1920s >> 1922 >> no-219-november-1922

Correspondence:

Dear Editor,

The relative merits of the Socialist Labour Party and Socialist Party of Great Britain have been discussed for weeks by a few Marxian students without coming to any satisfactory conclusion as to which party propounds the correct principles that deserve working class support.

Under these circumstances it was thought wise to present some of the views expressed by the supporters of the S.L.P., so that your party may oblige with an answer in an early issue of your Standard. They say that your party is very inconsistent, as proven by the back numbers of the Socialist Standard and Manifesto. On page 17 of the latter, to top of page 18, we find as follows :—

“The workers’ organisation, political and economic, must be upon the basis of their class, with the object of ending the capitalist system and establishing the Socialist Commonwealth.”

The inconsistency is obvious, they say, when one sees in that statement that your party recognises the necessity of an economic organisation, based upon class; and at the same time in actual practice only believe in a political organisation.

The proof of this is seen when one reads clause 6 of your party’s “Declaration of Principles.”

The irony of the situation, say they, lies in the fact that your party should see the necessity of the economic organisation, and then publish matter in your Socialist Standard to absolutely ridicule the said type of organisation. For instance, in the February, 1919, Standard, under the title, “Where we Stand,” on the bottom of page 54, is a brief statement as follows : “How long it does take some people to discover the absurdity of their sophistries ! We pointed out the idiocy of organisation by industries years ago.” Then, again, is that statement in agreement with the brief statement at the end of article called “What the Workers Do Understand,” in January,1921, Standard, which read as follows :— “Educated in these things, and organised on the industrial and political fields, they will seize political power and wield it, and its forces, for the paramount purpose—the establishment of the Socialist Commonwealth.” Why mention “organised industrially,” if it is an idiotic act?

These super-intellects say that you are all “at sea” on another point of importance. You state in your Manifesto, page 18, as follows : “Emancipation, not palliation, must be the watchword of the workers, as it will be when they become Socialists.” Lower down on the same page is as follows : “Its tactics must be aggressive as well as defensive, and its aim revolutionary.”

Do the two statements clash ? Are not the tactics of aggression on the side of palliation? Have not the workers through their industrial unions been aggressive, which aggression has only palliated their conditions? Apart from that, it is highly questionable whether (even if the Trade Unions did adopt the Socialist attitude, as you state) they could, and successfully, adopt an aggressive and defensive attitude.

Your party seems to think that it is a “wise tactic to be always ready to defend working class interests, irrespective whether conditions are suitable or not, as is shown in the article “The Betrayal of the Miners” (in the Standard, May 21st, page 138, halfway down second column), which reads as follows : “Had the rank and file of the Triple Alliance understood even their ordinary Trade Union interests, they would have stood together and fought to the fullest extent of their power against this attempt to worsen their conditions.” Obviously, your party thought that had the Triple Alliance acted and taken that defensive attitude against the interests of the employers, all would have been well. This means a sectional strike (which your party ridicules). We may ask : what hope of success was there had it taken place, under the conditions then existing? This would have been putting the so-called economic power of Triple Alliance against the political power of the masters. Obviously, had it turned out to be a fight between the two powers, the former power would have been beaten by the latter power, by the ordering, if necessary, of the police and soldiers to act against the workers. Again, such a strike would prevent the normal distribution of the food supply, which is necessary for the workers; and under such circumstances the shortage of food would be sufficient to force the workers back to the workshop. These very same factors of a political nature would also work against the workers’ organisations, should they adopt a palliative or an aggressive attitude.

So, in conclusion, the persons interested in this controversy would be highly pleased if you would endeavour to give your reply to the same in the November Standard.

I remain, yours for Socialism,

EDWARD LITTLER.

ANSWER TO E. LITTLER.

For convenience of reference, we have numbered the paragraphs in above letter that call for specific answers.

No. 1.—The Declaration of Principles lays down the minimum essential factors of the Socialist position. For instance, that Declaration says nothing about carrying on the propaganda for Socialism—yet the S.P.G.B. does it.

Conceivably, Socialism could be established by the political organisation alone, but the economic organisation alone would be quite powerless to establish it. In actual fact, as the conditions allow, both organisations will be used by Socialists for the attainment of their object, though the seizure of power, the greatest by far of the factors at our disposal, will be carried through by the political organisation. Thus no inconsistency in the position of the S.P.G.B. is shown in our correspondent’s statement.

No. 2.—On this point the questioners are so blind that they cannot see that their query is already answered in the quotation they themselves give from our Manifesto, which says :—

“The workers’ organisation, political and economic, must be upon the basis of their class.”

The organisations we have ridiculed have never been based upon the class position of the workers, but have been those supported by the S.L.P., which consisted in the mass of supporters of capitalism, and which the S.L.P. claimed could “take and hold” the means of production against the armed forces under the control of the masters.

As we have pointed out on various occasions, economic development has travelled beyond the limits of “industry” in numerous directions, and, therefore, the workers’ organisations must cover a wider area than the “industry” even to “keep pace.” The quotation from the Socialist Standard of January, 1921, is of no help to the S.L.P., as the word “industrial” is used here to denote the whole economic field. This is clearly shown by the context.

No. 3.—No ! The two statements do not clash, as even a superficial reading would show. To emancipate itself, the working class must become revolutionary, because it must carry through a revolution before emancipation can take place.

