George Walford: The (Anarcho-)Socialist Party (52)

The founders of communism have been caught with their predictions down. In 1848 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels declared, in the Communist Manifesto, that the proletariat, being a class, would become a political party, and they clearly meant a party working for communism. What they foretold hasn’t happened, it gives no sign of being about to happen, and in the countries where, we were told, it had begun to happen, the workers coming to support a communist or socialist party, it becomes clearer every day that it wasn’t happening at all. Since Marx followed the cautious example of other prophets in leaving his forecasts undated, it will always remain possible that he may have been right, but each year the evidence strengthens against him. We have no reason to expect the general body of the people to turn to communism or socialism, not even if some turn of events should, as it did in Russia and elsewhere, enable the small communist minority to seize control of the state. The proletariat has not become a party and shows no signs of being about to do so. It remains spread over the whole of the political-ideological range, and so do the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy. Social development since Marx has demonstrated, as conclusively as anything ever can be demonstrated in this field, that class position does not determine, or significantly influence, political affiliation.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain (who would be more accurately known as the Anarcho-Socialist Party) do not accept this; they maintain the belief in some special connection between socialism and the working class. Claiming to be the only Marxist party and the only revolutionary party, they repudiate the communists as mere reformers and supporters of capitalism; Soviet Russia has “never been anything other than state capitalist.” Only those who accept their case may call themselves socialists or communists. Holding that “in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom” (Principle No. 4) they add that this will not come about until an overwhelming majority has come to understand and accept (their version of) socialism. At present the great majority do not accept it, and that, the Party hold, shows they have not understood it: “we assert that those who understand the socialist case will accept it”. (The SPGB contribution to: IC versus SP, a written debate, 1986).

Here follow some of their arguments. If you find them unacceptable, that means (according to the Party) that you have failed to understand socialism.

The May issue of the Socialist Standard (their official journal) reports (p. 77) a remark by Stephen Jay Gould, the paleontologist, that if life were to be wiped out “We’d just have to wait a few million years and it would all start again.” The Standard comments that socialist ideas are hardly a century old, the implication apparently being that they can reasonably ask us to wait a few million years yet.

The Socialist Standard of May speaks of “the sense in which [the texts of literature] express the class consciousness either of the oppressor or the oppressed,” and mentions William Morris (whom the Party accepts as a socialist) in this connection. Morris lived on the income from money invested in Cornish mines. Was he oppressor or oppressed? What class consciousness was he expressing?

The same issue tells us: “Marx… pointed out that people get their ideas and types of conduct from the world around them. The economic structure of the rat race makes people behave like rats.” If that is so, it certainly explains their failure to get their socialist majority. But if it is so, how can they themselves, living in this same “ratrace” world, ever have developed their socialist ideas?

From the issue of March 1991: “When apartheid was imposed in South Africa 43 years ago, the Socialist Standard described the idea that 2.5 million whites could forever keep the other 9 million in subjection, as a ‘forlorn and fantastic hope,’ and so it has proved.”

So in South Africa some 27% cannot keep the remainder in subjection. Yet they tell us that in Britain some 10% (sometimes they say 5%) somehow manage to do so, protecting their property ownership, exploiting the rest of the population, monopolising ownership of the means of production and maintaining their position as a master class.

The Party present the capitalists as the master class. This leaves them without any direct evidence that the workers are capable of operating a society by themselves. The Party also claim that “the workers run this society from top to bottom.” If so, then to get rid of the capitalist class will not make much difference.

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IC holds out a standing invitation: Any statement of up to 1,000 words from the SPGB, authenticated by one of their branches, will be printed. Longer ones, or personal statements by members, if they meet normal editorial requirements.

from Ideological Commentary 52, Summer 1991.