Letter to the Editors from the September 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard
Today I listened to a SPGB speaker at the Mound, Edinburgh's centre of informal political discussion. This speaker criticised and denounced the whole British Labour Party in politics as well as its whole organisation. Why? Because it is not Socialist enough, he argued.
Now, I gather from your aims, published in the Socialist Standard that you are for political as well as economic democracy. The only means of political democracy is an elective, representative house, and this means "politics" in its most common meaning.
This is the stumbling block—temporary though it is—to the progression of Socialism from the direction of the Labour Party. It is all very well for the SPGB to criticise the Labour Party but in our political democracy, Socialism must at times be suspended for reasons of political expediency. Otherwise Socialism in politics is crippled, and the day for which we struggle no nearer.
This is the reason for the Labour Party's slow, actual movement leftwards. In theory it is as Socialist as your Party, but for the fulfilment of and the progress towards the Socialist aim through the machinery of politics, its progression must be necessarily slow.
The SPGB does a great job. It must be constantly winning supporters if not members, of the Socialist cause. But it would be mistaken of you, I think, to challenge the Labour Party in politics. We must have a united British Socialist movement, for this is the quickest way to success. The SPGB's purpose should be to won members and supporters, and to influence the Labour Party policy in all its aspects. Political rivalry is the quickest, surest way to Socialist disunity—rather the quicker path of Socialist unity to our common goal.
Of course one can criticise Labour short term and current policy, but your speaker implied that he and you disagreed with Labour's long term, overall plan. What are your views?
Of course our speaker "criticised and denounced the whole British Labour Party". Why should he do otherwise? The Labour Party is more a Socialist organisation than the Conservatives or Liberals. It seeks votes on a programme (long term and otherwise) of administering and reforming capitalism and must therefore earn our condemnation as much as the others—including those leaning "leftwards" like the so-called "communists".
If our critic thinks we are being unjust, it is up to him to produce evidence that the Labour Party is Socialist; all we can say is that we have studied the Labour Party for the well-nigh sixty years of its existence, and it is obvious that the membership have not the foggiest idea of what the word Socialism means. Mr. Grigor thinks that Socialism must be suspended at times for reasons of political expediency, which is condemnation enough of the Labour Party's activities when it is remembered what over half a century of "suspension" has meant in terms of working class misery and the horror of two enormous wars (both Labour supported).
Incidentally, it amazes us how, even after only a short dose of the present Labour administration, our correspondent can think that they have the slightest interest in a classless, moneyless world of common ownership and democratic control. Imports and exports, wages and prices, god and dollar reserves, etc.—these are their obsessions. They are in fact up to their necks in the mire of capitalism.
We are told—and how many times have we heard it—that we should not challenge the Labour Party, but try to influence its policy instead. Presumably this means we should act as a ginger group, either boring from within or nibbling from without, but for what earthly purpose? As members, we would run the risk of expulsion and either way we would earn the hostility of the Labour rank and file. Certainly we would stand no chance of swinging the organisation over to Socialism—we might just as well try our luck with The Primrose League.
Our party learned this lesson from its inception, when some of our founder members were expelled from the old Social Democratic Federation for trying to preach Socialist ideas. We saw then that a Socialist Party must be completely independent of and hostile to all other parties, and must have Socialism as its sole aim. Only in this way have we been able to keep the idea alive—not an easy task and one which has not been made any lighter by the confusion and misunderstanding caused by the Labour Party.
Socialism is the only answer to the problems of the world today and we work ceaselessly for the time when the working class of the world will unite to achieve it. Far from agreeing that it should be shelved for any reason, the need for it grows more urgent with every passing day.