillance and investigation into groups who do not subscribe to “British values

”. The WIKIPEDIA entry for “extremism” cites works from sociologists and in particular the conservative psychologist and eugenicist Hans Eysenck, whose theories of “extremism” protect the political centre as a natural and reasonable state of affairs. All other political positions which depart from the political centre are taken by academics like Eysenck, as unnatural and unreasonable.

The academics, though, share the same political view as those political positions they want to show in a good light; as “balanced”, “moderate” and “safe” to vote for. This is nothing more than a case of special pleading. The sociology of extremism taught at universities is not a science but an ideology; a set of ruling class ideas and beliefs which developed as a reaction to Marxian socialism at the beginning of the 20thth century. Sociology is nothing more than politics masquerading as detached academic inquiry.

The act of labelling a person or group as “extremist” is a well-worn technique to further a political goal—especially by governments seeking to defend the status quo. The word “extremism” is often used against opponents never by the opponents themselves and cannot be regarded as “neutral” or offering any useful scientific insight about conflict within capitalism. In fact the use of the word “extremism” to describe the beliefs and ideas of an opponent is like describing someone as “utopian”; a means to stop a debate rather than to engage in one.

Political extremism is usually associated with violence although the periodic use of violence in a war by Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat governments is conveniently ignored. So too is State violence against demonstrators. Extremism is always the actions of individuals or groups not governments. In respect to the Iraq war, you do not hear the former Prime minister, Tony Blair, being referred to as an “extremist”. Nor are other actions of the State referred to as “extremist”; like the recent use of the Metropolitan police to intercept and monitor journalistic activity (BBC NEWS 24th November 2015) and Wiltshire police demanding from newsagents the names of subscribers to CHARLIE HEBDO in order to maintain “social cohesion” in the area (DAILY MAIL 10th February 2015).

And surely it is an extreme measure to be prepared to use nuclear missiles and other weapons of mass destruction, an action all “peace-loving” Labour Prime Ministers have considered potentially necessary under certain circumstances since 1945. And many an “extremist” has later on become a secular saint, like Nelson Mandela and Gerry Adams. In fact, the actions of the British State, particularly in the violent pursuit of foreign policy abroad, has never been considered “extreme” precisely because there is no metaphorical “spectrum” in which to locate British 19th century Imperialism even if it led to rape, pillage and plunder.

Theresa May’s counter terrorism and security bill defines extremism as:

…vocal or active opposition to British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs

The Socialist Party of Great Britain’s OBJECT AND DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES will no doubt be seen by Mrs May and those charged with enforcing the legislation, as an affront to “British values”. However, to believe the conscious and political action of a socialist majority to end production for profit with production solely for use is an “undemocratic” act is surely perverse?

And “British values” is a convenient fiction to mask the real reason the State exists at all. The machinery of government, including the armed forces exists only “to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers” (Clause 6, SPGB OBJECT AND DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES). Governments pursue class interests not the rights of individuals. Governments act as the “executive of the bourgeoisie”. And towards those who have opposed capitalism’s wars, the capitalist State has shown little or no “respect and tolerance” treating anti-war beliefs with imprisonment and victimization.

Perhaps in their quest to stamp out extremism, Theresa May and David Cameron might like to consider instructing their Tory youth wing, Conservative Future, to collect together all “extremist literature”; from the 17th century Digger and Leveller pamphlets, the writings of the Chartists right on up to the Marx’s COMMUNIST MANIFESTO and CAPITAL and the OBJECT AND DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Then these subversive texts could be formed into a huge bonfire on campus lawns and set alight to protect society from being contaminated by radical, revolutionary and controversial ideas. They wish.


The Socialist Party of Great Britain does not reject parliamentary politics but we do not paint it as a “democratic good” in its own right; as a mythical culmination of a long historical process beginning with the Magna Carta and ending with the party political arrangement which exists today. Instead, the usefulness of Parliament by socialists is instrumental in obtaining the socialist object. Socialists have always insisted on the necessity for the working class to gain control of the machinery of government before establishing socialism. Socialists do not see the use of Parliament and the vote in quasi-religious terms but as part of a revolutionary act which includes voting for socialist delegates, not political representatives and leaders.

