Socialist and Working Class Unity
An appeal has recently been sent out by the Communist International for a “United Front” of the working class against “Fascism” and in defence of working class standards of living and a number of other objects. This has been taken up readily by the I.L.P., but the Labour Party and Trades Union Congress have rejected the proposals of the I.L.P. and the Communist Party for joint action. Before explaining the attitude of the Socialist Party of Great Britain towards unity proposals, it is worth while observing the conditions which have given rise to a revival of the idea of the “United Front.” The plan is not new. On the contrary, the past half-century has witnessed innumerable attempts to form one united organisation into which the various parties calling themselves Labour or Socialist could merge. We are, however, interested at the moment only with the movement organised just 11 years ago. The circumstances are strikingly similar to those of to-day. The world is sunk in a serious economic crisis—as it also was in 1921-22. Hitler has just risen to power and has demonstrated the incapacity and utter impotence of the Social Democrats and the Communist Party in face of a situation which they professed to be able to tackle. In 1921 and 1922 Mussolini was strengthening his forces and subsequently, in October, 1922, came to power, showing, just as Hitler has shown, that the Labour and Communist parties were unable to offer any serious opposition. Again, in 1921, as at present, Russia was in the throes of a serious internal economic crisis. In 1921 this crisis, aggravated by the famine, compelled Lenin to introduce the New Economic Policy, an open avowal of Russia’s inability to do without capitalism. (August, 1921.) Then, as now, the Communist International and the Communist parties were under the orders of the Russian Government, and the latter instructed them to open up the “United Front” campaign in the belief that it would strengthen the position of the Russian Government at home and abroad.
So in March, 1922, after roundly abusing the Labour parties for two years, the Communist Party was prepared to meet them, join up with them, accept their rules and programme, and tell the workers to vote for those whom hitherto it had described as tools of capitalism. Now the cry of unity is being revived and we are again asked to justify our definite and absolute refusal to have anything whatever to do with it.
It is not that the S.P.G.B. is opposed to unity or that we like segregation for its own sake. On the contrary, it is our claim that only through Socialism will it ultimately be possible to unite the human race by ridding the world of the economic barriers which divide class from class and nation from nation.
Nor are we opposed to unity of the working class for the purpose of achieving Socialism, for we know full well that Socialism can only be achieved when at least a majority of the working class are prepared to join together to bring it about. But unity, to be real and useful, must have a common purpose and common basis, and there can be no common basis for unity between the S.P.G.B. on the one hand and the Communist and Labour parties on the other. When Socialist unity becomes a possibility our Declaration of Principles shows the basis on which alone it can be achieved. It declares the object that Socialists have in view, and in general terms, the means by which power for Socialism can be reached. It is not sectarian, but it is also not so loose that it will cover the vague lack of principle of the sentimental dreamer who has not grasped the essentials of capitalism and of social development.
Let us be more specific. Why will the S.P.G.B. not join up with the Labour Party or the Communist Party? The principal objection the Socialist has to the Labour programme is that it has not a Socialist objective at all. Socialism means the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution. In spite of a superficial similarity of words, the Labour Party is not aiming at common ownership, but at State control with private owners. The capitalist class are not, according to the Labour Party, to be dispossessed, but are to remain as a property owning class, but are to be deprived of their immediate control over the management of industry. The country is to remain the same in all essentials. There will still be a working class and a class living on property incomes. Goods will still be produced for sale and profit making, but the management will be in the hands of a series of so-called public utility corporations, directed by highly-paid business men like Lord Ashfield. This is a grotesque representation of Socialism. It is capitalism in a thin disguise. It solves no working class problem. It is not Socialism and as such does not bring Socialism one day nearer. Socialists do not, and cannot, desert all their Socialist principles in order to create a fictitious unity behind such a facade of illusion.
Now for the Communists. It is necessary here to insist on a frank recognition of what the Communists really stand for. It is their honest conviction that mass strikes and demonstrations, leading on to street fighting and civil war are the means, and the only means, to Socialism. We reject that in its entirety; not only is it not the best means, it is not a means at all. Civil war and its corollary, the dictatorship of the Communist Party (misnamed in Russia the dictatorship of the working class), are not the soil out of which Socialism, or even a Socialist movement, will spring. They hold out no prospect for the future and they are full of deadly damage to the working class in the present.
For it is the criminal irresponsibility and dangerous civil war talk of the Communists which, feeding on the workers’ disillusionment with the openly capitalist and the Labour Parties, fosters the development of Mussolinis and Hitlers.
The Communists talk ignorantly of the work ing class being tyrannised over by a Hitler or Mussolini. They forget two things of vital importance. The first is that every riot and street fight organised by them, every bluffing appeal to arms, helps to create the conditions of violence and panic out of which the so-called Fascist movements rise to power. The second fact they forget is that their violent talk and actions are directly, and indirectly, harmful to the Socialist movement, for they drive vast numbers of the working class over to the side of the parties of violent suppression. If it is impossible for Trade Unions and Socialist organisations (as well as Communist and Labour organisations) to function in Italy, Germany and elsewhere, the Communists are largely responsible. It is they who for years prepared the ground for Mussolini and Hitler by planning attempts at the seizure of power by armed minorities.
Whatever the intentions of the Communists may be, they are enemies of the working class movement.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain lays emphasis on the fact that it is a movement fundamentally different from the Labour parties and from the Communist parties.
We come before the working class with a reasoned explanation of the economic ills of the world, and with a reasoned plan for placing the social system on a new basis in keeping with the development of man’s productive forces.
We appeal to the working class to understand and act upon Socialist principles. We preach that the method of achieving Socialism is by constitutional, majority, control of the political machinery through the vote.
We come not to create chaos and civil war, but to bring order to a disordered world.
We are not political gangsters threatening the lives or well-being of any individual. We are not bent on revenge, or on penalising our political opponents or the members of the propertied class. While it is necessary that the means of production shall be brought under social ownership and control, Socialism will offer to the whole community—ex-capitalists included—the comfort and security which rational use of modern productive forces renders possible.
Indeed, it is our boast that the increasing insecurity of life under capitalism and the chaotic conditions at home and abroad will, in time, drive more and more capitalists, as well as the workers, to recognise that the Socialist movement is the only guarantee of ordered development for society as a whole.
Our answer to appeals for unity is, therefore, what it has always been. The S.P.G.B. is always prepared to welcome Socialists to join us on the basis of our Declaration of Principles, which points the only road to Socialism. Never, under any circumstances, are we prepared to unite with those who—however well-meaningly—are travelling to a different objective or who preach a policy of civil war, which, if acted upon, destroys all present hope of Socialist propaganda and organisation and delays progress towards emancipation.
(Socialist Standard, May 1933)