The Western Socialist
Vol. 32 - No. 244
No. 2, 1965
(A letter to a young student who asks the question, "By what right do we deny others the right to call themselves Socialists?")
We have no legal right to determine those who can properly claim to be socialists and those who cannot. Some years ago the suggestion was made that we register the name of the Socialist Party of Canada and deny others the right to use it. The suggestion was not acted upon, the members being unable to picture themselves taking legal action against offenders.
Our claim rests on the reasonable use of words. The rose is not called a cauliflower, nor the lion a lobster, nor the royal palace a revolutionary cesspool. The lawyer is not a bus driver, nor is the lumberjack an architect, and no one mixes up and wrongly uses these terms. But the terms: socialist and socialism are different. They represent thoughts that are nightmares to orthodox society, so they do not receive the consideration accorded to other terms.
The press and pulpit would bristle at a plasterer being called to perform an appendectomy, or an atheist being invited to preach on the immaculate conception; but they are not disturbed when non-socialists talk about socialism. In fact they like it that way and the press seldom passes up a chance to provide a respectful hearing to any smoothly-performing non-socialist who talks on what he calls socialism. The socialist is not equally favored.
A while ago Stanley Knowles, a local New Democratic Party politician, addressed a university group on "socialism." Mr. Knowles knows nothing about the subject, yet his speech was lengthily and uncritically reported in the Free Press. M. J. Coldwell, one time CCF leader, is sometimes referred to affectionately in capitalist publicity outlets as "that old socialist," although Mr. Coldwell has never expressed a socialist thought. The British Labour Party is spoken of constantly in some British newspapers as "the Socialist Party," almost all newspapers using the term at times, even though the Labour Party has never advocated socialism and has several times held office without showing any inclination to establish socialism.
The antics of the Russian government and its upholders have been a boon to the enemies of socialism. About thirty years ago Stalin announced that socialism had become established in Russia. It then became the knock-out punch to point to the murderous oppressions of Stalinism for proof of the wretchedness of socialism.
At one time efforts were made to attack socialist thought on its own ground, but the results were no happier for the doughty ones than were those experienced by the preachers who went out to vanquish the agnostics, and these efforts declined in favor of the present practice of shoving socialism into two categories, one called "democratic socialism," consisting of the muddled modifications to capitalism of the Stanley Knowles vintage, the other dubbed "authoritarian socialism," consisting of the kind of capitalism favored in Russia and its satellites.
You have suggested that the socialist movement might offset misunderstanding by changing its name and the terms it uses to identify its aims. There are several objections to this. In the first place, this would entail corresponding changes in the whole literature of the movement, a task that would, apart from the fact that we have no right to undertake it, require time, effort and funds much greater than we could provide. In the second place, a vast amount of time would have to be allotted to the job of explaining why this had been done. Finally, it must always be remembered that socialism is not distorted accidentally but intentionally and that no sooner were our new terms becoming understood than would the muddying machine begin again.
A word now about the SLP. We have not given much time to criticism of the SLP. The criticisms in the WS have been written entirely, I believe, by WSP members. The reason for this is that they are in greater contact with the SLP than we are, there being no SLP group in these parts.
There are numerous organizations scattered about the world claiming socialism as their objective. In many instances their views are related and sound, but there are sufficient differences to keep them apart. As time goes on there will be a tendency for these groups to merge, but this merging can only happen as they iron out their differences.
The SLP is one of the groups holding ideas similar to ours but with differences strong enough to preserve a separate existence. Its views on Russia, the last war, the structure of socialist organization and the nature of socialism, for example, are different from ours, and the proper groundwork for the ultimate existence of the united movement for socialism can only be laid by attacking differences such as these and effecting the clarity needed for the job that must be done. Wrong ideas are not less harmful by being advocated in the name of socialism.