1900s >> 1907 >> no-35-july-1907

An Open Letter to Robert Blatchford: Wanted — A Party.

My Dear Robert,

If it isn’t a rude question, where have you been living for the past three years? 1 did hear you had been in London most of the time, but 1 can hardly credit that. Unless, indeed, you have “sported the oak” of your reading room to the exclusion of all information from the outside world. But that can’t be, for I have observed articles from your pen on current topics. You must have kept in communication with London affairs, and as you call yourself a Socialist, I take it you have kept touch with the Socialist movement in London. Or relied upon somebody to keep you in touch. If so, if you have relied upon somebody, he has let you down and made you look silly. He has made you write: “We want a real Socialist Party . . . we have an S.D.F. and an I.L.P. and a L.R.C. and a Fabian Society; but we have not a British Socialist Party. What is to be done ? ”

What is to be done? Well! Had you asked me I should have answered—wake up! If I, as a London Socialist writer, said, “we have a Justice and a Labour Leader and Daily Mail but we have not a Clarion,” you would think that my education in such matters had been neglected.

Everybody in London professing Socialism knows of the Clarion, and by the same token everybody in London professing Socialism knows of The Socialist. Party of Great Britain, or their education in such matters is defective.

We have not a British Socialist Party! Why, I’ve been a member of the British Socialist Party three years. This paper is issued by—just the Party you are enquiring for, a real Socialist Party.

And you didn’t know of its existence. Oh! Robert, Robert, where have you been buried ?

No, don’t thank me. This is the fellowship. I confess to the greatest astonishment that you were ignorant of this good thing, but the discharging of my fellowship obligation in sending you the news calls for no thanks. Only mark that “Socialism” is not S.D.F’ism or l.LP’ism or Fabianism or even Clarionism. They are quite different things, as we show in our “Manifesto,” and in this journal. It was precisely because we had discovered that S.D.F’ism and the rest did not make for Socialism that we anticipated your desire for

    A Real Socialist Party.

We are very emphatic on this point, and you will readily see how necessary such emphasis is. The clear duty of a real Socialist Party is to work for real Socialism. It has no justification for existence apart from that.

It is urged that conceptions as to what constitutes work for real Socialism may properly differ, Conceptions on this point among Socialists should not differ: do not in fact. The only work a Socialist can do is to preach Socialism. He can never preach anything that conflicts with his Socialism while he remains a Socialist; for that is to obscure his Socialism and to stultify himself as a Socialist.

Suppose he becomes an advocate for Payment of Members as the S.D.F. member does, a little Women’s Suffrage, after the fashion of the I. L.P’er, Municipal Public Houses, like unto the Fabian, what then? In the first place his Socialism has receded, however temporarily, into a secondary position. Socialism is not being preached — the working class crying for bread is given— a stone. Secondly he is doing work that needs no Socialist Party at all. Thirdly the particular reform worked for will not appreciably affect the condition of the working class as such. Fourthly  it will therefore have wasted the working-class strength concentrated upon realising it. Fifthly it will, because it has effected no material improvement in working class conditions, have bred disappointment, and, from disappointment, apathy. And finally it will have made existing confusion worse confounded in the minds of the working class.

Therefore I contend that preaching Socialism and explaining the phenomena of industrial development in the light of Socialism is the proper work of a Socialist. If he does any other propaganda work he is not a Socialist.

In the issue of the Clarion which contained your note already quoted, you plead for the all- sufficiency of the logical method. You say “If we overleap logic we overleap ourselves and land in a bog of confusion and disappointment,” which is very true. I am all for the logical method, therefore, I think that the argument I have submitted is strictly logical. If yon think otherwise perhaps yon will confute me.

Now will you turn to our Declaration of Principles on the back page and read it closely. It is an important pronouncement. So important that we reproduce it in every issue. It is important to you if you want a real British Socialist Party, because it is the base of the real British Socialist Party—which you will have to sign before yon can realise your desire. Perhaps you will point out wherein we overleap logic.

I will anticipate one objection you may raise. It is raised by your non-Socialist S.D.F., I.L.P., F.S. and the rest. It is our statement of hostility to all other political parties.

You may think we are too narrow, too doctrinaire. You may think it an impossible position, as the others do, but is it? I ask you, Robert, to proceed with your examination logically, without regard to the feelings of members of other political parties; without concern for the probable effect upon the sale of the Clarion. Proceed as you did in your examination of Christianity.

We are only interested in the maintenance of truth. Truth can only be maintained inside the logical method. “If we overleap logic we overleap ourselves and land in a bog of confusion and disappointment.’’ Therefore,—the truth, even if it means that we become for the time as voices crying in the wilderness.

The cause of working-class misery is private ownership of the means of life. The interests of the workers, who do not own the means of life, are opposed to the interests of the capitalists, who do own them. This clash of interests is the class struggle. I presume we may take that as read.

These things continue because

    The working class are ignorant.

Although their interests continually clash with those of their masters, they do not understand that this is inevitable. Nor do they understand that their masters’ ownership of the means of life is at the bottom of the trouble. We may take this as read also.

Now why, with this continual conflict of interest, do the working class remain ignorant ? And why are they so desperately apathetic? Is their ignorance not because the truth has not been told? And is their apathy not born largely of disappointment with the results of past efforts of their class to secure some amelioration of their condition?

We need not enquire for the moment into the honesty of working-class teachers and leaders. We need only deal with the teaching and leading.

The school instruction of the working class is not such as would enable the child to get a glimmering of the truth of the position. It would be surprising if the capitalist class, dominant in the legislature (because dominance there is essential to the maintenance of their economic ascendancy) should take steps to instruct the children of the working class concerning working-class poverty, So we will consider the teaching and leading the workers receive alter they have entered the industrial and political arenas.

