1900s >> 1908 >> no-46-june-1908

The Development of Socialism in England

AND THE POSITION OF THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN

If you wish to fix the responsibility for the growth of the Socialist movement in England, you have only to go to the organs of the various parties claiming to stand for working-class interests, and your thirst for definite knowledge is immediately slaked. The policy of the Independent Labour Party, says the Labour Leader, has been and is the most potent factor in the development of the Socialist idea. The work of the Social-Democratic Federation made Socialism possible at all, says Justice. To the Clarion is the credit mainly due, says the modest, unassuming editor of the Clarion. If there is one organisation more than another that has made Socialism a live issue it is the Fabian Society, says Bernard Shaw, the “organ” of that pseudo-intellectual body; while a writer in the New Age, a “Socialist” paper standing for the interests of a couple of rather bumptious young “Shavers” (a term preferable to “Shavians” as descriptive of the admirers of the great and one and only G.B.S.), has discovered that “the Daily Mail in six months taught the English people more Socialism than all the Marxist and Reformist teachers had expounded in half a century.”

So once more you pay your penny and accept whichever assertion you prefer ; although if you are already a Socialist you will know that neither statement is true. The Socialist idea has developed through the increasing

PRESSURE OF ECONOMIC CIRCUMSTANCE

operating to the detriment of working-class well-being, and producing in the working-class mind a spirit of revolt to which the Socialist propagandist has made appeal with the irrefutable logic of his message.

These Socialist propagandists may have been in all the organisations mentioned or in none of them. But if they were in those organisations they have the satisfaction of knowing that the Socialist idea has not developed in England in anything like the degree it might have done if the organisations had not existed at all. Our bodies referred to will of course not agree with me—unless he is prepared to sit down and weigh the matter up calmly and dispassionately. Then he must see that the appeal of his advocacy of Socialism has been largely, and in many instances entirely, nullified by the association of himself with his organisation, and the association of his organisation with proposals that, like the flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la, have nothing to do with the work of a Socialist party as such. These proposals—”palliatives” as they are called—offer no explanation of the economic hardship the worker is in revolt against; they would leave him, as a class, in exactly the same positionas he was before, even if were, after much labour realised ; and if they are piled upon his attention in annual multiplication, until the Socialism which the Socialist propagandist set out with a high heart and in all honesty to preach as

THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERED,

has receded to a position of comparative unimportance. Socialism has become a matter of no immediate moment. The wood is obscured by the trees. The stepping-stones (which are not necessarily stepping-stones at all) have smothered the goal they are supposed to be leading to.

It is all very well for our Socialist propagandist, tied up to an organisation of the kind referred to, to protest that his party is out for Socialism “same as us,” and that therefore the only question at issue is one of method. The protest simply evades the point. It does not meet it. The point is that Socialism is the only thing that matters to a Socialist party; that the Socialist is therefore entirely concerned to induce the working cluss to accept the same conclusion; that if he is not doing that he is fostering an illusion—because he must know well that all the palliative mongering in the world doesn’t matter tuppence from a purely working-class point of view. All the proposals on all the “reform,” “stepping-stone,” “half-loaf” programmes that muddle-headedness ever gave birth to, while they might palliate a little hardship here or there, wouldn’t necessarily advance the revolutionary idea ; wouldn’t necessarily make a single Socialist. Whereas, if attention was entirely concentrated upon Socialism, and all energies were directed to the organisation of the working class upon the lines of distinctive class interests, the political heavens would simply

RAIN PALLIATIVES.

Isn’t that obvious from the statements repeatedly appearing in the press of the capitalist parties ? “Social Reform, a policy of sound constructive proposals for the amelioration of the admittedly hard lot of the deserving working population must be our object,” “against the principles of Socialism only the confidence of Labour in the determination of the Government ——,” etc., etc., etc. The phrases are familiar enough. What is the first thing a Government in a funk sets itself to do ? It flings out a half-loaf to the “deserving working class,” or rather it breaks the half-loaf into crumbs and holds them ready to throw. That is generally good enough. When it isn’t they are thrown out—one at a time.