The workers have been no more “aggressive” in the so-called “industrial” unions than in the ordinary “craft” unions, though the failure of such “aggression” would be a blow at the S.L.P., which supports these unions—not at us

No. 4.—While we are always ready to defend working class interests, the phrase “whether conditions are suitable or not” needs explaining. The reference to the article on “The Miners’ Betrayal” is beside the point. The miners were being attacked, and the railwaymen and transport workers were being threatened with an attack. In such conditions, the business of the men concerned, obviouslv, was to fight together—as the article says—to the extent of their powers. There was no question here of pitting the economic organisation of the Triple Alliance against the armed forces. This ghastly policy, propounded and defended by the Industrial Unionists and the S.L.P., is one we have denounced on scores of occasions. Under some conditions even a sectional strike is better than no struggle at all, and the members of the Triple Alliance would have prevented some of the conditions being imposed upon them that they now suffer under, had they struck on “Black Friday.” How far the interference with the normal food supply would affect the struggle is mere guesswork. Partly it would have depended on the length of the strike. Every strike of any size causes inconvenience and sometimes suffering. But to follow the above argument to its logical conclusion means that the workers must accept anything the masters choose to impose, even though it may mean greater suffering than would be entailed by a strike !

On the economic field the workers’ powers are limited, and in the ultimate, can always be beaten by the possessors of political power. But, as Marx has pointed out, these everyday struggles, with all their limitations, are a product of the system, and cannot be avoided unless the workers are ready to sink below “cooliedom.”

A little further information on the position of the S.L.P. may perhaps be interesting.

In the Socialist, 15, 4. 1920, they state in the editorial, with reference to the actions of certain prominent members who had broken away from the organisation :—

“The whole trouble is that a self-condemned Unity Committee, who had more or less “bossed” the Party for the last four years, found themselves up against the rank and file of the S.L.P. in their efforts to compromise Revolutionary Socialism.”

That is a peculiar admission for a self-styled Working Class Party ! If the party is so constituted that one group could boss it for four years, what is to prevent other groups successively bossing it ad infinitum?

Further on in the same editorial they write :—

“Send in your resolutions to your Executive. Indicate your wishes, strengthen your Executive’s hands in the good work it has carried on since it took up office in September, 1919, when it placed the control of the Party and its Press in the hands of the rank and file.”

According to the above, the control of the party and its Press was not in the hands of the rank and file until September, 1919. A startling admission this, after an existence of 15 years !

After the revolutionary action of placing the party in the hands of the rank and file, an article appeared in the Socialist on the miners’ strike. The following are some extracts from it :—

“THE MINERS SHOULD NOT STRIKE.

My advice to the miners is, don’t strike. Why should you? ”Take and hold” should be your slogan. You have a splendid opportunity at this juncture Work the mines for yourselves. MINERS, SEIZE THE MINES. Is it possible—It is.”

Then follows instructions to the miners to issue a statement saying that on and from a certain date the mines will be worked by the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain. Coal to be reduced by 14s. 2d. per ton, and miners’ wages increased 2s. per day. So easy ! How simple these people are ! And what would the masters be doing while this little transaction was taking place? The same as they do in a strike : bring the armed force to bear on the situation. But the S.L.P. have provided tor this :—

“The Army will support you. Call for the support of the Army.

Let your call be “All Power to the Workers.” If you do this you will win hands down.”

Simple, isn’t it? What wonderful childish nonsense ! Anyhow, the subsequent action of the Army and Volunteer Force, when a railway strike was expected, should have knocked that idiocy out of their heads.

It would be interesting to find out what the S.L.P. mean when they state in their Platform :—

“Whilst the working-class are compelled to organise to capture the means of production, distribution, and exchange to be worked in the interests of society as a whole.”

Money is the means of exchange. They then are working for a system under which money will exist. An elementary knowledge of money would tell them that it can only exist where buying and selling exists. In other words, where private property exists. According to their platform, then, they are not out for Socialism.

In spite of all the noise they make about industrial action, they themselves are not clear as to what their own position is. Since the inception of the S.L.P. the columns of the Socialist have been largely occupied with the disagreements of members as to the position on industrial unionism. From last January onwards a discussion raged, under the title of “The Problem of Policy.” Finally, at their Easter Conference, they decided to support the “Workers’ International Industrial Union.” In an editorial on the Conference (Socialist, 27/5/22) they say :—

“It has cast a glance at the past and has viewed with disdain its many errors now, and we hope for all times it will never compromise truth to make a friend, and never withhold a blow at error lest it should make an enemy.”

Apparently they keep finding themselves out—yet they “keep on doing it !” Where knowledge is lacking, foolish deeds will flourish.

The S.L.P. have decided to support the W.I.I.U., but in the Socialist (8/12/21) the political policy of that organisation was. stated as follows :—

“By electing a Political Committee whose duty it will be to safeguard and further the interests of the W.I.I.L. in the political field, and who will take instructions from the Branch and report activities at each Branch Meeting.”

This surely signifies that another political organisation will exist alongside of the S.L.P. If so, where does the S.L.P. stand? Which of the two bodies is supposed to be correct?—both evidently can’t be.

In a Manifesto on the Russian Famine (Socialist, 22/9/22), they recommend the starving workers of this country to send “Food, clothing, boots, medicines and locomotives to Russia.” Would it be any harm to suggest that “Charity begins at home”? The best way to help the starving Russian workers is to push on the advent of Socialism as rapidly as possible, and not to contribute a few pence to be used by the Co-operative Society, as the S.L.P. suggest. Ironically enough, they were calling upon the workers to contribute to save the S.L.P. Press shortly afterwards !

The following tit-bit is an illustration of S.L.P. Logic :—

“And economic organisation is a necessary requisite to enforce the aims or wishes as expressed by the political organisation at the ballot box. . . . Organise, therefore, on the political field to capture political power and sweep aside the ”robber burg” of Capitalism.”— Socialist, 8/6/22.

If the “robber-burg” of capitalism has been swept aside, where does the “enforcing” come in? Note the phrase, “aims or wishes.” Perhaps the aims differ from the wishes !

ED. COM.

(Socialist Standard, November 1922)

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