George Walford: The (Anarcho-) Socialist Party (47)

Merseyside Branch of the (A-) SPGB have sent a response to some of the comments on this party made in IC . Too long to print as one item it will appear in three parts (each with a reply from IC ) of which this is the first. – GW

Ideological Commentary, with its application of “systematic ideology,” attempts in each issue to show why members of the Socialist Party are “a small exceptional minority” and why “there is no reason to expect any significant increase in their number” (IC7 p.23). A variety of reasons are given to back up this argument, one of the most notable being that the Socialist Party puts forward contradictory political positions. During the written debate between IC and the Socialist Party (IC versus SP) George Walford states:

Will the working class support the Socialist Party? Not if they’ve any sense they won’t. And so far, on that question, the working class have shown very good sense indeed. (p. 11)

IC argues that the majority of those workers who have repeatedly heard the case for socialism reject it and that (in the view of IC they are right to do so. This is because the Party’s arguments are self-contradictory and cancel themselves out.

However, in putting forward this view IC is presenting itself with a problem. The problem is that nearly all the people who “reject” the case for socialism do not do so for the reasons outlined by IC. Most workers familiar with the Party’s arguments do not sit around bemoaning the fact that they are told the working class runs society “from top to bottom” and performs all the useful functions in society, while’ the capitalists are described as “functionaries.” No doubt IC would like this to be the case, but the fact remains that it is not. Most workers do not see glaring contradictions in the Party’s arguments (and it is no good stating that they do, but just don’t realise it). Workers reject the Party case for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the SP is so small as to lack credibility. – encouraging the view that’ doing something “in the meantime” is a worthwhile activity. The so-called “human nature” argument is another obstacle that the Party has to face, recognizing that very often such arguments have a religious basis.

In fact, when IC says that workers “reject” the Party case this can be rather misleading. Workers may not accept all of the arguments put by the SP, but that does not mean that they reject all of them either! They may not accept some of them for the reasons briefly outlined above, but this does not mean that they do not agree with the Party, for instance, on Russia, Class or a variety of other issues. Very few workers “reject” the arguments for socialism put by the SP in the way IC seems to think, which is just as well because if they did things would indeed look bleak.

Another view put by IC is that arguments for socialism conflict with the sets of assumptions which most workers (and capitalists) hold. It is argued that because the SP is “abolition determined” it comes into conflict with an ideological structure dominated by a “change-resistant” ideology, the protostatic. But in order to examine this argument, it is important to analyse whether the SP is “abolition determined” in the sense that IC thinks it is. IC tries to fit the Socialist Party neatly into its theory of “systematic ideology” but does not succeed. Faced with the dilemma of either changing s.i or changing what it perceives to be the case of the SP, it decides to take the easy option and change the latter. Witness the following: “Communism comes to value radical change highly enough to undertake revolution in order to effect it, and anarchism believes it not enough even to revolutionise existing society, proclaiming that the only way of overcoming its defects is to abolish it.” (IC34, p.11)

Anyone not familiar with IC would presume on the strength of statements like this that the SP would fit into the “communist” bracket (what IC likes to call the “epidynamic”) After all, George Walford in his pamphlet Socialist Understanding summarises the case of the SP by stating that it stands for: “… a revolution in the basis of society… this social revolution to be carried out democratically by the use of political power.” (This is acknowledged as being from p. 33 of the SP’s Questions of the Day pamphlet.)

Notice that the apparently “abolition determined” SP does not say that it sets out to “abolish” the basis of society or even to “abolish” political power in order to revolutionise the basis of society, and when IC and Mr.Walford briefly outline the SP case they cannot avoid this fact. But when IC attempts to criticize the SP, the Party is again described as abolition determined and “anarchist,” hence IC‘s use of the name (Anarcho-) Socialist Party of Great Britain. This is an attempt to reinforce the notion of the SP’ as an anarchist organisation rather than a revolutionary one, for if the SP is really revolutionary rather than anarchist (to use IC‘s terminology, “epidynamic” rather than “paradynamic”) then this would not only mean that a large part of IC‘s case against the Party goes out of the window, but means that “systematic ideology” is in need of some serious (very serious) revision. If the Socialist Party is revolutionary and not “abolition determined” then what is it that distinguishes it from what IC sees to be the other “revolutionaries,” the Leninists? Clearly something does – and this “something” is the fact that the Socialist Party is revolutionary while the Leninists are not.

Readers of IC should ask themselves about who aims to revolutionise the basis of capitalist society – the Leninists or the Socialist Party? Who aims to transform the economic’ structure of society – the advocates of what even Harold Walsby and IC are prepared to refer to as “state capitalism”?!? If IC wants to use terms like “revolution” and “transformation” in a non-Marxist way, it should not try and blame the SP for what are essentially its own difficulties and misunderstandings on the matter.

