We are charged with contradiction
We have received the following letter from a critic.
Will you please explain the apparent contradiction in May issue SOCIALIST STANDARD. On page 71 there is a report of the death of Harry Martin in which it is stated “In the early years of the Party he came into conflict with the majority on the question of the attitude to be adopted by a delegate if elected to Parliament. He held the view that such a member should be so unswerving in his hostility that he must vote against every measure, from whatever source, that came before Parliament—except of course the measure to introduce Socialism. He held that whatever the nature of such a measure voting for it or even abstaining from voting would constitute pandering to reformism, thus, according to his view, a Party Delegate would be committed, without examination, to voting against any measures to improve educational facilities, safety facilities in mines and factories, the removal of disabilities on trade unionism and even a proposal, however fatuous it might Be, to abandon the prosecution of a war.” Then on pages 75-76 it says in an article headed Wage Labour and Capital. “No! Socialism does not exist in these countries! But is it being built up there? How can it? Wage-labour and capital form the basis of the system which exists in these countries. It is capitalist. What reform can alter this basic relationship? All the political and economic adjustments that have taken place since Marx’s day, all the points that have, been on the programmes of Labour parties and Communist parties since the foundation of these parties have been realised with the nationalisation of basic industries and the development of the social services, yet the position of the working class remains the same etc.” Seemingly you endorse certain principles in Wage Labour and Capital but condemn Harry Martin for similar expressions.
F. L. Rimington
Our critic has discovered a purely imaginary contradiction, He takes first the question whether socialist delegates in Parliament should automatically vote against every measure (except the measure to introduce Socialism). Then he quotes a passage which showed that all the measures to reform capitalism have left the working class in the same subject position as before.
His argument is that those who hold that reforms do not basically alter capitalism should logically oppose in Parliament all measures introduced by non-Socialists because only the measure to introduce socialism can achieve what is aimed at. That was the position held by the late Harry Martin and was his ground for disagreeing with the S.P.G.B.
Harry Martin agreed with the S.P.G.B. that reforms do not basically alter capitalism and agreed with the S.P.G.B. that Socialist delegates must contest elections solely on the programme of abolishing capitalism and establishing Socialism, thereby seeking the votes only of Socialists and not of reformists.
The sole issue was whether Socialist delegates elected on Socialist votes would vote for measures which, whatever their origin and motive, would incidentally be of benefit to the working class and the Socialist movement. Mention was made in the article in question of measures to improve educational facilities, safety facilities in mines and factories, the removal of disabilities on trade unions, etc. Another example is a measure to end conscription. Without supposing for a moment that the ending of conscription means the ending of capitalism (and Harry Martin never charged the S.P.G.B. with that absurdity) the S.P.G.B. takes the line that Socialists outside Parliament would require their delegates in Parliament to vote for such measures on their merits. The vote would be given not in order to meet the views of reformists but under instruction of Socialists.
Harry Martin’s “all or nothing” position while attractive in its simplicity is less logical than he imagined. It would logically lead Socialists to take no action at all except in support of the establishment of Socialism. It would for example require them not to support trade union efforts on the ground that a wage increase or resistance to a wage reduction is not Socialism.
Incidentally Marx, who also held that reforms do not end capitalism, consistently supported legislative measures to restrict the working day.