Socialism, Vote-Catching and the I.L.P.

In the SOCIALIST STANDARD, March, 1958, in an article “The Same Old I.L.P.”, we maintained, on the ground of the I.L.P., candidate’s campaign at Kelvingrove and other current evidence, that the I.LP. is, as it has always been, a reformist organisation. In the I.LP. journal The Socialist Leader (15th March, 1958) “the political secretary of the I.L.P., Mr. Wilfred Wigham, wrote an angry denial.

What is Vote-catching?
Let us make clear what we mean by vote-catching. In essence it means the act of getting votes under false pretences. As the S.P.G.B. holds that the only solution of social problems is to revolutionise society from its present capitalist basis to a Socialist basis, and that only by the votes of Socialists can this aim be achieved, it would be blatant vote-catching if an S.P.G.B. candidate were to try to attract the votes of electors who accept capitalism and whose aim is to raise old age pensions, or introduce more nationalisation (State capitalism), or limit the horrors of war. But if a Labour Party candidate tried to attract such votes it would not be vote-catching if he genuinely believed that these reforms can be achieved, that they will be achieved by a Labour Government and that they would bring the benefits he says they will.

By the same test we really hold that the I.L.P. is not a vote-catching organisation when it seeks votes from non-Socialists and campaigns on reforms of capitalism, because its aim, as we shall show, is not Socialism. Nevertheless, the I.L.P. itself invites the charge of vote-catching when it tries to combine the two irreconcilable principles and claims, as it did at Kelvingrove, that “it will seek to convince the men and women of Kelvingrove that only by Socialism can the challenge of these stupendous times be met And it will not compromise its policy and programme to win votes” (Socialist Leader, 1st February, 1958. (Our italics.)

The confusion arises because while the I.L.P. claims that Socialism is the only solution it really does not mean Socialism, but a reformed capitalism; and its “policy and programme*’ referred to is one of reformism.

The “Socialism” of the I.L.P.
The I.L.P. claims that its aim is Socialism. It has consistently made that claim since its formation 65 years ago. But the meaning attached to the term by the LLP. is a gross misuse.

In the early days its efforts were concentrated on achieving Nationalisation or State capitalism. In the nineteen twenties it published a pamphlet under the title Socialism in Queensland. In 1932 its National Council passed a resolution describing Russia and the Russian Government as “Socialist,” and affirming that “the fate of the workers is bound up with the maintenance of Russia’s freedom to pursue her Socialist development unhindered by capitalist attacks” (New Leader, 22nd April, 1932). In its issue, dated 12th February, 1932. the following declaration was made:—

“In Soviet Russia Socialism is not the music of the future. It is a reality of the present.
“During the past year the Soviet Union has completed the construction of the foundation of Socialism. By the end of the Second Five Year Plan it will have completed the construction of the Socialist Society.”

In 1935 it fought the municipal elections on a reformist programme, one item of which was: “Socialised Local Services”: “Abolition of restrictions on the development of public services (in conjunction, where possible, with Cooperative Societies) of bread, milk and coal. Workers control in every service” (New Leader, 25th October, 1935).

In 1954 the National Council of the I.L.P. passed a resolution calling for unity of “Socialists” and “Socialist organisations” to include the “well-meaning Socialists who are members of the political section of the Labour Party” and giving as evidence of the “Socialist” character of the latter the resolutions they moved at Labour Party Conferences (which were in fact, as we showed, resolutions solely for reforms of capitalism, including in particular nationalisation or State capitalism. See SOCIALIST STANDARD, March 1954).

We ask the I.L.P. “Is Nationalisation Socialism? Was Queensland Socialist? Was Russia Socialist in 1932? Were the Local Labour Parties and their resolutions Socialist in 1954?” The Socialist answer is “emphatically NO!” but the I.L.P. believes that the answer is “yes.”

The I.L.P. and the Reform of Capitalism.
If the I.L.P.’s alleged adherence to Socialism is a gross misuse of the word, its attitude on the reform of capitalism is equally two-faced. On the one hand it lets it be thought that it agrees with the late James Maxton’s admission (New Leader, 15th August, 1930) that reformism is futile because before the reforms gained “have been fully operative such advantages as they seemed on a superficial examination to offer were eaten up by the development of new evils or by a further extension of old ones” yet it has always devoted its efforts to securing reforms. Hence, for example, the long list of reforms on which the I.L.P. fought the Municipal Elections in 1935, including “Free baths for the unemployed,” a minimum of 20s. unemployed pay, abolition of large classes in schools, and “Freedom to hold meetings outside Labour Exchanges.”

Hence also the Socialist Leader’s anger at the charge made by the Labour Candidate at Kelvingrove that she was the only candidate who was opposed to the Rent Act. The editor says this was a lie, and affirms that the I.L.P. Candidate “made it clear from the beginning of the campaign that he opposed the Rent Act in all its clauses.” (Socialist Leader, 15th March, 1958.) Naturally, in conformity with the I.LP.’s reformist policy, their candidate considered that he had been fraudulently deprived of the votes of anti-Rent Act voters and that their votes ought fairly to have gone to him and not to the candidate of the Labour Party, which, he alleged “does not intend to repeal the Act if and when it is returned to power.”

And did the LLP. candidate inform the electors, as he would have done if fighting as a Socialist, that under Socialism there could be no Rent Control because there will be no rents? If not, why not?

The other main issue at Kelvingrove was the H Bomb. If the LLP. candidate had been a Socialist he would have concentrated on showing that capitalism is the cause of war and that Socialism is the only way to eliminate armaments and war from the world. Instead, he made the abolition of the H Bomb the centre of his campaign. Again, it was quite in keeping with the I.L.P.’s reformism that while nominally committed to opposing all war and all armaments the issue of the Socialist Leader for 1st March, 1958, contained an invitation to three opponents of the H Bomb who are also opponents of Socialism and present or recent supporters of war (Bertrand Russell, A. J. P. Taylor and J. B. Priestley), to go to Kelvingrove and speak on the I.L.P. candidate’s platform!

Mr. Wigham’s Defence of the I.L.P.
In his article in the Socialist Leader (15th March, 1958), Mr. Wigham tries to confuse the issue with a number of silly innuendoes about the S.P.G.B., in the usual dishonest form adopted by the controversialist without a case. He writes: “The S.P.G.B. . . . may advocate that Britain should continue to spend more than a thousand million pounds a year on armaments and the armed forces . . . it may advocate Britain’s continued share in the cumulative production of radio-active dust from H Bomb tests . . . Or the S.P.G.B. may think those issues unimportant”; and again, “Is the S.P.G.B. in favour of Britain continuing to manufacture the H Bomb. Or is it afraid to declare itself either way?” Then, with a pathetic show of phoney indignation, “I challenge the Socialist Standard to answer.”

Of course, Mr. Wigham is being completely dishonest. He knows quite well that the S.P.G.B. is not, and never has been, in favour of capitalism or capitalism’s war-making or its H Bombs, or any of its armaments: unlike the I.L.P. M.P’s. who did not vote against war supplies in the 1914-1918 war and the 1924 Labour Government, declared by the I.L.P. to be “To an overwhelming extent an I.L.P. Government,” which carried out a programme of naval re-armament. The I.L.P. has now changed its line on that issue and pretends to think that the S.P.G.B. has abandoned its opposition to war.

How dishonest Mr. Wigham’s questions are can be seen from the attitude he adopts elsewhere towards the S.P.G.B. Repeatedly (and as recently as last year) the I.L.P. has begged the S.P.GB. to unite with the I.LP. for the purpose, among others, of opposing war: now he pretends not to know the S.P.G.B.’s attitude to capitalism and war!

Continuing his pretended desire for the S.P.G.B. to declare its attitude (as if he didn’t know), he asks if the SP.G.B. is “in favour of the continued use of British airfields by American bombing planes and the prospective use of British Land for NATO missile bases?”

By this piece of slickness Mr. Wigham slides away from the issue of the fatuousness of I.L.P. pleas to the British capitalist class to at once disband the armed forces, and the I.L.P. resolution to “deny” British bases to all other countries. He did not tell his readers what we wrote about this, in particular our question, “How do unarmed civilians deny bases to the armies occupying them?”, and our example of the Hungarian workers who tried to turn Russian capitalism out of Hungarian bases.

