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The Politics of Prometheus

"Man, Controller of the Universe" by Diego Rivera

The launch of Prometheus prompted many questions, from comrades old and new, about our politics, the purpose of our journal, what sets us apart, and what we hope to achieve. We present the following document in response, which is the product of several long but fulfilling discussions among the editorial board – discussions which will remain ongoing as we learn, develop, clarify and explore. We hope that the document speaks for itself as to our purpose and our distinctive project, and we invite discussion and collaboration based on the principles espoused therein.

The Prometheus Editorial Board, December 2021


Democracy

The historical struggle for bourgeois democratic liberties was won with bayonets. But the fight for a true democracy can only be conducted by the working class, the majority in society, to emancipate themselves and thereby emancipate the whole of humanity. Moreover, only a true democracy provides the framework in which the working class can collectively own and administer all of society’s resources for the benefit of all. A lack of democracy necessarily means the continuation of class society.

Our class can only hope to organise itself to take power and transform society if it is conscious, from top to bottom, of the nature of the struggle in which it is engaged, of its own strengths and weaknesses, and of its strategy for victory. This consciousness depends on an expansive programme of education within the working class movement – learning both the daily lessons of struggle, and the lessons of history. The knowledge, the confidence, and the critical faculties routinely smothered by the ruling class must be nurtured and channelled into powerful, resilient organisations.

We live in an age of access to information, mass communication and global social media; it is absurd to think that the working class will have any enthusiasm for building a movement in which they enjoy less freedom of thought and expression than they do presently under bourgeois society.

Therefore it is incumbent on socialists to support every fight for democracy, in society in general as a necessary catalyst for our emancipation, and to breathe air and life once more into our own organisations, to make our forces fit for the fight.

Republicanism

We are for a democratic republic: not simply a bourgeois state without a monarch, but a republic with the maximum possible self-government; accountability and revocability of all officials; and the general arming of the people to replace the current repressive apparatus. Far from a mere slogan, this is the only form of state in which the working class may exercise true power, as opposed to the illusion of power which comes from winning elections in a bourgeois democracy. It is therefore indispensable for our socialist democratic project. We seek to equip our class with the arguments, knowledge and confidence needed for it to rule society.

Revolution

For communism to become a reality, the majority in society must become masters of their own lives. That is, the working class must come to power and form a government, turning the tables on the capitalists and democratically socialising the economy, transforming production for profit into production for the common good. Prometheus stands in opposition to those misguided currents that have waylaid our class. No minority coups, insurrections or acts of deceit can deliver the working class genuine power. Likewise, the installation of party dictatorships and scuttling veneration of murderous misleaders continues to delay the democratic flourishing necessary for revolutionary change today. We take up the Chartist slogan of “Peacefully if we can, forcefully if we must”, in that we seek the widest representation possible in Parliament and in the council chambers. We expect that should a majority for socialist transformation be won it would have not only the right but the historic duty to overthrow the state and embark on the disintegration of class society itself.

For internationalism and against tailism

Prometheus is an internationalist journal that seeks to understand the world at large not by backing one set of bosses in one part of the world against another, but through the eyes of the working class and those fighting for freedom and democracy. We stand in common cause with people everywhere who rise to expand their rights and to exert control in their workplaces, their communities or over their governments, whether that be in London, Moscow, Kobane or Hong Kong.

The primacy of politics in our struggle

It is not enough to merely engage in class struggle without a socialist politics at its centre. Class struggle can be transformative for individuals that engage with it: the reality of exploitation and oppression is illuminated when working class people engage in a fight with a capitalist. But struggles such as those over wages or issues affecting our daily lives as an end in themselves are not enough to bring the working class to power. The goals of struggle for a socialist should be not merely to achieve small victories to alleviate the suffering inflicted by capital, but to expand our socialist base and build the skills and confidence of our class.

Worker-leaders

Worker leaders are everywhere, from all races, genders and jobs. These are respected, often hard working people that have the trust of colleagues or their local community and are able to lead their class into action or struggle. Whether that’s getting a small department at work to vote to strike, or getting their local neighbours to protest an eviction by a dodgy landlord. The key to a successful socialist movement is not to abolish leadership. We need a leaderful movement of strong, working class people that can drive others into action. They may not already agree with socialist principles, or our politics, but they are an essential ingredient to building class power and winning them to a socialist vision is a key task.

