Friday, January 29, 2016

"'Should Socialists Affiliate With The Labour Party?'" (1913)

From the September 1913 issue of the Socialist Standard

A debate upon the above subject was held at the King and Queen Assembly Rooms at Brighton on 25th July.

A local celebrity, Mr. Winchester, took the chair, and introduced what he called “the two gladiators” to the audience. Mr. J. Ingham (I.L.P.) took the affirmative, and Mr. J. Fitzgerald (S.P.G.B.) the negative.

In opening the debate MR. INGHAM said the subject was not what was Socialism, nor even whether the legislation supported by the Labour Party leads to Socialism, but whether Socialists should affiliate with that party with all its shortcomings.

For the sake of clearness, the speaker went on to say, it would be as well to state that Socialism implied three changes—economic change, political change, and mental change. That was the theory or aspiration of Socialism. In practice it meant the revolt of the masses; but this revolt must have power behind it, and this power was both economic and political.

The power behind the vote was the power of nomination, which the working class have only had in late years.

As far as the capitalist class were concerned the S.P.G.B. or I.L.P. or B.S.P. didn't matter much, and the only menace to the rulers in society today were the Labour Party. They were demanding the right to manage affairs for themselves. It might be true that they were not doing this in the best way from the standpoint of the Socialist, and he aid not uphold the part played by the Labour Party in the House of Commons, but they represented the social consciousness of the the unions, who laid down the policy of the party.

The Labour Party consisted of the I.L P. and the Fabians—who formed the intellectual Socialist wing—and the mass of the organised workers. In all historic movements the intellectuality followed, it did not lead, the movement.

The question the Socialist had to face was, should he help the movement of the organised workers—the Labour Party—by being inside, or should he play the part of the so-called intellectual and stand outside on a mountain criticising and carping at their actions. Despite all their shilly-shallying and support of the Government the Socialist should be inside, doing his best to help it and to help it to take the right road.

The Revolution would be carried out by the workers becoming class-conscious and taking hold of political power to overthrow their rulers. In this connection he would point out that there had never been a traitor in the House of Commons. Every member there represented the views of those who sent him there. No member of the Labour Party could represent others than those who sent him to Parliament.

Intellectual Socialists should be inside of the Labour Party, guiding it by getting hold of the reins for that purpose. (Bell rang.)

MR. FITZGERALD said one fault he had to find with his opponent’s definition of Socialism was the order in which the changes were placed. Before the working class could carry through the political change having for its object the change in the ownership of the means of life, there would have to be a change in their understanding of the situation and a determination to alter it. Hence the mental change must precede the political and economic changes involved in the establishment of Socialism.

His opponent had said that the revolt must have power behind it. Exactly. But what power? What must it consist of? To answer the question it would be necessary to examine the power in the hands of, and used by, the present rulers. The working class to-day were in want and misery because they had no access to the means of life except by permission of the master class. How did the master class retain their possession of those things? Leaving out the various secondary agencies, the essential force came to the front when any big dispute occurred, as a railway strike, a miners’ or a transport strike. Then the army and navy and the judicial machinery were used, rapidly and ruthlessly, against the workers.

These forces received their instructions from the War Office, Naval Office, Home Office, etc., but the officials in the departments were appointed by the House of Commons, and this was done without any reference to the Hones of Lords, showing the character of the Labour Party’s campaign against that institution.

Hence the capitalists must have control of Parliament for the purpose of using the armed forces for the preservation of their property. To get this control they must be voted into Parliament.

The people possessing the majority of the votes were the members of the working class. Hence the political promises, the election red-herrings, and the buying of the “leaders” of the working class when elections were on. The capitalists clearly saw the importance of political power, and spent millions to obtain it.

Where did the Labour Party stand in this connection? They acted as decoy ducks to the capitalist class. From their first formation to the present day they had refused to lay down any principles or policy in the interest of the wording class. The Socialist Party’s Manifesto gave numerous instances and proofs of their treachery, but one or two cases having a particular bearing on his opponent’s statement would be useful.

