Both Reform and Revolutionary Parties Peacefully Co-Exist With State Repression of the Workers
Two Government-Sponsored Routes Out of the Capitalist Mess
Socialism is the idea that every laborer should be the possessor and manager of the tools that they work with. The Socialist Party has been the most popular tool to accomplish this aim through the past century and a half. However, there is a natural contradiction here. The Socialist Party becomes the new ruler of labor, while the laborer is in relation to the new system just as they are to the old: they must obey orders and they have very little decision-making power in the workplace.
Socialism, when it is limited to achieving its aims through government, has two trends: reform and revolution. Both are very wide areas, with great differences in ideals and official beliefs, but they both narrow in when it comes to the tactics of power. Reformers, like Social Democrats, Labor Party Members, and Euro-Socialists, have tried to create their ideal through legislation. They offer their own candidates at elections, propose their own bills to congresses, submit party news to local outlets, and in general to play the game of party politics.
There is the other trend of Statist Socialism: Revolutionaries, like Leninists, Maoists, and Trotskyists. The tactics of these Russian and Chinese revolutionaries have been adopted and transformed to meed the needs of Castro in Cuba, Tito in Yugoslavia, Kim Il-Sung in North Korea, and Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Their tactic is the violent seizure of government. The state should not be weakened. In fact, it should be given more strength and "taken" by the workers.
The Contradiction of a Strong, Worker's State
Of course, there is a contradiction here. If the workers "take" the government, and actually make the government theirs, then the government is technically weak. None of those above-mentioned rulers would ever come out and say that strong government, in practice, translates to centralized authority. To say the government is strong, is to say that more people are excluded from it, whereas to say the government is weak, is to say that it is accessible to all. The "strongest state" is the dictatorship, or monarchy with slightly more sad parades.
Democracy is considered "a weak form" of government, because it means that more people need to be consulted before any collective action is taken. The philosopher of Anarchism, Bakunin, asked Karl Marx if he expected "all forty million Germans" to take part in every decision of government encompassing all industries? Marx's response was "Certainly!", but then he crumpled up the paper and tossed it, never finishing or publishing it. His opinion in regards towards political liberty, since this response, has been hateful. [*1] You can find works where Friedrich Engels praises Democracy and free governments, but you'll be strained to find it anywhere in the works of Karl Marx.
The contradiction, then, is clear. A government, in which one or a few can act without asking the many, gives the impression of "strength," because so many are controlled by so little. The government itself, yes, is "strong," but this strength is only an inversion of the people's strength: as the government assumes more roles, so the people must relinquish more roles. The seizure of government by the workers, if it is true be a true seizure that equally empowers every worker in terms of social-economic power -- such a seizure of the state must actually be the complete destruction of the state and political, legal authority.
Traps Along the Route of Votes and Elections
The Reformers want to bring us toward Socialism through government regulations. The Socialist Party is going to achieve its victories of laws through appealing to the masses, which it can naturally do with its platform: the emancipation of the working-class from degrading, unhealthy conditions of life. By passing laws for the minimum wage and the standard work-day, these Socialists try to gain the votes of the public. And, once they make up the majority of the "parliament" or "congress," then the Revolution will have been accomplished.
The main problem is that the Socialist Party, as a social organization, was built on the concept of orders and rule. It has established itself for the purposes of taking control of government and running. Everything about it was designed for this end. Once it establishes power of the state, with a mere 51% or 52% of the electorate, do you expect that they will dissolve themselves and their government? After all, if more than half of the people are voting for the Socialist Party, that means voting for Socialism -- why not use the government to destroy every artificial restriction that might keep Socialism-loving people from fully acting out their desires? Because that would mean anarchy.
Politics means power and orders, and the Socialist Party is built alone these lines. It is effective enough in terms of politics, vote-baiting, and legislation. It is ineffective, though, in terms of creating Socialism -- a world where every worker has direct control over their workplace and their living standards. By playing by the rules of power, the Socialist Party must conform to its standard, or break in half. The Socialist Party has built itself to make compromises with a Capitalist-dominated congress; in fact, it was only able to empower itself by starting up as a small, independent party, challenging the state, with little support.
At its fullest development, when the Socialist Party has gained enough voter confidence to control a majority of the government, that is when it has become the most perfected parliamentarian machine imaginable. But power never relinquishes itself. And to abandon the only thing it has the power and authority to do, to make laws over the working people, it abandons the power-careers of those who have led the party for the past few decades. "The Revolution" is made, the party is voted in, but it never built itself for anything else, except to be vote-worthy. Any other form of Revolution in the party ranks would be considered counter to the primary goal of elective Socialism.
