1930s >> 1931 >> no-318-february-1931

Correspondence: Should we contest elections?

Two Camberwell readers (S. and C. Roberts) criticise our attitude towards elections. They write:—

  During the last General Election we were told that you were preparing to contest North Battersea. We were further informed that you had a membership of less than 50 in the whole of Battersea. We take this membership as a measure of support in Battersea, and maintain that in preparing to contest an election where the working class had no desire for socialism (proved by small membership), was anti-socialist action. Also, seeing that you agree with Marx that the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself, condemns you, and though your speeches and pamphlets are socialistic, it is the actions of a party or person which determine their true status in the present order of society.

Reply.
The criticism is evidently based upon incorrect information about the Socialist Party’s attitude. The criticism would have point if it had been proposed to run a candidate in North Battersea or elsewhere on a programme drawn up with a view to attracting the support and votes of non-Socialists. But there was no such intention. Socialist Party candidates for election run on no programme except that which our readers see in our literature, and they would receive, therefore, the votes only of those who want Socialism and reject the programmes of the opposing candidates. The number of persons who want Socialism and would vote for it would, although small, be larger than our enrolled membership.

From its formation the Socialist Party has regarded the contesting of elections as a means of propaganda to be used along with other means of propaganda. Good work has been done at council elections in the past.

We accept Marx’s dictum that the working class must achieve their own emancipation. But Marx, of course, did not mean by this that nothing should be done until the working class as a whole decide upon doing it. If that attitude were correct, then the Socialist Party could not have been formed. The action of forming a Socialist organisation of any kind at a time when “the working class have no desire for Socialism” would, according to such reasoning, “be anti-Socialist action.” Marx, it is interesting to observe, had considered this situation and wholeheartedly agreed with the attitude which the Socialist Party takes up. In his “Address to the Communist League” he wrote:—

  Even in constituencies where there is no prospect of our candidate being elected, the workers must nevertheless put up candidates in order to maintain their independence, to steel their forces, and to bring their revolutionary attitude and party views before the public.

Ed. Comm.