The Common Questions Answered series from the November 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard
Q: Assuming that all you say about other parties is true, do you think you are going the right way about getting Socialism? At present all you seem to do is to talk at street corners and sell a few bits of literature.
A: Having reached the point where you see that our case against other parties is correct, you appear to think that our methods of advocating Socialism are not so correct. We are tempted to re-direct the question to you by asking what is the right way to go about getting Socialism if our’s is not? If there are ways open to us that we are not using then we should like to hear about them. The position is that the amount of our propaganda, which seems so puny in comparison to that of our opponents, is limited by the number of socialists there are. It is not our intention to speak only at street corners or to print our literature in thousands of copies instead of in millions. We try to make the best of every opportunity for propagating our ideas, although we stress that it can only do harm to the socialist cause to compromise them merely for the sake of getting a wider hearing.
Q: It seems to me that the S.P.G.B. must become a larger party before it will attract wide support. Why not do something that will make people sit up and take notice of you?
A: Behind your question is the assumption that the correctness of an idea is to be judged by the numbers who hold it. True, the pressing need is for more people to understand Socialism, but experience has taught us to be very suspicious of any suggestion that this may be achieved by any form of stunt or vote-catching. Our objections to this sort of campaigning is not a moral one, but consists in the fact that it hinders rather than helps the spread of socialist understanding. No useful purpose would be served by merely seeking to attract attention, unless it is for a purpose connected with socialist propaganda, and that is our policy at all times.
Q: Don't you think it would pay you to find out what most people really want, and to talk more about the things they are really interested in?
A: The implication here is that at present we are out of touch with these things. This is untrue. It may look to you as though other parties are concerned with giving you what you want, but this is only their tactics and window-dressing to gain your support for policies that fail to deliver the goods. Most people are interested in getting more money, and almost every reform of Capitalism is based upon some form of this desire—yet it remains unsatisfied for the vast majority. The fact is that what appears to be the “practical” solution to our problems is in reality no solution at all, and the seemingly out-of-touch programme of Socialism is nearest to the satisfaction of present human needs. Unfortunately, many workers are interested (consciously or unconsciously) in making Capitalism work a little better, but in doing so they are acting against their own interests.
Q: Your arguments always seem to be so negative. Why can't you put forward a positive programme that will convince people that you are really going somewhere?
A: If you think our arguments are negative then you can have listened to only a part of our case. It is necessary first to analyse Capitalism, and in the process to clear away the false ideas that are held about it. Then, arising out of this, comes the explanation of what is to take its place—Socialism. If you disagree with us about the “destructive” (but very necessary) first part of the argument then you will not appreciate the constructive second part, nor be able to work out with us the form that the new society will take. You want us to appear to be “going somewhere,” but this can only be in the direction of Socialism if our positive programme is for this object alone.
Q: The ideas you put forward are too futuristic. Can't you make them easier to understand by relating them more to the world as it is to-day?
A: You seem to intend “futuristic” to be a term of reproach, but there is no good reason why it should be—to plan for to-morrow is an integral part of human activity. However, what you probably believe is that too many to-morrows will have to be like to-day before we can hope to get Socialism. The problem of getting people who are living under Capitalism to see the practicability of another system is by no means an easy task, but it is not impossible—if it were there could be no socialists within capitalist society. Certain features and tendencies in the world at present can be used to show what Socialism will probably be like, but analogies such as "all goods will be produced and distributed as freely as water is now” have their limitations. It is important never to lose sight of the basic principles of majority understanding and action upon which Socialism must be built, otherwise the descriptions of the future, though easy to make, may be merely Utopian and a bar to progress.
Q: People are put off by your sectarian attitude. Why not encourage them to join, and be less strict in admitting members?
A: Let us make it quite clear that nobody is put off being a socialist because our Party contains only socialists. What you really mean is that we don’t try to enrol people who can be whipped up to do almost anything in a suitably emotional atmosphere. Even if such people were to join the S.P.G.B. they would only leave when they found out what it is all about. The idea of joining with non-socialists in order to achieve “immediate aims” has dogged the Party since its inception, but it has steadfastly refused to sink its socialist identity for the sake of what appear to be immediate advantages. We are as sincerely sorry as you that our organisation is not larger, but (if you will forgive the phrase) it is the quality, not the quantity, that counts. There is only one sort of tactics for socialists living in a capitalist world, and that is to help make more socialists.