The propagandists of the S.P.G.B. are asked from time to time why their speeches and the publications of the party contain criticisms of other organisations which profess to be Socialist. Why cannot the S.P.G.B. leave the Labour Party, I.L.P. and Communist Party alone, and get on with stating the case for Socialism? Or, if it be conceded that a certain amount of comment is necessary, why must there be so much of it ? Do we think that the workers’ real enemies are not the capitalists and their direct agents, but the parties mentioned above?
These are legitimate questions, calling for a serious answer, if our attitude is not to be misunderstood. Let us first deal with the capitalists themselves. We can echo Marx, and admit that we do not present the capitalists, those who live by owning, in a flattering light, but we can wholeheartedly endorse his further statement, that “individuals are dealt with only in so far as they are the personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class-relations and class- interests.” “My standpoint,” said Marx, “ can less than any other make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he socially remains, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them.” We are attacking capitalism, and all who defend it are to that extent our political foes, but we do not regard them, therefore, as human beings different from or inferior to ourselves. We understand perfectly how their environment and economic interests mould their outlook, and influence their conduct, and prevent them in the mass from seeing the need for Socialism.
Our Appeal to the Workers
Because of this our appeal must be primarily to the workers. It is our task to throw light on the dark places of capitalism in order to interest and enlighten the workers as a preliminary to getting them to become active and understanding Socialists. In this work we expect to be opposed by the capitalist class and by their political parties and the persons and instruments they control. We expect them to oppose Socialism because to them it is merely an attack on their property, their security, their livelihood, and on all the beliefs and habits they have become accustomed to. We know that they will be the last to perceive and appreciate that Socialism is an orderly scientific adaptation of human relationships to the development of society’s forces of production. We are not surprised, therefore, when the avowedly capitalist parties, Liberal and Tory, stand firmly for capitalism, and grudgingly yield small concessions only in order to lessen discontent which may appear to threaten their hold on the machinery of government. Likewise, we expect the capitalist-controlled Press, the Churches, the military men, the lawyers, and the various hangers-on of capitalism to defend capitalism. We expect this, but we must constantly expose it and explain it. That is part of our work of winning over the working class for Socialism.
Where does the Labour Party Stand?
Where do the Labour Party, the I.L.P., and the Communists stand in relation to this? Do we say that the Tories and the Labour parties are identical, and must, therefore, be treated in the same way ? By no means. They are not identical, but are separated by a very real difference. The people who control and finance the Tory Party and the Liberal Party are consciously defending capitalism and their own class privilege—even if they are fortified by the erroneous belief that in so doing they are defending the best interests of humanity as well. The Labour Party, the I.L.P., and the Communist Party approach the issue from a very different angle. They are essentially parties of discontent, representing the workers’ more or less blind retaliation to the downward pressure of capitalism. Where the Tories offer reforms deliberately with the idea of buying off discontent or directing it into harmless courses, the Labour Party and the other two parties are trying to encroach on capitalism by means of reforms. They hope to use discontent as the road to power, then use that power for a more or less drastic reconstitution of society. Apart from a certain amount of political dishonesty and the desire for personal advantage associated with those parties, we have no objection to the motives behind their activities. We do not charge these men with consciously wanting to uphold capitalism, nor do we suppose for one moment that their activities do, in fact constitute the main defence of capitalism and main obstacle to Socialism.
The chief defence of capitalism is the State, with its armed forces, controlled by the capitalist class, their hold on it being backed up by the concentrated activities of capitalist politicians, parties, Press, and propaganda instruments. So long as they retain the confidence of the mass of workers, capitalism is impregnable.
Why, then, our criticisms of the Labour Party? We criticise because, whatever the motive may be behind the activities of that party, and the I.L.P. and Communists, the activities are harmful. It is harmful to the interests of the working class that they should organise and strive for reforms of capitalism instead of for the abolition of capitalism. It is politically dishonest and harmful to delude the workers with the notion that their problems can be remedied piecemeal while capitalism remains in being. It is harmful when workers are waking up to the nature and consequences of capitalism to turn their energies to the reform of capitalism for, with a little knowledge, honesty and patience, those energies might be turned almost as quickly to the task of abolishing capitalism.
In brief, we do not charge these parties with being capitalism’s principal support, but with being obstacles in the way of working-class enlightenment. Were there no such reformist parties capitalism would still stand as long as the majority of workers remained capitalistically-minded, but the work of making Socialists would be vastly easier. Socialists would not, having exposed capitalism, then have to take on the additional task of exposing reformism masquerading as Socialism.
Another reason for our criticism of the I.L.P. and Communists is that they sometimes advocate riots and minority armed revolt, from which nothing but disaster can come.
The above criticisms are all directed to the main activities of the reformist parties, their efforts to secure concessions from the capitalist class. When we come to look at some of the other activities our criticism is of a different kind. For the Labour Party to try to secure increased old-age pensions or the relaxation of unemployment insurance regulations is not directly harmful to working-class interests. What can be said of it is that it deals only with the effects of capitalism instead of getting at the cause—capitalism itself. But to the extent to which Labour leaders preach community of interests between workers and capitalists, supporting capitalist wars, poison the workers’ minds and create working-class disunity by advocating nationalism, or use the machinery of Government to defeat strikes, then we must point out that they are, in fact, lining up with the capitalist class against the workers. That situation is bound to happen when a Labour Party takes on the work of administering capitalism. The individuals may want to do their best, but a Labour Government cannot save the workers from the consequences of capitalism, and it cannot refuse the responsibility of enforcing the laws which safeguard the property of the capitalist classes.
We may sum up by saying that it is a mistake for workers to express their discontent by organising to secure reforms of capitalism, and the S.P.G.B. must constantly point out that mistake. Further, when the party of reform takes on the administration of capitalism it becomes at once a party committed to the suppression of discontent. The S.P.G.B. must point that out also, and must oppose both forms of activity.
Is it Overdone
Lastly, there is the question whether Socialists are too much occupied with the reformist parties and too little with the avowedly capitalist ones. There may be some truth in this, but if so the reason is a simple one. It happens at present that the S.P.G.B.—possibly owing to its numerical weakness and lack of resources—comes into contact more with members of the reformist parties than with members of the Tory and Liberal parties. In consequence, party propagandists find much of their time and attention unavoidably taken up with answering the point of view of the reformist parties. That does not mean, however, that the position or importance of these parties is misunderstood or exaggerated.