George Walford: The (Anarcho-) Socialist Party (49)

This is the third (and final) part of a reply, by Merseyside Branch, to criticism of the party by IC. Part I appeared in IC47, Part II in IC48. These are both available on request. – GW

In order to cover up its own failings IC always reverts to character by arguing that socialism has “never been tried.”. This is of course true in the sense that the world socialist system envisaged by the SP hasn’t yet been achieved, but this is about as far as the argument goes. What IC goes on to suggest though is that there is no reason to expect that a socialist system could be as “successful” as capitalism. IC‘s problem is that the one argument doesn’t necessarily follow on from the other. Indeed, a noticeable feature of IC is that it systematically ignores evidence (including evidence from its own theory) that socialism could work.

This can be seen, for instance, in the review of the book Free is Cheaper in IC41. Although the central theme of this book is that the solutions to the problems of capitalism are “all around us,” IC‘s review is more interested in some of the data given regarding population changes since the fourteenth century – an argument peripheral to the central one. The main thrust of the book, summarized in the following sentences, is completely ignored by IC:

To the incredulous we say there is nothing unusual in the idea of something for nothing, of production for need and not for sale. The organisations, services, goods, are all around us to prove the point: health, education, roads, streetlighting, policing, libraries, water, drainage. Free-market madmen rise up from time to time with proposals to bottle the air we breathe and sell it back to us in the name of efficiency, but they are soonsedated and put back in their beds. We are surrounded by mirror-images of what our free world will look like, albeit distorting mirrors. It is foolish for sceptics to say it won’t work: it already does. (Free is Cheaper by Ken Smith, p. 251).

And what of IC‘s own theory, “systematic ideology?” Because of the static-based ideological structure posited by IC, it sees socialism as being unlikely of attainment. According to IC its ideology is too sophisticated, and too high up the ideological range, to be accepted by any more than a tiny minority (hence the slogan “the higher the fewer”). This aside, however, there is no reason why, according to s.i., socialism couldn’t work if a majority organised politically to attain it. In fact, s.i. suggests that it would be likely to work, not that it wouldn’t. It argues that eidostatic behaviour (specifically its protostatic component) is necessary for the survival of any system of society:

Every society, if it is to survive, must ensure that its people are fed. This requires the direction of energy and attention towards the natural, non-social world, it requires eidostatic behaviour. If people are to do more than barely survive then many other material commodities must also be provided, and all of them require, for their production, eidostatic behaviour. (An Outline Sketch of Systematic Ideology by George Walford p.29)

Whatever the merits of the ideological structure supposedly “identified” by “systematic ideology,” the above statement, at least, is clear enough. It is the conclusion drawn from it that isn’t. This conclusion is that eidostatic behaviour necessarily requires an identification with eidostatic ideologies in the political sphere e.g. Fascism, Conservatism and Liberalism. This conclusion is not a logical one, for we are told on a previous page of the same pamphlet that:

We all spend much time in eating, travelling, casual conversation, watching films or television, engaging in sports or attending entertainments, and these are all activities which imply identification with protostatic assumptions, with low intellectuality and political collectivism. Even in the act of verbally expressing our eidodynamic assumptions we have no choice but to demonstrate our protostatic identification with the general social group; we are obliged to use the common speech. (Ibid. p.27)

We can add further to this list of behaviour requiring protostatic assumptions: work. And s.i. tells us that as work, sports, eating, etc. require protostatic assumptions, those who hold revolutionary and anarchist ideologies (epidynamic and paradynamic) also have protostatic assumptions. This is summed up in the following sentence:

In the ideological series each phase beyond the protostatic is not merely, or purely, epistatic, or parastatic, and so on, but is epistatic and protostatic, parastatic and epistatic and protostatic… each of us is identified with every ideology on the protostatic side of the most eidodynamic one implied by our behaviour, although it is the most eidodynamic one which determines our ideological classification. (Ibid, pp 27-28, emphasis in original).

