The Proposed Socialist Party of India
Those responsible for a movement to form the “Socialist Party of India” have issued a Declaration of Policy (published by the “Advocate of India” Press, Bombay).
It begins with a short statement of the position of the workers in the capitalist system of society. This opening statement is in the main accurate and simple, and only a few faults can be found with it. It states, for example, that the capitalists are there “controlling the principal instrumentalities of production and exchange,” but it does not bring out with sufficient clearness and emphasis that the ownership and control by the capitalists of the means of production and distribution is the basis of the capitalist economic system, and that through their ownership and control the capitalists are the owners of the whole of the products of the workers’ labour. Any misunderstanding of these essentials may cause a failure to realise that the aim of the workers should be to dispossess the capitalists of the means of production and distribution and to make these the property of society as a whole.
A second fault is that the statement gives the impression that the Socialist case is addressed only to part of the working class, i.e., not to the clerical, technical and so-called professional sections of the working class. In view of the frequent assertion by the opponents of Socialism that its appeal is to “manual” workers only, a declaration of policy should carefully avoid possible ambiguity.
The first part of the Declaration recognises that it is the abolition, not the reform of, capitalism that should be aimed at.
“The more industry is rationalised the more the capitalist system is perfected, the worse become its resultant evils. It is not by any reform of the existing economic order, but only by the substitution of a radically different one that they are to be ended.”
But having stated this, the Declaration then proceeds to make a case for a programme of “immediate demands.” We entirely agree that the workers should use trade-union organisation to resist the encroachments of the employers, but it is essential that the workers should realise the limited value of such activity. It is not a service to the workers to foster quite illusory hopes of considerable betterment to be achieved thereby. Although the expansion and technical development of capitalist industry in India will doubtless lead to the employment of better-educated and better-trained workers, and consequently to a higher standard of living, trade-union organisation will not be able to give the workers security under capitalism, nor can it prevent a worsening of their position relative to that of the capitalist class.
And the case for trade-union organisation is not also a case for the adoption of a programme of immediate demands by a party claiming to be Socialist. Nor is it a case for supporting the Co-operative Movement.
As the drafters of this Declaration could learn from the more advanced capitalist countries, every party which has adopted immediate demands under the impression that it can do so “while keeping its ultimate purpose always in mind and clearly proclaiming it on all occasions” has failed to do the latter. In every case, sooner or later, the supporters recruited for the immediate demands have swamped the ultimate purpose. This is inevitable. The fight for the immediate demands alters the composition of the organisation, destroys the clear grasp of Socialist principles, leaves no time or energy for necessary study, and introduces the disintegrating forces of careerism, opportunism, and the desire to become the Government at all costs.
The Co-operative Movement is another form of activity which is of negligible use to the working class, and is a hindrance to Socialist propaganda. At most it serves its members as a somewhat expensive method of saving. Genuine co-operative societies (in which the members themselves carry on the work and own and share in common), have invariably failed to make headway against the forces of capitalism. The so-called consumers’ co-operatives which have made headway possess no real element of co-operation. They are merely joint stock capitalist trading concerns owned by small investors and exploiting their employees like capitalist concerns in general. The outlook engendered by the Co-operative: Movement is no more favourable to Socialist propaganda than is the outlook of non-co-operators. Support of such blind-alley activities confuses the minds of the workers by making them think that the social problem can be solved within capitalism and without Socialism.
Another grave objection to this Declaration is the intention of joining the Labour and Socialist International. That organisation is composed of parties (like the British Labour Party) which are utterly lacking in Socialist understanding and purpose. The International is in no real sense either Socialist or international. It tolerates the most shameful alliances with capitalist parties and governments, and its recent attitude of taking sides in the Chino-Japanese conflict shows that it is as lacking in an understanding of the logical Socialist attitude toward capitalist wars as it was when rabid nationalism overwhelmed it in 1914.
It is good to see that Indian workers are taking a serious interest in Socialism, but it will be regrettable if the proposed new party ignores the lessons to be learned from working-class history in Western Europe, Australia and elsewhere, and commits itself to a policy which will inevitably promote reformist at the expense of Socialist elements within it, and will prevent it from being a Socialist party except in name.
(From the July 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard)