From the March 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard
We have received from the I.L.P. the unity proposals set out in the letter published below. We publish also the reply sent to the I.L.P. by our Executive Committee, which explains our attitude to such proposals.
Socialist Party of Great Britain, 7th January, 1954.
52 Clapham High Street,
I have been instructed by the National Council of the IL.P. to give you below copy of a Resolution which was passed at our last Conference:—
NEED FOR A UNITED SOCIALIST PARTY
“Conference realises that it would be folly to allow individuals who know little or nothing about socialist theories and ideas to vote on the formation of socialist policy, and therefore we admit to membership of our party only people who realise the need for the abolition of Capitalism and the establishment of a Socialist Commonwealth.
“It is not surprising to us that well-meaning socialists who are members of the political section of the Labour Party are continually frustrated (as they are bound to be) when their ideas and resolutions are voted down with soul-destroying monotony at every annual conference by the insensate block vote. The block votes are cast in the names of millions of people who are in most cases never consulted.
“It is not incumbent on the Trade Union leaders who wield the block votes to be socialists, and it is obvious that very few of them are.
“We appeal to active socialists and to those who have dropped out in despair, and also to young socialists who have not yet attached themselves to any party, to join with us in the I.L.P., where every member has a voice in matters of policy, and whose conferences are democratic and uninfluenced by outside block votes. The need for socialism is now so great that the I.L.P. appeals for closer united effort with all other parties or groups which agree with the essential socialistic fundamentals for which we stand. If any possibility arises of a united socialist party based on those fundamentals, no considerations of prestige or sentiment should stand in the way of its formation.”
I should be very much obliged if you would kindly give this matter your friendly consideration and let me know at your convenience whether you will be prepared to join with us in an attempt to bring together the socialist forces in the country for a closer united effort as mentioned in this resolution.
Looking forward to the pleasure of your reply,
Mr. John McNair,
General and Political Secretary,
Dear Mr. McNair,
We thank you for your letter of 7th January in which, on the instruction of your National Council, you forward the resolution on the "need for a United Socialist Party” passed by your last conference. The resolution looks to the possibility of forming a united socialist party and your letter asks if the S.P.G.B. is prepared to join with the I.L.P. “in an attempt to bring together the socialist forces in the country for a closer united effort as mentioned in the resolution.”
Before dealing with other issues raised by the resolution we should explain that the S.P.G.B. has always been unreservedly in favour of common action with parties and groups that are socialist; as for example, in our relations with overseas bodies based on the same principles as the S.P.G.B. On the other hand we are explicitly bound by our constitution to oppose parties whose activities do not promote working class emancipation, that is to say, parties that are not socialist
It is in the light of this that we must consider your proposal that the S.P.G.B. should unite with the I.L.P., and with other parties and groups based on the same fundamentals as the I.L.P.
In effect therefore the S.P.G.B. regards its own declaration of Principles (a copy of which is enclosed) as the sound basis for socialist organization while the I.L.P. resolution invites the S.P.G.B. to unite with the I.L.P. and with other parties or groups on the basis of the LLP’s “essential socialist fundamentals.”
In view of the widespread misuse of the term socialist to mean reforms of capitalism and measures to extend State capitalism or nationalisation it is of course necessary to be clear about the I.L.P’s present proposal to make “socialist fundamentals” the basis of unity. Your letter does not touch on this but the resolution does so itself in the earlier and longer section dealing with the Labour Party.
The resolution condemns the domination of Labour Party conferences by the block vote of the trade unions on the ground that the block votes are wielded by trade union leaders very few of whom are socialists, and that because of this (to quote the terms of your resolution), “well-meaning socialists who are members of the political section of the Labour Party are continually frustrated . . . when their ideas and resolutions are voted down with soul-destroying monotony.” Your resolution goes on to appeal to them to join the LLP. in which there is no block vote to hamper them.
We agree of course that the idea of achieving socialism by tagging the label socialist to a body largely made up of affiliated unions and wholly composed of social reformers is as absurd now as it was when pointed out by the S.P.G.B. in the infancy of the Labour Party; but we cannot agree that the non trade union elements in the Labour Party stand for socialism. The readily available evidence proves this to be quite untrue.
On this we would refer you to the Labour Party document setting out the several hundred resolutions placed on the agenda for the Labour Party Conference 1953. The overwhelming majority of these were submitted not by trade unions but by local Labour Parties, i.e. by those referred to in your resolution as the “well-meaning socialists” whose resolutions are voted down. In vain we search among these resolutions for indication of socialist ideas.
The point can be illustrated from the 30 resolutions on nationalisation only two of which were submitted by trade unions, the rest coming from local Labour Parties. As a body these 28 resolutions assume the continuation of the wages system, of property incomes, of production for sale and profit—in short the continuation of capitalism, modified only by some extension of nationalisation or State capitalism. Not one of them opposes Nationalisation along with private capitalism. Not one of them envisages the emancipation of the working class by the abolition of capitalism. Not one of them could be supported by “socialists” unless the term is again misused to mean social reformers and advocates of State capitalism.
We are therefore left with the impression that the aim of the IL.P. resolution is to secure some re-alignment of social reformist groups in this country on a basis that would be acceptable to many of the Local Labour Parties whose only complaint is that their efforts, to secure Labour Party Conference support for their reform measures are blanketed by the trade union vote. This is of course not a basis for unity for socialists.
If your National Council has in mind any particular statement of I.L.P. principles that in the terms of the resolution it would consider appropriate for the proposed united body perhaps you would provide us with a copy.
At the same time we would ask your National Council to state what is their attitude towards our view that the S.P.G.B's Declaration of Principles is the sound basis for socialist organisation.
Yours for Socialism,