Therefore, if there is a majority of socialists there is nothing, according to s.i., stopping socialism from meeting people’s material requirements as these socialists will carry on exhibiting eidostatic behaviour based on the eidostatic assumptions that they hold. There is nothing in s.i. whatsoever to suggest that in a socialist system of society people will not produce and will not eat, people will not entertain and be entertained, people will not work and people will not play, etc. If anything it points to all those things occurring, and occurring within a framework of democratic control.

The position of IC in relation to the Socialist Party is therefore as follows:

1. IC labours under a misapprehension regarding the way in which workers “reject” the Party case.

2. IC often attributes views to the Party, usually of a shorthand nature, which the Party does not actually hold – IC then being able to “expose” the apparent contradiction, a contradiction which is actually of its own making.

3. IC tries to demonstrate why the Socialist Party is anarchist rather than revolutionary socialist in order to fit it into s.i.’s “paradynamic” ideological group. IC fails to give any good reason for doing so.

4. IC is in a position of political paralysis, effectively opposing both reformism and revolutionary socialism in comparison to what exists now (while at the same time claiming to support both of them in their endeavours).

5. IC is unwilling, for wholly dishonest reasons, to elucidate any original alternative to socialism that it might have. As such it contributes nothing of any importance to the political process save for elaborating a complex theory which can only serve the interests of particularly change-resistant sections of the capitalist class.

6. IC ignores all evidence which points to the viability of socialism, even the evidence from its own theory of “systematic ideology.”

It only needs to be added that the readers of IC who are looking for solutions to the social problems besetting the modern world may find the revolutionary politics of the Socialist Party of Great Britain and the World Socialist Movement, of which it is a part, rather more interesting than the philosophical sterility of Ideological Commentary.

Had you been thinking that IC was talking sense? The (A-)SPGB are willing to teach you better. Study what Merseyside Branch and their colleagues have had to say and you will learn that the Bolsheviks were only reformists. You too will be holding that only those in agreement with the Party know what “socialism” means, that everybody else using the word, even Karl Marx himself, has failed to understand it.

You too will qualify to join a party which has spent eighty-five years getting farther away from its declared objective. According to the Party, and in their words, it is only your “lack of understanding” that holds you back from these delights.

Accusing IC of arguing that “socialism” has never been tried, they continue: “This is of course true in the sense that the world socialist system envisaged by the SP hasn’t yet been achieved…” – which is exactly the sense in which IC used the argument.

Responsible argument requires that the opponent be credited with good faith and we treat Merseyside accordingly, but they do make it difficult. The idea of abolishing society in its entirety is an invention of their own, but they ascribe it to IC. They describe systematic ideology as “static-based” even though they have at hand IC37, which says: “Systematic ideology demonstrates or implies, and IC maintains: That the ideological structure has not always been, and probably will not always be, as it is now.” They use quotation marks in a way suggesting that words or phrases come from s.i. sources when (to the best of IC‘s knowledge) they do not. If Merseyside can show “abolition determined” and “change-resistant” in any s.i. publication(s) IC will donate a fiver to their funds.

Merseyside say one reason workers reject the case is that the Party “is so small as to lack credibility.” If they are right, if the Party remains small because it lacks credibility, and lacks credibility because it is small, how can it ever get bigger?

Now we turn with relief to something more substantial. Listing some of the terrible things that have happened under capitalism, they offer no evidence that their version of socialism (better described as pure anarcho-socialism) would be any better. IC has repeatedly asked the Party to provide such evidence but none has been forthcoming and Merseyside, for all their bluster, do not provide any. In looking for it they do not turn to the mass of literature their party has issued since 1904, and this suggests that they know none is to be found there. They turn, instead, to a book for which the Party is not responsible. Yet even this does not help them. Telling us “the central theme of this book is that the solutions to the problems of capitalism are ‘all around us'” they quote a passage in which the author lists, as examples of these solutions, eight services, every one of them paid for by rates or taxes.

