Sunday, June 23, 2024

More election reflections (1950)

From the June 1950 issue of the Socialist Standard

In February the workers of Britain voted. Whether Labour, Conservative, Liberal or Communist, by and large they all voted for the continuance of Capitalism. Whether they know it or not—and for the most part they do not—they once again acquiesced in the continuance of the system which condemns them to servitude for life in the interests of the beneficiaries of that system, the capitalist class. Wittingly or otherwise, the toiling millions gave their masters another vote of confidence.

The issue, of course, was never in doubt—that is, to the Socialist. It was never in doubt for the simple reason that, generally speaking, from Land's End to John O’Groats there was, in that General Election, no possible alternative to capitalist exploitation for which the worker could vote. This lack of alternative to the capitalist candidates (avowed or disguised) was itself a reflection and measure, judged by socialist standards, of the workers’ political immaturity.

Transport House (and King St) “Reds” would doubtless find this very difficult to swallow. To so-called “Socialists” and “Communists,” the limit of whose political horizon is Nationalisation, who dupe the workers with this obnoxious form of Capitalism by calling it Socialism, who dupe themselves by thinking State Capitalism can operate in the interests of the workers—to these fake “ Socialists ” the political maturity of the working class is not an important factor. It just doesn’t arise as the crux of the matter because, for these pseudo-socialists, the working class cannot be its own agent of emancipation.

These self-proclaimed “progressives,” “leading elements” and “vanguard” of the working class, these “down-to-earth, bread-and-butter ” merchants and pedlars of “working class politics” actually separate themselves from the workers, representing themselves as the agents of working class emancipation—being, no doubt, naturally or supernaturally endowed to administer just that right percentage of Nationalisation which shall deliver the workers from their chains.

You support us” was the burden of the candidates’ appeals, “and we will give you . . .” And what they would give “you” differed according to how much they considered themselves “Right” or “Left” —in fact, they differed as much as this:

The Tories, Liberals and other avowedly capitalist agents would give us No More Nationalisation (unless absolutely necessary, of course, for the smooth running of Capitalism); on the other hand the Labourites, the Communists, some independent “Socialists” and other cross-breeds promised us More Nationalisation, varying among themselves only as to the size of the dose.

So under the Tories “we” would have what amount of Nationalisation we’ve already got. That, at least, is some. Under Labour we would have more. The Communists would have given us the fatal dose. We could take our pick: Some, More or Most —the positive, comparative and superlative of Nationalised Capitalism!

Thus the workers went to the polls not even to make the momentous choice between (true) Blue Capitalism and Red (State) Capitalism i.e., between private monopoly and state monopoly, but merely to decide their favourite combination of the two—their favourite shade of purple!

This farce was played out only because of working class ignorance of the real causes of present social problems. It will be played out again and again for as long as the workers look to others to do their political thinking for them. Socialists know this as surely as they know the world is round; and, just as surely, they know the simple facts which, when the workers of the world once get on the track of them and decide to become their own political agents will enable those workers to act consciously together for the complete overthrow of all class exploitation, oppression and privilege.

They will uproot the private property institution from the very foundations of society and the whole rotten superstructure will fall and crumble to dust.

They will perform this self-liberating act knowing full well that it is the key to their own emancipation and that of all mankind. Having painfully and slowly won their way through many grinding years of mistakes and errors to full political maturity, having exhausted all other apparent means of solving their problems and found themselves betrayed time and again by capitalist reforms which still left them in the same old position, they will at last begin to challenge the very basis of the system itself. They will be brought face to face with the very fact of class exploitation itself.

They will know that this fact, and all its attendant social evils, rests upon one foundation: the private ownership by the capitalist class—either directly or through the medium of state control—of all the means of producing and distributing the man-made things required to live.

They will know that the complete abolition of this foundation means at the same time the abolition of the whole capitalist fabric to which it gives rise. Everything specifically capitalist goes—lock, stock and barrel.

