George Walford: The (Anarcho-) Socialist Party (54)

A Party member points out an inaccuracy in the concluding paragraph of “Are They Not Anarchists?” (IC 53 p.24): at the time of publication the expulsion procedure had not been completed, although this has since been done. He also thinks it unfair to describe the separation of 25 people from a membership of some 600 as a split, but since one can legitimately talk of splitting a matchstick into two pieces, one much smaller than the other, we hold to the expression.

A recent meeting of one London Branch opened with a video, made by a group of Situationists and entitled: Are You Living in a Bad State? The commentary expressed a view which one member described as 90 per cent identical with that of the Party.

The video as a whole seemed to IC to come even closer than that to presenting current social conditions and the position of the Party. It showed large numbers of workers busily, and for all that was shown for the most part happily, engaged in producing and consuming. Workers also bombed and shot each other, and in one series of dramatic scenes the workers on screen were divided into two groups, one in uniform, which enthusiastically beat each other up. No controlling capitalist class appeared; the film confirmed what the Party has so often told us: the working class run this society from top to bottom. In addition to all this vigorous activity there appeared two talking heads, putting a highly theoretical, esoteric and polysyllabic argument for something close to what the Party likes to call socialism. The absence of bodies for these emphasised their remoteness from the main activities of social life and, in the most realistic way, nobody on screen showed the slightest interest in them or their theories.

One Party member recently brought forward the shift in general belief from the flat earth to the round as evidence for the probability of a general acceptance of (anarcho-) socialism.

This came up unexpectedly and IC failed to make the correct riposte; here it is: The overwhelming majority of those who have effected this transition have accepted one conventional belief in place of another without being able to give sufficient reason for either. The change therefore says nothing about the probability that the independent critical thinking required by the Party will come to be generally adopted. (Evidence from satellites or space flight played no part in the change; it occurred long before Sputnik took off).

Pointing out contradictions between the Party’s statements and its declared Principles, one commonly encounters the claim that the Declaration of Principles now ranks as a historic document, with the implication that it no longer commits the Party or its members. Characteristically for this organisation, one also finds statements to the contrary; the following verbatim quotations come from a leaflet entitled What About Human Nature? No. 1, “Printed and Published by the Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7UN.” No date appears, but it was handed out at a party meeting this year, and only within the last year or two has the Party issued literature without “of Great Britain”:

The Socialist Party was formed in 1904. The party was based on a set of socialist principles. This set of principles remains the basis of our organisation. Every applicant for membership of the party must understand and agree with these principles.

The language of these principles may seem a little outdated today. But the analysis of capitalism as the basis of socialist action outlined in these principles has stood the test of time.

This is NOT JUST A HISTORIC DOCUMENT it is the sheet anchor of The Socialist Party. It has guided the party through two world wars, the General Strike and the numerous slumps and booms of capitalism.

Unlike other parties that have claimed to be socialist, we have adhered to our principles… Our opposition to capitalism and our unswerving allegiance to the aim of World Socialism is based on these socialist principles.

We urge you to seriously consider these principles, to question them, to criticise them… ” (All emphases added, capitals and italics).

To the question: Do you stand by your declared Principles? this party fails to give an unequivocal answer. It often appears to be giving one, but regularly contradicts itself.

Like every other group claiming the title of The Only Authentic Marxists, this party refrains from committing itself to acceptance of everything said by the combative old pogonophile. As the Socialist Standard has recently put it: “We accept the main points of Karl Marx’s theories of history, economics and politics. But not uncritically… ” It sounds eminently reasonable, but when this party makes a reasonable-sounding statement one needs to exercise even greater caution than usual. This one raises the question: What are these “main points”?

The Party maintains that capitalism will not collapse. (If you want a reference: Party literature, passim). Friedrich Engels, whom they accept as socialist and Marxist, maintained that Marx held the contrary view, declaring this collapse to be inevitable and already taking place . More even than that, Marx based his communist demands upon this theory, Engels saying: “Marx, therefore, never based his communist demands upon this [the ‘contradiction to our moral sentiments’] but upon the inevitable collapse of the capitalist mode of production which is daily taking place before our eyes to an ever greater degree.” [1]

The Party claim to accept the main points of Marx’s theories, but they reject the theory on which he based his communist demands – while continuing to claim the prestige carried by his name. [1] Preface to The Poverty of Philosophy, in Feuer L.S. ed: 1969 Marx and Engels, basic writings on politics and philosophy, Fontana Library 19.

By insisting on the importance of its name (“We are THE Socialist Party”) this collection of anarcho-socialist coteries provokes consideration of alternatives. IC‘s favourite appears above, but in the wings hovers

“The Thanatopsist Party.”

Their speaker regularly stress the numbers who die (in their opinion) unnecessarily under capitalism. They do not seem to notice that under capitalism far more survive than ever before. Thanatopsis, contemplation of death, fits this party just fine.

from Ideological Commentary 54, Winter 1991.