George Walford: The (Anarcho-) Socialist Party (63)

Having paid the larger subscription for the Socialist Standard we proudly declare ourselves now officially a Supporter of the Party.

At Chiswick Branch on Friday 22 January. A debate between the (Anarcho)-Socialist Party (SW4) and Lord Desai of the Labour Party. His lordship, in good Labour Party style, kept to reforms he considered practical, such as a minimum income for everybody, while Adam Buick, for the SP, stayed with broad principles. The two approaches hardly made contact, and the debate held little interest for IC except for two statements by the SP speaker:

He told us that his party intends to: ‘abolish capitalism and its welfare system lock, stock and barrel.’ Nothing novel here; from their foundation they have declared their intention of doing away with capitalist class relations and without those the system cannot exist. Nonetheless, it’s useful to have the direct statement on record, ready for the next time they find it convenient to claim they do not intend to ‘abolish’ capitalism.

He spoke of ‘Capitalism’s basic law: No profit, no production.’ As IC pointed out in discussion, that needs its other half: No production, no profit. To get its profits, capitalism has to produce things that people want. It does not have to produce what the 500-odd members of the SP think that people need; it does have to produce things that the five thousand million and more non-members of the SP want.

In his reply the SP speaker did not tackle this point, but time was very short. Perhaps he, or another SP member, would like to take it up in IC? Our undertaking, to print any contribution of up to a thousand words authenticated by any Branch of this Party, still stands. (Other contributions, from SP members or anybody else, will also be printed, subject to normal editorial criteria).

The Party tell us the state protects the capitalists’ ownership of the means of production. Another instance of the one-legged argument; true, but incomplete. The state protects the system of ownership which the overwhelming majority of the citizens (of all classes), by rejecting alternatives offered, have shown themselves to prefer. Should it – can it – do otherwise?

The Socialist Standard for January 1994 tells us: ‘There were a record 29 big wars last year.’ This happened after 90 years of (anarcho)-socialist activity. How many wars can we expect in their centenary year?

Announcing themselves (Principle No. 8) ‘determined to wage war against all other political parties’ SW4 yet do their best to ignore N12, which claims party status and attacks them. They also pretend, in the Socialist Standard, that IC does not exist. IC is not a party, but if their commitment to ‘war’ on behalf of ‘socialism’ allows them to ignore a persistent critic, (although also a Supporter) perhaps they ought to specify its limitations.

In 1992 the group of some 500-600 anarchists calling themselves The Socialist Party of Great Britain split into two sections. Both claim the original title, so we distinguish them by their HQ locations, SW4 (the larger) and N12.

In No. 11 of their journal (which we think of as ‘the other SS’, while they call it Socialist Studies), N12 tell us that the property relations of capitalism are to be ‘removed.’ More delicate than ‘abolished,’ the term does raise a problem: Where are they to be removed to?

Where the SW4 speaker declared boldly ‘no profit, no production,’ N12 say only that when no profit offers production is ‘curtailed or halted.’ And, under these conditions, ‘would-be workers become unemployed.’ (Pamphlet No. 5).

Party Principle No. 1 speaks boldly of ‘those who possess but do not produce’. In Socialist Studies No. 11, N12 depart from this, saying the capitalists as a class ‘produce little or nothing.’

According to N12 capitalism can function (under curtailment) without profit, the capitalists are not totally nonproductive, and only the employed are workers.

Since 1904 the Party has wobbled between class position and ideology (called ‘socialist understanding’ or the lack of it) as the fundamental determinant of behaviour, and all this suggests that N12 is moving towards dawn rather than darkness.

Page 11 of Studies strengthens this impression, saying ‘The working class however run the system in the interests of the capitalist class largely because they accept without question the prevailing ideas of capitalism and do not even contemplate that there is an alternative.’

How does this acceptance come about? If they ascribe it to economic conditions their argument becomes circular, capitalism surviving because capitalism survives. The acceptance of ideas is an ideological phenomenon; when N12 can bring themselves to accept the ideological explanation of it they will have escaped from the ‘socialist’ blind alley. IC ready to welcome them.

from Ideological Commentary 63, February 1994.