1930s >> 1936 >> no-380-april-1936
Letter: Socialists and the Labour Party
The various points in the following letter are replied to below.
I was much interested in December copy of Socialist Standard, which a member of S.P.G.B. lent me. In one article questions were invited, and I wish to take advantage of this invitation. I understand that the viewpoint of the S.P.G.B. is that palliatives only retard, and in the article on “Justice to Miners” it appears that the S.P.G.B. are not in favour of the miners getting 2s. per shift rise in wages, but consider that the miners should go all out for the control of industry. Do you consider that the miners would get sufficient backing from the general public? In explaining the attitude of S.P.G.B. toward the Labour Party, it appears that the S.P.G.B. consider that harm is done to Socialism by Labour’s efforts to reform Capitalism. Do you seriously think that Socialism can come in one lump, and need not be brought in piecemeal, as in the Labour Party’s policy? I have read the S.P.G.B. manifesto as set out in “Socialism and Religion,” and am quite in agreement with this in general, but I think the attitude toward other parties is rather too severe. Remembering that the S.P.G.B. is probably the smallest party which is striving for Socialism, do you think that all other parties could be brought to the same way of thinking, and Socialism brought in quicker than, say, by a Communist uprising ? I am a member of the Labour Party, and am by no-means satisfied with the slow and steady policy of that party. I should like to join the S.P.G.B., but I want to feel that I am in entire agreement with the policy. Many votes were lost to Labour at the last Election because Socialists of other parties would not vote for Labour, and by not voting they only strengthened the Tories. Surely some working agreement could be arrived at between the various Socialist Parties, so that we were able to defeat the Capitalists, and we could afterwards settle our own little differences. I think if we were all to work together many members of the Labour Party would join the ranks of the S.P.G.B.
Yours in the Cause of Socialism,
W. J. Last.
Our correspondent has not properly understood the case of the S.P.G.B. against Labourism.
We do not condemn palliatives because they retard progress to Socialism but because the arguments put forward in support of them retard that progress. The Labour Party argues that the workers’ conditions can be gradually improved and improved until, imperceptibly, we shall be living under Socialism. If that were true there would be no need for the S.P.G.B. As it is wholly untrue the Labour party, by propagating that view, hinders our propaganda, which is of a fundamentally different kind. We say that the destruction of the basis of capitalism—the private ownership and control of the means of production and distribution—has not begun and cannot begin until after an organised Socialist majority has gained control of the political machinery.
There is the further point that most “palliatives” do not “palliate,” and the consequent disappointment of the workers makes for apathy and thus further retards Socialism.
It is not true that the S.P.G.B. are “not in favour of the miners getting 2s. per shift rise in wages,” nor do we advocate so-called miners’ control of the mining industry. We always support the efforts of the workers to resist the encroachments of the employers and to improve their conditions under capitalism to the limited extent possible. What we add is that no efforts on the industrial field can ever go beyond the narrow limits set by capitalism. To go beyond that and achieve Socialism there must be an organised Socialist majority in control of the machinery of Government.
We reject the slogan, “The mines for the miners,” because we are Socialists, not syndicalists. We work for ownership and control by the whole community.
The question at issue between Socialists and the Labour Party is not whether Socialism can come “in one lump” or “piecemeal,” but whether the Labour Party seeks Socialism at all. Socialism means a system of society based on common ownership of the means of production and distribution, and involves the complete abolition of buying and selling, rent, interest and profit, and the rest of the monetary institutions of capitalism. That is the only solution to the problem before us and it is a solution which most Labour Party supporters have not considered and which the rest reject. The aim of the Labour Party is a State-controlled capitalism retaining all of the things which Socialism will abolish, except that the direct control of capitalist companies would, under Labour rule, be replaced by so-called public utility corporations. Socialists are absolutely opposed to the establishment of this slightly modified form of capitalism. This disposes of our correspondent’s argument that there are only “little differences” between the S.P.G.B. and the Labour Party. The difference is as wide and deep as that between capitalism and Socialism.
The only remaining point is the reference to a “Communist uprising.” No uprising by a minority against the stupendous forces of the State could in any circumstances achieve Socialism. It could only serve to set back still further the progress to Socialism.