1900s >> 1906 >> no-28-december-1906

Doubts and Difficulties: Why We Oppose Other Parties

Stanley Villa,
92, Duckett-road, Harringay. 16/9/06.
To the Executive Committee, S.P.G.B.
Gentlemen,—I am writing to you, to express my thoughts on a matter that has given me much food for reflection lately, and anxiety moreover that the cause may suffer. I put the question to Comrade Anderson the other night at Harringay, asking whether he “ignored the efforts of any Socialist not connected with the S.P.G.B.,” even though they may be successful in making class-conscious converts ; also whether he would help, or receive help from, them or not.
His reply was that the S.P.G.B. does not recognise any Socialist not connected with them.
That is pretty definite, but has it never occurred to you that that is a rather dogmatic position ? Can it be reconciled ? Now before we go any further let us understand one another.
I am a class-conscious Socialist, opposed to the two orthodox parties. I accept your Declaration of Principles as a sound basis of waging the class war. I have been instrumental in my small individual way, more or less of influencing others on those lines. There are hundreds of others also the same as myself.
Leaving out of the question for the present whether they belong to any party or not, the fact remains that the result to be achieved is the awakening of the proletarian mind, to which class they belong.
That being so then, it matters little how a man is converted, or by whom, so long as he understands Socialism, and can be relied upon to vote for a Socialist, and not a Liberal or Tory.
The one who taught him, and who was successful in converting him, may have been a member of any other Socialist organisation, or none at all, or he may have been converted in instalments, by different persons, members of different organisations and various unattached, each one contributing to the sum total of information and conviction.
In the face of possibilities like this, and it is a possibility, is it not absurd to ignore the efforts of anyone not connected witli the S.P.G.B.? There are many such, totally ignorant of its very existence. There may be members of Socialist organisations who do not see the wisdom of forsaking their society and joining a new party, formed by their comrades, who, dissatisfied with certain tactics in the existing organisations, decide to do so, and wage war on the very parties under whose auspices they formerly carried on propaganda, and for whom they possibly secured many new members.
Just imagine the ridiculous position of a member of the S.D.F. of four years ago, for example, who is now a member of the S.P.G.B., turning round and denouncing the very members of the S.D.F. who may have been the means of his conversion, and some whom he may have converted, which members, moreover, are using the same arguments as he used, and is using, to convert others now.
What sense would there be in his saying:—”You’re no Socialist: you’ve been converted by the S.D.F., and the S.D.F. is not a Socialist party” ? Now, gentlemen, although you may have some reason for your actions and position, you will admit it looks very ridiculous in the eyes of the uninitiated and illiterate mob, such as were congregated around Anderson on the night in question, who, by the bye, were asking some of the most absurd questions, besides belching forth torrents of obscene invective, and giving me the depressing impression that progress seems almost impossible with such awful ignorance prevailing amongst the very class whom we rely upon to help us in the social revolution. And that is the very thing that should be most guarded against. Are not the opponents and the unthinking continually throwing that up in our teeth, that “they are a house divided against itself” and “that is the happy state of affairs that will accrue under Socialism,” etc.? Besides, where is this procedure likely to stop ? It is just possible that there will be members in your party, who will not agree with certain actions or tactics decided upon at a Conference in reference to trade unions, e.g.—and may kick over the traces of the S.P.G.B., and start yet another little band of “determined and vigorous revolutionists,” and they in their turn may also have a split, so that in the end there is a conglomeration of infuriated, over anxious sections flying at each other’s throats, and making the already existing confusion worse confounded.
I hope you see my point: pray don’t think I am going for you or bearing you any animosity. Far from it, I sincerely admire your little party, for the earnestness and pluck that is displayed, sometimes against such disheartening odds. My only object is to reason together for the good of the cause we have at heart. Every Socialist worthy of the name has the sincerest desire to do something for the realisation of his ideas; and if those ideas are Socialistically sound, who, pray, is in the superior intellectual sphere (otherwise than self appointed) to dictate as to whether he can correctly teach others ?
But you will say, “Oh, yes, so-and-so is a very good lecturer, but then he only does good from the standpoint of such and such a party.” Well, for the life of me I cannot see the reason for hostility on that account. I suppose if he were to deliver the same lectures from an S.P.G.B. platform he would be a fine chap, an able exponent, etc. It would seem that the party is the thing, not Socialism. Is he likely to make more converts on your platform ? Indeed, how do you know that he may not have been instrumental in converting some of your very members. In fact every member owes his conversion to an evolution of influence external to his party.
Surely you do not expect to get the whole of the proletariat converted, and members of your party by such means. Even if you maintain that the revolution can only be accomplished by every Socialist joining your ranks you will have to use the arguments of those parties you denounce to convert the “snobbishly” respectable wage slave residents of modern Suburbia forsooth : they cannot be converted by the same tactics or argument used in Lambeth or East Ham for instance.
That is why I for one contend that a united party is neither practical nor desirable at present, when a person is not allowed to think or say what he or she conscientiously believes, but must rigidly adopt a party ticket, they are more likely to remain hostile. But if they can they can be approached through sentimental channels, their prejudices may be overcome, their sympathy aroused, and finally their enthusiasm gained. Thus a much broader field of propaganda is open at present.
Let each section do their work in their own way : they are all aiming at the same goal, only have different roads of getting there, forsooth, if some are farther round, well, they arrive in the end and pick up some strangers on the way that otherwise might never have come.
I do most grievously deplore the confusion that is caused by this and that party wanting to claim all the intelligence, and warning customers not to deal at the shop next door, so to speak. To everyone that is converted I venture to say there are a dozen embittered or disgusted. And where does the freedom of thought come in? We say we want the workers to think for themselves, and then they are told that they must not think that they can realise their social emancipation by belonging to any but, the S.P.G.B. What are they to think of that?
Do let us be reasonable I beseech you, allow every man the right to belong to what party he fancies most; assist everyone who is aiming at the emancipation of humanity from the galling chains of monopoly and capitalism, no matter of what party, religion, race or colour he may be. Then and only then shall we succeed in convincing the world that we stand for freedom, justice, and universal brotherhood.
Apologising for writing at such length and trusting you will see the reasoning of my appeal to you in the name of the cause, and wishing you, one and all, every success, I remain,
Yours fraternally,
FRED W. TOD.

