1960s >> 1969 >> no-779-july-1969

Letter: Have We Gone Reformist?

Sirs,

 

I quote from the Socialist Standard for April, 1969:

 

1. “The Socialist Party supports the efforts of workers to improve their housing conditions under capitalism—even by squatting’’ (p52).

 

The word you use is ‘supports’. I always understood that yours was a revolutionary party which neither supported nor opposed reforms, but ‘welcomed’ them when they were achieved by reformists. What kind of support is now being given to reformist movements, either by the Socialist Party as a whole, or by individual members?

 

2. “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” (p60).

 

In such a situation, then, reforms would be a supplement (even though not an alternative) to socialist policy. Are we to assume that this is your party’s policy at the present stage of capitalism too? There was a time, I believe, when your members were discouraged from joining even such unspecific reformist movements as the Humanist Association. Perhaps you could state when this important change in your party line occurred.

 

W. Warwick 
Oxford

 

Reply:

 

1. The passage Mr. Warwick quotes merely says that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is in favour of workers trying to improve their (in this case, housing) conditions under capitalism. It does not say that we support specific reform measures in the housing field. If it did, Mr Warwick would have a case for saying we had changed our policy. We have of course, as Mr Warwick will know, always said workers should try to get as much as they can out of capitalism.

 

Squatting is no more a reform than stealing is. We shall go on saying that a homeless family should move into any empty house just as a hungry man should steal a loaf of bread. We are opposed to all reformist movements. But this does not mean that we are opposed on principle to any reform of capitalism. What we say is that a socialist party ought not to advocate reforms for fear of attracting non-socialist support, and in a bid to keep that support being dragged into compromise with capitalism. We thus campaign for Socialism alone, and not for or against specific reforms. We do indeed welcome any crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table.

 

2. We have long held that socialist MPs or local councillors ought to judge on their merits any reform measures placed before them by other parties. We accept that on occasions this would mean their voting for reforms. But—and this is made clear in the passage Mr. Warwick quotes—the socialist delegates would not themselves propose reforms. So it is not true that in such a situation the Socialist Party would be advocating reforms as well as Socialism. The difference would be that then, as compared with now, the larger socialist movement would be able to have some political influence which it would obviously use to further working-class interests.

 

Once again, Mr. Warwick’s question falls. We do not advocate reforms now either. We do, however, judge reforms proposed by other parties on their merits. Our knowledge of how capitalism works enables us to see that most of them are pretty futile, though at times we recognise that some could be useful in a small way — and say so. For instance, one man, one vote in local elections in Northern Ireland (see p53 of the April Socialist Standard).

 

Finally, we do regard the British Humanist Association, set up in 1967, as a reformist political organisation whose members are ineligible to join the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

 

Editorial Committee