1950s >> 1951 >> no-563-july-1951

A Reader’s Criticisms Answered

Eltham, S.E.9
London.
6/6/1951
Sir,
For some time I have listened to your speakers at Lincoln’s Inn Fields and have read your magazine. Although I disagree with your point of view, I have noted that your meetings and your columns give a generous amount of time and space to opponents’ criticism. I submit the following letter to the Socialist Standard in the hope that you will accord it a reply.
You state that the solution of war and unemployment is the establishment of Socialism; that a majority of people who understand and desire socialism will send delegates to the various parliaments and thus abolish capitalism. Let us examine these propositions. The capitalist world comprises highly developed industrial countries who control undeveloped lands. The imperialists extract raw materials cheaply from these colonial countries and sell the manufactured commodity on international markets. Now, if you agree that industrialization brings about the following changes— (i) develops the political structure and (ii) awakens the newly formed proletariat to an appreciation of the class struggle, you must agree to the following—that the unindustrialised East (and other underdeveloped places) are not yet in possession of parliamentary institutions comparable to those possessed by countries such as Britain. Are Socialists to wait therefore, until these countries are fully industrialized and thus are in possession of machinery to vote capitalism out of existence? Are we to stoically endure future wars as these former markets contract and eventually disappear? Perhaps however you take the view that it is sufficient for the established industrialized countries to play a leading part in a world Socialist revolution. If so, surely coercion will be required to educate the teeming millions of the East to Socialism? After all, they comprise the majority of the world’s population and presumably will continue to provide huge quantities of raw materials for themselves and the remainder of any future socialist society. This latter question must be rather tricky for you, as I understand that any coercive action would negate one of your party’s principles which affects Asians and the like as well as other working people—the principle being that people “must understand and desire Socialism.” In short, it seems to me that you are taking the highly mechanistic view, that as world capitalism develops unevenly, the workers in those developed sections are obliged to wait for the others to “catch up.” This is an undialectical approach and shows the unsocialist attitude of submitting oneself to blind capitalist forces.
The S.P.G.B. interprets history on the basis of historical materialism. In my view you interpret correctly, the struggle of classes since primitive communism. Your speakers observe that all through the ages the exploiters have been forcibly overthrown by the exploited. This development of the class structure is significant in one respect. The hall-mark of change has been force. Tell me please the position in 20th century capitalism? All armed conflicts at the moment—such as Korea, Indo-China, Malaya, etc., are explained by your party as being clashes between dominant Imperialisms—East and West. Am I seriously to understand that for the first time in history, the exploiting class (capitalist) is facing no serious resistance from the exploited masses? That all fighting is a result of the ambitions of rival capitalist camps? If that is so then the future is indeed black for the world’s workers. All they have to represent them in the political arenas it would seem, are a few tiny ‘‘Socialist Parties.” Parties who blithely believe that the capitalist class is obliged to submit to the verdict of the ballot box. What makes you think that the parliamentary institutions (which were designed in the first place to administer capitalism) are adequate for the Socialist Revolution? No, history has proven that parasitical classes cling viciously to power and if ever they see their position slipping, they shed their veneer of “objective morality” and viciously suppress any popular movement. The S.P.G.B. states that political parties are—broadly speaking—based on class interests, and that the S.P.G.B. is the only party in this country which represents the working class. Logically it follows that all other political parties in this country represent sections of the capitalist class (except the C.P. whom you allege represents the “Russian capitalist class.”) Surely then your statement that this is a democratic country falls rather flat. All means of propaganda are capitalist owned. Our democratic state never mentions your numerous debates in its press and never allotted you broadcasting time at the last general election. Perhaps the explanation is that our ruling class is afraid of the S.P.G.B. (who steadfastly fight for the workers’ cause) for one of your speakers made this remark the other day—”Ever since the inception of the S.P.G.B. it has been attacked by the capitalist press.” Can you produce evidence—e.g., extracts from cuttings (of which you must be proud) to prove this? I do not think somehow that you will be able to produce this evidence, for it is my considered opinion that the capitalist class does not feel strongly about you—they do not know of your existence. I wonder why you have not gained appreciable strength in your existence of over 40 years? I do not think that numbers are necessarily a criterion of the veracity of a case, but I do suggest that something must be radically incorrect in your attitude. From your platforms you have been insistent that it does not require brains for a worker to become a Socialist. Yet for years you have attracted only minute support from .the British working class. It cannot be that our intelligent proletariat have enjoyed great rewards from powerful British capitalism. They have not. Two holocausts and years of depression and misery! What then, hamstrings you as the years march by? 1 think the main reason is your refusal to emerge from your ivory tower. Your theories are unassailable as a reflection of universal desire but they are divorced from things as they are. Let me illustrate. I have asked your speakers questions as to the class significance of the Korean situation, rearmament and other contemporary events. Your reply has been something like this:—
The capitalists are arguing amongst themselves—it is no concern of the workers to interfere in the mechanism of capitalism—a plague on all their houses. It seems that a Socialist must not smear his hands with the capitalist garbage heap. There can be no appreciable reform within capitalism and so for a good many years we must have periodic blood-letting. No support for disarmament proposals as this would compromise you. No, let us subjugate ourselves to the crazy workings of capitalism. The workers must realise that there can be no interference with capitalism from within; the worker must go through successive hells before Socialism is established. What impotence! As a test of your attitude to current events, please answer me this. Obviously you believe in the women’s right to vote since that is an aspect of democracy. What support therefore did you give in the Socialist Standard—in past years of course—to the Suffragette movement. I suppose as it was inspired and led by leisured women, you ignored it or condemned it as useless capitalist reformism?
I have never fully understood your attitude in the last war. I agree that basically it was a conflict over the division of surplus value but is it not true that although the terms fascism and democracy were only facades of rival capitalisms they had significance for the workers? Do you not agree that Democracy is a more favourable basis for Socialist propaganda than fascism? Socialists did not fight The obvious conclusion is that you are not prepared to defend a principle which at least maintains your existence. Or are you so sanguine that you can watch the smashing of workers organisations and then snuggle cosily down in your pages of musty Marx? You deny that you are pacifists and assert that your refusal was based on scientific socialist principles—not on a basis of confused idealism. I am rather vague regarding these “scientific” principles. Do I understand that under certain conditions Socialists would participate in organised fighting? If so, tell me when—bearing in mind that the abolition of capitalism will be achieved by the ballot box and not the bullet. If on the other hand, you will not fight under any circumstances then I suggest that for practical purposes, you are in the same boat as the pacifists even though your supporting theories are different.
In conclusion. This letter has been a long one and if the Editor is kind enough to publish it, may 1 say this. The S.P.G.B., in my opinion is idealist and academic but it is refreshing in its approach and must be congratulated on providing food for thought to all thinking people.
K. J. Johnson.

