1920s >> 1928 >> no-288-august-1928

The Treachery of Leaders: A second reply to a critic.

To the Editor of the SOCIALIST STANDARD.


(1) Your statement that “Socialists, like any other beings, cannot escape the pressure of the forces surrounding them, and there is no reason to believe that Socialists would be more trustworthy than other people, except that they at least understand the social forces, and may be expected to avoid gross blunders,” bears out my contention that Parliament would offer the same inducement to modify their tune to S.P.G.B.’s as it has done to Labourites.

(2) It is through no gift of prophetic vision that I hold that the Capitalist class will make use of every weapon to stifle Socialist teaching should it be winning supporters. To-day, sheer force is used to suppress anything that threatens, even minutely, their class interests :—The Colonial oppression, the Great War, imprisonment of agitators, and the E.P.A. are witnesses to the fact that still harsher methods would be used to strangle the Socialist Party should it ever look like becoming dangerous.

Parliamentarism and constitutional action leaves the workers unprepared for this. Capitalists will not interfere with the gradual growth of Socialism, they are led to believe, and will unresistmgly, in accordance with the code of sportsmanship, accede to the enactments (the King not daring as head of the Constitution to veto them) that means their expropriation.

(3) The S.P.G.B. to become the preponderating party in Parliament must pass through the phase
of second party. There is no sudden conversion that you speak of, when the S.P.G.B. becomes the strongest party during the office of an anti-Socialist government. The Capitalist government can keep the Socialists waiting for years, and, knowing the constitutional law-abiding character of the Party, feel safe in adding another ten to fifteen years to their life.

(4) Your Party, in such respects, is up in the clouds. These things have got to be faced. To speak about generals and officers as workers is to apply abstract economic categories to existing conditions without any attempt to allow for the modifying factors of the psychology of the men concerned, and their close connection with the Capitalist class.

They are used to ordering workers about, and it is well known the hatred they have for Parliamentary interference. The question of how will the officers and generals act when instructed by a Socialist War Minister, is like that of what shall we do if the sun drops from the sky. The two are possibilities too remote to trouble about. The S.P.G.B. will never get so far as a Government unless it intends to legislate for the Capitalists.

(5) I offer at the moment, no alternative to your policy of following the constitutional path as pointed out to you by the Capitalists. Your readers have only to think deeply and face up to unpleasant facts and alternatives will suggest themselves to them.

Thanking you for answering my previous letter, Yours fraternally,



(1) The question is not whether Socialist M.P.’s would be offered inducements to modify their attitude, but whether the electors would tolerate such modification. Labour electors do not want capitalism overthrown, and therefore do not object to their M.P.’s non-Socialist politics and actions. Socialist electors would object and would enforce their wishes.

(2) Mr. Phillips here makes the error of assuming that the actions of the capitalist class are synonymous with their wishes. We do not urge the workers to rely upon the “code of sportsmanship” or the voluntary adherence of the capitalist class to “consttutionalism.” The capitalist class maintained the parliamentary system because the problems of capitalism compelled them to do so. The majority of the English capitalist class are well aware of the limitations and dangers of using force openly against discontented workers. They use, and are likely to continue to use, the much more effective weapon of propaganda in the schools, the newspapers, etc. When they use force now they can still defend them selves by the plea that they have the majority of the electors supporting them. When that plea has been undermined (i.e., when the majority of the electors are Socialist) the capitalist class will have to yield or be faced with the problem of trying to administer capitalism by military force, against a hostile majority of the population. That problem is insoluble, not (as Mr. Phillips thinks we believe) because of any scruples of the capitalists, but because of the nature of modern industry and trade, and the complexity of the administration of capitalism.

(3) Mr. Phillips forgets that the capitalist class, being human beings and desiring to go on living, will not be prepared to pay any price, however great, in order to have the satisfaction of blocking the way to Socialism. When the working-class have become predominantly Socialist, and are organised politically and economically on class lines, they will be easily able to obstruct the normal working of capitalism. The majority of the capitalist class, faced with the alternative of yielding to the wishes of the majority of society, or of entering into a period of continued industrial and administrative chaos, will certainly choose the former.

(4) Mr. Phillips said (June SOCIALIST STANDARD) : “The generals, officers, bureaucrats, etc. . . . are drawn from the ranks of the capitalist class and its lackeys.”

In reply I pointed out that this is not true. Being dependent on their pay for their livelihood, the great majority of these persons are members of the working-class. Mr. Phillips now agrees that they are members of the working-class, but says that I made no attempt to allow for the “psychology of the men concerned.” By this he means, apparently, that these people, although members of the working-class, do not recognise their class position and are not Socialists. This is perfectly true, but in this respect these people are in no essential way different from other sections of the working-class. The great majority of all workers are still ignorant of their class position, and are not Socialists. As regards those members of the working-class who are army officers, civil servants, etc., the majority, even apart from acquiring greater knowledge of their class position, will act in accordance with their bread and butter interests, i.e., they will take orders from the authorities who control the political machinery and their pay.

Mr. Phillips makes a statement that the “S.P.G.B. will never get so far as a Government unless it intends to legislate for the capitalists.” The meaning is obscure, and he gives no evidence or explanation whatever. What we can reply with confidence is that when the working-class are organised in a Socialist Party they will take control of the political machinery with the object not of legislating for the capitalists, but for the introduction of Socialism.

(5) Mr. Phillips, like other critics, here exposes the hollowness of his case. He makes the elementary error of supposing that a policy is proved unsound if difficulties can be mentioned. He forgets that every policy and every action, great or small, has to deal with some difficulty or other. The only test is to compare the practicability of one policy with that of an alternative, and weigh up the respective advantages and disadvantages. Instead of doing this, Mr. Phillips offers no alternative, but naively assures us that our readers “have only to think deeply …. and alternatives will suggest themselves.”

May we ask Mr. Phillips to believe that dead and living members of the Socialist Party have thought deeply before offering the S.P.G.B. Declaration of Principles, and so far none of our critics has succeeded in discovering a practicable alternative.


(Socialist Standard, August 1928)

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