1930s >> 1938 >> no-409-september-1938

Why I Joined the S.P.G.B.

Like most of you, I was always interested in politics to a certain extent. My first object of affection was the Labour Party, and whilst I never joined, I always gave them my vote and between elections occasionally went to meetings and applauded Labour speakers. That was before 1929—when the Labour Party took office for the second time. I had not thought deeply about the issues involved, it was just a matter of instinct and sentiment with me—just as it is with millions of working-men and women.

After a year of Labour Government my enthusiasm for the Labour Party had vanished. but, unlike others, I never got it back again. Instead I began to look for something different, something more “extreme.” I found it in the speeches of Harry Pollitt. Perhaps you, too, remember some of them, when, in 1930 and 1931, Mr. Pollitt contested Whitechapel and St. George’s as Communist candidate for Parliament? By his fiery outbursts against the Labour Party and wholesome condemnation of working-class poverty I was won over. But, had I been asked whether I wanted Communism, or whether I understood it, I could not have given a satisfactory answer. No doubt I could have read the works of Marx and Engels had I wanted to, but the issues around which the Communist Party was arousing attention, and the general impression given by their propaganda, did not stimulate an interest in works on Socialism.

Yesterday’s Problems – and Today’s

Then I came across an S.P.G.B. meeting. I immediately noticed the fundamental difference in approach used by the speaker. Everything he dealt with—political parties, topical events—looked so much different in the light of his reasoning. Of course the issues were not of “the day-to-day struggle,” or so it seemed. For I have discovered this fact: capitalism can find something new every day, some problem which can occupy your time until another comes along to take its place in your mind. That is the trap which capitalism sets and into which reformist parties are continually falling. They said then, just as they are saying to-day: “This problem can’t wait until we have Socialism, so we must deal with it first.” And capitalism continues to produce problems of apparent immediate urgency; so that somehow they never get to Socialism—and, in the MEANTIME, CAPITALISM REMAINS.

Socialism Demands Knowledge

When I first listened to those S.P.G.B. meetings I did not understood this much. I’ve learnt it since, and it’s about time some of you who are always asking us to do this, that, and the other, found it also.

Perhaps the most important fact that speaker brought home to me right at the beginning was the impossibility of Socialism without a majority of Socialists. Socialism, he pointed out, meant such a revolutionary social change, that to achieve it was out of the question unless most of the people understood what it was all about and wanted it. That’s heart-breaking for those who are looking for a short cut. But has anyone found that short cut so many were talking about ten, twenty and thirty years ago? I didn’t argue with that speaker about the impossibility of the workers ever learning what Socialism really meant. I set to work learning it! Perhaps some of our hecklers will take a tip from that and, instead of continually interrupting our speakers with that bogey question, keep quiet and give themselves a chance to learn!

The Importance of Numbers

Another matter. It simply did not occur to me to ask how many members the S.P.G.B. had got. That was the problem to tackle when I was inside the organisation. It has certainly nothing to do with the merits of the S.P.G.B.’s policy, except as a measure of its popularity with the working class (and, remember, the Labour Party’s popularity was at its height at the very time when that Party became an instrument of attack on working-class wages and conditions!). So when you hear or read about the smallness of the S.P.G.B., try to be logical. If our policy is right, and you are convinced of that, then it’s your job to help us put it across; and if you don’t agree with us, then remember our size does not alter the merits of our policy in any way whatever. I would assert, moreover, that there is not another organisation which is as active as the S.P.G.B., considering that all the work of speaking, writing, literature-selling, and the hundred-and-one other jobs, are all done voluntarily in members’ spare time without payment. How would some parties look if they had to carry on under similar circumstances?

Are We Sectarian?

Another factor that added to my resolve to join up was the way in which all kinds of objections to Socialism were dealt with by the S.P.G.B. (It is amazing how many so-called “advanced” people oppose Socialism!)

Those who argue that all we need do to-day is get rid of the National Government and replace it by a Labour-Liberal Coalition (euphemistically called a “Popular Front”) in order to “keep open the door to Socialism,” are begging the question. That “door” (Democracy) has been open for a long time. Why hasn’t it been used? Why isn’t it used to-day? There is only one answer: the workers don’t want to use it to establish Socialism, because they’re not Socialists. If you don’t believe me, come to some of our meetings and hear their protests when Socialism is explained. That is why I endorse the S.P.G.B.’s attitude when they insist that, when joining the Party, applicants should know what Socialism stands for. Otherwise they would be a hinderance to the work of making Socialists. And that, after all, is the only justification for the existence of a Socialist Party.

Of course, this means that our membership is limited—to Socialists only. Our opponents say this question makes us a sect. It depends on the way the question is looked at. For instance, the New Leader has been featuring some letters from people who recently joined the I.L.P. In several cases the writers as good as stated they were not quite satisfied with the I.L.P., but joined because they could find nothing better. One writer went further. He actually disagreed completely with the I.L.P. on a fundamental question.

Well, that’s perhaps one way of showing that the I.L.P. does not intend to be a sect. But then, a Socialist Party cannot be built up that way. Labourites, Pacifists, Trotskyists, Anarchists, and others banded together in an organisation might give themselves a Socialist label, but they cannot work for Socialism. That much is evident when you know what the I.L.P. is and has been. Such a situation could not arise in the S.P.G.B. We are a small organisation because membership is recruited on the basis of a clear understanding of Socialism and how to obtain it. Those who accuse us of being a “sect” produce no evidence except that we are small.

Many people who appreciate the quality of S.P.G.B. propaganda say: “You should be in the movement” . . . “get inside the Labour Party and put your Socialism across in there.”

It is difficult to believe that anyone really thinks that that is possible. Would we be allowed to join as an organisation? And, having joined, what could we do there? Get busy telling the members that the Labour policy is completely wrong, anti-Socialist, and that their leaders are simply politicians depending upon mass political ignorance? That would be the truth, but we would certainly not be allowed to say it.

The I.L.P. was never Socialist. They left the Labour Party when they found it too awkward to defend what the Labour Government had done during their two years of office in 1929 to 1931. To-day, when the memory of that fiasco has dimmed, the I.L.P. is trying to crawl back again into the Labour fold. So little do they differ from the Labour Party that a welcome should be certain!

Fellow-workers, the Socialist Party has to stand on its own feet, even if it means that, for the time being, we can’t make a big noise. Big demonstrations are excellent things, we would like to indulge in them, but we want demonstrations of working-class understanding, not political dupes whose flags are beginning to look very much like the Union Jack!

Pity – or Power?

And the pity of it all is that the workers really feel that they are doing something useful when they march in demonstrations and attend huge meetings. They really believe they are contributing towards the alleviation of the terrible distress that exists the world over. Many come to our meetings and ask: “What is the S.P.G.B. doing about China, Spain, Abyssinia, Germany, Austria?”—and we could add many other countries to that list ourselves: Palestine, Jamaica, Trinidad, India—why, the whole world is a crying indictment against the system and the class responsible for it. Do we not feel the horror of it all, too?

The brutal truth us that these demonstrating masses can do nothing to end the real trouble. They are frequently merely the playthings of politicians. Posing as the Messiahs of the world, so-called leaders cannot even find a solution for the problems on their own doorstep.

So that is another lesson the S.P.G.B. has taught me. In the words of Marx: “In every country the workers must settle matters with their own ruling-class first.”

Our job here is to win power for Socialism; then, and not before, will we be able to help others.

Now I put the question to you: Are my reasons for joining the S.P.G.B. sound? Do they tell the truth? Without exaggeration, I honestly assert that, on the answer the working-class gives, the fate of the world depends.


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