They will know that it means the end of poverty and riches, of economic classes, the end of exploitation of man by man for good and all; they will know it will put an end to the State, and therefore, of state “ownership” and control; that it will end profits and selling and the wages system; that capital and money, banking and buying will be no more; that unemployment and employers and employees and, yes. “employment” will no longer exist; that racialism, nationalism, wars, treaties, alliances and power-politics and armies will become nightmares of the past; that morality based on private property will disappear, as likewise, will its necessary concomitants immorality and crime, prostitu-tion, etc., they-will know that all these things (and many more besides) will be swept away for ever.

In short, they will understand that the whole complicated, neurotic and burdensome pattern of capitalist life will give way to a freer mode of living based on the democratic control and ownership of the means of life by all humanity.

Only the workers have a primary and vital interest in acquiring this knowledge. And because of this vital interest no impediment will prevent them eventually from learning the facts.

Knowledge confers power. Once the workers, the vast majority of society, are in possession of this knowledge they will organise and constitute the most powerful political combination in human history. Against this mighty host of determined workers, understanding their position and knowing full well what is at stake, thinking and acting for themselves and electing their own agents—against this organisation no combination of charlatans, pseudo-socialists, agents and hirelings of capitalism can prevail.

Capitalism will be brought to its end because the overwhelming majority of mankind will have decided, irrevocably and finally, that it shall go. The huge decrepit structure will be brought crashing to the ground.

When the social air is clear again and the mortar and muck of centuries of exploitation have been swept away, the recent General Election will have faded into the limbo of forgotten things.

For the workers it will then be their own triumph not, as now, that of spurious agents. The day of self-deliverance may be far away; we do not know. But this we do know: Nothing is eternal—not even Capitalism.

Until the workers think and act for themselves there is no permanent solution to the problem of Capitalism. To rephrase an old text (often used, in its original form, to dope working people) “ No Salvation without the Workers—No deliverance without Self-Deliverance.” There is no other way.

Hydrogen bombs and capitalist propaganda notwithstanding, so long as there be human beings, that day will surely come.
H. W. S. Bee.

1 comment:

Imposs1904 said...

"Transport House (and King St) “Reds” . . . " is a reference to the party headquarters of the Labour Party and the CPGB.

With regards to the article itself, and more importantly its author, here's the conundrum.

According to Robert Barltrop in his book, The Monument, 'H. W. S. Bee' was a pen-name for Harold Walsby. Walsby had been an SPGB member from the 1930s who, over the course of time, had reached the conclusion that the vast majority of the working class could not achieve socialist consciousness. What was needed was a group who could guide the masses - sound familiar? I'm paraphrasing, and no doubt there is a much more sophisticated version of what they were setting out to achieve.

Anyway, according to Barltrop, by 1950 Walsby and his group, the Social Science Association, were conducting what can only be described as entryism within the SPGB in order to push its contrary line. To quote from the Monument:

". . . Walsby had been successful in attracting several members from the Party, and for a few years he led a strange, obsessive guerrilla warfare against it. At intervals he produced pamphlets with titles like SPGB — Utopian or Scientific ?; and in 1950 he joined the Party’s postal branch and wrote articles for the Standard under the name ‘H. W. S. Bee’. As the controversies began, he made known that he would place members of his little organization in the Party to disrupt from within while he sniped from outside. There were perhaps four or five whose connection with Walsby was known, but proof was never possible because the SSA had no formal membership; a member of the Party, however suspect, could no more be charged with mere associations than he could with dangerous thoughts. Without doubt, the little group added fuel to the fires burning in the Party. Dissidents were egged-on, fresh avenues of discontent were opened, and everything done that was possible to weaken the members’ morale."

So, in light of what Barltrop wrote above, it casts a whole different light on where Walsby - writing as 'H. W. S. Bee' - was coming from when he wrote this article. Is it too cynical to suggest that Walsby was playing a game along the lines of: 'Look at me, I can still put forward the Party case despite the fact that I no longer subscribe to its core politics'.

All rather condescending. An 'intellectual' playing a political parlour game that I don't have much time for . . . but I would say that, of course.