1900s >> 1909 >> no-60-august-1909

The Forum: Our Position Queried

Mr. Harrison (Salford) writes :

I should esteem it a favour if you would explain through your journal the following points. (1) Does the S.P.G.B. control the votes of its members by similar conditions that obtain for the speakers ? (2) Does the Party consider it futile for members to use their votes in support of the other political parties (S.D.P., I.L.P., Liberal, Conservative, etc.) when not represented by their own party ? (3) What is the motive of your Rule 31 (that no member shall take office unless the whole number be elected)? Knowing that several representatives from scattered constituencies should equal the influence of a like number from one constituency, what is the object of the Party in seeking representation ? (4) Assuming the success of all its candidates in a given area, what would be their attitude in the House to such reforms as State Maintenance of School Children, Eight Hours’ Day, States Railways, and Old Age Pensions, and in the Council chambers toward Municipal enterprises (Trams, Gas, Water, etc.) when brought forward by the other parties ? Although refraining from advocating these reforms, does it consider such measures as mentioned no alleviation to the suffering masses? (5) There are pronounced opinions respecting the relations between Socialism and Religion, Christianity, etc. Numerous Church ministers assert that the two doctrines run smoothly together, others assert that they are antagonistic. Notable Socialist (so-called) speakers definitely affirm that the two doctrines may be conscientiously observed. A quotation appears this week in Justice to this effect. When questions are asked in public there is always a lot of uncertainty in the replies, as if afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. Do you affirm that the two are in harmony ? (6) In what sense are we to accept the phrases “Revolutionary Socialism” and “Revolutionary Socialist”? A lucid definition of these points will oblige,
Yours truly, H. HARRISON.

In reply to Mr. Harrison’s first question the only rules giving the Party control over speakers specifically are rules 2 (“A member shall not speak from any other political party platform except in opposition”) and 6 (which requires that before a member is put on the official lecture list he shall give evidence of the possession of the necessary knowledge and ability to expound the principles of Socialism and defend the position of the Party).

The same reason which led to the formulation of the quoted item of rule 2 makes it clear that a like control, at least as far and as effective as the “secret ballot” will allow, over the votes of members is exercised by the Party. That reason is found in the opening sentence of the last clause of our Declaration of Principles, where it is declared that our Party “enters the field of political action determined to wage war upon all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist.” This being the position of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, it follows that no member can use his vote in favour of any other political party without acting contrary to the principles he subscribed to upon becoming a member. The sixth clause of the Declaration contains a syllogism—two premises and a conclusion which necessarily follows from them. The premises are : “All political parties are but the expression of class interests” and “The interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class.” The conclusion arrived at from these two propositions is that “the party seeking working-class emancipation must be hostile to every other political party.” The only possible ground of escape from this conclusion is that these two classes are not the only ones in society. Apart from this, if the two premises are correct, then the conclusion must be correct also, and that being so, members of such party must not in any circumstances support by any political activity, whether of voice or pen or at the ballot box, any other political party. Of course, it is open to Mr. Harrison (or anyone else) to suggest that the two classes named are not the only ones in society, or to challenge the truth of one or both of the premises, but until that is done the answer must be regarded as conclusive.

The reply to the first question may be extended to the second, which is “Does the Party consider it futile for its members to use their votes in support of the other political parties (S.D.P., I.L.P., Liberal, Conservative, etc.) when not represented by their own Party ?” It only remains to be said, in referring our inquirer back to the syllogism, that as neither the S.D.P. nor the I.L.I’, stand in opposition to the capitalist class (they both support capitalist candidates and otherwise ally themselves with the master class on the political field, see S.P.G.B. Manifesto) they therefore cannot represent interests opposed to the capitalist class. They do not stand opposed to all other political parties, hence they are not in actual fact, and judged by their deeds—not their words, parties seeking working-class emancipation. The political arena being merely the battle-field of class interests, where every tie and obligation is forgotten, every allegiance cast to the wind, every barrier swept away, saving only the barrier of class interests, those who, found upon that battle-field, do not stand with us upon our side of that barrier, are against us. Do we think it futile to support such as these ? Oh, we think it much worse than futile !

