A Cut at the S.L.P.
The criticism of the Socialist Labour Party which appears in the S.P.G.B. Manifesto to the Proposed International Socialist Congress seems to have met with the disapproval of the people criticised. The people criticised try – we were going to write “to hit back,” but this would not be correct: they do not try to hit back, they simply try to parry the blow.
Of course, they cannot be blamed for confining their efforts to such defensive measures. That they can find no opening in our defence is apparently obvious, even to them. They have done their best with the unpromising material to hand, and it amounts to this:
An effusion of cheap sneers, stale witticisms, and the like as a mask to cover their skedaddling from the real issue ; a vague charge (vague in that it is unsupported by any evidence) of “flagrant dishonesty ” ; a ludicrous and lying attempt to explain away an awkward statement which appeared in their official organ ; and finally a display of fireworks on their own behalf which is as amusing as such things usually are.
Regarding the criticism in our Manifesto to the Proposed Socialist Congress, the S.L.P. state in their organ : “For ourselves we can smile at the weak criticism passed on the S.L.P.” And having thus adopted the policy of “grin and bear it, or take it lying down,” they pass on to the lighter task of finding funny names to fit the signature of our correspondent ” B.B.B.” In such easy ways are victories won in the class struggle!
“B.B.B.” quoted in our July issue the following (described by the “Socialist” of August as “an Editorial note”) from Nov. ’14 “Socialist”:
“That there are differences of opinion in the S.L.P. as in other parties, on the question of the war must have been apparent to most readers of “The Socialist.” Last month I tried to show what the different views were, but I have not been able to find out what support each side has, consequently I cannot say definitely what the official attitude of the Party is.”
And this is how the S.L.P. try to explain away that very curious, not to say damaging, statement :
“This note was quite in order; in accordance with our policy of allowing full expression of different opinions in our columns, letters were published urging a pre-war (? pro-war) policy. A discussion took place in our columns on the attitude of Socialism to the war, but the pro-war correspondents were in every case non-members of the S.L.P.
Some individuals, mislead by the correspondence and discussion, accused the S.L.P. of wavering on internationalism ; but later, when the Party Manifesto was issued and the air cleared, it was seen that the whole membership was solidly anti-war.”
That is enough to go on with. We will now proceed to handle the S.L.P. on the matter contained in this quotation.
First of all let it be noted that our opponents cling desperately to the pronouncement our comrade and contributor “B.B.B.” adduced against them. They had not the courage – or should we say indiscretion ? – to reprint it, for it would then at once have provided the answer – complete and crushing – to their miserable attempt to defend it. “This note was quite in order” the S.L.P. champion says. Good.
Now what is the explanation ? “A discussion took place in our columns on the attitude of Socialism to the war, but the pro-war correspondents were in every case non-members of the S.L.P.” But the note which is “quite in order” says that it “must have been apparent to most readers of ‘The Socialist'” that “there are differences in the S.L.P. … on the question of the war.” Nothing there about non-members of the S.L.P. That which MUST have been apparent to readers of “The Socialist” (and therefore necessarily from evidence appearing in that paper), was differences inside the S.L.P., concerning the war, not outside it. Who said “flagrant dishonesty” ?
It is true that in the May 1915 issue of “The Socialist” the following delectable passage occurs (“Impressions of the Conference “) :
“Imagine the surprise of all the delegates present when it was found that the Party was absolutely unanimous against the war, and that the two writers who had created the impression that the S.L.P. was a house divided, were not even members of the Party.”
But who were the two writers referred to ? Were they “M.” and Joseph Andrews, who, addressing the Editor as “Comrade,” were permitted to spread themselves over seven columns in the Jan. 1915 issue and five in the previous November number ? Were they these men, who could write such things as “The maintenance of the balance of power on the Continent is Great Britain’s object and it should be the object of all Socialists” (“M”) and “I propose that . . realising that German militarism is now a menace to the very existence of Europe, we support the Allies in their armed resistance” ? (J. Andrews.) But if these were the two non-members referred to, that still leaves unaccounted for the man who wrote the article “Shall If Fight” in the December 1914 issue of “The Socialist,” the man who penned this : “I cannot understand the stand being taken by some Socialists of refusing to kill,” and this : “I do not regard this question as a test of one’s sincerity as a Socialist,” and this : “So long as the other fellow remains armed and sets out to make mince-meat of me I reserve the right to retaliate,” and a lot more leading up to the position that we should fight. We should be pleased to be assured that this writer was a non-member of the Party ; we should be hilariously delighted to “imagine the surprise of all the delegates present when it was found that” besides being the vehicle for the conveyance to the workers of the capitalist case and the capitalist pleadings for drenching the world with working-class blood, the official organ of the S.L.P. was edited by one who was “not even” a member of the Party !
