The SLP vs. the ISO
July-August 2003
VOL. 113 NO. 2


How do you differentiate yourselves from the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Workers World Party or the International Socialist Organization?


Reply -- Sent

What's the Difference?

Fair enough. Most of the explanation was very excellent and just what I asked for and I thank you for that. At the same time, I am still having a hard time differentiating between you and the ISO. You both seem to say the same thing.


Reply --

Thank you for your e-mail....We think you could have made our job easier if you had explained what the ISO has to say that made it difficult for you to distinguish it from the SLP. A visit to the ISO's Web site took us to "Where We Stand," and from that several points of difference caught our eye.

The ISO supports "trade unions," and presumably trade unionism. The SLP advocates industrial unionism. Trade unions organize by trade or occupation, thereby keeping workers divided, whereas industrial unions organize workers by industries, thereby uniting them regardless of occupation. The difference is important, because how the working class organizes on the economic field will be decisive in determining how the struggle for socialism will be conducted and how the new society will be organized. In addition, while the ISO sees "trade unions as essential to the fight for workers' economic and political rights" (under capitalism, we assume), it fails to identify any role for these economic organizations of the working class in carrying out the change from capitalism to socialism.

The SLP believes that if the working class cannot be organized economically it cannot be organized at all. What is it, after all, that defines and distinguishes the working class from the ruling class if it isn't its relationship to the means of production and distribution? The economic organization of the working class is essential to any movement for socialism. Without that organization socialism would be impossible to achieve.

This omission is not an accidental oversight. It is deliberate and flows out of the Leninist (and Trotskyist) view that workers cannot rise above "trade union consciousness." In other words, in the Leninist-Trotskyist scheme of things the working class is incapable of achieving classconsciousness. Accordingly, it must be led to socialism by a political party. Marx rejected this idea before Lenin came up with it, and for that matter so did the SLP.

The ISO says, "The structures of the present government -- the Congress, the army, the police and the judiciary -- cannot be taken over and used by the working class." It says that these structures of the government "are designed to protect the ruling class against the workers." In place of these structures it proposes "an entirely different kind of state -- a workers' state based on councils of workers' delegates and a workers' militia."

The SLP says that the political state itself, not simply the different forms it might take or structures it might adopt, is an instrument of class rule and must be abolished. The political state is based on territory, on geographic demarcations -- cities, counties, states, nations -- whereas socialism is based on industrial demarcations.

A "workers' state" composed of "workers' councils" is a contradiction in terms. Workers are not workers because of where they live -- in this city or in that state -- but because of their working. Councils of workers drawn from Pittsburgh or Los Angeles, Pennsylvania or California, would not be a difference in kind from a Congress of lawyers, or even much of a difference in form. The difference between a capitalist state and a "workers' state" is one of semantics only. At best it posits a state in which workers or their representatives would substitute for capitalists and their representatives in conducting an institution that presupposes classes and a ruling class's need for an instrument to oppress a ruled class.

A society divided into classes is not socialism, and a society without classes has no need of the instruments of class oppression. Apart from that, the picture conjured up by this formulation of a ruled class of workers ruling over a ruling class of capitalist owners is ludicrous. Why would workers in political power continue to tolerate capitalists in economic power, and how could the workers' political power maintain itself as long as the capitalist class retained its economic power over them? It's pure nonsense.

What gives the state its power is the economic power of the ruling class, which enables it to provide its political instrument with the weapons needed to arm its police and its armies. A "workers' state" would not have that power if the industries remained under capitalist control, and if they did not remain under capitalist control -- if the capitalist class was stripped of its capital -- that class would disappear. Capitalists are not capitalists because they bear the title, but because they own and control capital. Strip them of that and they become powerless. With their disappearance the need for a political state in any form would also disappear. What would not disappear, however, is the need for some new form of organization -- for something truly different in kind -- to administer the economy. The ISO has no such difference of kind in mind with its "workers' state," whereas the SLP's Socialist Industrial Union program fits the bill exactly. It is that union of industries organized on a socialist basis that will be the government -- the administration of things -- under socialism.

The SLP stands with Marx and Engels on this question. Socialism means the abolition of classes -- of two groups of people, one of which owns and controls the means of wealth production and distribution, and one of which owns nothing but their ability to perform productive and otherwise socially useful labor -- and with the abolition of classes any need for the state, i.e., the instrument by which class rule is enforced. Socialism, as Engels expressed it, is to be an administration of things. The things to be administered are the products and services that flow out of the industries, and the administrators will be the useful producers democratically organized to carry on production and the delivery of goods and services.

The ISO says, "To achieve socialism, the most militant workers must be organized into a revolutionary party to provide leadership and organization." The SLP understands the need for a political party, but its view of that party's role is fundamentally different from the Leninist-Trotskyist theory of a "vanguard party" to lead the working class to socialism. Indeed, no political party can lead the workers to socialism. The workers must make a conscious decision to organize themselves to achieve the socialist goal.

Socialism, as Marx said, must be the classconscious act of the working class itself. The role of the party now, as the SLP sees it, is to stimulate classconsciousness and to urge the working class to organize itself into all-embracing industrial unions capable of taking control of the industries and services and operating them on a socialist basis. A political party without the economic organization of the working class to back it up cannot achieve socialism, or anything else, unless it is to stir the workers up and to leave them defenseless in face of the police and military power of the state. Even the largest political party, one that achieved an overwhelming majority of popular support at the polls or otherwise, would not have the power to enforce the will of that majority.

No ruling class abandons its power and meekly steps aside just because a majority of people say that they should. That requires force. What force does the ISO's "revolutionary socialist party...political leadership and [political] organization" offer to oppose "the structures of the present government...the army, the police..."? Is it the "workers' militia," and if it is, how will that militia be organized, disciplined and trained under the noses of "the structures of the present government...the army, the police..."? And even if these militias could be organized into forces capable of taking on the armies and the police without being squashed in their infancy, how would their success place the instruments of production in the hands of the working class? It wouldn't.

The ISO is right where it says, "Although workers create society's wealth, they have no control over its production and distribution." It is right where it states, "A socialist society can only be built when workers collectively seize control of that wealth and democratically plan its production and distribution according to human needs instead of profit." But how does the ISO propose that the workers organize themselves to "collectively seize control of that wealth and democratically plan its production and distribution according to human needs"? That is precisely the question Socialist Industrial Unionism addresses, and answers, but which the ISO ignores.

We hope this helps you to recognize some of the differences between the SLP and ISO.