Democratic control

An Open Letter to the Rank and File of “Labour,” “Communist” and “Independent” organisations.

‘Comrades of the Working Class,

I am writing especially with a view to reaching the young and enthusiastic member of such organisations, who, gulled by windy and insincere professions of trust in the “ rank and file,” is only too often assisting in a tragic game of “over-backs” perpetually called upon to “tuck in the tuppenny” for the vaulting ambition of “leaders” who come well on their feet on the other side.

The New Leader, the abour Monthly and the Daily Worker, when not keeping up their spirits with chanting the “United Front” supply choice examples from the said “Front” of treachery, incompetence and “careerism.”

The Daily Herald, run on the most approved capitalist lines, descending to all the usual sordid devices for maintaining circulation, enthusiastically Christian with “Good old George,” mildly agnostic with Harold Laski, drinking a loyal toast (fervently adding, “God bless him”) with Cripps, forms a convenient clearing house for cheques drawn on working-class ignorance.

In the conspiracy of silence about the Socialist Party of Great Britain, it is difficult to get the “rank and file” to realise the yawning gulf that separates this party from all other political organisations. I ask the younger workers (“Old Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone ”—the succeeding verse is politically apposite, Hosea 4, 17) to acquaint themselves with first-hand knowledge of the constitution of the S.P.G.B. Attend all meetings—all of them. Surprising as the fact may be, there are absolutely no private “sessions” of the S.P.G.B. Our “ Object,” specifically stating DEMOCRATIC CONTROL of the means of life, is reflected in the constitution of the Party. We have emerged from the stage where the superior person, centre of an idolising following, dictates “policy” and creates the “Platform” atmosphere so dear to the Trade Union type of mind.

Get this: Officers and Executive are instruments of the party, strictly accountable to the rank and file (through the branches) for all action taken. Delegates to conferences (come to our Annual Conference on Good Friday, if this reaches you in time; seeing’s believing) are instructed by their branches as to action and voting on specific questions. In short, the S.P.G.B. has for good and all abandoned “leadership” not only in word, but in deed. There is, therefore, no need in the S.P.G.B. to keep an eye on possible “careerists”—“picturesque personalities” (to quote a young I.L.P. friend of mine), or otherwise. The constitution of the party simply rules them out, as the eggs of a fish would be barred from complete fisdom deposited on dry land.

Consider for a moment this item of news (News-Chronicle, January 19th, 1934): —

“Mr. J. Maxton and Mr. McGovern . . . had a 90 minutes talk with Mr. De Valera. There was a pledge of secrecy upon the subjects discussed.”

What have these two members to conceal from their Party? After all, things are apt to be disclosed. Mr. Maxton, after the Right Honourable James Ramsay MacDonald had followed to its logical conclusion what stood for his political “convictions,” was compelled to disclose the fact that he had been deliberately supporting someone he knew was “never a Socialist.” That Mr. Maxton “was impressed by De Valera’s sincerity and ability” is of no more importance to the working class than Mr. McGovern’s considered opinion that His Majesty has a “good ’eart ”—which opinion was deliberately omitted in the New Leader, although immediately preceding remarks (concerning a silly exhibition at the opening of Parliament) were recorded.

My young friends may find the following extract interesting, if not illuminating:

“When the Little Peddlington Branch of the S.D.P. or the Flat-ditch Branch of the I.L.P. sends me a pompous notice, written in ungrammatical English on dirty paper, that the comrades in the said Branch have publicly disassociated themselves from me, I retire into my armchair and smile. These poor, dear little comrades, never did have a sense of humour.”

There speaks the typical “leader.” Don’t they just despise you? But you ask for it. . . The author of the foregoing quotation? Oh, yes— Robert Blatchford, Clarion (January 14th, 1910). Have I seen the New Clarion? “New presbyter is but old priest writ large.”

The SOCIALIST STANDARD is democratically owned and controlled by the Party. Battling through thirty years for SOCIALISM, and Socialism all the time, it has never ceased to be the organ of the PARTY, never deviated from the position determined by the sheet-anchor of the Party, our Declaration of Principles.

With Lewis Morgan (Ancient Society, page 344) we believe that “the human race is gradually learning the simple lesson that the people as a whole is wiser for the public good than any privileged class of men, however refined and cultivated.”

Not that one would regard Blatchford’s vulgar outburst as “refined ” or “ cultivated.”

Yours for Socialism,


(Socialist Standard, April 1934)

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