in the past, the apparent basic division in the socialist movement was between those who accepted the evolutionary path, and those who advocated revolution, usually associated with a measure of violence. I use the word apparent, because, beneath the surface, the two concepts of a socialist society were similar, both the evolu-because underneath, the concepts of a future socialist society were similar, both the evolutionists and revolutionists advocating a society organised from the top down, with an elite as the centre of political direction.
The methods of achieving the new society may have been different; the result was the same. This is underlined by the enthusiasm with which the Webbs greeted the Soviet system after a visit to the Soviet Union. For many years after my break with Stalinist thinking, I was confused by the enthusiasm of the Webbs, until I realised that what the Webbs saw was an embodiment of their élitist ideas.
Amongst both “Evolutionists” (I put G. D. H. Cole in this category) and “Revolutionists” (here I place Rosa Luxembourg), great stress has been laid on the need for a concept of Socialism, which places faith in the self-activity of the masses. Luxembourg said, “Socialism cannot be introduced by decree”, whilst Cole in his earlier and later works raised the need for industrial democracy. The emphasis of both was on control from below, cutting across both the Bolshevik and Fabian attitudes. The real division then, was not so much between the “Evolutionists” and “Revolutionists” but between the State Socialists, and non-State-Socialists, a division which to-day has great practical significance, and which must exercise much of our thinking if we are to evolve a new point of departure.
The non-State conception (except for a few small groups and individuals) went out for all practical purposes, with the rise of the Soviet Union and the election of Labour and Social-Democratic Governments in Europe. Now the wheel has turned full circle, and the inadequacies of State Socialism are there for all to see. To-day the first tentative and faltering steps are being taken towards a re-evaluation of the non-State concept. Thompson fails to get to grips with this problem, the State being dealt with in a passing reference.
I raise these issues because it is important in discussing revolution to have clearly in view the type of society we want the revolution to usher in. If it is to be a society dominated by a political élite, with the position of the worker basically unchanged, then all that has been achieved is the creation of a new class (to use Djilas’s term) based on state-ownership, with the State as the collective capitalist taking the place of the old ruling-class. The fact that the new class stems directly from the workers, and was put there either by evolutionary means or by a revolutionary overthrow, does not change the fundamental class position of the workers. Yet this is what socialism is about, if it’s about anything at all.