George Walford: The (Anarcho-) Socialist Party (46)

This party (with its companion parties) claims to be the only socialist, Marxist, revolutionary movement. It declares that socialism cannot be established until an overwhelming majority has accepted its case, but since it was founded in 1904 its membership has failed even to keep up with the increase in the world population. It stands farther from its majority now than when it started.

Reluctant to accept these indications that socialism cannot reasonably be expected, IC examines the Party case and finds it seriously defective. Also, the stateless society proposed is closer to anarchy than to anything normally called socialism.

The Party claims that those rejecting the case have failed to understand it, but there are good reasons for rejection; to accept it is to show a failure of understanding.

IC undertakes to print any statement of up to 1,000 words carrying the approval of this party or one of its branches, and will probably print a longer one, provided it consists of argument and evidence rather than rhetoric. (IC goes to all branches of the Party listed in the Socialist Standard).

Which well-known thinker, accepted by the Party as a socialist, uses the word “socialism” in six different senses, none of them agreeing with the definition the Party holds to be the only valid one? A year’s subscription to IC for the first correct solution opened. (Envelopes addressed to “<a href=”″><em>IC</em></a>  Competition” will not be opened before 14 July).

1) Prominent among the Party’s themes stands the assertion that they do not belong to the left wing. For them there is no significant difference between left and right; only the (A-) SPGB stands opposed to the present system of society.

Superficially, socialism is a movement of the Left, but this is not strictly so, since it implies being part of the political spectrum. Socialists reject this, asserting that there is more in common between Right and Left political parties (including the struggle for power) than between even extreme Left political groups and the socialists.

2) Another principal theme is that mere belief in the case will not do. People who would be “socialists” must understand what they profess:

The socialist movement cannot content itself with making believers; it must above all aim to convince, that its converts may know what they believe, that the arguments with which they have been furnished may have struck home, that they may have weighed, discussed and considered the value of these for themselves…

The passages in italics put these points clearly; they are straightforward statements of these parts of the Party case. But they come from the Anarchist fortnightly, Freedom, the first from the issue of 10 March, the second from that of 19 May, and where “socialist(ism)” appears above the original has “anarcbist(ism).”

The Socialist Standard for May (p. 66) tells us: “the truth of a statement does not depend on how deeply or sincerely it is held but on whether or not it is backed up by hard evidence.” (It is phrased as a question, but one which obviously expects the answer ‘Yes.’)

What happens if we apply this to the Party’s own statements about “socialism”? <a href=”″><em>IC</em></a>  accepts that these are sincerely made and express deep feelings, but the Party itself tells us the truth of a statement does not depend on these things; it requires hard evidence. IC keeps asking for this and the Party keeps failing to provide it.

They claim that in a “socialist” society life for the great majority would be better than under capitalism, but since this system has never existed they are unable to support this statement with any hard evidence. “Socialism” would have its own problems, and the Party can provide no hard evidence to support their belief that these would not be as bad as those of capitalism.

Not, this time, a correction of anything said in IC, but a misunderstanding on the part of some Party members. IC points out that on some of the big issues the Party stands firmly on both sides of the fence, that when different parts of its case are put together they contradict each other. From time to time it quotes passages from Party statements to support this: IC39, for example, quoted two passages from the Socialist Standard of May 1989, from adjacent pages and by the same writer, one saying the workers run the planet from top to bottom and the other, the governments run the coercive state. This amounts to a substantial self-contradiction; a case incorporating both of these propositions has something radically wrong with it.

Some of these criticisms have been taken as personal attacks on the writers or speakers quoted, and this is of course absurd. Responsible criticism requires that the source of a statement be given; this does not turn political comment into personal attack. The item in IC39m for example, explicitly ascribed the contradiction to the Party, not to the individual writer. When a party “enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties” it must expect to receive blows as well as give them, and the method of attack being resented is one used by the Party itself when it charges Labour Party speakers and writers with saying something that their party intends to establish socialism and sometimes that it intends to operate capitalism.

The Socialist Standard for May quotes a passage from Carl Sagan’s The Dragons of Eden on “a resurgent interest in vague, erroneous and often demonstrably erroneous doctrines.” He lists astrology, the Bermuda Triangle, flying saucers, pyramidology, Scientology, auras, Kirlian photography, ascription of emotion and aesthetic taste to geraniums, psychic surgery, flat and hollow earths, modern prophecy, remote cutlery warping, astral projections, Velikovian catastrophism, Atlantis and Mu, spiritualism and “the doctrine of the special creation, by God or gods, of mankind despite our deep relatedness… with the other animals.” (He seems to have no objection to the doctrine that mankind was created by a God or gods along with the other animals.)

No comment appears, but whatever the Party may have intended in presenting the quotation they have probably not seen the real significance of it. Although some of these beliefs may be novel, uncritical credulity producing results despised by the rationalists is implied by some of the earliest human artifacts, by the cave paintings and cult objects. Irrational belief seems to be as old as humanity, and its widespread persistence today calls in question the mechanistic conception of progress as a movement by society as a whole from one position to another. New modes of thought have emerged, but an overwhelming weight of evidence shows the old modes persisting as the base on which these new developments rest. Rationalists and sceptics remain in the minority, and “socialists,” fortunately for us all, in a smaller minority still. The Party offers us no good reason for expecting this to change.

from Ideological Commentary 46, July 1990.