You can make a lot of crumbs out of a half-loaf. And it takes a long time to throw them all out. Not that it would matter much if they were all thrown out at once. Altogether, they will only make a half-loaf; and as somebody said somewhere, “We are after the whole damned baker’s shop !”

Very well. What do we want to palter and fritter our time and energy away on crumbs for ? Let’s go for that baker’s shop. Let’s upset the complacency of the profit-spinners and put a holy terror into their souls for a change. It will be worth while. As it is they sit quite calmly, holding the key to our baker’s shop, and laugh —how they must laugh—while you, my friend of the S.D.P., I.L.P., or whatever it is,

WASTE YOUR SUBSTANCE

in riotous advocacy of the things that don’t matter. The working class cry for the bread of Socialism, and you offer them—a stepping-stone. Or if you don’t personally, your organisation does. And that’s what I mean when I say that it would have been better for you and your work for Socialism if your organisation had never existed. You have preached the pure milk of the word, and your organisation has come along and watered it. And I hope you. are properly grateful.

Yes, Socialism has advanced in England somewhat. That is undeniable except by those who are interested to maintain present conditions. And they only deny it with their mouths. And because of this, all the parties are rushing in to claim credit for the result—especially those who have contributed least to it.

So that even in this they are at sixes and sevens. Even in this, supposing them inquisitive enough to refer to their party organs for information, the workers would be confused. Each of them has been the “principal factor,” and neither of them is right ! The Socialist idea has developed in spite of their organisations. Had they been composed entirely of Socialists, and taken Socialist action consistently, the Socialist movement might to-day have been far greater, far more powerful. Because Socialists organised are far more powerful for Socialism than Socialists fighting a lone hand. When, however, the Socialist voluntarily curries the sins of a non-Socialist organisation, like an Old Man of the Sea, on his shoulders, he becomes well-nigh impotent.

That is why the Socialist Party of Great Britain came into existence. We want our

WORK FOR SOCIALISM TO TELL

—to bear all the fruit it can. We know that, organised, we are stronger than we should be as individual units. We found the other organisations unsatisfactory. They were simply confusing the working-class mind by non-Socialist, often by anti-Socialist action. We refused to accept responsibility for their sins. The working class wanted a clear issue set before them. Socialism and the significance of the class struggle contained the issue. We knew that that issue was so simple that the wayfaring mind was as capable of appreciating it—more capable in fact—as it was of appreciating the pointless issues of “Reform” propaganda. We knew, therefore, that the justification of the “Reformers,” viz., the inability of the working class to assimilate Socialism, was piffle—honest or otherwise. We formed our Party, and because it is the only Party that insists upon Socialism and Socialism alone, we claim it as the only Socialist Party. Because the other parties are continually insisting upon something other than Socialism, and because we hold with all our minds and strength that in doing it they are putting the progress of Socialism to a disadvantage by obscuring it and confusing the issue it raises ; we are in opposition to them, accepting their maledictions, their misrepresentations, often their deliberate lying (I am sorry it should be necessary to say that), as evidence of the

CORRECTNESS OF OUR POSITION.

We do not make our claim as the only party in Great Britain that may logically and justly accept the name and the responsibilities of a Socialist Party, in any spirit of braggadoccia. There is nothing to brag about. Nor is it brag to assert that; because we are the only Socialist Party. We have during our short existence done more within the limits of our powers to educate the working class and develop the Socialist idea than any other party. The fact is obvious if the premises are conceded. If the premises are not conceded, wherein are they wrong ? That is the question we put to the honest S.D.-cum-I.L.P.’er or anyone else. If they choose to answer we shall always be delighted to argue with them, and give them fairer play than their parties and organs are prepared to give us. We can afford to do that because our position is impregnable, we believe, and in any case, having no “leaders” we stand to lose nothing. The other crowds prefer to ignore us, or vilify us, or in some other way endeavour to do us injury because they know their positions are far from impregnable, and because their leaders have

A GOOD DEAL TO LOSE.

Well, we are the Socialist Party of Great Britain and the others are wrong even upon so simple a question as the causes of the development of Socialism in England. What have our critics got to say about it ?

ALEC JAMES.

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