The above title was the subject of a meeting at our lecture room at 52 Clapham High Street, earlier this year. What follows, is the writing up of the notes for the meeting.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed on June 12th 1904 by a group of one hundred and twenty members of the working class, some of whom had been expelled and others who had broken away from the Social Democratic Federation. The SDF (founded in 1881) had turned its back on the class struggle and revolution, and had openly opted for reformism, compromise and political dealing. They were wedded to the canker of leadership and determined on the policy of “broadening the base” and widening the appeal. This meant going in for alliances with parties and leaders they formerly denounced to attract the support of greater numbers of people who had no interest in nor understanding of Socialism. To gain some temporary advantage, support was given to candidates of the Liberal Party and the Independent Labour Party. The latter organization had itself been formed as a break-away from the SDF in 1893.
To remain inside the SDF and function as Socialists, had become impossible. Our founder members were determined to stop the rot and halt the drift into reformism and compromise. Either Socialism would be submerged and lost in the countless day-to-day issues of opportunist politics, or a new organization had to be formed. An organization, which CONSCIOUSLY and DELIBERATELY took an exclusively REVOLUTIONARY stand. An organization, whose members were acutely aware of all the pitfalls of playing politics, and who resolutely and purposefully set out NOT to engage in capitalist politics, NOT to seek power within the framework of existing society, NOT to build up a blind mass membership on “popular” demands. The pitfalls were now obvious. The lessons had been learned. They had just come through the experiences that showed the way to disaster. All the “left-wingers” who today still urge us to "work inside the Labour Party” are seventy-two years behind the times.
Pitfall number one: The idea that a politically ignorant working class could be dragged behind the train of a revolutionary leadership or elite. First gain power on a broad programme, then bring in Socialism by easy stages. Pitfall number two: The idea that some momentary advantage could be gained by posing as the workers’ champions on some reform demand, the enactment of which left capitalism intact. Pitfall number three: The idea that joining forces with capitalist parties, particularly at election times, could serve some purpose for a party claiming to be out for Socialism. Pitfall number four: The idea that all the ills of capitalism could be eradicated one at a time by piecemeal reforms, Socialism via the day-to-day struggle or, many roads to the same objective.
The new party had to frame itself in such a way that it pursued only the objective of Socialism At its formation a Declaration of Principles and an Object were drawn up and agreed upon as the basis for membership. Those Principles had to safeguard against repeating the mistakes of earlier organizations. It was essential that they be broad enough to include all who are Socialists and yet, narrow enough to exclude all who are not.
The first Principle defines the class basis of capitalism as centring upon the ownership of the means of production and distribution with the enslavement of the working class as its consequence. There follows the antagonism of interests between the capitalist class (owners) and the working class (non- owners). There is no room here for political trading. The antagonism integral to capitalism can be ended only by making the means of production and distribution the common property of society and democratically controlled by the whole people.
The Principles make clear the nature of political power and point out that the state is the machinery for the rule of one class over the other, to preserve for the capitalists the wealth they take from the workers.
Political parties exist only as expressions of class interests. Our Principles demonstrate with irresistible logic that although a variety of parties may represent the sectional interests of the capitalist class, only one party can seek working-class emancipation. The workers’ party must be hostile to every other party. Because the interests of the working-class is diametrically opposed to all sections of the exploiting class. This is the concept of NO COMPROMISE crystallized in a political principle. Every party whose programme and policies leave the working class as wage slaves (employees) is perpetuating capitalism and exploitation and is therefore, necessarily anti-working-class.
With the definition of Socialism as its object and in clause three of its Principles, the circle was completed. The new party was unique, fundamentalist, revolutionary. The analysis of history, the way of looking at society from which the Object and the Declaration of Principles are derived bear the indelible imprint of Karl Marx. The dynamic nature of the class struggle as the force for change in history. The understanding of the State as a class instrument. The need for the workers to capture political power. The outcome of history’s final class struggle being classless society. The abolition of private-property relationships, including the wages system. This is Marxism. This is the meaning of revolution. All leadership is rejected and the vital pre-condition of working-class understanding is stressed as the key to changing society.
The policy of NO COMPROMISE is not a piece of isolationist dogma, nor a fanatic’s defiance hurled at the rest of society “we are right and you are all wrong”. It is a simple recognition that between reformism and revolution, there is no meeting point. The politics of those who seek only the retention and modification of capitalism are incompatible with the quest to get rid of it.
It is not by what we say about ourselves or our own appraisal of our ideas, that we are to be judged. In the passage of time since 1904, the SPGB with its Object and Principles, has been subject to a series of acid tests. We have applied our Principles, our analysis of history and society, to every major issue and social problem. We have examined the cause of war and found no working-class interest involved. This while our opponents including erstwhile pacifists of the “left” were lining up to support one side or the other. We have examined the industrial struggle and the claim that this was the real path to class emancipation, and seen only an integral part of capitalism at work. While we have always urged workers to as much as they can of the wealth they produce under capitalism, we have seen nothing to distract us from the conscious political struggle to end the wage system. The industrial struggle is a self-perpetuating cycle of disputation about the degree of exploitation.
Then, we have looked at Russia and China during their periods of upheaval, and whilst others rushed to proclaim examples of Socialism, we saw the development of the wages system and knew that capitalism was emerging.
We applied our Socialist Principles in our analysis of the Labour Party and their nationalization schemes, we saw no solutions forthcoming to any major social problems, only the perpetuation of the system that produces the problems.
But there is also another judgment to be made. If, over all the years since 1904, our opponents had been right, then by legislating reforms they would have banished poverty, ended unemployment and taxed the rich out of existence. If they were right there would be no housing problem now and no old people existing in misery. Nobody in the world would be starving while food is destroyed, and there would be no weapons of mass extermination, because according to them going to war would mean no more war. If, in any sphere our opponents had succeeded the SPGB would have become a political irrelevance and no doubt long since disappeared. History (and living experience) shows our opponents are not only irrelevant but politically moribund. By their own criteria they have failed and are overdue for the scrap heap.
In the final analysis, this is what it is all about, what is has always been about. Not some “above-the-fray” commitment to academic principles, but the removal of social problems. It has been about the question of which way works, revolution or reform. We welcome this opportunity to reaffirm the stand we took from the start. Socialism means revolution — no compromise.