George Walford: The (Anarcho-)Socialist Party of Great Britain (36)

IC holds out a continuing invitation: We undertake to print any statement of up to 1,000 words carrying the approval of this party, or one of its branches. Letters from individual members will appear if they are cogent, interesting and concise, and if space permits. If you want your letter to appear unedited or not at all, please say so. Each issue of IC is sent to all the branches, discussion groups and “For Information” addresses listed in theĀ Socialist Standard.

Several copies of this issue are being sent to the Secretary of each branch whose meeting has been noticed, for distribution among the members. A copy will be sent to any member writing in.

IC31 gave the text of a letter sent on 26 November 1987 to the Secretary of the Party, asking for the terms on which they would accept paid notices for the SOCIALIST STANDARD drawing the attention of their members to IC‘s comments on the Party and its case. The letter offered them a free quarter-page in IC for each one inserted, paid, in the STANDARD. So far no reply has been received, and this has to be borne in mind when reading their complaints that their capitalist opponents refuse them free access to the media.

THIS PARTY set out in 1904 to get a majority for ‘socialism.’ During the 84 years since then the world population has increased by thousands of millions while the number of ‘socialists’ remains in the hundreds – not hundreds of millions but hundreds of people. They have farther to go to reach their majority than when they started. They believe they are making progress.

In the SOCIALIST STANDARD for September 1988 ‘H’ answers the question: “Is There a Crash Coming?” with a resounding “NO!” – at least, so far as worsening depressions go: ‘it is a continuous cycle, the recovery from the depression being as inevitable as the depression itself.’ From the observation, that capitalism has behaved in this way in the past, ‘H’ draws the conclusion that it will continue to do so in future.

Whenever we ourselves, in discussion with the (A-)SPGB, use history to indicate the probable course of future events we are accused of asserting that society does not change. Here is a writer in their own journal using the same method of argument. The article concludes by quoting a Party pamphlet of 1932:

So long as the workers are prepared to resign themselves to the evils of capitalism, and so long as they are prepared to place in control of Parliament parties that will use their power for the purpose of maintaining capitalism, there is no escape from the effects of capitalism.

If the article is valid it removes one possible reason for expecting the workers to behave differently in future, showing that they will not be brought to do so by its economic collapse. When we ask for good reasons for expecting that they will come to reject capitalism the Party can offer only pious hopes, and this article does nothing to change that.

Party propaganda harps constantly on the theme that ‘socialism,’ unlike capitalism, will have as its first aim the satisfaction of human needs.

A human need is a requirement which has to be satisfied for a human intention to be carried out. We need this in order to do that, and if our intentions alter our needs change with them. Nearly everybody intends to continue living, so food and drink come to be regarded as unconditional needs. For most purposes this is good enough, but it is not universally valid. The intending suicide does not need food and drink; he needs a high window and a hard pavement. (The number of suicides each year may be small, but a party whose numbers are even smaller needs to think carefully before rejecting it as insignificant). Each need stands on the same ground, namely that unless it be met an intention cannot be carried out.

Some groups have intentions peculiar to themselves and accordingly experience special needs. The (A-) SPGB intends to show itself right and all other parties wrong, so it needs publications and meetings in which the party ‘case’ can be endlessly repeated. Capitalists (at least, the ones pictured by the SOCIALIST STANDARD) intend to drink champagne, wear evening dress and smoke big cigars, and in order to do these things they need lots of money. And since capitalists (even those of the SOCIALIST STANDARD) are human beings, their need is a human one.

Capitalism meets this need; others, such as the need for food and drink of some of the people who intend to go on living, it does not meet. The Party tells us (although with no direct evidence to support its assertions) that ‘socialism’ would supply food and drink to all who needed it while not supplying the special needs of capitalists or would-be capitalists.

Even if we take ‘socialism’ at the value the Party sets upon it, it is not the case that this system would aim at meeting human needs while capitalism does not do so. Each system meets (or would meet) some human needs while refusing to meet others. If the Party were to make this clear in their propaganda they would be less vulnerable to the charge of using emotional rhetoric in an attempt to mislead the working class.

from Ideological Commentary 36, November 1988.