Socialist Revolution: Peaceful or Violent?


Socialist Revolution: Peaceful or Violent?
The People, May 4, 1991

The following is taken from a letter written by Robert Bills, National Secretary of the Socialist Labor Party, to a schoolteacher who had expressed interest in joining the party, but was concerned, "as a Quaker," about whether or not "the party advocated violence." The "Mr. K" referred to in the text is our pseudonym for a local SLP member with whom the teacher had spoken.


Mr. K was entirely correct when he informed you that the SLP does not advocate violence. However, neither does it advocate pacifism. What the SLP advocates is socialism. How to achieve it is the problem. That problem is one of tactics, and tactics depend on the social conditions and atmosphere that exist in the country.

We believe that the SLP's program of socialist industrial unionism offers the best -- indeed the only realistic -- chance to achieve socialism in America by nonviolent and peaceful means. We believe it is the only way in which the working class can organize itself for socialism while simultaneously nullifying the ruling class's capacity to resist by means of armed force.

At the same time, we understand that the SLPs program can only work under certain circumstances. It presupposes a certain measure of democracy that permits the SLP to advocate its goal openly on the political field while urging workers to organize themselves on the economic field.

Most people aren't aware of it, but the avenues for achieving peaceful change in our democracy are being closed at a frightening rate of speed. The ballot is more and more reserved to the major parties, or to their offshoots, and what used to be called the "public airwaves" are essentially sealed off from organizations like the SLP. Things aren't much better -- and in many respects they are far worse-on the economic field, where working-class understanding of unionism in principle is at a low ebb.

None of this can change the fact that capitalism is heading for a monumental crisis. If anything, these developments are certain signs of where we are headed. They are so much evidence that the capitalist class lives in fear of widespread social unrest and is at work to either contain or to defuse it and channel it off into harmless dead ends.

We of the SLP know that we are in a race with time. We will either succeed or fail in our mission to penetrate the consciousness of the working class before all avenues for peaceful change are sealed off. No matter which way it eventually turns out, however, the need for change -- for socialism -- can only increase.

If we lose the race -- if all avenues for peaceful change are eventuaDy closed -- socialists will not abandon their efforts to reach the goal. The alternative is too terrible to contemplate. Accordingly, we work hard to get our message across now, knowing that if we fail the chances for a nonviolent and peaceful transition to socialism will diminish and eventually disappear.

We live in a world of increasing anarchy and violence, as the conflict now raging in the Middle East attests. We aim for a world in which cooperation and peace will be combined with prosperity and freedom for all. The longer it takes to wake up the working class to accomplish the change in a nonviolent and civilized way, the longer the working class tolerates ruling-class anarchy and violence, the more difficult it will be to achieve our hopes and aspirations for a "new order" worth having.

For these reasons, Mr. K was absolutely correct when he said that "a Quaker could feel comfortable on this issue" with regard to the SLPs program. Everyone who cherishes peace and abhors violence, yet understands where our country and the world are headed unless we succeed in our mission, ought to support the SLP in every way they can. If not, we and our children are certain to suffer the consequences.

Membership in the SLP is open to all those who have a basic understanding of, and are in fundamental agreement with its program and principles, and who are willing to work cooperatively within the framework of the party's constitution. Workers -- whether they earn their living in a factory, a mine, an office, or a classroom -- are what the party is made of. If you are satisfied that the SLP is correct, I would urge you to seriously consider applying for membership. Mr. K would be pleased to provide you with any additional information you may want, and direct you to the literature that would help you to expand your knowledge of the SLP.