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The Uselessness of 'Practical Politics'

Most Socialists are familiar with the type of criticism which consists of arguing that Socialism is a vague proposal for general change, whereas what is needed is a series of definite, practical reforms. Bertrand Russell, in the Sunday Referee for November 5th, reproduces this argument with a variation which is new, at any rate, to the present writer. This is the opening paragraph, which provides the key to the entire article, entitled “The age of stagnation”:—

    "The nineteenth century, judged by any definite test, was a period of solid progress, in comparison with which the present is an age of stagnation. This not because there were, in those days, more people who desired change, but because reformers worked patiently for definite objects without any thought of altering the entire social order.”

He then goes on to specify the particular types of reform he has in mind, such as Parliamentary reform legal reform, sex reform and prison reform.

A Caution

According to the "Manchester Evening News" for Jan. 1st last, Mr. John Hodge, the new Minister of Labour, in the course of a speech at Gorton, blabbed out that "employers have begun to realise that welfare becomes a valuable asset in the productivity of the worker, and that it pays as well to treat men, women, and children kindly as it pays to treat cattle kindly."

A Question of Definition (2) Class and Reform

Class was originally a general term for a division or a group and was thus equivalent to modern “category”. Thus it had no particular social significance but from the period 1770 to 1840 it came increasingly to be used to describe divisions in society. Williams explains its displacing of previous words for social divisions such as rank, order, estate, degree by the fact that, unlike them, class did not imply a hierarchical arrangement of society—such as feudalism had been but as (an) emerging capitalism was not.

Common Questions Answered: (1) The Lesser of Two Evils

Q: You in the S.P.G.B. always seem to disregard the fact that Socialism cannot possibly come for a long while yet. Surely the practical thing to do in the meantime is to try to make the present system work better?

A: If Capitalism could be made to work differently we should have seen some worthwhile results from all the efforts of those who have tried to improve it. The “meantime” you refer to must be a capitalist meantime and is no responsibility of those who seek to replace it with a better system. The establishment of Socialism depends on you, and enough others like you, withdrawing your support of Capitalism. It becomes practicable only to the extent that socialist ideas are accepted, and it will become a reality when action in line with those ideas is taken. What you call being practical amounts to trying to patch up Capitalism, the existence of which is the cause of the problems we all want to solve.

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