Now do the majority of working-class teachers | teach that the working-class position is inevitable under present conditions? that there is no name given under heaven whereby the working class may be saved except Socialism? that until Socialism there can be no cessation of the clash of interests between Capital and Labour?—that the class struggle persists unflaggingly?

Leave out of account those who do not claim to be Socialists. If Socialism is the only remedy, and they are not Socialists, their teaching cannot be right because they do not teach Socialism. That’s agreed, I think.

But what of those who profess Socialism? My answer is that although they talk of it occasionally, they do not teach it. Nor do their leadings square with their occasional professions.

The important thing in a teacher of Socialism is that it should always be Socialism that he teaches. If he does not explain every manifestation of class conflict in the light of his Socialist philosophy, he is little, if any, better than the non-Socialist misleader. His teaching is neither logical nor consistent. He lands his audience in a bog of confusion.

And if, as very frequently happens, his actions directly conflict with his

    Occasional Socialist Professions;

if he mouths the class straggle and the fundamental importance of its full appreciation, what time he is doing those things which can only obscure the appreciation of the class struggle, I submit that he can only be classified under one of two heads. Either he is a fraud or a fool.

These be hard words, Robert, but they are not bitter, for I also am a Determinist.

However, the working class ignorance and apathy which must be dispelled before Socialism can be realised, so far from being effectively combatted by working-class leaders and teachers are contributed to by most of them. For example. If I were to tell the unemployed that unemployment must last as long as capitalism and were then to recommend them to send a deputation to the representatives of the capitalists to ask that they [the capitalists] should abolish unemployment, I should either be a knave or a fool. 1 should have cut myself off from logic and landed my audience in a bog of confusion and disappointment. If I argue that capitalist representatives are in control of the political machinery to conserve their own interests as against those of the working class (as we all agree is and must be the case); and that we must regard capitalist representatives always as a hostile force against whom war must be waged unceasingly until they are utterly vanquished. And if in face of that I suspend hostilities and enter into alliance with them, I overleap logic and land my followers in the bog of confusion and disappointment.

If I postulate that poverty and misery must last till Socialism, that until Socialism nothing can materially or permanently affect the position; if I say that palliatives are therefore of little use, so little use indeed that I must have a party that shall concentrate upon the thing that matters (Socialism) rather than the things that do not matter (palliatives); and if notwithstanding I secure that my organisation, founded because palliatives were not good enough, shall concentrate working-class effort upon the realisation of palliatives, I am riding rough-shod over logic and doing my level best to engulf my followers in the pit of impotence and despair.

Well, dear Robert, that is precisely what your S.D.F., I.L.P., Fabian Society, and—yes, and your Clarion are doing. If you want details I have told you already where you can get some. If you want a special list of

    Clarionese Fatuities

say the word.

You think highly of the Clarion, naturally. I think myself it is an excellent pen’orth too— sometimes. But it is not a Socialist paper. It is written to please those who fancy themselves “advanced’’ and caters for the organisations to which the “advanced” person belongs. It will give space to anything or anybody bearing one of the many recognised labels. But it wont give space to the S.P.G.B. representative who wishes to reply to a misleading reference to his Party, which is the more curious because you are enquiring for the Party.

No,

    The “Clarion” is not a Socialist Paper.

It is a jumble,—a gorgeous, inconsistent, illogical jumble. Which wouldn’t matter tuppence if it didn’t help throw the workers into confusion.

But the pity of it, Robert, the pity of it! You might do good work for Socialism if only your vaunted adherence to principle was a matter of fact instead of a figment of fancy. With your fine literary sense, your faculty for the selection of the apt phrase and the illuminating quotation, the appeal of your imagery, the grace of your style these powers might make a mighty instrument in the education of the working class. Instead of which you handle pitch and are defiled; you persist in the folly of emphasising non-essentials and scamping essentials until I begin to fear you must for ever remain a stumbling block and a rock of offence.

That’s what I had in my mind when I said that having had the Socialist Party of Great Britain, the party you are enquiring for, brought to your notice, and having decided that it is the party you must apply for membership in, you must do all in your power for Socialism, as distinguished from S.D.F’ism, Clarionisin, and the rest. “We are all Socialists now,” quoth a certain knight now dead, and I suppose he spake as truly as he knew. Yet he was absurdly wide of the mark. Not every one who proclaims himself Socialist shall find place in the ranks of the Socialist army. Not those whose desire is personal aggrandisement, nor those who aspire to superintend the workers’ activities, nor the experts nor the superior persons nor the palliators, nor the compromisers, nor the hosts of the otherwise damned are of the confraternity of working-class educators. Rather are they conscious and unconscious perpetuators of ignorance, workers of evil, misleaders, and false friends. But those who, understanding the working-class relation to the economy of production; understanding the forces that have been at work through all history to present in this the twentieth century that appalling anomaly of a starving people in the midst of a riot of wealth of their own creation; understanding how the physical and intellectual well-being of the workers is conditioned by the measure of their control of the means by which they live; understanding that control of these means of life can only be secured by workers similarly enlightened; those who understanding these things and the necessity for eliminating every factor tending to confuse the issue in the working-class mind, have set themselves steadfastly to the task of translating their knowledge into clear, logical, consistent action to the end that their fellows may the more readily acquire the knowledge that shall make them free, only these are the Socialists and only these can form in England or elsewhere, the Socialist Party.

And that, Robert, is all I can say to you today, and I hope it will be helpful if not to you at least to some others and lead them to come over and help us. At present the labourers are few. You if you will may help to make them many. If you will not, well, we must needs do without you. This is the fellowship.

And so no more at present from—

Yours truly,

‘Filius Populi’