In 1906 a group of nearly 40 “Labour” leaders were returned to Parliament with the help of the Liberal Party. So much were they really part of the Liberal party that when, a little later, a by-election took place at Leicester, the Labour Party dared not contest the second seat. The same thing occurred at Newcastle, but it was left for the January 1910 general election to completely pull the veil away. A short time previously the Labour Party had received an immense addition to its membership and leaders by the affiliation of the Miners’ Federation, yet after the election they had only about 43 seats. This result by itself was a collapse of the Labour Party, but worse than this had happened. His opponent had said “those who nominate control," and had stated that the members of the Labour Party had nominated their representatives. At the 1910 general election the nominations of the rank and file were withdrawn by the score at the orders of the Executive acting on the instructions of the Liberal Party. Again, the election had been fought by Liberal and “Labour” Parties on the Veto of the House of Lords and the Budget. When the election was over Mr. Asquith announced that the Veto question would be deferred until after the Budget had been taken. A paper called the “Labour Leader” described Mr. Asquith’s action as one of treachery to his constituents. When the matter was first voted upon the Labour Party voted for the Government. They therefore were equally as guilty of treachery as Mr. Asquith.

In March 1910 the Labour Party moved an amendment on the Army Estimates over the wages of Government employees, and when it was voted upon about 22 were absent and 15 of the remainder voted against their own amendment to save the Government.

The fact that the Labour Party had lost every three cornered contest—as well as several others—in the January election, showed how completely dependent upon the Liberals they were.

While the working class accepted “leaders” they would always be misled. It showed that they had not yet reached that stage of class consciousness that was necessary for their emancipation. When they became Socialists they would abolish “leaders” and “leadership,” and keep control and power in their own hands.

Mr. INGHAM in his second speech said it appeared to him that the philosophy of the , S.P.G.B. had changed since the issuing of their pamphlet on “Socialism and Religion” according to Mr. Fitzgerald’s statements. There they laid down the materialist conception of history as their basis, while his opponent took up the idealist position. He was beginning to believe the S.P.G.B. had no intellectuality.

The working class must be free mentally from the influence of their rulers, but every class who had revolted had leaders. His opponent had stated that the S.P. were going to take control of the army and navy when they had a majority in Parliament. Did they think the capitalists would let them? Without organised labour outside political power would be useless. Men always had had and always would have leaders. It would not be by teaching but by economic pressure that the change would be brought about, and the mass would follow leaders at the period of change. Bat ae they would nominate these leaders they would control them. TheTories controlled those they nominated. Mr. Lloyd George was controlled by his nominators, who forced him to introduce measures that threatened his political career.

Snowden and Macdonald occupied the position of himself (Mr. Ingham) and the S.P.G.B, fifteen years ago, while men like Broadhurst then took up the attitude of Macdonald & Co. to day. Despite this, Labour politics must lead to Socialism and the future laid with the trade unions.

If the majority were with him at the Conferences the clique would soon be turned out. So long as the working class thought a clique represents their interests they would support them. It was because they thought the Liberal clique thus represented them that they supported them to day.

MR. FITZGERALD said that his opponent clearly contradicted himself, and in parts admitted the correctness of the policy of the Socialist Party.

If the workers must be free mentally from the influence of their rulers, obviously a mental change was the first requisite. With reference to the point of the lack of intellectuality on the part of the S.P.G.B., what he (Mr. Fitzgerald) had said was that the S.P. contained no “intellectuals” of the type condemned by his opponent. To try and twist this into an admission of "lack of intellectuality ” was both cheap and childish.

With regard to leaders, it was, perhaps, a trifle elementary, but as his opponent had introduced the point he must deal with it.

Under any system of organisation various activities had to be delegated to different individuals, but this delegation of function did not necessarily mean a sheep-like following, or the placing of power in the hands of the delegates. Thus in the Socialist Party certain members were delegated as speakers, some as writers, others as organisers, etc. But each and all were under the control of, and obeyed the directions of, the membership. The position of Mr. Ingham was similar to that of Keir Hardie, who stated that mankind was a herd who followed leaders, and that that was "the purest form of democracy” ! That, of course, was the sort of following the clique who run the Labour Party wanted, so that they could make their bargains with the Liberals for posts and positions a la Shackleton, Cummings, Mitchell, and others.

His opponent's statements on the army and navy showed how little he understood the power of the ruling class. They controlled these forces because they possessed the political machinery. When this machinery was wrested from them by the working class, how could the capitalists prevent the workers controlling those forces? He had dealt with these matters in his first speech and his opponent had not shown a single point to be wrong.

His opponent’s next statement showed how completely he was misled by the Anarchist rubbish re-labelled Syndicalism, that an economic organisation can destroy capitalism. No matter what the form of organisation or how complete its membership, such a combination of unarmed men would obviously he powerless against the armed forces while the capitalists had political power.

