Letter: Socialists and Membership of the Labour Party
Letter to the Editors
A correspondent asks the following question: —
Towards the end of your declaration you state ” . . . the party seeking emancipation should be hostile to every other party.” This, of course, includes the Labour Party.
I fully appreciate that the S.P.G.B. cannot afford to dissipate its energies in lending support to the reformist policy of the Labour Party. It seems to me, however, that individual members could do good work (until they were expelled) within the D.L.P. in opposing and criticising its present policy.
I believe it to be a fact that a large number of Labour Party supporters are under the impression that the principles which they support are truly revolutionary.
At the Leicester Conference it was reiterated time after time, that the object of the Labour Party (unlike the Conservatives and Liberals) is the establishment of Socialism “by substituting community-owned and publicly-controlled industries and services for disorganised competition and domination of vested interests.”
Anyone who is not familiar with the whole of the Labour Party’s activities may be forgiven for reading “community-owned and publicly controlled” to have the same meaning as the “the common ownership and democratic control” in the statement of objects of the S.P.G.B.
The concrete proposals which the Labour Party put forward each year, however, that this is not the case.
It is in the belief that the fluctuating principles and policy of the Labour Party are not a true reflex of the views of the whole party membership, that I suggest that a strong leaven of Marxist Socialism in the local D.L.P.s might force a wider recognition of the fallacies underlying the official brand of Labour Party “Socialism.”
If membership of the S.P.G.B. definitely precludes membership of the local Divisional Labour Party, I should be obliged if you will meet the points I have raised.
Membership of the S.P.G.B. does carry with it the definite and absolute prohibition of membership of any other political party in this country. The primary reason for that condition of membership is explained in our Declaration of Principles. Having made up our minds that the paramount need of to-day (not of some distant time in the future) is Socialism, we came together in a Party which exists only for that purpose. In addition we have learned by observation and by the past experience of the founders of the S.P.G.B. when trying to work inside the Social Democratic Federation (prior to the formation of the S.P.G.B.), that any advantage there may be in working inside or in association with a reformist party is enormously outweighed by its disadvantages. If members of the S.P.G.B. were allowed to be member so the Labour Party they would have to choose between admitting their membership of the S.P.G.B. or concealing it. If they concealed it they could not carry on open propaganda for the S.P.G.B. Their attempts to preach Socialist principles robbed of the essential principle that there must be an independent non-reformist Socialist political party, would in practice be interpreted not as a condemnation, but as friendly criticism of the Labour Party. It would help the Labour Party, not the S.P.G.B.
Open support of the S.P.G.B. inside the Labour Party would, of course, be in flat contradiction of the Labour Party’s programme and constitution, and would lead automatically and speedily to expulsion. Obviously the Labour Party would not permit members to oppose its own candidates at election times and to denounce the Labour Party’s aims and activities.
Our correspondent perceives that expulsion would result, but, nevertheless, thinks that good work might be done. We think he overlooks the weakness of the position in which the individual would find himself. At present, members of the S.P.G.B. appear before members of the Labour Party as frank and open opponents, who hold fundamentally different views, and say so. Their position is open and above-board. They are known for what they are. Contrast this with the position of the Socialist who joins the Labour Party. To become a member he must declare that he accepts the Labour Party constitution and that he is not a member of an opposing party. He then declares this, knowing it to be false. He then devotes himself, not to the promotion of the objects of the Labour Party, but to a different and hostile purpose. As soon as this becomes apparent to his fellow members of the Labour Party he is dubbed a “disruptionist” and his chances of securing a dispassionate hearing are at once destroyed. He is rightly regarded as having received membership under false pretences and any views he may express, either then or subsequently (after his expulsion) will be discounted accordingly.
The only method for the Socialist Party to adopt is the one which avoids confusion and which stresses the need for the working class to recognise the unbridgeable gulf between reformism and Socialism. We do not gain by implying that a man can consistently hold membership in the Labour Party and the S.P.G.B. at the same time. We want it to be known from one end of the country to the other that the Labour Party and the S.P.G.B. are opponents and that there can never be a truce to the conflict between them.