Debate with Fascist pt.1
The following is a summarized report of a debate that took place at Mawney Road Schools, Romford, on March 23rd, between E. Hardy, representing the S.P.G.B., and Mr. Probyn, representing the British Union of Fascists. The subject was “Fascism or Socialism.” The chair was taken by Mr. Wilson, Editor of the Romford Times.
Case for the Socialist Party
Comrade Hardy opened the debate by pointing out that he was speaking as the representative of the S.P.G.B., and it followed as a matter of course that he was not prepared to defend the principles or policy of any other organisation than the one he represented. It would be necessary in order to consider the case for Socialism and the case for Fascism first of all to take a glance at the existing condition of things, to which Socialism and Fascism are offered as alternatives. The existing system is capitalism. Its essential feature is that the means of production and distribution are owned and controlled not by society as a whole but by a section, the capitalists. Less than one-quarter of the population own between them nearly 90 per cent, of the accumulated property of all kinds. Facing them is the working class which lives by the sale of labour-power to the capitalists. The one class lives by the ownership of property and is a non-wealth producing class. The other class lives by selling its mental and physical energies for wages or salary, based roughly on the cost of living of the various groups of workers.
It was necessary at this stage to remove any misconception about the term working-class. It is not used by Socialists in the popular loose way to describe industrial workers only, but in a precise way to cover all who have to sell their labour-power as their normal means of living. The term applies, therefore, to clerical workers, Government employees, technical workers, salaried managers and so on, making up in all about 85 per cent, of the population.
The consequences of capitalism are too well known to require long description. First there is poverty in the working-class face to face with extremes of wealth in the capitalist class. Then there is unemployment, a normal feature of capitalism throughout its history. Then there are crises which periodically aggravate the normal evils of capitalism. Capitalists permit the workers to produce wealth only if they anticipate being able to sell at a profit. If this anticipation is absent then the capitalists can and do curtail production, close down the factories, etc., and throw millions out of work. Next there is class hatred, an inevitable consequence of the division of society into an owning and non-owning class. Lastly there is war. When the capitalists fear that foreign rivals are endangering their investments abroad, or are threatening markets, trade routes, etc., they set the armed forces in motion when bluff and threats have failed.
These are the consequences of capitalism and they are not recent phenomena as is sometimes supposed, but have existed since the beginning of capitalism.
The remedy is Socialism. Consequently the S.P.G.B. stands for Socialism alone and not for any other isms – “Socialism, the whole of Socialism, nothing but Socialism.” Socialism means a system of society in which the means of production and distribution are owned and controlled by society as a whole and in which the members of society co-operate in the production of wealth and have access to the things they have produced. There will be no longer an owning class which does not produce and a producing class which does not own. Socialism will end the evils produced by capitalism. Poverty, the contrast of rich and poor, will be ended. The wages system under which the members of one class sell labour-power to the members of another will likewise be ended and with it will go the unemployment problem. Production will no longer be under the control of a class seeking profit and able to curtail production when the anticipation of profit is absent. Consequently Socialism will end crises. It will likewise end class-hatred and war.
Now that the attitude of the S.P.G.B. towards capitalism had been explained it was necessary to explain where Fascism stands. Because of the evils which flow from capitalism there is always discontent, sometimes increasing, sometimes subsiding. Reformist political parties therefore come into existence rallying the discontented round them by promising to deal with particular evils and using the discontent as a means of raising their particular party to office and the sweets of office. The reformist parties are all bound to fail because they leave untouched the private property basis of capitalism.
The B.U.F. takes its place among the organisations seeking to reform capitalism while leaving its basis intact. “The B.U.F. differs from the older reformist parties in two main respects. The first is that while these talked much of their programme of social and economic reforms and little of methods, Sir Oswald Mosley concentrated all his attention on methods and little on ends. Thus two articles by him (Daily Mirror, March 11th, and Daily Mail March 4th) contained much about reforming Parliament and nothing about what he intends to do if ever in power. The second difference is that the older reformists were democratic while the B.U.F. attacks democratic methods. This is due to the fact that the workers in many countries have seen capitalism administered by democratic reformist parties, and in their disgust at the discovery that capitalism administered by Labour and similar parties is no better than it was before, many of them have turned to an antidemocratic reformist party.
The British Union of Fascists has a number of points in its programme, but the outstanding characteristic is that although they claimed originality none of it is new. The whole has been taken over from other reformist parties. Even the name “Fascio” was in use as the name of an Italian Labour paper thirty or forty years ago and it was probably there that Mussolini picked it up. Regarding the Fascist doctrine of leadership, this again is old. Ever since its formation the S.P.G.B. has been doing its best to combat the leadership idea among the workers. What is needed is not leaders, but Socialists who know what they want and how to get it.