Against “Activism”, towards organising

We must go beyond merely mobilising, and instead organise. This means doing the slow patient work of speaking to our class, in workplaces and in the community, listening to the issues that affect their lives and constructing campaigns that further their interests. We must go beyond moralistic declarations of ‘down with this sort of thing’ and develop smart, strategic interventions in struggles, in workplaces and the community.

The necessity of the Party

The party represents the single-most important institution of the socialist movement. The party exists to organise the working class in a political struggle to win the battle of democracy. It therefore exists to unify the individual struggles of sections of the working class (such as localised trade union disputes) into a strategy and programme for the working class as a whole. The party represents both a tribune of the working class in its public appearance against the capitalist state, but it also functions as a method for collective decision-making for the entirety of the class. While the party must be an independent institution of the working class, that alone is not enough. The party must also express and propagate a socialist programme.

The Merger Theory

The merger theory is a description of this model of party: it represents the unification of the workers’ movement and socialism. This does not mean that a working class party has intellectuals swooping in to impose a socialist programme upon them. The workers’ movement, in engaging the working class in struggle, raises the economic, intellectual and political power of workers, and provides the means for workers to make socialism their goal. Socialism must be inculcated from waging an active political struggle.

Relating to the mass organisations

In the UK today, we do not have a socialist party of the model outlined in these principles. This raises the question of how we, as convinced socialists, relate to the working class institutions we have, such as the Labour Party and the trade unions. Here there are no absolute dictates to lean on. It should not need to be elaborated that socialists should not seek elected office as representatives of these institutions if they shall be forced to implement capitalist programmes. But socialists need to engage with these institutions insofar as they are sites of working-class organising. Socialists will play a dual role in these: as pedagogues, we will raise the level of socialist consciousness amongst rank-and-file members, and as activists we will take part in struggles waged by these institutions insofar as they promote the interests of our class. We may also adopt a combative role within mass organisations in order to transform them into organs more capable of waging the struggle for socialism.

Against broad-leftism

Over the last 30 years the British Left has tried again and again to cohere into a significant and unified entity. All have failed, each one representing smaller horizons and enjoying narrower support than the one before. Chief among the reasons for this failure is a toxic combination of Labourism and the very British variety of Stalinism found among the bureaucracy of the trade unions. The result is a political commitment to so-called broad projects, which in reality means unity based on limited reforms or immediate political questions. We have no interest in relitigating the failures of the past. We are against any attempt to rebuild the Left on the politics of Labourism and the trade union bureaucracy. Prometheus takes its place among those who are fighting for an independent political movement based on class politics, democracy, marxism, the building of a communist party and the long term struggle needed to go beyond capitalism.

Non-Marxist “socialism”

We believe that the socialist movement must go through a process of self-clarification on a number of issues. One such issue is the desirability and significance of material reforms which may benefit the working class.

“Socialism” has become commonly equated, even on the left, with state ownership of businesses, or – even worse – with any state intervention into the economy. Nationalisation may assist with restructuring the economy ready for when the working class take power, but is not necessarily any kind of prelude to socialist transformation. Socialists should, with tact and nuance, seek to disassociate themselves from these misconceptions, especially in our work in the mass organisations of the working class where they are common currency.

Practically speaking, we must always keep in mind that our goal is the achievement of a socialist society – one characterised by the end of class exploitation. Reforms may, in certain circumstances, give our class breathing space and material assistance which can put it in a better condition to continue the struggle for liberty (provided, of course, it is fully conscious of the necessity of doing so).

Getting distracted by this or that meagre reform leads us to squander our time and energies on debate within the labour movement with those who do not share our ultimate goal – those for whom, say, a National Investment Bank or a revived British Rail, is a desirable measure to rationalise capitalism, and not in any way a staging post for further struggle to transform society in the interests of the working class. We seek to look critically at and beyond such distractions.

Our distinct ideas

There are many journals and papers on the Left, and Prometheus in no way wishes to replicate the work they do. Some we agree with more than others, but a great many add to the collective effort of our movement to explain socialist ideas and understand the world around us. Instead of endless replication, Prometheus is a space to critically rescue parts of our forgotten history, reconsider the reality of working class life under capitalism today, whilst also taking forward the fight to re-found the workers’ movement politically and organisationally.