Editorial: Principles or Expediency

From its formation the S.P.G.B. took a firm stand for “principle” against “expediency,” and, unlike other organisations which also professed attachment to principle, the members of the S.P.G.B. really meant what they said and acted up to it. The controversy was not one of personalities but of a fundamentally different view of things. Yet it could truthfully be said of the advocates of expediency that most of them were not very clear about the implications of their attitude. They would say that they realised the necessity of remaining loyal to Socialist principles, such as opposing all capitalist parties, but when it came to applying the principle they would constantly find some urgent and special, but only “temporary,” reason for suspending the principle. In practice this meant that temporary became permanent, and the principle was forgotten.

The issue would arise then in just the same manner as it does to-day. There would be a Tory Government in office, and the alleged Socialists in the I.L.P. or Labour Party would say, “In principle we are as much opposed to Liberals as we are to Tories, but it would be a good thing if we were to promise to help the Liberal opposition if in return they will promise some social reform legislation.” To the superficial short view it looked good business, but the price that had to be paid far outweighed the immediate advantage. In order to help secure the victory of the Liberal Party the other parties to the bargain had to drop all pretence of Socialist propaganda and devote their efforts to convincing the electorate that Liberal social reforms were the thing that really mattered. The first duty of the Socialist Party is to make Socialists, and the policy of expediency meant the almost total suppression of Socialist propaganda.

Needless to say, when a Liberal Government was in office the expediency-mongers often transferred their allegiance to the Tory Party.

The Socialist Party condemned expediency and showed how it confused, demoralised and divided the workers. Men and women, just beginning to learn that capitalism is the enemy, would suddenly be told that it was urgently necessary to support one section of the capitalists against another. They learned to suspect their leaders, often wondering whether their chief allegiance was to their own party or to the Liberal or Tory Party. Expediency also divides the workers among themselves. It was all very well to support “Free Trade” when helping the Liberal Party, but workers in industries directly affected by foreign competition thought they had just as good a case for supporting tariffs, and the Tory Party, which advocated them. And how could the worker who was told to vote for a capitalist party and its programme of reforms go on believing that “Socialism is the only hope of the workers”?

Helping Capitalists to Power
Socialists, taking their stand on Socialist principles, went on pointing out the harm of sacrificing the substance for the shadow, the achieve¬ment of Socialism for the momentary petty con¬cession from the capitalist class. They showed from past and present history how that policy produced only disappointment and betrayal, and prevented the growth of the Socialist movement. Above all, Socialists insisted on the hard truth that all capitalist agents who are elected to Parliament use their power to protect and preserve the capitalist system against the interest of the working class. Elect a Liberal reformer to-day on the strength of his promises and you will find him to-morrow using the armed forces to defeat a strike.

It is just the same in foreign affairs. Every capitalist and Labour politician swears his love of peace, but it only needs a realisation on the part of the capitalists that their interests are threatened to see the peace-loving politician declaring war. Liberal and Labour Party leaders, prior to 1914, were the peace-lovers; but war found them in coalition with their erstwhile Tory enemies, waging capitalist war, enforcing conscription, and so on. Only a brief while before President Wilson launched America into the War he had been elected—with the support of alleged Socialists—on an explicit promise to keep the country out of war. Chamberlain, the “peace-maker” of Munich, may be wanting war at no distant date, and if he does his way will be made easier by his reputation as a peace-lover. His present opponents in the Liberal and Labour Parties will be found helping him to win over the population to a policy of war. Expediency will again ha’ve helped the capitalist class to their task of hoodwinking the workers. Yet expediency has its surface attraction. The alleged Socialist who hails Chamberlain for preserving peace has apparently a substantial claim, just as has the opponent of Chamberlain, who urges unity with other capitalist groups, to “defend democracy.” But whichever group has its way the workers will be divided, will be deceived into entrusting control of the political machinery in capitalist hands, and will have their attention taken away from the basic fact that it is capitalism which produces wars, capitalism which stands in the way of Socialism.

Once Socialists give up principle for expediency they lose their way and get entangled in the intricate maze of capitalist political intrigue. Worst of all, they become divided, attaching themselves to different and rival sections of capitalist movements. Wars about capitalist interests masquerading as wars for democracy or nationalism are the most tragic example. Expediency in the last War naturally led to so-called Socialists fighting on the Allied side for “democracy” or “self-determination” and on the German side for “culture against Russian barbarism.”

The Czechs, who in the last War declared that they were being loyal to Socialism by fighting to dismember Austria and gain Czech independence, have their counterpart to-day in the Ukrainian “Socialists,” who are prepared to back Hitler-Germany in order to secure Ukrainian independence from Poland. One of them told a News Chronicle correspondent (News Chronicle, December 9th, 1938): “Better an alliance with the devil than continued Polish oppression.” Very short-sighted, of course, and incompatible with Socialist principle, but so is all expediency.

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