Section 1. The conscious character of the movement for socialism
The working class is the main social force in the struggle to replace capitalism with socialism. In advanced capitalist countries such as Australia, wage workers are the main producers, and the working class is the largest class, constituting more than 80% of the population. The labour of wage workers is indispensable to the economic life of modern capitalism, and is the main source of capitalist profit.
The central place of wage workers in the productive process gives them the social power to overthrow capitalism. No other social class or group has the power to achieve this. This is not to underestimate the importance of anti-capitalist struggles by other social forces, as such struggles can offer a political lead to the working class. Nor should the concept of working-class struggle be narrowly defined. Working-class struggle often takes varied forms around a wide range of issues.
Because the system of private property is the source of its oppression, the working class can liberate itself only by abolishing this system and replacing it with a system based on social ownership of the means of production. This new system is the only one capable of doing away permanently with all of the abuses and injustices of capitalism.
Since the beginning of the 20th century all the necessary material conditions have existed within the imperialist countries and on a world scale for this social revolution. But the existence of the necessary material conditions is by itself insufficient. Unlike all previous social transformations, the socialist revolution demands conscious action by the working class and its allies. Socialism can only be achieved through the united action of millions of working men and women conscious of their social interests and the steps necessary to realise them.
The need for a revolutionary party
The principal task of earlier social revolutions was to sweep away outmoded relations of production and the superstructural institutions defending those relations, thus clearing the way for the already spontaneously developing new mode of production. Because the socialist revolution seeks to substitute socially planned economic development for the existing system of exploitation of the producers, the new system cannot develop spontaneously once capitalism is abolished. It requires the conscious restructuring of social relations to eradicate the division of society into classes.
The socialist revolution is the first process of fundamental social change in human history to be carried out by the lowest social class. Unlike the capitalist class, which carried out its social revolution after it had developed considerable economic power and had accumulated a large amount of managerial experience, the working class can only realise its potential economic power and gain managerial experience after it has overthrown the old social order. Moreover, the working class confronts a class enemy with a highly centralised network of military, financial, and ideological forces at its disposal.
All of this conditions the strategy, tactics and organisation of the working class in its struggle for power.
The main weapon of the working class in its fight against capitalism is the potentially immense power of its collective action. The working class is capable of spontaneously engaging in vast struggles around immediate objectives, and of reaching the level of class consciousness necessary to create mass organisations (trade unions, broad strike committees) suitable for waging these struggles. But such spontaneous action is insufficient to create the level of political consciousness, or to achieve the unity of action, required to overthrow capitalist rule and reorganise society along socialist lines.
Under capitalism, and for a considerable time after its overthrow, the working class is marked by a heterogeneous political consciousness stemming from the diversity of conditions under which its members live and the diversity of their experience in struggle. Moreover, the capitalist class deliberately fosters divisions within the working class and in society as a whole, granting privileges to some while systematically discriminating against others.
This heterogeneity of working-class consciousness tends to decline when workers are impelled to take united action against the capitalists. However, mass struggles inevitably ebb and flow. During periods of intense mass struggle, large numbers of people become receptive to socialist ideas. But these periods are relatively rare and short-lived. In times of relative social passivity, the working class is more easily dominated by ruling-class ideology.
For all of these reasons, the working class cannot as a whole or spontaneously acquire the political class-consciousness necessary to prepare and guide its struggle for socialism. For this, it is indispensable to develop a party uniting all who are struggling against the abuses and injustices of capitalism and who have developed a socialist consciousness and a commitment to carrying out revolutionary political activity irrespective of the conjunctural ebbs and flows of the mass movement.