The “Standard” in America
It was in the year 1909 that I joined the old Socialist Party of Canada, in Vancouver, B.C. All I knew of the philosophy of Socialism at that time was restricted to the fact that I was a wage slave, disillusioned by my contacts with capitalism, and firmly convinced, by listening to lectures and reading Socialist papers and pamphlets, that Socialism was the only solution for working class problems. This was enough to go on at the start
At our headquarters, which were open day and night and at our propaganda meetings, which were held regularly inside and out there were two papers which were always sold and read. These two were the Western Clarion and the Socialist Standard.
It is natural that in a Party that had adopted it as the official organ, the Clarion would be regarded as the more important. Its distribution was advocated by the Dominion Executive Committee, and faithfully carried out by the general membership.
In our study classes we closely examined the material in both papers, and some of us became aware of the fact that, while the main objective was similar, there were differences of a serious and material kind. In the platform of the S.P. of C. was the paragraph: “The irrepressible conflict of interests between the capitalist and the worker is rapidly culminating in a struggle for possession of the reins of government—the capitalist to hold, the worker to secure it by political action. This is the class struggle.”
Our reading of the Socialist Standard led us to conclude that this definition of the class struggle was not correct. That the struggle also included the workers who were selling labour power in exchange for wages. Some of the pioneer members even went so far as to contend that there was a commodity struggle as well as a class struggle. But the Socialist Standard explanation was accepted by the younger members as correct.
Again, in the S.P. of C. platform was a declaration of what the Socialist Party would do concerning legislation when in office. This, with the aid of the Standard, we fought so strongly that it was later deleted from the platform.
Here in the United States, the Socialist Standard has always been distributed as widely as possible by the World Socialist Party, and the members continuously advised to read and study the contents. The results have been reasonably satisfactory. It has furnished us with a picture, on a broader canvas, of which the Socialist movement means on the international scene, and the mode of activity in which it is carried on.
Even more important, perhaps, is the stabilizing influence it exerts on the members, particularly on the new recruits who have had no experience, or the wrong kind of experience, before making application for membership in the Party. Our problem with the inclusion of new members is greater than that in Britain, due to the large area in which we operate. In Britain it is feasible to invite the applicant to headquarters, or to send a committee from the branch to his home, to examine his past political connections, his present attitude, and his qualifications for becoming a member.
Here, due to the distances between the applicant and the National Administrative Committee Headquarters or the local, the contact with workers who show a desire to join us has to be made mainly through the medium of the mail. A set of relevant questions are sent. He ponders their significance, makes inquires as to what such and such a query means, a further explanation is given, so that in the end we have just about told him how to answer the questions in order to be eligible to become a member.
It is in such cases that the value of papers like the Socialist Standard and the Western Socialist can be seen. There are articles in each from time to time dealing with every phase of socialist philosophy. In these the applicant can see beyond the matters touched upon in the questionnaire, and they open up a new intellectual area that provides the opportunity for more and deeper research.
In recent correspondence with a young man interested in our work, and anxious to know more about it, I was asked about the import of the Negro movement towards attaining what they consider to be their “civil rights.” He stated that he thought the Negroes’ desire to acquire the franchise should entitle them to our support, as their membership was largely made up of working men and women.
In addition to my own endeavour to negate his theory, pointing out that the great majority of the members in all parties and movements belonged to the working class, and that this fact in itself was not sufficient to warrant our participation in their efforts, I happily dug up a copy of the Socialist Standard, published back in the days when the Pankhurst family were engaged in smashing windows, and going on hunger strikes in their demands that votes be given to women.
The writer of this article, in clear and simple terms, analysed the suffragette movement. He explained the capitalist character of the movement, its lack of recognition or understanding of present society and the social forces tending to its abolition, and ended up with the affirmation that our movement would not be interested in supporting any part of it. I sent this copy to my correspondent. The next time I heard from him he conceded that he had overlooked the real points of the issue, and that the Socialist Standard had set him straight.