Professor Cole rides again

We received following letter to which a reply is attached.

World Socialist Movement
Dear Sirs,
In the January issue of the Socialist Standard there is a reference on p. 3 to “movements like the one sponsored by G. D. H. Cole”—presumably referring to the World Socialist Movement. Since your writer gave a quite erroneous impression of the nature of this movement I should be obliged if you would publish the following information in the Socialist Standard.
The World Socialist Movement is not a movement craving for a mass following. Naturally we seek to convince people of the possibility and desirability of world Socialism (as, we understand, does the Socialist Party of Great Britain). Your article refers to “ those who . . . have hedged, compromised, and thrown principles to the winds in order to swell the numerical support,” etc. However applicable these statements may be to the other movements you mention, they most certainly do not apply to the World Socialist Movement, which is quite explicitly an educational and not a mass movement. Your readers can confirm this by reading our introductory leaflet (obtainable from the above address) which contains a summary of our beliefs in six principles—” the minimum, which can on no account be diluted in an attempt to gain popular support.’
John H. Roddam.
Secretary W.S.M.

Executive Committee, S.P.G.B.,
52, Clapham High St., S.W.4.

In an article that appeared in an American periodical “The Nation” (April 23rd. 1955), G. D. H. Cole outlined the practical suggestions he thought would come from the organisation that he proposed should be established. As a preliminary he stated:

“Besides, mass parties cannot think; they can only be influenced by the thinking of individuals or small groups of people who are prepared to think for them.”

What would this group of intellectual snobs do?

“The immediate task of this group would be not to act but to think together and to plan—to restate Socialist principles in relation to the most pressing contemporary problems, and to base on these principles a broad programme of action to which the various national movements would be called upon to play their part. Each member of the group, or order, would publicize its ideas in his own country and try to induce the national leaders to take them up.”

What is this but an attempt to get a mass following of blind supporters? And what is the nature of the ideas that would be publicized?

“First, a clearly defined attitude towards the making and potential use of atomic weapons; second, a well-thought-out plan of campaign for a ‘war upon want’ designed to equalize, as nearly as possible, conditions of living in all countries; third, plans for a world economic structure that will avoid the evils both of capitalism and of bureaucratic centralization and will open up for the workers in every country rapidly increasing opportunities for democratic, responsible self-government in their working lives; and fourth the complete ending of imperialist domination, both political and economic, and the extension of self-governing independence to all people.”

In other words Cole had gone back to the position of the early Fabians whose policy was largely responsible for the present position of the Labour Party.

Now let us turn to the leaflet which our critic encloses. It opens with the following three paragraphs in heavy black type:

“The World Socialist Movement strives to justify through its members its claim to be the nucleus of the coming world socialist society and not of a new party.
“We regard national governments and institutions as outmoded and aggressively competitive and militaristic in conception; and so we appeal to socialists all over the world to combine with us in the struggle to free ourselves and others from that which fetters our thoughts, falsifies our actions and makes a virtue of competition and segregation in place of co-operation and unity.
“We believe that socialists are hampered in their attempt to bring about a socialist world society less by opposition from without than by dissension from within, and our basic principles have been formulated in the belief that they are acceptable to all socialists; but they are the minimum, which can on no account be diluted in an attempt to gain popular support.”

The leaflet concludes with the following paragraph, also in heavy black type:

“We do not ask you to renounce existing loyalties; but there is no alternative to accepting new and greater loyalties if a socialist world is to come about.”

What is all this empty and dubious phraseology but an attempt to form a mass party. As an inducement they even say, in effect, stick to your old wrong-headed parties but also join us and help to swell our ranks. If this is not throwing principles to the winds, what is? To help swell their following they say, in the body of the leaflet:

“We are not concerned with attacking any country or political party. . . . There is no time to be wasted on destructive criticism;”
. . .
“We do not believe that a socialist world can be achieved merely by persuading national governments to cooperate more closely. Neither do we believe that people will think as world citizens if we merely attack their deep rooted patriotic emotions”
. . .
“The World Socialist Movement has been started to bring together all the answers to the problems but we want everyone who shares the same reasonable belief to join us and work with us in the pursuit of our ideal.”
. . .
“But we shall have no rigid dogma that must be accepted before an individual can become a member. Every man and woman who wants a socialist world can find a place in our Movement and will be expected to give, in work and money, according to his means”

Well! Well! Well! “Never mind whether you support nationalisation, Social Credit, the Co-operative Movement or any other anti-Socialist idea that you wrongly believe is Socialist; join us and help to swell our ranks. We are the re-incarnated Fabians waiting to help you along the road to futility again!” It’s the old old stuff again with a new label on the bottle.