And what is “democracy”? For socialists, socialism is democracy and democracy is socialism; the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. Capitalism is not and can never be democratic because the means of securing a living are owned by a minority capitalist class for the purpose of making a profit, not in meeting human needs.

Democracy is bound up with the struggle for socialism not the other way round. Socialism will not be possible until a majority of workers understand the socialist case against capitalism and are prepared to vote for socialism and to take part in the affairs of a socialist society once common ownership and democratic control of the means of life has been established.

Limited political democracy supported by the mainstream political parties has to be contrasted to the real meaning of democracy put forward by the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Ruling class ideas have to be contested as part of the “battle for democracy”. The impact of May and Cameron’s proposed legislation is a vain attempt to close down this debate as being somehow illegitimate because a serious revolutionary critique of capitalism can never be permitted to become a serious proposition. Yet the current political crisis faced by the main political parties has shown the “moderate centre” to be illusory.

All capitalist political parties right across the so-called political spectrum are “anti-democratic” in as much as they all seek to conserve the class system. Socialists, of course, see the importance of free speech and to freely assemble in order to put the socialist case against capitalism. If undemocratic extremism has any meaning it would be to prevent socialist lectures from taking place and using the state apparatus in an attempt to arrest, convict and imprison socialists.

However, democracy has a deeper meaning for socialists than the shallowness of “political democracy” has for politicians and academics; that is, the ability of all society, to democratically control what is produced, under what conditions and for whom. When socialists talk of democracy this is the only kind of democracy worth having and struggling for.

The debate about extremism and radicalisation takes place on a false ground where the British government accepts no responsibility for the violent forces its foreign policy has unleashed onto the world. State violence and war is conveniently ignored particularly the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Western capitalism wants to work from a default position which sees their actions wholly good and beneficial to the world.

This is not the case; world capitalism by its intense competition is a battleground of competing national interests which sometime lead to war. And one of the real reasons why Western governments do not hold the moral high ground against radical Islam, for example, is because they are part of the problem both historically and contemporaneously.

Socialists do not take sides in the conflicts which take place between capitalist countries or by capitalist countries against particular groups who they label “terrorists” and “extremists”. Unlike the capitalist “Left” we repudiate Lenin’s fallacious doctrine on Imperialism as contrary to the Marxian position on the class struggle.

What counts is the class struggle between a world capitalist class and a world working class not between nation states. Socialists do not see radical Islam as a Feudal battering ram against Western interests to be courted for political opportunism within Britain and whose actions are praised abroad for damaging the interests of “US Imperialism”. Radical Islam is not in the interest of the working class to support any more than either the present Palestinian struggle against Israel or the former nationalist struggles against the US in Vietnam during the 1970’s.

The problem facing the working class is not a particular country exercising its political clout in the world but capitalism. And one place to start would be to reject religion and religious leaders and for workers to start thinking for themselves. Workers should no more be bound to religious texts than to capital.

We should not forget, though, that European Imperialism still stains the Middle East. Generations of hatred towards Western capitalism is channelled through a radical and politicised Islam by manipulative nationalist politicians in countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to end up as acts of terrorism on the streets of Europe and the US. Oil, strategic spheres of influence and trade routes have left continents strewn with the graves of the dead. British capitalism cannot pretend to be an innocent party when it has centuries of blood on its hands. And radical Islam and Islamic terrorism did not come out of nowhere. The groups that were to become Al Qaeda, for example were trained by the CIA and funded by Saudi Arabia after Afghanistan was invaded by Russia in the 1980’s (

Are Socialists Extremists?

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has always stated that both the political means and the socialist objective have to be democratic. In other words, the political means and the political object are inseparable. The SPGB is a democratically constituted political organisation; we believe that there should be the widest discussion and debate of competing political ideas even those which are mad, bad and dangerous to know. Not though that universities are bastions of free speech. Universities and student unions have aggressive policies of banning newspapers, books and lecturers from the campus. If socialists wanted to debate the BNP at a university, or even UKIP, it just would not happen.

We reject censorship as self-defeating. We argue that workers should not be treated like infants and have unpalatable ideas and beliefs hidden from them. Workers should make up their own minds when confronted with political ideas and act according to their own interest. Censorship occurs when those doing the censorship are unsure of their own political case. We are not unsure of our socialist position which we have defended for over one hundred years. We stand in line for no one.

