George Walford: The (Anarcho) Socialist Party of Great Britain (39)

IC undertakes 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 the Socialist Standard. Whenever IC notices a meeting of the Party several copies are sent to the branch holding it.

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 offering to reciprocate. 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.

The more one thinks about what this party like to call their case the more muddled it is seen to be. For eighty-four years they have been boldly proclaiming that present society is based upon ownership of the means of living by the capitalist class. The working class is enslaved, and its enslavement is a consequence of capitalist ownership of the means of life. Because the capitalists own, therefore they control.

Earlier issues of IC have noted the confusion they fall into when speaking of the USSR, but their difficulty reaches farther than that. Even in the professedly capitalist countries ownership and control do not always go together.

The Party tell us this themselves when they say that the workers operate capitalism, for whoever operates anything exercises some form of control over it.

In the popular use of “working class” to mean the people who do rough and dirty tasks for low pay, this does not show the Party to be wrong; machine operators decide only the detailed movements of their machines, management deciding what is to be produced. It is management, rather than the workers, that controls each factory, mine or office.

But the Party uses this term in a different sense, declaring that since the managers, just as much as the operatives, live by the sale of their labour-power, they too belong to the working class.

Even this does not show the Party to be in confusion, for there are levels of control above the managers; finance, administration, and of course government. But even here the Party tell us the working class still exercises control:

The time has long since passed when members of the ruling class could themselves occupy any considerable number of the administrative posts and manage any appreciable part of their activities. From top to bottom all departments are, filled by paid or elected officials, and only a very few of these are drawn from the capitalist class itself. Practically all the work of controlling the activities of society today is performed by people who depend for their livelihood upon their pay – members of the working class. The armed forces, including most of the officers, are also recruited from the working class. (Questions of the Day, 1969, pp 20-21).

And, just to make certain:

overwhelmingly it is the working class who perform all the tasks necessary for capitalism to function, including organisation, supply of inventions and discoveries, financial operations, administration and so on. (Socialist Principles
1975, p. 10)

They drive the point finally home by asserting that the working class “run society from top to bottom.” If all this is so then the workers control their own exploitation. “Socialists” who find it impossible to accept this conclusion are beginning to recognise the difficulties of their own position.

Michael Milken, the American junk-bond king, received from his employers, Drexel Burnham Lambert, $550 million dollars in 1987, and a total of 1.1 billion dollars between 1984 and 1987. (SUNDAY TIMES 2 April 89). This was his salary. The Party tell us that if you live by selling your labour-power for wages or a salary you are a worker, and that to be a worker is to be poor. Does it ever occur to them to read the newspapers?

(The remainder of this page refers to the SOCIALIST STANDARD for April 1989)

A CORRESPONDENT asks whether reforms could not produce a base from which establishing socialism would be easier. The Editors reply rejecting “the idea that reforms could somehow help towards the establishment of socialism.” This is probably justified; it is not likely that even the Second Coming of Karl Marx could help in the sense of getting “socialism” established. But the cavalier attitude adopted, dismissing reforms as able to do no more than “bring some temporary and marginal benefit to some workers” does not come well from a party whose activity rests on the work of the 19th Century reformers who won a considerable degree of freedom for public speech.

“We, the workers, who… run the planet from top to bottom… ” (Steve Coleman, p. 61)

“The job of governments is to run the coercive state… ” (Steve Coleman, p. 60)

To Aristotle’s three laws of thought the Party adds a fourth: The two parts of a self-contradiction may not appear on the same page.

ENGELS versus (A-)SPGB

the ultimate causes of a ll social changes and political revolutions are to be sought not in the minds of men… but in changes in the mode of production and exchange… ” (Friedrich Engels, quoted on p.68)

If that is so, then the reason why the “socialist” revolution has not come is that the needed changes in the mode of production and exchange have not yet taken place.

But the Party tell us that further changes in the mode of production and exchange are not required:

Socialism is ours for the taking. (The Case for Socialism p. 52)

The only remaining barriers… are the class relations of capitalism, the profit motive and the political division of the world… ” (SOCIALIST STANDARD December 1982 p. 235)

Under this heading IC38 drew attention to a page headed “About Socialism” which had been appearing in the SOCIALIST STANDARD since July 1987; it put forward a position differing substantially from that expressed in the Object and Principles. In the issue for April 1989 this page reappears with changes and a new heading “About Ourselves”; it still differs substantially from the Object and Principles. To point up a few of the more obvious differences:

“About Ourselves” has the Party “opposed to all others,” while Principle No. 8 has it “determined to wage war” against them.

Principle No. 4 accepts the concept of an order of social evolution. “About Ourselves” says nothing of this.

Principle No. 6 declares a need for the working class to convert the armed forces into an agent of emancipation. “About Ourselves” says nothing about using armed force.

Unlike “About Socialism,” which spoke only of monopoly, “About Ourselves” returns to the explicit assertion that capitalism is based on the ownership of the means of production (etc.) by the capitalist class. But it, also, fudges the Soviet issue, claiming this system as capitalist but not asserting that in the USSR the means of production (etc.) are owned by any one class. (It also extends this lack of clarity to “countries like China, Cuba and Yugoslavia”).

This is not the limit of the confusion. Having defined capitalism as:

a system based on the ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth… by… a privileged class

they continue, a little later:

It is their control of the machinery of government that now allows the capitalist class to protect their privileged position as the owners of the means of production.

Without control of government the capitalists will not be able to protect their ownership. Without ownership they will not be able to retain control of government. Neither is basic; the two are interdependent.

“About Ourselves” is presented as a “set of principles.” On the Party’s own showing they now have two sets of principles, and we have seen that there are substantial differences between them. They themselves have shown, more clearly than IC, that what they like to call their “case” is by no means clear or simple.

from Ideological Commentary 39, May 1989.