Thursday, January 25, 2018

Misrepresentations of Socialism (1941)

Editorial from the August 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is impossible to exaggerate the harm done to the Socialist Movement by those who, calling themselves Socialists, have taught the workers to believe that State capitalism and social reform are Socialism. Millions of workers all over the world have, through this misdirection, been led to support some form of capitalism, trusting that it would solve their problems. The result was that the way was paved for Hitlers and Mussolinis and other supporters of capitalism to reach their goal. The S.P.G.B. has always been careful to define what Socialism means. Nobody who grasped that definition ever made the error of supposing that State enterprise like the Post Office or public utility corporations like the London Passenger Transport Board had anything to do with Socialism. Nor did they imagine, even for a moment, that Hitler and Mussolini were Socialists or that Socialism could result from the Bolshevist dictatorship in Russia or from a Labour Government in Britain or Australia. But our critics who ridiculed what they called the “doctrinaire” S.P.G.B. all fell into these errors, with disastrous results.

A few recent illustrations will show how deeply those critics have fallen into the mire. In the Readers' Digest (July, 1941) the American writer, Mr. Max Eastman, who used to called himself a Socialist and was an admirer of Labourism and of the Bolsheviks, now dismisses Socialism because, he says, it ignores human nature. In the course of his argument he lumps together Socialism, Syndicalism, Bolshevism, “Guild Socialism,” and Anarchism, and by showing what has happened to the Bolshevist experiment is able to prove that Socialism is impossible. It will be useful to consider Mr. Eastman’s argument more fully in a later issue. At the moment it is sufficient to point out as evidence of his shallow thinking his remark on the Russo-German Pact of 1939 (his article was written before the Nazis invaded Russia): —
   “The Stalin-Hitler pact was not merely a new manoeuvre on the chessboard of nations. it was a drawing together of two halves of the same thing."
Thus is a superficial observer confounded by a hard fact, the Russo-German war!

Mr. Eastman mentions "Guild Socialism” as one of the forms of Socialism. He would no doubt be surprised to learn that when the so-called “Guild-Socialist” Movement was at its height twenty odd years ago it was analysed and denounced [in] the The Socialist Standard and given its proper name, “Guild-Capitalism.” We were right, and it is only necessary to recall that numbers of its advocates, bemused with their own muddled propaganda, recognised their own notions in Mussolini’s and Hitler’s corporate State, and were in greater or less degree taken in by these movements. In the January, 1941, issue of Plebs, Mr. W. T. Colyer quotes from the preface to Otto Strasser’sGermany Tomorrow,” the following passage, written by those erstwhile “Guildists” and supporters of Bolshevism, Eden and Cedar Paul: —
   “Both brothers were Nazis at a time when the National Socialists were really Socialists as well as Nationalists, and they remained Socialists after Hitler had dropped this part of his creed.”
(Otto Strasser leads, from abroad, a dissident group of Nazis who quarrelled with Hitler. His brother, Gregor, was murdered by Hitler.)

Of course the Nazis were never Socialists or interested in Socialism; but how should the Pauls know this? Had they not for years been preaching various capitalist doctrines in the belief that they were Socialist?

It is forgotten now, but the I.L.P. was likewise deceived by Mussolini, though not so deeply, and its recovery was rapid. Not long after Mussolini obtained power in Italy the New Leader, (November 10th, 1922) published an article, “Fascism and Labour,” by an “Italian correspondent” (he later became a whole-hearted Fascist). In the article the writer, while regretting the destruction by Mussolini of Italian workers’ organisations and murder of workers, urged co-operation with Mussolini in furtherance of the “ new social order.” A typical passage was: —
   “The Fascist victory is a set-back to Socialism, regarded as a party movement and an economic doctrine. . . But Socialism is broader than a party; it is rooted in Labour as a whole, and Fascism desires to-respect the social aspirations of Labour. In the interests of Labour, therefore, we must cease from carping, and make the most of the situation.”
What is significant is that the New Leader, organ of the I.L.P., not only published this article (describing it as “illuminating”), but was unable to decide its own attitude and took refuge in the view that it was too early to decide: —
“Only events can test our correspondent’s optimistic reading of its (Fascism’s) new spirit.’’
What events did prove, in addition to showing the absurdity of the New Leader's wait and see policy, was that the S.P.G.B.’s insistence on the need for clear ideas about Socialism and for the rejection of all spurious imitations was abundantly justified.