From the March 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard
Report of a debate on the motion “That the working class should support the S.P.N.Z. rather than the N.Z.C.P.”, held at the Unity Centre, Cuba Street, Wellington, July 27th, 1952.
Com. R. H. Everson opened the debate by stating, first, it was necessary to give a brief outline of the S.P.N.Z.s case which differed, fundamentally, from the position taken up by every other political party, including the C.P. The S.P.N.Z, took the attitude that it was necessary for the working class to understand the world it lived in; the working class was faced with the problems of poverty, insecurity, and war, and the working class could not remove these problems until it understood the cause of them. Unfortunately, at the present time, the overwhelming majority of the workers did not understand the system of society in which they lived, and in which they were exploited.
Under capitalism, wealth took the form of commodities, articles which are produced solely for sale on a market with a view to profit The means of producing wealth—the land, factories, railways, etc., were owned by a small minority of the population, the capitalist class. The working class owned none of the means of production and consequently, was forced to work for those who do own. The worker, in order to live, had to sell the only commodity which he possessed—his power to labour. However, the commodity labour-power had a peculiar characteristic not possessed by any other commodity—it could produce a value greater than its own. That value which was produced by the working class, over and above what it was paid in the form of wages, was appropriated by the capitalist class and distributed in the form of rent, interest and profit.
Because the working class was tied to the wages system, it received only the value of its labour-power, which was determined by what was required to maintain it as an efficient working class and to reproduce the next generation of wage-slaves. Hence, the worker’s lot was one of poverty amidst plenty. Moreover, the worker was only employed as long as the capitalist could make a profit from his employment. If there was no profit, there was no production, and the worker was out of a job. In order to realise the profits on the wealth produced by the workers, the capitalist class was brought into conflict with the capitalist class in other parts of the world and periodically, therefore, the capitalist world was plunged into war.
The only solution to these problems lay in the abolition of their cause, which was the class ownership of the means of life. Here Com. Everson defined Socialism as being a system of society based upon the Common ownership and democratic control of the means of producing and distributing wealth by and in the interests of the whole of society. This would enable society to produce things solely for use and thus, remove the exploitation of the working class and the social problems which flowed from that state of affairs. Socialism could only be introduced when the working class understood and wanted it. They would act upon their understanding by, first, gaining a majority in Parliament. There had been people, including the so-called Communists, who had denounced Parliament as useless. However, Parliament controlled the forces of repression, and any alternative action in defiance of the capitalist control of the armed forces was suicidal and doomed to failure. Socialists, in Parliament , would be controlled by a socialist working class which knew what it wanted and how to get it. When the working class understood its position in society, it had no need for leaders, and could not be misled or betrayed.
Until capitalism was removed the working class could not solve its problems—and where the wages system existed, capitalism existed. This applied equally to Russia as to the rest of the world. Where ail the features of capitalism existed, as in Russia, so did all its evil effects.
Mrs. Birchfield, for the C.P., began by claiming that the S.P.N.Z. was a “Hotch-Potch” of Social- Democracy and Anarchism. The S.P. did not look at the world realistically. It failed to appreciate the most important fact in the world today, viz; that the world was divided into two camps; on the one hand, the world of Socialism, the Soviet Union, the great Chinese peoples’ republic, and the new democracies of Eastern Europe and, on the other hand, the world of imperialism led by capitalist America.
The most important task of the working class today was the preservation of Peace since peace was in the best interests of the working class. The workers must fight for peace and must continue their unrelenting struggle against those who are for war. We must get out of Korea. Step up the demand against the imperialists that all troops should be withdrawn from Korea.
We must mobilise the peace-loving peoples throughout the world. If they are organised, they are stronger than the forces of the imperialists and warmongers. What would the S.P. say to the Korean peoples? It would tell them that they must all become Socialists, before they can have peace.
Then Mrs. Birchfield quoted from Marx to show that Marx, like the C.P., believed in leadership. The C.P. was the leader of the working class, and said that Socialists are made in the process of building Socialism. The S.P. on the other hand, which claimed to be a revolutionary party, wanted Socialism through the ballot box. What would the ruling class do if it felt its position endangered?—would it allow the Socialists to build-up a majority in Parliament and in the country?—No, the ruling class would not surrender its wealth tamely—look what happened in Spain.
The S.P. believed that the class struggle is only a political struggle; it had no trade union policy. That was not to say that its individual members did not join the unions—they did, and some of them have played an honourable part in trade union struggles—but the Party as such, had no attitude towards the trade unions. It did not see that the reforms won are a means to an end. Neither did the S.P. see that the class struggle began where the worker was exploited, i.e., at the point of production. The bitter struggles of the workers, on the industrial field, taught the worker the nature of the State. The C.P. led the worker in this struggle. The S.P. said that the U.S.S.R. was imperialist. Mr. Everson should go to the Soviet Union in a delegation and see the Soviet system in operation. The C.P. supported the idea of these delegations, so that the workers could learn the truth and counter the lies of the reactionaries about the Soviet Union.
This concluded the opening speeches of the two speakers, after which the chairman allowed questions and discussion from the floor. Members of the audience were limited to two minutes each. At the end of half an hour, the Chairman called upon the two speakers to wind-up the debate for five minutes each.