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We welcome criticism. We are therefore glad to have the opportunity of publishing Mr. Tod’s letter. The more so as we think his difficulty is shared by many.

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Mr. Tod tells us that he views our Declaration of Principles as a sound basis on winch to wage the class struggle. But the whole of his letter is a plea for the abrogation of that portion of the Declaration which declares hostility to every other political party. The S.D.F. is a political party even as the Liberal Party is. So too is the I.L.P., and the Labour Party. The acceptance of our Declaration of Principles, therefore, signifies a refusal to help those “other Socialist parties” in the way Mr. Tod suggests.

* * *

We cannot think that Mr. Tod is justified in saying that we should recognise everybody and everything which is making for Socialism. We do not. We fully recognise that every action of every political party, of every person, and of every economic force is making for Socialism. We know that a political party may be what is termed re-actionary, but to-day the re-action reacts in the direction of progress toward Socialism. This is not, however, what Mr. Tod means. His idea is that there are Socialist parties outside the S.P.G.B. ; that the aim of those parties is the realisation of Socialism ; and that, therefore, those parties should receive the support of the members of the S.P.G.B.

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Through the action of the members of those parties people are converted to Socialist views, and any person securing the conversion of people to Socialism should be recognised by the S.P.G.B. So runs the argument. But how are we to recognise them ? My conversion to Socialism was mainly the result of reading the works of Mr. Herbert Spencer, and of seeking to apply the principles enunciated therein to the conditions of the working class with whom I lived. Mr. Spencer was a militant opponent of anything trending towards Socialism. How is he to be recognised by the S.P.G.B., and are we to help those of whom he is the type ?

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But, says Mr. Tod, how absurd you are,—you who have within the last four years been members of the S.D.F.—to attack that body and its members, and amongst them those whom you yourselves have converted. This is entirely fallacious—false premiss, false conclusion. In the first place we do not attack the members of the S.D.F. because they are members of the S.D.F. We simply criticise such political actions of theirs as are inconsistent with membership of a sound Socialist party. We only condemn the S.D.F. in so far as they have departed from a clearly defined, class-conscious, working-class party. We do not criticise those whom we have converted, for, in so far as they are open to our criticism, they have not been converted.