In a reply to a letter by Steve Coleman, IC15 states with regard to the Socialist Party: “The function it performs (together with the other anarchist groups) is to demonstrate the futility and absurdity of attempts to abolish existing society.” (emphasis added).

This is another clear example of IC‘s wishful thinking in relation to the SP’s allegedly “abolition determined” nature. Socialists see the development of society as a continual process, it is not somehow “abolished” in its entirety only to be started up again. Indeed, if IC knows how society can be “abolished” it should let us all know. Do they have mass extermination via concentration camps in mind or nuclear war? But, again, this is their problem – it is only the Socialist Party’s to the extent that IC keeps insisting it is (and that is not much of a problem). As is so often the case, the arguments put by IC against the Socialist Party are really arguments against itself.

When attacking the Socialist Party phrases such as the “abolition of society” are used. They are always equated with the position held by the Party. The Party position can then be “shown” to be one of foolish self-contradiction, when in actual fact the confusion rests with IC and “systematic ideology”. What the SP actually argues is that socialism entails the revolutionary transformation of the economic structure of society so that the capitalist system of society is abolished, but this is quite different from what IC would like it to say.

As the function of the Socialist Party is, according to IC, to demonstrate the futility of attempts to fundamentally change society (sorry, fundamentally abolish it), IC is happy for the Socialist Party to continue its activities. Its existence serves to benefit the reformers, and as a result, the capitalist system – and this is what IC wants. [To be continued]

This contribution from Merseyside needs to be read with care, constantly thinking to oneself: “Yes, very dramatic; a startling accusation; but what have they actually shown?”

They charge IC with saying that the majority of those who reject the Party case do so because it is self-contradictory. What IC in fact says is that they reject it because they are identified with ideologies other than that of the Party. For those interested in close reasoning the Party’s self-contradictions provide justification, but these are a small minority. Merseyside are aware of the contention put in italics above, and go on to refer to it, but only as “another view put by IC.” In spite of having had not only IC but also Ideologies and their Functions, An Outline Sketch of Systematic Ideology and IC versus SP on hand they have failed to recognise it as the main theme.

They say “if IC knows how society can be ‘abolished’ it should let us all know.” That makes sense only if IC has suggested that society can or should be abolished. They have not shown it doing so. In fact, a few lines previously they have quoted IC on the absurdity and futility of any such attempt. The proposal to abolish society has been invented by Merseyside.

What IC says is that while communism aims to work within capitalism and revolutionise it, the Party repudiates it and aims at abolishing it. Merseyside tell us “… the… SP does not say that it sets out to “abolish” the basis of society … ” What the Party in fact says (in its Object) is that present society is based upon ownership of the means of production by the capitalists and the consequent enslavement of the working class. It also says (Principle No. 3) that with emancipation of the working class this antagonism will have been ABOLISHED. (emphasis added). These people who set out to correct IC don’t even know their own Principles.

(Incidentally, on this question whether the Party stands for abolition or revolution, the word “abolished” appears in the Declaration of Principles but the word “revolution” does not).

Merseyside say the Bolsheviks did not achieve a revolutionary transformation from capitalism to communism. True enough, but it does nothing against the statement that they are identified with a revolutionary ideology. No major ideological group ever has succeeded in what its ideology impels it to attempt.

These people suggest, with no grounds whatever, that IC may be intending mass extermination or nuclear war; where do they stand themselves on this issue they have raised? They (like all members) have signed their acceptance of the Party’s Principles. These declare (Principle No. 6) the intention of using the armed forces of the nation for the overthrow of privilege; they do not impose any restriction upon the methods these forces may use for the purpose; they do not rule out mass extermination or nuclear war. (It will not help Merieylside to say the atomic bomb was unknown when the were drawn up; the Party has had since 1945 to adapt them but has not done so.)

IC is indeed happy for the (Anarcho-) Socialist Party to continue its activities. Its existence does serve to benefit the reformers and the capitalist system. Also, the reformers and the capitalist system benefit the (A-) SPGB; it depends upon them for its existence. Whether IC wants this is beside the point; it is happening, and neither Merseyside nor the Party offers any good reason for expecting this to change.: [To be continued]

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COMPETITION In IC46 readers were invited to name the well-known thinker, accepted by the Party as a socialist, who uses the word “socialism” in six different senses, none of them agreeing with the definition the Party holds to be the only valid one. It was Karl Marx. In the closing pages of the Communist Manifesto he Speaks of Critical-Utopian Socialism, Conservative or Bourgeois Socialism, German or “True” Socialism, Petty Bourgeois Socialism, Reactionary Socialism and – heaven help us all – Feudal Socialism. He expresses scorn of some of the movements using the word, but does not deny their right to it.

This answer must be correct, for its material comes from the edition of the Manifesto published by the Party in 1948. The promised year’s subscription to IC has been entered for the winner, who has asked to be left anonymous.

from Ideological Commentary 47, September 1990.