September 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard
We have been asked to comment on a statement about the S.P.G.B. which appeared in the Paddington Socialist Pioneer (August 5th, 1932), published by the Paddington branch of the I.L.P.
The statement in the Pioneer is reproduced below: —
WAS MARX WRONG?Workers who are confused by the three Revolutionary Workers’ Parties now in existence, all claiming their support, would do well to examine that educative monthly Socialist Standard. In the July issue there is an article on the “ Socialist attitude to reforms ” and (as the Socialist Party of Great Britain says that any Party which advocates the defence of the workers’ standard of living, and the demanding of something within the capitalist system as reforms and, therefore, wrong) is of some importance.
We are told that Marx and Engels were prepared on occasions to compromise in order to secure agreement by which they thought would help the Socialist movement. Also that they never ceased to clarify views and change them whenever experience showed the need for change. The I.L.P. is in agreement with this and we suggest to the Comrades in the Socialist Party of Great Britain that the time has come for them to use a little more judgment and join hands with those who are getting on with the job of bringing about a Socialist Britain in our time and not in a thousand years hence. The need is too great and we cannot afford to waste time splitting hairs.
The writer of the above paragraph has misunderstood the attitude of the S.P.G.B. towards reforms and also the reference to Marx. The S.P.G.B. does not condemn the workers' attempts to defend their standard of living. On the contrary, we unreservedly support the intelligent use of Trade Union organisation and strike action to defend or improve standards of living (without, however, supporting the Communist perversion of this policy, which consists of advocating strikes on all occasions, irrespective of whether the time and circumstances are well chosen).
What we wholly condemn is “reformism," that is, the Labour Party-Communist-I.L.P. policy of building up a political party on a programme of reforms, and gaining seats in Parliament on such a programme. We say that the only party which can be of service to the Socialist movement is a party built up on the principles of Socialism and nothing else, a party composed only of Socialists.
It is correct that we said (see Socialist Standard, July, 1932) that Marx and Engels “were prepared on occasion to compromise in order to secure agreement which they thought would help on the Socialist movement." But we did not say that because Marx and Engels did this, that, therefore, it must be a sound policy. On the contrary, we pointed out in that article that subsequent events proved Marx and Engels to be completely wrong when they thought that a programme of immediate demands could be used as a means of building up a party for Socialism. Events have shown that every party which used that method has come to grief.
We pointed out also that Marx and Engels never ceased to clarify and change their views whenever experience showed the need for change. We fail to see, however, how this can be held to support a proposal that the S.P.G.B. should join hands with the I.L.P. and Communist Party. The writer of the paragraph in the I.L.P. paper forgets that the S.P.G.B. was itself the outcome of years of close study of the works and experience of Marx and Engels and other Socialist pioneers, and of years of personal experience of working class organisations. Profiting from that knowledge and experience, the founders of the S.P.G.B. drafted a Declaration of Principles, which has proved itself unassailable because it was, and is, in accord with the fundamental needs of the working class under capitalism.
The I.L.P. did not profit by that knowledge and experience, but chose the road of reformism. For nearly forty years the I.L.P. has led the workers up every conceivable blind alley, and has taught them every conceivable economic and political fallacy. Perhaps the Paddington I.L.P. will claim that this time they really have turned over a new leaf. We can see no evidence whatever that the new I.L.P. is different from the old one, except that it is chastened by the loss of the 200 seats in Parliament which its members held up to 1931. It has abandoned one error temporarily, the alliance with the Labour Party, only to take up a more or less new one which is even more dangerous, the doctrine of direct action by so-called “Workers' Councils."
If this departure gains support among the workers it will mean a useless bloody sacrifice, and one more crime against the working class to be added to the long list for which the I.L.P. is responsible.