1930s >> 1936 >> no-380-april-1936

Letter: The Policy of the Half-Loaf is Unworkable

A reader of The Socialist Standard puts the following criticism of our propaganda : —

I am afraid that while admiring the principles of the S.P.G.B., I do not approve of the split in the Left Movement, which the S.P.G.B.’s denunciations of every other Left-wing group would undoubtedly open if ever they attained the position of putting up candidates for Parliament. I cannot really believe that the S.P.G.B. is the only party in step. If my opinion is wrong, then it can only be because I am not truly a Socialist; anyway, I stand for the half-a-loaf the Labour Party may give us soon, rather than the no bread which a series of antagonistic factions on the Left will give us. Solid achievements in Social Reform will, I think, bring us nearer to Socialism than theoretical propaganda, if carried out by a Labour Government pledged to revolutionary Socialism.


The three points in our correspondent’s letter are (1) the desire for unity, (2) the value of “solid achievements in Social Reform,” and (3) the Labour Party as an instrument for gaining Socialism.


The desire for unity is one which arises naturally among workers who have begun to appreciate that the working class have interests in common. “One interest, why not one organisation?” But this vague conception of the identity of interests of the workers is not a sufficient basis for unity. Organisations with, broadly, the same aim of improving the conditions of the workers may be, and often are, seriously divided about objects and methods. In these circumstances real unity is impossible, and where two such organisations amalgamate or associate the friction is only transferred from the outside to the inside, without any advantage to the workers. The S.P.G.B. holds that democratic methods are the only methods by which Socialism can be achieved. How could we suspend pur condemnation of organisations which advocate other methods which we know will cause nothing but loss and suffering to the workers? During war-time, various so-called workers’ organisations are found actively supporting war. How can the S.P.G.B. refrain from denouncing them? The fact that. some organisations have working class members and claim to be aiming at improving the condition of the workers does not rule out the possibility that their programmes may be useless, their methods dangerous and their activities harmful to the workers.


The phrase, “solid achievements in social reform,” is a mistaken one. It does not fit the facts. The idea of the Labour Party is that on the firm basis of the workers’ existing standard of living a “solid achievement” of reforms can be built up, so that the workers will get better and better off, and be freed from one after another of the evils resulting from capitalism. This conception is wholly wrong. There is, under capitalism, no solid basis on which to build, and there is no means by which the workers under capitalism can be saved from the evils of capitalism. The workers cannot be protected from permanent unemployment, or from the catastrophic effects of capitalist crises, except by abolishing capitalism. In this year 1936, over thirty years since the Labour Party began its work, there is not one major problem solved or on the way to solution. The workers are still poor and miserably housed, while the number unemployed or directly threatened with unemployment is larger than ever. Neither the slum problem nor the “low-wage” problem has been solved. The danger of war has not been removed or lessened. Where, then, are the solid achievements which our correspondent fancies are preferable to Socialism? No such choice exists. For the workers now, as in 1900, the only chance is between the capitalism that is and the Socialism that might be.


The next point we are asked to consider is the likelihood of Socialism being advanced by “a Labour Government pledged to revolutionary Socialism.” We cannot admit our correspondent’s case, because there is not and cannot be such a thing as a Labour Government “pledged to revolutionary Socialism.” The whole essence of Labourism (as indeed is emphasised by our correspondent earlier in his letter) is that it works not for “revolutionary Socialism” but by seeking social reforms. Before it will be possible to have the political machinery controlled by an organised majority “pledged to revolutionary Socialism,” the theoretical propaganda which our correspondent rejects will have had to be carried to the mass of the workers. How else can they come to understand and want Socialism?


The S.P.G.B. holds that there is only one problem and only one solution. The means of production and distribution must be made the common property of society. Articles must be produced simply for use, freely, by the members of society. The Labour Party does not seek this solution. On the contrary, in theory as well as in practice, it rejects it. The Labour Party does not contemplate even the possibility of the destruction of the whole mechanism of buying and selling, of profit making, of incomes from property. While the Socialist works only for a social system in which the necessities of life will be provided freely for all and the work of production will be organised on a co-operative basis without employers and employed, the Labour Party dismisses all that as visionary and Utopian, and builds its schemes on the continuance of the wages system, buying and selling, banking and credit operations, etc. The S.P.G.B. says that there is no solution except common ownership, with all its implications mentioned above. All the rest are indeed out of step with us. Our correspondent wants unity, but wants it by bringing us into step with the Labour Parties. The only unity worth having is unity for Socialism. It can only come about when the workers who now march with the Labour army break step with them and fall into line with us.


Ed. Comm.


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