But let us examine Mosley’s credentials as a leader. In the first place there are two people who have regarded him as a genius – Lord Rothermere and Mr. Ben Tillet. That alone is almost enough to damn him. Mr. Tillet was once an admirer of Horatio Bottomley, and Lord Rothermere’s admiration of Mosley places him alongside others whom Lord Rothermere has recently described as geniuses – Hindenburg, Hitler and the ex-Crown Prince of Germany, the man who used to be held up to ridicule as a figure of fun in the Daily Mail, under the name of Little Willy. Since 1918 Mosley has belonged to a number of parties. He was led up the garden first by Lloyd George and the leaders of the Conservative Party. Then he stood as independent, then he was taken in by J. R. MacDonald and Maxton. Then he formed the New Party and then the B.U.F. Here you had a leader who could be taken in by a whole succession of political quacks. Look at it from another point of view. The Fascist idea of leadership implied the ability to choose men to act as his lieutenants. Before he formed the New Party Mosley got 17 M.P.s and the late A. J. Cook, the miners’ leader, to sign his manifesto. Ten of them deserted before the Party was formed and all but two or three deserted afterwards.
This ended the first speech for the S.P.G.B.
The Case for the British Union of Fascists
Mr. Probyn said that as usual he found nothing new in the Socialist case. He had been a Socialist for ten years and had even flirted with the S.P.G.B. However, he would leave the question of Socialism until his second speech and would first put the case for Fascism.
The remarks made by his opponent relating to Sir Oswald Mosley contained nothing new. He had heard them many times before. With regard to the alleged arrogance of Sir Oswald Mosley he hoped to see every single person in Great Britain just as arrogant. The fact that he had been backed by Rothermere and Ben Tillet, both of whom Fascists detested, was no argument against Fascism. They were not going to quarrel with anyone who gave them publicity.
The Fascists had never claimed there was anything new in their programme. What they did was to take all that was best in the other programmes. Is it going to be said that a sewing machine is bad because it is borrowed from abroad ?
There were many points of similarity between himself and his opponent. The present system was rotten and a system that did not guarantee a full life to all must go. Fascism does not believe in class distinctions although recognising that class struggle exists. It asks people to remember first of all that they are British people, born in this country, and entitled to a full and free life. The present organisation of capitalism for private profit had as its roof the international organisation of finance. It was international finance that exhibited solidarity and with which Fascism quarrelled. The so-called international solidarity of labour was a myth. Great Britain was our own country for which many of us had fought, believing that we were fighting for a new world as promised by the Welsh wizard, Lloyd George. But we found we were wrong, it was a delusion and we were not going to fight for it any longer. That is the be all and end all of it. Democracy was a farce and a failure. It has never yet accomplished anything and never will. Any government given power to govern should do so for all and not for sections, as at present.
Socialism asks us to wait until world conditions are ready for a change, but that will be over 500 years hence. We are not going to wait until every Hottentot has a bicycle. Fascism believes in getting down to earth and making the best of the material we have now.
Unemployment, slums and so forth are on the increase and have been existing for generations. We are trying to build up a new nation while some people are waiting for the New Jerusalem. We want our pie now. The problem of production has been solved, but not that of distribution. The present system has got into hands of international bankers who are the real power in the world to-day – Baldwin and his like are only puppets. Fascism is going to break this stranglehold in Great Britain anyhow.
Ownership does not matter. What really matters is what is done with the thing owned. A revolver lying on the shelf at home is harmless, but used in the street to shoot people is dangerous. That is where the control must be exercised. The ownership of the means of production has to be controlled in the national interest and not from Whitehall but by the whole people.
There are three classes in society to-day: employers, employees and consumers. Fascism proposes that each shall be represented on a board of management in the interest of the community – Be British is what counts first. Produce to the fullest capacity in order that consumers can have ample. Fascism prohibits the importation of what we can produce ourselves. We are brought up to believe that Great Britain cannot support itself – it is a psychology taught by our governors who want cheap foreign goods and to export to foreign markets. Industries are transferred abroad (as in the case of jute) and workers here put out of work by those who own the industries. Money made in cotton here is taken to China and used to develop production that competes against Lancashire. The people who do this are the international financiers. Hence the necessity for the national question first.
It is said people in Great Britain will never stand a dictatorship, but there is now a dictator in every street. What are landlords, managers, foremen, etc., but dictators? Fascism is striking at the heart of capitalist dictatorship in England. It is true that it is not proved that England can be self-supporting, but all Fascists say is that there is plenty of land that can be put under cultivation. They are going to help the farmer to take an active interest in the land but that he is not going to make large surplus profit out of it. They quite agree that work is good for all people.
We are ruthless and we are going to attack all vested interests of bankers and present trade unions, etc. Under Fascism franchise will be on an occupational basis and the representative will be a member of the trade that supports him, and so will be able to talk intelligently on industrial questions. Fascists believe in private enterprise. Every man and woman should own a stake in the country but no one will be allowed to exploit his ownership. The State will be absolutely supreme. Community interest will be paramount and no one will be allowed to do anything against the interest of others.
The aim of Fascism is to develop production to its utmost capacity and so organise affairs that production and consumption balance.
(Concludes May 1935)