Macdonald and Snowdeu may have occupied a position fifteen years ago similar to that of his opponent to-day, but neither then nor now did they take up the attitude of the Socialist Party — i e., the Socialist attitude.

If his opponent agreed that he must get a majority on his side to get his views adopted, he was admitting the correctness of the policy of the Socialist Party, for this was their position.

MR. INGHAM in his last speech said that delegation of function was exactly the position of the Labour Party. To take up a position of delegate of the organised workers one must be in their ranks, not outside. The Macdonald crowd would be pushed aside by those inside the Labour Party, not by those outside. While they (the S.P.) remained outside their organisation, criticising and fault-finding, they antagonised the workers and had no influence upon them.

By economic pressure, not by intelligence, the workers would be forced to take control. The great trade unions were endeavouring to express themselves upon society, and would change with the growing consciousness of the workers. Thus the railway unions formed their great combination from inside; it was not formed by any men outside. The economic pressure would force the workers to realise the necessity for the Revolution, and the Socialists should be inside, aiding this development and bringing to a realisation the Socialist hopes and aspirations.

MR. FITZGERALD denied that the Labour Party adopted the policy of delegation of function that he had described. Their policy was one of delegation of power —and this made ail the difference. If a position outside the Labour Party would antagonise the workers, then opposition to the Liberals would antagonise a still larger number, as the working-class following of the Liberal Party was much greater than that of the Labour Party. And actually what his opponent was defending was Socialists joining the Liberal Party, for as he (the speaker) had shown them in his previous speeches, the Labour Party was but a portion of the Liberal Party.

Take the question of nomination continually insisted upon by his opponent. The rank and file could, within certain limits, make nominations, but they did not control them. As shown in mass in Jan. and Dec., 1910, as shown in various bye elections, the Liberal party controlled them, and at their instructions scores of nominations were swept aside. The support of the Government, even against their own amendments, coupled with these facts, showed that the liberal managers held the Labour Party in their grip, and dictated the policy as well as selected the candidates to be put forward. Hence his opponent's whole plea was for Socialists to join the Liberal Party.

The Socialist knew the majority of the workers were still below the stage of mental development necessary for the revolution, but experience showed that the most effective method was to fight all the enemies of working class interests, i.e., Socialism, to add to the education, and so shorten the time required for the establishment of Socialism.

Republican and Democrat united (1985)

From the March 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

The supposedly opposing Republican and Democratic Parties are both 100 per cent united in their support of the existing society, seeking solutions and palliatives to the problems that result from its very nature, that forever remain immune to the never-ending "cures".

Two crucial political fallacies permeate thinking at voting time. First, that the present system can be so organised that it will operate in the interests of the majority, through a process of applied reformism, and second, that "proper leadership" is an essential requirement. However, neither of the foregoing will ever remove any of the major social evils. An examination of the economics of capitalism, together with its awesome history, supports this contention.

American workers are urged to be concerned about an approximate $175-200 billion annual Budget deficit while 8,000,000 of them are unemployed, surviving on a pittance, and those slightly more fortunate are doomed to a precarious wage-grubbing existence that keeps them perpetually mired in the red ink of their own debts. Since the election in November the Treasury Department has announced a plan to overhaul taxes including the full taxation of all unemployment compensation. Under the guise of "taxation”, unemployment benefits are to be reduced. Is it not an insult to intelligence to expect the working class to ponder the problems of the national Budget while enduring the inequities of a system that creates their own, personal, ongoing deficits and deprivations? The whole question of taxes belongs squarely with the capitalist class and their representatives, and should be recognised as a non-issue as far as the working class is concerned. In any event the gigantic US Budget deficit is likely to remain for years to come, fuelled by an armament programme with an insatiable appetite.

Taxation techniques create the illusion that both the rich and the poor have joined hands in the mutual maintenance of the capitalist state. Such is not the case. The working class are solely responsible for the production of the surplus value from which their employers derive a livelihood and from which the financial burden of the state is paid. In reality the bulk of the taxes "paid" by the working class constitutes a bookkeeping item only, reflecting mythical earnings that never in actuality reach the recipient. Net wages figures are the ones that count, in conjunction with what the money can buy. Nor is the trade imbalance of nearly $70 billion in 1983 a working class issue. The workers are limited in their "trading" to the sale of individual labour power and therefore should turn a deaf ear to such matters that remain extraneous to their own affairs.

