1970s >> 1977 >> no-876-august-1977

Revolution and reality: Why Left wing organizations are anything but revolutionary

The Socialist Party is unique among political parties in this country because unlike all others we propose a revolutionary change in the basis of society. We stand for the establishment of Socialism, a society in which the means of wealth production and distribution will be owned and controlled in common in the interests of the whole of society. Such an idea is not new, but this does not detract from its value and relevance. We argue that a system of world-wide common ownership can only be introduced with the conscious political action of the vast majority and to achieve this a revolution in thinking must first occur. We make this point because other political parties who claim to represent working class interests seem not to regard it as important.The social system under which we currently live, capitalism, is popularly portrayed by spokesmen for the so-called left and right wings, as an entity which can be modified in such a way as to meet both the requirements of that minority who own the means of production and distribution; and the vast majority who must work for the owners in order to live. Such a picture may be likened to a group of car salesmen who each promise that their particular model can travel forward and in reverse at the same time. In fact the economic interests of the owner are fundamentally opposed to the interests of the non-owning worker.

The capitalist requires a profit from the production of commodities and will not allow production to take place unless there is a good chance of success in this. The workers, on the other hand, need not worry about the extent of their personal profit—they get none. Instead a worker receives a wage, referred to in more genteel circles as a salary, which basically accords with the amount it costs him and his family to live. It needs hardly be said that the standard reached by workers compared with that of the owners is a poor one.

A point worth emphasizing here is that a worker is one who depends on a wage in order to live. Some self-styled “socialists” regard the “middle class” as a group with interests other than those of workers. They offer no evidence to support this moonshine, but it is used by them as a justification for their playacting as minority vanguards who are going to lead the workers along the chosen path. The SPGB has always opposed the idea of a leadership.

Social problems which confront all workers are not imaginary ones; poverty in all its multifarious forms is literally a fact of life for the great majority. But it should be made clear that we are not arguing for the fanciful “redistribution of wealth” as proclaimed by the supporters of capitalism. The profit motive which is the mainspring of capitalist production in fact restricts production to that which can be sold in the markets. The removal of this “incentive”, far from removing the motive to produce, will mean that production will become unfettered and goods and services will become freely available. Whether ownership today rests in the hands of the state or “private” employers is an irrelevance, for the basic pattern remains. Anyone who doubts this may look at the Post Office Chairman’s recent comment that “Profit must be the heartbeat of the economy”, or on the other hand consider how different are the lives of telephone operators and engineers from his.

 

The necessity for profit means that there is a constant struggle between capitalist and worker over the division of wealth. Workers must attempt to resist pressure from employers to push wages down, or to hold them in check, while the owners attempt to increase their share of the wealth which has been produced by the labour of the working class alone. It is accurate to say that members of the capitalist class have no need to work, and play no part in the productive process as such. It is their ownership of the means of production which puts them in this position, and it is a position in turn preserved and defended by the capitalists’ executive — the State and its coercive forces.

It is at this point that the “left wingers” go completely wild. Having no Socialist understanding to guide them, they hit out wildly and seize sporadically upon the effects of private-property society without appearing to recognize the cause of social problems. They, like the proverbial empty vessel, make noise. Workers are advised “to take away the property of the capitalist class at the point of production” (IS): to “Smash the State” (IMG) and to “Smash the Bosses” (ALL). Apart from displaying a dangerous ignorance of the capitalist world, people who go in for this sort of empty sloganeering reveal themselves as essentially half-hearted about the need for social change. They have not thought the thing through. This becomes even more obvious when considering that all the “left” parties support the Labour Party at election times, and spend most of the time in between advising it on the day-to-day tactics of capitalism, usually critically.

Far from adopting the revolutionary stance of the Socialist—the abolition of property ownership whether private or State—they seek minor modifications within a system founded upon private property ownership. The essentially non-revolutionary attitude of the “left” really begins to show when they attempt to define an independent object of their own. The Socialist Workers’ Party, who among other things stand for “the abolition of capitalism”, tell us that in “socialism” workers (yes, there will still be a working class apparently) will be paid something called socialist wages; and their right to strike will be defended by a Workers State. They appear not to recognize that with the abolition of capitalism goes the abolition of wages and the means of exchange, because wealth will be owned in common. The fact that they envisage strikes (against whom and for what?) taking place underlines their confusion.

The International Marxist Group, whose aim sounds similar (“the overthrow of the capitalist system”), appear no less muddled. Their candidate for Islington North at the May elections went about his part in this “overthrow” in a most peculiar fashion:

 

I stand for a socialist solution. Inflation proofing of wages and social services . . .  A national minimum wage of £50 a week, payable to the unemployed, sick, infirm and pensioners. Freeze all prices, rates and rents. Cut the working week, with no loss of pay, to end unemployment . . . etc. etc.

 

So much for their revolutionary aspirations; these measures are aimed at “improving” capitalism. One other thing emerges, and that is that IMG candidates do not trouble to read Marx. If they had, they would at least be aware that wages are prices. The ill-named Workers’ Revolutionary Party are no better. Their revolutionary demand earlier this year was uncompromising “Full employment now!” which is again a utopian plea for an “improved” capitalism and is precisely what they are all about. No Socialist argues for full employment; we argue for an end to the wages system.

 

A questioner at one of our meetings the other day chided the speaker for seeing things as black and white. We can only comment that if things are black and white, it is no bad way to see them. The choice before members of the working class is a straightforward one — capitalism or Socialism. While the “lefties” may pretend to have a foot in both camps, it only conjures up a picture of the man with one foot on the shore and the other in an unfastened boat; and the consequences for them are likely to be the same.

 

Alan D’Arcy