From the August 1921 issue of the Socialist Standard
To the average working man the Socialist appears as a type of individual who suffers from a fever of discontent—full of complaints, always grumbling. We will show, however, that this view is but one of the many illusions which cloud certain working-class minds. The Socialist possesses ambitions of a particular kind, which do not allow time for morbid reflections. He recognises that “the battle's to the strong," and while, therefore, healthily dissatisfied with modem conditions of existence, nevertheless enjoys contentment of mind in the knowledge that he is working for the only thing worth while; i.e., the overthrow of the capitalist system and the establishment of Socialism.
The distinction the present scribe wishes to draw is that the Socialist is dissatisfied because he knows the cause of all the evils which afflict the working class, and that knowledge represents his dissatisfaction. On the other hand, the “discontents" are the grumblers and grousers—the unhealthy-minded—because they do not know. Lacking Socialist knowledge, they find themselves always in difficulties, always uncertain, and consequently not equipped to adapt themselves to, or battle with, the problems of every day existence.
Not that I would suggest, however, that the Socialist is able to entirely avoid the effects of the economic system; but generally speaking, he has a better chance because he is conscious of the cause.
Now there are many millions of discontents in the ranks of the working class. We meet them everywhere. Some of them call themselves Humanitarians, some Bolshevists, some Secularists, some Prohibitionists, some Home Rulers, and so on.
The Socialist, claiming that Socialism is the only hope of the workers, and that all else is illusion, is a wholesome distinction. And now to examine and explain the nature of the work of the Socialist Party.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain sets out in its Declaration of Principles that the emancipation of tbs working class must be the work of the working class itself. Special stress is laid on this—the subject matter of this article —because one of the greatest obstacles with which the workers are confronted is the idea, fostered by unscrupulous individuals and parties claiming to champion the cause of the working class, that leaders are necessary. So deep-rooted is this demoralising notion that we are called upon at our public meetings, when stating our claim to be the only Socialist party, to name some of our leaders. Our innocent reply that we have no leaders is met with the incredulous retort: “But you must have leaders!" The word “leaders" implies not only those who lead but those, who are led. Now only those require, or suffer themselves to be, led who cannot see the way for themselves, and naturally, those who cannot see the way for themselves will not be able to see whether they are being led in the right direction or the wrong. Labour leaders, therefore, are able to render to the capitalists the very valuable service of misleading the workers. This is why the ruling class bestow praises and titles upon labour leaders, and entreat the workers to follow their wise (!) leadership. The first work of the Socialist Party, therefore, is to spread abroad among the workers that political knowledge which alone can put them beyond the lure and treachery of leaders by showing them clearly the object they have to attain and the road they have to travel to attain it.
Now for a closer examination of the nature of that work. Firstly, applicants applying for membership in the Socialist Party of Great Britain have to affirm their acceptance and understanding of the Object and Principles of the party as contained on the application form. If the Party are not satisfied that the applicant sufficiently understands oar position, it is suggested that the application be deferred and that the would-be member should attend our meetings (ALL meetings of the S.P.G.B. are open to the public), read our literature, and get assistance with his or her difficulties from any member of our organisation. When the applicant has shown that his knowledge of the Socialist position is such as to fit him for membership of the S.P.G.B. his application is accepted.
It is now that the real Socialist work of the member begins. The unit of organisation is the branch, and it is inside the branch that an outlet is found for working-class abilities in the true sense of the word. There are the Rules to be read and understood. This done, the new member gets a more complete understanding of the nature of the activities of the branch and of the organisation as a whole—and this understanding can obviously only come about as the result of regular attendance at branch and party meetings.
Now a desire generally begins to manifest itself on the part of the new member to participate more directly in the work of the branch and of the party as a whole. It then becomes a question for the member to decide in what particular direction his abilities would be most useful. By close association with the branch and the party the member soon decides upon a choice of work. The principal branches of the party work (executed entirely by the voluntary labour of the members) consists of the following : Clerical work at Head Office; organisation of sale and distribution of party literature; work of the various sub-committees e.g., the Editorial Committee, whose duty it is to arrange for articles for the Party Organ, publication of leaflets, pamphlets, manifestoes, etc. Then there is the collection of cuttings from newspapers and periodicals of all kinds and from all sources, home and foreign, and their arrangement in suitable order for future reference (this record provides the organisation with facts which enables our speakers and writers to push home their attack upon the capitalist system and to criticise and expose its apologists and defenders); organisation of out door propaganda by area propaganda committees; study classes at the Head Office and in the Branches, where members congregate in order to equip themselves with the knowledge necessary to Socialist propagandists. Finally, there is the Executive Committee, elected at the Annual Conference, and whose duty it is to generally supervise and organise the work of the Party in every sphere.
In these principal spheres of activity various qualifications are needed, and to organise the abilities and resources of our class is the work which confronts the Socialist Party. I would here dwell upon the qualifications of the Socialist propagandist, one of the highest qualifications to which a Socialist can aspire. This entails unremitting labours, in order to acquire a sound knowledge of Marxian economics, history, sociology, trade unionism, and so on, to effectively defend the party’s position at all times and in all places from the attacks of our opponents; also in order to give a clear presentation of our case and a correct and vigorous criticism of current affairs in the world of politics and labour.
These are the main streams of activity of the Socialist Party and its band of Socialist workers. There are, of course, the various duties of the officials of the branches, who organise and carry on the work of the branches and their local activities.
The writer set out to explain the nature of the work of the Socialist Party. He has attempted briefly to do so. To-day, more than ever, the unorganised should ask themselves whether they are prepared and fitted to engage in the great historical mission of the working class—the emancipation of all mankind from the vile conditions of existence imposed upon them by the system of private ownership in means of living.
To those, therefore, who understand our Object and Principles we extend an earnest invitation to. come forward and assist in the efforts we are making to build up a vigorous and healthy Socialist organisation, bound together by a common understanding, with the tie of class-conscious solidarity, determined to wage uncompromising war on all who bar our way toward the goal of our ambition—the establishment cf the Socialist Co-operative Commonwealth, where poverty will give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.
“Rise like lions from your slumbers,
In unvanquishable numbers.
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep hath fall’n on you:
Ye are many, they are few.”
O. C. I.