1920s >> 1927 >> no-277-september-1927

Letter: Do We Support Strikes?

A correspondent writes concerning the attitude of the Socialist Party towards strikes, etc. We print his letter and our reply below:—

Eltham, S.E.9.


Dear Sir,


I see from the “Socialist Standard” that the S.P.G.B. is in debt, which debt was incurred in paying fines for members who were summoned under The Emergency Powers Act.


Cannot you publish a few details? As I understand it, the S.P.G.B. does not believe in the usefulness or utility of industrial action. Surely, therefore, they could not have supported the last strike, or for that matter, any strike, and although I recognise that your members who are also members of trade unions must strike with their fellow workers, to be consistent to their principles they should not take an active part in such strikes. By active, I mean the part of the agitator who, unlike the S.P.G.B. orators who appeal to the reason and could not possibly come within the law, adopt the theatrical tactics of the Communists.


As I feel details of these proceedings would place in our hands valuable propaganda, perhaps you may see your way clear to meet my request.


Yours fraternally,


Our correspondent seriously misunderstands the attitude of the Socialist Party. We do not now, nor have we in the past, condemned economic organisation and strikes.


If “Alastor” were a regular reader of this journal he would know that we fully recognise the necessity and usefulness of trade unions under the Capitalist system. Our criticism of them takes two main lines: (1) that much of their activity is directed to useless objects, such for instance as their support of the Labour Party and other non-Socialist political bodies, and their wartime assistance in recruiting, etc.; and (2) that even where their intention is good, they frequently dissipate their strength or allow themselves to be side-tracked. The struggle to increase wages and improve working conditions, or to resist attacks upon these, are objects which receive our unqualified support, and we therefore condemn every endeavour to weaken the unions by subordinating working-class interests to the so-called needs of the “country” or of the “industry,” which in effect mean the interests of the employing class.


Lastly we continually point out that, while trade unions and strikes are useful for certain purposes, they are not the means of emancipating the working class. That—the one question of first importance—can be achieved only by the conquest of political power through Socialist political organisation.
(For further matter on this point, see our Manifesto.)


“Alastor” also fails to understand the nature of “law” and of political control and the powers it gives. The Capitalist class are in political control and—within the limits set by the Capitalist economic system —can make what laws they like and have their police and their judges interpret those laws as they choose. Normally they do not choose to make any political propaganda illegal. During the war, and again during the industrial troubles of 1926, they adopted a more repressive policy. Last year when some of the police were in a state of panic, it became well nigh impossible to hold meetings in certain areas without charges being made. These charges—as was admitted by the Judge at the trial of one of our members —did not rest on the substance of the speech, but on the possible effect of the words on members of the audience, or even on casual passers-by who heard a stray phrase only.


If the ruling class allow certain activities to go on it is because the stability of their system is vitally bound up with representative government. When it suits them they can, and on occasion do, make “appeals to the reason” illegal, and treat them accordingly.—Ed., Comm.