From the September 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard
The view held by the SPGB, that Socialism can only be established when a large majority of the working class understand it, is constantly being attacked. The attack comes not from capitalists but mainly from supporters of the Labour Party, the Communists, and the “left-wing” militants. All without exception question the ability of the working class to understand Socialism. Having satisfied themselves that the task is impossible, they then proceed to matters of the moment, which putting it in a nutshell really means how to create a social environment where the working class will live happy and content under capitalism. That is their objective, although they deny it, because they can have no other. If left-wing parties refuse to take up the revolutionary position which aims at the abolition of the wages system and the conversion of state and private property into common property, then they remain parties of capitalism not withstanding that they claim to oppose it.
We have often been told that the real problem is the lack of unity of the working-class movement. What we are not told is what basis there can be for unity. Are Socialists supposed to unite with those who want to reform and administer capitalism, like the Labour and Communist Parties? Or do we unite with those who claim Socialism can be established by a well-meaning leadership without a class-conscious working class? Do we unite with those who see Socialism as a system based on state control and state ownership of industry: and lastly, do we unite with those who refuse to recognize the parliamentary road to Socialism? If there is no common ground upon which agreement can be reached then there can be no unity. Socialists are always prepared to unite for socialism. The rest of the parties are like the King in Hamlet: “Their words fly up but their thoughts remain below, and words without thoughts never to heaven go.”
It is not the wish of the SPGB to be separate for the sake of being so. The position is that we cannot be a popular reform party attempting to mop up immediate problems, and revolutionary at the same time. We cannot have a half-way house; nor can we accommodate the more timid members of our class who abhor what they describe as “extreme” policies, and spend their time looking for compromises. The Socialist case is so fundamentally different, involving as it does the literal transformation of society, that we must expect mental resistance before Socialist ideas have finally become consolidated in the mind.
However, lying behind the propaganda of the Socialists are the social and economic conditions of a class society which weigh heavily on the working class. Unemployment, threats of war, insecurity and poverty are ever present. These are the incentive to Socialism. We are not dealing with the purely philosophical question of whether workers can take Socialism or leave it. If workers do not accept the need to establish a revolutionary system of production based on democratic control and common ownership, there is no other way open to them to achieve their release from capitalism. It is all or nothing.
The master-and-servant mentality is imbued in the worker. While he starts and finishes his active life as a wage slave, ideas are spoon-fed to him by the propaganda machine of the capitalist. Left Wing propaganda offering leadership adds to the impression that he is an inferior being who is incapable of thinking, organizing and acting.
The proposition that the workers, who undertake the entire responsibility for the running of the present vast complex social system from the productive to the administrative level, are incapable of understanding the simple facts of Socialism is untenable. It isn’t the capacity to understand which is lacking, but the comparative dearth of Socialist ideas and propaganda. Socialism depends on working-class understanding in the same way as capitalism depends on working-class acquiescence and support. It cannot be brought about through crises or the collapse theory, war, or other catastrophe. The capitalist class can do little to prevent the spread of Socialist ideas, regardless that they control organs of propaganda. They cannot stop or suspend the class struggle, or interrupt the general motion of history. The materialist conception of history has the same significance for society as the law of gravity has for physical science. It lays down that struggles on the political field are the expression of class conflicts which emerge in the final form between workers and capitalists, or between capital and labour.
When men become conscious of the need to change from capitalist society to Socialism we will move forward into a higher social era. The conditions are ripe and the revolutionary route well signposted. The job of the Socialist is to speed the process, and not the impossible task of trying to make wage- slavery more palatable. The reformers have had their day and there is nothing to show for it. The prospect of Socialism is the only progressive philosophy, because men will adjust for the first time in history, to a new social environment which they will have created for themselves. Only then will we see the spread of social culture emerging from a society which produces for use instead of profit.