Interest rates (which have dropped somewhat) and inflation (which is supposed to be under control but still persists in a slow upward trend) are constantly varying factors which adjust to the economic climate, more susceptible to the inordinate workings of the system than to the tinkering afforded by governments. Thirty years ago US houses, masonry constructed, could be purchased with approximately 5-6 per cent financing. Today, homes literally built of wood and cardboard/stucco are predominant in, for example, Arizona with a current mortgage rate of approximately 13-14 per cent.

Over the years inflation has been progressive, with utility bills in many instances equalling the mortgage payments of bygone eras. In fact, in many parts of the country people's lives are in jeopardy during the winter because of utility costs and the danger of cut-offs when bills are not paid, resulting in sickness and death through lack of heat. In the final analysis, notwithstanding inflation and interest rates, working class wages will guarantee poverty and insecurity — "perpetual recession" during employment. "depression” for the job-seekers. The elderly, those who have endured a life-time of toil, with a limited few years remaining on government handouts, are assured an income that is way below the official poverty line. As to the destitute, during an NBC TV news broadcast on December 4 we were informed that “there are more homeless on the streets than at any time since the Depression".

The working class are conned, by innuendo and incessant misrepresentation, into a tacit acceptance of a concept of common interests wherein the problems of the capitalist class and the state machine are theirs also. The suggestion is that we in the US all belong to one of the world's mightiest military and industrial powers, sharing equally in the glory; and let's all work still harder to increase the arms and wealth of the rulers. The belief that there exists a community of interests from which we all derive common benefits is mistaken. The capitalist class and the state are primarily concerned with safeguarding and improving the efficiency of a society geared for the realisation of rent, interest and profits. Those who, in order to survive, have to depend on wages should approach these problems from a completely different angle
Samuel Leight
World Socialist Party of the United States

Fifty Years After: The Crisis in the Labour Movement (1953)

Editorial from the October 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

Just fifty years ago, in 1903, the workers who, in the following year, were to found the S.P.G.B., were weighing up the claims of those who argued that the sure road to emancipation had already been found by the Trades Union Congress and its political offspring, the Labour Party (then known as the Labour Representation Committee). Their view—and a most convincing one it seemed to most workers who had begun to think about the matter—was that the separate unions would conduct the struggle for improved wages and working conditions, the TU.C. would formulate general claims for protective legislation and, along with the Labour Party, would work towards independent working class representation in Parliament. They were able to combine activities at home with the belief that war could be abolished through the international trade union and Labour movement, and their ultimate aim of a reconstruction of society had already been formulated in a resolution passed by the T.U.C. in 1903, which supported “the principle of collective ownership and control of all the means of production and distribution." That such a resolution was passed at that time was due more to the zeal of a politically active minority than to any conviction on the part of the rank and me, but the minority hoped and believed that in time acceptance of this ultimate aim would become general. They were soon congratulating themselves on their success in popularising the demand for “Socialism” when they succeeded in getting more and more workers to become enthusiastic about the prospect of a Labour Government which would introduce, along with numerous social reforms, the general nationalisation of industry.

Against this flowing tide the warning of the S.P.G.B. that the reform of capitalism, Labour administration of capitalism and the extension of State capitalism would solve no working class problem, had little chance of being heard. The S.P.G.B.'s insistence on the paramount need to build up a Socialist movement, having as its sole aim the replacement of world capitalism by a Socialist system of society was fated to be dismissed as a well-intentioned but impractical policy that would soon be forgotten as the trade union-Labour movement triumphantly advanced.

Now, at the recent Trades Union Congress and at the Conference of the Labour Party, the rights and wrongs of that controversy of fifty years ago come to mind once more. But with what a difference after this passage of time!

On a superficial view, and if the opponents of the S.P.G.B. had been correct, the T.U.C. and Labour Party should be celebrating their final victory and the inauguration of the new society they had vaguely dreamed about but never seriously examined. Their membership has grown enormously; they have achieved social reforms in great number and of a magnitude they could hardly have hoped for at the beginning; they have had years of Labour Government and have seen the transfer of large industries to State ownership. Yet, instead of self-congratulation and confident progress to new victories they find their movement split into warring factions. While one group presses for more nationalisation with the kind of arguments they used 30 or 40 years ago the majority of their political and trade union leaders warn the rank and file that such a policy has now become unrealistic and unrelated to the real needs of the present situation. The lengthy report of the T.U.C. General Council that was endorsed by the Congress urged a “go-slow” policy on nationalisation on the grounds, among others, that the hasty and ill-considered extension of nationalisation, particularly to manufacturing industries, would show a failure to appreciate the financial and trading needs of this country and would not be in the interest of the workers.

