How Not To Get Socialism

Alderman Tom Kirk writes in the “Railway Review” (May 31st, 1929) an article entitled “The Revival of Socialism.” The first paragraph is unimportant, but we reprint. here the remainder of Mr. Kirk’s article.


  But here is where we draw a distinction between Socialism and Labour politics. To the Socialist there is only one thing that matters, the growth of the Socialist outlook in the public mind. It is his sole reason for being in politics at all. He perceives that you cannot make Socialists by just preaching theory. That was the dream of the old Socialist League, just as it is the dream of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. But the mind of the average man can only be reached through the current politics of the moment. In order to be with you, he wants to know what you are “going to do.” And you must provide him with a plan of action, even if the action is not likely to produce much more than a growth of his Socialist convictions. We can no more escape from the illusion of politics than the early Christians, by burying themselves in the deserts of Egypt, could escape from the contamination of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Consequently, however much the austere purists may declaim, we have got to get on with the job as we find it. Fortunately, the movement has now reached a point that we can definitely warn our supporters from expecting too much from this or that particular reform. It has been a matter of great satisfaction to note the almost complete absence of the type of speaker who promised a solution of unemployment if the workers would only “vote Labour.” And in his place a stressing of the point that unemployment would not be “solved” while the capitalist system remained. It could only be ameliorated, not “solved.” All this is to the good; and it is a healthy sign of the times that the boastful promises of the Liberals have been contemptuously disregarded by organised Labour, with the result that Mr. Lloyd George became exceedingly angry. On the whole, tosh and window-dressing have been at a discount at this election.

   The task of making the great mass of Labour electors into Socialists still, however, remains. Nationalisation, municipalisation, and public ownership still appear too much in the mind’s eye of the average workman as methods whereby he will immediately advance his wages and working conditions. Ultimately they must lead to his uplifting and betterment, otherwise they would be purposeless.

    But as Hyndman used to say, “You cannot make oases of co-operation in the midst of a howling wilderness of competition. The Socialist perceives this; the mere Labour elector does not. While we do not expect a nationalised industry to “pay its way” in the capitalist sense, we cannot run it regardless of the balance sheet. That way trouble lies; and the ending of things as they have ended in Queensland.

   Then, again, what is going to be done with regard to the vast sum of British capital which is invested in foreign undertakings? The annual interest on that is responsible for a quarter of our imports. It represents about £300,000,000 annually. It is gained by exploiting the foreigner. Do we propose to take over these investments? If so, the British Labour State would become an exploiter of foreign workmen. Do we propose to leave these foreign investors to enjoy their incomes undisturbed except of such taxation as we could impose upon them? But in any case, as the £300,000,000 principally arrives here in the shape of food and raw materials, which we require for industries, we should have to do “something,” All of which shows that when it comes to the real business of getting down to the establishment of Socialism we have hardly discussed the matter at all. It will be the work of Socialists in the immediate future to promote discussion on such subjects. We cannot live for ever on a mere nebulous labourism. We shall have to get back to the healthy old business of the I.L.P. and S.D.F. setting the pace. And now that Communism has become a spent squib, the possibility of such a development is apparent. The specific function of the new orientation will not be vote catching, but education of the public as to how Socialism is to be established.

Now to disentangle this network of Kirkian errors. Mr. Kirk professes to be a Socialist, and accuses the S.P.G.B. of being dreamers of theory. Nothing matters to Mr. Kirk but “the growth of the Socialist outlook in the public mind.” But what is the “Socialist outlook” but the knowledge of Socialist theories? Therefore, Mr. Kirk is another dreamer, if to hold a theory is to be a dreamer. But the S.P.G.B. repudiates that title. We are a political organisation, and are not devotees of the cult of Utopias. We do not pray for spiritual aid to attain our ends. Our declaration of principles distinctly says, “That the Working Class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, etc.,” and at the elections we are prepared to put candidates for the polls. If the workers are not sufficiently class-conscious to support a Socialist candidate by supplying his deposit money, that is not our fault. Rather it is Mr. Kirk’s fault, and their misfortune.


After the high-minded attitude of “nothing mattering, etc.,” Mr. Kirk then says, “But the mind of the average man can only be reached through the current politics of the moment.” Here is the pose of the modern Jesus soiling his hands with Party politics. The next piece is rather funny. “He (the worker) wants to know what you are going to do.” So, Mr. Kirk thinks it best to present him with “a plan of action,” even if it will not bring forth much more than “a growth of the workers’ Socialist convictions.” But we thought Mr. Kirk was a Socialist. He should, then, be more than delighted if his “plan of action” only brought forth this “growth of Socialist convictions.” He, however, knows very well that it does no such thing, and only makes confusion worse confounded. The knowledge of what is meant by Socialism is essential to the making of Socialists. Mr. Kirk leaves us to infer that this “plan of action” is really only a blind to keep up “the illusion of politics.”


