George Walford: The (Anarcho-) Socialist Party of Great Britain (41)

REPLYING to the suggestion from a correspondent, that IC ought to co-operate with the (A-)SPGB, IC40 asked, rhetorically, how one can possibly co-operate with people who declare themselves opposed to all other political parties, even at war with them. The answer, of course, is: by opposing them, by fighting them. This party affirms the value of opposition and political-intellectual combat and IC is giving them what they demand; sometimes, perhaps, even more of it than they really want.

From the SOCIALIST STANDARD for July 1989:

Brussels bureaucrats are destroying mountains of fruit and vegetables worth tens of millions of pounds. Figures released yesterday show the EC spent £67m getting rid of fruit and vegetables in the four months up to February this year.

Accepting the fact (it comes from the capitalist press, like nearly all the information this party uses) we have to ask, of the food destroyed, what proportion it forms of the amount distributed. And, since the Party tells us capitalism is one world-wide system, even if an anarchic one, the figures must not be selective but cover total production, distribution and wastage over the world.

Without this context the bare fact, that a certain amount of perishable food has been destroyed, means little, for every working system produces waste. Machines waste power, the human body wastes heat, and evolution wastes lives in uncountable numbers. The only systems that do not produce waste are those that do not work, like “socialism.”

THE SOCIALIST Standard tells us:

When loyalty to the organisation – any organisation – overcomes commitment to historical truth (to honesty), then all is lost in a terrible sectarian haze.

Anybody who has tried to get Party members to face up to the implications of the “case” will know the feeling, but it is an over- simplification. There is no such thing as historical truth in the sense of a body of objective fact which we must all accept, provided we are only honest and clear-headed. Every account of history involves interpretation, and interpretation is governed by ideology.

Thursday the 8th of June. This day to the Islington Branch meeting, where Master Richard Headicar delivered the sermon, I pray with benefit to the souls of all present.

Once more the Labour Party provided the feast for the “socialist” lions, the complaint this time being its attempts to provide Britain with something the circumlocution merchants have trapped us all into calling an independent nuclear deterient.

The speaker concentrated up on the early period of this enterprise, making entertaining play with Labour’s repeated failure to obtain a means of delivering the horror over any effective distance. He spoke as if knowing these fiascos to have been unintended, but the reason for his certainty remained unclear; he quoted Labour leaders in support, but the Party has told us often enough that statements by these people are not all to be taken at face value. Listening to the speaker’s account of events there crept into the mind of one listener a suspicion that the Labour leaders might in fact have been trying to please two opposed groups, both the majority of supporters who wanted their own Bomb and the minority preferring to limit themselves to any that might be supplied by future enemies. They seemed to have been going through the motions of providing Britain with effective nuclear armament while in fact taking care not to do so.

The speaker took it for granted that our own dear Party was of course committed against nuclear weapons, but again the reason for his confidence is by no means obvious. Principle No. 6 declares the intention to use the armed forces of the nation as agents of emancipation, and it does not bar those armed forces from using nuclear weapons. It would perhaps be unreasonable to expect those who drew up the Principle in 1904 to have foreseen the Bomb, but since 1945 it has been within the power of the membership to amend the Principle to meet the new conditions. They have not chosen to do so, and any member or intending member with a personal commitment against the Bomb should consider carefully the implications of this. The Object and Declaration are not something which appeared once in the Party’s history and can now be forgotten; they are still being reprinted in every issue of the SOCIALIST STANDARD, in every pamphlet and in almost every leaflet; they declare the intention to use the armed forces of the nation as an agent of emancipation and they contain no commitment against the use of nuclear weaponry.

The title “Socialist Party of Great Britain” causes the group using it to be confused with other organisations known as socialist; mainly, in Britain, the Labour Party. It is not uncommon for the issue to take up much of the discussion at meetings intended to cover some other subject. There can be no doubt that when the Party and the Labour Party (or at least its more advanced members) both speak of “socialism” they mean different things; Labour is a party of government, but the (A-)SPGB repudiate government and the state, placing themselves together with the anarchists against the pro-government movements. IC accordingly proposes that their name be changed to “Anarcho-Socialist Party”, and sets the example by using this term for them itself. At a recent meeting one Party speaker objected to this on the ground that their practice of democracy distinguishes them from the anarchists. It is an argument fully maintaining the high standard of unsoundness we have come to expect from the Party.

If they were to advocate democratic government that would, indeed, separate them from the anarchists, but they have repudiated government. Democracy as they use it means an agreement that the course preferred by the majority shall be followed, and the many anarchists who act in groups also reach decisions in this way. They seldom vote, preferring less formal methods of finding out where the majority preference lies, but this difference is no more than tactical Sometimes they use the same procedure as the Party; this has happened, for example, at the Anarchist Forum associated with Freedom Press.

The Party’s practice of democracy provides no ground of substantial distinction between them and the (other) anarchist groups. They stand with the anarchists against the pro-government movements, including those commonly known as socialist, and a change of name to Anarcho-Socialist would help to make their position clear.

When drawing up Principle No. 6, declaring its intention to use the armed forces of the nation as an agent of emancipation, the Party did not exclude the use of nuclear weaponry. If this was because they failed (in 1904) to foresee the coming of the devilish things the omission is forgivable. But it does raise a question: What else has the Party failed to anticipate? With the experience of centuries of capitalism to guide them, they failed to foresee that it would produce this means for destroying the human race. How, then, can they claim to know how “socialism” would function – a system which, they say themselves, has never existed?

Principle No. 1 tells us “That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living… by the capitalist or master class.”

When a Party member or speaker is asked to show that the master class in China and Russia owns the means of living they plunge into confusion. So far as it is possible to make sense of their reply they seem to be saying that it doesn’t matter whether the means of production in these countries are owned or not, the important thing is that the rulers control them. That is an arguable position, but it constitutes abandonment of Principle No. 1.

One member recently attempted to save the position by making the test of ownership control of access. Anybody controlling access to anything, he argued, is thereby shown to own it; the Russian and Chinese rulers control access to the means of life, therefore they own them. When it was pointed out that on this argument the conductor owns the bus the discussion came to an abrupt end.

The question concerns the base on which society rests; it can hardly be condemned as nitpicking or logic-chopping. Any Party branch or member able to clarify their position is invited to write in.

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Beginning with this issue (41) the subscription to IC becomes £2 for 12 months, including postage. Subscrptions at the old rate still outstanding will be extended in proportion.

We intend, for as long as it remains practical, to continue sending IC when no subscription has been paid, at least to readers who have demonstrated interest by responding with criticism, comment or contributions, and of course to the (A-)SPGB.

from Ideological Commentary 41, September 1989.