Conference Discusses Reforms
The 67th Annual Conference was held in London over Easter. Among the items discussed was the Party’s attitude to reforms. Comrade D’Arcy (Camden) said that all reforms had to be paid for out of profits. Those who argued that the workers should struggle for reforms as well as for higher wages implied that what the workers had failed to get through the front door (wage bargaining on the industrial front) they could get through the back door (reforms on the political front). But capitalists did not bring in reforms under political pressure from the working class; they introduced them only when the reforms the workers wanted coincided with capitalist interests. In other cases, they stated that the economic situation did not allow them to introduce the reform and were able to persuade workers to accept this since the workers were themselves capitalist-minded.
Comrade Zucconi (Lewisham) stated that the mark of a genuine Socialist movement was that it did not advocate reforms. The Labour Party and the ILP had at one time professed Socialism as an aim, but were swamped by non-socialists because they concentrated on advocating reforms. There was a real difference between the struggle for reforms and the struggle for higher wages. The wages struggle, as Marx had pointed out, was one the workers had to take part in if they were ever to be fit to conduct the political struggle for Socialism. It was an industrial, not a political, struggle. Reformist action, on the other hand, was necessarily political and involved trying to gain political power in order to introduce reforms. As such it conflicted with the struggle to win political power for Socialism.
Comrade Hardy (Camden) said the Party had never been opposed to reforms as such; we were neither for nor against them. Measures which reduced the workers cost of living, as most reforms aimed to do, did not benefit the working class because their effect was to reduce wages, as Engels had pointed out when he described them as “so-called social reforms”. Such measures also tended to divide the working class, as happened over Rent Control when politicians were able to exploit the feelings of jealousy against controlled tenants amongst workers in uncontrolled houses.
Comrade Steele (Birmingham) said that the Party’s view was not that a Socialist party should not say it supported reforms, but that it should not seek support on the basis of reforms. The German Social Democratic Party had Socialism as an aim, but it went reformist because it admitted reformists to membership rather than because it supported reforms. The traditional industrial/political distinction was breaking down with the emergence of new kinds of working class pressure groups like tenants’ associations and with trade union actions more and more harming other sections of the working class. An increase in the rent was just as much a cut in living standards as a wage cut, and it was inconsistent to say that the only kind of non-socialist working class action Socialists should support was wage-bargaining. In any event, the most we can now do about reforms is to analyse them and show what their overall effect, favourable or unfavourable, might be on the working class.
Comrade Rab (Fraternal Delegate from the World Socialist Party of the United States) said that with the growing role of the State in the economy the unions had increasingly to negotiate with the State. But such negotiations over industrial matters were political only in form; in essence they were still part of the class struggle.
The Conference carried Resolutions re-affirming previous policy statements on reforms (that the Socialist Party of Great Britain does not advocate reforms, but is not opposed to reforms as such and supports the industrial struggle).