Letters: Socialism and Reforms
We print below a letter from a correspondent, together with our reply to his questions :—
Workers’ Esperanto Club, High Holborn, London, August 21st, 1929.
To the Editor, SOCIALIST STANDARD.
Is the S.P.G.B. absolutely opposed to reforms under any conditions whatsoever?
For instance, in the cotton lock-out, the employers demanded a reduction in wages of 5/- to 6/- a week. What would the S.P.G.B. have advised the cotton workers to do? Should they have accepted the wage reduction without any demur or hesitation, because to struggle for 5/-or 6/- a week would have been struggling to maintain their wage position, or should they have refused, and having done so, should they have organised themselves by appointing lock-out committees, etc., for the struggle? Similarly, if in any other industry, a section of the working class were threatened with the same thing, what should they have done? Also, supposing the workers in any given industry are able by means of a strike, or threat of a strike, to obtain an increase in wages or shortening of hours, should they do so, since they would be fighting for a reform ?
Does the attitude of the S.P.G.B. mean that the workers should wait until they are all fully conscious of the need for Socialism, neglecting in the meantime to struggle to maintain their position with regard to wages and hours, in so far as sections of the working class are continually having attacks made upon them by the capitalist class with respect to wages and hours?
Hoping you will see your way clear to explaining your attitude with regard to these questions.
Our correspondent’s whole difficulty arises out of his mistake in thinking that a struggle against a wage reduction is the same thing as a policy of working for the political or social reform of capitalism.
We point out first that the working class are poor and a subject class because the capitalist class have political power and own and control the machinery of production and distribution. The cause of working class poverty is not the existence of certain defects in the political machinery by which capitalism is administered. Therefore, no political reform (proportional representation, for example), and no social reform (old-age pensions, children’s allowances, etc.), and no accumulation of such reforms will remedy the problem. If the whole of the reforms advocated by all the reform parties, from Conservative to Communist, were put on the Statute Book, the working class would still be a subject class and still poor. Therefore, the Socialist Party advocates Socialism, and seeks to organise the working class on a socialist basis.
We point out, further, that the only method of achieving socialism is for a socialist working class to gain political control. Anyone who urges the working class to put political power into the hands of persons and parties seeking election on a non-socialist programme, and therefore unable, even if willing, to use their power for any other purpose than the administration of capitalism, is acting directly contrary to the interests of the working class. All the reform parties have in this way acted contrary to working class interests, including the Communists, with their nationalisation projects and appeals to the workers to vote for MacDonald and other Labour candidates.
The development of capitalist industry constantly produces new social problems for the workers and aggravates old ones, and in the interests of the capitalists themselves these evils, which are merely the effects of capitalism, have to be palliated by various reform measures. The capitalists have to pass these reforms for two main reasons : loss of efficiency and loss of political support. If allowed to work unchecked, capitalism would produce such worsening in the conditions of the workers that they would, on the one hand, lose efficiency as profit-producers, and would perhaps, so the capitalist thinks, on the other hand, show their discontent with intolerable conditions by interesting themselves in Socialism or by riot and revolt which, though suicidal for the workers, would be troublesome and costly for the employing class. Incidentally, common sense suggests that the development of a strong socialist movement would cause the capitalist to fall over each other in their anxiety to make concessions in order to persuade the workers that socialism is unnecessary and capitalism not so bad after all. In short, the Socialist Party opposes the parties which preach reform because there is no way of achieving socialism except through the making of socialists and their organisation into a political party which will gain political power for the purpose ot introducing socialism.
The question of wage reductions is different in important respects. Reform parties, elected by non-socialist votes to administer capitalism, are blocking the way to socialism. Therefore we point this out and oppose them. But trade unions, the economic organisations of the workers, are chiefly concerned with the defence of the workers in their direct relations with the employers. They can, when market conditions are favourable, bring a certain organised pressure to bear on the employers
to resist a decrease or secure an increase in wages. This is a definite, if limited, gain to the workers concerned.
Therefore, we support the cotton workers or any other workers in their efforts in this direction, at the same time drawing their attention to the limits which capitalism imposes on all such activities. We point out in particular that every increase in wages or reduction in hours or curtailment of output gives the employers an added inducement to introduce more labour-saving machinery, thus in creasing the number of unemployed and the consequent competition for jobs. We point out also that the workers should always keep the control of policy in their own hands and not give power to their leaders to negotiate in secret and settle on their own terms. But emphasising once more that no action of this kind, however well organised, can solve the real working class problem of abolishing capitalism, and, further, that the employing class always have it in their power to starve striking or locked-out workers into submission if they deem it worth while to do so.