Traps Along the Route of Rifles and Bombs
Reform's opposite is Revolution. The congresses, the police stations, the courts, the prisons, the armies, the navies, every form of coercion and violence that is sanctioned by the state -- all of it is contaminated with the control of Capitalism. The streets of your neighborhood will be lined with machine guns when there's a strike, [*2] but if a police officer shoots your neighbor in cold blood, the state will tell you "not to rush to conclusions." [*3] The state doesn't exist for you and never did. That is an illusion fed to you by schools, universities, presses, and media outlets, all of which are either the property of Capitalism or wholly subservient toward it.
Why even try to get elected? That means making compromises with every form of control and coercion that you intended to destroy. Just abolish the current government, and create an entirely new one from scratch. Or, just capture the administration centers for the Capitalist government in power, which will then be re-oriented toward the new policy of Socialist rule. This overrides many of the difficulties that are entrenched within the rule of the Socialist Party. But like using only elections and votes, the extremism of Revolution also kills any trace of Socialism, in terms of true, worker self-management.
Should the workers in the south of the worker's capital be working on making bullets or growing wheat? There's a food shortage and rationing has been going on for two weeks, but the People's Socialist Army is only a week away from reaching the center of Counter-Revolution. And the worker's in the north of the Socialist capital -- should they be building tanks or harvesting fruit from the orchards? Socialism by Revolution means Revolution, which means fighting, which means war between the Revolutionaries and the Government. If they expect to win, they are going to have to make the same material and life sacrifices that any people determined to win must make. Either those workers will be forced into the production that the party wants, or the party must sacrifice its power, that is, its military strength. This is just a typical scenario that occurs where the Revolutionary Party has tried to take control, from the Russian Revolution to the Chinese Revolution.
The war machine must orient itself towards its goal. There are going to be workers who disagree with the revolutionary's new state, no matter how much "the worker's party" is going to deny the existence of these dissidents. What happens if the worker's refuse to take orders, they seize their own factories in the wisdom of Socialism, and organize production according to their own desires? Then they must repressed, and repressed violently if necessary. Even if the people did produce military equipment, they would be building trenches and filling them with machine guns -- they wouldn't be building siege equipment. They'd make anti-aircraft guns, not bombers. All of this is incompatible with the expansion of the power of the Revolutionary Socialist Party. Socialism, as in the Parliamentarian system, must be sacrificed, for the glory of the party.
Party Politics Will Produce No Meaningful Revolution
The Russian people have been tortured, murdered, imprisoned, and enslaved from the years of 1917 to the years of 1991. New forms of slavery have overtaken them, in terms of wage-slavery, a police state, and fixed elections. What was the point of all that slavery? "We are preparing the people for Socialism." This was the excuse for every form of coercion, from the draft to forced labor to indoctrination camps to exploitation. And the only thing the Soviet Union accomplished was to make the people today hate the word Socialism more than any other phrase. That was the result of all that "preparation" through coercion, violence, and force.
The Reform Socialist Party was established by making tiny gains from the state through parliament, the Revolutionary Socialist Party establishes itself by taking tiny pieces of territory from the state through military campaigns. One sacrifices its demands for worker self-management, in exchange for getting its candidates into office. The other sacrifices the demands for higher production of food and housing, in exchange for getting higher production of bullets and bombs.
In order to dislodge the current system, the machine of change must become its own independent, powerful force -- and if it wishes to keep all that it gains, it will learn to repress the workers when their demands are greater than the party's. This has been the natural result of both forms of Socialist Politics, whether based on revolution or reform. The great fault they have fallen into was orienting themselves peacefully toward the system they philosophically wanted to destroy. In both cases, the party must become independent of the people and the workers, for it is trying to achieve things for them. If "they" get in the way, they must be sacrificed -- nothing shall question the rule of the party.
The ideal of Anarchism is a world were everyone is in direct control of their environment. Workers manage their own factories, students manage their own schools, communities are managed by neighborhood associations, and so on throughout every channel of the social stream. It is the only ideal where Socialism is even possible, as any form of Socialist government leaves the laborer in the same condition of dependence and powerlessness. Anarchy means a social organization where each person directly controls the world that effects them. It means Socialism, through the workers themselves, and not Socialism that is only a propaganda word of political parties.
*1. "Conspectus of Bakunin's Statism and Anarchy," by Karl Marx, written April 1874 - January 1875, republished by Marxists.org.