Socialists and Local Government
Mr. Rimington (Leicester), asks, would the S.P.G.B. fight local elections in view of the fact that local bodies are part of the machinery of capitalist administration ultimately subject to the control of the central government? Another correspondent signing himself “Revolutionist,” asks similar questions with regard to Boards of Guardians. He asks : “What actions would a member of the S.P.G.B. adopt on the Board of Guardians, seeing that these institutions exist to issue out charity, thus tending to keep the workers quiet and helping the capitalists by administering capitalist law.”
Both correspondents appear to be considering this question from a standpoint which leaves out of account the reason for which the S.P.G.B. seeks to control the machinery of government, and also the method by which we seek to gain control. Our purpose and our method both invalidate comparison with the Labourites, I.L.P.ers and Communists who at present secure election to local and national bodies. None of them has behind him the backing of a majority of Socialists. All are elected on reform programmes, not by Socialists but by reformers of various schools.
Secondly, we want control of the machinery of government, national and local, because that is essential to the achievement of Socialism. This is our reason for contesting elections. We do not invite Socialists to vote for our candidates because of the possibility of getting “something now” on either local Councils or in Parliament, but because we cannot afford to leave this machinery in the hands of the capitalist class. All candidates on local Councils are limited in two directions — by the wishes of the electorate and by the over-riding powers of the central government. The Socialist, provided he carries out Socialist policies, is free from the first limitation. He can justify himself to the electors and retain his seat only by doing what his Socialist backers want. The Labourite or Communist elected on a reform programme, is in an entirely different position. He must please his electors, which means that he cannot consistently carry out a Socialist policy. Almost invariably he is, for instance, compelled to refrain from “wasting the ratepayers’ money.” The Socialist, backed by workers who understood that rates are ultimately a burden on property owners, not on workers, would be free from this and other restrictions.
The other limitation is control by the central government. While the central government is in the hands of the capitalist class it is obvious that local bodies can act only within the limits which it suits the government to impose. Here again it is for the Socialist electors to decide whether in any given issue it is better to act within the law or defy it and have their powers taken away. The important point to bear in mind all the time is that while Socialism cannot be achieved by local Councils, whether they accept or reject these laws, neither the Socialist members of such Councils nor their electors would be under any illusion. This is not true of the reformist members of local Councils.
With regard to the handing out of “charity” to the workers, “Revolutionist” appears to overlook the fact that the capitalists will see that this charity is issued (for their own sakes) whether Boards of Guardians do it or not.
Does “Revolutionist” seriously hold that starvation makes Socialists, or that Socialists cease to be Socialist when they receive “charity” from the Boards of Guardians? The problem before us is to make Socialists. The existence of a Socialist electorate is a sufficient, and the only solvent of all these minor problems of action.