Letter to the Editors from the October 1933 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Editor, Tottenham.
Being a regular reader of the Socialist Standard I observe the continual change of its policy towards Marxian Socialism and can only come to one conclusion, that there is a mental mix-up of those who form the Editorial Committee of the Party. To state a definite case for Socialism in previous Socialist Standards and then to contradict it in a following issue certainly needs an explanation, for to continue such tactics is certainly not in the interests of the working class.
Having made my charge I will now proceed to substantiate it. Firstly, in the Socialist Standard, March, 1925, page 297, after criticising the Minority Movement and condemning its reformist policy, it states: “To appeal, therefore, to Capitalists and their Labour agents to pass certain legislation, is to support the present system and those who rule it.” This is the policy that Marx always advocated, and never did he modify his views in favour of accepting capitalist reforms. This cannot be said for the S.P.G.B., who—as I will prove—now show a complete disregard for Marx on this point.
For in the Socialist Standard, April, 1926, page 122, there appears the following: “The Socialist Party is out to obtain all that can be obtained for the workers under capitalism.” Thus we see that after criticising both Communist and Labour Parties for advocating and accepting capitalist reforms, the S.P.G.B. are doing exactly the same thing. I wonder what Marx would have said and whether he would recognise the S.P.G.B. as a genuine Socialist movement?
I could continue giving examples of the inconsistency of this party from more recent issues of the Socialist Standard, but I consider that the above facts are quite sufficient to warrant a justification for the S.P.G.B.’s criticism of other political parties, if such is possible.
Finally. I shall look forward to a reply in the Socialist Standard.
Our correspondent describes himself as a “regular reader," but his letter could not have been written if he had read the two articles with reasonable care. Had he done so he would have seen that there is no contradiction whatever. The two articles express exactly the same viewpoint. This can easily be made clear by giving some further quotations.
The first article (March, 1925) dealt with the fallacies underlying the so-called Minority Movement. The article pointed out that a minority is in the hopeless position that if it demands something which the capitalist ruling class do not wish to give, then its demands are ignored and the minority is helpless to enforce them. This would apply to a demand for Socialism made by a minority. Consequently, minorities which wish to appear effective (the Minority Movement, for example), put forward programmes which the capitalists may be willing to agree to and able to agree to without injury to capitalism. In other words a majority movement can enforce its demands, while a minority movement can only appeal to the Capitalist Government to do something.
The article runs as follows: —
The fact that they call themselves a Minority Movement damns them from the start, for, on the economic field, numbers count when a contest is on for obtaining some advance. Not minorities, but majorities, are then required, and a minority left to fight for some demand is doomed. The mass of the workers must be united in support of a national advance before we can expect them to obtain it.
After criticising the specific demands put forward by the Minority Movement, the article continues:—
The political proposals of this movement could only be carried out if those in control of Government passed the demands into law. To appeal, therefore, to capitalists and their Labour agents to pass certain legislation is to support the present system and those who rule it. It is to ask the workers to prolong capitalism by voting for those politicians who have a programme of properly selected reforms.
The other article referred to by our correspondent (April, 1926) puts forward precisely the same argument. Our correspondent by quoting three lines and ignoring what goes before and after discovers an entirely imaginary difference.
This is the whole relevant passage:—
It is characteristic of the Communist and “Minority Movers” that in one breath they avow their contempt for Parliamentary procedure, and, in the next, call upon the workers to send in petitions to the House of Commons.
The Socialist Party is out to obtain all that can be obtained for the workers under capitalism. We know sufficient of capitalism, however, to realise that the only way to obtain the smallest advantage is to oppose the enemy, both on the economic and political fields.
It will be seen that the two articles are identical in condemning the policy of petitioning or appealing to the capitalists, and identical in urging the very opposite policy of coming out in complete opposition to the capitalists.
So much for the the first of our correspondent’s mare’s nests. We await the others he promises.
Before concluding, we cannot pass over the inaccurate and illogical references to Marx.
Our correspondent quotes the passage beginning, “To appeal therefore to capitalists . . . .” and says (quite correctly), “This is the policy that Marx always advocated,” i.e., the policy of opposing the capitalists instead of appealing to them.
Then our correspondent concludes his reference to Marx with the words, “Never did he modify his views in favour of accepting capitalist reforms.” Now the first statement about Marx is correct. The second is false. Our correspondent, however, seeks to convey the impression that the two statements are really identical, which they are not. What he has done is to use the word “appeal” in the first, only to replace it by “accept” in the second.
So far from telling the workers to refuse to accept reforms (how they could do so our correspondent does not explain), Marx welcomed such reforms as the shorter working day and valued them highly (probably more highly than they deserved). But he never advocated the useless policy of appealing to the capitalists for such reforms.