Can the workers understand Socialism?

The Socialist Party of Great Britain, in contradistinction to so-called “Socialist” organisations, maintain that the workers can and must understand what Socialism means. These other parties, the Labour Party, the I.L.P., and the Communist Party, frequently pay lip service to the need for the majority of the working class to have socialist knowledge, but the pages of their dailies and periodicals seldom contain any propaganda which will enlighten the worker as to his position in society and the solution to his problems. Their propaganda is of the vote-catching variety. They centre attention on topical reformist measures, “immediate demands,” as they call them, by which means they hope to attract the majority of the workers—and once in power they claim they will set about establishing Socialism.

Socialism is a system of society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interests of the whole community. Therefore by its very nature the establishment of Socialism requires the conscious participation of the majority of the population. The workers, making up the majority of the population, must understand what Socialism is and want it. Socialism can’t be set up behind their backs. When this is realised it will be understood that parties basing their propaganda on the belief that the workers are incapable of assimilating socialist ideas cannot have Socialism as an object, whatever they may think their object is. They cannot be called socialist.

And what about those individual members of the working class who claim that the workers can’t understand Socialism and yet consider themselves socialist? How do they reconcile the belief that they have gained “socialist” consciousness with the belief that members of their class can’t understand Socialism?

The support the so-called “socialist” parties receive is for the mitigation of certain effects of Capitalism, not for the abolition of Capitalism and the establishment of a new society. The supporters who have some idea of an alternative form of society and think they can establish this alternative without receiving a mandate to do so, why haven’t they done it? There are numerous occasions when so-called socialist parties have been in power. The reason put forward is that the leaders betrayed the rank and file. But leaders only express ideas of the majority of their supporters; if they didn’t they wouldn’t receive support.

There is plenty of experience from the history of Capitalism of the inability of governments to pass and operate legal enactments in the face of the opposition of the majority of the people. A fairly recent example was the capitulation of the Labour Cabinet on the abolition of the death penalty. Dictatorship doesn’t alter the fact that governments require the support of the majority of the population. This is shown by the expenditure on propaganda by the dictatorial powers to keep the support of the majority.

Societies change. The only alternative to the present system of society, which is based on the private ownership of the means of living, and the consequent enslavement of the working class—is Socialism, where all will have free access to the means of living. Throughout his long history man has solved many difficult problems, the discovery of fire, agriculture, and the smelting of ores. Through his knowledge of the laws of nature he can produce materials more suitable for his use than those that exist under natural conditions. There is no reason to suppose that man can’t solve the problem confronting him to-day. The capitalist class, that privileged minority in whose interests present society functions, are not likely to give their support or their sympathy to a movement which will abolish the system of society that allows them such a privileged, exalted position. The working class are the overwhelming majority of the population, to them the present order means poverty and destitution, and their living conditions drive them on to struggle for a better life within Capitalism and ultimately to question the capitalist system.

Those who claim that the working class are unable to grasp Socialist ideas maintain that the evidence brought forward by intelligence tests support their contention. We have yet to hear of any intelligence tests constructed which test the capacity of workers to assimilate Socialist knowledge. The only thing along these lines is the test of applicants for membership of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, and these tests have proved conclusively that members of the working class can understand Socialism. Academic intelligence tests are constructed to find the suitability of certain individuals for certain occupations. As for ascertaining if they show up any capacity of intelligence, the experts are not at all clear on what these tests show. In fact they can’t reach any agreement on what they mean by intelligence. Even if intelligence tests do show something they only test one person in relation to others. The Socialists maintain that the workers have sufficient capacity to understand Socialism. In modern capitalist society the working class manage affairs from top to bottom. If the working class run society in the interests-of a privileged few they are certainly capable of running society in the interests of all.


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