Now let us take a look at the “ ideal ” of this new party that is not a party. Here is their definition of it:

“The first need is to outline the sort of world we are striving for. We want a socialist world and by that we mean one in which there is common citizenship under a single code of law, in which every human being has equal rights. It means that there must be world planning for the production of raw materials and the manufacture of basic commodities, with world ownership of essential industries.”

What Labourite or advocate of state-ownership would disagree with that vague definition? Most Capitalists would find little fault with it; it is just an expansion of the “Welfare State” idea. There is nothing here about the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by. and in the interest of, the whole community. Is there not in this country already common citizenship under a single code of law? Is it not true that the heavy hand of the law falls equally on the millionaire and the pauper if either steals a loaf of bread?

The underlying implication of the leaflet is that its authors envisage Socialism as (synonymous with State ownership—with the qualification that it is a world state and not a national one. There is no suggestion of the abolition of buying and selling: no suggestion of a class cleavage in society, nor of the power of the class state. In the main the leaflet consists of vague generalities, inept proposals, and ignorance of the nature of the social problem and of the only steps that can be taken to solve it. It contains a number of contradictory statements. We have mentioned one or two: the claim that they are not a new party—but everyone should join them; that everyone should stay in their old parties—but ought to join them; that they have no dogma—but basic principles to which all must agree.

Now let us examine the six basic principles to which, they say, all prospective members must agree.

“1. To a socialist racial prejudices, religious intolerance, and class distinctions have no justification.”

That does not get anyone farther than polite agreement, though one might argue about the “justification.” Many who are not Socialists would agree to it. as they would agree to ‘statements like “Poverty, hunger and oppression have no justification.”

“2. The ultimate aim is total disarmament, renunciation of national sovereignty, and positive co-operation between all peoples.”
Here we have the cloven hoof. The ultimate aim. not the immediate aim. The immediate aim can be the reformers’ usual quiverful of projects that lead up blind alleys. What reformer would disagree with that alleged principle?
“3. ‘Equality of opportunity’ and ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’ should be applied on a worldwide as well .as a national scale.”

We note that these principles should be applied, not must or will be applied. And what is the meaning of “a world-wide as well as a national scale?” Is it suggested that they are now applied on a national scale? As there is no explanation of what the authors mean by the two principles, either here or in the body of the leaflet, we are left in the dark about how to interpret them.

“4. The means of production, distribution and exchange should belong to the community, and not to any individual or group.”

As money is the means of exchange the authors apparently envisage it belonging to the community. Consequently they are assuming the continuance of buying and selling. In an earlier part of the leaflet (which we have already quoted) they say that private enterprise has proved inadequate and the profit motive inefficient, but they do not attack state ownership—or nationalisation— so we are justified in assuming that this is what they mean by belonging “to the community” as this has always been the pseudo Socialist outlook.

“5. True socialism is true democracy and must be practised in political, economic and social fields.
“6. Socialism is a faith, an economic system and a political creed—the only real solution to the problems with which man is faced.”

What these two “principles” mean we do not know. There is nothing in the leaflet to explain them, and we take it that they are just some more wind. But we note that Socialism is “a political creed.” We assume, therefore, in spite of their denial, that they are in fact a new political party.

One thing, however, can be admitted about these “principles”; they are so vague, windy and diluted that it would be difficult to dilute them any further. Consequently the supporters of multifarious reformist programmes, who falsely call themselves Socialists, should have no difficulty in accepting them and thereby building another road to the wilderness of futility, in the interests conscious or unconscious, of keeping the wheels of Capitalism running along smoothly.


Leave a Reply