1920s >> 1928 >> no-284-april-1928

The Aims of the I.L.P. Exposed

Below is a letter from Mr. H. W. R. Keeble, who wrote a letter published last month over the name “I.L.P.’er, Catford.”

Catford, S.E.6.

Dear Comrades,

I thank you for publishing my letter and for your reply, to which I should like to raise one or two points.

(i) Capital. You say that “the means of production will not then (when communally owned) be capital.” That is, at the present the means of production are termed Capital, which agrees with the I.L.P. statement you are attempting to criticise.

(ii) This is far more important. The I.L.P. realise that before the Socialist State can be realised there must be a period of transition, a period of “State Capitalism.” The S.P.G.B. does not tackle this important period, but you say “it is not a step towards Socialism.” I will refer you to the pamphlet you sent me, “Socialism Utopian and Scientific,” page 83, where you will find that Marx and Engels maintain that it is economically inevitable that the last phase of the capitalist system must be State capitalism.

“In any case . . . the State will ultimately have to undertake the direction of production. This necessity for conversion into State property,” etc. From the footnote.

“For only when the means of production and distribution have actually outgrown the form of management by joint-stock companies and when, therefore, the taking them over by the State has become ‘economically’ inevitable, only then . . . is there an economic advance, the attainment of another step preliminary to the taking over of all productive forces by Society itself.”

There you have the immediate aims of the I.L.P. justified by Marx himself. Since you are “Marxian Socialists” no further comment—but agreement—should be necessary

(iii) My remark that “H” should feel ashamed of himself referred to the intolerant and sneering style of his reply to I.L.P’er, Croydon ; not to any statement that he made, although it was obvious that he was confusing the transitionary period with a socialist state. That brings me to the broader question that has long puzzled me : Why does the S.P.G.B. in preaching the cause of the freedom that only Socialism can bring, maintain such a dogmatic principle as the last one, “Declares war on all other political parties.” Owing to that, I maintain that the I.L.P. has a better idea of Socialism than the S.P.G.B., inasmuch as we do tolerate the idea of free thought and speech. I am raising these points because I think that one of the greatest obstacles in the path to Socialism is the antagonism that various “anti-capitalist” parties show to each other, and of which the “Capitalist Press” knows how to make such good use. Yours fraternally,

H. W. R. Keeble,

I.L.P’er, Catford.

(iv) P.S.—Since you propose to run candidates for Parliament, could you let us have articles dealing with the transitory period from the S.P.G.B. Outlook?


Mr. Keeble here overlooks the important fact that the means of production at present are not only “termed” capital; they are capital. That is to say they represent money invested for the purpose of making profit for the propertied class out of the exploitation of the workers.

Under Socialism there will be no wages system, no profit, and consequently no capital. The means of production, no longer capital, will be communally owned. The I.L.P.’s statement that they aim at the “communal ownership of capital,” is therefore just nonsense.

We had said that the I.L.P. aims not at Socialism but at State capitalism or Nationalisation, and we quoted from the I.L.P. publication, “The Socialist Programme,” in support of our contention.
Mr. Keeble now says that this is not the aim of the I.L.P., but merely a first step. If Mr. Keeble will produce some kind of evidence in support of his statement we will deal with it. In fact, “The Socialist Programme” (particularly Chapter 5—”A Socialist Policy for Industry”) definitely offers state capitalism, based upon the continued payment of interest to the capitalist class, not as a first step but as the aim itself.

Instead of showing from I.L.P. sources that his statements about the I.L.P. are correct, Mr. Keeble makes quotations from ” Socialism, Utopian and Scientific,” to support his case.

Engels, writing in the seventies of last century, outlined the development of capitalist industry from small scale businesses, through the joint stock company, to trusts and combines. Reading the signs of the times and observing that the State was taking over various industries and means of transport and communication, Engels expressed the view that the capitalist class in their own interests would go on nationalising posts and telegraphs and railways and mines, etc., but what he emphatically did not say was that the workers should supinely wait while this process went on. He here, as always, emphasised the fact that the transformation of society to socialism must be a conscious and deliberate act of the working class. In the footnote, from which Mr. Keeble quotes, Engels goes on to say (P. 84) that this process of nationalisation “was in no sense a socialistic measure, directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously.”

Because Engels in 1875 thought that the capitalist class would probably choose State ownership rather than the continued development of trusts, Mr. Keeble proposes to ignore the tremendous changes wrought in capitalist industry in the last half century, and bases his policy on a 50 years’ old cautious forecast of tendencies that has proved to be too narrow.

Because in the seventies Bismarck was pushing forward State ownership, Mr. Keeble refuses to recognise the perfectly plain fact that since the war the tendency has definitely been away from State capitalism towards the national, imperial and international trusts. He is apparently unaware that Germany has denationalised her railways and (partly) her post office, Belgium her railways, Italy her post office (partly) and her telegraph and telephones wholly, and that Australia is selling her State ships. At the moment of writing it is anticipated that the new wireless and cable combine will take over the State cables and wireless. If it is true that the I.L.P. bases its policy on what was happening 50 years’ ago, but not to-day, that may help to explain the unsoundness of I.L.P. Policy.

As Mr. Keeble feels compelled to follow out meticulously every passing judgment expressed by Engels, will he please note that on page 27 Engels expressed the view that the Salvation Army may one day become dangerous to the capitalist class. Will Mr. Keeble advocate an I.L.P.—Salvation Army alliance on the ground of Engel’s remark?

It is typical of Mr. Keeble’s loose method of argument that on the strength of a statement written by Engels, he should feel entitled to deduce that “Marx and Engels maintain, etc.”

The S.P.G.B. declares war on other political parties in this country because it holds (a) that only the abolition of capitalist private ownership will solve the poverty problem of the workers, and (b) that the use of the vote by the organised workers for the conquest of the political machinery, is the method. No other party believes these two things necessary. The I.L.P., for instance, thinks that nationalisation or State capitalism will prove a solution.

The S.P.G.B., being a Socialist organisation, cannot “tolerate” non-Socialists in its ranks. It does, however—in contrast with the I.L.P.—freely open its meetings and its press to expressions of opinion by all opponents. If the I.L.P. is Socialist how does it manage to retain Mr. J. R. Mac-Donald as a member?

Mr. Keeble, knowing that I.L.P. candidates fight elections on non-Socialist programmes because they want votes and cannot hope to get returned unless they can get the sympathy of non-Socialist electors, is unable to believe that we mean what we say when we announce that our candidates will ask for votes for Socialism and nothing else. Socialism (see our “Declaration of Principles” on the back page) is our only programme. At present the task of a Socialist party is to propagate Socialism. When that has resulted in the organisation of the working class on a Socialist basis and they have obtained possession of the machinery of Government, then and only then will commence the work of transforming the property basis of society. That will be a purely economic problem, not a political one, since the power of the Capitalist class will by then have been disposed of. What the I.L.P. calls an “immediate programme” is a programme of reform for application within the capitalist system under Liberal, Tory or Labour administrations.

If Mr. Keeble will refer to the New Leader (24th February) he will see an ”Election Programme,” chosen out of over 300 which were submitted in a competition. That Election Programme (approved among others by Mr. James Maxton) contains no reference whatever to Socialism. It is a list of 41 reforms of capitalism. These are 41 reasons why we, as a Socialist Party, must oppose the I.L.P.


(Socialist Standard, April 1928)

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