Monday, March 27, 2017

Willie Gallacher's Political Indigestion (1925)

From the March 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

We say that when the workers want Socialism they can and must control the political machinery, including Parliament. Mr. W. Gallacher, a Communist leader, who writes a weekly two columns of animated abuse in the Glasgow "Worker," thinks that we err, and offers to put us right (February 21st, 1925). He has read our leaflet "The Socialist and the Vote-catcher," reprinted from the November, 1924, Socialist Standard, and is frankly disgusted with it. He finds that it is not the “brief outline of Socialism" it claims to be; that it "is hard to believe that anyone could write anything so foolish" as its "melancholy conclusion" or that "anyone could be found to hand it out and call it spreading the light." The conclusion he dislikes so much is this:—
"Don’t trust any more to people who are going to bring Utopia here without the least effort on your part, but come into the Socialist Party and work for Socialism. Socialism will come when enough of you want it."
Gallacher says that we do not tell him how Socialism will come. He asks if we are prepared for the possible resistance of the Churchills and Birkenheads, and if they "should take action to prevent our majority operating what do the light-spreaders propose doing about it."

He assumes that our answer would be "Time enough when that happens" to consider the possibility, and proceeds to be very scornful about it. We are further accused of wanting "the workers to go forward blindly without any preparation or any organisation whatever." We are likened to the I.L.P. vote-catchers to whom elections are everything and who must do nothing which might cause them to lose votes.

He thinks that the King or a capitalist minority could defy a Socialist majority in Parliament, because this minority would be backed up by "the overwhelming majority of officers and through these controlling the rank and file." Then "What would the majority do?" he asks.

The real and only way to Socialism, according to Gallacher, is to smash capitalism, a statement with which we are not likely to disagree, but "capitalism won’t smash simply because a majority would like to see it smashed.” Then after bringing us so far, Gallacher suddenly decides not to put us right after all. Instead of telling us how to smash capitalism, he rambles airily about the need “for us who are in earnest . . . to fight against the organised forces of capitalism.” And there he finishes.

In striking contrast with Gallacher’s vagueness, the S.P.G.B. is quite open and definite about the method of obtaining Socialism and of dealing with any resistance there may be. And in face of the plain statement of our position contained in our Declaration of Principles and other literature, not a line of Gallacher's would-be criticism has any bearing on the matter whatever. Instead of dealing with our policy he has the brazen impudence to attack the I.L.P. and the Labour Party, and link us up with their actions. He forgets that it is not the Socialist Party but he, and his own party, the Communists, who urge the workers to vote for those two anti-Socialist bodies.

We state that we want the workers to conquer the powers of government in order to use the political machinery, including the armed forces, for the purpose of overthrowing capitalism. We hold (and let Gallacher dispute it if he disagrees) that Socialism can exist only when the majority of workers want it. We also hold that a Socialist majority organised in the Socialist Party can obtain effective control by using its majority to capture the machinery of government. This disposes of our alleged neglect of organisation. Lastly, we hold that political control will give a Socialist working class control of the armed forces, and they will deal with capitalist minorities who rebel, in the way in which rebels are usually dealt with. Gallacher, be if noted, believes that the workers in the Army will, at such a time, not be influenced to support the Socialist majority either by their loyalty to constitutional authority or by their class sympathies, or by their knowledge of their own interests, but will follow those officers who decide to lead a revolt. He fails, however, to give a single argument in support of this fantastic belief.

So much for Gallacher’s criticism of the S.P.G.B. Now let us examine Gallacher and his party.

The capitalist forces must be fought, and capitalism smashed, he says, but. he leaves us to guess how and by whom. The “Workers' Weekly" (February 24th, 1923) set out to tell us how it was to be done. "The capitalists will resist any change by all means at their disposal. The power of the capitalists must be wrested from them. The workers must set up their own State . . . ." But just when we were about to learn how it was going to happen we find, instead of an answer to the vital question, three little dots and the words "Censored by the printer.” Then they go on to deal with their programme for the period after the capitalists have been disposed of. If the excuse were a true one, the position would be funny enough. These embryo dictators who are going to smash capitalism, and fight the whole forces of the State, cannot even dictate to a little back-street printer. But the excuse is simply a subterfuge to escape answering an awkward question. If they were not afraid to do so, everyone knows they could get their printing done in or out of the country.

And what are Gallacher's credentials for putting us right? He doesn’t believe in Parliament, yet he belongs to a party which advocates. “revolutionary parliamentarianism," and runs candidates. He believes Parliament is useless, and runs for it himself. He doesn’t believe in waiting for a majority, yet he appeals (on a reform programme) to what he dubs “the heterogeneous crowd" in a constituency, for a majority so that he can get into the House. He believes in fighting unceasingly against capitalism, and asks you to vote for I.L.P. and Labour candidates whom he regards as capitalist agents. In the recent Dundee by-election he was canvassing for T. Johnston, just as he had supported his predecessor the late E. D. Morel another anti-Socialist. His appeal was drawn up somewhat as follows:—
“Johnston is an anti-Socialist; all who want Socialism should vote for Johnston! Johnston is a humbug. Long live Johnston. Johnston is a scoundrel. Johnston for ever!”
He was almost in tears when he was falsely charged with having opposed this anti-Socialist. For some unaccountable reason Gallacher's articles are described as “Political Notes.”

He belongs to the party which tells the workers to vote for Thomas, Clynes, MacDonald and the rest of the Labour Party defenders of capitalism. He speaks of Churchill and Birkenhead, and himself supports the party which has the honour of having assisted Churchill into the House at the beginning of his career, and which was not averse from assisting Birkenhead and his party in the prosecution of the late war. He denounces vote-catching; Gallacher, who in a chequered career, has never known from one month to the next where he stood politically, or where he was going; who has drifted and tossed with every wind that blew; who has alternately supported and denounced nearly every pettifogging reform that was every proposed; who still advocates the treacherous communist tactic of giving insincere allegiance to the capitalist principles of the Labour Party, and the anti-Socialist tactic of asking workers to support those men and those principles. This is the man who implies that the S.P.G.B. trims to catch votes. Will Gallacher back up this or any other of his criticisms of the S.P.G.B.?

In 1920 Gallacher wrote that “any support of the Parliamentary opportunists is simply playing into the hands of the former.” (“Workers’ Dreadnought,” February, 1920). It was true then, and is true now, that he does it. Was there also some truth in his statement that it is the “personal ambition” of the “professional politician” which makes revolutionaries help the enemy in this way? Or would it be kinder and more accurate for us to recognise that Gallacher is the distressed victim of his natural muddle-headedness on the one hand, and on the other of his uncontrolled and uninstructed hatred of a purely mythical “capitalism” created by his imagination? 
Edgar Hardcastle



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