Editorial from the January 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard
This year is the centenary year of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, our organisation having been founded in June 1904. But we have mixed feelings on the matter.
In one sense to still be in existence represents a failure since it means that socialism—our objective—has not been achieved. Had it been, there would no longer be any need for a socialist party, which would have long since been disbanded. Our aim in 1904 was to see ourselves go out of existence as soon as possible. To work ourselves out of a job. That we do still exist is therefore undeniably a sign that we have not succeeded.
But this lack of success is not so much ours, or at least not essentially ours, as we never imagined that the growth of the majority socialist understanding required to establish socialism depended on the campaigning efforts of socialists alone. It is the lack of success of the class of wage and salary workers in general. It's up to them, not us, to establish socialism. But, distracted by Labourite reformism on the one hand and Leninist state capitalism on the other, workers failed in the course of the past hundred years to see the need to abolish the fundamentals of capitalism—the class monopoly of the means of production and the profit motive—if the social problems they face are to be solved. And that's why we are still here.
It is also true that we have never won any election, but then, for us, elections are only a means not an end. We have never been interested in winning elections as such, in getting socialist bums on to the benches of the House of Commons at any price. Socialists will enter parliament when enough workers outside it want to send delegates there, mandated to formally wind up capitalism. But this situation has not yet arisen.
In any event, even in politics, “power” is not the only standard by which to judge success. Politics is also about ideas and their survival and effect. Here we can claim some modest success. We have not only survived as an organisation, for instance producing this journal every month since the first issue in September 1904, no mean achievement when you look at the fate of our one-time rivals over the years, the SDF, the ILP and the Communist Party. We have also kept alive the idea of socialism in its original sense.
At the time the Socialist Party was formed there was widespread agreement as to what socialism was—a system of society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production—even though there were widely divergent views as to how to get there. Here it is those who argued, against us, that the way to socialism was to get into parliament on a programme of reforms to capitalism and then to gradually re-form capitalism into socialism, who have failed. Not just to achieve socialism, or to make any progress towards it, but even to keep alive the idea of socialism as the alternative society to capitalism. The same goes for the partisans of the regime that used to exist in Russia. They, too, came to abandon the original idea of socialism, redefining it to mean the state management of the wages system, or state capitalism.
Since socialism—common ownership instead of class monopoly; production for use instead of production for profit—remains the only practicable alternative to capitalism, and the only solution to the problems thrown up by capitalism, we continue to advocate it. But, it is fair to say, we don't want to have to still exist for another hundred years.