REPLY

By the time the reader has got to this point he will have read our critic’s very lengthy letter and will appreciate the difficulty of answering it without taking up a whole issue of this journal. Along with a dozen specific questions he makes other dozens of mostly inaccurate assumptions about the S.P.G.B. case, interwoven with scores of assertions of his own. most of them unsupported by evidence.

We will however do our best to sort out the main points and answer them.

Industrialisation and the growth of the Socialist Movement

He first rehashes a question that has been answered times without number, one that was flung at the S.P.G.B. in its earliest days. It is that some countries are more developed industrially than others.

“Are Socialists to wait therefore, until these countries are fully industrialised and thus are in possession of machinery to vote capitalism out of existence?”

Those who give themselves sleepless nights over this imaginary dilemma do so because they have failed to notice what goes on in the world. Firstly the emergence of backward countries as industrially developed capitalist powers does not depend on their own unaided slow rate of growth, but is speeded up by making use of experience and materials and technique of the more advanced countries. It can be extraordinarily rapid, as witness the emergence of Japan half a century ago, and of India in more recent years (complete with “machinery to vote capitalism out of existence”!) Secondly the Socialist movement does not grow at the same rate as industrialisation, so that the supposed difficulty of large Socialist movements in some countries held back by small Socialist movements in others is a myth. And of course our critic knows this very well, for elsewhere in his letter he refers to the “few tiny Socialist parties” in the industrially advanced countries. So the true position is not that the “few tiny Socialist parties” in the advanced countries are waiting for the benighted masses in Asia, but that the few Socialists in all countries are patiently working to win over the masses in all countries. What rightly concerns the S.P.G.B. is the political backwardness of the mass of the workers here in industrial Britain.

Thirdly, just as capitalist production methods exercise influence in all countries and enable the backward to advance rapidly, so also the experience already gained by Socialists in the advanced countries enables the Socialists in the developing countries to progress more rapidly than they would if in isolation.

When our critic can show us Socialist movements of great numerical strength in some countries side by side with small movements in others it will be time to consider this purely fanciful objection to the Socialist case.

Capitalism’s War’s

Scattered through the letter are various remarks and questions about war. Early in the letter we are asked “Are we to stoically endure future wars as those former markets contract and eventually disappear?”

