From the March 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard
I see from No. 17 of your publication Workers' Fight that you are (and I quote) “a group of revolutionary Socialists aiming to build a party which stands firmly for the interests of the working class”. That Workers' Fight stands for ‘‘a party democratically controlled by an active working class membership and which preserves its political independence”.
You say in your Statement of Aims (Where We Stand) that:
Capitalism is a vicious system to buttress the strong against the weak . . . to keep millions in poverty so that a few may prosper . . . It is a system of massive waste and social disorganization.
Labour Parties, Social-Democratic Parties and Communist Parties have joined capitalist governments and managed capitalism . . . The Labour Party is a capitalist party.
The only way out is for the working class to take power and bring the economy under a rational working class plan . . . Having overthrown capitalism and established social ownership of the means of production the working class will build a truly communist society in which, at last, the principle will be “From each according to his ability and to each according to his needs.”
To which we say Hear! Hear! we’ll go along with most of that. The only question we would ask is: “Why have you got to form a new party for all this?” The Socialist Party of Great Britain stands for communist society. It opposes the Labour and Communist Parties, and is democratically controlled by its membership, with no leaders. What is more important, it has taken these attitudes consistently for many years, which is the guarantee that it will continue them.
You say that you:
consider all other political groups to be seriously inadequate in theory and practice. We favour unity in action with these groups and a serious dialogue about our differences.
We also are in favour of serious dialogue about the class interests of the workers, like you, and would therefore start it off with some criticism of your "serious inadequacies” (in our view, of course).
Although your statement of aims says that "the only way out” for the workers is to overthrow capitalism and establish Communism, we find a number of aims in it which are not this. For instance, you also stand for a national Minimum Wage, for Work for the Unemployed, and you defend the nationalized industries of the U.S.S.R. and "similar” countries against capitalism. You also support the struggles of oppressed peoples against Imperialism.
Even worse, in your criticism of Socialist Worker and Workers' Press (much of which is quite reasonable) you propound your own suggestions such as:
Cut rents; take the land and buildings off the big property owners; nationalise the banks, the building societies, and other money-lending institutions; nationalise the building industry.
Finally, and this is our chief disagreement and your “serious inadequacy”, you write:
We believe that the Parliamentary road to Socialism is a crippling illusion. The capitalist class will not leave the stage peacefully, no ruling class ever has. Socialism can be built only by smashing the State machinery (Army, Police, Civil Service).
In our view, what you have to understand first is that demands for nationalization of the building industry or anything else are not Socialism and do not lead to it. Bismarck was nationalizing the German railways in 1870 for war against France. The loudest advocate of the nationalization of the Bank of England was "Comrade” Lord Beaverbrook, and Lord Attlee’s government kindly obliged by doing it. The first Act to nationalize Britain’s railways was introduced by Gladstone in 1844 when still a Tory.
"Work for the Unemployed and a national Minimum Wage” are not workers’ Fight but the unfortunate workers’ Plight. Liberals and Tories have supported them for years, not to mention the "capitalist” Labour Party. What has become of “to each according to his need”? You cannot square the circle. Either you are Socialists, opposed to the reform of capitalism because reforms perpetuate the capitalist system — or you will water down your socialist objective by futile demands for reforms which most capitalists would support, like "taking the land away from the landowners”.
It’s all very well to denounce the Socialist Labour League and the International Socialists for “defining capitalism out of existence”, and accusing them of making “Socialism always a distant beacon of the future”. But as long as you advocate reforms you, like them, are reformists and will never make a revolutionary party, which has to be anti-reformist.
You have got to face the facts one way or the other. Face up to the reality of the unpopularity (momentarily) of a straight clear-cut Socialist programme, or support reforms. You cannot consistently do both. Supporting rent strikes, and demonstrating against the war in Vietnam, are not Socialist policy and do not bring Socialism a second nearer. Neither is your “active working-class participation” in the Labour Party. If you join Labour parties, you are reformists.
Finally, and this is probably the most “serious inadequacy” of all, your crass ignorance of the aim and purpose of parliament. For after all, like it or not, the logical outcome of anti-parliamentarianism is illegal rebellion or insurrection. It is not a question of what the capitalist class will or will not do, but what the workers can or cannot do. And one thing it is certain they can not do is challenge the armed force of the government outside Parliament.
In your programme you state that you are intending building a party "controlled by its membership”. You do not realize this, but you got this idea from the S.P.G.B., which has always jealously guarded its Socialist integrity by ensuring that reformists cannot enter it. This idea also belongs to the question of the method of obtaining Socialism. There is no opposition between the aim, Socialism, and the method, democracy. It is not whether capitalists will be bellicose or comatose in face of a Socialist challenge, but whether a party exists which has the infallible guarantee of Socialist knowledge in the heads of its members to control the actions of its parliamentary representatives who will be mandated delegates.
It all finally boils down to this. The working class has got to learn; when it gets the knowledge, it will do the deed. I’m sorry, Workers’ Fight, but if this is the best “fight” you can put up you would do better stopping at home in bed. You have picked up a lot of quite sound ideas but failed to see that the Socialist case is a monolithic whole. So long as you continue to peddle the dilapidated fourth-hand remnants of the discredited Leninist and Trotskyist “tactics” you are not really fundamentally different from the other Trotskyist splinter groups.
I know this can all be rather confusing but Workers' Fight was one of the earliest incarnations of what is now known as the Alliance for Workers' Liberty. The common thread through all these organisations - dating back to 1966 - is its leader, the Irish Trotskyist Sean Matgamna. By 1972/73, WF were an independent Trotskyist organisation, having just been expelled from Tony Cliff's International Socialists for persistent factionalism. At this point in Matgamma's Leninist Life, his organisation were orthodox Trotskyists but they are better known today for their - for Trotskyists - unorthodox positions in relation to the Israel/Palestine question and on the class nature of the Soviet Union.