At the Islington Branch meeting on Thursday 11 January Phil Kelly, Editor of Tribune, debated with the Party (in the person of Ralph Critchfield) the question: After Thatcher, What?
The evening would perhaps be best described as a missing of minds, for they certainly didn’t meet. Mr. Kelly, as a member of the Labour Party and of Camden Borough Council, is engaged with the concrete problems of running society, while the (Anarcho-) Socialist Party prides itself on taking no part in this, confining its efforts to argument or, as the members like to call it: “putting the Party case.”
In the operations of an immensely complex world-wide society many things inescapably go wrong, sometimes with terrible consequences, and part of the discussion at this meeting turned on the question whether Mr. Kelly, as a member of a party taking part in government and the editor of one of its journals, carried a share of responsibility for the disasters. He said not. His argument was hard to follow, but he seemed to be holding that, since the Labour Party leaves its members free to think and act as they wish, when some of them carry the party in one direction they alone are responsible. This claim hardly seems viable, since the Labour Party presents itself to the electorate as a unit and claims credit as a unit for any successes it may achieve. A stronger argument would have been to accept responsibility for the disasters while claiming credit for the successes, which greatly outweigh them, but Mr. Kelly was barred from this by his and Tribune‘s stance as moderate opponents of the existing system.
Mr. Kelly concentrated on explaining what Tribune and the Labour Party were trying to achieve, and this offered the (anarcho-) socialists a target they could hardly miss; they had only to point to the extent by which these efforts have fallen short, ignoring what has been accompliithed. They themselves remain almost invulnerable; their party having contributed only argument to the operation of society they cannot be accused of anything more than false argument, they can hit the people engaged in constructive work without being hit back. The members made full use of this liberty, every participant in discussion, except only IC, attacking Mr. Kelly. Not one of them showed awareness that he and his party have done much to provide the supplies, equipment, security, freedom and facilities which make their own activities possible.
An adherent of an ideology that does not value victory in argument above all else, a Councillor struggling with problems of hunger and homelessness, Mr. Kelly had little interest in fighting back by exposing the truisms, self-contradictions and blatant absurdities that make up what the Party likes to call its “case.” IC stepped into the gap, pointing out that once again these “scientific” supporters of
(anarcho-) socialism had failed to give any reason for their belief in its virtues. They show that it would be different from capitalism, but different does not have to mean better; it may equally well mean worse. (Anarcho-) socialism would have its own problems, and since this system has never existed the Party has no way of knowing that these would not be bigger and more numerous than those of capitalism.
One (anarcho-) socialist charged Mr. Kelly with being a politician, not perceiving that the accusation lies equally well against the writers and speakers of his own party. They claim to be working on behalf of an organisation which seeks political power (in order to establish [anarcho-] socialism), and by their own definition this makes them politicians. Amateur and unsuccessful, but none the less politicians.
Another Party member asked whether Mr. Kelly would allow them a half-page in Tribune and he undertook to do so. IC has written to the Socialist Standard asking for the same courtesy, and their response will go far to tell us whether the Socialist Standard and the (A-) SPGB are as democratic, and as much in favour of free speech, as Tribune and the Labour Party. (IC has long had a standing commitment to print a statement by the Party).
As IC goes to press, some six weeks after that letter was sent, no reply has arrived.
The Committee responsible for producing this journal have told us that “the organisation of the means of production and the actual physical manipulation of the means of production are carried out by members of the working class.’ (Their letter of 8 November 89 printed in IC43).
So to which class belongs the hand turning the crank on that mincer?
from Ideological Commentary 44, March 1990.