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The time, says our correspondent, is not yet ripe for a united Socialist party. So we must live and let live. But why ? On the contrary we think the time is ripe for a united Socialist party, but it must accept the Declaration of Principles of the S.P.G.B. There can be no possible justification in any country for the existence of more than one sound, class-conscious, working-class party, and in Great Britain we find that there is but one—the S.P.G.B. We should be pleased to hear of converts being made to Socialism, whatever the cause of conversion. Possibly the S.D.F., the I.L.P., the Fabian Society, the Liberal Party, or the Tory Party may aid in the conversion of men and women to Socialism. So far so good. But when once they are converted they must recognise that the S.P.G.B. is the party which they must join, as this is the only party with a sound Socialist, organisation.

* * *

“What sense,” asks Mr. Tod, “would there be in saying, ‘You’re no Socialist: you’ve been converted by the S.D.F., and the S.D.F. is not a Socialist party’?” But has this ever been said ? What we do say is “You say you have been converted to Socialism by the S.D.F. The S.D.F. is a body whose ‘Socialism’ is peculiar. Do you believe that your belonging to a party like the S.D.F., which does not run its candidates on purely Socialist lines, which allows its own trade union members to break its own rules, which has supported capitalist candidates and made bargains with capitalist parties, is in the best interests of the Socialism in which you profess to believe ? If so your Socialism is tainted and may prove a hindrance rather than a gain to Socialism.”

* * *

The justification offered by our correspondent for the existence in this country of more than one Socialist party is that different arguments must be put forward to meet different minds ! The arguments which appeal to Suburbia do not appeal to Slumurbia. We are, of course, very well aware of this. We know that the interests of the dwellers in the one locality are not the same as the interests of those in the other. Circumstances, however, alter. The trust is rearing its head in this country and will make the interests of the Suburbians the same as those of the Slumurbians. They are all being crushed into the same class with like interests, like aspirations, like ideals. And the argument of class interest which appeals to one must appeal to the other.

* * *

Our friend then goes on to insinuate that in the S.P.G.B. the members must not give utterance to their own opinions. He remarks “When a person is not allowed to think or say what he or she conscientiously believes, but must rigidly adopt a party ticket, they “(the public)” are more likely thereby to remain hostile.” In the S.P.G.B. the members certainly vent their own opinions. The freest expression of opinion is tolerated. When, however, that opinion is contrary to the Principles on which the Party is based it is felt that the reasons which induced the member to join the Party no longer exist. The member thereupon ceases to have a right of membership and must go outside.

* * *

In the S.D.F., on the other hand, freedom of speech is anathema. It is only a few years since that Federation (sic) sent a circular to its branches saying that further criticism within the organisation must discontinue. But even with them where they lose in freedom of speech they gain in freedom of action, especially at election times, when the methods of action of the various members are as diverse as if each were a law unto himself.

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We of the S.P.G.B. are in the position of the Scotsman who said “Honesty is the best policy—I’ve tried them baith.” We have sampled the tactics of the S.D.F. and found them wanting, and we are now trying a policy of unswerving adhesion to the organisation we have formed and of militant hostility to every other. At the same time we know that many of our future members must come from the ranks of parties it is necessary for us to attack. We are opposed to the action of Mr. Tod, which we believe to be pernicious, but we should be pleased to welcome him to our Party as soon as he is able to subscribe to our principles and policy. We have no quarrels with individuals. We believe in the possibility of political redemption for most of those we criticise, and know that before we found the true path we were ourselves possessed with our modicum of political original sin.

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It is, of course, possible that our Party will not succeed, but Socialism is inevitable, and the party which will bring it into realisation will be organised on our lines, with our policy, our principles, and our methods. Believing this we can only think that it is futile to fritter away our energies in helping unsound organisations. We must decline to lower our flag. We are out for Socialism, and this can only be gained by weeding out error, pointing out mistaken tactics, converting people to our ideas, and organising them upon a proper basis. I hope this will go some way to explaining our point of view to Mr. Tod, whose further criticisms we shall be pleased to deal with.

ECONOMICUS

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