From the September 1975 issue of the Socialist Standard
An immediate and fundamental change in the basis of society. Perhaps, when younger and struck with some glaring contradiction of capitalism, you felt the need for a reorganization in human affairs. Eliminating such superfluous stuff as money, you went on to build a model of this new, perfect world inside your head. Its characteristics were peace, harmony, plenty and so on. As you filled in the details the picture grew clearer and more insistent. You began to question your friends upon their views. Finally, you put forward your ready-made utopia and asked them to follow you.
Suddenly it seemed as if everybody had been rehearsing a hundred objections to your scheme beforehand. It won’t work! You can’t change human nature! Who’ll do the dirty work? There’ll be no incentive to produce! What about the lazy people? Overwhelmed by this tremendous opposition, you had to concede the impracticalities in a few bits of your new scheme. Whereupon the completed system became a patchwork of ideas and one of your friends, who was taking O-level Economics, quoted a passage from the Old Testament, proving conclusively that capitalism had always existed as the natural state of mankind.
This onslaught beat your dream world to the back of your consciousness; parts of it to be resurrected only when sardonic comment upon the world was called for. But even a suggestion of your old utopia received so much stick from your friends that it made your position untenable. A year later, upon hearing something reminiscent of your old view from a stranger, you caught yourself saying — “Yes, I wanted to change the world too when I was younger. It’s part of the process of growing up. You’ll learn!’’ — You’d come full circle and disowned your brainchild! What went wrong?
The source of your error lies in history. You stopped short at Fourier, Owen and Proudhon. Though you may never have heard of these people, yet you were tracing, in your mind and conversation, the practical steps which these men and their followers took to remodel a bit of society upon different lines. Like your theoretical notion, they all came to grief.
If you followed the steps exactly you will have dived straight into trade unionism after abandoning Utopias. Owen did. The Grand National Trade Union which he helped to found, grew to a million members and then petered out. The General Strike of 1926 and the ease with which it was crushed makes plain what is the result of trade unions essaying confrontation with the State.
You may have begun your encounter with the union by advocating protracted strikes — “Bring the capitalists to their knees!” Which advice foundered upon the objections of the plodders, who said; “The masters will just starve us out, they can live off their fat in the Bahamas — we can’t. We never get back from a strike what we lose in pay.” Just like the New Model Unions of the 1850s!
Now if you are an archetype you will have remembered that your uncle was once the lord mayor of Louth. After a long talk with him you joined the local Labour Party. Talked to all and sundry about “Keeping our feet upon the floor of the House of Commons. Doing something practical NOW!” It had all the charm of your early utopian illusions — with none of the drawbacks. You could still foment about wicket capitalists, while at the opposite pole, you dealt in wage-price indices and the regulation of “mixed economies”.
Here is where we found you. On a wet Saturday in September, back where you started, an individual member of the working class. Your mind having reached the peak of its political evolution in society; you bought from the SPGB a copy of the Socialist Standard. The solution is now staring you in the face.
At first it seems like a refrain from the past. Common ownership? Abolition of the wages system? Classless, moneyless society? Production for use — not profit? Free access! Only, the details are missing. The SPGB does not paint a picture of the future society. In this journal there is no blueprint for Socialism. We only say to the mass of the population who, whether they know it or not, are in the working class: pursue your class interest.
Human life is essentially practical. Never mind what men say, think or write — in practice they must prove the truth. Can Socialism be established by the Labour Party? No matter how many workers say or think that it can, how do they act? When the Labour Party is running capitalism, do the workers abandon the economic struggle? Do they give up their trade union organizations? Of course not. Thus, their theory is at variance with their practice.
Similarly regarding life under capitalism. Do wage increases cause inflation? Is the “vicious spiral” all the fault of greedy workers? Never mind what economists and governments say, what do they do? Governments, when they have to, can end the inflation which they began by expanding an inconvertible currency. This action will prove all of their post pronouncements on inflation to have been nonsense. A glance at history, however, will show it makes no difference to capitalism and the working class: with or without inflation things are just the same.
Underlying all government propaganda on inflation is their basic need to sustain the interests of their capitalist class. Wage increases reduce profits. Capitalism’s apologists may deny that the class struggle exists. But on the annual balance sheets of trading and industrial concerns, evidence of the class war is written. In other words — at the highest level of practicality that capitalism assumes, in its budgetary affairs, the age-old conflict between classes is taken for granted.
Recognize the type of historical process by which changes in society are brought about. To introduce Socialism you must get yourself into an organization with that single purpose. Then help convince other workers that Socialism will be in their interest. But before you can introduce the fundamental change from private to common ownership, you must capture political power; to ensure that the state forces of coercion cannot be used against you. Your numerical superiority must be demonstrated, that means the ballot and the representative institutions must be yours also. This plan of action has been the programme of the SPGB for 71 years. We are the only political party which has succeeded in remaining a revolutionary party. Showing that the centuries-long evolution of political parties has not been in vain. And in practice, that is how you prove the truth in politics.
That viewpoint survives which is best fitted to survive. It must be capable of comprehending the world of the past, present and future. The object and declaration of principles of the SPGB express the working-class viewpoint. Against all comers they have never been found wanting. This organization has adhered to them without compromise or expedient. We urge you to make them your own.