Letter: What holds us back?


Dear Comrades,

Dare I venture as an ex-member to voice a point of view on the social question? Whilst it is understood that the Socialist movement in this country as represented by the S.P.G.B. deserves all the praise for all that voluntary work which the loyal members as writers and speakers have done for over 50 years with the idea of trying to enlighten the minds of the members of the “working class” towards an understanding of Socialism as a means to the solution of the social problems which affect the working class, may I suggest since it is common knowledge to the members of the S.P.G.B. that the time has come, which calls for a little mental stock-taking to ascertain or try to explain away to their own satisfaction why the Socialist message which has been put over to your London audiences over a period of years hasn’t rung any bell in the minds of the workers. Since the Socialist movement doesn’t make any headway in an increase in membership it is obvious some explanation is needed.

Should Socialists discuss the issue and give a united decision on it? Can I suggest some material phenomena for such discussion? “Does Capitalism in this developing period, which enables the working class as a whole to maintain a standard of living with the aid of its Trade Unions which they regard as satisfactory, operate as a factor in the workers contentment with Capitalism?” So long as Capitalism can give the workers their weekly pay packet isn’t that all the workers want? Do Socialists look on Socialism as a practical proposition, in the present developing Capitalism? or do they regard Socialism as a practical necessity only when Capitalism has produced the high productive social forces, which fetter production and which in turn puts millions of workers out of work? Is it under those material conditions which Socialists can expect the workers to become interested in the Socialist solution? If these points explain why the Socialist message, which is put over at present doesn’t ring any bell in the minds of the workers, what should be the Socialist policy under the present conditions?

Since the Socialist movement makes the sound and correct moral indictment against our present social system, and since the present social system is kept in existence because it is supported and upheld by the majority of the workers, cannot the same indictment be made against the workers for their mental stupid blind support?

Hasn’t the time come when Socialists should cease to nurse the workers, since the ideas, motives, and general moral conduct is as much in question as the known Capitalists defenders? Has the Socialist movement in our present developing Capitalism anything to lose by dealing with the workers Capitalistic ideology, the sordid ideas, and motives and general conduct? Should the “ S.S.” be used more to deal with Henry Dubb’s sordid ideas, motives and conduct? Is it true such ideas and motives and conduct act as a stumbling block in the path to acquire social ideas and correct motives, and right moral conduct? Such a policy would have a tendency to attract the notice of the worker readers of the “S,S.” and would probably bring in correspondence. This is what the Editorial Committee want so it would give them the further chance to give Henry the mental bumping he deserves. At least that can be done in the “ S.S.” if not on the stump.

Haven’t Socialists enough evidence to support their moral indictment against the workers sordid ideas, etc.? The present writer gives three cases as examples of such ideas and behaviour patterns. The following conversation between two workers as partners in a freight business, I overheard their conversation as I stood against their loaded fruit lorry in Covent Garden some few years ago. One said to the other, “give it the bloody juice never mind the fine, get there, well see to the fine afterwards.” The second case. A workmate I worked with a few years ago told me with great glee on his face about the smartness of his own wife in her dealings with the Yanks during the war. Apparently she worked in a canteen which supplied whisky to the Yanks. The latter are known to be good natured re treating any one to a drink. Such was the case with the woman in question, but instead of drinking the whisky she put it in a jug or a bottle which was behind the bar and as time passed it accumulated and when the time came that they ran short of whisky, she brought it out and sold the Yanks their own whisky back to them at a handsome profit. My work pal got a great kick out of his moral story. Third case. In spite of overwhelming evidence to the support of the Socialist truth that all workers have material interests in common to defend, they allow themselves to be used as cannon fodder to wage war against other workers on behalf of their exploiters when war breaks out. The said workers political and economic ignorance shows up their wrong ideas, motives and conduct and calls for a moral indictment because of the anti-social nature. Is it a part of the Socialist case to have to try and defend such behaviour on the old fallacious Blatchfords grounds of defence of the bottom dog; the not guilty argument, because the workers are alleged to be victims of their Capitalist environment?

