February 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard
The conflict now raging between Social Democrats and Communists in almost every European country is receiving far more attention than it deserves. From the working-class view-point the questions in dispute are of little or no importance, and personalities, not principles, are the chief issues.
The corresponding parties in this country are the Labour Party, now in power, and the Communist Party. Both these parties claim to be out for a fundamental change, and to base their respective policies on this aim. Yet the activities of both parties are concerned solely with the advocacy of reforms within the capitalist system.
At the general election the Communists supported the Labour Party and sponsored their programme. They still do so, although criticising details here and there, together with the lack of speed and firmness in carrying out nationalisation schemes. At times these “blind leaders of the blind” endeavour to link their frothy rise to leadership and power with that glorious past when a real social science was in the making.
Such an attempt was made recently on the 50th anniversary of the death of William Morris. According to the Daily Worker (16/11/46), the Daily Herald claimed Morris as a forerunner of the Labour Party, and “the Attlee pastorale.”
W. Holmes, in the Worker, disputed this and claimed him for the Communists because
“He left the S.D.F. in disgust at its reformist trend. But despite its vagaries, the S.D.F. was the forerunner of the Communist Party.”
The Herald claimed him because ‘‘by Socialist he meant almost precisely what we mean, although the practical technique of British Socialism had not then been invented.”
We are not concerned with their respective claims on Morris. His chief merit lay in his thorough exposure of working-class conditions under capitalism. He was, perhaps, to some extent a reformist, but one who visualised correctly the real meaning of Socialism. Yet W. Holmes says of him:
‘‘But Morris wanted to tell the world that ‘It is not a small change in life that we advocate, but a very great one; that Socialism will transform our lives and habits.' ” “That full-blooded faith,” says Holmes, “led Moms to break with all the reformists of his day. For he was a Marxist, and called himself a 'Communist.’ ”
It is unfortunate for the Daily Worker, and the writer of the above notes on Labour Party gradualism, that in the adjoining columns Harry Pollitt should lay himself open to the same criticism in the following words:
“Alongside this policy must also go the real fight against monopoly and its profits at home; improvement of the wages and working hours of the workers now; speed-up in the building of new houses, and reorganisation of the basic industries with the full participation of the workers. In this way we can lay, at home and abroad, the firm foundation which alone can guarantee the fulfilment of the policy the people voted for at the General Election in 1945.”
One writer blames the Labour Government for their reformism and the other asks no more from them than the implementation of the programme of reforms on which they were elected!
Gradualism means slowing-up progress towards Socialism and is the avowed policy of the Fabians. They professed to bring Socialism about by evolution, not social revolution. Taken in this sense, the Labour Party’s programme is gradualism pure and simple, its nationalisation schemes are put forward on the assumption that nationalisation must precede Socialism; and form a necessary part of the process. But this assumption has never been justified by the Fabians, or anyone else. The reverse, of course, being true, because of the confusion arising over the two terms, public ownership and common ownership; for which both Fabians and Communists are responsible, and which neither have made the slightest attempt to remove. It is this reformist and nationalisation programme that Pollitt and the Communist Party insist on being carried through; while W. Holmes, in the same paper and on the same day, describes it as gradualism.
To advocate reforms is to slow-up the progress towards Socialism, because it concentrates the attention of the workers on a fruitless struggle for something now. W. Holmes agrees with this, for he quotes Morris to that' effect, as follows:
“There is, generally speaking, among democrats, a leaning towards a kind of limited State Socialism, and it is through that that they hope to bring about a peaceful Revolution which, if it does not introduce a condition of equality, will at least make the workers better off and contented with their lot . . . nor would some of them be discontented if we could glide into complete State Socialism.”
Which is where Fabians and Communists are heading if we call it by its correct name, State Capitalism.
But in addition to this reform policy which diverts the workers from Socialist knowledge and activity, Pollitt has a further diversion:
“The Labour Government must be compelled to change its policy at home and abroad so that we stand four-square with those nations which think politically like millions do in Britain. This is the best insurance against the predatory designs of American imperialism. If Britain, the Soviet Union, France and the other democratic nations in Europe now stand together, then for these nations there will be no new economic crises or new wars.”In this he helps the capitalists to split the workers of Europe and America into hostile camps, battling for supremacy in world trade, a conflict leading inevitably to future wars. Nothing is more certain to slow up the spread of Socialist thought than to sow dissension between the workers by emphasising nationalist differences that are purely capitalist in character. Far from being a Marxist, Pollitt, in the above paragraph, repudiates Marx and his famous slogan: Workers of the World Unite.
But where does nationalisation lead? According to the Labour Party, Socialism will be complete with the nationalisation of every possible industry. The Communists do not deny this, although they criticise the Government for paying too much in compensation to dispossessed shareholders. Sometimes they say no compensation at all should be paid. If these eventually have their way, the likeness to Russia will be complete. The dream of the Fabians realised: Government by experts, and the working-class still wage-workers: Industry still run for profits, and the results, over and above wages, shared between the experts, political and industrial. As in Russia, they can bring into existence a perfect hierarchy of officials, industrial experts, scientists, economists and technicians, to create an atmosphereof inevitability and permanence to their rule.
Small wonder that G. B. Shaw greeted the Soviet leaders as Fabians, and, incidentally, showed that the aims of Communists and Fabians were identical: Government by the middle-class, as he termed the intellectuals and professionals. In short, a totalitarian form of government in "Socialist" Britain as in “Communist" Russia.
The British Communist Party, adopting the methods of the Kremlin, can only land themselves in the same vicious circle of competitive struggle for markets with its ever-present threat of war. It stamps it as being of the same nature as the Labour Party; thirsting for power, that they may impose their ideas and methods on a working-class not yet alive to their real interests.
No government can establish Socialism. Only the working class, the overwhelming mass of the people, can do that. Because, as Morris said, Socialism involves revolutionary changes in every aspect of the working-class way of life. The wages system must be supplanted by a democratic administration of production and distribution, based on individual needs and equality. This means the building of a working-class organisation now, where every worker understands and accepts the democratic principles of administration; and is ready to take his place in the scheme of things, both on the productive and administrative side.
Until the workers do this. Society cannot move forward to its higher and freer conception of life. Workers everywhere should concentrate on Socialism and leave reforms and public ownership to those interested in preserving Capitalism.