1960s >> 1969 >> no-776-april-1969

Letter: Why Oppose Both Major Parties?

Dear Sir.

Thank you for the reply to my letter as printed in the December edition of Socialist Standard. Regretfully, however, it does little to convince me that the policies adopted by the Socialist Party of Great Britain are truly the right ones, at least insofar as your attitude to reformism and the Labour Party are concerned. It seems to me quite impractical to be equally opposed to both Tory and anti-Tory parties even if the latter are pro-capitalism. It is on the basis of this ‘equal’ opposition that you point out that I gave no reason for supposing the growth of the Socialist Party would be at the expense of the Labour Party; the reason being the political temperament of the bulk of individuals supporting Labour as against the Conservative Party.

The attitude which you demonstrate, one of ideological intransigence, scarcely does you credit because it is difficult to see how you can gain from it apart from musing on its nobility. In practical terms to lump differing enemies together is stupid, and it explains how you can later say that as the socialist movement grows so the power of the capitalists is weakened. For my part I cannot see how their power is in any way lessened except in a theoretical way, i.e. the percentage of socialists is higher.

Except in a very minor way as far as action is concerned the SPGB seems to wash its hands altogether of capitalism, even as though it existed outside it. You even state that as the socialist movement grows the “balance of class power shifts in favour of the workers”. This again is surely poetic nonsense. The balance of class power could never shift in favour of the workers until capitalism is abolished, that is. unless you accept that anti-capitalist reformist actions grow equally with the socialist movement. If 45 per cent of Britain supported the Socialist Party and there were no Socialist Party MPs then the Right Wing would have a fine old time. If 45 per cent of Britain supported the Socialist Party and there were an appropriate percentage of Socialist Party MPs then if they sat back in disgust and went to sleep we would have the same position. They would have to adopt a very similar position as the Labour Party when in opposition. that is trying to counteract the downward forces of capitalism within capitalism.

It seems more than obvious to me that whether you like it or not the Socialist Party of Great Britain is merely one of a group of Leftist societies. Its loquacious attacks on capitalism no doubt inspire those within the Labour and Communist Parties and it is doubtful whether except for so aiding reformists it will achieve anything.
R. E. Shimmin
(Port St. Mary Isle of Man)

Reply:
How does the “political temperament” of Labour Party supporters differ from that of the Tories? Many of them, as we have recently seen, are racists; they are patriotic; they are prepared to support their party although it breaks one promise after another and openly declares its intention of restricting the unions and cutting working class living standards.

Any differences between the Labour and Conservative parties are superficial and, as Edward Heath has recently become aware, are growing ever more difficult to perceive. On fundamentals they are anything but enemies; what differences they have are so slight as to be not worth bothering about.

It would be pleasant to be able to wash our hands of capitalism but we cannot do this—we cannot live outside the system. The reason for this is that at present the capitalist class hold their power by the support of the workers. As this support lessens, as the socialist movement grows, the power of the capitalists diminishes. Their promises, their threats, their sops, which are so readily accepted by workers now, will lose their effect

As the number of socialists grows the class struggle will take on a different appearance. Socialist trade unionists, for example, would never fall for threats and promises from a Labour government and agree to reduce their living standards, as some unionists are doing now. And of course as this situation develops the ruling class would be eager to try to divert the movement with ever more generous reforms.

A minority of socialist MPs would certainly support genuine reforms in working class standards and conditions but they would not be allowed to make the mistake of becoming reformist — of offering reforms as a political programme and an alternative to Socialism.

There is no evidence that the Labour Party tried to ‘counteract the downward forces of capitalism within capitalism” when they were in opposition. Whenever the interests of British capitalism required it they supported the Tory government— as they did in two world wars, for example—although naturally they went through the usual meaningless farce of ‘opposition’. If it had been their intention to “counteract the downward forces of capitalism” when they were in opposition, why did they act as they did when they took power? Why did they start the British H-Bomb? Go into the Korean war? Introduce the wage freeze? Prosecute strikers? Build the Polaris submarines? Support the Americans in Vietnam? Reduce school milk? The list of their actions in intensifying the downward pressures of capitalism is almost endless.

It is true that at present few people are inclined to grasp socialist knowledge. Some of the blame for this rests on organisations like the Labour Party, which have spread confusion among the working class and have dragged the name of Socialism through the mud. Perhaps our attacks on capitalism inspire Labourites and ‘Communists’. What effect, then, do our attacks on those parties, as pro-capitalist, have on those people? We hope to make them think about society, and about what to do with the power in their hands. This is the positive side of socialist propaganda—every attack we make upon capitalism has two edges and the other is the conclusion, that Socialism alone can end the problems of the modern world.

Editorial Committee