We cannot agree that politics are an illusion, but if Mr. Kirk thinks so, on what grounds can he justify his action of keeping up an illusion? I am afraid, after all, it is Mr. Kirk who has been dreaming. But to proceed. He says, “We (that is, the Labour Party) must get on with the job as we find it.” That, of course, means continuing to introduce reforms and patching up the capitalist system, but then he has the audacity to say that “at the same time they must warn their supporters that they must not expect too much from it.” He is pleased to notice that the Labour candidates stressed the point during the Election that while the Capitalist system remained they could only ameliorate unemployment, not solve it. Yes, but what happens after the ball? If they know this, why are they taking the reins of government into their hands again? And on what grounds can the Labour Party justify its existence, and Mr. Kirk his support thereof? Why does he not tell the workers that the advent of Socialism alone will solve their troubles?


Then we have Mr. Kirk bemoaning the fact that Nationalisation, etc., appears too much in the minds of the workers as a method by which they can improve their wages and working conditions. He quotes Hyndman as saying “ You cannot make oases of co-operation in a howling wilderness of competition,” and says that the Socialist perceives this; the mere Labour elector does not. But who is it that propagates the idea of Nationalisation? The Labour Party, not the S.P.G.B. Yet Mr. Kirk now finds it a stumbling block in the way of making Socialists. Oh, wonderful logic! The Socialists, to Mr. Kirk, means the I.L.P. and the Labourites. Therefore, they stand in the unenviable position of telling the workers to support a thing which they know to be unsound. Still speaking of Nationalisation, he says it must ultimately lead to the betterment of the worker, otherwise it would be “purposeless.” That is just the point; it does not lead to any betterment. By making industry more efficient less workers are required, unemployment increases, and these schemes, therefore, from the point of view of the workers are worse than purposeless, they are definitely harmful. He says, “while we do not expect a nationalised industry to pay its way in the capitalist sense, we cannot run it regardless of the balance sheet. That way trouble lies, and the ending of things, as they ended in Queensland.” In fact, of course, the I.L.P. advocates of Nationalisation vigorously affirm that in Queensland it did pay its way. The Queensland Labour Government failed because, as administrators of capitalism, they could not “deliver the goods” which they had promised to the workers. The workers were disillusioned, and having no knowledge of Socialism, voted once more for the capitalist class. Mr. Kirk would lead us to believe that the Queensland Government was being run by mere dreamers trying to run the. finances of the country without due regard to its balance sheet. But can he show us any important difference between the Labour programme in Queensland and in this country? He wants to support the Labour Party while disassociating himself from its policies.


Mr. Kirk could not have meant to have revealed such a lot when he started, but perhaps he was counting on the “Railway Review” not being read by “Austere Purists.” However, the cream of the thing is yet to come. We find poor Mr. Kirk getting concerned as to what the British Labour State (whoever that may be) would do with the interest coming from British invested capital abroad. I am afraid we cannot tell him. You see, we are only Socialists, and we only know what Socialists would do. We must leave the British Labour State’s problems for itself and Mr. Kirk to solve. “All of which shows that when it comes to the business of getting down to the establishment of Socialism we have hardly discussed the matter at all,” cries Mr. Kirk.


Presumably, then, settling the destination of interest from British invested capital abroad comes within Mr. Kirk’s theory of Socialism. Mr. Kirk’s theories make a Socialist feel sick. Interest and capital under Socialism! A little understanding of sound, instead of unsound, theory, would greatly benefit the illustrious Alderman. Interest and profit are essentially features of capitalism; likewise is the individual owner of property. Socialism means common ownership. There would be no persons here or abroad possessing capital. The question only arises in the dreams of Mr. Kirk. It certainly has nothing to do with establishing Socialism.




The last few sentences are a fitting end to his article. I wonder he dares mention the S.D.F. or the I.L.P. in connection with “health.” Their part does not bear inspection. They have proved to be bad guides throughout to the working class. Their attitude on the War and their trickery at the elections of 1910 and 1906 respectively (see our Manifesto for facts) proves that the “healthy old business ” of the precious pair is not healthy but thoroughly diseased, in fact rotten to the core.


May Otway