From the standpoint of those who tacitly accept the position of making the best of British capitalism in a capitalist world this is, of course, a powerful argument and it was not surprising that the Report received the approval of the capitalist Press. But this brings us back to the point we were at fifty years ago, when the S.P.G.B. foretold that the T.U.C.-Labour Party policy meant just that and could mean nothing more.

This is indeed where we came in. Half a century of further experience of capitalism, with its poverty, unemployment and wars powerfully reinforces the case consistently advocated by the Socialist opponents of reformism and State capitalism. Workers seeking their emancipation and the inauguration of a Socialist system of society should now more easily appreciate how unanswerable was and is the case of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Blatchford, Jingo & Patriot. (1909)

From the May 1909 issue of the Socialist Standard
Where He may lead I'll follow,
       My trust in Him repose,
And every hour in perfect peace
        I'll sing, He knows, He knows.
When Pope Blatchford issues his encyclical he obtains explicit obedience from his followers. No matter what fad Blatchford for the moment may patronise, he is humbly supported by Messrs. Suthers, Thompson, Dawson and Beswick. When father says turn they all turn. Blatchford is a great one. He is the Hero as prophet. Clarionettes claim that he has made more Socialists than any other living Socialist, that he has effectually smothered Christianity, and of course is the editor of a Socialist (!) weekly “possessing a larger circulation than any other Labour or Socialist newspaper." Blatchford preaches “Socialism" without having studied Marx and Engels; he teaches Determinism without having read Mill and Bain; he initiates a campaign against Germany with remarkably finite assets in the way of facts. “Since God is responsible for man's existence he is responsible for all his acts.” (Bottom Dog.) Poor God! To be held answerable for R. B.’s mental twists! Socialism learnt from Thoreau, Dickens and Emerson! Tactics learnt at the feet of Hyndman and Grayson! But our business in this article is to examine briefly Blatchford’s latest—the supposed coming German invasion.

He claims that over four years ago he drew attention to the "German Peril" and our unsatisfactory defences on the East Coast. And Hyndman, Quelch and other S.D.Peers have ever since been asserting it with a great weariness of repetition. Let us examine the quality of Blatchford’s "evidence." On one occasion after a sinister reference to miles of quays and wonderful harbours capable of holding 200 torpedo boats, he made the reader's hair stand on end by a yarn that 200,000 soldiers had practised embarking at Emden. Obviously the preliminary steps of a mighty invasion: history was to repeat itself with a great German Armada. But the Liberal Manchester Guardian took upon itself the task of abolishing this legend. It traced the story back beautifully to its source—the National Review and Toby of Punch. What had actually occurred was a single regiment practising embarkation. Four days Jater Blatchford humbly apologised, admitted that he had been duped, “had felt at the time all the difficulties," but “had confidence in his informant," and so on ad nauseam.

But what an experience for a Socialist! To see a Liberal organ with dearly a larger knowledge of the subject calmly, and with much real dignity, rebuking a popular “Socialist leader” for his commonplace jingoism. I say jingoism. Take this as typical: “In the old days, when war threatened our fathers, it was the custom to light beacon fires upon the hills. I light my fire to-day, and it shall not go out if I can keep it burning." When Blatchford, the creator of that outburst, was at Burnley a few months ago, he was raucously cheered for five minutes by six thousand Social Democrats, I.L. Peers., and the like. And this man is referred to as the actual potentate of Socialism in this England of ours. Last week's circulation—81,000. Eighty~one thousand what? Jingoes, sentimentalists, altruists, cyclists.

Blatchford speaks of “ this hour of national peril" Mark, national peril, not class peril. Anyone who was the proprietor of a universal store in Liverpool, and there was a danger of the precious pile being shelled by the German fleet, could rationally be rhetorical about national peril and beacon fires. But from the worker's point of view the capitalists who exploit “this little isle in the silver sea" are of the same calibre as the capitalists who extract surplus-value in the Fatherland. Hasn't Hyndman always been a defender of German working-class conditions against the charges of the Liberal Free Traders? The British Board of Trade, after an elaborate investigation into the condition of the German working class, concluded that it was equal to three-fourths of the English standard. And if the Germans had made an examination into English working-class conditions it is probable that they would have issued a like bulky report with the opposite as a conclusion. Why, then, this Clarion hysteria ? Surely we have evolved past the stage where it is believed that Kaiser William or Edward Rex govern their respective domains? They occupy the position so long as their respective ideas are in harmony with capitalist interests.

