Thursday, October 12, 2017

Why Can't We All Get Together (1947)

From the August 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ever since workers' political organisations were first formed the idea of uniting them has occupied the minds of many members. Frequent attempts have been made among political bodies in this country, but always the S.P.G.B. has stood aside on the ground that effective unity can only be on the basis of agreement on fundamental principles, that is to say agreement about the aim and about the methods. Where there is such agreement, as between the S.P.G.B. and the parties with the same aims and methods, in U.S.A., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, close and harmonious co-operation presents no difficulty. It is obvious, easy and useful.

The following item about the Easter Conference of the I.L.P. was published in the Manchester Evening News (2/4/47):—
  “When the I.L.P. meets at Ayr at Easter it will debate a proposal for close links with Common Wealth, the Socialist party of Great Britain, and the Anarchist Federation.
  “A resolution from Ipswich urges that the I.L.P. should conduct a joint campaign with these bodies on specific issues stressing workers’ ownership and control of industries and freedom of colonial peoples.”
It appears from published reports of the Conference proceedings that the decision actually made was to form some sort of joint committee between the I.L.P. and Common Wealth. Another decision was that I.L.P. members are barred from being members of the Labour Party though this is to be reconsidered.

The organisations that plead for unity, the I.L.P. and the Communists, for example, either hold that agreement is unnecessary or pretend that it exists where it does not. Sometimes the proposal is that there should be associated action on a particular issue between parties that claim to be fundamentally antagonistic.

The reasons for the distinctive attitude of the S.P.G.B. can be found in our declaration of principles. The three clauses of special relevance are the object, the clause affirming that there is an antagonism of interests between the working class and the Capitalist class, and the clause that lays down the need for the working class to organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government.

Our object is Socialism, defined as a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interests of the whole community. Our definition is not a mere insistence on a formula. We work for Socialism and oppose Capitalism—including nationalisation or State Capitalism—because only Socialism will solve the problem facing the working class. The Labour Party miscalls State Capitalism "Socialism,” as also do the Communists. The I.L.P. used to do so although at the moment it places more emphasis on the equally false proposition that State Capitalism is a useful stepping stone on the way to Socialism. When therefore the unity seeker asks why cannot the S.P.G.B. get together with others who want "Socialism” he is letting the misuse of a word deceive him. We do not want State Capitalism and therefore have no interest in associating with those who do. The fact that they call it “Socialism” only makes their activities more dangerous to the workers.

Another proposition is that while recognising differences of aim why cannot Socialists consent to be fellow-travellers with others who are “on the same road but are not going so far.” This has often been put to us by Labour Party supporters, I.L.P.ers, and, in the old days, by Liberals. One objection is that it is an essential part of Socialist propaganda to convince the workers that the advocates of “something less than Socialism” are and must be advocates of Capitalism. It is our job to demonstrate that their activities are against the interests of the workers; that they are enemies of Socialism and of the working class. How could we associate with them and at the same time expect the workers to believe us when we say that support of such organisations is useless and dangerous? Years ago when a Liberal put this proposal in debate with the S.P.G.B., our speaker, the late A. Anderson, pointed out in reply that the only gainers would be the Liberals. What they called travelling together would mean in effect only that we would be carrying the Liberals’ luggage for them.

The resolution quoted at the beginning of this article seeks a joint campaign with Common Wealth, the I.L P. and the Anarchists on specific issues stressing workers' ownership and control of industries and freedom of colonial people. The objection of the S.P.C.B. to any such joint campaign should be obvious. We do not want “workers’ ownership," which means syndicalism, but ownership by the whole community. We are utterly opposed to the support of State Capitalism given by Common Wealth. We regard the propaganda and activities of the Anarchists as useless and dangerous to the working class. Finally we have to point out to colonial workers that "freedom/' i.e., national independence, is not the solution of their problem. We want all countries to be free from Capitalism and are not in favour of encouraging the illusions fostered for interested reasons by the propertied class in colonial countries.

Point is given to our case against the Anarchists by their views and actions in the country where they are strongest, Spain. In 1936 they abandoned their claim to be opposed to political parties by joining in the movement to elect a Popular Front Government The following recent report shows a new twist:
"Madrid, March 26th.
   “The Spanish anarchist movement announced to-night that after a meeting of delegates from all parts of Spain it had decided to collaborate fully with the Monarchists for the overthrow of the Franco regime and for holding a plebiscite to decide whether Spain should be a republic or a monarchy.” — Reuter. — Manchester Guardian, March 29th, 1947).
It would seem that association with Anarchists for specific objects may lead the participants into curious company.

On the international field the S.P.G.B. has always taken the same consistent view. Having in 1904 sent two delegates to the International Socialist Congress at Amsterdam, and found that the organisation was largely made up of bodies interested in reforms but not in Socialism, the S.P.G.B. laid down as a first requirement: "That only Socialist organisations recognising the class war in theory and practice should be represented at the International Socialist Congress.” 

As this was naturally unacceptable to the reforms bodies in the International the S.P.G.B. did not see any use in seeking admission. The attempt to associate at home with bodies having conflicting aims and methods would only cause confusion and wasted effort. Equally the passing of pious resolutions at international conferences merely hides the nationalist outlook of the affiliated parties as two world wars have demonstrated. Effective unity for Socialism can only be on the basis of real agreement about the aim and the methods. Our Declaration of Principles provides such a basis and it is for the critics to show what other basis there can be for the Socialist movement.
Edgar Hardcastle

No comments: