A Critic’s Misconception AnsweredDear Sir,
Having attended your various meetings, going through your Socialist Standard and pamphlets and discussing with your party members, I was made to understand that your party wants to achieve Socialism only through academic discussion and preaching to the working class various slogans and dogmas of Marx and Engels disregarding their material aspect of life. You also advocate that Socialism will come as and when majority people of the world understand and desire Socialism.
It seems to me that your preaching will bear fruits only when some people have paved the way for you by changing the material condition of working class so that they are in a position to listen, understand and act upon your philosophy.
Do you believe in the teachings of Marx that “It is not the consciousness of man that determines their being but on the contrary their social being that determines their consciousness”?
It is a historical truth that the little liberty we enjoy today in the various part of the world, is the result of years’ ceaseless struggle of millions—Most certainly the visionaries have played no part in it.
While you are enjoying the freedom and liberty disregarding the process it came through, would you kindly suggest a way to Socialism for the people who are under perpetual subjugation and tyranny and not allowed by law to speak or publish anything that goes against the interest of the ruling class?
In a not very long letter our correspondent manages to bring together a surprisingly large number of misconceptions about the Socialist case. He certainly did not hear S.P.G.B. speakers say that our declared aim is merely “Academic discussion” and the preaching of “various slogans and dogmas of Marx and Engels”; nor did he read this in Party publications. He will find a summary statement of our position in our Declaration of Principles, which, however, he ignores.
What are the salient features of Capitalism, the social system in which the S.P.G.B. operates and whose abolition it works for?
It is a class-divided social system. No matter what the anti-Socialists say, and irrespective of what politically uninformed workers think, the class struggle between the owning class and the working class is a fact and they are in it. Most of them, individually and in their industrial and reformist political organisations, have no greater aim than to try to fight the effects of Capitalism and to try to reform the Capitalist system. They are not aware of the need to abolish it and establish Socialism. They have been doing this for a century and a half without in any way altering the fundamentals of Capitalism, without abolishing poverty, insecurity, unemployment, wars, etc.
Members of the S.P.G.B. are likewise inescapably in the class struggle, but with a difference. Unlike the non-Socialist and the reformist organisations, the S.P.G.B. seeks to make the working class aware of the nature of Capitalism, the necessity of establishing Socialism in its place, the need for democratic political action to achieve this and the impossibility of doing so by means of social reforms.
It is for our correspondent to meet this case, not an imaginary one, and to show us how Socialism can be attained in any other way.
He does indeed offer us a formula, which is that “the material condition of working class” must be changed “so that they are in a position to listen, understand and act upon your philosophy.” But it is an empty formula. The “material condition” of the working class is that of being a wage-earning, exploited class in a class society. How can that be changed except by the method we show, that of a Socialist working class organising consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government with the aim of establishing Socialism?
It is true that the struggles of the working class, their resistance to exploitation, have helped to gain “elbow room” and that these struggles, along with the needs of industrial Capitalism, have brought about, in varying degrees, the electoral franchise and the possibility of organising and carrying on propaganda. But after about 150 years all that our correspondent can claim for it is “the little liberty we enjoy today in the various parts of the world.” Nowhere has it produced Socialism, nor will it do so. That will be done only after the working class have been won over to Socialism—the function of Socialists and carried on by no-one else. If by the ambiguous term “visionaries” our correspondent means Socialists, he invites our challenge to show us how Socialism can ever be accomplished without a Socialist working class.
Our correspondent refers to “people who are under perpetual subjugation and tyranny,” without specifying which people he has in mind. Perhaps it is the working class in Russia and her satellites or in the military dictatorship established by the Capitalist Nationalist movements in former colonial territories, or the workers in the existing colonies. He is wrong in describing this as “perpetual” The British and other sections of the working class used also to be in the same position, but the developments of Capitalism and the struggles of the workers have brought about “the little liberty” he mentions. How much farther and faster the movement for working class emancipation from Capitalism would have gone if, instead of allying themselves with sterile movements to “reform” Capitalism, and nationalist movements to establish one Capitalist rule in place of another, the working class had understood and acted upon the international Socialist message of the S.P.G.B. and its companion parties.