Then let Blatchford spout and rave and declaim. Let us not be gulled with passionate sentiment about national sentiment and defensive wars. HervĂ© has well shown that where capitalist interest are concerned it is impossible for the workers to know which country is the aggressor in case of war. Germany as a rapacious nation may be all that Blatchford makes her out to be. So the British lion is rapacious, the American eagle, the Russian bear, and all the other atavistic symbols of birds and beasts of prey. The attitude of the worker should be one of deliberate detachment from all national perils and quarrels. The ties and attachments we will defend are those created for us by economic development and the class struggle, namely: unity and solidarity among the oppressed toilers of all lands. The Hyndmans and Blatchfords must not be allowed to lead us into the arms of the workers’ common enemy, the international capitalist class. Divide and rule has ever been the oppressor's motto, and when the S.D.P. and Clarion crowd seek to set British and German workers against each other they play the oppressors’ game, and thereby become our enemies, for they are misleaders of the working class.
John A. Dawson

Letter: The Tragic comedians (1966)

Letter to the Editors from the October 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Sir,

I should like to comment on one or two points raised by your reviewer (June, Socialist Standard):—

(1) He gives the impression that I write as a Communist sympathiser. What 1 said in my Introduction was “I have approached it (the CPGB in the twenties) from the point of view of an informed British socialist of the nineteen twenties, accepting the principles of Marxism, sympathetic to the aims of the Communist Party, but aware of its shortcomings" (p. 11).

(2) Any reader who believes that 1 have made "an uncritical acceptance of the grandiloquent claims made by the Communist Party" should read the book itself (especially the sections on "the New Line" 1928-1929) or Palme Dutt’s review in the Daily Worker (7th April, 1966).

(3) Your reviewer may have been convinced by reading The Communist that the Council of Action set up in August, 1920, "had no perceptible effect on the actions and policy of the British Government," but this was not the view of the Government itself or of the whole Labour Movement. The Cabinet Minutes for 9th August. 1920, refer as follows: "In the subsequent discussion great stress was laid on the very strong public opinion against intervention in the Russo-Polish War, and during the meeting information was received to the effect that several Parliamentary Labour organisations were meeting, and it was apprehended that Labour might endeavour to prevent the intervention of Great Britain by declaring a general strike." A visit to the Public Record Office is recommended.

(4) Mr. H. by insisting that as far as I am concerned "we are all socialists" seems to imply that I see no essential differences between the Labour Party, ILP, Guilds Movement, and the Unemployed Workers’ Movement and is good enough to inform me that most of them were not really revolutionary bodies. Again space requires me to refer your readers to my book itself. It is worth mentioning that I pointed out how events led the Communists in the Unemployed Movement "to present the organisation more as a movement of social protest and less as an instrument of revolution" (p. 129). This should please your reviewer.

(5) Mr. H. complains that I do not criticise Lenin’s estimate of revolutionary prospects in 1919. If he will refer to p. 278 he will find the criticism he is looking for.

(6) While it may surprise H. that I do not refer to the internal conflicts in the Communist Party on the issue of religion, it will not surprise those who were active in or knowledgeable about the activities of the CPGB in this period. Religion was not an issue which confronted either the working class or any but a small minority of the Party’s membership.

(7) I did not refer to the establishment of the SPGB in 1904 because the history of that Party is irrelevant to my theme which was the British Communist Party. I was not unaware of the birth of the SPGB—it appeared as a footnote in my original doctoral thesis!

(8) I should be happy in future editions of my work to amend the "extraordinary statement" which offends your reviewer to read "Was it surprising that the overwhelming majority of Marxists and socialists everywhere should turn to the leaders of the revolution (of October. 1917) for inspiration and guidance."

L. J. Macfarlane, 
Ruskin College, Oxford.

P.S.—I should like to take this opportunity of thanking the SPGB for the loan of certain pamphlets while I was carrying out my researches.

The most important issue raised in Dr. Macfarlane’s attempt to answer our criticisms is his statement in paragraph (7) that the history of the SPGB "is irrelevant to my theme which was the British Communist Party."

