The Socialist Party and Reforms
[To THE EDITOR.]
Forest Gate, Essex.
SIR,—Recognising your Party’s hostility toward reforms, and being, for the most part, in sympathy with your standpoint in this respect, I still remain without any knowledge as to how such reforms as the following can be considered as being detrimental to working-class interest, and some comment on the matter may, therefore, elucidate your unswerving attitude in regard to any reform whatsoever:
(1) Educational reform (already conceded).
(2) Male suffrage (ditto)
(3) The feeding of school children, from the point of view that it is impossible for children to be effectively educated unless well fed. If they are well fed, therefore, it would follow that as a result of their education they would better understand their position in life than they would if they were ill-fed and mal-educated. Therefore why oppose this reform ?
(4) Secular education— the advantages of which need no comment.—Yours, etc.,
L. A. Bostock
THE S.P.G.B., as distinguished from every other organisation in this country, is the party with Socialism, and nothing but Socialism, as its object. It is, consequently, not to be side-tracked into raising mere hostility to reform or the reverse—into equal importance with its object. Its guiding principle is not hostility to reforms but hostility to capitalism ; and since its aim is Socialism its whole policy in regard to reforms is dictated solely by the exigencies of the class struggle for Socialism, and must continue to he so dictated, whatever changes in the conditions of the fight may intervene.
Wherever needful for its object the Party must, therefore, make use of, ignore, or resist, any reform as determined by the particular circumstances. Consequently it cannot seek support for or advocate any policy of reform or anti-reform, for such must always be sacrificed upon occasion for its object, while such policies might—as seen in other organisations- attract those who do not accept the object of the Party, thus weakening its definite aim. All such matters are considered by it as worthy of attention only in so far as they bear distinctly on the question of working-class emancipation.
This subordination of all means to one end, and of all issues to the supreme one of the conquest of the State for Socialism, is the only logical policy for the Socialist Party. Without it, indeed, the party could not be Socialist.
Mr. Bostock is, therefore, completely in error in assuming that in showing the unsatisfactory nature of reforms in themselves, and their utter futility as solutions of what is called the “Social Problem,” the S.P.G.B. is necessarily hostile toward all reforms, and considers them as being in every case inevitably “detrimental to working-class interest.”
Even were the capitalists omniscient and of one opinion on. every point, it would still remain a fact that they are compelled by economic development to weaken their stronghold. Our enemies are forced, as it were, to dig their own graves, and it is by no means our policy to prevent them doing so. We should, indeed, be traitors to our cause did we not endeavour to make it profit by every mistake and every point of weakness of the enemy. There is danger only in allowing any consideration whatever to influence the policy of the party other than its object and the conditions of the struggle necessary to its attainment. Socialists, in short, must beware of being scared or cajoled either to the right or the left of the scientific way to Socialism.
With regard to the reforms enumerated by our correspondent, our attitude results inevitably from the position outlined above. All of them have been dealt with in these columns. Let us, however, briefly notice them here.
(1) The Education Acts were not motived (despite declarations to the contrary) by any wish on the part of the ruling class as a whole to benefit the workers, but to benefit themselves and to obtain cheap and efficient wage workers. It should be noted that the paltry measures of working-class “education” now in force stop short even of this despicable ideal. Therefore the Socialist has certainly no feeling whatever of gratitude toward his exploiters when he takes the fullest advantage of this reform for the furtherance of the workers’ cause.
(2) Male suffrage does not exist. We take the greatest useful advantage of the present property suffrage, and would not consider Adult Suffrage “detrimental to working-class interest.” Socialism is the interest of the many, not of the few ; its method, therefore, is that of democracy. But since Socialism is greater than all means, we would not bargain with our enemies, or bate one jot or tittle of our object or principles for any extension of the franchise, much less for a more promise. We have, moreover, seen the dismal folly of supporting an individual or a party that is utterly opposed to us on every vital point because of some minor point of utility. The grain of good is overwhelmed by a flood of harm.
(3) We do not oppose, and never have opposed, the feeding of school children. We have adversely criticised certain proposals for State maintenance, which would mean the taking of children from their parents to lie reared in barracks by the State, pithed with anti-working-class ideas, and given the mentality of the flunkey. We have further pointed out the economic effects of such a measure on the labour market, where feeding here, is often counterbalanced by more misery there, and where, owing to the worsening trend of economic pressure, every attempt short of Socialism to stein the tide of increasing working-class poverty must fail. And we have pointed the inevitable Socialist moral.
It is, further, a fallacy to assume that the class-consciousness of the worker has any definite relation to the amount of food he gets. The flunkeys are probably the best fed and the least class-conscious. The slum-proletariat is the worst fed, and is hardly more class-conscious than the wage-slaves of flunkeydom. We rely neither on feeding nor on starving, but upon ripening economic conditions, together with sound Socialist propaganda.
(4) As to Secular Education under Capitalism, it may well prove a mare’s nest. Its advantages may possibly be non-existent. Only when religion has lost its efficacy as a working-class drug will it be abandoned by the ruling class in the schools. Bat what will take its place ? A scientific curriculum ! Or superstition in even worse forms, such as cunningly devised capitalist ethics, or a deadlier patriotism ? Hence the peculiar wisdom of the classic phrase “Wait and see! ”
Reforms usually take away with the left hand what they offer with the right, and the last state of the reformed is often worse than, his first. There is a vast difference between the vague proposal and the final measure. The latter may in its own. cunning clauses more than neutralise the grain of good originally proposed. Let the capitalist class, therefore, take entire responsibility for its handiwork. Our lack of enthusiasm and severely critical attitude toward all reforms of whatever colour is, inconsequence, fully justified. Not only do we regard them as mere minor and relatively insignificant incidents in the class war, but we know them to be, in the main, fraudulent in themselves.
SOCIALISM can no more come by an accumulation of reforms than a new and up-to-date boiler can result from an accumulation of patches on an ancient one. It presupposes the conquest of. political power by the Socialist working class —the SOCIAL REVOLUTION.
A program of reforms is not only superfluous, Its existence proves that the party possessing it has taken reform for its object instead of Socialism. It is, moreover, a fraud upon the toilers, for until they are supreme their party can pass no reforms —these are grants by the capitalist class, to be considered only in so far as they can be made use of for the cause—and when the working class is triumphant reforms will be entirely redundant, for Socialism will be here.