The workers are in the same environment as the Socialist and can get the correct ideas, motives and conduct, if they weren’t too mentally lazy, to try to get them. The choice is there, but being mentally lazy, they prefer to get the wrong ideas. The Socialist movement hasn’t anything to lose by telling the workers some home truths, and let them see what Dubb’s you think they are. Charge the Henry Dubb’s as political blacklegs or scabs, of being on the wrong side of the political fence and that they ought to be sent to Coventry.

The more they squirm, more is the success of the moral indictment.
I remain, yours truly,



Before coming to specific questions our correspondent gives his description of the situation that leads him to raise them. This situation, in his view, is that Socialist propaganda “hasn’t rung any bell in the minds of the workers,” and again, “The Socialist movement doesn’t make any headway.” This is not a correct assessment. Though the Socialist movement is small and progress slow it is not correct that no progress is made. The membership of the S.P.G.B. is about three times what it was 30 years ago. The correct statement of the problem should therefore be, why is progress so slow?

It is partly answered by recalling that the founders of the S.P.G.B. were at the outset convinced that the work would be hard and progress slow; that it may have been even slower than some of them thought only indicates some under-estimation of the forces at work against us.

Our correspondent’s next point is that under present conditions the workers are satisfied with their standard of living, and receiving their weekly pay packet is all they want. We do not agree with this statement and can see abundant evidence that it is not true. If it were true the workers would not, as in fact they do, repeatedly claim higher real wages and be met with refusals from the employers and appeals from the Government not to make and press such claims. Again, if it were true that that is all the workers want, they would not trouble themselves about the electoral programmes of the Tory, Labour, Liberal and other parties promising them something more. They would not trouble to vote. The fact that the great majority of them do vote and do put Governments in and out is evidence that they are not satisfied merely to receive their weekly pay packet

Then our correspondent asks if the attitude of the workers towards Socialism will not be different when the time comes that “Capitalism has produced the high productive social forces which fetter production, which in turn puts millions of workers out of work.” The question itself is in error, and the answer does not rest on speculation about what may happen in the future. It has all happened long ago and many times. Capitalism has long been a fetter on production and for a century and a half has periodically seen “normal” unemployment rocket up to depression levels. But during depression times the number of workers moved to become interested in Socialism was not materially different from the number who became interested in Socialism in “boom” times. The great majority of the millions of workers unemployed in the 19th century depressions or the depressions between the wars did not interest themselves in Socialism. They went instead into campaigns for unemployment doles, for Government-provided work schemes, for tariff reform, or free trade, or Nationalisation and the rest of the reformist illusions, or they went on hunger marches. Hunger without understanding makes rebels and reformists, not Socialists, and the membership of the S.P.G.B. in those depression times was smaller than it is now under “ full employment.”

Continuing his argument our correspondent suggests that Socialists should make the same indictment against the workers for their “stupid, blind support ” of Capitalism as they do against Capitalist; cease to “nurse” the workers and instead attack their Capitalist ideas and behaviour.

This criticism surprises us because in long years of propaganda the S.P.G.B. has so often been criticised for doing the very thing our correspondent says we do not do. We have often been taken to task by critics on the alleged ground that S.P.G.B. writers and speakers constantly allow their impatience to express itself in exasperated condemnation of the non-Socialist workers.

The important point, however, is that the aim of Socialist propaganda must always be to get non-Socialists to understand and agree with out point of view; harping on their “stupidity,” etc., is hardly likely to further that aim. It is also not true that the working class are stupid or, in the main, anti-social in their behaviour. Blind to their own interests, yes; lacking an understanding of and what will and what will not further their interest, but this is not stupidity. And in spite of those individuals whose reaction to Capitalism is to fight ruthlessly for their own hand without regard to others, the great majority of workers show a regard for their fellow workers, at least those with whom they are closely associated, and a sense of social responsibility that should rather surprise us in view of the pressure of the Capitalist, anti-social environment.

We repeat, therefore, that what the working class lacks is knowledge of the Socialist case and our correspondent has not shown that there is some easier and quicker way of providing it than the way followed by the S.P.G.B.

In conclusion we cannot omit to point out to our correspondent and to others who have allowed slow progress to dishearten them, that progress would be that much quicker if all who understand and want Socialism joined in the task of winning over the great army of the unconverted, instead of progressively becoming disheartened and falling out. If all those who have fallen out had remained in the movement what a strong movement for Socialism we would have now. The only way, and the certain one, to succeed, is to keep at it.


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