Dr. Macfarlane claims that he accepts the broad principles of Marxism, that the Communist Party is Marxist and that he is sympathetic to the aims of the Communist Party. Those aims included the suppression of Parliament by Workers Councils, direct action, the general strike and armed uprising to get power, a spurious "dictatorship of the proletariat" and urging workers to vole for the Labour Party and other perpetuators of capitalism. If he wished to treat his theme seriously he was under obligation to justify this travesty of Marxism and meet the Marxist case against it. In the years covered by the book the one solid body of opposition to Communist Party theory was the SPGB (sufficiently successful for the Communist Party to issue a directive telling their members not to get involved in arguments with the SPGB). What Dr. Macfarlane did was to make a brief reference to “some Marxists” who pointed out that according to Marx and Engels a socialist revolution was impossible in Russia (see p. 12). Here was his opportunity to seek to justify his and the Communist Party’s claims about being Marxists, but that, of course, would have required meeting openly the SPGB case. All he did in his book to meet this case was to refer to the answer to it by the Russian Communist leaders, which was that they relied on extending the revolution to Europe, where, according to Dr. Macfarlane, "this call to arms was eagerly taken up by revolutionary Marxist groups.” Now he comes back (see his para. 5) with the statement that he thinks the Russians were wrong and that “there was no possibility of working class revolution in Britain at this time” (p. 278). All the more reason therefore why he was under obligation to meet the SPGB case as part of his theme.

In reply to (4) he did in his book (pp. 12 and 123) describe all of the organisations he names as being socialist, including the unemployed movement

In (3), dealing with the failure of the 1920 Council of Action, he offers us a couple of red herrings. The claim he made in his book (p. 24) was that the Council was “to arrange for the whole industrial power of the industrial workers to be mobilised . . . " He tells us that some members of the Cabinet took note of strong public opinion against intervention in tho Russo-Polish War. Of course large numbers of people, wearied of four years of war, hated the thought of another; but what has this to do with industrial action to stop munitions going to Poland? The second point is farcical. Some Labour MP's were giving off hot-air about calling a general strike but did not even attempt to do so! The munitions went to Poland in a flood. The Russian armies were driven back and the Russian government was forced to accept peace on terms which allowed Poland to annex great areas of Russian territory. When the Communist journal admitted in October, 1920, that “the National Council of Action has failed" they were right.

Pressure of space prevents going into other questions, but if the SPGB had been mentioned in Dr. Macfarlane’s book a number of other statements made by him would have been shown to be incorrect, only sustainable by treating the SPGB as if it did not exist.

One small point, probably not known to Dr. Macfarlane, is that a small number of members of the SPGB left and joined the Communist Party at or soon after its formation.
Editorial Committee

We wrote this fifty years ago! (1974)

From the November 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard


The election, in spite of its heat, was a sham fight, not in the sense that any of the party machines was worked at less than full pressure, but in the sense that there was no issue in dispute worth fighting about. The Conservatives said it was a fight against Socialism, but they left Socialism alone and concentrated their energies on mudslinging and appeals to the most brutal and ignorant prejudices. The Liberals had no time to spare from their task of preventing a stampede among their own sheep. They raised the dear-bread cry to hedge the right wing off from the Conservatives, and the Bolshevik bogey to hold in the Liberal left wing. The result was heavy losses in both directions. The Labour Party was only too willing to take up every trivial challenge its opponents chose to throw down, and avoid not only the question of Socialism, but also what it says are its own principles . . . Socialism itself, even if the word may have crept in now and again to satisfy the left-wingers, was not treated as practical politics.

How often are we told by ‘Socialists’ who join the Labour Party of the magnificent opportunities they will have of carrying on Socialist propaganda. Usually their ‘Socialist propaganda’ consists in helping some place-hunter into the House of Commons by defending a sickening mixture of the platitudes of degenerate Christianity and the exploded nostrums of the trashy Liberal economists of the late nineteenth century, which is all the typical Labour election address contains.

The Communists made themselves ridiculous, as usual. Communists at Deptford were delirious with joy because Bowerman, supporter of a Bill to make Communist propaganda illegal, was returned again. If they received orders from Moscow to do so they would hang themselves.

Only when the workers become Socialists will the great sham fights at the polls give place to a real political struggle between capital and the working class.

From an editorial in the SOCIALIST STANDARD, November 1924. This was the election that ended the first Labour Government in Britain.