Debate with Labour Party: “Which Party Should the Working Class Support?”

A synopsis of a public debate held at Bexleyheath on Dec. 17, between the Labour Party, represented by Ashley Bramall, and the S.P.G.B., represented by J. Thorburn. The audience numbered 150. In the chair was Mr. Geo. Grieve (I.L.P.).

Thorburn had three sessions of 30 mins., 20 mins, and 10 mins., Bramall having two sessions of 30 mins.

Thorburn (1)
Our claim for working class support lies in our contention that only the abolition of Capitalism can solve the problems of the working class, and that in this country only the S.P.G.B. stands for the object of ending Capitalism and establishing Socialism. Capitalism causes poverty, unemployment and war. To get a living workers are forced to hire themselves to the Capitalist class. Workers are employed in order to produce a profit for their hirers. Only so long as profit is realised are goods produced. Production for profit is in the interests of the capitalists. Raw materials and ready markets are essential to Capitalism. In pursuit of these, Governments are driven to conflict. At best the worker keeps a job, which reduces him to a lifelong struggle to make ends meet, finishing as he started, with nothing. During slumps and consequent unemployment millions eke out an existence in direst poverty and destitution. Such conditions arise from Capitalism, be it democratic or dictatorial, planned or unplanned. It is not possible under Capitalism for workers to be anything else but workers.

According to our analysis it is imperative that Capitalism be removed. If Mr. Bramall and the Labour Party wishes to end poverty and war, does he agree Capitalism is the cause? If so he must agree the ending of Capitalism is vital to the interests of society in general. If Capitalism is not the cause, what is, and where is the S.P.G.B. analysis wrong?

Since 1904 the S.P.G.B. has never deviated from its object. We have always argued that workers in this and other lands must understand and accept Socialism before Capitalism can be abolished. Capitalism is international, so will be Socialism, the nucleus of which exists in the S.P.G.B. and identical parties abroad.


Socialist production will be to satisfy the needs of society. Everyday life will be from each according to ability and to each according to need. Under such conditions money, trade and employment have no place. Socialism does not exist anywhere to-day. The task of the Socialist Party is to make Socialists and speed the day of achieving Socialism.


The Labour Party was not formed to replace Capitalism by Socialism, nor has it ever stood for a socialist object. Herbert Morrison repudiated any suggestion of Labour Government wishing to end the profit system. The Labour Party seeks by reform measures to stimulate Capitalism while trying to curb its harmful effects. Pledged to retain Capitalism, it cannot remove the evils of Capitalism. Of recent reforms, Capitalism’s need for a National Health Service was expressed by parties standing for Capitalism. Nationalisation is not Socialism but an expedient of Capitalism. Openly capitalist powers have nearly all nationalised where necessary. Despite the efforts of Labour Governments, working class problems remain. Housing and health are sacrificed in the preparation for another war. Anyone promising better living soon is dishonest.


Bramall (1)


Socialism is not an end in itself but the means of securing greater happiness for men and women. We are not concerned with some theoretical paradise but with real people who have a right to better lives.


According to the S.P.G.B., workers’ problems are the same now as 150 years ago; are caused by Capitalism. Therefore, since Capitalism can offer no consequents! improvement, Capitalism must go.


It is wrong that present day problems are entirely due to Capitalism. Many are it is true, but it is misleading to suggest that these problems would vanish with Capitalism’s removal. There is fundamentally a struggle of man against nature. Under-use of resources between the wars distorted our thinking and we assume too readily there was enough available to satisfy the reasonable desires of people. It is not just the requirements of this country but of the world over that have to be met. A real problem is general under-use by people outside Capitalism. Another problem is distribution. In large modern societies the division of products according to needs cannot be solved easily. In simple forms of society it was easy, but not today. There are problems of living together; psychological problems. These difficulties existed long before Capitalism and will outlive it.


Secondly, there are faults in the Socialist Party’s analysis of Capitalism. They are wrong in assuming no worth-while improvements for workers can be gained short of Socialism. Capitalism has seen an important transformation. We can trace three stages. The first, when wages were ruthlessly low. According to classical capitalist economists, full employment was assured if wage levels were such that all labour could be used. The second stage—during the slumps —dispelled that. All they could say about mass unemployment was it ought not to be there. Such wage levels were, by T.U. action, not acceptable, hence unemployment. To-day, we see where full employment is again possible by regulating the economy without crushingly low wages. Now that represents an advance gained by Trade Union and political organisation. Again, since 1939 the profits of production have been considerably transferred from those who live by rent, interest and profit, to the working class. In 1938, after tax payments, etc., capitalists had 34 per cent of the national income; in 1950 it was 26 per cent That is not Socialism, but an improvement representing extra wealth and happiness. Another instance concerns Rowntree’s Poverty Line, below which desperately low level one quarter of the working class lived in 1939. To-day the proportion is 2½ per cent. In fifty years the number below the Poverty Line was halved. During the last thirteen or fourteen years it has been reduced by nine-tenths.


The Socialist Party insists these things are not worth doing; as reforms they detract from attaining Socialism. There might be something in that argument if one could be so certain of what the result would be once Socialism is achieved. The Socialist Party’s weakest point is Socialism itself. We hear all about what is not Socialism. They say Labour Government is not Socialism, Nationalisation has no connection with it, neither Russia nor Yugoslavia are Socialist. What is Socialism then? And what chance has their method of getting it? It is intended the workers shall by capture of Parliament abolish capitalism and its property relations, beyond which the Socialist Party offers no blue-print of real life. I say it is not possible to have every i dotted and every t crossed. There will be problems.


