Party News from the November 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard
On Tuesday 20th July a watery sun shone over Plymouth Hoe. Flags fluttered in the breeze; stands were being erected for the forthcoming visit of the Queen; there was a holiday atmosphere. Into this was thrown the SPGB. We had been invited to take part in a two-hour phone- in-debate programme on Plymouth Sound Radio: an opportunity we grabbed with both hands.
I had the pleasure of representing the Party; my opponent was Mike Robertson, local businessman. A flamboyant character. I cannot give replies we both made to all the questions. Best perhaps to give some of the points Mike Robertson made in his answers and in opposition to our case. "Things have improved and I hope that over the next 100 years things will get better" . . . "I vote Liberal in the hope that they might balance the scales between the extremes of Left and Right" . . . “Human nature is doing the very best for yourself and your family; wanting to do better than the chap next door” . . . "I’m sorry for the starving people, but charity begins at home" . . . "Socialism is wrong, it is anti-christ and unrealistic” . . . “Castrate all rapists" . . . “I would applaud the husband who kills the lodger he finds in bed with his wife” . . . “Capitalism is not perfect—it needs change" . . . "If we all made 10 per cent more effort without 10 per cent more wages, our problems would largely be solved" . . . And so on.
But what about the various questions? I made a short opening statement, laying down the broad policy of the Party; its opposition to other parties and the essence of Socialism—production to satisfy human needs. Questions ranged over a wide field, certain aspects cropping up time and time again. Leadership; the erosion of freedom and choice; unemployment and work; socialism and Russia. We have a tape of the whole programme and I quote a few questions, more or less in full.
Ruth: "I’ve been waiting a long time to put this point to your Socialist speaker. How, in what way, with what carrot will we encourage the lazy won’t-work to work in this utopia?” This provided a good opportunity to deal with unemployment and its cause (figures published that day were 1½ million). The incentive in a socialist society for people to give of their best.
John (obviously a young lad): “That socialist whatever his name, Cyril I think: can he make his position a bit clearer? I keep on getting him confused with Labour. His state-ownership things get me confused with Nationalization as well." Our opposition to the Labour Party was stressed in my reply. I dealt with nationalization in detail and its failure to solve any of the real problems.
John: "According to the press we have socialism in Russia, China and some African countries. Hitler said he was a socialist. Tory and Liberal parties say if we vote Labour we shall get socialism. What is the difference between what exists in these countries and what is advocated by the SPGB?” A question all speakers welcome. I made the point that our attitude to Russia was in print within months of the 1917 revolution. That the economic conditions did not exist for Socialism and neither did the Russians want it. Beware of bogus labels on bottles. When you understand what socialism is you can answer the Tory accusations. Socialism does not exist anywhere in the world—what we have is global capitalism.
David made some good points. "Nobody’s been listening to you. What Cyril is trying to talk about is world-wide socialism. No factory lines. A happier world. No nationalism. No wars.”
Perhaps the most difficult point to make was our attitude to leadership. Questioners thought leaders were essential to any society and failed to grasp the delegation of function. Bureaucrats were dismissed by another John "if we involve society as a whole”—a helpful contribution.
Some questioners visualised Socialism as a world of "giving orders”; where freedom of choice would be eliminated and we would be told what to do and when to do it. I hope I left them with sufficient ideas to have another look in the mirror of capitalism, and see if what they attribute to Socialism is but a reflex of the present system.
Crime came up. Pamela wanted to know what we would do to those who commit crimes against persons. The absence (rightly so) of the Party having a blueprint to deal with this and other problems did not satisfy the questioner. That society at the time will have to solve such problems seemed rather a lot to swallow at the first taste.
This propaganda is so different in many ways. You are on first-name terms with your questioners and yet you cannot see them. From their remarks you try and conjure up a picture of them. I’m sure Elizabeth, who said I made her sick in the stomach and she would willingly shoot the lot of us socialists is not really a violent person. New ideas that must seem outrageous in the first instance bring wild reactions.
David Bassett, the programme presenter, helped try and widen the issues. He wanted to know what part gold would play, if any, in a socialist society; the rôle of marriage; the greedy people, and our attitude to religion.
A member of Central Branch, living in the district, phoned HO that evening. He could not believe his ears. Never in his wildest dreams had he thought he would hear the Party on his radio. It gave him a new lease of life.
It was a most enjoyable experience and the constant reminder (in between commercials and news items) that we were the Socialist Party of Great Britain means that our name is known in that area by many people. I hope I did the Party justice.
In the afternoon I took a boat trip around the dockyard. There stood much of the might of British capitalism. Warships. Many were lined up for the scrap heap—one kind of waste followed by another.