Editorial from the May 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard
Other political parties are forever proclaiming their support for or opposition to some new proposal for changing the law. This is what day to day politics are made up of, and it is round these issues that elections are won and lost. The Socialist Party is unique in standing aside from that kind of contest. We fight elections solely on the demand for Socialism. We do not campaign for or declare our support of schemes of reform. We do not struggle to get this or that law amended or to prevent it from being amended.
Some workers who do not understand the Socialist case think that the Socialist Party’s attitude to reforms means standing aloof from the workers’ struggles. They are quite mistaken. It is a question of the Socialist being concerned with a different struggle, the fundamental struggle that has as its aim the abolition of Capitalism and the establishment of Socialism.
The two aims cannot be combined. In order to achieve Socialism it is necessary to win over the workers of all countries to a recognition of the uselessness of trying to solve their problems by modifying Capitalism. What conviction would that message carry if the Party that preached it was at the same time telling the workers to postpone the idea of working for Socialism and devote themselves to working for reforms? Fifty years of Labour Party work for reforms has not brought Socialism one day nearer.
There is also a basically false idea behind working for reforms, the idea of rallying the supporters of Capitalism behind a proposal to reform Capitalism. To the Socialist, Capitalism is a class-divided social system; on the top side the owners of wealth and the means of producing and distributing wealth and under them the working class who produce the wealth. Any improvement that the working class may get under Capitalism they get at the expense of the propertied class.
The propertied class know this, hence their unceasing resistance to claims for higher wages; and every government knows this when it presses, as every government does, for “wage restraint.”
One factor there is that will move the propertied class to surrender some of their wealth. This factor is the growth of the Socialist movement. The Capitalists do not for long fear the leaders of reformist movements— they have been digesting them for generations. But when the Socialist movement grows in numbers, threatening the Capitalist class with the coming end of Capitalism, then the Capitalists will be anxious to make reform concessions, designed to gain a further lease of life for Capitalism by trying to entice the workers away from the Socialist movement. Paradoxical though it may seem to those who do not understand Capitalism, the policy of the Socialist, of standing uncompromisingly for Socialism, would incidentally induce the Capitalists to offer reforms, though their hope of thereby stopping the development of the Socialist movement would be an empty one.