Wednesday, April 20, 2016

TO A NEW READER. (1923)

From the September 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is now in its twentieth year. This may or may not seem a long time. Measured by the life of a man, it is a considerable slice; compared with the life of mankind, it is but a minute. During our twenty years of existence as a party we have had but one essential thing to say; all else has been by the way. Briefly (and yet once more) it is this.

You are poor. You are poor because you are robbed. You are robbed because you are slaves—hired slaves or wage slaves. You are slaves because you own nothing but your power to labour, and must therefore hire your labour-power to those who own the means of livelihood. These are the masters. Owning your means of life, they can lay down the terms upon which they will hire you. Their terms are, that in return for the hire of your labour-power they will give a sufficient sum to enable you to support life and reproduce your kind. This sum is called wages, and the system based upon wage labour is called capitalism. At different times in history the wage slaves have revolted at the hardships of their condition. Hitherto they have always been beaten, either by starvation or brute force, although sometimes a little amelioration or palliative has been thrown to them. These have had some temporary value and, in the case of the granting of the vote, a tremendous possibility. But as the workers have never yet been inspired with anything beyond the immediate need, they remain slaves. That is the important thing to remember—they remain slaves.

Now, the Socialist case is this. There is no need for anyone to be poor. There is no need for anyone to be robbed. There is no need for slavery in any form. The workers are held in subjection by the armed forces of the nation. The control of those forces is vested in Parliament, and Parliament is composed of men who have been elected there by the votes of the workers. The workers must revolt once more, but it must be a conscious, intelligent revolt this time. It must be aimed, not at some trumpery ephemeral object, or the securing of some little easing of their slavery. They must, by means of their votes, capture Parliament and the control of the armed forces. They must then proceed to reconstruct society. Instead of the product of the nation’s toil being divided among the handful of immensely rich who own the means of wealth-making, each member of the community would receive according to his need. The colossal waste of capitalist society; its competition; its advertising; its over-production; its under-employment; its petty industry; its production of shoddy, and so forth, would be eliminated, and human effort would yield enough for a high level of comfort for all.

We differ from all other alleged working-class parties chiefly in this, that we say the achievement of Socialism is so immediate and so urgent that it dwarfs everything else. We say that if all the effort now diverted to the gaining of some momentary object were concentrated upon getting Socialism, our goal would be in sight. Think of the dozens of "aims" which have possessed the Labour Party and the I.L.P. since their formation. Old Age Pensions, State Insurance, Eight-Hours Day, Single Tax, Free Trade, Votes for Women, etc., etc. "Aims'' so "revolutionary” that either capitalist party can select any one of these aims and pass them on the Statute Book without blinking. And when they are passed, are the working class any better off? They are still slaves. Assuming they got their latest demand—the Capital Levy— where would it leave the workers? Still slaves.

Another so-called workers' party, the S.D.F., which changed its name to the S.D.P., and then again to the B.S.P., and then split up into the N.S.S. and B.S.P., and then somehow changed back to the S.D.F. again—this chameleon-like party thinks the greatest thing we can have at the moment would be a citizen army!

One other claimant to the title of a workers' party is the Communist Party, and we have dealt with them so often.that it seems like labouring the point to devote further space to them. But a new reader may like to know that their object is the same as the Labour Party's; they have tried desperately hard to affiliate with them; they have helped them at elections; and in Parliament they are anxious to assume the Labour Party's harness, through the latter's whips. Their difference from the Labour Party is quite minor, and mainly confined to methods. The quickest way to rouse the workers from their apathy is to make a noise, they say. The bigger the noise, the bigger the crowd. Having got the crowd, lead them. Never mind where, at the moment, but gradually the crowd will instinctively turn to you as their natural leaders. Then, when capitalism’s great crisis occurs, take your place at the head of the mob and lead them, the half-baked, the wholly-baked, and the three-parts-baked, on to the conquest of society and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Such is the essence of the Communist Party’s outlook.

We prefer that the workers should know where they are going; should be conscious every step of the way. This process is slower. Noise and firework have no place in it. We expect no huge, wild influx of members, immediately followed by similar slumps. We expect a steady growth composed of those who realise their servile position in society; who can see how it has historically come about; and, above all, those who can see that the only way to end servility is for the workers to gain political control, so that society may be run for the benefit of the whole of its members, and not, as at present, for a few. If any of those who read these lines would like to take the first logical step to their emancipation, and are convinced of the soundness of our position, we cordially invite them to apply for membership of our Party.
W. T. Hopley

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