We claim that it is a lie that all the pro-war correspondents were non-members of the S.L.P., and if this is not so will the editor of “The Socialist” explain that reference to the differences in the S.L.P. which must have become apparent – who to? – to those who read “The Socialist”?
Mark what the Editor of our contemporary himself says in the August issue concerning the “note” which was “quite in order,” in his vain endeavour to wriggle out of its implications :
“Bold Bad Boy, or Bunkum Balderdash and Blether, or whatever the mysterious initials cover, quotes from an article in the June 1917 “Socialist,” . . . and compares it with an extract from the November 1914 “Socialist,” where an Editorial note calls attention to the differences of opinion on the war expressed in the columns of the “Socialist,” . . . ” (The italics are ours).
There again our opponents give themselves away. The note itself spoke of differences of opinion in the S.L.P., the Editor’s latest wriggle says that those differences were expressed in the columns of “The Socialist.” Then what becomes of the statement that the pro-war correspondents “were in every case non members of the S.L.P.”? Who said bunkum, balderdash and blether?
“Compare the S.L.P. and the S.P.G.B. in their actions,” says our contemporary. Well, suppose we do. In the first place we freely admit that there have been individuals in our party whose knowledge was not sufficient to keep them sound on the question of the war. We have never claimed that our Declaration of Principles could prevent the entry of undesirable people into our organisation ; but we do claim that when such people reveal themselves, by word or deed, as unfit material for a Socialist organisation, the Declaration of Principles to which they give their signatures on joining is an efficient instrument for dealing with them, and putting them outside. In the few cases where the war has revealed unhealthy elements the Party has promptly purged itself of such.
On the other hand, what have been the actions of the S.L.P. in this connection? The Editor of their official organ himself shows that even the columns of that journal have been used to give publicity to the pro-war views of members of the S.L.P. We do not know what action that party took in the secrecy of their councils, but the columns of their organ have not been used to give publicity to any handling of the pro-war members thereof. When the Editor of “The Socialist” is compelled to write, three months after the war broke out, “Last month I tried to show what those different views were, but I have not been able to find out what support each side has, consequently I cannot say definitely what the official attitude of the Party is “—when such a statement as that, we say, can appear in the official organ of the party, how can the party handle pro-war members ? The official organ, the mouthpiece of the Executive and therefore of the party, does not know, in the face of the controversy on such a vital question as that of the “attitude of Socialism to the war,” what the party position is ; how, then, can individual members be expected to know that position, or be dealt with for not knowing it ?
For years it has been the practice of the S.L.P. to refuse to soldiers admission to their ranks. Foolish as this was under pre-war conditions, the logic of such an attitude left no mistake as to the proper course to be taken on the outbreak of war. Yet this party, who, before the war, could not abide an unfortunate member of the working class whom stress of circumstances had compelled to sell his labour-power to the master class in the only capacity open to him, had no “official position” in relation to the war when it had been in progress three months. Up to that time, at all events, the members were “quite in order” in shouting for the despised and rejected soldier to begin the work for which he was despised and rejected, and by that same token the members were in order in “joining up” and getting on with the butchery themselves. The party was divided on “the attitude of Socialism to the war”; its Press could not “find out what support each side had,” and therefore could not say whether it was the duty of the members to rush off and join the Army, or get themselves incarcerated for opposing the war.
That is how we “compare the S.L.P. and the S.P.G.B. in their actions.”
But we have not done yet: we may as well make a job of it while we are about it. Our opponents try to prove their status as a revolutionary organisation. What is the evidence they offer ? Do they present us revolutionary principles and prove their policy to be consistent therewith ? No. They have a very different standard for judging revolutionary organisations. They judge – by the number of members they have had in prison ! In this respect what a long way they are behind the Suffragettes !
“We have had many of our members on the Clyde imprisoned and deported for revolutionary propaganda,” our contemporary says in course of proving their revolutionary character. “We have Editors, past and present, in gaol or under the shadow of gaol. (A former Editor – A. McManus – was deported and again arrested for working-class activity in the recent strike.”) All of which wears a different complexion when we remember that the S.L.P. “martyrs” to gaol in spite of abject contrition, and that McManus, if reports be true, has taken the chair for Tom Mann, whom the S.L.P. has so roundly denounced upon occasion. “And our Press and organ have been under the ban of the military,” our contemporary goes on, finally asking : “Do these things happen to a party which is pro-war, or anything but a revolutionary organisation ? ” Such things certainly may, as witness the Suffrage movement. But at all events, we should imagine the Government would have paid pretty heavily for some of the stuff which appeared in “The Socialist” after the outbreak of .the war. It takes rank with Harold Begbie’s ” What do you lack, Sonny?” as a contribution to the confusion which made it possible for the capitalist butchers to drag our fellow workers from their homes to the shambles. Perhaps the S.L.P. can now see how lightly “B.B.B.” let them down.