George Walford: Is It a Working Class Party? We Make Progress

It was in about 1938 that Harold Walsby began to explain to the (anarcho-) Socialist Party of Great Britain the reasons for their eighty years of unbroken failure; there have been periods since then when they were left more or less alone, but pressure has never been completely removed from them, and sometimes a little result begins to appear. We have mentioned above that one branch of the party has been brought to laugh at its own case, and now a branch has been brought to recognise a weakness in the party’s presentation of its case.

On Thursday 11 April we visited a branch and asked for two or three minutes to raise an issue concerning the party case, which they courteously granted. We put the following problem:

The party says exploitation is an essential feature of capitalism, and it says the capitalist class do the exploiting. But it also says, repeatedly, that it is overwhelmingly the working class that performs all tasks necessary for capitalism to function. For example: “The working class run society from top to bottom” (Socialist Standard, August 1984). If these statements are valid then it must be the working class that does the exploiting.

In reply one of the recognised party speakers spoke for the branch, and none of the seventeen members present expressed disagreement with what he said. His reply was that statements in party literature saying the capitalists perform no significant function are inaccurate; this class does the exploiting, and this is a highly significant function within capitalism.

We were addressing the branch on sufferance and did not take up more of their time pointing out the significance of this reply, but we can do so here.

Exploitation is no triviality; on the party’s own showing it is a central feature of capitalism. If the party’s statements about this have been inaccurate then it is not surprising that the working class, being sensible people, have stayed away from it in their millions. But the correction of this “inaccuracy” would mean more than changing a statement here and there in party literature; it would affect one of the party’s main arguments, the claim that there is a sharp distinction between the two classes. Principle No. 2 speaks of an “antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce, and those who produce but do not possess.”

So long as it was held that the capitalist class performs no necessary function, this could be maintained. But once it is admitted that they do perform a function without which capitalist production cannot take place, then it follows that they are playing a part in production, and the alleged “antagonism” is seen to be an illusion.

from Ideological Commentary 18, June 1985.