The Fragmenting Left
Socialism and nothing less is our aim. Our opponents, “left” though they may be, stand in the way of its achievement. They help to keep the workers confused by presenting as revolutionary and Socialist, their way-out schemes that are no more than reforms to patch up capitalism. We do not doubt their sincerity but are convinced that they, the left, do not understand the problems they are trying to solve. Under capitalism the propertyless wealth-producers and their families suffer poverty . . . whilst the non-producing owners of the means of production enjoy the affluence derived from surplus value created by the workers.
Capitalism involves private property, production for sale with a view to profit, wages, rent, interest and profit. Experience has amply endorsed the proposition that this form of society cannot be made to work in the interest of the wage-earners. The answer to working-class poverty is Socialism. This will involve the means of production being held in common, with democratic control thereof in the interest of society as a whole and production solely for use. There will be no more employers nor employees, no more buying and selling, and no more working for wages.
The Socialist Party came into existence for the sole purpose of winning a majority for Socialism. The case was reviewed in the editorial of this journal for June 1905 and summed up as follows:
The formation of a new party was rendered imperative by the falling away of the SDF from the paths of political right-doing . . . Looking around them [some members of the SDF] in the political world they saw that organisations of the half-way house character were obtaining a larger measure of support, . . . they set themselves to the task of winning their own organisation to a similar position and to the adoption of a similar line of action.
In this they were highly successful . . . The founders [of the Socialist Party] were fully alive to the fact that such spade work had to be performed . . . It is easier to gain adherents to belief in a small palliative reform than to gain them to a new philosophy based upon an understanding of the material foundations of modem industrial slavery. But in the former case the adherents are not adherents for Socialism, in the latter case they are.
The Social Democratic Federation continued its service to political confusion after the formation of the SPGB. It eventually became the British Socialist Party and helped to found the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920. During the first world war, Hyndman, the founder and father-figure, was expelled.
An earlier split from the SDF occurred in 1903, when the Socialist Labour Party was formed in Scotland. It was modelled on the SLP of America, a party that came to emphasize the economic side of the class struggle to the detriment of the political. The SLP were very active in the day-to-day struggle in their early years and many of the “Red Clydesiders” came from their ranks. In the SLP scheme of things, all workers engaged in a particular industry would belong to the union covering it, regardless of their trade or profession.
These unions would organize the workers for the task of seizing and holding the means of production by “locking the capitalist out”. The union would then act as the basic unit of organization in the new society. The SLP look upon existing unions as reactionary by virtue of their acceptance of capitalism, their undemocratic organization and leaders who function as “labour lieutenants” of the capitalist class. What they do not understand is that these factors indicate a lack of Socialist consciousness among workers. Nor do they recognise that capitalists play no part in production and are in fact already locked out.
For their emancipation, the working class must capture political power. The perfecting of trade union organization is a Utopian dream; unions are part of the workers’ defensive organization within capitalist society and they naturally have many of the ugly features of that society. The lesson that the SLP and many others have still to learn is that shop floor organization can only palliate, not remove, workers’ problems. Practically nothing has been seen of the SLP in Britain lately. There were a number of resignations, mainly in America during the late 1960’s and groups formed to rescue “Industrial Unionism” from a moribund SLP.
The 1914 War shattered the Second International to which the “halfway house” parties had belonged. Nearly all proved to be patriotic, and their internationalism consisted in urging workers to slaughter each other on battlefields. The Bolsheviks had stood out against the war and bitterly criticized those who turned patriot. Yet they took power in Russia and were convinced that capitalism was about to fall. However, the working class stayed loyal to the system that exploits them. They had never given any sign of doing otherwise.
The ranks of the would-be leaders of the working class were split between the followers of the Moscow-dominated Third International and national Labour leaders. Whenever parties of either group got power the consequences for Socialism were grim. The development of state capitalism in Russia and the efforts of Labour to run capitalism were mistaken for Socialism and added further confusion to be overcome.
By the early ’thirties two minority Labour governments had come and gone. Part of the leadership went into the National Government that was set up to cope with the economic crisis and record unemployment. Another result was that the Independent Labour Party split from them and set out into the political wilderness, and have never returned. They had helped to set up the Labour Party and many of that party’s leaders and MPs were from the ILP. The disaffiliated ILP was no more Socialist than the Labour party it had left. With capitalism in crisis certain prominent ILPers were confidently expecting its collapse. The Chairman of the ILP, a certain Mr. Fenner Brockway, predicted “a bloodless revolution possibly within the next four years” (Manchester Guardian 25 April 1932). There was no collapse and no revolution, but many years later Lord Brockway joined the Labour contingent in the same House of Lords that they had once been so keen to abolish.
Meanwhile the men of Moscow had been making heavy weather. The theory of “Socialism in one country” replaced their earlier plea for world revolution. This swapping of illusions did not go down well in some quarters and a “left opposition” under Trotsky developed. Splits followed in other parties of the Third International. Both sides were addicted to a belief in the need for leadership and were agreed on many essentials. Their differences centred on the quality and personalities of the opposing leaders, Stalin and Trotsky. Trotsky lost out and was banished. He eventually concluded that the Third International had ceased to be an instrument of revolution and declared the need for a fourth international. In his The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International (1938) he states:
The objective prerequisites for the proletarian revolution have not only “ripened”, they have begun to get somewhat rotten . . . The Historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of revolutionary leadership . . . It is necessary to help the masses in the process of the daily struggle to find the bridge between present demands and the socialist programme of the revolution. This bridge should include a system of Transitional Demands.
And commenting on the social-democrats’ maximum and minimum programmes: “no bridge existed. And indeed Social Democracy has no need for such a bridge, since the word Socialism is only used for holiday speechifying” (Merit Edition pages 5 and 7).
Organizations so engaged give all attention to the immediate and not the final demand and, as Trotsky put it, only mention Socialism in their holiday speechifying. They do not even do that nowadays if the urgent call to action published in the Mayday 1973 issue of Workers Press (daily organ of WRP) is anything to go by. To replace the Tories they wanted “a Labour government which is pledged by the mass action of the working class to implement socialist policies.” Even though the Labour party has never been Socialist, they could easily promise any of the policies advocated by Workers Press. In particular, the “Socialist United States of Europe” is so much eye wash; the alternative to the Common Market (and all other markets) is production for use.