The Socialist answer is simple and grim but true. Until something is done to abolish capitalism we shall have to endure capitalism’s wars, stoically or otherwise. Our critic evidently thinks he knows how to escape this since he criticises us for holding it

But when we seek further enlightenment in our critic’s letter we find that what in fact he has to offer to deal with the mountain of capitalism’s wars is the mouse of “support for disarmament proposals.” And he says, quite wrongly, that the S.P.G.B. won’t support disarmament proposals because we think this would “compromise” us. Nothing could be further from the truth. Socialists are in favour of all the capitalist powers in all the world being completely disarmed immediately, down to the last bayonet. The reason we don’t support other people’s proposals to “disarm” the whole capitalist world is firstly that we know of no such proposal (not to be confused with Russian proposals to deprive America of atom bombs, and American and British proposals to deprive Russia of tanks and submarines, etc), and secondly that the idea of joining with the political parties that stand for the continuance of capitalism and its imperialism and expecting not to have the necessary outcome of capitalism, i.e. war, is self-evidently and completely fatuous.

When we read on we find confusion worse confounded. Our critic sneers at the S.P.G.B. for bolding that a Socialist “must not smear his hands with the capitalist garbage heap,” including the garbage heap of capitalism’s wars. And he agrees that the last war was capitalist in its cause (“basically it was a conflict over the division of surplus value”). But nevertheless (having now forgotten his remark about stoicaliy enduring capitalism’s wars, he thinks we ought to have had a hand in it in order, it seems, to defend democracy against “fascism” because democracy “is a more favourable basis for Socialist propaganda.” From this we may assume that our critic himself did have a hand in that “capitalist garbage heap” May we then ask him a few questions. Having supported some “democratic” countries and the Russian Totalitarianism against the German-Italian-Japanese Totalitarianisms is our critic really satisfied that the destruction of tens of millions of lives realty did produce worthwhile results in the form of creating “a more favourable basis for Socialist propaganda,” and if he is satisfied will he give the evidence on which his satisfaction rests? And in particular will he tell us what he thinks his efforts achieved in the direction of making it possible for Socialist propaganda to be carried on legally inside Russia and the Russian Satellites?

Our own view is that reading “Musty Marx” is a for more fruitful occupation for the world’s workers than slaughtering each other in the capitalist garbage heap but we are willing to hear any other reasons for holding otherwise.

He finally asks us in what way the Socialist attitude to war, i.e. that war does not help on the Socialist movement, differs from that of the Pacifists. In brief it is the same difference as that between Socialists and all reformists including the Pacifists and our critic. We hold that the idea of keeping capitalism but reforming it to prune it of its exploitation and wars is a pathetic and dangerous illusion; and also that until the mass of the working class have been won over to Socialism it is idle futility to speculate as does our critic on ways in which a non-Socialist working class that doesn’t understand or warn Socialism could establish it

Some Other Questions

In conclusion we very briefly answer some other questions. We do not hold as our critic supposes, that “for the first time m history, the exploiting class (capitalist) is facing no serious resistance from the exploited masses.” The class straggle is continuous and cannot be suspended. The working class always react in some degree to the continuous pressure of the exploiters, It follows that we do not hold and never have held that the class struggle is confined to small groups of Socialists.

When our critic jeers at the little opportunity the S.P.G.B. has to make its voice heard in the “democratic” capitalist Press, the Radio, etc., he forgets two of his other contentions. He forgets that he wants us to support capitalism’s wars “for democracy” but now tells us that as for as we are concerned the idea that this is a democratic country “falls rather flat.” He also forgets that it was supposed to he the Socialists in the industrialised countries who were waiting for the others. Perhaps he would like to amend it and say they are waiting for us.

On “Votes for women” the S.P.G.B. held that giving support to propertied women’s campaigns for women’s votes would have added more confusion by giving credence to the suffragettes’ claims that ”women’s” interests cut across class divisions. Before women had votes (and while incidentally large numbers of men still were without votes,) the working class in this country already were in a position if they had wanted to do so to vote capitalist parties out of power.

Our critic links up the policy of reformism with the question of war. He writes, “It seems that a socialist must not smear his hands with the capitalist garbage heap. There can be so appreciable reform within capitalism and so for a good many years we must have periodic blood letting.”

He could hardly have chosen a weaker argument. We have had generations of Tory, Liberal and Labour reforms and after two world wars capitalism (including those countries under Labour reformist governments) is massing arms for a third. If reforms had any bearing on capitalism’s wars, which they haven’t, it would seem that the more reforms you have the more armaments grow and wars extend in magnitude. The truth is that if the working class could have been early dissuaded from pursuing the will of the wisp of reformism the prospect of establishing socialism and ending war would have been immeasurably nearer than it is and incidentally, the capitalists, scared by the growth of the Socialist movement would have thrown out more reforms to try to stop its growth.

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