The third point concerns our 31st and last rule, which lays it down that the Party shall only contest elections by putting forward a candidate for each vacancy in the particular ward, district or constituency, and that no member, though elected, shall take office unless the whole number for the particular ward, district or constituency be elected.

Once again Mr. Harrison is referred to the sixth clause of our Declaration of Principles. If the three propositions of the syllogism are true, if in particular the last of them—”The party seeking working-class emancipation must be hostile to every other political party”—is correct, then hostility to all other parties must be one of the basic principles of its political activity. A vote, to be of any value to such a party, must be the vote of a person who is also hostile to every other party, and no such voter could be guilty of the idiocy of voting both ways, or giving one vote for Socialism, as symbolised by the S.P. candidate, and one for capitalism, as expressed by the candidates of all other parties. Neither could the class-conscious worker who has the opportunity of voting for two Socialist candidates, use the vote in one case and wilfully fail in the other. The rule is a safeguard against building up a position upon such votes as these. That such a safefuard is necessary will be at once seen when we consider the position of men who are elected by unsound votes. Whatever their private and individual opinions may be, in their public and official capacity they are neither more nor less than those who put them in office. The real power is not the man, or the seat, but those who control the one because the other is in their gift. It is a remarkable fact that those who so proudly label themselves Social Democrats, in contradistinction to us (who are merely Socialists), are blind to this first axiom of democracy, that power is with the electors, and not with the elected. They are guilty of undemocratic action at very outset, in suggesting, and acting upon, the idea that once in position, under no matter what pretext, they make themselves the masters of those who have placed them there, and who have power to presently cast them out. This is the very essence of demagogy, the central idea of bosses and fakers, the cherished instrument of all working-class cheats and misleaders and men who have taken “the print of the golden age” and want to “get there” for various reasons. Against a majority of men so elected, and upon such a mandate presuming to take action upon the only lines that could seriously touch capitalist interests — revolutionary lines—the master class would find their easiest and simplest remedy in an appeal to the country ! Those who had voted for reform would soon settle the attempt to cheat them into Revolution. Well if that appeal did not take the shape of bloody suppression, aided, connived at, or at least passively dissapproved of by those constituents who had sanctioned reform only. This is why the masters are not afraid of the “Labour” Party. They know them at once for dishonest men, who can be bought whenever they have anything to sell—which is usually before they are elected, not after. They know perfectly well that they represent only the ignorance of the working class, and stand, opaque and obfuscating figures, between that ignorance and the light. And so long as they are content to do this the capitalists are willing to allow them, and even to help them into office and invite them to their little feasts, as a sign to the multitude that “Capital and Labour are Brothers.”

What is our object in seeking representation ? Simply the seizure of the political machinery for the purpose of overthrowing capitalism. We do not want the so-called palliatives—for they don’t palliate. Even if they did we should condemn the present system and clamour for a new one, for obviously it is the business of those interested in the continuance of the capitalist system to patch it up to last a little longer. And the louder we shout for its demolition the harder will they try to patch it up. It is our business to show the rottenness within—theirs to present a fair exterior : it is not for us to show them how to perpetuate their domination. We have work enough to see that the reformers do not lull the workers into such apathetic belief in the possibilities of the capitalist system that it shall be left to fall of its own rottenness, and plunge humanity into fatal chaos born of its own ignorance and unpreparedness. Seeking representation therefore, for the purpose named, we desire to build up our position with sound bricks, or sound, revolutionary votes, in order that it may be a true index of our strength and we may be neither led nor driven into the appeal to force until the time is ripe. It is in order to assure, as far as possible, that every vote given us shall be a clear demand for the ending of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism that we have formulated rule 31.

