Letters to the Editors from the September 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard
Should Socialists compromise?
To the Editor,
I believe myself to be just as revolutionary and equally Socialistic as any member of the “Socialist Party,” according to the policy laid down month by month in the “Standard.”
I am a Socialist and a member of the “Labour Party,” also, I am expecting to help to improve the lot of the worker by winning a seat on the local Town Council.
I see only one way of helping the worker, as a member of a minority group on the Council, and that would be to compromise.
How would you suggest an uncompromising Socialist would act under similar circumstances?
The answer to Mr. Quinn’s questions is simple. Either Socialists form a majority of his electors or they do not. (We have no doubt whatever that they form a very small minority.) If they formed a majority then the only way to get elected would be to stand as a Socialist, on a Socialist programme, and as a member of the Socialist Party. If Socialists are a minority then the only way to get elected would be to stand on a non-Socialist programme in order to get non-Socialist votes. Mr. Quinn is in a horrible dilemma. As he says he agrees with us, he must know that nothing but Socialism will solve the workers’ problems. But as an observer of the electorate in Grimsby Mr. Quinn also knows that if he tells them so they, not being Socialists, will vote against him. To be a non-Socialist Town Councillor, or to be a Socialist non-Town Councillor? That is the question. If Mr. Quinn succeeds in being a Town Councillor backed up by non-Socialist votes, Mr. Quinn’s ability to help the Socialist cause will be nil; he will have to pursue non-Socialist policies because otherwise his party and his electorate will turn against him. The answer to his question, what would we do under similar circumstances, i.e., if we were non-Socialist Town Councillors, is that we would not be in those circumstances. In other words, Mr. Quinn is quite mistaken when he thinks that he agrees with us and we with him. Our object is to get Socialism. Mr. Quinn wants to become a Town Councillor more than he wants Socialism. We suggested that if he wanted us to consider his policy on its merits he should send us his election address. He replies that he has not yet got an election address but “In any case I should not have done so.” We are surprised that a “Socialist” should be so reluctant to let us and our readers see the sort of bait with which he is trying to catch the non-Socialist votes of Grimsby.
May we ask readers in Grimsby if they will kindly help us to prevent Mr. Quinn from hiding his queer light under a bushel, and send us a copy of his election address?
# # # #
Have we made a mistake?
A correspondent explains why, in his opinion, we should alter our methods.
When one looks into history we find that all movements live in action. In English history we have revolutions, riots, and strikes. Now I cannot conceive capitalism lasting that length of time in which your party will have converted the majority of the working class into class-conscious Socialists.
To my mind, and many others, I feel that the mass of the people will be ultimately led to their goal, without them all being convinced of the object in view.
Assuming in your opinion that all the other (so-called) Socialist parties have been wrong in the past, then from your party’s inception, I may deem you the infallible guides to Socialism.
Now, to sum up your impregnable position, it amounts to this: “If we do nothing, then we cannot make any mistakes. I also understand your party are opposed to all other political parties. This statement admits that Socialism is only possible through your party. Now, I want to look at your party’s progress from its inception, which, I think, is roughly 20 years. I assume your membership is approximately 1,000 strong. If we compare these two factors, and then consider the conversion of the majority of 20,000,000 electorate, your methods will not suit the mentality of the unemployed. Your Socialism is a good hobby for those in the best possible employment, they have a crust; but for those who are actually feeling the pinch and want something NOW, you’ll have to begin making mistakes.
Our correspondent’s letter contains several lines of argument interwoven with each other. The first argument is that history shows the need for “action,” whereas the Socialist Party believes only in theorising. What is wanted (especially by the unemployed) is something now. If the Socialist Party gives them “action” and doesn’t mind making mistakes, then we shall get Socialism.
The second argument is that capitalism will not last long enough for the people to become Socialists before the end.
The third argument is that the Socialist Party may be a good hobby for those in comfortable jobs but not for those who feel the pinch of capitalism.
The first thing we observe about these lines of argument is that they are mutually contradictory. In addition they are not supported or supportable by the facts of the situation. The second argument is that hoary old fallacy that capitalism will some day suffer a catastrophic collapse of its own accord. It is a vain assumption; but if it were true, what happens to the demand for action, for “revolutions, riots and strikes ”? Why riot or strike to overthrow a system which of its own accord will not last?
The first argument also contains a very far-fetched assumption about the use of riots, etc. History, it is true, provides many instances of revolutions, riots and strikes. Our correspondent then says in effect, therefore these methods without any Socialist knowledge will give us Socialism. But why? What makes him think that while the innumerable revolutions, riots, and strikes of the past have not given us Socialism, that they will do so in the future? He gives not a single reason in support of this extraordinary deduction.
Then we are told to go in for “action” like the “something now” parties. But the very fact that our correspondent tells us that it is necessary to do this is the best possible proof that it is a futile policy. Have we not had in office the largest and most successful of all the “something now” parties—the Labour Party. If that policy is the right policy what is our correspondent complaining about? If we are wrong and they are right, why does he come to us to extricate him from the mess into which the “something now” parties have landed him? What does he want us to do? (By curious coincidence the Labour Government have only recently pushed through their Bill which will take away unemployment pay from thousands of the unemployed.)
The assumption that the Socialist Party attaches no importance to action is grotesque. What we want is sound action, the action of Socialists who want Socialism. Of course we reject the unsound action of the “something now” parties. What else should we do? Would our correspondent have us participate in their actions, such as supporting the war, voting war credits, recruiting, carrying out armament programmes, voting for capitalist candidates, protecting the capitalist system, and—most important of all—preaching the false doctrine that the workers’ problems can be solved by the “something now” policy of reforming capitalism? If that is what he wants us to do will he give us reasons, showing how these actions are in the interest of the workers?
Our slow progress is merely a reflection of the success of the propaganda efforts of the capitalist parties, including the parties of capitalist reform. But not even their most skilful propaganda will serve permanently to cover up the woefully inadequate results of their “something now” actions. Even our correspondent who professes still to hold to that policy shows by his letter that he is dissatisfied with the results of it.
The third of our correspondent’s arguments is the weakest of all. Probably a third or more of our members are out-of-work now. Hardly any of them are so placed that they have not known unemployment or the threat of it. The three members of the Editorial Committee have all been out-of-work for lengthy periods. One was out for an unbroken stretch of twelve months. One is out-of-work now—and has been off and on for a year.
None of us, and none of the members of the Socialist Party, proposes to give up our action directed towards the attainment of Socialism, in order to perpetuate the endless, useless and dangerous mistakes of the ‘‘something now” parties. In due course the workers, disappointed with that policy, will join us and make Socialism a reality. We are optimistic enough to believe that we shall rope in our correspondent some day.