1930s >> 1936 >> no-383-july-1936

Letters to the Editors: Why Not Join the Labour Party?

The following letter urges the S.P.G.B. to join the Labour Party:—

To the Editor, The Socialist Standard.

Much as I appreciate The Standard because of its Socialist uplift, I cannot jump the hurdles by switching over to the S.P.G.B. A member of the Labour Party because of its basic Socialism, yet, I recognise, like all associations, it is but human, and it is human to err within the capitalist system of life. I believe in Socialism, but, as a business man I am compelled to accommodate myself to capitalist methods, otherwise I should have to present myself to the P.A.C. The majority of trade unionists are just selfish individualists, much more selfish than ”bloated capitalists,” but primary fault is not theirs, neither is it mine because I have to live by capitalist methods. The entire fault lies in the system of life to which we are subordinate. It might be we could destroy it, or attempt to destroy it, in the same way as did the Russians (all praise to them), but it is obvious that cannot be. Tradition and due order is in our blood, and we cannot escape. If the British Communists have failed so dismally—as they have—in converting us, what chance has the S.G.P.B. in overturning “the system”? You will admit that your procedure up to now is gradualist. The probability is that, for many years you will be engaged in converting the people. When you have done this are you confident by political machinery of overturning capitalism? Do you calculate on the bankers, money changers and industrial chiefs sitting down quietly while you are putting them in their proper places? Has it ever occurred to you that they might provoke a bloody revolution? The Labour Party, with all its faults, has to keep in step with the people, and they are intensely gradualist. Even the victims of the social order have accommodated themselves to the dole life, and would shudder at the idea of creasing a policeman’s helmet. Why look to the Labour Party to adopt mock heroics? Let all the Left sections affiliate with the Labour Party. If they alone can see the light their place is inside so that their light may shine before men. My own mentality is very much on the militant side, but I would hesitate very long before being practically militant. Very few would follow me into the shambles! The larger number would look on, especially trade unionists, and if I failed, like Christ in His appearance before the judges, they would desert me and fly for their lives. I know, because I have had some. A “united front” is only a pious platitude. Trade Unionism, because of its inherent individual and collective selfishness arising from a capitalist mentality, rejects any unified vision, hence the best of two worlds is enjoyed. And the Socialist, almost in despair, keeps trudging along beseeching to be saved from his friends such as Knighted Trade Unionists, O.B.E.’s and “Socialist” peers.—Yours,

Norman V. Reeves.


Co. Down.




Mr. Reeves begins his letter by saying that he is reluctant to jump the hurdle which separates the Labour Party from the S.P.G.B. He then airily leaps across another gigantic hurdle as if it didn’t exist at all, dismissing the case against the Labour Party with a light reference to “its basic Socialism” which, he thinks, is merely marred by a human tendency to err. This is the point at which Mr. Reeves should pause and begin his examination of the question. His assumption of a “basically Socialist” Labour Party is not warranted. The Labour Party’s programme of replacing shareholding in joint-stock companies by bond-holding in Public Utility Corporations is not Socialism, but capitalism. It leaves every important feature of capitalism untouched. Socialists are not supporters of it, but opponents.


Having put the matter in correct perspective, let us now examine the rest of the letter.


Mr. Reeves references to his method of living, and to the “selfish individualism” of the Trade Unionist, are two sides of the same medal, capitalism. Conflict between the classes is its essence and will continue until capitalism is abolished. Socialists are well aware of this and have always realised the necessity for the Socialist movement to have a basis very different from that of the Trade Unions. We do not use the method of dividing the workers according to their occupation, but of uniting all who are Socialists.


The next assumption made in our correspondent’s letter is that the Russians have abolished capitalism. This is like the earlier statement about the Labour Party—quite unfounded. Both of them possibly arise from a lack of clearness on Mr. Reeves part about the nature of capitalism and Socialism.


Mr. Reeves in his innocence (or is it guile?) asks if it has ever occurred to us that the capitalists might provoke a bloody revolution after a Socialist working class has gained control of the political machinery. We can but answer with a similar question. Has it ever occurred to Mr. Reeves that, if a minority tried to provoke a bloody revolution against the politically organised majority which has control of the political machinery, including the armed forces, that rebel minority might get very badly hurt?


The rest of Mr. Reeves letter lumps together a number of contradictory ideas, which need sorting out. He presents us with the alternatives either of being in the Labour Party or of trying to lead the workers “into the shambles.” We are opposed to both. The task of spreading knowledge of Socialism, and of organising for the conquest of power has nothing in common with the stupid policy of leading non-Socialist masses into civil war. (On this point may we refer our correspondent to our Declaration of Principles?) On the other hand, our alternative to suicidal armed revolt is not the Labour Party policy of minor reforms of capitalism, but the quite different policy of organising for the conquest of power to achieve Socialism. In passing it may be pointed out that it is Labour Party gradualism which includes dragooning the workers into the shambles of capitalist war.


The attempt to whitewash the Labour Party: by saying that “it has to keep in step with the people,” is the stock argument of every purveyor of shoddy goods, quack medicines, puerile entertainments, and so on. What Mr. Reeves has got to explain is how the workers would ever cease to be capitalist-minded if every Socialist were to enrol under the Labour Party banner and spend his time (as he would have to do) defending and explaining pettifogging reforms of capitalism. The Prohibitionists who at one time dominated U.S.A., showed far more sense of reality than does Mr. Reeves in this matter. If they had followed the advice he gives us they would not have organised and fought for prohibition, or attacked liquor and the liquor trade, but would have enrolled in Pro-Liquor Leagues, advocating merely that alcohol should be diluted by the addition of tiny quantities of water. Instead, they attacked alcohol in all its forms, fought for what they wanted, and concentrated on winning over the population to their point of view.


If the S.P.G.B. were to apply for affiliation with the Labour Party (assuming that the application were accepted at all) we would have to drop our distinctive characteristic, our Socialist principles, in order to preach the basically non-Socialist doctrines of the Labour Party. The last sentence of the letter gives a fairly clinching argument against submerging Socialism in the Labour Party.


It is only because the S.P.G.B. remains outside that it escapes having to try to defend the “Knighted Trade Unionists, O.B.E.s, and ‘Socialist’ Peers.” They are Mr. Reeves political associates, not ours.


Editorial Committee.