By implication, however, he admits our case on the issue of disbanding the armed forces, for he now writes: “We do not think it likely that capitalist Britain will disarm.” But he goes on to justify the formulation of such demands on the plea that it is an attempt “to show up, in the eyes of the workers, militaristic, predatory Capitalist Imperialism for what it is.”

On the same propaganda plea of asking the capitalist class to do something you know they won’t do, why not just ask them to introduce Socialism? And while we are on the subject, is the I.LP’s, plea to capitalism to disband its armed forces at once, also directed to capitalist Russia? or is Russia still, in the view of the I.LP., the “Socialist” Society they said it was in 1932?

Keir Hardie and Maxton
Mr. Wigham puts up another Aunt Sally in order not to deal with the point we raised about the futility of Keir Hardie’s and Maxton’s reformism. He says he was not surprised at us “dragging in the usual S.P.G.B. criticism of I.LP. industrial ‘reformism’—in fact, I.LP. identification with the day to day struggles of the workers. And, sure enough, it does so instancing James Keir Hardie and James Maxton as suitable forerunners of the I.L.P.” Since it was Mr. Wigham who claimed that the present I.L.P. is “the party of Keir Hardie and James Maxton,” he has no ground on which to object to us following up his lead and dealing with them. But why does Mr. Wigham not fell his readers what we wrote about those two? His readers, on the basis of what Mr. Wigham writes, will be astonished to learn that the one issue about which we said nothing at all was the struggles of the workers on the industrial field. What we did write, and which Mr. Wigham pretends was a reference to industrial action for higher wages was a bill introduced into Parliament by Maxton in 1930 for the setting up of a Government Committee to fix a minimum “living wage,” after taking into account the “replacement and extension of capital ”

One I.L.P. M.P. disclaimed any intention of excluding employers from the committee which was to fix the workers’ minimum wage. Another gave an assurance that the wage would not include enough for children— they were to be separately provided for. This was to meet the views of an anti-Socialist M.P. who did not want people without children to get more than their due. The I.L.P. Prime Minister would not give government backing for the Bill.

This was not industrial action, but an I.L.P. political sell-out

The I.L.P. in favour of Profit and Rent
Mr. Wigham challenges us to say whether the S.P.G.B. is “against raising wages and reducing profits and rents: is it against a living wage for all workers? ” If Mr. Wigham were a Socialist he would know that the S.P.G.B., being Socialist, is not in favour of wages, profits and rents, but is in favour of Socialism, which involves the abolition of the wages system, and the abolition of property incomes, including all profits and rents (not, as Mr. Wigham says he is, in favour of reduced profits and rents).

On the issue of workers’ action (strikes) on the industrial field, every government administering capitalism opposes strikes for higher wages, necessarily so because unless the State places a ceiling on strike demands, capitalism, depending as it does on profit, becomes unworkable. The S.P.G.B. is in favour of the workers using every effort on the industrial field to press for higher wages and to resist reductions. It is also in favour of telling the workers the truth about the limitations that capitalism places on this action and the necessity of abolishing capitalism (and with it the wages system). The S.P.G.B. also attacks the reformist I.L.P. belief that having capitalism with minimum wage legislation (as in Australia) alters the situation. In particular it reminds the workers that an I.L.P. government, saddled with the responsibility of running capitalism, behaves like any other government in opposing strikes. It was the 1924 I.L.P. dominated government which made preparations to use emergency powers against strikers on the underground railways (Daily Herald, 1st April, 1924.)

Before we leave Mr. Wigham’s reference to Keir Hardie we note that he makes no comment on Hardie’s advocacy of coal nationalisation for the sake of fuelling fire Navy. Does this, too, fit into the I.L.P. conception of Socialism?

Abstract Theory and Real life
Mr. Wigham concludes with a jibe at the alleged “abstract reasoning” of the S.P.G.B., contrasted with the I.L.P., which, he says, “continues to base its political activities on real life,” and which knows “something about history.”

We are not averse to accepting the term “abstract reasoning” as a description of the need for workers to study capitalism and the history of reformism in order to understand the futility of trying to reform capitalism into something different.

And we are content to leave to the reformist I.L.P., in the Keir Hardie-Maxton tradition, the task of ignoring Socialism and concentrating on the “real life” activity of a reformist organisation, of pursuing the winning of votes and members on a programme of reforms.


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