The Labour Party is learning all the time from its mistakes, but here we have the S.P.G.B. with only a bland confidence everything will be alright. I say that for such an uncertain future it is not worth turning our backs on the unspectacular results of Labour Party methods for real improvements in working class lives. We share common ground in the aim of Socialism. I believe it can be better gained on the road which brings improvements en route.


Thorburn (2)


As for as the Socialist Party is concerned, Socialism is an end in itself. The Party’s work is done with the advent of Socialism. Capitalism is defined by and erected upon an economic base. The superstructure of Socialist society will be built up on the economic base peculiar to it, namely on common ownership and democratic control of the means of life, production for use, and distribution according to need.


Socialism is not a solver of all problems but of the major problems of our time. What are they? Bramall carefully left out mention of war. In 1945 Labour proclaimed the Left could speak at peace with the Left, yet to-day the threat of war grows even greater. The longer the costly preparation for “Defence ” the more devastating the war will be. Wages, up by 20 per cent. are losing sight of prices which are up by 29 per cent., resulting in increased overtime and a halt in the struggle for lower working hours. Man’s ascendancy over nature is by now well established. On the question of Labour’s improvements, Bramall claims more for Labour Government than Herbert Morrison who admits the vital effect Marshall Aid had in keeping unemployment down in this country. The effect of increased production and trade competition would be shown in unemployment returns before now were it not, also, for Korea and “Defence” preparations.


The three stages of any society are Growth, Decay and Death. Capitalism has passed beyond the growing stage, now moving from one crisis to another. If Socialism is a dream. Capitalism is a nightmare.


The Labour Party is not a Class Party and as an admitted “cross section” of the people, is in line with the Tories. It does not aim at Socialism. For all Bramall’s claims of its accomplishments, Glenville Hall was in 1949 forced to admit that 10 per cent. of the people still owned 90 per cent. of the wealth, a situation deplored by the Labour Party back in 1918. The Labour Party works for Capitalism. Despite the “bleak” outlook forecasted for workers, profits had risen. The “socialism” of the Labour Party has benefited only the Capitalist group. Contrary to Attlee’s prediction that a Tory victory at the 1951 Election would create a boom on the Stock Exchange, the actual result was written off as a slump.


Bramall (2)


It is true the Labour Party has not attained perfection in its method of trial and error. But the S.P.G.B. cannot show the way. The deficiencies of Capitalism may be removed but that will not escape problems which will exist whether under Capitalism or Socialism. Thorburn is a very long way from an answer to what Socialism will be like. Is Socialism really an end in itself? Surely the question is, does it increase or diminish our happiness? It is not sufficient to say Capitalism is bad, but to show what is better.


The S.P.G.B. has it Russia is Capitalist I agree it isn’t Socialist, but who are the Russian Capitalists inside Communism?


The spirit and philosophy of Labour’s Defence programme gained world respect. War is not inevitable. It is a bogus “scientific” analysis to predict that war and unemployment are bound to rise again.


Other European countries had Marshall Aid without full employment. The reason was lack of Governmental planning. Capitalism can be made to benefit Capitalists less and workers more. Agreed, the property relations remain unaltered, but given time, with a socialist objective Labour can alleviate problems and generally make life better. Nationalisation is a training ground for trying out Socialism. Labour is not in line with the Tories. Improvements from Tories were wrung from an unwilling hand, in contrast with Labour’s anxiety to make improvements.


The S.P.G.B. avoids the issue of problems under Socialism. It asks us to take a blindfolded route into


something we know nothing about. Their idea of everyday life under Socialism is primitive in conception, leading to chaos and disaster, by ignoring organisational difficulties. Before Capitalism goes the next method must be known.


There is more value in Labour’s policy of admitting errors and mistakes than trying to blindly convince the world’s workers.


Thorburn (3)


Organisation under Socialism will be the responsibility of society, not of the S.P.G.B. Socialism as a system of society is distinct from a form of government. Our end as a political body is the establishment of that society.


Capitalism has outlived its usefulness. The next stage in Social Evolution is Socialism. We are on the verge of an atomic war and the destruction of industrial Europe. It would probably not be so if the Labour Party had spent its time propagating Socialism. They follow instead, policies leaving Capital and Wage Labour firmly entrenched.


Russia has all the features of Capitalism. If Bramall wants to know a Russian capitalist, I name one Berdvebekov.
We know of no measure of human happiness. Happiness will look after itself following the establishment of its conditions.


The Labour Party, so far from assisting the emancipation of working people, hindered it, in their pursuit of the will-o-the-wisp of Social Reform. For all their reforms the problems remain. It is not bogus science to say that if the factors causing war and unemployment continue that these things will re-appear. The Labour Party does not spread Socialism but disillusion. Its big majority of 1945 was reduced to a wafer in 1950, and to defeat in 1951. As to its “ training ground” of Nationalisation and its “trial and error,” Labour was forced to soft pedal on Nationalisation to get workers’ votes, and is bereft of new arguments to replace those having failed. What can the Labour Party offer now?


The unfulfilled needs of present society demand the end of Capitalism and the establishment of Socialism. Experiences of the past, present and future will continue to hammer that fact home.