The New “Socialist International”
At Frankfurt on June 30 a new so-called “Socialist International” was born. It represents the Labour or Social Democratic parties of the world, similar in outlook to the British Labour Party. The fact that some of them bear the name “Socialist” and have given this name to their International has of course no significance as an indication of their aims, they are all of them social reform bodies built up on the belief that the problems of society can be solved through Labour Government administering reformed, planned and nationalised capitalism. The organisation claims 34 affiliated parties with 10 million members but it is far from being world-embracing. It is strongest in Western Europe and the British Dominions, and weakest in North and South America and the Far East. This makes it roughly parallel in scope with the “International Confederation of Free Trade Unions” except that the latter also has the support of the large American Unions. It declares its hostility to the Communist parties, which in their turn are strong in the countries (chiefly Russia and her satellites) where the Communist- led “World Federation of Trade Unions” has sole or chief support from the trade unions.
This new political International claims continuity of tradition and outlook with the “First International” founded in 1864 and its successor the “Second International” 1889, both of which foundered after some years of chequered existence, the latter in the First World War. It lays emphasis on democratic methods and denounces the “dictatorship” and “class-war” policies of the Communist parties which originated with the formation in 1921 of the “Third (Communist) International.” (This body was Officially disbanded during the second World War but continues its existence in the Russian controlled “Cominform”).
In spite of the claim to have inherited the traditions of the 19th century International the sponsors of the new “Socialist International” cannot disguise from themselves that their principles show marked deviation from the traditional programmes of the Labour parties.
The first change is one that in recent years has been much in evidence in the British Labour Party, the dropping of the old demand for all-round nationalisation and its replacement by the vaguer demand for “planning” of industry whether under private capitalist ownership or State ownership. The Declaration affirms that “Socialist planning does not pre-suppose public ownership of all the means of production.”
The second is that the new body abandons the traditional lip-service paid by the Continental Social- Democratic parties to Marxism and recognition of the class-struggle, doing so under cover of an attack on the Communists:—”Whereas Socialists aim to achieve freedom and justice by removing the exploitation which divides man under capitalism, Communists seek to sharpen those class divisions.”
Outside commentators have been quick to notice bow the new body has departed from tradition and one of them, the Times, examines what has caused the departure. In a leader (2/7/51) the Times says:
“It makes a break with past theory. Socialist parties have now held power in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and Norway, and this statement is a rationalization of the way in which they have found themselves behaving. Class warfare is renounced.”
The Times also notices that the new declaration is noteworthy for laying down principles which the capitalist parties can come near to accepting:—” . . . Socialism as it is here stated differs in degree rather than in kind from the policies of other democratic parties in the countries of Western Europe and elsewhere which have reached a comparable stage of development The need for some planning, some public ownership, some social security is now widely accepted.”
The line taken by the new organisation itself to explain the change can be seen in the summary of their declaration published by the Daily Herald (3/7/51):—
“Socialism first developed as a movement of the wage-eamers. But more and more citizens, professional and clerical workers, farmers and fishermen, craftsmen and retailers, artists and scientists, have come to understand that it holds the key to their future. It appeals to all men.”
“Socialism has become a major force in world affairs and has passed from propaganda to practice. In some countries the foundations of a Socialist society have already been laid.”
We are then asked to believe that the original policies of the Labour parties have been made obsolete because the stage of propaganda has given way to practice and because in some countries the foundations of Socialist Society have already been laid. What is meant here of course is the Nationalisation measures and the so-called “Welfare State” reforms introduced by the various Labour governments. What makes utter nonsense of this claim is firstly that capitalism is still in existence all over the world, nowhere has it been abolished and replaced by Socialism. To this Labour parties would reply that when they speak of Socialism what they mean is that State-controlled capitalism has everywhere to some extent curbed or replaced private capitalism. But even this piece of verbal confusion does not get them out of their difficulty! For if State controlled capitalism is the aim then the Labour parties ought now to admit, as many of them have done in the past, that that aim has been achieved in the Communist governed countries; why then does the new International declare war on the Communist parties?
If we really want to understand what the past thirty years have done to the nineteenth century reformist parties we have to look at the changed position of those parties in the capitalist world. Half a century ago they were all of them “Opposition” parties able to show a certain amount of doctrinal unity in their hostility to the Tory, Liberal and other anti-working class governments. But their principles and policies were basically unsound and their success in becoming governments has brought this into the open.
As governments without any mandate from a Socialist Working class to establish Socialism they have all of them “Labour” and “Communist” alike, had no alternative but to carry on capitalism though both have adopted the face-saving subterfuge of labelling it “Socialism.”
In place of showing some degree of working class unity against at least the effects of capitalism all of those parties are now tied hand and foot to administering the capitalist system. As a result of this the old vague support for internationalism has been destroyed and though the Labour parties and the Communist parties both masquerade in allegedly “international ” organisations, the individual parties and the organisations themselves have become in greater or less degree open supporters of the capitalism of their particular country or group of allies, busily preparing for capitalism’s third World War.
The lesson to be learned from this is the one emphasised by the S.P.G.B. for 47 years, that the conquest of governmental power is useless and pernicious unless there is behind it and controlling it a socialist working class, consciously organised for the one worthwhile aim, that of establishing Socialism.