From the May 1994 issue of the Socialist Standard
There are two ways of looking at birthdays: they are either one more step in the onward march towards death and oblivion or part of the process of growth. For most individuals, ninetieth birthdays are passed on the geriatric scrapheap reserved for those who can no longer be milked for profit.
Balding sales reps might try to convince themselves that "life begins at forty", but only the senile are sanguine enough to think it starts at ninety. So, if your date of birth was 1904 or earlier about the best you are likely to hope for is that you can remember it’s your birthday.
On 12 June 1994 the Socialist Party will be ninety. This is neither cause for ecstatic celebration nor embarrassed bitterness. To be sure, our party has much to be proud of. We have stuck to our principles with a consistency that has alarmed our opponents, most of whom have disappeared over the years, despite their pragmatic "something now” opportunism. We started out as, and remain today, the only genuinely democratic political party in Britain. We have no leaders, no secret meetings from which our fellow workers are excluded, no hidden agendas. We are a party run by its members and answerable to no millionaires or union barons.
We have no blood on our hands, having never once supported a war for capitalist interests. Every war since 1904 has been exposed and opposed, even when our comrades were thrown into prison cells for their principles. We have never collaborated with any capitalist government, unlike the tacticians of the Left who have accepted our view that the Labour Party is anti-working-class until election times when they have consistently told workers to vote Labour. Never once have we made any concessions to racist or nationalist sentiments, and from our inception declared against racism and sexism in all their forms. We have not lied about the possibility of reforming capitalism so as to make it tolerable to live under.
Whilst never opposing reforms which might alleviate the lives of the wealth-producing majority, we have consistently and. at the risk of unpopularity, stood firmly against reformism and the illusion that capitalism can somehow be made decent. We have kept alive the great socialist vision of common ownership and democratic control, never once confusing that with the state capitalist proposal for placing the profit system under new management. We have stood out not for fair wages but for the abolition of wage labour; not for more money for the poor but for the abolition of money and thereby the end of poverty; not for the welfare crumbs but free and equal access for all to the abundant resources of this rich and fruitful planet. And we have never flinched from advocating revolution as our goal. Ours has never been to ask the bosses for a share of the loaf; only when conscious and democratically organized workers take the means of life will the world be ours. The Socialist Party has stood alone and with iron principles throughout these ninety years and for that we have reason to be proud.
But there will be no celebrations next month. That we have survived is an achievement. It has not been without effort and personal costs to those who have stuck to their commitments. Indeed, we have done more than just survived: when our party was formed in London on 12 June 1904 it comprised a group of few more than a hundred workers, mainly in London. Today, though still a party of hundreds rather than thousands, we are organized in many parts of Britain and Ireland; we have companion parties in other lands and new ones forming as we write, translating our literature into languages which we have long wanted to see our words published in. This is not mere survival, but growth indeed. But still no celebrations. There is far too much work to be done for us to bathe in the lethargic complacency of nostalgic self-congratulation. We are a movement, not a monument.
It would be embarrassing if the best that we could hope to do at ninety is remember how good it was when we were twenty. Wc will not let our political enemies forget how we, in opposition to both Right and Left, refused to be taken in by the Leninist claims of having introduced socialism in one country a backward, peasant economy at that. But remembering the past is no substitute for making the future.
What better way could the Socialist Party mark its anniversary than by looking forward with unprecedented energy rather than looking back and giving two minutes silence for the dead? In June 1994 our party will be in the midst of its biggest publicity campaign ever. Thanks to the fine support which has been given in response to our "Go For A Million* initiative the Socialist Party will be standing in four of the British Euro-constituencies: the equivalent of thirty-seven parliamentary constituencies. Over a million manifestoes will be distributed to workers in those four areas and that will mean that several million people will have a chance to read them. Thousands more manifestoes will be distributed in other constituencies where, although we have no candidate, we shall be urging voters to mark their ballot paper for Socialism. Hundreds of specially-prepared Media Files are going out to British and European newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations.
Many socialists have thrown their energies into this biggest-ever campaign — and many more are called upon now. Indeed, if ever there has been a good argument against the Socialist Party (and all of the criticisms of our principles fall flat upon investigation and debate) it has been that we don't do enough. To this we have always replied that if we are doing too little it is up to those who agree with us to support us. Never has there been a more propitious time to do so. For, not only are we on the move with a great and active campaign, but the capitalist system which we are against is looking more and more discredited, exhausted and bankrupt of ideas for its own future as each week goes by. If now is not the time for socialist fellow travellers to arise from their armchairs and join the fight, when will be?
That is the way to mark ninety years for socialism: by doing our utmost to ensure that we will not be here for another ninety years - to remember our past so that we can abolish ourselves in the future. For we are the only party in existence which seeks its own abolition; nothing would please us more than to be able to shut up shop because there is no more need to advocate the socialist transformation of society. We look forward to the day when the absurdity of having to argue in favour of producing food for people to eat and not for it to be sold with a view to profit will mystify historians of our movement. Our purpose is not merely to dream, but to make real our vision by destroying the nightmare which is the system of production for profit.
So, look out for no anniversary anthems in the next issue of the Socialist Standard (which will itself have been published continuously, without a single month having been missed, since September 1904). We will have more pressing matters on our minds. Wc intend for the next issue to reach thousands of new readers — a small step perhaps, but one which will lead to greater strides. How excited would have been our comrades in 1904 to think that the principles of socialism, which they had to advocate by walking and cycling to open-air platforms at which a few hundred might gather, can now be put to over a million workers within the space of a month? Are we downhearted? What do you think?