So what harm could a government do when pursuing socialists as “extremists”? Here are a number of options open to the capitalist State:

* Imprison members
* Attempt to pull the web site
* Stop publication of socialist literature
* Prevent socialists standing at elections
* Prevent socialists holding meetings at schools, universities and in public buildings
* Stop socialists from going on the TV, radio and being interviewed in newspapers

Quite frankly a government would have a hard time to prevent socialist activity taking place. You cannot kill a revolutionary idea generated by the class struggle and material interests. In any case, for the capitalist State to use its legislation against socialists in this way would be counterproductive and harm their own false legitimacy.

And the technological advances in communication through social media and the internet has moved individuals away from total government control particularly from the various coercive departments of the state; notably the police and the secret service. Yes, of course they desperately want this control back and are using acts of terrorism as a means to increase their power and influence however, the genie is out of the bottle.

And perhaps it always has been the case that the agents of the State are not as powerful as they think they are despite the worry of the conspiracy theorists of an Orwellian dystopian future of all-pervasive electronic government control. After all, none of the security agencies in the West, despite the billions of pounds at their disposal, predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Empire in 1989!

Take three examples which support the socialist argument that the State has absolute power to somehow prevent the dissemination of socialist ideas and the political action of socialists. First, there is Bismarck’s anti-socialist legislation, second, the passing of the 1918 Representation of the People’s Act and third the decline and fall of the East German secret police; the Stasi.

Bismarck’s anti-socialist law outlawed all Social-Democratic organisations (the name German socialists used at the time), all working class organisations; all working class or socialist presses, and ordered the confiscation of all socialist literature by the State. Social-Democrats and various other pro-working class groups were arrested and deported. 900 workers were expelled from their homes; 1500 sentenced to various terms of imprisonment; 1300 publications were suspended and 332 worker organizations were forcibly dissolved. Nevertheless, the social democrats were still able to continue their political activity by adapting to circumstances and bypassing the State coercion used against them.

Under the 1918 Representation of the People Act, thousands of conscientious objectors, including SPGB members, were disenfranchised for five years. However the Socialist Party of Great Britain still remained active and still produced the SOCIALIST STANDARD. Although the socialists who had been conscientious objectors during the war were prevented from voting at General Elections they still put across the case for socialism; they still played an active political role in the political class struggle.

The reason why the Party suspended all outdoor meetings in World War 1 was not only the near impossibility of escaping prosecution under the legal offence of "spreading alarm and despondency" but also the actions of the Courts in backing up illegal prosecutions. When mobs broke up legal meetings (often incited by newspapers) the police would ignore the action of the mob and charge the speakers with "breach of the peace" and the Courts upheld the account given by the police.

Then there is the example of the East German secret police; the Stasi. Between 1950 and 1989, the Stasi employed a total of 274,000 people. In 1989, the Stasi employed 91,015 people full time along with 173,081 unofficial informants and it still was unable to prevent the collapse of the Government, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the integration of East German capitalism with West German capitalism.

It should be noted that the trade unions, because of their backing, were in a somewhat different position. While the socialist movement has little support among the workers there is little to do but accept or seek to evade restrictions imposed by the authorities. As the numbers increase the situation will be correspondingly altered, either because (like the trade unions) socialists shall be better able to resist, or at some stage socialist delegates will be elected by socialists to Parliament.

Socialist propaganda should always stress that socialism and democracy are inseparable; that there is no way to Socialism except through the democratic action of a socialist majority; and the capture of the machinery of government.

So are socialists extremists? If it means rejecting the bogus claim that capitalism is “democratic”, then, yes. And if it means to argue the State has little or no interest in “individual liberty” and instead pursues the interest of the capitalist class against the working class majority, then yes. And, if by extremist it means to take political action to help create a socialist majority necessary to replace capitalism with socialism; then it is guilty as charged.

First, though, look at those making the accusation of “extremism” against us! Look at the self-satisfied faces of the world leaders and their representatives who attended a “solidarity” march in January 2015 following the terrorist attacks in Paris and just consider the violent and destructive political actions they have orchestrated over the six continents of the world. Who then is the extremist?

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