Common Questions Answered: (3) Can the Others Understand?
Q: Doesn’t the slow growth in membership of the S.P.G.B. show that most people just won’t take an interest in Socialism in the way you expect them to?
A: If you judge the progress of socialist ideas solely in terms of the enrolled membership of the S.P.G.B., then our task does seem to be fruitless. But we don’t agree that the present size of the Party is a measure of the impression we have made on those who have heard our case. There is a vast difference between the reactions of someone who hears our case for the first time and those of a regular critic who has passed the stage (if he ever went through it) of misrepresenting and abusing us. In the early days of the Party, particularly during the first World War, our audiences were far more hostile than they are to-day. The growth of political tolerance, the rising general level of political understanding which is a result of Capitalism’s own development is reflected in the more sympathetic and reasoning way people approach our case.
Q: Surely there must be something wrong about your arguments if you fail to convince people that Socialism is desirable? Wouldn’t you have got many more people to become socialists by this time if you had been advocating what they really want?
A: You can’t judge the soundness of an idea by the number of people who hold it or by the speed with which they may take it up. Because the number of socialists is only a fraction of the number who have heard our case (itself only a tiny fraction of the population) it doesn’t follow that we are out of touch with their ideas, hopes and desires. On the contrary, we are the only Party able to talk in terms of the sort of world most people want to live in, although we point out that it must be the result of their own political efforts and cannot be “given” to them by leaders. One of the worst results of Capitalism is the cynicism and fatalism it has bred, typified by the widespread belief that war is inevitable even though nobody wants it. Socialists don’t put forward what is unwanted, but rather what is wrongly believed to be unattainable.
Q: What do you think stops you from making progress? Don’t you think that the herd instinct and unwillingness to accept new ideas weigh heavily against you?
A: You seem to be trying to find excuses for the attitude to Socialism that its opponents encourage to be held. It’s not primarily because it’s a “new idea” that people don’t accept it. Unfortunately Socialism is usually confused with some form of State Capitalism and is most often attacked by those having little or no knowledge of what it really means. Capitalist propaganda does take advantage of this following the herd feeling, but when we meet our opponents singly they nearly always answer the challenge of Socialism by falling back on others’ alleged inability to understand it. If you understand our case it’s up to you to win others to your point of view, not to bemoan their not holding it.
Q: You talk of winning others to your point of view, but doesn’t it occur to you that they don’t want to be won over? You must face the fact that most people haven’t got the same outlook as you SP.G.B’ers.
A: We try to win others over to our point of view because that is the only way of achieving our object. If they don’t accept the case for Socialism then we must continue to discuss it with them on the basis that what we understand others can also. When you refer to our different outlook you probably mean our opposition to all other parties, but there’s nothing remarkable in taking up that position once you realise they are all opposed to what you want. Of course, it’s tempting to believe that all you have to do is to vote for the right party, and our opponents play on this desire to take what appears to be the easy way out. Although capitalist propagandists don’t often specifically attack the S.P.G.B. they certainly do go to great lengths to prevent workers from developing a socialist outlook. There is a sort of “honour among thieves” that does not allow any of our opponents to question the continuation of the present economic system.
Q: If people take any interest in politics at all they want to see some tangible results from their efforts. Surely you must see you will make no headway unless you can compete successfully with other parties?
A: It’s true we could make headway if we made extravagant promises—so can any party for a while— but that has nothing to do with Socialism. Your argument presupposes that people will always be fobbed off with unfulfilled promises and other devices that all our opponents use to gain a following. Our view is that the slow growth of socialist ideas is not because people are hostile towards them but because they are preoccupied with seemingly more practical ways of improving their conditions. It amounts to their trying vainly all possible ways to solve their problems within Capitalism before they see the necessity of abolishing it The growing disparity between the conditions most people want and those they have must eventually lead to such action.
Q: I think you have set yourselves an impossible task. Why waste your time trying to make people understand something they know can never come in their lifetime?
A: The task is only impossible so long as people like you believe it’s impossible. We don’t advocate Socialism just because we think it will be a good thing for our descendants—we do so because it is possible to establish it in our lifetime. Remember that we are not a race apart from our as yet non-socialists brothers; some of them are at this moment acquiring the same ideas that made us socialists. Even supposing the road to Socialism is as long as you imply, is that any reason for not starting on it? Our challenge to you is to suffer conditions like the present that any form of Capitalism must bring or to become a socialist and help to build a society really worth living in.