Merseyside don’t understand their own case. According to the Party the only solution for the problems of capitalism is “socialism,” and by this term they emphatically do not mean paying for services by way of rates and taxes. The passage Merseyside quote is nothing to the point and the evidence has still not been provided.

Merseyside’s contribution came on seven pages; of these they spend more than one in struggling to show that the groups identified with the more sophisticated ideologies, being identified also with the earlier and simpler ones, can competently perform the functions for which these latter are particularly fitted. In this section they are thinking seriously, and they come close to grasping the idea; they have only to take account of one more item of information to find things falling into place. Ideologies and their Functions (which they have at hand) points out (p. 66) that each step from one major ideology to the next entails repression of the previous one. This remains in the ideological structure and continues to influence behaviour, but it comes to be disvalued, the activities expressing it to be regarded often as undesirable or harmful and, at best, unworthy of full attention. In reaching their present ideology the members of the (A-)SPGB have repressed in this way the ideologies entailed in social production of material goods, and this is why their party spends its energies in arguing about human needs instead of taking any positive part in the work of satisfying them.

Let us meet their SUMMARY point by point:

1. The alleged misapprehension is a creation of their own; they have not shown that IC holds it.

2. Where they set out to show IC doing this they end up confirming what it has said.

3. Some of the good reasons for regarding the Party as purist anarcho-socialists appear in IC14 and IC43 (both of which they had at hand when making this statement) and IC44.

4. This party prides itself on holding the same position now as in 1904; its members are hardly entitled to accuse anybody else of political paralysis. By “revolutionary socialism” they mean their own movement, and to accuse IC of supporting that does seem rather far out even for Merseyside. (There is of course a sense in which criticism, because it tends to attract attention and sometimes compels advances, can be reckoned as support; if they meant that they should have said so).

5. Before any member or branch can sensibly ask for an alternative to what they call socialism they have to induce the Party to repudiate the confused account of it so far put forward and say clearly, without ambiguity or self-contradiction, what they mean by the term. Merseyside have not done that.

6. The Party offers no such evidence and Merseyside have provided none. For their near miss when trying to understand one part of s.i. see above.

Merseyside’s final paragraph speaks of the few little coteries calling themselves the World Socialist Movement as if they were on the way towards “socialism,” but the evidence is against this. The Party tell us there has to be an overwhelming majority of “socialists” before this system can be set up. When they started, in 1904, they had to get something over one thousand million for that majority, now they have to get something over two-and-a-half thousand million. They are over a thousand million farther from their majority┬ánow than when they started; they have not been moving towards their declared objective but away from it.

IC has not had the benefit of meeting Merseyside Branch, but there is no reason to doubt that they are like London members in being too intelligent to persist year after year in an activity bringing nothing but failure and frustration. Their continuing membership of the Party shows that it provides them with satisfaction, and when we observe their behaviour we see where this lies. The Party offers them victory in argument. This is what their ideology leads them to seek, this is what their Party aims at and (more often than not) provides, and this is the reason they continue in membership. It is also the reason the Party remains tiny and looks set to continue doing so; few people are willing to adopt the pursuit of victory in argument as a major interest.

If, as this reply by IC suggests, the various parts of the Party case cancel out so that it amounts to nothing, and the organisation is so small as to be barely visible in practical politics, why devote so much time and space to it? Because it is of great theoretical importance. From the mildest socialism onwards, reformers and revolutionaries consistently blame (what they regard as) the lack of success achieved by the movement upon the tendency to compromise and to seek short-term advantages. The (A-)SPGB have never compromised, never allied themselves with any political movement other than their companion-parties abroad. Yet they remain one of the smallest and, in practical terms, least influential of political organisations. They provide a living demonstration that the purest of purist approaches does not overcome the difficulties encountered by the socialist, communist or anarchist movements.

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THE THATCHER government “acknowledges individual rights only in the interests of business… denies society when it is a question of welfare and asserts it when it is a matter of control” (Bernard Williams in TLS 16 feb 90)

from Ideological Commentary 49, January 1991.