As to our elected representatives’ attitude towards reforms, it is hardly fair to ourselves to answer this question without ample room for supporting it with argument. And further, it is possible that the last word has not been said upon that subject yet. The S.P.G.B. is a scientific party. As such it is open to assimilate each scientific truth as it is unfolded, and to adapt itself to such altered circumstances as might be advisable. This remark has special reference to the possible contingency of the capitalists putting forward a measure to extend the franchise with a view to swamping the Socialist vote with the vote of the slum. But confining ourselves to the class of measures our correspondent enumerates, and pending a special paper on the subject (by editorial grace) the following may be said. We ask for no vote for palliatives or reforms or “municipal enterprises,” but only for Socialism. Just as we by our 31st rule try to avoid annexing “palliative” votes, so if voting against “palliatives” lost us votes they could only be votes we try by all means to get rid of. As we declare before winning seats that “palliatives” are no good to the workers, and as they cannot be one iota more useful after we have won seats, obviously we must go on saying the same thing about them, and pointing out their fraudulent nature. It is plain then that our representatives cannot vote for these things. Shall we oppose them ? Well, why not ? At present there is evidence that before one class-conscious constituency is evolved in this country, and therefore before one S.P.G.B. representative takes his seat upon any elected public body, bitter experience will have sickened a vast portion of our fellow workers of such expedients. The return of our representatives will signify as much, in fact. The demand for reform is not in any sense of the word an attack upon capitalism, but the movement for revolution is. Against the first the capitalists have no need to defend (as history since the Chartist movement shows), but against the last they are compelled to exert their greatest efforts. Therefore the first man returned to Parliament under conditions such as the S.P.G.B. candidates will alone accept office upon, will carry consternation into the enemy’s camp, for it will be an unmistakeable declaration against refom, an undeniable demand for Revolution. As the Revolutionary must necessarily attack, so defense lies with the reactionary. The only defense at that stage will be the pretended reform. The evils of the system will be too patent for denial: they must use the arguments of the quasi-Socialist that the social edifice can be reformed. They must try and patch up the crumbling structure in order that it may last a little longer. Unnecessary to state, the dominant class will do this in their own interests— which are tied up in capitalism. Once more if there is any truth in that clause of our Declaration of Principles which declares that the interests of the master class and the working class are diametrically opposed then the duty of revolutionaries is clear. The reform becomes the reactionaries’ defense, therefore it must be attacked tooth and nail. It will be defended, for it is the last ditch of capitalism, beyond which is nothing but the force of arms on the open battle field. So we shall have to take their reforms as long as we are not strong enough to reject them, and when the master class are too weak to continue to force their reforms upon us, then indeed the day of the Social Revolution is near at hand.

In view of the apace already occupied, Mr. Harrison must be referred to our 43rd issue for the answer to the fifth query. Under the title of “Can a Christian be a Socialist” the matter was ably dealt with. Further, a pamphlet on the subject of Socialism and Religion is in course of preparation.

The final question concerns the meaning of the terms “Revolutionary Socialism” and “Revolutionary Socialist.” Well, the terms mean simply “Socialism ” and “Socialist.” There is no need to qualify these two plain words, for as Socialism at this stage implies revolution, Socialism must necessarily be revolutionary and every Socialist a revolutionary. Some of us who now know better may have been guilty of thus distinguishing terms that need no such distinction, but as we get older and learn the ropes we realise that speaking of “revolutionary” Socialism may create, does create, the impression that there is a form of Socialism which is not revolutionary, and of Socialists who are not revolutionary—an absurdity, at least until such time as (long after the realisation of the Socialist system) evolution shall have made the upholders of that system reactionaries against the system that is to follow it—if such a time ever comes. But it is probably the term “revolutionary” that is in question. The word “revolution,” from which the adjective is derived, signifies the entire change in the nature of the social structure which distinguishes Socialism from capitalism. It is the very antithesis of reform. Its root, germ or essence is the changing of the very basis of society—the property condition—while the root principle of reform is to preserve the social basis as the essential of perpetuating the social fabric unchanged. It is evident that one cannot be both revolutionary and reformer at the same time. To act in both directions at once, if such a thing is at all possible, is but to negate oneself, to cancel one’s political activity, to reduce oneself to the standing of the passive supporter of the status quo, and therefore of the anti-Socialist. The term “revolutionary,” then, implies the advocate of a change in the basis of society, and a “revolutionary Socialist” is a revolutionary who advocates that in making that change, it shall take the form of substituting social ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth for the present private ownership of these things. But as only thus can Socialism appear, every Socialist must be revolutionary, and is best known as a Socialist only.

A. E. J.

Leave a Reply